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.

07 November 2010

The Road to Revolution

One of the greatest weapons in any fight to win over the masses in any country at any time is a well-worded speech, editorial or slogan. Human beings survive on the very notion of communicating some idea or individual concept that they find important and worth sharing. Playing upon this basic need has been the cornerstone of nearly every major political change throughout the history of civilization. The more radical a departure the new ideas are from the ones they are meant to displace, the more necessary it is to sell those ideas as better than the ones they are intended to replace. Without the modern means of information sharing and gathering of the Internet, television or even regular broadcast radio (which would later become the main Soviet means of disseminating propaganda), the only thing the new government officials had were newspapers, pamphlets and the clever use of political posters on the streets of cities, small towns and villages - anywhere "workers and peasants" could be found.

Russia and its constituent "co-countries" and later republics under the Soviet Union was one of the few remaining regions of the world that had crossed the boundary into the 20th century with a functioning monarchy that kept the society in a duality of wealth and power - one small group had both while hundreds of millions were disillusioned, starving and desperate for some kind of change, a hope that the next day would not be their last. There had never been a significant "middle class" in Russia, and for over 300 years only merchants, high-ranking "professional" military officers, members of the Russian Orthodox Church and others who profited in some small way by the grace or goodwill of the Romanov family ever knew anything but poverty and a life dependent upon the monarchy for survival. 

Who Is Against the Soviets? Down with the Soviets! "Proletariat of the World, unite!" In this poster issued by the state press, it is obvious who would be against the soviets: the officer, the banker, the priest and the merchant.
 Hoover Political Poster Database. 2007

Intellectual unrest had been spreading throughout Europe for much of the 19th century with Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx organizing workers into early unions in Germany during the 1840s under their theories of communism as a means for everyone to live together on an equal footing while still producing the necessary goods and services to maintain a functioning society. The now famous Communist Manifesto was published in 1848 and was one of the basic tenets of the founding of the Soviet Union. Looking back it is easy to see that such a Utopian existence is unobtainable at our current stage of human development; however, at the time, the have-nots of European society were at the point where they could at least entertain any notions that involved them being outside of the lives they were subjected to.

Since the start of the 20th century the Russian people were in the throes of an economic depression that was only worsened by expansionist policies of the tsar's government. As a result of attempts to gain dominion over regions in the Far East in 1904, Nicholas II went to war with Japan over contested areas in China (Manchuria) and Korea since both empires were trying to dominate the same territories. The Russo-Japanese War did not end until September 1905 but was years in the making. The political unrest among the people was only aggravated by this war that had no bearing on their lives as ordinary citizens. In January of 1905, workers from a factory in St. Petersburg which minted many of the military orders awarded to officers fighting the war, went on strike over working conditions. Other workers throughout the city joined the strike until over 80,000 people were not at their jobs which eventually resulted in the capital city going without electricity in the middle of winter. Finally, a peaceful protest march was organized by a Russian Orthodox priest on behalf of the striking workers in St. Petersburg. He had drawn up a petition of fair labor demands and was leading the march of about 300,000 protesters to the Winter Palace to present this petition to the tsar (though ironically he was not in the palace at the time) when the protesters were met by a cordon of armed soldiers lined up in front of the palace. According to most reports of the event, the soldiers first fired a warning volley into the air, then took aim on the protesters. Official estimates by the government at the time state that 96 people were killed and 333 were wounded, but more likely estimates put the number of killed or wounded after the day's events at about 1000.

Russian Imperial soldiers lined up outside the Winter Palace ready to shoot at protesters on "Bloody Sunday"
From Wikimedia Commons

For more on the events of the "Bloody Sunday" Revolution, see the brief synopsis at:

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