Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Russian Revolution in 400 words

Something I had to write for work the other day. Pretty much all of this was news to me, so I found it interesting.
In early 1917 failures on the battlefields of World War I, coupled with frustration at the slow pace of political reform in Russia, triggered an armed uprising in Petrograd (as St Petersburg had been renamed in 1914). In what became known as the ‘February Revolution’, Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate and a reformist provisional government was formed.
Regardless of its intentions, the situation this new government inherited was completely unworkable. The Russian Army was locked in a stalemate with the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire) and losing thousands of men every day to desertion. The state was effectively bankrupt and many wanted to sue for peace. The government knew, however, that a peace settlement under these conditions would mean devastating reparations and territorial concessions. Furthermore, the old regime’s allies, Great Britain and France – who had invested heavily in the Russian war effort – would not allow such a move. It was decided, therefore, that the fighting had to continue, much to the dismay of the Russian population.
While the war raged on, the radical groups that had backed the February Revolution began working to undermine the provisional government, which they now saw as a continuation of the old regime. The Bolshevik Party, led by Vladimir Lenin, was particularly active in this regard, establishing a parallel system of local government controlled by workers’ committees, known as ‘soviets,’ all over the country.
With the integrity of the state deteriorating rapidly, the Provisional Government pinned their hopes on a final, massive offensive against the Central Powers in the summer of 1917. Aware that the Central Powers were also near collapse, they hoped this final push could pave the way for a acceptable peace settlement. The offensive proved to be a catastrophic failure, however, and led to the near-collapse of the Russian Army. As the crisis deepened, the internal divisions within the provisional government flared up, leaving it deadlocked and incapable of responding effectively. In the absence of a functioning government, the authority and influence of the soviets grew.
As early as March 1917, the Bolshevik Party had been establishing units of Red Guards, an armed militia. By October this had grown into a force some 200,000 strong, with brigades all over Russia. On 25 October, Lenin used the 30,000 Red Guards within Petrograd to seize power. The Red Guards arrested the Provisional Government and declared that they had taken power in the name of the soviets of Russia.