Contemplating the Russian Revolution: What Would You Have Done?

by History Teacher Bill Coleman

Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolsheviks,
speaks with Leon Trotsky and
Lev Kamenev to the right of the podium,
Moscow, 1917
(photo via Wikipedia)
This week the 7th and 8th graders learning about the Russian Revolution were faced with the following:

Assume that you are an idealistic young student, living in Tsarist Russia in the early 20th century, who loves the country and wants only the best for it and for its people. You see the condition of Russian society and the rotten nature of the Russian government, and you burn with desire to make things better.
While the mass of people live in poverty and squalor, they seem to be oppressed by a small group of government officials and property owners who are both wealthy and powerful. Everything seems to exist for their benefit. You yearn for a society in which everyone lives proudly and equally with everyone else.

You are, however, faced with heavy odds against the success of your vision. The Tsar’s secret police seem to lurk everywhere.  Many of your friends have been sent to Siberia. Even worse, there is little evidence that the mass of workers and peasants share your vision. They are complacent and – this being Russia – they appear willing to suffer indefinitely.


You are attending a meeting of the Social Democratic Party, the agenda of which is to plan a strategy to change this dismal situation and open the path toward something better. What are the initial steps you must take to bring this about? You have joined a strategy committee and are due to issue a preliminary report to the Party executive, Comrade Coleman.

As some readers may know, this was the actual situation which created the schism in the Russian Social Democratic Party between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. Our students favored solutions ranging from kidnapping or assassinating the Tsar and his family, circulating rumors and propaganda, striking for higher wages and an end to child labor, promoting democracy, and wooing the army to their side -- a neat mixture of Bolshevik and Menshevik solutions.

This exercise definitely made it easier for the students to understand and appreciate Lenin's thoughts in his essay What Is to Be Done? His solution, of course, was the creation of a revolutionary vanguard party to impose.... oops, "promote," class consciousness among the proletariat!

What would you have done?



Popular Posts