The Russian Revolution led to economic and social reconstruction in Russia. It was an intensification of the process which had weakened the autocracy after its defeat in the Crimean War and in the Russo-Japanese War. While the revolution traces its origin to large scale disillusionment of people with the Czars the immediate cause was the inability of the existing order to manage the world war. Russia had suffered massive damage with 5.5 million death and acute shortages of food.
There were two set of revolutionaries with liberal intelligentsia who believed that Russia could win the war and become a democratic republic and Bolsheviks who thought the imperialist war was already lost and wanted to overhaul the economy completely. This latter group was supported by social revolutionaries. The first group carried out the February Revolution and Bolsheviks the October Revolution.
Causes of Russian Revolution
There was great amount of discontentment among the various interest groups of Russia such as the industrial workers, the peasants and the middle classes. The workers in industrial centres were required to live in horrible conditions and worked in hazardous surroundings. There was more labour than the industries could absorb and consequently the workers were at the mercy of their employers. Labour unions were not allowed to operate freely. The state even sent troops to help employers to suppress them.This led to labor unrest. The strikes gradually began to take political turn.
Peasant Life and Serfdom under Tsarist Russia
The peasant and serfs were in equal bad condition since they were tied to the land,sold by their lords along with the land. They rendered free labour for fixed number of days in a week and could not marry without the permission of the lord. The Czar while emancipating the serfs also made provisions for them to possess some land which was vested with the village community called the Mir. Every peasant worked in the Mir and took a share of the produce in return. Not being the owners of the land, the serfs looked upon the Mir as another kind of overlordship.They also felt that the payment demanded from them for the land was unjust. Consequently the peasants began to agitate for more meaningful reforms and between 1861 and 1917 staged a series of revolts.
The industrial revolution resulted in the emergence of a dynamic middle class consisting of merchants, factory owners and other businessmen who were economically better off but hardly possessed any political and social privileges. So they joined hands with the intellectual liberals in demanding some system of representative governments. The challenge to Russian autocracy was more from liberalism than from socialism.
The zemstovs or local assemblies which were dominated by the middle class became active and prepared a definite program of reform demanding a freely elected national assembly, responsible ministry, equality of all citizens and freedom of the press, religion and speech.
The Russian monarchy was autocratic without being efficient. The Czars enjoyed absolute powers. They believed in the divine kingship and hence kept a tight control over the state. The people were kept out of the political responsibilities. They were also discredited by the number of military disasters in 19th and 20th centuries. The Russian army had performed badly in all the wars thereby exposing the weakness of the Russian military and political systems. This forced Czars to concede some reforms. The Crimean War was followed by the reforms of Alexander II including freedom to serfs;Russo-Japanese war was followed by the introduction of Duma or Parliament, the World War I brought the institution of monarchy and rule of czars to an end.
Revolutionary Ideas of Bakunin and Marx
The European thought and ideas was felt in the country bringing a movement disruptive to established order. The novels of Tolstoy,Turgonev and Dostoviesky greatly kindled the imagination of young Russians. The radical intellectuals on the other hand deriving their inspiration from Marx and Bakunin turned to Socialism and Anarchism.The Ideal of Socialism received its support from the new class of industrial workers and peasantry. The Workmen’s Social Democratic Party was formed in 1895.
The February Revolution
Strikes and riots broke out in Petrograd because of a desperate shortage of food and fuel due to poor transportation facilities. The army was given orders to restore normalcy but the soldiers mutinied and sided with the demonstrators. The Czar ordered the dissolution of Duma.The Duma leaders refused to obey the order and the order and the czar discovered that he could no longer enforce government. This became a legal reality after Czar Nicolas abdicated in favour of his brother Michael who too gave up the crown.
A provisional government was set up to administer until a Constituent Assembly could be elected. The new government was headed by the liberal prince George Lovi and included Paul Milinkov as foreign minister and Alexander Kerensky as minister for justice. This ministry proclaimed freedom of speech,press and assembly;declared amnesty for political and religions offences,recognized legal equality of all citizens without social,religious or racial discrimination and passed labout legislation.But despite these reforms the provisional government could not establish itself.For 8 months it tried in vain to provide adequate administration and at the end it collapsed helplessly.
Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, and Social Revolutionaries
The period between March and November was a time of struggle for power between the provisional government and the Soviets. The provisional govt had failed to consider two things which the people wanted the most-peace and land. While they pleaded for patience, the soviets were winning the masses over by demanding peace and immediate distribution of land. The Soviets or the councils had mass support. The soviet movement spread rapidly through the country developing into a grass root movement and challenging the authority of government in Petrograd. During the early stages the members elected to the Soviets were mostly Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks.
The Bolsheviks were comparatively insignificant till the return of Lenin who issued his famous April Thesis demanding immediate peace,land to the peasants and all power to the Soviets. These demands aroused great opposition between the Soviets amongst Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks and even some Bolsheviks.
The October Revolution
Lenin called for immediate revolution. In six months he garnered tremendous support from the people.By late 1917 many people were ready for the second revolution if it could rid them of the provisional government which stood in the way of peace and land for all. An early sign of changing public opinion was the forced resignation of the Foreign Minister Milinkov. His insistence that Russia remain in war made him so unpopular that he was dropped and new provisional government formed under Lvov and Kerensky. The new ministers were mostly socialist revolutionaries and Mensheviks.
Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
Kerensky was cooperating with these two groups so as to counter Lenin and his Bolsheviks. Kerensky had declared that his objective was to save the revolution from extremists. But he did not get any support from army and other conservatives. The Bolsheviks were becoming increasingly influential within the Soviets as public opinion swerved increasingly to left. By October the Bolsheviks had a majority in both the Moscow and Petrograd Soviets. Lenin had convinced his party to overthrow Kerensky and the date was set for November. There was almost no resistence and the actual revolution hardly had any bloodshed. The Bolsheviks forces seized key positions in Petrograd- railway stations,banks,bridges and other government buildings.Kerensky escaped and tried to organize a counter revolution but had no support and provisional govt fell. Workers gained control of factories, private trade was prohibited and all the property of church and counter revolutionaries was confiscated. Lenin opened negotiations with central powers and concluded a separate peace treaty. Treaty of Brest-Litousk was signed in 1918.The first Soviet Constitution was promulgated the following July.
Success of Bolshevik Revolution
The main reasons for the success of Bolshevik Revolution were that there was a great deal of dissension in the ranks of the counter-revolutionaries with infighting between royalists with republicans, and the military leaders with the politicians. The peasants supported the new government for they feared the return of the old landlords which could lead to loss of their newly acquired land. The workers were with the Bolsheviks right from the beginning. The Allied intervention was inadequate and half hearted as they were not ready to extensive military operations which were required for the huge country.
Deprived of foreign military support and torn by dissension among themselves the anti- Bolsheviks were no match for the Red army organized by Trotsky.
Significance of Bolshevik Revolution
The Russian Revolution of 1917 has a great significance for not only Russia but for the entire world.
It successfully demonstrated the Marxist theory of a revolution for the first time in history.
Every aspect of the Russian society was completely changed and organized on communist lines.
It gave Marxism a new dimension by demonstrating that a Marxist revolution can take place even in the semi-industrialized country like Russia.
A single individual Lenin had played a crucial role in bringing the revolution.