Russian Revolution Oleksandr Melnyk (guest lecturer)
Russian Revolution
Main events in Russian Revolution
To think about
Tsarist rule
Russia: a divided society
Run-up to Revolution
1917 revolution
February revolution
Dual power
1917 revolution
1917 Revolution
Key Players in Russian Revolution
Sources of the Russian Revolution
Skocpol’s theory of Russian Revolution
Weak state facing severe international threat
Russian Peasants Commune
Approaches to Russian revolution
To think about during movie

Russian revolution. (Lecture 4)

1. Russian Revolution Oleksandr Melnyk (guest lecturer)

29 September 2015

2. Russian Revolution

3. Main events in Russian Revolution

1905 revolution
1917 February Revolution
1917 October Revolution
1917-1921 Civil War
1922 – Creation of USSR

4. To think about

• In what ways was the Russian Tsarist
regime vulnerable to overthrow at the start
of 1917?
• In what ways was the provisional
government weak?
• What role did Lenin play in the Russian
• What evidence do we have that outcomes
would have been different if Lenin had not

5. Tsarist rule

• Highly Centralized Autocratic Rule
• Russia major power
– But economically undeveloped compared to
– Heavily indebted to West

6. Russia: a divided society

1. Peasants
Dominant group in society
Serfdom abolished in 1861
2. The Working Class
Small but growing working class
Highly concentrated industry in key cities
Very radical
Government responded violently to any types of
labor demands because wanted to protect
foreign investment – thus radicalized labor

7. Radicals

• Populists (Narodniki)
• Russian salvation in traditional peasant
communities (obshchina)
Peasants turn them into the police
• First modern terrorists – terrorism to lead to
rise of “real Russia”
o1881 assassinate Tsar Alexander II

8. Radicals

•Opposed to peasant and obshchina
•Focus on modernization
– Working for the revolution after the next
•1898 foundation of Russian Social
Democratic Labor Party
• 1903 – break between Bolsheviks (Lenin) and
o Lenin and Bolsheviks: elite revolutionary party to act
as vanguard of people
o Mensheviks: Socialist party with broad membership
and support

9. Run-up to Revolution

• 1905 revolt: “Dress Rehearsal for 1917”
– Failed war with Japan (troops in Asia)
– 1904: Demands for National Legislature
– January 1905 Bloody Sunday – 1,000 deaths
– Strikes throughout Russia
– Creation of “Soviets” – council of worker reps
– October Manifesto – creation of Duma
– Coup of 1907 – Duma Dissolved

10. 1917 revolution

World War I:
1914 Russia forced to take side of France
and England against Germany and AustroHungarian empire
15 million Russians mobilized
Most support involvement in war but
protests occur because of defeats and
Severe shortages of basic military
Defeats leads to broad disaffection against
1.6-1.8 million dead by 1916;

11. February revolution

Largely spontaneous
Food shortages
Army refuses to attack protest by female
general break-down of tsarist authority and
abdication of tsar
State breakdown

12. Dual power

1.Duma establishes “Provisional Government”
• Support of old tsarist bureaucracy but no electoral
• Supported continued involvement in war
2. Workers create Soviets in factories – real
• Controlled many soldiers, railway stations, telegraf stations
• Order #1
• Officers recognized provisional government while
soldiers recognize Soviet

13. 1917 revolution

Only party to oppose war -- “Peace, Land, Bread”
Lenin in Switzerland during February revolution –
returns to Petersburg in April with German help
April Theses – opposition to provisional government
Membership increases from 2,000 to 350,000
February-October 1917
Peasant rebellion
Peasant based army “votes with its feet” – mass
desertions – whole armies disintegrate
Soldiers return to villages – promote revolution
Form revolutionary councils
• 200 million acres of land seized by peasants

14. 1917 Revolution

Radicalization of workers
• July days
August coup attempt – Kornilov
• Moderates lose control
Bolsheviks majority of Soviet in Petrograd in
Lenin: immediate armed take-over by party
• Very controversial position – many prominent
Bolsheviks oppose it (including initially Stalin)
• Bolsheviks vs. Soviets
October 24: Bolshevik seize winter palace
• Exclude most other parties from Soviet
Constituent assembly election November
Disbanded in January ‘18

15. Key Players in Russian Revolution

Provisional government
– Formally take charge after Tsar leaves power in
February 1917
– Small base of support/very weak
Worker Soviets (Councils)
– Spontaneously organized councils of urban workers
– Dominated by leftist parties Mensheviks, Bolsheviks,
Socialist Revolutionaries
– One of the parties in the Soviets; dominate Soviet in
– Only one to oppose war early on
– Lead October revolution that abolishes Provisional
govt; creates Communist state
– Spontaneously take over countryside; weak
connections to cities/Soviets

16. Sources of the Russian Revolution

• Marxist approach
• Role of Lenin
– Importance of
professionalized and
small revolutionary
• But just how disciplined
was the party in 1917?
– Lenin and the
• April Theses
– Peasants?

17. Skocpol’s theory of Russian Revolution

Very weak state – inability to
modernize left it far behind
England, France and Germany
Extreme International Pressures:
W. W. I
Organizational basis for peasant
rebellion: Mir creates peasant
solidarity and autonomy

18. Weak state facing severe international threat

Russia large but relatively weak
Poor agricultural economy
No match for West:
• Income 1/3 of UK
• Much weaker industrial base than Germany
Military: no match for neighbors
• 1850s lost Crimean war to England
oRussian wooden sailing vessels faced
British steel steam powered ships
• 1905 revolution: lost war to Japan

19. Russian Peasants Commune

• Collective Solidarity:
o Land held collectively
rather than individually in
the obshchina
o Egalitarian: Land
distributed to households
according to the number of
men or “eaters” in the
• Autonomy:
o Mir (village
assembly)enjoys almost
complete autonomy
o Responsible for tax

20. Peasants

1. Peasants
Serfdom abolished in 1861
Mir strengthened:
Peasants forced to pay “redemption” payments
to state to offset bulk payments to landowners at
the end of serfdom
o Mir responsible for this payment
Peasants discouraged from leaving land – state
feared influx of landless peasants into cities

21. Skocpol

• Weak Russian state enter WWI
• WWI state collapse
• Strong peasantry able to take advantage
of opening to seize land
• Bolsheviks in cities take advantage of
state breakdown to seize power in

22. Approaches to Russian revolution

• Marxism
• Role of Lenin
– Lenin in Zurich during February Revolution
– What about Peasants?
• Skocpol
– What about workers?
– Ideology

23. To think about during movie

• What events led to the February revolution
• How did attitudes towards the Provisional
government change over the course of
• What did Lenin do to promote the
Bolshevik seizure of power?
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