The birth of a utopia

Term Paper, 2012

24 Pages



1. Poverty and Primitivism
1.1. Initial Reforms and Modernization
1.2. The Collapsing State Economy
1.3. Critical Junctures: The Great War
1.4. Land Deprivation
1.5. Degrading State Infrastructures

2. The Rise of Bolshevism
2.1. Kerensky and the Provisional Government
2.2. A Republic of “Brakes”
2.3. Mobilizing Class Consciousness
2.4. The Downfall of Kerensky
2.5. The Cult of Lenin

3. Consolidating the Red Revolution
3.1. Legitimizing the Revolution
3.2. Artisans of the Revolution
3.3. A Revolution in Words
3.4. Ideological Unity
3.5. Implementing Reforms and Policies
3.6. Soviet Policies
3.7. Civil War (1917-1923)
3.8. Sustaining Reforms from Below

Works Cited

In early 1914, the court chronicler, General Dubensky, noted in his diary: “A quiet life begins here. Everything will remain as before. […] Only accidental external causes will change anything” (Trotsky 73). Even though external changes had previously challenged the Russian aristocracy, the tsarist regime had been successful in repressing popular revolts with violence (Trotsky 75). Nicholas II was certainly not aware of the internal diseases of his country, which would bring not only his own downfall, but also the downfall of a whole system, disturbing the political status quo of monarchism and liberalism in Russia.

Attempts made to write the history of bolshevism require not only an extensive literature review, but also a comparative political cross-theoretical analysis to appraise the success of the October Revolution (Carr “The Bolshevik Revolution” 226). Causal chain arguments are useful to analyze the long-term social and economic consequences of political decisions and social reforms (Pierson 7). Kerensky’s provisional government’s decision to carry the war against Germany aroused popular discontent, which had not only damaged the reputation of Kerensky, but also created a negative image of liberalism (Pierson 7). Rational theory provides a sociological perspective to examine further the failure of the provisional government in modernizing state institutions, the shifting interests of electorates, and contribution of social and political cliques in shaping the Bolshevik Revolution.

The Soviets inherited a primarily agrarian and collapsing state, and the inability of the provisional government did little to alleviate the socio-economic unequal structures in the Russian society. This essay argues that the Bolshevik Revolution has been not only the result of structural and socio-economic inequality, but also the product of geopolitical conjunctures, which led to the rise of the Soviets. To acquire a better understanding of the causal mechanisms of the Bolshevik Revolution, this essay will first analyze the structural factors which set the grassroots of a popular revolution and secondly, examine the legacy of diverse political actors in consolidating the Bolshevik Revolution and shaping the future Soviet state.

1. Poverty and Primitivism

The fundamental and most stable feature of Russian history is the slow tempo of her development, with the economic backwardness, primitiveness of social forms and culture resulting from it (Trotsky 1). Trotsky argues that although backward societies are compelled to follow after the advanced countries, they do not take things in the same order (Trotsky 3). The privilege of historical backwardness—and such privilege exists—permits, or rather compels, the adoption of whatever is ready in advance of specified date, skipping a whole series of intermediate stages. Saves throw away their bows and arrows for rifles all at once, without traveling the road which lay between those two weapons in the past (Trotsky 3).

Even though the belated half-liberation of the peasants in 1861 had emancipated peasants, the Russian agricultural industrial had been almost on the same level as two hundred years before (Trotsky 42). The preservation of the old area of communal land with the archaic methods of land cultural automatically sharpened a crisis caused by the rural excess population. On the eve of the first Russian revolution, the whole stretch of arable land was estimated at 280 million dessiatins —the equivalent of 2,702 English acres (Trotsky 43).The communal allotments constituted about “140 million dessiatins , the crown land, 5 million and the church and owned land, 2 and half million” (Trotsky 43). Of the privately owned arable land, 70 million belonged to the 30,000 great landlords, giving only 10 million acres to hundreds of millions of Russian peasants (Trotsky 43).

1.1. Initial Reforms and Modernization

The fundamental premise of a revolution is that the existing social structure has become incapable of solving the problems of development of the nation (Trotsky 311). A revolution becomes possible, only in the case society contains a new class capable of taking the lead in solving the problems presented by history. Between the landowners and the proletariat lie layers of petty bourgeoisie (Trotsky 311). Their disappointment with the policies and reforms of the ruling class is crucial to support the revolution initiated by the proletariat (Trotsky 311).

Prior to 1914, the ruling elite in Russia demanded political and social reform to catch up economically with Europe, but was always concerned that in modernizing, the old regime would be destroyed (Geyer 7). The tsarist regime tried to remedy to the primitive state of the Russian economy by modernizing agriculture: the New Fundamental Laws were introduced and a parliament was established although suffrage remained class-based (Geyer 8). Political parties, the press and professional associations were established although closely supervised. Those reforms aimed to create a market-oriented peasant agriculture, which would overcome permanent agrarian crisis and generate the capital needed for rapid industrial development (Geyer 9).

1.2. The Collapsing State Economy

Russian agriculture, particularly among peasants, could not keep up with the war effort. It was practically untouched by modern methods” and could barely keep up with the increase in population. Between 1880 and 1897, the population of the Empire rose from 100 million to 130 million and by 1917, to 182 million (Read 13). Primitive agricultural farming techniques of “strip farming and three-field rotation were maintained; horses and wooden farming and three-field rotation were universal; peasant livestock breeding and dairy farming were equally traditional” (Read 13). As a result, productivity could barely keep pace with the increase in population. In 1891-1892, the fragile subsistence economic situation broke down in the middle Volga region, and there was a great famine, claiming the lives of 400,000 peasants (Read 13).

Between 1883 and 1898, the availabilities in potatoes and crops were estimated to be 360 kg on average per habitant instead of 500 kg per habitant in Western Europe. Surplus of harvest and crops were sold and exported for foreign trade by aristocrats and well-off peasants, so that the average intake for crops per peasant fell to 300 kg. Between 1892 and 1897, of the fifty departments throughout Russia, 18 departments did not have enough resources to feed the peasants; 12 had barely sufficient resources; and only 20 had surpluses (Méquet 164). The First World War disrupted such initiative, further exacerbating tensions in the country (Méquet 164).

1.3. Critical Junctures: The Great War

The war found the peasantry under these conditions, and the government carried away 10 million workers and 2 million horses. Russian peasants did not have substantial resources to feed their families; they struggled to harvest enough crops. The outbreak of the First World War hindered the long-term effects of land reform for peasants as men were drafted and sent to the front (Méquet 167). The Russian economy became a war economy; peasants and workers were primarily working in armament industries, exposing them to the ideas of revolutionaries (Méquet 167). In 1917, the needs for resources at the front led the provisional government to form squads of armed workers to sweep the countryside and find any resources available to meet the needs of the army (Méquet 172).

War could bring a momentous revision of values within the great socialist parties of Europe, the effect of which is hard to exaggerate (Geyer 42). Within days international proletarian solidarity had been thoroughly transformed into enthusiastic solidarity with the national middle classes. This was the bitter fruit of a powerful and self-confident emancipatory process, which had shown too little concern for outside events. The socialist parties and the working class demonstrated that they had the same national allegiance as the bourgeoisie. War seemed to be the perfect opportunity to eliminate the traditional sense of alienation and paved the way for a dubious reconciliation with the fatherland, which sent its children to die at the battlefield (Geyer 48).

The initial impact of the war was favourable to the tsarist regime (Read 40). Internal conflicts were put to one side as the whole country took up the national cause of fighting the enemy. Militarily, the tsarist army scored some limited successes that might have been decisive in preventing a rapid German victory, but the 1915 campaign season was marked by a series of military catastrophes. The Russian army was soon in headlong retreat as the Central Powers marched forward into the Carpathians and through Poland. The cost of supplying the front with materials the military needed had only been achieved by diverting even more resources from the already hard-pressed Russian civilian sector (Read 40). In 1916, the Russian economy was characterized by falling real wages, rising prices for manufactured goods and a flourishing demi-monde of speculators and corrupt arm dealers fishing for commissions on lucrative and ill-supervised arm contracts.

1.4. Land Deprivation

At the end of the nineteenth century, the land possessed by many peasant families did not provide sufficient resources to feed the family. Millions immigrated to cities to find job, but the salaries gained from such occupations were only temporary and peasant workers often faced competition, risking of losing their jobs on the market (Méquet 163). Reforms were put forward to increase the share in land for peasants: the Stolypine reforms sought to increase the welfare of peasants by increasing their claim to a plot of land. Lands belonging to tenants had expanded by 22%, but the rate to which peasants’ share of land had failed to keep up with the reforms (17%) (Méquet 163).

By 1916, some ten million hectares of land had been taken out of production. Only two million had been farmed by the landlords, but most of the remainder had been rented from them and farmed by peasants. Less than two million actually belonged to peasants. It had fallen into disuse mainly because of conscription that had called nearly half of all able-bodies males into the armed services by 1916, not to mention the requisitioning 2.6 million horses, which deprived the countryside of drought power for ploughs, carts, hauling trees and man power (Read 103).

1.5. Degrading State Infrastructures

The imposing façade of the tsarist autocracy concealed a stagnant rural economy, which could not meet the needs of the Russian peasantry. The revolution of 1905 was a revolt of bourgeois Liberals and Constitutionalists against an arbitrary and antiquated despotic government. It was a widespread peasant revolt, spontaneous and uncoordinated (Carr “The Russian Revolution” 2). The revolution of February 1917 brought back to Petrograd from Siberia and from abroad a host of proscribed revolutionaries, belonging either to the Bolshevik, Menshevik or the Social Democratic Workers’ Party and the Social-Revolutionary Party (SRs) (Carr “The Russian Revolution” 2). The first constitutional act which gave the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government a territorial name was the Declaration of Rights of the Toiling and Exploited People issues by the third All-Russian Congress of Soviets in January 1918—the Bolshevik counterpart of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen promulgated by the French revolution (Carr “The Russian Revolution” 9).

Even greater difficulties were expected as the systematically growing disorganization of transport, the unsystematic and mutually contradictory orders of the tsarist regime and local administrations, as well as the unconsciousness of minor and lower agents of governments in the provinces plagued the Russian society (Read 40). The problem of unsown land was particularly a pressing issue: for a country at war, and in the throes of a serious supply crisis, the existence of such land was an affront to common sense.

The human losses were considerable: eight million dead, wounded, missing or prisoners of war by February 1917. The state found itself in a hopeless position to financially support the millions of men fighting at the front (Geyer 55). Food shortages were also a grievous problem and rapidly rising prices imposed greater burden, especially among the lower classes. War weariness and depression, indifference and despair soon spread through the population, giving rise to rebellions. The working class had been decimated “by the army’s hunger for recruits” (Geyer 55). Popular pressure increased for the abdication of the tsar and end of monarchy in Russia.


Excerpt out of 24 pages


The birth of a utopia
McGill University
Soviet Studies and Socialism
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
445 KB
Quote paper
De Zhong Gao (Author), 2012, The birth of a utopia, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: The birth of a utopia

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free