The Uprising of 1917


MarxCredit: Google Images

The Soviet Union was the world's first attempt at a communist government.  A government that the historian Marx idealized as a final, end-all, human government.  Marx theorized that humans would eventually gravitate towards a communist government.  This is the way he believed it broke down. 

  • Feudal society:  The structure of government is dependent on a monarchy, nobles to enforce the will of the monarch and the church to keep the under classes "peasants" content with the status quo.  The means of production and labor are controlled by the monarchy and the structure of government is dependent on a king. 

Overtime Marx believed that society would transition to a new structure.  This structure would take the form of a mercantilist society controlled by a King who shared powers with a merchant class, the bourgeoisie.

  •  Mercantilism:  This form of government is a transition between a monarchy and the total domination of the bourgeoisie.  During this phase of human government the monarchy would give up powers to the bourgeoisie (merchants) either through force or by the reformist nature of kings and queens.  We can see two examples of this in France and England. 
  • In the French Revolution the bourgeoisie took control of what Marx would call the means of production through armed rebellion.
  • In England a long process gradually transformed the monarchy from an absolutist model to a weak constitutional model (as it remains today). 

The ultimate phase of transformation and the structure of government depends on one crucial element in the merchantilism model.  Eventually, the monarchy would begin to expand and during his expansion merchants would be needed to gather raw materials and develop new means of production and labor for the Kingdom.  During this process, reforms would be enacted that transfered power to merchants.  Ultimately this would lead to a purely capitalistic model of government where the merchants now controlled the state and means of production. 

  • Capitalism:  Marx believed that Capitalism would be the penultimate step in the transformation of government into a communist state.  During this phase the structure of the government would depend on the merchants who replaced the King, Nobles, and Church during the merchantilism period. 
  • The Merchants would change the state from an absolutist monarchy into a republic or parlimentary system.  Power would be divided amonst the legislature, executive, and judicial branches.  According to Marx, Merchants would dominate the state's government and economy through money. 
  • The Merchants would continue to exploit the under classes, the proletariat, although in this system the proletariat would have a greater voice through sufferage.  Arguably, the proletariat would have just as much of a say as the merchants, but according to Marx the power of money would dwarf anything the proletariat could do to change government and thus they would still be servants to their new masters. 

Marx was unsure how long this model of government, capitalism, would last for.  But, he believed that eventually the proletariat would rise up and overthrow the capitalist system.  During this process they would seize the power of the government and means of production for themselves.  This occured in the Russian Empire during World War I in a period known as the October Revolution of 1917. 

The Communist Manifesto

The Communist Manifesto
Credit: Wikipedia

The Communist Manifesto is the blueprint to what an ideal Communist state would look like.  It was used during the October Revolution and later revolutions as a guide to form a new communist state.

The End of an Era

The Russian Empire had long since dominated a wide mass of territory in Europe and Asia.  During World War I, Tsar Nicholas II led the charge against the Second Reich.  His military was failing to gain ground and by 1917 millions of Russian soldiers had perished.  The loss of life and failure to main gains against the Germans on the Eastern Front provoked mass resentment in the Empire.  Citizens were looking for a new government to lead them and Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate the throne. 

Tsar NicholasCredit: Google Images

Due to the constant military setbacks many people wanted the Russian Tsar to abdicate the throne.  New political forces were emerging split along republican and socialist lines and the February Revolution produced a massive armed revolt.  This led to Tsar Nicholas's abdication.  The Russian Provincial Government was formed between capitalists/republicans and the socialists.  This was set up along side the Petrograd Soviet Assembly and the system was meant to share power between the new political forces that had emerged in Russia:  Socialists and Republicans.  However, many citizens were not swayed by the new system because it honored the military arrangment with the allied forces.  Russian soldier were still being killed on the Eastern Front and the Germans were still advancing.  People were starving as much of the provisions, bread, was being sent to feed the soldiers.  This would lead to the October Revolution in which the Communist forces under Lenin and called the Bolsheviks seized complete power from the provisional power. 

  • It should be noted that the Russians used an older calendar called the Julian calendar and this calendar had been widely replaced by the world.  They replaced it with the Gregorian calendar.  So when we refer to the February revolution it was actually March and the October revolution was actually November by our standards. 
Revolution 2Credit: Google Images

The October Revolution was an organized revolution in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) by the communist forces under Lenin.  They seized control from the constitutional assembly or also known as the provisional government.  Local soviets were established throughout the former Russian Empire.  These soviets were small, local, assemblies and they were dominated by Lenin's Bolshevik party. 

Revolution 3Credit: Google Images

The soviets immediately gave power from the provisional government that had shared power equally between socialists and republicans to the Bolshevik party (communist party).  The Bolsheviks then established the Russian Federative Socialist Republic.  This would become the world's first socialist state.  The October Revolution was spearheaded by the communists in Petrograd.  They used the public's discontent for both the Tsar and provisional government to foster that into an armed rebellion.  This rebellion was successful in seizing power from the last monarchists, republicans, and peaceful socialists who were willing to compromise. 



After the October Revolution which happened in November by the Gregorian Calendar the Bolsheviks began to reorganize the state in accordance to Lenin's vision of marxist philosophy.  However, the road to a utopian communist government which was idealized by Marx would not be easy. 

RevolutionCredit: Google Images

There would be massive backlash around the world to the new communist government because this type of government would threaten liberal western governments and even social democrats. 

  • Social Democrats were socialists but they favored a gradual approach to creating a socialist state.  They did not want to get their hands bloody and did not favor armed rebellions to overthrow existing governments.  They wanted to transform it from within. 

Because of this many western powers, following World War I, sent troops, aid, and money to both the white army who were the anti-bolshevik forces.  However, they failed in their goals and by 1922 the Russian Civil War had ended in a Bolshevik Party victory. 

Further Reading

The Russian Revolution
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