2017 marks the centenary of the tumultuous year that brought an end to Tsarism in Russia, unfolding into seventy years of Communist rule, and the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. In fact, 1917 featured two revolutions: the February Revolution, which succeeded in ending over 300 years of rule by the Romanov Dynasty, followed by the October Revolution, where Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized control.
Failed economic policies, food shortages, and the growing dis-enchantment towards Tsarist authority, meant that by 1917, Russia was in a highly fragile political state. There was deep unrest amongst the Russian population, with desire for change coming from almost all sections of society. The February Revolution arose from a series of industrial strikes in the capital, which developed into mass demonstrations calling for an end to the Tsarist regime. Tsar Nicholas II called upon the army to control the crowds. However, the soldiers identified with the discontent of the protesters, turning against the Tsar and taking the side of the revolution. Consequently, the Tsar had lost all control over his people, and was forced to abdicate.
Whilst there were high hopes for a democratic future, as it was oppressed peasants and workers forcing change in the country, the revolution ultimately brought about an unstable situation. Although the workers were the architects of the revolution, they handed over political power to a ‘Provisional Government’, comprising of former members of the Tsarist legislative assembly, creating a system of dual authority with the ‘Petrograd Soviet’ who claimed represented the interests of peasants and workers. This dual power arrangement created a complex system of authority which failed to function effectively. This new form of government pre-occupied itself with trying to win World War One, neglecting the country’s economic and social problems.
With the Provisional Government failing to meet the aims of the country, Lenin and the Bolsheviks were able to gain support through promising an end to the war, land for peasants, and ‘All power to the Soviets’. This allowed for the Bolsheviks to gain a majority in the Petrograd Soviet. Thus, with the belief that they had popular support, the Bolsheviks staged a coup, capturing government buildings and the Winter Palace in Petrograd. Although this is classified as the October ‘Revolution’, there was no storming of the palace, nor any fierce fighting. In fact, it was a bloodless affair that took place in the middle of the night, without the Russian population being aware that they would wake up to a new system of authority. It was predominately carried out by a small number of Bolshevik insurgents who faced virtually no opposition, practically being able to walk into the building and take over. With Lenin now in power, the history of Communism and totalitarian rule in Russia began, and would continue for over seventy years.
The new regime and its ideology saw the birth of the Soviet Union, the removal of private property, and vast levels of censorship and propaganda intrinsically linking every aspect of personal life and cultural output with politics. Although this new regime proved to be at least as repressive, if not more, than the one it replaced, it caused a substantial change for the direction of Russia. However, the Revolutions of 1917 not only dramatically reshaped the course of history for Russia, but fundamentally altered the path of European and World History throughout the twentieth Century. Ultimately, the world became divided into two diametrically opposed power blocs: the Soviet Union’s Communist bloc, and the Capitalist bloc of the West. Communist policies set the Soviet Union on a collision course with the rest of the World. The tensions this created eventually unfolded into the Cold War. Furthermore, World War II could have ended very differently had Stalin not been in power. It is almost impossible to imagine how these major world events would have played out without the consequences of 1917. Thus, it could be argued that the revolutions of 1917 were the most transformative events of the twentieth Century.
This year is the centenary of the Russian Revolutions, yet it is difficult to know how to mark arguably the most radical turning points in Russian History. The year of 1917 not only drastically shook Russia, but fundamentally changed the course of a number of significant events in world history. The world we live in today would be virtually unthinkable without the political climate and events that unfolded as a result of the Russian Revolutions of 1917.