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Monday, October 24, 2005

The October Revolution Begins, October 25, 1917

Today in 1917, the second phase of the Russian Revolution began. History would call this day the beginning of the October, or Bolshevik Revolution, but it was not until 1920 that the communists won full control of the nation that would be known as the Soviet Union until 1991.

To fully appreciate the enormity of this day, we have to go back to the event of February, 1917. From the mid-16th century until 1917, the Russian Empire was ruled by a succession of Czars. The last Czar, Nicholas II, was not prepared for the task that was his birthright. Unfortunately for him, the first two decades of the 20th century brought both economic turmoil and a world war to Russia’s doorstep. By 1917, the people of the Empire could take no more. That February, a coalition of liberals and socialists took over the government with the intention of holding democratic elections. The Czar abdicated in March of that year.

The government that emerged from the first phase of the revolution was called the Kerensky Provisional Government. It was weak and indecisive, two traits that the Communists under Vladimir Lenin took full advantage of. Communist forces launched an uprising in Petrograd, where the Provisional Government had its capital. Despite later Soviet films which showed the epic struggle there, the takeover of Petrograd was almost without bloodshed. On November 7th, state power was handed over to the congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.

Had the revolution occurred at a different time in history, that most likely would’ve been the end of the story. However, anti-Bolshevik, or anti-Communist, forces still controlled many areas in Russia. In March, 1918, the new government signed a peace treaty with Germany. The old Russian Army was renamed the Red Army. It was the final straw to those who opposed the Communists. The civil war that followed lasted until 1922 and ended with a Communist victory.

It is the assertion of some historians that the Soviet Union became the harsh place it was due to the Civil War and the fact that many western nations, including the UK and the US, actively supported anti-communist forces. During and after the revolution, Lenin imposed War Communism on the peasants, meaning that all means of production and food distribution were controlled by the state. This was not communism in its purest form and while War Communism was later replaced by Market Socialism, state control of industry and food production continued in various forms until 1991.

Despite European and American focus, rightly so, on the evils of Nazism, it is important to remember that communism in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc was responsible for the deaths of perhaps 30 million people, a number that dwarfs even the holocaust.

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