In 1917, Russia was in disarray. March had seen the Tsarist regime collapse. The Provisional Government took over. More liberal than the Tsarist government, they allowed some civil rights but failed to make the major reforms needed. The Bolsheviks were able to capitalise on the chaos and problems within Russia, leading to a coup d’état in October that established themselves as the leaders of Russia. The events leading up to this revolution and those that followed were of international importance as they led to Russia’s removal from the still ongoing First World War and sparked the desire for worldwide socialism that caused the Cold War. In short, these events set the stage for international relations for the rest of the century and beyond.
Within a month of removing Russia from the First World War with the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, they were thrust into a civil war in which they would fight the poorly organised, but relatively popular Whites until 1921. Despite being costly and bloody, the war allowed the Bolsheviks to consolidate power in each locality in a logical and systematic way. From this point on, they set about presenting themselves, and the state of Russia in a way that benefited them. They did this by manipulating both history and the truth to their own ends. The public perception of the Bolsheviks was therefore State controlled, and dictated by the leading members of the Bolsheviks such as Lenin and Trotsky. They started by presenting the October Revolution as a violent and bloody conflict in which the Bolsheviks overcame the tyrannical regime of the Provisional Government. The film October! was commissioned by the Bolsheviks to show the events of the revolution in the way that they wanted. They also staged a reconstruction in 1920 for the same purpose. As the revolution had occurred over night, without forewarning, there were no photographers or journalists that were not affiliated to the Bolsheviks. As a result, the events dictated by the reconstruction and the film became fact as far as the Russian people were concerned.
The Storming of Winter Palace from October!
Manipulation of the masses started long before the October Revolution occurred. Upon his return to Russia on the 4th of April 1917, Lenin made his famous April Theses, setting out the plan for the Bolsheviks and coined the popular policy of ‘Peace, Bread and Land.’ This was the main demand during the July Days Uprising, an unorganised and spontaneous movement that developed after workers went on strike in St Petersburg. To attribute the phrase to the Bolsheviks, as they wanted people to, is not accurate. In truth, the policy, as well as the slogan, originated from the International Women’s Day Parade. Lenin, who was still in exile in Switzerland at the time, recognised the popular support for the demands. Peace called for the end of Russia’s involvement in the First World War, bread called for the end to the food shortages and land called for land reform for the peasants. Lenin took the policy and the slogan and incorporated it into the Bolshevik manifesto to manipulate the masses and earn their support. After the revolution however, the Bolsheviks made every effort to make it seem like it was their policy.
Be On Guard – Bolshevik Fear Propeganda Poster.
The Bolsheviks also manipulated the climate of fear within Russia. By making Russia seem susceptible to spies and traitors, they manipulated people into spying on their neighbours, reporting suspicious activity and legitimised the role of the secret police by making it seem necessary. They used posters to instil fear in society. This allowed them to arrest, kill and exile political enemies, starting with the Social Revolutionaries in 1921 after a failed attempt on Lenin’s life, without the need of explanation. It also reduced the risk of a counter-revolution as people did not know who to trust, and could not therefore unite against them. They manipulated the masses for support, and then manipulated the truth so that they could act against their political enemies without fear of opposition or revolution. The Bolsheviks also tried to portray their revolution and the changes that it brought as necessary, and in the best interest of the Russian people. They commissioned a painting, titled The Bolsheviks, in 1920 that showed a Bolshevik carrying the flag with the Russian public gathering underneath it. It was telling people to support them unconditionally.
The Bolsheviks, 1920.
The Bolshevik regime, now considered bloody and authoritarian, nevertheless held great support in 1917 prior to its coming to power. Whilst this can be attributed to their manipulation of the masses and propaganda techniques, the initial interests in Lenin and his attempt at power came from the discontent with the Provisional Government. A scene played throughout history is that of a government overthrown in favour of a radical system, because of the discontent of the people. The Russian people were used to one authoritarian leader, hence the suitability of Lenin over the Provisional Government. The Bolsheviks effectively manipulated both the people and history to their own ends.