Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Monday 29th May 2017 | Manchester, UK

The Russian Revolution

If there was to be one defining year in Russian history, it would undoubtedly be the year of 1917. Centuries of imperial rule came crashing down around the final Tsar of Imperial Russia, Nicholas II, in 1917 as a result of great unrest and frustration at the Tsarist regime. The effects of short and long-term failings in areas such as military expeditions and domestic issues greatly weakened the authority and the public view of Nicholas and the Tsarist system. Initial unrest in 1905 following the events of the Russo-Japanese War, which resulted in heavy losses and a refusal by Nicholas to back out, and the unholy massacre of peaceful demonstrators outside Winter Palace known as Bloody Sunday catalysed the downfall of the tsarist regime. The Tsar’s incompetence at military leadership during Russian struggles within the First World War provided the final blow for his role as Tsar. His self-appointment for the role of commander-in-chief of the Russian forces in WWI contributed to their early exit from the conflict and, alongside the aforementioned factors, sparked the February Revolution of 1917. The Revolution appeared to break out spontaneously and was centred on the then Russian capital Petrograd, now modern day St. Petersburg. Mass demonstrations and armed clashes between protestors and police occurred throughout the city. In its last days during the end of February 1917, mutinous Russian armed forces sided with the protestors and revolutionaries. Even gendarmes, the last of the loyal forces to the Tsar had begun to side with the revolution. On 27th February, under the advisement of his advisory ministers, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated the throne on behalf of himself and his son, Tsarevich Alexei. While Nicholas and his family would be forced to seek refuge from the revolutionaries, the Russian state was placed in a state of limbo. This revolution resulted in the end of the Tsarist regime and the end of the Russian Empire. How Russian would progress was unclear at the time, yet excitement was rife at the prospect of a new era of Russian governance.

The Tsarist regime was swiftly replaced with the implementation of the Provisional Government under Georgy Lvov. Like its name suggests, the Provisional Government was in governance merely a matter of months following its failure to establish a solid, revolutionary-thinking and permanent body of power to reign over this new era of Russian history. The failures of the Provisional Government were numerous and included a struggle to contain the growing dominance of the leftist Petrograd Soviet, crises in April and July 1917, and a disaster known as the Kornilov Affair. As Russian General Lavr Kornilovattempted to seize power, the Provisional Government now led by Alexander Kerensky showed their weaknesses in their inability to deal with the situation. Kerensky released members of the Marxist Bolshevik party in an attempt to dampen this threat, giving the Bolsheviks the opportunity to take the lead in thwarting Kornilov. This provided the Bolsheviks with momentum as the Provisional Government stuttered and immediate replacements in governance were sought after. Key individuals branded as political prisoners such as Leon Trotsky were freed, and planning of a takeover commenced within the Bolshevik Central Committee. Led by oneVladmir Lenin, the October Revolution commenced on 24th October 1917. Bolsheviks led their forces into Petrograd, capturing major government facilitiesand vantage points with little opposition. Kerensky’s Provisional Government was helpless to this movement.The Revolution was mostly bloodless, swift and in many ways inevitable in its outcome. The following day on the 25th October, Kerensky left Petrograd, with Lenin penning a proclamation stating that the Provisional Government had been overthrown.

Lenin became the leader of the first Marxist state in the world. The consequences and significance of this revolution would be enormous. Lenin’s government made peace with Germany, nationalised industry and distributed land to the lower classes. While the Bolshevik revolution sparked a civil war lasting two years, victory in this conflict aided in the establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1922. In the space of a decade, the structure and values of the Russian State had changed drastically, challenging and abandoning capitalist principles and declaring war on totalitarian dictatorship by uniting around democratic socialism. These ideologies and principles were to shape the USSR for the majority of the 20th century. The USSR’s emergence would push and drive Russia through WWII, revitalise a failing economy, and help shape different power blocs across the globe. Following Lenin, figures such as Joseph Stalin and Nikita Krushchev would guide the USSR through conflicts with the rival superpower that was the U.S., showing that the events of 1917 ultimately played a highly significant role in the transformation of the Russian State throughout the 20th century.

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