The Revolutions of both France and Russia had many waves and stages. In France, the election and then disappointment of the third estate led to actual bloody revolution and then a series of regimes including the infamous Napoleonic leadership. Russia endured several waves of revolution, too, beginning notably with the failed revolution of 1905. In his famous work The History of the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky discussed the nature of revolution itself. He said, "A Revolution takes place only when there is no other way out. And the insurrection, which rises above a revolution like a peak in the mountain's chain of events, can be no more evoked at will than the revolution as a whole. The masses advance and retreat several times before they make up their minds to the final assault" (Kreis 1). His comments about revolution are especially apt because he notes the rise of fall of the tide of revolution and the desperate state to which people are pushed before they will revolt.
The most notable leader who emerged from the Russian Revolution was Vladimir Lenin who was part of the failed 1905 Revolution and then an instigator in the 1917 revolution. He is evidence of the ebb and flow of revolution and also evidence of the need for "insurrection" as Trotsky phrased it. Lenin was not content to allow the reforms and voting promised in early 1917 by the removal of the tsar. He was the force behind the October 24, 1917, coup that quietly took over the Winter Palace and other government buildings. His passion for the revolution is part of the reason for its relative success in beginning a new government and causing the era of the Soviet Union and communist rule. Lenin took advantage of the right moment in time to call up the frustrations and passions of a dispirited people and urge them to lasting revolution. In a letter to his wife written in early October when his Bolshevik party was on the verge of seizing power, he urged the necessity of immediate action. He explained, "seizure of power is the point of the uprising; its political task will be clarified after the seizure. It would be a disaster or formalism to wait for the uncertain voting of November 7. The people have a right and a duty to decide such questions not by voting but by force [...] This has been proven by the history of all revolutions, and the crime of revolutionists would be limitless if they let go the proper moment, knowing that upon them depends the saving of the revolution [...] The government is tottering. We must deal it the death blow at any cost" (Kreis). Such revolutionary language shows the importance of strong leadership, the necessity of riling up the people, and the delicate timing that is necessary in having a successful revolution.
While Lenin was known as the man who emerged as a leader from the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and led his party through years of conversion from capitalism to communism, France also endured post-revolution evolution. The promise of both revolutions was that the lower classes would be triumphant and that their lives would be substantially improved. Sadly, in both cases, the revolution was betrayed. The painful and long conversion from capitalism to communism that the Soviet Union endured under Lenin first and then a string of infamous leaders such as Stalin was anything but a glorious improvement for the lives of the working class. France did not fare much better. The removal of the monarchy and the general disorganization that resulted caused a vacuum of power that allowed leaders like Robespierre and Napoleon an opportunity to grab the reins. Although Robespierre and his reign of terror ended relatively quickly, France endured years of Napoleonic rule and a string of wars that decimated the country's resources and did little to improve the lives of the third estate. "The Revolution, after all, had been staged by the middle class and wealthier members of the Third Estate; most of the reforms, especially the economic reforms, benefited only these two groups. In many ways, life had become harder for the lower classes" (Hooker).
Both revolutions share the common causes of the rule of the monarchy, the poverty of the working classes, the influence of outside philosophies, and the ineffectiveness of the clergy. Both revolutions also share the common features of having a series of steps toward revolution, dangerous vacuums of power, and the rise of leaders who are powerful but may not represent the majority hopes for revolution. The French Revolution's goals took many years to take effect and were diminished by Napoleon in the early years. The Russian Revolution's goals also suffered throughout the 20th century under communist regimes that did not improve the lives of the working classes. While some revolutions such as the American Revolution are successful because of the leadership and character involved during and after the insurrection, some revolutions are the beginning of years of sacrifice and suffering for a glorious ideal.
Gershoy, Leo. The French Revolution and Napoleon. New York: Meredith
Publishing Company, 1964.
Hooker, Richard. "Radical Revolutions." World Civilizations, 1996.
Hunt, Lynn Aver. Revolution and Urban Politics in Provincial France.
Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1978.
Kreis, Steven. "The Russian Revolution: Red October and the Bolshevik