The Russian Revolution of 1917 was a very important political event of the 20th Century. For the first time, Karl Marx's idea of socialism and Proletariat revolution became a reality. Russia was a big and powerful country. Even Napoleon Bonaparte could not conquer Russia in 1812. However, during the beginning of the 20th Century Russia was no longer a powerful country. During this time Russia was ruled by the Romanov dynasty. Tsar Nicholas II ruled Russia at the time of the Revolution. During his rule Russia faced serious domestic and international problems. Eventually, a series of political events led to the overthrow of the Tsarist rule by October Revolution of 1917. Bolshevik Party headed by Lenin led the revolution. Thus, Russia became USSR [Union of Soviet Socialist Republics], which lasted until its disintegration in 1991.
Politically the Tsar's rule was very weak. Russia fought a war with Japan in 1904-05. Small Asian Country Japan defeated the mighty European country Russia in the Russo-Japanese war. This lowered the international and domestic prestige of Russia.
The Tsars believed in the divine right theory of kingship. Tsar Nicholas II was autocratic in his administration. The people had many grievances. The members of zemstoves and Dumas wanted liberal reforms from the Tsar. But Tsar was not prepared to sanction any reforms. Meantime, the working class of St. Petersburg went on strike. The striking workers went on a procession to Tsar's place to present a petition to redress their grievances. They were led by father Gapon. When the workers reached Tsar's palace the guards fired on the unarmed crowed. This event is known as 'Bloody Sunday' as it took place on a Sunday, 22nd January 1905. This is also known as 1905 Revolution. This event was indeed a prelude to the October Revolution of 1917.
The Tsarist court was under the evil influence of Rusputin. The Tsarina was strongly under his influence and at times the administration was affected by his influence. Hence, the nobles poisoned Rusputin to death.
The economic causes of the Russian Revolution largely originated in Russia's slightly outdated economy. Russia's agriculture was largely based on independent peasants. They did not own modern machinery. Russian agriculture suffered from cold climate. Russia's agriculture season was only 4-6 months. The famine of 1891 had left many peasants in poverty. The rapid industrialization of Russia also resulted in urban overcrowding and poor conditions for urban industrial workers. Between 1890 and 1910, the population of the capital of St Petersburg increased from 1,033,600 to 1,905,600, with Moscow experiencing similar growth. In one 1904 survey, it was found that an average of sixteen people shared each apartment in St Petersburg, with six people per room. There was also no running water, and piles of human waste were a threat to the health of the workers. Hence, the workers in general were in a discontented situation.
Rise of Socialist Party
One of the most important events in the history of socialist movement was the formation in 1864 of the International Working Men's Association or the First International. During the short period of its existence, the International exercised a tremendous influence on workers' movements in Europe.
To unite the socialist parties in various countries into an international organisation, a Congress was held in Paris on 14th July 1889, the centenary of the French Revolution of 1789. The result of this Congress was what has come to be known as the Second International. The formation of the Second International marked a new stage in the history of socialism.
On the first of May 1890, millions of workers all over Europe and America struck work and held massive demonstrations. Since then the first of May is observed as the international working class day all over the world.
In Russia when the workers' organizations were set up they were dominated by Marx's ideas on socialism. In 1883, the Russian Social Democratic Party was formed by George Plekhanov, a follower of Marx. This party along with many other socialist groups was united into the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1898. However, the party was soon split over questions of organization and policies. One group which was in a minority called the Mensheviks [Russian it means minority]. The majority party was called as theBolsheviks.
The leader of the Bolsheviks was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, popularly known as Lenin. He is regarded as one of the greatest leaders of the socialist movement after Marx and Engels. He devoted himself to the task of organizing the Bolshevik Party as an instrument for bringing about revolution. His name has become inseparable from the revolution of 1917. The Russian socialists, including Plekhanov and Lenin, had played an important part in the Second International.
Besides the Menshevik and the Bolshevik parties, which were the political parties of industrial workers, there was the Socialist Revolutionary Party which voiced the demands of the peasantry.
World War I
Russia had a very adverse history of military failures. Even before the outbreak of the First World War, Russia had lost a war with Japan in 1904-05. Most of Russia's fleet was sunk by the Japanese in that war. While the Russian army enjoyed some initial successes against Austria-Hungary in 1914, Russia's deficiencies - particularly regarding the equipment of its soldiers and the lack of advanced technology (aeroplanes, telephones) proved the causes for Russia's failures.
Russia's first major battle was a disaster. In the 1914 Battle of Tannenberg, over 120,000 Russian troops were killed, wounded,or captured, while Germany suffered only 20,000 casualties. Whatever nationalistic or patriotic support the Russian government had gained in the early stages of the war had been lost.
In 1915, Nicholas had taken direct command of the army. The superior German army - better led, better trained, better supplied - was effective against the ill-equipped Russian forces. By the end of October 1916, Russia had lost between 1.6 and 1.8 million soldiers, with an additional two million prisoners of war and one million missing. Thus, a total of nearly five million men lost. These were heavy losses. Mutinies began to occur in the Russian army. Soldiers went hungry and lacked shoes, munitions, and even weapons.
Nicholas was blamed for all these crises. As this discontent grew, the State Duma issued a warning to Nicholas to grant constitutional form of government. Nicholas ignored them. As a result, Russia's Tsarist regime collapsed a few months later during the February Revolution of 1917.
The February Revolution was the result of the political, economic and social causes mentioned above. On the eve of the February Revolution there was food shortage in the city. People protested against war.
As the protests grew, various political reformists (both liberal and radical left) joined together against the Tsar regime. In February the protests in Petrograd turned violent as large numbers of city residents rioted and clashed with police and soldiers. There was also total strike. Eventually the bulk of the soldiers garrisoned in Petrograd joined the protesters.
On 12th March, 1917 the capital city of Petersburg (renamed Petrograd and now Leningrad) fell into the hands of the revolutionaries. Soon the revolutionaries took Moscow, the Tsar Nicholas II gave up his throne and the first provisional Government was formed on 15 March.
The fall of the Tszar is known as the February Revolution because, according to the old Russian calendar, it occurred on 27 February 1917.
Kerensky's Provisional Government
The most important demands of the people were fourfold: peace, land to the tiller, control of industry by workers, and equal status for the non-Russian nationalities. The Provisional Government under the leadership of Kerensky did not implement any of these demands and lost the support of the people. Lenin, who was in exile in Switzerland at the time of the February Revolution, returned to Russia in April.
Lenin gave his 'April Theses'. This promised KERENSKY people what they wanted.
Under his leadership the Bolshevik Party put forward clear policies to end the war, transfer land to the peasants and advance the slogan 'All power to the Soviets'. Lenin and his trusted associate Leon Trotsky led the October Revolution.
October Revolution of 1917
The unpopularity of the Kerensky's government led to its collapse on 7th November 1917, when a group of soldiers occupied the Winter Palace, the seat of the Kerensky Government. An All-Russian Congress of Soviets met on the same day and assumed full political power. This event which took place on 7 November is known as the October Revolution because of the corresponding date of the old Russian calendar, 25 October.
Russia withdrew from the First World War. Later, formal peace was signed with Germany later. The estates of the landlords, the Church and the Tsar were confiscated and transferred to peasants' societies to be allotted to peasant families to be cultivated without hired labour. The control of industries was transferred to committees of workers. By the middle of 1918, banks and insurance companies, large industries, mines, water transport and railways were nationalised. Foreign debts were refused and foreign investments were confiscated. A Declaration of the Rights of Peoples was issued conferring the right of self-determination upon all nationalities. A new government, called the Council of People's Commissars, headed by Lenin was founded. These first acts of the new government began the era of socialism.
The first Soviet constitution was adoped on July 10, 1918. It created the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. Later, on December 30, 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics came into being. However, soon the new Soviet state was involved in a civil war. The officers of the army of the fallen Tsar organised an armed rebellion against the Soviet state. Troops of foreign powers-England, France, Japan, the United States and others- joined them. War was fought till 1920. By this time the 'Red Army' of the new state was in control of almost all the lands of the old Czarist empire. Indeed, a revolutionary wave lasted until 1923.