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A Very Russian Revolution


The Russian character of that revolution was revealed in the specific combination of its causes and contradictions, in the mentality and social behavior of the masses and of the individuals who led them. It was  exposed in the way in which the revolution blended together anti-feudal and anti-capitalist aspirations, general democratic and narrow class interests.  

Revolutionary soldiers and sailors storm the Winter Palace. By I. Vladimirov

It engaged various sections of the population, including the bourgeoisie, the middle and the working classes. Different sections of the population joined the revolution at different stages. It was initiated by the liberal bourgeoisie, by groups of the intelligentsia (civil servants, the professions, the military), factory workers and soldiers of the Petrograd garrison. The waves of the revolution then spread from the centre to the provinces and then to the empires periphery.

Some of the groups, participating in the revolution, infused it with the spirit of spontaneous, destructive, Pugachev-style insurrection reminiscent of the age-old Russian revolt against the authorities and traditions. Other introduced the element of terrorism and regicide associated with the Narodnik stage of the revolutionary movement. Other still brought with them the experience of class struggle gained during the years of the First Russian Revolution of 1905-7.

Each group had its own program of rejuvenating society. Some adhered to the collectivist principles of Russias traditional society (the peasantry, the Socialist-Revolutionaries); others wished to emulate Western models of capitalism and democracy (the new business classes, the Kadets); still others advanced utopian communist blueprints (some groups of workers, the Bolsheviks). All aspired to the role of leaders of the revolutionary movement.     

The bewildering complexity of different strands of the revolution had laid it open to the dangers that threatened it not from without, that is not from the camp of the counterrevolution (the pro-tsarist forces were crushed relatively quickly and easily) but from within, from the tensions generated by the infighting and discord among the different currents of the revolution themselves. The main problem was not the resistance of the fragmented supporters of the old regime, but the inability of the main political forces, parties and leaders to control the tide of the revolution in order to avert complete disintegration of society. Russian society, which pinned such hopes on revolution, was devoured by the revolution that it had itself produced.              

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