Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image.” —Genesis 9:6

The Bolshevik Revolution Begins,
November 6, 1917

Russia was rocked by revolution several times during the First World War. Multiple parties vied for power, but agreed on only one policy decision—that the Tsar had to be toppled. Revolution since 1789, by definition, seeks to destroy the old order (what Chairman Mao called “the four olds” in China), which typically includes the religion, political structure, social conventions and mores, and always at the cost of many lives, millions in the case of Marxist revolutions in Russia, China, and Cambodia. As in the case of France, who provided the template, and Russia, who applied Marxian socialism, democratic dreamers were the first to attempt a new order. They lost out quickly to those more radical and willing to kill off the opposition.


Tsar Nicholas (1868-1918) of Russia in 1912

Tsar Nicholas II had plenty of problems facing his regime prior to the First World War. Russia contained millions of poor and hungry people, and the aristocrats lived like kings among them. Discontent festered in the decades prior to the War, including an attempted revolution in 1905. Historically, wars are, by far, the most expensive enterprise entered into by nations, but they also tend to be unifying. For a country already suffering with social and economic problems, the Russians could ill-afford the war that they themselves helped trigger by their backing of Slavic peoples of the Balkans in Southern Europe. Allied with Britain and France, in the “Triple Entente,” the Russians mobilized about five million men, but could not arm many of them.


“Bloody Sunday”, January 22, 1905—Imperial soldiers fired upon unarmed demonstrators as they marched towards the Winter Palace to present a petition to Tsar Nicholas II


Revolutionaries set up barricades in Moscow, 1905

After almost three years of war, millions of casualties and a ruined economy, Russians turned a sympathetic ear to a myriad of discontented parties calling for an end to the war and access to food, fuel, and the supplies of life. In March, 1917, thousands of workers and out-of-work urban poor took to the streets of the capital city of Petrograd (modern St. Petersburg) protesting the latest food rationing. Labor strikes were called across the city. The Tsar’s police, most of them still loyal to the regime, fired on the crowds, who returned fire, initiating a Revolution.


Protesters swarm the streets of Petrograd, March 1917

In the week following, thousands of women took to the streets screaming for bread, and recruiting multiple thousands more of factory workers to join them. They called for the abdication of the Tsar and the end of the War; as it turned out, they eventually got both. A new provisional government was established, which included former members of the Duma, and middle classes. During the same period, workers and soldiers organized soviets and elected representatives of those groups, still dissatisfied with the provisional government, which was doing little to solve the problems for which the people took to the streets.


Red Guard unit in Petrograd, 1917


Alexander Kerensky (1881-1970) in May 1917

A leader of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, Alexander Kerensky assumed control of the army, and led the provisional government until overthrown by Lenin’s Bolshevik Party on November 6. Kerensky had declared Russia a Republic and tried to continue the war against Germany and Austria, both actions inimical to the Communists. The armed workers of the Petrograd Soviet had gone over to the Bolsheviks and followed the orders of Vladimir Lenin who had returned from exile in Switzerland to lead his party, which was neither the most numerous or popular, initially. Two Communist groups vied for rule of Russia—the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks, along with elements of the Tsarists and the Social Revolutionaries. The first mentioned believed that political and social revolution could be done peacefully through the ballot box and working with the liberals and Socialist Revolutionaries. The Bolsheviks believed that only violence and the elimination of all enemies could secure the utopian future that Marxist orthodoxy believed was inevitable. The Bolsheviks won out. The Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries who did not join Lenin’s Party were shot, along with the Tsar and his family.


Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) in 1916 during his exile in Switzerland


Members of the Bolshevik Party (including Vladimir Lenin, far right) meet in 1920


Leaders of the Menshevik Party in Stockholm, Sweden, May 1917

As for the lawyer Kerensky, (revolutions are led by lawyers, since the French Revolution), he escaped to the west, ending up in the United States where he married an American woman and settled in New York City, spending much of his time at the Hoover Institute in California, writing and teaching about Russian history and against Communism. He lived to the age of 89, dying in 1970, outliving every major participant in the Russian Revolution.

Lenin’s ideas were not particularly popular, and several million Russians had to die in a civil war and retribution, before he got total dictatorial control. Lenin died in 1924, being replaced by the paragon of murder and terrorism, Josef Stalin, the “man of steel.” Revolutions tend to consume their own activists and their children, and always lead to dictatorship.


Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) with Joseph Stalin 1878-1953) in 1922