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The Great October Socialist Revolution, the Bolsheviks' coup d'état

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The Great October Socialist Revolution, the Bolsheviks' coup d'état

Post by lpetrich » Tue Nov 07, 2017 8:21 pm

Carrying on the tradition of World War I anniversaries, this is the 100th anniversary of the The Great October Socialist Revolution, the Bolsheviks' coup d'état in Russia.

It is called "October" rather than "November" because when it happened, Russia was still using the Julian calendar, the calendar established by Julius Caesar in 45 BCE, over 2000 years ago. In that calendar, the date was October 25. But in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced a fix that involved dropping some leap years to keep the calendar in sync with the seasons. Catholics adopted it, but Protestants did not do so for some decades, because it was some Catholic thing. Russia did not adopt it at all until after the Bolsheviks took over.

The Bolsheviks overthrew the Provisional Government, a government of moderate reformists, not the Tsars. The last Tsar had abdicated the previous February, and the PG then took over. The PG continued Russia's involvement in the Great War, as World War I was called back in, despite that involvement continuing to fail and despite its continuing unpopularity.

In the meantime, the Germans sent Vladimir Lenin and some of his associates on a train ride from Switzerland to Sweden. The train was diplomatically sealed, almost as if Lenin was some plague microbe. Lenin had had a career as a revolutionary in Russia, calling his faction the Bolsheviks or Majority Party, and a rival faction the Mensheviks or Minority Party.

He then made his way to Russia, and in Petrograd, he got a lot of support with his promises of "peace, land, bread". Petrograd was what the Russians renamed St. Petersburg during the war -- from something German to something Slavic. That city would then become Leningrad for a long time, though with the fall of Communism, it has reverted to being St. Petersburg.

The PG's leaders were there, and Lenin's Bolshevik Red Guards overthrew them on November 7.

This led to a big civil war that the Bolsheviks eventually won, and this also led to the treaty of Brest-Litovsk in the following spring. Lenin got peace, but a peace that involved ceding Russia's westernmost territories to the Central Powers. Germany and Austria got much of the Baltic states, Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine.

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Post by cape_royds » Tue Nov 21, 2017 3:09 am

The main problem with the so-called "Provisional Government" was that it was never really a government.

The Provisional Government never had control over the armed forces, never had control over most cities or regions, and never even had full control over the imperial capital city itself.

What was the "Provisional Government" ? It was just a bunch of guys sitting, or formerly sitting, in the various post-1905 Dumas. After the Tsar abdicated, they decided to try to call themselves the government.

That's not to say they were any less entitled to try to call themselves a government than anybody else in the Russian Empire, but on the other hand they weren't necessarily any more entitled to do so than any other bunch of guys in the Russian Empire.

Those Dumas were never elected on any sort of broad basis of sufferage, so none of them could ever really be considered representative of more than a small minority of the overall population. That goes far to explain the Provisional Government's incurable problem of legitimacy.

Diplomats, military attaches, journalists, and businesspeople of the Entente countries who were working in Russia tended to form a favourable attitude towards the bunch of guys from the Duma who were trying to call themselves a government. English-language histories, in particular, thus tend to overrate the importance of the "Provisional Government."

That is quite understandable on their part, since many of the guys in the Provisional Government were the sorts of people with whom many foreign politicians and businesspeople could identify with, and sympathize with. The guys in the Provisional Government were people who in class, background, and ideas resembled their foreign business and political counterparts.

Moreover, since their own countries were involved in a major war, with the outcome still uncertain, the foreigners of the Entente nations working in Russia had a natural anxiety to maintain the belligerent status of the Russian Empire.

Unfortunately, the guys in the Provisional Government, no matter how sympathetic foreigners might find them, nowhere near resembled, whether in background or in views, the bulk of people in the Russian Empire. Unlike the Romanov dynasty, who of course were also unrepresentative, the guys in the Provisional Government had no tradition or legacy upon which to base a regime.

So when we talk about the "Provisional Government," discussion can only revolve around when they get overthrown, and by whom. The final answer to those questions came after several years of polygonal civil war.

Next, the successful Bolshevik coup d'etat in November was only the last of a series of attempts to overthrow the Provisional Government, made by various factions in Petrograd. I think the earliest attempt had been made by a coalition in the Petrograd Soviet in May, and that was forestalled only by a public promise to seek peace--a promise which Kerensky soon violated. There was another during the summer, and then there was a right-wing military coup attempt in the early autumn. As I said before, the "Provisional Government" never even had full control over capital city, let alone anything else.

Finally, it's funny that everybody mentions that the Central Powers allowed a large number of Russian political exiles to repatriate after the fall of the Tsar, nobody mentions that the Entente Powers also allowed many political exiles to repatriate at the same time. For example, the British released Trotsky.
Last edited by cape_royds on Tue Nov 21, 2017 3:22 am, edited 1 time in total.

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