Danny Isham

One hundred and two years ago today, the world changed forever. At 10 a.m. on Nov. 7, 1917, Vladimir Lenin announced to the people of Russia that the Petrograd Soviet had overthrown the Provisional Government, ushering in a new age in the history of mankind.

For the first time in the Imperialist Era, the working class had thrown off the shackles of capitalist oppression and devoted their collective will to the formation of a society based not on profit or the exploitation of man, but on the desire to guarantee every human the right to determine their own destiny.

In celebration of this monumental event, I will be going over the political and societal climate that allowed Lenin to begin one of his greatest contributions to humanity.

Until 1917, Russia was ruled under the iron fist of the Romanov tsardom, an authoritarian monarchy in which the ruler, or “tsar,” held absolute power over the population. Though much of Europe had progressed into industrial capitalist society by the 1850s, it wasn’t until 1861 that serfdom — a form of indentured servitude — was abolished, showing the backward, agrarian nature of imperial Russia.

Only in the latter half of the 19th century did Russia institute a policy of rapid industrialization, modernizing several bits and pieces of the tsardom while developing an overworked, underpaid industrial working class.

Along with its economic backwardness and oppression, Tsarist Russia, during its period of industrialization, also displayed an aggressive form of nationalism known as “Russification.” A hotbed of anti-Semitic activity, the Russian Empire was infamous for its numerous “pogroms,” locally organized race riots against the Jewish people that were encouraged by social reforms that solidified the legal supremacy of ethnic Russians over other minorities in the empire.

Although it continued a bloody campaign of forced cultural assimilation against its numerous minorities, this only fueled discontent against the current Russian government.

After several decades of rapid, unchecked progression into an industrial, capitalist nation-state, a revolution broke out in 1905, a precursor to the revolutions to come. In both the urban centers and the countryside, strikes and insurgencies paralyzed the country as the authority of the tsar showed obvious signs of weakening.

In addition, the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, one of the first few fledgling organizations to coordinate the activities of the working-class movement, was formed, gaining control of numerous unions in St. Petersburg before being violently suppressed by the Tsarist government.

To appease the rebelling population, the current (and last) Tsar Nicholas II allowed for the formation of a national legislature (the Duma), as well as the protection of certain civil liberties under a national constitution.

Although it held the trappings of a constitutional monarchy, Nicholas II had the ability to dismiss the Duma at any time and (through his Prime Minister) change the requirements for members to be elected, allowing him to remove elements against his rule and maintain a grip on power through slightly indirect means.

By the third Duma in 1907, power had once again been stabilized underneath the boot of Nicholas II’s autocratic regime, though the brewing storm over Europe would soon change that.

With the death of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, the European powers entered the hellscape of World War I, including imperial Russia. Despite the efforts of the past few decades, Russia was still behind the rest of Europe’s major military powers, meaning that engagements with the German and Austrian armies usually ended in defeat.

As morale plummeted both on the front lines and the home front, Nicholas II announced in 1915 that he would be taking personal control of the military, aggravating both military officers and the general public. Having left his wife in control of the Russian government while he buried himself in leading the front lines, the tsardom fell into political and economic disarray.

The rule of the last tsar was slipping through his fingers.

On March 3, 1917, the first protests against the war and the monarchy erupted in the form of a workers’ strike in St. Petersburg, renamed to Petrograd so as to dissociate it from any German terminology. From here, mass demonstrations by the population followed until a full-fledged revolution broke out with the assistance of the mutinying army.

Soldiers and workers fighting hand-in-hand against the police as they gained control of Petrograd, a section of the now-dismissed Duma known as the Provisional Committee declared itself the governing body of Russia as socialist forces in the city formed the Petrograd Soviet of Soldiers’ and Workers’ Deputies.

Now realizing the grave mistake he had made, Nicholas II left the front lines in hopes of reclaiming the capital but was captured by revolutionary forces while en route.

On March 17, Nicholas II abdicated from the throne, ending the 300-year Romanov dynasty as the Provisional Committee solidified itself as the Provisional Government.

The tsardom now removed from power, the Provisional Government instituted new widespread reforms throughout the country, including a democratically elected system for the national parliament.

However, the issues that had brought about its creation, namely ending the war with Germany and the redistribution of land for the peasantry, were completely ignored. Due to this, the Petrograd Soviet, with the support of the industrial and rural working classes, was capable of holding major influence in Russia alongside the Provisional Government, forcing the creation of a dual-power system.

In the eyes of the Soviet’s leaders, the February Revolution (the calendar system of Russia was around two weeks behind normal calendars) had been a struggle of the industrial ruling class attempting to free Russia’s economy for the development of capitalism at a faster rate.

In April, exiled Marxist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin arrived in Petrograd from Switzerland, presenting his famous April Theses to Bolshevik and Menshevik party members in the Petrograd Soviet. In it, he stated that the war with Germany should be ended immediately, and that the most effective way for the Soviet to gain control of the country would be to form a minority party in the national parliament.

By July, support for the Petrograd Soviet had grown to such a height that worker and soldier demonstrations broke out in Petrograd, demanding that power be transferred to all soviets (numerous other soviets had formed in other cities throughout Russia).

Betraying their Bolshevik counterparts, the Menshevik leadership of the Soviets supported the Provisional Government in violently suppressing the peaceful protests, killing hundreds of protestors, arresting numerous Bolsheviks and forcing Lenin back into exile (this time in bordering Finland).

After the chaotic “July Days” in Petrograd, the leader of the Provisional Government Alexander Kerensky called on the military forces of General Lavr Kornilov to enter Petrograd to restore order, though shortly after reversed the order. Despite this, Kornilov continued his march towards the capital in an apparent coup, forcing Kerensky to turn to the Petrograd Soviet — too powerful to be suppressed under his campaign against the Bolsheviks—for assistance.

Having control of major railroad and telegraph stations outside of the capital, the Soviet was capable of stopping Kornilov’s advance and convincing the army to stand down. Due to the successful prevention, Bolshevik popularity exploded across the country, becoming the majority party of numerous soviets.

Realizing that another suppression campaign by Kerensky was inevitable, the Bolshevik leadership voted in favor of an armed uprising against the Provisional Government.

On the morning of Nov. 6, Bolshevik “Red Guard” forces alongside worker and soldier brigades fought against Kerensky’s forces for control of the city, seizing numerous sectors with ease as more and more soldiers defected to the Bolshevik cause. The next morning, after a night of gaining control of the city, Lenin released his message “To the Citizens of Russia!” declaring that the Provisional Government had been deposed.

After a final assault on the Provisional Government’s seat of power that night, the Winter Palace, the cabinet of the now-ended government, surrendered, marking the first step in the journey to the victory of socialism worldwide.

The people had won.

Remember the bravery of those who sought to choose their own destiny! The workers of the world must dare to overthrow their masters to bring about the victory of world communism. Remember the glorious October Socialist Revolution!

Danny Isham is a freshman majoring in political science. He can be reached at disham@vols.utk.edu.

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