, Research Paper
The Russian revolution and counter revolutions
By Matt Clare
The revolutions at the turn of the century in Russia consisted of two counter-revolutions; revolutions that sent the country through sweeping and bloody changes from one absolute ruler to another. All that changed where the players.
The Russian revolution and counter revolutions where the composite of Russian history. The revolutions would not be possible if it where not for the effect of three hundred years of czarist on Russian people. The czar was considered to be the unquestioned and absolute ruler who drew their authority from god. Power was based on how many serfs and peasants one owned. The majority of the population was severely repressed, and faced with terrible economic social and living conditions; conditions that were far worse then most Western European nations. No peasant would want to live under such conditions by choice. There were several attempts at over throwing the czarist government during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but it was not until 1917 that the people succeeded in their goals.
“I shall maintain the principle of autocracy just as firmly and unflinchingly as it was preserved by my unforgettable dead father.” Declared Nicolas II, the Czar of Russia from 1896 to 1917. An absolute ruler, Nicholas II had continued the tradition of the divine-right kings held by the Romanovs for many generations. The peasants worshiped the czar but the relation between serf and czar would be strained from the outset. As was tradition at coronations, the Emperor would leave presents for the peasants outside Moscow. The people madly rushed to grab the gifts, and they trampled thousands in the ensuing bedlam. No other monarch in Europe claimed such power or stood so high above his subjects as Nicholas II.
Nicolas wielded his autocratic power through his bureaucracy of advisors, which contained the most knowledgeable and skilled members of Russian high society. Like the Czar, the bureaucracy, or Chinovniki, stood above the people. The Chinovniki seemed to be more concerned with their own power then the people who had in-trusted them with it. No one in power felt that public opinion was of any consequence and did not need to be followed. Russia did not hold opinion polls, just revolts.
In 1905 the constant student riots, labour strikes assassinations came to a head. The people of Russia where concerned about the loss of the Russo-Japanese War, the spread of the communist ideas of Karl Marx, combined with a general resentment held towards the czar over Russia’s poor state and high taxation. The Russian people attempted to deliver this message to the czar in a petition signed by 135,000 i people. On a seemingly peaceful and unarmed group (some were armed with icons of the czar) numbering more then 200,000 I marched from the outskirts of St. Petersburg to protest in front of the winter palace and deliver their message. The march had been anticipated. Nicholas had left the palace with a few of his generals in charge of the secret police. The police where told to prevent the protesters from reaching the palace. The police did so by firing upon the marchers. Soon after the blood shed a new constitution and an elected advisory assembly where created to appease the public and prevent further uprisings, but neither were ever put in to power.
With Russia doing poorly in the WWI and morale at an all time low the Russian military forces brought about the first revolution of 1917. The March Revolution led to the abdication of Nicholas and the installation of a provisional government. The leader of this government was Alexander Kerensky. Kerensky was only thirty five, but beleaved he was destine to be Russia’s greatest leader, the public thought otherwise and he was eventually forced from power. (He later immigrated to the United States.)
However Kerensky tried to prove his power by winning the war for Russia. He tried numerous strategies, but the people did not want to fight. The Bolsheviks sprewad there message of “Bread, Peace and Land” and soon had Russia ready for a second revolution. The last revolution took place in November of the same year. (Because the date was in October on the old Russian calendar, it is usually called the October, or Octobrist, Revolution.) It brought to power the Bolshevik wing of the Communist party, led by Lenin. The Bolsheviks established the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics under the dictatorship of the Communist party. In the end Lenin and his followers established a regime that was more rigidly tyrannical than that of any czar.
Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov (Lenin). Vladimir was born in the town of Simbirsk the twenty second of April eighteen seventy. The town is situated on the river Volga and was later renamed Ulyanovsk in honor of Lenin’s second family name, Lenin’s original family name was Uljanin, as the family originated from a Finno-Ugric village in Mordvia. Lenin wasn’t known as a political activist until eighteen ninety-five when he founded the Fighting Alliance for the Liberation of the Working Class in the city of St. Petersburg. Once Lenin had achieved his status as a member of the growing opposition to the government his public life had begun.
When Nicolas and Lenin exchanged power the political system was replaced as well. However throughout all of this the same relationship between the people in power and the public remained the same. The country was run by the educated that told the uneducated public what to do, and it was to go unquestioned. This format was a remnant of the Middle Ages.
The two where also autocratic leaders. An autocratic or absolute leader believes the best thing for the country is him or her. Input as to how the country should be run is not requested nor is it welcome. An absolute leader has the first and last word in all matters of sate and generally makes decisions for his or her own benefit. It’s because of the level of ignorance that an absolute leader has to it’s public that makes him or her so susceptible being over thrown, and the stubbornness of an absolute lead generally means power is only won through violence.
On the twenty-fifth , it was announced that the Provisional Government of Alexander Kerensky was no more, and its ministers were subsequently arrested. On November eighth, Lenin began the construction of the new socialist order he planned on upholding. As well as changing the name of the Bolsheviks to the Russian Communist Party, he abolished all of Russia’s commitments to the war, declared that all land was national property “protected” by land committees and peasants. Lenin also formed the congress of Soviets the nation’s supreme power, with Lenin at their helm.
Lenin’s decisions were supported the country over all. However when the communist party decided to pull out of World Ware One Russia was forced to sign a contract giving up Ukraine and its Baltic States. This was a loss of one million square miles, and sixty-two million people. The people were more then a bit angry about their concession, they where starting to band together against the communists, it was the start of a civil war.
The Civil war forced Lenin to show his true colours, and his inability to accept any opposition to his vision for Russia. Lenin and the Communist Party decided to respond by beginning its “red terror” – which was basically, the arrest and execution of all “whites” within the country, or people who did not support communism. Fortunately the war was quickly stooped. The new promise of communism had revitalized the moral of the defeated army and Lenin’s choice to move the capital to Moscow from St. Petersburg provided a central command post to relate against the outlying rouge states. On the Thirtieth of December, Nineteen Twenty-two, the Communist Party had complete control, the whites were vanquished, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was officially formed.
Lenin passed on in nineteen twenty-four, he had left behind a nation that had great respect and adoration for him. Before his death Lenin had unintentionally provided Joseph Stalin with a means of increasing his own personal power. Stalin had been working his way through the Bolsheviks for some time now and had asserted himself as Lenin’s right hand man. Stalin rose from the depths of the Bolsheviks to inexplicable heights, and he did this in a manner true to form of an absolute leader.
Stalin used his position as General Secretary of the Communist Party in nineteen twenty-two to increase his own power as he appointed his supporters to key positions in the party. In the leadership struggle that followed Lenin’s death, he had the advantage of a stronger power base than his challengers. By manipulating the highest rank of the Party, the Politburo, Stalin succeeded in turning them against one another and watched as they undermined themselves. This autocratic tactic allowed him to replace the in-fighters with his own supporters to increase his own power base and ensure that only his view was heard. It was then that Stalin departed from socialist ideals and implemented the first of the Five-Year plans in which the modernization of the Russian economy was planned through industrialization and collectivization. It was Lenin himself that stated “Comrade Stalin, having become General Secretary, has concentrated limitless power in his hands and I am not certain that he will always be careful enough in the use of his power” when Stalin held the position of General Secretary.ii
On the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution, Trotsky and his followers staged a protest of Stalin’s new policies during the celebrations. Stalin took the cue and expelled Trotsky from the country in Nineteen twenty-seven. With the defeat of Stalin’s biggest threat, in Trotsky and the Left Communists, replacing the Right Communists with his own supporters was relatively easy as Stalin had majority support in the Politburo.
By nineteen twenty-nine, Stalin was in a position of great power and introduced his plans to depart from Marxist ideologies and use this power to centralize and control the economy of Russia. The aim of Stalin’s economic policy was the modernization of the Soviet Union through collectivization and industrialization. This was an example of autocracy in the sense that Stalin planned and implemented this change in policy and the proletariat masses followed. The industrialization was to be made possible through the initially voluntary collectivization of agriculture. Agriculture was intended to provide the surplus resources for industrialization. Large collectivized farms were thought more efficient as machinery would be used more effectively. This increased efficiency would decrease the number of rural workers needed the country and provide more workers for the factories. Surplus grain could be exported to generate investment capital for industry. The reality was that there was never any grain surplus yet Stalin insisted that the grain shortages were the result of peasants hoarding grain, resulting in an uneven distribution of food. The grain shortages of nineteen twenty-eight provided Stalin the basis for a major propaganda exercise.
After industrialization, due to his desire to seek revenge, Stalin made a move that is a staple of an absolute ruler, he eliminated everyone that doubted him during the periods of famine and poverty, this came to b known as thew Great Purges. Stalin had Kirov (a critic of his secession to Lenin) murdered, and then used that murder to arrest almost all of the party members involved as saboteurs. From nineteen thirty-six to nineteen thirty-eight he staged the Moscow Show Trials, at which important old Bolshevik army officials were convicted of absurd, monstrous crimes. By Nineteen thirty-seven Stalin’s blood purge extended throughout every party in the country, and by nineteen thirty-nine a total of ninety-eight central committee members elected in nineteen thirty-four had been shot, and one-thousand one-hundred and eight delegates to the congress were arrested.
Stalin, like many other absolute leaders, had a secret police. This police force extended his reign of terror to all aspects of the Russian society. The deaths numbered well into the millions, including those who died in Concentration camps. By the time the brutality eased in nineteen thirty-nine, Stalin had successfully eliminated all opposition and was the sole leader of Russia.
Stalin’s isolation of power and approach of autocracy was because of his upbringing, where he was taught to become independent, and he thought that he could single handily deal with everything that went on concerning Russia. Although he was able to control himself and his responsibilities very well when he was a child in school, he became a power hungry leader that did not know how to seek the help of others.
When World War Two came around, he did not want the help of anyone. He took complete control of the army by himself, and had absolutely no hesitations about sparing Russian lives in battle. He failed to seek the advice of others, or even to listen to other people’s ideas concerning the military strategies being used. He was able to negotiate a non-aggression treaty with Nazi Germany, but it proved to be short-lived when German forces invaded Russia in June, nineteen forty-one.
Stalin became a good general because of his ruthless willingness to expend soldiers like he did people during his great purges. The USSR’s industrial plants were turning out vast quantities of sophisticated weaponry. This was more than Britain and the U.S., and Stalin also commanded his army directly on a day-to-day basis, impressing everyone with his knowledge of detail.
At this time Stalin was at the pinnacle of his power. The sense of pride in Russia was very large, and people were pleased with the way that Stalin was ruling. But, between this time and his death, he made many bad leadership decisions, which resulted in a decline of his supporters. He killed many returning Russian prisoners of war, and placed new duties on peasants which lowered many of them to the status of serf. He kept troops in eastern European countries and tried to spread communism. This created the Cold War atmosphere, which ultimately led to the Russian downfall. The Russian downfall and his attempt to eliminate all other opposing forms of government can be attributed to his desire to seek revenge, but also to his nature of wanting make everything behave his way.
As if to say that he had given up, Stalin suddenly died on the beautiful spring day of March 5, 1953
Russia went from being ruled by an absolute king to an absolute dictator through two separate revolutions. There was much blood shed, and sweeping changes to Russian’s lives, but the final outcome was that there was really very little change. These revolutions achieved little at a great expense to the Russian people.