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Political Coup Or Social Revolution History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The question posed asks for an analysis upon the resultant of the October 1917 Revolution and whether it acts as an opportunity for social change or a violent seizure of the government by a minority group. One of the main interpretations accepted by modern historians is that the events of October 1917 have commonly merited the description of a social revolution due to the key social issues being addressed by Lenin from his April Theses, promising the peasantry, workers and soldiers, bread, land and peace. Furthermore, the social changes extend to improving the status of women and children, which was considered a revolutionary idea in 1917. However, the counterargument provides insight into the limitations of October 1917 being a social revolution. October 1917 may have been viewed as a political coup due to the confined group of Bolsheviks embarking upon a takeover of the capital’s infrastructure. Within my essay, I will be arguing that the events of October 1917 lean towards a social revolution rather than a political coup.

It can be reasoned that the events in October 1917 suit the description of a social revolution as there were direct resulting social changes after the Bolsheviks seizure of power. By definition from its origin, a social revolution is ‘more or less rapid transformation of the foundations of the juridical and political superstructure of society arising from a change in its economic foundations’ [1] . The change in economic foundations took the form of nationalising, as ‘between November 1917 and March 1918, 836 enterprises were nationalized’ [2] . As ‘three -quarters of the orders of expropriation emanate from local organs’, it suggested there was a widespread social effect as a result of the Bolshevik seizure of power. As merely 5% was ‘nationalised by the centre’ [3] , one can understand that there was a greater social change implemented from the involvement of nationalising by the mass peoples rather than solely the state government. Moreover, the October Revolution made drastic social changes as it ‘destroy[ed] an entire social system and replace[d] it’ in terms of its class structure and socio-political aims. Due to the shift in the economic power from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat, there was a shift in political power from the Provisional Government to the Bolsheviks. In addition, it was namely a ‘social revolution’ as apart from classes, socially the revolution brought about a reformation regarding the status that women acquired after the seizure of power. It was known that ‘the Bolsheviks vision of social transformation also included the emancipation of women’ which illustrated a social leap from a backwardly Bolshevik society. This was coupled with ‘those into their 20s and younger’, who became a category through which a very empowering identity could be constructed’, suggesting that there was a gradual social transformation. Therefore, it can be inferred that through the progressive attitudes towards women and youth, coupled with the change towards the removal of the bourgeoisie the events of October seem to resemble a social revolution.

It seems logical to argue that the events of October 1917 can be characterised as a social revolution, as ‘it was too deeply linked with the broader situation to be considered a coup d’état’ [4] . Although the Bolsheviks came into power through ‘seiz[ing] the city’s strong points’ [5] , the reforms proposed in Lenin’s April Theses, resulted in ‘millions welcom[ing] the revolution as the harbinger of social justice and freedom’ [6] . It is thus suggested that the mass support enhanced the idea of a change in government, representing the entirety of society instead of a confined group, the Bolshevik Party. This was reiterated as ‘Lenin and his elite corps of professional revolutionaries …in the name of the lower classes, toppled the Provisional Government and defended the workers’ revolution’. Primarily, the support of the Bolsheviks rose due to their response to society’s needs, unlike the Provisional Government. The Prime Minister, Alexander Kerensky ‘postponed indefinitely the realization of popular demands’, and enraged the army through the failure of the ‘June offensive [which] filter[ed] into the city’ and encouraged ‘the more militant soldiers, sailors, and workers…through an armed rising to force the Soviet to take power’. As a solution, on behalf of the Bolshevik Party, Lenin addressed the key issues for land, bread and peace without annexations and indemnities. Consequently, ‘within the workers’ councils, the Bolshevik Party became a majority – first in Petrograd and Moscow’, suggesting the Bolsheviks gained the workers’ ‘support for the call for “an unconditional 8-hour work day”, and ” workers’ control also”. [7] This was reflected by June 18, where ‘in Petrograd , the slogans of the Bolsheviks -especially “All Power to the Soviets” was by far the most popular’ [8] . Ultimately, a change of government with popular mass representation cannot be recognised as a ‘political coup’, but as an occupation of the Winter Palace, home to the Provisional Government, to allow for the implementation of social changes in society.

To a certain extent, the October Revolution could not be classified as a political coup as by definition, a coup d’état acts as ‘the seizure of a functioning state machine’ [9] , however ‘Russia had not had this since February’ [10] . The situation in Russia between February 1917, the overthrow of the Tsarist government, until October 1917, the seizure of power by the Bolshevik’s Military Revolutionary Committee, could not be characterised as a ‘functioning state machine’; as the Provisional Government was not a permanent governmental body. The instability of the Provisional Government was evident through its ‘dependence… on the Soviet, from the first days of their coexistence’ [11] . Moreover, coalition demonstrated its dysfunctional nature as it caused an economic worsening and increased the workers’ distrust for the bourgeoisie. With waging inflation and factories closing down, it was obvious that the government was not a ‘functioning state machine’ and there were economic and structural problems embedded within it. For this reason, when the Bolsheviks seized power, they consolidated a concrete government and moved Russia away from its temporary political state.

However, on the other hand it can be claimed that the events of October feature as a political coup due to the view that it ‘was the result not of insufferable conditions but of irreconcilable attitudes’ [12] , which in actuality was due to ‘men pursuing their own advantages’ [13] . For this reason, the Bolsheviks embarked upon a small putsch led by Trotsky. In this view, it is believed that the Bolsheviks were a small confinement of political militants who had seized control to bolster their position in society. In some ways, it was the Kornilov Affair that had supported this belief as the men possessed ‘irreconcilable’ attitudes as they were in possession of arms given to them by Kerensky. As this was used by the Left-Revolutionaries to capture and then occupy the main locations within Petrograd, it suggested a militarised group was emerging, which resembled the perpetrators of a coup. Although the argument, that the events of October 1917 could be described as a political coup, still prevails amongst many traditional Western historians, it holds elements of biased within it. This was due to it being formed during the Cold War and after the Stalinism era of terror, when there was a great conscious and aversion for any left ideas. I do not value this interpretation as logical because it is clear that the Bolsheviks gained widespread support by September 1917, after the disillusion with the Provisional Government. It is thus possible that the Bolsheviks are a representation of the workers, and not a smaller group in society that has to seek power illegally.

It is also argued that it would be limited to state that the events of October 1917 were to be described as a social revolution in its true form as they did not address the full changes of a cultural reform until after the Civil War; where the Bolsheviks had consolidated their power. As such, ‘the adoption of NEP by the party was the greatest victory achieved by the post-October popular movement [14] ‘ as it allowed for a successful economic reforms for the masses of peasantry population. Furthermore, the true systematic process to feed the populace took ‘the form of collectivization’ [15] and was renamed the “second revolution [16] ” of 1928-31. This suggests that the October 1917 Revolution did not sufficiently act as a social revolution and hence the seizure of power had only led to a changed government and not a reformed social scene by October 1917.

Overall, the revolution of October 1917 fits into the category of a social revolution. Despite the seizure of power being the result of a minority group, the Militarised Counter Revolution, occupying the major buildings, could not be characterised as a coup. This was because of the mass support that the Bolsheviks had gained between February and October 1917, when a provisional government was implemented, which prevented the MCR from representing a minor party. Furthermore, by appealing to the masses through Lenin’s April Theses, he enhanced the Bolshevik membership before his exile and encouraged social changes. Finally, the underlying reason as to why the revolution cannot be seen as a coup was due to the belief that the state was not functioning under one governmental body, which prevented key decisions and ideologies from being implemented. Through the dual power, it was clear that the seizure could not be defined as a coup as the dual power was a temporary measure. It is therefore suggested that the takeover of power from the coalition was inevitable and the October Revolution is a social revolution.

Word Count: 1928

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