This month has seen the centenary of the Bolshevik revolution, an event which changed Russia and the course of world history dramatically. This revolution or coup by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, followed the first spontaneous revolution of March 1917 and was followed by a civil war, from which Lenin created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R) or the Soviet Union.

Many students of IGCSE and A-Level history study this period of history and a typical question posed by examiners would be:

How important was Lenin in the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power in October 1917?

A typical essay style answer would evaluate all the different reasons for the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917:

  • The first revolution of March 1917 and the fall of the Tsar
  • The failures of the Provisional government
  • The mistakes of Kerensky
  • The July days
  • The Kornilov affair
  • World War One
  • The role of Lenin himself.

However, students and historians now have a wonderful opportunity to reassess this pivotal event in history and look again at the different interpretations for why it happened. Students should take the opportunity to read the wealth of literature and articles that have been written recently. A few recommnendations of mine would be:

  • Revolutionary Russia, 1891 – 1991 by Orlando Figes 2014
  • The Rise and Fall of Communism by Archie Brown 2009
  • Historically Inevitable? Turning Points of the Russian Revolution edited by Tony Brenton 2016

Obviously, any good essay needs to be top-and-tailed with an introduction and a conclusion. Maybe a good conclusion could juxtapose the importance of the role of Lenin in these events with an interesting contrasting view, that the second revolution was inevitable. This deterministic view of change is obviously the view of Marx himself who wrote,

Men make their own history, but they do not know they are making it.”

Marx and therefore all Marxists and Communists had a deterministic view of history and therefore, of the future, to put it simply revolution and communism were inevitable. One could paraphrase Marx by writing:

“Lenin made his own history, but he did not know he was making it.”

However, I have a sneaking suspicion that he did!

Jim Riley

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