A red curtain has fallen: how the Russian revolution still resonates today

The end, when it came, was relatively bloodless after the carnage that had preceded it and what was to follow.

A blank shot from the Aurora battle cruiser on the Neva River signaled the departure. Bolshevik soldiers, the Red Guards, had already taken control of key places in Petrograd, including bridges, train stations and post offices.

The Winter Palace, seat of the provisional government, is surrounded. The only supporters left in government were a handful of cadets and the Women’s Death Battalion who, understandably given the odds against them, did not want to live up to the name. The troops remained in their barracks and did nothing to stop the takeover.

On this day in 1917, the Red Guards moved into the palace and arrested members of the government.

Russia, reluctantly, was at war – Germany had launched it against the country in August 1914.

In the same month, St. Petersburg was renamed Petrograd to make it sound less German.

The country’s ruler, Tsar Nicholas 11 did not really appreciate the role of an inspiring leader when his father, Alexander 111, died in November 1894.

Nicholas said to one of his many cousins, “What will happen to me and all of Russia? I am not ready to be a Czar. I never wanted to be. I don’t know anything about ruling affairs.

His wife, Tsarina Alexandra, had much more courage. She said to him: “Be more autocratic than Peter the Great and more severe than Ivan the Terrible.

It didn’t take him long to get used to it. “I will preserve the principle of autocracy as firmly and steadfastly as my late father,” he promised, adding: “I will in no case accept a representative form of government because I consider it harmful to the people. that God entrusted to my care.

Nicholas was related by blood and marriage to the royal houses of Great Britain, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Romania and Greece, which led to questionable incestuous relations.

A Grand Duchess wrote to a friend: “My sister and I married our mother’s first cousins. My father’s second sister was my sister’s husband’s sister-in-law; therefore, my sister became her own aunt’s sister-in-law! My husband’s father was my grandfather’s brother and I think I have become my own aunt!

the richest in the world
NICOLAS ‘family, the Romanovs, were then the richest in the world, accustomed to exquisite luxury and unconditional obedience. Nicholas and Alexandra traveled to Britain shortly after his coronation and he strikingly resembled George V.

After the Tsar, his wife and five children were arrested in 1917 and then executed, other members of the Romanovs managed to escape to Britain, thanks to the warship HMS Marlborough rescuing them.

When the Tsar’s mother and her Cossack bodyguards visited King George at Buckingham Palace, both Cossacks, believing the Tsar was still alive, fell to the ground and began to kiss George’s boots.

Other members of the Romanov family to escape were the tsar’s sister, various uncles, and Prince Yusupov – the man who murdered Rasputin.

The monk, who was hated by nobles and other members of the Imperial family, knew he was in danger of being assassinated and made a surprisingly accurate prediction that “… if it was your parents who caused my death, then no member of your family, that is to say none of your children or parents, will stay alive for more than two years ”.

What led to the October Revolution (Russia was still using the Julian calendar then) did not start as a peasant uprising but by the wealthier and more conservative elements of society, frustrated by the effort. of war. They wanted more blood and treasures spent and not appeasement or surrender, as well as the Tsar’s support for Rasputin, who was more influential than them.

Russian winter
It spread to liberals who worried about their own safety and feared the revolution from below would take place and consume them if the monarchy remained.

For millions of ordinary people, the cost of war, escalating commodity prices, food and fuel shortages during the harsh Russian winter – even the lack of arms and ammunition for soldiers because the government couldn’t afford them – motivated them to action.

It led not to one but to two revolutions. The first, in Petrograd, lasted eight days and involved strikes, protests and clashes with police and troops.

On March 8, 1917, International Women’s Day, strikers calling for an end to food shortages and war took to the city streets which, in two days, spilled over into walkouts throughout the city. The troops, ordered to shoot at the demonstrators, refused.

A week later it was all over for the Tsar. The nobles persuaded him to abdicate. He also removed his son from the lineage, and his brother Mikhail refused to accept the crown.

A provisional government of nobles was formed and Russia was declared a republic, but it was no better for settling the problems than the royal autocracy had been. In April, the wheels started to turn fatally when the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Ilyich

Lenin, returning from exile in Switzerland to Petrograd in a sealed train.

The majority – bolshe in Russian – were peasants and industrial workers who certainly did not support the new government led by nobles. They wanted the Communist policy of the Bolsheviks of Lenin and what the party slogan promised: “Peace.” Bread. Earth”.

Refused to fight
WHEN a telegram from the government to the Allied Command promising to continue the war against Germany was leaked, more strikes broke out and the peasants began to steal land from their masters. The soldiers on the front line also began to refuse to fight.

In July, a series of spontaneous anti-government armed clashes began in Petrograd, which the new prime minister, Alexander Kerensky, ruthlessly crushed and imprisoned the Bolshevik leaders.

In September, a failed coup by army chief General Kornilov targeting the Bolsheviks controlling Petrograd put even more weapons in the hands of the opposition. The end was inevitable.

In the aftermath of the capture of the Winter Palace and the overthrow of the provisional government, on November 8, the revolutionaries abolished private property, announced the nationalization of land and redistribution between the peasants as well as proposed an immediate withdrawal from the First World War. and peace.

Subsequent decrees introduced an eight-hour working day, a minimum wage, the abolition of the death penalty and, finally, votes for women.

Lost empire
A SINGLE armistice at the end of the year ended the fighting, and in March 1918 the final Treaty of Brest-Litovsk ended Russia’s involvement in the war.

Under him, Russia lost a third of the population of the old empire, a third of its rail network, half of its industry, three-quarters of its iron ore supplies, nine-tenths of its coal resources. and much of its food supply. .

Also by virtue of the treaty, Russia had to recognize the independence of Ukraine, Georgia and Finland, and it ceded Poland and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to Germany. and Austria-Hungary.

It was a bitter settlement and, like the harsh conditions imposed on Germany after the war, it fueled resentment and led to the recapture of the lost pieces of the empire as a result of World War II.

American journalist John Reed, who was in Petrograd for the October Revolution, wrote the book Ten Days That Shook The World about it, on which Hollywood star Warren Beatty based his film Reds. Beatty won an Oscar for his achievement. There was no need to mythologize.

An ideology, as Lenin said, had become a material existence.
The events leading up to the capture of the Winter Palace and what followed have altered the trajectory of history, even to this day.