It was one hundred years ago today that the Bolshevik Party, led by the formerly ousted and exiled Vladimir Lenin, forcibly seized and took control of the buildings of the provisional government.
Thus starts the formation, implementation, and execution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR. The Soviet Union, for the next decades until its dissolution in 1991, went to war against Nazi Germany, went to war against the United States, and went to war with its own citizens, oppressing millions of their own people. The Ukrainians, the Latvians, the Poles, the Hungarians, the Russians themselves: all were under the grip of the USSR through tyranny.
The Bolshevik Revolution is sometimes called the October Revolution. Russia at the time was still using the Julian Calendar, which was approximately two weeks behind the Gregorian Calendar, which practically everyone else in the world was using. To the Russians using the Julian Calendar, the Revolution took place on October 25, 1917, and ended two days later on October 27 (November 9). In shorthand, many historians differentiate between the two in text by using “old style” (the Julian Calendar) versus “new style” (Gregorian).
The entirety of 1917 could be described as nothing but long-winded. The First World War was at a stalemate. Everyone was tired, and when the Americans joined, the war had been three years old and had killed millions already. The beginning of the year in Russia marked a turning point, however, during the February Revolution. Soviet historiography called it the February Bourgeois Democratic Revolution, when, on February 22 (March 8 n.s.), protests erupted in the capital Petrograd, clashing with police and royal guards. Several days later, Russian forces joined the revolutionaries, resulting the in abdication of Tsar Nicholas II and the formation of the Provisional Government.
On March 16 (n.s.) , the last day of the Revolution, the New York Times published a frontpage headline in bold type: “REVOLUTION IN RUSSIA; CZAR ABDICATES; MICHAEL MADE REGENT, EMPRESS IN HIDING.” Most of the articles in that daily paper concern the revolution (“Russian Embassy Shocked by Revolt”, on page 3). One article in particular on page 10 was poignant: “The New Birth of Russia.” Months later, the Provisional Government declared Russia a republic, the first time in its history where it was completely cut off from the monarchy that ruled for a millennium.
It was unpredictable that, eight months later from February, there would be a second Revolution to practically undo the first. The provisional government, 100 years ago today, was occupied and dissolved. The Soviet Russian Republic took its place (it was later renamed in July 1918 as Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic), with the Russian Communist Party soon taking complete control of the government. If there was any official opposition, it was purely for show. This could clearly be seen decades later. Life magazine reported in 1958 that “a fantastic 99.97% of the total electorate, as against 60.4% turnout in the US election of 1956” voted in the Soviet Union’s election. However, “99.57% approved the handpicked candidate” of Nikita Khrushchev.
Now that’s democracy.
To use an classic line from The Who, “Meet the old boss, same as the new boss.” Though with good intentions, the provisional government failed against the agitation of the people and the socialists. This led to the formation of one of the most powerful empires in the world.
One hundred years ago today changed the very fabric of global politics, in a manner that can still be felt today and will be felt for the foreseeable future. As long as Russia is on the world stage, we can look to this day in 1917 as the start of Russian dominance.