How were the Bolsheviks able to seize power in October / November 1917?

AQA Modern World History GCSE revision cards based on the syllabus.

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The October / November revolution of 1917

  • In October 1917, Lenin said the Bolsheviks should begin a revolution.
  • Leon Trotsky, the Bolshevik chairman of the Petrograd Soviet, drew up plans to stage an armed uprising against the Provisional Government.
  • The army supported the Bolsheviks, so Kerensky could not stop them.
  • During the night of 6th November, the Red Guards began to take control of the most important locations in Petrograd.
  • First, they took control of six bridges across the Neva.
  • On the 7th, they seized government buildings, power stations and railway stations. In the evening, sailors fired blank shells at the Winter Palace. Later, the guns in the Peter and Paul fortress also opened fire on the palace and then Red guards stormed it. The Cadets and Womens' Battalion gave in without a fight and government ministers surrendered.
  • The next day, Lenin announced that a new government would be set up.
  • Only 18 people had been arrested and two people killed. The Bolsheviks came to power with ease after one day of rebellion.
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How did the Bolsheviks establish control?

  • The All-Russian Congress of Soviets gave power to the 15 Bolshevik People's Commissars under Lenin on 8th November 1917.
  • Soldiers were sent into the countryside to seize grain to feed the towns.
  • The Bolsheviks controlled the main centres of power and used telegraph communications to spread their revolutionary message to local groups.
  • Elections were held for a new National Assembly. The Bolsheviks won 175 seats out of 707, with most seats going to the Social Revolutionary Party which had the peasant support.
  • After one day, the Red Guards closed down the Assembly - January 1918.
  • The Bolsheviks became the Communist Party, the only legal party in Russia.
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The reasons for the Bolshevik success

  • They were strong in key political and administrative centres - especially Petrograd.
  • They had their own trained military force - the Red Guards.
  • They were ruthless and planned clear strategies - they were prepared for swift action.
  • They were practical - they recognised that the time for a true Marxist revolution was a long way off and so they changed their policies in order to seize power at the first chance. They claimed they ran a Socialist government which was trying to create the right conditions for Communism in the long term - so in the short term they could do whatever they liked.
  • The continuing problems of war and famine, and the breakdown of law and order weren't dealt with by the Provisional Government, who had become a weak target.
  • The vision and ability of Lenin - he was a quick-thinking leader who inspired his party.
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