October 1917 Russian Revolution Term Paper

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¶ … Russian Revolution

Few nations have been so convulsed by revolutionary change as early Twentieth Century Russia. Within a span of only several years, Russian political, economic, social, and cultural life was transformed almost beyond recognition - or was it? Crane Brinton theorizes that revolutions generally do not produce the kind of complete alteration in national structure and outlook that might have appeared to have been the outcome while the revolution was in its active phase.

Revolutions, especially violent revolutions, tend to be highly ideological in outlook. The revolutions preach radical doctrines and seek out the destruction of tradition patterns, and their replacement with new, often untested, concepts. Russia's victorious Bolsheviks aimed to eliminate much of the traditional Tsarist world. They wanted to replace a hereditary monarchy with a workers' democracy. They desired to substitute communism for capitalism, a society in which all people all men and were equal for a society of nobles, merchants, and peasants; a culture of austere virtues for what they saw as the decadence of old Russia's cultural arbiters. Yet, despite their attempts to dramatically alter the Russian scene, there was much of the former ways of thinking and acting that remained behind, albeit in disguised form. Russia changed as a result of the great Revolution of 1917, but in a startling number of ways it remained true to its history and traditions.

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Politically, the Russia of the tsars was a hereditary autocracy. Until 1905, and the first Russian Revolution, the Tsars' powers had been unchecked by any sort of national representative body, or by anything remotely resembling a written constitution. Even after the promulgation of the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire, the tsar's power remained, "unlimited and absolute." Despite the creation of a universal framework of laws; in spite of the establishment of a national representative body, the Duma, that was to approve all future laws, "the emperor was an absolute autocrat who had the 'constitutional' right to make or unmake any law he chose."

Term Paper on October 1917 Russian Revolution Assignment

In similar fashion, the communist government that took control of the country in the years that followed the Revolution also assumed absolute powers. Joseph Stalin was just as much an autocrat as any Tsar - indeed, it could be argued that his powers even transcended those of his predecessors, unrestrained as they were by the interference of pre-existing custom, or by any rival classes or institutions such as the nobility (firmly entrenched and hereditary since the time of Catherine the Great), or the Russian Orthodox Church. In communist times, as in Tsarist times, one had to belong to the proper class, and hold the appropriate views, in order to hold any position in government - communist party member, or holder of a rank in Peter the Great's Table of Ranks - it was all the same.

While presenting, in theory, a set of ideas that was diametrically opposed to traditional tsarist ideas of the ideal society, the revolutionaries quickly demonstrated that they too held many of the same prejudices of their former masters. The Bolsheviks, however, turned the old Russian world upside down, the former masters were now the undesirables. It was they who would be excluded from any participation in society. According to Marxist doctrine, history itself was comprise of a series of class wars, the latest and most highly advanced being that between the proletariat, or workers, and the bourgeoisie, or owners or capitalists. The Bolsheviks linked together the tsar, the nobility, and the new entrepreneurs and industrialists. In the eyes of men like Lenin, these people would need to be eliminated - their class extirpated from Russian, and eventually, world society.

Trotsky called for measures to "wipe off the face of the earth the counterrevolution of the Cossack generals and the Kadet bourgeoisie." But if... The spiral of terror results from the "shock of two irreconcilable elements... And of two opposite electric currents," then the terrorist rhetoric of the anti-Bolshevik camp cannot be ignored or minimized.

Indeed, both camps in the Russian Revolution perceived the fight as a battle to the death. The ideas and ideology of each side had become inextricably identified with its particular class and worldview. The reforming of society or the preservation of an already existing form of society - both attempts to achieve the ideal - had become associated with the utter destruction of all opposing viewpoints. Russians, Red or White, were determined to annihilate each other.

Each side worked diligently to create an image of itself as the ideal type of society. Bolshevism, no less than tsarism, had to be seen as drawn from the inner wellsprings of the Russian soul. The Bolsheviks reached back into Russian myth and legend, and found what they could to glorify - even sanctify - the Russian work in his or her role as the true guardian of virtue. A new, "Holy Russia," emerged that was comprised of hard-working craftsmen and peasants. In particular, Bolshevik propaganda drew on magical symbols that already existed within the framework of the Russian craft and farming traditions. The Blacksmith, as in many other cultures around the world, was a potent symbol of human skill and mystic art. It was he who, since ancient times, had possessed the special power of transforming a curious rock into an endless range of useful tools and weapons. Iron, especially, symbolized the burgeoning industrial revolution that was the dream of the revolutionaries. The blacksmith quickly became an icon. My Kuznetsy (We are Blacksmiths) was composed in 1912 by a factory worker named Filip Shkulev.

It quickly became a revolutionary anthem, and was sung enthusiastically throughout the period of bloodiest conflict:

The first stanza sets forth the miraculous powers of the blacksmith:

We are blacksmiths, and our spirit is young,

We hammer out the keys to happiness,

Rise ever higher, our heavy hammer,

Beat in the steel breast with greater force, beat,

Beat, beat!

We are hammering out a bright road for the people,

We are hammering out happiness for the motherland [rodina],

And for the sake of cherished freedom

We all have been fighting and shall die,

Die, die!

The magical act of blacksmithing was seen as akin to the goal of forging a new society. The secrets of the blacksmith trade provided the same kind of religious underpinnings as traditional concepts of "Holy Mother Russia," and the tsarist "Third Rome" - all images of Russia's sacred mission, and place within the world. The tsars had, since the time of at least Ivan III, actively cultivated the idea that Russia represented final evolution in Christian society, the ultimate home of true Christianity; the uniting of the temporal and the sacred. The Russian writer, Berdiaev, addressed the communist mission in just these terms, seeing it as a continuation of ancient Russian traditions:

The ancient Russian messianic idea goes on living in the deep spiritual layers of the Russian people. But in the conscious mind its formula changes, the thing 'in the name' of which it acts; the messianic idea raises out of the collective unconsciousness of the people's life and takes on another name. Instead of the monk Philothey's Third Rome we get Lenin's Third International. It takes on Marxist clothes and Marxist symbolism, and adopts the characteristics of the Russian messianic idea."

The specific message may have changed, but not the emotions that underlay it.

Continuity in the underlying theories of political power meant also the further pursuit ideas in regard to ideas about the proper organization of society. On the surface, pre-Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary society could not have appeared more different. Tsarist society was nearly medieval in its organizational scheme. All Russians were carefully grouped according to hierarchical classes that were largely hereditary in origin. Some movement between classes was possible, but on the whole, the vast majority of Russians remained peasants with little hope of ever leaving the land. Though serfdom had been ended decades before, the peasant, even in 1917, was unlikely to be the possessor of much in the way of private property. In late Imperial Russia, the mir had seen to it that peasant villages functioned as collectives. Collectivization was one of the mainstays of Stalin's policies. The collective farm, or kolkhoz, was, in so many ways, the mir by another name.

And as under the Old Russian system, the peasant was supposed to submit to the group, and not attempt to radically change his status or wealth, so too under Stalin. Stalin waged war against the kulaks, the wealthy peasants who were the supposed enemies of the new communist order. One's place in society, both before and after the Revolution, was determined by the state. The tsars required absolute submission and obedience, and so too, did the new communist party apparatus. The Soviet Union's new communist dictators, like men like Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great before them, strove to bend the people to their will, to take whatever steps were necessary to shape and constrain the individual and hold her or him firmly… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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