The Russian Revolution (2017) Script

[narrator] It's been a century since the Russian Revolution and the formation of the world's first communist state.

But how did it happen?

How could the mighty Romanov dynasty, that lasted for 300 years, fall to a ragtag group of revolutionaries, who brought with them Joseph Stalin and a brutal reign of terror?

[Rayfield] Lenin understood it wasn't your numbers that mattered, it wasn't your popular support that mattered, you just paralyzed the country by occupying the key points, and then you take over.

Revolutions don't happen from the dispossessed and the starving, they happen from the middle class, and it's always been true.

[narrator] But at the heart of the Russian Revolution lay a very personal battle between Lenin's Ulyanov family and the royal family, who were determined to retain autocratic rule.

The tsarina used to say that Russia likes to feel the whip.

There was always the feeling that the tsars had the divine right of kings, they had a sort of God-given obligation to rule themselves and the autocrats.

So, there wasn't really space for democracy.

[Sebestyen] The disaster that's happened to Russia since is substantially down to mistakes made by Nicholas II.

He is utterly, utterly useless.

[Rappaport] He was a man who shouldn't have been tsar.

He wasn't suited to the onerous task of monarch.

[narrator] The errors made by the tsar would bring an empire to its knees.

But no one could have predicted that Vladimir Lenin would be the man to seize control in the chaos.

[Rayfield] Lenin understood that power is constrict in certain knots, that you take over a railway junction, you take over a telephone exchange, and you've already got a city.

[Sebestyen] Lenin was in a tradition of Russian leadership, and was a very strong part of it.

He had a profound effect on Russia that we are really still feeling now.

[Beer] 1917 in a sense recasts the ideological map of Europe.

As the century progresses, the ideological map of the world.


[narrator] March the 13th, 1881, Saint Petersburg.

The tsar, Alexander II, is on his way to his army's military roll call.

He's traveling in a bulletproof carriage, gifted to him by Napoleon III.

It had proved necessary as the tsar had faced numerous assassination attempts during his reign.

[Rayfield] Many people wanted to get rid of the tsar and his government.

But the fact that in middle of the 19th century you had two inventions...

...the revolver and high-explosive dynamite, both of which were widespread in Russia, which enabled quite amateurish people to get together and organize an assassination.

[Beer] This is really a kind of sustained terrorist campaign.

There are multiple attempts on the life of the tsar, attempts to blow up his carriage.

One terrorist, over a period of months, working as a carpenter in the Winter Palace, manages to plant a body of explosives, which very, very nearly kill Alexander II.

I mean, 11 people are killed, about 56 are injured.

It's sort of those moments where he was in the wrong room at the right moment, as it were, and the explosion just missed him.

[narrator] But this time, the tsar would not be so fortunate.

Alexander's legs are shredded, his stomach cut open by shrapnel.

His dying body is carried to the Winter Palace, where his family, the Romanovs, who have ruled Russia for nearly three centuries, are horrified to lay their eyes upon him.

[Rayfield] He only lasted 90 minutes, and the bomber himself, also, lasted 90 minutes.

His legs were blown off, too.

[Beer] The assassination of Alexander II, it's kind of Russia's 9/11.

I've read newspaper reports that come out in the days after the assassination, and they are astonishingly graphic about the physical damage inflicted on Alexander's body.

They sort of start talking about the shattered legs and the tendons hanging out and stuff.

What they're describing is this wound that has been inflicted on the body of the state, you know, so, the king's two bodies clearly there.

[narrator] The group responsible for this attack is Narodnaya Volya, the People's Will.

The conspirators would be hanged for their crimes, but the movement would continue, and it would soon attract the attentions of one Aleksandr Ulyanov, eldest son of the Ulyanov family and elder brother to Lenin, the man who would eventually eliminate the Romanovs completely.

But in 1881, the People's Will's predictions do not come to pass.

There is no great revolution following the death of Tsar Alexander II.

He's succeeded by his son, Alexander III, who, upon viewing his dying father, vows to never let the same fate befall him.

Despite the enormous unrest, Russian autocratic rule would continue.

[Welch] Alexander III considered Alexander II way too lenient.

I mean, he'd liberated the serfs.

So, Alexander III decided to come down hard on Russia, and he was anyway a very sort of forceful character who used to bend forks in knots at the table.

And he apparently was able to walk through doors without opening them.

He was a huge man.

And undermined his son, unfortunately, by calling him girly when the tsar was a child, and I don't know that the tsar, Nicholas, ever emerged from that repression from his father and that sort of undermining.

[Rayfield] Alexander III has a very bad press.

People say stagnation, reaction, and all that is true.

On the other hand, there were some good things about Alexander III.

He never declared war on anybody, unlike Alexander II, who's extremely aggressive, made war on the Turkish Empire, on the Chinese.

He also listened to his ministers. He may have been a reactionary, but he appointed some very competent ministers, and, in his reign, Russia railways became one of the best service in Europe, Russian post office, too.

He was a boring man and he liked the bottle, but there were things to be said for him.

[Beer] It seems sort of counterintuitive, but Russia was actually a fantastically dynamic society in lots of ways in this period. Really from its defeat in the Crimean War in the 1850s, it understands that it has to industrialize if it is to remain competitive on the international stage.

So, the defeat in the Crimea at the hands of the French and the British laid bare the fact that Russia was an undeveloped state.

Its peasant armies were no match for the Western powers, and so, if Russia wants to remain in the game, it needs to industrialize.

[narrator] Russia was modernizing at an extraordinary rate, but its political system remained deeply autocratic, unlike almost all other European nations of the era.

[Sebestyen] Because of the conditions of Russia at the time, normal, middle-class families weren't allowed any form of political expression at all.

That was the main problem.

So, any normal, middle-class family, the son would have entered the revolutionary, the radical political sect.

[Beer] There was a wave of repression against Russian radicals, oppositionists, and so on.

Some of these people are clearly dangerous.

Some of these people have plotted to kill the tsar, members of the Imperial Family, or, you know, regional governors and so on.

[Rayfield] There's a general paradox that a dictatorship, as long as it's strict and severe, is safe.

The moment it starts to liberalize, it gives an inch and the people take a yard.

Once the people detect a weakness, or a division, then the whole thing starts to fall apart.

[narrator] One such person who got caught up in this radical world was Aleksandr Ulyanov, known to his family as Sasha.

He was the eldest Ulyanov son, and elder brother to Vladimir Lenin.

[Sebestyen] The Ulyanov family was not a typical family.

There was a very small caste of civil servants in Russia, and the father was a schools inspector.

And he'd reached a position in the civil service that gave him the rank of a noble.

That was a very, very small percentage of people in Russia.

But they weren't that rich.

Lenin's elder brother, like Lenin himself, brilliant intellectually, covered in gold medals from school and university, and he joined a student group, and they decided to make a bomb, and attempted to kill Alexander III.

[Beer] The plan is to assassinate Alexander II's heir, Alexander III, when Alexander III is going to be attending a ceremony to commemorate the assassination of his father.

And Aleksandr Ulyanov, he's the kind of, you know, master bomb maker.

[Rayfield] The People's Will was more of a mystic than an ideological association.

The idea if we bring down the very top, they'll all be so terrified that the system will disintegrate and they'll be a sort of peasant uprising out of which a new order will arise, but they had begun to read Marx. The trouble with reading Marx, of course, is Marx predicted the last place there'd be a revolution would be Russia.

So, it was still that romantic idea of kill the tsar and everything will naturally reform.

[Beer] A bomb that's packed with pieces of metal that have been dipped in strychnine to inflict maximum number of fatalities.

I mean, that's worth remembering. But the plan is undone by the Okhrana, and they have wind of the attempt on the tsar's life, and the terrorists are arrested and rounded up within a matter of days.

[Rayfield] Of course they were sentenced to death.

Alexander III very generously said, "Those that repent, I will reprieve. Those that don't repent, I will hang."

Sasha said, "That would be going against my principles to ask for a reprieve."

His mother begged him to.

The hanging of Sasha, that is often seen as what motivated Lenin.

[Sebestyen] Often these things are personal, not political.

When his brother was arrested, his mother rushed to the city.

Vladimir, the future Lenin, tried to organize transport to get her to the nearest train station, and he traced around bourgeois Simbirsk to try and get someone who would go with his mother.

Absolutely all of them refused, and that changed his entire perspective about bourgeois liberals and the other middle class, and it was-- That was overnight.

And from then on, he just abused the liberals, and the way the family were snubbed because of this changed him as much as any other politics.

[narrator] Sasha Ulyanov was hanged on the 20th of May, 1887.

Lenin entered the underground revolutionary movements following the path laid out by his brother, and just like Sasha, Lenin would be tracked by the secret police of the Russian Empire, the Okhrana.

[Sebestyen] Every country had a spy organization, of course, but Russia was the first one that had an entire massive organization to suppress dissent wherever they seemed to find it.

They had a vast operation to open people's mail.

[Rayfield] The Russian secret police had agents everywhere.

It not only had departments in Saint Petersburg and Moscow and most of the main cities, it had a French department, as well, keeping an eye on the exiles.

The Okhrana always kept an eye on them, tailing them round Europe.

You had to stay one move ahead.

So, you spent 16 years effectively going from one bolt-hole to another, always one step ahead of the secret police.

[Sebestyen] On the biggest influences on Lenin, before he read Marx, was a novel by a guy called Nikolay Chernyshevsky called What Is to be Done?

It's a pretty lousy novel, but the hero is a selfless, devoted revolutionary who gives himself up to the cause and walks 20 miles a day, does 150 press-ups, abstains from alcohol.

And he modeled himself on this character quite deliberately.

Lenin always said this book, which he'd read one summer five times, influenced him more than anything by Marx.

[narrator] Lenin was forced to cover his tracks as he traveled around the country, trying his best avoid the attention of the authorities.

At the same time, Nicholas, the heir to the throne, was also on his travels around the Russian Empire and beyond.

It was a voyage of great fanfare, but it came to a shocking end in Japan.

[Rayfield] His father tried to give him some responsibility, decided it wouldn't do any harm to put him in charge of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

So, he'd crossed Siberia, went all the way to Vladivostok, and then he was sent on a mission to Japan, which ended disastrously, because Nicholas was suddenly attacked by a Japanese policeman...

Tsuda Sanzō, who took out his saber and slashed him on the head, and did quite a considerable amount of damage.

[Welch] Otsu, as far as I could see, was a bit of a one-off.

I didn't feel that it was a movement amongst the Japanese against the tsar, who the Japanese themselves were horrified by.

[Rayfield] Japan had only been open to Europeans for about 35 years and there was a general xenophobic suspicion.

This Japanese policeman thought himself as a samurai defending Japanese honor.

Nicholas took it very well, he just stood there smoking, refused even to sit down to be bandaged, but, in fact, a large part of his skull had been cut out and he suffered from headaches ever afterwards.

And it may well have prejudiced him against the Japanese because after that, in his correspondence, he refers to the Japanese as macaques, as monkeys, and he became convinced that they were utterly inferior to the Russians and therefore could easily be conquered in any future war.

[narrator] The Otsu incident may have been a near miss for the Romanov family, but it was a foreboding of things to come.

Just a couple of years later, Tsar Alexander III would suddenly fall ill.

He passed away at the age of just 49, leaving behind his thoroughly unprepared son Nicholas to inherit the throne.

Alexander died fairly unexpectedly of kidney disease when he was still in his 40s.

I mean, Nicholas had expected to have another 20 years to prepare for this onerous responsibility of ruling this enormous empire.

The problem was the successions.

That's the problem with a hereditary monarchy, the monarch has to die at the right time.

When Alexander III died-- And he was only 49.

--his minister said, "It was a pity he didn't die much earlier, so, we had a boy tsar, who couldn't make any decisions for at least ten years, or much later, so that Nicholas could've grown up a bit."

But Nicholas was always somewhat infantile.

[Rappaport] He was terrified when his father died at the prospect of having to take on so much responsibility, for which he had really received very little training.

[narrator] Just a week after his father's burial, Nicholas married Alix of Hesse, a German princess, who would became Tsarina Alexandra.

Her background would prove challenging for the Romanov family during World War I.

But Nicholas's enormous problems as monarch started far sooner than that.

In fact, from the day of his coronation, he was off to a dreadful start.

[Rayfield] At his coronation in Moscow in 1896, there was a big park called Khodynka in western Moscow, and the government had arranged for coronation mugs and little bags of goodies to be given out.

[yelling and cheering]

The fencing and the gates were all wrong, and so, when the crowds pressed to receive their goods, there's a terrible crush.

Some 1500 people died, and that was a terrible tragedy.

[Welch] That night there was a party at the French Embassy, and he didn't want to go to it, but he was persuaded to go to the event, and it was forever held against him as deeply insensitive.

[Rappaport] He had to rely on his ministers to advise him.

But fundamentally from day one, the job of being tsar was pretty much agreed and dictated by his wife.

She was very entrenched in the concept of autocracy and their divine right.

[narrator] Nicholas was struggling in his new role as tsar, but the man who would eventually replace him as ruler of Russia was in a far worse predicament.

Lenin had been captured by the authorities and was charged with sedition.

In 1897, he was sent to exile in Siberia for three years, which could often be a far less challenging experience than might at first appear.

[Rayfield] He was sent to the quite pleasant town of Minusinsk.

He had his wife with him, he had his mother-in-law, he had a monthly allowance, on which he could keep a cow, and a serving maid.

He had a maid of 12, whom he paid one ruble a month, and kept her in a sort of cage under the stairs.

So much for Bolshevik egalitarianism. [chuckles]

[Beer] He writes home, saying that he's ice skating and shooting, and maintains this phenomenal level of correspondence with a kind of conspiratorial network now that really stretches across the Russian Empire and beyond to Europe.

[Rayfield] Once you were there, you were housed quite nicely.

In Russia people never felt that prisoners were to be avoided, have a friendly chat with a murderer.

People used to go to the prisons at Easter, as people go to the zoo to feed the animals.

It was not a bad life.

[narrator] Lenin's exile ended in 1900.

He would soon begin his travels across Western Europe, where he would meet other Marxists and dissidents who were playing the downfall of the Russian monarchy.

But for now, Lenin and these agitators seemed insignificant.

There were far more pressing concerns.

The Russian Empire was surrounded on two sides by rising military powers.

To the west, Kaiser Wilhelm, under whose rule Germany had been unified in 1871.

To the east, Emperor Meiji, whose restoration of Japan in 1868 had forged another rapidly industrializing state.

The first battle would be with Japan in 1904.

Few world observers expected an Asian military to challenge a European power at this time.

Japan's surprising success in the conflict fueled social unrest throughout Russia, which came to be known as the 1905 Revolution.

[Welch] The Russo-Japanese War was very bad for morale, because the Russians were trounced, and their fleet was destroyed.

And that didn't help the tsar in his bid to be popular.

[Rayfield] A war being lost was a mixture of embittered soldiers and sailors, whose lives had been just thrown away in a hopeless war against the Japanese, an appalling disgraceful defeat.

Coming home finding that factories weren't paying properly and so on, there were shortages and there was general disarray.

And it was an opportunity for disaffected soldiers to organize themselves.

[narrator] The response to the civilian unrest and demands for reform would be brutal.

Imperial troops opened fire on the protestors.

The events of Bloody Sunday, as it came to be known, would damage Tsar Nicholas's reputation forever.

[Rayfield] Well, the Bloody Sunday Massacre was, in some ways, typical of Nicholas II's reign, that either he had to have much more sense or he needed a good spin doctor, and he had neither.

[Beer] The revolutionary parties are all caught off guard by 1905.

Nobody predicted Bloody Sunday.

Uh, it's clear that the war, you know, is going disastrously with Japan.

There was no real sense that Russia had reached a kind of turning point.

[Rappaport] This was a spontaneous protest that then ended in a bloodbath, because the tsarist authorities attacked the protestors.

[Welch] He wasn't there when the troops opened fire.

He just responded very badly.

He sensed that he was getting less popular and when he became known as Nicholas the Bloody, he started to spend most of his time at the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo, which was about 15 miles away from Saint Petersburg.

He realized there might be a threat of assassination.

[narrator] 1905 had been a dreadful year for the Romanovs, but the protest did eventually die down, and, crucially, the Russian armed forces remained loyal to the throne.

A peace treaty was declared with Japan, with a deal brokered by U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt.

Lenin and his accomplices across Europe, just like everyone else, had been caught completely off guard by the events of 1905.

Out of nowhere, it seemed that the revolution they were searching for was occurring spontaneously.

But in the end, the tsar remained in power, and although a parliament called the Duma had been set up in response, it was flawed from the beginning, and Nicholas had the ability to veto any and all legislation.

[Sebestyen] There had been anger and resentment, and, also, they were losing a war against Japan.

That was big profound shock to the system, and that changed the middle class's view about the kind of political system they had, and the autocracy substantially.

That, "We're so useless, we can even lose a war against Japan," that had a really profound impact.

[Beer] Lenin says that, you know, "My generation won't live to see the revolution."

You know, there is this sense that this was like a one-shot deal, and we blew it.

We weren't organized enough, we weren't able to give direction and purpose to what was a sort of spontaneous popular uprising.

[Rappaport] Lenin, even right up to 1917, was quite despairing that revolution, as his vision of revolution, was ever gonna actually happen in his lifetime.

So, 1905 was kind of a dry run for what might come later, but it wasn't planned as a revolution.

[narrator] For now, the tsar seemed safe.

The war had come to an end, and the revolutionary fervor had died down.

But it was not to last.

In the next few years, both the Romanov family and Ulyanov family would be introduced to figures that would prove critical in Russia's future.

For Lenin, it was a Georgian named Ioseb Dzhugashvili, later to be known as Stalin, although upon first appearance Lenin was unimpressed.

Lenin was the leader of that Bolshevik section, and was already, you know, the top man, and Stalin was a nobody, really.

[Rayfield] At first Lenin hardly noticed Stalin, but later on in Vienna he noticed Stalin was a very, very useful handyman.

Lenin had a sort of rather patronizing view of non-Russians, so, he called him "this wondrous Georgian."

Stalin was regarded as extremely useful.

He was some sort of gofer, you know, he never refused to do anything.

He was always happy to kill, to rob, he never balked at anything.

He could do things physically, get into a fight.

Lenin quite admired that about Stalin, he was as tough as anything.

He had a quality of intimidating people and above all, he hardly ever talked, unlike Trotsky.

That's why Stalin and Trotsky never got on.

Stalin's secret was to appear far less knowledgeable, far less intelligent, than he really was.

He understood a lot of languages.

He was an extraordinary judge of character.

Stalin's secret was not to find the strongest people to work with him.

The strongest people might want to succeed you.

He always chose the omega male.

He had his sort of allies with him and he knew how to make people feel they needed him.

A year later when they met again, Lenin couldn't remember any of his other names.

He literally didn't remember meeting him. But he made himself very useful, particularly when they needed to raise money.

[narrator] The Romanovs were also about to come into contact with a mysterious figure from the fringes of the Russian Empire, Rasputin.

Tsar Nicholas's only son Alexei, the heir to the throne, had been diagnosed with hemophilia.

The tsar and tsarina were searching for anyone who could help their ailing son and Rasputin seemed to be the only figure who was capable of doing so.

[Welch] He met them initially at a tea with the so-called Black Sisters, who were the Montenegrin princesses, Milica and Anastasia, who had invited him to Milica's palace for tea.

Then it was several months afterwards that Alexei fell and was bleeding badly, and they thought of asking Rasputin to try and heal him, and he did.

But the questions always remain as to how he cured him or even if he did, or whether he just calmed the Tsarina down, because she believe he was a man of God.

There's also an interesting thing that aspirin was beginning to be used as a painkiller, and Rasputin was always very against medication and he recommended they not use aspirin, and that might have helped.

[Rappaport] If Alexei had not been a hemophiliac, history could have been quite different, because it created such resentment, the invitation of Rasputin into the Imperial Family, that that in itself helped bring about the downfall of the dynasty.

Rasputin's presence would cause scandal in Russia.

Endless rumors began to spread about the exact nature of his involvement with the Romanovs.

[Rayfield] First of all he was kept a secret.

The press was forbidden to mention him, which immediately made people think there was something terrible going on.

Until about 1912 when press restrictions were abolished in Russia and it was impossible to stop the papers printing everything, and then Rasputin sold papers.

The journalists absolutely loved him.

You could follow him, you could get all sorts of stories from restaurant owners, from prostitutes about his behavior.

Police would sell their stories to him.

He became the sort of news-making phenomenon.

[Welch] In 1911, there were letters disseminated around by an old friend, which had very passionate notes to Rasputin from the tsarina.

You know, "I kiss you warmly," things like that.

[narrator] Rasputin's presence was bringing the Romanov family reputation into ruins.

But in 1913, a chance to repair some of the damage seemed possible.

That year marked 300 years of Romanov rule and huge tercentenary celebrations were planned that would hopefully boost public morale.

However, yet another assassination attempt would soon undo everything.

[gunshot, and crowd yelling]

Archduke Franz Ferdinand was gunned down in Sarajevo.

World War I was about to begin.

Russia's failure against the Japanese nearly brought an end to Nicholas's rule.

He would not survive a defeat against the Germans.

[Rayfield] Considering the Germans already had the British and the French to cope with... with their enormous empires of Indians and Algerians and so on, and that very soon the Americans would come into the war, you would've thought Russia would've had hope.

But the Russian Army was a peculiar army in that the officers were enthusiastic, but the soldiers were not.

The soldiers had been, many of them, part of a defeated army, most of them had nothing against the Germans whatsoever, and they didn't see them as an enemy.

The corruption in the civilian area, where no boots were produced, no rifles produced, and so, soldiers were told to go in and pick the first rifle and pair of boots off the corpse in front of you.

There were desertions, and murder of officers, and so on.

[Welsh] I think that it was generally considered a disaster when he decided to take over the troops and get rid of Grand Duke Nicholas, who was probably a very good general.

He was certainly a more imposing figure than the tsar.

And that did apparently leave the tsarina and Rasputin in charge.

The war was an absolute disaster for Russia.

An autocrat has gotta be judged on the autocrat's decision, and it was a disastrous decision.

And an even bigger decision was he put himself in charge of the military strategy, which was a terrible mistake, because once it goes wrong, he's the only one you can blame.

And there was a stalemate on the Eastern Front.

The Germans had already occupied large tracts of Russia.

There was absolutely no will amongst the army to carry it on, desertions were on a massive scale, there was almost no way for a Russian victory.

[narrator] The winter of 1916 not only saw the chill of inevitable defeat for the Russian Army, it also saw a shocking and painful loss for the Romanovs.

Certain members of their extended family would not tolerate Rasputin's influence over the tsar and tsarina any longer.

[Rappaport] There was growing resentment within the Romanov family among the relatives, who were absolutely appalled at Alexandra's close relationship with Rasputin.

Because they believed all the gossip, as well.

And it reached a point where they were saying, "Well, not only have we got to get rid of Rasputin, this evil Machiavellian influence, we've actually got to get rid of her and lock her up in a nunnery."

She was causing a lot of trouble.

[Welsh] It was the aristocrats who felt that Rasputin was bringing the whole Romanov name down.

One of the problems here was that nobody knew why Rasputin was always going to court, and it was to cure the boy, Alexei.

But because nobody knew that Alexei was ill, nobody could tell the aristocrats why he was still being welcomed at court.

[Rayfield] Rasputin was blamed as being a German agent.

They were convinced he was giving advice to the Tsar to make peace, at least with the Germans.

So, a conspiracy was formed with the connivance of many people in the government.

[Welsh] Two of the assassins both left quite detailed memoirs and descriptions of the killing.

There are quite a few discrepancies in both the memoirs.

He ended up in the river, but he was tipped over a railing, and he ended up with a lot of wounds on his face and head.

And nobody's sure whether it was because he was beaten up or whether...

Whether it was trying to transfer the body.

The plotters were incompetent, they didn't know how to handle guns, they couldn't even kill him efficiently.

And, eventually, it took three bullets before they finally killed the poor man.

It was an ignominious way to get rid of Rasputin.

At the time, they were greeted as national heroes.

Everyone thought they'd saved Russia by killing Rasputin.

[narrator] Rasputin's time at court had come to an end in brutal fashion, and it would not be long before the Romanovs themselves would also be seen off in equally bloody circumstances.

Just as in 1905, during the disasters of the Russo-Japanese War, civil unrest was about to break out in Russia.

The historic city of Saint Petersburg would see the beginnings of the February Revolution.

It had been renamed Petrograd, literally "Peter's city," in 1914, as Saint Petersburg had been thought too Germanic a name at a time of war.

But the new designation did nothing to contain the revolutionary fervor that was unleashed in the city.

It soon became so overwhelming that Tsar Nicholas II was forced to step down.

[Welsh] He couldn't quite accept how bad the crisis was.

He had this passivity and resistance to crisis.

He had to be driven to abdicate, and he finally did.

But the tsarina always believed that had she been with him she would have been able to dissuade him from abdicating.

He really hoped he was doing a kind of grand gesture to save Russia, and so, it was done out of a genuine love of country.

[narrator] With Nicholas having vacated the throne, a power vacuum was created in Russia with two major factions in Petrograd fighting for control.

On one side was a council of workers and soldiers known as the Petrograd Soviet, which soon counted Leon Trotsky as a member.

On the other side was the Russian Provisional Government, which had been quickly established by ministers who'd served under the Tsar.

They would move the Romanov family to Siberia for safekeeping, but soon nowhere in Russia would be safe.

The Provisional Government represents a vision of a liberal Russia where you'd have a community of citizens who are given equal rights, but you probably enshrine a liberal order based around representative government.

The Soviet represents a very different kind of Russia.

The Provisional Government made a halfhearted attempt to continue with the war.

But because it couldn't come to a decision, it couldn't get the economy going, it couldn't satisfy even the housewives for bread and so on.

So, more and more dissatisfaction.

[Sebestyen] Lenin was in Zurich at the time.

Someone entered his rooms in his lodging house and said, "Have you heard there's a revolution?"

At first he didn't believe it, then he did.

And he wanted to get back to Russia as soon as possible.

From the moment the war started, Lenin was totally against the war.

His line was, "Better that this country should lose...

The better that kaiserism wins than tsarism continues."

So, he was basically saying his own country should lose the war.

[narrator] Lenin was in a difficult situation.

In order to get from Switzerland to Russia to take advantage of the February Revolution, he would have to travel through Germany, with whom his country was at war.

A complicated deal would have to be brokered.

[Rayfield] I would say it wasn't Lenin who made his move, it was the German High Command that made the move.

[Sebestyen] He had been offered kind of inducements from the Germans.

They'd offered him money, and he'd always refused it.

But now he was less scrupulous.

He agreed to the famous sealed train through Germany.

In the German point of view, it seemed like a perfectly reasonable tactic.

[Rappaport] Lenin didn't make the deal.

Lenin never got his hands dirty.

Lenin never directly did something that might be politically damaging.

The deal to get him and his cohort of followers back to Russia when revolution broke was negotiated by intermediaries.

So, he had to go on this torturous journey up through Germany, across to Sweden, all the way up through Sweden, to Finland and down.

[Rayfield] That train deposited Lenin at the Finland Station in Saint Petersburg.

Now, if the Provisional Government had had the sense to turn up with a small group of people to meet him and arrest him on the spot... But they couldn't get around to it.

They were incredibly inefficient.

[Beer] Lenin's genius, when he arrives at the Finland Station and he gives a speech from the armored car, he calls for all power to the Soviets.

And that's not a call for direct democracy rather than representative democracy.

That's a call for this much more brutal exclusive vision of a revolutionary future, in which everyone who was on top before will now be at the bottom.

[Sebestyen] The dual power system meant that everything had to be agreed by the Soviet and the Provisional Government, which led to paralysis.

Lenin was very, very good at using this.

He was incredibly skillful at the black arts and propaganda, and used it rather brilliantly.

And he loved the revolution, this part of the revolution.

The Bolsheviks do nearly overplay their hand, you know.

In the July Days, they do try to stage an uprising in Petrograd, and it is crushed.

[Sebestyen] In the middle of July, Lenin is charged with treason.

There is information coming out about money that the Bolsheviks accepted from the Germans.

So, he's under arrest, and he escapes to Finland, and is out of the country for quite a lot of the while, then comes back and insists, "There is no power in this country.

Let's take over the railway station, and the post offices, and power is ours.

It's there for the taking. Take it from the street.

We can do it."

[narrator] Lenin's belief in the profound weakness of the Provisional Government would prove justified.

Russia's October Revolution had begun, and the Bolsheviks's attempt at a coup d'état would spark a civil war that would last until 1922.

[Sebestyen] Without Lenin, there wouldn't have been a Bolshevik Revolution and there wouldn't have been any second revolution.

And he pushed and pushed and pushed his party members with him.

They were very, very reluctant, because they were scared of being shot or they're scared it wouldn't work.

There wasn't one particular spark that week or that month that led it, it was Lenin saying, "This is our chance."

[Beer] Lenin's regime is a government that's born in war.

So, really, it's helpful to think about the period, I think, from 1914 to 1921, as one of continuous warfare.

The Bolshevik party at the beginning of 1917 is about 20,000 people.

By the end of the civil war, it's about 1.3 million.

And most of the new recruits are men whose formative administrative experience has been in the army.

They are militarized in their psychology.

[Welsh] The actual revolution in Russia, initially, was very much in Petrograd and of course Moscow.

The way in which it took hold across rural Russia was really very anarchic and violent.

And there were horrific scenes of peasants rampaging across estates, burning the manor houses down, slaughtering the occupants, killing all the cattle owned by the landowners.

It was very savage.

[Rayfield] The resistance took too long because most the army and the navy were so demoralized that they came over to the Bolshevik side.

They were very, very happy to go around the hospitals, shooting ministers.

There was a general murderous feeling about the government which Lenin just released.

[narrator] Lenin was quickly becoming the most powerful man in Russia.

He'd agreed to an end to the war with Germany with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

And his new secret police were commencing a strategy of violent repression that would become known as the Red Terror.

The now-deposed Romanov family were being held in safekeeping by the Provisional Government.

Attempts had been made to send them into exile, but the efforts were to no avail.

Soon, the tsar, his wife and children, and his last remaining staff were captured by the Bolshevik forces and sent to Yekaterinburg where they were kept in strict isolation.

At around midnight on July the 17th, 1918, the family were awoken and escorted into the basement of the house.

[gunfire, and screaming]

This once all-powerful dynasty had authorized the execution of Sasha Ulyanov, Lenin's elder brother.

But now the tables had been turned, and the Romanovs were no more.

[Welsh] The tragedy is that they had 11 assassins for 11 people to be shot.

And when it came to it, I think the assassins were quite drunk, and nobody wanted to shoot the children, so, they shot the tsar and tsarina first.

And the children had a most horrifying death you could ever imagine or inflict.

And that was brought about by their loving parents, just indirectly over the years.

[Rappaport] Who could have imagined that those innocent children would be murdered?

This was why it was so horrifying when it happened.

No one ever imagined those children would be so cruelly murdered.

[Sebestyen] There's no paper trail, but we pretty much know it would never have happened without Lenin agreeing to it.

No one was gonna kill the Romanovs without Lenin's say-so.

[narrator] Nicholas II's mother, the Dowager Empress, was able to escape the carnage on a ship leaving from the Crimea along with other members of the extended Romanov family.

But the dynasty that ruled Russia for over three centuries had come to a vicious end.

By 1922, the civil war in the country had also reached its conclusion, with the Bolsheviks victorious and a new Soviet Union established.

[Rayfield] Lenin began cementing power as soon as he started.

His organization was so good that he had the common soldiers and sailors, and above all he had the secret police.

He had Trotsky, who I think the real genius, to take a whole lot of disillusioned deserters, you then create a Red Army, one of the most brilliant armies in the world.

With Trotsky's military genius and Lenin's organization and subversion, I think he consolidated all the time.

He absolutely used terror.

[Sebestyen] Not only that, he was very, very good at lying.

He was very skillful about building majorities, building groups loyal to him.

[Rappaport] After the revolution, people were saying, "Yes, we need a republic and we need, you know, a constitution and all that, but we still need a firm tsar, as well."

They kind of wanted the two.

They couldn't quite disassociate themselves.

It's this idea of the protective all-embracing tsar who looked after the nation.

[Beer] There is always gonna be this tendency towards the abuse of power, because the party acknowledges no checks at all on its own behavior.

There's no independent judiciary, no independent press, there's certainly no political opposition.

So, there is always going to be this kind of tendency towards a sort of degeneration into ever more absolute power.

[narrator] But Lenin would not hold onto this new position for long.

He suffered a debilitating series of strokes, and died on the 21st of January, 1924.

Ioseb Dzhugashvili, now known as Joseph Stalin, saw an opportunity laid out before him.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 changed the world forever.

The Romanovs had been usurped, and the largest country on earth was a communist state.

The man who would become the most powerful dictator in history was now cementing his position.