The February Revolution in Russia 1917

[ 1917 ]

By early 1917, the existing order in Russia verged on collapse. The country's involvement in World War I had already cost millions of lives and caused severe disruption in Russia's backward economy. In an effort to reverse the steadily worsening military situation, Emperor Nicholas II commanded Russian forces at the front, abandoning the conduct of government in Petrograd (St. Petersburg before 1914; Leningrad after 1924) to his unpopular wife and a series of incompetent ministers. As a consequence of these conditions, the morale of the people rapidly deteriorated.

The spark to the events that ended tsarist rule was ignited on the streets of Petrograd in February 1917 (according to the old Julian calendar then in use in Russia). Provoked by shortages of food and fuel, crowds of hungry citizens and striking workers began spontaneous rioting and demonstrations on March 7 (February 23, according to the Julian calendar). Local reserve troops, called in to suppress the riots, refused to fire on the crowds, and some soldiers joined the workers and other rioters. On March 12, with tsarist authority in Petrograd rapidly disintegrating, two separate bodies emerged, each claiming to represent the Russian people. One was the Executive Committee of the Duma, which the Duma [Lower chamber of the legislature, established by Nicholas II after the Revolution of 1905] had established in defiance of the tsar's orders of March 11. The other body was the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, founded on the model of the St. Petersburg Soviet of 1905. With the consent of the Petrograd Soviet, the Executive Committee of the Duma organized the Provisional Government on March 15. Delegates of the new government met Nicholas that evening at Pskov, where rebellious railroad workers had stopped the imperial train as the tsar attempted to return to the capital. Advised by his generals that he lacked the support of the country, Nicholas informed the delegates that he was abdicating in favor of his brother, Grand Duke Michael. When Michael in turn refused the throne on March 16 (March 3), the rule of tsars and emperors in Russia came to an end.

The collapse of the monarchy left two rival political institutions--the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet-- to share administrative authority over the country. The Petrograd Soviet, drawing its membership from socialist deputies elected in factories and regiments, coordinated the activities of other soviets that sprang up across Russia at this time. The Petrograd Soviet was dominated by moderate socialists of the Socialist Revolutionary Party and by the Menshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. The Bolshevik faction of the latter party provided the opposition. While representing the interests of Russia's working classes, the Petrograd Soviet at first did not seek to undermine the Provisional Government's authority directly. Nevertheless, the Petrograd Soviet's "Order No. 1" of March 14 (March 1) instructed soldiers and sailors to obey their officers and the government only if their orders did not contradict the decrees of the Petrograd Soviet, thereby effectively limiting the Provisional Government's control over the armed forces.

The Provisional Government, in contrast to the socialist Petrograd Soviet, chiefly represented the propertied classes. Headed by ministers of a moderate or liberal bent, the new government pledged to convene a constituent assembly that would usher in a new era of bourgeois democracy. In the meantime, the government granted unprecedented rights--full freedom of speech, press, and religion, as well as legal equality--to all citizens. The government did not take up the matter of land redistribution, however, leaving it for the constituent assembly. Even more damaging, the ministers favored keeping Russia's military commitments to its allies, a position that became increasingly unpopular as the war dragged on. The government suffered its first crisis in the "April Days," when demonstrations against the government's annexationist war aims forced two ministers to resign, leading to the appointment of moderate socialist Aleksandr Kerensky as war minister. Kerensky, quickly assuming de facto leadership of the government, ordered the army to launch a major offensive in June, which, after early successes, turned into a full-scale retreat in July.

NOTE: The Julian Calendar... A calendar, named for Gaius Julius Caesar and introduced in Rome in 46 B.C., that established the twelve-month year of 365 days. It was adopted throughout much of the Western world, including Kievan Rus' (q.v.) and Muscovy (q.v.). The Julian calendar's year, however, was over eleven minutes too long compared with the solar year, i.e., the time the earth requires to make one revolution around the sun. Because of this discrepancy, Pope Gregory XIII introduced a revised calendar in 1582 that had a shortened year and then omitted the ten excess days that had accumulated since A.D. 325, the year of the Council of Nicea, which was chosen as the base year. Although most of the Western world adopted the Gregorian calendar, Russian regimes retained the Julian calendar (termed old style or O.S.) until after the Bolshevik Revolution (q.v.). On February 1, 1918 O.S., the Bolsheviks introduced the Gregorian calendar and omitted the thirteen excess days that had accumulated since A.D. 325, thus making that day February 14, 1918 (new style or N.S.). The Russian Orthodox Church and other Eastern Christian churches continue to use the Julian calendar.

Total Casualties Killed and Wounded
Casualties Killed 1443 / Wounded
Military Casualties Killed 1443 /Wounded
Civilian Casualties Killed / Wounded
Belligerents Initiation Date Termination Date
Special Corps of Gendarmes and Imperial Russian Army 1917 View
Ministry of Internal Affairs (Russia) and Imperial Russian Army 1917 View

Related Conflicts