Bolshevik Revolution

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What are some of the causes of the October (Bolshevik) Revolution in 1917?

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jilllessa eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There were really two different Russian Revolutions and there were several causes of discontent that lead to each stage of the Revolution. The longterm discontent felt by a growing middle class who wanted a voice in the government and more liberal institutions had not been satisfied by the reforms promised in 1905. Peasants were still suffering from a lack of land and starvation, and many of the ethnic groups in Russia were unhappy that the government was dominated by one ethnic group. The backwardness and oppressiveness of the government simply was not allowing for change. Then came two other issues that became catalysts to spark a revolution from the already simmering discontent.

The first of these issues was the marriage of Czar Nicholas to Alexandra and the birth of their son, Alexis, who suffered from hemophilia. The dreadful illness of her son isolated Alexandra and made her very unpopular. First, the royal family was afraid of what the public would think of the illness of the heir to the throne, so they kept his illness a secret. Alexandra increasingly withdrew from public life to take care of the boy and turned to a mystic healer, Rasputin, to ease the boy’s condition. Rasputin did not hesitate to use his influence to interfere in government policy. Since the boy's illness was a secret, rumors spread about the scandalous behavior of Rasputin and a reputed affair with the Empress. The public thought that the Empress had turned her back on the Russian people. Even the conservative members of the Czar’s government were very unhappy with this state of affairs and were willing to work against the Czar and murder Rasputin. Thus many who might have supported the Czar in his time of need were alienated from him.

The second and greater of the issues that sparked Revolution was Russia’s involvement in World War I. Russia was completely unprepared for a modern war and its army was decimated. The Czar, distracted by issues with his wife and son, made consistently bad choices and the people suffered. Millions of soldiers died in the war, farms were not being tended, and people began to starve. These conditions lead to the March Revolution, which resulted in the abdication of the Czar and a provisional government lead by moderate Democrats who wanted a constitutional government.

This moderate government failed because they were not able to turn the tide of poverty, starvation, and oppression back quickly enough. Their biggest mistake was the failure to get Russia out of The Great War. Peasants were still dying and starving. Finally, the peasants and soldiers refused to fight and turned to the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, who promised an end to the war. Lenin and his Bolsheviks took over the government in what is called the November Revolution, and the Soviet Union was born.

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The fundamental cause of the Bolshevik Revolution was Russia’s backwards and oppressive economic, social, and political system.  The peasants (in particular) and workers had been oppressed for so long by aristocrats and economic elites that they were tired of the old system and ready for a new one.  The Russia tsars had contributed to this by perpetuating a system that allowed for very little political expression by the lower classes.  All of this came to a head because of the disaster that was Russia’s involvement in World War I.  The war went so badly that Russians felt emboldened to rise up and throw off the monarchy.  They had little faith in Kerensky’s provisional government.  This allowed the Bolsheviks to initiate their rebellion in October, 1917.

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