Tuesday, 07 November 2017 12:56

Lenin: The man who made October

Written by Jimmy Chen
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Photo: Егор Журавлёв(Flickr); License: CC BY-SA 2.0

 7 November 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of that fateful day in Russian history when Vladimir Lenin and the Bolshevik Party seized power from the Provisional Government and embarked on a bold new experiment to create a socialist utopia. The consequences of this experiment are well known, but the events of 1917 and their causes continue to be debated among historians all round the world. 

Marxist historians under the Soviet regime used to consider the Great October Revolution as the inevitable result of a clash between the old imperial order and the proletariat. More recent research has demonstrated that the Bolshevik assumption of power was far from predetermined and came about through a host of contingent factors. Even after they seized power in Petrograd, few expected the Bolshevik government to last long. It would take a bitter four year Civil War to settle the matter. 

By far the most significant factor in the October Revolution was the role of Lenin. Having 'missed the boat' for the February Revolution, in his April Theses he called for the immediate overthrow of the liberal Provisional Government. Two factors helped Lenin's cause. The first was the Provisional Government's continued participation in the First World War, which continued to cause severe economic problems. The second was that the Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) and the Mensheviks - rival socialist parties - supported the government, since they did not believe Russia was sufficiently economically developed for socialist revolution. As a result, Lenin's demand for 'Peace, Land, and Bread' contributed to an increase in popular support for Bolshevism over the course of the year, though this was largely confined to the cities. 

Even though Lenin had a popular message, he had to overcome opposition within his Bolshevik Party. The way he did so was through sheer force of will and well-rehearsed arguments. Leading Bolsheviks including Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev were in favour of operating within the framework established by the Provisional Government and aimed to contest for power through the forthcoming elections to the Constituent Assembly. Lenin argued that there was no room for compromise. The other socialist parties had betrayed their principles by co-operating with the bourgeois government. Only the Bolsheviks could introduce genuine socialism. 

Marx Engels Lenin Stalin 1933
Photo: Wikimedia Commons ;  Public Domain
1933 propaganda poster: Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin 

The insurrection was scheduled for 26 October (according to the Julian Calendar), in order to coincide with the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets. The plan was to take power 'on behalf of the Soviets' while the Congress was deliberating and to present it to the body as a fait accompli. A Military Revolutionary Committee was set up under Trotsky's leadership. An eloquent and confident public speaker, Trotsky assumed command of operations on the day.

The events resembled something of a comedy of errors.

Kamenev and Zinoviev had actually leaked details of the insurrection to the government, but few people remained willing to defend Kerensky — the head of the Provisional Government. The Red Guards, despite facing little opposition, fell behind schedule. By the time Trotsky famously consigned the Mensheviks and SRs to the dustbin of history, the Winter Palace was not yet taken. Eventually in the early hours of the morning a few hundred Red Guards entered the palace and took the Provisional Government's ministers into custody. Lenin, who had spent the day trying to be inconspicuous and was awaiting news at party headquarters in the Smolny Institute, could finally breathe a sigh of relief.  


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Photo: Wikimedia Commons ;  Public Domain
1919: Soviet leaders celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the October Revolution


Unpon his death in January 1924, Lenin's comrades effectively deified him.

During Lenin's six years at the helm of the Bolshevik ship of state, the Reds emerged victorious in the Civil War, launched a campaign against the Russian Orthodox Church, and embarked on a radical new cultural policy which looked to the future. Upon his death in January 1924, Lenin's comrades effectively deified him. Petrograd was renamed Leningrad. His body was embalmed and placed in a mausoleum on Red Square where it remains to this day. The chief rivals for the succession - Trotsky and Stalin - both claimed Lenin's legacy. Both Khrushchev and Gorbachev, who tried to repudiate Stalin, remained committed Leninists and sought a reversion to Leninism.  

Although Lenin continues to be a revered figure among the minority of Russians who remain committed communists, his reputation in modern Russia is on the decline.  Stalin, despite his crimes, enjoys far more popularity for his part in transforming Soviet industry and economy and in leading the USSR to victory over fascism in the Second World War. Lenin, on the other hand, is considered an opportunist who exploited Russia's misery for his own purposes.

A new TV series focusing on Trotsky also aims to paint the revolution as ill-advised. When asked what plans it had to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the revolution, the Russian Embassy in London replied there were no plans to 'celebrate' a traumatic episode of Russian history - although there has been much commemoration. Once again calls are being made to bury Lenin's body.

For the prodigal son of the Great October Revolution, it can only be a matter of time before he returns to the earth of Mother Russia.



23365020 10155561426041357 1341352610 nABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jimmy Chen graduated from Cambridge University in 2017 with an MPhil in Modern European History, specialising in Russian history. He is currently working as an intern for a financial PR company in Moscow. 

Jimmy writes about European historical sites he encouters during his travels on Images and History.


Last modified on Tuesday, 07 November 2017 19:41

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