The Socialist movement was declining and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 saw its hasty demise. The Second International that was the voice of the workers split on question of the war and never united again. However the revolution in Russia gave a new hope to Socialism and the subsequent rise of Russia and its dominant role as a socialist power till 1989 proved that socialism could match capitalism.
However the Russian empire under Czar had a very backward social and political system during the early 20th century. Throughout Europe feudalism and serfdom was abolished and replaced by the middle class but in Russia the old order continued. The serfdom was abolished in 1861 but the condition of the peasants remained same. Agriculture stagnated and peasants having fragmented land or small holdings didn’t have the capital to develop them.
Industrialization came into Russia and was driven by foreign capital. The homegrown industry couldn’t compete with them. So the Russian industrialists reduced wages and imposed long work hours on the workers. the workers were exploited even in the foreign owned factories. They didn’t have good conditions of living and the cities were crowded.
The Czar believed in the divine right to rule. He extended his empire by conquest but the new territories had to face humiliations. The Russian language was imposed on them and their culture belittled. The people who supported the Czar were nobility and clergy. The bureaucracy was inefficient and unresponsive and top heavy. People were recruited on basis of privilege and not ability.
The intellectuals of Russia were influenced by western ideology and wanted to see reforms in Russian systems. However the abolition of serfdom failed to fulfill their aspirations. Civil liberties were still non existent in Russia.
The intellectuals started preaching these ideas to the people. However the real revolution was to come from the workers. For the first time labor unions and movements on socialist lines emerged in Russia. The movements were divided on basis of ideology and organization. One branch called Mensheviks [minority] wanted a gradual reform and a parliamentary establishment , the second branch called Bolsheviks [majority] wanted a revolution.
Leader of the Bolsheviks was Lenin who had worked in the Second International. He was regarded as the next great socialist after Marx and Engels. His name was to become inseparable from the 1917 revolution. The socialist party for peasants and states under colonial oppression of Russia were also existing.
The turning point of the movement against Czar was in 1905 when war broke out between Japan and Russia. The mighty Russian army was humbled by a small Asian power and this further aided the revolutionaries. A gathering of women and children reached St. Peters-burg to give a list of demands to the Czar but the Czar ordered firing on them. This event was remembered as Bloody Sunday.
The revulsion created by this event led to widespread protests and even soldiers struck work.Czar in order to control the rebellion declared that Duma – A Elected Parliament would be created and Russia would become a constitutional monarchy like England.
However soon he relapsed into old ways and the reforms were undone. The 1905 revolt was a rehearsal for a bigger revolution in 1917.
The 1905 revolution brought the socialists of peasants and other nationalities under Russia in contact with the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks and a united front could be formed.
The Czar entered the First World War with imperial ambitions to capture Constantinople and Strait of Dardanelles. However the Russian army was ill equipped to fight a War and it suffered severe reverses and by 1917 6 lakh soldiers had died. The civilian population to was distressed by the Czar who was controlled by his wife who was controlled by Rasputin who virtually ran the government. Corruption was intolerable, essential supplies were reducing and unrest was seen.
A small strike by workers lit the spark of the revolution soon even soldiers joined it and St. Petersburg fell into the hands of the rebels. they marched to Moscow and removed the Czar from the throne. A new republican government was set up under Kerensky.
The people demanded : Peace, Land to the tiller, Equal rights to Non Russians and Control of Industry by Workers. But the Kerensky government couldn’t meet these demands and was removed by the October revolution. The Bolsheviks led by Lenin soon formed a government which became the First socialist government.
The policies of the government like Confiscation of foreign capital, Nationalization of Industries, Banks, Right of Self determination to people, Right to work and land for farming given to farmer committees. The government became popular due to its policies. But it had to face wrath of the imperialist nations.
The Bolshevik government concluded a peace treaty with Germany and surrendered land to it. The officers of the Czar, supporters from England, France, US formed a coalition and waged a war on the revolutionary government. The Red Army wasn’t equipped to fight this but since it was supported by the people it managed to win by 1920 just the like people’s army during American and French revolutions.
The Russian state recognized the autonomy of the republic that formed it and became United Soviet Socialist Republic or Soviet Union. The 15 states that formed USSR got regional autonomy to develop language and culture. The government passed reforms to establish a state on principle of “From each according to his capacity, to each according to his work”. The Right to work and education became a constitutional right and government had to find work for everyone.
Confiscation of the property of Nobility and clergy was a welcome step. This removed glaring inequalities in the society. The USSR soon emerged as a major power and dominated the world till 1991 when it disintegrated.
The Russian revolution also supported the cause of communism and socialism that had declined after the First World War. Comintern or Third International was formed and the left wing of all socialist parties aligned with it. The USSR was declared as the leader of the Socialist movement everywhere and it decided policies of Comintern.
Rise of socialism and Russian revolution influenced revolutionary movements elsewhere too. The revolutionary government dissolved all harsh conditions imposed on China and provided support to Sun Yat Sen for his movement of uniting China. Russia declared that it would support the cause of all revolutionaries looking to become free from imperialism.
People realized that imperialism should be ended and socialism did this. It also brought countries closer by promoting internationalism and teaching that relations between nations should go beyond their narrow self interest. The Success of socialism also taught people that Political freedom had no meaning without social and economic freedom. The State’s had the duty to regulate industry and ensure equality.