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Peace! Land! Bread!

Who Made The October Revolution

Via The NY Transfer News Service * All the News that Doesn't Fit

By John Catalinotto

In Russia in 1917 millions of people changed the history of the world. There are two versions of what happened. One is favored by the billionaires and bankers who still rule much of the earth, and by the pro-capitalist clique now in power in Moscow. The other is the true story.

In the landlord's and boss's version, Russia's ruler, Czar Nicholas Romanov II, was basically a good monarch who was losing a costly war. In March 1917 a popular demonstration replaces the czar with a true democrat, Alexander Kerenski. Too naive for his own good, Kerenski fails to crush the Bolsheviks, a group of plotters led by V.I. Lenin. In November 1917 a Bolshevik coup overthrows Kenenski and rules Russia with an iron hand for 74 years.

This version has little to do with what really happened in Russia that year.


Czar Nicholas II was a tyrant who ruled 70 million Russians and 90 million colonized people from Finland to the Far East. He headed a gang of counts and other nobles, owners of vast tracts of land. He helped them squeeze their peasants like slaves, using police and army as a club and whip to keep them in line.

To expand his empire, the czar dragged 10 million peasants into World War I's bloody slaughter. One and a half million people had been killed by March 1917, and another 4 million maimed. The country was in ruins.

Workers and peasants were starved so the war could continue. They began to call Nicholas the famine czar.

At the same time, nobles and industrialists flaunted their wealth and waste in the capital, St. Petersburg. They were as gross as Donald Trump holding a champagne picnic lunch in New York City's Central Park while homeless people get scraps.

Throughout the winter of 1916-1917 St. Petersburg's workers grew furious at this state of affairs. Women textile workers were the angriest. The czar had forced them off the farms to work 60 hours a week in St. Petersburg's factories--if they wanted to eat--just as he had forced their brothers, sons and husbands to the war.

They wanted peace. They wanted bread. They started a revolution.


The women workers begin a strike with a mass demonstration on March 8, International Women's Day. Some 90,000 workers follow them into battle. Ever larger sections of the working class clash with the czarist police in the freezing streets of St. Petersburg.

The czar's officials call out the army. Women workers especially plead with their fellow toilers in uniform: "Put down your bayonets--join us."

An officer orders the troops to fire. The troops hesitate. The officer points his gun at the head of the most rebellious soldier:

"Shoot the workers or I'll kill you."

At this decisive moment, a shot rings out from crowd. The officer lies dead. The soldiers go over to the strikers.

When the soldiers see the workers determined to push to victory, they become ready to risk all. They desert the army in the thousands, bringing their weapons over to the revolution. They are determined to overthrow the hated czar or die.

Five days after the women begin the strike the Romanovs' reign is over.

The czar no longer heads the government. Bourgeois members of parliament--who never confronted the czar but are anxious to gobble up the spoils of the battle--appear on the spot. These bankers, lawyers, industrialists and capitalists rush in to form a new Provisional Government.


At the same time, the oppressed classes and nations create their own organizations. No boss or landlord is eligible. These meetings of soldiers, workers and peasants add a new word to the international vocabulary: "soviet," the Russian word for council.

They include workers and peasants of the many nationalities colonized by the czar.

The soviets begin to make local decisions. They become a counter-government.

Lenin arrives from exile in the spring of 1917. He is so hated by the new government that he is branded an agent of Germany. Within a month, Lenin orients his party toward a new goal: to overthrow the capitalist Provisional Government and set up a workers' and peasants' government, based on the soviets. This, he says, is the only way out of the crisis.

In the early spring of 1917 the people are overjoyed that the czar is gone. Most see no need for a new revolution. They fully expect the "democrats" in the new Provisional Government, headed by Kerenski, to carry out their wishes: End the war; distribute land to the peasant; cut working hours; make sure the workers have bread.

But that's just the problem. The Provisional Government refuses to meet any of these demands. Its leaders have more in common with the Russian bosses, and the bigger bosses in France and Britain, than with the Russian peasants and workers who brought them to power.

The secret treaties that tie Russia to British and French imperialism are especially enticing to the new government. These treaties promise the Russian capitalists a warm-water port, a piece of Turkey and a piece of Persia (now Iran) if the Provisional Government continues the war. So it does.


Soldiers begin to desert the front in large numbers. Each step brings them closer to the Bolsheviks.

The soldiers join their fellow peasants and ask for land. The czar is gone. Why not distribute the land to those who work it? But the Provisional Government honors private property. It refuses to issue a decree distributing land.

The peasants begin to take the land on their own. The only party to support them is the Bolsheviks. The Provisional Government sends Cossack cavalry to attack the peasants claiming land.

In the cities workers demand an end to long hours at low pay. They demand enough to eat. But the Provisional Government decides to back the same low wage scale that has brought the bosses a 900 percent leap in profits since 1914.

There is no television, no radio. The Bolsheviks go to factory after factory, barrack after barrack, to educate the workers and soldiers and convince them about seizing state power themselves. Each night, thousands flood meeting halls to hear the Bolshevik leaders.

In April and May strikes bring more and more workers to the ranks of the most revolutionary party, the Bolsheviks. By June three-quarters of the shop committees of the organized workers in St. Petersburg--now called Petrograd--have come over to the Bolsheviks.

The Bolsheviks face a setback early in July 1917 after a huge outpouring of workers challenges the government but ends in defeat.

The government jails Bolshevik leaders. Lenin is forced into hiding, his life in danger.

By mid-September, two big events turn the situation back to the Bolsheviks' favor. First, the Provisional Government orders a big war offensive that collapses. The troops suffer much--and note that only the Bolsheviks had been against the offensive.

Then in September a section of the pro-czarist military, headed by General Kornilov, threatens Petrograd. Led by Bolsheviks, the Petrograd workers mobilize as one to fight.

The workers are now armed. The counter-revolution dissolves before them. All Bolsheviks are released from jail.


The Bolsheviks have the confidence of the workers. In elections to the soviets in October they win majorities in the Petrograd city and region, in the Moscow city and region, and in other industrial centers.

In October soldier committees elected by their regiments march from the front to the Petrograd Soviet. Wearing their worn boots and soldier great-coats, hiding their shivers in the early Russian winter, they tell the soviet: "Take the power and end the war. Our unit will no longer obey the Provisional Government. We will only follow the orders of the soviet."

By October there is little doubt that the most active section of the population backs the Bolsheviks' call: "All power to the soviets!"

A national congress of soviets is set for Nov. 7 in Petrograd. It will be a perfect time for this body to deliberate about taking state power. But as the Bolshevik leaders explain later, to wait courts disaster. The Provisional Government could surround the congress with reactionary troops and arrest the soviet. It is more prudent to move first.

No street clashes are necessary. All that already happened in March. And it is no secret coup. The soviet leaders, now Bolsheviks, openly declare their intention to protect the Congress of Soviets.

The sailors of the Baltic Fleet, the workers who control the bridges, the Petrograd garrison, the soldiers at the Fortress of Peter and Paul--all have already joined the revolution.

Armed workers known as Red Guards and revolutionary sailors move on the night of Nov. 6-7 under the orders of the Soviet's Military Revolutionary Committee. These forces seize post and telegraph offices, electric works, railroad stations and the state bank.

A shot rings out from the Battleship Aurora, anchored nearby in the Neva river. At this signal, thousands of sailors and Red Guards storm the Winter Palace. The Provisional Government falls.

Exhausted workers, soldiers and Bolshevik leaders crowd the Congress of Soviets Nov. 7. Some sleep on the floor. It's cold and hard. Word comes that the Winter Palace is taken. People rise and fill the hall.

Amidst cheers from the workers and soldiers, Lenin comes to the podium and proclaims, "We shall now proceed to construct the socialist order."

The decrees of this new government are debated in every barracks of the Petrograd garrison, in the trenches at the front, at every union hall, in every village, in every battleship of the Russian fleet.

The new government of and by the Soviets, led by the Bolsheviks, is ratified not just by a vote but by the sacrifice of an entire people. It shows the world that workers can build a new society without bosses.

The lesson still holds.

(Copyright Workers World Service: Permission to reprint granted if source is cited. For more info contact Workers World, 46 W. 21 St., New York, NY 10010; "workers" on PeaceNet; on Internet:".)

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