How many people survived the Russian Revolution

Russian revolution

School knowledge includes that on the night of October 25th to 26th, 1917 in Petrograd - as St. Petersburg was called from autumn 1914 - a revolution took place from which the Soviet Union emerged as the first socialist state in the world. [1] The latter remains correct, but the conceptual designation of the events has long been corrected. What these days - according to the Gregorian calendar on 7./8. November [2] - what happened was a carefully, if covertly prepared coup d'état, a coup based on the takeover of the city garrisons. If "revolution" means a fundamental overthrow of economic and social conditions, accompanied by violent mass protests, then this did not take place. However, the foundation stone for this was laid with the takeover.

In modern history, revolution and war have almost always belonged together. If a revolution was not preceded by war, then it followed. The Russian Civil War from 1918 to 1921, whose cruelty and blood toll exceeded those of the World War, was at its core such a post-war revolutionary war. Only the victory of the "Reds" against the "Whites" definitely sealed the fate of the old order in Russia. It was only around this time that it was finally clear that the social, economic and cultural upheaval that had begun would endure. Only with a view to the entire period from the end of 1917 to the summer of 1921 should one speak of a revolution in the usual word meaning.

Two explanatory models

In this sense, "the" Russian Revolution has also been discussed in historical research. Two explanatory models have dominated since the 1950s: A first interpretation goes back to the self-image of the main "losers", the Constitutional Democrats, who can be seen as the political spearhead of liberalism in the late Empire. According to this point of view, Russia's political development was on the whole well on the way, despite the outmoded autocratic regime and despite social upheavals and crises. The so-called first revolution of 1905/06 forced the tsar to approve a representative body, the "Duma", and to proclaim a constitution. Even if the Duma’s chartered rights were limited, their very existence fundamentally changed the legislative and political decision-making process in the empire. From then on, every important law was discussed in their committees and in plenary. Newspapers emerged that served as a forum for the various political currents in and outside the parliament and established a journalistic public.

After the unrest subsided in 1907, the economy also took off again. Although Russia lagged well behind the then leading industrial countries Germany, Great Britain, the United States and France, it took the next place before the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy. In the larger cities, a society of property and education was formed, which was involved in local self-government and in the corresponding committees of the governorates and became a supporting layer of liberal parties.

The vast majority of the peasantry, meanwhile, continued to suffer from the fact that the fields were too small and yielded too little. The tsarist empire went through a crisis-ridden process of transition from an agrarian to an industrialized society and the corresponding change in the political order. Above all, the autocracy, that is, the absolute monarchy with Russian characteristics, stubbornly resisted the curtailment of their powers by a full parliament. Social tensions continued unabated, but sooner or later the absolute monarchy would have given in and agreed to the transformation into a constitutional, possibly even democratic, order - if the European war had not broken out, which entailed enormous financial and economic burdens. It led to supply bottlenecks, hunger and hardship, heightened social differences and drove the masses onto the streets. Without war - so the quintessence of this point of view - there is no revolution.

In the 1960s, this interpretation was countered by a socio-historical one that referred to longer-term processes. She diagnosed a severe structural crisis, which resulted mainly from the incompatibility between the old order, characterized by the landed nobility and the unlimited monarchy, and new social classes and political forces, which had arisen as a result of industrialization since the abolition of serfdom in 1861. The textile factories, ironworks and steel works needed workers. The metropolitan population in particular grew rapidly; Slums with their social problems emerged. At the same time, an entrepreneurship was formed that remained small, but not only gained economic importance after the turn of the century. More important, however, was that the parallel modernization of society as a whole produced a new, academically qualified elite who, together with the liberal nobility, raised claims to participate in the political process, culminating in the demand for parliament.

In all this, the autocracy not only insisted on the unlimited political power. In addition, she found it difficult to cope with the new social classes and their wishes, in the fully accurate awareness that the foundation of their power lay in the country. The working class remained a foreign body in a state that was still largely shaped by the traditional civil servant and landed nobility, and in a society that only reluctantly accepted new elites. According to this socio-historical interpretation, the uneven development of the economy, society and the state led to political-social tensions that ultimately tore the tsarist empire apart. This explanatory model also assigns great importance to the First World War with its special burdens; strictly speaking, however, only as an additional cause of the revolution, not as the only one and also not as the main one.

The extent to which both interpretations are equally convincing depends in many respects on the perspective of the beholder. In the past few decades, however, the social and structural history has clearly fallen behind. All more recent representations, however modified, amount to a confirmation of the liberal core assumption: Without war, an evolutionary development would have been conceivable that would have made a radical break and a socialist state superfluous.

Even if this view is currently dominating again, it cannot be denied that developments in 1917 contain arguments for both viewpoints. It should not be forgotten that Russia experienced two overturns in 1917: the February uprising, to which the autocracy fell victim, and the October coup, which, after a brief coalition government with the Left Social Revolutionaries, led to sole rule by the Bolsheviks. Both phases not only suggest a comparison with the moderate early and radical final years of the French Revolution. They also correspond with the outlined interpretations.

The February regime was in clear continuity with the constitutional-liberal development in the tsarist empire. Even if the war brought about its downfall and the possible evolution in real life resulted in a revolution, it gave practical validity to many of the demands and wishes of the former opposition. Only the new democratic and liberal order was extremely unstable. She was soon attacked by disruptive forces and radical opponents. They used the conflicts and upheavals to which the long-term structural interpretation gave special weight. Seen in this way, the so-called optimists primarily looked to February as evidence of their theses and the "pessimists" primarily to October. All the more, an overall view should take both into account and take into account the insight that the events of October 1917 would not be conceivable without the February regime and its problems.