Peace! Land! Bread! This was the battle cry of the 1917 October Revolution (old calendar) that would change the history of Russia and affect the entire world. Since the time of Ivan the Terrible, the tsars concentrated on centralization of their power and control. The most common way of doing this was to take power away from the nobility, appeasing them by giving them dominion over their land and workers. This soon developed into the oppressive, basically slavery style condition known as serfdom.
In 1825, the reformists attempted to block the coronation of Nicholas I. They failed bitterly in their pursuit of a constitutional government. Known as the Decembrist Revolt, this unsettling event caused Nicholas I to be one of the most reactionary rulers in Russian history.
Unlike his father, Alexander II saw the need to free the serfs. His Emancipation Edict of 1861 abolished the cruel system practiced by his predecessors. Unfortunately, this didn't improve the conditions of peasant life much.
Russia became more industrialized during the second half of the nineteenth century. This prompted the peasant class to demand more rights and freedoms which caused fear of revolution and social unrest. Tensions and anger grew into the 20th century. During this time, Russia's borders and power expanded to include Afghanistan and China. The eastern frontier was connected to European Russia by the Trans-Siberian Railway (completed in 1905).
Nicholas II became Tsar in 1894. He was embroiled in war with Japan which ended with the signing of the Treaty of Portsmouth, in 1905. Russia suffered serious greatly at the hands of the Japanese. This humiliation, coupled with the intense civil unrest in Russia, forced Nicholas II to give in to some of the reformers' wishes. These included a constitution and the establishment of the Duma, or parliament. Now the reform movement was implanted into Russian politics and government. Further industrialization of European Russia, caused mass numbers of workers to unite into organizations, similar to a labor union, known as soviets or councils. These soviets formed the Social Democratic Party and mandated the concessions of 1905.
Nicholas tried to gain back some of the Tsar's lost control and power. This was met with heightened opposition and anger from the massive working class. Finally, the Social Democrats split into two factions. In 1912, they formed the left-wing Bolsheviks and the moderate Menshiviks. This split occurred at the dawn of WWI (1914). Russia was still trying to recover from its military fiasco with Japan and was grossly unprepared for a major military conflict at its western border. The Russian Army suffered terrible defeats and the country experienced economic crisis and extreme food shortages. By March of 1917, 10 million peasants had been pressed into military service with over 1.5 million killed and another 4 million seriously wounded. Women were forced off the farms and into the St. Petersburg factories to support the floundering war effort.
After tolerating these conditions for three years, workers and soldiers began to protest and riot. They were tired and hungry. They wanted peace. They wanted bread. And they wanted their land. International Womens' Day (March 8th) prompted over 90,000 workers to strike and the army stationed at Petrograd (St. Petersburg) to rebel. The soviets were reinforced and the Duma established a provisional government in an attempt to bring the riots and protest to an end. Completely alone and with no remaining power, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated the throne to his brother Michael, on March 2, 1917. Michael declined the following day.
The more liberal and flamboyant Bolshevik faction, quickly gained in popularity and endorsement. Lenin returned from exile to head-up the alternate government of the soviets. His purpose was to do away with the capitalistic Provisional government and establish a peasants' rule based on the network of the localized soviets.
The Bolsheviks thoroughly expected the Provisional Government to meet their demands for an end to Russia's involvement in WWI, distribution of lands to the peasants, reduction in factory labor hours and bread. The Provisional Government, under Alexandr Kerenski, flatly refused. They had entered into a series of treaties with Britain and France which promised Russia a warm water seaport and sections of Turkey and Persia, if they continued to support the war effort.
The workers and soviet leaders threw their support and voice behind the Bolsheviks. A national congress of the soviets was set for November 7th in Petrograd. The Bolshevik movement was joined by the sailors of the Baltic Fleet and soldiers at the Sts. Peter and Paul Fortress. The Red Guard, armed factory workers, and sailors took over the telegraph office, electric plant, bank and rail stations on November 6th and 7th. Finally, a signal shot is fired by the Battleship Aurora, which was anchored on the Neva River, and the masses of revolutionaries stormed and seized the Winter Palace.
The Bolshevik take over was neither easy or far reaching, at first. They did manage to get Russia out of WWI; one of the top demands made by the starving working classes. Civil War broke out in Russia and it wasn't until 1920 that the Bolsheviks could claim true control of the nation. This was the beginning of the, so called, Soviet Era in Russia's history.