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The Russian Revolution (1917–1918)

History SparkNotes

The October Revolution

The Summer of 1917

The October Revolution, page 2

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Events
August 31, 1917 Bolsheviks achieve majority in the Petrograd Soviet
September 5 Bolsheviks achieve majority in the Moscow Soviet
October 10 Lenin and the Bolshevik Central Committee decide to proceed with revolution
October 23 Provisional government acts to shut down all Bolshevik newspapers
October 24 Provisional government deploys junkers Bolshevik troops begin to take over government buildings in the city
October 25 Kerensky escapes Petrograd Bolsheviks struggle all day long to capture Winter Palace Second Congress of Soviets convenes
October 26 Provisional government is arrested early in the morning Lenin issues Decree on Peace and Decree on Land Congress approves Soviet of the People’s Commissars, with all-Bolshevik membership, as new provisional government
Key People
Vladimir Lenin -  Bolshevik leader; became leader of Russia after October Revolution; issued Decree on Peace and Decree on Land
Lev Kamenev -  Bolshevik leader who resisted Lenin’s plans for a prompt revolution
Grigory Zinoviev -  Bolshevik leader who sided with Kamenev, voting against revolution
Alexander Kerensky -  Prime minister of provisional government; fled Russia during revolution to live in Europe and then the United States

The Red Resurgence

During late August and September, the Bolsheviks enjoyed a sudden growth in strength, following their failures during the summer. On August 31, they finally achieved a majority in the Petrograd Soviet, and on September 5, they won a similar victory in the Moscow Soviet. Lenin, fearing arrest after the events of July, continued to hide in rural areas near the Finnish border. As time went on, he become more and more impatient and began calling urgently for the ouster of the provisional government.

Although Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky’s authority was faltering, the provisional government was coming closer to organizing the Constituent Assembly, which would formally establish a republican government in Russia. Elections for the assembly were scheduled for November 12. Lenin knew that once this process started, it would be far more difficult to seize power while still preserving the appearance of legitimacy. If there were to be another revolution, it had to take place before then.

Internal Opposition

Before a revolution could happen, Lenin faced considerable opposition from within his own party. Many still felt that the timing was wrong and that Lenin had made no serious plans for how the country would be administered after power was seized. On October 10, shortly following Lenin’s return to Petrograd, the Bolshevik Party leadership (the Central Committee) held a fateful meeting. Few details of this meeting have survived, but it is known that Lenin delivered an impassioned speech in which he restated his reasons for staging the uprising sooner rather than later. Most of those present—only twelve men in all—initially were reluctant. Nevertheless, by the end of the meeting, Lenin had talked all but two of them into approving an armed uprising to oust the provisional government. What had yet to be decided was precisely when the revolution would happen.

Final Plans

During the next two weeks, Lenin’s followers remained holed up in their headquarters at the Smolny Institute, a former school for girls in the center of Petrograd, where they made their final plans and assembled their forces. A Second Congress of Soviets was now in the works, scheduled for October 25, and the Bolsheviks were confident that they would have its overwhelming support, since they had taken pains to invite only those delegates likely to sympathize with their cause.

Just to be sure, however, the Bolsheviks decided to hold the revolution on the day before the meeting and then to ask the Congress to approve their action after the fact. The two Bolshevik leaders who had voted against the uprising after the October 10 meeting, Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev, continued to protest the plan and resist Lenin’s preparations. However, at the last moment, they suddenly reversed their position so as not to be left out.

By this point, the Bolsheviks had an army of sorts, under the auspices of the Military Revolutionary Committee, technically an organ of the Petrograd Soviet. Lenin and the other Bolshevik leaders, however, knew that these troops were unreliable and had a tendency to flee as soon as anyone fired at them. However, they expected that at least the main Petrograd garrison would support them once they saw that the Bolsheviks had the upper hand.

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