How did the war go for the Russians?

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Brief version:

1. Russians were unprepared for the war, lost territory and enormous numbers of troops. People were hungry. Many didn't even know which countries they were fighting or why.

2. Bolsheviks (illegal socialist faction) opposed the war, saw it as workers of one nation fighting workers of other nations for the benefit of the landed classes. Urged resistance, promoted international unity of workers against gentry.

3. War losses ultimately led to the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. New government was not well organized or prepared to win the war either.

4. Temporary government argued within its own ranks, finally called on Bolshevik-controlled groups to defend one side in Petrograd from the other.

5. Bolsheviks (headed by Lenin) succeeded; now had a militia and control of the Soviets, the Red Guard, and Petrograd. Looked like a threat to the provisional government, which they were.

6. Provisional gov't head (Kerensky) formed alliance with landed classes, sent Cossacks to suppress Bolshevik sympathizers in the countryside.

7. In October, 1917, at urging of Leon Trotsky, Lenin ordered Bolshevik-controlled Red Guard to storm the Winter Palace. Kerensky fled to France and the Bolsheviks under Lenin were in charge.


How did the war go for the Russians?

Against a domestic background of widespread strikes and violent government assaults on strikers, Russia entered WWI in August, 1914. with the world's largest army. Poorly trained and equipped, they quickly went from early success to catastrophic defeat. The disastrous fortunes of the Russian army undermined the authority of the government. There were conscription (draft) riots in the cities. There were food shortages. Russia lost territory. People who did not oppose the war because of political sentiments opposed it because they saw it as a disaster for the Russian people. By the end of 1916, the Russians had lost more than a million men and continued to lose major battles.

Nicholas II removed his second cousin as supreme commander of the army and took control himself in late 1915. Things went no better for the Tsar, however. He was held responsible for the ongoing defeats and lost what popular support he had. In March, 1917, he abdicated as Tsar, and a new provisional government was formed.

When the new minister of war (Kerensky) announced a major offensive, the response was negative among both the civilian and military populations. The Bolsheviks encouraged large demonstrations at home, and soldier refused to fight. It is estimated that there were some 2 million desertions from the Russian army by late 1917.

Many of those who deserted took their weapons and their training home and seized land from the nobles. The new government was powerless to stop the turmoil. Dissension within the new government resulted in the newly-installed and then newly-fired supreme commander's (Kornilov) sending troops to try to take control of Petrograd and the government.

Kerensky asked for help from the Red Guard and the Petrograd Soviet, both of which were controlled by the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks agreed to help but made it clear they were fighting against Kornilov's troops and not in support of the government. In just a few days, they raised an armed militia of 25,000 and fortified the city. Kornilov's soldiers refused to try to take Petrograd by force. Kornilov was arrested, his general commited suicide, and Kerensky had a new problem on his hands.

The Bolsheviks now had control of the Soviets and the Red Guard, control of Petrograd, and a small but well-organized and armed militia. The Mensheviks had allied themselves with Kerensky, Kerensky had tried to broker a deal with the landowners, and had sent the Cossacks out to subdue the revolutionaries in the countryside. None of this was well-received by the workers. At the urging of Trotsky, the Red Guards stormed the Winter Palace, Kerensky ran to France, and the Bolsheviks were now in control.

But wasn't Trotsky on the side of the Mensheviks?

He had been, but he was one of many who were greatly angered by the Mensheviks' support of Kerensky. He was by now a pacifist as far as the war was concerned, a believer in "permanent" revolution, and totally opposed to Kerensky's alliances with the propertied classes. So he joined with the Bolsheviks when he returned to Russia from his long and turbulent exile abroad. He was instrumental in organizing the defense of Petrograd.

On 26th October, 1917, the All-Russian Congress of Soviets met and handed over power to the Soviet Council of People's Commissars. Vladimir Lenin was elected chairman. Other major appointments included Leon Trotsky (Foreign Affairs) and Joseph Stalin (Nationalities).

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