The Power of One: The Russian Revolution

Imagine this …

During the Great War, the Russian men were off at war. At home people were hungry, because there weren’t enough workers to harvest the crops. There were fuel shortages for heating and cooking. The winter is long and cold.

Then the tsar died. A new leader arose, Vladimir Lenin, promising to bring the soldiers home and to provide necessities for families. He wanted to shift power to the poor workers. Lenin’s socialist political party—the Bolsheviks—became the leaders of the collapsed Russian Empire.

Backstory of the Russian Revolution

In 1905, the Russian tsar, Nicholas II, refused to withdraw from a humiliating war with Japan. Protests erupted across Russia, and they only ended when the tsar agreed to form an assembly of representatives, the Duma.

During this 1905 civil war, Russian workers organized into groups called soviets. The soviets provided a community identity to workers who came together for a common purpose. In Russia, there was almost no middle class and very little common "national" identity, since people were not ethnic Russians. Lenin seized upon these divisions and began to unite people into one community based on their roles as workers.

The Russian Revolution of 1917: What happened? Why does it matter?

Protests began on March 7, 1917, with factory workers striking. The Russian people were fed up with the tsar. The streets filled with protesters calling for Tsar Nicholas II to step down, for the Russian military to exit World War I, and for an end to rationing of food and fuel.

Nicholas II gave up his power and the Duma’s Provisional Committee began to govern Russia. The Committee vowed to continue fighting with the Allies, but the people wanted out of the war. The Bolsheviks appealed to the Russian people for support. The result was an agreement where the Duma and the Petrograd soviet council would share power.

The Duma supporters and the Soviet council clashed over what reforms to institute. Vladimir Lenin's party, the Bolsheviks, finally gained control of the government. They saw the continued protests as a sign of the class struggle necessary to establish their socialist form of government, called communism.

The Bolsheviks arrested those in opposition parties. In March 1918, Russia signed a treaty with Germany that ended the German invasion of Russia and withdrew Russian forces from World War I. Yet Russia was still in a civil war. Bolsheviks finally beat their opponents in 1921.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks established a communism system. Lenin eliminated private ownership, so land and the means of production belonged to the people. The Bolsheviks wanted to unite the people through class connections based on their roles as workers. Lenin promised peace, stability, and provisions, as well as power to the people.

The revolution also shaped the world. The departure of Russia from World War I changed the dynamics of the conflict. Second, the revolution was part of a global shift from empire to nation-state. Third, the Russian Revolution led to the first communist nation-state in the world. The influence of communism was felt throughout the Cold War that played out across the world.

After the Russian Revolution

By 1922, Russia had become the Soviet Union (the U.S.S.R. or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). Under Lenin, there was more bread, land, and peace, but at the price of repression. Following Lenin’s death in 1924, communist leadership continued under Josef Stalin.

Source: The Power of One: The Russian Revolution
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