The Russian Revolution

russian revolution
Russian leader Lenin, cleaning the world of kings, priests and capitalists

The Russian Revolution shaped the modern world more than any other revolution. Unfolding in the early 20th century, the Russian Revolution ended three centuries of dynastic and autocratic rule in Russia. It heralded the first socialist government, led to the formation of the Soviet Union and precipitated the Cold War. Before 1917 Russia had been a vast empire, spanning one-sixth of the globe and housing a population of more than 100 million people. Yet despite its enormous size, Russia was ruled by just one man: the tsar. Russian tsars believed their power was absolute and considered their authority a gift from God. It was a political tradition from the Middle Ages but it remained prevalent in Russia in the early 20th century – even as Russia’s economy was becoming more industrialised, new classes were emerging and political groups were demanding change.

In Russia, as elsewhere in history, war was the catalyst for revolution. A disastrous war with Japan almost tipped Russia into revolution in 1905; the tsarist regime was only saved by its insincere promises. Nine years later Russia became entangled in the horrors of World War I. By the end of 1916 millions of Russians had died and the Russian economy, which was underdeveloped to begin with, was severely exhausted. The credibility of Tsar Nicholas II had been eroded by his poor decision making and his wife’s reliance on the notorious Grigori Rasputin. Urged to share government and control of the war effort, the tsar refused. By February 1917 Nicholas had lost the support of most Russians, including his generals; the following month he was forced to abdicate. Control of Russia passed to members of a provisional government – but they inherited the same problems which had plagued the tsar. Meanwhile, socialist revolutions called the Bolsheviks began to agitate for a second more radical revolution in Russia.

A chain of events in 1917 weakened support for Russia’s Provisional Government and, in October, the Bolsheviks seized power in an almost bloodless takeover. Russia became the first country in history to be ruled by Marxist socialists. The Bolshevik leader, known to the world as Lenin, had grand plans for the new state. Russia would seek an immediate peace by withdrawing from World War I; old privileges and inequalities would be crushed; the power of religion would be stripped away; workers and peasants would be in control of their own lives and destinies. Like others before them, however, Lenin and the Bolsheviks found that governing was much more difficult than revolution. The Bolsheviks encountered opposition from all corners: from the tsarists and liberals they had overthrown, from the other socialists they had displaced, from the foreign governments they threatened and from the peasants and workers who did not share their vision. By mid-1918, Russia had fallen into a state of civil war. The Bolsheviks would emerge victoriously – but only after years of war, dictatorship, violence, terror, economic disruption, shortages and one of the deadliest famines in history.

Studying the Russian Revolution will give you an insight into modern Russia and 20th century Europe. You will learn about important political systems and concepts, including autocracy, capitalism, socialism and communism. You will explore the problems nations face when they change, modernise and transition into new political systems. You will learn how the Bolsheviks began as a tiny political group in 1903, yet within 14 years were able to seize control of one of the largest nations on Earth. You will evaluate Russian government, society and economics, both before and after the revolution. You will consider the use and misuse of power and form conclusions about whether the revolution improved the lives and fortunes of ordinary Russians. You will study different contemporary views and experiences of the Russian Revolution (historical perspectives) and the different conclusions that historians have formed about it (historical interpretations).

Russian Revolution topics
Area of Study One
1896 to October 1917
Russian geography and demography
Russian tsarism, Nicholas II and Alexandra
The social hierarchy in tsarist Russia
The Russian aristocracy and elite
The Russian Orthodox Church
The Russian bureaucracy
The Russian peasantry
Industrialisation and urbanisation in late 1800s
The Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905)
Georgi Gapon and ‘Bloody Sunday’ (1905)
The 1905 Revolution and October Manifesto
The Fundamental Laws and the Dumas
Russia under Piotr Stolypin
Russian reform and revolutionary groups
The Social Democrats, Bolsheviks and Mensheviks
Vladimir Ulyanov, aka Lenin and Leon Trotsky
Russia in World War I
Grigori Rasputin and his impact on tsarism
The February Revolution
The Provisional Government
The Petrograd Soviet
Lenin’s return and his April Theses
The ‘July Days’ and the Kornilov affair
The storming of the Winter Palace
The October Revolution
Area of Study Two
October 1917 to 1927
The early Bolshevik decrees
The formation of a Soviet government
Elections for a Constituent Assembly
The meeting and dissolution of the Assembly
Bolshevik social reforms, e.g. women, education
The formation and growth of the CHEKA
The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
The development of the Russian Civil War (1918-1921)
The formation and expansion of the Red Army
The White counter-revolutionary armies
The nationalist and peasant armies (e.g. Green Army)
The execution of the Romanovs
The Left SRs and the uprising of July 1918
The assassination attempt on Lenin
The Red Terror
The policy of War Communism
The Great Famine of 1921-1922
Internal dissent, e.g. the Workers’ Opposition
Alexandra Kollontai
The Kronstadt Rebellion
The Tenth Party Congress
The New Economic Policy (NEP)
The death of Lenin and the rise of Stalin
The outcomes of the NEP

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