Charge the enemy, hungry folk!
Cry out the vengeance of the people!
"Forward forward forward forward forward!"
Technically, the second Russian Revolution of 1917, but generally remembered through Pop-Cultural Osmosis, propaganda, and even actual historical monographs, as the Russian Revolution, an event which literally changed the world overnight and decisively shaped The 20th Century.
The Great October Socialist Revolution (which is how the Bolsheviks called it back when they were still a thing) was in and of itself, a bloodless seizure of power and state authorities. However the responses to the event, and the context surrounding it, sparked a very bloody Civil War of 1917-21, between the communist 'Reds' and the anti-communist, reactionary and monarchical 'Whites'. In addition to them there were factions such as village-communitariannote , nationalist 'Greens', Poland, and don't forget the anarchist Blacks, the Central Powers (chiefly Germany), the Entente, the Baltic and Caucasian separatists, etc. — who were either allied with the Whites, the Reds, or in-between at various times.
The Russian Civil War resulted in c.2 million military and c.8 million civilian dead (contrasting the Russian Empire's WWI death-count of 2 million military dead and 3 million captured as POW). It ended with Bolshevik-Soviet victory and the conversion of the Russian Empire into the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics. However, the Civil War was an overall strategic victory for the Entente Cordiale in that the October-inspired revolutionary wave was contained and prevented from expanding westwards.
Prelude — OK, who runs this place?
Since the abolition of serfdom in 1860 by Tsar Alexander II, the Russian Empire underwent a very complex period of reform-revolt-reaction grappling over such issues as the fact that it was simultaneously a European great power and a backward state that had belatedly escaped feudalism, and belatedly started industrialization and that until 1905, it had no political parties, no centrally elected parliament; still functioning as an ancient autocracy at the dawn of the 20th Century. The arrival of industrialization in Russia in the 1890s brought out the divided contradictory aspects of the society forward. It made the already rich, (the landowning, civil-bureaucrat, aristocrats and intelligentsia), richer but brought no great improvement to the vast majority of the peasant class.
The abolition of serfdom which granted peasants the right of movement and travel in theory was in practice delayed in execution so as to better allow the former serfowning classes time and room to absorb their losses and gain compensation for the end of their dependence on unfree labour. By the 1890s, the peasants moved belatedly to the cities and became the nascent working-classes but found themselves working for multi-national corporations and other state-owned enterprises that perpetuated the exploitation for cheap labour at a time when the working-classes in Western Europe had made significant gains.
Many of these peasants were children, grandchildren of former serfs, and in some cases old hands who were teenagers at the time the Tsar "liberated" them. They were naturally upset and angry that reforms were too little, too late, inadequate and in nearly every case, Moving the Goalposts so that they still remained far apart from any kind of real improvement in wages and opportunity.
The demands of these workers moved from economic complaints to political complaints, and they proved adept at building institutions, namely autonomous, self-appointed working councils (called Soviet) that worked as a kind of trade-union and city commune. The two major Soviets, were the Moscow and the Petrograd one, while smaller soviets co-existing with village councils called Zemstvos also existed alongside it.
Meanwhile Russia's intelligentsia, (a bunch of philosophers, intellectuals, thinkers, writers, artists, working professionals), were divided on how to proceed and bring changes to Russia. By 1880-1890, many of them had come under the influence of Karl Marx after earlier attempts at reform and revolution (including populist Western Terrorists and nihilists) had failed. This group more or less agreed among themselves that Russia needed Capitalism, then Socialism, and then after similar world revolution in other nations, arrive at pure communism and the withering of the state. But for the time being, everyone, including Vladimir Lenin was focused on Step 1.
The arrival of industrialization and the attendant development of an industrial working class who despite coming from the peasantry but were more literate and skilled than the peasantry, proved, in their eyes, that Marx's model for the development of capitalism and working-class consciousness was valid. The first Marxist party, the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, was formed in 1898, illegally because the Tsar forbade the formation of such political parties.
The underground nature of the party meant that members were driven to secrecy, paranoia and suspicion. They were always wary of being persecuted from above or betrayed from below, a mentality that endured well after the party and ideology came to power. The underground party worked with the working-class, who were a minority in Russia in proportion to the peasants. However, the openness of the Marxists and their scientific-political explanations appealed to workers, as did their willingness to welcome them into the party and offer them promotion, which appealed to the desire for upward mobility and respect many of them felt.
The political situation changed, however, when the Revolution of 1905 inspired by defeat in the Russo-Japanese War broke out. In response Tsar Nicholas II supported the creation of the Duma and introduced liberal reforms, suggesting to some that Russia could be changed internally without revolution. This sparked a drive towards liberalism modified by the initial enthusiasm for Marxism, after all, their attraction to communism was the path to modernization and they all wanted an industrial and capitalist revolution as Step 1 which seemed to be happening without the revolution actually taking power.
This cooling of enthusiasm, either real or exaggerated, led the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party to split on the issue which led to the formation of two factions — the Bolsheviks (aka Majority Party, so named by Lenin), and Mensheviks (the Minority Party, also named by Lenin). The Bolsheviks despite their chosen name was in fact a small party of committed radicals led by Lenin driven by singleminded discipline and total commitment, while the Mensheviks were in fact a larger, more diverse and consensus-driven group.
Lenin believed that the split was important because large groups tended to disagree and break over tiny disagreements which handicapped a cohesive policy, while smaller groups were flexible, united, and effective. In the eyes of his critics, he was an overreaching manipulative conspirator with a god complex who believed that he and he alone had the answers for Russia's future.
After 1905, political parties, and even unions, were legalized, but the Tsarist Autocracy did not dismantle the Police State machinery which it had used before then. As such, even though they now had legal status, many politicians on either spectrum (and workers active in the state) could be arrested on flimsy charges and count on limited legal protection. As such many of the radical Bolshevik leaders, including Lenin, were expatriates at this time and out of Russia.
The Duma, while marking as a devolution to Constitutional Monarchy in the eyes of hopeful liberals, in fact, became an organ to reinforce it with the Tsar arbitrarily firing and dismissing ministers, rewriting the constitution to take away voting rights, and more or less making the old nobility the main voice in this institution. The workers' movement faced political setbacks, but thanks to an expansion of industry as a result of foreign loans in 1906, the working class also expanded in number and the Bolsheviks (still strong and committed despite their leadership being in exile and emigration) remained their most actively supported party organization. A 1914 Strike in Petrograd organized by the Bolsheviks proved the strength of their organization.
Conventional thinking among Russian conservatives and reactionaries had always been that a drive to war, with its attendant rally-around-the-flag effect and forced patriotism, could dial away calls for revolution or reform. This was the logic that underpinned the drive to the Crimean War and the Russo-Japanese War. It failed in both instances primarily due to military defeats, and instead ended up driving the reforms it was trying to prevent (the end of serfdom and a tentative and halting rise in constitutionalism in 1905). Nonetheless, come 1914, Russia joined England and France in World War I as part of the Entente Cordiale.
One of the many reasons for the entry into conflict was to dial away revolution. After all, third time's the charm, right? It very well may have worked, had the military not faced a series of defeats resulting in the war becoming increasingly unpopular. Lenin and his Bolsheviks had opposed the war from the beginning, seeing it as an imperialist war, which made him a pariah and a minority among the Russian Left because even other leftists had supported the war out of both patriotism and the threat of Imperial Germany's territorial ambitions. Yet when the war became unpopular, it only increased his legitimacy, in a "Told you so" manner, that Lenin never failed to capitalize on.
The February Revolution
From the start, the Provisional Government proved itself not to be particularly good at governing Russia. In order to govern, they needed consensus from multiple factions which was becoming impossible. The Provisional government represented the elites, and were not elected but more or less claimed succession from the collapse of the State Duma, and were little more than a cabinet of the more "liberal" members of the Duma. The Provisional Government's administrative capabilities were subpar. It had no means of maintaining order in the countryside; the old Tsarist police force, which had been the main law enforcement in rural Russia, had been disbanded. The army was made up mostly of peasants who would not want to enforce the law on their fellow peasants, and in any case, their numbers were insufficient to deal with the populations of entire provinces. Nicolas's preferred bodies of legislative representation — the aristocracy — had been stripped of all class superiority and power almost immediately after the Government was formed. Despite this, the Government was committed to protecting the aristocrats' legal rights as citizens, and so it convened local committees which were meant to keep the established order in the countryside for the time being. However, these committees were soon transformed into peasant assemblies which served the village rather than the government. Many villages even declared themselves "autonomous republics" and started passing their own laws, and you may laugh but there was really nothing stopping them from doing this. Almost inevitably, entire peasant villages stormed the estates of their local aristocrats, destroyed most of their private property (including agricultural equipment which could later have been used to make the harvest easier) and forced them to give up their land for communal use. In some cases, villages even fought skirmishes with other villages over control of the aristocrats' land. By spring of 1917, this rural form of the revolution was beyond government control. In the industrial cities, things were no better. The workers of the major cities had taken the success of the Revolution as their cue to demonstrate for more rights. When the government stepped in to mediate labor disputes, it only succeeded in gumming the works; the workers, encouraged by small early victories would make higher demands, which would be refused by the government, leading the worker to accuse the government to be Sell-Out, while the employers believed the new government by its nature was biased towards the workers, and were becoming frustrated with the government's inability to end the disputes. In short, the Provisional Government was trapped in a Golden Mean Fallacy of choosing a middle ground that did not in fact exist.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Lenin spent the entire war years in Zurich, alongside other Bolsheviks, and even some Mensheviks, getting increasingly cranky and ornery about missing out on the fun in Russia. The Bolshevik party in Moscow and Petrograd were run by cadres and they remained functioning and operational without their leader, a testament if nothing else, to Lenin's skills as an organizer. Most of the leadership were in exile in Europe or in jail in Siberia. Lenin eventually decided to make a daring political risk. He negotiated with the German government for help in going into Russia. The train from Zurich had to pass through Germany to reach Petrograd's Finland Station. Making this choice risked compromising him politically as a German agent and collaboratornote . But this was not unique to him. Other leaders, including Mensheviks made a similar bargain, only the latter did so a month later, with far less publicity and far less shamelessness. The Germans agreed to let Lenin pass through in a sealed train, either because they thought it could weaken Russia and hasten their victory, or that they didn't actually believe Lenin or the other Bolsheviks and Mensheviks to be a significant enough of a threat. Before Lenin's arrival, various socialist parties agreed to tentatively support the Provisional Government, and there was initial tension between Lenin and other Bolshevik arrivals and the party cadres, after all the latter were the ones in the trenches while their leaders were cooling their heels in Zurich and other hidey-holes. But Lenin's influence and charisma was undeniable, and moreover the Bolsheviks were rapidly Becoming the Boast and living up to their name. At the start of the February Revolution, they were a party of 24,000. By April, that number became 100,000. By October, 350,000. Their numbers and organization grew while that of their opponents stagnated. Lenin also put forth a platform for taking power, known as the April Theses, and in this he outlined the slogans of "Peace, Land, Bread" and "All power to the Soviets".note
The Provisional Government also made the error of failing to clarify their position on the war, which was supremely unpopular. They prolonged the involvement and many of the soldiers were from the same class sympathetic to the growing and developing Bolshevik party. In June, Kerensky encouraged an offensive in Galicia, which became an utter disaster with 200,000 casualties. The Provisional Government was repeating the mistake of the Tsar's, diverting issues with military adventurism, and then facing blowback when they failed to win in battle. This setback led to the July Days protest which was a spontaneous protest that even Lenin didn't see coming, but it provoked a crackdown by the government on the Bolsheviks and sent Lenin into exile again. This damaged their credibility on the Left because they violated their own mandate of granting immunity to political parties and gatherings. On the right, the Provisional Government, faced a military coup by General Lavr Kornilov, who tried to call dibs on power shortly before the Bolsheviks. Fearing a military coup, a spontaneous protest broke out in Petrograd helped by defection and desertion from Kornilov's own contingent. Contrary to popular belief, the Bolsheviks were not involved in this (though they claimed credit later) but this uprising more or less proved that the people were starting to come around to Lenin's way of thinking, i.e. armed uprising, self-government, and that the government in charge was untrustworthy; weak and non-radical alternatives would not work. Lenin by nature disliked populist and spontaneous uprisings feeling that it quickly failed to consolidate and coordinate an organized program and policy, and insisted on leadership by professional revolutionaries. The failure of earlier events and the suppression of the same in Western nations that he had observed in his long years out of Russia, and likewise the 1905 and February 1917 Revolution had seemingly vindicated his views to his fellow revolutionaries. They decided that should the day come when he and his friends get a chance at power, they would not let go of it.
The October Revolution
The October Revolution was launched at the same time as the Second Congress of the Soviets. Lenin dithered a bit on a return from exile even after the call for arrest on him was rescinded. He snuck back in just a bit before the 24-25 October coup. Some Bolsheviks were hesitant about seizing power since the Bolsheviks had legally become a popular party and making gains in representation, and to them taking power directly risked alienating their colleagues, provoking civil war and preventing any consolidation. But Lenin and others felt that this was their one chance, and memories of previous setbacks/reversals/betrayals made them harden themselves to cross their rubicon and so the October Revolution came to pass. It was almost entirely anticlimactic despite Soviet propaganda and later recreations. It was bloodless, and it involved Bolsheviks cadres slowly slipping in, taking over major organs of administration and infrastructure overnight and having their claims of power accepted immediately, at which point they immediately started work. The only real drama was the famous siege at the Winter Palace, where the Provisional Government dithered before finally stepping out and quietly leaving.
The real drama began with the Congress of Soviets at Petrograd. The Bolsheviks uses the soviets as an organ for legitimizing their takeover. The problem is that the Bolsheviks counted 300 out of 670 delegates in the Soviets, which included many other revolutionary parties. There were Bolsheviks, but also Mensheviks who claimed the mantle of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP (b) and RSDLP (m) respectively), the Socialist Revolutionaries (SR), and many other smaller parties. The left Socialist Revolutionaries (Left SRs) were nominal allies of the Bolsheviks, but the other revolutionary parties were satisfied with the February revolution (except for the anarchists, but they were not really a party of course) and well represented in the Provisional Government. The October Revolution was launched by the Bolsheviks, in alliance with the anarchists and Left Socialist Revolutionaries, who were quite surprised when on 26 October, they received an announcement that the government would now be run by the Sovnarkom (Council of People's Commissars), which was exclusively Bolshevik in membership, with Lenin as head of government, and Trotsky as People's Commissar of Foreign Affairs.
The elections to the Constituent Assembly was scheduled before the October coup, and the Bolsheviks let it proceed as planned in November 1917. The Bolsheviks won 24% of the popular vote, while the SR won 40%. The Bolsheviks claimed support from the cities, the armed forces and the navy where they had an absolute majority, while the SR claimed support from the peasants in the countryside. In either case, the Bolsheviks did not devolve or give over control of the government, or obey the democratic will of the people. The Bolsheviks claimed they were the party of revolution and the working class, and the vanguard leadership of the proletariat. When the Constituent Assembly actually met for the first time in Petrograd the Bolsheviks of the Petrograd Soviet ordered groups of armed soldiers, sailors, and workers loyal to them to arrest all the delegates and imprison the Provisional Government. That done, the Petrograd Soviet then sent word to all the Soviets in Russia that they, the Soviets, were now Russia's new form of government.
The Bolsheviks never claimed to support any form of democratic norms. In the constitution they ruminated over in the short time before 1918, voting rights were restricted to the working class and their peasant allies, and denied to intelligentsia, the middle-classes, and backward peasants; a retributive inversion of the disenfranchisement experienced by the working classes in the decades before the Revolution.
Lenin's general approach and strategy as a revolutionary and Marxist theorist was internationalist. Marxism and Communism was seen at the time, as a philosophy and objective body of knowledge for bringing about modernization, equality and worldwide peace and prosperity. Many young men and women had been internationalist in The Gay '90s and The Edwardian Era. When World War I broke out, their dismay and disillusionment about nationalism, and the capital classes, was only reinforced and confirmed to the point of fanaticism. The outbreak of the war had discredited in their eyes, conventional liberalism and social democrats (many of whom had willingly supported the war in their respective nations). The only thing that could redeem the war, in Lenin's eyes, was a millennial belief that it should be followed by a new revolution and society that would prevent war, check capitalism, redistribute wealth and likewise end bourgeois nationalism by a world revolution in multiple nations out of solidarity with working men in other nations. For Lenin, a revolution breaking out in Russia had the potential to detonate revolutions in other nations, triggering a revolutionary wave a la Revolutions of 1848.
This explained his foreign policy, such as tasking Trotsky to accept the humiliating Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, so as to fulfill his campaign promise of pulling Russia out of the imperialist World War I. This treaty was incredibly punitive on Russia and very generous to Imperial Germany and the unilateral withdrawal aggravated England, France, and other powers, who were already angered by the seizure of the government of an European great power by a radical organization. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Central Powers, surrendered the Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) along with Ukraine (with none of these not-yet-countries consulted). This outraged not only nationalists there (who were not happy with the territory granted to them in the treaty) but also other socialists and former Tsarist officers who had sacrificed much in the war fighting Germany. It also upset many Russians who had no love for the Germans and, indeed terrorist attacks were launched in response, leading to the assassination of the German ambassador Wilhelm von Mirbach by an SR. Incidents such as these only ended second-guessed among the Bolsheviks about their seizure of dictatorship and clampdown on rival parties. In Lenin's eyes, the treaty was merely borrowed time and breathing room since he was sure that a Revolution would soon break out in Germany. And in his defense it did, but it would take until November 1918 for that to happen. But in the meantime, the opposition was making its moves.
The Russian Civil War broke out in the summer of 1918, when a White Army led by General Yudenich moved against the Bolsheviks at Petrograd. In response to this, Lenin insisted that the capital shift back to Moscow, for the first time in more than 200 years, which was easier to defend than the European capital. The Bolsheviks had several advantages against their opponents: Strong discipline, party command, greater popular support in the main cities of Moscow and Petrograd, the latter being most crucial since it allowed them to seize two of Russia's oldest cities and properly mobilize and defend the same. The White Army which was formed of monarchists, tsarists, Right SR, a few Mensheviks, and other Liberals had never shown any real skill in the years in office they had to themselves to actually build and run a government between 1905-1917. It was especially difficult to conjure said skills in the bases they made for themselves in the peasant regions, in Siberia and other parts of Russia where they had to start from scratch and found it harder to mobilize when the existing railways were already centered around the now Bolshevik-controlled capitals. The Whites could not mobilize and co-ordinate themselves centrally in the manner that the Bolsheviks could. This despite the fact the Bolsheviks had to start the Civil War with the bottom deck of cards.
Upon taking control, the Soviets demobilized the Imperial Russian army and disbanded the soldiers, upon confirming the treaty with Germany. When the Civil War broke out, this earlier order had been implemented too well and too quickly to be countermanded, so Leon Trotsky was given the task to build a brand new army from scratch. The army was composed initially with the urban militia of Red Guards and party cadres and then expanded to include conscripts from the working classes. From the very beginning, Lenin and Trotsky wanted a professional army that could win, so to that end, they brought in Former Regime Personnel albeit only to a small extentnote . Where the Red Guards and other revolutionary organizations were elected and organized autonomously, Trotsky insisted the Red Army run on proper ranks and chain-of-command. The Red Army rapidly expanded to include other aspects of civilian administration, becoming in time the biggest and most competent bureaucracy of the new government, bolstered by the formation of the Secret Police with the acronym CHEKA. The CHEKA was headed by "Iron" Felix Dzerzhinsky. Its initial task was to clamp down on banditry and looting that broke out after the October Revolution; during the civil war, it expanded to serving as state police, given extraordinary powers to conduct summary executions, imprisonment without a trial and other terror tactics. In April CHEKA gunmen raided numerous anarchist centers in Moscow and Petrograd, with dozens killed, hundreds arrested. Increasingly the Bolsheviks squelched all opposition by force. Even dissidents within the Bolsheviks, such as Nikolai Bukharin, denounced such acts.
The economy was reorganized under a policy known to history as War Communism. Rapid nationalization of businesses, seizures of lands and state appropriation of all existing resources. It led in time to runaway inflation and brought the economy to a standstill until Lenin offset it with NEP in The Soviet Twenties. The seizures of land and redistribution of the same worked politically however in that it won Bolsheviks peasant support for their cause. The White Army in the regions they governed tended to support the interest of the old landowners and as such vetoed any claims for peasant ownership or support. Both the Whites and the Reds had constituencies that were minorities; the old Tsarist, Militarist Regime and Liberal intelligentsia in the case of the former, and the urban working classes and Left intelligentsia in the case of the latter, and the key group that could tip the balance were the peasants, who swung to the Bolsheviks on the issues of land, even if they didn't especially like them, what with their grain requisitioning and their invasive and radical reorganization of village communities they had no idea of beyond some Marxist theory formulated in exile or in some faraway city like Moscow or Petrograd that few peasants had ever seen; and their brandishing of the same state secret police that the old Tsarist government wielded.
Between 1917 and 1922, the Entente nation-states — France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Romania, Serbia, the United Kingdom, the United States and new nation-states like Finland and Poland, which had both just gained independence from Russia — scrounged up a few thousand troops to 'intervene' in the civil war, resulting in a fairly unpopular technically-an-invasion of what came to be known as the RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic), kind of but not officially on behalf of the White Army. This was ostensibly done to secure lost matériel at Russian ports, the Russian ports themselves, rescue separated Entente forces and citizens, and hopefully sort out the whole mess in such a way that the Eastern Front could be re-opened against Germany (Germany, incidentally, even after the treaty of Brest-Litovsk still kept a couple of hundred thousand troops camped right across their shiny new border from Soviet Russia). Their actual effect upon the war was nil, but it ended messily for everyone and much more importantly confirmed suspicions about the Western and Eastern capitalist states (such as Japan) among the Reds and the uncomfortably-frequently-invaded-feeling Russian peasantry as a whole, the latter actually cutting back slightly on their bad habit of shooting Reds on sight. This only reinforced the Bolsheviks' popularity as they now claimed to have defended the Fatherland against foreign invaders, which has historically always won the loyalty of the Russian peasantry to any new state seeking legitimacy. This situation repeated itself in the next 'western' invasion, Operation Barbarossa, which was far bigger in scale and several times more violent than the Russian Civil War.
The unified, fanatical Reds eventually smashed the loose White military states, at first with the help of the Left SRs and the Revolutionary Insurrection Army from Ukraine (or the Maknovist movement, after its leader Nestor Makhno). It was also known as the Black Army since they were anarchist, in contrast to the Red and White Armies. Local groups attempted to fight off all sides, dubbed the "Green" Army, although they were never unified. Additionally was the Blue Army, peasants who fought the Reds in the Tambov Rebellion. Some historians have determined that the Black Army saved the entire war from the Whites at several points, such as stopping Deniken from taking Petrograd. However, they were betrayed three separate times by the Bolsheviks and defeated finally when they could turn their full force onto them. Makhno fled to exile in France. After the Whites were defeated in the fall of 1921, one last revolt occurred at Kronstadt, with mutinous sailors (the same ones who rose up in February 1917, not, as the Bolsheviks claimed, reactionary replacements) calling for free soviets, civil liberties and worker self-management again, as with the factory committees the Bolsheviks smashed. They were massacred by the Red Army under Trotsky. At the same time, strikes were occurring in Moscow and Petrograd, also brutally put down. By 1924, all Russia along with most shards of the Empire (with the exception of Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland, who managed to stay independent) were under Bolshevik control. Not everything went quiet; Greens, Separatists, and White stragglers continued to fight guerrilla wars in remote areas of the country and along borders. Turkestan (modern post-Soviet Central Asia) was one particular hotbed of guerrilla warfare that resisted pacification well into the Stalinist years; the borders with China and the Baltic States were another, used by the White Emigre remnant unions to sneak terrorists into Soviet Russia.
The real decisive moment for the Civil War from the point of view of the allies was the Polish-Soviet War. The setback and counter of the Red Army at the Battle of Warsaw halted Leninist "World Revolution" in its tracks. This extension was done in the hopes to aid the German Revolution that had broken out in November 1918. The reversal halted them in their tracks and more or less contained the Revolution to the Russian Empire and did not extend further. Lenin's grand strategy failed on its crucial assumption of a revolution taking root in an advanced nation, and in the History of the Cold War and well after, it would never truly happen again, albeit the threat and power, and prestige of the October Revolution was enough to make it a constant threat until the end of Cold War.
The Russian Civil War, led to a militarization of the Bolshevik Party, and the transformation of an underground, fringe, and radical party into the undisputed power in charge of the biggest landmass of the world. Many of its leaders had no experience in government, having spent years underground reading up on theories with little practice and expertise in the running of modern bureaucracies and institutions, and, as their early days and subsequent history prove, fairly little preparation. Vladimir Lenin himself became handicapped as a result of an assassination attempt by the Left SR Fanny Kaplan which injured him badly. She was shot by CHEKA and the incident doesn't appear to have been damaging by itself, but Lenin subsequently became ill on account of dementia, but not before playing his final conscious moments organizing the NEP, and the nationalities policies of the Soviet Union. The October Revolution was a globally polarizing movement that was contested and debated long after it was over, complicated by later events in world history. In former colonial nations, the event is a simple movement of national liberation and modernization against a decadent corrupt autocracy, resulting in a regime that whatever its flaws was a vast improvement on what came before. Not coincidentally, many of these former colonial nations in the Cold War era received subsidiaries and other support from the USSR, and even after the Cold War ended, have failed to update their textbooks. In the West, the story is that of an unfair and unjust power grab by a band of undemocratic fanatics who tore down the institutions and built a totalitarian state, at least among conservatives and moderates. Liberals and others on the Left tend to side with one or other factions, or otherwise feel that the Bolsheviks were A Lighter Shade of Gray before Stalin. In contemporary Russia, after the Cold War ended, the general belief is that the Revolution was a vast tragedy and regrettable polarization resulting from failure of consensus and compromise. Modern Russia no longer celebrates the anniversary of the October Revolution which in the Soviet Era was a moment of national glory and military regalia, with the Politburo standing on top of Lenin's Tomb.
The Civil War-era Russia was a popular setting for later Soviet action movies - just as the Chinese Civil War has become the most popular setting for Chinese action movies. These movies were very similar to American Westerns: just take a Western, replace the Injuns or Mexicans with Basmaches (Muslim anti-Bolshevik fighters in Central Asia), the Blue with the Red and the Gray with the White, the prairies with the deserts of Turkestan or steppes of Ukraine, the Peacemakers with Nagant Gas-Seals and Mauser Broomhandles, the Winchesters with Mosin-Nagant rifles, the Gatlings with Maxims, the horses... well, let the horses be horses, and you'll get an Ostern (or "Eastern", as they are known in Russia proper). The most popular Osterns were White Sun of the Desert, about a former Red Army Soldier turned gunslinger who travelled homewards through Basmach-infested Turkestan deserts, At Home Amongst The Strangers, A Stranger Amongst Friends in which a framed CHEKA agent must infiltrate a band of marauders and retrieve several millions in gold, and The Elusive Avengers, about four young guns opposing the anarchist bandit ataman Burnash and his gang. The concept itself became popular enough to be recognized in a parody where Winchester and Colt as they coexist with a kolkhoz.note
Depictions in Media
- And Quiet Flows the Don
- Reds, a Warren Beatty epic about left-wing journalist John Reed, starring Beatty, Diane Keaton, and Jack Nicholson
- White Sun of the Desert
- The Elusive Avengers
- Doctor Zhivago
- Nicholas and Alexandra
- At Home Among Strangers
- Sergei Eisenstein's October
- Knight Without Armour
- A number of American films from the silent and early sound era used the Russian Revolution as a backdrop for Melodramas. The most common plot seems to involve an Inter-Class Romance being opposed by both the aristocracy and the Bolsheviks. In general, they make the Russian Revolution come off as a newer version of the French one.
- Silent film The Last Command (1928), which involves a romance between a Tsarist general and a beautiful revolutionary, is a typical example. She undergoes a High-HeelFace Turn and helps him escape lynching, but he's a broken man afterward.
- Mockery: Set during the Civil War and involves Lon Chaney as a grimy peasant who falls in love with a White countess. When she engages in a much more sensible romance with a White cavalryman, Chaney gravitates to the Reds.
- It occurs (off-screen, obviously) during the second series of Downton Abbey. Rebellious socialist Tom Branson sings its praises and insists the revolutionaries won't kill the Tsar's children. In a later episode, he becomes somewhat disillusioned with Soviet Russia when he finds out that they did kill the Tsar's family. The subject indirectly returns in the fifth series, with a subplot involving exiled Russian aristocrats living in Britain and in poverty.
- The fifth adventure in Pathfinder's Adventure Path "Reign of Winter" takes the PCs to a Siberian prison camp, where they must battle White Army soldiers, vampires, battle tanks driven by pickled brains and a resurrected Rasputin to save his mother, Baba Yaga.
- In The Last American Vampire, Henry participates in vampire Rasputin's assassination, along with Nikola Tesla. One Romanov, Alexei, survives, having been made a vampire by Rasputin some time before.
- Histeria! did an episode on the Russian Revolution, following the "Lenin and Trotsky were good, Stalin was bad" school of historiography. Actually, much of the episode was dedicated to Sergei Eisenstein and the cinema innovations of The Battleship Potemkin.
- Robert Bolt's play State of Revolution, which depicted Lenin and his inner circle from the failed 1905 revolution through Lenin's death and Stalin's assumption of power. Bolt, an ex-socialist, sympathizes with the Revolution's ideals but criticizes Lenin's brutality in achieving them, followed by Stalin's perceived subversion of them.
- Commissar is about a female commissar of a Red Army cavalry unit who gets pregnant during the Russian Civil War.
- Assassin's Creed: Subject Four and Assassin's Creed Chronicles: Russia follow Nikolai Orelov, a master Assassin during the Revolution.
- Battlefield 1 showcases the Russian Civil War in its In the Name of the Tsar expansion.
- The last Erast Fandorin novel, Not Saying Goodbye, finds Fandorin trying to catch a Bolshevik spy in the White army in Kharkov in 1919.
- Archangel is a surreal, highly stylized film about a Canadian soldier in 1919 Archangel, part of the Allied intervention in the civil war on behalf of the Whites.
- While it focuses on the European front of World War I, The Great War mod for Napoleon: Total War includes flag events allowing the Russian Revolution to happen if the regime grows unpopular enough, which results in the country split between the White and the Red, at war with each others. Also, Bolsheviks have specific units playable in skirmish and multiplayer modes, though they're just special units of the Russian Empire instead of being a special faction.
- The second half of Revolutions (airing January 2021-present) is a narrative history of the Russian Revolutions of 1917, starting with the buildup to them in the days after 1905, and (according to the author) planned to end with the ascent of Stalin.
- Dan Carlin's Hardcore History covers the immediate leadup and early days of the Russian Revolution in during it's World War One Blueprint for Armageddon series.
- In The Hunt for Red October (and its film adaptation), the eponymous submarine is named after the revolution.