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Socialism in Europe and The Russian Revolution | Class 9 History

The chapter notes introduce students to the beginning of socialism in Europe which raised questions of economic equality and led to the Russian Revolution. It also discusses changes brought by the Soviet government for the workers and peasants after the revolution.


Socialism in Europe and The Russian Revolution

The Age of Social Change

The French Revolution opened up the possibility of creating a dramatic change in the way in which society was structured.

In India, Raja Rammohan Roy and Derozio talked of the significance of the French Revolution, and many others debated the ideas of post-revolutionary Europe. The developments in the colonies, in turn, reshaped these ideas of societal change.

Through the revolution in Russia, socialism became one of the most significant and powerful ideas to shape society in the twentieth century.

Not Everyone in Europe Wanted Change

Some people accepted that some change was necessary but wished for a gradual shift, to those who wanted to restructure society radically.

Who were Liberals?

Liberals wanted a nation which tolerated all religions. At this time European countries usually discriminated against one religion in favour of another.

Britain favoured the Church of England, Austria and Spain favoured the Catholic Church - They opposed the uncontrolled power of dynastic rulers. - They wanted to safeguard the rights of individuals against governments.

They argued for a representative, elected parliamentary government, subject to laws interpreted by a well-trained judiciary that was independent of rulers and officials.

Why were liberals not Democrats?

However, they did not believe in Universal Adult Franchise (no equal voting rights) and hence were not democrats.

They felt men of property should have the vote. They also did not want the vote for women.

Who were Radicals?

Radicals wanted a nation in which the government was based on the majority of a country’s population.

They supported women’s voting rights and opposed the privileges of great landowners and wealthy factory owners.

They disliked concentration of powers in the hands of few but were not against the idea of private property.

Who were Conservatives?

They were opposed to both Liberals and Radicals.

Initially they did not want any change, but after the French Revolution they had opened their minds to the need for change.

They accepted that some change was necessary but believed that the past had to be respected and change had to be brought about through a slow process.

Industrial Society and Social Change

With the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century , new cities came up and new industrialised regions developed, railways expanded.

The industrial revolution brought men, women and children into the workforce where they worked in factories for long hours and at low wages.

Unemployment was high due to a slowdown in demand.

Housing and sanitation facilities in urban centres were poor due to rapid increase in size and populations of cities.

What was the economic viewpoint of Liberals and Radicals?

Most industries were owned by individuals who were liberals and radicals.They themselves were property owners and employers and had made their wealth through trade or industrial ventures.

They were opposed to the privileges of the old aristocratic system and believed in the value of individual effort, labour and enterprise.

They felt that such effort should be encouraged and that its benefits would be achieved if the workforce in the economy was healthy and citizens were educated. That is why many people rallied around the liberals and radicals in the 19th century.

Who were nationalists and revolutionaries and why did they want revolutions?

Nation : A ‘nation’ is a body of people united by common descent, culture, history, language or ideas that belong to a particular region.

Nationalists talked of revolutions that would create ‘nations’ where all citizens would have equal rights. They wanted to put an end to the kind of governments established in Europe in 1815

Nationalists movements in France, Italy, Germany, Russia, Greece and many other countries led to their emergence as modern nation states.

In Italy, a nationalist by the name of Giuseppe Mazzini, conspired to unify Italy into a nation.

Many nationalists across the world read writings of Mazzini and were inspired by nationalist struggles.

Coming of Socialism to Europe

What was the Paris Commune?

After France's defeat by Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, workers and students of Paris joined together to form a revolutionary government called the Paris Commune.

The uprising emerged against a background of growing discontent against the policies of the French state. The ‘Paris Commune’ was ultimately crushed by government troops but it was celebrated by Socialists the world over as a prelude to a socialist revolution.

The Paris Commune has two important legacies:

- Association with the workers’ red flag – that was the flag adopted by the communards ( revolutionaries) in Paris and later across the world

- ‘Marseillaise’, originally written as a war song in 1792, which became a symbol of the Commune and of the struggle for liberty.

What is Socialism?

Socialism is a vision of organisation as society in which the property and factors of production are owned collectively by the society and aimed at creating an equal society. By the mid-19th century, socialism had become a well-known body of ideas accepted across Europe.

Why were socialists against the idea of private property?

Socialists saw private property as the root of all social evil. According to them, the owners of property gave employment but were concerned only with personal gain and not with the welfare of those who made the property productive.

They argued that if the entire society controlled property then more attention would be paid to collective social interests.

Visions of the socialists about the future and how society should be organised? - What are cooperatives?

Cooperatives are associations of people who produce goods together and divide the profits according to the work done by members.

Robert Owen, an English manufacturer sought to build a cooperative society called New Harmony in Indiana

Some socialist believed in the idea of cooperatives but others thought cooperatives could not be but on a large scale without government initiative and that the governments should encourage cooperatives.

In France, for instance, Louis Blanc (1813-1882) wanted the government to encourage cooperatives and replace capitalist enterprises.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels developed the ideas of socialism further. Karl Marx believed that a communist society was the natural society of the future.

What was Karl Marx’s argument against capitalism?

Marx argued that in industrial society the ‘capitalists’ owned the capital or factors of production and that they invested in factories only for the profit which was produced by the workers.

He believed that the conditions of workers could not improve as long as this profit was accumulated by private capitalists. So, workers had to overthrow capitalism and the rule of private property.

Marx believed that to free themselves from capitalist exploitation, workers had to construct a radically socialist society where all property was socially controlled.

This would be a communist society. He was convinced that workers would triumph in their conflict with capitalists.

Support for Socialism - through associations of workers

To coordinate the efforts, socialists formed an international body called the Second International. It helped in spreading the idea of socialism across Europe.

Why did the workers in Europe start forming associations?

Workers in England and Germany started forming associations to:

● Fight for better living and working conditions for workers

● Help members in times of distress by setting up funds

● Reduction in Working Hours

● Right to vote

These associations played an important role in support and formation of socialist political parties across Europe.

In Germany, they worked with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and helped it win parliamentary seats.

In Britain, socialists and trade unionists formed a Labour Party In France, they formed a Socialist Party

In Russia, the Social Democratic Workers Party was founded in 1898 by socialists who respected Marx’s ideas.

However, Socialists could not form a government anywhere till 1914, then their ideas shaped legislations in the governments which were run by conservatives, liberals and radicals.

Socialists took over the government in Russia through the October Revolution of 1917.

The Russian Revolution

Russian Empire in 1914 - The Russian empire was ruled by Tsar Nicholas II

The Russian empire included the present day countries Finland, Latvia, Lithuania,Estonia, parts of Poland, Ukraine and Belarus.

It stretched to the Pacific and comprised today’s Central Asian states, as well as Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan

Russian Orthodox Christianity which had grown out of the Greek Orthodox Church was the major religion but Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Buddhists also lived in the Russian empire

Socio-Economic conditions in Russian Empire

Agricultural Economy

About 85% of the Russian population were agriculturists which was higher than 40-50% in countries such as France and Germany. Russia produced enough for its own needs and sold the surplus as exports

Limited Industrialisation

Industries were found in pockets.

St Petersburg and Moscow were important industrial areas.

Factories and crafts workshops co-existed and in some areas factory workers and craftsmen were almost equal in number.

Russia’s railway network was extended, and foreign investment in industry increased.

Coal production doubled and iron and steel output quadrupled.

Most industry was in hands of private individuals and the government only supervised the factories to ensure minimum wages and limited hour of work but the factory

inspectors could not prevent the rules from being broken.

Social Divisions within Workers

Some workers had strong links with their villages and some had settled in cities permanently.

Divisions were also based on skill: Metalworkers considered themselves aristocrats among other workers as their occupation demanded more training and skill.

There were divisions in the way they dressed too.

Women were also paid less than men - they were 31% of the workforce

Despite these divisions, workers united when they disagreed with employers about working conditions and dismissals.

Social Divisions within Peasants

Like workers, peasants were also divided. They were deeply religious.

They did not respect the nobles who got their power and position through their services to the Tsar, not through local popularity.

They wanted the land of the nobles to be given to them.

Frequently, they refused to pay rent and even murdered landlords.

By 1905 these events were taking place across Russia in large numbers.

They pooled their land together periodically and their commune (mir) divided it according to the needs of individual families. Some socialists thought that the custom of dividing land periodically made them natural socialists.

Socialism in Russia

All political parties were illegal in Russia before 1914.

The Russian Social Democratic Workers Party was founded in 1898 by Marxists (Socialists who respected Marx’s ideas) and operated as an illegal organisation because of government policing.

It set up a newspaper, mobilised workers and organised strikes.

Socialist, in 1900 formed socialist revolutionary party who struggled for peasants' rights and demanded that land belonging to nobles be given to them.

Social democrats disagreed with socialist revolutionaries about peasants.

Vladimir Lenin - the leader of the Bolsheviks felt that peasants were not one united group and divided as rich, poor, labourers, capitalist etc.

Lenin thought that the party should be disciplined and control members and the quality of its members. Others (Mensheviks) thought that the party should be open to all.

The 1905 Revolution

Russia was an autocracy and the Tsar was not subject to parliament. Liberals wanted to end this state of affairs.

Both social democrats and socialist revolutionaries demanded a constitution during the revolution of 1905.

They were supported in the empire by nationalists (in Poland for instance) and in Muslim-dominated areas by jadidists - Muslim reformers who wanted modernised Islam to lead their societies.

Bloody Sunday

In 1904, prices of essential goods rose so quickly that real wages declined by 20%. Industrial action was called for when 4 members of assembly of Russian workers were

dismissed at Putilov iron works.

Over 1, 10,000 workers in St. Petersburg went on strike demanding reduction in working conditions.

This procession of workers led by father Gapon was attacked by police and Cossacks (traditional Russian military). Over 100 workers were killed and about 300 wounded.

Strikes took place all over the country.

People established the union and demanded a constitutional assembly. During the 1905 revolution, the Tsar allowed the creation of an elected consultative parliament or Duma.

Due to political instability, he dismissed the 1st Duma within 75 days and re-elected the 2nd one. He did not want to be questioned or reduce his power and therefore dismissed the Duma again and packed the 3rd Duma with conservatives.

The First World War and Russian Empire


World War broke out between 2 European alliances in 1914.

● The Central Powers - Germany, Austria and Turkey (Ottoman Empire)

● The Allied Powers - France, Britain and Russia (later Italy and Romania)

The war was fought outside Europe as well as in Europe.

In Russia, initially there was support for war and people rallied around Tsar Nicholas II but later the support grew thin as he refused to consult the main parties in the Duma.

Anti-German sentiments ran high - even the name of the city St. Petersburg ( A German name was changed to Petrograd.

The Tsarina Alexandra’s German origins and poor advisers, especially a monk called Rasputin, made the autocracy unpopular.

First World War - The Two War Fronts

The Result : Allied Powers eventually won the war in the west, whereas in the east, the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire) forced Russia, racked by revolution, to surrender with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March of 1918, essentially ending the war on the

Eastern Front.

Russian armies lost badly in Germany and Austria between 1914 and 1916. There were 7 million casualties.

Impact of War Result on Russia

The Russian armies destroyed crops and buildings as they retreated from the Eastern Front which led to over 3 million refugees in Russia.

The situation discredited the government and the Tsar.

This war adversely affected industries in Russia - supplies of industrial goods were cut off due to German control of the Baltic Sea.

The railway line began to break in 1916 and able-bodied men were called for fighting the war which led to shortage of labour.

Small workshops producing essentials were shut down due to labour shortage and as a result by winter 1916, bread and flour became scarce.

The supplies of grain fell short as the limited food which was produced was being sent to feed the soldiers The soldiers also did not want to fight such a war.

The February Revolution in Petrograd - 1917

There were divisions among the people of Petrograd. On the right bank of the river Neva were workers’ quarters and factories whereas the left bank had more fashionable and high class buildings such as the Winter Palace, the official buildings and the palace where Duma had met.

In order to preserve the elected government, the parliamentarians protested the Tsar's desire to dissolve the Duma.

In order to show support to the movement workers in 50 factories called the strikes and these strikes were led by women in many factories.

That’s why February 22 came to be called the International Women’s Day.

The demonstrating workers marched to the centre of the capital called the Nevskii Prospekt.

Police headquarters were ransacked. People raise slogans about bread, better hours and democracy.

In order to retrain the protests, the government imposed curfew and later suspended the Duma. Cavalry was also called out by the government to control them.

But the Calvary refused to fire on the workers, many of them mutinied and joined the striking workers.

Petrograd Soviet

These soldiers and workers gathered to form a ‘soviet’ or ‘council’ in the same building as the Duma met and called a Petrograd Soviet.

Tsar abdicated soviet and duma leaders formed a provisional government to run the country

Russia’s future was now to be decided by a constitutional assembly elected through universal adult suffrage.

Events After February Revolution ( Effects of February Revolution)

- Socialists and liberals among the army officials, landowners and industrialists who were part of the provisional government worked towards forming an elected government.

- Restriction on public meetings was removed - Soviets were setup everywhere but no common system of election was followed.

What was Lenin’s April Theses?

Vladimir Lenin, the exiled Bolshevik leader returned to Russia and opposed war. As per Lenin's’ April Theses:

- He declared war to be brought to a close - Land be transferred to peasants - Banks be nationalised.

-He also argued that the Bolshevik Party renamed itself the Communist Party to indicate its new radical aims.

After Effects of April Theses

After initial surprise and inhibition by the party members , the workers' movement spread and a factory committee was formed which began to question the way industrialists ran their factories.

Trade unions increased.

Soldiers committees were formed in the army.

The provisional government saw its power declining and Bolshevik influence started to grow.

It decided to take measure against this discontent and resisted attempts by workers to run factories and arrested many Bolshevik leaders, many of whom had to flee or go into hiding.

In the countryside (rural areas), peasants and the Socialist Revolutionary leaders protested for redistribution of land. Land committees were formed and peasants seized lands.

October Revolution (1917)

With the increase in tensions between Bolsheviks and the provisional government, Lenin feared that the provisional government would set up a dictatorship.

He therefore started discussions for an uprising against the government persuaded Petrograd soviet and Bolshevik party to agree on socialist seizure of power. Leon Trotsky, the leader of the Military Revolution Committee organised the seizure.

The uprising began on 24 October. PM of Russia, Kerenskii summoned the troops who seized the building of two Bolshevik newspapers, telephone and telegraph offices.

The Military Revolutionary Committee in response seized government offices and arrested the ministers. The Aurora ship shelled the Winter Palace and other vessels took over military points.

The city was under committees control and ministers had surrendered. The majority of All Russian Congress of soviets approved the Bolshevik action.

There was heavy fighting in Moscow and finally Bolsheviks controlled the MoscowPetrograd area.

After October Revolution (Changes/Effects)

Bolsheviks were opposed to private property and started taking ownership of industries and banks.

Land was declared social property and peasants were allowed to seize the land of the nobility.

Bolshevik also divided large houses according to need of families and banned use of old titles.

New uniform were designed for army and officials when after a competetion, the Soviet hat (budeonovka) was chosen.

Renaming of the the Bolshevik Party - The Bolshevik Party was renamed the Russian Communist Party. They conducted the elections to the constituent assembly but failed to gain majority support.

In 1918, the Assembly rejected Bolshevik measures but Lenin dismissed the assembly because he thought that the All Russian Congress of Soviets was more democratic than an assembly which was elected in uncertain conditions.

Despite opposition from their political allies, the Bolsheviks made peace with Germans in the World War at Brest Litovsk in 1918

In the following years, Bolshevik became the only party to participate in the election to the all Russian congress of soviet which eventually became the parliament of the country. Russia thus became a one party state.

The trade unions were kept under party control. The secret police called Cheka (earlier called OGPU and NKVD) punished those who criticised Bolsheviks.

Many young writers and artists rallied to party because it stood for socialism and change.

This led to experiments in arts and architecture but later became disillusioned because of censorship encouraged by party.

The Civil War

After the Bolshevik party ordered redistribution of land, the Russian army began to break as soldiers who were mostly peasant wanted to go to their homes and claim their lands.

Non-Bolshevik socialists, liberals and supporters of autocracy condemned the Bolshevik uprising.

Who were the ‘Reds’, ‘Greens’ and ‘Whites’?

Reds - Bolsheviks

Greens - Socialist Revolutionaries

Whites - Pro-Tsarists

During 1918-19, the non- Bolsheviks i.e Greens (Socialist Revolutionaries) and Whites (Pro-Tsarists) controlled most of the Russian empire backed by French, American, British and Japanese troops.

Civil war took place between non-Bolshevik troops and Bolsheviks.

Supporters of private property among whites took harsh steps with peasants who seized land which led to the loss of support for them.

As a result, by 1920, Bolsheviks controlled most of the Russian empire. They succeeded due to cooperation with non-Russians and Muslim jadidists.

Confusion about what the Bolsheviks represented?

Some Russian colonists had become Bolsheviks and massacred local nationalists in the name of defending socialism in central Asia as in Khiva.

Therefore, many were confused about what the Bolshevik government stood for.

To normalise this confusion, most non-Russian nationalities were given political autonomy in Soviet Union (USSR).

But due to the unpopular polices such as discouragement of nomadism that Bolsheviks forced the local governments to follow,

Making a Socialist Society

Bolsheviks permitted peasants to cultivate the land that is socialised.

A process of centralised planning was introduced under which officials assessed working of the economy and set targets in the five year plan.

The government fixed all prices to promote industrial growth during the first two ‘Plans’ (1927-1932 and 1933-1938) This led to increase in industrial production and many new factories were setup.

However this rapid construction led to poor working conditions. In Magnitogorsk, the construction of a steel plant was achieved in three years.

An extended schooling system developed and arrangements were made for factory workers and peasants.

Creches were established in factories, cheap public health care was provided, and model living quarters were set up for workers.

Stalinism and Collectivisation

Period of planned economy was linked with disasters of collectivisation of agriculture. Peasants started refusing to sell their grain to the government at prices fixed by them.

Lenin believed that grain was being stocked by rich peasants called ‘kulaks’ and traders in order to reap higher prices. To stop this the party members toured the grain producing areas and raided many of the rich peasants and traders and their supplies were confiscated.

But the shortage of grain continued and hence a decision to collectivise the farms was taken by Lenin.

Bulk of land and implements were transferred to ownership of collective farms which were called ‘kolkhoz’ where profit was shared among the peasants.

The angry peasants resisted the authorities and destroyed their livestock leading to decline of cattle by 1/3rd Many of them were deported and exiled.

In spite of collectivisation, production did not increase and a devastating famine occurred in which 4 million people died.

Many criticised production of planned economy and consequences of collectivisation due to which they were imprisoned or punished.

Many were forced to make false confessions under torture and were executed – several among them were talented professionals. By 1939, an estimated 2 million were in prisons or labour camps.

The Global Influence of Russian Revolution and the USSR

The possibility of a state led by workers’ led to creation of communist parties across the world.

Many non-Russian from outside the USSR participated in the Conference of People of the East.

Bolsheviks founded Comintern (An international union of pro-Bolshevik socialist parties)

By the Second World War, the USSR had given socialism a global face and world stature but the style of government in the USSR was not in keeping with ideals of Russian revolution.

Though its industries and agriculture had developed and the poor were being fed, the essential freedom to its citizens was being denied.

By the end of the twentieth century, the international reputation of the USSR as a socialist country had declined though it was recognised that socialist ideals still enjoyed respect among its people.


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