In 1917, in the midst of the Great War, Russia faced one of the biggest political shifts that the Tsarist-ruled country had ever known-the Bolshevik Revolution. There are two significant time frames associated with the Bolshevik Revolution. In the February revolution Tsar Nicholas II abdicated his throne and a Provisional Government took control. In the October revolution the Bolsheviks took power by overthrowing the Provisional Government. How did the October revolution become a reality?
What factors facilitated the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917? Two important factors were the July event at Taurida Palace, and the Kornilov Affair. Richard Pipes describes in detail how Lenin influenced the Bolshevik party throughout the Bolshevik revolution. Pipes describes an organized Bolshevik Party with clear direction and purpose. Sheila Fitzpatrick meticulously covers the events that unfold during the Bolshevik Revolution. Fitzpatrick does an excellent job of defining Russian political terminology.
Pipes and Fitzpatrick agree that the events unfolding between February and October of 1917 were creating an irreparable rift between the Provisional Government and all parties and classes. What Pipes and Fitzpatrick differ on is their interpretation of the Bolsheviks. Pipes writes about an organized Bolshevik Party that implemented careful planning, while Fitzpatrick expresses a party without direction. Pipes writes about General Kornilov as an ardent patriot who succumbed to deception, while Fitzpatrick views Kornilov as an opportunist.
The Bolsheviks were well organized and had a plan walking into the July event, and the Kornilov affair was not a coup based on self interest, but one of self preservation. An important factor that facilitated the Bolshevik Revolution was the July event. Pipes and Fitzpatrick differ in that Pipes states the July event was masterminded and carefully planned by the Bolsheviks, while Fitzpatrick claims that it was unorganized and the Bolsheviks were caught off guard.
Pipes explains that the catalyst triggering the July event was the Provisional Government’s decision to send Petrograd troops to the Galician front. Minister of War Kerensky felt that a successful offensive would lift the army’s morale. In turn, the spirit of the army would see democracy through. Ergo, a triumph would rally the nation behind the new government, and enable Kerensky to “make short shrift of the Bolsheviks. ” This would never come to fruition, since the offensive in Galicia was a disaster. Fitzpatrick argues that Russian High Command esisted Allied pressure to engage in a new offensive.
Fitzpatrick also states that the shift in power from Lvov to Kerensky added more pressure to the crisis at hand. According to Pipes, the Bolsheviks capitalized on this and used propaganda to agitate the garrisons. Having prepared themselves for a June demonstration which was cancelled, the Bolsheviks were already in a frame of mind to avoid unmanaged and spontaneous rioting, via its command center created to carry out the coup-the Bolshevik Military Organization.
Fitzpatrick however, argues that Petrograd erupted with mass demonstrations, street violence, and disorder. ” Pipes counters that the armed demonstrations began as planned at the direction of the Military Organization. The Military Organization’s strategy was to occupy strategic points and compel the Soviets to take power. Once the Soviets were in control, the Bolsheviks felt confident they push aside the Mensheviks and the Soviets. Fitzpatrick expresses that “Clearly Lenin and the Bolshevik Central Committee had been caught off balance.
They had talked insurrection in a general way, but not planned it. ” Furthermore, although Bolsheviks were present among the demonstrators, the demonstrators were confused, lacked leadership, and organization. All factors played out accordingly and set the stage for the final phase which never occurred. Bolshevik troops awaited orders and stood poised to initiate the takeover. Lenin, on the contrary, lost his nerve, according to Pipes. After the July event, Lvov’s resignation, Kerensky took control as the new Prime Minister.
Richard Pipes gives a detailed account of the events that led up to the July event and the Bolsheviks’ preparedness. The Bolsheviks were opportunists and used propaganda to influence and agitate, gives credit to their political strategy. The Bolsheviks saw an opportunity and used it. They also understood that their timing had to be flawless. They did not want to quell the frenzy they had created among the mutineers; however, a premature large-scale uprising would give the Provisional Government an excuse to crush them.
Although the July event was a setback for the Bolsheviks, it did create a growing dissatisfaction among the soldiers. Many had no more will to fight, and lost their faith in the government. This would prove crucial when Kerensky would, with failed attempts, call on them to defend the Winter Palace against insurgents in the October Revolution. An important factor that facilitated the Bolshevik Revolution was the Kornilov Affair. Pipes and Fitzpatrick disagree in that Fitzpatrick refers to the Kornilov Affair as a coup based on national interest.
Pipes refers to the Kornilov Affair as a coup in response to deception. Fitzpatrick writes the coup attempt by Kornilov was of his own design and without provocation. Pipes however, establishes the Kornilov Affair was a result of Kerensky’s misperceptions. Kerensky felt that as head of state in a volatile environment and the Germans progressing, he needed the army’s support. He felt Kornilov’s popularity among his peers and his recent success in the Galician front would “breed a counterrevolutionary Napoleon”, and came to view Kornilov as a rival.
According to Pipes, Kerensky’s deputy, who knew both men well, said it best when he said, “Kornilov ‘loves freedom…but Russia comes first for him, and freedom comes second, while for Kerensky…freedom and revolution come first, and Russia second. ’” What Kerensky may have not taken into account was that Kornilov was a die hard patriot. So when Kornilov demanded the rescinding of Order No. 1 as the potential new Commander in Chief, it was in the interests of the nation, not for personal gain.
Pipes explains that Kornolov’s aim was to restore the army’s fighting capacity, and streamline military operations. Leaders began looking to Kornilov as Russia’s savior. In a series of events that unfolded, Kerensky deceived Kornilov with misinformation. Vladimir Lvov also created an intricate web of deceit that pitted Kerensky and Kornilov against each other. Kerensky thought Kornilov was attempting a coup, while Kornilov thought he was helping the nation, and what Kerensky wanted . In the end, Kerensky realized the deception, yet failed to rescind his orders.
Pipes writes of Kornilov: He called on the people of Russia to rally behind him to save their country, pledging to throw back the Germans and convene a Constituent Assembly. This, at last, was mutiny: Kornilov did rebel, but only after having been wrongly charged with rebellion. Kornilov’s actions were an attempt to elevate Kerensky to popularity, although not a single element of a genuine coup d’etat ever came to light. Fitzpatrick points out that the “attempted coup failed largely because of the unreliability of the troops and the energetic actions of the Petrograd workers. Fitzpatrick also credits the railway men who diverted the troops’ railway cars, the cessation of publications supporting Kornilov’s move, and the workers who greeted the troops and placated them by explaining that the city was calm and their leaders had deceived them. Pipes sources show that General Lavr Kornilov was not a conspirator of a coup. Kerensky’s conception may have been created in part by Kornilov’s pushed to implement reform in an unstable time. As a man of the people, Kornilov was working in the interests of Russia.
The Kornilov Affair also had lateral contributions that facilitated the October Revolution. Kornilov Affair had a severe impact on Kerensky’s popularity. Also events this point not only affected soldiers, it now carried over into the officer corps as well. The arrest of their Commander in Chief left them demoralized and relations between officers and soldiers quickly deteriorated. The Bolsheviks capitalized on this event by gained popularity after the incident, and it was becoming apparent. They would reap future benefits from the creation of a workers’ militia created in response to the Kornilov Affair.
Russia was going through a political transformation between February and October of 1917. The Bolsheviks proved to be more organized and resourceful than the Provisional Government had anticipated. The Kornilov Affair was a ruse that set the final stage for a Bolshevik takeover. Although these were not the only factors that preceded and facilitated the onset of the Bolshevik Revolution, these were factors that created significant change. Significant change that would allow the Bolsheviks to step in and overthrow the government without any bloodshed.