All news

Key facts about Russia’s 1917 October revolution

The Petrograd clashes during the October Revolution of 1917 foreshadowed the onset of Russia’s civil war
Revolutionary Petrograd in 1917  TASS
Revolutionary Petrograd in 1917

FACTBOX. November 7. /TASS/. November 7, 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution in Russia, in which the Bolshevik (literally meaning "majority") wing of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party) took power.

Political crisis of the autumn of 1917

In September 1917 Russia’s political system, which took shape immediately after the February revolution, was in crisis. Against the backdrop of failing central government institutions and local bodies of power, peasants started seizing both state-owned and private lands, which sparked riots and clashes with government forces.

Whether Russia should go on fighting World War I was another pressing question. The Provisional Government and moderate socialist parties supporting it argued that Russia should keep fighting to the bitter end. However, by the autumn of 1917 the soldiers’ committees started putting forward the demand of "peace at any cost."

The economic situation nationwide had gone from bad to worse.

The army and the Provisional Government were at odds. Head of the Cabinet, Alexandr Kerensky, falsely accused Commander-in-Chief Lavr Kornilov of plotting to grab power. General Kornilov was ousted from his post and arrested on September 15 (2) 1917.

However, the attempt to position himself as a firm opponent of "military counter-revolution" failed to bolster Kerensky’s popularity. His actions caused further rifts with the officer class, who eventually refused to support him in the standoff with the Bolsheviks.

Key aspects of the Bolshevik platform

By the autumn of 1917, the Bolsheviks’ political platform already incorporated the slogans most popular with the masses. At the initiative of the party’s leader Vladimir Lenin (Ulyanov) the agrarian policy was revised. The Bolsheviks’ main slogan was now "socialization of the land" (free and equitable distribution of land among those who cultivate it).

From the outset, the Bolsheviks pressed for a prompt exit from the "imperialist war," even at the cost of concluding a separate peace, and fraternization with the enemy. In the spring of 1917, these slogans received considerable support from the army.

In an attempt to earn support in his confrontation with Kornilov, Kerensky in September 1917 amnestied the Bolshevik leaders, earlier arrested for attempting to seize power by force.

Starting from September 1917, the leaders of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party were locked in a major debate over the preferable tactics of coming to power. Vladimir Lenin, who was in hiding in what is today Finland, insisted on urgent preparations for an armed uprising in Petrograd and in Moscow. Leon Trotsky argued that the uprising should be timed for the beginning of the 2nd All-Russia Congress of Soviets, thus making the transition of power more legitimate. Two members of the party’s Central Committee, Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, opposed the idea of an armed uprising. Fearing the army might offer resistance, so they called for exclusively legal methods.

The decisive meeting of the party’s Central Committee was held at a safe house in Petrograd on October 23 (10) 1917, with Lenin taking part, by then having arrived to the city from Finland. By a majority vote, it was decided that the armed takeover of power should follow on the eve of the 2nd Congress of Soviets.

Gaining control over the city

On October 25 (12), the Executive of the Petrograd City Soviet authorized the creation of the Petrograd Military-Revolutionary Committee (PMRC). Formally, the PRMC’s task was to arrange for defending the city, if a German offensive took shape. In reality, the Bolshevik-controlled Military-Revolutionary Committee was a cover for preparations to take power.

On November 4 (October 22), the Military-Revolutionary Committee dispatched a message to all military units of the Petrograd garrison demanding that no orders of the military command should be acted on without its prior approval. On November 6 (October 24), the Provisional Government issued orders to close several Bolshevik newspapers. Cadets placed guards at the bridges across the Neva River, the telegraph and telephone exchange buildings, railway stations and government offices. However, Kerensky did not dare to issue personal orders to arrest PMRC members and the Bolshevik leaders.

By the morning of November 7 (October 25) PMRC mobile groups gained control of the key facilities in the city except for the Winter Palace - the office of the Provisional Government. No clashes occurred. Disoriented cadets and soldiers obeyed the orders received from the Military Revolutionary Committee and the Petrograd Soviet.

Of the 160,000 troops stationed in Petrograd and another 85,000 around the city, an overwhelming majority were not involved in the events of November 6-7. According to historians, the Petrograd Military-Revolutionary Committee relied on no more than 5%-10% of the garrison.

Provisional government deposed

On the morning of November 7 (October 25) 1917, the radio station of the naval cruiser the Avrora broadcasted Vladimir Lenin’s message to the Citizens of Russia. The appeal declared the Provisional Government to be deposed and the transition of power to the Petrograd Military-Revolutionary Committee. In the meantime, the Cabinet of Ministers was still conferring at the Winter Palace. Alexandr Kerensky, wearing the uniform of a Serbian officer, left it at 11:00 in the morning.

Later in the day, Lenin addressed a meeting of Petrograd Soviet members to declare "the workers’ and peasants’ revolution, about the necessity of which the Bolsheviks have always spoken, has been accomplished."

By 18:00, armed groups of the Petrograd Military-Revolutionary Committee (mostly the Pavlovsky Regiment and naval sailors from Kronstadt, surrounded the Winter Palace. At 18:30, the PMRC addressed the Provisional Government with an ultimatum: either the Cabinet agreed to surrender or the Winter Palace would come under artillery fire. The ministers refused. At 21:00, the cruiser the Avrora fired a blank artillery shot.

At 23:00 live artillery fire was opened from the Peter and Paul Fortress (of the 35 shells fired only two hit the target). Although they enjoyed an overwhelming advantage, the Bolshevik forces refrained from storming the Winter palace. Toward the night, when it became clear that no troop reinforcements would arrive in the city from the frontline, the palace’s defenders began to retreat. In the meantime, the PMRC’s soldiers and naval sailors began to enter the palace through unguarded entrances. By 02:10 on November 8 (October 26), the Provisional Government’s ministers issued orders to give up resistance and were arrested. Clashes around the Winter Palace left six dead and another 50 injured.

The 2nd All-Russia Congress of Soviets

The 2nd All-Russia Congress of the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies opened at the Smolny Palace on November 7 (October 25) 1917 at 22:40. Most delegates represented the Soviets of industrial cities and the Northern and Western fronts, and also the naval base Kronstadt, where the Bolsheviks enjoyed the greatest influence. Of the 1,429 Soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ Soviets only 402 had sent their delegates. The peasantry declared the Congress illegal and called for it to be boycotted.

At the beginning of the session, the groups of Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries (right-of-center and centrist factions) read out their statements to declare the takeover of power as illegal, because "the party of Bolsheviks had plotted and staged a military coup on behalf of the Soviets behind the back of all other parties and factions." After that, the delegates from these parties left the Congress.

Early in the morning on November 8 (October 26), at 05:00 the Congress adopted by a majority vote the Lenin-authored appeal ‘To Workers, Soldiers and Peasants!’ The Provisional Government was officially ousted and the powers of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee terminated with all government functions placed in the hands of Congress and local Soviets. The list of priority tasks was as follows: to immediately conclude a "democratic peace," a free handover of land to peasant committees, workers’ control of production, measures to convene a Constituent Assembly and the rights of all of Russia’s nationalities to self-determination.

On the evening of November 8 (October 26) 1917, based on Lenin’s report, the Congress voted for a Decree on Peace, which addressed all warring factions with a call for declaring a three-month truce and entering into negotiations on a universal peace treaty. The international community would ignore the appeal.

The Congress formed what was called a provisional workers’ and peasants’ government - the Council of People’s Commissars under Vladimir Lenin.

On November 9 (October 27), at 02:00, the Congress adopted a Decree on the Land (written by Lenin) that contained the basic provisions of the Socialist Revolutionaries’ agricultural program). The decree annulled private ownership of land and subsoil resources, which were declared a national asset, but in fact placed under the state control.

Consequences of the October Revolution

The clashes in Petrograd during the course of the October Revolution of 1917 foreshadowed the start of a civil war in Russia, which continued until 1922 to bring about the establishment of Bolshevik party’s dictatorship (starting from 1952 the Communist Party of the Soviet Union).

The revolution changed the government, political, social and economic system, eliminated civil rights, canceled private property and heralded an attempt to build a Communist society.

The 1917 October Revolution triggered global changes in the system of international relations and promoted the emergence and development of the international Communist and Socialist movement.