Social Reforms of 1917


The Bolshevik government passed a plethora of legislation in the immediate aftermath of the October/November Revolution. The Bolsheviks had no experience of government and there was little guarantee that the Bolsheviks would have maintained power for any length of time. Kerensky was attempting to bring down the Bolshevik government while the Military Cadets attempted an uprising on October 29th and this was further compounded for Lenin and Trotsky when the civil service went on strike in protest at the revolution. However, despite this apparent chaos, the leaders of the Bolshevik Party managed to meet for six hours every day for two months in the relatively safety of the Smolny Institute. In this time they introduced 193 new laws that were to have a major change on Russian society once they were implemented.


Some of the immediate laws introduced by the Second Congress of Soviets were:


·         Russia was to make a swift exit from World War One and that Bolshevik government and the people of Russia were to announce that they believed in peace to all nations.


·         There would be an immediate transfer of land to the peasants.



·         The workers would take control over the means of production and the distribution of goods.


·         The Bolshevik government would take control of the banks, foreign trade, large industries and railways.


·         Any form of inequality based on class, sex, nationality or religion was made illegal.


In December 1917 a decree on education was issued that stated:


“Every genuinely democratic power must, in the domain of education, in a country were illiteracy and ignorance reign supreme, make its first aim in the struggle against this darkness. It must acquire in the shortest time universal literacy, by organising a network of schools answering to the demands of modern pedagogics: it must introduce universal, obligatory, and free tuition for all. However needful it may be to curtail other articles of the people’s budget, the expenses on education must stand high. A large educational budget is the pride and glory of a nation.”


In the same month a decree called ‘On Social Insurance’ was issued. This had four parts to it:


1.    There would be insurance for all wage earners without exception, as well as for all urban and rural poor.



2.    There would be insurance to cover all categories of loss of working capacity, such as illness, infirmities, old age, child birth, widowhood, orphanage and unemployment.



3.    All the cost of insurance would be charged to employers.



4.    There would be compensation of at least full wages in all loss of working capacity and unemployment.


December 1917 also saw a decree that affected the army titled ‘On the Equality of Rank of all Military Men’. This decree stated that:


1.    All ranks and grades in the army, beginning with the rank of corporal and ending with the rank of general are abolished. The Army of the Russian Republic consists now of free and equal citizens, bearing the honourable title of Soldiers of the Revolutionary Army.



2.    All privileges connected with the formers ranks and grades, also all outward marks of distinction, are abolished.



3.    All addressing by titles is abolished.


4.    All decorations, orders, and other marks of distinction are abolished.


The speed of so many major changes did not receive the support of everyone. Clearly those who remained in Russia who had an aristocratic background would not have agreed with them nor did many of the intelligentsia. A French diplomat based in Russia at the time, Louis de Robien, wrote that Russia was a “madhouse” drowning under “an avalanche of decrees”. His main complaint was the plan to remove children from middle class families and have them brought up in “establishments” where they would receive a proper working class education and where their parents could visit them on stated days in the year. Members of other political parties were also angered. They had believed that when Lenin achieved power that they would have been allowed to continue. Their belief was that if they could muster enough acknowledged support they would be allowed to continue and to produce a newspaper. Most other political parties and their newspapers were closed down within days of the Bolsheviks taking power.