The Bol­she­vik Rev­o­lu­tion stands as a key po­lit­i­cal event that needs to be eval­u­ated in de­tail to fully com­pre­hend the es­tab­lish­ment of mod­ern-day Rus­sia

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Opinion - * Ph.D., Po­lit­i­cal Sci­en­tist

This month marks the 100th an­niver­sary of the Bol­she­vik Rev­o­lu­tion, namely the Oc­to­ber Rev­o­lu­tion, one of the most cru­cial mo­ments in 20th cen­tury his­tory that highly im­pacted not only the es­tab­lish­ment of mod­ern Rus­sia but also in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions. The ide­olo­gies that both trig­gered the Oc­to­ber Rev­o­lu­tion in 1917 and then led to the col­lapse of the Soviet Union in De­cem­ber 1991 are here to be an­a­lyzed. De­spite their los­ing pop­u­lar­ity within years, they need to be eval­u­ated well to com­pre­hend the cur­rent sys­tem in Rus­sia that has touched mil­lions of peo­ple’s lives.


The most sig­nif­i­cant in­ci­dent that played a big role in the es­tab­lish­ment of mod­ern Rus­sia is un­doubt­edly Rus­sia be­ing de­feated by the Bri­tish and French navies in the Crimean War between 1853 and 1856, when the Rus­sian Em­pire’s tra­di­tional sail­boats re­mained tech­no­log­i­cally in­ca­pable against the steam-pow­ered war­ships of par­tic­u­larly Bri­tish and French navies. With this de­feat, it was un­der­stood that the Rus­sian Em­pire, be­ing the most pow­er­ful ac­tor on the con­ti­nent at the be­gin­ning of the 19th cen­tury, started los­ing power against other Euro­pean em­pires, in other words, its tra­di­tional eco­nomic sys­tem could not re­sist against the Euro­pean cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem any more. Af­ter some sub­se­quent de­feats, the em­pire had to en­ter a mod­ern­iza­tion process to re­gain its strong mil­i­tary po­si­tion.

The process of the mod­ern­iza­tion of tsarist Rus­sia op­er­ated in two di­rec­tions – top-down re­forms and so­cial rev­o­lu­tions. The dif­fer­ence between so­ci­ety’s ex­pec­ta­tions and the tsarist regime’s poli­cies would trig­ger regime change by reach­ing a rad­i­cal po­si­tion at the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury. The top-down re­forms were put into prac­tice dur­ing Tsar Alexander II’s reign (1855-81) fol­low­ing the fi­asco in Crimea against Bri­tain and France. Dur­ing the reign of Tsar Ni­cholas I (1825-55), the regime’s val­ues dis­ap­peared im­me­di­ately. How­ever, the eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion re­quired for change in­cluded the risk of dam­ag­ing so­cial and po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity al­to­gether. This dilemma would open ma­jor prob­lems for tsarist ad­min­is­tra­tions in the next cen­tury.

The most im­por­tant move that ac­cel­er­ated so­cial mo­bi­liza­tion and in­creased po­lit­i­cal strug­gle was the abo­li­tion of serf­dom. With this move, the do­min­ion over the lower sec­tions of was abol­ished. Serfs were in­cluded in the work­ing class along mi­grated to the city even though the so­cial un­der­tak­ing alone was far away. The sec­ond wave of re­forms was the ac­ti­va­tion of lo­cal gov­ern­ments. The law, which was is­sued in 1864, gave the Zem­stvo as­sem­blies the power of self­gov­er­nance at the lo­cal and pro­vin­cial lev­els. These as­sem­blies, while hav­ing a cer­tain bud­get, had author­ity to make de­ci­sions and im­ple­ment ba­sic poli­cies such as ed­u­ca­tion, health, vet­eri­nary care, in­sur­ance, road con­struc­tion and food stocks. The third move was in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion and trade ac­tiv­i­ties that pro­moted cap­i­tal­ism. From the sec­ond half of the 19th cen­tury, there was a big leap in the rail­way sys­tem in Rus­sia. With grid­ded rails, a large trade net­work was es­tab­lished from China to the Caspian Sea and from the Ot­toman Em­pire to Iran. The en­gine of in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion, built in St. Peters­burg, was Pu­tilov’s op­er­a­tion, one of Europe’s largest fac­to­ries. This op­er­a­tion pro­duced ships, lo­co­mo­tives and heavy ma­chin­ery. Rus­sia was strug­gling to meet the de­mands of mod­ern­iza­tion of so­ci­ety, ad­min­is­tra­tive and econ­omy.

The process of mod­ern­iza­tion di­vided so­ci­ety into two groups – anti-West­ern­iza­tion­ists and rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies who de­fended Rus­sian politics as a tra­di­tional form of politics. Revo­lu­tion­ary groups were also di­vided into two – the Pop­ulists, who be­lieved that Rus­sia would find its own way of so­cial­ism, and the Marx­ists, who thought that Rus­sia would fol­low the same course as Western Europe. The Rus­sian au­to­cratic regime, when it came to 1881, would see the most rad­i­cal re­ac­tion from the Nar­o­d­naya Volya Party, the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of pop­ulist move­ments, and Tsar Alexander II was go­ing to be as­sas­si­nated. While the tsarist regime in­creased its author­ity af­ter this date, the revo­lu­tion­ary move­ment moved to­ward Marx­ism. The Marx­ist move­ment ex­pe­ri­enced a his­tor­i­cal di­vi­sion between the Bol­she­viks and the Men­she­viks in 1903. While Vladimir Lenin planned to build the Bol­she­viks from pro­fes­sional rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies with so­cial­ist ideas, the Men­she­viks ide­al­ized the choice of party mem­bers among the mass of work­ers. The com­mon point of the Bol­she­viks and Men­she­viks was that the fu­ture rev­o­lu­tion would be a bour­geois rev­o­lu­tion.

So­cial­ism could only be es­tab­lished in the next stage when Rus­sia joined the so­cio-eco­nom­i­cally cap­i­tal­ist-level econ­omy. There­fore, the strat­egy that dom­i­nated Marx­ist thought be­fore the Oc­to­ber 1917 rev­o­lu­tion was the de­ter­min­is­tic read­ing of Marx. But this strat­egy was changed in line with the ideas that Lenin would shape the Bol­she­vik move­ment with. For Lenin, it was an ac­tive mil­i­tancy that was de­manded from party mem­bers. Lenin was able to ap­ply his ide­al­ist the­ory of van­guard­sim to party mem­bers. The con­cept of a de­cen­tral­ized and dis­ci­plined party as the in­stru­ment of the rev­o­lu­tion was the foun­da­tion stone of Lenin’s thought. De­spite all these the­o­ret­i­cal and prac­ti­cal dif­fer­ences, lib­er­al­ism in a re­gion where Marx­ist ideas did not de­velop at the de­sired level and the work­ers’ move­ment did not reach po­lit­i­cal con- scious­ness was rad­i­cally ac­cepted against the au­to­cratic regime. Af­ter the Fe­bru­ary Rev­o­lu­tion of 1905 and the Oc­to­ber Rev­o­lu­tion of 1917 were de­vel­oped in the syn­the­sis of Marx­ist and lib­eral thoughts, the sys­tem was fully recorded by Lenin.

The 1905 rev­o­lu­tion took place against the tsarist regime with the unity of the lib­eral mid­dle class, work­ers and peas­antry. The de­mands of the lib­eral mid­dle classes were lim­ited to bour­geois rights such as recog­ni­tion of civil rights, rule of law, guar­an­tee of in­di­vid­ual rights and rep­re­sen­ta­tion. The most im­por­tant is­sue that trig­gered the rev­o­lu­tion was the Rus­sians be­ing de­feated by Ja­pan in the war that lasted from 1904 to Septem­ber 1905. The op­po­nents, who saw the tsarist regime fall­ing from power, car­ried out mass op­po­si­tion. In ad­di­tion, the fact that war con­di­tions forced the econ­omy into hard times in­creased work­ers’ rad­i­cal­ism once more. In the events now called Deadly Sun­day, thou­sands of op­po­si­tion and regime sol­diers clashed. How­ever, the sol­diers’ com­mit­ment to the regime pre­vented the at­tempts from lead­ing to regime change. The op­ti­mistic at­mos­phere of the 1905 rev­o­lu­tion con­tin­ued with the regime grant­ing civil rights on Oct. 17, 1905, and the es­tab­lish­ment of the Duma As­sem­bly, which lasted un­til 1907, but af­ter that, the regime turned au­thor­i­tar­ian again.

Just as the Russo-Ja­panese War was be­hind the 1905 rev­o­lu­tion, the dev­as­tat­ing out­comes of World War I were be­hind the 1917 rev­o­lu­tion. For Rus­sia, the war was not only a dis­grace, it also caused a great eco­nomic dis­as­ter. When strikes and demon­stra­tions broke out in the cap­i­tal in Fe­bru­ary 1917, the at­ti­tude of mil­i­tary troops not obey­ing or­ders to open fire on un­armed civil­ians de­bil­i­tated the tsarist regime. The tsar then or­dered mil­i­tary troops out of the city against troops in St. Peters­burg who de­fied the or­der to open fire on civil­ians. Tsar Ni­cholas left the post af­ter be­ing in­formed that such a sit­u­a­tion would lead the county to a ma­jor cat­a­clysm. Of course, the Duma As­sem­bly’s re­quest to pass to a con­sti­tu­tional monar­chy played a big role in Ni­cholas’s de­ci­sion. When his brother re­fused to come to the throne, the 303-year-old tsarist tra­di­tion came to an end and the pro­vi­sional gov­ern­ment started deal­ing with the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the coun­try. By the way, work­ers and peas­ants also es­tab­lished a par­al­lel po­lit­i­cal struc­ture with the for­ma­tion of the Pet­ro­grad Soviet of Work­ers and Sol­diers’ Deputies.


The es­tab­lish­ment of the pro­vi­sional gov­ern­ment af­ter the Fe­bru­ary Rev­o­lu­tion of 1917 was the work of the Bol­she­viks and Men­she­viks as well as the bour­geoisie. Both groups would not par­tic­i­pate in the gov­ern­ment formed by the Pro­vi­sional Duma Com­mit­tee, but would sup­port it from the out­side. With the found­ing of the pro­vi­sional gov­ern­ment, the bour­geoisie seized power di­rectly. Many Bol­she­viks, par­tic­u­larly Josef Stalin and Leon Trot­sky, were op­ti­mistic about the pro­vi­sional gov­ern­ment for a long time.

Lenin, who would re­turn from ex­ile with Ger­many’s sup­port in April 1917, would end this op­ti­mism. In his fa­mous April The­ses, Lenin pointed out that the tran­si­tion from bour­geois gov­ern­ment to the pro­le­tar­ian sys­tem was an obli­ga­tion in terms of the his­tor­i­cal pro­gres­sion fore­seen by Marx.

Lenin wanted to show his pro­pa­ganda not only in the the­o­ret­i­cal plat­form but also in prac­tice, and he called for an up­ris­ing. Upon the call’s re­sponse, 500,000 sol­diers and work­ers poured into the streets. Fol­low­ing the gov­ern­ment’s is­suance of an ar­rest war­rant, Lenin es­caped abroad. He then de­manded the plan of an armed up­ris­ing be put in place, and ac­cord­ingly, the Red Guards were formed. De­spite all the mil­i­tary mea­sures of the pro­vi­sional gov­ern­ment, the Keren­sky gov­ern­ment fell on Oct. 25, 1917. Thus, af­ter the tsarist regime, the bour­geoisie also left the po­lit­i­cal area to the Bol­she­viks. The Soviet regime con­tin­ued as an au­thor­i­tar­ian state un­der the lead­er­ship of first Lenin and then Stalin between 1927 and 1953. In 1985, un­der Gor­bachev’s rule, the regime started be­ing trans­formed un­der the name of Glas­nost and Per­e­stroika, and fi­nally was dis­solved in 1991.

The death toll in the Oc­to­ber Rev­o­lu­tion is said to be much less than that of World War I, but when con­sid­er­ing the whole civil war, it is said to be four times more, which is 10 mil­lion. De­mog­ra­pher Ru­dolph Rum­mel says that the to­tal num­ber of po­lit­i­cal killings in so­cial­ist regimes is around 200 mil­lion. About 60 mil­lion of this was in the Soviet Union. To keep the regime alive, the es­tab­lished author­ity did not, un­for­tu­nately, give any op­po­si­tion voices a chance to sur­vive and adopted an at­ti­tude of a bru­tal, fas­cist regime. The Soviet regime, on be­half of a new sys­tem, wiped out all tra­di­tions. Re­li­gion suf­fered great de­struc­tion. The claim of pro­vid­ing the great­est equal­ity has been recorded as a ma­jor fail­ure in his­tory. The po­lit­i­cal jour­ney that emerged with in­de­pen­dence and anti-im­pe­ri­al­ist con­sid­er­a­tions turned into in­ter­nal col­lapse, and all the suf­fer­ing that was ex­pe­ri­enced was some­how pre­sented as good ex­am­ples to dif­fer­ent re­gions.

At the end of the 20th cen­tury, many po­lit­i­cal regimes, in­clud­ing the Soviet Union in par­tic­u­lar, ended and left be­hind a great de­struc­tion that is still hard to de­scribe. That is why to­day the Oc­to­ber Rev­o­lu­tion stands as a po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence to be ex­am­ined in de­tail, both what led up to it and its con­se­quences.

Founder of Soviet Rus­sia Vladimir Ilyich Lenin ad­dress­ing sol­diers of the new Soviet Army in Red Square, Moscow, May 25, 1919.

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