Analysis of the Bolshevik Revolution

Three authors offer explanations for the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Theodore H. Von Laue, a German native and Princeton graduate, argued that the revolution was inevitable.1 George F. Kennan wrote that the perceived futility of the war effort led to the collapse of the Tsarist government, leaving a void that the Bolsheviks would fill.2 Finally, authors Jerry F. Hough and Merle Fainsod, both Ivy League professors, focused on specific reasons why the Bolsheviks were successful–not only during the 1917 revolution, but also during the ensuing civil war.3

Von Laue began his argument on the premise that the revolution of 1917 was inevitable. He believed the uncertainty of governmental collapse lied in when, not if the revolution would occur. Von Laure laid out reasons for this eventual collapse, one of the more important reasons being the failure of the democracy and military leadership.4

The Bolsheviks seized the opportunity left by the Tsarist regime. Many of the views held by the Bolsheviks resonated with Russian population. Two of these views were peace for soldiers and justice for the “oppressed and exploited.”5 Peace and justice seemed to be ideals that many could get behind. Vladimir Lenin convinced the people that imperialist greed caused the Great War. He further convinced many that the overthrowing of capitalist governments would bring an end to war and conflict.6

Many of Kennan’s main points concerning the success of the Bolshevik Revolution centered on how the Tsarists’ endless pursuit of the war caused dissatisfaction amongst the general population. People perceived limited gain from victory and marginal losses from defeat. This feeling of war-weariness led to the collapse of the Tsarist regime and provided ample opportunities for competing political parties to assert their authority and ideology.7

Kennan mentioned two factors that led to the Bolsheviks’ success. First, the Bolsheviks were fully committed to abandoning the war. This was in stark contrast to the previous ruler, Alexander Kerensky. Second, the Bolsheviks implemented an agrarian program that seemed to meet the needs of the general population.8

While Kennan noted the “impossible premise” of the Allies making Russia more useful in the war, he believed that the Bolsheviks’ eventual rise to power could have been prevented.9 Kennan faulted the lacking diplomatic skills of the Allies as partial cause of the Bolshevik takeover. Kennan’s views on whether the Bolsheviks’ ascension could have been stopped contrasted with the views of Von Laue’s.

The main thesis of Hough and Fainsod was that the Bolshevik Revolution was not just a coup d’état in 1917, but a continuous revolution that lasted through the end of the civil war in 1921. Hough and Fainsod mentioned that revolution started with the overthrow of the Tsar in March 1917 and was followed by the communist coup later in November; however, the authors argue that challenge was in the following several years of the civil war.10

Hough and Fainsod argued that Lenin played an important role as leader of the Bolsheviks. Lenin not only ensured strong party discipline, he strategically implemented policies for maximum effectiveness. Lenin did not try to create a sense of war-weariness; rather, he determined to exploit it. Lenin also promised neutrality among members of the community and that workers would gain more control.11 The Bolsheviks were the only party that could satisfy the needs of the urban populations as well as the military. Hough and Fainsod argued that this resulted in strong support from the armed forces and certain areas of the population throughout the country. While the Bolsheviks did not enjoy complete majority support, the authors believed that the Bolsheviks benefited from “active minorities who [tapped] groundswells of discontent.”12

In this segment of history, it appeared that World War I was the single greatest factor leading to the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Ironically, the war Russia arguably helped start indirectly brought about its own major regime change. Vladimir Lenin was able to come out of exile and lead a revolution because of the gaping void left by the fall of the Tsarist regime. The unfilled needs of the people, coupled with the inability of the government to meet the people’s needs, provided the opportunity for a strong leader like Lenin to lead the revolution. In the selected texts, I found Kennan’s arguments most compelling. The Russian people must have felt a sense of despair since they perceived no way of improving their situation by staying in the war. When people feel hopeless, they are more likely to entertain radical ideas–which would also be evident in Germany less than two decades later.


  1. Theodore H. Von Laue, “Why Lenin? Why Stalin?,” in Leslie Derfler and Patricia Kollander, An Age of Conflict: Readings in Twentieth-Century European History, Third Edition (United States: Thompson Wadsworth, 2002), pp. 55-59.
  2. George F. Kennan, “Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin,” in Leslie Derfler and Patricia Kollander, An Age of Conflict: Readings in Twentieth-Century European History, Third Edition (United States: Thompson Wadsworth, 2002), pp. 60-67.
  3. Jerry F. Hough and Merle Fainsod, “How the Soviet Union Is Governed,” in Leslie Derfler and Patricia Kollander, An Age of Conflict: Readings in Twentieth-Century European History, Third Edition (United States: Thompson Wadsworth, 2002), pp. 68-73.
  4. Von Laue, “Why Lenin?,” p.56.
  5. Ibid, p. 57.
  6. Ibid, p. 56.
  7. Kennan, “Russia and the West,” p. 60.
  8. Ibid, pp. 64-65.
  9. Ibid, p. 66.
  10. Hough and Fainsod, “Soviet Union,” pp. 69, 73.
  11. Ibid, p. 71.
  12. Ibid, pp. 72-73.
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1 Comment

  1. Other countries censor content and not just rogue regimes such as the Iranian mullocracy. Poor people!


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