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The October Revolution

Modern History (Year 12) - Internal Divisions and Crises

Ben Whitten

October Revolution Essay

What were the internal and external causes of the October Revolution and how did this impact Russia’s political system?

The October Revolution in Russia took place between the 25th and 26th of October in 1917 and resulted in the Bolsheviks seizing power in an almost bloodless coup. A variety of causes for the revolution were key factors in its occurrence. Internally, the Provisional Government was unable to sufficiently govern Imperial Russia, the weak economic circumstances at the time and its impact on the working class and the increase in support for the Bolsheviks, predominantly through Vladimir Lenin’s campaigning and leadership style. Externally, the Provisional Government were committed to the continuation of World War One which led to widespread discontent, many troops of soldiers were demoralised and the working class in Europe was powerful and difficult to resist.

The Provisional Government issued a number of reforms after the February revolution, such as the abolishment of the Okhrana, removal of Tsarist Governors, allowance of freedom of speech, abolishment of the death penalty, release of political prisoners etc. – this made it easier for enemies of the provisional government to criticise them. Dissatisfaction with the Provisional Government was due to how they didn’t tackle the continuation of World War One, demands for land and economic and social problems facing the population.

Economic circumstances were undesirable prior to the revolution in 1917, and the Provisional Government were faced with the blame. Widespread inflation took place in this period, as well as shortages of food in the cities. Food riots were common as the price of food rose much faster than wages. Basic food items saw on average a 570% increase in price from 1914 to 1917, while wages only rose from 275%-300% on average. 588 factories in Petrograd closed between February and July with the loss of 100,000 jobs.

Vladimir Lenin was a Bolshevik who believed in Marxism, proposing the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat led by a revolutionary vanguard party, as the political prelude to the establishment of communism. Lenin called for a worldwide socialist revolution, an immediate end to the war, an end to the co-operation with the Provisional Government, the Soviet to take power and the land to be given to the peasants. Some of his famous quotes include “Peace, Land, Bread” and “All power to the Soviets,”. This was desirable and the Provisional Government lost support further. Between July and October 1917, the percentage of Bolsheviks in the Moscow municipal elections rose from 11% to 51%.

The Provisional Government felt it had to continue the war as it relied on loans and investment from Britain and France – it was afraid that this would be withdrawn if Russia pulled out of the war. This decision was wildly unpopular. In April 1917 the Government sent a note to the allies telling them they would continue in the war. The note suggested that Russia should be rewarded with land from Turkey in the event of victory, which led to demonstrations and disorder. Many were unhappy as it appeared that the Provisional Government was no different to the Tsarist regime.

The events of World War One had a great impact on soldiers as they saw defeats and losses. This decreased the morale of the army. This created tension between the soldiers and the Provisional Government as they made the decision to continue the war. When the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace, many soldiers chose to not fire, but rather let it happen. By October 1916, during World War One, the number of soldiers fell from 1.6 million to 1.7 million.

The result of war in the cities was growing class antagonism between workers and employers. The workers had expected social reform after February, with higher wages, better working conditions, shorter hours and more influence in the workplace. Strikes began to increase, and workers’ committees began to take over the running of some factories completely – workers turned their antagonism on the government, demanding price controls, a halt to speculation and the arrest of profiteers.

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