David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.
Russia Before the Revolution
The first lesson of the American Revolution is how high taxes inspired us to fight back against the British. Imagine, however, that the issue wasn't taxes but a losing war, starvation, and poverty. Do you think the Founding Fathers might have been more desperate? That was the situation in Russia in 1917, when its society fell apart, and one of the most important revolutions in history began.
Before the Russian Revolution, Russia was ruled by tsars, kings who had complete power over the country. The tsars lived in very fine palaces, but most Russians were poor peasants or workers. Tsar Nicholas II pulled Russia into World War I in 1914. Russia had Great Britain and France as allies and believed that it could quickly defeat Germany in the war; however, this overconfidence led to disaster.
Seeds of the Revolution
Russia's first battles with Germany in World War I were embarrassing defeats, but Tsar Nicholas II kept up the war, which led to a crisis in Russia. Peasants and workers in Russia ran out of money and food, while many soldiers died in the fighting. In February of 1917, a food riot broke out in St. Petersburg (the Tsar's capital) when there was not enough to eat. The Tsar ordered soldiers to attack the crowd, but the soldiers mutinied, or refused to obey orders, which helped to kick off the Russian Revolution.
Leaders of the Revolution
The most important leader of the Russian Revolution, Vladimir Lenin, wanted to make Russia into a communist state, a place where no person possessed any property, and everyone was equal. Given how unpopular the Tsar was, many Russians thought this was an idea worth fighting for. Workers and peasants joined Lenin as he traveled across the country to speak.
One of Lenin's great accomplishments was the simplicity of his slogan: 'Peace, Bread, and Land.' The Russians were starving and tired of war, so Lenin's promise to end the war and provide food was popular with the peasants and workers.
Not long after the food riots in St. Petersburg, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated, or gave up his throne in March 1917. Many months later, Lenin carried out a plan to give weapons to workers across St. Petersburg and overthrow the new Russian government.
After Lenin took power, he ordered the Tsar and his family to be killed. While Russia withdrew from World War I, this did not end the Revolution, as the forces opposed to Lenin kept fighting.
After the Revolution
The Russian Revolution lasted until 1920, when the last of the anti-Communists were defeated. Russia emerged from the harsh revolution as a totally different country. Russia became the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), a communist country that took away all private property and enforced the equality of all people. Although it claimed everyone was equal, the USSR became a corrupt country where anyone who spoke out could be put in jail or even killed.
Communist revolutions in other countries, like China and Cuba, followed during the 20th century. The Soviet Union lasted until 1991, when it fell apart. Today, Russia is no longer a communist country.
The tsars ruled Russia prior to the Russian Revolution, but in a harsh and unfair way. Russian soldiers in World War I mutinied against Tsar Nicholas II, who abdicated his throne. At the end of the Revolution, Russia became a communist country and established the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
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