7 November 1917: The Russian Winter Palace falls

On this day in 1917, the seat of government – the Winter Palace in St Petersburg – fell to the Bolsheviks, cementing communist rule in Russia.

In March 1917, riots and rebellions forced Nicholas II to abdicate as Tsar of Russia. Power passed to an unruly ruling council that included factions ranging from aristocrats and members of the military to socialists.

With people dissatisfied with the council's slow reforms and the decision to continue World War I, demonstrations and protests continued to increase. By July, several members had left the coalition and the radical faction was in control, with Alexander Kerensky as prime minister.

Kerensky pursued a strategy of allying himself with the Bolsheviks and arming their supporters, while isolating remaining moderates and conservatives. This proved to be a huge miscalculation. Instead of working with him, the Bolsheviks simply used their growing influence to further undermine his government.

With an election weeks away, the Bolshevik leader, Vladimir Lenin, ordered his forces to seize control. By 6 November, they were in control of most of the then-capital Petrograd (St Petersburg), leaving the Winter Palace, which was the seat of government, ripe for the taking.

Reinforced by sailors from the naval cruiser Aurora and heavy artillery, Lenin issued an order for the final attack.

The Winter Palace was defended by only a few troops and the result was inevitable: it fell in the early hours of the following day. Kerensky and other leaders escaped into exile, and Lenin took over the machinery of government, though not all cities would come under Soviet control until the next year.

Despite substantial popular resistance to their rule in the first few years, the communists would not relinquish power until 1991.

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