Bolshevik Revolution and the End of World War One on the Eastern Front
Bolsheviks seize power in Russia. Russian defeat in the Great War
7 November 1917 - 3 March 1918
author Paul Boșcu, November 2016
The October Revolution was orchestrated by the Bolsheviks in Petrograd, under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin. During the revolution Alexander Kerersky's government was toppled and the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia. In the aftermath Lenin sought an armistice with the Central Powers. In the following spring, a peace treaty was signed at Brest-Litovsk between Russia and Germany.
The Bolshevik Revolution, also known as the October Revolution, took place in Russia. It was orchestrated by the Bolsheviks and their leader Vladimir Lenin. It took the form of an armed insurrection in Petrograd, Russia’s capital at that time. The Bolsheviks stormed the Petrograd Winter Palace, the seat of Alexander Kerensky’s government. The success of the revolution marked the beginning of peace negotiations with the Central Powers. For the next few years Russia was in a state of civil war as Russian loyalists, known as the White Guard, tried to resist communist rule, only to be defeated in the end.

A small skirmish developed in the Winter Palace, where some officer cadets and a unit of female troops briefly stood off Trotsky’s forces. Armed guards escorted the remnants of the Provisional Government out of their quarters. On the whole, the vaunted October Revolution, although it would have long-lasting historical consequences, was carried off as a well-organized coup d’état within the capital city.

Although the coup took place in early November, it became known to history as the October Revolution because Russia still operated under the Julian calendar.

Very quickly, the organized Soviet armed groups took key points such as the telephone exchange, bridge crossings, railway stations, and government buildings. Lenin announced the formation of a new government, the Council of People's Commissars, whose first acts were to proclaim the ‘socialization’ of land and an appeal for peace.

Unsurprisingly, the Entente governments refused to recognize the new Bolshevik government headed by the Soviet of People’s Commissars, fearing that it would make peace with the Germans. They were right to be concerned. The Germans, on the other hand, were delighted. Lenin had no choice but to deliver peace to his supporters, since this was at the heart of his mass appeal.

While peace negotiations with Germany proceeded, the Bolshevik-dominated Soviet regime, like Kerensky’s Provisional Government earlier, faced further erosion of territorial control and threats from the right. General Lavr Kornilov, together with General Alexey Kaledin, organized a counter-revolutionary force and took control of the Don River region in the south. Lithuania and Bessarabia declared their independence, and the Soviet government accepted Finland’s full national independence.

For the Central Powers, the collapse of Russia was an absolute triumph. At a stroke the Austrians had spare divisions to transfer to the Italian Front, where they could hope to finally defeat the Italian Army. For the Germans, victory meant that the best of their battle-hardened Eastern Front divisions could be transferred to the Western Front, where they could make one final attempt to secure victory over the French and the British.

Despite dissent within the Soviet, counter-revolution, civil war, counter-coup, and assassination attempts, the Bolsheviks would retain control of the Russian state for the next 70 years.

The Bolsheviks organized a coup in Petrograd to seize power in the name of the Soviet. Under Lenin’s leadership, the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party agreed to launch the revolution. Leon Trotsky spread a rumor that Kerensky planned to bring troops into the city to suppress the Soviet. Thus the Soviet, including members of the Menshevik and Social Revolutionary parties, supported Trotsky in arming factory workers. Especially important was the capture of the main bastion of revolutionary authority, the Petrograd Soviet.

The Germans provided the perfect pretext for Lenin to launch his revolution. During September they enlarged their success at Riga by gaining positions in the northern Baltic from which they could directly threaten Petrograd. The Provisional Government reacted by proposing to transfer the capital to Moscow. The Bolsheviks, who represented the proposal as a counter-revolutionary move to consign the seat of the people's power to the Kaiser, won wide support for the creation of a defence committee with authority to defend Petrograd by every means.

By now the Bolsheviks controlled their own disciplined force of Red Guards and could count on their own ability to manipulate the sentiments of the Petrograd garrison to their advantage. It merely remained to choose a date for a coup.

The Bolsheviks started in the spring of 1917 as the least influential of the three major socialist parties, but grew rapidly in size and importance. By fall they had surpassed the Mensheviks and were challenging the Socialist Revolutionary Party, or SR, in popular support; in Petrograd and many urban centers they had surpassed both parties. The reasons are complex. One was the Bolsheviks’ success in positioning themselves as the opposition to both the government and Soviet leadership.

As the Provisional Government and revolutionary leaders failed to solve the problems of Russia and to meet the aspirations of society, the radical left prospered. The Bolsheviks in particular became the political alternative for the disappointed and disenchanted. The Bolsheviks’ appeal was not merely negative, however. They also drew support for the policies they advocated. They promised quick action on the problems facing Russia: immediate peace, rapid and complete land distribution, worker supervision in industry and various other social-economic changes.

The Bolsheviks capitalized on the growing correspondence of their views with those of the workers and soldiers by waging an energetic propaganda campaign in the press and by orators, in which they drove home their criticism of the government and highlighted their own prescription for radical change. Their politics of sweeping change, of a revolutionary restructuring of society, aligned them with popular aspirations as the population turned toward more radical solutions to the mounting problems of Russia.

On the 31st of August a Bolshevik-sponsored resolution passed in the Petrograd Soviet for the first time. After that the Soviet elected a new radical left leadership. Leon Trotsky became chairman of the Soviet. The new presidium had four Bolsheviks, two SRs and one Menshevik. Simultaneously the Bolsheviks took over the Moscow Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, thereby giving them leadership of the two most important soviets. Victories in other cities accompanied this as the radical left bloc – and sometimes the Bolsheviks alone – won reelection campaigns in factories and barracks and took over control of soviet after soviet.

General elections to city and district government councils also revealed the shifting political loyalties. The Bolsheviks received a third of the votes in elections for the Petrograd city council on 20 August, despite the absence of Lenin and some other top party leaders who were in hiding. In Moscow, Bolsheviks gained an absolute majority in elections for city district councils in September. These Bolshevik successes, it should be noted, came within the context of a dramatic falling off of voting in general. This control of the Petrograd Soviet and some other soviets allowed the October Revolution to take place.

Through these re-elections of deputies and officers, the Bolsheviks and other leftists were elected to leadership of the Petrograd and other soviets, and also of trade unions, factory committees, army committees and some public offices. They could reasonably claim at this time to speak on behalf of ‘Soviet democracy’, the worker and soldier masses of the urban soviets and their demand for Soviet power.

Under Bolshevik leadership, the Petrograd Soviet, the most influential institution in Russia, now became the main vehicle of the drive for Soviet power, supported by other soviets and popular organizations. Indeed, as it turned out, the October Revolution would begin as a defense of the Petrograd Soviet and the idea of Soviet power.

The Bolshevik Party’s success also grew in part out of its organization. The Bolshevik Party in 1917 was a unique combination of centralization and decentralization. A small Central Committee served as its top decision-making body. Below it were city and provincial committees, of which the most important was that in Petrograd, the Petersburg Committee. Further down were the district committees in large cities and the smaller regional organizations countrywide. At the bottom, at the grass-roots level, stood the party committees in factories and army units. The Bolsheviks also had a special Military Organization to work among the soldiers.

Not being distracted by the problems of central and local governance that affected other parties, the Bolsheviks were able to devote more energy and personnel to party organizational work and to gaining new supporters among the mass organizations and committees. Moreover, the party leadership was more cohesive than the other major parties.

The lower-level party organizations tended to be more radical and more activist than the upper-level organizations. This reflected the fact that the Bolshevik Party, as the party of radical extremism, attracted the most radical and impatient individuals from the factories and garrisons. The top party leadership, on the other hand, was concerned with broad strategic issues and was of necessity somewhat more cautious than the rank and file.

The party was not without internal divisions. Despite Lenin’s traditional emphasis on leadership and discipline, the lower party organizations had considerable freedom to adapt to the demands of their worker or soldier constituencies and to changing circumstances. They sometimes challenged or ignored the policies of the top leaders. For example, although Lenin temporarily abandoned the slogan of ‘All Power to the Soviets’ following the July Days, most of the party, especially at the lower levels, never ceased to support it.

The leadership sometimes found it difficult to keep their more impatient members in step with overall party policy and strategy, as the July Days had shown. There were important disagreements throughout 1917 among the party leaders as well, especially concerning taking power. But the Bolsheviks were still the best organized and most cohesive, and had the most clearly authoritative central leadership.

The rise of the Bolsheviks and radical lefts in the soviets paralleled an ongoing government crisis that made government restructuring a pressing issue in political life during autumn 1917. The second coalition cabinet founded with such difficulty in July collapsed during the Kornilov Affair. The parties and leaders that had championed coalition could not immediately agree on its reorganization. Therefore the Provisional Government ministers turned the running of the government over to a Council of Five, headed by Kerensky. This new government would soon collapse.

Forming a new government, however, again proved difficult. To help resolve this a ‘Democratic Conference’, a gathering of representatives of socialist parties, soviets, trade unions, cooperatives and elected popular institutions such as city councils (which were mostly socialist controlled) met. After prolonged and acrimonious debate, the conference passed muddled motions: first for the principle of coalition, then an amendment against including members of the Kadet Party, and then rejecting the whole resolution.

The failure of the Democratic Conference to reach agreement allowed Georgian politician Irakli Tsereteli and the partisans of coalition to support Kerensky in forming a new Provisional Government, the ‘Third Coalition’. Headed by Kerensky and including Kadets, Mensheviks, SRs and other moderate socialists and liberals, it was even weaker than its predecessors, devoid of authority or significant support from any quarter. While formally a continuation of coalition, no one had much hope for it and all talk was of what would replace it.

There is an appropriate symmetry to the coincidence that the Third Coalition government was finally formed on the same day Trotsky became chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. The Bolshevik control of the Petrograd Soviet meant that the new government was faced with determined opposition there rather than the cooperation between the government and the Soviet that had been at the heart of the February Revolution from March through August.

The Third Coalition was the first cabinet of the Provisional Government that was formally denied the support of the Petrograd Soviet. Discussion of the government’s pending demise and of how it might be replaced – by a broad socialist coalition or a radical Soviet government –began immediately. Moreover, the discussion went far beyond party leadership circles. It was the subject of intense debate in newspapers, in cafes, in barracks and factories, at public meetings and private clubs, on street corners and anywhere else people gathered.

The discussion of Bolshevik plans and the calls for Soviet power took place within the context of the deepening social and economic crisis and the growing popular demand for change. By late summer the revolution had clearly failed thus far to meet the aspirations of the people of the former Russian Empire. Unsolved political, social and economic problems created a mood of anxiety and tensions that fed directly into the growing clamor for a radical change of government. The war continued to loom as a fundamental problem. The desire for peace became overwhelming by fall, among both soldiers and civilians.

By fall Russians realized that they were suffering through almost continuous political instability punctuated by sharp crises marked by street demonstrations and loss of life. Newspapers and street orators traded recriminations over responsibility for the collapse of the summer military offensive and for the growing social and economic disorders. Strident demands by industrialists and workers, generals and soldiers, national groups and others filled the air.

A sense of general crisis pervaded life, a feeling that things could not go on as they were. The latter was similar to the feeling that had preceded the February Revolution, that life could not long continue unchanged.

Growing political radicalism also fed on the worsening economic situation. An important factor in the mood of autumn 1917 was the sharp increase in prices coupled with growing scarcity of food and other supplies. The situation in Petrograd was both especially bad and especially critical, given its political importance and volatility. Bread had been rationed since spring, but in mid-October incoming bread supplies fell dramatically below daily demands. Although most attention focused on bread, delivery of other foodstuffs also lagged dangerously behind previous consumption levels. This problem existed in other cities as well.

The industrial economy also continued to deteriorate, and that in turn helped drive other discontent. Whatever economic gains workers had made in the spring had long since been wiped out by skyrocketing prices, management resistance to new salary increases, and wage losses due to factory closings and shortened hours. Strikes became even more bitter and politically polarizing.

The crisis in the factories inevitably led the workers to the question of the use of state power to defend their interests. Worker conflicts with management and concern over wages, jobs and protection of their organizations led inexorably to a belief that these required a political solution. The issue before the workers by fall 1917 was not whether a socialist government should come, but when and how. In the mood of crisis that existed, the former seemed most important to ever more workers; steps were needed now. This was what the call for Soviet power meant to them: a government that would use state power in their interests, to solve their problems.

Other problems heightened the sense of a society falling apart and in need of drastic measures. The growth of crime and public disorders intensified in the fall. The newspapers were full of reports of robberies, assaults and other violence. Petty as well as serious misbehavior in public places – drunkenness, random shooting of firearms, looting, violence at train stations (usually by soldiers), a new rudeness of speech and behavior, open flouting of the law, unruly garrison soldiers – reinforced the impression.

The litany of problems was well summed up in an article on 20 September in the Moscow newspaper of the most moderate wing of the Socialist Revolutionary Party: ‘Against the background of merciless foreign war and defeats of the armies of the Republic, internally the country has entered upon a period of anarchy and, virtually, a period of civil war… An open revolt flares up in Tashkent, and the Government sends armies and bullets to suppress it. A mutiny in Orel. Armies are sent. In Rostov the town hall is dynamited. In Tambovsk province there are agrarian pogroms; experimental fields are destroyed, also pedigreed cattle, etc. In Novgorod–Volynsk district storehouses are looted. Grain reserve stores in Perm province are looted. Gangs of robbers appear on the roads in Pskov province. In the Caucasus there is a slaughter in a number of places. Along the Volga, near Kamyshin, soldiers loot trains. In Finland the army and the fleet have disassociated themselves completely from the Provisional Government. Russia is threatened by a railway employees’ strike… Unbridled, merciless anarchy is growing. Any cause is used. Events of colossal importance take place throughout the country. The Russian state collapses.’

Lenin realized that autumn 1917 offered a unique opportunity for a radical restructuring of political power and for a man such as himself. He believed that not only was the situation in Russia ripe for revolution, but also that in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. Like other Russian socialists in 1917, Lenin saw the Russian Revolution as a central part of a broader, sweeping world revolution. He saw it as a fundamental turning point in both Russian and world history: ‘history will not forgive us,’ he wrote, if this opportunity to take power was missed. Other party leaders, in contrast, urged caution.

Lenin realized that the Bolsheviks had to move quickly because the Menshevik and SR Parties were turning toward their left wings and moving toward the idea of an all-socialist government – the recent Democratic Conference had nearly achieved that. If a new effort were successful, it would placate one of the most insistent popular demands and eliminate one of the mainstays of Bolshevik agitation.

Lenin realized that even the more moderate wing of his own party supported the idea of a broad socialist government. He had to move before that happened and the Bolsheviks found themselves merely a part, perhaps even a minority part, of a broad socialist government. The seizure of power by the Bolsheviks was now his obsession.

Lenin’s call divided the party leadership. A minority supported Lenin’s call to arms, especially the second-level leaders in the Petersburg Committee and some district committees, but even there many doubted the feasibility of such an action. Another group, led by Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev, two of Lenin’s oldest and closest associates and most authoritative party leaders, urged caution. They argued that the party was growing stronger day by day and that it would be foolish to risk that in an ill-conceived adventure that the government might yet have the strength to suppress.

Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev had a different vision of the future revolutionary government, favoring a broad coalition of socialists in a democratic left government – a position Lenin had held earlier but now abandoned. Their status in the party and Kamenev’s prominent role as a party spokesman in Petrograd – in contrast to Lenin’s absence – reinforced the influence of this position.

In between Lenin’s demand for a violent seizure of power by the Bolsheviks and the caution of Zinoviev and Kamenev, a third position emerged. Increasingly identified with Leon Trotsky and probably representing a majority of the party’s leadership, this looked to the forthcoming Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets as the place and time for the transfer of power. The Bolsheviks and other parties supporting Soviet power would likely have a majority at the congress, and the congress could then declare the transfer of power to itself. The government, they believed, would be helpless to resist this.

At the beginning of October, Lenin returned from Finland to Petrograd. He met, for the first time since July, with the Central Committee of the party. After an all-night debate the Central Committee seemingly gave in to Lenin’s passionate demands for a seizure of power. It passed a resolution stating ‘the Central Committee recognizes that… [there follows a long list of international and domestic developments] all this places armed uprising on the order of the day.’ This resolution later became central to the myth of a carefully planned seizure of power carried out under Lenin’s direction.

It is important to note that the resolution did not set any timetable or plan for a seizure of power. Rather, it was a formal reversion of Bolshevik Party policy to the idea that an armed uprising was a revolutionary necessity, after the interlude since July in which they had held that a peaceful development of the revolution was possible.

After cataloging the international and domestic political situation, the resolution asserted that ‘therefore… an armed uprising is inevitable and that the time for it fully ripe,’ and instructed ‘all Party organizations to act accordingly and to discuss and resolve all practical questions (the Congress of Soviets of the Northern Region, the withdrawal of troops from Petrograd, the reaction of the people in Moscow and Minsk, etc.) from this point of view’.

The resolution represented a shift in formal policy, but did not commit the party to a seizure of power before the Congress of Soviets or at any other specific time. Nor did it start actual preparations for a seizure of power. It was a general statement of policy for a turbulent and seemingly favorable period in the revolution, not a plan for the immediate seizure of power. At the most it was a statement of intent to overthrow the Provisional Government and replace it with a Soviet-based government when the time was right and a suitable opportunity arose, whenever that might be. This was hardly a new idea by October.

The resolution set off a vigorous debate within the Bolshevik Party about the meaning of the resolution and their future course of action, and it revealed the divisions in the party. A few interpreted it in a narrow sense, in Lenin’s meaning, as a decision to launch an armed seizure of power as soon as possible. ‘The sooner the better,’ argued I. Rakhia at a meeting of the Petersburg Committee a few days later. Most, however, interpreted it in a broad sense, of meaning that a seizure of power would be carried out at some time, in some way, probably via the Congress of Soviets or in reaction to some government provocation.

The Congress of Soviets of the Northern Region (CSNR) meeting was especially important. Its organizers, mostly Bolsheviks, saw it as a vehicle for organizing the Baltic-Finnish-Petrograd region troops, sailors and soviets behind the push for Soviet power and to ensure the meeting of the forthcoming Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets. Lenin at this time was talking about an armed attack on Petrograd using troops from the Baltic fleet and northern region as the means of seizing power.

Although the question of an immediate seizure of power was raised, the CSNR leaders, Trotsky in particular, steered it toward preparations for the All-Russia Congress of Soviets and the assumption of power there. Lenin, however, in his writings specified the CSNR as a possible vehicle for seizing power.

The mobilization of supporters during this period was especially important. A declaration of the transfer of power at the Congress of Soviets, however much expected, would after all be an insurrectionary action. The Bolsheviks and Left SRs could assume that Kerensky’s government would try to resist. Therefore, they worked to ensure that the Congress of Soviets could successfully take power upon itself, and launched a series of measures designed to weaken the government and deprive it of its remaining legitimacy.

They undertook to mobilize their own supporters, including a belated effort to create a Petrograd-wide Red Guard organization. They moved to take away the government’s remaining authority over the garrison of Petrograd, thus destroying any ability of the government to use it against the seizure of power by the Congress of Soviets. They repeatedly called on workers and soldiers to be ready to defend the revolution and the Congress of Soviets.

It was as part of the efforts by the Bolsheviks and Left SRs to guarantee that they could successfully declare Soviet power at the congress that the Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC) and its attempt to neutralize government authority in the Petrograd garrison take on meaning. The idea of the MRC originated in the proposal by a Menshevik member of the Petrograd Soviet to form a special committee to work on the problems of the restive mood of the garrison and the defense of Petrograd (a German attack was feared).

Trotsky, as chairman of the Soviet, took up the idea of the MRC and extended it, calling for a ‘revolutionary defense committee’ to familiarize itself with all issues of defense of the capital and to supervise the arming of the workers. The purpose was to defend the city not only against any German threat, but against a ‘Kornilovite counter-revolution’.

Resolutions passed at an MRC-sponsored garrison conference promised full support to the MRC and the Petrograd Soviet and called for the Congress of Soviets to take power. With this reaffirmation of the garrison’s primary loyalty to the Soviet in hand, the MRC pressured the government.

An MRC delegation called on General G.P. Polkovnikov, commander of the Petrograd Military District, and told him that ‘henceforth orders not signed by us are invalid.’ Polkovnikov rejected their ultimatum. In response the MRC sent to all garrison units a declaration the next day that denounced Polkovnikov’s refusal to recognize the MRC as proof that military headquarters was ‘a tool of counter-revolutionary forces’. Therefore, it declared, protection of the revolution rested with the soldiers under the direction of the MRC. ‘No orders to the garrison not signed by the Military Revolutionary Committee are valid... The revolution is in danger.’

Petrograd was the scene of numerous mass rallies, rumors and self-mobilizations. The 4th of November had earlier been proclaimed the ‘Day of the Petrograd Soviet’, a day for meetings and demonstrations to raise funds and to consolidate support for the Soviet. Given the tension in the air, it now took on special significance. At mass rallies around the city, the Bolsheviks and Left SRs worked to garner popular support for transfer of power to the Soviet. The aroused crowds roared their support. ‘All around me,’ wrote Nicholai Sukhanov of a meeting where Trotsky spoke of the benefits of Soviet power, ‘was a mood bordering on ecstasy.’

Rumors that ‘counter-revolutionaries’ would do something that day led some Red Guard units to mobilize themselves and lent an air of nervous expectation. Some of these Red Guards decided to remain on alert until the Congress of Soviets met. The Vyborg district Red Guard staff ordered all units to hold themselves in full fighting readiness.

By the end of the day everyone was expecting some kind of a revolutionary move, whether a classic armed rebellion (fueled by images of the French Revolution, peasant rebellions, and the July Days), an act by the Congress of Soviets, or even a counter-revolutionary putsch – something! A nervous tension rippled through the city.

Petrograd Soviet leaders, emboldened by support shown, and having largely completed replacing old military unit commissars with new men – mostly Bolsheviks and Left SRs – escalated their challenge to the government. The MRC announced to the population that to defend the revolution it had sent commissars to military units and important points in the city, and only orders confirmed by them were to be obeyed. The MRC won the allegiance of the garrison of the Peter and Paul Fortress. The fortress occupied the center of the city and its guns loomed over the Provisional Government offices in the Winter Palace across the river.

Kerensky, the government members, and military commanders in Petrograd finally became alarmed at the trend of events: the massive show of support for Soviet power, the activities of the MRC, the behavior of the garrison and the Red Guards, and the looming Congress of Soviets. Finally, the government decided to act. Their proposed actions were so minor and inadequate that the government obviously did not comprehend either the popularity of the idea of Soviet power or the very real discontent felt by the populace. They completely failed to anticipate the firestorm of opposition that their actions would set off.

They made inquiries about the dispatch of troops from the nearby Northern Front, but these only raised doubts about whether such troops would support the government. Kerensky and the government were confronted with either waiting passively for the Congress of Soviets to declare their replacement or taking some sort of preemptive action. They ordered military officials to assemble a reliable force at the Winter Palace.

Kerensky proposed arresting the MRC. The government instead agreed to initiate legal proceedings against some MRC members and Bolsheviks, and to close two Bolshevik newspapers in the city. For balance, two conservative papers would be closed also. Such minor repressive measures by the government could hardly stop the rising tide of demand for Soviet power, but they could provide the very ‘counter-revolutionary’ action for which the left had been watching.

As most of Petrograd slept, a small detachment of military cadets and militiamen sent by the Provisional Government raided the press where two Bolshevik newspapers were published. They destroyed freshly printed copies of that day’s paper, damaged the print beds, sealed the entrances and posted a guard. The Military Revolutionary Committee sent ‘Directive No. 1’ to regimental commissars and committees: ‘You are ordered to bring your regiment to fighting readiness.’ The question was what to do next. Some of those present supported starting an armed insurrection immediately. Most, however, including Trotsky, focused instead on defensive measures designed to guarantee that the Congress of Soviets opened as scheduled the next day.

The alarmed press workers ran with the stunning news to the Smolny Institute, headquarters of the Petrograd Soviet, the Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC) and the Bolshevik Party. Officials at Smolny quickly branded the press closure a counter-revolutionary move and summoned the leaders of the MRC, Petrograd Soviet and the Bolshevik and Left SR Parties. These (not including Lenin, who remained in hiding) assembled at Smolny to find that, in addition to the account of the printers, reports were coming in from various places around the city of suspicious troop movements.

Unbeknownst to anyone, including the Bolshevik leaders, the October Revolution had begun. It began not in response to the demands of Lenin or a Bolshevik plan, but in response to the government’s ill-conceived decision to launch a minor punitive action against the Bolsheviks.

The MRC appealed for support: ‘Counter-revolutionary conspirators went on the offensive during the night. A treasonous blow against the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies is being planned… The campaign of the counter-revolutionary conspirators is directed against the Congress of Soviets on the eve of its opening, against the Constituent Assembly, against the people.’

The Bolshevik Central Committee meeting which was hastily assembled concerned itself more with various aspects of the general political crisis than with the Provisional Government’s actions that morning and their response to it; they did not discuss overthrowing the government before the congress met. That afternoon Stalin told a meeting of Bolshevik delegates assembled for the congress that there were two viewpoints within the MRC, ‘that we organize an uprising at once, and that we first consolidate our forces,’ and that the Central Committee sided with the latter view. Trotsky’s speech to the meeting reinforced Stalin’s and stressed that the MRC’s ordering of troops to reopen the closed Bolshevik newspapers was a defensive action.

The two opposing sides, each basically acting defensively, each accusing the other of betraying the revolution and each posing as its defender, tried to rally political and military support as the confrontation gradually gained momentum. Their efforts found very different responses. During the morning, Kerensky and Petrograd military authorities tried without success to find reliable armed support. In contrast the Soviet found swift and vigorous support. Although Kerensky won applause for denunciations of the Bolsheviks, after an evening of debate the Preparliament passed a resolution that effectively repudiated the Kerensky government – this in a body where most of the radical left representatives were absent.

Government efforts to exercise authority in the Petrograd garrison were futile. The soldiers showed little enthusiasm for being used by either side, whereas the ones who did, supported the Soviet. The garrison soldiers, when confronted with contradictory orders, usually either followed those coming from the Soviet and MRC commissars or did nothing; either way they were of no use to the government. Orders to send troops from outside the city were either countermanded by army committees or else the troops themselves refused to move after Soviet representatives told them they were being used for counter-revolution.

By early afternoon the government managed to assemble only a small force of military cadets, officers, Cossacks and a detachment from one of the women’s battalions to protect the Winter Palace and key government and communications buildings.

Although most of the army garrison stayed in their barracks, some radicalized army units responded to the perceived threat of counter-revolution and came out in response to MRC appeals. Moreover, the actions of the government galvanized the already agitated industrial workers and propelled their armed detachments, the Red Guard, into the confused struggle for control of the city. Virtually all Red Guards went into action, either on their own or in conjunction with groups of soldiers.

The attitude of the Red Guards was especially important. Among the Red Guards there were no wavering units as there were among the soldiers, no forces that a worried Soviet leadership need fear might support the government. The problem for the MRC was that it exercised little direct control over the Red Guards, and even lacked a clear notion of their size and utility. Nonetheless, the Red Guards and those troops who came out gave the pro-Soviet forces preponderant armed strength in the capital.

The government and political opposition to Soviet power, meanwhile, was crumbling. Kerensky himself spent much of the afternoon at the Preparliament trying to build political support. Indeed, virtually the entire political leadership of the country, except the Bolsheviks and Left SRs, spent the afternoon and evening there in fruitless debate. At the same time, the moderate socialist leaders could not find any course of action other than issuing another tired resolution calling for restraint and warning of counter-revolution. They still did not understand the deep popular roots of the demand for Soviet power.

While the politicians debated, while Kerensky sought support that would never come and while the Soviet and MRC leaders moved slowly to control key points that would be necessary to defend against a nonexistent counter-revolution, groups of armed workers and soldiers began an uncoordinated but decisive struggle for control of the city. Most actions on that day were defensive and reactive. Haphazardly and little by little, a transfer of armed power in the city took place through a series of non shooting confrontations between armed groups in which the more determined side prevailed. And determination rested with the supporters of Soviet power. By nightfall the pro-Soviet forces controlled most of the city.

Red Guards and pro-Soviet soldiers mobilized to control the bridges over the river after the government endeavored to raise them to inhibit movement. Occupation of railroad stations followed rumors that the government was calling in troops from outside the city. This was mostly a process of push and shove, bluff and counterbluff, the government trying to use ‘reliable’ units to maintain control, while pro-Soviet soldiers and Red Guards strove to take over buildings, bridges and key positions. There was remarkably little actual shooting; no one was eager to die for the Provisional Government.

Despite these successes, the Soviet and MRC leaders were still thinking about warding off a blow from the government and about the transfer of power at the congress. On that evening Trotsky told the Petrograd Soviet that ‘All Power to the Soviets’ would be implemented at the Congress of Soviets, and ‘whether this leads to an uprising or not depends not only and not so much on the Soviets as on those who hold state power in their hands contrary to the unanimous will of the people.’ He then warned that, ‘if the sham power [Provisional Government] makes a long-shot attempt to revive its own corpse, then the mass of the people, organized and armed, will give it a decisive rebuff.’ Colorful imagery aside, this was a more realistic assessment of the situation than was coming from the other side.

Around midnight, the gathering revolution shifted from defensive to offensive action. This was connected to two events: a growing realization that the government was much weaker than thought, and the arrival of Lenin at Soviet headquarters. Lenin had not been part of the cautious defensive reaction, and he was the one leader who had consistently urged an armed seizure of power before the Congress of Soviets met. Under his pressure and the reality of their growing strength, the Bolshevik Soviet leaders shifted from a defensive posture to the offensive at about 2:00 a.m.

Although he had been ordered by the Bolshevik Central Committee to stay in hiding, near midnight an agitated Lenin, aware that something major was happening in the city, left his hiding place to go to Smolny. Wearing a wig, a cap and a bandage on his face, he set off accompanied by a lone bodyguard. On the way they were intercepted by a patrol of military cadets but, mistaken for a pair of drunks and not recognized, were allowed to pass. Then, when they arrived at Smolny, the Red Guard at the door initially refused them entry for lack of proper credentials. Only with difficulty did Lenin manage to enter what was becoming the headquarters of a revolution.

The MRC began to work out an elaborate plan for dispersing the Preparliament, arresting the Provisional Government and taking control of remaining key installations. They dropped the notion of waiting for the Congress of Soviets and commenced a drive to seize and declare the transfer of power immediately – before the congress – as Lenin demanded.

By the time a cold gray windy day dawned, pro-Soviet forces had extended their control to almost all of the city except the Winter Palace. There the members of the Provisional Government still sat behind a small, increasingly dispirited band of defenders, surrounded by a large but disorganized force of Red Guards and insurgent soldiers. By mid-morning the situation had progressed to the point at which, at about the same time, the Bolsheviks proclaimed the transfer of power while Kerensky fled the city in search of supporters.

The besiegers feared that the government might have determined supporters who would inflict heavy casualties on any attackers and so were reluctant to attack. In fact, neither besiegers nor defenders were eager to risk bloodshed.

Kerensky at first fled the city, then attempted to raise loyal troops. When that failed, he left the country in disguise, going into exile, first in France and later in the United States. He died there in 1970.

Kerensky, aware that a coup was in the offing, took half-hearted measures to defend government offices. His orders, which were ineffectively implemented by officers who no longer gave him their trust, tipped Lenin into decision. The Provisional Government put up a feeble resistance which was quickly overwhelmed.

Kerensky had tried to find reliable troops in Petrograd and, being unsuccessful, decided to leave the city to seek troops at the front. He had trouble finding a way out of the city – the train stations were occupied by insurgents and the government could not find an automobile of its own – and not until about 11:00 a.m. did he speed past the besieging forces loosely surrounding the Winter Palace.

While Kerensky searched for a car, Lenin at the Smolny Institute wrote the announcement of the overthrow of the government, which was immediately printed and spread throughout the city. On his way out of the city, in a borrowed car, Kerensky might have passed the first distribution of the proclamation announcing his overthrow. It read: ‘To the Citizens of Russia! The Provisional Government has been overthrown. State power has passed into the hands of the organ of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, the Military Revolutionary Committee, which stands at the head of the Petrograd proletariat and garrison. The cause for which the people have struggled – the immediate offer of a democratic peace, the abolition of landlord ownership of land, workers’ control over industry, the creation of a Soviet government – this has been assured. Long live the revolution of workers, soldiers and peasants! The Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies. 25 October 1917, 10:00 in the morning.’

That afternoon Trotsky opened a meeting of the Petrograd Soviet, where he announced the overthrow of the government and steps taken to secure power in the city. Lenin then emerged, his first public appearance since the July Days, to thunderous applause. The excited deputies and others who had crowded into the hall affirmed the transfer of power.

Trotsky’s and Lenin’s claims, while substantially true, ignored the inconvenient fact that, excepting Kerensky, the Provisional Government still sat in the Winter Palace behind a small defending force. It was a curiously unmilitary face-off.

By the evening it appeared that Lenin had obtained his goal of a transfer of power by a violent act of seizure before the Congress of Soviets. It is worth noting, however, that the transfer of power was in the name of the Petrograd Soviet and affirmed by it. It was not a revolution in the name of the Bolshevik Party, and the multiparty Congress of Soviets was still to be the ultimate legitimizing institution. Transforming a seizure of power in the name of Soviet power into a Bolshevik regime would depend on yet another unforeseeable stroke of luck, this one at the Congress of Soviets.

All through the day and evening, new arrivals of Red Guards and soldiers reinforced the besiegers, some of whom left, while some of the palace’s military defenders changed their minds and marched away unhindered. Finally, during the late evening, besiegers began filtering into the palace in small numbers, rather than actually ‘storming’ it (paintings and motion pictures of a great charge on the palace were later fictional romanticizations). Toward midnight, those filtering in became a steady stream. As one defender described the process, ‘as long as the groups of Red Guards were small, we disarmed them… However, more and more Red Guards appeared, and also sailors and soldiers of the Pavlovsky Regiment. The disarming began to be reversed.’ Finally, the revolutionaries advanced to the point where they could arrest the members of the Provisional government.

On the afternoon of the 7th, the radical journalist John Reed and three other Americans were able to bluff their way past the besiegers and simply walked into the palace unmolested by defenders. They wandered around the palace talking to various persons before walking back out past besieging Red Guards and soldiers.

At about 2:00 a.m. some of the attackers finally found the way to the room where the government ministers sat. At the sound of approaching insurgents, the ministers ordered the cadets guarding the door not to resist, in order to save lives, and seated themselves around a table and waited. The door was suddenly flung open and, in the words of one government minister, ‘a little man flew into the room, like a chip tossed by a wave, under the pressure of the mob which poured in and spread at once, like water, filling all corners of the room.’ This was Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, one of the Bolshevik leaders of the MRC, who shouted, ‘In the name of the Military Revolutionary Committee, I declare you under arrest.’ By the time of the arrest, however dramatic, the city was completely in the hands of pro-Soviet forces and the Congress of Soviets already in session.

With the city in the hands of the Soviet, the next day the Congress of Soviets, including representatives from outlying cities and towns, convened. Bolsheviks made up about half its membership. Most of the others, including Mensheviks and right-wing Social Revolutionaries, walked out of the meeting in protest at the high-handed Bolshevik control. The remaining members of the Congress appointed a Council of People’s Commissars, mostly Bolshevik, with a few Left Social Revolutionaries. Through such leveraging of the Bolshevik domination of the Petrograd Soviet, Lenin had in fact created a Bolshevik government.

As the armed struggle for control of Petrograd drew toward a close on the evening of the 7th of November, the emphasis shifted to the political struggle at the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets. Events unfolding there that night shaped the nature of the new government in ways no one, not even Lenin, could have foreseen at the time. They gave the Bolsheviks full control of the congress and the new government, contrary to all expectations, and transformed the debate about just what ‘Soviet power’ meant now that it was a reality.

The opening of the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets was delayed by the skirmishing in the city, with the Bolsheviks especially anxious to take the Winter Palace and capture the Provisional Government before it opened. The excited, milling crowd of delegates could no longer be put off, however, and finally the meeting opened amidst the sounds of weapons firing and with the palace still under siege.

The Bolsheviks were the largest party. To obtain a majority they needed the support of other advocates of Soviet power, especially the approx. 80-85 Left SRs, who had not yet officially broken with the parent SR Party. Nonetheless, these numbers guaranteed that the new leadership would be from the radical left and predominantly Bolshevik. Most participants assumed that the congress would create a new government composed of a coalition of socialist leaders – Soviet power. The main question was its exact composition and how radical it would be.

Hardly had the congress begun when the sound of cannon was heard in the distance: the artillery on the Peter and Paul Fortress firing across the Neva River at the Winter Palace (which actually did little physical damage). An excited Julius Martov, speaking for the Menshevik-Internationalists, proposed that, to avoid bloodshed, negotiations begin at once for a united democratic government of all socialist parties. This was endorsed by Anatoly Lunacharsky for the Bolsheviks and Sergei Mstislavsky for the Left SRs, and adopted overwhelmingly. This plan immediately went astray, however.

A series of speakers from the SR, Menshevik, Bund and smaller parties rose to condemn the ‘conspiracy by the Bolshevik Party’, which, they charged, preempted the work of the congress and ‘signals the beginning of civil war and the break-up of the Constituent Assembly and threatens to destroy the Revolution.’ Calling on congress delegates to join in a decision by Petrograd City Council deputies to march to the Winter Palace to support the Provisional Government and to prevent bloodshed, most Mensheviks and SRs then walked out.

Martov, still searching for a compromise between the socialist moderates and radicals, introduced an eloquent appeal to avoid civil war by forming a government ‘acceptable to the whole revolutionary democracy’ (i.e., to the moderate Mensheviks and SRs as well as the Bolsheviks and radical left) and proposed that the congress suspend its work until this could be attended to.

The Congress of Soviets was now in no mood for negotiations. The speeches and departure of the moderate socialists not only left the Bolsheviks with an absolute majority, but also hardened feelings among those remaining, strengthening the militants and undermining those moderate Bolsheviks who were inclined toward concessions. Trotsky contemptuously rejected compromise: ‘you are miserable bankrupts, your role is played out; go where you ought to be: into the dustbin of history.’

After passing a resolution declaring that the ‘withdrawal of the Menshevik and Social Revolutionary delegates from the Congress is an impotent and criminal attempt to disrupt its work’, the truncated congress continued to meet through the night. At about dawn the congress delegates and Bolshevik leaders – some of whom had hardly slept for two nights – adjourned. The new government was, unexpectedly, made up entirely of Bolsheviks. Lenin became chairman of Sovnarkom, or Council of People's Commissars and thus head of the government, with Trotsky as People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs.

News of the taking of the Winter Palace and arrest of the government ministers buoyed spirits even further. Then came a series of reports of support from key military units. A kind of euphoria set in as the long-discussed declaration of Soviet power seemed to be succeeding almost effortlessly.

Approaching 5:00 a.m. on the 9th of November, Lunacharsky stood to read a proclamation of the assumption of power by the Congress of Soviets which Lenin – who still had not appeared at the congress – had just written. The proclamation not only announced that the Provisional Government was overthrown and that the Congress of Soviets had taken power, but also laid out a basic program which would appeal to most people of the Russian state: ‘The Soviet Government will propose an immediate democratic peace to all the nations and an immediate armistice on all fronts. It will secure the transfer of the land of the landed proprietors, the crown and the monasteries to the peasant committees without compensation; it will protect the rights of the soldiers by introducing complete democracy in the army; it will establish workers’ control over production; it will ensure the convocation of the Constituent Assembly at the time appointed; it will see to it that bread is supplied to the cities and prime necessities to the villages; it will guarantee all the nations inhabiting Russia the genuine right to self-determination. The Congress decrees: all power in the localities shall pass to the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies.’ After only brief discussion the congress adopted the proclamation with only two votes in opposition and a few abstentions.

Citizens of the capital awoke to quiet streets with little sense that any momentous event had occurred; seemingly they had passed through yet another round of political turmoil, complete with armed groups in the streets. Proclamations, mostly in the name of the MRC, were posted, and although perhaps unsettling they gave little indication of the great events transpiring.

An all-Bolshevik government had not been envisioned in the many debates about a Soviet government, all of which had assumed some kind of multiparty socialist government. The walkout of the moderates changed that. The Left SRs insisted that they would join the government only as part of a broad socialist coalition, but with the moderates gone such a government was impossible. Therefore, an all-Bolshevik government was formed.

The new government structure was completed when the Congress of Soviets chose a new Central Executive Committee (CEC). The Bolsheviks initially took sixty-two seats, the Left SRs twenty-nine and ten were divided among the Menshevik - Internationalists and minor leftist groups. The socialist parties that had withdrawn were unrepresented.

The congress stated that the CEC exercised full authority in its name between congresses, including both general supervision of the government and the right to replace its members. However, the exact relationship of the CEC to the Sovnarkom, both approved by the congress, soon became a source of conflict between the Left SRs (who were in the CEC but not the Sovnarkom) and the Bolsheviks.

Although the CEC with its non-Bolshevik minority did not seriously impede Lenin in his exercise of power, its multiparty structure maintained the image of a government based on a multiparty socialist coalition, a concept which enjoyed immense popularity as part of the slogan of Soviet power.

The Bolsheviks had opposed the war with Germany from the beginning, and the new government immediately undertook to end it. As foreign minister of the new regime, Trotsky proposed an armistice with the Central Powers, and fighting stopped all along the eastern front, from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south. The Soviet government then offered peace terms to the Germans, and negotiations began formally near the front line, at the city of Brest Litovsk.

Immediate orders were issued encouraging elected representatives from front line units to undertake local negotiations with the Germans and Austro-Hungarians to secure early informal ceasefires, while more formal negotiations began at Brest-Litovsk.

A provisional armistice was declared and the Russian Army immediately began to demobilize en masse. The formal peace negotiations would drag on deep into 1918, dogged by the threat of independence movements and the sheer scale of planned German annexations.

The three-month armistice effectively ended Russia's part in the First World War. The army at once began to melt away, as soldiers left the front to return to what they believed would be land for the taking in their villages.

The Germans and Austrians, nervous at first of dealing with revolutionaries, who were simultaneously calling for the workers of all lands to rise against the ruling classes as a means of everywhere bringing the war to a close, were slow to react to Lenin's peace invitation. When the appeal to peace was repeated however, the Germans decided to respond. Their delegation, and those of Austria, Turkey and Bulgaria, met the Soviet representatives at Brest-Litovsk, the Polish fortress town on the River Bug lost by the Russians in 1915. Discussions, frequently adjourned, dragged on into 1918.

Voters elected delegates to a constitutional convention to be convened in January. The Bolsheviks secured only about 25 percent of the seats at these elections, and Lenin recognized that if the convention ever met, Bolshevik control of the state would be endangered by the Socialist Revolutionary majority. Then, when the Constituent Assembly convened, the guards sent by the Bolsheviks to maintain order simply closed down the meeting, turned off the lights, and locked the doors. This simple maneuver eliminated the threat to Bolshevik control.

Within the Soviet regime, political control required further adroit manipulation on the part of Lenin. Thus, he established a new secret police in December, the Cheka, run by the Polish Bolshevik, Felix Dzerzhinsky. The Cheka helped to solidify the Bolshevik position.

Lenin continued to hold that his party alone understood the true demands of the people and represented the only means to implement the dictatorship of the proletariat that he envisioned.

For a long time historians ignored the Constituent Assembly, for any of several reasons: because of its brief life and failure; because they felt that a democratic outcome of the revolution was no longer possible, and because of a certain tendency to focus on Lenin and October and ignore the weeks that followed, instead jumping directly forward to the civil war. More recently, however, some historians in the West and in Russia have assigned it greater significance. They argue that both the Assembly and the events leading up to its meeting and dispersal are important topics for investigation.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, scholars in Russia, previously prevented by the Soviet regime from attaching much significance to the Constituent Assembly, have turned to it with interest. Some have advanced arguments for its pivotal role in Russian history.

Post-Soviet scholars in Russia have also been fascinated by the question of ‘alternatives’, focusing especially on how the horrors of the Stalin years or even the whole Communist experiment might have been avoided had history taken a different path at one point or another during the revolutionary era. The Constituent Assembly is one such point.

The epic of the All-Russian Constituent Assembly was the longest in its prehistory, the shortest if we speak of its one-day existence, and the most dramatic in terms of the magnitude of the hopes and disappointments associated with it. But its uniqueness rests in more than these. As a historical phenomenon it troubles scholars’ minds with its longstanding and unresolved puzzle: how would the history of Russia have developed if the Constituent Assembly had suffered a different fate?

The Bolsheviks abolished the Constituent Assembly after its very first day of work. Its future would seem to have been doubtful even given a more indulgent attitude toward it on the part of the authorities. It might not have been able to cope with its tasks due to insurmountable internal differences of opinion. The only certainty is that this legislative assembly did not, in and of itself, provide guarantees for a democratic path of development; its fate is proof of that. But the forcible elimination of this institution, along with the subsequent tragedy of the Civil War, force us to see in the Constituent Assembly the unrealized democratic alternative to the Bolshevik regime.

The Russian Empire began to break up after the Bolsheviks seized power. The Ukrainian Rada declared independence and Germany signed a peace treaty with it, together with an economic deal for delivery of a million tons of grain to Germany and Austria-Hungary. When Soviet government forces drove the Rada from Kiev, the Germans invaded Ukraine because they needed its grain, iron ore and coal for the war. Finland declared independence, and after a short civil war became a separate state. Poland also became independent.

Ukrainian co-operation was not sought; instead German firms were brought in to run Ukraine's mines and railways, and a puppet regime under the aptly named Skoropadsky ('quick-fall') was installed. The Germans' demands for food supplies alienated the peasants; their arrogance and profiteering alienated the industrial and mine workers. Saboteurs proliferated, as did Bolshevik propaganda; the German commander, Field-Marshal Hermann von Eichhorn, was assassinated in July 1918; and when the Germans withdrew following the November Armistice, their puppet regime quickly fell.

Finland declared independence soon after the Bolsheviks seized power. Although this action had Lenin's approval, a civil war broke out in January 1918. The 'Reds' seized Helsinki and a 'White' government was formed in the north, with small forces under Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, a former Russian army general. He appealed to Germany for help, and a German division arrived in April. With its help the Reds were beaten before the year's end, but Germany's defeat aborted plans to install a German prince as king. Mannerheim became regent, and a republic was proclaimed in July 1919 and formally recognised by Soviet Russia in the 1920 Treaty of Tartu.

At a Bolshevik Party congress to ratify the treaty of Brest Litovsk, the party also officially changed its name to the Communist Party. As the Communist government moved from Petrograd to Moscow, Germany continued its advance into the Ukraine, meeting only spotted resistance from disorganized bands. In the south, Turkish troops took over Armenia and the territories that Russia had gained in Persia.

Attempts by the Soviet negotiating team led by Trotsky to break off negotiations were punished by a German resumption of military operations against the deserted Russian lines. As a result the Russians were forced to accept even more stringent German demands when peace was finally signed. The vast expanses of the Ukraine became an independent state, as did Finland and Estonia. Lithuania and Poland were supposed to be independent, too, but in reality were still occupied by German forces. The economic consequences for Russia were exorbitant.

The three-month armistice, tacitly accepted by the Germans, was rapidly running out. The Bolsheviks, with no hand to play, continued to resist the enemy's terms, which were for the separation of Poland from Russia and wide annexations of territory further east. Lenin protracted the negotiations, in part because he thought that, if peace were signed, Germany and its enemies would combine against the Soviet government in order to put down the general revolution.

The Russian delegates at Brest Litovsk grimly accepted the terms of the treaty, which recognized the loss of the Ukraine and directly ceded to Germany control of former Russian territories in all Poland and Lithuania and the southern half of Latvia. With these concessions, Russia lost one-third of its population.

The Russians had no choice but to sign, although Lenin and Trotsky consoled themselves in their fervent belief that revolution was also near at hand in Germany and that these humiliating concessions were therefore only temporary embarrassments. Shortly afterwards came the formal surrender of Romania, now totally isolated, under the Treaty of Bucharest.

Frustrated with German demands for territorial concessions in a formal treaty, Trotsky simply announced that the war ended without a treaty. He called his formula ‘neither peace nor war’. Trotsky and others in the Bolshevik leadership hoped that a wave of socialist revolutions in Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire would lead to collapse of the regimes there. No such revolutions materialized while the Russians stalled at the Brest Litovsk negotiations. The German army, under General Ludendorff, resumed battle. What remained of Russia's army melted away before the German troops, who advanced to within 80 miles (130 km) of Petrograd in a few days, virtually unopposed.

At a stroke Russia lost most of her coal fields and industrial heartlands. There were also extensive concessions of foodstuffs, all of which had to be collected from an already starving populace. For the Russians the war with the Central Powers was over, while the civil war between the Red Army and the conservative royalist factions of the White Army was only just beginning.

German troops occupied White Russia (Belarus), all of Ukraine, the rest of Latvia, and Estonia as well. More ominously for the Entente powers still fighting in the west, Germany withdrew whole armies from the eastern front and began to shift them to France, anticipating a final push on Paris in the spring and summer of 1918.

Lenin agreed to the treaty because Russia had no choice, with an army whose will to fight had been destroyed largely by his own propaganda; in any case, he believed the other belligerents would soon follow Russia's example, and the treaty would then lapse. He was right on the last point, though wrong about the reason for it.

Although the war formally came to an end for Russia by March 1918, the killing did not stop. White Armies, units of counter-revolutionary troops, organized in the Don River region of southern Russia, continued to fight against the Soviet regime in the Russian Civil War that continued until 1922, and attracted international intervention. The result of the war is complex: the Red Army won in what would become the Soviet Union, but pro-independence movements achieved victory in Finland, Poland and the Baltic states.

International intervention began in the spring of 1918, with Japanese landings at Vladivostok and British landings at Murmansk. The Czech Legion, which had deserted from Austria-Hungary to fight on the Entente side with the Russians, now turned against the Bolshevik regime and demanded passage back to help establish a Czech republic. When they could not obtain transport, they seized control of whole sections of the Trans-Siberian Railway, hoping to secure passage to the Far East and then voyage by Entente ships to return to the fight against Austria-Hungary.

Although troops from France and the United States joined those from Britain and Japan inside Russia, the intervening powers could not agree on their objectives and could not cooperate militarily. Britain sought to gain dominance in the Caspian Sea region, seat of rich Russian oil reserves. France sought to strengthen Poland by transferring Russian lands to that new country. Japan sought control of rail lines and former Russian concessions in Chinese Manchuria. The United States hoped to end the Bolshevik regime itself. By 1919 after most of these goals had proven illusory, the intervening powers withdrew their troops.

Lenin’s regime faced an abortive effort to stage a coup, led by the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, and an assassination attempt on his own life, which left him wounded. Under Dzerzhinsky, an officially sanctioned Red Terror began in which the Cheka secret police rounded up and shot political opponents or condemned them to forced labor. The civil war raged on through 1918 and 1919.

The Communist government, which formed the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic in 1918, regained control of some of the territories formerly ruled by the Tsar. Then, as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the regime extended control to some of the other lands of the Russian Empire, including Ukraine, White Russia (Belarus), and countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus region: Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.

Poland, Finland and the Baltic states remained independent in the two decades following World War I. Today, each of these countries is an independent nation, although some maintain close diplomatic, economic, and cultural ties to modern Russia.

The profound changes that swept through Russia affected not only Eastern Europe and Central Asia, but the whole world for the rest of the 20th century. The foreign intervention, although eventually a failure, only hardened the Soviet view that the new government faced a world of enemies and would have to be prepared to fight them again in the future.

In the decades after World War I, Lenin and his successors would use many of the same ruthless methods they employed during their revolution and civil war to extend the reach of Soviet power, both within their country and beyond.