How did the Bolsheviks take over Russia?

Expert Answers
hi1954 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Russian Civil War was not the means of seizing power, but of consolidation.  The Bolsheviks were firmly in power by Christmastime of 1917, and the Civil War raged through 1921.  The Bolsheviks seized power because of three main reasons, the weakness of the Provisional Government, the cohesion of Lenin's followers and the fact that he had ready money and his opponents did not.

The Kerensky government, formed after the May, 1917 overthrow of the tsarist regime, was determined to stay in World War I to support the French.  The people as a whole were sick of the war and consequently the Provisional powers lost the support of the masses.  The government's inability to effectively deal with hunger in the cities or control the tsarist counterrevolution or the left-wing agitators of the more radical socialist, communist and anarchist factions made things worse.  The moderate liberals of Kerensky's government simply lost control.

Lenin's reputation with the more radical factions was immense, although many came to see him as a potential tyrant as the year continued.  The Social Democrats split into the Menshevik and Bolshevik factions ("minority" and "majority" respectively, although the Bolsheviks were in fact a small minority of the party), and none of the other radical parties had any real power base outside of very localized centers, usually in Moscow.  Lenin's ruthless pursuit of one central goal served him well, as did his grasp of propaganda and the competence of his followers (Stalin, Trotsky, etc.).  The third factor was simply having funds at hand, something no other political group had.

When the Germans put Lenin on a sealed train in the spring of 1917 and sent him from Switzerland to Moscow they put on the train with him one million dollars US in gold bullion, which was an amount able to finance a great deal of activity. No other faction in the revolution had such ready cash, and the government was barely able to economically function at all.  These things, combined with the practicality of Lenin's plans (and Trotsky's military acumen) for seizing food in the countryside for distribution in the cities, the military attacking of tsarist forces and other so-called "counterrevolutionary" groups (which meant, in the end, all of Lenin's enemies) and the Czech Legion fighting along the Trans-Siberian railway lines, lifted him to leadership.

This, of course, brings up the question of who financed Lenin.  The answer is that the money came through Swiss banks from a consortium of Swiss, British and American businessmen and bankers.  After the initial funds Lenin carried to Russia with him the Bolsheviks were financed to the tune of at least $20 million by, among others, Jabob Schiff, Sir George Buchanon, Olaf Ashberg of the Nye Bank of Stockholm, Albert Wiggin and W. B. Thompsaons (president and a director respectively of the Chase National Bank of New York), and various directors of Royal Dutch Shell and Standard Oil, among many others.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first signs of unrest in Russia that were perceptible occurred in 1905 when some citizens were carrying a peitition to the Czar.  Soldiers dispersed the crowd by shooting at them and killing several, fomenting the peasants further.Greater discontent arose and strikes paralyzed the city.  When the people grew more discontent and the Tsar weakened and was indecisive in decision-makings.  The effect of the February revolution was the abdication of the Czar and the creation of the Provisional government.  However, the Provisional government had to share power with the Petrograd Soviet of Workers and Soldiers Deputies.  This counter-government issued its own orders such as Order #1, which lead to the total collapse of army discipline and many soldiers started to return home.  Improvement in the social way of life was necessary if the peasants were to be happy.  However, the government issued fews improvements, leading to uncooperative efforts.

Then, in 1917 the Bolshevik party,who possessed twenty thousand members. grew stronger as populist slogans attracted the people.  Furthermore, Lenin promised them land reform, the end to the war, and an improvements in the social class.  This time was a perfect opportunity for this very talented social leader, Lenin and his party to take power in Russia.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

And they also took power in Russia through clever planning and manipulation of their public image.  For example, the word "Bolshevik" means something like "majority", while "Menshevik" means minority.  In reality, communist "Bolsheviks" were the "Mensheviks" - they did not have majority support in the country or government or military, but they named and branded themselves ther majority to convince folks that they did.  It worked pretty well.

The civil war pohnpei mentions above was fought brilliantly, I might add.  The Red Army of the revolution was like none the world had seen.  Not so much in size and power, but in organization.  It may have been the best example of true equality and communism they ever actually put in place.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I suppose I would say they took power in three ways.

  1. They took power militarily.  This is the most obvious one.  They fought a civil war with the "White Russians" that ended up with the communists winning.  This put them in control of the country.
  2. They took power through political actions and protests.  They helped to cause the disturbances that overthrew the Tsar and put Kerensky's government in power.
  3. They took over by subversion.  For example, they managed to the get army in St. Petersburg to come over to their side.
britt1310 | Student

I think the biggest set back that the Bolsheviks faced was that even though they were following Karl Marx’s ideology of a socialist system, they really did not know how to go about it. They declared ownership of most firms and forced peasants to turn over a share of their output, they controlled production and distribution. Then they started giving some private ownership away. Then came nationalization, where they nationalized banking and credit and individual large firms. Soon they nationalized smaller firms like artisan workshops and windmills, and with essentially all power lay with them. There were bread rations, restriction on travel and lots of empty promises that claimed that the workers were top priority. However, the workers did not feel that way. They wanted election, freedom to travel, no searches at the rail stations, equal bread rations to match the Red Guards, and funding for unemployment. Basically too much power and a very unfair one at that lay with them and the people were unhappy under the Bolsheviks, especially since they were just recovering from a war. The Bolsheviks promised them a lot, but failed to deliver.

krishna-agrawala | Student

Bolshevik refers to a faction of Communist party of Russia. This party called Russian Social Democratic labour Party, split in two groups in 1903. V.V. Lenin headed the bigger of the two faction, which was called Bolsheviks, which meant majority in Russian Language. The other faction in contrast was described as Mensheviks.The Bolsheviks wanted party membership to be limited to full time active members.

Lenin and his supporters gained the control of powerful part organs such as the newspaper and the Central Committee. Eventually it became the only party in control of the Russian revolution. Bolsheviks faction led by Lenin became the All-Russian Communist (Bolshevik) party in March 1918. The word Bolshevik was dropped from the name in 1952.

The opposition to the Rule of Czar had been growing steadily since early 1900's. The resolve of the people received a great boost in 1905 as a backlash the incident called Bloody Sunday in which firing by by Russian troops on peaceful protesters killed and wounded hundreds of people. The protest continued for more than a decade without any decisive results.

In the meantime World war I started in 1914 and Germany declared war on Russia on August 1. Russia faced major setbacks during this war, but the opposition of Bolsheviks to the Czar continued. With deteriorating economic situation bought about by war the protests by people increased further and the Czar gave up the throne on March 15, 1917, establishing a democratic government. However the Bolsheviks were not satisfied with the government set up by Czar and demanded all power for the people. At this time Lenin was abroad returned to Russia and quickly took control of Bolsheviks.In retaliation the government ordered arrest of Lenin on charges of being a German agent. In Response Lenin fled to Finland.

Lenin returned in October 1917 and urged the Central Committee of Bolsheviks to begin a revolt immediately. In the subsequent action in response to this Bolsheviks seized Petrograd on November 7, 1917 quite easily. The control of Moscow was more difficult. But by November Bolsheviks gained control of Moscow. In this way Bolsheviks took control of government in Russia.

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question