History GCSE- Russia 1917-39

Full information about Russia from 1917-39

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  • Created by: Ara
  • Created on: 09-04-11 18:50

The nature of Tsarist rule

  • There was much opposition to Tsar Nicholas II rule in the years before 1917.
  • He ruled as an autocrat
  • He believed that god had made him tsar and therefore he had absolute authority to rule Russia
  • He ruled with the support of the aristocracy (landowners), the church, the army, and the civil service

Various groups had become discontented before and during the first world was:

  • The peasants lived in extreme poverty
  • Industrial workers in large cities, such as Petrograd and Moscow, lived in overcrowded conditions and worked for long hours for very little pay.
  • Subject nationalities ( non-russian people) such as Poles, Lithuanians, and Finns were being forced to speak the Russian language and accept Russian customs. They wanted their independence.
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The Growth of Opposition

There were several groups opposing the Tsar:

  • The social revolutionairies were the largest and most violoent group and were supportes by peasants. They wanted to crave up huge estates of the very rich and hand them over to the peasants
  • The bolsheviks were a small group dedicated revolutionaries led by lennin who wanted to overthrow the Tsar and set up a communist government
  • The Mensheviks wanted to create a mass communist party which would eventually overthrow the Tsar
  • The constitutional Democrats or Cadtes wanted to keep the Tsar but make him share power with a parliament or Duma


A representative assemebly that the Tsar consulted, but which had little power.

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The impact of the First World War

In 1914 Russia went to war on the side of Britain and France and against Germany and Austria-Hungary. The war had disastrous effects for the Tsar.

Political chaos:

  • While dealing with the war, the Tsar left the Government of Russia in the hands of his wife Alexandra. This created problems:
  • Alexandra was unpopular because of her German background
  • Until his assassination in December 1916, she was under the influence of a monk called Rasputin
  • Alexandra dismissed capable ministers and refused to accept the advice of the Duma
  • She misled the Tsar about the extend of opposition in Petrograd
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The impact of the First World War Continued...

Social Misery:

  • By the end of 1916 there was discontent throughout Russia.
  • In the towns and cities there were high prices and food and fuel shortages
  • In the countryside there were too few peasants to work on the land due to conscriprion. Consequently they suffered from increasing food shortages.
  • Conditions in the army were so bad (with lack of equipment and even boots) that an increasing number of soldiers deserted
  • There was a severe winter (even by Russian standards) in 1916-17
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The fall of the Tsar

The effects of the First World War led to the Febuary Revolution. The unrest began in febuary 1917 with a strike at the puetilov steelworks in petrograd.

  • Unrest and strikes spread quickly and bread queues turned into riots
  • Thw workers began to form councils (called soviets) and leaders of the Duma (including Alexandra Kerensky) began to oppose the Tsar openly
  • By the end of febuary the troops had joined the rioters and the Tsar had no choice but to abdicate (give up power) on 3rd March. The Tsar's regime was replaced by a provisional government.
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The Provisional Government

After the abdication of the Tsar in 1917, the Duma appointed a Provisional Government headed at first by Prince Lvov. He was replaced by Alexander Kerensky in july of that year. Kerensky had already served in the Provisional Government as Justice Minister and War Minister. He was also Deputy Chairman of the Petrograd soviet (workers council). Many people already believed that the soviets were more effective as a means of government than the Duma.

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Lenin and Bolsheviks

At the time of the February revolution, Lenin, the leader of the Bolsheviks, was in exile in Germany. On his return, a month after the abduction of the Tsar, his aim was to overthrow the Provisional Government with a second revolution of the working classes.

Lenin published his views in April 1917 in the 'April Theses'. In simple terms, he said that the Bolsheviks offered 'peace, land and bread, all the power to the Soviets.  



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The Kornilov revolt

Alexander Kerensky began to take a grip on his opponents and Lenin was forced to leave Russia again. However, Kerensky was then challenged by the new commander of the army, General Kornilov, who wanted to impose a strict regime and crush opponents, rather like the Tsar had done.

Kerensky asked the Bolsheviks to help him defeat Kornilov, which they did. Kerensky was now in real trouble. He had lost the support of the army and was dependant upon the petrograd soviet (with its strong Bolshevik influence) to run Russia

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Mistakes made by the Provisional Government

The provisional Government made several mistakes which weakened its position.

  • It continued the war effort out of loyalty to Russia's allies and in retrurn for supplies. The offensive of June 1917 was a disastrous failure and was followed by further German advances and more desertions for the Russian armed forces
  • Failure to end the war worsened the food shortages in the towns and cities.
  • Because of its temporary nature, the Provisional Government would not carry out important reforms. For example, it failed to give land to the peasants, which increased discontent in the countryside
  • The provisional Government allowed opposition parties, including Lenin and the Bolsheviks, to campaign in Russia. Real authority and support lay with the Petrograd Soviets
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The October Revolution

Bolshevik support increased throughout 1817.

  • In September the Bolsheviks became the largest party in the Petrograd soviet. They controlled the Military Committee of the soviet, with Leon Trotsky became chairman.
  • Trotsky used the Military Committee to plan the revolution.
  • On 16 October Lenin returned to Russia ( he had been forced into hiding abroad in July) and was now convinced that the time was right to overthrow the Provisional Government.
  • On 24 and 25 October the Bolsheviks Seized power. They took control of the key locations of Petrograd and Moscow, including the Post office, bridges, state Bank and railway stations. 
  • Provisional Goverment. Kerensky manged to escape and tried to rally loyal troops. When this failed, he fled into exile.

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Reasons for Bolshevik success

  • The provisonal Government was very unpopular. Few rallied to support Kerensky and there were no massive demonstrations demanding his return.
  • Lenin played an important role. He had spent many years organising a disciplined party dedicated to revolution. His campaigning of 1917, especially his slogan 'Peace, Land, and Bread', brought more support. By October, the Bolsheviks Pparty had 800,000 members with supporters in strategic places. At least half the army supported it, as did the sailors at the important naval base at Kronstadt, near Petrograd and Moscow soviets, were also pro- Bolsheviks
  • The october Revolution is often described as a classic work of planning by Trotsky. He organised the seizure of key buildings and positions in the two major cities
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The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

The Bolsheviks had always planned to pull out of the war with germany. They agreed a ceasefire in December 1917. Trotsky was the job of negotiiating terms but his only acheivement was to hold up the Germans intil March 1918, when the Bolsheviks were foreced to sign the treaty of Brest- Litovsk.

  • Russia lost vast amounts of territory
  • Russia lost important coal and iron resources and about one-third of its population.
  • Russia also had to pay 300 million gold rubles in compensation.
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Civil war 1918 -22

The Bolsheviks did not have any support of all Russians when they seized power. By May 1918, they had more enemies, especially after the losses of the treaty of Brest-Litovsk. By the summer of 1918, the Bolsheviks were faced with a range of opponents united only by their opposition to the Bolsheviks. These opponents, called the Whites (in contrast to the red guards), were made up of former tsarists, Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries and foreign powers opposed the new regime in Russia. 

White weaknesses

  • They were scattered and often armies were 100’s of miles apart   
  •  Communication was difficult, but generals often didn't want to   
  • They were made up of different groups and they all had different aims – they didn't agree much. 
  • They had no good leaders. Commanders were cruel and set a bad example.
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Bolsheviks Victory

The Bolsheviks were united, while their enemies did not coordinate their attacks. This meant the Bolshevik army could defeat one enemy, then move to defeat the next. Although they were surrounded, they could move very quickly in trains from place to place. Trotsky was also a brilliant general, with his personal unit travelling to where the fight was hardest.

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War Communism

A policy to ensure workers and red army get enough food

As industry was collapsing and the army needed food. L took control of factories and industry. Strict discipline was imposed on workers they couldn’t leave the cities. Food was rationed, and you could only get a ration card if you were working. Peasants in the countryside were forced to give up their grain, animals etc. L used Cheka.

  • Very unsuccessful, middle class had nothing and fled to Europe    
  • Money was worth nothing    
  • Lenin had to use violence and peasants started to turn against him    
  • By 1921 (year of crisis) Russia’s economy was in ruins. Industrial production fell disastrously, cities in chaos. Burglary was common. Agriculture collapsed – high shortage of food – food prices increase.   
  • Diseases are widespread – Typhus and cholera   
  • BUT – the red army was looked after, and the communists won in the end
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The New Economic Policy 1921- 24

Launched by L to ensure political survival and get Russia back on its feet. He said it was “temporary deviation”.

-Main features:

  • Peasants allowed to sell grain for profits  
  • Smaller factories returned to owners. 
  • Traders allowed to buy and sell goods
  • Many Russian homes and factories got electricity,
  • Other countries began to trade with Russia again.


·        Russia becomes more prosperous, improves economic situation.

·        By 1926 – economy had reached pre 1914 levels. Some peasants became  quite rich buying up land and animals. Industrial workers get higher wages +  better conditions.

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The New Economic Policy 1921- 24 Continued...


·        Manufactured goods v.expensive, peasants reluctant to sell grain they couldn’t buy much.

·        Most peasants remained poor

·        Unemployment still high

·        Crime and prostitution levels increase

·        Unpopular among communists

·        Much industrial machinery outdated + became over used.

 Lenin died on Jan 23rd 1924 – it wasn't clear who would succeed him. There was a power struggle but Stalin was victorious in 1928 and he made himself indispensable.

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The struggle for power 1924- 28

There was a leadership contest following the death of Lenin:

There were tow main rivals:

  • Trotsky: When Lenin died, Trotsky was the most obvious candidate to take over the leadership of the Communists. He was brilliant, talented and had an outstanding 'track record' as leader of the Bolsheviks Army.
  • Stalin: Expressed no strong views- he was hard working administrator and few expressed him to win the leadership contest.
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Reasons for Stalin's success

The leadership contest was eventually won by Stalin, although it took him five yeards to defeat his rivals for a number of reasons:

  • He had taken on many important jobs. This gave him an important base- he had many supporters in the ranks of the party ( who owed their positions to him ).
  • Stalin took advantage of the Lenin Enrollment to increase his support within the party. He also appeared as the chief mourner at Lenin's funeral while tricking Trotsky into missing it.
  • Trotsky made himself unpopular. His ideas for spreading world revolution alarmed moderate Communists. He was also arrogant and offended many party members.


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The Purges of the 1930's


  • Stalin's ally Kirov was murdered. He saw this as evidence of conspiracy and began series of political purges (involving imprisonment and execution). Historians believe that Stalin planned Kirov's murder to give him an excuse to Purge the USSR of opponents, whom Stalin saw as traitors to give himself and the USSR.

Key Features:

  • From1934 to 1938, thousands were arrested, imprisoned, murdered or simply disappeared. They came from all areas of soviet life.
  • The members of the Communist party fell from 3.5 million in 1934 to 2 million in 1835.
  • Leadership party members were tortured and their families threatened. Then at show trials they 'confessed' and were executed.
  • Many less important opponents ( and even supporters that weren't enthusiastic enough) were arrested and either executed or send to labour camps.
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Show Trials

  • These began in 1936 when Stalin began purging the Communist party of anyone who might oppose him, especially the 'Old Bolsheviks' such as Kamenev and Zinoviev. The accuse were put on full view of the world and forced to confess to a whole range of unlikely crimes.
  • The confessions were important because they appeared to show that Stalin was right to carry out the purges.


  • The effects of the purges were mixed. Stalin was certainly secure. His new secret police (the NKVD) ruled the population with terror.
  • Over 8 million people had been killed or sent to labour camps. However, Stalin had weakened the USSR. 
  • Many of those purged had been skilled or educated and so indusrtial progress had slowed down. The army was seriously weakened and suffered badly against the Germans in 1941.
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The cult of Stalin

Propaganda and Censorship:

  • Censorship of anything that might reflect badly on Stalin
  • Propaganda everywhere - pictures, statues, continuous praise and applause
  • Places named after him


  • Mothers taught their children that Stalin was ‘the wisest man of the age’
  • History books and photographs were changed to make him the hero of the Revolution, and obliterate the names of purged people (e.g. Trotsky)
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In 1927, Stalin declared that the way forward was for people in each village to voluntarily unite their farms into one collective farm. This Kolkhov (a collective farm) would be able to afford machinery, be more efficient, and be able to create a surplus to send to the towns.

After two years, when everyone had ignored his ideaand there had been a famine, Stalin made collectivisation compulsory.

The peasants hated the idea, so they burned their crops and killed their animals rather than hand them over to the state. There was another famine in 1930.

By 1939, 99 per cent of land had been collectivised 90% of the peasants lived on one of the 250,000 kolkhoz. Farming was run by government officials. The government took 90 per cent of production and left the rest for the people to live on.

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The Five Year Plans


  • Security
  • To create a show piece of success for the outside world
  • To carry out his idea of 'socialism in one country'.

In order to achive his aims, he came up with two Five-Year Plans for the development of the USSR. They Presented incredibly ambitious targets for industrial production that had o be achieved in five years.

Although few targets were met, the industries that failed to meet their targets still made huge advances.

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Life in the Soviet Union

Living conditions and Working conditions:

  • Most of the peasantry life was much worse than that of towns workers. The state kept prices low to ensure a cheap supply of food for the towns. As a result, more and more peasants moved to the towns to find work and, hopefully, a better standard of living.
  • Some workers were promoted into management jobs in industry.
  • Some workers also benefited from the expansion of higher education which enabled them to gain the technical knowledge needed for higher management posts. 
  • The rapid industrialization caused by the Five year plans removed any areas of unemployment.
  • The downside was that the urban poplulation rose from 29 million 1929 to 40 million only four years later. This, in turn, led to poor living conditions. Furthermore, working condition's were harsh with strict rules about discipline and punctuality.
  • As Peasants flooded into the towns and cities, basic amenities became overcrowded. Trams and buses were jam packed. Flats had to be shared by several families.
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Women in Russia

  • Women made more progress in the area of unemployment. They were encouraged to work in almost all areas.
  • Some women took on jobs like engineering, which had once been done only by men. However, life remained hard for most soviet women.
  • They were expected to work full time, as well as bring up a family. Help was provided by state nurseries and creches. 
  • Politically, women still remained second-class citizens, with less than twenty per cent of the Communist party membership being women and very few women rising to high positions in the party or government. 
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Thank you sooo much. this helped alot ;)

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