Russian Revolution

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Meeting at the Blagovescenskaya Square, 1917

The Russian Revolution was a period of political and social revolution across the territory of the Russian Empire, commencing with the abolition of the monarchy in 1917, and concluding in 1923 after the Bolshevik establishment of the Soviet Union and end of the Russian Civil War.


  • The Russian revolution was nominally based on Communist dogma; but its significant struggle was to find some instrument by which a vast backward country could be mauled into industrialization. The capitalist revolution in which the United States was the leader found apter, more efficient and more flexible means through collectivizing capital in corporations.
  • The Great Socialist October Revolution, carried out by the workers and peasants of Russia under the leadership of the Communist Party, headed by V. I. Lenin, overturned the power of the capitalists and landowners, broke the chains of oppression, established the dictatorship of the proletariat, and created the Soviet state-a state of a new type, the basic instrument to defend the revolutionary achievements and to build socialism and communism. The worldwide historical turning-point of mankind from capitalism to socialism began. Having emerged victorious in the civil war and having repulsed imperialist intervention, Soviet power has wrought the most profound socio-economic transformations, forever put an end to the exploitation of man by man and to class antagonisms and national hostility. The association of Soviet Republics in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics enhanced the forces and possibilities of the people of the country for the building of socialism. Public ownership of the means of production and genuine democracy for the working masses were consolidated. For the first time in the history of mankind, a socialist society was created.
  • Each local Cheka had its own speciality. In Kharkov they went in for the ‘glove trick’ — burning the victim’s hands in boiling water until the blistered skin could be peeled off: this left the victims with raw and bleeding hands and their torturers with ‘human gloves’. The Tsaritsyn Cheka sawed its victims’ bones in half. In Voronezh they rolled their naked victims in nail-studded barrels. In Armavir they crushed their skulls by tightening a leather strap with an iron bolt around their head. In Kiev they affixed a cage with rats to the victim’s torso and heated it so that the enraged rats ate their way through the victim’s guts in an effort to escape. In Odessa they chained their victims to planks and pushed them slowly into a furnace or a tank of boiling water. A favourite winter torture was to pour water on the naked victims until they became living ice statues. Many Chekas preferred psychological forms of torture. One had the victims led off to what they thought was their execution, only to find that a blank was fired at them. Another had the victims buried alive, or kept in a coffin with a corpse.
    • Orlando Figes, A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924, p. 646
  • Each communist party was the child of the marriage of two ill-assorted partners, a national left and the October revolution. That marriage was based both on love and convenience. For anyone whose political memories go back no farther than Khruschev's denunciation of Stalin, or the Sino-Soviet split, it is almost impossible to conceive what the October revolution meant to those who are now middle-aged and old. It was the first proletarian revolution, the first regime in history to set about the construction of the socialist order, the proof both of the profundity of the contradictions of capitalism, which produced wars and slumps, and of the possibility - the certainty - that socialist revolution would succeed. It was the beginning of world revolution. It was the beginning of the new world. Only the naive believed that Russia was the workers' paradise, but even among the sophisticated it enjoyed the general indulgence which the left of the 1960s now gives only to revolutionary regimes in some small countries, such as Cuba and Vietnam.
    • Eric Hobsbawm, "Problems of Communist History" (1969), published in Revolutionaries: Contemporary Essays (1973)
  • Looking back one perceives only a massive operation, struggle, and action. In reality there were no heroes or leaders. It was the people, the working people, in soldiers' uniform or in civilian attire, who controlled the situation and who recorded its will indelibly in the history of the country and mankind. It was a sultry summer, a crucial summer of the revolutionary flood-tide in 1917!
  • At Odessa, the Cheka tied White officers to planks and slowly fed them into furnaces or tanks of boiling water; in Kharkiv, scalpings and hand-flayings were commonplace: the skin was peeled off victims’ hands to produce ‘gloves’; the Voronezh Cheka rolled naked people around in barrels studded internally with nails; victims were crucified or stoned to death at Dnipropetrovsk; the Cheka at Kremenchuk impaled members of the clergy and buried alive rebelling peasants; in Orel, water was poured on naked prisoners bound in the winter streets until they became living ice statues; in Kiev, Chinese Cheka detachments placed rats in iron tubes sealed at one end with wire netting and the other placed against the body of a prisoner, with the tubes being heated until the rats gnawed through the victim’s body in an effort to escape.
    • George Leggett, The Cheka: Lenin’s Political Police, pp 197-198
  • The Russian Revolution of 1917 was patently a continuation of the French Revolution of 1789 in its eastern advance. It smashed autocracy, gave land to the peasants, liberated oppressed nationalities, and in addition promised to rid the industrial system of the blemishes of exploitation. In its heroic age, Soviet socialism was given selfless support by the writers and artists of the West. They steeled their muscles in an epic defence of freedom, democracy, and socialism against the pagan upsurge of Teutonic fascism. Hitler’s persecution of Bolsheviks and Jews was in the last resort directed against Christian universalism and its derivatives in the industrial present. His onslaught on traditional values, root and branch, created the modern West.
  • THE Russian Revolution is one of the great heroic events of the world s history. It is natural to compare it to the French Revolution, but it is in fact something of even more importance. It does more to change daily life and the structure of society : it also does more to change men s beliefs. The difference is exemplified by the difference between Marx and Rousseau : the latter sentimental and soft, appealing to emotion, obliterating sharp out lines ; the former systematic like Hegel, full of hard intellectual content, appealing to historic necessity and the technical development of industry, suggesting a view of human beings as puppets in the grip of omnipotent material forces. Bolshevism combines the characteristics of the French Revolution with those of the rise of Islam ; and the result is something radically new, which can only be understood by a patient and passionat effort of imagination.
  • By disrupting the capitalist order and weakening the great empires, the First World War brought an obvious opportunity to revolutionaries. Most Marxists, however, had by then grown accustomed to working within national political systems, and chose to support their governments in time of war. Not so Vladimir Lenin, a subject of the Russian Empire and a leader of the Bolsheviks. His voluntarist understanding of Marxism, the belief that history could be pushed onto the proper track, led him to see the war as a great chance. For a voluntarist such as Lenin, assenting to the verdict of history gave Marxists a license to issue it themselves. Marx did not see history as fixed in advance but as the work of individuals aware of its principles. Lenin hailed from largely peasant country, which lacked, from a Marxist perspective, the economic conditions for revolution. Once again, he had a revolutionary theory to justify his revolutionary impulse. He believed that colonial empires had granted the capitalist system an extended lease on life, but that a war among empires could bring general revolution. The Russian Empire rumbled first, and Lenin made his move. The suffering soldiers and impovershed peasants of the Russian Empire were in revolt in early 1917. After a popular uprising brought down the Russian monarchy that February, a new liberal regime sought to win the war by one more military offensive against its enemies, the German Empire and the Hapsburg monarchy. At this point Lenin became the secret weapon of Germany. The Germans dispatched Lenin from Swiss exile to the Russian capital Petrograd that April, to make a revolution that would take Russia from the war. With the help of his charismatic ally Leon Trotsky and his disciplined Bolsheviks, Lenin achieved a coup d'état with some popular support in November. In early 1918, Lenin's new government signed a peace treaty with Germany that left Belarus, Ukraine, the Baltics, and Poland under German control. Thanks in part to Lenin, Germany won the war on the eastern front, and had a brief taste of eastern empire.
    • Timothy D. Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. New York: Basic Books, 2010

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