In 1917, two revolutions swept through Russia, ending centuries of imperial rule and setting in motion political and social changes that would lead to the formation of the Soviet Union. In March, growing civil unrest, coupled with chronic food shortages, erupted into an open revolt, forcing the abdication of Nicholas II, the last Russian Czar. Just months later, the newly installed provisional government was itself overthrown by the more radical revolutionary party in the former Soviet Union and another revolution broke up rapidly. The revolution was led by Vladimir Lenin and was based upon Lenin's writing on the ideas of Karl Marx, a political ideology often known as Marxism-Leninism. It marked the beginning of the spread of Communism in the 20th century. It was less sporadic than the revolution of February and came about as the result of deliberate planning and coordinated activity to that end.
The first Russian revolution of 1905 was the expression of a gigantic conflict between the growing forces of production on the one hand and reactionary, industrial and political conditions in Russia on the other. A rapidly growing capitalism demanded the freedom of the inner market, the failure of the Russian-Japanese War having made the extension of foreign markets impossible. But the home market was equally unresponsive. The predominant group among the Russian people was its peasantry, whose demands and buying power represented the basis for all further capitalistic development. They were equal, it is true, but equal in misery.
The Russian revolution of 1905 was said to be a major factor behind the revolution of 1917. The events of Bloody Sunday triggered a wave of protests. Amidst this chaos, a council of workers was convened in St. Petersburg and the beginning of a Communist political protest had begun. World War I prompted a Russian outcry directed at Tsar Nicholas II. It was another major factor that contributed to the retaliation of the Russian communists against their royal opponents. After the entry of the Ottoman Empire on the side of the central powers in October 1914, Russia was deprived of a major trade route through the Ottoman Empire. This was followed by a minor economic crisis, in which Russia became incapable of providing munitions to its army in the years leading to 1917.
However, the problems were merely administrative and not industrial as Germany was producing a considerable arsenal of munitions, while constantly fighting on two major battlefronts. The war developed awareness in the city, owing to a lack of food because of the disruption in agricultural activity. The cities were almost always short of food. At the same time, rising prices led to demands for higher wages in factories and in January and February, 1916 revolutionary propaganda, aided by German funds, led to widespread strikes. These agitations became more frequent from the middle of 1915. Working class women in St. Petersburg reportedly spent about forty hours a week in the food lines, begging, turning to prostitution or crime, tearing down wooden fences to keep stoves heated for warmth, grumbling about the rich and wondering when and how this would all come to an end.
All these factors had by 1916 given rise to a sharp loss of confidence in the regime. Nicholas was blamed for the crises and what little support he had left began to crumble. As discontent grew, the State Dumas issued a warning to Nicholas in November 1916. It stated that a terrible disaster would inevitably grip the country unless a constitutional form of government was put in place. In typical fashion, however, Nicholas ignored the warnings and Russia's Tsarist regime collapsed a few months later during the February Revolution of 1917. In the beginning of February, Petrograd workers organised demonstrations and went on strike. On 16 March, a provisional government was announced. The representatives of the provisional government agreed to "take into account the opinions of the Soviet of Worker's Deputies" though they were also determined to prevent " interference in the actions of the government", which would create "an unacceptable situation of dual power".
On 18 June, the provisional government launched an attack against Germany, an offensive that failed miserably. The soldiers refused to follow the orders of the government. The soldiers and sailors, along with Petrograd workers, took to the streets in violent protest, calling for "all power to the Soviet". In the aftermath of the turmoil Lenin fled to Finland under threat of arrest while Trotsky, among other prominent Bolsheviks, was arrested. Alexander Kerensky, a young and popular lawyer and a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party (SRP), increasingly became the central figure of the provisional government.
By October 1917, Lenin returned to Petrograd (St. Petersburg) as he became aware that the increasingly radical city posed a legal danger and also the second opportunity for revolution. Recognizing the strength of the Bolsheviks, Lenin began pressing for the immediate overthrow of the Kerensky government by the Bolsheviks. He was of the opinion that assumption of power should happen in both St. Petersburg and Moscow simultaneously, parenthetically stating that it made no difference which city rose up first, but expressing his opinion that Moscow may well rise up first. The Bolshevik Central Committee drafted a resolution, calling for the dissolution of the provisional government in favour of the Petrograd Soviet. The resolution was passed 10-2 (Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev prominently dissenting) and the November revolution began.
The Bolshevik, or the Russian Revolution, triumphed on November 7, 1917 (October 26 according to the orthodox Byzantine Calendar). Apart from the heroic episode of the Paris Commune, for the first time millions of downtrodden workers and peasants seized political power, sweeping aside the despotic rule of the capitalists and landlords. They were determined to create a socialist world order.
In the early days, the regime established by the revolution was neither bureaucratic nor totalitarian but the most democratic regime yet seen on earth. For the first time in history the success of the planned economy was demonstrated, not in the pages of Das Kapital but in an arena comprising a sixth of the planet’s surface. Not in the language of dialectics but in the language of steel, education, health care and electricity. In a gigantic and unprecedented experiment it was proved that it was possible to run society without capitalists, feudal landlords and money lenders. Despite the aggression of 21 imperialist armies, tremendous objective difficulties and obstacles, the abolition of the market mechanisms and the introduction of the planned economy revolutionized the productive forces and laid the basis for a modern economy.
Actually, the Russian Revolution of 1917 was one of the most significant events in the 20th century. It completely changed the government and outlook on life in the very large country of Russia. It had a profound impact on the entire world. It generated a new way of thinking about the economy, society, and the government. The Bolsheviks set out to cure Russia of all its injustices that are rooted in class differences. To an extent, they succeeded. The revolution marked the end of a dynasty that had reigned for 300 years and had concluded with the seizure of power by a small revolutionary group. The Tsar was replaced by a Council of People’s commissars and private ownership was abolished. The Communist movement began to expand worldwide, by which the entire capitalist world was unnerved. In spite of several difficulties, no one can deny that this unique revolution threw a very big challenge before the entire capitalist world.
The aftermath of the Soviet Revolution was far-reaching. The revolution spread a new message of hope and liberation for the toiling people all over the world and the peoples of the colonies. It was a message of liberation from all forms of exploitation -- national, social, economic and political. This was reflected in a series of declarations, legal pronouncements and diplomatic initiatives of the new Bolshevik Government. The October Revolution heralded a new era by creating a state of the workers and poor peasants whose interest was opposed to economic exploitation, war, aggressions, colonization and social discrimination. It brought into existence a socialist state that could work as a bulwark against war and imperialism. This revolution initiated the essay towards creating an alternative world socialist system based on equality and free of exploitation, renounced any form of aggression, colonization and social prejudice, as opposed to world capitalist system that is based on colonization, economic exploitation, racialism etc.
The socialist revolution was marked by the establishment of the first socialist state which till then was regarded by many as a distant dream. This is comparable to what happened in France in the 18th century. The Russian Revolution shook not only Russia, but radically changed the whole world. The world we see around today would be unthinkable without it just like the world of the 19th century would be unthinkable without the French Revolution. The British Prime Minister Lloyd George wrote: “The whole Europe is filled with the spirit of the revolution. There is a deep sense not only of discontent but of anger and revolt amongst the workmen against the pre-war conditions. The whole existing order in its political, social and economic aspects is questioned by the masses of the population from one end of Europe to the other.”
This is the 100th year of the November revolution. It is time to reflect on its contributions. In a word, it has taught us how to dream a dream. The underlying theme of the revolution was a society free from exploitation and to emancipate humankind. In the context of the November Revolution, Lenin proved that theory is grey, but life is green. It was his philosophy that attained fruition through the November Revolution. Many revolutions came and went, they wrought havoc to society, but the November Revolution was unique, unparalleled and novel in all aspects for it brought about momentous changes to all patterns of society and state policy for which the downtrodden humanity had longed for thousands of years.
April 8 & 9, 2016. The Statesman