By the early 20th century, there was a rise in political movements based on socialism in many countries. With WW I, the socialist movement suffered a setback in many European countries, and Second International too ceased. The revolution of 1917 in Russia put socialism into the picture again, also affecting the course of history.
Causes of Russian Revolution
- Significant underlying discontent within Russian society against the corrupt and inefficient rule of monarchy.
- The humiliating defeat of Russia in 1904 at Japanese hands. Japan imposed a surprising defeat on Russia and managed to take control of the Korean Peninsula to meet its colonial ambitions and support industrialisation.
- The Duma (Russian parliament) was established as a response to public protests that broke out in 1904. However, it was a powerless entity and was soon dismissed by the King.
- The decision of the Russian monarch to push Russia into WW 1 despite lack of public support.
- Major military setbacks of Russia during WW 1. Further, as Germany imposed naval blockades, Russia faced food shortages and high inflation. To lift the morale of the masses, the Russian Tsar himself went to the battlefield. However, it could not change the situation.
- The administration was corrupt. The rise of Rasputin, the mystic healer, within the Russian monarchy, in a short time, signified the corruption and nepotism within the administration.
- Russia was yet to witness an industrial revolution. With huge dependence on agriculture, the unemployment increased as Russia the war proceeded.
- Although serfdom was abolished in 1861 and serfs were no longer tied to the land, redistribution of land was not carried. Most of the land was still owned by big landlords, and deep inequalities existed.
- The few urban centres and the early industries in Russia were filled with problems like long working hours, low wages, lack of social security etc. This led to discontent among workers in these centres.
- Low growth rates and low wages persisted in the agricultural sector. Even though serfdom was abolished, very few opportunities were available for employment beyond agriculture.
- In World War 1, the Russian army was under-equipped and technologically inferior compared to their German counterparts.
- The soldiers were not paid salaries on time. It led to discontent amongst them.
- Further, the constant defeats witnessed by Russia on the battlefield complicated the matters, leading to more discontent.
All these together led to the Russian revolution with a slogan that demanded ‘Land, Peace and Bread’ for the masses and the overthrow of the monarchy.
Major Events in Revolution (Feb to Oct 1917)
In 1883, the Russian Social Democratic party was established by George Plekhanov. Later it united many socialist groups and turned into the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP). In 1898, over the issues of organisation and polity, the party split into:
- Bolsheviks, which were led by Vladimir Lenin. He believed in the overthrow of monarchy and the section of capitalist class. Lenin wanted to establish a single-party communist regime and put ideas of Marx into practice. Bolsheviks had a major presence amongst worker unions, especially in urban centres.
- Mensheviks, Led by Alexander Kerensky, aimed to overthrow the monarchy and establish a multiparty democratic political system. It had a relatively larger support base.
On Feb 8 1917, the protests broke out when a group of women marched out against food shortages and high prices. These were joined by Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. The King sent an army to suppress protests. However, a section of the army also joined protestors, leading to wider public discontent.
Following this, Tsar Nicolas II abdicated the throne, and a provisional government was established in Feb 1917. It was led by Mensheviks and supported by the army. The new government did not withdraw troops from war with the hope to win. Rather, it pushed in 2 lack additional troops.
As Russia continued to suffer reverses, public protests broke out against Menshevik’s failure to withdraw Russia from WW 1 and address the underlying economic issues. Seeing the opportunity, the Bolshevik’s camp, which had strong control over Petrograd Soviet, resorted to flash strike and strike work.
Lenin staked a claim to power when the Kerensky government couldn’t meet the demands of the people, i.e., end to war, land to the tiller, equal rights to non-Russians, control of industry by workers etc. Mensheviks were removed, and Bolsheviks (Lenin) assumed power.
In 1918, Lenin withdrew Russia from WW 1 and ceded major Russian territories in Western Russia under the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. It was done with the aim of securing peace with Germany, ending the naval blockades and focus on internal economic and political challenges.
At the time, the internal challenges for Russia were many. On the economic front, it experienced high prices, unemployment, lack of industrialisation, low agricultural productivity etc. Politically as Bolshevik’s were trying to firm their grip over Russia, it resulted in a bitter civil war between 1918 – 1921.
The civil war was fought between ‘Red shirts’ and ‘White shirts. Red shirts were armed, fighting units of Bolsheviks. White Shirts were an armed coalition of Mensheviks and royalists which enjoyed financial and other support from Britain and France.
Effects of the Russian revolution
- Formation of USSR with Right to education and work becoming constitutional rights.
- Property of clergy and Nobility were confiscated.
- The government support for socialism led to the establishment of the Communist International (Comintern), and USSR stood as a leader of communism.
- The socialist revolution in Russia taught people around the world that political freedom has no meaning without social and economic freedom. It also supported many movements against imperialism.
In 1918, to deal with immediate issues of food shortage and high prices, Lenin introduced the economic policy of War Communism. To make cheap food supply available in Urban areas, the state would procure food grains from rural areas and make them available at little or no cost in Urban areas.
State procured food grains from rural areas without financial compensation. However, the commodities from urban areas were also made available in rural areas without / minimal cost. Lenin emphasised that War Communism was a temporary measure to overcome immediate food shortages, and peasants would be rewarded with redistribution of land in future.
By 1921, peasants started becoming impatient, and wider public protests broke out in Kronstadt, a naval port in Northern Russia. It was also supported by the sections of the navy. Termed as Kronstadt mutiny, it was suppressed soon, and more than 20,000 people were killed. Given the wider public resentment against this policy, Lenin now considered relaxing the restrictions of War Communism.
New Economic Policy
New Economic Policy (NEP) was introduced in 1921. Under this policy, restrictions on private ownership were relaxed. Now, peasants were allowed to sell their produce in the market.
The restrictions on private ownership in small industries in urban areas were also relaxed. However, the state still owned larger industries and did major economic planning. In the conflict of Red Shirts and White Shirts, White Shirts were eventually subdued, and the Bolsheviks consolidated their hold.
Contribution of Lenin
Lenin died in 1924. He contributed to laying the foundation of the Russian Revolution and Russia’s withdrawal from WW 1. He implemented War Communism to address the immediate food shortages and to consolidate the Bolshevik hold within Russia, leading to the formation of USSR in 1921. Lenin’s death followed a major power struggle between Trotsky and Stalin.
Stalin’s policies and their role in the Soviet Union.
- Stalin was an authoritarian ruler whose primary objective was to consolidate his hold over the Communist Party and the Soviet Union.
- To achieve this objective, he launched a bitter crackdown upon his opponents, even within Bolshevik/Communist camp.
- In 1928, Stalin forced Trotsky into exile and got him assassinated in 1940 in Mexico.
- From 1934 – 1938, he undertook the great purge to imprison his rivals within the communist party and forced his critics into labour camps.
- Stalin replaced all the top military generals within the navy and Armed forces.
- There was no freedom of speech to criticise the policies of the Soviet Union or Stalin.
- Stalin aimed to catch up with the west in terms of industrial growth.
- 1928 onwards, a state-led model of economic planning was adopted. Termed GOSPLANs, Five Year Plans were put into force to bring rapid industrialisation.
- 1928 – 1933, the first five-year plan focused on industries as well as agriculture, setting out modest targets. By the end, these were largely achieved.
- 1933 – 1937, in the second five-year plan, a strong focus was kept on the Iron and steel industries. Following their growth, overall industrial growth picked up during this period.
- While the Western capitalist powers suffered from The Great Depression during this period, Soviet Union embarked upon a plan of rapid industrialisation.
- With the increase in industrial growth, employment opportunities and wages witnessed a major increase in the Soviet Union.
- With increased employment opportunities, most of the restrictions on the participation of women in the labour force were removed. The Labour force participation rate of women in the Soviet Union increased drastically from 24-26% in 1928 to 40% in 1940, and to 51% in 1950, much ahead of even western countries.
- The Soviet Union introduced paid maternity leave for women to encourage women workers to carry on their reproductive role as well. Also, the state-funded and managed creches were arranged to take care of newborns as women resumed their labour workforce roles.
- The Soviet Union prohibited Church and religious activities, terming them as meaningless distractions.
- Workers’ wages also increased with fixed working hours.
- Universal education was introduced for the 6-14 age group.
- The objective of the agricultural policy was to increase productivity to deal with food shortages and high prices.
- Land redistribution to the peasantry was carried out, which often involved the use of force against Big Landlords.
- Stalin introduced the collectivisation of farms. The state would provide technology, capital to increase productivity. The agrarian produce of these collective farms would be procured by the state, and the farmers would be paid wages.
- However, wages on collective farms could not compete with the industrial wages. Farmers preferred the latter.
- The system also failed to increase agricultural productivity between 1928-1938, and the Soviet Union remained dependent upon food imports.
Stalin’s political policies reflected his authoritarian rule. The relative success of his industrial policies brought about rapid industrialisation in the Soviet Union, converting it into a major industrial, economic and military power to reckon with by World War II.