Why was there a Communist revolution in Russia in 1917?



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Why was there a Communist revolution in Russia in 1917?

Weakness of Tsar Nicholas II

Tsar Nicholas II was an absolute monarch.

Nicholas was a weak man. He used his secret police, the Okrana, to persecute opponents.

Books and newspapers were censored. Russia=vast country almost medieval compared to other countries.



Failure of the Duma

1905-Russia loses in Russo Japanese War.

Causes strikes in Russian cities and Tsar almost lost control. Nicholas II offers to call Duma, parliament, with free elections. But when the Duma met, it criticized the Tsar so it was dismissed. It was clear that the Duma would be shut down if it criticised the Tsar. As long as the Tsar had control of the army, his power could not be broken.

The discontent of the Workers

Industrialisation began much later in Russia than in Western Europe.

By 1900 20% of Russians were workers living in cities. Working conditions=harsh. Pay was low. Strikes and demonstrations were illegal, but often took place. Strikers were frequently shot by the Tsar’s soldiers or secret police.

The discontent of the Peasants

Russia=rural society. 90% of people were poor peasants.

1861-serfs freed: free but many can’t afford to buy their own farms.

Russian failures in the First World War

Beginning of war went okay but then went downhill.

1915 Tsar Nicholas II assumed personal command of the Russian armed forces. Risky-defeats would be blamed on him.

Tsar=poor commander. Russian Army lost confidence after a string of defeats. Soldiers were poorly trained and lacked basic items. With low morale, thousands deserted. Without army’s support-Tsar’s position became shaky.



Rasputin and Scandal

Wife Tsarinia Alexandra in charge while he was on the front.

Alexandra came under the influence of Gregory Rasputin, a ‘holy man’ who appeared to be able to heal the haemophilia of Prince Alexis, the heir to the throne. Rasputin used power to win effective control of the government.

This aroused envy and he was murdered in 1916. His influence undermined the prestige of the royal family, but his murder came too late to save them.



Two Sides Emerge

Reds vs. Whites



  1. Reds-Bolsheviks, Communist revolutionaries

  2. Whites: Counterrevolutionaries-made up of tsarist imperial officers, Mensheviks, democrats and others-all united to defeat the Bolsheviks

The February Revolution 1917

Spontaneous uprising against Tsar in Feb. 1917.

Sparked by food riots, poor working conditions, and failure to win the war. Russian army refused to shoot at the demonstrators and joined forces with them. Lenin, in exile in Switzerland, raced to Petrograd so that he could attempt to seize control of the revolution. March 1917, without the support of the army, the Tsar was forced to abdicate.

A Provisional government was set up under Kerensky. Lenin believed it was weak. October 1917, Lenin led an armed uprising against the Provisional Government. His aim was to take control of Russia and turn it in to a communist country.



The February Revolution 1917

Spontaneous uprising against Tsar in Feb. 1917. Sparked by food riots, poor working conditions, and failure to win the war. Russian army refused to shoot at the demonstrators and joined forces with them. Lenin, in exile in Switzerland, raced to Petrograd so that he could attempt to seize control of the revolution. March 1917, without the support of the army, the Tsar was forced to abdicate. A Provisional government was set up under Kerensky. Lenin believed it was weak.

October 1917, Lenin led an armed uprising against the Provisional Government. His aim was to take control of Russia and turn it in to a communist country.
The Cheka (or secret police)

December 1917 Lenin set up a secret police force known as the Cheka. Cheka agents spied on the Russian people in factories and villages. Anyone suspected of being anti-Communist could be arrested, tortured and executed without a trial. When opponents tried to assassinate Lenin in 1918, he launched the Red Terror campaign against his enemies. It is said that 50,000 people were arrested and executed in this period.



The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

To successfully impose Communism in Russia, Lenin knew he had to pull out of WWI.

In March 1918 Russia signed a humiliating peace treaty with Germany. Russia lost a huge amount of land in the West. This included about one-sixth of the population (60 million people), three-quarters of its iron and coal and over a quarter of the best farmland in Russia. Came at a high price, but Lenin knew he couldn’t defeat Germany and his opponents in Russia at the same time.

The Civil War 1918-1921

Reds vs. Whites Reds: Lenin and the communists vs Whites: Mixture of people-those who opposed the Reds-supported by Britain, US, France, and Japan-stop spread of Communism

Communists winWhites were divided and Reds controlled key cities, industrial centers, and communication links. Also, Trotsky’s tough leadership proved decisive leadership of new Red Army.

The execution of Tsar Nicholas II July 1918

After his abdication in March 1917, Tsar Nicholas II and his family were arrested and sent to Siberia.

In July 1918, the Romanovs were in Ekaterinburg, with a White army closing in on the town. Local communists were worried that the Tsar might be a rallying point for the Whites. As a result, Tsar Nicholas, his wife, their five children and four attendants were shot and bayoneted.

War Communism

Lenin needed strong Red Army to win. Therefore-state control of factories and appointed managers to run them. Work=hard, long, rationed food. UNIONS=BANNED Cheka-seized surplus grain from peasants.

Peasants hid food or grew less. Drought and famine hit Russia in 1921 – over 4 million people died.

Kronstadt Revolt 1921

War Communismmakes Lenin and his govt. unpopular. Discontent grew. Workers went on strike-in spite of death penalty. Most serious opposition-March 1921-Sailors at Kronstadt naval base near Petrograd revolted. Accused Lenin of breaking promise to help workers. Lenin-ordered Red Army to put down revolt. 20,000 casualties. Leaders of revolt were executed. Warns Lenin-may have to relax War Communism



Success of the New Economic Policy 1921

To regain popular support, Lenin relaxed War Communism with the New Economic Policy (NEP).

Smaller industries were returned to private ownership and peasants could sell their surplus on the open market. This was a return to capitalism and competition.

Goal-give breathing space-Russia get back on feet. Most in Communist Party were for it, though some were against it.

NEP-on whole=success. Some saw NEP as a betrayal of communism and return to the old system.

Lenin died 1924-had been successful in imposing communist dictatorship.

Defeated all opponents-est. strong communist govt.

As each of the areas formerly belonging to the Tsar came under communist control, they were turned into socialist republics.

1923-these became the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

Lenin failed to leave clear successor-led to four year bitter struggle.



Who would Succeed Lenin?

Trotsky – Red Army Commander and Commisar of Foreign Affairs or Stalin


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