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Bitter Winter of Discontent
The Russian winter of 1916/1917 was one of the coldest in memory. On 23 February (by the old-style Russian calendar, or 8 March, by the Western calendar) 1917, 90,000 textile workers went on strike. By the next day, half of the industrial workers in St. Petersburg were on strike. By the third day, the number had risen to almost a quarter of a million.
Defeats Lead to Disaster
The continual string of defeats in the First World War, the chronic shortage of food and, perhaps most importantly, the lack of fuel for cooking and heating, led to what was called the Women’s Strike, although far more men were involved. Riots broke out, people were killed. Shops were looted.
On 26 February (Russian calendar) the striking workers began to move to the city centre. St. Petersburg is built on a network of islands criss-crossed with canals. As soldiers closed the bridges, the workers walked across the ice. Whole military units began to mutiny and refused orders to march against the rioters. The Volynsky Regiment refused the orders of the Commander and shot him. They went over to the Revolution.
Delayed and Derailed
Alarmed by this shocking news of riots and mutiny in his capital, Czar Nicholas set out from the front to return to his capital. Railway workers stopped his train at Pskov Station, 170 miles from St. Petersburg. There, he received the news of the mutiny of the Volynsky Regiment. General Khabolov reported that the whole city was in the hands of revolutionaries, including the railway stations, telephone exchange and Artillery Garrison. All government ministers had been arrested.
Worthless War Discredits the Dynasty
On the 8th day, the Czar abdicated, “to save Russia and the keep the army at the front, I decided on this step… I left Pskov with heavy feelings; around me was treason, cowardice and deceit,” he wrote. He could not have known that it would be the end of the monarchy and the end of Romanov rule. The 300-year authority and reputation of the Romanov Czars had been squandered in a hopeless war, which had brought nothing but defeat. The Czar had rejected the Kaiser’s offer of a separate peace, on very generous terms, with Germany in 1915. Had he accepted it the Russian Empire would have survived and many millions of its citizens would have been spared violent deaths.
Disastrous Decision by the Duma
At the Taurrde Palace in St. Petersburg, a provisional government was put together by representatives of the Imperial Parliament, the Duma. The provisional government of the Duma abolished the death penalty and dismantled the Czarist police. They agreed that their priority was to meet the “obligations” to their military allies and to get the Russian armed forces back into the war. This decision proved fatal. The army and the population in general were sick and tired of this ruinous war, which had bankrupted and impoverished the country. The government had completely misread the mood of the populous.
The Rise of Soviet Subversion
In another wing of the same Taurrde Palace, a rival political organisation was being set up. It called itself The Soviet. They perceived that the key element was peace at any price. The Petrograd Soviet issued Order No 1, putting elected committees in charge of army units. Many soldiers and sailors interpreted this as a licence to go home. Even as the provisional government was promising to keep Russia in the war, the army began to melt away. Millions of peasants in uniform, sullen, angry and sick of the wasted lives and squandered sacrifices wanted an end to the never-ending series of military defeats.
Unpopular Parliament Committed to Ruinous War Finds Itself Powerless
Guchkov, the Minister of War, remarked bitterly: “the provisional government does not possess any real power. Its directives are carried out only to the extent that it is permitted by the Soviet. All the essential elements of real power, the troops, the railroads, the post and telegraph are all in their hands.”
Lenin Returns from Exile
Initially, the allies (France, Britain and the USA) had welcomed the Revolution in Russia. The German High Commander also was elated and offered free passage home to the most dangerous revolutionary exiles they could find, hoping to destabilise their enemy on the Eastern front still further. So, Vladimir Lenin came to be put in a sealed train from Zürich across Germany, arriving at Petrograd’s Finland Station early April 1917.
Internal Squabbles Amongst Socialist Radicals
When Vladimir Lenin returned to Russia, he had been in exile for most of the previous 17 years, running one wing of the small and quarrelsome Russian Socialist Democratic Party. His Bolsheviks were the radical left-wing faction of this Marxist party. They had split from the more conciliatory Socialist Mensheviks back in 1903.
Promise of Peace Galvanises Popular Support
Lenin found the Marxists in Russia arguing over what to do next. Lenin’s train was welcomed at the Finland Station by a band playing, La Marsellaise, because no one had yet learned the tune of the Internationale. His speech from the top of an armoured car was to the point. “Let us end the war! Let the workers take power now!” His comrades were shocked. His own party newspaper, Pravda, attacked him. However, Lenin had read the mood of the people in the streets. His slogans of: “Peace! Bread!” Land! And all power to the Soviets!” came in time to mobilise masses to support the Bolshevik cause.
Catastrophic Commitment to Continued Conflict
The Socialist Revolutionary Party had a commanding position in the Provisional government. One of their members, a young lawyer, Alexander Kerensky, was the Prime Minister of Russia. He was also Deputy Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. However, Kerensky still believed in continuing fighting the war. So, in June, he ordered a fresh offensive against Germany. It was a disaster. In three weeks, 60,000 more Russian soldiers had died.
Death of the Russian Army
General Knox, Head of the British Military Mission in Russia, wrote that the Russian Army was, “irretrievably ruined as a fighting organisation.”
Chaos Prepares Population for Communist Revolution
There was an explosion of popular rage on the streets with furious demonstrations from war-weary soldiers, hungry families and frustrated citizens impatient for peace, protesting against the war. Vast numbers were unemployed due to factory closures and all the while the Bolsheviks were busy agitating. Banners began to appear on the streets: “Peace! Bread! Land! All Power to the Soviets!”
Attempt to Arrest Anarchists
Kerensky clamped down on political freedom and arrested so many Bolsheviks that Lenin shaved off his beard and fled with false papers to Finland, where he spent the rest of the Summer writing a book.
Failed Military Coup Further Erodes Confidence in Kerensky
The Supreme Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, General Kornilov, attempted a military coup which collapsed in Ignominy. Kerensky sacked General Kornilov. The credibility of the provisional government was exhausted. As people on the street declared: All the provisional government of the socialist revolutionaries had succeeded in doing was to put up train fares! The government admitted that over two million soldiers had deserted from the Front. Three million had died.
Anarchy Leads to Tyranny
Lenin was delighted. “Never under estimate the power of constructive chaos!” he exclaimed. As the Socialist Revolutionary Party and the Mensheviks’ Revolution dissolved into failure, the Bolshevik Central Committee (BCC) prepared for insurrection. The capital city was full of deserters and street crime. The Czar’s Palace at Tsarskoye Selo was looted by mobs. Officers at the Naval Base of Kronstadt were lynched by the men. The new Commander in Chief, General Alexeyev, resigned on the grounds that he no longer had an army to lead.
Trotsky Returns to Mobilise the Revolution
A well-funded Leon Trotsky returned from exile in the Bronx of New York with a band of Jewish Revolutionaries from America who formed the Vanguard of the Red Army. By October 1917, the Bolsheviks were publishing 25 newspapers and had a membership approaching 40,000.
The October Revolution
Lenin arrived back from his hideaway in Finland and declared: “History will not forgive us if we do not take power now!” On 25 October, by the Old Russian calendar (or 7 November by the Western calendar), Bolshevik soldiers, sailors and workers began occupying railway stations, telephone exchanges and post offices. They also seized the State Bank and the Winter Palace. The mob of insurrectionists stormed into the cabinet room of the Provincial Government and declared the Provisional Government “deposed”. Prime Minister Kerensky fled to the Front to rally resistance, while the rest of the cabinet ministers were arrested. Lenin simply declared: “We shall now proceed to construct the Socialist Order.”
Council of Commissars
The new government was called The Council of Peoples Commissars. At this stage there was only 2 Bolsheviks for every 600 Russians. They nationalised the factories, legalised divorce and declared themselves as the first domino of an International Proletarian Revolution that would change the world.
Cancelling the Constituent Assembly
The first elections for a Democratic Constituent Assembly was deemed a “failure” as the Bolsheviks only won a quarter of the seats. Therefore, when the delegates assembled in January 1918, the Red Guards closed the session and forced all the elected delegates out of the hall, barring the doors. Russia’s long-awaited parliament had lasted less than a day.
The Abrupt End of Freedom of Speech
Freedom of the press was severely restricted. Anyone labelled as “an enemy of the people,” was arrested and dealt with severely, often by execution on the spot.
Peace is the Priority
The first act of the October Revolution was to order General Dukhonin, Commander in Chief of the Russian Army, to sue for peace at any price. When he refused, he was lynched and a new commander was appointed. Leon Trotsky was appointed Commissar for Foreign Affairs and his first order of business was to negotiate the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, a town behind German lines and occupied Poland, which today is in Belarus.
The Peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
The Germans demanded recognition of the Independence of Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the Ukraine. All of these were already behind German lines and out of Russian control anyway. Lenin declared to the Petrograd Soviet, “to carry on a Revolutionary war, an army is needed. We do not have one. It is a question of signing the terms of peace now, or of signing a death sentence for the Soviet Government three weeks later.” After accepting the peace terms, Trotsky then resigned from Foreign Affairs and became Commissar for War. His first priority was to defend the Revolution against “counter revolutionaries!”
Peace Treaty Prelude to Civil War to Entrench the Revolution
50,000 Former officers of the Czarist Army were taken into the Red Army. To keep these military men in line, Political Commissars were appointed in every unit. Over the next 3 years, Trotsky’s Red Army grew to 5 million men, controlled from his personal armoured train. His mobile headquarters had a radio, map room, printing press, secretarial staff, a Rolls Royce, vast quantities of ammunition and medicine. All Trotsky’s staff were dressed in leather uniforms. He had commanders and commissars executed. Some units were subjected to decimation, where every tenth man was executed.
Murder of the Royal Family
On 17 July 1918, on the direct orders of Yakov Sverdlov and Felix Dzerzhinsky, with the explicit agreement of Vladimir Lenin, the local Soviet in Ekaterinburg brutally murdered Czar Nicholas, his wife, the Czarina Alexandra, their four daughters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia and son, Alexei and their attendants.
What You Sow is What you Will Reap
Six weeks later, Vladimir Lenin was shot in the chest, arm and neck by young socialist Revolutionary, Fanya Kaplan. Before her execution, Fanya explained: “I have long had the intention of killing Lenin. In my eyes he has betrayed the Revolution. I was for the Constituent Assembly and I still am.”
The Red Terror
However, Lenin survived the attempted assassination, but his health was undermined. The Bolshevik response was to issue a promulgation of an official state of Red Terror directed by the leather-jacketed secret policemen of the Special Commission, or Cheka, the forerunner of the NKVD, which later became the KGB. Hundreds-of-thousands were executed and millions more imprisoned in the GULAG, a network of 1,200 concentration camps which spread across especially the Arctic waste areas of Siberia.
Resistance to Revolution
The Czech Legion rebelled and fought eastwards along the Trans-Siberian railway in an attempt to return home. Admiral Kolchak led the Siberian government of the White armies against the Reds. The Socialist Revolution Party set up an administration on the Volga River, claiming to rule in the name of the Constituent Assembly. 19 different governments appeared during the course of the Civil War.
Secession from the Soviet Union
Azerbaijan, a Turkish and Muslim land, declared its independence. Armenia, its Christian neighbour, also declared its independence. On 26 May 1918, Georgia declare its independence.
British, American and French troops were landed at Murmansk and Archangelsk in the far North and Vladivostok in the East, to prevent Japan from seizing it.
A New Bubonic Plague of Bolshevism
Winston Churchill wrote of the Bolsheviks as “baboons and a new bubonic plague.”
Millions of pounds of Western aircraft, tanks, machine guns and uniforms which were meant to equip the White Army resisting the Reds, ended up in the Red Army. Thousands of allied troops were abandoned and betrayed into the hands of the Bolsheviks. Millions were massacred during the Red Terror. Torture and murder were a daily reality.
Devastation, Destruction and Degradation
By 1921, the Bolsheviks had ruined the economy. Inflation was astronomical. Hundreds-of-thousands of workers had fled the city in the hope of finding food in the countryside. The entire economy collapsed as iron detachments of Bolsheviks forcibly confiscated, or requisitioned, all the food they could get their hands on in the villages, to feed workers in the city. Thousands of orphan children roamed the streets, prey to disease and cruelty.
A Man-Made Famine
As a result, a terrible famine struck the whole Volga River region. Millions starved to death. Unorganised, armed only with pitchforks, scythes and flails, hungry peasants rose up against their new oppressors in an attempt to survive.
Mass Murder and Massive Oppression
50,000 Red troops were mobilised to execute whole villages, exile millions to the waste areas of Siberia and violently put down strikes. Strikes were forbidden. All opposition was outlawed. Criticism of the government or its policies was outlawed. The independent countries of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Armenia were forcibly enslaved into the Soviet Union.
The Communist Cult of Lenin
When Lenin died of his third stroke on 21 January 1924, factory sirens blared out across the country. St. Petersburg was renamed Leningrad. The decision was made to embalm the corpse. Inspired by the recent discovery the tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt; an atheistic/religious cult was formed by building a pyramid-like temple where faithful party members would pay their respects to the “god” of the USSR: Vladimir Lenin. “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption…” 2 Peter 2:19
Dr. Peter Hammond
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa
To listen to a radio programme on this subject, click here.
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