Events Leading to the Russian Revolution After Lenin Returned

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin

By Vejas Liulevicius, Ph.D., University of Tennessee, Knoxville

In April 1917, when Vladimir Lenin returned to Russia in a sealed train protected by German soldiers, a momentous revolution was being born that had world-changing consequences. The Bolsheviks were trying to seize power in Russia, and Lenin was on his way to help this revolution take place. In the following days and months, a myriad of events happened at such a fast speed that changed the fate of the world forever.

Street demonstration on Nevsky Prospekt in Petrograd just after troops of the provisional government opened fire in the July Days.
Street demonstration against the provisional government in July. (Image: Viktor Bulla/Public domain)

The Pivotal Role of the Russian Revolution in the World

What Vladimir Lenin had in mind about the influence of the Bolshevik revolution was that it would start a domino of revolutions around the world, especially targeting the developed countries. A global uprising of working classes would happen against the capitalist world so that Russia would be eligible for socialism as a part of a global revolution. Therefore, the revolution had to spread around the world.

The revolutionary regime was the first in the world dedicated to wreaking havoc in other countries. It had a pivotal role in the next events of the century. For example, it represented a new player in global politics, which sparked the first signs of the Cold War. Actually, according to some experts, the Cold War started in 1917, and not after the Second World War. Governments and societies could not remain neutral about this drastic change, and the modern ideological discourse of the world was very much influenced by reactions to the Bolshevik coup.

Learn more about toward a new Communist civilization.

Lenin’s Actions After Returning to Russia

When Lenin returned to Russia, he immediately took action. He was criticized and labeled as a German spy, and his critics made allegations against him regarding him being funded by Germans. In response, he claimed that he had manipulated the Germans.

This is a transcript from the video series The Rise of Communism: From Marx to Lenin. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

Lenin developed revolutionary defeatism, which establishes that in wars against capitalist states, the proletariat is bound to be defeated. The war in which the proletariat is involved is not one against an outside enemy. Rather, the real enemy of the working class is the country leaders who send them to wars. So, if the working class contributes to the defeat of their countries led by capitalist leaders, they can truly win. So, contrary to defeatist socialists that believed in gradual reform of established systems, he believed in overthrowing the provisional government. But this led to his comrades doubting him and his ideas. So, he had to persuade them that his ideas were right. With simple and understandable mottos like ‘bread, peace, and land’, he made sure that everyone could understand what he was after. He succeeded in convincing his associates, and seven months later, he took over the country.

Learn more about the making of Lenin.

The Ruling of the Provisional Government

After the czar was dethroned, the provisional government took control. Although it was enthusiastically hailed by the people in the beginning, the provisional government got involved in the war that the Russian workers and soldiers were against. The government was fatally factional and confused, and the Petrograd Soviet’s authority limited the government’s power to maintain essential government services.

In July 1917, Alexander Kerensky took power in the provisional government as the prime minister. Although he had brilliant speaking skills to arouse the soldiers, he turned out to be lacking in military leadership skills. In an attack on the German troops, even with the help and advances of the Women’s Battalion of Death, the Russian forces failed.

The Petrograd unit at camp, 1917.
Women’s Battalion of Death. (Image: Library of Congress/Public domain)

The provisional government’s weakness and lack of authority led to violent unrest by soldiers and workers. The uprising was especially fueled by violent naval soldiers of Kronstadt garrison. Leon Trotsky was given the mission to calm down the soldiers and discourage them from performing any acts of violence. The July rising failed miserably, and Lenin, in fear of arrest by the provisional government, escaped to Finland. Trotsky and others were arrested by the provisional government.

Red Army troops attack Kronstadt sailors in March 1921.
The uprising by Kronstadt garrison against the provisional government (Image: Unknown author/Public domain)

This failure turned out to be temporary. Lenin, in exile, asked his comrades not to be discouraged and continue to work on their revolt.

Another failed attempt against the provisional government was conducted by Lavr Kornilov, a General of the Russian Army. Denounced by Kerensky as a personal dictatorship, Kornilov was defeated by the Russian workers.

Bolsheviks were of great help to Prime Minister Kerensky in this fiasco. Kornilov’s soldiers were infiltrated by Bolsheviks, which turned them against their commander. Bolsheviks took credit for this victory of the government. Also, there were allegations that Kerensky himself convinced Kornilov to turn against the capital. This made the government even more discredited.

After the July uprising, Vladimir Lenin fled to Finland in fear of getting arrested by the government. But after the Bolsheviks helped the government to defeat Kornilov’s rising, he returned to Russia in disguise. The Bolsheviks had substantially grown in numbers and were encouraged by Lenin’s moving speeches to take over the country. In October 1917, or as it was renamed later, Red October, they finally took power.

Common Questions about Events Leading to the Russian Revolution After Lenin Returned

Q: Why did the Russian Revolution happen?

The Russian Revolution happened as an opposition to the czarist ruling system. The Bolsheviks who carried out the revolution wanted the workers and the proletariat to be in charge of the country.

Q: What happened in the Russian Revolution?

During the Russian Revolution, Bolsheviks toppled the provisional government that had dethroned the czar. In a preplanned coup, they took over the country on October 25, 1917.

Q: Who won the Russian Revolution?

The Bolsheviks won the Russian Revolution. Under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, they organized a coup and toppled the provisional government, taking full control of the capital.

Q: What is Vladimir Lenin most famous for?

Vladimir Lenin is a famous Soviet politician who led the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. He established a new political system in Russia and changed the fate of the world.

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