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Aim: How did Lenin and the Bolsheviks take control of Russia?. April 2, 2013. Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924). Born into a middle class Russian family, turns against the tsarist government when his brother was executed in 1887.

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vladimir lenin 1870 1924
Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924)
  • Born into a middle class Russian family, turns against the tsarist government when his brother was executed in 1887.
  • As a law student, he begins studying Marxist socialism (communism). Eventually, he is forced out of the country and ends up living in Switzerland with other Marxists.
vladimir lenin 1870 19241
Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924)
  • While in exile, Lenin develops three core ideas related to the rise of Marxist socialism in Russia:
    • The only way to destroy capitalism in Russia and bring about a socialist government is through violent revolution.
    • A violent socialist revolution was possible in backward Russia. Even though Marx predicted this kind of revolution would happen in the most industrialized countries, it could happen in Russia because the peasants were potential revolutionaries.
    • Lenin’s followers, known as the Bolsheviks, believed that a strong, workers’ party controlled by a dedicated elite needed to emerge to guide the fickle masses through revolution and maintain order throughout the revolutionary process. Other Russian Marxists called Mensheviks disagreed with this (wanted a more democratic socialist party).
lenin returns to russia
Lenin Returns to Russia
  • In April 1917, Lenin is shipped back into Russia by the German government. Why would they do this?
  • Lenin gains a huge number of followers among workers, peasants and soldiers by promising “Bread, Land and Peace.” However, Lenin overplays his hand and launches a failed revolution in July, 1917.
  • General LavrKornilov ends up leading a coup against Kerensky and the Provisional government in September. It fails, but the Provisional government becomes even weaker.
the november revolution
The November Revolution
  • Bolshevik party membership reached 240,000 people by October, allowing the Bolsheviks to take control of the Petrograd Soviet.
  • Lenin’s ally Leon Trotsky convinces the Petrograd Soviet to form a military-revolutionary committee that he will be in charge of. This gives the Bolsheviks military control of Petrograd.
  • On November 6, militants from Trotsky’s committee and other Bolshevik soldiers launch a successful coup against the Provisional government. Lenin becomes head of the Russian government
reasons for bolshevik success
Reasons for Bolshevik success
  • They appeal to the right people (soldiers, peasants and the working classes). Allow peasants to keep the land they stole from wealthy landowners during the summer of 1917, and committees of workers to have direct control of the factories.
  • Democracy had given way to anarchy, and many felt the Bolsheviks could restore order.
  • Lenin and Trotsky were far more organized and determined than Kerensky.
bolsheviks make enemies
Bolsheviks make enemies
  • Lenin finally pulls Russia out of the war and makes peace with Germany through the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March, 1918). Russia loses huge amounts of territory in the west and a third of its population.
  • Lenin promises free elections for a new Constituent Assembly. Bolsheviks end up winning only 1/4 of the seats (the Socialist Revolutionary Party of the peasants wins a clear majority). Lenin disbands the assembly on its first day (January 18, 1918), begins to form a one-party dictatorship.
civil war in russia 1917 1922
Civil War in Russia (1917-1922)
  • Whites: Organized by officers of the old army who hated the peace treaty, composed of many different social groups (tsarists, some peasants) that wanted to overthrow the Bolsheviks and communism.


  • Reds: Loyal Bolsheviks (now called Communists) who supported Lenin and Trotsky.
civil war in russia 1917 19221
Civil War in Russia (1917-1922)
  • Ultimately, the Reds will win the civil war:
    • Reds have a much better army. Trotsky establishes strict discipline and the draft.Homefrontis mobilized through war communism.
    • The Reds control the centralized and industrialized areas of Moscow and Petrograd, while the White army only controls areas on the fringes of Russia.
    • Reds use the secret police (Cheka) to maintain order in the areas they control through fear. This becomes known as the Red Terror of 1918-1920
    • The Whites lack a central goal and common ideals (some want a liberal republic in Russia, others want the tsar back).
    • In 1919, foreign powers (U.S., Britain, France) half-heartedly provide some troops to help the Whites. This actually draws more people to the Reds (many Russians feel a sense of nationalism and don’t like the idea of Russia being dominated by the west).