Bolshevik Revolution, November 1917  



By November 1917 the Provisional Government was in complete collapse.   In the meantime, the Bolshevik party, helped by German money, had built up an efficient party organisation, a brilliant propaganda machine, and a powerful private army (the Red Guards).

       When Lenin moved to take over, the Provisional Government was unable to stop him, and the 'November Revolution' was less of a revolution than a coup d'état.



The November Revolution

Reed Brett on the November Revolution

A description of the Fall of the Winter Palace by Louise Bryant, an American journalist


Lenin v Trotsky: who was more important?


The Russian Revolutions of 1917


Events of the 'October' Revolution

6 November           

Red Guards took over bridges and the telephone exchange.  

7 November           

Red Guards took over banks, government buildings, and the railway stations.

The cruiser Aurora shelled the Winter Palace.  

That night (9.40 pm) the Red Guards took the Winter Palace and arrested the Provisional Government leaders.  

8 November           

Lenin announced the new Communist Government



1.   What were the most important events of 1917?

2.   Find out more about:

a.   Lenin

b.   Trotksy

c.   the fall of the Winter Palace

3.   Which was more important for the Bolsheviks' victory – the strengths of the Bolsheviks, or the weaknesses of the Provisional Government? 


Why did the Bolshevik Revolution of November 1917 succeed?

(Perhaps Seven Powers Gave Lenin An Opportunity)


1.   Provisional Government problems

The Bolsheviks succeeded because the Provisional Government was weak and unpopular (remember that Government That’s Provisional Will Be Killed).   When it was attacked, nobody was prepared to defend it.


2.   Slogans

The Bolsheviks had good slogans such as ‘Peace, Bread, Land’ and ‘All Power to the Soviets’.   Other parties claimed they could never deliver their promises, but their arguments were too complicated for people to understand.   This meant that they got the public’s support.


3.   Pravda

The party ran its own propaganda machine, including the newspaper Pravda (‘Truth’), which got their ideas across.


4.   German money

The Germans financed the Bolsheviks because they knew that Lenin wanted to take Russia out of the war.   This gave them the money to mount their publicity campaigns


5.   Lenin

A brilliant leader – a professional revolutionary with an iron will, ruthless, brilliant speaker, a good planner with ONE aim – to overthrow the government.   The Bolsheviks were well-led.


6.   Army

A private Bolshevik army (the Red Guards), dedicated to the revolution, was set up and trained under Leon Trotsky.   It gave the Bolsheviks the military power to win.


7.   Organisation

The Bolsheviks were brilliantly organised (or were they?).  A central committee (controlled by Lenin and other leading Bolsheviks) sent orders to the soviets, who gave orders to the factories.   Membership grew to 2 million in 3 months.   Unlike the Provisional Government, the Bolsheviks demanded total obedience from their members, so they were well-disciplined (members did what the leaders wanted).    

Source A

Later depictions of the October Revolution

– such as this still from Sergei Eisenstein's 1927 film Oktyabr

 – were Bolshevik propaganda, and showed the revolution as an heroic workers’ struggle.


Soviet paintings of the October Revolution, such as this one, also showed it as a popular uprising similar to the March Revolution.


In fact, in Petrograd, the take-over was virtually bloodless (although there was fierce fighting in Moscow).


For a different representation, see a photograph from the time, from the account of Albert Rhys Williams,

an American journalist who witnessed the revolution.


Source B

The Provisional Government had dwindled to a meeting of ministers in the Winter Palace.   A few Red Guards climbed in through the servants’ entrance and arrested them.

Written by AJP Taylor, a modern historian.


Source C

(The Winter Palace was defended by the Women’s Death Battalion.)  

(click on the picture to see a larger image)

‘What happened to the women?’ we asked a soldier.   

       He laughed.   ‘We found them hiding in a back room … crying.   We did not know what to do with them; in the end we just sent them home.

Written by an American who was in Russia in 1917.