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To what extent did the October Revolution of 1917 (the Bolshevik Revolution) achieve its goals in bringing about socioeconomic equality for its citizens?
Method of Investigation
Russia's history of turmoil far superseded those of its rival European powers in the early twentieth century. Indeed, the constant food shortages and political crises that littered the country of the Tsar often left the Russian peoples destitute and impoverished. Coupled with the catastrophic effects of the Great War, these socioeconomic forces would create the ideal conditions for an internal revolution. Though not the first social uprising to shake the country to its foundations, the Bolshevik Revolution (led by Lenin) was the most prominent. In its wake, the first Communist state was established as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the USSR). This paper will attempt to identify the goals of the Communist ideology, as well as those of Lenin himself, through multiple historical documents and doctrines. These ideological ideals will then be compared to the actual results of their practice on the Russian society.
Part B: Summary of Evidence
Many of the problems that plagued the country under the Tsar still existed after the establishment of the Provisional Government (due to the March Revolution of 1917). War on the Eastern Front was faring badly, and its toll was being taken on the citizens in the form of bread shortages and famine. The government's newly elected leaders were often unable to effectively coordinate their policy decisions due to the presence of an array of different radical parties and ideologies. The ineffective government then began to arrest political "radicals" and shut down newspapers deemed harmful to the state. The working class often found itself alienated because "The policy of the Provisional Government alternated between ineffective reforms and stern repressive measures" (Reed 3). Returning from Russia, Vladimir Ilich Lenin provoked these workers with statements like "Bread, Peace, and Land" and "Down with the Provisional Government-All Power to the Soviets!" (Le Blanc 5). Lenin's party, the Bolsheviks, was constantly targeting the workers and soldiers with his rhetoric-induced propaganda. The soldiers, especially, would be a pivotal element in the Bolshevik seizure of political power. One of the main tenets for Bolshevism was the withdrawal from the war; the Bolsheviks believed that making peace with Germany would help take the focus off of external affairs so that internal problems could be alleviated.
On October 24-25, 1917, pro-Bolshevik soldiers, sailors, and Red Guards stormed the Winter Palace and arrested members of the Provisional Government. Often referred to as the "bloodless coup", this action allowed the Bolsheviks to gain power, with the majority of the seats being handed to them on the following election day (Le Blanc 7). But one month later when elections were held again, the Bolsheviks failed to gain a majority of the seats, however the Bolsheviks simply dissolved the Constituent Assembly and took control the next day. A civil war immediately ensued between the Reds, or the Bolsheviks, and the Whites, who were led by General Kornilov. The Whites encompassed a group of different factions including former officials, Cossacks, moderate socialists, aristocrat, and military leaders that wanted a return to monarchy or at least an end to the Bolsheviks (Kirchner 242). The issue with the Whites is that their unity was only found in a common desire to fight the Bolsheviks.
In 1918, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was ratified, formally withdrawing Russia from the war while ceding large portions of its land to Germany. This issue went without formal action taken upon it due to the fighting from the Russian Civil War, which spanned from 1918 to 1921. At the end of the conflict, the Reds were declared the winner, and the establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was complete. However, the conflict had taken its toll of over 300,000 casualties, and, coupled with the onset of the famine of 1921, rained great misery upon the people.
Part C: Evaluation of Sources
Source 1: The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution
More commonly referred to as Lenin's April Theses, this document outlined the plan for the Bolshevik overthrow of the Provisional Government. It was published April 7, 1917 under the supervision of Lenin himself. Considering that Lenin was the leader of the socialist movement itself, this source's value can equate itself with Lenin's motives. After being re-introduced to his homeland from exile in Germany (where he learned of Karl Marx's teachings), Lenin formulated his own theory of how socialism can be applied in Russia. One limitation of this primary source is that it was written before the actual revolution took place, so it could not foresee the actual progression of events that would take place. Also, Lenin often used his extremely left-winged, radical, riot-inciting rhetoric in this document to sway the readers opinion and set up a (partially) false and exaggerated depiction of the shortcomings of the Provisional Government.
Source 2: Ten Days that Shook the World
This book, written by the American journalist and socialist John Reed, was a first-hand account of the events that occurred in the October Revolution. Reed followed many important political figures during the time the revolution took place, documenting their exploits and noting the events that took place. Being an outsider in a foreign country, Reed would not have been influenced by the ideological conflicts that were taking place. However, his immersion in the country at the time would be the cause of some slight bias. Also, one must take Reed's status as a socialist into consideration as his rather congratulatory tone of his recount of the October Revolution marks his pro-Bolshevik bias.
Part D: Analysis
Within a few short years however the revolution had collapsed. The new structure of power in the country suited many of the original revolutionaries from 1917. The true ideal of Communism, in which every man would have the same property, status, and ideal as the next, did not exist. Lenin's promises of Peace, Land, and Bread could be seen as very limited in their scope.
The degeneration of this revolution can be attributed to a unique set of circumstances comprising the backwards state of the USSR and the enormous amount of casualties inflicted by years of conflict and Western interference. It can be argued that the Bolsheviks were forced to use dictatorial force in creating the ideals for their post-revolutionary state in the wake of these unfortunate circumstances; arguably these actions could have been intended as emergency measures only and would have been replaced at a later date if not for Stalin's rise to power in the twenties. However, this argument would leave the Bolsheviks to be viewed as helpless victims of the socioeconomic forces that governed these turbulent times. This is obviously not the case, as this party was responsible for most of the events passed.
Instead, Bolshevism should be viewed as the driving socioeconomic force that brought change to Russia. Though it did effect peace via withdrawal from the World War, it brought more conflict through the start of the Russian Civil War. The promises of land were arguably offset by the territorial losses incurred from the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The promises of bread were thrown into the wind due to the continuous disruption of agriculture by the constant conflict.
The Bolsheviks saw their party as one that consisted of all the revolutionaries; to them, socialism was a methodology most suited for implementation by the intellectual leaders of the party. The supposed "dictatorship of the proletariat" expressed in several of Lenin's writings did not mean the entire working class would exert its control over society; this was too impractical and ideal. It meant the party holding power on behalf of the working class and in practice the leadership of the party being the ones making all the important policy decisions. They believed the party, because of its unique position was always right and therefore it had the right to rule over all the class. This hypocrisy could be seen as a hindrance of the completion of the goals of Lenin and the Bolsheviks due to the direct contradiction posed to the previous campaign writings.
Part E: Conclusion
Perhaps peace, land, and bread were not actual goals of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, merely vague campaign slogans that would garner the support of the masses. In this case, the goals of this party were sufficiently met: a rise to power, a solidification of this power, and the establishment of the first major Communist state. The October Revolution truly "revolutionized" the concept of modern socialist thought.
Part F: Sources
Kirchner, Walter, Russian History, 7th Ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), 228-246.
Le Blanc, Paul, "Russian Revolutions of 1917", Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia <http://www.encarta.msn.com> Created 2001.
Reed, John, Ten Days That Shook the World (New York: International Publishers, 1934).