On November 8, 1917, one day after an armed uprising led by his radical socialist Bolsheviks toppled the provisional Russian government, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin rises before the newly formed All-Russian Congress of Soviets to call for an immediate armistice with the Central Powers in World War I.
Lenin, in exile in Western Europe when the war broke out in 1914, managed to secure passage through Germany back to Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg) in April 1917, after the first wave of Russia’s revolution in March overthrew the regime of Czar Nicholas II. In the months that followed, the Bolsheviks increased their influence, aided in their cause by Russia’s dismal economic situation and widespread frustration with the continuing war effort. In late June, the spectacular failure of an offensive ordered by the provisional government’s minister of war, Alexander Kerensky, sent the army into a tailspin, with millions of soldiers deserting the front and streaming home to join the socialist cause.
Over the next several months, Russia’s revolutionary fervor only increased, as Kerensky–by now serving as prime minister–struggled to maintain order in the face of growing opposition. Meanwhile, Lenin was hiding in Finland after an abortive workers’ uprising in July. He returned to Russia in late September, in time to push the Bolshevik Central Committee to organize an armed insurrection and seize power. The committee approved the plan in late October. On the night of November 6-7, under the direction of Leon Trotsky, an armed band of workers, soldiers and sailors stormed the Winter Palace, headquarters of the provisional government. The following morning, after a virtually bloodless victory, Trotsky announced that the government had fallen. Kerensky escaped and went into exile, while several other ministers were arrested later that day.
On November 8, Lenin made his first appearance before the Congress of Soviets, in which the Bolsheviks held a 60 percent majority. “We shall now proceed to the construction of the socialist order,” he announced. The first order of business for the new Bolshevik state was putting an end to Russia’s participation in what Lenin and his followers considered an imperialist, upper-class war. That day, the Congress adopted a manifesto calling for “all warring peoples and their governments to open immediate negotiations for a just, democratic peace.” A formal ceasefire between Russia and the Central Powers was declared on December 2.
Russia’s exit from the war–which was formalized in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk the following March–shook the Allied war effort to its very foundations, as Germany and Austria-Hungary would be now be able to shift all their efforts to the west. Even more importantly, the rise to power of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in Russia announced the arrival of a new vision of the world order–a vision that would over the next decades rise to challenge the ideals of liberal democracy not only in Europe but around the world.