October Revolution Day is an official public holiday in Belarus. For me, my friends and relatives it’s just an extra day for vacations and shopping. You won’t find any festival, fair, concert or any other massive event in Minsk apart from the wreath-laying ceremony at the Lenin’s statue at Independence Square. What is that holiday actually about? Why is the October Revolution Day celebrated on the 7th of November? What does RSDLP's First Congress Museum-house in Minsk have to do with the USSR conception? What is RSDLP, anyway? What do the words "Soviet", "proletary" and "Bolshevik" mean? Let’s find the answers together.
Since 1795, the territory of contemporary Belarus belonged to the Russian Empire. While Russian Tsars changed each other in Saint-Petersburg, their governors were ruling 6 provinces of the so-called “North-West Region”. The empire experienced many revolutionary movements in the XIX century. Lenin later classified them into four stages. Decembrist revolt of 1825 is a great example of the Nobility stage. Without people's aid, young nobles and officers were bound to be defeated and sent to Siberia. Raznochintsy’s (people of miscellaneous classes) peaceful second stage of reforms was followed by the terroristic third stage. It peaked with Tsar Alexander II murder by Lenin’s brother. Karl Marx's ideas of social revolution and communism affected many minds and prompted the proletarian fourth stage.
Proletarians (from Latin – “producing offspring”) is a name for a working-class who have nothing else but their labor-power. In March 1898, three proletarian organizations secretly gathered for a congress in a house near the contemporary Victory Square in Minsk. They announced the creation of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP). Twenty-five years later, the house was turned into a museum with its own story. The first Belarusian national poet, Yanka Kupala, lived in it in the 1920s. Fidel Kastro, Ho Shi Min, Brezhnev, and Gorbachev visited it. The house was bombed during WWII, rebuilt, moved due to the road expansion, closed after the USSR dissolution, and opened again for us to learn more about the Revolutions and life in Minsk during them.
Within a month, police arrested all nine participants of the first congress. Therefore, the next RSDLP congresses were happening abroad. At their second meeting in London in 1903, the party divided into "Mensheviks" and "Bolsheviks" factions. The naming comes from “menshe” (minority) and “bolshe” (majority). The group led by Lenin got a majority at most of the votes at the congress. Questions of membership and approach caused the split. More liberal Mensheviks were ok with using reforms and with the bourgeoisie (put, middle class) – joining their ranks to fight against Tsar. Radical Bolsheviks wanted a strong revolutionary core to lead the masses of proletarians and peasantry against Tsar and bourgeoisie.
RSDLP was not the only group longing for a change. They had almost no influence on the First Russian Revolution in 1905. On Sunday, 22nd of January, a procession of 150 000 proletarians from numerous parties moved to the Tsar's premises in Saint-Petersburg to deliver a petition. They asked for an eight-hour day, a minimum daily wage of one ruble (50 cents), and to introduce representative government. When the crowd crossed the defense line, troops opened fire and dispersed the protesters. The police department reported 130 casualties. The following nation-wide wave of social unrest didn’t overthrow the Tsar, but limited his power, caused reforms and led the foundation for future Russian Revolutions.
At the beginning of 1917 WWI failures, famine, political distrust and other critical circumstances erupted into labor strikes, protests against food rationing. After 8 days of clashes and demonstrations, the Russian Army joined the revolutionaries on the 27th of February O.S. Three days later Tsar Nikolai II finished a century of political unrest by abdicating the throne. O.S. or Old Style reference means that the date is valid for the Julian Calendar. Russia adopted the Gregorian Calendar only in 1918 by time-skipping for two weeks. Hence the difference between old style (O.S.) and new style (N.S.) dates.
After Tsar was gone, Provisional Government used “Councils of Workmen's and Soldiers' Deputies” or “Soviets” to stand guard against counter-revolutionary forces. Upon achieving a common goal, all parties returned to pursuing individual objectives. With continuing war defeats in the background, it just brought more chaos. Provisional government and RSDLP Mensheviks, who supported them, began losing their positions. Lenin returned after the long-term exile, gathered the Bolsheviks, and convinced the Soviets to join him. On October 25th, O.S. (7th of November new style), they assaulted the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg and overthrew the Provisional government. It took Lenin and Bolsheviks additional five years to finish the outbroken civil war and declare the Soviet Union.
Belarus was a part of the Soviet Union for almost 70 years. There is a Lenin's statue in every Belarussian city. Many important streets are called after revolution events and actors. Best murals in Minsk can be found on October Street. Locals still call the Independence Square with parliament building, Lenin's statue and Red church with its old name – Lenin’s square. Bar hoppers enjoy Revolutionary Street not less than Zybitskaya. Soviet spirit is still strong in Minsk. If you want to feel its essence, its origin – visit the house-museum of the first congress of RSDLP. You will not only learn more about the USSR conception but also what it was like to live in Minsk in those days.
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