Russia was in revolt! Years of anger and frustration toward the tsars (rulers) of Russia triggered a series of revolutions.
The tsars had enormous wealth, while much of the Russian population lived in poverty. The desire to end this injustice increased after the disastrous Russo-Japanese war of 1905. The Russians suffered a humiliating defeat, and there were terrible food shortages. When poor Russians protested, the tsar’s troops fired on them. Anger against the government was further fueled by the army’s huge losses and the terrible conditions the Russian people lived through during World War I. New ideas were also filtering into Russia, including the revolutionary ideas of Karl Marx. His book The Communist Manifesto called for the working class to rise up against the wealthy and create a society of equality between the rich and poor.
Tsar Nicholas stepped down in March 1917, and soon Vladimir Lenin and the Bolshevik party seized power. Lenin used Marx’s ideas to promote his Communist vision for Russia. But the Bolsheviks controlled only a small part of the vast country, and many groups opposed them.
A civil war soon broke out between the Bolshevik “Reds” and their opposition, the “Whites.” During that conflict, many Russians died of starvation, disease or execution and during pogroms (organized persecution of Jews). Many fled to safety in other countries. The Russian economy was in shambles.
In March 1918, the Bolshevik government signed a treaty with the Germans to end Russia’s involvement in World War I. Although the treaty cost Russia dearly in land and population, it helped the Bolsheviks consolidate power.
The Bolsheviks controlled the two largest cities, Moscow and Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg). They were also popular with the peasants, mainly because they promised the peasants land. By 1921, Lenin and the Bolsheviks had triumphed. Russia was firmly under their control. In 1922, Russia became known as the U.S.S.R., or Soviet Union.
The Bolshevik government took tight control of the country and enforced its policies harshly. It would take years for the country to recover from the Revolution, World War I and civil war. Eventually, the Soviet Union became one of the world’s superpowers, second only to the United States. Communist control and a government-run economy lasted until the 1990s, when the Soviet Union broke apart into a federation of 15 republics.