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How Did the Bolsheviks Seize Power? October-November 1917

A study of how Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolshevik party took control of Russia and, primarily, the city of Petrograd (St. Petersburg).

In autumn of 1917 the Bolsheviks, a Russian political party, began seizing control of Russia. The slogan ‘bread, peace and land’, a line that delved straight to the root of the problem facing thousands of Russians, was quickly persuading a large amount of the Russian population to turn Bolshevik, whilst the rest had little choice in the matter.

During the summer of 1917 food shortages and a lack of basic supplies to major cities and the surrounding country was causing a huge opposition to the war against Germany. This was furthered by a terrible loss after a failed attack by the Russians triggering the people of Petrograd (St Petersburg) to join in protest against the war. All manner of people united on 16th & 17th of July, workers, soldiers, anyone around at the time, poured onto the streets to express their wish for the wars end. Eventually, these peaceful protests turned to riot and the blame was set on the Bolsheviks. Lenin fled to Finland to seek refuge whilst many of the remaining Bolsheviks were arrested. Power went to Kerensky and all seemed lost for the Bolsheviks.

However, due to a dire mistake by Kerensky the Bolsheviks were offered a way to redeem themselves. A general, Kornilov, was placed as head of the army. His first decision being to knock down the revolutionaries and take power for himself in the form of his own government. His mistake, was requesting help from the Bolsheviks. Arming the Bolshevik Red Guard with rifles and sending them to the city. This plan was ‘derailed’ as the railway workers refused to run the trains needed to transport the troops. They were quickly persuaded not to invade Petrograd and returned to the Bolsheviks, rifles and all.

With a fully armed Red Guard under their command the Bolsheviks claimed the majority of votes in the elections, appointing Leon Trotsky as chairman. Things were looking up for the Bolsheviks whilst the provisional government were digging themselves into an even deeper hole. Kerensky sent troops into the countryside in order to stop the peasants seizing the land, his plan backfiring and effectively losing any remaining support for the provisional government. Food shortages were not improving and the rising prices combined with the looming winter were making life in Russia near unbearable.

From within the Bolshevik HQ in the Smolny Institute Trotsky had begun preparing to take control of Petrograd. A highly publicised plan that left an intoxicated Kerensky to bumble around in a vain attempt to round up supporters.

The takeover begun in the early hours of November the 7th continuing though the next day as the Bolsheviks took control of key points across the city. The final obstacle to be challenged was the winter palace, former residence of the Tsar. Supposedly well guarded in order to defend the provisional government, was actually only guarded by a few young cadets and the Women’s Death Battalion remained there, unwilling to oppose the Bolsheviks they stepped aside almost immediately granting access.  The last resistance effort overcome it wasn’t long before the Bolsheviks fell upon the defenceless provisional government. Without any means of fighting power was handed over almost instantly

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