Chapter 17: The Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union
A. Introduction: Comparison of Russian and French Revolutions
1. Similarities: Both were movements of liberation, against feudalism and despotism or against capitalism and
imperialism. Both claimed international implications and attracted followers from other nations. Both roused strong
negative reactions. Both began in unity in overthrowing the old regime but came into conflict over the founding of the
new society--with a small, determined minority suppressing opposition and taking control. In both the most intensely
revolutionary leaders were themselves executed or suppressed.
2. Differences: Russia was backward, France advanced; the French Revolution was mainly from the middle
class, while the Russian soon radicalized to appeal to workers and peasants. The French revolution “happened,” while
the Russian was the work of pro revolutionaries. The French was followed by a century of uneasy compromise, while
the Russian wiped out its opposition. The repercussions of the Russian Rev were more far-reaching: it reinforced
European objections to capitalism; it aroused the interests of submerged peoples of other continents by denouncing
imperialism. It represented social revolution (stimulating the rise of fascism) and adding to the worldwide rebellion
against European supremacy.
B. Russia after 1881: Reaction and Progress
1. The assassination of Alex II in 1881 brought the repressive rule of Alex III. Revolutionaries and terrorists
were driven into exile; pogroms were carried out against the Jews; and systematic Russification was begun by
Pobiedonostsev, procurator of the Holy Synod. He attacked Western rationalism and liberalism, emphasizing the special
character of the Slays and dreamed of turning Holy Russia into a kind of churchly community.
2. At the same time the Russian literati were producing great European works, with Tolstoy, Turgenev,
Tchaikovsky, plus great achievements in math and science. European capital was beginning to change Russia, with $4B
going to railroads, factories, mines. In the generation before 1914, railway lines doubled, telegraph lines 5X, exports 4X,
and imports 5X. Both the bourgeoisie and proletariat were growing; conditions were poor for workers, with no strikes or
unions allowed. Factories were concentrated, with one-half the proletariats in factories of over 500 workers. Many
factories were foreign or operated by the government. The business/professional class created a political party, the liberal
Constitutional Democrats (KDs) who wanted a constitution and parliament and were less interested in the workers.
3. Yet Russia remained predominately agricultural, with 4/5 of the workers on the land, in mirs--paying high
taxes plus redemption fees for their land. The farm population bore a disproportionate share of the cost of
industrializing Russia. The peasants wanted land--especially the enterprising kulaks, who hired landless laborers and
were intensely disliked. Yet the mirs flourished.
C. The Emergence of Revolutionary Parties
1 . Peasants, long a source of revolution, were quiescent, 1870-1900. The intelligentsia was a second source;
revolutionary intellectuals yearned for violence, but always were countered by czarist agents; at one Bolshevik party
congress 5 of 22 delegates were government spies. A major debate was where to find the army of revolution--from
peasants or the new working class. Were peasants potentially proletarian or merely petit bourgeois? Did Russia have to
go through the capitalist stage before revolution? Most rev. intellectuals were populists, with a mystic faith in terror and
the power of the inchoate rural masses; they saw the mir as a commune. They admired Marx, but saw the peasant as the
key to revolution and the ability to skip the capitalist stage of development. This group crystallized in 1901 as the Social
2. Two populists, Plekhanov and Axelrod, converted to Marxism and began what would become the Russian Social
Democratic Party. Young converts included Lenin (1870-1924), Trotsky (1879-1940), and Stalin (18794953), and Lenin’s
future wife, Krupskaya. Lenin was of upper middle-class origins; his brother’s involvement in a plot against Alex III ended
Lenin’s legal career and made him a pro revolutionary. Arrested, he served a three-year term in Siberian exile, after which he
spent the years from 1900-1917 in Western Europe. Most of the new S.D. Party were western-oriented, drawing inspiration
from the German SDs. They believed Russia must first be capitalistic and develop a proletariat; they despised the peasant and
disapproved of sporadic terrorism and anarchism. The police clearly preferred them to the SRs!
D. The Split in the Social Democrats: Bolsheviks and Mensheviks
1. The Social Democratic Party Congress in 1903 (Brussels-London) was organized to unify Russian Marxists, but
Lenin brought a split with his group as the Bolshevik, or “majority” --a separate party in 1912. The Bolsheviks wanted a small
revolutionary elite, strongly centralized with power to a leader and a “party line” set by a central committee. Mensheviks
(“minority”) desired a larger, open party with democratic decision-making and bridging over all but the most
fundamental disagreements. Mensheviks favored cooperation with liberals, while Bolsheviks regarded such cooperation
as purely tactical.
2. What did Lenin add? Lenin’s only new contribution was the idea that imperialism grew from monopoly
capitalism: the export of surplus capital inevitably led to competition and wars--which would bring the colonial struggle
for independence and provide new revolutionary opportunities to the proletariat. He opposed all “revisionism” aimed at
Marxist dogmas. His greatest work was as an activist, a supreme agitator, polemicist, and politician--as his idea of the
promotion of revolution by a small vanguard of pro revolutionaries. He scorned trade unionism with its search for
immediate rewards--” opportunism.” He provided a blend of Marxism with Russian experience and necessity.
92. The Revolution of 1905
A. Background and Revolutionary Events
1. Mounting discontent was shown by the new parties of 1900: KDs, SDs, SRs. All three had mainly leaders,
propagandists; all were underground. Peasant insurrections and proletarian strikes occurred, but unconnected. The
government refused to make concessions. Nicholas H, tutored in his youth by Pobiedonostsev, was narrow, autocratic,
slavophilic; he saw all ideas questioning autocracy, Orthodoxy, and Great Russian nationalism as “un Russian.” Plehve,
his chief minister, looked to start a short war with Japan as a means to ease pressures, but it had the reverse impact.
2. Father Gapon had organized St. Petersburg workers as a counter to revolutionary agitation. He drew up a
petition based on worker grievances for the “Little Father,” to be carried by 200,000 marchers to the Winter Palace. In
the absence of the Tsar, nervous officials called out the army, which violently dispersed the demonstration “Bloody
Sunday.” The result was a wave of political strikes, with leadership provided by Mensheviks. Soviets of workers were
formed in Moscow and St. Petersburg; peasant violence broke out, joined by the SRs and KDs; demands were made for
more democratic representation. The Tsar moved slowly, until the Mensheviks called a great October general strike III
St. Pete-in the October Manifesto promising a constitution, civil liberties, and a Duma. The Mai divided the opposition,
with radicals wanting more and seeing the Manifesto as a deception. Members of the Petrograd Soviet were arrested,
peace with Japan was concluded, and reliable army units returned to restore order in the capital.
B. The Results of 1905: The Duma
Russia was now a constitutional monarchy, but the Duma had no power over foreign policy, the budget, or government
personnel. The Right organized “Black Hundreds” to terrorize the peasants and urged a boycott of the Duma; the Left
refused to recognize the Duma. The First Duma (1906) was elected by indirect and unequal voting and with both SDs
and SRs boycotting. The KDs won a majority; they urged urns and were immediately dismissed. A second Duma was
elected in 1907, with socialist members- it failed after the arrest of 50 members. A third (1907-12) and fourth (1912-
16) barely kept the idea alive.
C. The Stolypin Reforms
Peter Stolypin’s plan was to make reforms and thereby weaken the revolutionaries. Prime minister from 1906-191 1, he
broadened the powers of zemstvos, abolished redemption payments, allowed the sale of land (favoring kulaks), and
encouraging the poor to move to the cities as a mobile labor force. The gentry remained in control; poverty and land-
hunger continued to dominate rural Russia. Stolypin’s ideas were opposed by the Tsar, reactionaries—and the SRs, SDs.
In 191 1 he was assassinated by an SR, perhaps a secret police agent. Russia was westernizing, with industry, railroads,
the spread of private property, and development of a limited free press. Perhaps the desperation of the ultra-conservatives
made them more willing to allow a world war to develop. Revolutionary parties declined, their leaders sent into exile.
93. The Revolution of 1917 pp. 746-754
A. End of Tsardom: The Revolution of March, 1917:
1. The war required the willing cooperation of government and people because of its total nature; however,
national minorities were disaffected, socialists were uncooperative (unlike their “brothers” in Germany and France), and
ordinary working men and peasants marched off to war with little sense of conviction. The middle class cooperated but
was angered by glaring government mismanagement and the military disasters of 1914 and 1915. Provincial zemstvos
organized to mobilize agriculture and industry; business groups formed to get maximum production-- giving the middle
class a sense of strength and making them more critical of the bureaucracy. Tsarina Alexandra was haughty and hated;
she was contemptuous of Russians outside her circle, and she ran Nicholas. Rasputin gained influence over her because
of his powers over young Nicholas, and his control of access to the royal family separated the Tsar from both the people
and his own government. The Third Duma and Fourth Dumas were suspended for their critical attitude towards Rasputin
and towards the conduct of the war.