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Russian Revolution

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The strain of modern war in World War I, for which Russia was not prepared, the pressure of the opposition parties, which increasingly used personal abuse as a weapon against the imperial family for their intimacy with the notorious holy man Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin and denounced the government for its inefficiency, and the inefficiency itself, proved too great a weight on the absolutist structure. When in Petrograd (now St Petersburg) in March 1917 a demonstration for International Women's Day turned into a riot against bread shortage and mutinous troops joined in, the government lost control and power slipped into the hands of a provisional government made up of leading figures from the State Duma. Tsar Nicholas II, isolated from all support, abdicated. His son was excluded from succession because of his fragile health, and his brother Grand Duke Michael declined the crown unless it were offered by a democratically elected constituent assembly; since this was not an option the 300 year-old Romanov dynasty came to an end.

IV The Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet

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The provisional government immediately enacted a number of liberal laws, also abolishing the police and gendarmes and replacing them by a people's militia. The new conditions of total freedom of speech enabled the socialists in Russia at last to voice their opposition to the war and to call for a “democratic peace without reparations and annexations”. A mood of collective rejoicing and mutual forgiveness affected even the most militant party, the Bolsheviks, whose leaders returned from their Siberian exile and conducted party policy in the absence of their true leader, Vladimir Ilich Lenin, who was still in Switzerland. Vyacheslav Mikhaylovich Molotov and Joseph Stalin, as editors of the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda (The Truth), joined the general line being followed by the Council of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, known as the Petrograd Soviet, calling for support of the new regime as long as its policies did not conflict with the aims of the revolution. The chief and most damaging effect of this tactic was that soldiers, who were encouraged to form “trench committees”, began vetting orders, with disastrous consequences for discipline, let alone the war effort.

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On April 16, 1917 Lenin succeeded in reaching Petrograd. His journey had been organized by the German High Command, who recognized his value to them as a voluble agitator for Russia's withdrawal from the war and sent him by special train across Germany to Sweden and thence through Finland to the Russian capital. On arrival, Lenin at once declared Bolshevik nonsupport for the government, calling instead for fraternization at the front to end the war. His party at first recoiled from such tactics as suicidally isolationist for the Bolsheviks, but within a month Lenin had persuaded them that the best chance for a socialist revolution would only come if Russia got out of the war and if the Bolsheviks maintained their separate identity intact by avoiding “stupid alliances” with other parties, especially the majority Mensheviks in the Petrograd Soviet. Over the next few months, Bolshevik propaganda, much strengthened by the return from exile in Europe and America of Leon Trotsky, assiduously promoted this idea, so that by midsummer it was the Petrograd Soviet, along with the government, that felt isolated, encircled as they were by mounting demands for an end to the war.

While the government tried to stick to its policy of “pursuing the war to a successful conclusion” in partnership with the Allied powers, and thus earned widespread contempt as the heir to tsarist policy, and while the moderate socialists in the Soviet struggled

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