The Revolutions of 1905 and 1917
In 1905, general discontent combined with the fact that Russia had been defeated by Japan in the Russo-Japanese war set off a revolution that forced the Tsar to create a parliament, or Duma, and implement certain reforms. However, the autocracy remained.
In 1917, the Russian army’s losses in the First World War and the mass suffering that was caused sparked two revolutions:
The bourgeois February Revolution of 1917 deposed Tsar Nicholas II and established a republic. The liberal and bourgeois provisional government promised reforms, but their sluggishness and decision to remain in the world war led to their downfall.
The Bolshevik October Revolution of 1917, organised by radical Marxists, or Bolsheviks, overthrew the provisional government and placed their leader Lenin in power, who was supported by the soviets, or councils of workers, peasants and soldiers.
In 1918, the Bolsheviks began to call themselves the Communist Party and took Russia out of the war by signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany (1918).
They then drafted a Constitution, which transferred large estates to the peasants, gave workers control of factories and nationalised banks and transport. In 1919 they founded the Third International.
Lenin’s actions were met with the opposition of armed counterrevolutionary groups. These groups formed what was known as the White Army - supported by the United Kingdom, France and Japan - which battled the Bolshevik Red Army, led by Leon Trotsky.
The result was a bloody civil war (1918 to 1921) in which eight million people lost their lives.
The Red Army’s victory consolidated the revolution.
Lenin’s government (1921-1924). Lenin held all the political power. In 1922 he created a political organisation called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), made up of Russia and other Asian republics. It was organised as a federal state and adopted a New Economic Policy (NEP), which combined communist and capitalist policies. Thanks to this policy, the Soviet economy made a recovery.
Stalin’s government (1927-1953). Lenin’s successor began a new era, called ‘Stalinism’. A totalitarian political system was established which used state violence to purge society of his opponents.
The economy became controlled by the state. Land was collectively owned and farmed by agricultural cooperatives or ko/khozy or by salaried peasants on state-owned estates or sovjoses. Large industrial estates were built for metallurgical, chemical and arms production and the banking system and other services remained nationalised. Moreover, the state planned each area of production through five-year plans, which established objectives to be fulfilled in that time frame. Through all of these measures the USSR became a major economic and military power.