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Russian Revolution

The 7th of November 1917

We rather blithely refer to the Russian Revolution as if there were only one, which is patently not the case. In 1905 strikes, violence and mutinies amounting to a revolution saw major concessions by the previously absolutist regime. Earlier in 1917 what seemed to have been a spontaneous uprising saw the fall of the Tsar and the establishment of a provisional centre-left government, though the Petrograd Soviet rivalled it for power. And for several years from 1918 anti-Bolshevik forces attempted a counter-revolution.

But the one that counted, that brought Lenin and the Communists to power, that put in place a system holding until the last decade of the 20th century, was the one that began on November 7 1917 — though as Russia worked to the old Julian calendar it is called the October Revolution, October 25 there equating to November 7 in the West.

The date of October 25 (November 7) is given as the date of the revolution because it was then that the Provisional Government was overthrown, its seat at the Winter Palace falling to forces led by Lenin in a rather bloodless coup, subsequently depicted by Soviet historians as a bold storming of the gates against strong government forces.

But such matters are seldom so neatly delineated: workers across Russia had been striking for weeks and more; many factories had already been seized by local soviets (workers' committees); and two days prior to Lenin's attack Estonian Communist leader Jaan Anvelt had grabbed power in his country (conveniently left out of conventional Soviet histories for many years as he died during Stalin's Great Purge in 1937).

It is impossible to regret the fall of the Russian monarchy, for so long detached, absolutist, repressive, its last Tsar a fool. The Kerensky government, on the other hand, had the potential to bring liberal democracy and the rule of law to the country. Lenin ensured this would not be the case. The dictatorship of the proletariat, in fact of the party, held sway for more than 70 years, 31 of them with Joseph Stalin as leader.

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