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Lenin and the Russian Revolutions. Key questions: What were the causes of the Russian Revolutions? Why were the Bolsheviks successful? What was the role of Lenin in the revolution? How did Lenin maintain power?. Leonardo DiCaprio set to play Lenin in new movie ‘Lenin’s brain’.

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Lenin and the Russian Revolutions

Key questions:What were the causes of the Russian Revolutions?Why were the Bolsheviks successful?What was the role of Lenin in the revolution?How did Lenin maintain power?

autocracy orthodoxy nationality
Autocracy, Orthodoxy, Nationality
  • AUTOCRACY – God’s appointed ruler on earth. The ‘Little Father.’ Tsar Paul I (1796-1801) ‘noone is important in Russia except the man who is speaking to me, and then only when he is speaking to me.
  • Moscow was head of the ORTHODOX Church from 1453 (after Constantinople fell to the Turks). The Patriarch of Moscow worked closely with the Tsar
  • Around 170 different ethnic groups. Clear preference for Russian nationality – policy of ‘RUSSIFICATION’ in 19th Century.
reform before nicholas ii
Reform before Nicholas II?

Parliamentarianism is the triumph of egoism

  • Some reforms under Alexander II (1855-1881) ‘tsar liberator’? EMANCIPATION OF SERFS, ZEMSTVA. But after his assassination in 1881, return to conservatism.
  • Westernisers vs Slavophiles
  • Influence of Pobedonostsev as tutor to Alexander III and Nicholas II.

Universal suffrage is a fatal error

Freedom of the press? Ha! One of the falsest institutions of our time’

nicholas ii and the crisis of tsarism
Nicholas II and the crisis of Tsarism
  • Came to throne at age 29.
  • Historians agree he was unprepared. Wept and said ‘I’m not ready!’
  • Little knowledge or experience, timid, yet stubborn belief in moral rightness of autocracy and god-given powers.
causes of 1905
Causes of 1905

Government policy

Weak Tsar

Repressive govt

No political reform

No concessions

to nationalities

Frustrated middle

class: desire for

National assembly

Revolutionary groups

(SDs and SRs).

Russo-Japan War


Defeats shock public

Loss of Port Arthur


Of Tsar’s govt.

War causes shortages

and unemployment



Nationalities wanted

end to Russification

Agriculture still

backward. Peasants

restricted by Mir

Witte’s economic


Industrialisation –

Low wages

Economic slump and

Poor harvests after

1900, 1902

Poor working and

living conditions in


1905 revolution there is no god there is no tsar father gapon
1905 Revolution: ‘there is no god there is no Tsar’ (Father Gapon).
  • 22 January 150,000 people demonstrated in front of Winter Palace.
  • 1,000 killed by Imperial troops.
  • Undermined people’s allegiance to Tsar.
  • February: 400,000 workers went on strike. Over 2 million by end of year.
political response first repression then reform
Political response: ‘first repression, then reform’
  • Stolypin’s necktie: over 1,000 death sentences before May 1907.
  • October Manifesto: Creation of Duma: ‘a constitution has been given but the autocracy remains’ (Trotsky)
  • Stolypin’s land reform: peasants could remove themselves from Communes and own land privately.

Pyotr Stolypin, Chairrman of Council of Ministers

how stable was the russian regime before wwi historiographical debate

How stable was the Russian regime before WWI? Historiographical debate.

Marxist-Leninists vs Western Historians

Western historians have been less ready to accept the idea of ‘inevitable’ revolution: an era open to many possibilities

The revolution was inevitable: reform therefore doomed to failure.


World War I military



Autocracy of

Nicolas II

Causes of the

February 1917 Revolution

Difficult living

conditions – food

and fuel shortages


And Industrial


Role of

political groups

key events of february 1917 revolution
Key events of February 1917 Revolution
  • 23rd February: International Women’s Day. Thousands take to streets to protest about food shortages.
  • 25th February: A general strike. Troops fire on demonstrators but lose morale.
  • 26th February: Duma refuses to disband; troops join demonstrators.
  • 27th February: Provisional Duma Committee and Petrograd Soviet set up.
  • 28th February: Widespread looting and violence.
  • 2nd March: Tsar abdicates. Provisional government set up. Soviet Order No.1 gives control of the army to the Soviets.

Interpretations: ‘one of the most leaderless, spontaneous, anonymous revolutions of all time (Chamberlin).

‘We may not live to see the revolution in our lifetime (Lenin, January 1917)

how did the bolsheviks seize power in october 1917
How did the Bolsheviks seize power in October 1917?
  • Use the handout to complete the timeline sheet and check your knowledge of the keyword grid.
the lead up to october 1917
The lead up to October 1917
  • 3rd-4th April: Lenin returns. Publishes April Theses.
  • May 1917: Mensheviks and SRs join a new coalition Provisional Government.
  • June 1917: First All Russian Congress of Soviets. Kerensky launches disastrous offensive against A-H.
  • 3rd-6th July: July Days. Failed uprising. Lenin flees. Kerensky made Prime Minister.
  • August 1917: Kornilov Coup. Bolsheviks released from prison by P.G. and given weapons.
  • 7th October 1917: Lenin arrives back in Petrograd.
  • 24th October 1917: Kerensky closes Pravda in response to Zinoviev and Kamenev article.
  • 25th-27th October 1917: Bolsheviks storm Winter Palace and seize power.
interpreting the october revolution popular revolution or coup d etat
Interpreting the October Revolution: popular revolution or coup d’etat?

WESTERN VIEW after 1945 (during Cold War)

A coup d’etat led by a minority group who then imposed their evil ideology on the Russian people.

Also called the Liberal view – Richard Pipes, Leonard Schapiro, Robert Conquest


A popular uprising of the working class and poor peasants guided by the leadership of Lenin.


Suspicious of Cold War historians or ‘cold warriors’. Identified active role of people in the lower ranks of Bolshevik party. Lenin a ‘weak dictator?’. Veers back towards ‘popular uprising’ theories

Sheila Fitzpatrick


Element of both Western and Revisionist. Evidence of a definite coup, but also of some independent action at local levels.

Chris Read, Robert Service

how did lenin consolidate his power splinter
How did Lenin consolidate his power?SPLINTER
  • SOVNARKOM Lenin closed Constituent Assembly and formed Sovnarkom made exclusively of Bolsheviks.
  • PRESS All opposition press was banned.
  • LAND Decree on Land gave peasants the right to take over land
  • INDUSTRY Workers Control Decree gave factory committees the right

to control production.

  • NATIONALITIES ‘Rights of People of Russia’ gave self-determination to peoples of Russian Empire.
  • TERROR Iron Felix and CHEKA.
  • ENDING WAR Treaty of Brest Litovsk.
  • RED ARMY Red Army formed to fight Civil War against ‘Whites’.
how did the bolsheviks win the civil war
How did the Bolsheviks win the Civil War?




Unity and organisation





Bolsheviks used powerful images for posters and AGITPROP trains


Trotsky an outstanding leader. Discipline tough – as opposed to White’s discipline


Bolsheviks had a unified command structure. Whites had many different groups fighting for different causes.


Reds controlled Moscow and Petrograd. Railways, troops, supplies easier.


Peasants and nationalities favoured Red policies. Not happy with War Communism though.