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Causes of Russian Revolution

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Jane Doe
History 304
Professor John Doe
3 April 2018

The history of the October Socialist Revolution belongs to the themes that have attracted the most attention of both foreign and Russian historiography, because its victory radically changed the position of all classes and strata of the Russian population as well as the party system, which had a great impact on world’s development in the 20th century. The Bolsheviks became the ruling party that spearheaded the creation of a new political and social system. On October 26th 1917 the Bolsheviks passed the Decree on Peace and Land. Following the Decree the Soviet government adopted other laws: the introduction of workers’ control over production and distribution of products, the 8-hour working day, the “Declaration of the rights of the peoples of Russia.”

The Declaration proclaimed that there are no dominant nations and oppressed nations in Russia, that all peoples shall have an equal right to the free development, self-determination up to secession and the formation of an independent state. The October Revolution marked the beginning of a deep, all-encompassing social change around the world. The landed estates were transferred into the hands of the peasantry for free, and the factories, mines, railways – in the hands of the workers by making them public property. The paper will discuss reasons of October Revolution as well as the stages of the Revolution.

There are some debates around historical timeline of Russian Revolution. Michael Karpovich clearly defines Russian revolution as a period from June-July 1915 to the beginning of November 1917 (Karpovich 259). On the contrary, Alan Wood traces the origins of the revolution back to 1861 when serfdom was abolished in Russia.

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The author shares Lenin’s point of view, according to which the events of 1861, especially unsatisfactory legislation on abolition and unsatisfactory administrative reform, created a situation when rigid political structure gave birth to the new social, political and intellectual forces (Wood 1-2). The paper will confine to Wood’s point of view and will review the causes of revolution dating back to 1861, however with regard to 1914-1917 events.

On August 1, 1914 Russia entered the First World War, which lasted until November 11, 1918, the cause of which was the struggle for spheres of influence at a time when the European single market and the legal framework were not established. In this war Russia was the defending side. Although the patriotism and heroism of soldiers and officers was great, there was not a single will, no serious plans of war, nor an adequate supply of ammunition, uniforms and food. This inspired the uncertainty of the army. It was losing its soldiers and suffered defeats. The Minister of War was put on trial, deposed of the Supreme Commander positionthat was taken by Nicholas II. But the situation did not improve. During the war Russia did not have a credible government and authoritative Prime Minister. The officer corps were replenished with educated people who had a spirit of opposition, and the day to day involvement in the war, which was not state’s basic necessity, gave caused doubt among them.

The predominance of military production on civil and rising food prices led to the steady growth of the prices of all consumer goods. At the same time wages have not kept pace with rising prices. Discontent grew both in the rear and at the front. And it appealed primarily against the monarch and his government. Among a number of prominent politicians, semi-legal organizations and clubs matured a plot;the dismissal of Nicholas II from power was widely discussed. It was supposed to capture the king train between Mogilev and Petrograd and force the monarch to abdicate.

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The October Revolution was a major step in the transformation of the feudal state into a bourgeois. October created a fundamentally new Soviet state. The October Revolution was caused by a number of objective and subjective reasons. The objective, first of all, should include the class contradictions, aggravated in 1917. The contradictions inherent in bourgeois society – the antagonism between labor and capital became the crucial point of the revolution’s aggravation (Wade 6-8). The Russian bourgeoisie, young and inexperienced, failed to see the danger coming from class tensions and failed to take sufficient action to reduce the intensity of the class struggle.

The bourgeois government that came to power after February Revolution also failed to see that conflicts in the village developed even more acute. “The peasants, who dreamed for centuries to expropriate the land from the landlords, were neither satisfied with reform of 1861, nor the Stolypin reforms” (Wade 3). They were openly eager to get all the land and get rid of the old exploiters. In addition, from the beginning of the twentieth century a new contradiction, associated with the differentiation of the peasantry, aggravated in the village.

Stolypin tried to create a new class of property owners in the village due to redistribution of peasant lands associated with the destruction of the community. Now the peasant masses got a new enemy – the Kulaks, hated even more, because they came from the peasant environment. In addition to internal contradictions the World War Iby 1917 caused the overwhelming majority of people suffering from diverse hardships of war and longing for speedy conclusion of peace.

Only the bourgeoisie that acquired capital through military supplies advocated continuation of the war to a victorious end. But the war had other effects as well. First of all, it gave arms to the vast masses of workers and peasants, taught them to handle weapons, and helped to overcome the natural barrier that prohibits a person to kill other people.

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Another important reason of Revolution is the weakness of the Provisional Government and its state apparatus. Being unable to solve the pressing problems of society and questions of peace, bread and land, the Provisional Government lost authority and legitimacy along with the increasing influence and significance of the Soviets, who had promised to give the people all the things it craved.

Along with the importance of the objective there was a set of subjective reasons for Revolution’s success. The socialist ideas appealed to the broad masses of the society and, what is more important, intelligentsia that lead the peasants (Wade 9). The Bolshevik Party was ready to lead the masses to revolution and used variety of methods to achieve their goal. This party was not the largest in size, however, was the most organized and purposeful.The presence of a strong leader of the Bolsheviks, respected both in the party and by the people, Vladimir Lenin contributed to the Bolsheviks’ success as well. As a result, the October armed uprising in Petrograd triumphed with greater ease than the February Revolution, and turned out to be almost bloodless due to a combination of all the above factors. Its result was the emergence of the Soviet State.

To understand how these factors combined into a revolution’s success during the course of history one needs to review the stages of the revolution. Francois Vercammen distinguishes between six main stages of the 1917 revolution: the crisis of the regime, the revolution of February 1917, the Dual power, the changing relationship of forces, the counterrevolution in July-August and the revolution of October 1917 itself. The first stage is characterized by the Tsarist regime’s attempts for democratization, agrarian reform, modernization and provision of autonomy to different cultures in the Empire. However, the incomplete reversal of 1905 crisis and economic crisis slowed down the government’s initiatives. On the second stage one can observe the growing dissatisfaction with regime and mass strikes of people who demanded bread and peace.

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The mass society felt its power when starting to organize into soviets (councils). On the third stage between the end of February to the end of October a very specific kind of revolutionary situation took place: dual power (Mandel 4). The working class was not ready to take full power and therefore existed as a parallel to official government structure. A network of organizations and councils quickly became dangerous to the existing regime. The Bolshevik party became the organization of workers’ and peasants’ aspirations and by September 1917 turned into a leading political power. On the fourth stage the party struggle continued in a form of election to congress based on the universal suffrage. Although Bolsheviks did not get the majority, their slogan “All Power to Soviets” became extremely popular. On the fifth stage the tension between Bolsheviks and Kerensky (the Prime Minister) reached its peak and Bolsheviks were outlawed, although they managed to keep majority among workers.

The final stage of Bolsheviks’ rise to power is characterized by “the dissolution of the existing government and creation of its own with the reformist bloc making minority” (Mandel 4-5). After the seizure of political power Lenin declared “construction of a new socialist order.” In this case ones needs to mention powerful theoretical basis for revolution that Lenin created in his book “The State and Revolution” written in August 1917. In this book Lenin developed his ultra-democratic vision of society. The dictatorship of proletariat was a necessary condition to establish two-phase transformation into communist society. The main purpose of such dictatorship was abolishment of classes as such and bringing the state to an end.

During the first phase proletariat needs to gain political power within the state to suppress capitalism and establish socialist rule as an intermediate phase of transformation. Only after the main institutions and capitalist relations based on exploitation within the state will be destroyed proletariat will not need the state at all.

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At this point revolution serves for a binary purpose: to overthrow the bourgeois government and gain the state power and to spread revolution outside the country, as Lenin saw proletarian revolution as international revolution. If we are to look closer at the events on October 1917 we can see that Russian Revolution corresponded to Lenin’s view of societal transformation. Although proletarians and peasants did not come to power right after the revolution and there was a bloody civil war in 1918-1921 Russian Revolution remains symbolic act of the world’s biggest country moving towards classless society.

The paper reviewed the main causes of Russian Revolution. The main causes can be divided into objective and subjective. Objective causes date back to 1861 when slavery was abolished in Russian Empire and include antagonism between labor and capital, unresolved peasants’ problems, First World War and weakness of the Provisional Government. Subjective causes include ideological popularity of socialism ideas enhanced by Bolsheviks and charismatic identity of Lenin. Moreover it was clearly shown that Lenin had a clear agenda based on his book “The State and Revolution”. The ideological impact of this book cannot be disregarded when analyzing Russian Revolution’s causes and success.

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Works Cited

Karpovich, Michael. “The Russian Revolution of 1917.” The Journal of Modern History, vol. 2, no.2, 1930, pp. 258-280. The University of Chicago Press Journals, Accessed 20 Nov. 2017.

Mandel, Ernest. “October 1917: Coup d’etat or social revolution?” International Institute for Research and Education, no.17-18, 1992. Yumpu. Accessed 20 Nov. 2017.

Wade, Rex A. The Russian Revolution, 1917. Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Wood, Alan. The Origins of the Russian Revolution. 2nd ed., Routledge, 1993.


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