Soviet historians make up the school of historical thought
established and fostered by the Communist Party of the USSR up until 1991. The
role of Soviet historians was to eulogise the leadership of Lenin, celebrate
the triumphs of the Revolution and legitimatise the rule of the Party. The
following are the views and interpretations are from Russian Historians P.A.
Golub, G.D. Obichkin and Édourd Nikolaevich Burdzhalov and western Marxist
historian C. Hill.

Soviet historians are Marxist in their analysis of the
Revolution, they believe the causes of the revolution are a result of the
Bolshevik victory was inevitable and followed the general laws of history
established by Marx. The believed soviet view of the Revolution was due to the
leadership of Lenin and his evaluation of the Russian situation in Marxist
terms: he was able to guide and lead Russia’s masses in a genuine popular
uprising against a corrupt, bourgeois regime1.
Revolutionary ‘mass consciousness’ was raised by the Party and the ‘people’
were led to victory by the ‘vanguard’ of the Revolution. The success of the
October Revolution was evidence of Lenin’s brilliance in leadership and his
tight, disciplined organisation of the Party; and the radical mass support of
the Russian workers, peasants and soldiers2.
The increasing authoritarian measures that had to be taken during the Civil War
were necessary responses to crises and external military threat. The History of
the Communist Party of the Soviet Union short-course, written under Stalin, is
the best example of this view, although it does give very biased accounts of
the contributions of key figures, such as Trotsky and Kamenev, who had fallen
under the wrath of Stalin’s purges. The re-evaluation of Stalinism that
occurred under Khrushchev after Stalin’s death led to a widening in Soviet
views; however, the overriding correctness and legitimacy of the Communist
Party’s authority to rule and the contributions of Lenin remained unquestioned3. 

In analysing the February Revolution, Soviet historians
place less emphasis on WWI, believing that there was an essential continuity
between developments before and after the outbreak of war. The Revolution was
thus a conscious assault upon tsarism from the workers who had preserved the
traditions of 1905. The Bolshevik Party played a central role in shaping the
workers’ protests. Soviet historians maintain that there was also continuity of
mass radicalism between the revolutions of 1905, February and October 1917.
October was the ultimate fulfilment of the revolutionary aspirations of the
masses and the laws of history4.

Liberal View

The liberal view has been, until recently, the dominant one
espoused by historians writing in the West and it continues to be a prominent
interpretation championed by a number of writers. However, it must be noted
that the liberal interpretation of the Revolution was shaped by the prejudices
of the Cold War and is therefore fundamentally hostile to the notions of
socialism, Marxist theory and Communist Party rule. In general, liberal
historians have traditionally interpreted history ‘from above’, focussing on
the ‘actors’ in ‘high politics’. The role of key individuals or ‘principal
characters’ (Tsar Nicholas II, Kerensky, Lenin, Trotsky) is central in
explaining the outcomes and nature of the Revolution. The masses on the other
hand, were largely irrational, ignorant, passive or simply anarchic in their
demands and actions. The manipulation and exploitation of this “chaos” and
naivety were central in the Bolsheviks’ victory; whilst the failing and
unpopular war effort, the rampages of the peasants and the unrealistic demands
of the workers created a situation in which the democratic Provisional
Government could not hold power. For liberal historians, the October Revolution
was “a classic coup d’etat” in which the Bolsheviks disguised their real aim –
to build  “a one party dictatorship”5.
October was neither popular nor democratic. It was due to the superior
organisation and subterfuge of the masses by a professional, dedicated elite
who were intent on just one goal: the seizure and retainment of power. Events
following the revolution would like-wise prove the undemocratic, authoritarian
and intolerant nature of the October revolutionaries. It was in the nature of
the Bolshevik Revolution to develop totalitarian tendencies from the out-set:
the Bolsheviks aimed for a one-party, one-ideology state that tolerated no
opposition and sought to control and manipulate every aspect of its citizen’s

The early exponents of the liberal interpretation based much
of their work on the writings of Russian émigrés, whose views of the October
Revolution were understandably negative. It was these sources that led many
liberal historians to take an ‘optimist’ view of the February Revolution:
Imperial Russia was steadily transforming into a modern, democratic, industrial
society. However, WWI politically, socially and economically weakened the
tsarist state and thwarted reformist tendencies. It was these enormous pressures
that ultimately led to the collapse of the Tsar’s government. The February
Revolution, however, again provided an opportunity for Russia to develop a
western-style democracy and civil liberties. On-going pressure of the War
continued to cause problems, but the situation was ultimately subverted by the
Bolsheviks, who exploited the fears and desires of the masses. Russia’s chance
at democracy and a stable, civil and capitalist future was stolen by the
Bolshevik’s power-hungry grab for rulership.  


2 Lenin
and the Russian Revolution by Christian Hilling