The revolution was the culmination of a long period of repression and unrest. From the time of Peter I (Peter the Great), the czardom increasingly became an autocratic bureaucracy that imposed its will on the people by force, with wanton disregard for human life and liberty. As Western technology was adopted by the czars, Western humanitarian ideals were acquired by a group of educated Russians. Among this growing intelligentsia, the majority of whom were abstractly humanitarian and democratic, there were also those who were politically radical and even revolutionary. The university became a seat of revolutionary activity; nihilism, anarchism, and later Marxism were espoused and propagated.
The reforms of Alexander II brought the emancipation of the serfs (1861; see Emancipation, Edict of) and opened the way for industrial development. However, emancipation imposed harsh economic conditions on the peasants and did not satisfy their need for farmland. Industrialization concentrated people in urban centers, where the exploited working class was a receptive audience for radical ideas. A reactionary and often ignorant clergy kept religion static and persecuted religious dissenters. Pogroms were instituted against the Jews, which turned many radical Jews to Zionism. Non-Russian nationalities in the empire were repressed.
By 1903, Russia was divided into several political groups. The autocracy was upheld by the landed nobility and the higher clergy; the capitalists desired a constitutional monarchy; the liberal bourgeoisie made up the bulk of the group that later became the Constitutional Democratic party; peasants and intelligentsia were incorporated into the Socialist Revolutionary party; and the workers, influenced by Marxism, were represented in the Bolshevik and Menshevik wings of the Social Democratic Labor party (see Bolshevism and Menshevism).
The Russian Revolution of 1905 began in St. Petersburg on Jan. 22 (Jan. 9, O.S.) when troops fired on a defenseless crowd of workers, who, led by a priest, were marching to the Winter Palace to petition Czar Nicholas II. This "bloody Sunday" was followed in succeeding months by a series of strikes, riots, assassinations, naval mutinies, and peasant outbreaks. These disorders, coupled with the disaster of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5), which revealed the corruption and incompetence of the czarist regime, forced the government to promise the establishment of a consultative duma, or assembly, elected by limited franchise. Nonetheless, unsatisfied popular demands provoked a general strike, and in a manifesto issued in October the czar granted civil liberties and a representative duma to be elected democratically.
The manifesto split the groups that collectively had brought about the revolution. Those who were satisfied with the manifesto formed the Octobrist party. The liberals who wanted more power for the duma consolidated in the Constitutional Democratic party. The Social Democrats, who had organized a soviet, or workers' council, at St. Petersburg, attempted to continue the strike movement and compel social reforms. The government arrested the soviet and put down (Dec., 1905) a workers' insurrection in Moscow.
When order was restored, the czar promulgated the Fundamental Laws, under which the power of the duma was limited. Some attempt at economic reform was made by the czar's minister, Stolypin, but his efforts failed. At the same time Stolypin ruthlessly suppressed the revolutionary movement. When World War I broke out in 1914, most elements of Russia (except the Bolsheviks) united in supporting the war effort. However, the repeated military reverses, the acute food shortages, the appointment of inept ministers, and the intense suffering of the civilian population created a revolutionary climate by the end of 1916. The sinister influence of Rasputin over Czarina Alexandra Feodorovna, whom Nicholas had left in charge of the government when he took personal command of the armed forces in 1915, destroyed all support for the czar except among extreme reactionaries.
By Mar., 1917 (the end of Feb., 1917, O.S., thus the name February Revolution), most of the workers in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) and Moscow were striking and rioting for higher food rations. Many of the soldiers refused to suppress the insurgents; military insubordination and mutiny spread. Nicholas II ineffectually sought to put down the workers by force and also dissolved (Mar. 11, N.S./Feb. 26, O.S.) the Duma. The Duma refused to obey, and the Petrograd insurgents took over the capital. Nicholas was forced to abdicate (Mar. 15, N.S./Mar. 2, O.S.) at Pskov after the Duma had appointed a provisional government composed mainly of moderates; it was headed by Prince Lvov and included Milyukov and Kerensky.
Although most Russians welcomed the end of autocracy, that was the only point on which they agreed. The provisional government had little popular support, and its authority was limited by the Petrograd workers' and soldiers' soviet, which controlled the troops, communications, and transport. The soviet furthered the military breakdown by establishing soldiers' committees throughout the army and making officership elective.
Despite its strength, the soviet at first did not openly seize power; the Socialist Revolutionaries and Mensheviks who initially dominated it believed that at this stage of the revolution the bourgeois provisional government should rule. The government's program called for a general amnesty, broad civil liberties, and a constituent assembly to be elected by universal suffrage. This failed to address two burning issues—continuation of the war and redistribution of land. The government announced that the question of land distribution could only be handled by the future constituent assembly.
In March the soviet demanded peace. Milyukov, the foreign minister, was forced to resign in May after demonstrations against his insistence on continuing the war. The cabinet was reorganized and several other socialists, in addition to Kerensky, were added. Kerensky took over as minister of war, and Viktor Chernov, a Socialist Revolutionary, became minister of agriculture.
In Apr., 1917, Lenin and other revolutionaries returned to Russia after having been permitted by the German government to cross Germany. The Germans hoped that the Bolsheviks would undermine the Russian war effort. Lenin galvanized the small and theretofore cautious Bolshevik party into action. The courses he advocated were simplified into the powerful slogans "end the war," "all land to the peasants," and "all power to the soviets."
The failure of the all-out military offensive in July increased discontent with the provisional government, and disorders and violence in Petrograd led to popular demands for the soviet to seize power. The Bolsheviks assumed direction of this movement, but the soviet still held back. The government then took strong measures against the Bolshevik press and leaders. Nevertheless, the position of the provisional government was precarious.
Prince Lvov resigned in July because of his opposition to Chernov's cautious attempts at land reform. He was replaced by Kerensky, who formed a coalition cabinet with a socialist majority. Army discipline deteriorated after the failure of the July offensive. The provisional government and the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary leaders in the soviet lost support from the impatient soldiers and workers, who turned to the Bolsheviks.
Although the Bolsheviks were a minority in the first all-Russian congress of soviets (June), they continued to gain influence. Conservative and even some moderate elements, who wished to limit the power of the soviets, rallied around General Kornilov, who attempted (September, N.S./August, O.S.) to seize Petrograd by force. At Kerensky's request, the Bolsheviks and other socialists came to the defense of the provisional government and the attempt was put down. From mid-September on the Bolsheviks had a majority in the Petrograd soviet, and Lenin urged the soviet to seize power.
On the night of Nov. 6 (Oct. 24, O.S.), the Bolsheviks staged an coup, engineered by Trotsky; aided by the workers' Red Guard and the sailors of Kronstadt, they captured the government buildings and the Winter Palace in Petrograd. A second all-Russian congress of soviets met and approved the coup after the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries walked out of the meeting. A cabinet, known as the Council of People's Commissars, was set up with Lenin as chairman, Trotsky as foreign commissar, Rykov as interior commissar, and Stalin as commissar of nationalities. The second congress immediately called for cessation of hostilities, gave private and church lands to village soviets, and abolished private property.
Moscow was soon taken by force, and local groups of Bolshevik workers and soldiers gained control of most of the other cities of Russia. The remaining members of the provisional government were arrested (Kerensky had fled the country). Old marriage and divorce laws were discarded, the church was attacked, workers' control was introduced into the factories, the banks were nationalized, and a supreme economic council was formed to run the economy. The long-promised constituent assembly met in Jan., 1918, but its composition being predominantly non-Bolshevik. it was soon disbanded by Bolshevik troops. The Cheka (political police), directed by Dzerzhinsky, was set up to liquidate the opposition.
Negotiations with the Central powers, which had begun late in 1917, resulted in the Russian acceptance (Mar., 1918) of the humiliating Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (see Brest-Litovsk, Treaty of). Most of the lands ceded to Germany under the treaty were home to non-Russian nationalities. The ceded lands and Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan had proclaimed their independence from Russia after the Bolshevik coup. Following Germany's defeat by the Allies and the withdrawal of German troops, the Bolsheviks regained some of the lost territory (Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) during the Russian civil war.
The civil war between the Bolsheviks (Reds) and the anti-Bolsheviks (Whites) ravaged Russia until 1920. The Whites represented all shades of anti-Communist groups, including members of the constituent assembly. Several of their leaders favored setting up a military dictatorship, but few were outspoken czarists.
Armed opposition to the Soviet regime centered at first in the south, where the volunteers under Kornilov (succeeded by Denikin) joined forces with the Don Cossacks. The Ukraine was the scene of fighting after the Germans evacuated it following the general armistice of Nov. 11, 1918; it was seized by the Bolsheviks (early 1919), by Denikin's forces (Aug.-Dec., 1919), again by the Bolsheviks (Dec., 1919), and finally by the Poles (May, 1920), with whom war had broken out over the Russo-Polish frontier question. Denikin in the meantime had turned over his command to General P. N. Wrangel, who after the conclusion of the Russo-Polish armistice was driven by the Bolsheviks into the Crimea and was obliged to evacuate his forces to Constantinople (Nov., 1920).
The civil war in the east was equally fatal to the Whites. A government was organized at Samara by a group of Socialist Revolutionaries who had been members of the constituent assembly. It received the support of the Czech Legion, which controlled the Trans-Siberian RR, but it merged (Sept., 1918) with a more conservative government set up at Omsk, in Siberia, and a few weeks later fell under the dictatorship of Admiral Kolchak. Although at first successful, Kolchak's forces were eventually driven to the Russian Far East; by Jan., 1920, all Siberia except Vladivostok and some other Far Eastern territory was in Bolshevik hands.
The civil war was complicated by Allied intervention. In N Russia, British, French, and American forces occupied (Mar., 1918) Murmansk and later Arkhangelsk with the stated purpose of protecting Allied stores against possible seizure by the Germans; they were evacuated only in Nov., 1919. In the Russian Far East the Allies occupied Vladivostok, which the Japanese held until 1922.
The Bolshevik military victory was due partly to the lack of cooperation among the various White commanders and partly to the remarkable reorganization of the Red forces after Trotsky became commissar for war. It was won, however, only at the price of immense sacrifice; Russia by 1920 was ruined and devastated. Atrocities were committed throughout the civil war by both sides.
See L. Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution (tr. 1932); E. H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, 1917-1923 (3 vol., 1950-53); R. Medvedev, The October Revolution (1985); L. Schapiro, The Russian Revolution of 1917 (1986); W. B. Lincoln, Red Victory (1990); O. Figes, The People's Tragedy (1997); E. Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War (2008).
The Russian Revolution of 1916 refers to a series of popular revolutions in Russia, and the events surrounding them. These revolutions had the effect of completely changing the nature of society within the Russian Empire and transforming the Russian state, which ultimately led to the replacement of the old Tsarist autocracy with the Soviet Union.
The February Revolution (March 1917) was a spontaneous popular revolution focused around St Petersburg. In the chaos, members of the Duma assumed control of the country, forming the Russian Provisional Government. The army leadership felt they did not have the means to suppress the revolution and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, the last Tsar of Russia, abdicated, effectively leaving the Provisional Government in power. The Soviets (workers' councils) which were led by more radical socialist factions initially permitted the new government to rule but insisted on a prerogative to influence the government and control various militias. The February Revolution took place in the context of the First World War, with much of the army in a state of mutiny.
A period of dual power eventuated, in which the Provisional Government held state power and the national network of Soviets, led by socialists, had the allegiance of the lower-class citizens and the political left. During this chaotic period there were frequent mutinies and many strikes. The Provisional Government chose to remain in the war, whereas the policy of the Bolsheviks and other socialist factions was to abandon the war effort. The Bolsheviks formed workers militas into the Red Guards (later the Red Army) over which they exerted substantial control. The Mensheviks, another socialist faction, were also fighting for control over the country at this time.
The October Revolution (November of the Gregorian calendar), in which the Bolshevik party, led by Vladimir Lenin, and the workers' Soviets, overthrew the Provisional Government in Petrograd. The Bolsheviks appointed themselves as leaders of various government ministries and seized control of the countryside, establishing the Cheka to ruthlessly quash dissent. The Bolshevik leadership signed a peace treaty with Germany in March 1918. A civil war erupted between the Red and White (nationalist) factions, which was to continue for several years, with the Bolsheviks ultimately victorious. In this way the Revolution paved the way for the USSR. While many notable historical events occurred in Moscow and Petrograd, there was also a broadly-based movement in cities throughout the state, among national minorities throughout the empire, and in the rural areas, where peasants seized and redistributed land.
At the start of 1917 the country was ripe for revolution — growing rapidly, creating expanded social opportunities but also great uncertainty. Peasant villagers more and more often migrated between agrarian and industrial work environments, and many relocated entirely, creating a growing urban labor force. A middle class of white-collar employees, businessmen, and professionals (the latter group comprising doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists, engineers, etc.) was on the rise. Even nobles had to find new ways to subsist in this changing economy, and contemporaries spoke of new classes forming (proletarians and capitalists, for example), although these classes were also divided along crisscrossing lines of status, gender, age, ethnicity, and belief.
It was becoming harder to speak of clearly-defined social groups or boundaries. Not only were groups fractured in various ways, their defining boundaries were also increasingly blurred by migrating peasants, worker intellectuals, gentry professionals, and the like. There was a general sense that the texture of people's lives was being transformed by a spreading commercial culture which remade the surfaces of material life (buildings, store fronts, advertisements, fashion, clocks and machines) and nurtured new objects of desire.
By 1917, the growth of political consciousness, the impact of revolutionary ideas, and the weak and inefficient system of government (which had been debilitated further by its participation in World War I), should have convinced the emperor, Nicholas II, to take the necessary steps towards reform. In January 1917, in fact, Sir George Buchanan, the British Ambassador in Russia, advised the emperor to "break down the barrier that separates you from your people to regain their confidence." He received little response from Nicholas.
Many of the people of Russia resented the autocracy of Tsar Nicholas II and the corrupt and anachronistic elements in his government. He was seen as being out of touch with the needs and aspirations of the Russian people, the vast majority of whom were victims of the wretched socio-economic conditions which prevailed. Socially, Tsarist Russia stood well behind the rest of Europe in its industry and farming, resulting in few opportunities for fair advancement on the part of peasants and industrial workers. Economically, widespread inflation and food shortages in Russia contributed to the revolution. Militarily, inadequate supplies, logistics, and weaponry led to heavy losses that the Russians suffered during World War I; this further strengthened Russia's view of Nicholas II as weak and unfit to rule. Ultimately, these factors, coupled with the development of revolutionary ideas and movements (particularly during the years following the 1905 Bloody Sunday Massacre), led to the Russian Revolution.
Many workers acquired a sense of self-respect and confidence, heightening expectations and desires. Living in cities, workers encountered material goods such as they had never seen while in the village. Most important, living in cities, they were exposed to new ideas about the social and political order.
The social causes of the Russian Revolution mainly came from centuries of oppression of the lower classes by the Tsarist regime, and Nicholas's failures in World War I. While rural agrarian peasants had been emancipated from serfdom in 1861, they still resented paying redemption payments to the state, and demanded communal tender of the land they worked. The problem was further compounded by the failure of Sergei Witte's land reforms of the early 1900s. Increasing peasant disturbances and sometimes full revolts occurred, with the goal of securing ownership of the land they worked. Russia consisted mainly of poor farming peasants, with 1.5% of the population owning 25% of the land.
The rapid industrialization of Russia also resulted in urban overcrowding and poor conditions for urban industrial workers (as mentioned above). Between 1890 and 1910, the population of the capital, Saint Petersburg, swelled from 1,033,600 to 1,905,600, with Moscow experiencing similar growth. This created a new 'proletariat' which, due to being crowded together in the cities, was much more likely to protest and go on strike than the peasantry had been in previous times. In one 1904 survey, it was found that an average of sixteen people shared each apartment in Saint Petersburg, with six people per room. There was also no running water, and piles of human waste were a threat to the health of the workers. The poor conditions only aggravated the situation, with the number of strikes and incidents of public disorder rapidly increasing in the years shortly before World War I.
World War I only added to the chaos. Conscription swept up the unwilling in all parts of Russia. The vast demand for factory production of war supplies and workers caused many more labor riots and strikes. Conscription stripped skilled workers from the cities, who had to be replaced with unskilled peasants, and then, when famine began to hit due to the poor railway system, workers abandoned the cities in droves to look for food. Finally, the soldiers themselves, who suffered from a lack of equipment and protection from the elements, began to turn against the Tsar. This was mainly because, as the war progressed, many of the officers who were loyal to the Tsar were killed, and were replaced by discontented conscripts from the major cities, who had little loyalty to the Tsar.
Despite constant oppression, the desire of the people for democratic participation in government was strong. Since the Age of Enlightenment, Russian intellectuals had promoted Enlightenment ideals such as the dignity of the individual and of the rectitude of democratic representation. These ideals were championed most vociferously by Russia’s liberals, although populists, Marxists, and anarchists also claimed to support democratic reforms. A growing opposition movement had begun to challenge the Romanov monarchy openly well before the turmoil of World War I. Dissatisfaction with Russian autocracy culminated in the huge national upheaval that followed the Bloody Sunday massacre of January 1905, in which hundreds of unarmed protesters were shot by the Tsar's troops. Workers responded to the massacre with a crippling general strike, forcing Nicholas to put forth the October Manifesto which established a democraticly elected parliament (the State Duma). The Tsar undermined this promise of reform but a year later with Article 87 of the 1906 Fundamental State Laws, and subsequently dismissed the first two Dumas when they proved uncooperative. Unfulfilled hopes of democracy fueled revolutionary ideas and violent outbursts targeted at the monarchy.
One of the Tsar’s principal rationales for risking war in 1914 was his desire to restore the prestige that Russia had lost amid the debacles of the Russo-Japanese war. Nicholas also sought to foster a greater sense of national unity with a war against a common and ancient enemy. The Russian Empire was an agglomeration of diverse ethnicities that had shown significant signs of disunity in the years before the First World War. Nicholas believed in part that the shared peril and tribulation of a foreign war would mitigate the social unrest over the persistent issues of poverty, inequality, and inhuman working conditions. Instead of restoring Russia's political and military standing, World War I led to the horrifying slaughter of Russian troops and military defeats that undermined both the monarchy and society in general to the point of collapse.
Russia's first major battle of the war was a disaster: in the 1914 Battle of Tannenberg, over 30,000 Russian troops were killed or wounded and 90,000 captured, while Germany suffered just 20,000 casualties. However, Austro-Hungarian forces allied to Germany were driven back deep into the Galicia region by the end of the year. In the autumn of 1915, Nicholas had taken direct command of the army, personally overseeing Russia's main theatre of war and leaving his ambitious but incapable wife Alexandra in charge of the government. Reports of corruption and incompetence in the Imperial government began to emerge, and the growing influence of Grigori Rasputin in the Imperial family was widely resented. In the eyes of Lynch, a revisionist historian who focuses on the role of the people, Rasputin was a "fatal disease" to the Tsarist regime.
In 1915, things took a critical turn for the worse when Germany shifted its focus of attack to the Eastern front. The superior German army — better led, better trained and better supplied — was terrifyingly effective against the ill-equipped Russian forces, driving the Russians out of Galicia, as well as Russian Poland, during the Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive campaign. By the end of October 1916, Russia had lost between 1,600,000 and 1,800,000 soldiers, with an additional 2,000,000 prisoners of war and 1,000,000 missing, all making up a total of nearly 5,000,000 men.
These staggering losses played a definite role in the Mutinies which began to occur, and, in 1916, reports of fraternizing with the enemy started to circulate. Soldiers went hungry, and they lacked shoes, munitions, and even weapons. Rampant discontent lowered morale, only to be further undermined by a series of military defeats.
Casualty rates were the most vivid sign of this disaster. Already, by the end of 1914, only five months into the war, nearly 400,000 Russian men had lost their lives and nearly 1,000,000 were injured. Far sooner than expected, scarcely-trained recruits had to be called up for active duty, a process repeated throughout the war as staggering losses continued to mount. The officer class also saw remarkable turnover, especially within the lower echelons, which were quickly filled with soldiers rising up through the ranks. These men, usually of peasant or worker backgrounds, were to play a large role in the politicization of the troops in 1917.
The huge losses on the battlefields were not limited to men. The army quickly ran short of rifles and ammunition (as well as uniforms and food), and, by mid-1915, men were being sent to the front bearing no arms; it was hoped that they could equip themselves with the arms that they recovered from fallen soldiers, of both sides, on the battlefields. With patently good reason, the soldiers did not feel that they were being treated as human beings, or even as valuable soldiers, but rather as raw materials to be squandered for the purposes of the rich and powerful.
By the spring of 1915, the army was in steady retreat, which was not always orderly; desertion, plunder and chaotic flight were not uncommon. By 1916, however, the situation had improved in many respects. Russian troops stopped retreating, and there were even some modest successes in the offensives that were staged that year, albeit at great loss of life. Also, the problem of shortages was largely solved by a major effort to increase domestic production. Nevertheless, by the end of 1916, morale among soldiers was even worse than it had been during the great retreat of 1915. The fortunes of war may have improved, but the fact of the war, still draining away strength and lives from the country and its many individuals and families, remained an oppressive inevitability. The crisis in morale (as was argued by Allan Wildman, a leading historian of the Russian army in war and revolution) "was rooted fundamentally in the feeling of utter despair that the slaughter would ever end and that anything resembling victory could be achieved. The war devastated not only soldiers. By the end of 1915, there were manifold signs that the economy was breaking down under the heightened strain of wartime demand. The main problems were food shortages and rising prices. Inflation shoved real incomes down at an alarmingly rapid rate, and shortages made it difficult to buy even what one could afford. These shortages were especially a problem in the capital, Petrograd (formerly the City of Saint Petersburg), where distance from supplies and poor transportation networks made matters particularly bad. Shops closed early or entirely for lack of bread, sugar, meat and other provisions, and lines lengthened massively for what remained. It became increasingly difficult both to afford and actually buy food.
Not surprisingly, strikes increased steadily from the middle of 1915, and so did crime; but, for the most part, people suffered and endured — scouring the city for food — working-class women in Petrograd reportedly spent about forty hours a week in food lines — begging, turning to prostitution or crime, tearing down wooden fences to keep stoves heated for warmth, grumbling about the rich, and wondering when and how this would all come to an end.
Government officials responsible for public order worried about how long the people's patience would last. A report by the Petrograd branch of the security police, the Okhrana, in October 1916, warned bluntly of "the possibility in the near future of riots by the lower classes of the empire enraged by the burdens of daily existence.
Nicholas was blamed for all of these crises, and what little support he had left began to crumble. As discontent grew, the State Duma issued a warning to Nicholas in November 1916. It stated that, inevitably, a terrible disaster would grip the country unless a constitutional form of government was put in place. In typical fashion, however, Nicholas ignored them, and Russia's Tsarist regime collapsed a few months later during the February Revolution of 1917. One year later, the Tsar and his entire family were executed. Ultimately, Nicholas's inept handling of his country and the War destroyed the Tsars and ended up costing him both his rule and his life.
This revolution broke out without definite leadership and formal plans, which may be seen as indicative of the fact that the Russian people had quite enough of the existing system. Petrograd, the capital, became the focus of attention, and, on February 23 (March 8) 1917, people at the food queues started a demonstration. They were soon joined by many thousands of women textile workers, who walked out of their factories—partly in commemoration of International Women's Day but mainly to protest against the severe shortages of bread. Already, large numbers of men and women were on strike, and the women stopped at any still-operating factories to call on their workers to join them. The mobs marched through the streets, with cries of "Bread!" and "Give us bread!" During the next two days, the strike, encouraged by the efforts of hundreds of rank-and-file socialist activists, spread to factories and shops throughout the capital. By February 25th, virtually every industrial enterprise in Petrograd had been shut down, together with many commercial and service enterprises. Students, white-collar workers and teachers joined the workers in the streets and at public meetings, whilst, in the still-active Duma, liberal and socialist deputies came to realise a potentially-massive problem. They presently denounced the current government even more vehemently and demanded a responsible cabinet of ministers. The Duma, consisting primarily of the bourgeoise, pressed the Tsar to abdicate in order to avert a revolution.
On the evening of Saturday the 25th, with police having lost control of the situation, Nicholas II, who refused to believe the warnings about the seriousness of these events, sent a fateful telegram to the chief of the Petrograd military district, General Sergei Khabalov: "I command you tomorrow to stop the disorders in the capital, which are unacceptable in the difficult time of war with Germany and Austria. Most of the soldiers obeyed these orders on the 26th, but mutinies, often led by lower-ranked officers, spread overnight. On the morning of the 27th, workers in the streets, many of them now armed, were joined by soldiers, sent in by the government to quell the riots. Many of these soldiers were insurgents, however, and they joined the crowd and fired on the police, in many cases little red ribbons tied to their bayonets. The outnumbered police then proceeded to join the army and civilians in their rampage. Thus, with this near-total disintegration of military power in the capital, effective civil authority collapsed.
By nighttime on the 27th, the cabinet submitted its resignation to the Tsar and proposed a temporary military dictatorship, but Russia's military leaders rejected this course. Nicholas, meanwhile, had been on the front with the soldiers, where he had seen first-hand Russia's defeat at Tannenburg. He had become very frustrated and was conscious of the fact that the demonstrations were on a massive scale; indeed, he feared for his life. The ill health of his son (suffering from the blood disorder hemophilia) was causing him difficulties, too. Nicholas accepted defeat at last and abdicated on 13 March, hoping, by this last act of service to his nation (as he stated in his manifesto), to end the disorders and bring unity to Russia. In the wake of this collapse of the 300-year-old Romanov dynasty—Nicholas's brother, to whom he subsequently offered the crown, refused to become Tsar unless that was the decision of an elected government; he wanted the people to want him as their leader—a minority of the Duma's deputies declared themselves a Provisional Government, chaired by Prince Lvov, a moderate reformist, although leadership moved gradually to Alexander Kerensky of the Social Revolutionary Party.
The leaders of the Petrograd Soviet believed that they represented particular classes of the population, not the whole nation. They also believed Russia was not ready for socialism. So they saw their role as limited to pressuring hesitant "bourgeoisie” to rule and to introduce extensive democratic reforms in Russia (the replacement of the monarchy by a republic, guaranteed civil rights, a democratic police and army, abolition of religious and ethnic discrimination, preparation of elections to a constituent assembly, and so on). They met in the same building as the emerging Provisional Government not to compete with the Duma Committee for state power but to best exert pressure on the new government, to act, in other words, as a popular democratic lobby.
The relationship between these two major powers was complex from the beginning and would shape the politics of 1917. The representatives of the Provisional Government agreed to "take into account the opinions of the Soviet of Workers' Deputies," though they were also determined to prevent "interference in the actions of the government," which would create "an unacceptable situation of dual power. In fact, this was precisely what was being created, though this "dual power" (dvoevlastie) was the result less of the actions or attitudes of the leaders of these two institutions than of actions outside their control, especially the ongoing social movement taking place on the streets of Russia’s cities, in factories and shops, in barracks and in the trenches, and in the villages.
A series of political crises—see the chronology below—in the relationship between population and government and between the Provisional government and the soviets (which developed into a nationwide movement with a national leadership, The All-Russian Central Executive Committee of Soviets (VTsIK)) undermined the authority of the Provisional Government but also of the moderate socialist leaders of the Soviet. Although the Soviet leadership initially refused to participate in the "bourgeois" Provisional Government, Alexander Kerensky, a young and popular lawyer and a member of the Social Revolutionary Party (SRP), agreed to join the new cabinet, and he became an increasingly central figure in the government, eventually taking leadership of the Provisional Government. As minister of war and later Prime Minister, Kerensky promoted freedom of speech, released thousands of political prisoners, did his very best to continue the war effort and even organised a new offensive (which, however, was no more successful than its predecessors). Nevertheless, Kerensky still faced several great challenges, highlighted by the soldiers, urban workers and peasants, who claimed that they had gained nothing by the revolution:
The political group which proved most troublesome for Kerensky, and would eventually overthrow him, was the Bolshevik Party, led by Vladimir Lenin. Lenin had been living in exile in neutral Switzerland and, due to the democratization of politics after the February Revolution which legalized formerly banned political parties, he perceived the opportunity for his Marxist revolution. Although return to Russia had become a possibility, the war made it logistically difficult. Eventually, German officials arranged for Lenin to pass through their territory, hoping that his activities would weaken Russia or even--if the Bolsheviks came to power--lead to Russia's withdrawal from the war. Lenin and his associates, however, had to agree to travel to Russia in a sealed train: Germany would not take the chance that he would foment revolution in Germany. After passing through the front, he arrived in Petrograd in April 1917.
With Lenin's arrival, the popularity of the Bolsheviks increased steadily. Over the course of the spring, public dissatisfaction with the Provisional Government and the war, in particular among workers, soldiers and peasants, pushed these groups to radical parties. Despite growing support for the Bolsheviks, buoyed by maxims that called most famously for "all power to the Soviets," the party held very little real power in the moderate dominated Petrograd Soviet. In fact, historians such as Sheila Fitzpatrick have asserted that Lenin's exhortations for the Soviet Council to take power were intended to arouse indignation both with the Provisional Government, whose policies were viewed as conservative, and the Soviet itself, which was viewed as subservient to the conservative government. By most historians' accounts, Lenin and his followers were unprepared for how their groundswell of support, especially among influential worker and soldier groups, would translate into real power in summer, 1917.
On June 18, the Provisional Government launched an attack against Germany which failed miserably. Soon after, the military ordered the Petrograd to go to the front reneging a previously made promise and the soldiers refused to follow the new orders. The arrival of radical Kronstadt sailors, who had tried and executed many officers, including one admiral, further fueled the growing revolutionary atmosphere. The sailors and soldiers, along with Petrograd workers, took to the streets in violent protest, calling for "all power to the Soviets." The revolt, however, was disowned by Lenin and the Bolshevik leaders and dissipated within a few days. In the aftermath, Lenin fled to Finland under threat of arrest while Trotsky, among other prominent Bolsheviks, was arrested. The July Days confirmed the popularity of the anti-war, radical Bolsheviks, but their unpreparedness at the moment of revolt was an embarrassing gaffe which resulted in loss of support among their main constituent groups--soldiers and workers.
The Bolshevik failure in the July Days proved temporary, though. In August, poor, or misleading, communication led General Lavr Kornilov, the recently appointed Supreme Commander of Russian military forces, to believe that the Petrograd government had been captured by radicals, or was in serious danger thereof. In response, he ordered troops to Petrograd to pacify the city. In order to secure his position, Kerensky had to ask for Bolshevik assistance. He also sought help from the Petrograd Soviet, which called upon armed Red Guards to "defend the revolution." The Kornilov Affair failed largely due to the efforts of the Bolsheviks, whose influence over railroad and telegraph workers proved vital in stopping the movement of troops. With his coup failing, Kornilov surrendered and was relieved of his position. The Bolsheviks' role in stopping the attempted coup immensely strengthened their position.
In early September, the Soviet Council freed the jailed Bolsheviks and Trotsky became chairman of the Petrograd Soviet. Growing numbers of socialists and lower-class Russians viewed the government less and less as a force in support of their needs and interests. The Bolsheviks benefited as the only major organized opposition party which had refused to compromise with the Provisional Government, and they benefited from growing frustration and even disgust with other parties, such as the Mensheviks and SRs, who stubbornly refused to break with the idea of national unity across all classes.
In Finland, Lenin had worked on his book State and Revolution and continued to lead his party writing newspaper articles and policy decrees. By October, he returned to Petrograd, aware that the increasingly radical city presented him no legal danger and a second opportunity for revolution. The Bolshevik Central Committee drafted a resolution, calling for the dissolution of the Provisional Government in favor of the Petrograd Soviet. The resolution was passed 10-2 (Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev prominently dissenting) and the October Revolution began.
The October Revolution was led by Vladimir Lenin and was based upon Lenin's writing on the ideas of Karl Marx, a political ideology often known as Marxism-Leninism. It marked the beginning of the spread of communism in the twentieth century. It was far less sporadic than the revolution of February and came about as the result of deliberate planning and coordinated activity to that end. Though Lenin was the leader of the Bolshevik Party, it has been argued that since Lenin wasn't present during the actual takeover of the Winter Palace, it was really Trotsky's organization and direction that led the revolution, spurred by the motivation Lenin instigated within his party. Critics on the Right have long argued that the financial and logistical assistance of German intelligence via their key agent, Alexander Parvus was a key component as well, though historians are divided, for the evidence is sparse.
On November 7, 1917, Bolshevik leader Vladimir I. Lenin led his leftist revolutionaries in a revolt against the ineffective Provisional Government (Russia was still using the Julian Calendar at the time, so period references show an October 25 date). The October revolution ended the phase of the revolution instigated in February, replacing Russia's short-lived provisional parliamentary government with government by soviets, local councils elected by bodies of workers and peasants. Liberal and monarchist forces, loosely organized into the White Army, immediately went to war against the Bolsheviks' Red Army.
Soviet membership was initially freely elected, but many members of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, anarchists, and other leftists opposed the Bolsheviks through the soviets. When it became clear that the Bolsheviks had little support outside of the industrialized areas of Saint Petersburg and Moscow, they barred non-Bolsheviks from membership in the soviets. Other socialists revolted and called for "a third revolution." The most notable instances were the Tambov rebellion, 1919–1921, and the Kronstadt rebellion in March 1921. These movements, which made a wide range of demands and lacked effective coordination, were eventually defeated along with the White Army during the Civil War.
Also during the Civil War, Nestor Makhno led a Ukrainian anarchist movement allied with the Bolsheviks thrice, one of the powers ending the alliance each time. However, a Bolshevik force under Mikhail Frunze destroyed the Makhnovist movement, when the Makhnovists refused to merge into the Red Army. In addition, the so-called "Green Army" (nationalists and anarchists) played a secondary role in the war, mainly in Ukraine.
The confusion regarding Stalin's position on the issue stems from the fact that he, after Lenin's death in 1924, successfully used Lenin's argument—the argument that socialism's success needs the workers of other countries in order to happen—to defeat his competitors within the party by accusing them of betraying Lenin and, therefore, the ideals of the October Revolution.
|1855||Start of reign of Tsar Alexander II.|
|1861||Emancipation of the serfs.|
|1874–81||Growing anti-government terrorist movement and government reaction.|
|1881||Alexander II assassinated by revolutionaries; succeeded by Alexander III.|
|1883||First Russian Marxist group formed.|
|1894||Start of reign of Nicholas II.|
|1898||First Congress of Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP).|
|1900||Foundation of Socialist Revolutionary Party (SR).|
|1903||Second Congress of Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Beginning of split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.|
|1904–5||Russo-Japanese War; Russia loses war.|
|1905||Russian Revolution of 1905.|
|1906||First State Duma. Prime Minister: Petr Stolypin. Agrarian reforms begin.|
|1907||Second State Duma, February–June.|
|1907||Third State Duma, until 1912.|
|1912||Fourth State Duma, until 1917. Bolshevik/Menshevik split final.|
|1914||Germany declares war on Russia.|
|1915||Serious defeats, Nicholas II declares himself Commander in Chief.|
|1916||Food and fuel shortages and high prices. Progressive Bloc formed.|
|1917||Strikes, mutinies, street demonstrations lead to the fall of autocracy.|
|Gregorian Date||Julian Date||Event|
|January||Strikes and unrest in Petrograd|
|March 8th||February 23rd||International Women's Day: strikes and demonstrations in Petrograd, growing over the next few days.|
|March 11th||February 26th||50 demonstrators killed in Znamenskaya Square Tsar Nicholas II prorogues the State Duma and orders commander of Petrograd military district to suppress disorders with force.|
|March 12th||February 27th||* Troops refuse to fire on demonstrators, deserters. Prisons, courts, and police bumbs attacked and looted by angry crowds.|
|March 14th||March 1st||Order No.1 of the Petrograd Soviet.|
|March 15th||March 2nd||Nicholas II abdicates. Provisional Government formed under Prime Minister Prince Lvov.|
|April 16th||April 3rd||Return of Lenin to Russia. He publishes his April Theses.|
|May 3rd–4th||April 20th–21st||"April Days": mass demonstrations by workers, soldiers, and others in the streets of Petrograd and Moscow triggered by the publication of the Foreign Minister Miliukov's note to the allies, which was interpreted as affirming commitment to the war policies of the old government. First Provisional Government falls.|
|May 18th||May 5th||First Coalition Government forms when socialists, representatives of the Soviet leadership, agree to enter the cabinet of the Provisional Government. Kerensky, the only socialist already in the government, made minister of war and navy.|
|June 16th||June 3rd||First All-Russian Congress of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies opens in Petrograd. Closed on 24th. Elects Central Executive Committee of Soviets (VTsIK), headed by Mensheviks and SRs.|
|June 23rd||June 10th||Planned Bolshevik demonstration in Petrograd banned by the Soviet.|
|June 29th||June 16th||Kerensky orders offensive against Austro-Hungarian forces. Initial success only.|
|July 1st||June 18th||Official Soviet demonstration in Petrograd for unity is unexpectedly dominated by Bolshevik slogans: "Down with the Ten Capitalist Ministers", "All Power to the Soviets".|
|July 15th||July 2nd||Russian offensive ends. Trotsky joins Bolsheviks.|
|July 16th–17th||July 3rd–4th||The "July Days"; mass armed demonstrations in Petrograd, encouraged by the Bolsheviks, demanding "All Power to the Soviets".|
|July 19th||July 6th||German and Austro-Hungarian counter-attack. Russians retreat in panic, sacking the town of Tarnopol. Arrest of Bolshevik leaders ordered.|
|July 20th||July 7th||Lvov resigns and asks Kerensky to become Prime Minister and form a new government. Established July 25th.|
|August 4th||July 22nd||Trotsky and Lunacharskii arrested.|
|September 8th||August 26th||Second coalition government ends.|
|September 8th–12th||August 26th–30th||"Kornilov mutiny". Begins when the commander-in-chief of the Russian army, General Lavr Kornilov, demands (or is believed by Kerensky to demand) that the government give him all civil and military authority and moves troops against Petrograd.|
|September 13th||August 31st||Majority of deputies of the Petrograd Soviet approve a Bolshevik resolution for an all-socialist government excluding the bourgeoisie.|
|September 14th||September 1st||Russia declared a republic|
|September 17th||September 4th||Trotsky and others freed.|
|September 18th||September 5th||Bolshevik resolution on the government wins majority vote in Moscow Soviet.|
|October 2nd||September 19th||Moscow Soviet elects executive committee and new presidium, with Bolshevik majorities, and the Bolshevik Viktor Nogin as chairman.|
|October 8th||September 25th||Third coalition government formed. Bolshevik majority in Petrograd Soviet elects Bolshevik Presidium and Trotsky as chairman.|
|October 23rd||October 10th||Bolshevik Central Committee meeting approves armed uprising.|
|October 24th||October 11th||Congress of Soviets of the Northern Region, until October 13th.|
|November 2nd||October 20th||First meeting of the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet.|
|November 7th||October 25th||October Revolution is launched as MRC directs armed workers and soldiers to capture key buildings in Petrograd. Winter Palace attacked at 9:40pm and captured at 2am. Kerensky flees Petrograd. Opening of the 2nd All-Russian Congress of Soviets.|
|November 8th||October 26th||Second Congress of Soviets: Mensheviks and right SR delegates walk out in protest against the previous day's events. Congress approves transfer of state authority into its own hands and local power into the hands of local soviets of workers', soldiers', and peasants' deputies, abolishes capital punishment, issues Decree on Peace and Decree on Land, and approves the formation of an all-Bolshevik government, the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom), with Lenin as chairman.|
Orwell, George. "Animal Farm"