History Internal Assessments Relating to Lenin

Research question: An investigation into how Lenin achieved the October revolution so soon after the February revolution

Section A- Plan of investigation

This investigation will focus on the period between February and October 1917 and evaluate how Lenin was able to create a revolution so soon after the February revolution, resulting in the Bolsheviks seizing power in Russia. Evidence will be acquired through journals, novels, speeches, and newspapers. One must not only consider the practical mechanisms by which the Bolsheviks took power from the Provisional Government, but also the political mood in Petrograd, and in the rest of Russia, which allowed them to take over so easily, with little popular support. Lenin’s radicalism and character, the failures of the provisional government, and the Bolshevik party’s manipulation strategies will be attributed as the main reasons for the October revolution.

Section B- Summary of Evidence

End of war and failure of Provisional government

-       The offensive in June 1917 failed, this was a fatal blow to the authority of the provisional government[1]
-        A ‘power vacuum’ formed between the Socialists and Liberals[2] as they tried to ‘patch together another government… context of the July uprising’[3]
-       The working-class Russians lost faith in the provisional government to end the war in a way which would support their best interest[4]
-       Russia’s soldiers were ill-disciplined and not interested in fighting the war any longer[5]
-       The army was sceptical of fighting for the provisional government, in fear that they may still have expansionist aims[6] so, looked for a radical change along with the Russian people who looked for more extreme policies.[7]
-       Soldiers and sailors were particularly disaffected and formed a natural military force for the Bolsheviks[8]


-       The Bolsheviks manipulated their way in to high status positions within the middle class[9]
-       Lenin knew that the Bolsheviks policies would not appeal to the average Russian, and resorted to popularism[10]
-       Lenin was inconsistent- his policy changed from nationalisation of the land, to allowing the peasantry to divide it amongst themselves[11]
-       Lenin saw national struggles as ‘something to exploit’ and ‘had no intention of respecting…self-determination once in power’[12]
-       When it stood in the way of the revolution, Lenin had a cavalier attitude to his own slogans[13]

Lenin’s character and motives

-       October revolution was perceived as an organised and well-managed popular uprising
-       Lenin ordered Bolsheviks to go on a propaganda fuelled campaign, handing out ‘Pravda’ newspaper to all factory workers who had sparked the March revolution (1500000 copies distributed to the factory workers per week)[14]
-       Lenin’s urgency and determination for revolution was highlighted in his letters to central committee member, the basic thought expressed in them is: objection, and resentment against a passive, Menshevik attitude to revolution[15]

Section C- Evaluation of Sources

Lessons of October- Trotsky:

"Lessons of October" was first published in October 1924, when Trotsky was in a power-struggle with Kamenev, Zinoviev and Stalin; all of them were keen to display their ideological credentials by writing wordy volumes of political theory.[16] It purports to discuss the success of the October Revolution of 1917.

Nonetheless, Trotsky misses no opportunity to portray Kamenev and Zinoviev as prevaricators, opponents of the saintly Lenin and, by strong implication, traitors to Bolshevism.[17]  He also has the confidence to criticise Lenin; but he is uncompromising in his support for Lenin's insistence on the armed uprising (of which Trotsky was chief architect).[18]To Trotsky the rightness of the Bolshevik Revolution is beyond question.[19]

Trotsky is writing seven years after the Revolution, and took part personally in many of the events. He is reliable on the opinions and motivations of the key players, providing many interesting quotes; but he has little time for events outside the debating chamber, the ones he does describe inevitably serve to prove some point he is making. To Trotsky, the period between the two Revolutions was an endless round of conferences, which represented "stages in the evolution of divergent views"; whether or not the proletariat was ready for armed insurrection was debated and decided by Lenin.

Few could admire Trotsky for this arrogant, self-congratulatory, unworldly piece.  He sees the success of October as a fulfilment of Marx's prophecies, when it was clearly something much more prosaic.

A People’s Tragedy- Orlando Figes:

Orlando Figes sees the revolution as a tragedy, unlike Trotsky. He covers the years up until 1924, the year that Trotsky wrote his essay, ‘Lessons of October. Whereas Trotsky was writing about the period between the two revolutions, Figes says that ‘previous histories of the revolution have been too narrowly focused on the events of 1917’.[20]

Figes writes with the benefit of hindsight. He knows that Russian Communism was doomed to failure, and unlike Trotsky, he has no vested interest in declaring the revolution a success, creating a more fair-minded account.[21]

Trotsky is not interested in people, except his fellow politicians, as individuals. Figes writes about the revolution through they eyes of specific persons, ordinary as well as famous.

If one wanted a detailed discussion of the ideological differences between Lenin and his opponents, one might favour Trotsky over Figes.

At times, Figes gives much irrelevant detail, which can distract from the necessary points that he does make. However, this works in his favour as it saves the book from being dry and dull.

Section D- Analysis

The hardest part of the October Revolution was the decision on 10th October, by the Bolshevik Central Committee for it to take place. Although Soviet propaganda, such as Eisenstein's film ‘October’, romanticised the action, the Red Guards met little resistance.  Even after Zinoviev and Kamenev made the resolution public, the Provisional Government took no action. Trotsky himself plays it down.[22]

The months between February and October were turbulent in many Russian cities:  unemployment and prices rose, peasants rioted; workers, soldiers and sailors went on strike. The Provisional Government was unelected, and neither strong nor popular.

On 3 April, the Germans “turned upon Russia the most grisly of all weapons".[23] Lenin returned from exile. In his April Theses he had written: ‘our task is ... to present a… systematic, and persistent explanation of the errors of their tactics’.[24] From September he argued unwaveringly for an immediate armed rising. The revolution of 1905 had been, in his words, a ‘dress rehearsal’[25]: he saw that socialism could be achieved without a bourgeois revolution. But the October Manifesto had succeeded in splitting the opposition. And in 1917, the Soviets were no less divided.

June 1917, Congress of Soviets: Irakli Tsereteli asserted that no single party could take power and maintain order. From the back of the hall, Lenin shouted, "There is such a party: the Bolshevik Party !"[26]

At this time the Bolsheviks were firmly in the minority in the Congress, Kerensky's response to Lenin was withering.[27]

In the July Days, while Lenin was uncharacteristically hesitant, various local Bolsheviks rabble-roused. Gorky was disgusted by the ‘philistinism’ of the crowd.[28] Afterwards, many Bolsheviks were imprisoned: it was a low point for them.

But when Kornilov marched his army towards Petrograd, Kerensky turned to the Bolsheviks[29], the only faction with significant influence in the army and among railway workers. Lenin was willing, but he made it clear that they were not uniting with the Provisonal Government, but exposing its weakness: they would save it, in order to overthrow it later .[30] 

By  the end of the Kornilov farce, the Government was weaker still: Kerensky stood alone, an indecisive dictator, and commander of an army which would not obey him.
The Bolsheviks emerged with credit, and their popularity increased: in local elections in Petrograd in June, their share of the vote had been 12%;[31] in September, it was 51%.[32]  In the Soviets, the effect was not so obvious: Bolsheviks were still usually a minority in the assembly, but increasingly a majority in the executive. [33] The reason for this surge in influence was that the Bolsheviks were seen as ‘the only ... party which stood uncompromisingly for Soviet power’.[34]

Trotsky ascribes the success of the 'almost “legal” armed insurrection'[35] to the ‘dual power’ which the Soviets wielded alongside the Provisional Government, and which the Bolsheviks exploited to extremes when they achieved a majority in the Petrograd Soviet.[36] It was never constitutional. The Soviets had ‘power without authority’.[37]

Section E- Conclusion

The provisional government was seen as a continuation of the old government. They were unelected and not a democracy at all. The people desired change and the Bolsheviks, appealed to popular emotion with slogans and manipulations. They had nerve, and cheek, which allowed them to assert themselves into society and entice Russians. Up until the Kornilov affair, the Bolsheviks were making little progress in claiming leadership. It was this event that marked the turning point for the Bolsheviks; as the Provisional government became weaker, the Bolsheviks grew stronger. Although the Bolsheviks appealed to the sympathy’s and emotion of the popular majority, with their promises of ‘Peace, Bread, and Land’, they were insincere and never intended to give any rule to the people or bring autocracy to Russia. It was the conditions that Russians inhabited due to the Provisional government, and the manipulative nature of the Bolsheviks that allowed Lenin to achieve revolution in October 1917.

Section F- List of Sources

Figes, Orlando. A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924. London: Jonathan Cape, 1996. Print Fitzpatrick, Shiela. The Russian Revolution

Service, Robert, and Robert Service. A History of Modern Russia: From Tsarism to the Twenty-first Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2009. Print.

Trotsky, Leon, and Max Eastman. The History of the Russian Revolution. New York, NY: Anchor Foundation, 1980. Print.

Service, Robert. Society and Politics in the Russian Revolution. New York: St. Martin's, 1992. Print.

Ulam, Adam B. Lenin and the Bolsheviks: The Intellectual and Political History of the Triumph of Communism in Russia. London: Secker & Warburg, 1966. Print.

Service, Rober. Lenin: A Political Life. Vol. 1. N.p.: MacMillan, 1991. Print.

Pipes, Richard. The Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism, 1917-1923. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1964. Print.

Trotsky, Leon, and John G. Wright. Lessons of October. New York: Pioneer, 1937. Print.

Pipes, Richard. The Russian Revolution. New York: Knopf, 1990. Print.

Trotsky, Leon. The Challenge of the Left Opposition. New York: Pathfinder, 1975. Print.

American Peace Society. Advocate of Peace through Justice: Volume 87
Lawson, David C. "Journals of the American Peace Society: Advocate of Peace (1837-1932)." World Affairs 141.2, Celebrating 150 Years of the American Peace Society (1978): 183-95. JSTOR. Web. 29 Sept. 2014. .

Lenin, Vladimir Ilʹich. The April Theses. Moscow: Progress, 1970. Print.

Sakwa, Richard. The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union, 1917-1991. London: Routledge, 1999. Print.

Lenin. ‘To the Central Committee of the RSDLP: Volume 25. Lenin, Vladimir Ilʹich. Report on Peace, Delivered at the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, October 26 (November 8), 1917, Home and Foreign Policy of the Republic, Report of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee and the Council of People's Commissars to the Ninth All-Russian Congress of Soviets, December 23, 1921. Moscow: Foreign Languages Pub. House, 1963. Print.

Anweiler, Oskar. Los Soviets En Rusia: 1906-1921. N.p.: Zero, 1975. Print.

Pitcher, Harvey J. Witnesses of the Russian Revolution. London: John Murray, 1994. Print.
Churchill, Winston S. The World Crisis, 1911-1918. Vol. 5. N.p.: Free, 1931. Print.

[1] orlandofiges.info- Section 5- The Summer Collapse
[2] The Russian Revolution, Sheila Fitzpatrick, p.40
[3] orlandofiges.info- Section 5- The Summer Collapse
[4] Russia: Experiment with a People, Robert Service, p.50
[5] A History of Modern Russia from Nicholas II to Vladimir Putin, Robert Service, p.53
[6] ibid.
[7]  Barron’s Regents Exams and Answer: Global history, Phillip Lefton, Michal J. Romano, Mary Martin, p.307, “The majority of the Russian people were not Communists, but were displeased with the government”
[8] A History of the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky, V1, Chapter 13: The Army and the War
[9]  Robert Service. Society and Politics in the Russian Revolution 1992, p.147
[10] A. Ulam. Lenin and the Bolsheviks, p. 353-4
[11] Robert Service. Lenin: A Political Life, Volume 2, p337
[12] The formation of the Soviet Union, Richard Pipes, p.49, 51, 53
[13] ‘All power to the Soviets’ ibid.
[15] ‘Delay is criminal. To wait for the Congress of Soviets would be a childish game of formalities… and a betrayal of the revolution’ CW, Vol.26, Letter to the Central Committee, the Moscow and Petrograd Committees and the Bolshevik Members of the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets (October 1, 1917), p.141]
[16] A People’s Tragedy, Orlando Figes, p.795
[17] Lessons of October, Trotsky- Chapter 5-The July Days; the Kornilov Episode; the Democratic Conference and the Pre-Parliament
[18] Lessons of October, Trotsky- Chapter 7, ‘it is quite clear that to prepare the insurrection and to carry it out under cover of preparing for the Second Soviet Congress and under the slogan of defending it, was of inestimable advantage to us’
[19] ‘Russia cast off the filthy garments of bourgeois domination’ Lessons of October, Trotsky- Chapter 5
[20] A people’s tragedy, Orlando Figes: preface xviii
[21] Times literary supplement
[22] ‘our bloodless victory in Petrograd – and we could have gained it even two weeks earlier ...’ Trotsky’s Lessons of October, Chapter 7
[23] Winston Churchill, The World Crisis, Volume 5
[24] April Theses: Thesis 4
[25] Orlando Figes, A people’s Tragedy, page 210
[26] Sakwa, The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union 1917-1991, doc 2.4, pg. 39, quoting Pravda
[27] ‘Recognition of the fact that in most of the Soviets of Workers' Deputies our Party is ... so far a small minority’ Lenin, April Theses, Thesis 4
[28] ‘Nobody knew the aims of the uprising or its leaders’ Orlando Figes, A people’s Tragedy, page 429
[29] ibid, page 451
[30] Lenin, Collected Works, "To the Central Committee of the RSDLP", vol. 25, pp. 285-6
[31] Anweiler, Los Soviets en Rusia, 1905-1921, p. 188
[32] ibid.
[33] Trotsky’s Lessons of October, chapter 7"... the outcome of the insurrection of October 25 was at least three-quarters settled ... the moment that we opposed the transfer of the Petrograd garrison; created the Revolutionary Military Committee (October 16); appointed our own commissars in all army divisions and institutions; and thereby completely isolated not only the general staff of the Petrograd zone, but also the government”
[34] Orlando Figes, ‘A people’s Tragedy, page 460
[35] ibid.
[36] ‘This was, so to speak, part of the constitution under the regime ...’ ibid.
[37] Prince Lvov, quoted by H.Pitcher, Witnesses of the Russian Revolution, Ch. 6