The Bolshevik Revolution (Classroom Activity)

On 10th October, 1917, the Bolshevik Central Committee passed Lenin's resolution in favour of an immediate insurrection. Although important figures in the party like Lev Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev were opposed to this action, the Military Revolutionary Committee was instructed to plan the overthrow of the Provisional Government.

Primary Sources

(Source 1) Viktor Semenovich Ivanov, Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will live forever! (1967)
(Source 1) Viktor Semenovich Ivanov, Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will live forever! (1967)

(Source 2) Nikolai Sukhanov, Russian Revolution 1917: A Personal Record (1922)

Detachments had been formed for the defence of the Winter Palace.... In the city, of course, there were loyal elements, if not troops. It might be possible to form a detachment of several thousands from military cadets, the women's services, engineers, and Cossacks.... It was necessary to take the Peter-Paul quickly, before the Government stopped debating and started doing something to protect itself.. the Peter-Paul had an arsenal of a hundred thousand rifles. To take the fortress by force after the beginning of military action was more than risky: besides, the Government might hide 

(Source 3) Alexander Kerensky, The Catastrophe (1927)

The hours of the night dragged on painfully. From everywhere we expected reinforcements, but none appeared. There were endless telephone negotiations with the Cossack regiments. Under various excuses the Cossacks stubbornly stuck to their barracks, asserting all the time that "everything would be cleared up" within fifteen or twenty minutes and that they would then "begin to saddle their horses"... Meanwhile the night hours passed.... Not a word from the Cossacks. 

Rudolf Frentz, October Night (c. 1920)
(Source 4) Rudolf Frentz, October Night (c. 1920)

(Source 5) John Reed, Ten Days That Shook the World (1919)

Towards four in the morning I met Sorin in the outer hall, a rifle slung over his shoulder. "We're moving!" said he, calmly, but with satisfaction... Far over the still roofs westwards came the sound of scattered rifle fire, where the officer cadets were trying to open the bridges over the Neva to prevent the factory workers of the Vyborg quarters from joining the Soviet forces in the centre of the city.

(Source 6) Bolshevik Commissar of the cruiser The Aurora (1917)

On November 6th the Military Revolutionary Committee appointed me commissar of the cruiser "Aurora". ... At 3.30 a.m. the ship cast anchor near the Nikolaevski Bridge. We worked all day, November 7th, to bring the ship into fighting order.... Towards evening we received orders from the Military Revolutionary Committee to fire a few blank shots upon receiving a signal from the Peter and Paul Fortress and, if necessary, to shell (the Winter Palace) with shrapnel.

(Source 7) Alfred Knox was one of those who observed the Bolsheviks taking the Winter Palace on 25th October, 1917.

The garrison of the Winter Palace originally consisted of about 2,000 all told, including detachments from yunker and ensign schools, three squadrons of Cossacks, a company of volunteers and a company from the Women's Battalion.

The garrison had dwindled owing to desertions, for their were no provisions and it had been practically starved for two days. There was no strong man to take command and to enforce discipline. No one any stomach for fighting; and some of the ensigns even borrowed great coats of soldier pattern from the women to enable them to escape unobserved.

The greater part of the yunkers of the Mikhail Artillery School returned to their school, taking with them four out of their six guns. Then the Cossacks left, declaring themselves opposed to bloodshed! At 10 p.m. a large part of the ensigns left, leaving few defenders except the ensigns of the Engineering School and the company of women.

Vladimir Serov, Lenin Proclaims the Victory of the Revolution (c. 1950)
(Source 8) Vladimir Serov, The Palace is Taken (1954)

(Source 9) Pitirim Sorokin, a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party and a representative in the Duma (October, 1917)

On the telephone I learned that the Bolsheviki had brought up from Kronstadt the warship "Aurora" and had opened fire on the Winter Palace, demanding the surrender of the members of the Provisional Government, still barricaded there.... There was a regiment of women and the military cadets were bravely resisting an overwhelming force of Bolshevist troops, and over the telephone Minister Konovalov was appealing for aid. Poor women, poor lads, their situation was desperate, for we knew that the wild sailors, after taking the Palace, would probably tear them to pieces. 

(Source 10) Pavel Malyantovich, a Menshevik and the Minister of Justice in the Provisional Government. He was arrested by Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko and the Red Guards on 25th October, 1917. He later wrote about the incident in his book, In the Winter Palace (1918)

There was a noise behind the door and it burst open like a splinter of wood thrown out by a wave, a little man flew into the room, pushed in by the onrushing crowd which poured in after him, like water, at once spilled into every corner and filled the room.

"Where are the members of the Provisional Government?"

"The Provisional Government is here," said Kornovalov, remaining seated.

"What do you want?"

"I inform you, all of you, members of the Provisional Government, that you are under arrest. I am Antonov-Ovseenko, chairman of the Military Revolutionary Committee."

"Run them through, the sons of bitches! Why waste time with them? They've drunk enough of our blood!" yelled a short sailor, stamping the floor with his rifle."

There were sympathetic replies: "What the devil, comrades! Stick them all on bayonets, make short work of them!"

Antonov-Ovseenko raised his head and shouted sharply: "Comrades, keep calm!" All members of the Provisional Government are arrested. They will be imprisoned in the Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul. I'll permit no violence. Conduct yourself calmly. Maintain order! Power is now in your hands. You must maintain order!"


Questions for Students

Question 1: According to the sources in the unit, which elements in the armed forces: (a) helped to defend the Provisional Government? (b) decided to remain neutral?

Question 2: Are sources 1, 4 and 8 important sources in understanding the Bolshevik revolution?

Question 3: Study the sources in this unit and explain why it was important for the Bolsheviks to gain control of the following: (a) bridges over the River Neva; (b) Peter and Paul Fortress; (c) Telephone Exchange; (d) Winter Palace.

Question 4: What is meant by the statement in source 10: "They've drunk enough of our blood"? (b) Explain the chairman of the Military Revolutionary Committee's response to this statement.

Answer Commentary

A commentary on these questions can be found here.