October Revolution

Lenin was apprehensive of imposition of dictatorship by the Provisional Government. On 16 October 1917, he convinced the Petrograd Soviet and the Bolshevik Party to agree to a socialist seizure of power. A Military Revolutionary Committee was appointed by the Soviet under Leon Trotskii to organize the seizure.

The uprising began on 24 October. Prime Minister Kerenskii had sensed trouble and hence left the city to summon troops. In the morning, military men loyal to the government seized the buildings of two Bolshevik newspapers. Pro-government troops were sent to take over the telephone and telegraph offices and protect the Winter Palace.


The Military Revolutionary Committee moved swiftly and ordered its supporters to seize government offices and arrest ministers. Later in the day, the ship Aurora shelled the Winter Palace. Various other vessels sailed down the Neva and took over various military points. The city was under the Committee’s control by night and the ministers had surrendered. At a meeting of the All Russian Congress of Soviets in Petrograd, the Bolshevik action was approved by the majority. By December, the Bolsheviks controlled the Moscow-Petrograd area.

What Changed after October?

The Bolshevik Party was renamed the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik). Elections for the Constituent Assembly were held in November 1917. The Bolsheviks failed to get majority after this election. The Assembly rejected Bolshevik measures and Lenin dismissed the Assembly in January 1918. Lenin thought that the All Russian Congress of Soviets was more democratic than the Assembly because the Assembly was elected under uncertain conditions.

In March 1918, the Bolsheviks made peace with Germany at Brest Litovsk; in spite of opposition by their political allies. In subsequent years, the Bolsheviks became the only party to participate in the elections to the All Russian Congress of Soviets. The All Russian Congress of Soviets became the parliament of the country.

Russia became a one-party state. Trade unions were kept under party control. The secret police punished those who criticized the Bolsheviks. Many writers and artists; who had earlier rallied behind the party felt disillusioned, because of censorship being imposed by the Bolsheviks.


The Civil War

After the land distribution order by the Bolsheviks, the Russian army began to break up. Most of the soldiers had come from farming background and hence wanted to go home for the redistribution of land.

Non-Bolshevik socialists, liberals and supporters of autocracy protested the Bolshevik uprising. Their leaders moved to south Russia. They organized troops to fight the Bolsheviks (the ‘reds’).

The ‘greens’ (Socialist Revolutionaries) and ‘whites (pro-Tsarists) controlled most of the Russian empire during 1918 and 1919. They were backed by French, American, British and Japanese troops. These forces were worried at the growth of socialism in Russia. A civil war ensued between these forces and the Bolsheviks.

Supporters of private property; among ‘whites’; took harsh steps with peasants who had seized land. But such actions led to a loss of popular support for the non-Bolsheviks.

The Bolsheviks took control of most of the former Russian empire by January 1920. The succeeded because of cooperation with non-Russian nationalities and Muslim jadidists.

But the cooperation did not work where Russian colonists themselves turned Bolshevik. In Khiva (Central Asia), Bolshevik colonists brutally massacred local nationalists in the name of defending socialism.

Finally, in December 1922, the Soviet Union (USSR) was formed from the Russian empire. Most non-Russian nationalities were given political autonomy in this union to prevent oppression by the Russian colonists. But various unpopular policies of the Bolsheviks meant that the attempts to win over different nationalities were only partially successful.


Making a Socialist Society

Planned Economy: A process of centralised planning was introduced by the Bolshevik. The officials planned for the development of the economy and made the Five Year Plans. Industrial growth was the target of the first two ‘Plans’ (1927-32 and 1933-38). Industrial production increased during this period and new industrial cities came up.

But rapid construction led to poor working conditions. Workers’ quarters were built in haphazard manner; without giving proper attention to certain facilities. Toilets and other conveniences were often made across the street from the living quarter. It often made for miserable life in the bitterly cold weather.

Schools were established for workers’ children and an extended schooling system was developed for factory workers and peasants. Crèches were made in factories for the benefit of women workers. Cheap healthcare was provided by the government.

Stalinism and Collectivisation

The early years of the Planned Economy proved to be disasters for the collectivization of agriculture. There was acute problem of grain supplies in the towns in 1927-28. The prices were fixed by the government but the peasants refused to sell grains to government buyers at these prices.

This was the time when Stalin was the head of the party. He introduced firm emergency measures. In 1928, he sent party members to the grain-producing areas. They supervised enforced collections of grains. Kulaks (well to do peasants) were raided. But these steps could not solve the grain crisis.

Stalin’s collectivization programme was then started. From 1929, all peasants were forced to cultivate in collective farms (kolhoz). The bulk of land and implements were transferred to the ownership of collective farm.

Enraged peasants resisted such attempts and destroyed their livestock. Those who resisted the attempts of collectivization were severely punished. Many were deported and exiled. After large-scale protests, some peasants were allowed to work on their independent farms, but the government was not sympathetic to them.

But collectivization did not produce the desired results. Bad harvests of 1930-1933 led to one of the most devastating famines in Soviet history. Over 4 million died in that famine.

Many within the Party who criticized Stalin’s policies were charged with conspiracy against socialism. By 1939, over 2 milion were in prisons or in labour camps. A large number were forced to make false confessions and were executed.

THE GLOBAL INFLUENCE OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION AND THE USSR

The possibility of a workers’ state fired people’s imagination across the world, but most of the existing socialist parties in Europe did not wholly support the policies in Russia. Communist parties were formed in many countries. By the time, the Second World War began, USSR was considered to be the global face of socialism.

By the 1950s, many within the country began to acknowledge the fact that everything was not right in Russia. Although USSR had become a global industrial power; but basic freedoms were denied to the people. Many countries adapted to some ideals of socialism, but each country interpreted them in their own ways.



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