The Bolshevik

The Bolshevik
A painting from 1920 by Russian artist Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev (1878–1927) currently in the possession of The Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

25 October 2010

The Confusion of 1917 and the "Breadless" Revolution

1917 was a tumultuous year for not only Russia, but for much of the rest of what we call the "modern world" as well. World War I was still being fought and would not be officially over until 1918. Since the Germans were the enemy that Russia and its allies were pitted against, the country's capital at the time, St. Petersburg, was given a less Germanic name - Petrograd, roughly its Slavic equivalent - shortly after the war started in 1914 and did not change again until 1924 after Vladimir Lenin died and the city was renamed again in his honor - Leningrad.

This city is essential to the beginnings of the Soviet Union as the capital of Imperial Russia. Perhaps in 1918 when Lenin, now thoroughly entrenched as the leader of the country, decided to move the capital to Moscow on the premise that Petrograd was in danger of being overrun by German forces, he had other motives as well. As the centuries old political, religious and economic center of Imperial Russia, the city itself stood as a very conspicuous reminder and symbol of the previous government.

However, it was also the location of the origin of the February Revolution which began on February 23 (Old Style date according to the Julian calendar still in use in Russia at the time - March 8 according to the New Style or Gregorian calendar currently in use), when women celebrating International Women's Day in Petrograd headed protests against food shortages and the comparatively high price of bread. Spurred on by socialist and other revolutionaries waiting for such a chance, the protests grew as mostly working-class women and men swelled the ranks daily, resorting to looting city shops for bread and other food until on March 2 (O.S.), Tsar Nicholas II found it necessary to abdicate his position as leader of Russia. More than 300 years of Romanov rule came to an end and the Provisional Committee of the State Duma took over the political reigns of power. The next day, the Committee issued a proclamation establishing, among other things, the amnesty of all political and religious activists, either imprisoned or wanted by the police. It also abolished the police as it was and created a national militia, but that is another topic for later discussion. Even though the tsar was no longer in power, neither were the Bolsheviks or any single other revolutionary political party - a fact which is often overlooked in Western history classes dealing with this period of time.

The wretched state of the economy in Russia was heavily blamed by many on World War I and the constant strain the the war put on workers who were forced to supply the military and its numerous soldiers in the field with food, weapons, ammunition and able-bodied young men. The lack of bread for the civilian population was a symbolic part of the revolt against the tsarist regime. In fact, bread prices are still a source of dark humor for many Russians and during the early 1990s were used by the population as a measurement of the rate of runaway inflation throughout the Former Soviet Union (FSU).

In the days immediately following the initial February 23 protests, regiment after regiment of the Russian Imperial Army became members of the Red Guard - later the Red Army - as news spread through the ranks that Nicholas and his family had been arrested and imprisoned, but that it was necessary to remain steadfast in their battle against the Germans to maintain the honor of the Russian Army and the people it represented and defended. However, not all of the ranks of the army supported the new provisional government and many were simply loyal to the tsar and the imperial leadership's aristocracy. Therefore, though the fighting of World War I ended in late 1918, Russia and the countries loyal to her remained at war within itself until 1923. Historically, the Russian Civil War started with the abdication of Nicholas II in 1917. However, some sources establish the dates of the Civil War as 1918 through 1921, depending on their definition of who was at war with whom and when exactly one side (the Bolsheviks) had entirely defeated their opposition.

Understandably, when there is a war within a war, a certain amount of confusion as to what was occurring both politically as well as socially is expected. But 1917 saw yet another revolution in Russia. This time, it was the one which the Soviet Union proclaimed as its birth on October 25 (O.S. - November 7, N.S.) when the battle cruiser Aurora fired a blank canon round while at dock only a few hundred meters from the Winter Palace which signaled the waiting armed mob made up mostly of workers and peasants to storm the palace where they arrested nearly all of the ministers and other members of the heretofore largely ineffective democratic Provisional Government. The October Revolution was the one celebrated throughout the 73 years of the existence of the Soviet Union, because this was the date Lenin became the new, single leader of the people.

What is often not known or even taught in many Western countries (including the United States) is that Lenin and the Bolsheviks were not unanimously approved of as the country's new leaders, and in order to maintain his own and his party's position, Lenin agreed to the formation of what was originally intended to be a temporary secret political police - at least that is how historians continue to explain the origin of what would become the most powerful, feared and effective state security agency in the world that has yet to be surpassed. Barely more than a month after the October Revolution began, the "All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage," commonly known as the Cheka after the initial letters of its abbreviated Russian title, was established by a decree of Sovnarkom on December 7, 1917, effectively assuming the responsibilities that the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet had performed up to that point. The Cheka was the precursor of a succession of formidable Soviet secret police organizations that included the GPU (1922-23), the OGPU (1923-34), the NKVD (1934-43), the MGB (1943-54), and the KGB" (Seigelbaum, Lewis. "1917: State Security,"

1 comment:

  1. Hello, just wanted to tell you, I loved this post. It was practical.
    Keep on posting!

    Here is my site; "una vidente buena y barata"