Roots of Revolution

17 Feb

Something I wrote in highschool

Roots of Revolution
Julian Ichim

On Nov. 8th 1917 at the Council of Soviets Vladimir Illyich Lenin stated “We can now proceed with the construction of socialism” consolidating the victories of the attack on the Winter Palace and launching a new era in world history. This historical moment was not something that fell out of the sky but rather was the culmination of a variety of events in Russian history that led to this moment. Russia, before the October revolution, was seen as a backwards country that refused to adapt to capitalism or democracy. In fact it is the failure to adapt in the 19th century that created the culture of resistance that eventually led to the construction of socialism in the 20th century. The failure of the Czarist autocracy to usher in necessary reforms and crushing dissent gave birth to movements such as Nihilism. Narodniism, and Social Democracy, revolutionary movements whose existence inspired and forshadowed the Bolshevik victory. In other words because Russia would not adapt to the historical changes taking place in Europe and meet the needs of the people, history has swept aside the Romanov dynasty. This essay demonstrate this by examining the following events the cause and failure of the Decemberist uprising and the role of Alexander II in inspiring a culture of resistance. It is hoped that by doing this we can have a better understanding of the historical events that paved the way forward for the construction of socialism and place the October revolution in its historical context.

The Decemberist uprising of 1825 was not just a simple attempt to put Constantine on the throne but rather an attempt to modernize Russian society and turn it into a constitution al monarchy. On December 26th 1825 when officers united in front of the Senate building and put there person on a throne their rally cry was “Constantine and Constitution”. (Thompson pg. 133) The idea of a constitutional monarchy was an attempt to stop the stagnation of Russia which at the time remained unchanged.

While the rest of Europe was moving forward with ideas such as rule of law, the rights of man, free enterprise and the fact that Sovereignty must rest with the people through constitutional assemblies Russia refused to change bogged down in a surf economy where people were treated like property of the Boyars. Ultimate authority in Russia laid not with the people but rather with the Czar whom was seen as the ultimate ruler and had absolute power. While this situation was harsh on most people the isolation of Russia from the rest of the world made sure this situation was not too explosive. However during the war against Napoleon when the Russian army chased Napoleon all the way back to France many members of the Russian army were exposed to new ideas such as constitutional democracy and the rights of man. Coming back to Russia soldiers who were exposed to these ideas came home to see that Alexander I instead of pushing reform moved closer to conservatism pushing “peace and Christian brotherhood”. (Thompson pg. 147) The victory that Alexander I has won went to his head removing previous pressure of reform (Ibid). Feeling betrayed by conservative policies at home and anti-liberal policies abroad officers created secret societies whose aim was to discuss ideas of enlightenment and implement them (Thompson 139). With the death of Alexander room was created for them to make there move and although it led to failure the conditions that gave rise to the Decemberist uprising were not dealt with.
Alexander II know by many as the great reformer for freeing the serfs also intensified the situation that gave birth to the October revolution. For although, in theory serfdom has been abolished, the economic plight of the serfs did not improve. By maintaining the obshchina with its assembly that told the serf how and when to farm, and its taxes peasants were shackled to the village and government as opposed to being shackled to there owner. (Thompson pg. 155)Peasants still had secound class citizen status with there separate courts and methods of treatments. (ibid) Scarcity of land and growing poverty forced many peasants to leave the countryside and go to the city or hire themselves out to previous landlords so they can survive. (ibid) In the cities peasants had to work in horrible conditions for low rates and housing not fit for man or beast. It was in these cities that many ex-peasants came into contact with Social Revolutionaries, Narodniis and Social Democrats exposing them to new ideas. Although Alexander II gave into some demands politically his idea of the Czar having absolute power remained unchallenged. These half hearted reforms which aimed at placating the people did noit deal with the real issues such as true land reform or whom must soverieghnty rest with. This failure on his part created the space for activists and revolutionary terrorist whom saw no other way forward for political change then violence. When he was finaaly assassinated by Narodniis none of these issues were solved. Ander Zhelyabov at his trial for his role in the assassination had this to say “Circumstances were forcing me, among others, to declare war against the exisiting political structure”. (Thompson pg. 158). This movement of terror did not end with the death of Alexander II but was carried forward into the 20th century. It should be intresting to note that Lenin’s brother was hung by the Czar for participating in such activities.

John F. Kennedy stated that those who make peaceful change impossible make violent revolution inevitable. The Russian revolution of 1917 was not just caused by Lenin and Stalin but rather by the fact that the Russian system refused to change. As one can see by the above two examples in the 19th century resistance to autocracy is what gave birth to the great October Revolution and one can state that 20th century socialism succeeded because 19th century liberalism failed. The Czars by refusing to share power with the people sighned there own death warrants and the above state examples can be seen as a trial run for the 20th century revolutionaries.


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