Was Revolution an Inevitability in Russia?

By Alicja Gorska

The 1917 October/November Revolution is generally seen as a turning point in Russian history and politics. The Bolsheviks were a party specifically committed to the ideals of Karl Marx and believed in the ‘political consciousness of the revolutionary – minded masses’.[1] In light of the events of 1917, including the collapse of Tsarism and the Provisional Government’s failure to pull Russia out of the war, the conditions for revolution were ideal towards the end of the year. Most histories of the revolution agree that the revolt was catalyzed by the impact of the First World War, the failures of the Provisional Government and the actions of individuals like Lenin and Trotsky. These are all of course valid and true, however, they all stemmed from one, larger cause: class struggle. The Russian Revolution is ultimately regarded as a Communist revolution and was born from a release of worker discontent.

 

Karl Kautsky argued that ‘so long as there is class rule, there will be conflict

 

 

 

and revolution’.[2] When applying this to the Russian revolution, it seems to work.

 

The 1905 revolution saw the emergence of two new classes; the middle class and the industrial working class. This new development made class struggle arguably more prominent and complex than it had ever been. Although Russia had seen revolution just months before, the people were unsatisfied with the outcome as the aftermath of the February revolution had served to further polarize society and exacerbate class antagonisms.[3] Alexander Kerensky’s Provisional Government, although a trial run of democracy in Russia, consisted largely of intellectuals

and the elite. Therefore, Kerensky’s government failed to represent the workers and continued to consolidate a system of class rule in Russia only under a different name. Thus, in the months between the February Revolution and the October Revolution, there was a ‘growing rift’ between the masses and the Provisional Government due to the government’s failure to meet workers’ concrete needs.[4] The discontentment amongst the proletariat was made obvious in the July Days where hostility was dramatically illustrated in a series of protests and violence.[5] For a revolution to commence, one must have the popular support of the masses; a force. The key driving factor for those people who took part in and supported the Bolshevik Revolution was ultimately class struggle. Up until this point in Russian history, the Bolsheviks were a minority party. What set them apart from the other parties was their recognition of the working class’ oppression. It is, therefore, my view that class struggle was a major cause for the outbreak of the October Revolution in Russia in 1917.

 

Class struggle was not isolated as a factor in explaining the unfolding of events in 1917. It was also an underlying catalyst for the other causes recognised by historians worldwide. It is argued that ‘the people had not read Lenin, but Lenin had clearly read the thoughts of the people’.[6] Lenin’s role, in general, is viewed as one of the main reasons for the revolution. However, it must be recognised that he was ultimately an opportunist. On observing the deteriorating conditions of the workers and the displeasure of the masses, Lenin was able to exploit the Provisional Government’s failures and use them to his advantage. His slogan ‘Peace, Land, Bread’ was an appealing promise to those living in poverty in Russia and so attracted the Bolsheviks their support. He condemned the Provisional Government as ‘bourgeois’ and oppressive and heavily relied on worker dissatisfaction to guarantee his success and popularity. Similarly, class struggle was the underlying reason for opposition to Russia’s involvement in the war which was another reason for hostility toward Kerensky’s government. The war was being fought mainly by people of the working class who ultimately did not want to fight it. Meanwhile, the elite were not required to fight on the front and this was a clear sign of class struggle and oppression. Thus, the First World War was condemned in Russia as an ‘imperialist war’ and opposition towards it was driven by class rift and struggle. Therefore, not only was class struggle a direct cause of the revolution but it also catalysed other major causes, central to the consolidation of Bolshevik rule in Russia.

 

The October 1917 Russian Revolution was ultimately ‘driven by unstoppable forces’ and at the centre of the various factors was the underlying problem of class struggle.[7] The events of the early twentieth century further agitated the class separation already in existence in Russia during autocratic reign. This growing problem was at the heart of discontentment towards the war and Kerensky’s democratic government. Therefore, the October Revolution was an inevitable outcome of a continuous class struggle which snowballed from the emancipation of the serfs in 1863.

[1] Alan Wood, The Origins of the Russian Revolution 1861 – 1917, (London, 2003), p. 54.

[2] Karl Kautsky, The Class Struggle trans. Daniel De Leon, (New York, 1899), p. 20.

[3] Wood, The Origins of the Russian Revolution, p. 54.

[4] Steve A. Smith, ‘Petrograd in 1917: The view from Below’ in Revolutionary Russia: New Approaches ed. Rex A. Wade, (New York, 2004), pp. 18 – 29.

[5] Smith, ‘Petrograd in 1917: The View from Below’, p. 23.

[6] Wood, The Origins of the Russian Revolution 1861 – 1917, p. 62.

[7] Richard Pipes, Three Whys of the Russian Revolution, (London, 1995), p. 2.

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