Russian Revolution – November 1917

Following the March Revolution, in November 1917 Russia got the world’s first communist government. Lead by Lenin, communists took over the vital city of St Petrograd and removed the Provisional Government from power.

Lenin had already proved himself to the workers of the city with his slogans “Peace, bread and land” and “All power to the soviets”. His middle class background was not held against him as he had been in prison for his beliefs and he was seen by the workers as the man to lead them.

Lenin had already decided that the workers were incapable of leading themselves as they did not have the necessary skills. He and other trained revolutionaries would do it.

Lenin promised the people of Russia a number of things. The first was that he would pull Russia out of the war. This proved extremely popular especially among soldiers. Secondly he promised land to the peasants. This was also popular as the Provisional Government had refused to do this. Third, he promised that the workers and soviets would control the factories. With these three promises, it is not surprising that support for Lenin grew at a great speed.

By October 1917, Lenin felt the time was right for a revolution. He returned in disguise from Finland and set the date for 6th/7th November. The actual details for the revolution were left to Leon Trotsky but the actual date for it to begin was left to Lenin.

November 6th/7th :

Most of what we know about these two nights comes from an American journalist who was in Petrograd at the time. The man was called John Reed and he wrote about what happened in “Ten days that shook the world“.

The Petrograd Soviet was meeting in the Smolny Institute – a former girls school. Speeches were made by Trotsky as to why people should support the communists. While he was giving these speeches, he knew that the Red Guards and armed workers were actually taking over key points in the city. By the time that the speeches had finished most of the city was in the hands of the Bolsheviks (communists led by Lenin) – as Trotsky had planned.

The telephone and telegraph buildings were taken over, as were the power stations. Bridges were captured. So were the railway stations.

There was very little bloodshed and it is probable that many people in Petrograd were unaware of what had happened when they woke up in the morning. In fact, while the communists were taking power, theatres and cinemas were still open !!

November 7th/8th :

Now Lenin had to find the leaders of the Provisional Government and arrest them. He also had to get the support of the other political parties that existed in Petrograd then.

Throughout the 7th the Red Guards kept on occupying important buildings. By mid-afternoon, the only building not held by the Bolsheviks was the Winter Palace, the old home of the tsar. It was here that the Provisional Government met. In fact, the troops who were meant to be defending the building had gone home and only the Women’s Battalion remained.

The sign for the Red Guards to attack the Winter Palace was a shell fired by the naval ship the “Aurora”. The attack was short lived and any opposition was easily overcome. The Provisional Government surrendered to the Red Guards. The attack took longer than it might have done because there were 1000 rooms in the Palace that they had to search.

In the Smolny Institute, those politicians who did not agree with what had happened and did not want the Bolsheviks in power walked out of the building. Trotsky said that they were going to where they belonged – the waste-paper basket of history.

At 1 a.m. on November 8th, a shabbily dressed man got to his feet and rose to speak. He took away a handkerchief from his face and was instantly recognised as Lenin. He told those in the Smolny Institute that he was forming a government of Bolsheviks and that it would contain no middle class people. The government would work to help the workers and peasants.

By the end of the day the members of the Provisional Government were under arrest, the tsar and his family were also under house arrest. Lenin’s statement that he would overturn the government of Russia – made after his brother had been executed – was fulfilled.

But Lenin may have controlled Petrograd. Russia was a vast country and he did not control vast areas. These areas were openly hostile to the Bolsheviks.