Russia, or rather its incumbent government is facing something of a dilemma in 2017: how to mark the centenary of the 1917 revolution. There is a point of correction to be addressed here, first of all. There were in fact two revolutions: in February and then October 1917. The first was ultimately triggered by food shortages and the losses of the first world war, although unrest in Tsar Nicholas 2nd’s rule had been brewing for some years. This resulted in the abdication of Russia’s last Tsar – a somewhat ignominious end to the Romanov dynasty, but a pale shadow compared to the horror of their ultimate, physical demise.
An interim government then controlled the now “headless” Russia, jostling for power with the more extreme Petrograd Soviet. Lenin’s April return from exile in Switzerland would galvanise the final push towards a Soviet state as he dedicated himself to the strengthening of the Bolshevik movement and the ultimate control of the nation. His return was in no small part facilitated by Germany; seeking to destabilise Russia and weaken their adversarial role in the First World War. This is in spite of the fact that the incumbent Tsarina: Alexandra Feodorovna was a German royal, herself.
During the following months, Lenin sought to manoeuvre position for political gain and to strengthen his Bolshevik movement – initially considered something of a joke in the greater Russian power-play. He made several attempts to kick-start a second revolution, even orchestrating a calamitous July Putsch, whose failure saw him flee into hiding. However, after continued machinations with figures within the interim government, the establishment of Bolshevik majorities within the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets and a simultaneous buildup of military arms; Lenin’s stage was ultimately set for a late October uprising. Crucially, this was before the looming elections, intended to propel Russia into a Republican state, bordering even upon democracy!
An armed revolt during this process of restructuring would appear as a selfish power-grab; the pursuit of old-era personal interests at the expense of the nation’s delicate, optimistic rebirthing. Prior to the vote however; personal gain could be reframed as a triumphant lead into national salvation. Why risk the votes of potential dissenters when overall rule could be taken by force? Even if the ultimate cost of this route was to be paid for in the blood of millions and the suppression of millions more.
So, here in 2017 – are the Bolsheviks and the Communists worthy of renown? They ultimately became the jailors and suppressors of the population whom they had supposedly arrived to liberate, reaching a low in the Stalinist years of terror, the Gulag and “progress” on the world stage at the expense of individual safety and freedoms. If the Tsarist system was bad, then was the Soviet one any better? Or in some respects; a great deal worse? Will 2017 be a year of celebration, if not, then – what?