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The October Revolution, led by Leon Trotsky, overthrew the Russian Provisional Government and gave the power to Bolsheviks. It was followed by the Third Russian Revolution (1918–1922) and the creation of the Soviet Union in 1922. The putsch was planned earlier on October 10,It was to be led by the Bolsheviks with the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries and anarchists. Bolshevik troops began the takeover of government buildings on October 24;October 25, however, was the day on which the Winter Palace (the seat of the Provisional government located in Saint Petersburg, then capital of Russia), was captured. It was the first Marxist putsch in history.
Initially, the event was referred to as the October uprising (Октябрьский переворот) or the Uprising of 25th, as seen in contemporary documents (the first editions of Lenin's complete works, for example). With time, the October Revolution came to be seen as a hugely-important global event.
The Great October Socialist Revolution (in Russian, Великая Октябрьская социалистическая революция, or Velikaya Oktyabr'skaya sotsialisticheskaya revolyutsiya) was the official name for the October Revolution in the Soviet Union on the tenth anniversary celebration of the Revolution in 1927. Today, this name is used mainly by Russian Communists.
The mounting frustrations of workers and soldiers erupted in July with several days of rioting in the streets, in what became known as the July Days. This event was sparked by the June offensive against Germany, in which War Minister Alexander Kerensky sent troops in a major attack on the Germans, only to be repelled. The July Days were also sparked off by workers' anger at their economic plight. A group of 20,000 armed sailors from "Red Kronstadt" (as it was known), refused to follow the plans of the army to continue the war against Germany, and they marched into Petrograd to demand that the Soviet take power. Lenin tried to exploit this situation to stage a Bolshevik coup, and, although the capital was defenseless for two days, Kerensky still had enough support to quell the uprising. Kerensky's government quite rightly blamed the Bolsheviks for encouraging the rebellion, and many Bolshevik leaders, including Lenin and Grigory Zinoviev, were forced to go into hiding (Lenin in nearby Finland, from which he could easily return if the opportunity arose). Although the Bolshevik party had to operate semi-legally throughout July and August, the government failed to clamp down properly with further necessary steps, and the Bolsheviks' position on the far left end of the political spectrum was consolidated. Radical anti-war social democrats, who had joined the Mezhraiontsy earlier in the year, merged with the Bolsheviks in August, and many of them, particularly Trotsky, Joffe and Konstantin Yurenev, would prove vital to the Bolsheviks' eventual seizure of Petrograd.
The Petrograd Soviet (the council of workers) and other soviet groups were well established in all large cities and were generally opposed to the provisional government and its leader. The Kornilov Affair was another catalyst to Revolution. Alexander Kerensky, who held lofty positions in both the provisional government and the Petrograd Soviet, felt that he needed a trustworthy military leader. Soon after appointing Lavr Kornilov as his Commander-in-Chief, Kerensky accused him of trying to set up his own military dictatorship. It is still uncertain as to whether or not Kornilov, in favour of the return of the monarchy, did engineer a plot of this kind. Kornilov, convinced that Kerensky was acting under the duress of the Bolsheviks, responded by issuing a call to all Russians to "save their dying land!" and began trying to put down the Bolsheviks. Unsure of the support of his army generals, Kerensky was forced to ask for help from other quarters (including the Bolshevik "Red Guards") and even provided them with arms. They were all too happy to help, and Kornilov's ostensible attempt to seize power collapsed without bloodshed as his Cossacks deserted him, fearing that he might restore the Tsar. Kornilov and around 7,000 of his supporters were arrested, and the coup failed. Kornilov was removed from his position, but his actions had served to illustrate just how fragile and insecure the provisional government was. Real power, it was obvious, lay in the hands of the Petrograd Soviet -- at the head of which was Trotsky.
The Bolsheviks, led by the brilliant Leon Trotsky, had been very busy of late, and they continued to spread their propaganda through to the factories and farms, calling for forceful resistance to the provisional government. They wanted to ingrain this stance into the national consciousness so that, when the revolution finally did take place, it would be reasonably well accepted. That brilliant propagandist Trotsky had been at the forefront, winning first the support of the Petrograd garrison and then that of the sailors at nearby Krönstadt. Lenin, meanwhile, had made his return to Russia, realising that Kerensky was fast losing support. With Trotsky and Stalin, he took control of the Bolshevik party and immediately got it on the move, calling for "Peace in the cottages" (of the peasants) and "war against the palaces" (of the nobles) -- as well as, again, "land, bread and peace" -- the land of the aristocracy to be redistributed amongst the peasants, factory control given to the workers (with price control of food, or "bread", which was all to go to the people; and, finally, the soldiers would have peace and be allowed to return home.
Another slogan, "All power to the Soviets", concealed the fact that the Bolsheviks were still very much in the minority -- although they did have control over Petrograd and other towns and cities (being, of course, the traditional incubators of new ideas). Nevertheless, they put on a front which misled many into believing that they were indeed a truly-massive force -- even to the extent of acting as the unofficial rulers of the country. They now planned the revolution which would make that status official. A second meeting of the All-Russian Congress of Soviets was called and scheduled for October 25.
On October 23, 1917 (by the Julian calendar still in use in Russia at the time; November 5 by the current Gregorian calendar), Bolshevik leader Jaan Anvelt led his leftist revolutionaries in an uprising in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. On October 25 (November 7), 1917, Vladimir Lenin led his forces in the uprising in Petrograd, the capital of Russia, against the ineffective Kerensky provisional government. For the most part, the revolt in Petrograd was bloodless, with the Red Guards, led by the Bolsheviks, taking over major government facilities -- these included public buildings, railway stations, telephone exchanges and power stations -- with little opposition, before finally launching an assault on Kerensky's headquarters at the Winter Palace on the night from 25 to 26 October. This "Palace Coup", led by Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, was launched at 9:45 p.m., signalled by a blank shot from the Cruiser Aurora. (The Cruiser was placed in Petrograd [later Leningrad and now St. Petersburg] and still stands there today.) The Winter Palace was guarded by the Cossaks, the Women's Battalion, and the cadets' (or military students) corps. It was taken at about 2 a.m. The earlier date was made the official date of the Revolution, when all offices except the Winter Palace had been seized.
Later official accounts of the revolution from the Soviet Union would depict the events in October as being far more dramatic than they had actually been. (See the firsthand account by British General Knox.) Official films, made much later, showed a huge storming of the Winter Palace and fierce fighting, but, in reality, the Bolshevik insurgents faced little or no opposition and were practically able just to walk into the building and take it over. The insurrection was timed and organised to hand state power to the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, which began on October 25.
The Second Congress of the Soviets consisted of 650 elected delegates: 390 were Bolsheviks and nearly a hundred Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, who also supported the overthrow of the Kerensky Government. When the fall of the Winter Palace was announced, the Congress adopted a decree which transferred power to the Soviets of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies, and thus ratified the Revolution. The transfer of power was not without disagreement, however. The center and Right wings of the Socialist Revolutionaries, as well as the Mensheviks, believed that Lenin and the Bolsheviks had illegally seized power and they walked out of the congress before the resolution was passed. As they exited, they were taunted by Leon Trotsky: "You are pitiful, isolated individuals; you are bankrupts; your role is played out. Go where you belong from now on -- into the dustbin of history!" Their departure gave the Bolsheviks all but total control, with Kerensky and his provisional government now totally out of the picture.
The following day, the Soviets elected a Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom), with Lenin as chairman, as a replacement parliament, the basis of a new Soviet Government, pending the convocation of a Constituent Assembly. The Council passed a veritable flood of decrees, the first of which were those on Peace and Land. The Decree on Land ratified the actions of the peasants. Throughout Russia, they seized private land and redistributed it among themselves. The Bolshevik party viewed itself as one which represented an alliance of workers and peasants (smychka), and it memorialized that understanding by placing the the Hammer and Sickle on the flag and coat of arms of the Soviet Union.
Other decrees were as follows:
- The Russian banks were all nationalised.
- Control of the factories was to given the Soviets.
- Private bank accounts were confiscated, and many people felt this keenly, although most of them were the particularly wealthy.
- The Church's properties (including its bank accounts) were seized and religion forced to go underground. The Church owned plenty of land, but it was all converted now into party bases, bingo halls and the like. "Religion," said Lenin, "is the opium of the people.". Russia had her roots set deep in religion and the Orthodox Church, whose effective banning explains why, following the collapse of Communism in the late 1980s, Russians flocked to the Churches in their thousands.
- Wages were fixed and an eight-hour working day introduced. During the war, people had worked far too long for far too little.
- All foreign debts were repudiated, the Bolsheviks flatly refusing to pay. Their reasoning was that they were a new government and, as such, did not have to pay the debts accrued by the Tsar and Kerensky's brief regime. Naturally, this damaged severely Russia's foreign relations. Britain and France, for example, had given lent amounts to help Russia, and future dealings between them looked bleak. Russia's global image was severely damaged.
Bolshevik-led attempts to seize power in other parts of the Empire were largely successful in Russia proper -- the fighting in Moscow lasted for two weeks, though -- but they were less successful in those parts of the Empire which were ethnically-non-Russian. These parts had been clamoring for independence since the February Revolution. The Ukrainian Rada, for example, which had declared autonomy on June 23, 1917, created the Ukrainian People's Republic on November 20, and this was supported by the Ukrainian Congress of Soviets. It led to an armed conflict with the Bolshevik government in Petrograd and, eventually, a Ukrainian declaration of independence from Russia on January 25, 1918. In Estonia, two rival governments emerged: the Estonian Diet declared independence on November 28, 1917, while an Estonian Bolshevik, Jaan Anvelt, was recognized by Lenin's government as Estonia's leader on December 8, although forces loyal to Anvelt only controlled the capital.
The October coup was a counter-revolution, serving to end liberal development, initiated by Kerensky's provisional government, and reimpose an efficient (but not monarchial) autocracy. The success of this uprising completed the phase of the revolution which had begun back in February, and it transformed the Russian Revolution's character from one of liberalism to socialism. The Bolshevik movement came to be known as the Communist Party, and, although it was very much in the minority (25,000 out of 180,000,000), it gradually sealed its power after an intense struggle.
The Constituent Assembly, comprising 700 members, elected by the people, met presently, and, with the Bolsheviks finding themselves with just 25 per cent of the support, Lenin broke up the gathering, with the aid of the Russian militia and secret police. All opposition was squashed and political parties outlawed. Russia became a one-party state, with Moscow its capital.
Bolshevik success, in spite of the colossal minority, may be attributed to a number of factors:
- The Bolshevik personality was exemplified primarily by its strength of will, but this was certainly bolstered the thoroughgoing and devoted headship of Trotsky, Stalin and Lenin.
- The guarantees of land-redistribution struck a resounding chord amongst the browbeaten and landless Russian public.
- Propaganda and effective catchphrases ("Peace with Germany" being the most popular) definitely helped to garner the support of the masses.
- The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, in March 1918, showed that the Bolsheviks delivered summarily on their promises. Settled by Lenin and signed by both countries, the treaty brought to an end Russia's contentious war against Germany. Although some very strict requisites were enforced on the Russians -- they had to relinquish their Polish and Baltic territories to Germany, and also acknowledge the autonomy of Finland and the Ukraine --, most of them were simply thankful finally to be out of the war.
A coalition of anti-Bolshevik groups subsequently attempted, unsuccessfully, to unseat the new government in the Russian Civil War, which lasted from 1918 to 1922. The United States did not recognize the new Russian government until 1933 and would later send 10,000 troops to contain a Japanese invasion of Siberia. Most European powers recognised the Soviet Union in the early 1920s and began to engage in business with it comparatively early.
Soviet in memoriam of the event
The term Red October (Красный Октябрь, Krasny Oktyabr) has also been used to describe the events of the month. This name has, in turn, been lent to a tractor factory made notable by the Battle of Stalingrad, a Moscow sweets factory that is well-known in Russia, and a fictional Soviet submarine.
Red October is also known as the Red Revolution.
- Revolutions of 1917-23
- Russian Revolution of 1917
- February Revolution
- Russian Provisional Government, 1917
- Russian Civil War
- Vladimir Lenin
- Leon Trotsky
- Adolph Joffe
- Alexander Kerensky
- Ten Days that Shook the World