Russian Revolution is the collective term for the
series of revolutions in Russia in
1917, which destroyed the Tsarist
autocracy and led to the creation of the Soviet Union.
In the first revolution of February 1917
(March in the Gregorian calendar
the Czar was deposed and replaced by a Provisional government. In
the second revolution of October that year the Provisional
Government was removed and replaced with a Bolshevik
February Revolution (March 1917)
was a spontaneous popular revolution focused around St Petersburg.
In the chaos, members of the Imperial
parliament or Duma
assumed control of the country, forming the Russian Provisional
. The army leadership felt they did not have the
means to suppress the revolution and Czar Nicholas II of Russia
, the last
of Russia, abdicated, effectively leaving
the Provisional Government in power. The Soviets
(workers' councils) which were led
by more radical socialist factions initially permitted the
Provisional government to rule, but insisted on a perogative to
influence the government and control various militias. The February
Revolution took place in the context of heavy military setbacks
during the First World War
left much of the army in a state of mutiny.
A period of dual power
which the Provisional Government held state power while the
national network of Soviets, led by socialists, had the allegiance
of the lower-class citizens and the political left
. During this chaotic period
there were frequent mutinies and many strikes. When the Provisional
Government chose to continue fighting the war with Germany, the
Bolsheviks and other socialist factions campaigned for the
abandonment of the war effort. The Bolsheviks formed workers
militias under their control into the Red Guards
(later the Red Army
) over which they exerted substantial
In the October Revolution
(November on the Gregorian calendar), the Bolshevik
party, led by Vladimir Lenin
, and the workers' Soviet
, overthrew the Provisional
Government in Petrograd. The Bolsheviks appointed themselves as
leaders of various government ministries and seized control of the
countryside, establishing the Cheka
ruthlessly quash dissent. To end the war, the Bolshevik
leadership signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
in March 1918. However a brutal civil
erupted between the "Red" (Bolshevik), and "White"
(anti-Bolshevik), factions, which was to continue for several
years, with the Bolsheviks ultimately victorious. In this way the
Revolution paved the way for the USSR.
While many notable historical events occurred in Moscow and
Petrograd, there was also a broadly-based movement in cities
throughout the state, among national minorities throughout the
empire, and in the rural areas, where peasants
took over and redistributed land.
At the start of 1917 the country was ripe for revolution — growing
rapidly, creating expanded social opportunities but also great
uncertainty. Poor villagers more and more often migrated between
agrarian and industrial work environments, and many relocated
entirely, creating a growing urban labor force. A mid class of
businessmen, and professionals (the latter group comprising
doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists, engineers, etc.) was on
the rise. Even nobles had to find new ways to subsist in this
changing economy, and contemporaries spoke of new classes forming
, for example), although these
classes were also divided along crisscrossing lines of
It was becoming harder to speak of clearly-defined social groups or
boundaries. Not only were groups fractured in various ways, their
defining boundaries were also increasingly blurred by migrating
peasants, worker intellectuals, gentry professionals, and the like.
There was a general sense that the texture of people's lives was
being transformed by a spreading commercial culture which remade
the surfaces of material life (buildings, store fronts,
advertisements, fashion, clocks and machines) and nurtured new
objects of desire.
By 1917, the growth of political consciousness, the impact of
revolutionary ideas, and the weak and inefficient system of
government (which had been debilitated further by its participation
in World War I
), should have convinced
the emperor, Nicholas II
, to take the
necessary steps towards reform. In January 1917, in fact, Sir
British Ambassador in Russia, advised the emperor to "break down
the barrier that separates you from your people to regain their
confidence." In response to his advice, Nicholas effectively
Many of the people of Russia resented the autocracy
of Czar Nicholas II and the corrupt and
anachronistic elements in his government. He was seen as being out
of touch with the needs and aspirations of the Russian people, the
vast majority of whom were victims of the wretched socio-economic
conditions which prevailed. Socially, Tsarist Russia stood well
behind the rest of Europe in its industry and farming, resulting in
few opportunities for fair advancement on the part of peasants and
industrial workers. Economically, widespread inflation
and food shortages in Russia contributed
to the revolution. Militarily, inadequate supplies, logistics, and
weaponry led to heavy losses that the Russians suffered during
World War I; this further strengthened Russia's view of Nicholas II
as weak and unfit to rule. Ultimately, these factors, coupled with
the development of revolutionary ideas and movements (particularly
during the years following the 1905 Bloody Sunday
Massacre), led to the
Economic and social changes
An elementary theory of property, believed by many peasants, was
that land should belong to those who work it. At the same time,
peasant life and culture was changing constantly. Change was
facilitated by the physical movement of growing numbers of peasant
villagers who migrated to and from industrial and urban
environments, but also by the migration of city culture into the
village through material goods, the press, and word of mouth.
Workers also had good reasons for discontent: overcrowded housing
with often deplorable sanitary conditions, long hours at work (on
the eve of the war a 10-hour workday six days a week was the
average and many were working 11–12 hours a day by 1916), constant
risk of injury and death from very poor safety and sanitary
conditions, harsh discipline (not only rules and fines, but
foremen’s fists), and inadequate wages (made worse after 1914 by
steep war-time increases in the cost of living). At the same time,
urban industrial life was full of benefits, though these could be
just as dangerous, from the point of view of social and political
stability, as the hardships. There were many encouragements to
expect more from life. Acquiring new skills gave many workers a
sense of self-respect and confidence, heightening expectations and
desires. Living in cities, workers encountered material goods such
as they had never seen while in the village. Most important, living
in cities, they were exposed to new ideas about the social and
The social causes of the Russian Revolution mainly came from
centuries of oppression of the lower classes by the Tsarist regime,
and Nicholas's failures in World War I. While rural agrarian
peasants had been emancipated
in 1861, they still resented paying
redemption payments to the state, and demanded communal tender of
the land they worked. The problem was further compounded by the
failure of Sergei Witte
's land reforms
of the early 1900s. Increasing peasant disturbances and sometimes
full revolts occurred, with the goal of securing ownership of the
land they worked. Russia consisted mainly of poor farming peasants,
with 1.5% of the population owning 25% of the land.
The rapid industrialization of Russia also resulted in urban
overcrowding and poor conditions for urban industrial workers (as
mentioned above). Between 1890 and 1910, the population of the
capital, Saint Petersburg, swelled from 1,033,600 to 1,905,600,
with Moscow experiencing similar growth. This created a new
'proletariat' which, due to being crowded together in the cities,
was much more likely to protest and go on strike than the peasantry
had been in previous times. In one 1904 survey, it was found that
an average of sixteen people shared each apartment in Saint
Petersburg, with six people per room. There was also no running
water, and piles of human waste were a threat to the health of the
workers. The poor conditions only aggravated the situation, with
the number of strikes and incidents of public disorder rapidly
increasing in the years shortly before World War I.
World War I only added to the chaos. Conscription swept up the
unwilling in all parts of Russia. The vast demand for factory
production of war supplies and workers caused many more labor riots
and strikes. Conscription stripped skilled workers from the cities,
who had to be replaced with unskilled peasants, and then, when
famine began to hit due to the poor railway system, workers
abandoned the cities in droves to look for food. Finally, the
soldiers themselves, who suffered from a lack of equipment and
protection from the elements, began to turn against the Tsar. This
was mainly because, as the war progressed, many of the officers who
were loyal to the Tsar were killed, and were replaced by
discontented conscripts from the major cities, who had little
loyalty to the Tsar.
Many sections of the crown had reason to be dissatisfied with the
existing autocracy. Nicholas II was a deeply conservative ruler and
maintained a strict authoritarian system. Individuals and society
in general were expected to show self-restraint, devotion to
community, deference to the social hierarchy, and a sense of duty
to country. Religious faith helped bind all of these tenets
together as a source of comfort and reassurance in the face of
difficult conditions and as a means of political authority
exercised through the clergy. Perhaps more than any other modern
monarch, Nicholas II attached his fate and the future of his
dynasty to the notion of the ruler as a saintly and infallible
father to his people. This idealized vision of the Romanov monarchy
blinded him to the actual state of his country. With a firm belief
that his power to rule was granted by Divine Right, Nicholas
assumed that the Russian people were devoted to him with
unquestioning loyalty. This ironclad belief rendered Nicholas
unwilling to allow the progressive reforms that might have
alleviated the suffering of the Russian people. Even after the 1905
revolution spurred the Tsar to decree limited civil rights and
democratic representation, he worked to limit even these liberties
in order to preserve the ultimate authority of the crown.
Despite constant oppression, the desire of the people for
democratic participation in government was strong. Since the
Age of Enlightenment
intellectuals had promoted Enlightenment ideals such as the dignity
of the individual and of the rectitude of democratic
representation. These ideals were championed most vociferously by
Russia’s liberals, although populists, Marxists, and anarchists
also claimed to support democratic reforms. A growing opposition
movement had begun to challenge the Romanov monarchy openly well
before the turmoil of World War I. Dissatisfaction with Russian
autocracy culminated in the huge national upheaval that followed
the Bloody Sunday
January 1905, in which hundreds of unarmed protesters were shot by
the Tsar's troops. Workers responded to the massacre with a
crippling general strike, forcing Nicholas to put forth the
established a democratically elected parliament (the State Duma
). The Tsar
undermined this promise of reform but a year later with Article 87
of the 1906 Fundamental
, and subsequently dismissed the first two Dumas when
they proved uncooperative. Unfulfilled hopes of democracy fueled
revolutionary ideas and violent outbursts targeted at the
One of the Tsar’s principal rationales for risking war in 1914 was
his desire to restore the prestige that Russia had lost amid the
debacles of the Russo-Japanese
. Nicholas also sought to foster a greater sense of national
unity with a war against a common and ancient enemy. The Russian
Empire was an agglomeration of diverse ethnicities that had shown
significant signs of disunity in the years before the First World
War. Nicholas believed in part that the shared peril and
tribulation of a foreign war would mitigate the social unrest over
the persistent issues of poverty, inequality, and inhuman working
conditions. Instead of restoring Russia's political and military
standing, World War I
led to the
horrifying slaughter of Russian troops and military defeats that
undermined both the monarchy and society in general to the point of
World War I
The outbreak of war in August 1914 initially served to quiet the
prevalent social and political protests, focusing hostilities
against a common external enemy, but this patriotic unity did not
last long. As the war dragged on inconclusively, war-weariness
gradually took its toll. More important, though, was this deeper
fragility: although many ordinary Russians joined anti-German
demonstrations in the first few weeks of the war, the most
widespread reaction appears to have been skepticism and fatalism.
Hostility toward the Kaiser and the desire to defend their land and
their lives did not necessarily translate into enthusiasm for the
Tsar or the government.
first major battle of the war was a disaster: in the 1914 Battle of
Tannenberg, over 30,000 Russian troops were killed or wounded
and 90,000 captured, while Germany suffered just 20,000
forces allied to Germany
were driven back deep into the Galicia
region by the end of the year. In
the autumn of 1915, Nicholas had taken direct command of the army,
personally overseeing Russia's main theatre of war and leaving his
ambitious but incapable wife Alexandra in charge of the government.
Reports of corruption and incompetence in the Imperial government
began to emerge, and the growing influence of Grigori Rasputin
in the Imperial family was
widely resented. In the eyes of Lynch, a revisionist historian who
focuses on the role of the people, Rasputin was a "fatal disease"
to the Tsarist regime.
In 1915, things took a critical turn for the worse when Germany
shifted its focus of attack to the Eastern front. The superior
German army — better led, better trained and better supplied — was
terrifyingly effective against the ill-equipped Russian forces,
driving the Russians out of Galicia, as well as Russian Poland,
during the Gorlice-Tarnow
campaign. By the end of October 1916, Russia had lost
between 1,600,000 and 1,800,000 soldiers, with an additional
2,000,000 prisoners of war and 1,000,000 missing, all making up a
total of nearly 5,000,000 men.
These staggering losses played a definite role in the Mutinies
which began to occur, and, in 1916, reports of fraternizing with
the enemy started to circulate. Soldiers went hungry, and they
lacked shoes, munitions, and even weapons. Rampant discontent
lowered morale, only to be further undermined by a series of
Casualty rates were the most vivid sign of this disaster. Already,
by the end of 1914, only five months into the war, around 390,000
Russian men had lost their lives and nearly 1,000,000 were injured.
Far sooner than expected, scarcely-trained recruits had to be
called up for active duty, a process repeated throughout the war as
staggering losses continued to mount. The officer class also saw
remarkable turnover, especially within the lower echelons, which
were quickly filled with soldiers rising up through the ranks.
These men, usually of peasant or worker backgrounds, were to play a
large role in the politicization of the troops in 1917.
The huge losses on the battlefields were not limited to men. The
army quickly ran short of rifles and ammunition (as well as
uniforms and food), and, by mid-1915, men were being sent to the
front bearing no arms; it was hoped that they could equip
themselves with the arms that they recovered from fallen soldiers,
of both sides, on the battlefields. With patently good reason, the
soldiers did not feel that they were being treated as human beings,
or even as valuable soldiers, but rather as raw materials to be
squandered for the purposes of the rich and powerful.
By the spring of 1915, the army was in steady retreat, which was
not always orderly; desertion, plunder and chaotic flight were not
uncommon. By 1916, however, the situation had improved in many
respects. Russian troops stopped retreating, and there were even
some modest successes in the offensives that were staged that year,
albeit at great loss of life. Also, the problem of shortages was
largely solved by a major effort to increase domestic production.
Nevertheless, by the end of 1916, morale among soldiers was even
worse than it had been during the great retreat of 1915. The
fortunes of war may have improved, but the fact of the war, still
draining away strength and lives from the country and its many
individuals and families, remained an oppressive inevitability. The
crisis in morale (as was argued by Allan Wildman, a leading
historian of the Russian army in war and revolution) "was rooted
fundamentally in the feeling of utter despair that the slaughter
would ever end and that anything resembling victory could be
The war devastated not only soldiers. By the end of 1915, there
were manifold signs that the economy was breaking down under the
heightened strain of wartime demand. The main problems were food
shortages and rising prices. Inflation shoved real incomes down at
an alarmingly rapid rate, and shortages made it difficult to buy
even what one could afford. These shortages were especially a problem in
the capital, Petrograd (formerly the City of Saint Petersburg), where
distance from supplies and poor transportation networks made
matters particularly bad.
Shops closed early or entirely for
lack of bread, sugar, meat and other provisions, and lines
lengthened massively for what remained. It became increasingly
difficult both to afford and actually buy food.
Not surprisingly, strikes increased steadily from the middle of
1915, and so did crime; but, for the most part, people suffered and
endured — scouring the city for food — working-class women in
Petrograd reportedly spent about forty hours a week in food lines —
begging, turning to prostitution or crime, tearing down wooden
fences to keep stoves heated for warmth, grumbling about the rich,
and wondering when and how this would all come to an end.
Government officials responsible for public order worried about how
long the people's patience would last. A report by the Petrograd
branch of the security police, the Okhrana
in October 1916, warned bluntly of "the possibility in the near
future of riots by the lower classes of the empire enraged by the
burdens of daily existence."
Nicholas was blamed for all of these crises, and what little
support he had left began to crumble. As discontent grew, the
issued a warning to Nicholas
in November 1916. It stated that, inevitably, a terrible disaster
would grip the country unless a constitutional form of government
was put in place. In typical fashion, however, Nicholas ignored
them, and Russia's Tsarist regime collapsed a few months later
during the February Revolution of 1917. One year later, the Tsar
and his entire family were executed. Ultimately, Nicholas's inept
handling of his country and the War destroyed the Tsars and ended
up costing him both his rule and his life.
This revolution broke out without definite leadership and formal
plans, which may be seen as indicative of the fact that the Russian
people had had quite enough of the existing system. Petrograd, the
capital, became the focus of attention, and, on 23 February (8
March) 1917, people at the food queues started a demonstration.
They were soon joined by many thousands of women textile workers,
who walked out of their factories—partly in commemoration of
International Women's Day
but mainly to protest against the severe shortages of bread.
Already, large numbers of men and women were on strike, and the
women stopped at any still-operating factories to call on their
workers to join them. The mobs marched through the streets, with
cries of "Bread!" and "Give us bread!" During the next two days,
the strike, encouraged by the efforts of hundreds of rank-and-file
socialist activists, spread to factories and shops throughout the
capital. By 25 February, 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, whilst,
in the still-active Duma
, liberal and socialist
deputies came to realise a potentially-massive problem. They
presently denounced the current government even more vehemently and
demanded a responsible cabinet of ministers. The Duma, consisting
primarily of the bourgeoise, pressed the Tsar to abdicate in order
to avert a revolution.
On the evening of Saturday the 25th, with police having lost
control of the situation, Nicholas II, who refused to believe the
warnings about the seriousness of these events, sent a fateful
telegram to the chief of the Petrograd military district, General
Sergei Khabalov: "I command you tomorrow to stop the disorders in
the capital, which are unacceptable in the difficult time of war
with Germany and Austria." Most of the soldiers obeyed these orders
on the 26th, but mutinies, often led by lower-ranked officers,
spread overnight. On the morning of the 27th, workers in the
streets, many of them now armed, were joined by soldiers, sent in
by the government to quell the riots. Many of these soldiers were
insurgents, however, and they joined the crowd and fired on the
police, in many cases little red ribbons tied to their bayonets.
The outnumbered police then proceeded to join the army and
civilians in their rampage. Thus, with this near-total
disintegration of military power in the capital, effective civil
By nighttime on the 27th, the cabinet submitted its resignation to
the Czar and proposed a temporary military dictatorship, but
Russia's military leaders rejected this course. Nicholas,
meanwhile, had been on the front with the soldiers, where he had
seen first-hand Russia's defeat at Tannenberg. He had become very
frustuated and was conscious of the fact that the demonstrations
were on a massive scale; indeed, he feared for his life. The ill
health of his son (suffering from the blood disorder hemophilia)
was causing him difficulties, too. Nicholas accepted defeat at last
and abdicated on 13 March, hoping, by this last act of service to
his nation (as he stated in his manifesto), to end the disorders
and bring unity to Russia. In the wake of this collapse of the
300-year-old Romanov dynasty—Nicholas's brother, to whom he
subsequently offered the crown, refused to become Czar unless that
was the decision of an elected government; he wanted the
to want him as their leader—a minority of the Duma's
deputies declared themselves a Provisional Government
chaired by Prince Lvov
, a moderate
reformist, although leadership moved gradually to Alexander
Kerensky of the Social Revolutionary Party.
- 30 July: The All Russian Zemstvo Union for the Relief of Sick
and Wounded Soldiers is created with Lvov as president.
- August - November: Russia suffers heavy defeats and a large
shortage of supplies, including food and munitions, but holds onto
- 3 August: Germany declares war on Russia, causing a brief sense
of patriotic union amongst the Russian nation and a downturn in
- 18 August: Saint Petersburg is renamed Petrograd as 'Germanic'
names are changed to sound more Russian, and hence more
- 5 November: Bolshevik members of the Duma are arrested; they
are later tried and exiled to Siberia.
- 19 February: Great Britain and France accept Russia's claims to
Istanbul and other Turkish lands.
- 5 June: Strikers shot at in Kostromá; casualties.
- 9 July: The Great Retreat
begins, as Russian forces pull back out of Galicia and Russian
Poland into Russia proper.
- 9 August: The Duma's bourgeois parties form the 'Progressive
bloc' to push for better government and reform; includes the
Kadets, Octobrist groups and Nationalists.
- 10 August: Strikers shot at in Ivánovo-Voznesénsk;
- 17 August-19th: Strikers in Petrograd protest at the deaths in
- 23 August: Reacting to war failures and a hostile Duma, the
Tsar takes over as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces,
prorogues the Duma and moves to military headquarters at Mogilev.
Central government begins to seize up.
- January - December: Despite successes in the Brusilov
offensive, the Russian war effort is still characterised by
shortages, poor command, death and desertion. Away from the front,
the conflict causes starvation, inflation and a torrent of
refugees. Both soldiers and civilians blame the incompetence of the
Tsar and his government.
- 6 February: Duma reconvened.
- 29 February: After a month of strikes at the Putílov Factory,
the government conscripts the workers and takes charge of
production. Protest strikes follow.
- 20 June: Duma prorogued.
- October: Troops from 181st Regiment help striking Russkii
Renault workers fight against the Police.
- 1 November: Miliukov gives his 'Is this stupidity or treason?'
speech in reconvened Duma.
- 29 December: Rasputin is killed by
- 30 December: The Tsar is warned that his army won't support him
against a revolution.
Between February and throughout October: "Dual Power"
The effective power of the Provisional Government was challenged by
the authority of an institution that claimed to represent the will
of workers and soldiers and could, in fact, mobilize and control
these groups during the early months of the revolution—the
Petrograd Soviet [Council] of Workers' Deputies. The model for the
soviet were workers' councils that had been established in scores
of Russian cities during the 1905 revolution. In February 1917,
striking workers elected deputies to represent them and socialist
activists began organizing a citywide council to unite these
deputies with representatives of the socialist parties. On 27
February, socialist Duma deputies, mainly Mensheviks
and Socialist Revolutionaries, took the
lead in organizing a citywide council. The Petrograd Soviet
met in the Tauride
Palace, the same building where the new government was
The leaders of the Petrograd Soviet believed that they represented
particular classes of the population, not the whole nation. They
also believed Russia was not ready for socialism. So they saw their
role as limited to pressuring hesitant "bourgeoisie” to rule and to
introduce extensive democratic reforms in Russia (the replacement
of the monarchy by a republic, guaranteed civil rights, a
democratic police and army, abolition of religious and ethnic
discrimination, preparation ofelections to a constituent assembly,
and so on). They met in the same building as the emerging
Provisional Government not to compete with the Duma Committee for
state power but to best exert pressure on the new government, to
act, in other words, as a popular democratic lobby.
The relationship between these two major powers was complex from
the beginning and would shape the politics of 1917. The
representatives of the Provisional Government agreed to "take into
account the opinions of the Soviet of Workers' Deputies," though
they were also determined to prevent "interference in the actions
of the government," which would create "an unacceptable situation
of dual power." In fact, this was precisely what was being created,
though this "dual power" (dvoevlastie) was the result less of the
actions or attitudes of the leaders of these two institutions than
of actions outside their control, especially the ongoing social
movement taking place on the streets of Russia’s cities, in
factories and shops, in barracks and in the trenches, and in the
A series of political crises—see the chronology below—in the
relationship between population and government and between the
Provisional government and the soviets (which developed into a
nationwide movement with a national leadership, The All-Russian
Central Executive Committee of Soviets (VTsIK)) undermined the
authority of the Provisional Government but also of the moderate
socialist leaders of the Soviet. Although the Soviet leadership
initially refused to participate in the "bourgeois" Provisional
Government, Alexander Kerensky
young and popular lawyer and a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party
(SRP), agreed to join the new cabinet, and became an increasingly
central figure in the government, eventually taking leadership of
the Provisional Government. As minister of war and later Prime
Minister, Kerensky promoted freedom of speech, released thousands
of political prisoners, did his very best to continue the war
effort and even organised another offensive (which, however, was no
more successful than its predecessors). Nevertheless, Kerensky
still faced several great challenges, highlighted by the soldiers,
urban workers and peasants, who claimed that they had gained
nothing by the revolution:
- Other political groups were trying to undermine him.
- Heavy military losses were being suffered on the front.
- The soldiers were dissatisfied, demoralised and had started to
defect. (On arrival back in Russia, these soldiers were either
imprisoned or sent straight back into the front.)
- There was enormous discontent with Russia's involvement in the
war, and many were calling for an end to it.
- There were great shortages of food and supplies, which was
difficult to remedy because of the wartime economic
The political group which proved most troublesome for Kerensky, and
would eventually overthrow him, was the Bolshevik Party, led by
. Lenin had been living
in exile in neutral Switzerland and, due to the democratization of
politics after the February Revolution which legalized formerly
banned political parties, he perceived the opportunity for his
Marxist revolution. Although return to Russia had become a
possibility, the war made it logistically difficult. Eventually,
German officials arranged for Lenin to pass through their
territory, hoping that his activities would weaken Russia or
even--if the Bolsheviks came to power--lead to Russia's withdrawal
from the war. Lenin and his associates, however, had to agree to
travel to Russia in a sealed train: Germany would not take the
chance that he would foment revolution with Germany. After passing
through the front, he arrived in Petrograd in April 1917.
With Lenin's arrival, the popularity of the Bolsheviks
increased steadily. Over the course of
the spring, public dissatisfaction with the Provisional Government
and the war, in particular among workers, soldiers and peasants,
pushed these groups to radical parties. Despite growing support for
the Bolsheviks, buoyed by maxims that called most famously for "all
power to the Soviets," the party held very little real power in the
moderate dominated Petrograd Soviet. In fact, historians such as
Sheila Fitzpatrick have asserted that Lenin's exhortations for the
Soviet Council to take power were intended to arouse indignation
both with the Provisional Government, whose policies were viewed as
conservative, and the Soviet itself, which was viewed as
subservient to the conservative government. By most historians'
accounts, Lenin and his followers were unprepared for how their
groundswell of support, especially among influential worker and
soldier groups, would translate into real power in the summer of
On 18 June, the Provisional Government launched an attack against
Germany which failed miserably. Soon after, soldiers were ordered
by the government to go to the front reneging a previously made
promise and they refused to follow their new orders. The arrival of radical
Kronstadt sailors, who had tried and executed many officers,
including one admiral, further fueled the growing revolutionary
The sailors and soldiers, along with Petrograd
workers, took to the streets in violent protest, calling for "all
power to the Soviets." The revolt, however, was disowned by Lenin
and the Bolshevik leaders and dissipated within a few days.
aftermath, Lenin fled to Finland under threat
of arrest while Trotsky, among other prominent Bolsheviks, was
The July Days
the popularity of the anti-war, radical Bolsheviks, but their
unpreparedness at the moment of revolt was an embarrassing gaffe
which resulted in loss of support among their main constituent
groups--soldiers and workers.
The Bolshevik failure in the July Days proved temporary. In August,
poor or misleading, communication led General Lavr Kornilov
, the recently appointed Supreme
Commander of Russian military forces, to believe that the Petrograd
government had been captured by radicals, or was in serious danger
thereof. In response, he ordered troops to Petrograd to pacify the
city. In order to secure his position, Kerensky had to ask for
Bolshevik assistance. He also sought help from the Petrograd
Soviet, which called upon armed Red Guards to "defend the
revolution." This Kornilov Affair
failed largely due to the efforts of the Bolsheviks, whose
influence over railroad and telegraph workers proved vital in
stopping the movement of troops. With his coup failing, Kornilov
surrendered and was relieved of his position. The Bolsheviks' role
in stopping the attempted coup immensely strengthened their
In early September, the Petrograd Soviet freed all jailed
Bolsheviks and Trotsky became chairman of the Petrograd Soviet.
Growing numbers of socialists and lower-class Russians viewed the
government less and less as a force in support of their needs and
interests. The Bolsheviks benefited as the only major organized
opposition party which had refused to compromise with the
Provisional Government, and they benefited from growing frustration
and even disgust with other parties, such as the Mensheviks and
SRs, who stubbornly refused to break with an idea of national unity
across all classes.
In Finland, Lenin had worked on his book State and Revolution
to lead his party writing newspaper articles and policy decrees. By
October, he returned to Petrograd, aware that the increasingly
radical city presented him no legal danger and a second opportunity
for revolution. The Bolshevik Central Committee drafted a
resolution, calling for the dissolution of the Provisional
Government in favor of the Petrograd Soviet. The resolution was
passed 10-2 (Lev Kamenev
and Grigory Zinoviev
and the October Revolution
The October Revolution was led by Vladimir Lenin
and was based upon Lenin's
writing on the ideas of Karl Marx
political ideology often known as Marxism-Leninism
. It marked the beginning
of the spread of communism
twentieth century. It was far less sporadic than the revolution of
February and came about as the result of deliberate planning and
coordinated activity to that end. Though Lenin was the leader of
the Bolshevik Party, it has been argued that since Lenin wasn't
present during the actual takeover of the Winter Palace, it was
direction that led the revolution, spurred by the motivation Lenin
instigated within his party. Critics on the Right have long argued
that the financial and logistical assistance of German intelligence
via their key agent, Alexander
was a key component as well, though historians are
divided, for the evidence is sparse.
On 7 November 1917, Bolshevik
led his leftist
revolutionaries in a revolt against the ineffective Provisional
Government (Russia was still using the Julian Calendar
at the time, so period
references show a 25 October date). The October revolution ended
the phase of the revolution instigated in February, replacing
Russia's short-lived provisional parliamentary government with
government by soviet
councils elected by bodies of workers and peasants. Liberal and
monarchist forces, loosely organized into the White Army
, immediately went to war against the
Bolsheviks' Red Army
Soviet membership was initially freely elected, but many members of
the Socialist-Revolutionary Party
anarchists, and other leftists opposed the Bolsheviks through the
soviets. When it became clear that the Bolsheviks had little
support outside of the industrialized areas of Saint Petersburg and
Moscow, they barred non-Bolsheviks from membership in the soviets.
Other socialists revolted and called for "a third Russian
revolution." The most notable instances were the Tambov
and the Kronstadt rebellion in
These movements, which made a wide range of
demands and lacked effective coordination, were eventually defeated
along with the White Army during the Civil War
The Russian Civil War, which broke out in 1918 shortly after the
revolution, brought death and suffering to millions of people
regardless of their political orientation. The war was fought
mainly between the Red Army
consisting of radical communist revolutionaries, and the "Whites"
—the monarchists, conservatives,
liberals and moderate socialists who opposed the drastic
restructuring championed by the Bolsheviks. The Whites had backing
from nations such as Great Britain, France, USA and Japan.
Also during the Civil War, Nestor
led a Ukrainian anarchist
movement, the Black Army
allied to the
Bolsheviks thrice, one of the powers ending the alliance each time.
However, a Bolshevik force under Mikhail
destroyed the Makhnovist
movement, when the Makhnovists refused to merge into the Red Army
. In addition, the so-called "Green Army
" (peasants defending their property
against the opposing forces) played a secondary role in the war,
mainly in the Ukraine.
Death of the imperial family
March, the Provisional Government placed Nicholas and his family
under house arrest in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe
Selo, south of Petrograd. In August 1917 the
Kerensky government evacuated the
Romanovs to Tobolsk in the Urals, allegedly
to protect them from the rising tide of revolution during the
After the Bolsheviks
came to power in October 1917, the conditions of their imprisonment
grew stricter and talk of putting Nicholas on trial increased.
counter revolutionary White movement gathered force, leading to
full-scale civil war by the summer, the Romanovs were moved during
April and May 1918 to Yekaterinburg, a militant Bolshevik stronghold.
early morning of 16 July, at approximately 01:30, Nicholas,
Alexandra, their children, their physician, and several servants
were taken into the basement and killed. According to Edvard
Radzinsky and Dmitrii Volkogonov, the order came directly from
Vladimir Lenin and Yakov Sverdlov in Moscow. That the order came
from the top has long been believed, although there is a lack of
hard evidence. It has been argued that the execution was carried
out on the initiative of local Bolshevik officials, or that it was
an option approved in Moscow should White troops approach
Yekaterinburg. Radzinsky noted that Lenin's bodyguard personally
delivered the telegram ordering the execution and that he was
ordered to destroy the evidence.
The Russian revolution and the world
said that the goal of socialism
in Russia would not be realized without
the success of the world
. Indeed, a revolutionary wave
caused by the Russian
Revolution lasted until 1923
Despite initial hopes for success in the German Revolution
, in the short-lived
Hungarian Soviet Republic
and others like it, no other Marxist
movement succeeded in keeping power in its hands.
This issue is subject to conflicting views on the communist history
by various Marxist groups and parties. Stalin
later rejected this idea, stating that socialism was possible in one
The confusion regarding Stalin's position on the issue stems from
the fact that he, after Lenin's death in 1924, successfully used
Lenin's argument—the argument that socialism's success needs the
workers of other countries in order to happen—to defeat his
competitors within the party by accusing them of betraying Lenin
and, therefore, the ideals of the October Revolution.
Chronology of events leading to the Revolution of 1917
Dates are correct for the Julian
calendar, which was used in Russia until 1918. It was
twelve days behind the Gregorian
calendar during the 19th century and thirteen days behind it
during the 20th century.
Expanded chronology of events during the Revolution of
||Strikes and unrest in Petrograd.
||International Women's Day: strikes and demonstrations in
Petrograd, growing over the next few days.
demonstrators killed in Znamenskaya Square Tsar Nicholas II prorogues the State Duma and
orders commander of Petrograd military district to suppress
disorders with force.
||* Troops refuse to fire on demonstrators, deserters. Prisons,
courts, and police bumbs attacked and looted by angry crowds.
- Okhrana buildings set on fire. Garrison
- Petrograd Soviet formed.
- Formation of Provisional Committee of the Duma by liberals from
Constitutional Democratic Party (Kadets).
||Order No.1 of the Petrograd Soviet.
||Nicholas II abdicates.
Government formed under Prime Minister Prince Lvov.
||Return of Lenin to Russia. He publishes
his April Theses.
||"April Days": mass demonstrations by workers, soldiers, and
others in the streets of Petrograd and Moscow triggered by the
publication of the Foreign Minister Miliukov's note
to the allies, which was interpreted as affirming commitment to the
war policies of the old government. First Provisional Government
||First Coalition Government forms when socialists,
representatives of the Soviet leadership, agree to enter the
cabinet of the Provisional Government. Kerensky, the only socialist already in the
government, made minister of war and navy.
||First All-Russian Congress of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies
opens in Petrograd. Closed on 24th. Elects Central
Executive Committee of Soviets (VTsIK), headed by Mensheviks and
||Planned Bolshevik demonstration in Petrograd banned by the
||Kerensky orders offensive against Austro-Hungarian forces.
Initial success only.
||Official Soviet demonstration in Petrograd for unity is
unexpectedly dominated by Bolshevik slogans: "Down with the Ten
Capitalist Ministers", "All Power to the Soviets".
||Russian offensive ends. Trotsky
||The "July Days"; mass armed
demonstrations in Petrograd, encouraged by the Bolsheviks,
demanding "All Power to the Soviets".
||German and Austro-Hungarian
counter-attack. Russians retreat in panic, sacking the town
of Tarnopol. Arrest of Bolshevik leaders ordered.
||Lvov resigns and asks Kerensky to become Prime Minister and
form a new government. Established 25 Julyth.
||Trotsky and Lunacharskii arrested.
||Second coalition government ends.
||"Kornilov mutiny". Begins when the commander-in-chief of the
Russian army, General Lavr Kornilov, demands (or is believed by
Kerensky to demand) that the government give him all civil and
military authority and moves troops against Petrograd.
||Majority of deputies of the Petrograd Soviet approve a
Bolshevik resolution for an all-socialist government excluding the
||Russia declared a republic.
||Trotsky and others freed.
||Bolshevik resolution on the government wins majority vote in
||Moscow Soviet elects executive committee and new presidium,
with Bolshevik majorities, and the Bolshevik Viktor Nogin as chairman.
||Third coalition government formed. Bolshevik majority in
Petrograd Soviet elects Bolshevik
Presidium and Trotsky as chairman.
||Bolshevik Central Committee meeting approves armed
||Congress of Soviets of the Northern Region, until 13
||First meeting of the Military Revolutionary
Committee of the Petrograd
||October Revolution is
launched as MRC directs armed workers and soldiers to capture key
buildings in Petrograd. Winter Palace attacked at 9:40pm and captured at 2am.
Kerensky flees Petrograd. Opening of the 2nd All-Russian Congress of
||Second Congress of Soviets: Mensheviks and right SR delegates
walk out in protest against the previous day's events. Congress
approves transfer of state authority into its own hands and local
power into the hands of local soviets of workers', soldiers', and
peasants' deputies, abolishes capital punishment, issues Decree on Peace and Decree on Land, and approves the formation of
an all-Bolshevik government, the Council of People's
Commissars (Sovnarkom), with Lenin as chairman.
The Russian Revolution has been portrayed in several films
- Arsenal ' (IMDB
profile). Written and directed by Aleksandr Dovzhenko.
- Konets Sankt-Peterburga AKA The End of Saint
Petersburg (IMDB profile).
- Lenin v 1918 godu' AKA Lenin in 1918
(IMDB profile). Directed by
Mikhail Romm and E. Aron
Ten Days That Shook the World (IMDB
profile). Directed by Sergei
Eisenstein and Grigori
Aleksandrov. Runtimes: Sweden:104 min, USA:95 min. Country:
Soviet Union. Black and White. Silent. 1927.
- The End of Saint
Petersburg, directed by Vsevolod Pudovkin, USSR,
- Reds (IMDB
profile). Directed by Warren
Beatty, 1981. It is based on the book Ten Days that Shook the
profile), an American animated feature, directed by Don Bluth and Gary
- Dr. Zhivago,
an American drama-romance-war film directed by David Lean, 1965, and loosely based on the famous
novel of the same name by Boris
- The White Guard,
Mikhail Bulgakov, 1926. Partially
autobiographical novel, portraying the life of one family torn
apart by uncertainty of the Civil War times. Also, Dni
Turbinykh (IMDB profile), 1976 - film based on the novel.
- Orlando Figes, A Peoples Tragedy, p370
- See, for example, Cambridge History of Russia
(Cambridge, England, 2006), volumes 2–3.
- The scholarly literature on peasants is now very large. Major
recent works that examine themes discussed above (and can serve as
a guide to older scholarship) Christine Worobec, Peasant
Russia: Family and Community in the Post Emancipation Period
(Princeton, 1955); Frank and Steinberg, eds., Cultures in
Flux (Princeton, 1994); Barbara Alpern Engel, Between the
Fields and the City: Women, Work, and Family in Russia,
1861–1914 (Cambridge, 1994); Jeffrey Burds, Peasant Dreams
and Market Politics (Pittsburgh, 1998); Stephen Frank,
Crime, Cultural Conflict and Justice in Rural Russia,
1856–1914 (Berkeley, 1999).
- Among the many scholarly works on Russian workers, see
especially Reginald Zelnik, Labor and Society in Tsarist
Russia: The Factory Workers of St. Petersburg, 1855–1870
(Stanford, 1971); Victoria Bonnell, Roots of Rebellion:
Workers’ Politics and Organizations in St. Petersburg and Moscow,
1900–1914 (Berkeley, 1983).
- See, especially, Dominic Lieven, Nicholas II: Emperor of
all the Russias (London, 1993); Andrew Verner, The Crisis
of the Russian Autocracy: Nicholas II and the 1905 Revolution
(Princeton, 1990); Mark Steinberg and Vladimir Khrustalev, The
Fall of the Romanovs: Political Dreams and Personal Struggles in a
Time of Revolution (New Haven, 1995); Richard Wortman,
Scenarios of Power, vol. 2 (Princeton, 2000); Orlando
Figes, A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution
1891-1924, Part One
- Allan Wildman, The End of the Russian Imperial Army,
vol. 1 (Princeton, 1980): 76–80; Hubertus Jahn, Patriotic
Culture in Russia During World War I (Ithaca, 1995); Figes,
A People’s Tragedy, 257–258.
- Wildman: The End of the Russian Imperial Army (I), p.
85–89, 99–105, 106 (quotation).
- "Doklad petrogradskogo okhrannogo otdeleniia osobomu otdelu
departamenta politsii" ["Report of the Petrograd Okhrana to the
Special Department of the Department of the Police"], October 1916,
Krasnyi arkhiv 17 (1926), 4–35 (quotation 4).
- Quoted by Khabalov in his testimony of 22 March 1917, in
Padenie tsarskogo rezhima: stenograficheskie otchety doprosov i
pokazanii, dannykh v 1917 g. v Chrezvychainoi Sledstvennoi Komissii
Vremennogo Pravitel'stva [The fall of the tsarist regime:
stenographic reports of interrogations and testimony given in 1917
to the Extraordinary Investigatory Commission of the Provisional
Government], ed. P. E. Shchegolev, 7 vols. (Moscow and
Leningrad, 1924–1927), 1: 190–91.
- Mark Steinberg and Vladimir Khrustalev, Fall of the
- N. N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution: A Personal
Record, ed. and trans. Joel Carmichael (Oxford, 1955;
originally published in Russian in 1922), 101–8.
- "Zhurnal [No. 1] Soveta Ministrov Vremennogo Pravitel'stva," 2
March 1917, GARF (State Archive of the
Russian Federation), f. 601, op. 1, d. 2103, l. 1
- Dmitrii Volkogonov, Lenin: A New Biography (New York:
Free Press, 1994); Edvard Radzinsky, The Last Tsar: The Life
And Death Of Nicholas II (New York: Knopf, 1993).
- Acton, Edward, Vladimir Cherniaev, and William G. Rosenberg,
eds. A Critical Companion to the Russian Revolution,
1914–1921 (Bloomington, 1997).
- Cambridge History of Russia, vol. 2–3, England:
Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-81529-0 (vol. 2) ISBN
0-521-81144-9 (vol. 3).
- Figes, Orlando. A People's
Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891–1924, : ISBN
0-14-024364-X (trade paperback) ISBN 0-670-85916-8 (hardcover)
- Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Russian Revolution. 199
pages. Oxford University Press; 2nd Reissue edition. 1 December
2001. ISBN 0-19-280204-6.
- Lincoln, W. Bruce. Passage Through Armageddon: The Russians
in War and Revolution, 1914–1918. (New York, 1986).
- Malone, Richard. Analysing the Russian Revolution, :
ISBN 0-521-54141-7, Melbourne, Cambridge University Press; 1st
- Pipes, Richard. The Russian
Revolution (New York, 1990)
- Steinberg, Mark, Voices of Revolution, 1917. Yale
University Press, 2001
- Reed, John. Ten Days that Shook the World. 1919, 1st
Edition, published by BONI & Liveright, Inc. for International
Publishers. Transcribed and marked by David Walters for John Reed Internet Archive. Penguin Books; 1st
edition. 1 June 1980. ISBN 0-14-018293-4. Retrieved 14 May
- Serge, Victor. Year One of the Russian Revolution. L'An l de
la revolution russe, 1930. Year One of the Russian Revolution,
Holt, Reinhart, and Winston. Translation, editor's Introduction,
and notes © 1972 by Peter Sedgwick. Reprinted on Victor Serge
Internet Archive by permission. ISBN 0-86316-150-2. Retrieved 14
- Trotsky, Leon. The History of the Russian Revolution.
Translated by Max Eastman, 1932. Library of Congress Catalog Card
Number 8083994. ISBN 0-913460-83-4. Transcribed for the World Wide
Web by John Gowland (Australia), Alphanos Pangas (Greece) and David
Walters (United States). Pathfinder Press edition. 1 June 1980.
ISBN 0-87348-829-6. Retrieved 14 May 2005.
- Ascher, Abraham, ed. The Mensheviks in the Russian
Revolution (Ithaca, 1976).
- Avrich, Paul, ed. The Anarchists
in the Russian Revolution (Ithaca, 1973).
- Browder, Robert Paul and Alexander F. Kerensky, eds., The Russian
Provisional Government, 1917: Documents. 3 volumes (Stanford,
- Bunyan, James and H. H. Fisher, eds. The Bolshevik
Revolution, 1917–1918: Documents and Materials (Stanford,
1961; first ed. 1934).
- Steinberg, Mark D. Voices of Revolution, 1917. In the
series “Annals of Communism,” Yale
University Press, 2001. On-line publication of these texts in
the Russian original: Golosa revoliutsii, 1917 g. (Yale University Press, 2002)
- Goldston, Robert, The Russian Revolution, 1966.