Modern World History, Period 2
26 February 2013
The Bolsheviks Seize Russia
(Why did the Bolshevik Revolution succeed after earlier revolutions had failed?)
For decades under czarist rule, chronic discontent engulfed Russia. The majority of the citizens, the peasant and the working classes, suffered from famine and poverty. Workers demanded better conditions, peasants demanded land, and revolutionaries demanded change. With the outbreak of World War I, the Russians’ conditions worsened. Strikes and riots erupted throughout the country, but Czar Nicholas II failed to meet his people’s demands. With the stage set, it was clear revolution was inevitable. Previous revolts failed to develop into large-scale revolutions because they lacked passionate, effectual leaders. However, in November 1917, two men emerged to lead a revolution that would change Russia forever. Widespread discontent, disorganization within the provisional government, and Lenin and Trotsky’s dynamic leadership allowed the Bolsheviks to strategically seize Russia in its time of despair.
Long-term unrest, disastrous wars, and earlier revolutionary acts laid the groundwork for the Bolshevik Revolution. During Nicholas’s autocratic rule, dissatisfaction plagued Russia. Insensitive and ineffectual, Nicholas failed to appeal to his citizens’ needs and was unwilling to compromise any of his divine right authority. Due to Russia’s oppressive social structure, peasants and serfs, the majority of the population, suffered widespread poverty and famine (Gaynor 400). After Russia’s humiliating defeat in the Russo-Japanese War and Bloody Sunday further weakened people’s faith in the czar, Nicholas was forced to issue concessions through the October Manifesto in 1905. Though the proclamation created the Duma, a national legislative assembly, Nicholas limited its power and retained most of his authority (Watts). While widespread unrest continued to stir, Russia’s involvement in World War I intensified the citizens’ poor conditions. When food and fuel shortages engendered violent riots and protests, the czar abdicated, giving rise to the provisional government, led by Aleksandr Kerensky (“Russian”).
The provisional government’s failure to implement reforms fast enough to satisfy the Russians’ needs allowed the Bolsheviks to easily seize power. Since Kerensky neglected the peasants’ demands for land reforms, many turned to Lenin and Trotsky, whose promises of communism compelled the weary citizens (“Russian”). More importantly, the government’s critical mistake of continuing Russia’s participation in the war worsened the already overwhelming discontent. Suffering countless defeats, citizens were sick of the war and the strain it placed on Russia’s resources. In particular, the disastrous Kerensky Offensive in July 1917 resulted in heavy casualties and provoked numerous soldiers to rebel (“Aleksandr”). Soon after, Kerensky appointed Laurenti Kornilov as commander in chief of the Russian army. However, Kornilov clashed with Keresnky about military policy and often disobeyed his orders. In September, Kornilov ordered soldiers to Petrograd in a supposed military coup. Though it is unclear whether Kerensky truly believed Kornilov was attempting to overthrow the provisional government or whether he had led Kornilov into a trap by giving him the orders to suppress a Bolshevik revolt, which never actually happened, Kerensky nonetheless accused him of treason (“Union”). To halt Kornilov’s advances and protect Petrograd, Kerensky was forced to appeal to and arm Soviet and Red Guard troops. While the Kornilov affair weakened Kerensky’s credibility and the provisional government’s authority, it rehabilitated the Bolsheviks, who had been criticized for attempting to seize power earlier in July (Chubarov). The provisional government’s multiple failures set the stage for Lenin and Trotsky to lead the Bolshevik Revolution in November.
Vladimir Lenin’s inspiring leadership guided the Bolsheviks in overthrowing the provisional government and engaging the Russian citizens in a long-awaited revolution. Born into an educated middle-class family, Lenin was greatly influenced by his older brother, Aleksandr. However, after Aleksandr was executed in 1887 for plotting to murder the czar, Lenin developed a deep hatred for the czarist government and was inspired to promote social change (“Vladimir Lenin”). During his studies and period in exile, Lenin discovered and adapted the works of Karl Marx. He called for an elite group of professional revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks, to lead the revolution and establish a “dictatorship of the proletariat” (Gaynor 402). A dedicated and charismatic leader, Lenin effectively organized the Bolshevik Party and gave appealing speeches to workers and peasants. Upon his return from exile in April 1917, Lenin further promoted the revolution and plotted to overthrow the provisional government, claiming it was incapable of satisfying the citizens’ needs and demands ("Vladimir Ilich"). In a time of despair and poverty, the Russians needed a leader to guide them out of their enduring discontent and misfortune. Promising “Peace, Land, and Bread,” Lenin and the Bolsheviks appeared as their saviors (Gaynor 402).
Another dedicated revolutionary, Leon Trotsky aided Lenin in leading the Bolshevik Revolution. While Trotsky originally led his own faction, the Petrograd Soviets, he and his followers soon joined Lenin’s Bolsheviks in their campaign to overthrow the provisional government (“Leon”). A tactical military leader, Trotsky led the Red Guards in storming the Winter Palace in November 1917. With little resistance, the provisional government easily fell to the Bolsheviks. After the revolution, Trotsky founded and bolstered the power of the Red Army, turning it into a violent fighting force. His brilliant leadership allowed the Bolsheviks to crush the opposing Whites during the Russian civil war (“Leon”). The dynamic duo of Lenin and Trotsky powered and enabled the success of the Bolshevik Revolution. Without these two gifted leaders, the revolution would have failed.
The revolution succeeded because the Bolsheviks’ passionate leaders, Lenin and Trotsky, overtook Russia when its citizens were desperate for change. After decades of suffering and starvation, the weary Russians were intrigued by the Bolsheviks promise of “Peace, Land, and Bread.” While the March Revolution of 1917 had been spontaneous, the Bolshevik Revolution was well planned and skillfully executed. When the revolution prevailed, the Bolsheviks wasted no time in establishing control and ending Russian involvement in the war. Additionally, they were able to retain their revolutionary success by defeating their opposers, the Whites, in a three-year civil war. The Bolshevik Revolution demonstrated that ripe conditions and effectual leaders are vital for revolutions to succeed. Not only was the revolution a successful domination, but it also introduced countries to communist rule and paved the way for nations, such as China and North Korea, to adapt similar ideals.
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