History of the 20th century essay (final exam) Essay

Universidad Aut?noma de Madrid

Counterfactual or what if history is a contested genre: some see it as a tool to reconstruct casual chains and highlight the importance of contingency and individual decision, while others dismiss it as a pure speculation based on unverified claims and elitist values. Try your hand at it and rethink the 20th century by discussing what would have changed in the world (and what wouldn’t) had the Bolsheviks failed to seize power in Russia in October 1917.

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Deborah Eduok

Madrid, 2019


Counterfactual history is an interesting branch of history that has become a very popular trend within the public eyes in the last two decades. Nowadays, people often question events that occurred in history and tend to assume different case scenarios. This paper will focus on bringing light to how history can be portrayed in different ways and sometimes it can be useful to imagine different scenarios occurring. This paper will also analyze the Bolshevik revolution, and the effects it had on the Russian Empire.

It will also speculate on how the world and Russia would have looked like if the Revolution of 1917 was not successful. This paper will also conduct and interview with Mr. Richard Stites, who was an historian of Russian culture and a professor at the University of Georgetown.


History can be used as a tool to interpret past events that allow us to understand the present existing political, economic, and social changes in the world. The interpretation of the past allows us to see the present differently and in that way it helps us to work towards making the future even better. History is not just a tool, but it can be portrayed in different forms such as buildings, artifacts, and written documents that serve as evidence to explain the present from the past. History is now a contested genre because speculations have arisen regarding the concept of history. Nowadays, people tend to question events in history probably because they are not convinced with the evidence provided or rather the answers given to them are not convincing at all.

Discussions have been introduced by many scholars on how to answer the question about what if a particular event in history occurred in a different timeframe or what might have happened had something in the past took a different turn. Counterfactual history is becoming a trend because people tend to doubt or rather ask if a particular event written by historians are true or they were made up to serve as an explanation for the present. The idea of counterfactual history has triggered many science-fiction writers for decades allowing them to introduce a new form of argument called virtual history, which has become an approach used when dealing with such topic. People are defending the idea of virtual history because they see it as an alternative outcome historians use to explain a particular event which serves as a tool used by them to weigh the importance of different historical events (Maar, 2014).

It is difficult for one to process a particular historical event that was explained and not imagine different scenarios. When we state that the democracy aid given to organizations to help fight the socialist ideologies in Venezuela was the reason for the existence of a credibility gap between George W. Bush and Hugo Chavez which seems to cause a hostile relationship between the two leaders. We are indeed stating that if President Bush did not intervene in the politics of Venezuela and if he has stopped giving funds to organizations during Chavez presidency, the relationship between both leaders would not have escalated to the point that Chavez started calling President Bush names.

The previous paragraph detects the existence of causation that is often used in history. Causation is a counterfactual dependence whereby the occurrence of B depends on the occurrence of A. if A had not occurred, B would never have occurred. Therefore, causation can be seen as counterfactual dependence between two or more events and this statement is similar to statement made by David Hume (as cited in Maar’s article) stated that “if the first object had not been, [then] the second would never have existed” (Maar, 2014).

Bolsheviks Revolution: Background

The Russia Empire had two Revolutions in 1917, the first one was in February and the second one occurred in October. The first revolution in February broke out in Petrograd (St. Petersburg), the former capital of Russia due to lack of food. The working class of Russia, joined by other citizens took to the street to protest against the monarchy. The Revolution of February led to the abdication of the tsar thus ending the Romanov dynasty. After the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, the duma leaders called for a Provisional Government that will rule Russia for the meantime. The Provisional Government consisted mainly of liberals who wanted to keep fighting in the First World War but they were opposed by the socialist party. The socialist party consisted of two main groups: the Menshevik and the Bolshevik (Stites, 1989).

Under the pressure of the allies, the provisional government was forced to continue the First World War. Continuation of the war led to the population of the Russian Empire desperate and angry with the officials in government because they paid little attention to the social reforms needed to help in the development of the empire. This discontent resulted from how the Russian army was brutally destroyed in the war and how they were afraid they would lose the war. The ongoing war paved a way for Lenin to return to Russia from exile. In October 1917, Lenin and the Bolsheviks staged a coup against the Provisional Government. The Bolsheviks army began to gain control of most part of the cities in Petrograd including the Winter Palace, which served as the headquarters for the Provisional Government. As a result of the Revolution, the Provisional Government was overthrown, and Lenin consolidated power and began to establish his ideologies in Russia (Stites, 1989).

Under Lenin government, the Russian Empire began to experience changes in different sectors. He used terror to govern the country which led to the rise of opposition groups. The Bolsheviks faced opposition by three different groups; supporters of the monarchy, liberals, and socialist who tried to take down the “Reds” or the Bolshevik government. Despite the assistance from the Allies, the White Army was defeated by the Reds after three years of fighting. The victory of the Reds allowed Lenin to take full control of the Empire (Stites, 1989).

Effects of the Revolution on the Russian Empire

The revolution brought so many changes to the Russian Empire. A major effect of the revolution was the withdrawal of Russia from the First World War after signing the Brest-Litovsk treaty peace treaty that would allow them to claim some lands from the Germans. The revolution also ended the monarchical regime in Russia after the execution of the Czar. It also eliminated the role of the Orthodox Church when it comes to political affairs. The Church could no longer make decisions for the state.

Another major effect of the revolution was the creation of the Soviet Union and the beginning of a communistic rule under Lenin. The Soviet Union did not agree with the ideologies of the West especially because Lenin showed dislike for western-style democracy and majority rule. He wanted Russia to be anti-capitalist which is why he introduced a new economic model called War communism. This model eliminated the idea of free market economy as well as privatization of the markets. He wanted a state-controlled economy that was under supervision.

What would have changed in the world (and what wouldn’t) if the Bolsheviks had failed to seize power in Russia in October 1917- An Interview with Mr. Richard Stites.

Professor Stites, what do you think about the 20th century? And what do you think would have changed if the Russian Revolution never happened?

The 20th century was a monumental period in history. It was a period filled with wars, unexpected events, revolutions, and two different ideologies dominating the world. The lives of millions on each continent have been influenced by changes that have taken place. This period brought about instability in Europe and Asia. On the European continent, Germany was becoming a powerful country with strong military power. In eastern Asia, Japan was invading countries like China, and the two Koreas using aggressive means. In the Americas, the United States came out of isolation because they were afraid of the influence of communism which triggered them to get involved on a global scale making them a superpower today. Later on, Africa was divided by their colonial masters. The 20th century was also a defining moment for Russia and the world because the changes introduced during that time period helped shape today’s world (Grenville, 2005)

The October revolution of 1917 under the leadership of Lenin is still relevant today even after the collapse of the Soviet Union. An important factor that should be introduced is that the First World War led to the outbreak of the revolution of 1917, which eventually led to the Russian civil war. The First World War weakened the Monarchy, the Provisional Government, and paved way for the Bolsheviks to seize power. It also allowed communism to spread in most part of the world.

If the Bolsheviks had not seized power, the Russian empire under the Romanov dynasty would still be a monarchy. Russia would not have been a strong Soviet country and the spread of communism in most part of the world would not have been successful. It would have remained a monarchic government with limited freedom for its citizens since the Czar had the absolute power and was the one who could make laws for the country. If the Bolsheviks had failed to seize power, Russia would probably remain backward in comparison to the West. They would not be technologically advanced, and their economy would still be in a developing stage. They would not have been able to invade many countries and spread communism around the globe.

Another case to be considered is that the Provisional Government was the first elected government after the abdication of the monarch, which means that there were some democratic values in the Russia Empire. If the Provisional Government had a way to stopping the revolution at an early stage, if they had paid attention to the social reforms the Russian people needed, or if the Whites had won in the Civil War, Russia would have been a moderate democratic state and probably China might never have had a revolution under Mao if the Soviet model never existed for China to follow. Countries such as Venezuela and Cuba would not be in a hostile relationship with the United States, and they would not view leaders like Lenin and Hitler as role models. They would have followed the values of democracy and the ideas of capitalism.

Another change that would appear in the World if the Bolsheviks had failed to seize power would be that Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler would never have existed. Without Lenin, the coup would not have happened in the first place, giving rise to Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Without Stalin, the Soviet Union was not have been a superpower in the 20th century alongside the United States. After the death of Lenin, Stalin destroyed the NEP plan to revive the economy and he introduced a new plan whereby industrialization and production were enforced which help Russia advance in terms of technology.

Without Marxist-Leninist ideologies, both Koreas would not be separated and North Korea would never have possessed nuclear weapons. Kim Jong-un would not have great ties with Russia if the Stalinist regime never existed. The Cold War and the Korean War would never have occurred and we would not have to sanctions countries that follow the communistic ideas. With the Revolution of 1917, different ideologies like Marxism, Leninism, Communism, Socialism, and Nazism would not be known today. Leaders like Hitler would not have invaded Poland and he would not have slaughtered so many Jews. The East would probably be so different from the West.

Even if the Revolution of 1917 failed, Western Influence would continue to exist. The West always wanted to spread their influence to different continents. Great Britain, France, and Germany tried to intervene in different countries and spread the ideas of capitalism and democracy except in Africa where they basically exploited the continent. During the Revolution of 1917, the allies intervened to help the Whites fight against the Red Army. If they had succeeded, maybe today they would be controlling the internal affairs of Russia. Russia might probably end up as Africa today and would be considered a third world country.


To conclude, the Bolshevik Revolution is seen as a factor used when explaining the events of the 20th Century. Major events that occurred in 1917 helped shape the world we are living in now. It placed the United States as the only Superpower of the 21st century, it also led to the creation of organizations responsible for different activities that occur in the globe. This paper gave a view of how the world would have looked like if this event of 1917 never occurred. If the Bolshevik Revolution never took place, the world today would probably be a better place.

Bibliography BIBLIOGRAPHY l 1033

Maar, Alexander. “POSSIBLE USES OF COUNTERFACTUAL THOUGHT EXPERIMENTS.” Principia (2014): 1-27. pdf <

Grenville, J.A.S. “A HISTORY OF THE WORLD FROM THE 20th TO THE 21st CENTURY.” Routledge (2005): 1-1008. pdf. <

Stites, Richard. “The Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, 1900-1945” (Background: Richard Stites’s chapter in The Oxford History (1989), 117–127).

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