War and Conflict

Russian Revolution

What was the Bolshevik Revolution?

It was the November 1917 revolution in which the Bolsheviks, an extremist faction within the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (later renamed the Russian Communist Party), seized control of the government, ushering in the Soviet age. The event is also known as the October Revolution since by the old Russian calendar (in use until 1918), the government takeover happened on October 25.

The Bolshevik Revolution was the culmination of a series of events in 1917. In March, with Russia still in the midst of World War I (1914–18), the country faced hardship. Shortages of food and fuel made conditions miserable. The people had lost faith in the war effort and were loathe to support it by sending any more young men into battle. In the Russian capital of Petrograd (which had been known as St. Petersburg until 1914), workers went on strike and rioting broke out. In the chaos (called the March Revolution), Tsar Nicholas II (1868–1918) ordered the legislative body, the Duma, to disband; instead, the representatives set up a provisional government. Having lost all political influence, Nicholas abdicated the throne on March 15. He and his family were imprisoned and are believed to have been killed in July of the following year.

Hearing of Nicholas’s abdication, longtime political exile Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924) returned from Europe to Petrograd, where he led the Bolsheviks in rallying the Russian people with calls for peace, land reform, and worker empowerment; their slogan was “Land, Peace, and Bread.” The Bolsheviks grew in numbers and became increasingly radical, in spite of efforts by the provisional government headed by revolutionary Alexander Kerensky (1881–1970) to curb the Bolsheviks’ influence. The only socialist member of the first provisional government, Kerensky’s government proved ineffective and failed to meet the demands of the people. He also failed to end the country’s involvement in World War I, which the Bolsheviks viewed as an imperialistic war.

On November 7 the Bolsheviks led workers and disgruntled soldiers and sailors in a takeover of Petrograd’s Winter Palace, the scene of Bloody Sunday in 1905, and which had become the headquarters of Kerensky’s provisional government. By November 8 the provisional government had fallen.

The Bolsheviks lead workers and disgruntled soldiers in a takeover of Petrograd’s Winter Palace, Russia, 1917.

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