November 7, 1917 - October Revolution
Pictured - Storming the Winter Palace. Illustration by Villi Trubkovich in The First Days of October, written by Vladimir Bonch-Bruyevich.
The first Russian revolution of 1917 toppled the Tsar in March. The second, in November, ended the period of Provisional Government in Russia and started the Bolshevik era.
On November 6, the forces acting under the Bolshevik Milrevkom (Military Revolutionary Committee seized important strategic areas in Petrograd. The organ, first created to defend the Russian government from the right, now became the instrument of its demise. When Russian Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky ordered loyalist troops to arrest Bolshevik leaders before a planned soviet congress meeting that day, he ignited a revolution
Pre-empting Kerensky’s small forces, Red Guards took over the state bank, the telephone exchange, and posted guards on bridges over the Neva. A small flotilla and more than 9,000 sailors from the Kronstadt naval base joined the revolutionaries on November 7. Than evening, more than 18,000 Bolshevik supporters surrounded the Russian Duma in the Winter Palace. Barely 1,000 loyalists, mostly women soldiers, defended Kerensky’s government. It had been abandoned by everyone else.
At 10 o’clock that night the cruiser Aurora, manned by Bolshevik sailors, anchored in the Neva and fired several blank rounds near the Winter Palace. By 1 o’clock the Bolsheviks had stormed the gates, and the resistance gave up without a fight. The Bolshevik coup was an almost entirely bloodless affair.
Kerensky scuttled out of Petrograd in an American envoy’s car. After an abortive attempt to take back the capital, he fled for France, and then the United States. Lenin became Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, de facto head of the city. Leon Trostky became Commissar for Foreign Affairs. “It could not possibly last,” said the British ambassador’s daughter, a witness to the day. “Petrograd itself might perhaps be forced to submit to such a rule for a short time, but that the whole of Russia should be governed by them was not credible.” The world both misunderstood and underestimated the new Russian rulers.
Why did the Russian Provisional Government fall so quickly? When it replaced the Tsar in March, Western liberals had rejoiced at the emergence of a mighty new popular democracy. Yet within six months it had gone the way of the Romanovs. The October Revolution was not inevitable, and had Kerensky even decided not to try and stop the soviet congress on November 6, his regime may have survived. Doubtless more trouble was the decision to carry on the war, which by late 1916 had become wholly unpopular among Russians. The failure of the Provisional Government to convene the Constituent Assembly and hold real elections during its tenure was equally fatal, and undermined its stated democratic ideals. By November 1917 many Russians had decided on those who promised change now.