The Bolsheviks seized power 100 years ago. There are lessons from the revolution’s inspiration and from the fact that the system did not work
When Lenin’s Bolsheviks seized power in Petrograd a century ago, the writers of this editorial column were in no doubt that a historic event had occurred in Russia. The capture of power “was completely successful”, announced the Manchester Guardian editorial on 9 November 1917. “We shall soon see whether they can hold the power they have seized, or hold it without civil war, and whether they will know what to do with it when they have got it. Hitherto they have been in the happy position of destructive critics. They will now, if Russia thinks fit, have a chance of showing what they can do.”
These were good questions. After 1917, history slowly yielded up its answers amid years, then decades, of blood, toil and tears. The Bolshevik revolution plunged Russia into a five-year civil war more terrible in its losses and effects than the first world war that had brought down the autocratic tsar; 10 million lives were lost, against two million during the war with Germany. But the infant Soviet state clung on in the face of domestic and international opposition, established itself with increasing ruthlessness, and showed what it could do, though not in the way that this paper thought might be possible in 1917.