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The Role Of Lenin And The Bolsheviks In 1917 History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The year 1917 in Russia is most commonly known as a time of crisis where revolution occurs not only once, but twice. With Russia being in terrible condition, the Provisional Government hadn’t solved any of its problems and its decision to remain in World War One wasn’t aiding the situation. This meant that Russia continued to suffer great shortages of food along with inflation in the economy. This of course didn’t please the workers in the cities and as problems still remained the situation in the cities worsened. Soldiers were demanding an end to the war as they stood no chance of fighting off the Germans. The July days is known as the time when unsuccessful demonstrations took place in Petrograd. As workers and soldier took to the streets, riots occurred against the Provisional Government. However, loyal troops were called in to curb the riots and Lenin was blamed for the insurrection. Some claim this was a planned attempt to overthrow the Provisional Government by Lenin and the Bolshevik party. Others simply believe that the Bolsheviks tried to take over out of coincidence as the soldiers and workers pursued their demonstrations against the government. Judging by the weakness of the Provisional Government in 1917, the policies brought forward by Lenin’s Bolshevik party, and the result of the failed demonstrations, is it fair to say that the July Days were an attempted coup d’├ętat by Lenin?

The Provisional Government and its failure in 1917

According to the traditional liberal view the main problem with the Provisional Government, which eventually led to its doom, was the political incompetence of the members within. To being with, the members had been saturated with the idealistic characteristics similar to the ones of the Russian intelligentsia, meaning that they were had become used to criticizing the government, not to rule it. They were afraid to use force, or to in any way mimic how the Tsar had rules during his regime. They sought to other methods of ruling the population including persuasion, sympathy, and propaganda. Even though several members had spent years debating in the Duma, they still had no idea of how to run a government. The main aim of introducing democracy was hindered by focusing more on the details of the new institutions which they set up. What also worsened the Provisional Government was their decisive inability. Procrastination and incomplete decision-making proved that their power was nothing more than conditional.

The Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries (SRs) pursued policies which contradicted one another. Also the support for the government which they claimed to have was uncertain at its best and disloyal at its worst. An example of this is the fact that they claimed to stand for the defence of their own country, however their actions of weakening military discipline goes against their own standpoint. Another would be their empty talk about repairing the government authority, whilst they instead deprived its ability to bring about obedience. The coalition broke apart twice and it was only with immense difficulty that it was renewed. The liberal view describes the Provisional Government as, “Starry-eyed, incompetent, indecisive, and divided.” And with their consecutive mistakes and miscalculations, it was only a matter of time until the breakdown of the Provisional Government.

The Soviet view disagrees on the topic claiming that the problem of the Provisional Government lay in the class interests which they represented.

After the February revolution in 1917 the Duma took power and created the Provisional Government. The leaders of this government were associated with the middle class which brought up vast problems seeing as they had nothing in common with the working class whom they also represented. By March the Provisional Government found itself engulfed in several problems. Still participating in WWI in June, Russia attacked Austria, also known as the June Offensive planned by the Russian minister of war Alexander Kerensky, but after what seemed to be a winning war, the Germans aided the Austrians and Russia was defeated. Food shortages in the cities, inflation, and labour shortages in the villages increased as Russia’s decision to continue the war persisted. This war policy by the Provisional Government made the Bolsheviks increasingly popular as they were the only ones who wanted to withdraw from the war. There were no signs of Russia planning to leave the war which didn’t improve the situation and support for the Provisional Government. As deserters from the war was increasing rapidly the Provisional Government set up death squads in order to hunt down and execute deserters. The soldiers were extremely displeased with this and came to hate the Provisional Government.

In the countryside the peasants were getting impatient as they weren’t receiving any land in which they were in desperate need of. The peasants started taking over the land from the nobles however the Provisional Government sent troops to take back the land by force. This angered the peasants which meant the government lost support from one of the major society classes in Russia.

For starters the Provisional Government was very weak seeing as it shared power with the Petrograd Soviet. The Soviet was formed when the Tsarist regime collapsed and its members were elected from military garrisons and factories. In early March the Soviet issued Order number one which forbade soldiers and workers to obey the decisions made by the Provisional Government unless the Soviet agreed. This basically left the Provisional Government powerless since they did nothing to try to end the power of the Soviets, meaning that it would remain that way. Further weaknesses of the Provisional Government which eventually led to the rise of the Bolsheviks included the fact that they allowed freedom of speech and press which meant that Lenin could freely post his “April Thesis” upon returning to Russia. This asks for all political and decision making power should go to the Soviets. Lenin also came with pragmatic slogans such as “Bread, Peace, Land” where he promised an end to the on-going war, land should be distributed to the peasants in order to stop starvation and rebuild the Russian agricultural life. Another key reform which improved the chances of the Bolsheviks coming to power was the Provisional Government’s decision to abolish the Okhrana. The Okhrana was a secret police force which was created to fight political terrorism and left-wing revolutionary activity. Now that the Okhrana was gone there was no stopping governing opposition and the political freedom amplified.

During the “July Days” the Provisional Government was able to shut down the demonstrations by the workers and soldiers. Lenin along with the leaders of the Bolshevik party were blamed for these riots and were immediately arrested but Lenin managed to escape to Finland. The Bolshevik party, however, hadn’t been abolished and was allowed to continue. Since the Provisional Government had shut down the Okhrana, allowed freedom of press and speech, and released political prisoners, the Bolsheviks now had a greater chance of coming to power in Russian society.

The role of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917

During the early months of 1917 Vladimir Ilyich, Lenin, was in exile hiding out in Switzerland. In April he returned to Petrograd to take control over the Bolshevik party once again. At the time they only numbered 26,000 members being a definite minority in Petrograd. Shortly after Lenin’s arrival he gave speeches calling to overthrow the Provisional Government. He continued his pursuit by publishing his well-known “April Theses” in the Bolshevik newspaper “Pravda” where he insisted that all power should go to the Soviets in attempt to make the masses turn against the Provisional Government. His Theses appealed to the population of Russia as it included socialization of the economy as well as an immediate end to the war. This was highly favourable as the war had been the main reason to the current situation in Russia. Lenin distanced himself from the Provisional Government stressing the fact that he wanted nothing to do with the failures of that administration.

In the few months prior to the “July Days” Lenin tried to empower the Bolsheviks which would eventually lead to their rule. Many know Lenin for being rather pragmatic which can be seen during this time where the population of Russia is in a fragile state. His slogans, “Bread, Peace, Land” appealed to nearly all social classes by offering them exactly what they wanted. By saying “Peace” he proposed an end to the war which mainly pleased the soldiers. “Land” was aimed towards the peasants whom he would let keep the land that they had formerly stolen from the nobles. This would give them a chance to begin the reproduction of Russian agriculture. Lenin also wanted to offer “Bread” which appealed to the workers in the cities since nearly all of the food production had been sent to feed the soldiers at the warfront resulting in food shortages at home. Due to these slogans the Bolsheviks seemed to be the more appreciated party, however since they were made up of such few members, and the fact that they were unarmed at this time, there was no chance of them to overrule the Provisional Government until the “July Days”.

During the first week of July armed sailors from Kronstadt, militant soldiers, and factory workers staged an uprising in Petrograd. They marched on the city center insisting that the Soviet would receive power. The demonstrations picked up the Bolshevik slogans in order to further their demands which to some was seen as an intentional attempt by Lenin to seize power, however others believe that it was a spontaneous uprising where the workers and armed sailors saw towards the only other political option within Petrograd as they wanted nothing to do with the Provisional Government. After a few days the Provisional Government managed to send in loyal troops to stop these riots and restore order to the streets of Petrograd. The Bolshevik party was accused of provoking these armed demonstrations where the leaders including Zinoviev, Kamenev, and Trotsky were arrested, yet Lenin managed to flee to Finland where he remained for a short time until his return to Russia a few months later.

The Paradox of the July Demonstrations

According to some Marxist historians they claim that the riots of early July could easily have overthrown the Provisional Government leading to the rise of the Bolsheviks; but Lenin made the excellent decision of not seizing power as he felt that the population, mainly the workers, hadn’t yet experienced similar counter-revolutionary ideals by the noble landowners, the capitalists, and the generals of the army as himself. The question however, is if they would have achieved power, would they have been able to maintain it? When looking past the demonstrations later on in October when the Bolsheviks eventually did take power, facts suggest that the hardest task came after the revolution. Convincing the masses that there was no other alternative to Bolshevism was their greatest difficulty.

Prior to the July Demonstrations the main aim was to gain as much support as possible. Seeing as the working class made up a large sum of their support, if they for any reason weren’t happy or unsure with the Bolsheviks, then the troops were even less so. On July 5th when Lenin was accused of being a German spy, the Russian soldiers furthered themselves from the Bolshevik party as they despised of anyone related to Germany. The soldiers in the active army were even more impulsive; even though they agreed with Lenin’s slogans, “Bread, Peace, Land” they couldn’t identify themselves with the Bolsheviks. This then questions if the Bolsheviks actually were supported for their policies, or if they simply were the next best option to the Provisional Government which left the country heading in the wrong direction.

When looking at how the Provisional Government ruled Russia after the fall of Tsarism there was clearly no chance of it being a long-lasting political power. The main reason for this was their decision to stay in WWI which resulted terribly both at the warfront and at home. With large amounts of casualties, shortages of food and land, and inflation roaming the economy there seemed to be no faith in the Provisional Government. As the situation worsened, Lenin and the Bolsheviks became favoured with their pragmatic slogans answering the prayers of the Russian population. Even though a party with minority support, they offered “Bread, Peace, and Land” which appealed to the masses. Looking at the weakness of the Provisional Government, the ideals brought forward by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, and the potential result of the failed demonstrations, facts suggest that the July Days was a failed attempt by Lenin trying to seize power in Russia. Even though some Marxists believe that Lenin chose not to take power because the masses were unaware of the counter-revolutionary ideals brought about by the landlords, capitalists, and the generals in the army; the fact that the Bolsheviks were a minority in Russia, unarmed, and people only saw faith in them because they were sick of the Provisional Government, it is evidently seen that the Bolsheviks were incapable of seizing power during the July Days.

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