Modern World History

The Russian Revolution

Why was backward Russia the first country to experience a workers' takeover? Firstly, although Russia was vast in area communications were very poor. It could take many months for events happening in Moscow or Petrograd to be reported in remoter areas. Secondly, almost all Russia's industry was concentrated in these two cities where conditions in the factories were fairly appalling. Thirdly, although there was a parliament of sorts called the Duma it had no role in government: all effective power was concentrated in the hands of the Tsar. If the garrisons in Moscow or Petrograd were to join the factory workers in attacking the government it could fall before the rest of the country knew about it.

And this is precisely what happened in March 1917. First, in February, the troops stationed Petrograd refused to fire on crowds demonstrating against food shortages. The Tsar was with the army fighting the Germans in Poland and by the time he attempted to return to the capital the mutiny had spread. His generals advised him to abdicate which he did. The Duma took it upon itself to appoint a provisional government but its authority in Petrograd depended very largely upon a council of soldiers and workers (known in Russian as a 'soviet'). Led by Lenin the Soviet overthrew the provisional government in October, offering in its place a simple programme of 'peace, bread and land' i.e. an end to the war which the provisional government had tried to carry on, adequate food supplies ensured by a fair system of distribution, and a sharing out of the land amongst the peasants who farmed it. Never at any time did Lenin submit himself to a free vote in properly organised elections. The dictatorship of the proletariat had come about as communist theory said it would: out of the barrel of a gun.