That November Day the October Revolution Ignited Russia

100 years ago, on November 7, 1917, the Bolsheviks rose up against the Russian leadership to depose the failing, interim government. The former Russian monarchy was still alive in Russia at that time.

What followed was the Soviet Republic, amongst other things (death of the last Tsar and his family, the Cold War, Sputnik, and Gorbachev), but it all started with an October revolution begun in November.

How is that possible?

The simple answer is that the Russians used to keep an outdated calendar. According to the Bolsheviks, it was October when they raised their coup. But, why do we still call it the October Revolution then?

As it turns out, what’s more important, is that folks don’t lose the importance of why they did something in the first place, instead of nitpicking details like when it was they did it.

So You Say You Want an October Revolution?

The fact that the Russians maintained a different calendar than much of the trading world was a snowflake on the tip of Russia’s iceberg.

Western Europe, as Russia likes to consider herself the eastern end, had moved away from castles and serfs by the end of the Middle Ages.

Russia had ended serfdom back in 1861, but those emancipated serfs weren’t suddenly industrialists. They had a long hard road ahead to catch up with their western counterparts. There’d been a whole Renaissance, Industrial Revolution, and the rise of capitalism in western Europe.

Kings and Queens were no longer the authority they once had been. The last vestiges of monarchies in Europe clung to tradition like old paint.

Europe’s serfs had long since become the underprivileged working classes, but at least they had a chance to rise up. Not so in Russia, not yet.

Making matters worse for Russia, their disenfranchised serfs lived well below the general poverty levels of the time. People were starving in early 20th century Russia.

It’s a wonder the Tsar maintained control as long as he did.

Starting a Fire

Russia was cold and hungry. A combination of harsh winters, some expensive wars, and a lost working-class laid the kindling for what would become a social fire burned out of control.

When the people rose up, the Tsar did what he knew worked for Ivan the Terrible. Knock ‘em, down, with bullets if necessary. In 1905, Bloody Sunday did just that.

On a Sunday in 1905, hundreds of protesters died unarmed at the command of the Tsar. That was the match-strike on the 1905 Revolution. That uprising was only the first in a series of events that would lead to the revolutions of 1917.

By 1917, the fire burned hot in the heart of every Russian. The Russians were taking terrible losses in World War One, at the same time as they battled an internal conflict.

The first 1917 revolution took place in February of 1917 (March 2017 by our calendar, sorry). They removed Tsar Nicholas that time, but they didn’t kill him. A provisional government took over, one that stunk at running Russia.

Then, on November 26 by the old calendar, the Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin, stormed the Winter Palace in the dead of night and seized control.

Historical Name Dilemma

The easy solution would be to rebrand the historical event known as the October Revolution or Oktyabr’skaya Revolyutsiya in Russian. After all, Russia did eventually adopt the calendar used by the developed world. It took a few silly iterations created by the Soviets, but in time they got it right.

Why not, now that we’re all measuring time by the same calendar, call it the November Revolution? Why not call the Sears Tower in Chicago the Willis Tower? Sears hasn’t owned the place in three decades.

Some historians prefer to call it the Bolshevik Revolution or Coup, as it removes the whole calendar issue, but those names are like nicknames. Anyone who’s read Russian literature knows how Russian treat proper nouns.

It’s a theory, but people have several names in Russia (first, middle, last, maiden, maternal name, so on) as in any country. But, in Russia, any and all of them may be valid depending on the scenario. Trying to follow Russian stories can be… challenging. It seems that revolutions don’t escape that fate.

The Soviets tried a few iterations of the calendar, attempting to create one that would align with the rest of the world, but in the end, they conceded. It wasn’t enough to warrant a name change to great revolt.

Imagine if the world adopted a new calendar and the 4th of July suddenly landed in June? Americans would sooner grill their flag than calling it June the whatever.