See A. de Tocqueville, Recollections (new tr. 1970); studies by D. C. McKay (1933, repr. 1965) and G. Duveau (1965, tr. 1968).
This revolution appeared to break out spontaneously, without any real leadership or formal planning. The tensions which had for so long been building up finally exploded into a revolution, and the western state of Petrograd (the City of Saint Petersburg prior to the war) became the focal point of activity. An illustration of just how large Russia was is that it took some years for eastern parts of the country to realise that a revolution had actually taken place.
The February Revolution was followed in the same year by the October Revolution, bringing about Bolshevik rule and a change in Russia's social structure, while also paving the way for the USSR. Two revolutions were required in order to change the composition of the country: the first overthrew the Tsar, and the second instituted a new form of government.
Among the key problems facing Russia in the decades preceding the February Revolution were:
From these conditions sprung considerable agitation among peasants as well as the small working and professional classes. This tension had erupted into general revolt with the 1905 Revolution, and did so again under the strain of total war in 1917.
The 1917 February Revolution occurred both because of Russian military failures during the First World War and because of public dissatisfaction with the manner in which the country was being run by Tsarina Alexandra Fyodorovna of Hesse, and Tsar Nicholas's ministers, who were acting on his authority whilst he was away at the Army Headquarters as Commander-in-Chief. A telegram from Octobrist politician Mikhail Rodzianko to the Tsar on 26 February 1917, in which Rodzianko begged for a strong, capable minister, serves to illustrate the lack of strong follwership-ship/gregory joe under this arrangement.
The personal assumption of military command by the Tsar in itself was a cause of much tension, for involvement in the war was seen to be the root of the majority of the (primarily economic) problems which Russia was experiencing internally. The public's association of the Tsar's with the unpopular war served only to worsen further his already-wavering position.
Controversy also surrounded the influence of Grigori Rasputin among the Russian royal family, with particular speculation arising regarding his relationship with the Tsarina -- resulting in the assassination of Rasputin by members of the extended royal family. Furthermore, Alexandra's German heritage made her an unpopular figurehead for the Romanovs in Petrograd while Russia was at war with Germany.
In August 1914, all political parties (apart from the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks of the Social Democratic Labour Party) had supported Russia's participation in the First World War, as part of the Triple Entente. After a few initial victories, the Tsar's armies were confronted with a number of very serious defeats -- particularly in East Prussia. More than 1,700,000 Russian soldiers were killed, and 5,900,000 injured. Mutinies sprang up often, with morale at its lowest, and the officers and commanders were at times most incompetent. Some units, indeed, went to the front line with ammunition that was incompatible with their weapons. Over 140,000 desertions occurred in just one year. Russia's considerable losses were caused partly by its unproductive factories, insufficient railway system, and generally poor logistics.
On the home front, a famine was looming and commodities were becoming scarce. The Russian economy, which had just seen one of the highest growth rates in Europe, was blocked from the continent's markets as a result of the war. The Duma, composed of liberal deputies, warned Tsar Nicholas II of the impending danger and counselled him to form a new constitutional government, like that which he had dissolved after some short-term attempts in the aftermath of the 1905 Revolution. The Tsar ignored the Duma's advice.
Clashes with the police, who found the crowds impossible to control, resulted in numerous casualties on both sides, and demonstrators armed themselves by looting the police headquarters. On February 25, after three days of such riotous anarchy, the Tsar sent a large battalion of soldiers to the city to quell the uprising. Although the soldiers killed many demonstrators, they grew progressively sympathetic to the crowds, and deserted their officers to join the protesters. The addition of soldiers helped to arm the revolt, and many of them were soon firing on the hapless police, who quickly succumbed and joined the demonstrations as well.
A provisional government was formed at the initiative of Alexander Guchkov's Progressive Block, and took control of the Russian state apparatus, but the socialists also formed the Petrograd Soviet (or workers' council). The Petrograd Soviet and the Provisional Government competed for the power over Russia.
"All orders issued by the Military Commission of the State Duma [the Provisional Government] shall be carried out, except those which run counter to the orders and decrees issued by the SovietOrder No. 1 thus ensured that the Dual Authority occurred on the Soviet's conditions. As the provisional government was not a publicly elected body (having been self-proclaimed by committee members of the old Duma), it lacked the political legitimacy to question this arrangement.
The Provisional Government was initially chaired by a liberal aristocrat, Prince Georgy Yevgenyevich Lvov, a member of the Constitutional Democratic party (KD). He stepped down from power after the unrest called the July Days. He was succeeded by a Social Revolutionary, Alexander Kerensky. Kerensky declared freedom of speech, released thousands of political prisoners and did his best to maintain Russian involvement in World War I, but he faced numerous challenges, most of them related to the war:
To pressure the Government, the Estonian population living in Petrograd organized, on March 26, a massive demonstration with 40,000 participants (including 12-15,000 soldiers) where tri-colored flags of blue, black, and white were waved. The Provisional Government confirmed its giving local authority to Estonia on March 30, 1917.
Vladimir Lenin, exiled in neutral Switzerland, arrived in Petrograd on April 3. He immediately began to undermine the provisional government, issuing his April's Theses the next month. These theses were in favour of "revolutionary defeatism", as opposed to the "imperialist war" (whose "link to the Capital" must be demonstrated to the masses) and the "Social-Chauvinists" (such as Georgi Plekhanov the grandfather of Russian socialism), who supported the war.Lenin also took control of the Bolshevik movement and stirred up the proletariat against the government with simple but meaningful slogans such as "Peace, bread and land", "End the war", "All power to the Soviets" and "All land to the peasants". Finally, he announced the necessary creation of a new International to replace the defunct Second International, dissolved in 1916 after the 1915 Zimmerwald Conference.
Initially, neither Lenin nor his ideas enjoyed widespread support. In July, the Petrograd garrison refused to follow the army's plans to continue the war against Germany, demonstrating fiercely against them, and Lenin attempted to exploit the mutiny and, by supporting the garrison, arrange a Bolshevik coup. Kerensky, however, still had enough support to bring a halt to the resultant unrest. Faced with exile once more, Lenin fled to Finland. With the Petrograd Soviet (and other socialist movements, based in all large cities) generally opposed to the provisional government and its Prime Minister, Kerensky found himself now with two formidable opponents in the Soviets and the Bolsheviks.
Another trying issue with which Kerensky was faced arose when General Lavr Kornilov, Commander-in-Chief of the army, attempted to seize power by marching with an army toward Petrograd. Kerensky asked the Soviets and Bolsheviks for assistance. The Soviets called out their volunteers, the Trotsky-founded "Red Guards". The propaganda efforts by the revolutionaries made Kornilov lose the support of his troops and much of the public, which feared that he would try to restore the Tsar. The army of Kornilov suffered from sabotage and desertions, and capitulated immediately when it reached Petrograd.Kerensky was unable to deal with the problems that he and Russia faced. Pressure from the right (such as those behind the Kornilov Affair), from the left (mainly the Bolsheviks) and pressure from the Allies, to continue the war against Germany, put the government under increasing strain. The conflict between the "diarchy" became obvious, and, ultimately, the regime and the Dual Authority formed between the Petrograd Soviet and the Provisional Government instigated by the February Revolution was replaced in the October Revolution.