Russia suffered huge losses at the hands of the Austro-Hungarian and German armies during the First World War (1914-18) and its civilian population was starving as war raged across much Russian farmlands and limited supplies were diverted towards the war effort. Against this background, Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate his autocratic power in the aristocratic and liberal (bourgeois) revolution of March 1917. This revolution placed a Provisional Government in power which was led initially by the aristocrat Prince Lvov then after July 1917 by the lawyer, Alexander Kerensky. This Provisional Government was weak and divided at a very difficult time for Russia. As the war continued, it seemed unable to deliver on the key desire of the public: an end to the war, more food and redistribution of land ownership across Russia. By November 1917, the radical Marxist (Bolshevik) slogan of “Peace, Bread, Land” began to resonate in the minds of the workers and soldiers of western Russia.
As mutinies by Russian soldiers and sailors broke out, the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin and supported by other factions and Marxist groups (such as the mutinying sailors on the cruiser Aurora) , called upon the Provisional Government to surrender power to them. Finally in the October Revolution (on November 7, 1917!), groups of revolutionaries advanced upon the Tsar’s Winter Palace in St Petersburg (Petrograd) where the government was based and seized power.
Lenin’s government quickly consolidated power and, changing their name from Bolsheviks to Communists, nationalised industries, banks and transport, confiscated Russian Orthodox Church land and property, and seized the lands held by the aristocracy. In March 1918, Lenin’s government, amid rumours of German bribes, signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk ending Russia’s war with Germany. Any hopes by opponents of the Bolsheviks that the Tsar would once again return to power faded in July 1918, when the Communists ordered the execution of Nicholas II and all his family (including the famous Princess Anastasia). Despite this, a Russian Civil War and Western War of Intervention gripped the USSR from 1918-1922 as White Russians supported by western nations attempted to overthrow the Communist Government based now in Moscow. The Bolshevik /Communist secret police (Cheka), Bolshevik military leader Leon Trotsky, the Red Army dealt ruthlessly with both the internal and external threats to the revolution.
By the time Lenin died in January 1924, he firmly controlled the world’s first Communist State. A dictatorship of the proletariat had been established. After his death a power struggle ensued that ultimately saw power pass into the hands of one of his party officials, Joseph Stalin. This new leader became perhaps the greatest tyrants of Russian history.
Consider the poster provided and try these tasks: