Russian Revolution from Robinson and Beard

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The Russian Revolution:  The Bolsheviki

Source: James Harvey Robinson and Charles Beard, History of Europe (Boston: Ginn & Co., 1921), pp. 570-73.

This is an excerpt from Robinson and Beard's classic history textbook of 1921. Though some of these remarks are OK, there is a lot of datedness here.

989. The Russian Revolution (March, 1917). In March, 1917, one of the chief belligerent countries, Russia, underwent such a tremendous internal change as greatly to modify the course of the war and the problem of peace. We must now consider the astonishing revolution which led to the overthrow of the old Russian despotism and the retirement of Russia from the war.

The world convict had hardly opened in 1914 before it revealed the corruption, the weakness, the inefficiency, indeed, in some cases, the treason, of the Tsar's court and his imperial officials. The millions of Russians who perished in the trenches of the Eastern Front in vain endeavors to advance into Germany and Austria‑Hungary or to stem the tide of German invasion were ill supported by their government. The Duma became unmanageable, and in December, 1916, it passed a resolution declaring that "dark forces" were paralyzing the government and betraying the nation's interests. This referred especially to the German wife of the Tsar, and the influence exercised over her and at court by a monk named Rasputin, who opposed every modern reform. He was murdered, and the angry Tsar proceeded to dismiss the liberals from the government and replace them by the most unpopular bureaucrats he could find. He seemed to be declaring war on every liberal movement and reverting to the methods of Nicholas I. Meantime the country was becoming more and more disorganized. There was a distressing scarcity of food in the cities and a growing repugnance to the continuance of the war.

990. The Tsar Overthrown. Bread riots broke out in Petrograd in March, 1917, but the troops refused to fire on the people, and the Tsar's government found itself helpless. When ordered to adjourn, the Duma defied the Tsar and called for the establishment of a provisional government. The Tsar, hastening back to Petrograd from the front, was stopped by representatives of the new provisional government on March 15, 1917, and induced to sign his own and his son's abdication in favor of his brother, Grand Duke Michael. But Michael refused the honor unless it were authorized by a constitutional assembly; this amounted to an abdication of the Romanoffs, who had ruled Russia for more than three centuries. There was no longer any such thing in the world as "the autocrat of all the Russias." The Tsar's relatives renounced their rights, his high officials were imprisoned in the very fortress of Peter and Paul where they had sent so many revolutionists, and political prisoners in Russia and Siberia received the joyous tidings that they were free. The world viewed with astonishment this abrupt and complete collapse of the ancient system of tyranny.

991. The Socialists gain Control of the Russian Government. A revolutionary cabinet was formed of men of moderate views on the whole, but Alexander Kerensky, a socialist and representative of the Workingmen's and Soldiers' Council, was made minister of justice. The new cabinet declared itself in favor of many reforms, such as liberty of speech and of the press; the right to strike; the substitution of militia for the old police; universal suffrage, including women. But the socialists were not content, and through their Council of Workingmen's and Soldiers' Delegates began to exercise great power. By July, 1917, all the more moderate members of the provisional government had been forced out and their places taken by socialists. A desperate attempt to lead the flagging Russian troops forward to victory against the Austrians utterly failed, and as time went on the demand for an immediate peace "without annexations and indemnities'." became louder and bolder.

992. The Bolshevik Revolution (November, 1917). At length the storm which had long been gathering broke. Early in the revolution a council of workmen's and soldiers' deputies, or "soviet," had been set up in Petrograd and had begun to dispute the authority of the Duma. All over Russia similar soviets, or councils of workmen, soldiers, and peasants, were instituted, and finally, in November, under two leaders, Lenin and Trotzky, supported by soldiers, they overturned the Kerensky government, founding instead "a dictatorship of the proletariat." The faction which engineered this enterprise was known as the Bolsheviki, or "majority men," a term given to them when they constituted, a majority of the Russian socialists.

993. The Peace of Brest-Litovsk. The Bolsheviki proceeded at once to abolish private property in land and capital, and institute a "communist system." They denounced the war as an "imperialist struggle for trade and territory," and they called upon the warring powers to join them in a peace conference. Receiving no replies, they opened the Russian archives and published secret treaties drawn up by the Allies against Germany. Then, late in December, they instituted peace negotiations with the Central Powers at Brest-Litovsk, on the eastern boundary.

The Russian delegation submitted their program of "no annexations, and no indemnities," and complained of the extortion practiced by the Teutonic allies. But the Bolsheviki were helpless in the face of the German demands. Finland and Ukraine, which comprises a great part of southern Russia, declared themselves independent and established governments of their own, under German influence, it is supposed. So on March 3, 1918, the representatives of the Bolsheviki concluded a peace with the Central Powers in which they agreed to "evacuate" Ukraine and Finland, and surrendered Poland, Lithuania, Courland, Livonia, and certain districts in the Caucasus (see maps, facing pages 406 and 594), all of which were to exercise the right of establishing such government as they pleased. It is estimated that in this way Russia lost about a third of her population, a third of her railways, nearly three fourths of her iron mines, about 9o per cent of her coal mines, and her chief industrial towns and richest fields. Shortly after, the capital of Russia was transferred from Petrograd to Moscow. The result was that Russia was dismembered, and all the western and southern regions were, for the time being, under the strong influence of the Germans.