|Part of the Russian Revolution of 1917|
Armed workers and soldiers escorting captured policemen. Petrograd, 1917
|Nicholas II of Russia||Alexander Kerensky, and others|
The February Revolution (Russian: ñ»ñññ ñ»ñŽññ) of 1917 was the first of two revolutions in Russia in 1917. It occurred March 8–12 (February 23–27 Old Style) and its immediate result was the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, the collapse of Imperial Russia and the end of the Romanov dynasty. The non-Communist Russian Provisional Government under Prince Georgy Lvov replaced the Tsar. After the July Days, Lvov was succeeded by Alexander Kerensky. The Provisional Government was an alliance between liberals and socialists who wanted to instigate political reform, creating a democratically-elected executive and constituent assembly.
This revolution appeared to break out spontaneously, without any real leadership or formal planning. The tensions that had built up for so long finally exploded into a revolution, and the western city of Saint Petersburg [later renamed Petrograd during that war, as burg is German for town, while grad is Russian for town] became the focal point of activity.
The February Revolution was followed in the same year by the October Revolution, bringing Bolshevik rule and a change in Russia's social structure, and paving the way for the USSR. The two revolutions constituted a change in the composition of the country: the first overthrew the Tsar, and the second instituted a new form of government.
Despite its occurrence at the height of World War I, the February Revolution traced its roots far beyond the immediate effects of the war. Chief among these was Imperial Russia–s failure, throughout the 19th century, to modernize its archaic social, economic and political structures. Among the key problems facing Russia in the decades before the February Revolution were:
From these conditions sprang 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 March Revolution occurred both because of Russian military failures during the First World War and because of public dissatisfaction with the way the country was being run by Tsarina Alexandra Fyodorovna of Hesse and Tsar Nicholas's ministers, who were acting on his authority while he was away at the Army Headquarters as Commander-in-Chief. The lack of strong leadership is illustrated by a telegram from Octobrist politician Mikhail Rodzianko to the Tsar on 26 February 1917, in which Rodzianko begged for a strong, capable minister.
Much of the tension was caused by the personal assumption of military command by the Tsar. Involvement in the war was seen to be the root of most of the (primarily economic) problems Russia was experiencing internally. The public's association of the Tsars with the unpopular war served only to worsen further his already-wavering position.
When Emperor Nicholas II left for the war front he left the Tsarina in charge of running Russia. This was a big mistake because Empress Alexandra was German and therefore many Russians considered her to be a German spy. The Empress became even more unpopular among the Russians because of Grigori Rasputin's influence on her. She presumably never agreed with the fact that Tsar Nicholas had to share his power with the Duma so now that she was in charge she acted independently and changed many parliamentarians with Rasputin's friends. This also led to rumors that Rasputin had an affair with the Empress.
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, morale was at its lowest, and the officers and commanders were at times very incompetent. Some units 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 by the war. The Duma (lower house of parliament), composed of liberal deputies, warned Tsar Nicholas II of the impending danger and counselled him to form a new constitutional government, like that he had dissolved after some short-term attempts in the aftermath of the 1905 Revolution. The Tsar ignored the Duma's advice.
In February 1917, Russians had numerous motivations for a popular uprising: Russia was in the midst of a harsh winter; there was a concerning lack of food; and general lassitude towards the war, in the midst of the economic crisis, was prominent. At the beginning of February, Petrograd workers began several strikes and demonstrations. On February 22, workers at Putilov, Petrograd's largest industrial plant, announced a strike. Although some clashes with the Tsar's forces did occur, no one was injured on the opening day. The strikers were fired, and some shops closed, resulting in further unrest at other plants.
The next day, a series of meetings and rallies were held for International Women's Day, which gradually turned into economic and political gatherings. Demonstrations were organised to demand bread, and these were supported by the industrial working force who considered them a reason for continuing the strikes. The women workers marched to nearby factories bringing out over 50,000 workers on strike. By February 25th, virtually every industrial enterprise in Petrograd had been shut down, together with many commercial and service enterprises. Students, white-collar workers and teachers joined the workers in the streets and at public meetings. In the streets, red banners appeared and the crowds chanted "Down with the German woman! Down with Protopopov! Down with the war!"
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 riots, 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.
The capital is in chaos. The government is unable to act; the transport service is broken down; the food and fuel supplies are completely disorganised. There is wild shooting on the streets. It is urgent that a new government is formed. There must be no delay. Hesitation is fatal.
Nicholas, however, wrote a telegram to his wife on 27 February, claiming "Again, that fat-bellied Rodzianko has written me a load of nonsense, which I won't even bother to answer." But when the Tsar heard that his children, including the Tsarevich Alexei had contracted measles, he took a train to Petrograd on March 1. The train was instructed to divert by a group of disloyal troops. When the Tsar finally reached his destination, the Army Chiefs and his remaining ministers (those who had not fled on February 28 under pretense of a power-cut) suggested in unison that he abdicate the throne. He did so on March 15, on behalf of himself and his son, the Tsarevich.
Nicholas nominated his brother, the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, to succeed him. But the Grand Duke realised that he would have little support as ruler, so he declined the crown, stating that he would take it only if that was the consensus of an elected government. On 22 March 1917, Nicholas, no longer Tsar and addressed with contempt by the sentries as "Nicholas Romanov", was reunited with his family at the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo. He was placed under house arrest with his family by the Provisional Government.
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.
The immediate effect of the February Revolution was a widespread atmosphere of elation and excitement in Petrograd. Between February and April, the Provisional Government, which replaced the Tsar, cooperated successfully with the Petrograd Soviet. This was facilitated by the positive spirit throughout the capital, along with considerable cross-over membership between the two bodies. A general consensus to prevent anarchy also prompted a constructive relationship. This arrangement became known as the "Dual Authority". However, the practical supremacy of the Petrograd Soviet was asserted as early as March 1, when the Petrograd Soviet issued Order No. 1:
All orders issued by the Military Commission of the State Duma [the Provisional Government] shall be carried out, except those that run counter to the orders and decrees issued by the Soviet–
Order 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 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 had widespread support. In July, the Petrograd garrison refused to follow the army's plans to continue the war against Germany, demonstrating fiercely against them; Lenin tried to use the mutiny and arrange a Bolshevik coup. But Kerensky still had enough support to stop the unrest. Faced with exile again, Lenin fled to Finland. However, 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 two formidable opponents in the Soviets and the Bolsheviks..
Another issue for Kerensky arose when Commander-in-Chief of the army, General Lavr Kornilov, tried to seize power by marching with an army toward Petrograd. Kerensky asked the Soviets and Bolsheviks for help. The Soviets called out their volunteers, the "Red Guards" founded by Trotsky. The propaganda by the revolutionaries made Kornilov lose 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 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.
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