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Internal Divisions and Crises

The February Revolution

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Christian Bien Portrait_edited.jpg

Ben Whitten

Learning Objectives


Causes of the Revolution

Russia’s Political Failures

● The monarchy was failing (political failures)

● Tsar Nicholas II was incompetent; he failed to come to terms with Russia’s political reality

● The current circumstances; while living and working conditions plummeted and the people called for political reform, Nicholas maintained his belief in the autocracy – refused to commit to anything that would reduce his power

● As a consequence, the dragging on of WWI meant that Russia gave up on the Tsar

Homefront under Tsarina Alexandra

● Quote unpopular from start, publicly awkward, german (War enemy)

● Tsarina’s reputation worsened when she became close to Rasputin

Grigori Rasputin – a mystic healer from Siberia who supposedly cured their son from haemophilia

● Alexandra placed an enormous amount of trust in Rasputin who Russians disliked for his antisocial behaviour and drunkenness – Rasputin accumulated vast political power

● As a consequence, the monarchy became a joke; Rasputin symbolised everything that was wrong with the Royal Family

Russia’s Economic Crisis

Russian industry had almost entirely collapsed by February 1917 – due to ww1 raw materials that Russia needed to manufacture weapons, ammunition and other supplies couldn’t be imported – production came to a complete halt, mass shortages

Weak agricultural production– many peasants were conscripted, creating a labour shortage on peasant holdings – war affected the physical environment, destroying farmland in Poland and Lithuania

Failing transport infrastructure (already weak) – the majority of the railway system was diverted to the war effort – barely any food reaches the cities – in 1917, Petrograd only received enough food for half its inhabitants

Impact on people – these economic problems of industry, agriculture and transport made life almost impossible and created civil unrest

What was happening – peasants began to hoard grain, leading to food shortages in cities

● Growth of urban populations exacerbated this problem and placed more pressure on housing and other essential services

● As a consequence, the citizens of Russia became angrier and angrier

Impact of WWI

● Russian inhabitants were sick of sacrificing land, people, money and time to a failing war

● As commander-in-chief the tsar deserted the Homefront and failed to improve Russia’s war performance

● Tsar became a target for Russian discontent

The Events of the Revolution

Early Stages

● On the 22nd of February 1917, metal workers in Petrograd went on strike to protest the failures of government and Russia’s continuing involvement in WWI

● They were joined the next day by women who looted bakeries to protest bread rationing and food shortages (this was a part of an International Women’s Day demonstration)

● The revolution, despite being a spontaneous event, grew and grew

● The royal family initially dismissed the strikes as a ‘hooligan movement’ and did little to stop it

● 1500 dead, several thousand wounded

● 28th of February 1917, capitol is out of control – there is a significant growth in crime and increase of violence

The Tsar Responds

● After a few weeks of strikes and protests, the Tsar (who was still away at war) ordered the soldiers in Petrograd to attack protestors and restore order

● Soldiers refused to fire on the crowds – many of them broke ranks and joined the protests, sometimes shooting their commanding officers

● The Petrograd Soviet was formed to represent the protestors

● Realising the situation was quickly spiralling out of control, the Tsar tried to return to Petrograd, but his train was deliberately diverted to Pskov

The End of Tsardom

● Unable to save his regime, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated on the 15th of March 1917

● He passed the role of Tsar to his brother Michael who refused the position, and 300 years of Tsardom was over

● Tsar Nicholas II were deeply out of touch with the needs and wants of the majority of the Russian population – many of the Tsar’s reforms introduced after the 1905 Revolution still served the interests of Russia’s wealthy – the outbreak of WWI put more pressure than ever on Russia’s poor, most of whom were struggling to survive

● His abdication was inevitable according to some historians

Outcomes of the Revolution

The Petrograd Soviet

● The first of two political bodies to fill the vacuum left by the Tsar’s abdication

● It was a workers’ and soldiers’ council made up of elected representatives who served the interests of Petrograd’s soldiers and workers – this was Russia’s first soviet, but it proved to be a popular form of political organisation – Soviets soon popped up all over the country

● Several revolutionary groups, such as the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, were actively involved in the Petrograd Soviet – meetings were rowdy, but the process was far more democratic than anything Russia had experienced before

● The Petrograd Soviet issued Order No. 1, which effectively placed the city’s armed forces under its control – Article 4 states that…


● 1905 revolution to 1917 revolution – the army is on the people’s side following the revolution

● 14 million men mobilised in the war, approximately half of them killed, wounded or prisoners of war

● Peasant and lower-class men (who were liberalists and socialists) were replacing aristocratic officers

● Soldiers were enscripted sympathetic to the people and desperate not to be sent to the Front lines

● Generals considered Tsar Nicholas II a liability and played a crucial role to not intervene to save the monarch – ‘inaction causes the biggest reaction’

Summary of Events

● In 1917, a wave of popular unrest swept Nicholas II from office and the Romanov dynasty to oblivion

● By the time he abdicated it was clear that support for him had almost universally collapsed and that there were few people left who wanted to see him continuing to run the country

● The final push came from the workers in Petrograd, who came out of the winter with little prospect of any improvement on the horizon

● Strikes and lockouts had created high levels of tension

● The Tsarina ignored warnings from the Okhrana, condemning strikers as hooligans and fulminating against leading members of the Duma for undermining the government

● Workers who had been laid off wandered the streets – some women spent almost 24 hours in queues for food and other goods

● When the news of the introduction of bread rationing hit the streets towards the end of February 1917, the flood gates opened

● Queues and scuffles over remaining bread stocks turned into riots

● Anti-government feelings in Petrograd were running high

● On Thursday 23rd of February, International Women’s Day, (under the Julian calendar – Russia had not yet converted to the Gregorian calendar) the discontent became more focused – what started off as a good-humoured march in the morning – ‘ladies from society; lots of peasant women; student girls’ – took on a different mood in the afternoon

● Women (many textile workers) on strike took the lead in politicising the march – they went to the factories in the Vyborg district of Petrograd and taunted the men, calling them cowards if they would not support

● Women tram drivers went on strike and overturned trams, blocking streets – women took the initiative while men were more cautious

● Local Bolshevik leaders actually told the women to go home because they were planning a big demonstration for May Day, but the women took no notice

● By the afternoon, the women had persuaded men from the highly politicised Putilov engineering works and other factors to join them

● A huge crowd began to make its way towards the centre of the city 0 they crossed the ice of the frozen River Neva and burst onto Nevsky Prospekt, the main street in Petrograd – the protest started to gather momentum

● Over the next three days, the demonstrations grew and took on a more political nature – demands for bread were accompanied by demands for an end to the war and an end to the Tsar

● Observers reported that there was almost a holiday atmosphere in the city as all classes of people – students, teachers, shopkeepers, even well-dressed ladies – joined the ranks of the workers marching towards the centre of the city

Russia's Involvement in WWI
The February Revolution
Inter-Revolutionary Events
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