Chapter 8: RUSSIAN REVOLUTION
The Socialist movement was declining and the outbreak of the First
World War in 1914 saw its hasty demise. The Second International
that was the voice of the workers split on question of the war and
never united again. However the revolution in Russia gave a new hope
to Socialism and the subsequent rise of Russia and its dominant role
as a socialist power till 1989 proved that socialism could match
However the Russian empire under Czar had a very backward social and
political system during the early 20th century. Throughout Europe
feudalism and serfdom was abolished and replaced by the middle class
but in Russia the old order continued. The serfdom was abolished in
1861 but the condition of the peasants remained same. Agriculture
stagnated and peasants having fragmented land or small holdings
didn't have the capital to develop them.
Industrialization came into Russia and was driven by foreign
capital. The homegrown industry couldn't compete with them. So the
Russian industrialists reduced wages and imposed long work hours on
the workers. the workers were exploited even in the foreign owned
factories. They didn't have good conditions of living and the cities
The Czar believed in the divine right to rule. He extended his
empire by conquest but the new territories had to face humiliations.
The Russian language was imposed on them and their culture
belittled. The people who supported the Czar were nobility and
clergy. The bureaucracy was inefficient and unresponsive and top
heavy. People were recruited on basis of privilege and not ability.
Growth of Revolutionary Movement.
The intellectuals of Russia were influenced by western ideology
and wanted to see reforms in Russian systems. However the
abolition of serfdom failed to fulfill their aspirations. Civil
liberties were still non existent in Russia.
The intellectuals started preaching these ideas to the people.
However the real revolution was to come from the workers. For the
first time labor unions and movements on socialist lines emerged
in Russia. The movements were divided on basis of ideology and
organization. One branch called Mensheviks [minority]
wanted a gradual reform and a parliamentary establishment , the
second branch called Bolsheviks [majority]
wanted a revolution.
Leader of the Bolsheviks was Lenin who had worked in the Second
International. He was regarded as the next great socialist after
Marx and Engels. His name was to become inseparable from the 1917
revolution. The socialist party for peasants and states under
colonial oppression of Russia were also existing.
Bloody Sunday & 1905 revolution
The turning point of the movement against Czar was in 1905 when
war broke out between Japan and Russia. The mighty Russian army
was humbled by a small Asian power and this further aided the
revolutionaries. A gathering of women and children reached St.
Peters-burg to give a list of demands to the Czar but the Czar
ordered firing on them. This event was remembered as Bloody
The revulsion created by this event led to widespread protests
and even soldiers struck work.Czar in order to control the
rebellion declared that Duma - A Elected Parliament would
be created and Russia would become a constitutional monarchy
However soon he relapsed into old ways and the reforms were
undone. The 1905 revolt was a rehearsal for a bigger revolution in
The 1905 revolution brought the socialists of peasants and other
nationalities under Russia in contact with the Bolsheviks and
Mensheviks and a united front could be formed.
The Czar entered the First World War with imperial ambitions to
capture Constantinople and Strait of Dardanelles. However the
Russian army was ill equipped to fight a War and it suffered severe
reverses and by 1917 6 lakh soldiers had died. The civilian
population to was distressed by the Czar who was controlled by his
wife who was controlled by Rasputin who virtually ran the
government. Corruption was intolerable, essential supplies were
reducing and unrest was seen.
A small strike by workers lit the spark of the revolution soon even
soldiers joined it and St. Petersburg fell into the hands of the
rebels. they marched to Moscow and removed the Czar from the throne.
A new republican government was set up under Kerensky.
The people demanded : Peace, Land to the tiller, Equal
rights to Non Russians and Control of Industry by Workers.
But the Kerensky government couldn't meet these demands and was
removed by the October revolution. The Bolsheviks led by Lenin soon
formed a government which became the First socialist government.
The policies of the government like Confiscation of foreign capital,
Nationalization of Industries, Banks, Right of Self determination to
people, Right to work and land for farming given to farmer
committees. The government became popular due to its policies. But
it had to face wrath of the imperialist nations.
The Bolshevik government concluded a peace treaty with Germany and
surrendered land to it. The officers of the Czar, supporters from
England, France, US formed a coalition and waged a war on the
revolutionary government. The Red Army wasn't equipped to fight this
but since it was supported by the people it managed to win by 1920
just the like people's army during American and French revolutions.
Effects of the Revolution
The Russian state recognized the autonomy of the republic that
formed it and became United Soviet Socialist Republic or Soviet
Union. The 15 states that formed USSR got regional autonomy to
develop language and culture. The government passed reforms to
establish a state on principle of "From each according to his
capacity, to each according to his work". The Right to work and
education became a constitutional right and government had to find
work for everyone.
Confiscation of the property of Nobility and clergy was a welcome
step. This removed glaring inequalities in the society. The USSR
soon emerged as a major power and dominated the world till 1991
when it disintegrated.
The Russian revolution also supported the cause of communism and
socialism that had declined after the First World War. Comintern
or Third International was formed and the left wing of
all socialist parties aligned with it. The USSR was declared as
the leader of the Socialist movement everywhere and it decided
policies of Comintern.
Rise of socialism and Russian revolution influenced revolutionary
movements elsewhere too. The revolutionary government dissolved
all harsh conditions imposed on China and provided support to Sun
Yat Sen for his movement of uniting China. Russia declared that it
would support the cause of all revolutionaries looking to become
free from imperialism.
People realized that imperialism should be ended and socialism
did this. It also brought countries closer by promoting
internationalism and teaching that relations between nations
should go beyond their narrow self interest. The Success of
socialism also taught people that Political freedom had no meaning
without social and economic freedom. The State's had the duty to
regulate industry and ensure equality.