In the long view of history, the most important event of the 20th century was the Bolshevik revolution that occurred 100 years ago on November 7, 1917.
There will be small groups, and some large groups, of people singing “The International” in their own languages all over the world. It’s probably the most popular song ever sung, but is almost completely unknown here in America. The song is now associated with Russia, but it was originally French. The lyrics came from the Paris Commune (1872?) . One of the English versions is at https://youtu.be/VUw_aaBjCpE.
Over here, people know almost nothing about the event. They think it was some kind of a putsch, or sneaky takeover — or that the bosses actually handed their power over, as they did with Hitler in Germany.
What actually happened was that the works of Karl Marx and Frederich Engels began to be translated into Russian sometime around the 1880s. Before that, there were young revolutionaries, but they didn’t know what they were doing and tended toward terrorism. One of them, executed by the tsarist government, had a little brother named Ulyanov. That little brother decided that he would study up before trying anything revolutionary. As he became more knowledgeable and took on leadership, he adopted the name pen name Lenin.
I think it was in 1903, at a party congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, that Lenin argued for a scientific Marxist revolutionary approach. He won a majority in the voting. The Russian word for “majority” is “bolshevik.”
In 1905 Russia was shaken by their losing role in a war with Japan. Among other important developments, the anti-war movement and other progressives formed giant committees that vied with the tsarist government for power. The Russian word for “committee” is “soviet.” The main committee was in Petrograd and was run by another revolutionary who had taken the name Trotsky. They lost that struggle, but the idea of these committees was familiar to the progressives after that.
What followed was years and years of hard work. Lenin was exiled, but he managed to argue for his policies through underground newspapers. By early 1917, the Russian empire was in another crisis. This time, they were getting whipped by Germany in World War I.
Progressives overthrew the Tsar, but the government they formed was basically capitalist. The new leaders wanted to continue the war and the war economy. The Bolsheviks argued for “bread, land, and peace” and “All Power to the Soviets!”
New Committees were formed. Some of them were called “workers, peasants, and soldiers soviets.” This time, Lenin and his Bolsheviks were the main force in the progressive movement. By mid 1917, the Petrograd Soviet was virtually equal to the “official” government. Power was up for grabs, and the soldiers were streaming into the soviets.
I’ve been told that only a handful of people actually died on November 7, 1917. Apparently, only one battalion of soldiers still supported the government, and they couldn’t effectively protect it. People from the soviet stormed the Winter Palace and took charge.
The United States and several other countries already had soldiers on Russian soil, and they didn’t leave. Instead, they joined in a civil war to overthrow the Bolsheviks. In the rest of the world, progressives began to split apart. The American Socialist Party split is dramatized in the movie “Reds.” Essentially, the Socialists kicked the supporters of Lenin out, and they had to form their own party.
Since then, they’ve been trying to explain what happened.