Communism and the Russian Revolution

History Alive!


This is an extract from History Alive 4: 1900-1970s, a school History textbook written in 1967 by Peter Moss.   At the time, its clear, helpful diagrams were revolutionary in themselves, and Moss wrote in a clear simple way which was easy to understand.



       Communism                   Backward Russia

The Russian Government          The February Revolution





When you are reading this, remember that Peter Moss was writing at a time when Communism was a popular belief, and Russia was a very powerful Communist country.


Communism and the Russian Revolution of 1917


The political belief called communism began with a Jewish lawyer named Karl Marx who was forced to flee to London from his native Germany in 1849 for supporting the working people against their masters. In 1867 he wrote a book called Das Kapital (Capital) in which he said that the capitalists -that is, the rich owners of factories, lands and shops - were treating the working class like slaves, and making bigger and bigger fortunes for them­selves from the workers' efforts. Marx went on to say that the capitalists would go on growing richer and richer, and that the working class would become poorer and poorer until there was a war between the two classes. The poor, Marx said, would win this struggle: they would take over control of all industry, land and commerce, and would enjoy the profits for them­selves. The workers would even govern the country one day, Marx con­tinued, but at the time this seemed impossible. The destruction of the aristocracy, the rise of the working class and the ownership of all industry and land by the state is the essence of modern communism, which tends to be strongest in underdeveloped countries where the workers are desperately poor and oppressed by the ruling class. Naturally, the poorer the people, the more they long for the luxuries they see the rich enjoying, and they look to communism to give them what they consider a fairer share of the good things of life.




Before 1917 Russia was very poor and underdeveloped, and in many ways was more like a country of the middle ages.

The amount of coal and iron produced, the length of the railways and the value of exports each year gives a good idea of the state of development of a country in the early years of the twentieth century. Here are the figures for Britain, Germany, France and Russia for the years 1906-8. The figures for iron, coal and exports are given per head of the population, and the railways in metres for every square kilometre of territory. This gives a true picture of just how underdeveloped Russia was.



To add to this, in Russia an average of 8 people in every 10 could neither read nor write: in Britain, Germany and France illiteracy had almost vanished.


Backward Russia

All the power rested with the Czar, or king, backed by a small group of powerful nobles and the church. The majority of people were treated little better than animals, with never enough food, clothing or shelter. Much of the money they did earn was taken from them in the form of taxes by the greedy landowners, who lived in magnificent luxury. The government was weak and powerless when dealing with the nobles, but savage and cruel when dealing with the workers. For a very small offence a man could be sent to prison, or to exile in the mines of Siberia where often cold and appalling conditions put an end to his sufferings. The officials - police, tax-collectors, judges - were as much tyrants as the nobles, and were usually corrupt and easily bribed...


The Russian government

There had been a minor revolution in 1905, and as a result the Czar had been forced to allow a parliament of sorts, called the Duma, to be elected. It had little power, however, and the Czar could overrule any measures it passed. Having at last a parliament, only to find it completely useless, made the people more bitter than ever in their hatred of the ruling class. So Russia struggled on, and in 1914 entered the war against Germany on behalf of her Serbian allies. By 1917 her armies had suffered dreadful losses and were close to defeat. The soldiers, brave though they were, could not hope to win with the old-fashioned weapons they were given and with the poor way in which they were led. While the men at the front were half-frozen, half-fed, and equipped often with only one rifle between every two or three men, the majority of the generals were enjoying them­selves far from the war, safe, and making money in a dozen illegal ways. By February 1917 the Russian people could stand it no longer. After a hard winter there was a desperate shortage of food, and many workers went on strike. The Czar sent soldiers to deal with the strikers, but a part of the army mutinied and joined them in their protest. Immediately the country was in an uproar: in the confusion the Czar and his family were seized and imprisoned. Alexander Kerensky, a member of the Duma, formed a government and declared Russia a republic.


The February Revolution