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Fighting for its life

This article is over 16 years, 8 months old
From day one the Russian Revolution found itself under attack. On only its second day a counter-revolutionary army advanced on Petrograd.
Issue 2075

From day one the Russian Revolution found itself under attack. On only its second day a counter-revolutionary army advanced on Petrograd.

It was joined by officer cadets who had tried to stop the seizure of power in the city and had then been released on the promise they would not take up arms against the revolution.

Hastily organised militia units prepared to defend the city while the soviets dispatched men and women workers to meet the advancing soldiers and convince them not to fight against the revolution.

The workers’ militias defeated the uprising while the counter-revolutionary army advancing on the city began to disintegrate.

On 1 January 1918 the first of a series of assassination attempts was made on Lenin. Before long other Bolshevik leaders would be gunned down. Within weeks of the revolution former officers and generals, financed by the Western powers, formed counter-revolutionary armies in southern Russia and the Ukraine.

The warring Western powers were united in hatred of the revolution. The Bolsheviks opened peace negotiations with the Germans who insisted on keeping all that they had conquered.

When negotiations broke down the Germans advanced further into some of Russia’s richest industrial and agricultural territories before Lenin won a huge debate on the need to sign a peace treaty.

Red Guard

Meanwhile British and French forces took control of Archangel, north of Petrograd, where they began organising counter-revolutionary armies. They were the advance guard of an intervention by over dozen different states aimed at destroying the revolution.

Economic difficulties grew in the course of 1918. More and more workers from Petrograd were drawn into the Red Guard units fighting the counter-revolution or into trying to keep things running in the face of mounting shortages.

But there was one great hope. The whole basis of the revolution had been that it would be the prelude to a wider European revolution. In particular Russian workers looked to Germany, the strongest European economy with the strongest working class.

On 7 November 1918 Petrograd celebrated the first anniversary of the revolution with mass carnivals and demonstrations. News arrived that the German navy had mutinied, effectively ending the Frist World War.

They set up soviets that spread to the factories and cities. The German kaiser fled and power lay in the streets.

For two years revolution gripped Europe – and Lenin and the Bolsheviks gambled on its success. They had been right to see Russia as the first flame in a European conflagration and they cannot be blamed for the failure of the European revolution.

The lack of a party like the Bolsheviks in other European countries, organised and able to lead at the grassroots level, meant that the old labour, socialist and trade union leaders ensured the revolutionary moment was lost.

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