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In February 1917, while Russia was mired in war, protests in Petrograd degenerated. The hope is immense. Very quickly, 90 million citizens were mobilized to appoint a constituent assembly in the most democratic election in the world. However, on October 25, Lenin and the Bolsheviks took the Winter Palace and established a communist dictatorship. The monthly L'Histoire tells us how we got there.
In the collapse of Soviet communism, the end of the twentieth century was obsessed with the nature of the Bolshevik revolution and Lenin's responsibilities in the totalitarian evolution of the regime. Against the great Marxist narrative, one rediscovered how much the Bolsheviks weighed little weight in the first months of the Russian Revolution. The myth of the inevitable march of a determined avant-garde, the only one capable of bringing Russia to socialism was over. Eisenstein's Great October became a
coup d'etat of dubious glory and unfortunate consequences. Heirs to Miliukov, the liberals told us another story. February, after all, at first glance resembles Western revolutions: the overthrow of the old regime, the proclamation of freedoms, the establishment of democratic power - everything the Communists called the "bourgeois revolution". But the Russia of 1917 is not the France of 1830. What the historians who, for thirty years, have reopened this site show us, is the bubbling cauldron that is this decomposing country.
The war had a lot to do with it, which uprooted more than 14 million men. At the end of 1916, 2 million died, 3 million out of military service. If they are far from being Bolsheviks, they have learned to disobey. The arrogance of the officers will do the rest. In the spring of 1917, it was still time for “revolutionary defensism”, but the army was destroyed. The "proletarian" revolution is a revolution of soldiers. It is also the change in the latter in the summer that explains the victory of Lenin, the man who made peace his best argument.
We are struck by the extraordinary democratic effervescence of which a country in disintegration is capable - and which can be seen in the photographs of the crowded room of the Tauride Palace where thousands of participants in the Petrograd Soviet crowd in February. These assemblies are opening by the hundreds in all the cities of Russia. Freedom and pluralism are the hallmarks of this, which is confirmed by the decision of the provisional government to convene a constituent assembly; 90 million Russians, men and women, will take part in this autumn election which will indeed be "the most democratic in the world". We know what happened to it ...
The Russian revolutions: February-October 1917. Magazine L'Histoire, February 2017. On newsstands and by subscription.