Bolshevik Revolution

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The Bolshevik Revolution and World War I

Abstract: The purpose of this essay is to analyze the causes of the Bolshevik Revolution in October 1917 using academic sources. Through social, economic, and political factors, one can guarantee that the Great War was a major cause of the revolution. The Bolshevik revolution was one of the most pivotal events of contemporary European history in the 20th century. The ousting of the Tsarist regime, which also became known as Red October as a part of the greater Russian Revolution of 1917, took place on October 25th 1917 with an armed revolt. The First World War was still actively being fought as the coup d’état took place. Initially, Russia under Tsar Nicholas II had sided with the United Kingdom and France in the Triple Entente. However, the war played an incremental role in Russian affairs, giving the people an incentive to seek vast changes in their government. After the country’s establishment of the short-lived Provisional Government, it was overthrown by the Bolsheviks in Petrograd. World War I was the key factor that ignited the Bolshevik revolution, because it gave momentum to Lenin’s movement, it partly caused an economic calamity in Russia, and the downturn of the war pushed the Russians into revolution. Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik party during the revolution and possibly the most prominent communist visionaries of the 20th century, had gained support for his ideology through World War I. In 1916, Lenin wrote Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, which was a theoretical work outlining capitalism as a world system. Lenin suggested that in order to pursue a greater profit than what domestic resources permit, a global financial system would be created by capitalist nations. This would cause the division of labour to spread internationally through imperialism and colonialism, as Lenin wrote, “Imperialism emerged as the development and direct continuation of the fundamental characteristics of capitalism in general”. Thus, Lenin theorizes therein that the capitalism of the first world would therefore oppress the third world; whose workers and resources would be abused in the name of capital. World War I served as a prime example of the ideas propagated in this work, as the war between the British and German empires was seen by Lenin as a clash of capitalist-based imperialism. The war, in itself, exemplified capitalist competition, and he reacted, “The aim of proletarian policy cannot today be the ideal of restoring free competition—which has now become a reactionary ideal—but the complete elimination of competition by the abolition of capitalism.” Lenin’s position against the war largely engendered the mobilization of support for the Bolshevik party and toppled the Tsarist and Provisional regimes. The war had become very unpopular in Russia, and in return, the Tsar, who supported the war, was detested. In February 1917, rallies and riots had taken place in Petrograd denouncing the Tsar and the war, causing him to official step down in March. In response, the Provisional Government was set up by the Duma, but only eight months later, the Bolshevik revolution had taken place. Ronald W. Clark, a British World War II war correspondent with over two dozen books, stated “In 1914… most of the mass Social Democratic parties of Europe supported their homelands' war effort”. The Bolsheviks’ position against the war had been a unique one, even amongst other leftist elements. Moreover, this gave them the opportunity to attract Russian peasants and workers alike, who saw the war’s detrimental effect on the country. Although Lenin himself was a Marxist and not a pacifist, he had opposed the war in his April Theses and later signed the treaty of Brest Litovsk. Therefore, without the war, a grand backing for the anti-war Lenin and his Bolsheviks may not have occurred in Russia. The broken state of the Russian economy, which was partly caused by the Great War, was a...
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