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10-08-2015, 16:35

The Bolshevik Revolution

During the summer, the crisis worsened, and in July, riots by workers and soldiers in the capital led the provisional government to outlaw the Bolsheviks and call for Lenin’s arrest. The “July Days,” raising the threat of disorder and class war, aroused the fears of conservatives and split the fragile political consensus within the provisional government. In September, General Lavr Kornilov, commander in chief of Russian imperial forces, launched a coup d’état to seize power from Alexander Kerensky, now the dominant figure in the provisional government. The revolt was put down with the help of so-called Red Guard units, formed by the Bolsheviks within army regiments in the capital area (these troops would later be regarded as the first units of the Red Army), but Lenin now sensed the weakness of the provisional government and persuaded his colleagues to prepare for revolt. On the night of October 25 (according to the old-style Gregorian calendar still in use in Russia), forces under the command of Lenin’s lieutenant, Leon Trotsky, seized key installations in the capital area. Kerensky fled from Russia in disguise. The following morning, at a national congress of delegates from soviet organizations throughout the country, the Bolsheviks declared a new socialist order. Moderate elements from the Menshevik faction and the Social Revolutionary Party protested the illegality of the Bolshevik action and left the conference hall in anger. They were derided by Trotsky, who proclaimed that they were relegated “to the dustbin of history.” With the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, Lenin was now in command. His power was tenuous and extended only from the capital to a few of the larger cities, such as Moscow and Kiev, that had waged their own insurrections. There were, in fact, few Bolsheviks in rural areas, where most peasants supported the moderate leftist Social Revolutionaries. On the fringes of the Russian Empire, restive minorities prepared to take advantage of the anarchy to seize their own independence, while “White Russian” supporters of the monarchy began raising armies to destroy the “Red menace” in Petrograd. Lenin was in power, but for how long? The Russian Revolution of 1917 has been the subject of vigorous debate by scholars and students of world affairs. Could it have been avoided if the provisional government had provided more effective leadership, or was it inevitable? Did Lenin stifle Russia’s halting progress toward a Western-style capitalist democracy, or was the Bolshevik victory preordained by the autocratic conditions and lack of democratic traditions in imperial Russia? Such questions have no simple answers, but some hypotheses are possible. The weakness of the moderate government created by the February Revolution was probably predictable, given the political inexperience of the urban middle class and the deep divisions within the ruling coalition over issues of peace and war. On the other hand, it seems highly unlikely that the Bolsheviks would have possessed the self-confidence to act without the presence of their leader, Vladimir Lenin, who employed his strength of will to urge his colleagues almost singlehandedly to make their bid for power. Without Lenin, then, there would have been no political force with the sense of purpose to fill the vacuum in Petrograd. In that case, as in so many cases elsewhere during the turbulent twentieth century, it would probably have been left to the army to intervene in an effort to maintain law and order. In any event, the October Revolution was a momentous development for Russia and for the entire world. Not only did it present Western capitalist societies with a brazen new challenge to their global supremacy, but it also demonstrated that Lenin’s concept of revolution, carried through at the will of a determined minority of revolutionary activists “in the interests of the masses,” could succeed in a society going through the difficult early stages of the Industrial Revolution. It was a repudiation of orthodox “late Marxism” and a return to Marx’s pre-1848 vision of a multiclass revolt leading rapidly from a capitalist to a proletarian takeover (see Chapter 1). It was, in short, a lesson that would not be ignored by radical intellectuals throughout the world.