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Student 1
Mr. Cowherd
Modern World History, Period 2
26 February 2013
The Bolsheviks Seize Russia
(Why did the Bolshevik Revolution succeed after earlier revolutions had failed?)
For decades under czarist rule, chronic discontent engulfed Russia. The majority of the
citizens, the peasant and the working classes, suffered from famine and poverty. Workers
demanded better conditions, peasants demanded land, and revolutionaries demanded change.
With the outbreak of World War I, the Russians’ conditions worsened. Strikes and riots erupted
throughout the country, but Czar Nicholas II failed to meet his people’s demands. With the stage
set, it was clear revolution was inevitable. Previous revolts failed to develop into large-scale
revolutions because they lacked passionate, effectual leaders. However, in November 1917, two
men emerged to lead a revolution that would change Russia forever. Widespread discontent,
disorganization within the provisional government, and Lenin and Trotsky’s dynamic leadership
allowed the Bolsheviks to strategically seize Russia in its time of despair.
Long-term unrest, disastrous wars, and earlier revolutionary acts laid the groundwork for
the Bolshevik Revolution. During Nicholas’s autocratic rule, dissatisfaction plagued Russia.
Insensitive and ineffectual, Nicholas failed to appeal to his citizens’ needs and was unwilling to
compromise any of his divine right authority. Due to Russia’s oppressive social structure,
peasants and serfs, the majority of the population, suffered widespread poverty and famine
(Gaynor 400). After Russia’s humiliating defeat in the Russo-Japanese War and Bloody Sunday
further weakened people’s faith in the czar, Nicholas was forced to issue concessions through the
October Manifesto in 1905. Though the proclamation created the Duma, a national legislative
assembly, Nicholas limited its power and retained most of his authority (Watts). While
widespread unrest continued to stir, Russia’s involvement in World War I intensified the
citizens’ poor conditions. When food and fuel shortages engendered violent riots and protests,
the czar abdicated, giving rise to the provisional government, led by Aleksandr Kerensky
The provisional government’s failure to implement reforms fast enough to satisfy the
Russians’ needs allowed the Bolsheviks to easily seize power. Since Kerensky neglected the
peasants’ demands for land reforms, many turned to Lenin and Trotsky, whose promises of
communism compelled the weary citizens (“Russian”). More importantly, the government’s
critical mistake of continuing Russia’s participation in the war worsened the already
overwhelming discontent. Suffering countless defeats, citizens were sick of the war and the
strain it placed on Russia’s resources. In particular, the disastrous Kerensky Offensive in July
1917 resulted in heavy casualties and provoked numerous soldiers to rebel (“Aleksandr”). Soon
after, Kerensky appointed Laurenti Kornilov as commander in chief of the Russian army.
However, Kornilov clashed with Keresnky about military policy and often disobeyed his orders.
In September, Kornilov ordered soldiers to Petrograd in a supposed military coup. Though it is
unclear whether Kerensky truly believed Kornilov was attempting to overthrow the provisional
government or whether he had led Kornilov into a trap by giving him the orders to suppress a
Bolshevik revolt, which never actually happened, Kerensky nonetheless accused him of treason
(“Union”). To halt Kornilov’s advances and protect Petrograd, Kerensky was forced to appeal to
and arm Soviet and Red Guard troops. While the Kornilov affair weakened Kerensky’s
credibility and the provisional government’s authority, it rehabilitated the Bolsheviks, who had
been criticized for attempting to seize power earlier in July (Chubarov). The provisional
government’s multiple failures set the stage for Lenin and Trotsky to lead the Bolshevik
Revolution in November.
Vladimir Lenin’s inspiring leadership guided the Bolsheviks in overthrowing the
provisional government and engaging the Russian citizens in a long-awaited revolution. Born
into an educated middle-class family, Lenin was greatly influenced by his older brother,
Aleksandr. However, after Aleksandr was executed in 1887 for plotting to murder the czar,
Lenin developed a deep hatred for the czarist government and was inspired to promote social
change (“Vladimir Lenin”). During his studies and period in exile, Lenin discovered and
adapted the works of Karl Marx. He called for an elite group of professional revolutionaries, the
Bolsheviks, to lead the revolution and establish a “dictatorship of the proletariat” (Gaynor 402).
A dedicated and charismatic leader, Lenin effectively organized the Bolshevik Party and gave
appealing speeches to workers and peasants. Upon his return from exile in April 1917, Lenin
further promoted the revolution and plotted to overthrow the provisional government, claiming it
was incapable of satisfying the citizens’ needs and demands ("Vladimir Ilich"). In a time of
despair and poverty, the Russians needed a leader to guide them out of their enduring discontent
and misfortune. Promising “Peace, Land, and Bread,” Lenin and the Bolsheviks appeared as
their saviors (Gaynor 402).
Another dedicated revolutionary, Leon Trotsky aided Lenin in leading the Bolshevik
Revolution. While Trotsky originally led his own faction, the Petrograd Soviets, he and his
followers soon joined Lenin’s Bolsheviks in their campaign to overthrow the provisional
government (“Leon”). A tactical military leader, Trotsky led the Red Guards in storming the
Winter Palace in November 1917. With little resistance, the provisional government easily fell
to the Bolsheviks. After the revolution, Trotsky founded and bolstered the power of the Red
Army, turning it into a violent fighting force. His brilliant leadership allowed the Bolsheviks to
crush the opposing Whites during the Russian civil war (“Leon”). The dynamic duo of Lenin
and Trotsky powered and enabled the success of the Bolshevik Revolution. Without these two
gifted leaders, the revolution would have failed.
The revolution succeeded because the Bolsheviks’ passionate leaders, Lenin and Trotsky,
overtook Russia when its citizens were desperate for change. After decades of suffering and
starvation, the weary Russians were intrigued by the Bolsheviks promise of “Peace, Land, and
Bread.” While the March Revolution of 1917 had been spontaneous, the Bolshevik Revolution
was well planned and skillfully executed. When the revolution prevailed, the Bolsheviks wasted
no time in establishing control and ending Russian involvement in the war. Additionally, they
were able to retain their revolutionary success by defeating their opposers, the Whites, in a threeyear civil war. The Bolshevik Revolution demonstrated that ripe conditions and effectual leaders
are vital for revolutions to succeed. Not only was the revolution a successful domination, but it
also introduced countries to communist rule and paved the way for nations, such as China and
North Korea, to adapt similar ideals.
Works Cited
"Aleksandr Kerensky." World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, 2013. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.
Chubarov, Alex. "The Kornilov Affair." ALLRUSSIAS. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2013.
Gaynor Ellis, Elisabeth, and Anthony Esler. "Two Revolutions in Russia." World History:
Connections to Today The Modern Era Edition. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education,
2003. 400-02. Print.
"Leon Trotsky." World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, 2013. Web. 24 Feb. 2013.
"Russian Revolution of 1917." World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, 2013. Web. 24
Feb. 2013.
"Union of Soviet Socialist Republics." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica
Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 24 Feb. 2013.
"Vladimir Ilich Lenin." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic
Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 24 Feb. 2013.
"Vladimir Lenin." World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, 2013. Web. 24 Feb. 2013.
Watts, Tim. "Russian Revolution of 1905." World History: The Modern Era. ABC-CLIO, 2013.
Web. 24 Feb. 2013.