Russian Revolution of 1917 took place in two phases, the February Revolution and the October Revolution. While the February Revolution led to the end of tsarist autocracy in Russia with the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II, the October Revolution led by the Bolsheviks resulted in the establishment of the first Marxist state in the world with Vladimir Lenin as its leader. There are many points cited as causes for the Russian Revolution including poor conditions of industrial workers, incompetent leadership of Nicholas II and the advent of the First World War. The immediate repercussion of the revolution was the catastrophic Russian Civil War which resulted in an estimated 7 to 12 million casualties. Here are 10 interesting facts about the causes, important events, outcome and significance of the 1917 Russian Revolution.

 

Note: As the older Julian calendar was in use in Russia at the time, the February Revolution occurred in March and the October Revolution occurred in November according to the Gregorian calendar, which is now the most widely used calendar. Julian calendar dates have been used in this article with their Gregorian equivalents mentioned in brackets. Also, as the city of Saint Petersburg had been renamed to Petrograd in 1914, it is referred to as Petrograd in the article. Petrograd was named Leningrad in 1924 and in 1991 its name was reverted back to St. Petersburg.

 

#1 Major social cause of the 1917 revolutions was an unsatisfied industrial working class

The condition of the peasants in Russia was poor. They used agricultural techniques which were out of date, were mostly illiterate and had to pay redemption payments to the state. They deeply resented the rich landowners who profited from the land without working on it. Also, rapid industrialization of Russia in late 19th and early 20th centuries led to urban overcrowding. However, Tsarist Russia stood well behind Europe in its industry with few opportunities for fair advancement for industrial workers, who had to suffer due to overcrowded housing with often deplorable sanitary conditions, long hours of work and inadequate wages. This concentrated and massive working class was more politically aware and more likely to revolt than the peasantry had been in previous times. All this created a conducive atmosphere for socialist revolutionaries.

Russian industrial workers
A photo of Russian industrial workers in the 1890s

 

#2 Bloody Sunday Massacre is considered a major event leading to the 1917 Revolutions

By the first decade of the twentieth century, the people of Russia were highly disappointed with the autocratic regime of Tsar Nicholas II. On Sunday, 22nd January 1905, unarmed demonstrators led by Father Georgy Gapon marched towards the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg to present a petition to Nicholas II regarding problems faced by the working class like wages, working hours and working conditions. Soldiers of the Imperial Guard fired on the demonstrators. Estimates put the casualties of this massacre, known as Bloody Sunday, at around 1000 dead or wounded. Bloody Sunday led to a strike movement that spread throughout the country and is considered the start of the 1905 Russian Revolution. It also led to a surge of bitterness against the Tsar, and increased revolutionary activities in Russia.

Bloody Sunday
Artistic Impression of Bloody Sunday in St Petersburg

 

#3 Incompetent leadership of Nicholas II was one of the causes of the revolution

Tsar Nicholas II responded to the 1905 Revolution by ordering constitutional reforms including establishment of the State Duma, Russia’s first elected parliament; and enacting the Russian Constitution of 1906, by which the emperor agreed for the first time to share his autocratic power with a parliament. However, he effectively nullified this by dismissing the first two Dumas when they proved uncooperative. These unfulfilled hopes of democracy fueled revolutionary ideas and violence targeted at the Tsarist regime. Also, Nicholas II dragged Russia into World War I even though it was hugely unprepared for war as compared to Germany, in almost every aspect. Russia suffered staggering losses in the war with 3.3 million Russians being killed. Nicholas II was blamed for pushing Russia into a war from which it had little to gain and for his incompetent leadership.

Nicholas II
Nicholas II – Tsar of Russia (1894 – 1917)

 

#4 The Russian Revolution was triggered by World War I

First World War led to an acute aggravation of the economic and political crisis in Russia. The catastrophic losses in the war played a definite role in the mutinies and revolts that began to occur.  Soldiers went hungry, lacked supplies and suffered deplorable conditions. Food scarcity became a major problem in Russia even though there wasn’t any failure of the harvests. To finance the war, the government printed millions of ruble notes, and by 1917 inflation had made prices increase up to four times from what they were in 1914. The cities were constantly short of food and riots over scarcity of food broke out in the capital, Petrograd (St. Petersburg). Also, rising prices led to demands for higher wages in the factories and widespread strikes. World War I thus pushed the already volatile Russia towards revolution.

 

#5 The February Revolution was centered at Petrograd

Widespread dissatisfaction with corruption and the Tsarist regime led to first of the Russian revolutions in February 1917. The first major protest occurred on 22 February, 1917 (G.C. 7 March) when workers of the largest industrial plant in Petrograd, Putilov, announced a strike to demonstrate against the government. The next day, Putilov protesters were joined by those celebrating International Woman’s Day. The women workers marched to nearby factories to recruit over 50,000 workers for strike. There were protests against government’s implemented food rationing; and banners which read “Down with the Autocracy!” By the following day, around 200,000 protesters filled the streets, demanding the replacement of the Tsar with a more progressive political leader. By February 25 (G.C. 10 March), nearly all industrial enterprises in Petrograd were shut down by the uprising.

1917 February Revolution protest
Putilov workers protesting in the streets during the February Revolution in Russia

 

#6 February Revolution of 1917 ended the Tsarist autocracy in Russia

On February 26 (G.C. 11 March), Nicholas II ordered the army to suppress the rioting by force. At least 180,000 troops were available in the capital but most were either untrained or injured. Also, many in the Petrograd garrison were sympathetic to the revolution or refused to fire as the crowd contained many women. In some encounters, regiments opened fire, killing demonstrators, but the protesters kept to the streets. The following day regiment after regiment of the Petrograd garrison defected to the cause of the demonstrators.  By nightfall on 27 February (G.C. 12 March), 60,000 soldiers had joined the revolution and the capital was controlled by the revolutionaries. Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate on March 2 (G.C. 15 March). This brought an end to Tsarist autocracy in Russia which had been established during the reign of Ivan III in the fifteenth century.

Revolutionaries attack during the 1917 February Revolution
Russian Revolutionaries attacking the Tzar’s police during the 1917 February Revolution

 

#7 The revolution in February was followed by a situation known as Dual Power

Following the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, on March 3 (G.C. 16 March), the State Duma appointed a Provisional Government led by Prince Georgy Lvov to succeed the autocracy. Four days earlier, the Petrograd Soviet, a representative body of the city’s workers and soldiers, had been formed. From March to October, a situation known as Dvoyevlastiye (Dual Power) arose in Russia; as these two bodies competed for power and control. However, Petrograd Soviet had stamped its authority as early as March 1 (G.C. 13 March) when it issued its Order No. 1, which directed the military to obey only those orders of Military Commission of the State Duma which didn’t conflict with the orders of the Soviet. The Provisional Government was unable to countermand the order.

Russian Provisional Government
Russian Provisional Government in March 1917

 

#8 Petrograd Soviets became increasingly influential in the Dual Power era

Alexander Kerensky, a lawyer and politician, became a central figure in the Provisional Government and ultimately became its leader. He decided to continue the Russian effort in World War I, a step which proved to be highly unpopular. The Petrograd Soviets were more closely connected to the public and favored Russian withdrawal from the war. As Kerensky failed to halt Russia’s slide into political and economic chaos, influence of the Soviets enhanced and so did the Bolsheviks’ influence within them. The Bolsheviks (“majority”) were a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP), which formed the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1912. The Bolsheviks were led by famous Russian communist revolutionary and political theorist Vladimir Lenin. His arrival from exile in April led to a steady increase in the popularity of the Bolsheviks.

Alexander Kerensky
Alexander Kerensky – Second Prime Minister of the Russian Provisional Government

 

#9 The October Revolution was led by the Bolsheviks

The second of the Russian revolutions of 1917, the October Revolution, was based upon Vladimir Lenin’s writing on the ideas of Karl Marx, a political ideology referred to as Marxism-Leninism which seeks to establish socialist states. Unlike the February Revolution, the October Revolution was a result of deliberate planning and coordinated activity. On October 24–25 (G.C. November 6–7), the leftist revolutionaries led by Lenin launched a nearly bloodless coup d’état against the Provisional Government. The Bolsheviks and their allies occupied government buildings, telegraph stations and other strategic points in Petrograd. Kerensky’s attempt to organize resistance proved futile, and he fled the country. Soon a new government was formed which was headed by Vladimir Lenin.

Vladimir Lenin during the Russian Revolution
Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolsheviks, during the Russian Revolution

 

#10 The Russian Revolution was followed by the catastrophic Russian Civil War

The Russian Revolution established the first Marxist state in the world with Vladimir Lenin as its virtual dictator. His government made peace with Germany, nationalized industry and distributed land. Tsar Nicholas II, the ruler of Russia before the revolution, along with his wife and their five children, were executed by the Bolsheviks in July 1918. The most prominent repercussion of the revolution was the Russian Civil War between the Red Army, fighting for the Bolshevik form of socialism and the White Army, which included groups with diverse interests favoring monarchism, capitalism and alternative forms of socialism. In 1920, the anti-Bolsheviks were defeated, and in 1922 the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was established. There were an estimated 7 to 12 million casualties during the civil war due to which it is considered one of the worst national catastrophes in history.

Anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army
Anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army in South Russia, January 1918

 

The Global Impact of Russian Revolution

The impact of the success of the Russian Revolution was felt around the world with political unrest and revolts occurring in numerous countries including the German Revolution and the Hungarian Revolution. Most of these revolutionary activities were socialist or anti-colonial in nature. While some of these movements met with some immediate success, none of these Marxist revolutionaries were able to keep power in their hands. It was not until Soviet victory in the Second World War, that there was a rapid multiplication of communist states. The revolutionary wave created during and after the 1917 Russian Revolution is simply referred to as the Revolutions of 1917–23.

4 COMMENTS

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