Q3. Using your knowledge of the events of 1917 (March – November) explain how the Bolsheviks were able to take over the government in November.
The Bolsheviks were able to take over the Government in November 1917 by exploiting the mistakes made by the Provisional Government, their unique ideology, Lenin’s policies and propaganda, and an element of luck. These were the main factors for their seizure of power, but other factors combined together to allow the Bolsheviks to complete their objective.
The Bolsheviks seized power, because they had a unique ideology. Their ideology was that a revolution had to be created, instead of just waiting for it to happen. They thought that they had to lead from the front. The Social Revolutionaries were unable to lead a revolution as they were too sparsely spread out across Russia, which is a vast country. The Mensheviks thought that a revolution would spontaneously occur as a larger proportion of the population urbanised. The truth is that this would never happen in the near future, because currently only about nine or ten percent of the population inhabited the cities. The other ninety percent were peasants who lived deep in the countryside. Lenin, a previous political exile knew that this degree of urbanisation would never happen, as Russia was too vast a country, and didn’t have a transport system that was capable of allowing people from the countryside to come to the cities.
Another unique idea that the Bolsheviks had was that they were the only party that wanted to end the war, while the rest of the parties (the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries) wanted to continue with the war effort. The majority of Russians thought that the war was also a bad idea, as it intensified the problems that were facing Russia at that time, such as starvation in the cities, terrible urban working conditions and the lack of land owned by the peasants. The war had caused these problems, and the continuation of the war did not remedy the situation. Plus the war was going badly, as the Russian army was able to put up some resistance against the Austrians, but suffered repetitive defeats at the hands of the Germans.
The Bolsheviks’ unique ideology was therefore a very significant factor, as if they had not led from the front, a revolution would have never happened, and the All Russian Congress of Soviets would’ve been the legal ruling body of Russia.
Another reason why the Bolsheviks took over the government in November 1917 was because of Lenin’s unique policies and propaganda. The Bolsheviks grew from a small insignificant party since the split of the Social Democrats in the London Conference, to dominate the Petrograd Soviet by November 1917. Lenin said that if the Bolsheviks gained power, then he would provide “Peace, land and bread”. This single phrase offered something that would make everyone happy. He promised peace, an end to the war, which was something that the majority of Russians wanted. The peace would allow the army to come home to their families. Peace was such a unique policy, as the Bolsheviks were the only party to offer it.
The rest of the now legal political parties wanted to carry on with the war effort, even after they had seen that it had caused so much strife. He also offered land, something that was desired by nearly ninety percent of the population, the peasants. Before the peasants were forced to farm the common land of their village, or ‘Mir’, but Lenin offered that they would have their own land, something that they could own for themselves. And lastly, but not at all least was that he offered bread to the people. He offered a cure to starvation, which had plagued the cities, starving the umpteen number of urban workers, who had already been working longer hours to provide equipment for the front.
Lenin said and promised things that he never planned on carrying out, but simply used them to win the support of people. The best example of this was when he came back from exile and stepped off the ‘Sealed Train’, he then said “All power to the Soviets!” In April 1917 but he did not mean this, but used it as a political tool to provoke people’s thoughts, and was very effective propaganda. He also used other slogans such as the one mentioned above to stimulate the Russian public’s minds, and to gain their support.
Lenin also managed to seize power in November 1917, because of his impeccable timing. Lenin was offered to lead the revolution during the July Days, but at that time he would have been taking power for the Soviets, including the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries. Lenin refused to take power at this time, but he didn’t know for sure if he would have another opportunity to regain power. This risky move paid off later, as later on a Russian general (Kornilov) who was fighting on the front thought that the Provisional Government was weak, and he sought to re-introduce the Tsarist system. The leader of the Provisional Government (Alexander Kerensky) thought that Kornilov’s army was finally going to overthrow the Provisional Government.
He turned to Lenin and said that he would give him all the weapons of Petrograd if he would protect the city from the oncoming troops. Lenin accepted this plea and the private army of the Bolsheviks (the Red Guard) was given Petrograd’s weapons. On the 27th of August Kornilov marches his troops from the front towards Petrograd. When Kornilov’s troops reach Petrograd, army discipline collapses and they abandon Kornilov to join the Red Guard. Now the Red Guard has the weapons of Petrograd, and an extended army due to the mutineers. The Provisional Government had made a huge mistake. They had given not only some, but all the weapons of Petrograd to the Red Guard leaving themselves defenceless.
After Lenin had control of weapons, which were supplied to him by the Provisional Government, and an army that had rapidly gained support from the public and mutineers. He now had all the correct tools, which he needed for a job that he had masterminded: to take control of Russia legitimately. Now, he had time on his side, so he waited for the correct time to take control. The day he took control finally fell on the 6th November 1917, because that was the day before the All Russian Congress of Soviets was to meet. Due to his impeccable timing, he was able to take control before this meeting, which was to decide the fate of the Russian political system; therefore he was able to claim legitimacy. This showed that Lenin was very astute, as he had had chances to try and win power before, but he did not opt for that option, but waited until circumstances to his liking, and took advantages of them, resulting in the Bolshevik party ruling Russian headed by himself.
The reason why the Bolsheviks took power in November 1917 was because they exploited the mistakes that had been made by the Provisional Government. The Provisional Government did not listen to what the people wanted, while Lenin told them what they wanted to hear, and subsequently won their support. The Provisional Government relaxed the censorship law, and therefore allowed new influential ideas to spread. This factor combined with the legalisation of political parties meant that these new ideas were large parts of the policies that the newly legalised parties used to try and gain support.
The re-entry of political exiles into the country, such as Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin were all major mistakes, which Lenin in particular exploited as he stimulated the way people thought about the revolution that had recently occurred, and made them think if anything had actually changed. Once people had thought about that question, they realised that nothing had actually changed: there was still starvation in the cities, the peasants had no land, working conditions hadn’t improved, but had worsened, inflation was still a major problem and the common people of Russia (the peasants and urban workers) were still denied a say.
A factor that contributed to the Bolsheviks taking power in November 1917 was something that could not be controlled: luck. Lenin and the Bolsheviks by far did not have a perfect plan on how to take power. They were lucky on three prominent occasions. The first was that Lenin decided not to seize power in July shortly after the July Days riots that took place in the major cities of Russia. The people asked him to lead the way to a ‘fresh revolution’ as he called it, but he refused, as at that time the Bolshevik party was still a very small minority in the Petrograd Soviet (which was the most influential Soviet in Russia), as he would be taking power for the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries. This refusion of power at that time was very risky tactics by Lenin, as he didn’t know if he would have another chance to try and take power again in the future.
The second prominent example of luck was the taking place of Kornilov’s Revolt. Kornilov was a general who was fighting on the front. He was a keen supporter of the Tsar and the Tsarist system in the whole, and thought that the Provisional Government was doing a bad job of ruling over Russia. He thought that if he could get rid of the Provisional Government somehow, then the Tsar might be re-instated as the rightful leader of Russia. Kornilov planned to March his army to Petrograd and retake power by forceful means if necessary. When the Provisional Government heard about his plans, they began to panic, as they had never faced a situation remotely similar to this in the past.
As they had no force of their own present in Petrograd at that time, they turned to Lenin to see if he and his personal army made up of Bolsheviks (the Red Guard) would protect Petrograd from the oncoming army. The Provisional Government said that they would give all the weapons of Petrograd to the Red Guard if they would protect the capital. Lenin jumped at this opportunity when it arose, as he knew that the Provisional Government were making a huge mistake. When Kornilov’s army did reach Petrograd, they mutinied and joined the Red Guard. Now the Red Guard had the weapons of Petrograd, and were firmly in control of the situation. This was pure luck by the Bolsheviks, as they did not know if Kornilov was going to revolt in the future when Lenin refused power previously in July, but by chance the circumstances became favourable for him.
From the evidence I have given, I conclude that the Bolsheviks were able to take over from the Provisional Government in November 1917, because they had had a great leader in the form of Lenin, who had impeccable timing, motivating policies and propaganda and a unique ideology of what to do with Russia. They were also able to exploit the mistakes made by the Provisional Government, and an element of luck had play in their seizure of power. The Bolsheviks’ unique ideology was that they should end the war, while the rest of the newly formed political parties wanted to carry on with the war effort for the same reasons as the Provisional Government did, and that was because they didn’t want to be seen as cowards. The Bolsheviks knew what the people wanted, and stimulated them accordingly with the use of some crowd-pleasing policies and propaganda.
The Bolsheviks’ leader Lenin’s astute timing of the day to seize power, the day prior to the meeting of the All Russian Congress of Soviets. Luck did have a part to play in this seizure of power, and without it, the All Russian Congress of Soviets would probably have become the legitimate controlling body of Russia, but circumstances played into the hands of the Bolsheviks. The aggressive political tactics of the Bolsheviks: the idea that you had to go out and create a revolution did eventually pay off, as if they had done what the Mensheviks had done, then the revolution would never have taken place, and Russia would be ruled by another body. The prime reason for success was the masterminding and swaying of public thought, courtesy of the Bolshevik leader, Lenin.