Tag Archives: Russia

Bolshevik Revolution

Brief overview of the Bolshevik Revolution

On the 7th November 1917, Red Guards entered the Winter Palace in St Petersburg in a defining event of the Bolshevik Revolution. Sometimes referred to as the October Revolution, the 7th November is the date from the modern Gregorian calendar that aligns with the 25th October on the old style Julian calendar, from which the revolution got its alternative name.

On the night of the 6th November Leon Trotsky led the Red Guards to take control of key government buildings and communication points such as post offices, bridges and the State Bank. Although the Red Guards were armed, historians generally accept that the takeover was carried out without bloodshed or indeed any shots being fired.

Throughout the 7th November large crowds of troops sympathetic to the Bolsheviks began to surround the Winter Palace. The actual attack on the palace began after a signal shot fired from cruiser ship Aurora. Soviet accounts of the night, portrayed most powerfully in Sergei Eisenstein’s film reenactment, present the takeover of the Winter Palace as a huge battle. However, this popular image is a fabrication. The large number of Red Guards marching towards the palace led to the Cossacks guarding the palace to desert their posts, while the remaining Cadets and volunteers from the Women’s Battalion laid down their weapons and surrendered after the Red Guards found their way inside the palace through an open door.

The remnants of the Provisional Government were discovered in a small dining room and arrested. Meanwhile the wine cellar was looted, leading to what historian Orlando Figes suggested was perhaps, “the biggest hangover in history”.

The Bolshevik Revolution

This video presents an overview of the causes of the storming of the Winter Palace.

Film Century – Revolution in Russia

Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

The signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

On the 3rd March 1918 the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed between Russia and the Central Powers. The treaty ended Russia’s participation in the First World War and was negotiated by the new Bolshevik government.

By the winter of 1917 the Russian economy was in tatters as a result of the strain of maintaining the war effort. Tsar Nicholas II had abdicated in February, but the subsequent Provisional Government was overthrown in the Bolshevik Revolution later that year after they continued to fight alongside the Entente Powers.

The Russian Bolsheviks vehemently opposed the war and received some support from Germany in their efforts to seize power. For example they had allowed Vladimir Lenin to return from exile in Switzerland to lead the revolution against the Provisional Government.

After seizing power Lenin appointed Leon Trotsky as Commissar of Foreign Affairs, but peace negotiations with the Central Powers were fraught with difficulties: the situation was so bad that, in mid-February, Trotsky declared ‘neither war nor peace’. He intended Russia to stop fighting, but not sign a peace treaty: this incensed the Germans who responded by restarting their advance into Russia in Operation Faustschlag. Concerned by the speed of the German attack, Lenin threatened to resign if Russia didn’t accept the new peace terms delivered on the 23rd February.

The Treaty was a humiliation for Russia: she lost approximately one million square miles of land including fertile farmland, natural resources and industry, as well as approximately a third of the entire Russian population. The Treaty was cancelled as part of the Armistice with Germany on the 11th November 1918.

Shooting of the Romanov family

Overview of the shooting of the Romanov family

In the early hours of the 17th July 1918 the Russian Imperial Romanov family were shot dead in the basement of the Ipatiev House in the Russian city of Ekaterinburg.

Their death took place during the ongoing Russian Civil War, at a time when White Russian forces were approaching the house where the family were held captive. The execution was led by Yakov Yurovsky, a member of the Bolshevik secret police known as the Checka, and commandant of the house which had become known as The House of Special Purpose.

The Romanov family – Nicholas and his wife, and their four daughters and son, had first arrived in Ekaterinburg at intervals from the 30th April onwards. They were accompanied by a small number of servants. Their time inside the house was heavily regulated by the guards, who blocked all contact with the outside world.

As the White Army advanced on Ekaterinburg, the Bolsheviks became concerned that the royal family might fall into their hands and act as a rallying point for the White cause. Similarly, their release could encourage other European nations to view them as the legitimate rulers of Russia, and thus undermine the revolutionary Bolshevik government.

Shortly after midnight on the 17th July therefore, the family were woken and led to a small basement room in the house. A group of Bolshevik secret police then entered the room and read out the order for the deaths. All were shot or stabbed by bayonets, their bodies taken away in a truck and disposed of in a forest 12 miles north of the city.

Lenin shot

Lenin shot in failed assassination attempt, 30th Aug 1918

On the 30th August 1918, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov – better known as Lenin – was the victim of a failed assassination plot.

Fanya Kaplan, a member of the anti-Bolshevik faction of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, believed that Lenin was a ‘traitor to the revolution’ for dissolving the Constituent Assembly and banning other left-wing political parties. She fired three shots at him as he left the Hammer and Sickle factory in Moscow, of which one hit his arm and lodged in his shoulder while the other went through his neck and is reported to have punctured part of his left lung.

Made unconscious by the attack, Lenin was taken to his living quarters in the Kremlin from where he refused to move in case other would-be assassins attacked him. Without the medical facilities of a hospital, his doctors were unable to remove the bullets and, although Lenin did survive, the injuries he sustained may have contributed towards the strokes that led to his death in 1924.

In retaliation for the attack on Lenin barely two weeks after the successful assassination of Moisei Uritsky, the head of the Cheka in Petrograd, the Bolsheviks issued a decree beginning the Red Terror. Designed to crush counter-revolutionary action against the Bolsheviks, the Red Terror is generally accepted to have lasted throughout the period of the Civil War until 1922. Meanwhile, the Communist Party newspaper Pravda used the attack as a propaganda tool to promote Lenin.

Kaplan was executed on the 3rd September, but over the next four years tens if not hundreds of thousands of Bolsheviks opponents were killed.

Cheka

The origins and activities of the Cheka under the Bolsheviks

On the 20th December 1917, the Russian Bolshevik secret police known as the Cheka was established. Led by Felix Dzerzhinsky, the organisation’s name was derived from the Russian initials for its original full name – The All-Russian Emergency Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage. Hundreds of Cheka committees were formed across Russia, who went on to arrest, torture or execute many thousands of dissidents, deserters and other enemies of the state before it was dissolved on February 6, 1922.

Established following a decree by Lenin on the 19th December, the Cheka’s focus was on defending the revolution by removing internal threats to the Soviet regime. Lenin’s decree was purposefully vague, and this enabled Dzerzhinsky to recruit and direct his Chekists – the Cheka agents – in whatever way he saw best. With virtually unlimited powers, the growing number of agents soon began rounding up anyone identified as an “enemy of the people”. Although often referred to as the Bolshevik ‘secret police’, in reality the Chekists were easily identifiable from their long leather coats and a number of their activities were reported in official Soviet newspaper Pravda and Izvestia.

Known as the Red Terror, Cheka’s campaign of mass killings, torture, and systematic oppression grew more fierce as the Russian Civil War progressed. Their activities included a number of atrocities using torture methods that respected historian Orlando Figes says were “matched only by the Spanish Inquisition.”

Official Soviet figures placed the number of Cheka victims at 12,733. However, in reality the figure is probably significantly higher. Some historians place the actual figure at 200,000 or more.

History File – Bolshevik Russia

USSR

The Foundation of the USSR, 1922

On the 30th December 1922, the USSR – the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – was founded. The Treaty on the Creation of the USSR and the Declaration of the Creation of the USSR, which were approved by delegations from the founding countries on the 29th December, formed the constitutional basis for the Soviet Union. However, they didn’t officially come into force until the 30th when they were confirmed by the 1st Congress of Soviets and signed by the heads of each republic’s respective delegation.

 

The Soviet Union in 1922 consisted of just four Soviet republics – the Russian SFSR, Ukrainian SSR, Byelorussian SSR and Transcaucasian SFSR – although it’s important to note that the Russian and Transcaucasian SFSRs actually incorporated a number of separate Soviet Socialist Republics. The creation of the USSR therefore effectively created a centralised federal government.

This was an important step for the Bolsheviks who, having won the Russian Civil War, needed to consolidate their gains into a formal political entity. Stalin in particular argued that the New Economic Policy that followed war communism required centralised control, which threatened some national groups. At the same time, some Bolsheviks hoped for a world revolution that would overthrow capitalist governments around the globe.

The USSR’s founding documents therefore allowed Soviet republics to withdraw from the Union at any time, even though none of them actually did so before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Similarly new members were able to join the union at any time, which meant that by 1940 the USSR’s membership had grown from four republics in 1922 to 16.