In documentary style, events in Petrograd are re-enacted from the end of the monarchy in February of 1917 to the end of the provisional government and the decrees of peace and of land in November of that year. Lenin returns in April. In July, counter-revolutionaries put down a spontaneous revolt, and Lenin's arrest is ordered. By late October, the Bolsheviks are ready to strike: ten days will shake the world. While the Mensheviks vacillate, an advance guard infiltrates the palace. Anatov-Oveyenko leads the attack and signs the proclamation dissolving the provisional government.
- Events in St. Petersburg are shown, beginning from the overthrow of the Romanov monarchy in February of 1917. The soundtrack has no speech but the roar of crowds, sounds of marching, running, trains, guns and other objects enhance the images.
In the first sequence, an angry crowd tears down a monumental statue of Tsar Nicholas, symbolizing the fall of the monarchy.
In another sequence, important looking people are marching up a spectacular interior stairway at the Winter Palace, on their way to meetings that form a new government. The prime minister of the new government is Kerensky (Vladimir Popov) . He announces that commitments made to allied foreign governments by the Tsar will be honored by the government. Russia's participation in the war continues.
From this point, the film depicts the increasingly chaotic days until the victory of the Bolsheviks over the Mensheviks and other small parties that participated in the overthrow of the Tsar.
Meantime, there is much suffering at the war front by mismanaged soldiers, and by the proletarians elsewhere in the country, who march in demonstrations to complain that they have no bread to eat.
Lenin (Vasili Nikandrov) returns to St. Petersburg from exile in April. Huge crowds meet him at the Finland railway station, and he delivers a speech from the front of a steam engine.
Economic conditions and the war continue to deteriorate, and marches on the seat of government get larger and more ominous. Soldiers march back towards the capital from the front, apparently without official orders to do so, and they are welcomed by proletarian crowds.
In July, one such huge demonstration is put down by machine gun fire. The central part of the city is isolated by raising of draw bridges. A machine gun regiment opens fire on a march. Incredibly rapid editing back-and-forth between a shot of a gun barrel and the mean look on the gunner's face suggest both the action and the sound of the gun.
The massacre and the image of a horse dangling lifelessly from the edge of the draw bridge as it lifts are of unbearable sadness. In this unforgettable cinematic moment, the dead horse and a long haired young woman, killed as she joined in the workers' protest, undergo a slow slip from the deck of an opening draw bridge into the river below.
The temporary victory of the Kerensky government is celebrated by the bourgeoisie, depicted as inflated, food and drink-sated fools, their supercilious natures reflected by expressions bordering on the imbecilic.
Shots of the monumental Tsarist statues being dismantled are shown in reverse, appearing to get put back together.
The film uses a technique named "intellectual montage", the editing together of shots of apparently unconnected objects in order to create and encourage intellectual comparisons between them. One notable example occurs as a baroque image of Jesus is compared, through a series of shots, to Hindu deities, Buddha, Aztec gods, and finally a primitive idol in order to suggest the sameness of all religions. The idol is then compared with military regalia to suggest the linking of military patriotism and religious fanaticism.
The political parties organize mass meetings at a building known as the Smolny, which later becomes the headquarters of the Bolshevik party alone.
The film shuttles back and forth between outside crowd scenes of marches, indoor mass meeting scenes at the Smolny, and scenes of the cabinet ministers in their headquarters at the Winter Palace.
Lenin's arrest is ordered. Lenin is, of course, a hero. THE hero. Trotsky is shown as a weak would-be compromiser, actually a mild obstacle to the advance of the Bolsheviks to power.
The images often switch from enormous, fluid and raging crowd action, occasionally taken from news film but more often staged with a cast of thousands, to closeups of faces that reflect deep emotion or show the activities of individuals in the groups. The distribution of rifles or the passing out of leaflets is shown in closeups several times.
The main heroes are the proletariat, poor but possessed of a fierce and empowering nobility. The Leninist notion that the masses cannot progress without the guidance of the party guides much of the crowd action.
By late October, the Kerensky government has lost control, and the Bolsheviks are ready to strike a final blow to achieve total power.
The feckless Kerensky, head of the Provisional Government, is pictured in cuts with views statuettes of Napoleon, who was forced to retreat from Russia. Depicted as a coward, Kerensky abandons his cabinet in the Winter palace while he flees in a luxury car bedecked with a small American flag.
The government offices are towards the end guarded by two armed groups, one formed by military cadets, and the other by a group of tough women soldiers. They are repeatedly told that military help is on the way. However, a train bringing in the troops under the command of a general is detained by sabotage on the tracks by proletarian militias, and the military on the train make no effort to continue.
A small warship enters the city river and posts itself close to the Winter Palace.
Extensive use is made of montage that expresses ideas by editing in shots of objects from outside the setting or unrelated to the narrative. For example, images of the Tsar's clockwork toy preening peacock are spliced into a scene in which the provisional government ministers meet.
While the government ministers dawdle and vacillate, an advance guard infiltrates the palace, and proletarian agents seek out and talk to small groups of the military defenders inside.
The key moments of the revolution are shown to be instances where military groups originally charged with defending the status quo refuse to shoot against proletarian marches or militias and instead join with the protesters or cheer them on.
The images often contrast faces with still objects. The workers are juxtaposed with weapons, streets, bridges. The visual setting is spectacular: impressive statues, large exterior views which encompass roads, bridges, canals, masses of people and armies, extended interior views, beautiful decorative objects and art works like Rodin's sculptures.
A lengthy all parties congress held at the Smolny, that involves all kinds of comings and goings, eventually votes that it will be the Bolsheviks who will form a new government after the Winter Palace, the headquarters of the remains of the Kerensky cabinet, is overwhelmed. In these sequences, men are shown scrambling in and out of a doorway again and again and again to represent the enormous numbers of delegates that are participating.
In these scenes, particularly ugly or bizarre looking actors are cast as people intended to appear ridiculous, such as the Mensheviks and provisional government ministers.
The Bolsheviks vote to order their proletarian militias to take over the seat of government. A note giving the military defenders twenty minutes to surrender and quit their posts is passed to the other side by a threesome advancing slowly with white flags of truce.
There are tense waiting periods after the ultimatum to the defending units, and all of them quietly cross over and throw down their weapons. After the twenty minutes there follows a breathtaking sequence in the storming of the huge palace.
While the red guards are ransacking the Tsars apartments, they have a laugh amongst themselves when pulling a decorative cushion off an ornate chair reveals a commode, while framed photos of the deposed tsar and tsarina seem to be looking on.
The rebels eventually enter the room where the cabinet members are, arrest the ministers, and Anatov-Oveyenko signs a proclamation dissolving the provisional government.
A new government announces decrees of peace and of land in November of 1917.