Revolution the Bolshevik Revolution of Essay

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We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire. We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighboring marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation…there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves in the process of their movement, the only choice is -- either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course (for mankind has not created a "third" ideology, and, moreover, in a society torn by class antagonisms there can be a non-class or an above-class ideology)."

The Revolution of 1905 developed in two phases. First, a diverse group opposing the Tsar and encompassing much of the political spectrum took form. This group included moderate liberals, the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, heirs to revolutionary populist, and the Russian Social-Democratic Workers' Party (SD) on the left, as well as the non-Russian nationalities, particularly Ukrainians, Poles, Georgians, the Baltic peoples, and Finns. Lenin returned to Russia in November 1905 to take advantage of liberties enacted by the October Manifesto. Lenin now headed his own group of radical organizers and intellectuals. The lessons that Lenin drew from the failure of the Revolution of 1905 was that Marxists should lead workers and peasants to "a real and decisive victory," since the bourgeois liberals had failed to do so. (Brooks 11)

World War I was a tragic struggle in which Russia joined with Britain, France, and other nations against Germany, Austro-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria. Each side had its reasons for fighting, but the longer the war continued, the less compelling these reasons seemed to many Russians. The Russian Army suffered serious defeats at the outset, stabilized the front in late 1915 and early 1916, and then embarked on an unsuccessful offensive that produced massive casualties and widespread discontent for the remainder of 1916 and 1917.

The February Revolution of 1917 (which actually took place in March according to our calendar), in which the tsarist government was overthrown by a spontaneous uprising that began with food riots, confirmed Lenin's prognosis that the world war weakened capitalism. Not only did the Russian autocracy find few defenders in view of the unpopular war, but the foreign governments that Lenin believed might have propped up the old regime were unable to do so. When protests spread, the Russian police lacked the force to reestablish order, and many in the army and among the Cossacks, special army units of hereditary frontier soldiers who traditionally suppressed disorder, lacked the will. The workers in the streets saw the police and military as their collective enemy. Disgusted by the units who had fired upon workers, one young, peasant sergeant convinced his soldiers to join the protest: (Figes 312)

"I told them that it would be better to die with honor than to obey any further orders to shoot at the crowds: 'Our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, and brides are begging for bread…Are we going to kill them? Did you see the blood on the streets today? I say we shouldn't take up positions tomorrow. I myself refuse to go."

The autocracy had fumbled the crisis, and power passed to a provisional government composed of the Duma and a revived Soviet, now including representatives of army units as well as workers, trade unionists, and leaders from socialist parties. The Tsar abdicated and Russia became a republic. Cafe and Restaurant owners fed soldiers and workers without charge. One Cafe had a sign out front:

FELLOW-CITIZENS! In honor of the great days of freedom, I bid you all welcome. Come inside, and eat and drink to your hearts content.

The Provisional Government was mostly centrist. Conceived in liberal and democratic spirit, the Provisional Government instituted considerable reform with respect to individual rights and the rights of women. Nevertheless, it squandered its authority by continuing the war, mismanaging the economy, delaying land reform, alienating restive nationalities, and postponing elections for a constituent assembly or constitutional convention. In the Provisional Government, power was given to AF Kerensky, a socialist on the Petrograd Soviets executive committee, who broke ranks to become minister of justice. He was a virtual dictator during the summer and fall of 1917. (Brooks 13)

The February revolution raised expectations that went unsatisfied. After an ill-conceived military offensive in July 1917, the Russian Army began to disintegrate. Living conditions in Russian cities deteriorated. Workers' demands for control over their workplaces went unmet. In the countryside, peasants began to seize land from private estates, the Orthodox Church, and the Tsar's family. Soldiers, exposed to antiwar propaganda from Bolsheviks and others, deserted, hoping for a share of whatever land was being seized.

While the Provisional Government floundered, Lenin and the Bolsheviks became the most visible organized alternative to the status quo, winning new influence in city government, trade unions, and, most importantly, the soviets that were created in all cities, in many counties and in the army. Lenin had long sought a centralized, secretive political party. Still living in Switzerland, he hoped to use that party to take power in a socialist revolution with both workers' and peasants support. He must have been delighted when the German government agreed to send him home by train with other antiwar emigres in the hope that they would undermine the Russian war effort. Lenin reached Petrograd on April 3.There he shocked Bolsheviks and others by denouncing the war and the Provisional Government. The next day he presented his famous "April Theses" to two party meetings. In these documents, he urged transfer of all power to the soviets. Initially, Lenin's Bolsheviks were a minority in the soviet, s but by September 1917, they controlled the soviets in Petrograd, Russia's capital and in its second largest city, Moscow. (Brooks 14)

Why, among the handful of established parties, did Lenin's party succeed while others failed? Historians' explanations range from those that emphasize Lenin's and the Bolsheviks skill and the comparative ineptness of their rivals and the Provisional Government to those that seek answers beyond the actions of individual historical actors and see an explanations in the extent of Russia's problems, its lack of democratic traditions, its weak civil society, and its long authoritarian rule. One man, who had known and worked with Lenin since 1894, explicated Lenin's appeal: (Figes 392)

"Only Lenin was followed unquestioningly as the indisputable leaders, as it was only Lenin who was that rare phenomenon, particularly in Russia -- a man of iron will and indomitable energy, capable of instilling fanatical faith in the movement and the cause, and possessed of equal faith in himself. Once upon a time I, too, was impressed by this will-power of Lenin's, which seemed to make him into a 'chosen leader.'

Regardless of explanation, neither leadership nor tradition can be comfortably ignored. When the Russian Revolution began, the Bolsheviks were weak. Other groups initially enjoyed the support of various social strata, but they did not articulate specific programs to address demands for bread, land, peace, and the rights of nationalities within the empire. Only the Bolsheviks, under Lenin's direction, did so, however demagogically. (Brooks 14)

With the imperial troops and police failing in quelling the uprising, many Russians suspected that foreign powers would intervene and dissuade the revolutionary movement. Russian capitalist Stepan Georgevitch Lianozov, known as the "Russian Rockefeller," said: (Sutton 23)

"Revolution "is a sickness. Sooner or later the foreign powers must intervene here -- as one would intervene to cure a sick child, and teach it how to walk. Of course it would be more or less improper, but the nations must realize the danger of Bolshevism in their own countries -- such contagious ideas as 'proletarian dictatorship,' and 'world social revolution' -- There is a chance that this intervention may not be necessary. Transportation is demoralized, the factories are closing down, and the Germans are advancing. Starvation and defeat may bring the Russian people to their senses -- ."

Foreign powers did intervene, although in much different terms than Lianozov anticipated. Because Bolsheviks are at the left end of the political spectrum and Wall Street financiers on the right side, we tend to think the two have nothing in common and would therefore never ally. There is much evidence, contrarily, of intimate connections between influential people among the two interest groups.

For one, there is the telling relationship between Bolshevik banker Olof Aschberg and the Morgan controlled Guaranty Trust Company in NY before, during and after the Russian Revolution. In tsarist times, Aschberg was the Morgan agent in Russia and the negotiator for Russian loans in the U.S.; during 1917 Aschberg was financial intermediary for the revolutionaries, and after the revolution Aschberg became head of the Ruskombank, the first Soviet international bank, while Max May, a vice president of the…[continue]

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