In the early 20th century, numerous tensions existed in Imperial Russia, and in 1917, these tensions converged into revolution. The country boasted a vast empire, its borders stretching from the Baltic to the Pacific Ocean, and consequently, it struggled to exert dominion over a fragmented populace consisting of more than 100 ethnicities and 20 nationalities (Wade 2001, p. 4). From 1881 to 1894, Tsar Alexander III and his conservative adviser, Konstantin Pobedonostsev, implemented policies of “Russification” meant to stamp out Western institutions and spread unity through the forced assimilation of non-Russians. The government subjected Russian Jews to especially harsh decrees, such as the “Temporary Rules” of 1882, that required Jews to live only within towns and large villages and restricted them to certain occupations. The authorities overlooked occasional pogroms designed to kill Jews and loot their property (MacKenzie and Curran 1997, p. 34-35). This oppression and state violence meant to preserve the status quo and instill harmony instead bred hatred toward the Imperial regime, its leaders and their bigoted policies.
Alexander III died in 1894 and his son, Nicholas II, came to power. Not only did Nicholas continue his father’s cultural imperialism, but he also worked actively to maintain absolute monarchy, now a rare breed in the Western world. While some historians have depicted him as a weak-willed and superstitious ditherer more interested in his family than ruling, Nicholas actually demonstrated a remarkable resolve to retain power during his reign. His grandfather, Alexander II, had been a reformer, and his 1881 assassination left his descendants believing that parliaments and constitutions would be corrupting forces. Despite this passion for keeping power and maintaining the autocracy, Nicholas did not believe in a direct, hands-on approach. He relied on ill-informed backward-looking advisers and sycophants to steer an enormous Byzantine bureaucracy. He spent most of his time yachting, hunting or inspecting troops, fully entrusting his courtiers and ministers to run the state for him (Figes 1996, pp. 19-24). The person closest to him, his wife Alexandra, also pushed her husband to “show more power and decision” and to “be Peter the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Emperor Paul – crush them all before you” (Russland 1970, p. 145, 454). Russians rightly doubted that Nicholas would ever be more inclined to restructuring his empire along more liberal lines than his father had been. Revolution from above would not come.
Russia lagged behind its neighbors in other ways besides form of government. The Crimean War of the 1850s had exposed the consequences of Russia’s dismal infrastructure and its lack of railroads. In 1862, the Russian government began borrowing heavily from foreign investors, but this debt soon turned the empire into a dubious investment prospect. Therefore, in the 1880s, the Russian state decided it would build the railways itself, while simultaneously balancing its budget to get its fiscal house in order and lure foreign capital. Revenue had to come from somewhere, and being a primarily agricultural economy, Russia squeezed the peasants – and squeezed them hard, with high taxes and export quotas that bled the peasantry of their consumer goods as well as grain. Robbed of its grain reserves, the Russian countryside experienced severe famine in 1891. The public started calling the huge grain shipments “starvation exports” (Kort 2006, pp. 48-49). Such facts did not bother the government, which covered up the shortages and declined relief offers. While the peasants struggled to survive, industrialization brought profits to the vaults of the state treasury.
In 1892, the tsar appointed Sergei Witte as Finance Minister, who immediately increased railway construction, including the Trans-Siberian Railroad, the longest in the world. He subsidized domestic industries, enacted tariffs to bolster Russian goods, and tied the currency to the gold standard, stabilizing the ruble. The effects of these measures led to even greater industrial advances. The country’s industrial growth rate topped 5% between 1885 and 1914, reaching around 8% in the 1890s, the highest of any of the other major powers (Wade 2001, pp. 4-5). In the cities, the new capitalist class ruthlessly exploited the growing proletariat, with trade unions forbidden and any strikes brutally repressed (Kort 2006, pp. 51-52). Simultaneously, a new educated middle class emerged, an intelligentsia including populist revolutionaries as well as liberal democrats. The industrialization the Russian state had so eagerly strived for produced the very classes from which anti-monarchist political movements would spring forth to bring down centuries of Romanov imperialism.
Revolutionary socialism was a dominant current among these movements, although predominantly much more peasant-centered than elsewhere in Europe. Since the 19th century, many Russians radicals had adhered to narodnichestvo, an agrarian populism influenced by the works of the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin and the socialist Nikolay Chernyshevsky. Nardoniks argued that the peasantry, as the largest part of the population, provided the route to revolution and that Russia could make the jump from an agricultural economy to a collectivist state without first transitioning to capitalism (Pipes 1964, p. 441-442). This particular socialist strain strongly influenced the Socialist Revolutionary Party (the SRs), founded in 1901, that became the largest political party with its strongholds in the rural areas. Yet industrialization and urbanization meant political power had shifted increasingly to the inchoate proletariat centered in the cities (Kort 2006, pp. 55-56). Russia had slowly but surely industrialized, and this was no more evident than in the large industrial centers of Moscow and St. Petersburg, the capital. Additionally, the fact that the peasants had endured endless injustices and mistreatment, including the 1891 famine, without rising up discredited the notion that they could be a revolutionary class. Industrial workers, however, with their tendency to strike and organize despite state repression, showed greater potential in this regard.
The Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (the SDs) was the primary proletarian party. Soon after their founding, in 1903 the SDs divided into two factions, the Bolsheviks (from the Russian word for “majority,” as they were narrowly the most numerous in the party) and the Mensheviks (the “minority”). The intellectual leader of the Bolsheviks was Vladimir Lenin, who had been influenced by the populists (his 1902 work What Is to Be Done? borrowed its title from an 1863 populist novel) but dismissed their ideas once it became clear Russia had entered a capitalist stage. He documented this phenomenon in The Development of Capitalism in Russia (1899), wherein he also noted that the peasantry had split into their own classes, with rich peasants (the kulaks) exploiting their poorer brethren. Lenin asserted that revolution had to come from the industrial proletariat, but that the workers required a centralized vanguard party of professional revolutionaries to bring them class consciousness. The SDs were at war with the state, and as such, democratic approaches would be indecisive and dangerous, open to infiltration by wreckers and self-promoters. The Mensheviks, led by Julius Martov, rejected this and placed their trust in an all-encompassing workers’ movement that would campaign through the inevitable shift to bourgeois power to create a broad coalition for the workers. Many SDs wavered between the two groups and their positions, with some members – including a young Leon Trotsky – hoping for settlement between the blocs.
Russia also had its share of non-revolutionary parties. The Constitutional Democratic Party (the KDs or “Kadets”) represented the sort of mainstream liberalism common throughout the rest of Europe, centered on political rights and parliamentarianism. Founded in 1905 and led by Pavel Milyukov, the Kadets drew support from the bourgeoisie and shared with the aristocracy an aversion to any sort of revolution from below that would threaten their favorable position in the existing social order (MacKenzie and Curran 1997, p. 71). The Russian autocrats, however, viewed any restriction on the authority of the tsar as a threat, and as such, ruled out any sort of alliance with the middle class against the workers and peasants. Unlike in England, where the landed gentry had aligned with the embryonic capitalist class to bring gradual enfranchisement and political participation to propertied men, in Russia no one in power even considered such a strategy. It was unthinkable power would rest anywhere but with the tsar.
The government’s foreign policy blunders competed to match its inability to resolve its internal political dissent. Eager to enhance its prestige abroad, Russia attempted to flex its muscle in Asia, demanding from Japan access to Port Arthur in northeast China while also refusing to recognize Japanese dominion over Korea. In the ensuing 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War, Russia suffered a series of unexpected and humiliating defeats, with Nicholas prolonging Russian involvement purely for pride (Ascher 1994, pp. 157-158). When news of Port Arthur’s fall reached the Russian capital in January 1905, a seeming testament to the hollowness of national power, factory workers peacefully marched on the Winter Palace to demand the bettering of working conditions. Fearing a general insurrection, the authorities ordered the marchers to disperse. When the marchers refused, soldiers opened fire, killing hundreds of unarmed protestors.
This incident, “Bloody Sunday,” led to a short-lived general insurrection that lasted for most of the year. Many imagined, quite justifiably, that this would be the realization of the expected revolution. In St. Petersburg, a committee set up to organize and direct strikes evolved into the first soviet, a workers’ council with an executive committee of 22 members. Mensheviks and their allies controlled the committee, Leon Trotsky among them, although Trotsky himself said he had a “behind the scenes” role (Trotsky 1907). Nicholas, desperate for a stopgap measure, pacified the liberals with the October Manifesto, which pledged the creation of a legislature (the Duma), the legalization of political parties, and greater political freedoms. Nicholas remained the final authority of government policy, and his concessions to the middle class proved little more than cover for him to put down the working class uprisings. By the end of the year, the government had crushed several peasant revolts and arrested the leaders of the St. Petersburg Soviet (Fitzpatrick 1994, pp. 32-33). The tsar had survived by slowly inching towards reform, but in the years that followed, he and his allies would take several steps back toward despotism, undoing what scant changes he had countenanced.
The tsar appointed an uncompromising monarchist, Pyotr Stolypin, as his head of government. Stolypin sought to pass a series of agrarian reforms meant to replace communes with individual farms, in a move reminiscent of the enclosure acts in England. This plan proved too ambitious and contentious given the immediate peril facing the autocratic regime, and it did not help matters that Stolypin alienated his few friends in the Duma with his belief that the legislature should be secondary to the tsar and himself (Ascher 2001, pp. 143-144). In 1907, using emergency powers, Nicholas dissolved the Duma and changed the electoral laws so that the more conservative parts of the electorate, landowners and the middle class, were overrepresented at the expense of the working class. This led to a more agreeable Duma, but Stolypin himself remained unpopular, as illustrated by his assassination in an opera house in 1911. Between 1912 and 1914, there were numerous peasant revolts and industrial strikes, and even the middle class, not appeased with merely the loosening of the leash, resumed its clamor for more far-reaching and long-lasting political development in its interest.
In the summer of 1914, Nicholas again compounded his domestic crises by embroiling Russia once more in war. He showed he had learned little from his war with Japan by coming to the adamant defense of Serbia, following the June assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, during a state visit to Sarajevo. Serbian military intelligence officials had collaborated in the political killing, meant as a warning to Vienna to stay out of Balkan affairs (Dedijer 1996, pp. 388-389). Eager to reaffirm that Russia was indeed a “great power” and demonstrate Slavic solidarity, Nicholas came to Serbia’s aid after an Austrian ultimatum, despite some initial indecision. As a result, Germany went to war with Russia along with Austria, and France and Britain entered the fray on the side of Russia. Thus the European alliance system produced World War I. Within Russia, the bourgeoisie mostly supported the war, with the Kadets leading the patriotic charge. In the eyes of their leader, Milyukov, if there was one failing with the Russian leadership, it was the fact that the tsar’s wife was German and therefore likely working secretly for the Kaiser (MacKenzie and Curran 1997, p. 111). So intense was the war fever that the government renamed St. Petersburg to Petrograd in 1914 to avoid any Germanic associations with “-burg.”
The poor Russians who provided the manpower and supplies despised the war. They were expected to fight, work and die for a state that totally denied them political participation and starved them for the sake of economic progress. As they fought and toiled, their casualties mounted. By the end of 1916, around 5,700,000 Russians had died, been wounded or captured (Wade 2001, p. 9). Following a series of disastrous losses, Nicholas himself adopted the role of commander-in-chief in September 1915. In reality, he remained a figurehead, while his subordinates made the strategic decisions (King and Wilson 2003). Nevertheless, in the minds of most Russians, responsibility for the war – and Russia’s poor performance – rested on the tsar’s shoulders.
In March (February Old Style) 1917, a strike held by workers at Russia’s largest factory in Petrograd had blossomed into a general walkout. Nicholas, away at his military headquarters in Mogilev, left the matter to his ministers, who planned to use force: 3,500 police, Cossacks with knouts, and 150,000 soldiers from the local garrison (MacKenzie and Curran 1997, p. 113). On March 8, the strikers joined with crowds celebrating International Women’s Day, bringing the capital to a halt. The troops sent to disperse the protestors received orders to fire on the unarmed demonstrators, just as during “Blood Sunday.” They refused and joined the protestors. On March 11, Nicholas dissolved the Duma, but most of the legislators defied the order and remained in their offices. Liberal members established what would become the self-styled Provisional Government, while the left-wing radicals founded the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. Moderate socialists such as the Mensheviks led this Soviet at first, just as they had the inaugural St. Petersburg prototype in 1905. The Bolsheviks now found themselves languishing in opposition (ibid., p.123-124). Nicholas, isolated and pressured to abdicate by his advisors, gave up his throne to his brother, Michael, who declined the crown. Over 300 years of Romanov rule had ended.
There soon came to be a competition between the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet, a phenomenon Trotsky later dubbed “dual power” or “dual impotence” (Trotsky 1917). The people showed little passion for the Kadets who dominated the Provisional Government, and its initial leadership of Prince Georgy Lvov, a wealthy aristocrat, and Kadet leader Milyukov, a pro-war fanatic, did little to endear itself to the poor, anti-war masses. Only in Alexander Kerensky, a right-wing Socialist Revolutionary who started with the Soviet but obtained permission to join the Government, appeared aligned with the average Russian. Thanks to its pro-war stance, the Government obtained recognition from most of Russia’s allies, but in terms of the economy and local garrisons, the Petrograd Soviet, comprised of thousands of workers’ and soldiers’ delegates, exercised real power. Across Russia, this split authority replicated itself, with the liberal bourgeoisie forming city governments while the working class and soldiers created their own councils (Wade 2001, p. 12). From this arrangement arose a broad coalition between liberals and centrist left-wingers, with the radicals on either side of the spectrum marginalized. In the early days of 1917, there existed a sentiment that this coalition would meet the aspirations of the people, with the promised elections of a constituent assembly as the next step to come.
In Switzerland with other socialist expatriates, Lenin learned of the revolution and made plans to return to Russia. He secured the assistance of the German government, which was assisting anti-war Russians in the hopes of bringing Russia out of the war. Until Lenin’s arrival, the Bolsheviks had, as the opposition faction in the Petrograd Soviet, supplied tacit support to the Provisional Government. The Bolshevik newspaper Pravda, under editors including Joseph Stalin and Lev Kamenev, had published articles to such effect. Days after his return, Lenin issued his “April Theses,” where he dismissed bourgeois parliamentarianism and supported a republic of soviets alongside the nationalization of land and banks as well as the foundation of a revolutionary international to usher workers’ revolutions abroad (Lenin 1917a). The Petrograd Soviet did not adopt Lenin’s platform, and one of the leading Russian Marxists, Georgi Plekhanov, called it “nonsense.” Over the next month, however, Lenin managed to bring most of his faction on board with his manifesto, and received help in this from Trotsky, who had returned from exile in May and now found himself sympathetic to Bolshevik militancy and socialist internationalism. Outside of the Government and on the Soviet sidelines, the Bolsheviks nevertheless had several critical qualities their rivals lacked: able leadership, discipline and commitment.
Spring gave way to summer, and the Provisional Government continued Russian involvement in the war. More moderates from the Soviet joined the Government, including the leader of the peasant-based Social Revolutionaries, Viktor Chernov, now minister of agriculture. Kerensky, shuffled from the interior ministry to war minister, personally visited the front and oversaw a 12-day offensive in July that soon faltered. Demoralized, 700,000 soldiers deserted through the fall (Kort 2006, p. 103). Back in Russia, troops headed to the front mutinied in Petrograd, leading to the “July Days” of rebellion against the liberal ministers. The Bolsheviks only supported the revolt with great reluctance, as Lenin felt – correctly – that the Bolsheviks had insufficient national influence to take power and hold it (MacKenzie and Curran 1997, p. 129). The Provisional Government endured, and Lenin had to flee the country briefly for fear of arrest. Kerensky replaced Prince Lvov as the head of the government shortly afterward, but despite the addition of more SRs and Mensheviks to his cabinet, his commitment to the war and Kadets alienated the people. Had the moderate Soviet leaders moved to totally supplant the Provisional Government at his point, they likely would have succeeded, leaving the odds of a Bolshevik takeover quite dim. Yet, even during the July Days, when mobs clamored for the Soviet to act, pleading for them to take power, the Soviet moderates actively declined. According to one anecdote, a mob formed outside the Soviet headquarters, demanding a Soviet takeover, and Chernov spoke to them and sought to persuade them otherwise. A member of the mob shook his fist in front of Chernov’s face and yelled, “Take power, you son of a bitch, when it is offered to you!” (Kort 2006, p. 104). As support for the moderates faded and their participation in the Government opened them up to accusations of inaction, the ranks of the Bolsheviks swelled, although they lost much of their leadership due to their involvement in the July Days. The Government arrested Trotsky while Lenin remained in hiding in Finland.
With the left-wing revolutionaries divided, reactionary forces plotted to reassert themselves. They rallied to General Lavr Kornilov, who had been appointed commander-in-chief of the military thanks to patronage from business leaders and disillusioned liberals concerned with the growingly socialist nature of the government. Described as having “the heart of a lion, the brains of a sheep,” Kornilov fancied himself the Russian Napoleon, destined to save his country from the terror of neo-Jacobins (Figes 1996, 442-443). In August, Kornilov deployed troops around Moscow and Petrograd and prepared to crush the largest soviets. Kerensky for a time hedged his bets, hoping that he could salvage his authority by letting Kornilov obliterate the more radical elements of the Soviet left, and then reassert himself with the backing of the moderates. Yet when he became fearful that Kornilov might go on to lead a coup and create a military dictatorship, Kerensky sacked the general. Furious, Kornilov marched on Petrograd regardless, thinking Kerensky had bowed to Soviet pressure. Panicked, the Soviet released the detained Bolsheviks and armed and deployed a workers’ militia, the Red Guards. Delegates influenced telegraph and railway workers to delay, derail and otherwise confuse Kornilov’s troops. Bolshevik orators managed to convince the enlisted soldiers to turn on their officers (Wade 2001, p. 18). The coup failed with Kornilov arrested and the public again up in arms.
The Kornilov Affair brought counterrevolution to the forefront of Russian mind and did much to delegitimize further the moderate Government, which now seemed completely ineffectual and out-of-touch. The Bolsheviks, by contrast, had shown the resolve and the capability to protect the revolution, all while sticking to their platform of bread, land and peace. In Petrograd and many other city soviets, the Bolsheviks went from the minority to the majority through fair elections. The SRs under Chernov fell into discord, with Right SRs continuing to support democracy and cooperation with the Government, and Left SRs sympathetic to a violent overthrow and a social revolution. Many peasants, frustrated and impatient, began to seize the property of landowners and formed their own committees. The Government had little choice but to recognize these committees, being powerless to quell them. In the cities, rampant inflation and plummeting wages pushed workers into accordance with the position of the Bolsheviks (MacKenzie and Curran 1997, p. 131-132). Much of their own volition, the Russian working class came to see the Bolsheviks as their only credible benefactors in the revolution.
Yet most of the Bolsheviks themselves balked at taking power when they believed it would fall into their lap. Still on the lam, Lenin observed that the Bolsheviks now possessed the widespread support they had lacked during the July Days. He wrote to the soviets in Petrograd and Moscow, urging them to assume power, before Kerensky could surrender Petrograd to the Germans in a peace treaty (Lenin 1917b). The central committees disregarded these letters. Trotsky, one of the chief Bolsheviks in Petrograd with Lenin away, counseled caution and patience. Nikolai Bukharin, a staunch Bolshevik, later wrote that most of the Bolshevik central committee was “aghast” at Lenin’s calls for violence (Kort 2006, p. 106). Most of his comrades wanted to wait until the upcoming Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets, a conclave of all the soviets throughout the country, which they expected would have a Bolshevik majority. There, they could vote all political power to the Soviets in theory before taking it in practice, supplying them an added amount of legitimacy. To Lenin, this obsession with legitimacy smacked of bourgeois affectation; his concern, as ever, was the revolution.
In October, Lenin traveled back to Russia in disguise, intent on pushing his position in person. Due to his stature within the party, he succeeded in passing a resolution 19-to-2 in favor of an armed uprising. Lev Kamenev and one of Lenin’s colleagues from his Swiss exile, Grigory Zinoviev, authored the pair of dissenting votes, and Kamenev went so far as to resign his spot on the Bolshevik Central Committee and leaked to the press an announcement (and a denouncement) of Lenin’s position (Figes 1996, pp. 476-477). Outraged at this betrayal, Lenin used the Bolshevik press to condemn Kamenev and Zinoviev, calling them traitors and strikebreakers, referring to them as “Mr. Kamenev” and “Mr. Zinoviev” rather than as comrades. While Figes and other historians would claim these acts by Lenin stemmed from an inherent tendency to play the dictator, a more likely explanation is psychology rather than pathology. For Lenin, the Bolsheviks could not carry out a revolution if they were concerned with niceties and appearances; he pressured his followers to remember his platform of dedication and single-mindedness. Only by being energetic and dynamic could the Bolsheviks avoid the same pitfalls of passivity that had claimed their Menshevik and SR counterparts.
Despite the leak of the proposed Bolshevik coup, the Provisional Government did not respond right away, a testament to its deterioration in capacity. It was not until November 5 (October 23 Old Style) that Kerensky declared a state of emergency and issued warrants for the arrest of major Bolsheviks, including Trotsky. He sent soldiers to important sections of Petrograd and shut down several Bolshevik newspapers. When Trotsky learned of this, he issued purely defensive measures in his capacity as chairperson of the Military Revolutionary Committee (Wade 2001, p. 19). Momentum and morale so favored the Soviet forces, however, that most of Petrograd fell easily into Bolshevik hands. What was intended as a mere finger-poke in the chest of the Government toppled the entire establishment. It is reasonable to assume many on the Soviet side presumed the hour had come for the decisive battle between revolution and counterrevolution, a repeat of the Kornilov Affair, and thus embellished on their orders. Seeing the iron was hot, the Bolsheviks moved on the evening of November 7 (October 25 Old Style), with the cruiser Aurora firing empty shells at the Winter Palace, the seat of the Provisional Government. The Red Guards occupied the building and arrested the ministers inside, placing them under house arrest. Kerensky escaped, fleeing in an automobile provided by the U.S. embassy before traveling to England (MacKenzie and Curran 1997, p. 134-137). In a matter of weeks, the Bolsheviks gained control in the rest of Russia. The Second Congress of Soviets occurred as planned, with 390 of the 650 delegates being Bolsheviks. The Mensheviks and other moderates walked out in protest at the demise of the Provisional Government whose cabinet they had participated in, leaving the Bolsheviks and Left SRs to form their own council of commissars, with Lenin at its head. The Bolshevik revolution was complete.
Soviet and some Western historians would portray the ultimate outcome of the 1917 revolution as a meticulously planned and carefully executed operation by the Bolsheviks from the beginning. Others, such as Robert V. Daniels, described the revolution as “a wild gamble, with little chance that the Bolsheviks’ ill-prepared followers could prevail against the military force that the government seemed to have, and even less chance that they could keep power even if they managed to seize it temporarily” (1967, p. 215). The truth is that the Bolsheviks would not have had the opportunity to come to power had it not been for the tremendous failures of their rivals, but they would not have so fully exploited those opportunities had it not been for their political and organizational skill. The Bolsheviks understood that the workers wanted industrial democracy, that the peasants wanted land and that the soldiers, above all, wanted peace. The liberals, by contrast, spoiled their credibility by continuing to partake in the sham parliamentary sessions post-1905, especially after the government disenfranchised the working class. This, along with their zealous support for Russia remaining in World War I, ensured the masses saw them as agents of the bourgeoisie and nothing more. The Mensheviks, Right SRs and other moderates fared slightly better in this regard, the masses electing them to lead the soviets in the early months. Yet their internal squabbles and almost comically stubborn denial of power independent of the Provisional Government set up the Bolsheviks to show their worth when the masses needed it: during the July Days, in squelching the Kornilov Affair and in response to Kerensky’s final gambit.
It cannot be said that the Bolsheviks’ rivals never had a chance at power; at all turns, they either refused it or squandered it. The true tests for the Bolsheviks came from within. Had Lenin relented in the galvanizing of his comrades or been absent from the revolution entirely, might things have transpired differently? As distasteful as virtually all of the Bolsheviks save Lenin found armed rebellion, it should be noted this was an objection to method, not objective; the Bolsheviks had been defined by their vow to put the revolution above all considerations. If there had been a reluctance to embrace Lenin’s incitements, it was not to due an ideological aversion to violence, but instead the belief that taking power through ballots would be more respectable than taking it by bullets. Given that Kerensky’s Provisional Government no longer posed a threat by its end, it was a matter of taste whether to vote it out of existence or to take it out back and shoot it. Only Kamenev and Zinoviev indicated a passionate preference for a democratic approach and power-sharing and only Kamenev tried to force the issue. Had the formal taking of power waited until after the Second Congress of Soviets, would it have made any meaningful difference? That is doubtful. The Bolshevik majority at the Congress was overwhelming, and it would have required the entire faction to abandon its crucial characteristic of being revolutionaries, not democrats. Lenin gifted the Bolsheviks with their defining “eye on the prize” mentality, and his constant pressure to not deviate from treating the revolution as the Bolsheviks’ main priority helped in propelling them past the finish line, but it was not the only fuel in the engine. Given the political climate that existed by the end of 1917, it is hard to imagine how this chapter does not end with the Bolsheviks and the Left SRs as the only groups in power.
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