The Russian revolution

On 8 November 1917, the workers council of Petrograd ( Saint Petersburg ) declared the socialist revolution against the Russian provisional government. Revolutionary soldiers arrested the ministers and ended the rule of the bourgeoisie in Russia for 70 years. Since March 1917, Russia was ruled by pro-capitalist leaders who continued the first world war. The workers councils or soviets, opposed this and by November they had enough. Vladimir Lenin became chairman of the council of people’s commissioners and head of the new Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic!

Russia was in a state of revolution since the czar was forced to step down. There were two sides who wanted power. The liberals and Mensheviks ( minority socialists ) wanted a parliamentary democracy and a capitalist economy. But many workers and the Bolsheviks ( majority socialists ) supported the rule of workers councils ( soviets ). Since 1912, the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party was split between a revolutionary socialist majority and a evolutionary socialist minority. The majority was led by Lenin who supported a Marxist revolution in Russia!

The capitalist parties opposed the revolution and demanded parliamentary rule. Lenin allowed the elections for the Russian Constitutional Assemble, but soon realized that a parliamentary democracy would not serve the needs of workers and poor peasants. Also the elections showed that both workers and peasants wanted a socialist transformation of Russia. The capitalist parties were very unpopular!

After only one day the Bolsheviks dissolved the Russian Constitutional Assemble, and all political power was transferred to the Congress of Soviets. Many liberals and Mensheviks opposed this and with support from conservatives and western imperialism, they founded the White Armies. These Whites were counter-revolutionaries, who hated Lenin for various reasons. Some hated him for being a revolutionary socialist, other hated him for abolishing the capitalist Provisional Government and finally some said that Lenin was a German spy!

Unlike the White Armies who were created right after the revolution in November 1917, there was no army to defend the Soviet state. In January 1918, the leftist social revolutionaries in the soviets said that the Red Guards were too weak to fight the armies of the counter-revolution. Lenin agreed and asked Leon Trotsky to create an army of workers and peasants. In February, the Workers and Peasants Red Army was founded. Originally an army with no ranks and officers were elected by soldiers. Very idealistic, but Trotsky found out that the democratic principals of the revolution could not win the upcoming civil war with the counter-revolutionaries!

Many members of the soviets also opposed to the idea, that former czarist officers were enlisted to lead the Red Army. But as the Red Army lost battle after battle, it became clear that a radical change in structure was needed. Trotsky was forced to use brutal recruitment tactics in order to gain new soldiers. Also he ended the democratic election of officers by soldiers. But this did not ended the weakness of the new Red Army. Many soldiers lacked military discipline and revolutionary idealism. Also the Red Army faced betrayal after betrayal as many peasant soldiers deserted after panicking on the battlefield!

Early 1919, things looked very bad for the revolution. 200.000 western soldiers from 21 nations had come to aid the White Armies. British forces attacked from the south, American from the north and Japanese soldiers invaded Russia from the east. Leon Trotsky had to use political commissars to keep the peasant soldiers from deserting. This meant that these commissars would shoot any red soldiers who deserted from the battlefield. A very brutal method, but one that was necessary to keep the Red Army from mass desertion!

Lenin moved the capital from Petrograd to Moscow in 1918. He faced also opposition from the anarchists, who hated the peace treaty with Imperial Germany. Anarchist bombs soon started to kill Soviet officials. After the anti-Soviet; Social Revolutionary Party started to murder members of the Soviet government, Lenin ordered the Red Terror. This happened after a social revolutionary woman tried to kill him on 30 August 1918. The Red Terror was cruel, as many victims were shoot win out a fair trial. But since the Soviet state was in chaos and at war, it was clear that radical actions were needed to protect the rule of the soviets!

The capitalist media claims that Lenin always wanted to kill his opponents and that his ideology is ´´criminal´´ and ´´undemocratic´´ because of it. In reality the Red Terror was only enforced because of the war situation and only because of the White Terror. Many Bolsheviks were murdered at the hands of anarchists, social revolutionaries, White Army soldiers and foreign armies. Like the Bolsheviks in Baku, Azerbaijan. There the Mensjewiks were in control of the local soviets and they choose to surrender to British troops. After they were hailed as ´´liberators´´, the British executed 26 Soviet officials in the capital of Azerbaijan. Also executed was the leader of the Baku Commune; Stepan Gevorgi Shahumyan.

Shahumyan was the chairman of the Baku Commune, the soviet of the capital of Azerbaijan. He faced both the bourgeois; Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan and the Ottoman Empire. In July 1918, Shahumyan and the leaders of the Baku Commune were forced to flee as counter-revolutionary forces invaded the city of Baku. Soon he was captured and executed by members of the anti-Soviet; Social Revolutionary Party!

In 1920, the western nations pulled their armies out of Russia. This was done because the ruling class feared a ´communist´ uprising. Win out the support from those 200.000 western soldiers, the White Army soon started to lose battles. This was because the Red Army was finally getting stronger. With iron discipline and no mercy, the reds pushed the whites back. Meanwhile the peasants started to rebel against War-Communism and the Red Terror. Many peasant groups were established to fight the Red Army. The most famous of them were the peasant sailors of Kronstadt, who rose up in February 1921!

Praised by the anarchist and capitalist media, the sailors of the Baltic Fleet choose to rebel and demanded that there would be soviets win out Bolsheviks. Fearful of a western invasion if the rebels kept the Fortress of Kronstadt, the Red Army attacked. More then 17.000 sailors fought the Red Army over the ice, but were finally defeated. Most peasants were able to flee to Finland, while 2.000 were captured and later executed!

To calm the peasants, Lenin introduced the New Economic Politics. War-Communism was abolished and a semi-market economy replaced it. Under this new economy, the peasants were allowed to sell their products on the open market. But many communists opposed the NEP, yet with the support from Stalin and the right-wing of the party, Lenin was able to introduce the NEP. From a socialist point of view the NEP stood in opposition to the ideals of the socialist revolution. But considering the fact that the peasants were the majority in Russia, it is understandable that Lenin did not have the luxury to make them angry!

Thanks to the divided nature of the White Armies, the Red Army won most battle and by early 1922 it became clear that the revolution would triumph. White soldiers kept fighting until the last were defeated early 1923. But before that Lenin wanted to unite all Soviet republics. Six were created by 1922, a Russian, Ukrainian, Belarussian, Armenian, Georgian and Azerbaijanian. The Caucasian Soviet republics were united in the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic!

The end of the civil war was not the end of the struggle. Even with the foundation of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, the fight was not over. Now a new danger appeared, the danger of the state bureaucracy. Lenin saw this too but was forced to leave office due to his health. In March 1923 he became paralysed and was unable to walk or speak. The USSR was by now no longer ruled by the soviets, but by the leadership of the Russian Communist Party. Inside the party there was opposition to this, led by Leon Trotsky some communists opposed the idea of party power over soviet power. But the party bureaucracy was supported by Joseph Stalin, who was general secretary and had gained a lot of power!

Trotsky and the left opposition tried to fight him, but were defeated thanks to Stalin’s control over the state apparatus. He expelled Trotsky and all who opposed him from the communist party. By 1928, any criticism of Stalin was called criticism of ´Marxism-Leninism´ and therefore banned. Vladimir Lenin had died on 21 January 1924, he never saw the final degeneration of his party into the monster that became stalinism!

 

october-propaganda-poster

Soviet propaganda poster around 1918

 

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