- Before the Russian Revolution, the country was under the rule of the Romanov family.
- The Emperor had the title of Tsar, and Tsar Nicholas II was at the helm during the revolution.
- The revolution started in March 1917.
- Governance did not only involve the Tsar as there was a Russian parliament known as Duma.
- The revolution was largely inspired by the struggles the people of Russia had been going through in the winter of 1916-17.
- There was widespread hunger and lack of fuel, plus the working class were not being paid sufficiently.
The March Revolution was part of a pair of revolutions in Russia in 1917 that ended Tsarist autocracy and led to the rise of the Soviet Union.
After the bloodshed of 1905, Tsar Nicholas II promised the formation of a series of representative assemblies, or Dumas, to work toward reform. The Duma was considered to be the Russian parliament. However, the Tsar’s reactionary policies, including the occasional dissolution of the Duma, the chief fruit of the revolution, spread dissatisfaction even to moderate elements. The Russian Empire’s many ethnic minorities grew increasingly restless under Russian domination.
Russia entered into World War I in August 1914 in support of the Serbs and their French and British allies. Their involvement in the war would prove disastrous for the Russian Empire.
In terms of their military, imperial Russia was no match for industrialised Germany, and Russian casualties were greater than those sustained by any other nation in any previous war. The winter of 1916-17 was very cold and food and fuel shortages plagued Russia as inflation mounted. The economy was hopelessly disrupted by the costly war effort.
Tsar Nicholas left the Russian capital of Petrograd (St. Petersburg) in 1915 to take command of the Russian Army front. It is worth noting that Petrograd, the Russian capital, was St. Petersburg but the name sounded too German so in 1914 the name was changed to the more Russian sounding Petrograd.
The revolution can be thought to have officially started in March 1917 as the bond between the Tsar and most of the Russian people had been broken. Government corruption and inefficiency were rampant. The revolution started through work protests and central to these protests were the Bolsheviks (“Ones of the Majority”) led by Vladimir Lenin, who campaigned for an immediate end to the war, land allocation to the peasants and food and fuel to the workers through better pay. Vladimir Lenin was out of the empire when the actual revolution involving the Duma occurred, however.
Timeline for the Revolution
March 4th: Workers from the largest city factory in Petrograd (the Putilov engineering factory) went on strike over management’s refusal to implement a 50% pay rise, which they needed to feed themselves as Russia was experiencing food shortages.
March 8th: Over 30,000 workers were not paid and were denied access to their workplaces. They could not afford any food. The already striking workers from Petrograd persuaded these workers to join them on strike. Demonstrations occurred throughout the city. Nicholas II was in Petrograd at this time but he ignored them and left to inspect troops at the war front thinking that the demonstrations were the work of hooligans and that the demonstrations would end soon.
March 9th: Nicholas II was wrong to ignore the protests as they began to escalate. Nicholas was briefed on the situation and the Duma advised him to order the release of emergency food supplies. He once again ignored them and ordered that the riots be quelled by March 10.
March 10th: 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 up prisons and released inmates. For the first time, there were nationwide calls for the Tsar to step down. It got to the extent that soldiers and policemen once fighting the protesters joined them. The head of the Duma informed Nicholas II that law and order had collapsed because of the protests. Nicholas II, out of anger decided that the Duma should no longer to meet as he considered their advice useless.
March 11th: Russian Parliament disobeyed Nicholas II and alongside the protests was considered the first act of the Russian Revolution. The members of the Duma met in the ongoing chaos. The Duma was informed that over 25,000 soldiers had mutinied and were marching towards them to support them. They decided to form the Provisional Government, considered to be a temporary government, to take the place of the Tsar.
March 12th: The situation had deteriorated for the royal family and Nicholas II decided to return to Petrograd to restore law and order. The Provisional Government had by now gained considerable control and stopped the train ferrying the royal family outside of Petrograd. They wanted to negotiate Nicholas II’s surrender. The first plan of action was for Alexis, his son, to take over but out of pride, Nicholas II refused as he felt that the boy was too weak. The throne was offered to Grand Duke Michael, his brother, but he did not want it. Nicholas II was forced to abdicate, nevertheless, even though there was no one from the Romanov family to take over.
Royalty began in Russia in 1408 through the Tsar and it can be said that it came to an end in March 1917.
Between March and October of 1917, the Provisional Government was reorganised four times. The first government comprised of liberal ministers, with the exception of the Socialist Revolutionary Aleksandr F. Kerensky. The governments that would soon follow were coalitions. None of them was able to cope adequately with the major problems affecting the country, however, which included peasant land seizures, nationalist independence movements in non-Russian areas and the collapse of army morale at the front.
Meanwhile, Soviets in Petrograd were in far closer contact with the sentiments of the people than the provisional government was. They were well set up in cities, major towns and in the army. They favoured Russian withdrawal from the war. One main reason was that radical socialists increasingly dominated the Soviet movement. At the First All-Russian Congress of Soviets, held on June 3, the Socialist-Revolutionaries 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 Georgiyevich Kornilov. He was increasingly unable to halt Russia’s slide into political, economic and military chaos, however, and his party suffered a major split as the left wing broke from the Socialist Revolutionary Party. But 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 Socialist-Revolutionaries, had overtaken the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks and held majorities with both the Petrograd and Moscow soviets.
Soon the Bolshevik programme of “peace, land and bread” that would serve to tackle issues afflicting Russia had won the party considerable support among the hungry urban workers and the soldiers, who were already deserting their posts in large numbers. Although a previous coup attempt had failed, the time now seemed ripe for another. On October 24–25, the Bolsheviks and Left Socialist-Revolutionaries staged a coup, occupying government buildings, telegraph stations and other strategic points. Kerensky’s attempt to organise resistance proved futile and 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.
What Became of the Royal Family?
The royal family became a problem once the protests had succeeded and the people now known as the communists had taken over in November 1917. They believed that there was still a considerable amount of people who believed in royalty and were willing to fight to have the family restored to power.
To stop this from happening, an order was made for these staunch loyalists to be executed. The Romanov family was under house arrest in Ekaterinburg in the summer of 1918. As they had to leave Russia, they were convinced to head for Germany. They were taken to a secret location, however, which is thought to be a cellar and shot by communist secret police. Their bodies were thrown down a series of wells in a forest so that it was impossible for any relics of them to be found. This officially brought an end to the Romanov dynasty.
In conclusion, the Russian Revolution of 1917 was one of the most explosive political events of the twentieth century. The violent revolution marked the end of the Romanov dynasty and centuries of Russian Imperial rule. During the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks, led by leftist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, seized power and destroyed the tradition of Tsarist rule. The Bolsheviks would later become the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The revolution can be seen to have paved the way for the creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1922.