1917 Revolution: Lenin's secret steps to coup

In 1917, a coup d'etat known as the Bolshevik Revolution ended the rule of the Russian Provisional Government and marked the start of the Soviet era. From Saint Petersburg, the then capital of Russia, to remote villages in the forests, there were many sec

The anniversary is now marked on November, 7, according to the Gregorian calendar.  But in the days of the revolution, Russia was still using the Julian Calendar, so period references show the date as October 25.

Location 1. Petrograd – a city of three revolutions

The revolution of 1917 was not the only coup in Russia in the early 20th century. The bloody 1905 Revolution had secured reform, but not enough to prevent the events of 1917.

Winter Palace in St. Petersburg – residence 
            of Russian monarchs
Winter Palace in St. Petersburg – residence of Russian monarchs

Boris Karaglitsky from the Institute of Comparative Political Studies thinks no revolution is made by revolutionaries.

“Usually it’s the old regime which makes everything for the revolution. In that sense I think Lenin simply used the opportunities, but it was clear that people did want a very dramatic change,” he stressed.

In February 1917, in another revolution, Imperial Russia collapsed with the abdication of the Tsar.

A Provisional Government led by the moderate Aleksandr Kerensky was created to maintain order until elections were held. 

“I wouldn't say politicians convinced people to take part in the revolution. Revolutions just happen, this is a social crisis where everyone is fighting for their own ends,” Andrey Fursov, Director of Russian Studies at Moscow University for Humanities believes.

However, the Bolshevik movement gave individuals’ struggles a unified front with one man in particular leading the way. 

Location 2. Switzerland

Lenin had been in exile for a decade.  As head of the anti-Tsarist Bolshevik movement he was an enemy of the state, but claimed to be a friend of the people. 

He and his party knew what they wanted. They would ride to the top on a wave of populism.

Lenin secured passage from Switzerland to Russia on a sealed train. He bartered his way through Germany on the pretext, its believed, that it would force Russia out of the war and ease a German win.

Location 3. Coming back

In April, Lenin arrived at the Finlandsky Railway Station in Petrograd to a tumultuous reception. He took quick control of the Bolshevik movement and garnered support from all those disillusioned with the Provisional Government. But by summer all the Bolsheviks faced were bullets, arrests and mass deportations.

Workers and soldiers clashed with government troops, but it was a messy failure.

Lenin was on the run.

Location 4. In the woods: revolution in a haystack

A clean-shaven Lenin minus his iconic beard 
            posed as a Finnish labourer
A clean-shaven Lenin minus his iconic beard posed as a Finnish labourer

After the trauma of the July Days, Lenin knew that he was Russia's public enemy No.1. He fled to a tiny wooden hut in the lakeside village of Razliv, where he worked out the next step of the revolution. When things got really bad he'd row across the lake to a makeshift shelter.

During those difficult days he shaved off his iconic beard, wore a blonde wig and pretended to be a Finnish labourer.

Historian Natalya Levina notes that Lenin had always said he wanted to put his ideas into practice.

“Socialism was the dominating ideology. It didn't matter what the current conditions were. It helped him to stay here in this simple environment to tackle global issues,” she explained.

Lenin lived in a makeshift shelter for some time
Lenin lived in a makeshift shelter for some time

However, idealised images of Lenin hunched over his tree-stump desk are something of a myth. 

He made revolutionary notes for his later work “State and Revolution” and hid them in a haystack.

After a brief spell back in Finland, Lenin made the decision to pounce. 

He returned to the safehouse in Petrograd and in the dark wet October days it was declared the time was right.

Join RT later to see how plans for the revolution were put into action, with the storming of the Winter Palace and the handing over of power to the All-Russian Congress of Soviets…