October Revolution - Lenin and the Bolsheviks

With the weakening of the Provisional Government, Lenin returns to Russia from his hide-out in Finland, taking control of the Bolsheviks with intent on seizing power. The provisional government is ovethrown and the Bolsheviks seize power.

The Bolsheviks were becoming seen as a "new broom" that will sweep Russia of all the old priveleged elements and bring about a peasants' and workers' republic. Lenin had missed this turn of events. Back in July, he believed the Revolution was finished, but on October 7 he made the trip back to Russia disguised as a railway fireman. He saw the time was ripe for Bolsheviks to seize power, and with 40,000 armed Petrograd workers it would only be a matter of time.

Lenin emerged on October 10th at a central committee meeting in a suburban Petrograd flat. It was a dramatic occasion with the whole Bolshevik establishment present, Lenin appears in the midst and tries to get his disciples thinking about seizing power.

The Central Committee is not keen on the idea, they're thinking back to July, 'if we get out of line, we're going to get kicked again,' but Lenin's power of persuasion gets the idea across 'we're going to put armed uprising on the agenda.' At the end of the meeting, Lenin wrote on a scrap of paper, "An armed uprising is inevitable, and the time for it, fully ripe." In the early hours, a decision which was to plunge the country into a second revolution and change the course of Russian history.

The following day, the Bolsheviks had a stroke of luck. Many of the leaders who were arrested during the July days were released from jail. A key figure of the Bolsheviks is Fedor Raskolnikov, a naval officer and veteran Bolshevik. Raskolnikov was among the radical wing, not liking the Provisional government or the war.

Raskolnikov made his way to the Smolnyi Institute. It was a former school for young ladies which had became home to the Socialist parties of the Petrograd Soviet. It was the center for constant meetings and feverish activity. Lenin kept his distance from the Smolnyi. He and the Bolshevik Central Committee had decided the only way to take power was by force.

Smolnyi Institute
A dance lesson at the Smolnyi Institute for young noblewomen, 1914. (Central State Archive of Kino-Photo-Phono Documents, St. Petersburg).
Smolnyi Institute
Red Guards and revolutionary soldiers guard Bolshevik headquarters (formerly the Smolnyi Institute for Young Noblewomen), 1917 (Photo by P. Otsup, courtesy Central State Archive of Kino-Photo-Phono Documents, St. Petersburg).
From Sunlight at Midnight, W. Bruce Lincoln

Lenin is in favor of force and getting all the support he can get in Petrograd to overthrow the old order so, he looks around and focused on Kronstadt, which can bring 10,000 men within a day into the heart of the city and do what the Bolshevik leadership wants. But Lenin had to use care with how he phrased the request for help from the sailors. Lenin knew they really did not want the same thing, Lenin had a Bolshevik government in mind, while the Sailors wanted a Soviet government. This created the beginnings of a split between Lenin and the sailors.


But for now, the Sailors are prepared to back the Bolsheviks, to defend the Revolution and defend the Soviets. Any argument between them could come later. Over the following days, the Bolsheviks formulated their plans to take over power seizing railway stations, bridges and telephone exchanges, this would be the real thing, not a spontaneous upsurge, but a planned armed revolution and the sailors of Kronstadt would be on the frontline.

Bolshevik Headquarters

Late in the evening of October 24 in a telephone call, the revolutionary committee officially asks the sailors to come to the defense of the Soviets. The Sailors are quick to respond. They go about making detailed plans, leaving nothing to chance. Everyone was determined and the soldiers were thinking more clear-headed than they had in July.

Winter Palace

The second revolution in October is different from the first revolution in February and the main difference is its pre-planned, and organized in advance. Early on October 25, the sailors set off for the capitol, arriving in the afternoon, joining the cruiser Aurora in the Niva River, in the center of Petrograd. The orders were clear, seize control of the Winter Palace where the Prime Minister and cabinet were meeting and demand the surrender of the Provisional government.

Winter Palace

The sailors found their way into the palace, through open doors and were met with little resistance as they ran through a maze of rooms and corridors, searching for defending troops. By the time they reached the dining room where the ministers sat, they learned Kerensky had already left and the ministers waiting to be arrested. Only two miles away at the Smolnyi Institute, delegates of the Second Congress of Soviets are locked in furious debate about the future direction of the revolution, unaware how far things have already gone at the Winter Palace. Their arguments were irrelevant, for Lenin was already on his way with power over the nation, already in his hands.


The critical point is when Lenin goes down to Petrograd and presents that Congress with power, declaring all power to the Soviets. But members of the other parties suspected that the Congress had been rigged, and believed when he said "All power to the Soviets," he really meant 'all power to the Bolsheviks.' The opposition parties staged a walk-out leaving Lenin and the Bolsheviks in complete control. By this one act, Lenin's rivals consigned themselves to the dust-bin of history and was to begin a Bolshevik reign of power that would last for over seventy years.



Russian Revolution
Russian Revolution
in Color (DVD)
The Russian Revolution and Civil War, this bloodsoaked time from the battlefields, testimonies, and colorized archives help unfold the dramatic story of the Communist rise and seizure of power in 1917.

Sunlight at Midnight
Sunlight at Midnight: St. Petersburg and the Rise of Modern Russia

Library Journal: Over the past 25 years, Lincoln has published a dozen books on Russia, most recently Between Heaven and Hell: 1000 Years of Artistic Life in Russia. Their cumulative effect establishes him at the forefront of Western historians of 19th- and 20th-century Russia. In this new work, Lincoln offers a survey of Russia's glittering (and sordid) former imperial capital, later the second city of the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia. He traces the story of its beginnings as the product of one man's titanic will, then lovingly depicts the glorious buildings of 18th-century empresses, followed by the rise of industrial slums, disaffection, violence, intellectual ferment, and revolution.

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