Russian Revolution/Week 5
Week 5[edit | edit source]
February Revolution Revolution (1917)[edit | edit source]
- For the French revolutions, see Revolutions of 1848 in France
The February Revolution (N.S.: March Revolution) of 1917 in Russia was the first stage of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Its immediate result was the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. The February Revolution saw a transfer of power from the Tsar, with around 1,500 to 2,000 people being killed or badly wounded in the disturbances. The regime that came into being was an alliance between liberals and socialists who wanted to instigate political reform, creating a democratically elected executive and constituent assembly.
World War I[edit | edit source]
The 1917 February Revolution occurred largely as a result of World War I and dissatisfaction with the way that the country was being run by the Tsarina Alexandra Fyodorovna of Hesse and Tsar Nicholas' ministers, who were acting on the authority of the Tsar while he was away at the Army Headquarters as Commander-in-Chief. (A telegram from Rodzienko to the Tsar on 26 February 1917, in which he begs for a strong capable minister, illustrates the lack of strong leadership.) The personal assumption of command by the Tsar in itself caused tension as involvement in the World War I was seen to be causing the majority of the problems Russia was experiencing internally, and the personal association of the Tsar with the war further worsened his position.
Controversy also surrounded the role of Grigori Rasputin in the Russian royal family, with speculation arising regarding his relationship with the Tsarina in particular, speculation that resulted 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 Nicholas was away at the front.
All political parties had supported, in August 1914, Russian participation in World War I, alongside the United Kingdom and the French Third Republic allied in the Triple Entente--apart from the Social Democratic Labour Party divided between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. After a few initial victories, the Tsar's armies were confronted with serious defeats; in particular, in East Prussia. The factories were not productive enough, the railway system insufficient, and poor logistics overall explained the Russian losses. More than 1,700,000 Russian soldiers were killed, and 5,900,000 injured. Mutinies sprang up often, general morale was at its lowest and the officers and commanders were at times quite incompetent. Over 140,000 desertions occurred in one year. Some units went to the front line with ammunition that was incompatible with their weapons.
On the home front, famine was threatening and commodities were becoming scarce. The Russian economy, which had just seen one of the highest growth rates of Europe, was henceforth blocked from the European market. The Duma, composed of liberal deputies, warned the Tsar Nicholas II and counselled him to form a new sort of constitutional government, which he had dissolved after some short-term attempts following the 1905 Revolution. But the Tsar ignored the Duma's advice.
The February Revolution Events February 22, 1917 - Nicholas II leaves Petrograd to visit troops February 23 - International Women’s Day demonstration in Petrograd February 24 - Massive strikes and demonstrations occur throughout the capital February 25 - Unrest continues; Mensheviks meet and set up a “Workers’ Soviet” Nicholas II orders military to stop riots February 26 - Troops fire on demonstrating crowds Mass mutiny begins in local army regiments Firefights break out between troops and police February 27 - More than 80,000 troops mutiny and engage in widespread looting February 28 - Duma and Workers’ Soviet gather separately and begin making decisions about restoring order and establishing a new state March 2 - Nicholas II abdicates the throne; provisional government formed Key People Nicholas II - Last Russian tsar; abdicated as a result of the February Revolution Alexander Kerensky - Member of the provisional government and Petrograd Soviet; wielded significant political power after Nicholas II’s abdication International Women’s Day 1917 With Russia faring poorly in World War I and facing severe food shortages, strikes and public protests happened in the country with increasing frequency during 1916 and early 1917. Violent encounters between protesters and authorities also increased. On February 23, 1917, a large gathering of working-class women convened in the center of Petrograd to mark International Women’s Day. The gathering took the form of a protest demonstration calling for “bread and peace.” While the demonstration began peacefully, the next morning it turned violent as the women were joined by hundreds of thousands of male workers who went on strike and flooded the streets, openly calling for an end to the war and even to the monarchy. Feeding on their outrage with each passing day, the demonstrations became larger and rowdier, and the outnumbered police were unable to control the crowds. Violence and Army Mutiny With news of the unrest, Tsar Nicholas II, who was away visiting his troops on the front, sent a telegram to Petrograd’s military commander on February 25, ordering him to bring an end to the riots by the next day. In their efforts to carry out the tsar’s order, several troops of a local guard regiment fired upon the crowds on February 26. The regiment fell into chaos, as many soldiers felt more empathy for the crowds than for the tsar. The next day, more than 80,000 troops mutinied and joined with the crowds, in many cases directly fighting the police. The Duma and the Petrograd Soviet During this period, two political groups in Russia quickly recognized the significance of what was developing and began to discuss actively how it should be handled. The Duma (the state legislature) was already in active session but was under orders from the tsar to disband. However, the Duma continued to meet in secret and soon came to the conclusion that the unrest in Russia was unlikely to be brought under control as long as Nicholas II remained in power. During the same period, the Petrograd Soviet, an organization of revolutionary-minded workers and soldiers dominated by the Menshevik Party, convened on February 27. They immediately began to call for full-scale revolution and an end to the monarchy altogether. The Tsar’s Abdication Despite the mutinies in the army and government, there was still no consensus that the monarchy should be dismantled entirely; rather, many felt that Nicholas II should abdicate in favor of his thirteen-year-old son, Alexis. If this occurred, a regent would be appointed to rule in the boy’s place until he reached maturity. Therefore, both the Duma and military leaders placed heavy pressure on the tsar to resign. Nicholas II finally gave in on March 2, but to everyone’s surprise he abdicated in favor of his brother Michael rather than his son, whom he believed was too sickly to bear the burden of being tsar, even with a regent in place. However, on the next day Michael also abdicated, leaving Russia with no tsar at all. Responding to this unexpected turn of events, leading Duma members assumed the role of being the country’s provisional government. The provisional government was to serve temporarily, until a Constituent Assembly could be elected later in the year to decide formally on the country’s future government. The Provisional Government and Petrograd Soviet Although the provisional government was quickly recognized by countries around the world as the legitimate governing body of Russia, the Petrograd Soviet held at least as much power and had significantly greater connections with regional authorities in other parts of the country. The Petrograd Soviet was in essence a metropolitan labor union made up of soldiers and factory workers. By the time of Nicholas II’s abdication, it had some 3,000 members and had formed an executive committee to lead it. Dominated by Mensheviks, the group was chaotic in structure and favored far more radical changes than did the provisional government. Though often at odds, the provisional government and the Petrograd Soviet found themselves cooperating out of necessity. With every major decision, the two groups coordinated with each other. One man, an ambitious lawyer named Alexander Kerensky, ended up a member of both groups and acted as a liaison between them. In time he would become the Russian minister of justice, minister of war, and then prime minister of the provisional government. Assessing the February Revolution The February Revolution was largely a spontaneous event. It began in much the same way as had dozens of other mass demonstrations in Russia in previous years and might well have ended in the same manner, if the military had not gotten involved. There was no plan or oversight for the way it happened, and few, if any, dedicated Russian revolutionaries were involved—most, such as Vladimir Lenin, were out of the country. Afterward, many political groups competed for power, but they did so relatively peacefully. The two main groups, the provisional government and the Petrograd Soviet, disagreed completely about the direction that Russia should take, yet they did manage to work with each other. Meanwhile, the various rival political parties also developed cooperative attitudes and worked with one another. The arrival of Lenin in Russia in April 1917, however, immediately changed the situation.
Petrograd's riots[edit | edit source]
February 1917 gathered all the preconditions for a popular uprising: harsh winter, lack of food, and general lassitude towards the war. All began with wildcat strikes, in the beginning of February, from workers in Petrograd (St. Petersburg prior to the war). On February 22 (O.S.) the major plant of Petrograd, Putilov plant, announced a strike; the strikers were fired and some shops closed, which caused unrest at other plants. Some demonstrations were organized to demand bread, which were supported by the industrial working force, which found in them a reason for continuing the strikes. Although some clashes with the Tsar's forces happened, on the first day no one was injured. In the following days, the strikes generalized themselves in all of Petrograd and tension was rising. On February 23 (O.S.; March 8, N.S.), a series of meetings and rallies were held on the occasion of the International Women's Day, which gradually turned into economic and political ones. Slogans, which had been until this time quite reserved, became more and more political: "End to the war!", "End to the autocracy!". This time, clashes with the police resulted in casualties on both sides. Demonstrators armed themselves by looting police headquarters. After three days of demonstrations, the Tsar sent a large battalion of soldiers to the city to quell the uprising on February 25 (O.S.). The soldiers resisted the first attempts at fraternization and killed many demonstrators. However, during the evenings, soldiers progressively deserted their officers and joined the revolt instead, permitting it to become more conventionally armed.
The Tsar initially refused to believe the reports sent to him by the President of the Duma, stating in a telegram to his wife on 27 February that "Again, that fat-bellied Rodzianko has written me a load of nonsense, which I won’t even bother to answer". On 1 March, he decided to take a train to the government capital after hearing that his children, including the Tsarevich Alexei had contracted the measles. However, on route, the royal train was instructed to divert by a group of disloyal troops. When he reached his destination, the Army Chiefs, his remaining ministers (those who had not fled on 29 February under the pretense of a power cut) in unison, suggested that he abdicate. Tsar Nicholas II abdicated the throne on March 2 (O.S.) (March 15, N.S., thirteen days difference), he also abdicated for his son the Tsarevich; and nominated Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich to succeed him. However, all of Petrograd's troops had joined the demonstrators; the Grand Duke then refused the crown and the Provisional Government took control of Russia, by default. The first elections took place at the Petrograd Soviet (Workers council), while the provisional government got itself organized: two competing powers were getting organized ("diarchy").
The Provisional Government and Petrograd's Soviet[edit | edit source]
The Provisional Government which replaced the Tsar was initially led by a liberal aristocrat, Prince Georgy Yevgenyevich Lvov, a member of the Constitutional Democratic party (KD). After his government failed, he was succeeded by a Social Revolutionary, Alexander Kerensky. Maintaining Russian involvement in the World War I, Kerensky was unable to deal with the problems 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. On March 1, 1917 the Petrograd Soviet issued Order No. 1, which ordered the military to obey its orders rather than those of the Provisional Government. The conflict between the "diarchy" became obvious.
Lenin returned from exile to Petrograd on April 3, and issued his April's Theses the next month, in favour of "revolutionary defeatism", opposed to the "imperialist war" whose "link to the Capital" must be demonstrated to the masses, and opposed to the "Social-Chauvinists" who supported the war, such as Georgi Plekhanov the grandfather of Russian socialism. Finally, Lenin announced the necessary creation of a new International to replace the defunct Second International, dissolved in 1916 after the 1915 Zimmerwald Conference. 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.
See also[edit | edit source]
- Russian Revolution of 1917
- 1905 Russian Revolution
- October Revolution
- Russian Empire
- World War I
- Vladimir Lenin