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1917: The Fragility of Power

The First World War ensured the success of the Russian Revolution. Peace would have strangled it at birth. 

Decisive year: a Soviet propaganda poster, c.1917. © Heritage Images/akg-images.

As recently as 30 years ago, the Russian Revolution was still considered by many to be the most significant event of the 20th century. When History Today marked the 70th anniversary of Lenin’s seizure of power, as this month we mark its centenary, Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of Glasnost – a contested word, often translated as transparency or openness – still offered the hope of a reformed Soviet Union. But the sclerosis of a system dependent on coercion, corruption and censorship was too far gone and just four years later, in December 1991, the whole miserable edifice came crashing down.

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