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February Revolution

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February Revolution could also refer to the revolutions of 1848 in France.

The February Revolution was a liberal revolution in Russia in 1917. Its immediate result was the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, the collapse of Imperial Russia and the end of the Romanov dynasty. A provisional, non-Communist government under Alexander Kerensky replaced the tsar. It was an alliance between liberals and socialists who wanted to instigate political reform, creating a democratically-elected executive and constituent assembly.

The February Revolution took place in March 1917 of the modern calendar (Gregorian calendar). In the calendar Russia was using at the time (Julian calendar), the events fell into February, which explains the revolution's name.

This revolution broke out spontaneously, without any real leadership or formal planning, which served to illustrate the fact that the people of Russia had had quite enough of the existing system. The tensions which had for so long been building up finally exploded into a revolution, and the western state of Petrograd (the City of St. Petersburg prior to the war) became the focal point of activity. An illustration of just how large Russia was (and, indeed, still is) is that it took some years for eastern parts of the country to realise that a revolution had actually taken place.

The February Revolution was followed in the same year by the October Revolution, bringing about nationalist Bolshevik rule and a change in Russia's social structure, while also paving the way for the USSR (a federation of loosely-connected states, as in the USA) and Communism. Two revolutions were required in order to change the composition of the country: the first overthrew the Czar, and the second instituted properly a new government.

World War I[edit]

Main article: World War I

The 1917 February Revolution occurred largely as a result of the First World War as well as the dissatisfaction with the manner in which the country was being run by the Tsarina, Alexandra Fyodorovna of Hesse, and Tsar Nicholas's ministers, who were acting on his authority whilst he was away at the Army Headquarters as Commander-in-Chief. A telegram from Rodzianko to the Tsar on 26 February 1917, in which he begs for a strong, capable minister, serves to illustrate the lack of strong leadership under this arrangement.

The personal assumption of command by the Tsar in itself was a cause of much tension, for involvement in World War I was seen to be the root of the majority of the problems (primarily economic) which Russia was experiencing internally, and the Tsar's personal association with the war served only to worsen further his already-wavering 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 -- resulting in that most-intriguing 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 for the time that Nicholas (at the calling of Rasputin) was away at the front.

All political parties (apart from the Social Democratic Labour Party, divided between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks) had supported, in August 1914, Russia's participation in World War I, alongside the UK] and the French, the three being allied in what was known as the Triple Entente. After a few initial victories, the Tsar's armies were confronted with some very serious defeats -- particularly in East Prussia. The factories were not productive enough, the railway system quite insufficient, and the overall logistics poor, all of which explained Russia's not-inconsiderable losses. More than 1,700,000 Russian soldiers were killed, and 5,900,000 injured. Mutinies sprang up often, with general morale at its lowest, and the officers and commanders were at times most incompetent. Some units, indeed, went to the front line with ammunition that was incompatible with their weapons. Over 140,000 desertions occurred in just one year.

On the home front, the famine was threatening and commodities were becoming scarce. The Russian economy, which had just seen one of the highest growth rates in Europe, was henceforth blocked from the continent's market. The Duma, composed of liberal deputies, warned Tsar Nicholas II of the impending danger and counselled him to form a new constitutional government, like that which he had dissolved after some short-term attempts in the aftermath of the 1905 Revolution. The Tsar ignored the Duma's advice.

Petrograd riots[edit]

February 1917 gathered all the preconditions 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. The revolution began at the start of February with several strikes and demonstrations from the Petrograd workers. On February 22 (O.S.), the major plant of Petrograd, Putilov, announced a strike. The strikers were sacked, and some shops closed, resulting in further unrest at other plants. Some demonstrations were organised to demand bread, and these were supported by the industrial working force, finding in them a reason for continuing the strikes. Although some clashes with the Tsar's forces did occur, no one was injured on the opening day. In the days which followed, the strikes generalized themselves in all of Petrograd, and tension was rising rapidly. On February 23 (O.S.; March 7, N.S.), a series of meetings and rallies were held on the occasion of International Women's Day, which gradually turned into economic and political gatherings. Slogans, which had been, until this time, very much reserved, became more and more political: "End to the war!" they cried. "End to the autocracy!"

On this occasion, clashes with the police, finding the matter impossible to control, resulted in numerous casualties on both sides, and demonstrators armed themselves by looting the police headquarters. On February 25 (O.S.), after three days of such riotous anarchy, the Tsar sent a large battalion of soldiers to the city to quell the uprising. Although the soldiers resisted the first attempts at fraternization and killed many demonstrators, they progressively deserted their officers during the evenings and, sympathising with the crowds, joined them instead. Their entry helped to make the revolt more conventionally armed, and many of them were soon firing on the hapless police, who quickly succumbed and joined the demonstrations, too.

The Tsar initially refused to believe the reports sent to him by the President of the Duma, which was still kicking and conscious of the massive problem which was developing. Nicholas, however, wrote thus in a telegram to his wife on 27 February: "Again, that fat-bellied Rodzianko has written me a load of nonsense, which I won't even bother to answer."

Nevertheless, in March 1, the Tsar decided to take a train to the government capital after hearing that his children, including the Tsarevich Alexei had contracted measles. En route, however, the royal train was instructed to divert by a group of deviously disloyal troops. When the Tsar finally reached his destination, the Army Chiefs, his remaining ministers (vis-à-vis, those who had not fled on 29 February under the pretense of a power-cut) suggested in unison that he abdicate the throne, and this he did on March 2 (O.S.) (March 15, N.S.), for himself and his son, the Tsarevich. Nicholas nominated the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, his brother, to succeed him. This was a decidedly unenlightened thing of Nicholas to do: with all of Petrograd's troops having joined the demonstrators, the Grand Duke was smart enough to realise that he would have little or no support as ruler, so he declined the crown, stating that he would take it only if that was the general concensus of an elected government. (The Tsar and his family were later imprisoned before being brutally murdered during the "Red Terror", when the ruling Bolsheviks sought to destroy all vestiges of Russia's monarchial past, and, with the royal family gone, there was no going back.)

By default, the Provisional Government took control of Russia, with the first elections taking place at the Petrograd Soviet (or workers' council) while the Provisional Government got itself organized: two competing powers were getting organized into a "diarchy".

The Provisional Government and Petrograd's Soviet[edit]

The Provisional Government which replaced the Tsar was initially chaired by a liberal aristocrat, Prince Georgy Yevgenyevich Lvov, a member of the Constitutional Democratic party (KD). He was a moderate reformist and certainly not a very strong character. After his government failed, he was succeeded by a Social Revolutionary, Alexander Kerensky, who had been taking power gradually for quite some time. Kerensky pronounced freedom of speech, released thousands of political prisoners and did his best to maintain Russian involvement in World War I, but he faced numerous massive challenges, most of them to do with the war:

  • There were some very heavy military losses still being experienced out on the front.
  • Dissatisfied soldiers were defecting (although, when they got back home, they were generally either imprisoned or sent to the front once more).
  • Other political groups were doing their utmost to undermine him.
  • There was a strong movement in favour of stopping Russia's involvement in the war, which was seen to be draining the country, and many who had initially supported it now wanted out.
  • There was a great shortage of food and supplies, which was very difficult to remedy in wartime conditions.
  • All of the abovementioned were highlighted by the soldiers, urban workers and peasants, who claimed that little had been gained by the February Revolution. Kerensky was expected to deliver on his promises of jobs, land, food and the like almost instanteously, and he had naturally failed to do so.

To pressure the Government, the Estonian population living in Petrograd organized, on March 26, a massive -- there were 40,000 participants, including 12-15,000 soldiers -- demonstration, 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.

Lenin, exiled in neutral Switzerland, was amazed at the rapidity of the revolution and knew that it was time for him to strike. He paid a visit to the German officials and made a deal with them: if they got him back to Russia, he would engineer conditions there which would make it almost impossible not to pull the country out of the war against Germany. The Germans agreed and, hidden away in a cattle truck, he was driven through the warzone and dropped off on the Russian border, arriving 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 the 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, that great strategist and political animal, 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" 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.

Despite his understanding of the needs of the oppressed peoples of Russia, neither Lenin nor his ideas enjoyed widespread support. In July, the Petrograd garrison refused to follow the army's plans to continue the war against Germany, demonstrating fiercely against them, and Lenin attempted to exploit this mutinous treason and, by supporting the garrison, arrange a Bolshevik coup. Kerensky, however, still had enough support to bring a halt to the resultant unrest. Exiled once more, Lenin was forced to flee to Finland (which, of course, was in reasonably close proximity to Russia, allowing him to operate underground outside Russian borders and return quickly should the opportunity arise). The provisional government failed to follow up on this success by doing the necessary and clamping down properly on the Bolsheviks. 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 himself now with two formidable opponents in the Soviets and the Bolsheviks.

Another trying issue with which Kerensky was faced arose when General Kornilov, Commander-in-Chief of the army, desirous of the monarchy's return, attempted to seize power by, as an initial step, destroying the Bolsheviks. Kerensky, understanding his position and the need to secure it, asked the Soviets, all too happy to help, and Bolsheviks for assistance. The Soviets called out their volunteers, the Trotsky-founded "Red Guards", and Kornilov was tamed, losing the support of his troops and much of the public, which rightly feared that he would try to restore the Tsar. Although the coup failed, the whole affair illustrated just how insecure and fragile Kerensky's government really was. It was obvious that the real power lay in the hands of the Petrograd Soviet, at the head of which was Leon Trotsky, who had recently been released from prison.

In the end, 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 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, 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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