Remembering History: The Bolsheviks Seize Power in Russia

Lenin making a speech in the Red Square, May 1919
Public Domain (Wikipedia)

On 6 November 1917*, the Bolshevik Party led by Vladimir Lenin (real name Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov) launched a coup d’ Etat against the Russian provisional government. With their allies, the Bolsheviks occupied key government buildings in Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg) and formed a new government within two days with Lenin heading the new state. Bolshevik Russia, later to be formally called Union of Soviet Socialist States, was the first Marxist state in history.

Russia had allied with Britain and France in fighting Germany and the Central Powers in World War I. The war had gone very badly for Russia. They had sustained massive casualties and the economy had been devastated by the war effort. Food and other necessities had become scarce leading to unrest. Troops had been demoralized by defeats and ineffective military leadership. With riots breaking out and unrest spreading, trust in Tsar Nicholas II had evaporated even among the ruling class. He was forced to abdicate on 15 March 1917 (called the February Revolution since it took place in February under the Julian calendar). A Provisional Government was put in place which shared power with councils of soldiers and workers committees. However, the new government choose to keep Russia in the war setting the state for the next phase.

Russia in the 19th and early 2oth centuries tried to portray itself as emulating Europe with its art, science, and music. However, this culture represented a small fraction of Russian society at the time. Three quarters of the population were agrarian and lived in a whole different world that had little or no contact with Western civilization. They were not all farmers, but land was important to each of the communities. They were tied to the Russian Orthodox Church and to the monarchy. Nor did they believe they were oppressed. They were not fertile ground for revolution as the they wanted to be like their wealthy neighbors.

Industrialization began late in Russia in the 1890’s. This helped form the social democracy movements that would arise the address this issue. Russia was moving fast and would soon acquire capitalism. Violence had failed to topple the regime (it actually made people turn against them) so the movements focused on peaceful and focusing on industrial workers. The goal was to first get rid of the aristocracy and create a weak government. Then the second goal was to overthrow this government and implement a socialist regime. The movement split into two factions: the Mensheviks who believed this could be achieved without violence and the Bolsheviks (Lenin’s group) who believed in revolution. The two factions would never reconcile.

Lenin was born in 1870 to a conservative family. His father was devout Orthodox and a school inspector. The high rank of his father qualified both him and his offspring for membership in hereditary nobility (this was not uncommon in old Russia). Many children during this time felt guilt over their status and became radical in college. Lenin’s brother Alexander was executed in 1887 for his involvement to assassinate Tsar Alexander III. Lenin’s sisters got into trouble as well and went to prison. As the brother of an executed terrorist, Lenin was expelled from the University of Kazan. His anger and hatred at the regime that had executed his brother and imprisoned his sisters would drive him to want to bring it down.

He was able to attend school again in 1890 and obtained a law degree. Moving to Petrograd, he associated himself with revolutionary Marxist circles. He worked to organize Marxist groups and enlist workers. But in December 1895, he and other leaders were arrested and jailed. And then he was exiled to Siberia for three years. After that between 1900-1917, he would spend most of his time abroad working further develop his revolutionary ideals and fight those internally who opposed his goals.

One hurdle that Lenin had to overcome was standard Marxist doctrine that mandated stages in which the final revolution would take place. Russia was barely an industrial state compared to the West. Marx argued that you needed a “bourgeois” stage in order for the revolution to occur. Lenin argued this was unnecessary and that Russia was already in the throes of capitalism. This change would encourage revolutions much later in countries that had little or no industrial sector. He also formed alliances with groups he would not normally align with to bring about the revolution in Russia.

Winter Palace in Petrograd after Bolshevik Seizure of Power in 1917
Public Domain

With the outbreak of World War I, Lenin opposed citing it as an imperialistic war. The abdication of Tsar Nicholas II opened the opportunity to take Russia out of the war. Germany allowed Lenin and his lieutenants passage through Germany in a sealed railway car from Switzerland to Sweden. The thinking was by allowing anti-war Socialists to Russia would help undermine the Russian war effort. Lenin immediately called for the overthrow of the Provisional Government and was called a German agent. He had to flee to Finland but the call for “peace, land, and bread” was very popular. And it resulted in the Bolsheviks getting more support and a majority in the Petrograd council (called soviet). He returned secretly to Petrograd on 6 November led the coup that overthrew the Provisional Government.

Aftermath

Lenin would the supreme leader of the first Marxist state in the world. Russia, despite objections from Britain and France, made peace with Germany. The new state would nationalize all industry and seized all land (the peasants had everything seized, including farming tools, and had to get permission from the commissar to do anything on their former farms). Civil war erupted in 1918 against Tsarist forces that ended in 1920 with their defeat. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was proclaimed in 1922. The USSR did promote revolution activity in India and Afghanistan but were thwarted by British agents. Russia suffered a devastating famine from 1921-22 due to the Russian Revolution and Civil War. Russia had to accept help from European and American relief efforts to help alleviate the severe conditions the famine caused. When Lenin died in 1925, Stalin became leader and would remain so until 1953. The Communist regime did not fulfill the Marxian hope of government withering away to allow people the fullest possible freedom. Instead it became an oppressive totalitarian society complete with massive internal police to monitor its citizens. During Stalin’s tenure, the infamous purges and show trials took place. It was no joke to wonder if you might be picked up and never return home at the end of the day.

*Russia was still using the Julian calendar at this time, so it took place on October 25, 1917 in Russia. That is why it is also called the October Revolution.

Sources:
This Day in History (History.com)
Russian Revolution (Brittanica.com)

 

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The Titanic Mystery Ship

Titanic Leaving Queenstown 11 April 1912. Believed to be the last photograph of ship before it sank.
Public Domain

A recent television documentary show is once again raising the issue of a mystery ship that was near to Titanic during the time it was sinking. The SS Californian was thought to be that ship by many though it was hotly denied by its captain Stanley Lord. He would be forever tarnished by the accusation, right or wrong, that he failed to act in assisting Titanic when it sent out its distress calls. With the discovery of the wreck in 1985, it became easier to pinpoint, from the location of the wreck and reported locations during that period of time, the relative positions of ships in the area.

According to Senan Moloney, Californian was at least 40 nautical miles away from Titanic. They likely saw the rockets but were not close enough to see the ship itself. Now there were other ships in that area that night that were seen by the captain of the Mount Temple but could not be identified. Captain Roston of the Californian saw two ships in the morning when he arrived near where Titanic sank. One was the Californian, the other he could not identify. Despite some intriguing possibilities, to date no one has been able to positively identify the other ships seen in the area.

We may never know for certain the mystery ship(s) that were in the area. We can certainly make some educated guesses but for everyone put forth, their seems to be contrary evidence against it. So, it remains one of those mysteries that will not be solved. Nor harm in going over the many fine points though, if for nothing else better understanding what went on that fateful night in 1912.

For further information:

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Remembering History:Carter Finds Door To King Tut’s Tomb

The Mask of Tutankhamun; circa 1327 BC
Image: Roland Unger (Wikimedia)

On 4 November 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter found steps near the entrance of King Ramses IV in the Valley of the Kings. By this time many of the ancient Egyptian tombs had been discovered but not the little-known King Tutankhamen, who died at age 18. The discovery of the steps would lead Carter and his fellow archaeologist Lord Carnarvon to enter the interior chambers of the tomb finding them intact. It would start a large excavation process in which Carter explored the four room tomb over several years and cataloguing its contents. The best known was a stone sarcophagus containing three coffins nested within each other. Inside the final coffin (made of solid gold), was Tutankhamen’s mummy preserved for over 3,000 years. Since many royal tombs had been looted in the past, finding an intact tomb and its mummy was a rare archaeological find. The Cairo Museum houses the treasures from the tomb.

Sources:

This Day in History (History.com)
King Tut (National Geographic)
Tutankhamun (Britannica)

Titanic News: Letter from Pastor Who Died on Titanic Surfaces; Diving to Titanic Will Cost You Big Money

 

Photo:Wikipedia

Titanic Letter Written By Hero Pastor Who Died In Disaster Surfaces (Fox News,  1 Nov 2020)

A letter written on the Titanic by a hero pastor who died in the ship’s sinking is up for auction in the U.K. The letter was written by John Harper, the pastor of Walworth Road Baptist Church in London, a widower who was traveling with his sister and 6-year-old daughter to preach at the Moody Church in Chicago.

The letter will be auctioned off by Henry Aldridge & Sons on 14 Nov.

Ship Branded The ‘Titanic Of The Great Lakes’ Discovered 110 Years After It Sank (Mirror, 2 Nov 2020)

A ship branded the “Titanic of the Great Lakes” has been found in its watery resting place – 110 years after it mysteriously sank. The Pere Marquette 18 spent the summer giving pleasure cruises in Chicago and was called the “world’s largest pleasure boat” and the “safest ship afloat”. But the vessel sunk with the loss of dozens of lives en-route from Michigan to Wisconsin as it returned to its regular route in September 1910. There were multiple witnesses to the sinking – including another ship, the Pere Marquette 17, which came to the rescue – but the cause of the calamity remains a mystery.

You Could Join A Tour To See The Titanic Wreckage In 2021 – But You’ll Need A Spare £96,000 (Yahoo, 29 Oct 2020)

The expeditions, which will see nine guests set off on an eight-day trip from Canada’s Newfoundland, won’t be cheap. Each of the “mission specialists” (used to describe the guests) will be expected to pay $125,000 (£96,368) for the trip which includes a six to eight-hour dive in the submarine to see the wreckage. Only three guests will join the driver in the submarine at any one time. Rush, who is planning to host the trips from May to September annually, says that 36 people have already booked in for the first six expeditions.

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Welcome to November

Le Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry-November
Jean Colombe (1430–1493)
Public Domain (Wikimedia)

November is the 11 month of the year in both the old Julian and current Gregorian calendars. The name is derived from Latin, novem, which means nine. This indicates its position on the early Roman calendar. Depending on your geographic location, it is either late spring in the Southern Hemisphere or late autumn in the Northern Hemisphere.

The symbols for November are the topaz (birthstone that symbolizes friendship), and its flower is the chrysanthemum.

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All Souls’ Day

Day of The Dead by William Bouguereau (1825-1905)
Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)

All Souls Day is set aside to commemorate the faithful dead in Catholic and other Christian denominations. Most protestant denominations, with the exception of the Anglican church, do not recognize the holy day. It is not to be confused with Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) which does remember friends and family who have died but is not a Catholic or Christian religious event(though it takes place from 31 Oct through 2 Nov which coincides with Halloween, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day).

One of the purposes of All Souls Day is to pray for those in purgatory. Purgatory is one of the places, according to Catholic belief, a soul may go after death (the other two places are heaven and hell). Purgatory is an intermediate place where people who are free of mortal sin but still in a state of lesser (venial) sin. While most celebrate All Souls Day on 2 November, Eastern Orthodox has several days during the year it celebrates the holy day. Though a holy day, unlike All Saints’ Day is it not a holy day of obligation (meaning you go to church).

 

ALL SAINTS’ DAY

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs (about 1423-24)
Public Domain

All Saints’ Day (Solemnity of All Saints, All Hallows, Hallowmas or All Saints’)is celebrated on 1 November by most Western Christians and is to honor all saints known and unknown. In some Catholic countries, it is a holiday. It is a holy day of obligation for most Catholics except when it falls on a Saturday or Monday. In that case it is celebrated on Sunday. Eastern Orthodox is celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost and is called All Saints’ Sunday.

Pope Boniface IV formally started All Saints’ Day on May 13, 609 AD. He also established All Souls’ Day to follow All Saints’ Day. Pope Gregory IV made 1 November All Saints’ Day followed by All Souls’ Day. The May 13 day was formally abandoned. In Ireland, All Saints’ Day was originally celebrated on April 20 to avoid being mixed with the pagan feasts revolving around Samhain on 1 November. It was moved later to 1 November and has been there ever since. All Saints’ Day is a public holiday in Ireland where all schools, businesses and government is closed.