Wikipedia:WikiProject Military history/News/October 2017/Op-ed
Red Storm Rising
- By TomStar81
October 1917... For the last 8 months Russia has been without an effective national government owing to the uprising that forced the Tsar and his family out of power in February. With no faith or confidence in the Emperor, and with order broken down across the Russian Empire, the Russian Provisional Government has assumed the role of the national leadership in an attempt to restore order. While the effort made by this body to work towards a middle road that all Russians could accept was admirable, its inability to move toward that goal quickly left an unmistakable scent of vulnerability at the national level. This scent had twice attracted predators who were keen on the idea of seizing national power in the world's largest country by landmass, and in both cases the Provisional Government had just barely managed to stay in power by getting far enough ahead of the movements to shut down their leadership cores. In the latter half of October 1917, however, one of these predatory groups would finally succeed in overthrowing the Provisional Government and, in so doing, this group would earn the right to reshape Russia in its own image.
The predatory group in question were the Bolsheviks, a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP), which split apart from the Menshevik faction at the Second Party Congress in 1903. This group was led by one Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known to the west as Lenin, a Russian communist revolutionary, politician and political theorist. Lenin had protested against the Tsar and his policies before being forced to flee for his life, but had returned briefly following the February 1917 revolution that had finally forced Emperor off his throne and out of the political circles he had formerly occupied. In the first of three uprisings to occur during the time of the Provisional Government, protesters marched en masse during what was at the time referred to as the July Days. Despite the initial attempt for peaceful protests, these protestors ultimately got into armed clashes with Provisional Government forces. Lenin, away from the capital at the time, returned upon learning of the violence and issued a plea for calm in the city.
In the second attempt, known as the Kornilov affair, elements of the Russian military lead by the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Army, General Lavr Kornilov, attempted a coup in September 1917 against the Russian Provisional Government headed by Aleksander Kerensky and the Petrograd Soviet of Soldiers and Workers Deputies. The affair began with Kerensky requesting that Kornilov move forces loyal to the Provisional Government into Petrograd to counter the threat of the radical (and Soviet-controlled) Petrograd army garrison. Kornilov then marched on Petrograd intent on 'purging' the Provisional Government of revolutionary elements, possibly with the intention of establishing a military dictatorship. Kerensky countered Kornilov by arming the Bolshevik-influenced Soviets (including Leon Trotsky's Red Guards). Bolshevik agents infiltrated Kornilov's army and soldiers began to desert. Railway strikes hindered Kornilov's supplies and communications. The result was that Kornilov and his closest advisers were imprisoned, and the Bolsheviks permanently armed and empowered. With Kornilov defeated, the Bolsheviks' popularity in the soviets grew significantly, both in the central and local areas. On 31 August, the Petrograd Soviet of Workers and Soldiers Deputies, and on 5 September, the Moscow Soviet Workers Deputies adopted the Bolshevik resolutions on the question of power. The Bolsheviks won a majority in the Soviets of Briansk, Samara, Saratov, Tsaritsyn, Minsk, Kiev, Tashkent, and other cities.
Having thus primed the revolutionary pump, the Bolsheviks finalized their plans for the endgame and control of the Russian government, and on 25 October 1917 set into motion their plans for seizing control by leading their forces in the uprising in Petrograd (modern-day Saint Petersburg), then capital of Russia, against the Kerensky Provisional Government. The event coincided with the arrival of a flotilla of pro-Bolshevik marines, primarily five destroyers and their crew, in St. Petersburg's harbor. At Kronstadt, sailors also announced their allegiance to the Bolshevik insurrection. In the early morning, the military-revolutionary committee planned the last of the locations to be assaulted or seized from its heavily guarded and picketed center in Smolny palace. The Red Guards systematically captured major government facilities, key communication, installations and vantage points with little opposition. The Petrograd Garrison and most of the city's military units joined the insurrection against the Provisional Government.
Kerensky and the Provisional Government were virtually helpless to offer significant resistance. Russia's military had been severely depleted after three years of war, combat veterans and others who may have been willing to help put down the uprising were out of the capital, forces left in the capital were recruits, reservists, and others who had seen no reason to risk life and limb to defend the Emperor in February and once again saw little if any reason to put down an uprising against what had up to that point proven to be an ineffective government. Compounding this problem was the logistical situation in the capital: railways and railway stations had been controlled by Soviet workers and soldiers for days, making rail travel to and from Petrograd for Provisional Government officials all but impossible. The Provisional Government was also unable to locate any serviceable vehicles. On the morning of the insurrection, Kerensky desperately searched for a means of reaching military forces he hoped would be friendly to the Provisional government outside the city, and ultimately borrowed a Renault car from the American Embassy, which he drove from the Winter Palace alongside a Pierce Arrow. Kerensky was able to evade the pickets going up around the palace and drive to meet oncoming soldiers.
Unlike the February uprising, this insurrection was mostly bloodless, a final assault being launched against the Winter Palace, poorly defended by 3,000 cadets, officers, cossacks and female soldiers. The assault was delayed throughout the day, both because functioning artillery could not be found, and because the Bolsheviks feared violence when the insurrection had so far been peaceful. At 6:15 pm, a large group of artillery cadets abandoned the palace, taking their artillery with them; at 8:00 pm, 200 Cossacks also left the palace and returned to their barracks. While the cabinet of the Provisional Government within the palace debated what action to take, the Bolsheviks issued an ultimatum to surrender. Workers and soldiers occupied the last of the telegraph stations, cutting off the cabinet's communications with loyal military forces outside the city. As the night progressed, crowds of insurgents surrounded the palace, and many infiltrated it with little to any resistance being offered by its defenders. At 9:45 pm, the cruiser Aurora fired a blank shot from the harbor. By 2:00 am on 26 October, Bolshevik forces entered the palace, and after sporadic gunfire throughout the building, the cabinet of the Provisional Government surrendered.
With this event, the Bolshevik faction cemented its control of the greater Russian national government. In the newly created Soviet Russia, Vladimir Lenin assumed the role of the national leader, installing a cabinet and worked to get the new Soviet Russia up and running. As word got out across Russia of the Bolshevik faction's seizure of power and the subsequent proclamation of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, many people warmly welcomed the news, though a minority faction of the Russian populace adamantly opposed to the creation of a socialist state—collectively known as the "Whites"—would take up arms in an attempt to overthrow the newly proclaimed Soviet state, leading to the Russian Civil War that Emperor Nicholas II feared would erupt should he stay in power. In a moment of historical irony, that same civil war sealed the fate of the Russian Imperial Family as the Soviet faction - the so-called "Reds" - would brutally execute Nicholas and his entire family in an attempt to keep the Whites and their allies from rescuing the Emperor and restoring him to the Russian Throne.
Author's note: Due to dating discrepancies arising from the use of Old Style and New Style dates I want to note that all dates given in this article are Old Style, which was approximately two weeks behind the currently used new style dating system.