"The Russian Revolution" is well-known to many people. But how many of you know there were actually 2 revolutions? Not many.
"2 revolutions???" you may ask. Yes, there were indeed two revolutions. For simplicity's sake we shall call the first one the Russian Revolution and the second the Bolshevik Revolution.
The Russian Revolution occurred in February of 1917 while the Bolshevik Revolution occurred just 8 months after, in October. To be able to analyse these two revolutions we must understand the causes of these revolutions first.
Causes of the Russian Revolution
As mentioned in the previous page, the conditions in Russia were not optimistic. Not only was food scarce, the people were forced to pay heavy taxes and the gap between the peasants and the nobles was widening every day. Some people were also dissatisfied with the Tsar's autocratic rule and wanted him out to be replaced with a more democratic rule. There were some who felt that other powers were progressing faster than they were and that the Tsar should adopt some of their thinking. And of course, there were the communists, like the two groups, the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks.
Russia took on Japan in 1904, when Japan competed with them for Manchuria and Korea. The Russians were optimistic, as they were sure their vast superiority of numbers would easily defeat the tiny Japan. But this was not to be. Japan, with their advanced technology destroyed the Russian Army, armed with their "primitive" weapons as compared to the Asians. This defeat was a great humiliation for Russia. The people lost confidence in the Tsar and the military. Russia, all along priding itself on military excellence, suddenly defeated by Japan...how would that reflect on the people?
No doubt some of you would have heard about the Bloody Sunday conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants in Ireland. Well, this is different. On Sunday, 22nd January 1905, more than 200 000 workers, led by a priest of the church by the name of Father Gapon, took part in a peaceful demonstration in St. Petersburg (later known as Petrograd, and then Leningrad). They proceeded to the Winter Palace to present a petition to the Tsar regarding better working conditions, medical benefits and more freedom. They also wanted a parliament, or a Duma, to represent their views. The unarmed demonstrators were shot at by the Tsar's troops. There were many outbursts after that. Troops mutinied, peasants rose up and strikes emerged, all demanding that the Tsar create a Duma and more freedom.
In the October Manifesto, the Tsar decided to form a Duma and allow more freedom of speech. This was the Tsar's real chance to improve people's lives by implementing reforms and increasing work condition standards. He could have employed the Duma well to gain him support and yet keep the people happy at the same time. Instead, he made a big mess out of everything. There were 4 Dumas within the span of 1906 and 1917, and the first 3 were changed due to the Tsar's selfishness and hunger for power. All 4 Dumas were powerless and did not really represent the people at all.
Rasputin. What is that? Well, it's not a what, it's a who. So, who was Rasputin? This is indeed a long story.
Well, the story starts off with Alexis, Tsar Nicholas II's son. He suffered from haemophilia, where his blood was unable to clot after bleeding due to a lack of platelets in the blood. Rasputin claimed to be a holy monk from the remote wastelands of Siberia, and was able to use his "supernatural healing powers" to heal Alexis. Granted, Rasputin could ease some of Alexis' pain, but most of what he did seemed a scam. The Tsarina (the Tsar's wife) doted on her son and thus naturally treated the monk better. Rasputin abused his authority and replaced many ministers with his own family and friends, regardless of whether the previous ministers were good. Some of his decision in the country's administration were also foolish and led to many problems. This naturally led to people disliking Rasputin severely and thus blaming the Tsar for his trust in this incompetent person.
You may like to listen to a nice song about Rasputin by Boney M here.
This can be considered as one of the more important reasons for the revolution. Russia was, as we know, one of the most major powers in the world at that time. Up against a Germany that was being attacked from all sides, Russia expected a quick and decisive victory. In actual fact, Russia suffered a series of humiliating defeats.
Tsar Nicholas II then decided to take matters into his own hands and take over as Commander in Chief. He went up to the battlefront to direct the battle, in the hope that his "brilliant tactics", "marvellous maneouvering" and "royal presence" would spur the army to victory. Sadly, this was not to be as his lack of military experience and inferior expertise devastated the Russian Army entirely, with the blame left on his shoulders. News of the large casualties and disappointing results of the campaign led to the people blaming the Tsar and losing even more trust in him as the weeks went by.
When the Tsar was at the front, the Tsarina Alexandra was in charge of matters back in the capital. Under the influence of Rasputin (again...), the Tsarina made many new changes to the administration and plunged the country into further crisis. Futhermore, the Tsarina was a German by birth, and incurred many people's wrath by doing so.
The war effort was hampered greatly by many constant problems. These included shortages of ammunition and other supplies, an inefficient transportation and distributino system, incompetent military leadership, low morale and desertions, and high land losses and casualty rates.
The war was financed through borrowing and printing money instead of raising taxes, as they felt that doing so would cause objections from the already-unhappy people. Wages did not keep pace with inflation, and Ukraine, the largest corn-producing area, was lost in the war. The inefficient railway system was unable to distribute food efficiently.
Most of the young men went to fight for the army, leaving the women and elderly to do the work on farms. Also, corn prices were fixed, but clothes prices were rising. Many peasants had to go into factories to work. Lousy living conditions made things even worse.
Course of the Russian Revolution
Those were the events leading to the revolution. Now for the course of the Russian Revolution of February...
Causes of the Bolshevik Revolution
The Provisional Government was only a temporary government meant to take care of the empire until it could hold elections for a Constituent Assembly which would draw up a constitution for Russia. However, it was not confident enough of itself to implement mass reforms and such, as it was not elected, but self-appointed and temporary.
After the revolution, many people expected democracy and an elected parliament. However, the Provisional Government delayed the elections and this lost them a lot of support. They claimed that so many people were away fighting that it was not possible to hold elections. While this was going on, so was the war. While the war-weary people wanted the war to end, the Provisional Government felt that victory would boost morale. However, more defeats meant that hundreds of soldiers deserted and more support lost.
The people wanted many reforms, most importantly land reforms, as the majority of the population - the peasants, wanted the lands of the aristocrats. However, the reluctant and wary government, as mentioned earlier, did not want to do so in order to consolidate their position first. The gvernment also inherited the problems of the Tsar's, as they had to face inflation and food shortages.
The government was also humiliated many times by their own inability to deal with problems. In the cities, workers formed groups called the Petrograd Soviet, a form of workers' union. The Petrograd Soviet called upon all soldiers to obey them, and thus the government becamse reliant on them. This can be seen in the example of the Kornilov incident, where the rogue commander-in-chief Kornilov turned on the government with his troops. The government had to turn to the Petrograd Soviet for help, and they promptly replied with their own forces, known as the Red Guard, by driving away Kornilov and his troops quickly.
The Bolsheviks were one of the communist parties in Russia at that time. Their leader was a man known as Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, and was a great fan of Marx's. He had been influenced by Marx's socialist writings and wished to transform Russia into the ideal communist state. He was originally exiled from Russia during monarchial reign, but returned to Russia in April 1917.
At this time, the Provisional Government had freed political prisoners and loosened up their hold on the press. The Okhrana was also disbanded. All this made it easier for Lenin to carry out his revolutionary activites. He was able to organise the party better with party communities all over Russia and in the army.
At the same time, Lenin found a talent in a person called Leon Trotsky. Trotsky used to be on the side of the Mensheviks, another communist group but was more on the side of taking things slower and not having a revolution so early. Trotsky however opposed this view and joined the Bolsheviks instead. Lenin found that Trotsky was highly capable, both in speaking and in military expertise. He entrusted Trotsky with the job of organising the Bolshevik troops, the Red Army. He also found some qualities in a man called Joseph Stalin. Although less capable than Trotsky in speaking, he was reliable and not so flampoyant. Stalin took charge of the party newspaper, Pravda(Truth), which spread Bolshevik propaganda and news.
Lenin often made speeches to the people. He told them about his ideas for Russia, encapsulated in three basic points: "Peace, Bread and Land". Not only that, he also opposed the government violently and wanted the immediate transfer of power to the Bolsheviks. This, and the Bolshevik slogan, made them so appealing that they gained power so rapidly and the government's hold on Russia began to slide.
The slogan of "Peace" was probably the most attractive offer to the Russian people. Almost everybody wanted the war to stop, as it had dragged on for too long. The devastated economy and dwindling food supplies were all caused by the war, and people wished to reutrn to their lives, just as before the war. Lenin knew this and aptly used this as a slogan for his campaign. Being the only party which constantly opposed the continuation of the war, the Bolsheviks attracted many supporters.
The "Bread" problem was not being met by the government, but the Bolsheviks promised that they would deal with it. Lenin promised to provide the people with sufficient food, and the starving population turned to him for help.
"Land" was another point well handled by Lenin .Most peasants were furious with the government and the landowners for not giving the peasants a chance to earn their own money with their own land. Lenin, however, in accordance with the communist ideology, promised that the landowners' property would be split up and distributed equally, naturally attracting mass support from the majority of the population.
As Lenin's support grew, and membership increased tenfold in 8 months, so did dissatisfaction with the government. In July, during a period known as the "July Days", a political crisis erupted as soldiers in Petrograd refused to go to the front and sailors joined the workers in anti-government demonstrations. These people were mostly Bolshevik supporters, and these riots were no doubt sparked off by party instigators. However, they were delivered a crushing defeat when the government managed to suppress the demonstrations and arrested a few leading BOlsheviks. Lenin himself was shot twice in the chest from close range, but survived to escape to Finland. However, this event goes to show that the Bolsheviks were gaining a lot of support and would soon be able to take power.
Course of the Bolshevik Revolution
The reason why the Bolsheviks were so successful was because other groups like the Social Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks were hesitant in leading a revolution after February. They were willing to work together with the Provisional Government for the good of the people. This cooperative mentality was eventually used against them by the Bolsheviks, branding them as traitors. Not only that, they also supported the government in their continuation of the war, and this worked against them too. All this brought the Bolsheviks support from many workers and soldiers in Moscow and Petrograd. However, the Bolsehviks did not have the full support of ALL people in Russia. It was Lenin's and the Bolshevik's task to extend and maintain their control over the vast empire they had inherited.