war with napoleon  |  decembrists  |  revolution  |  second world war  |  soviet era  |  perestroika    

Red Army Poster.The October Revolution was the culmination of a long period of repression and unrest. From the time of Peter I, the Tsardom increasingly became an autocratic bureaucracy that imposed its will on the people by force, with wanton disregard for human life and liberty. As Western technology was adopted by the Tsars, Western humanitarian ideals were acquired by a group of educated Russians. Among this growing intelligentsia, the majority of whom were abstractly humanitarian and democratic, there were also those who were politically radical and even revolutionary. The university became a seat of revolutionary activity; nihilism , anarchism , and later Marxism were espoused and propagated.

Vladimir Lenin.Years 1915-1916 were the years of the World War One. Drawn into the war, Russians died on the front. Those years were the years of complete chaos in people's hearts and minds.

y the eve of World War I, Russia had undergone rapid industrial development, much of it fueled by foreign investment and the import of technology from Western Europe. Key industries included textiles, metal-working, and chemical and oil production. At the same time, many people lived in appallingly backward conditions, especially in the countryside.

We shall not Yield Petrograd to the enemy. Petrograd, 1919.Economic conditions in Russia drastically worsened during World War I, contributing to the growth of revolutionary movements and ultimately the overthrow of the tsar and the destruction of the empire.

On March 2nd 1917, Nicholas II, the Tsar of Russia, abdicated. His family had ruled Russia for nearly three hundred years, but their demise occurred in a matter of days. Nicholas tried to pass the throne on to his brother Michael, but he refused and also abdicated on March 3rd. The situation in Russia was so bad that Michael could see a future for the royal family.

Kustodiyev: Freedom loan. Moscow.In April 1917 Lenin and other revolutionaries returned to Russia after having been permitted by the German government to cross Germany. The Germans hoped that the Bolsheviks would undermine the Russian war effort. Lenin galvanized the small and theretofore cautious Bolshevik party into action. The courses he advocated were simplified into the powerful slogans - "End the war", "All land to the peasants", and "All power to the soviets".

The failure of the all-out military offensive in July increased discontent with the provisional government, and disorders and violence in Petrograd led to popular demands for the soviet to seize power. The Bolsheviks assumed direction of this movement, but the soviet still held back. The government then took strong measures against the Bolshevik press and leaders. Nevertheless, the position of the provisional government was precarious.

Bolsheviks Poster.Prince Lvov resigned in July because of his opposition to Chernov's cautious attempts at land reform. He was replaced by Kerensky, who formed a coalition cabinet with a socialist majority. Army discipline deteriorated after the failure of the July offensive. The provisional government and the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary leaders in the soviet lost support from the impatient soldiers and workers, who turned to the Bolsheviks.

Poster - Soviets (elected bodies of power, as opposed to the government entirely controlled by the communist party) take all the fullness of power and all the responsibility on themselves. The Supreme Soviet of USSR.Although the Bolsheviks were a minority in the first all-Russian congress of soviets (June), they continued to gain influence. Conservative and even some moderate elements, who wished to limit the power of the soviets, rallied around General Kornilov, who attempted (September, N.S./August, O.S.) to seize Petrograd by force. At Kerensky's request, the Bolsheviks and other socialists came to the defense of the provisional government and the attempt was put down. From mid-September on the Bolsheviks had a majority in the Petrograd soviet, and Lenin urged the soviet to seize power.

n the night of Nov. 6, the Bolsheviks staged an coup, engineered by Trotsky; aided by the workers' Red Guard and the sailors of Kronstadt, they captured the government buildings and the Winter Palace in Petrograd. A second all-Russian congress of soviets met and approved the coup after the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries walked out of the meeting. A cabinet, known as the Council of People's Commissars, was set up with Lenin as chairman, Trotsky as foreign commissar, Rykov as interior commissar, and Stalin as commissar of nationalities. The second congress immediately called for cessation of hostilities, gave private and church lands to village soviets, and abolished private property.

Moscow was soon taken by force, and local groups of Bolshevik workers and soldiers gained control of most of the other cities of Russia. The remaining members of the provisional government were arrested (Kerensky had fled the country). Old marriage and divorce laws were discarded, the church was attacked, workers' control was introduced into the factories, the banks were nationalized, and a supreme economic council was formed to run the economy. The long-promised constituent assembly met in Jan., 1918, but its composition being predominantly non-Bolshevik. it was soon disbanded by Bolshevik troops. The Cheka (political police), directed by Dzerzhinsky, was set up to liquidate the opposition.

Soviet Poster - The victory of October Socialist Revolution - most important event 20th century.
Soviet Poster: "The victory of the October Revolution - the most important event of the 20th century."

Freedom and Revolution

Red Army Poster.The Russian Revolution was the first occasion where decades of revolutionary ideas could be applied to real life. What was theory was now practice. The struggle between the two concepts of revolution - the statist-centralist and the libertarian federalist - moved from the realm of the abstract to the concrete.

The question thrown up by the October revolution is fundamental. Once capitalism has been defeated, how is communism to be achieved? While there are certainly faults to be found with aspects of the anarchist movement, at least it cannot be criticised for getting the basics wrong. Anarchists have consistently argued that freedom and democracy are not optional extras. Rather they form part of the conditions necessary for the growth of communism.

Red Army Poster.The answer lies in our conception of socialism. The classic definition is that of society run according to the dictum "from each according to his/her ability, to each according to his/her needs." To anarchists, material equality is one dimension to socialism, but there is another of equal importance, that of freedom.

The world has enough wealth to provide for all our material comforts. Socialism seeks to liberate people from the constant worries about mortgages or landlords, the rising cost of living and the numerous other issues, trivial yet vital that grind us down in our daily life. What's more, socialism must also give us the power to control our own lives, power to take control of our own destinies. For our entire lives, from school to the workplace, we are forced to obey somebody else's order, treated like children or bits of machinery. Human beings have great potential but for most of us, only in a socialist society, will this potential be realised.

Cover of the book about October Revolution - Ten Days That Shook the World , by John Reed.So though socialism is about material equality it is also about freedom. Furthermore it is impossible to maintain one without the other. As long as power is distributed unequally, a section of society will continue to have privileges leading to material advantage. Ultimately society will again be divided into classes, into those who have and those who have not. Furthermore the experience of those attempts to manage the economy through an undemocratic centralised state has also shown that it is unfeasible to manage and control a complex system without democracy and accountability.

Bolsheviks Poster.

The revolution must achieve a number of things. It must defeat the ruling class, removing from them their economic and political dominance. In place of the bosses, the working class must in every sphere of activity make the decisions that ultimately affect them; in factories, communities, schools, universities, newspapers, television and film studios.

This is the sort of society that is worth fighting for. However it is not the sort of society that can be achieved through the dictatorship of a minority over the majority. Even some Marxists such as Rosa Luxembourg recognised this. She said, "Socialist practice demands a total spiritual transformation in the masses degraded by centuries of bourgeois class rule. Social instincts in place of egoistic ones, mass initiative in place of inertia, idealism which overcomes all suffering, etc. etc.... The only way to a rebirth is the school of public life itself, the broadest and the most unlimited democracy, and public opinion. It is rule by terror which demoralises."

Read more about October Revolution at the www.historyguide.org.

war with napoleon  |  decembrists  |  revolution  |  second world war  |  soviet era  |  perestroika

Site Produced by --- Contact --- Disclaimer --- Last updated in April 2003.