Below is a short essay on the lead up to the Great October Socialist Revolution, the most important historical event in the history of the Soviet State.
In the watershed of Russian history that was the 18th and 19th centuries, each one of these events, listed in chronological order, had an — if not equal contribution — then a substantial one to the events of that fateful October night.
Since the beginning of the 18th century, the Tsarist autocracy had demonstrated its complete inability and unwillingness to effectively modernize and govern the Russian state. Russia’s backwardness was amply demonstrated in her defeat in the Crimean War of 1853 and the continuation of the feudal practice of serfdom (Chamberlin 13). The regime further eroded its popularity and authority when instead of truly liberating Russia’s peasants, it folded under the authority and power of the land-owning gentry and prolonged the peasants’ suffering through forms of indentured servitude (16: 330-332). At the same point in time, another major change was coming to the Russian countryside, capitalism. The “emancipation” began the division of peasants into different social classes such as the poor peasants, middle peasants, and the richer peasants, or “Kulaks.” The growth of capitalism in the countryside was accompanied by industrialization in the cities, which marked the growth of a small working-class population (Chamberlin 15). This working population was permeated with terrible living and working conditions, all of which the regime failed to address. It was with these mounting problems that the Russian Empire entered the 19th century, and it all came boiling over with the start of war.
The first Russian Revolution of 1905 occurred because of two important reasons. Firstly, a disastrous war with Japan exacerbated the mounting problems at home, and secondly, Bloody Sunday (Chamberlin 46-50). Bloody Sunday references an event in which a procession of Russian workers who were still faithful to the concept of the “Father Tsar” were led by Priest Gabon in an appeal to the Tsar to alleviate their suffering and were instead fired upon by imperial soldiers (23: 236-253). This outraged the workers in cities across Russia and peasants across the country as well, and revolutionary violence broke out. Significantly, many soldiers and sailors in the Army and Navy also expressed dissatisfaction and rebelled as well (Chamberlin 49). The most infamous of these rebellions was the Battleship Potemkin (Chamberlin 49). There were two very important products of the Russian Revolution of 1905. First off, it showed the working class that once the capitalists received concessions from the Tsar, they would quickly abandon the working class and peasantry, and additionally, that the Tsar would give the smallest concessions to the Russian proletariat and peasantry as possible. The second critical product of the Revolution were the local “Soviets” or workers and peasants’ councils that sprung up naturally among the people and showed signs of being effective instruments of revolution (Chamberlin 63).
In this politically volatile scene, there were many political parties with differing ideologies, with some on the right such as the Kadets, Black Hundreds, and Trudoviks, and some on the left, such the Mensheviks, and the large peasant party of Socialist Revolutionaries, and the smallest of the socialist parties, the Bolsheviks. While the Mensheviks platform mainly relied on compromise and a strict observance of the “stages of Marxist development,” and the Socialist Revolutionaries’ tactics varied from the assassination of Tsarist officials to compromising with the more radical sections of the bourgeois, the Bolsheviks upheld a consistent call for a “violent revolution” and the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Credit for the effectiveness of the Bolshevik Party can be given to their leader Vladimir Iyich Ulyanov or Lenin, who argued for an elimination of the old “circles” habit and for the formation of a tightly-knit revolutionary group, which could lead and organize the working class, for which the lack of he attributed the failure of the Revolution of 1905(Chamberlin 34-37). This “tightly-knit” group would be organized on the principles of Democratic Centralism (Chamberlin 34-39). This was in keen contrast to the Menshevik model of organization, which was a party, but one of “loser” affiliations that allowed people to become members simply by professing support for the Party Program. This method of organization resembled the ineffective “circles” of earlier. The decade after the October Manifesto was issued saw the erosion of the few rights promised to the people by the Tsar, such as an independent Duma and improved working conditions. This was not surprising, given the autocratic and absolutist nature of the regime (Chamberlin 4). This corresponded with economic reforms by Sergei Witte, a Russian Prime Minister responsible for many reforms, which led to an increased rate of industrialization that enlarged the working class and worsened the conditions of the peasantry, which resulted in a period of revolutionary uptick. This continued until the outbreak of the great Imperialist War of 1914, in which the major Empires of Europe sought a re-division of labor markets through secret treaties and annexations. At the start of the war, the Tsar received support from the people due to an upswing of patriotism. However, soon after the war began to take its toll on the Russian people and once the imperialist character of the war was revealed, popular support dwindled and all but disappeared. After taking command of the military, and with disastrous losses on the front, the Tsar was forced to abdicate, ending 300 years of Romanov rule (Chamberlin 80). Following his abdication, a “dual” power structure came into being, with the Provisional Government acting as the official “recognized” government headed by Alexander Kerensky, and the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies representing the more revolutionary forces of society (Chamberlin 82). Over the next eight months, power in the country was contested between the two bodies (Chamberlin 85-90). However, by October, the Provisional Government made many critical mistakes that eroded their popular support and authority, such as the decision to continue the war and pursue the war aims of the secret treaties. This was denounced by the Petrograd Soviet, which voted to renounce all war aims (Izvestiia, No. 3, March 2/15, 1917). Secondly, the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks decided to participate in the Provisional Government, which eroded their reputation with the people as the Provisional Government failed to address many critical issues, such as land reform and working conditions (Freeze 288-289). These conditions showed the working class, the peasantry, and the soldiers that there was only one party that truly represented their interest — the Bolsheviks. They had been diametrically opposed to the war since its outbreak and to any compromise with the provisional government (21: 438-454). This was summed up by the Bolsheviks’ slogans of, “Peace for the soldiers, land for the peasants, and bread for the workers,” and “No compromise with the Provisional Government!” (Freeze 289-285). While the Bolsheviks’ main base had always been the workers, effective Bolshevik propaganda in the military eroded the moral and fighting strength of the Tsarist Army and brought many sailors and soldiers to the Bolshevik side, most critically the Krondstat Sailors. Lenin’s April Theses, which called for the transfer of all landed estates to the peasants also helped boost Bolshevik support among the peasantry (24: 19-26). Also, significant to Bolshevik support was the consistent Bolshevik policy of self-determination and adamant disdain of great Russian Chauvinism, which helped them gain, if not support, then at least a lack of direct hostility from many of the ethnic groups within Russia (21: 102-106). All this accumulated in the Great October Socialist Revolution, in which the Bolshevik Party seized power in the name of the Soviets and on behalf of the working people and peasantry of Russia (Izvestia, No. 208, October 27, 1917).
By De’Vonte Armond Tinsley