2017 is a year of anniversaries most of them mournful but few were harbingers of suffering on the scale of the revolutions in Russia. First in February 1917 when Tsar Nicolas abdicated and the Russian Provisional Government assumed power. This short-lived administration controlled by the Trudovaya Grupa of Alexander Kerensky struggled with the conflicting demands of a populace who wanted peace, Russia’s commitments to the Allies and economic failure. In the view of many Russians Kerensky’s sin was that he had disappointed impossible hopes.
With Russia failing one of its best known revolutionary figures was in exile in Zurich. Vladimir Lenin had fled there after being briefly arrested in Galicia at the outbreak of war. Lenin believed that a vanguard of socialist intellectuals could lead the proletariat in revolution but donations from supporters were insufficient to finance the Bolshevik’s activities. An advocate of escalating violent confrontations he also endorsed the concept of armed robbery as a fund-raising mechanism. Perhaps the most well-known of these escapades was when a group of Bolsheviks led by Joseph Stalin robbed the state bank in Tiflis, modern day Tbilisi, in Georgia.
An opponent of Russia’s involvement in the war against Germany and Austria, Lenin was seen by the Germans as a valuable tool with which to destabilise Kerensky’s Government. Hence they allowed him to travel through German territory and on to neutral Sweden and then by train to St. Petersburg. There are claims, denied by Russian historians, that Lenin took German cash, 75 million Marks or maybe $2 million.
In October 2017 the cruiser Avrora, controlled by mutineers, fired on the Winter Palace which was stormed by Bolsheviks, ministers captured and Lenin then announced the overthrow of the Government. Elections to a Constituent Assembly were held in November in which the Bolsheviks secured only 25% of the vote and when their motion to strip it of power was defeated they declared it counter-revolutionary and disbanded it by force.
One of the first acts of Lenin’s Marxist regime was the Land Decree whereby property of the aristocracy and Orthodox Church was seized. Opposition newspapers were closed, the legal system and courts abolished to be replaced by revolutionary tribunals. Foreign debt dishonoured, banks, utilities and industry nationalised, gold supplies seized and the war with Germany ended by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.
By 1918, with famine afflicting a country previously self-sufficient in food, the regime instigated the Red Terror which enabled the Cheka, forerunner of the KGB, to execute anyone deemed an enemy of the state or send them to Gulags as slave labour. We will never know how many died before in 1991 under Yeltsin the Russians accepted the failure of Lenin’s experiment. Yet to this day others seem determined to repeat it.
First published by the Barnsley Chronicle - Penistone Living. July 2017