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Saturday, 7 November 2015

What If: The October Revolution had not happened?

The October Revolution broke out on November 7 1917, Russia was still using the Julian calendar so the date there was 25 October 1917. The communist Bolshevik party overthrew the government of Alexander Kerensky and installed a regime that would change world history. History would be drastically changed if the Bolsheviks never gained power so what would this alternate world be like? This is one possibly scenario but before we look at what if the revolution had failed we have to look at why it happened.

The above picture is of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia who ruled the Russian Empire from 1894 to 1917. His reign was characterized by political repression, such as the Bloody Sunday (1905), Jewish pogroms, a costly war against Japan which he lost and a fractious relationship with the Duma, a Parliament formed in the wake of the 1905 Revolution. His alliance with Serbia made matters worse in 1914 when it drove Russia into war with Austria and Germany. Russia was grossly unprepared for the First World War and thanks to military failure, widespread famine and political discontent the Russian people got mad. In March 1917 (February in the Julian calendar) in Petrograd protests turned to riots and the troops sent to quell the riots mutinied. Losing control the Tsar abdicated his throne in favor of his brother who refused the throne as well. A Provisional Government was set up with socialist Alexander Kerensky soon becoming a dominant figure. However, Kerensky's insistence on continuing the war effort greatly upset many people who were driven into the arms of more radical politicians. The Germans wishing to destabilize Russia sent an exiled revolutionary back to Russia by train. He was Vladimir Lenin. After an initial failure to seize power he used his party, the Bolsheviks, to support worker riots in July. Eventually the Bolsheviks managed to strengthen their power by stopping a coup, supporting worker protests and using propaganda revolving around the failing war effort which enabled them to lead a successful revolution. Lenin seized power and the Russian Civil War broke out when 'White Russians' attacked the Bolsheviks to restore the monarchy. After several years of fighting with atrocities committed by both sides, including the execution of the royal family in 1918, the Bolsheviks kept hold of their power. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was declared and world history changed.

Divergence from real events
The government of Kerensky was weak facing many issues. However, many of the reasons why it was weak and why people were dissatisfied with it was thanks to the war effort. Military failures allowed already strong political parties to undermine his rule, food shortages were made worse by shipping supplies to the front, people wanted out of the war and soldiers were defecting en masse. All members of the Provisional Government were against ending the war effort until Germany was defeated. In this timeline however the Provisional Government calls for a cease fire with Germany until a peace treaty is made. The Germans fighting a war on two fronts accept. Russian Foreign Minister Pavel Milyulkov is told to stall at negotiations thus allowing no official peace to be signed. With the war de facto ended Kerensky could move soldiers away from the front with Germany. Thanks to the war apparently being over public support for the government increases and thanks to the reduction in fighting food can be better distributed. Due to the war coming to a close Germany does not send Vladimir Lenin to destabilize Russia which allows the Provisional Government increasing control over the Soviets. After US entry into the war the government may even get food supplies, monetary funding and armaments to bolster the Russians who would still be stalling in negotiations. By the end of 1917 the German government capitulates as war starts to reignite with Russia over who gets to rule Poland. Unable to face France, Britain, the Commonwealth, the US and Russia Germany surrenders.

The 1920s
Due to the alliance with the victorious Allies Russia would be able to attend the Treaty of Versailles. At Versailles Russia, alongside France, would be one of the main representatives wanting to keep Germany down for good. Likely reparations would be paid to Russia, around 3 billion rubles, who would also annex German lands in Poland. A post-war Russia would be the antithesis the our post-war Russia. For one without a Civil War the economy would be much better. In our timeline in 1921 pig-iron production was at a fifth of its 1913 level, coal 3%, livestock a quarter, cereal deliveries less than two fifths and railways had half of the locomotives that they once had. With this, and the increased trading with Russia no longer being an international pariah, the economy would rise and the 1921 famines would not kill the 2 million people that it once did. Slowly the government would increase the shift from agriculture to industry which had started under the Tsar but would greatly improve thanks to foreign investment. British, French and American companies would greedily purchase the great resources in Russia such as the oil in Siberia and coal in the Urals and Poland. Politically Russia would be very different. The Provisional Government upon its founding issued a decree of freedom of speech, abolition of national class distinctions, universal suffrage, the abolition of the death penalty, elections and less persecution of homosexuality. Although women and homosexuals would all be heavily repressed in Russia. To a 21st Century observer this may seem to be an almost perfect political system. However, like Weimar Germany the Provisional Government would be fractious politically. The initial governments were a coalition of strong left-wing parties including the socialist Mensheviks and the Socialists Revolutionary Party. These parties would still dominate Russian politics and create indecisive governments. Likewise a recalcitrant aristocracy would resist government attempts to distribute their land and remove their old powers, even forming their own parties. Unlike Weimar, Russia would be stronger. By 1917 the aristocracy had become vilified by the public unlike in Germany where they were well supported after the war and the government was made largely of large left wing parties. Coalitions in Germany became ineffective as they were made of multiple small left and right wing parties, Hence Russia would be politically stronger.

There would be instability in four main areas: Finland, the Baltics, Ukraine and Poland. Finland had been given semi-independence under Tsarist Russia and had even held elections to decide its government. Likewise in this scenario Finland would still have its autonomy but would want full independence. This would divide the government with a more liberal half allowing for Finnish independence while a more conservative half would want Finland to remain a semi-autonomous state. Eventually in 1923 Russia would grant Finland its independence seeing no point in creating another issue for the divided country and today they would have very positive relations. The large Cossack and Ukrainian population in Ukraine and the Polish, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians would serve problems for the government. All had declared their independence in 1918, (the Bolsheviks managed to re-annex Ukraine), and were ethnically and linguistically distinct from Russians. The problem of Poland, the Baltics and Ukraine would be an even more divisive issue for the government, especially as, unlike Finland, they lacked some form of sovereignty. Likely by the mid-1920s they would be given a form of Home Rule like what Ireland had until its independence in 1922.

The international repercussions for no October Revolution would be difficult to estimate. The idea of a class struggle had intensified after the revolution with there being fears of a communist uprising aided and abetted by the Bolsheviks, such as the Red Scare in the USA and the British government's almost complete destruction of unions following the 1926 General Strike. In Germany there would be a fear of this due to an attempted communist takeover in 1918 with the Spartacists (pictured above). Overall more social welfare programs would be put in place around the world and trade union membership would rise. This would be because of there being no fear of workers emulating the Bolsheviks. Mongolia would remain part of China as it was the Soviet Union who invaded and created a puppet regime there. Whether the Communist Party of China could survive repression from the Chinese government it is hard to grasp as they would not have the safety of the Soviet Union to rely on. However the decentralized nature of China would allow many party members and revolutionaries to escape persecution. In Germany Hitler would still come to power. Although much of Hitler's rhetoric was targeted at the fear of the Soviet Union he would still get to power. The Great Depression would still happen, he would still be anti-Semitic, he would still be anti-communist (although relying solely on home grown communism instead of international) and he could vent anger at Russia who annexed Germany's land in Poland. 

1930s onward
As stated in the preceding paragraph the Great Depression would come regardless if there was a Soviet Union or not. Without the isolationist actions of Stalin Russia would be badly affected by the Depression. Reliant on foreign loans and trade the economy would slump and the Socialist Revolutionary Party would lose the election. As most of the parties making up the coalition were socialist or center-left they would become discredited and right wing parties would become more popular. The only popular ones would be conservative parties due to the Russian people associating fascism with the authoritarianism of the aristocracy. A few parties may call for the restoration of the monarchy but they would be fringe groups. A less socialistic party would likely come to power to put in place more capitalistic measures by utilizing the latent Russian industrial resources and increasing the shift away from agriculture. Unlike under Stalin this shift would not be forced and we would not see the devastating starvation, killings and pollution associated with the multiple Five Year Plans. Likewise Stalin's 'Russiafication' program would not be implemented and today there would be a greater population of ethnic minorities in the west such as Crimean Tatars who were ruthlessly purged under Stalin.

It would be difficult to tell if there would be a Second World War as the events of the war were put into place by Hitler and Stalin's desire to tear apart an independent Poland. No Stalin and no Poland means that World War Two could have had a drastically different course if it even would happen at all. On thing for certain is that there would be no Cold War. No USSR equals no Cold War. As a result in countries which opposed the USSR like the USA, UK, France and Japan there would be more 'socialist' programs as the stigma of soviet sympathies would not be there. The USA for example might even have a nationalized health care system. Today's Russia would be greatly different. Russia is still handling the shift to democracy so with a full democracy being created in 1917 we would see a more democratic Russia. Whether states such as Ukraine, Poland and Estonia would exist by 2015 would be a mystery thanks to the increasing uncertainty created by the lack of a USSR. 

Thanks for reading. Did you agree with this scenario? What other alternate history scenarios would you like to be seen done? 

If you would like to see where I got my information from I would strongly advise reading: Cold War by Jeremy Isaacs and Taylor Downing, The Age of Extremes: 1914-1991 by Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire: 1871-1914 by Eric Hobsbawm. The Penguin History of the World by J.M. Roberts, Post War by Tony Judt and the documentary The Russian Revolution in Colour.

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