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Friday, 7 November, 1997, 17:36 GMT
Russia - 1917 : Revolution or coup d'etat?
Friday November 7 marks the 80th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, which heralded the founding of the socialist system. That system was adopted, or forced on many countries around the world over the years; but in most it has now collapsed. The BBC's Russian Affairs Analyst, Stephen Dalziel, considers the facts, and the legacy, of the Russian Revolution.

The official Communist view of the Bolshevik Revolution was that it was a popular uprising led by Vladimir Ilich Lenin, which rid Russia of reactionary elements. Another view, and one which has gained credence in Russia since the collapse of the socialist system in 1991, is that the Bolshevik Revolution was little more than a coup d'etat.

Certainly, the act which started it -- the storming of the Winter Palace in Petrograd (now once more called St Petersburg) -- was a small-scale military action. In contrast to Communist folklore, the events in Petrograd in the early hours of the seventh of November 1917 went unnoticed, not only by the population of the Russian Empire as a whole, but even by the citizens of Petrograd itself.

The reality of the Revolution was brought home by the Civil War, which began shortly after the events of November 1917, and raged until 1922. The Communist view of history portrayed the Civil War as the new, red, Communist broom sweeping the country clean of the Whites, who represented the old order. But the reality was rather different. The Bolsheviks found they were opposed by many different groups. But the solution was the same: brutal repression.

And that brutality was to be indicative of the viciousness and cruelty which characterised much of the socialist period. A much-trumpeted figure in Soviet times was that twenty million Soviet citizens died in the Second World War. But it's estimated that many times that number died in the Soviet Union's own prisons and labour camps. As a one-party state which claimed to have all the answers, the Soviet Union simply could not tolerate anyone voicing alternative views.

Nevertheless, the Bolshevik Revolution had many imitators. Communist regimes were established after revolutions in China and Cuba. And, after the end of the Second World War, the countries of eastern Europe had socialist systems imposed upon them by the Soviet Union, as a result of its liberating them from Nazi Germany.

The legacy of the Bolshevik Revolution has touched the lives of most of the world's population in the twentieth century. But the speed with which Communist regimes collapsed in the late 'eighties and early 'nineties suggests that the ideology on which the Revolution was based was flawed. Die-hard Communists will take their red flags onto the streets of Moscow, St Petersburg and other former Soviet cities on Friday. But most of the citizens of the former Soviet Union will not be rejoicing on the eightieth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.

See also:

07 Nov 97 | World
The road to revolution
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