Russia from 1850 to 1917 was littered with numerous political views that ranged across the whole political spectrum. Whereas there were many groups that supported the working class and wanted to advance their cause, there were fewer groups that came out in support of the tsar – though these were small in number, they wielded huge power and included the hierarchy of the military and church. Those on the left wanted wholesale change including an abolition of monarchy. Those in charge within Russia, viewed any change as a potential sign of weakness.
What did the working class actually think about those political groups fighting for their cause? When actual figures are studied, the number of people who took part in the November Revolution of 1917 is actually small relative to the population of Russia. One of the defining moments of the C20th, actually involved a small number of people. Does this prove that the Bolsheviks did not have the support of the mass of the people? Or was it more a sign of the way Lenin worked – advancing a cause with a small number of well-trained people? If there was overwhelming support for Lenin and the Bolsheviks, why was there a bloody civil war after November 1917?
Was Russia pre-1917 split between the right and left? In fact, a solid political centre existed in Russia that represented a middle way in politics. They believed that fundamental reforms were needed to secure the most basic of freedoms but they did not want a parliamentary monarchy. The whole group was represented by politicians such as Peter Stolypin and by parties such as the Duma Conservatives and Cadets. The rich peasants – the Kulaks – would also come within this centrist group.
Those on the right of politics wanted reform – but reform that strengthened the monarchy. They believed that any reforms that aided the lives of the poor could be interpreted as a sign of weakness.
On the far left were the Social Revolutionaries and the Social Democrats. They wanted the wholesale shake-up of Russia’s society to advance the cause of the poor at the expense of the rich and those in government.
One could not sit comfortably with the other. The right had the aristocrats, the military and church hierarchy and the nation’s senior civil servants on its side. Any one of these groups was small in number. Combined, they remained small in number, but with vast power at their disposal. The left had none of these advantages – ironically, it was these people it wished to overthrow – but it had the potential support of the vast majority of Russia’s population, as long as their power could be harnessed. In a country the size of Russia, this was a very difficult problem.