This essay has a total of 1750 words and 10 pages.


The roots of the Russian Revolution of 1917 were deep. Russia had suffered under an
extremely oppressive form of government for centuries under the rule of the czars. During
the 19th century the nation was filled with movements for political liberalization.

In the long run there were several revolutions, not one. The first rebellion, known as the
Decembrist uprising, took place in December 1825. Members of the upper classes, including
many former soldiers, staged a revolt after the death of Alexander I. The revolt failed,
but it provided an inspiration to succeeding generations of dissidents.

The next revolution took place in 1905, after the Russo-Japanese War, which Russia lost.
It appeared briefly that public discontent would force Czar Nicholas II to establish a
constitutional monarchy. Such a change would not have satisfied either the czar or his
opponents, however. Radical revolutionaries continued to fight for a democratic republic,
and the czar wanted to retain his control of the peasants.

The next two revolutions were successful. They occurred during World War I, when Russian
military forces were hard pressed by the Germans. The March Revolution of 1917 led to the
abdication of Nicholas and the installation of a provisional government. The leader of
this government was Alexander Kerensky, who was eventually forced from power. (He later
immigrated to the United States.)

The last revolution took place in November of the same year. (Because the date was in
October on the old Russian calendar, it is usually called the October, or Octobrist,
Revolution.) It brought to power the Bolshevik wing of the Communist party, led by Lenin.
The Bolsheviks established the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics under the dictatorship
of the Communist party. In the end Lenin and his followers established a regime that was
more rigidly tyrannical than that of any czar.

Kerensky, Alexander Feodorovich


Kornilov, Lavr Georgievich
First Revolution of 1917
Czar Nicholas had taken command of armies in the field in the fall of 1915. This left a
power vacuum in St. Petersburg, the capital. The collapse of the government suddenly came
in March (February, old calendar) 1917. Food riots, strikes, and war protests turned into
mass demonstrations. The army refused to fire on the demonstrators. A Soviet (or council)
of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies was elected, and it formed the provisional government
on March 14. The next day Nicholas abdicated.

The provisional government was a coalition of factions representing divergent points of
view. Some wanted withdrawal from the war and immediate economic reforms, with guarantees
of political liberty. Others, including Kerensky, wanted to continue the war and postpone
all reforms until the conflict was finished. No compromise seemed workable. Meanwhile,
Lenin--the revolutionary genius--arrived by train from Switzerland. He had been put on a
sealed train by the Germans, who hoped that he would influence Russia to leave the war.
This story has been well told by Edmund Wilson in his book 'To the Finland Station'.

Lenin's slogan was "All power to the soviets!" and he used it to undermine the provisional
government. He demanded peace at once, immediate land reform, workers' control of
factories, and self-determination for the non-Russian peoples. Once in power he turned his
back on all programs of reform, but he kept his promise to take Russia out of World War I.

It was Kerensky's persistence in fighting the war that undid the provisional government,
though other factors contributed. The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, undermined the war effort
with propaganda among the soldiers. The government attempted to take action against Lenin,
but he went into hiding in Finland. Kerensky tried to reinforce his authority by calling a
state conference in Moscow. The Bolsheviks were not represented, but the conference was so
divided that it could achieve nothing. A conservative revolt led by Gen. Lavr G. Kornilov
was put down.

This failed revolt was a turning point in the revolution. It became clear that there were
not two, but three, opposing forces in the government: the conservatives, the social
democrats, and Lenin's followers. To Kornilov, the enemy was socialism, personified by
Kerensky. To Kerensky, the conservatives represented counterrevolution. Both factions
despised and underrated Lenin. To Lenin, Kerensky was as much of an enemy as Nicholas II.
The defeat of Kornilov and the exhaustion of the provisional government gave Lenin the
chance he had been waiting for.

Members of the Red Army during ...

Signing of the peace treaty at ...
October Revolution
The leading characters of the next phase of revolution were Lenin and Leon Trotsky.
Trotsky would be murdered years later on Joseph Stalin's orders (see Trotsky). Kerensky
seemed unable to take action against the military preparations of the Bolsheviks, who were
distributing arms, subverting the army, and appointing supporters as commissars of
military units. On the night of November 6-7 (October 24-25, old calendar) the Bolsheviks
acted. By the next evening the capital was in their hands, though fighting in Moscow went
on for several days. Soon the Bolsheviks had installed their own general as commander in
chief of the armed forces.

When the second All-Russian Congress of Soviets met in the capital, most members of other
socialist parties walked out, leaving the impression that Lenin's party best represented
the interests of workers, farmers, and soldiers. The congress called upon all parties in
the war to negotiate immediate peace. It also abolished all private ownership of land and
took all property of the imperial family and the church. The eight-hour workday was made
compulsory, and factory workers were given the right to supervise their enterprises.

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