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Russian Revolutions Of 1917

.. s. On July 16-17 (N.S.; July 3-4, O.S.), following a disastrous military offensive, Petrograd soldiers, instigated by local Bolshevik agitators, demonstrated against the government in what became known as the “July Days.” The demonstrations soon subsided, and on July 20 (N.S.; July 7, O.S.), Kerensky replaced Lvov as premier. Soon, however, the provisional government was threatened by the right, which had lost confidence in the regime’s ability to maintain order. In early September (N.S.; late August, O.S.), General Lavr KORNILOV was thwarted in an apparent effort to establish a right-wing military dictatorship.

Ominously, his effort was backed by the Cadets, traditionally the party of liberal constitutionalism. The crises faced by the provisional government reflected a growing polarization of Russian politics toward the extreme left and extreme right. Meanwhile, another revolution was taking place that, in the view of many, was more profound and ultimately more consequential than were the political events in Petrograd. All over Russia, peasants were expropriating land from the gentry. Peasant-soldiers fled the trenches so as not to be left out, and the government could not stem the tide. New shortages consequently appeared in urban areas, causing scores of factories to close.

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Angry workers formed their own factory committees, sequestering plants to keep them running and to gain new material benefits. By the summer of 1917 a social upheaval of vast proportions was sweeping over Russia. The November Revolution Sensing that the time was ripe, Lenin and the Bolsheviks rapidly mobilized for power. From the moment he returned from exile on Apr. 16 (N.S.; Apr.

3, O.S.), 1917, Lenin, pressing for a Bolshevik-led seizure of power by the soviets, categorically disassociated his party from both the government and the “accommodationist” socialists. “Liberals support the war and the interests of the bourgeoisie!” he insisted, adding that “socialist lackeys” aided the liberals by agreeing to postpone reforms and continue fighting. With appealing slogans such as “Peace, Land, and Bread!” the Bolsheviks identified themselves with Russia’s broad social revolution rather than with political liberty or the political revolution of March. Better organized than their rivals, the Bolsheviks worked tirelessly in local election campaigns. In factories they quickly came to dominate major committees; they also secured growing support in local soviets.

A Bolshevik-inspired military uprising was suppressed in July. The next month, however, after Kornilov’s attempted coup, Bolshevik popularity soared, and Lenin’s supporters secured majorities in both the Petrograd and Moscow soviets, winning 51 percent of the vote in Moscow city government elections. Reacting to the momentum of events, Lenin, from hiding, ordered preparations for an armed insurrection. Fully aware of what was about to transpire, the provisional regime proved helpless. On the night of November 6-7 (N.S.; October 24-25, O.S.) the Bolsheviks seized power in Petrograd in the name of the soviets, meeting little armed resistance.

An All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, meeting in Petrograd at the time, ratified the Bolsheviks’ actions on November 8. The congress also declared the establishment of a soviet government headed by a Council of People’s Commissars chaired by Lenin, with Leon TROTSKY in charge of foreign affairs. The Civil War and Its Aftermath Few, however, expected Lenin’s “proletarian dictatorship” to survive. Bolsheviks now faced thesame range of economic, social, and political problems as did the governments they had replaced. In addition, anti-Bolsheviks began almost at once to organize armed resistance.

Some placed hope in the Constituent Assembly, elected November 25 (N.S.; November 12, O.S.); others hoped for foreign intervention. Few appreciated Lenin’s political boldness, his audacity, and his commitment to shaping a Communist Russia. These traits soon became apparent. The November Constituent Assembly elections returned an absolute majority for the Socialist Revolutionaries, but Lenin simply dispersed the Assembly when it met in January 1918. He also issued a decree on land in November 1917, sanctifying the peasants’ land seizures, proclaiming the Bolsheviks to be a party of poor peasants as well as workers and broadening his own base of support.

He sued the Germans for peace, but under terms of the Treaty of BREST-LITOVSK (March 1918) he was forced to surrender huge portions of traditionally Russian territory. Shortly afterward, implementing policies called War Communism, Lenin ordered the requisition of grain from the countryside to feed the cities and pressed a program to nationalize virtually all Russian industry. Centralized planning began, and private trade was strictly forbidden. These measures, together with class-oriented rationing policies, prompted tens of thousands to flee abroad. Not surprisingly, Lenin’s policies provoked anti-Bolshevik resistance, and civil war erupted in 1918. Constituent Assembly delegates fled to western Siberia and formed their own “All-Russian” government, which was soon suppressed by a reactionary “White” dictatorship under Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak.

Army officers in southern Russia organized a “Volunteer Army” under Generals Lavr Kornilov and Anton Denikin and gained support from Britain and France; both in the Volga region and the eastern Ukraine, peasants began to organize against Bolshevik requisitioning and mobilization. Soon anarchist “Greens” were fighting the “Reds” (Bolsheviks) and Whites alike in guerrilla-type warfare. Even in Moscow and Petrograd, leftist Socialist Revolutionaries took up arms against the Bolsheviks, whom they accused of betraying revolutionary ideals. In response, the Bolsheviks unleashed their own Red Terror under the Cheka (political police force) and mobilized a Red Army commanded by Trotsky. The Bolsheviks defeated Admiral Kolchak’s troops in late 1919, and in 1920 they suppressed the armies of Baron Pyotr N.

WRANGEL and General Denikin in the south. Foreign troops withdrew, and after briefly marching into Poland the Red Army concentrated on subduing peasant uprisings. Some Western historians attribute ultimate Bolshevik victory in this war to White disorganization, half-hearted support from war-weary Allies, Cheka ruthlessness, and the inability of Greens to establish a viable alternative government. Most important, however, was the fact that even while Bolshevik popularity declined, Lenin and his followers were still identified with what the majority of workers and peasants wanted most: radical social change rather than political freedom, which had never been deeply rooted in Russian tradition. In contrast, the Whites represented the old, oppressive order. Nevertheless, with the counterrevolution defeated, leftist anti-Bolshevik sentiment erupted.

The naval garrison at Kronshtadt, long a Bolshevik stronghold, rebelled in March 1921 along with Petrograd workers in favor of “Soviet Communism without the Bolsheviks!” This protest was brutally suppressed. The Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary parties, harassed but not abolished during the civil war, gained support as the conflict ended. The Bolsheviks outlawed these parties, signaling their intention to rule alone. Lenin, however, was astute enough to realize that a strategic retreat was required. At the Tenth Party Congress, in 1921, the NEW ECONOMIC POLICY was introduced, restoring some private property, ending restrictions on private trade, and terminating forced grain requisitions. The foundations had been laid for building Bolshevik socialism, but the revolutionary period proper had come to an end.


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