Liberals, Racials and Coservatives
Liberals: Liberals wanted a change in the society. They wanted toleration towards all religions. They opposed the uncontrolled power of dynastic rulers. They wanted to safeguard the rights of individuals. They favoured a representative, elected parliamentary government. Such a government should be subject to laws interpreted by a well-trained and independent judiciary. However, some of the liberal ideas were not democratic. They did not believe in universal adult franchise and wanted the voting rights only for men with property.
Radicals: Radicals also wanted a change in the society. The radicals were in favour of women’s suffragate movement. They opposed the privileges of wealthy landowners and factory owners. They were not against private property but opposed the concentration of property in a few hands.
Conservatives: The conservatives preferred the status quo. However, their attitudes changed after the French Revolution. They were in favour of gradual change; with some preservation of old institutions.
Industrial Society and Social Change
Industrialization resulted in a large number of people working in factories. Work hours were usually long and the workers were getting poor wages. Unemployment was quite common. As towns were growing rapidly, there were problems of housing and sanitation.
Many among the liberals and radicals were property owners and employers. They wanted the benefit of industrialization to reach the workforce. They believed that healthy and educated citizens would be more productive for the economy. Some liberals and radicals wanted revolutions which could end all kind of governments established in Europe in 1815.
The Coming of Socialism to Europe
Socialism was a radical idea which was based on abolition of private properties and projected a dream of classless society. Socialists saw private property as the root of all social ills. They argued that the capitalists were only concerned about their profit and not with the welfare of workers.
Some socialists believed in the idea of cooperatives. Some other socialists believed that the governments should encourage cooperatives because it was not possible to build large-scale cooperatives by individual initiatives.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) argued that workers should make a cooperative society in which collective ownership of land and factories would be promoted. According to Marx, it was the way to get rid of ills of capitalism. Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) also added other ideas to the concept of socialism.
Support for Socialism
Socialist ideas spread through Europe by the 1870s. An international body; called Second International was formed to coordinate these efforts.
Workers in England and Germany began forming associations so that they could fight for better living and working conditions. They also set up funds to help members in times of distress. They demanded reduced working hours and the voting rights. These associations worked closely with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in Germany and helped it in winning the parliamentary seats. Similarly, a Labour Party was formed in Britain and a Socialist Party was formed in France by 1905. However, till 1914, the socialists did not succeed in forming a government in Europe.
THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION
The fall of monarchy in February 1917 and the subsequent events of October are normally called the Russian Revolution.
The Russian Empire in 1914
In 1914, Russia and its empire was ruled by Tsar Nicholas II. The Russian empire included modern-day Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, parts of Poland, Ukraine and Belarus. It stretched to the Pacific and comprised modern day Central Asian states, as well as Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Orthodox Christianity was the majority religion in Russia but Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Buddhists also lived in the Russian Empire.
Economy and Society
At the beginning of the twentieth century, about 85% of the Russian empire’s population was dependent on agriculture. Industry was found in some pockets; like St. Petersburg and Moscow. Much of the production was done by craftsmen but large factories also existed. Most of the factories were set up in the 1890s. This was the period when Russia’s railway network was extended and foreign investment in industry increased.
Most of the industry was owned by private individuals. The government kept an eye on large factories to ensure minimum wages and limited working hours. But rules were broken with impunity. Workers sometimes had to work up to 15 hours. Accommodation for workers could be in rooms or dormitories.
Workers: The workers were divided into different social groups. Some of them had strong links with their ancestral villages. Some others had permanently settled in the cities. Workers were divided by skill and metalworkers were on top of this hierarchy. Workers’ dress and manners also manifested such divisions.
In spite of divisions, the workers often united to strike work whenever there was some issue related to dismissals or work conditions. Such strikes frequently took place in the textiles industry during 1896-1897, and in the metal industry during 1902.
Peasants: In villages, the peasants cultivated most of the land, but large properties were owned by the nobility, the crown and the Orthodox Church.
Barring a few exceptions, the peasants had no respect for the nobility. Nobles enjoyed their power and position because of their services to the Tsar. The peasants of Russia wanted the land of the nobles to be given to them. They often refused to pay rent and even murdered landlords. Such incidents occurred on a large scale in south Russia in 1902. And in 1905, such incidents happened all over Russia.
Russian peasants pooled their land together periodically. Their commune (mir) divided the land according to the needs of individual families. Thus, they had a long tradition of working in close association.
SOCIALISM IN RUSSIA
Some Russian socialists felt that the Russian peasant tradition of sharing the land according to commune (mir) made them natural socialists. They felt that peasants, rather than workers, would be the main force behind the revolution. They felt that Russia could become socialist more quickly than other countries.
Socialists were active in the countryside through the late nineteenth century. The Socialist Revolutionary Party was formed in 1900. This party demanded that land of the nobles should be transferred to peasants.
Social Democrats did not agree with Socialist Revolutionaries about peasants’ rights. Lenin thought that peasants were not one united group and hence they could all be part of a socialist movement.
Lenin thought that the party should be disciplined and should control the number and quality of its members. Others (Mensheviks) thought that the party should be open to all; as in Germany.
A Turbulent Time: The 1905 Revolution
The Tsar was not answerable to parliament. The liberals in Russia; along with the Social Democrats and Socialist Revolutionaries; worked with peasants and workers during the revolution of 1905 to demand a constitution. They were also supported in the empire by nationalists and by jadidists (in Muslim dominated areas). The jadidists wanted modernized Islam in their lives.
1904 was a bad year for Russian workers. Prices of essential goods arose so quickly that real wages declined by 20 percent. The membership of workers’ associations increased dramatically. The Assembly of Russian Workers was formed in 1904. When four of its members were dismissed at the Putilov Iron Works, there was a call for industrial action. Over 110,000 workers in St. Petersburg went on strike within a few days. They were demanding an eight hour work-schedule, increase in wages and improved working conditions.
BLOODY SUNDAY: Father Gapon led the procession of workers. When the procession reached the Winter Palace, it was attacked by the police and the Cossacks. Over 100 workers were killed and 300 injured. This incident is known as Bloody Sunday. It started a serried of events which came to be known as the 1905 Revolution.
Strikes took place all over the country. Student bodies staged walkouts and universities were closed down. Lawyers, doctors, engineers and other middle-class workers formed the Union of Unions. They demanded a constituent assembly.
CREATION OF DUMA: The Tsar allowed the creation of an elected consultative Parliament (Duma). Most of the committees and unions which were formed during this period were declared illegal after 1905 and hence many of them continued to work unofficially.
The Tsar imposed several restrictions on political activity. The first Duma was dismissed within 75 day and the re-elected second Duma was dismissed within three months. The Tsar then changed the voting laws and the third Duma was packed with conservative politicians.
The First World War and the Russian Empire
The War was initially popular and people rallied around Tsar Nicholas II. But the Tsar refused to consult the main parties in the Duma; when the war continued. This led to reduced support for the Tsar.
Defeat of Russian Army: The War on the ‘eastern front’ was different from the War on the ‘western front’. The armies fought from trenches along the eastern France; in the west. On the other hand, the armies moved a good deal on the east and fought battles. Casualties were high on the eastern front. Russia’s armies lost badly in Germany and Austria between 1914 and 1916. By 1917, over 7 million people died in the battle.
The retreating Russian army destroyed crops and buildings. The destruction of crops and buildings resulted in 3 million refugees in Russia. This development tarnished the image of the Tsar. Soldiers did not wish to fight such a war.
Effect on Industry: Industry was also badly affected by the war. German control of the Baltic Sea resulted in supplies being cut off to Russia. Due to this, industrial equipments disintegrated more rapidly in Russia than anywhere else in Europe. Railway lines began to break down by 1916. There was shortage of labour because the able-bodied men had been called for the war duty. This led to small workshops being shut and resulted in shortage of essential items. Large supplies of grains were sent to feed the army. Riots at bread shops were a common sight by the winter of 1916.
In the winter of 1917, conditions in the capital, Petrograd, were grim. Food shortages were severe in the workers’ quarters. The winter was very cold; accompanied by frost and heavy snow.
On 22 February, a lockout took place at a factory on the right bank of the Neva river. On the next day, workers in fifty factories went on strike to show solidarity. Women led the way to strikes in many factories.
The demonstrators crossed from the factory quarters to the centre of the capital; the Nevskii Prospekt. The movement was not being actively organized by any political party. The government imposed a curfew and the demonstrators dispersed by the evening. But they came back on the 24th and 25th. Cavalry and police were called to keep a watch on the demonstrators.
The government suspended the Duma on 25th February. Demonstrators returned in larger number to the streets of the left bank on the 26th February. The Police Headquarters were ransacked on 27th February.
The government once again called out the cavalry to control the situation. But the cavalry refused to fire on the demonstrators. An officer of a regiment was shot at and three other regiments mutinied to join the striking workers.
By the evening of 27th February, soldiers and striking workers gathered to form a ‘soviet’ or ‘council’ in the same building as the Duma met. This was the Petrograd Soviet.
A delegation went to see the Tsar on 28th February. The Tsar abdicated on 2nd March; on the advice of the military.
A provisional government was formed by the Soviet Leaders and the Duma leaders. Thus the February Revolution of 1917 brought down the monarchy in Russia.
The Provisional Government took steps towards an elected government. Restrictions on public meetings and associations were removed. ‘Soviets’ were set up everywhere, though no common system of election was followed.
Return of Lenin: The Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin returned from exile in April 1917. He made three demands which were known as ‘April Theses’. He declared an end to the war, transfer of land to the peasants and nationalization of banks. He proposed renaming of the Bolshevik Party as the Communist Party; to indicate its new radical aims.
Most others in the Bolshevik Party thought that the time was not ripe for socialist revolution. They wanted the Provisional Government to continue for some time. But various developments in the subsequent months changed their mindset.
The workers’ movement spread through the summer. Trade unions grew in number; in industrial areas. Soldiers’ committees were formed in the army. In the month of June, about 500 Soviets sent representatives to an All Russian Congress of Soviets.
The provisional government viewed these developments are an erosion in its powers and as growing influence of Bolshevik. The Provisional Government decided to take stern measures. The demonstrations by the Bolsheviks in July 1917 were sternly repressed. Many Bolshevik leaders had to go hiding. Many of them fled as well.
The peasants and their Socialist Revolutionary leaders demanded a redistribution of land. The peasants seized land between July and September 1917.
THE REVOLUTION OF OCTOBER 1917
Lenin was apprehensive of imposition of dictatorship by the Provisional Government. On 16 October 1917, he convinced the Petrograd Soviet and the Bolshevik Party to agree to a socialist seizure of power. A Military Revolutionary Committee was appointed by the Soviet under Leon Trotskii to organize the seizure.
The uprising began on 24 October. Prime Minister Kerenskii had sensed trouble and hence left the city to summon troops. In the morning, military men loyal to the government seized the buildings of two Bolshevik newspapers. Pro-government troops were sent to take over the telephone and telegraph offices and protect the Winter Palace.
The Military Revolutionary Committee moved swiftly and ordered its supporters to seize government offices and arrest ministers. Later in the day, the ship Aurora shelled the Winter Palace. Various other vessels sailed down the Neva and took over various military points. The city was under the Committee’s control by night and the ministers had surrendered. At a meeting of the All Russian Congress of Soviets in Petrograd, the Bolshevik action was approved by the majority. By December, the Bolsheviks controlled the Moscow-Petrograd area.
What Changed after October?
1.Most of the industry and banks were nationalized in November 1917. The government took over ownership and management.
2.Land was declared social property. Peasants were allowed to seize the land of the nobility.
3.In cities, large houses were partitioned as per family requirements.
4.Old titles of aristocracy were banned.
5.A clothing competition was held in 1918; to design new uniforms for the army and officials.
The Bolshevik Party was renamed the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik). Elections for the Constituent Assembly were held in November 1917. The Bolsheviks failed to get majority after this election. The Assembly rejected Bolshevik measures and Lenin dismissed the Assembly in January 1918. Lenin thought that the All Russian Congress of Soviets was more democratic than the Assembly because the Assembly was elected under uncertain conditions.
In March 1918, the Bolsheviks made peace with Germany at Brest Litovsk; in spite of opposition by their political allies. In subsequent years, the Bolsheviks became the only party to participate in the elections to the All Russian Congress of Soviets. The All Russian Congress of Soviets became the parliament of the country.
Russia became a one-party state. Trade unions were kept under party control. The secret police punished those who criticized the Bolsheviks. Many writers and artists; who had earlier rallied behind the party felt disillusioned, because of censorship being imposed by the Bolsheviks.
The Civil War
After the land distribution order by the Bolsheviks, the Russian army began to break up. Most of the soldiers had come from farming background and hence wanted to go home for the redistribution of land.
Non-Bolshevik socialists, liberals and supporters of autocracy protested the Bolshevik uprising. Their leaders moved to south Russia. They organized troops to fight the Bolsheviks (the ‘reds’).
The ‘greens’ (Socialist Revolutionaries) and ‘whites (pro-Tsarists) controlled most of the Russian empire during 1918 and 1919. They were backed by French, American, British and Japanese troops. These forces were worried at the growth of socialism in Russia. A civil war ensued between these forces and the Bolsheviks.
Supporters of private property; among ‘whites’; took harsh steps with peasants who had seized land. But such actions led to a loss of popular support for the non-Bolsheviks.
The Bolsheviks took control of most of the former Russian empire by January 1920. The succeeded because of cooperation with non-Russian nationalities and Muslim jadidists.
But the cooperation did not work where Russian colonists themselves turned Bolshevik. In Khiva (Central Asia), Bolshevik colonists brutally massacred local nationalists in the name of defending socialism.
Finally, in December 1922, the Soviet Union (USSR) was formed from the Russian empire. Most non-Russian nationalities were given political autonomy in this union to prevent oppression by the Russian colonists. But various unpopular policies of the Bolsheviks meant that the attempts to win over different nationalities were only partially successful.
Making a Socialist Society
Planned Economy: A process of centralised planning was introduced by the Bolshevik. The officials planned for the development of the economy and made the Five Year Plans. Industrial growth was the target of the first two ‘Plans’ (1927-32 and 1933-38). Industrial production increased during this period and new industrial cities came up.
But rapid construction led to poor working conditions. Workers’ quarters were built in haphazard manner; without giving proper attention to certain facilities. Toilets and other conveniences were often made across the street from the living quarter. It often made for miserable life in the bitterly cold weather.
Schools were established for workers’ children and an extended schooling system was developed for factory workers and peasants. Crèches were made in factories for the benefit of women workers. Cheap healthcare was provided by the government.
Stalinism and Collectivisation
The early years of the Planned Economy proved to be disasters for the collectivization of agriculture. There was acute problem of grain supplies in the towns in 1927-28. The prices were fixed by the government but the peasants refused to sell grains to government buyers at these prices.
This was the time when Stalin was the head of the party. He introduced firm emergency measures. In 1928, he sent party members to the grain-producing areas. They supervised enforced collections of grains. Kulaks (well to do peasants) were raided. But these steps could not solve the grain crisis.
Stalin’s collectivization programme was then started. From 1929, all peasants were forced to cultivate in collective farms (kolhoz). The bulk of land and implements were transferred to the ownership of collective farm.
Enraged peasants resisted such attempts and destroyed their livestock. Those who resisted the attempts of collectivization were severely punished. Many were deported and exiled. After large-scale protests, some peasants were allowed to work on their independent farms, but the government was not sympathetic to them.
But collectivization did not produce the desired results. Bad harvests of 1930-1933 led to one of the most devastating famines in Soviet history. Over 4 million died in that famine.
Many within the Party who criticized Stalin’s policies were charged with conspiracy against socialism. By 1939, over 2 milion were in prisons or in labour camps. A large number were forced to make false confessions and were executed.
THE GLOBAL INFLUENCE OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION AND THE USSR
The possibility of a workers’ state fired people’s imagination across the world, but most of the existing socialist parties in Europe did not wholly support the policies in Russia. Communist parties were formed in many countries. By the time, the Second World War began, USSR was considered to be the global face of socialism.
By the 1950s, many within the country began to acknowledge the fact that everything was not right in Russia. Although USSR had become a global industrial power; but basic freedoms were denied to the people. Many countries adapted to some ideals of socialism, but each country interpreted them in their own ways.