What Was Done
The Russian Revolution of 1917 (The Dirty Commie Rats took over.)
Explanations for what happened in 1917 range across the political spectrum. What happened? Who dunnit? What shape or direction did the events take?
prediction was that socialist revolutions would take place in highly
developed capitalist countries (like
Revisionist Marxists emerged after Marx’s death. They argued that a socialist society could be brought into being democratically and peacefully through the legislative process and through the pressure of trade union collective bargaining. (They believed that violence would pervert the development of a socialist state. They believed that decisions should be made by all workers in a democratic fashion.)
argued that Russia, like other 3rd World countries, had been
exploited indirectly by the great capitalist powers. A world-wide revolution
could be provoked by revolution in
In the tradition of Hobbes and Edmund Burke, conservatives argue that all revolutions follow the same pattern: when authority is overthrown, things fall apart. Too much freedom encourages social unrest and can lead to the nightmare of civil war. (The Time of Troubles III)
Americans portray Lenin and Stalin as Commie Rats who created a rogue state which played havoc with our security for nearly eighty years. Anything that can be done should be done to avoid the creation of another state which embraces an ideology in opposition to our fundamental beliefs in natural rights. (life, liberty, property) We will support any government which provides law and order and creates the conditions where business can get done.
“Hey, s**t happens.” The stars aligned in the perfect formation to allow a tiny minority like the Bolsheviks to seize power. Pure luck. It is a stretch to attach a meaning to an essentially random act.
a. Russo-Japanese War (1904-05)
Catastrophic military defeat in the Far East results in a national humiliation, the loss of territories, and the revelation that the vaunted Russian military could not compete even with another “3rd World” power, much less the Germans or the British.
b. Bloody Sunday
1905 slaughter outside the
c. October Manifesto
tsar concedes. The autocracy ends; a constitutional monarchy is installed
which promises real power to the Duma (legislative assembly) and promises
civil liberties. At long last, liberalism has come to
d. The Duma
Bolsheviks SR’s Mensheviks Cadets Octobrists
Slavophiles, not Marxists; Peasants not workers; radicals and moderates Conservative Liberals who accept terms of
limited constitutional monarchy Constitutional
Democrats. Liberals Revisionist Marxists:
pro-Duma Not in play: a tiny minority
Slavophiles, not Marxists;
Peasants not workers; radicals and moderates
Liberals who accept terms of limited constitutional monarchy
Constitutional Democrats. Liberals
Revisionist Marxists: pro-Duma
Not in play: a tiny minority
And its usurpation
Ministers became answerable to the tsar not the Duma. The effort to create a market economy over rode political concerns.
In February 1917 a spontaneous uprising against tsar was sparked by desertions and mutinies in the army as WWI dragged on. The Bolsheviks were not involved. The uprising resulted in a tentative move, again, towards liberal society.
a. World War One
4 million casualties and counting; victory against the Austrians but repeated defeat against the Germans; economic turmoil at home. Tsar at the front, the tsarina and Rasputin in control at home.
b. Abdication of the Tsar (March 15)
Now, who would gain sovereignty?
i. War Policy
liberals resolved to honor their alliances with the Brits and the French and
fight on. Their goal was a negotiated victory which would give them
ii. Land Policy
Government restricts land seizures by peasants until “after elections” ie never.
iii. Constituent Assembly
A new constitutional convention is called. Founding Fathers stuff.
iv. Kerensky to Power
A charismatic speaker, a Menshevik, is appointed to build a bridge between the government and the Soviets.
v. Kerensky Offensive
The final Russian offensive against the Germans in central Europe is turned back: it is a disastrous failure, and the patience of the soldiers snaps.
d. The Soviets
Neighborhood, grass roots assemblies and unions elect representatives to councils of workers, peasants and soldiers. SR’s dominate. The St. Petersburg Soviet becomes a potential national government because it can influence events on the street in the capital.
i. Order #1
Soldiers are given permission to disobey officers if they are not consulted in the decision making process. Democracy is brought to the army.
Lenin enters Russia in April 1917 (spirited into the country in a sealed boxcar on a German train.)
1. “All power to the Soviets”
He immediately announces that the workers are finally in a position to seize power for themselves.
2. “Land, Peace and Bread”
His slogan calls for immediate land reform, an end to the war, and the opening of the granaries to a famished populace. (Good politics!)
In July another spontaneous uprising takes place. Workers and soldiers in St. Petersburg attempt to seize power, but without effective leadership. The Bolsheviks wavered. The rebellion was crushed, the energy went out of the people, and the Bolsheviks appeared too timid to the rebels and too radical for the general public. It seemed like Lenin’s moment had past. He was spirited out of the country , disguised as a woman.
the rescue came this right wing Russian general who tried to seize power to
protect the country from a communist revolution and restore the tsar to his
throne. In response Kerensky armed the workers in
Given a second opportunity, Lenin took full advantage of it. He could claim that the workers, not the government, had saved the country from the coup. His seizure of power in October was bloodless. A sizeable chunk of the people supported him.
a. Council of People’s Commissars Lenin’s initial orders:
i. Peace initiative, land seizures, factory seizures, nobility abolished, Church suppressed, alphabet reformed, calendar reformed, Cheka created
ii. Suppression of Constituent Assembly
The Bolsheviks allowed a national vote to take place in December for representatives to a new Constituent Assembly. However, in the elections the Social Revolutionary Party dominated. The Bolsheviks only got 40%. Lenin immediately dissolved the assembly. This was the last free election in Russia for eighty years.
Lenin creates a one party system (renamed the Communist Party) and has the Cheka (his secret police) arrest all opposition.
iii. Treaty of Brest-Litovsk Mar 1918
Lenin surrenders to the Germans and pulls Russia out of the war. He gives up 27% of the country. Russian conservatives are outraged. The allies are outraged. The Germans are happy.
(Trotsky) v. Whites, Allies and
b. War Communism
VI. The NEP 1921
a. One Step Backward
b. Lenin’s Death 1924
VII. Stalin Revolution 1928-34
a. Power Struggle and “What is to be Done” redux
i. Bukharin v. Trotsky
b. Socialism in One Country
i. Five Year Plans