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- Prelude to the February Revolution
- Events of the February Revolution
- Aftermath of the February Revolution
Key Facts And Information
Let’s know more about February Revolution!
- The February Revolution was the first of two revolutions that took place in the Russian Empire in 1917. It was largely stirred up by widespread hunger, poor working conditions, and military failures against a backdrop of long-standing discontent with the monarchy.
- Lasting about eight days, it involved mass demonstrations and violent armed clashes that led to the end of the tsarist autocracy. As a result, the establishment of a dual power shared by the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet was effected. However, this was later overthrown by the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution.
Prelude to the February Revolution
- In 1894, Nicholas II became the ruler of the Russian Empire. The general population, which included the workers and peasants, lived in poverty while the aristocracy dwelled in luxury.
- By this point, Russia had had a long history of struggles against the injustices of the system until a revolution in 1905 forced the tsar to allow the creation of a national assembly.
- This national assembly had limited power, however, and the compromise was barely tolerated by both the tsar and the reformers.
- Moreover, the tsar's reactionary policies, including the closing of the Duma, spread dissatisfaction even among moderate elements and the empire's many ethnic minorities grew increasingly restless under Russian domination.
- The outbreak of the First World War plunged the divided empire into a fresh crisis in 1914, with the country suffering a series of defeats on the front, while at home food shortages and economic chaos swept across the land.
- During the war, the empire was in support of the Serbs and their French and British allies. The economy was hopelessly disrupted by the costly war effort.
- The tsar took personal command of the Russian army and was thus held responsible for the crisis.
- Whilst he was away directing the Russian troops, his wife Tsarina Alexandra ruled the government.
- The people started to fear that Tsarina Alexandra, who was of German ethnicity, could have been supporting Germany.
- This coupled with the fact that the imperial family was now acquainted with Grigori Rasputin, a man veiled by a cloak of controversy and mystery, made the Russian population anxious.
Triggers for revolt
- Incompetence of Tsar Nicholas II: Due to his lack of knowledge in the tactics of war, Nicholas II failed to rule effectively during the First World War, which caused suffering to both Russian civilians and soldiers. He was detached from the plight of the Russian people and refused to compromise in order to protect his absolute power.
- Influence of Tsarina and Rasputin: The majority of the Russian public and members of the government felt distrust towards Tsarina Alexandra’s increasing influence in ruling Russia. Her devotion to charismatic leader Rasputin also weakened her image. Rasputin was murdered in 1916 by Russian aristocrats to end his influence over the tsar.
- Impact of the First World War: Russia’s military defeat in the First World War caused massive casualties and economic decline. Inflation increased and civilians experienced famine. The war became a total disaster for Russians who blamed the tsarist regime for the suffering.
- Economic decline and food scarcity: In order to fund the war efforts, Russia printed excess paper money, which later resulted in hyperinflation and, by late 1916, the inflation rate had reached 400%. Both peasants and city workers suffered shortages and deteriorating living conditions. With severe shortages of basic needs even in Moscow, social unrest became inevitable.
- The combination of these factors led to a series of strikes and demonstrations. In fact, in January 1917, 140,000 workers went on strike in Petrograd in commemoration of Bloody Sunday. Rioting broke out in the city the following month with crowds attacking bakeries.
Events of the February Revolution
- In March 1917, in what became known as the February Revolution, thousands of women marched on the then capital, Petrograd, to mark the International Women’s Day, and to protest over bread shortages. Strikers and other workers joined the protests.
- Despite occurring in March, the February Revolution was called as such because at the time Russia still used the Julian calendar. It is also sometimes known as the March Revolution.
- 4 March Workers from the largest city factory in Petrograd, the Putilov Engineering Plantith, went on strike over the management’s refusal to implement a 50% pay rise, needed to feed themselves as Russia was experiencing food shortages.
- 8 March Due to food scarcity, huge numbers of working women began to gather in the streets of Petrograd. The slogan “Daite khleb”, meaning “Give us bread!”, was heard.
- Moreover, many civilians were angered as they believed that the tsar’s commanding capability was inadequate. People were also furious with Nicholas II’s attempt to dissolve the Duma. The already striking workers from Petrograd joined the protests, and demonstrations occurred throughout the city.
- Nicholas II was in Petrograd at this time but chose to ignore the strikers and left to inspect troops at the war front.
- 9 March The protests escalated. Nicholas II was briefed on the situation and the Duma advised him to order the release of emergency food supplies. He ignored them and ordered that the riots be quelled by the following day. His thinking was that the demonstrations were the work of hooligans and that the demonstrations would soon end.
- 10 March As reports of riots in Petrograd were ignored, the upheaval in the capital continued.
- Protesters began to attack police stations. The majority of city workers joined the strike, leaving the entire city without electricity or water. The Russian police attempted to carry out Nicholas II’s orders to end the riots. Scores of people were killed and injured, which fuelled the riots.
- The rioting workers opened prisons, releasing inmates, and for the first time there were nationwide calls for the tsar to step down, to the extent that soldiers and policemen once fighting the protesters joined them. They were yelling “Down with the war!” and “Down with the tsar!”.
- 11 March The head of the Duma informed Nicholas II that law and order had collapsed because of the protests. In anger, Nicholas II decided that the Duma should no longer meet as he considered their advice useless. With growing numbers, the demonstrators were joined by the tsar’s own army. A mutiny plunged the city into total chaos. Arsenals were raided, shops were looted, prisoners were set free, and government buildings were burned.
- 12 March The members of the Duma met in the ongoing chaos and disobeyed Nicholas II. The Duma was informed that over 25,000 soldiers had mutinied and were marching to support them. They decided to form the Provisional Committee of the State Duma, considered to be a temporary government, to take the place of the tsar.
- At the same time, the socialists re-established the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, which issued Order #1, announcing that soldiers had the right to elect their own officers.
- 13 March The tsar left for Petrograd to restore law and order but was unable to reach the city as revolutionaries controlled the railway stations around the capital.
- 14 March The units guarding the imperial family at the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo either "declared their neutrality" or left for Petrograd.
- 15 March The train ferrying the imperial family out of Petrograd was stopped. The Provisional Committee wanted to negotiate Nicholas II’s surrender. The first plan of action was for the tsar's son, Alexis, to take over, but Nicholas II refused as he felt that the boy was too weak.
- The throne was then offered to his brother Grand Duke Michael, who declined to accept it. Nevertheless, Nicholas II was forced to abdicate even though there was no one from the Romanov family to take over. The 300-year-old Romanov dynasty in Russia came to an end.
- 16 March The Provisional Committee replaced the tsarist regime with a Provisional Government.
- The Provisional Government published its manifesto declaring itself the governing body of the Russian Empire.
- The Provisional Government had by now gained considerable control, with Prince Georgy Yevgenyevich Lvov becoming its leader. While the Provisional Government represented the bourgeoisie, the Petrograd Soviet represented the proletariat or working class. Furthermore, the Petrograd Soviet held de facto supremacy and the support of the majority of the population. Dvoyevlastiye was established with the dual power shared between the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet.
Aftermath of the February Revolution
- The Provisional Government was reorganised four times between March and October 1917. At the same time, the Petrograd Soviet competed for political power.
- The first Provisional Government was composed of liberal ministers, with the exception of the Socialist Revolutionary Alexander Kerensky.
- The governments that would follow were coalitions.
- None of them were able to cope adequately with the major problems affecting the country, which included peasant land seizures, nationalist independence movements in non-Russian areas and the collapse of army morale at the front.
- Meanwhile, the Petrograd Soviet was far more in touch with the sentiments of the people than the Provisional Government.
- Soviets (councils) were well set up in cities, major towns, and the army. They favoured Russian withdrawal from the war as radical socialists increasingly dominated the Soviet movement.
- At the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets held on 3 June, the Socialist-Revolutionaries (SRs) were the largest single bloc, followed by the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks.
- Kerensky became head of the Provisional Government in July and derailed a coup attempt by army commander-in-chief Lavr Kornilov.
- He was unable to halt Russia’s slide into political, economic and military chaos, and his party suffered a major split as the left wing broke from the Socialist Revolutionary Party.
- While the Provisional Government’s power declined, that of the Soviets increased, as did the Bolsheviks’ influence within them.
- By September, the Bolsheviks and their allies, the Left SRs, had overtaken the SRs and the Mensheviks, and held majorities with both the Petrograd and Moscow soviets.
- The Bolshevik programme of ‘peace, land and bread’ that served to tackle issues afflicting Russia won the party considerable support among the hungry urban workers and soldiers who were already deserting their posts in large numbers.
- Although a previous coup attempt had failed, the time now seemed ripe for another.
- In October, the Bolsheviks and Left SRs staged a coup, occupying government buildings, telegraph stations and other strategic points.
- Following Kerensky’s futile attempt to organise resistance, he fled the country.
- The Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets, which convened in Petrograd simultaneously with the coup, approved the formation of a new government composed mainly of Bolshevik commissars. The dual power shared between the Petrograd Soviet and the Provisional Government was suppressed by the Bolsheviks in what came to be known as the October Revolution.