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This article is about the revolutions of 1917. For the revolution of 1905, see 1905 Russian Revolution.

The Russian Revolution was a pair of revolutions in Russia in 1917 which dismantled the Tsarist autocracy and led to the rise of the Soviet Union. The Russian Empire collapsed with the abdication of EmperorNicholas II and the old regime was replaced by a provisional government during the first revolution of February 1917 (March in the Gregorian calendar; the older Julian calendar was in use in Russia at the time). Alongside it arose grassroots community assemblies (called 'soviets') which contended for authority. In the second revolution that October, the Provisional Government was toppled and all power was given to the soviets.

The February Revolution (March 1917) was a revolution focused around Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg), the capital of Russia at that time. In the chaos, members of the Imperial parliament (the Duma) assumed control of the country, forming the Russian Provisional Government which was heavily dominated by the interests of large capitalists and the noble aristocracy. The army leadership felt they did not have the means to suppress the revolution, resulting in Nicholas's abdication. The soviets, which were dominated by soldiers and the urban industrial working class, initially permitted the Provisional Government to rule, but insisted on a prerogative 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 (1914–18), which left much of the Russian Army in a state of mutiny.

A period of dual power ensued, during which the Provisional Government held state power while the national network of soviets, led by socialists, had the allegiance of the lower classes and, increasingly, the left-leaning urban middle class. During this chaotic period there were frequent mutinies, protests and many strikes. Many socialist political organizations were engaged in daily struggle and vied for influence within the Duma and the soviets, central among which were the Bolsheviks ("Ones of the Majority") led by Vladimir Lenin who campaigned for an immediate end to the war, land to the peasants, and bread to the workers. When the Provisional Government chose to continue fighting the war with Germany, the Bolsheviks and other socialist factions were able to exploit virtually universal disdain towards the war effort as justification to advance the revolution further. The Bolsheviks turned workers' militias under their control into the Red Guards (later the Red Army) over which they exerted substantial control.[1]

In the October Revolution (November in the Gregorian calendar), the Bolsheviks led an armed insurrection by workers and soldiers in Petrograd that successfully overthrew the Provisional Government, transferring all its authority to the soviets with the capital being relocated to Moscow shortly thereafter. The Bolsheviks had secured a strong base of support within the soviets and, as the now supreme governing party, established a federal government dedicated to reorganizing the former empire into the world's first socialist republic, practicing soviet democracy on a national and international scale. The promise to end Russia’s participation in the First World War was honored promptly with the Bolshevik leaders signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany in March 1918. To further secure the new state, the Cheka was established which functioned as a revolutionary security service that sought to weed out and punish those considered to be "enemies of the people" in campaigns consciously modeled on similar events during the French Revolution.

Soon after, civil war erupted among the "Reds" (Bolsheviks), the "Whites" (counter-revolutionaries), the independence movements and the non-Bolshevik socialists. It continued for several years, during which the Bolsheviks defeated both the Whites and all rival socialists and thereafter reconstituted themselves as the Communist Party. In this way, the Revolution paved the way for the creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1922. While many notable historical events occurred in Moscow and Petrograd, there was also a visible movement in cities throughout the state, among national minorities throughout the empire and in the rural areas, where peasants took over and redistributed land.

Background

Main article: Russian history, 1892–1917

The Russian Revolution of 1905 was said to be a major factor contributing to the cause of the Revolutions of 1917. The events of Bloody Sunday triggered nationwide protests and soldier mutinies. A council of workers called the St. Petersburg Soviet was created in this chaos.[2] While the 1905 Revolution was ultimately crushed, and the leaders of the St. Petersburg Soviet were arrested, this laid the groundwork for the later Petrograd Soviet and other revolutionary movements during the leadup to 1917. The 1905 Revolution also led to the creation of a Duma (parliament), that would later form the Provisional Government following February 1917.[3]

The outbreak of World War I prompted general outcry directed at Tsar Nicholas II and the Romanov family. While the nation was initially caught up in a wave of nationalism, increasing numbers of defeats and poor conditions soon made the opposite true. The Tsar attempted to remedy the situation by taking personal control of the army in 1915. This proved disastrous, as the Tsar was now held personally responsible for Russia's continuing defeats and losses. In addition, the Tsarina Alexandra, left to rule in while the Tsar was commanding at the front, was German born, leading to suspicion of collusion, only exacerbated by rumors relating to her relationship with the controversial mystic Rasputin. Rasputin's influence led to disastrous ministerial appointments and corruption, resulting in a worsening of conditions within Russia. This led to general dissatisfaction with the Romanov family, and was a major factor contributing to the retaliation of the Russian Communists against the royal family.[3]

After the entry of the Ottoman Empire on the side of the Central Powers in October 1914, Russia was deprived of a major trade route through the Dardanelles, which further contributed to the economic crisis, in which Russia became incapable of providing munitions to their army in the years leading to 1917. However, the problems were primarily administrative, and not industrial, as Germany was producing great amounts of munitions whilst constantly fighting on two major battlefronts.[4]

The conditions during the war resulted in devastating loss of morale within the Russian army, as well as the general population. This was particularly apparent in the cities, owing to a lack of food in response to the disruption of agriculture. Food scarcity had become a considerable problem in Russia, but the cause of this did not lie in any failure of the harvests, which had not been significantly altered during wartime. The indirect reason was that the government, in order to finance the war, had been printing millions of ruble notes, and by 1917 inflation had made prices increase up to four times what they had been in 1914. Farmers were consequently faced with a higher cost of living, but little increase in income. As a result, they tended to hoard their grain and to revert to subsistence farming. Thus the cities were constantly short of food. At the same time, rising prices led to demands for higher wages in the factories, and in January and February 1916 revolutionary propaganda, in part aided by German funds, led to widespread strikes. This resulted in a growing criticism of the government, including an increased participation of workers in revolutionary parties.

Liberal parties too had an increased platform to voice their complaints, as the initial fervor of the war had resulted in the Tsarist government creating a variety of political organizations. In July 1915, a Central War Industries Committee was established under the chairmanship of a prominent Octobrist, Alexander Guchkov (1862-1936), including ten workers' representatives. The Petrograd Mensheviks agreed to join despite the objections of their leaders abroad. All this activity gave renewed encouragement to political ambitions, and, in September 1915, a combination of Octobrists and Kadets in the Duma demanded the forming of a responsible government. The Tsar rejected these proposals.[5]

All these factors had given rise to a sharp loss of confidence in the regime, even within the ruling class, growing throughout the war. Early in 1916, Guchkov discussed with senior army officers and members of the Central War Industries Committee about a possible coup to force the abdication of the Tsar. In December, a small group of nobles assassinated Rasputin, and in January 1917 the Tsar's uncle, Grand Duke Nicholas, was asked indirectly by Prince Lvov whether he would be prepared to take over the throne from his nephew, Tsar Nicholas II. None of these incidents were in themselves the immediate cause of the February Revolution, but they do help to explain why the monarchy survived only a few days after it had broken out.[5]

Meanwhile, Socialist Revolutionary leaders in exile, many of them living in Switzerland, had been the glum spectators of the collapse of international socialist solidarity. French and German Social Democrats had voted in favour of their respective governments' war efforts. Georgi Plekhanov in Paris had adopted a violently anti-German stand, while Parvus supported the German war effort as the best means of ensuring a revolution in Russia. The Mensheviks largely maintained that Russia had the right to defend herself against Germany, although Martov (a prominent Menshevik), now on the left of his group, demanded an end to the war and a settlement on the basis of national self-determination, with no annexations or indemnities.[5]

It was these views of Martov that predominated in a manifesto drawn up by Leon Trotsky (at the time a Menshevik) at a conference in Zimmerwald, attended by 35 Socialist leaders in September 1915. Inevitably Vladimir Lenin, supported by Zinoviev and Radek, strongly contested them. Their attitudes became known as the Zimmerwald Left. Lenin rejected both the defence of Russia and the cry for peace. Since the autumn of 1914, he had insisted that "from the standpoint of the working class and of the labouring masses from the lesser evil would be the defeat of the Tsarist Monarchy"; the war must be turned into a civil war of the proletarian soldiers against their own governments, and if a proletarian victory should emerge from this in Russia, then their duty would be to wage a revolutionary war for the liberation of the masses throughout Europe.[6]

Economic and social changes

An elementary theory of property, believed by many peasants, was that land should belong to those who work on 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 introduction of city culture into the village through material goods, the press, and word of mouth.[nb 1]

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 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 wartime 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 in villages. Most important, living in cities, they were exposed to new ideas about the social and political order.[nb 2]

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 from serfdom 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 20th century. Increasing peasant disturbances and sometimes actual 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.[citation needed]

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. Because of late industrialization, Russia's workers were highly concentrated. By 1914, 40% of Russian workers were employed in factories of 1,000+ workers (32% in 1901). 42% worked in 100–1,000 worker enterprises, 18% in 1–100 worker businesses (in the US, 1914, the figures were 18, 47 and 35 respectively).[7]

YearsAverage annual strikes[8]
1862–696
1870–8420
1885–9433
1895–1905176

World War I added to the chaos. Conscription swept up the unwilling across 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 seeking 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.

Political issues

Many sections of the country 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 the 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.[nb 3]

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.[nb 3]

Despite constant oppression, the desire of the people for democratic participation in government decisions was strong. Since the Age of Enlightenment, Russian intellectuals had promoted Enlightenment ideals such as the dignity of the individual and 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 massacre of 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 October Manifesto, which 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 State Laws, and subsequently dismissed the first two Dumas when they proved uncooperative. Unfulfilled hopes of democracy fueled revolutionary ideas and violent outbursts targeted at the monarchy.

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 war. 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 collapse.

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 a 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.[9][10][11]

Russia's 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 12,000 casualties. However, Austro-Hungarian 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 Michael Lynch, a revisionist historian (member of the School of Historical Studies at the University of Leicester) 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–Tarnów Offensive 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 and revolts that began to occur. In 1916, reports of fraternizing with the enemy started to circulate. Soldiers went hungry, and lacked shoes, munitions, and even weapons. Rampant discontent lowered morale, which was further undermined by a series of military defeats.

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, barely 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 changes, especially within the lower echelons, which were quickly filled with soldiers rising up through the ranks. These men, usually of peasant or working-class 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. The soldiers did not feel that they were being treated as valuable soldiers, or even as human beings, 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 achieved."[12]

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 dragged incomes down at an alarmingly rapid rate, and shortages made it difficult to buy even what one could afford. These shortages were a problem especially in the capital, St. 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 St. Petersburg 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 people's patience would last. A report by the St. Petersburg 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."[13]

Nicholas was blamed for all of these crises, and what little support he had left began to crumble. As discontent grew, the State Duma 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. Nicholas ignored these warnings 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.

February Revolution

Main article: February Revolution

At the beginning of February, Petrograd workers began several strikes and demonstrations.[citation needed] On 7 March [O.S. 22 February], workers at Putilov, Petrograd's largest industrial plant, announced a strike.[14]

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.[15] By 10 March [O.S. 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.[citation needed]

To quell the riots, the Tsar looked to the army. At least 180,000 troops were available in the capital, but most were either untrained or injured. Historian Ian Beckett suggests around 12,000 could be regarded as reliable, but even these proved reluctant to move in on the crowd, since it included so many women. It was for this reason that when, on 11 March [O.S. 26 February], the Tsar ordered the army to suppress the rioting by force, troops began to mutiny.[16] Although few actively joined the rioting, many officers were either shot or went into hiding; the ability of the garrison to hold back the protests was all but nullified, symbols of the Tsarist regime were rapidly torn down around the city, and governmental authority in the capital collapsed – not helped by the fact that Nicholas had prorogued the Duma that morning, leaving it with no legal authority to act. The response of the Duma, urged on by the liberal bloc, was to establish a Temporary Committee to restore law and order; meanwhile, the socialist parties establish the Petrograd Soviet to represent workers and soldiers. The remaining loyal units switched allegiance the next day.[17]

The Tsar directed the royal train back towards Petrograd, which was stopped 14 March [O.S. 1 March],[16] by a group of revolutionaries at Malaya Vishera. When the Tsar finally arrived at in Pskov, the Army Chief Nikolai Ruzsky, and the Duma deputees Guchkov and Vasily Shulgin suggested in unison that he abdicate the throne. He did so on 15 March [O.S. 2 March], on behalf of himself, and then, having taken advice, on behalf of his son, the Tsarevich.[16] 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 on 16 March [O.S. 3 March],[16] stating that he would take it only if that was the consensus of democratic action.[18] Six days later, Nicholas, no longer Tsar and addressed with contempt by the sentries as "Nicholas Romanov", was reunited with his family at the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo.[19] He was placed under house arrest with his family by the Provisional Government.

The immediate effect of the February Revolution was a widespread atmosphere of elation and excitement in Petrograd.[20] On 16 March [O.S. 3 March], a provisional government was announced. The center-left was well represented, and the government was initially chaired by a liberal aristocrat, Prince Georgy Yevgenievich Lvov, a member of the Constitutional Democratic party (KD).[21] The socialists had formed their rival body, the Petrograd Soviet (or workers' council) four days earlier. The Petrograd Soviet and the Provisional Government competed for power over Russia.

Between February and throughout October: "Dual Power" (dvoevlastie)

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 taking shape.

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 of elections to a constituent assembly, and so on).[22] 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."[23] 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 villages.

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, a 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 and 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 conditions.

The political group that proved most troublesome for Kerensky, and would eventually overthrow him, was the Bolshevik Party, led by Vladimir Lenin. Lenin had been living in exile in neutral Switzerland and, due to 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 – led 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 in 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 some 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 1917.

On 18 June, the Provisional Government launched an attack against Germany that failed miserably. Soon after, the government ordered soldiers to go to the front, reneging on a promise. The soldiers refused to follow the new orders. The arrival of radical Kronstadt sailors – who had tried and executed many officers, including one admiral – further fueled the growing revolutionary atmosphere. 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[24] and the Bolshevik leaders and dissipated within a few days. In the aftermath, Lenin fled to Finland under threat of arrest while Trotsky, among other prominent Bolsheviks, was arrested. The July Days confirmed the popularity of the anti-war, radical Bolsheviks, but their unpreparedness at the moment of revolt was an embarrassing gaffe that lost them support among their main constituent groups: soldiers and workers.

The Bolshevik failure in the July Days proved temporary. The Bolsheviks had undergone a spectacular growth in membership. Whereas, in February 1917, the Bolsheviks were limited to only 24,000 members, by September 1917 there were 200,000 members of the Bolshevik faction.[25] Previously, the Bolsheviks had been in the minority in the two leading cities of Russia—St. Petersburg and Moscow behind the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries, by September the Bolsheviks were in the majority in both cities.[26] Furthermore, the Bolshevik-controlled Moscow Regional Bureau of the Party also controlled the Party organizations of the thirteen (13) provinces around Moscow. These thirteen provinces held 37% of Russia's population and 20% of the membership of the Bolshevik faction.[26]

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 already been captured by radicals, or was in serious danger thereof.[dubious– discuss] In response, he ordered troops to Petrograd to pacify the city. 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". The 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 further strengthened their position.

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 that 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 Socialist Revolutionaries, who stubbornly refused to break with the idea of national unity across all classes.

In Finland, Lenin had worked on his book State and Revolution[27] and continued to lead his party, writing newspaper articles and policy decrees. By October, he returned to Petrograd (St. Petersburg), aware that the increasingly radical city presented him no legal danger and a second opportunity for revolution. Recognising the strength of the Bolsheviks, Lenin began pressing for the immediate overthrow of the Kerensky government by the Bolsheviks. Lenin was of the opinion that taking power should occur in both St. Petersburg and Moscow simultaneously, parenthetically stating that it made no difference which city rose up first, but expressing his opinion that Moscow may well rise up first.[28] 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 prominently dissenting) and the October Revolution began.

October Revolution

Main article: October Revolution

The October Revolution was led by Vladimir Lenin and was based upon Lenin's writing on the ideas of Karl Marx, a political ideology often known as Marxism–Leninism. It marked the beginning of the spread of communism in the 20th 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 was not present during the actual takeover of the Winter Palace, it was really Trotsky's organization and direction that led the revolution, merely spurred by the motivation Lenin instigated within his party.[29] Critics on the Right have long argued that the financial and logistical assistance of German intelligence via their key agent, Alexander Parvus was a key component as well, though historians are divided, since there is little evidence supporting that claim.

On 7 November 1917, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin 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 soviets, local 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, in a series of battles that would become known as the Russian Civil War.

Soviet membership was initially freely elected, but many members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, anarchists, and other leftists created opposition to the Bolsheviks through the soviets themselves. When it became clear that the Bolsheviks had little support outside of the industrialized areas of Saint Petersburg and Moscow, they simply barred non-Bolsheviks from membership in the soviets.[citation needed] Not surprisingly, this caused mass domestic tension with many individuals who called for another series of political reform, revolting, and calling for "a third Russian revolution," a movement that received a significant amount of support. The most notable instances of this anti-Bolshevik mentality were expressed in the Tambov rebellion, 1919–1921, and the Kronstadt rebellion in March 1921. 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.

Russian Civil War

Main articles: Russian Civil War and Allied intervention in the Russian 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 ("Reds"), consisting of the uprising majority led by the Bolshevik minority, and the "Whites" – army officers and cossacks, the "bourgeoisie", and political groups ranging from the far Right to the Socialist Revolutionaries who opposed the drastic restructuring championed by the Bolsheviks following the collapse of the Provisional Government to the soviets (under clear Bolshevik dominance).[30][31] The Whites had backing from nations such as Great Britain, France, USA and Japan, while the Reds possessed internal support which proved to be much more effective. Though the Allied nations, using external interference, provided substantial military aid to the loosely knit anti-Bolshevik forces, they were ultimately defeated.[30]

The Bolsheviks firstly assumed power in Petrograd, expanding their rule outwards. They eventually reached the Easterly Siberian Russian coast in Vladivostok, 4 years after the war began, an occupation that is believed to have ended all significant military campaigns in the nation. Less than one year later the last area controlled by the White Army, the Ayano-Maysky District, directly to the north of the Krai containing Vladivostok, was given up when General Anatoly Pepelyayev capitulated in 1923.

Several revolts were initiated against the Bolsheviks and their army near the end of the war, notably the Kronstadt Rebellion. This was a naval mutiny engineered by Soviet Baltic sailors, former Red Army soldiers, and the people of Kronstadt. This armed uprising was fought against the antagonizing Bolshevik economic policies that farmers were subjected to, including seizures of grain crops by the Communists.[32] This all amounted to large-scale discontent. When delegates representing the Kronstadt sailors arrived at Petrograd for negotiations, they raised 15 demands primarily pertaining to the Russian right to freedom.[33] The Government firmly denounced the rebellions and labelled the requests as a reminder of the Social Revolutionaries, a political party that was popular among Soviets before Lenin, but refused to cooperate with the Bolshevik Army. The Government then responded with an armed suppression of these revolts and suffered 10 thousand casualties before entering the city of Kronstadt.[34] This ended the rebellions fairly quickly, causing many of the rebels to flee to political exile.[35]

During the Civil War, Nestor Makhno 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 Frunze 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.

Execution of the imperial family

Main article: Shooting of the Romanov family

The Bolsheviks executed the tsar and his family on 16 July 1918.[36] In early March, the Provisional Government placed Nicholas and his family under house arrest in the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo, 24 kilometres (15 mi) south of Petrograd. In August 1917 the Kerensky government evacuated the Romanovs to Tobolsk in the Urals, to protect them from the rising tide of revolution. After the Bolsheviks came to power in October 1917, the conditions of their imprisonment grew stricter and talk of putting Nicholas on trial increased. As the 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.

During the early morning of 16 July, Nicholas, Alexandra, their children, their physician, and several servants were taken into the basement and shot. According to Edvard Radzinsky and Dmitrii Volkogonov, the order came directly from Lenin and Sverdlov in Moscow. That the order came from the top has long been believed, although there is a lack of hard evidence. The execution may have been carried out on the initiative of local Bolshevik officials, or it may have been an option pre-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.[37][38]

The revolution and the world

Main article: Revolutions of 1917–1923

Leon Trotsky said that the goal of socialism in Russia would not be realized without the success of the world revolution. Indeed, a revolutionary wave caused by the Russian Revolution lasted until 1923. Despite initial hopes for success in the German Revolution of 1918–19, in the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic and others like it, no other Marxist movement at the time succeeded in keeping power in its hands.

Russian soldiers marching in Petrograd in February 1917
Russian troops awaiting German attack in trenches
Revolutionaries protesting in February 1917
Meeting Germans in No Man's Land
Meeting before the Russian wire entanglements
The 2nd Moscow Women Death Battalion protecting the Winter Palace as the last guards of the stronghold.
Street demonstration on Nevsky Prospekt in Petrograd just after troops of the Provisional Government opened fire in the July Days
Soviets attacking the tsarist police in the early days of the March Revolution.
American, British, and Japanese Troops parade through Vladivostok in armed support to the White Army

The Russian Revolution of 1905 was a wave of mass political and social unrest that spread through vast areas of the Russian Empire, some of which was directed at the government. It included worker strikes, peasant unrest, and military mutinies. It led to Constitutional Reform including the establishment of the State Duma, the multi-party system, and the Russian Constitution of 1906.

Causes[edit]

According to Sidney Harcave, author of The Russian Revolution of 1905 (1970) four problems in Russian society contributed to the revolution. Newly emancipated peasants earned too little and were not allowed to sell or mortgage their allotted land. Ethnic minorities resented the government because of its "Russification", discrimination and repression, such as banning them from voting and serving in the Imperial Guard or Navy and limited attendance in schools. A nascent industrial working class resented the government for doing too little to protect them, banning strikes and labor unions. Finally, radical ideas fomented and spread after a relaxing of discipline in universities allowed a new consciousness to grow among students.

Vladimir Lenin was a political theorist who also contributed his own ideology of how a revolution would be caused. In his book Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, he claimed that imperialism and dependence on overseas markets would be a contributing factor to revolution. This would cause a rivalry between the major powers, leading to war.[1]

Taken individually, these issues might not have affected the course of Russian history but together they created the conditions for a potential revolution.[2] "At the turn of the century, discontent with the Tsar’s dictatorship was manifested not only through the growth of political parties dedicated to the overthrow of the monarchy but also through industrial strikes for better wages and working conditions, protests and riots among peasants, university demonstrations, and the assassination of government officials, often done by Socialist Revolutionaries."[3]

Because the Russian economy was tied to European finances, the Western money markets' contraction in 1899–1900 plunged Russian industry into a deep and prolonged crisis which outlasted the dip in European industrial production. This setback aggravated social unrest during the five years preceding the revolution of 1905.[4]

The government finally recognized these problems, albeit in a shortsighted and narrow-minded way. The minister of interior Plehve stated in 1903 that, after the agrarian problem, the most serious ones plaguing the country were those of the Jews, the schools, and the workers, in that order.[5]

Agrarian problem[edit]

Every year, thousands of nobles in debt mortgaged their estates to the noble land bank or sold them to municipalities, merchants, or peasants. By the time of the revolution, the nobility had sold off one-third of its land and mortgaged another third. The government hoped to make peasants—freed by the Emancipation reform of 1861—a politically conservative, land-holding class by enacting laws to enable them to buy land from nobility and pay small instalments over many decades.[6]

The land, known as "allotment land", would not be owned by individual peasants, but by the community of peasants; individual peasants would have rights to strips of land that were assigned to them under the open field system. Unfortunately, a peasant could not sell or mortgage his land, so in practice he could not renounce his rights to his land and thus he would be required to pay his share of redemption dues to the village commune.[6] This plan was meant to prevent proletarianisation of the peasants. However, the peasants were not given enough land to provide for their needs.[7] "Their earnings were often so small that they could neither buy the food they needed nor keep up the payment of taxes and redemption dues they owed the government for their land allotments. By the tenth year of Nicholas II's reign, their total arrears in payments of taxes and dues was 118 million rubles."[7] The situation became worse. Masses of hungry peasants roamed the countryside looking for work and sometimes walked hundreds of kilometres to find it. Desperate peasants proved capable of violence.[7] "In the provinces of Kharkov and Poltava in 1902, thousands of them, ignoring restraints and authority, burst out in a rebellious fury that led to extensive destruction of property and looting of noble homes before troops could be brought to subdue and punish them."[7]

These violent outbreaks caught the attention of the government, so it created many committees to investigate their causes.[7] The committees concluded that no part of the countryside was prosperous; some parts, especially the fertile areas known as "black-soil region", were in decline.[8] Although cultivated acreage had increased in the last half century, the increase had not been proportionate to the growth of peasant populations, which had doubled.[8] "There was general agreement at the turn of the century that Russia faced a grave and intensifying agrarian crisis due mainly to rural overpopulation with an annual excess of fifteen to eighteen live births over deaths per 1,000 inhabitants."[9] The investigations revealed many difficulties but could not find solution that were both sensible and "acceptable" to the government.[8]

Nationality problem[edit]

Russia was a multi-ethnic empire. Nineteenth-century Russians saw cultures and religions in a clear hierarchy. Non-Russian cultures were tolerated in the empire but were not necessarily respected.[10] "European civilization was valued over Asian culture, and Christianity was on the whole considered more progressive and 'true' than other religions."[10]

For generations, Russian Jews had been considered a special problem.[8] Jews constituted only about 6 percent of the population, but were concentrated in the western borderlands.[11] Like other minorities in Russia, the Jews lived in "miserable and circumscribed lives, forbidden to settle or acquire land outside the cities and towns, legally limited in attendance at secondary school and higher schools, virtually barred from legal professions, denied the right to vote for municipal councilors, and excluded from services in the Navy or the Guards".[12]

The government's treatment of Jews, although considered its own issue, was similar to the government's policies in dealing with all national and religious minorities.[12] "Russian administrators, who never succeeded in coming up with a legal definition of "Pole", despite the decades of restrictions on that ethnic group, regularly spoke of individuals 'of Polish descent' or, alternatively, 'of Russian descent', making identity a function of birth."[attribution needed][13] This policy only succeeded in producing or aggravating feelings of disloyalty. There was growing impatience with their inferior status and resentment against "Russification".[12] Russification is cultural assimilation definable as "a process culminating in the disappearance of a given group as a recognisably distinct element within a larger society".[14]

Besides the imposition of a uniform Russian culture throughout the empire, the government's pursuit of Russification, especially during the second half of the nineteenth century, had political motives. After the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, the Russian state was compelled to take into account public opinion, but the government failed to gain the public's support.[15] Another motive for Russification policies was the Polish uprising of 1863. Unlike other minority nationalities, the Poles, in the eyes of the Tsar, were a direct threat to the empire's stability. After the rebellion was crushed, the government implemented policies to reduce Polish cultural influences.[15] In the 1870s the government began to distrust German elements on the western border. The Russian government felt that the unification of Germany would upset the power balance among the great powers of Europe and that Germany would use its strength against Russia. The government thought that the borders would be defended better if the borderland were more "Russian" in character.[16] The culmination of cultural heterogeneity created a cumbersome nationality problem that plagued the Russian government in the years before leading to the revolution.

Labour problem[edit]

The economic situation in Russia before the revolution presented a grim picture. The government had experimented with laissez-faire capitalist policies, but this strategy largely failed to gain traction within the Russian economy until the 1890s. Meanwhile, "agricultural productivity stagnated, while international prices for grain dropped, and Russia’s foreign debt and need for imports grew. War and military preparations continued to consume government revenues. At the same time, the peasant taxpayers' ability to pay was strained to the utmost, leading to widespread famine in 1891."[17]

In the 1890s, under Finance Minister Sergei Witte, a crash governmental programme was proposed to promote industrialization. His policies included heavy government expenditures for railroad building and operations, subsidies and supporting services for private industrialists, high protective tariffs for Russian industries (especially heavy industry), an increase in exports, currency stabilization, and encouragement of foreign investments.[18] His plan was successful and during the 1890s "Russian industrial growth averaged 8 percent per year. Railroad mileage grew from a very substantial base by 40 percent between 1892 and 1902."[attribution needed][18] Ironically, Witte's success in implementing this program helped spur the 1905 revolution and eventually the 1917 revolution because it exacerbated social tensions. "Besides dangerously concentrating a proletariat, a professional and a rebellious student body in centers of political power, industrialization infuriated both these new forces and the traditional rural classes."[attribution needed][19] The government policy of financing industrialization through taxing peasants forced millions of peasants to work in towns. The "peasant worker" saw his labour in the factory as the means to consolidate his family's economic position in the village and played a role in determining the social consciousness of the urban proletariat. The new concentrations and flows of peasants spread urban ideas to the countryside, breaking down isolation of peasants on communes.[20]

Industrial workers began to feel dissatisfaction with the Tsarist government despite the protective labour laws the government decreed. Some of those laws included the prohibition of children under 12 from working, with the exception of night work in glass factories. Employment of children aged 12 to 15 was prohibited on Sundays and holidays. Workers had to be paid in cash at least once a month, and limits were placed on the size and bases of fines for workers who were tardy. Employers were prohibited from charging workers for the cost of lighting of the shops and plants.[12] Despite these labor protections, the workers believed that the laws were not enough to free them from unfair and inhumane practices. At the start of the 20th century, Russian industrial workers worked on average an 11-hour day (10 hours on Saturday), factory conditions were perceived as grueling and often unsafe, and attempts at independent unions were often not accepted.[21] Many workers were forced to work beyond the maximum of 11 and a half hours per day. Others were still subject to arbitrary and excessive fines for tardiness, mistakes in their work, or absence.[22] Russian industrial workers were also the lowest wage-workers in Europe. Although the cost of living in Russia was low, "the average worker's 16 rubles per month could not buy the equal of what the French worker's 110 francs would buy for him."[attribution needed][22] Furthermore, the same labour laws prohibited organization of trade unions and strikes. Dissatisfaction turned into despair for many impoverished workers, which made them more sympathetic to radical ideas.[22] These discontented, radicalized workers became key to the revolution by participating in illegal strikes and revolutionary protests.

The government responded by arresting labour agitators and enacting more "paternalistic" legislation.[23] Introduced in 1900 by Sergei Zubatov, head of the Moscow security department, "police socialism" planned to have workers form workers' societies with police approval to "provide healthful, fraternal activities and opportunities for cooperative self-help together with 'protection' against influences that might have inimical effect on loyalty to job or country".[attribution needed][23] Some of these groups organized in Moscow, Odessa, Kiev, Nikolayev (Ukraine), and Kharkov, but these groups and the idea of police socialism failed.[23]

In 1900–1903, the period of industrial depression caused many firm bankruptcies and a reduction in the employment rate. Employees were restive: they would join legal organizations but turn the organizations toward an end that the organizations' sponsors did not intend. Workers used legitimate means to organize strikes or to draw support for striking workers outside these groups.[23] A strike that began in 1902 by workers in the railroad shops in Vladikavkaz and Rostov-on-Don created such a response that by the next summer, 225,000 in various industries in southern Russia and Transcaucasia were on strike.[24] These were not the first illegal strikes in the country's history but their aims, and the political awareness and support among workers and non-workers, made them more troubling to the government than earlier strikes. The government responded by closing all legal organizations by the end of 1903.[24]

Educated class as a problem[edit]

The Minister of the Interior, Plehve, designated schools as a pressing problem for the government, but he did not realize it was only a symptom of antigovernment feelings among the educated class. Students of universities, other schools of higher learning, and occasionally of secondary schools and theological seminaries were part of this group.[24]

Student radicalism began around the time Tsar Alexander II came to power. Alexander abolished serfdom and enacted fundamental reforms in the legal and administrative structure of the Russian empire, which were revolutionary for their time.[25] He lifted many restrictions on universities and abolished obligatory uniforms and military discipline. This ushered in a new freedom in the content and reading lists of academic courses.[26] In turn, that created student subcultures, as youth were willing to live in poverty in order to receive an education.[27] As universities expanded, there was a rapid growth of newspapers, journals, and an organization of public lectures and professional societies. The 1860s was a time when the emergence of a new public sphere was created in social life and professional groups. This created the idea of their right to have an independent opinion.[26]

The government was alarmed by these communities, and in 1861 tightened restrictions on admission and prohibited student organizations; these restrictions resulted in the first ever student demonstration, held in St. Petersburg, which led to a two-year closure of the university.[26] The consequent conflict with the state was an important factor in the chronic student protests over subsequent decades. The atmosphere of the early 1860s gave rise to political engagement by students outside universities that became a tenet of student radicalism by the 1870s. Student radicals described "the special duty and mission of the student as such to spread the new word of liberty. Students were called upon to extend their freedoms into society, to repay the privilege of learning by serving the people, and to become in Nikolai Ogarev's phrase 'apostles of knowledge'."[attribution needed][28] During the next two decades, universities produced a significant share of Russia's revolutionaries. Prosecution records from the 1860s and 1870s show that more than half of all political offences were committed by students despite being a minute proportion of the population.[28] "The tactics of the left-wing students proved to be remarkably effective, far beyond anyone's dreams. Sensing that neither the university administrations nor the government any longer possessed the will or authority to enforce regulations, radicals simply went ahead with their plans to turn the schools into centres of political activity for students and non students alike."[attribution needed][29]

They took up problems that were unrelated to their "proper employment", and displayed defiance and radicalism by boycotting examinations, rioting, arranging marches in sympathy with strikers and political prisoners, circulating petitions, and writing anti-government propaganda.[24]

This disturbed the government, but it believed the cause was lack of training in patriotism and religion. Therefore, the curriculum was "toughened up" to emphasize classical language and mathematics in secondary schools, but defiance continued.[30] Expulsion, exile, and forced military service also did not stop students. "In fact, when the official decision to overhaul the whole educational system was finally made, in 1904, and to that end Vladimir Glazov, head of General Staff Academy, was selected as Minister of Education, the students had grown bolder and more resistant than ever."[attribution needed][30]

Rise of the opposition[edit]

The events of 1905 were preceded by a Progressive and academic agitation for more political democracy and limits to Tsarist rule in Russia, and an increase in strikes by workers against employers for radical economic demands and union recognition, (especially in southern Russia). Many socialists view this as a period when the rising revolutionary movement was met with rising reactionary movements. As Rosa Luxemburg stated in The Mass Strike, when collective strike activity was met with what is perceived as repression from an autocratic state, economic and political demands grew into and reinforced each other.[31]

Russian progressives formed the Union of Zemstvo Constitutionalists in 1903 and the Union of Liberation in 1904, which called for a constitutional monarchy. Russian socialists formed two major groups: the Socialist Revolutionary Party, following the Russian populist tradition, and the MarxistRussian Social Democratic Labour Party.

In the autumn of 1904, liberals started a series of banquets celebrating the 40th anniversary of the liberal court statutes and calling for political reforms and a constitution. On 13 December [O.S. 30 November] 1904, the Moscow City Duma passed a resolution demanding establishment of an elected national legislature, full freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. Similar resolutions and appeals from other city dumas and zemstvo councils followed.

Tsar Nicholas II made a move to fulfill many of these demands, appointing liberal Pyotr Dmitrievich Sviatopolk-Mirskii Minister of the Interior after the assassination of Vyacheslav von Plehve. On 25 December [O.S. 12 December] 1904, the Tsar issued a manifesto promising the broadening of the Zemstvo and local municipal councils' authority, insurance for industrial workers, the emancipation of Inorodtsy, and the abolition of censorship. However, the crucial demand of representative national legislature was missing in the manifesto.

In 1902, worker strikes in the Caucasus broke out in March, and strikes on the Railway originating from pay disputes took on other issues, and drew in other industries, culminating in a general strike at Rostov-on-Don in November. Daily meetings of 15,000 to 20,000 heard openly revolutionary appeals for the first time, before a massacre defeated the strikes. But reaction to the massacres brought political demands to purely economic ones. Luxemburg described the situation in 1903 by saying: "the whole of South Russia in May, June and July was aflame",[32] including Baku where separate wage struggles culminated in a citywide general strike, and Tiflis, where commercial workers gained a reduction in the working day, and were joined by factory workers. In 1904, massive strike waves broke out in Odessa in the spring, Kiev in July, and Baku in December. This all set the stage for the strikes in St. Petersburg in December 1904 to January 1905 seen as the first step in the 1905 revolution.

YearsAverage annual strikes[33]
1862–696
1870–8420
1885–9433
1895–1905176

Start of the revolution[edit]

In December 1904, a strike occurred at the Putilov plant (a railway and artillery supplier) in St. Petersburg. Sympathy strikes in other parts of the city raised the number of strikers to 150,000 workers in 382 factories.[34] By 21 January [O.S. 8 January] 1905, the city had no electricity and newspaper distribution was halted. All public areas were declared closed.

Controversial Orthodox priest Georgy Gapon, who headed a police-sponsored workers' association, led a huge workers' procession to the Winter Palace to deliver a petition[35] to the Tsar on Sunday, 22 January [O.S. 9 January] 1905. The troops guarding the Palace were ordered to tell the demonstrators not to pass a certain point, according to Sergei Witte, and at some point, troops opened fire on the demonstrators, causing between 200 (according to Witte) and 1000 deaths. The event became known as Bloody Sunday, and is considered by many scholars as the start of the active phase of the revolution.

The events in St. Petersburg provoked public indignation and a series of massive strikes that spread quickly throughout the industrial centers of the Russian Empire. Polish socialists—both the PPS and the SDKPiL—called for a general strike. By the end of January 1905, over 400,000 workers in Russian Poland were on strike (see Revolution in the Kingdom of Poland (1905–1907)). Half of European Russia's industrial workers went on strike in 1905, and 93.2% in Poland.[36] There were also strikes in Finland and the Baltic coast. In Riga, 130 protesters were killed on 26 January [O.S. 13 January] 1905, and in Warsaw a few days later over 100 strikers were shot on the streets. By February, there were strikes in the Caucasus, and by April, in the Urals and beyond. In March, all higher academic institutions were forcibly closed for the remainder of the year, adding radical students to the striking workers. A strike by railway workers on 21 October [O.S. 8 October] 1905 quickly developed into a general strike in Saint Petersburg and Moscow. This prompted the setting up of the short-lived Saint Petersburg Soviet of Workers' Delegates, an admixture of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks headed by Khrustalev-Nossar and despite the Iskra split would see the likes of Julius Martov and Georgi Plekhanov spar with Lenin. Leon Trotsky, who felt a strong connection to the Bolsheviki, had not given up a compromise but spearheaded strike action in over 200 factories.[37] By 26 October [O.S. 13 October] 1905, over 2 million workers were on strike and there were almost no active railways in all of Russia. Growing inter-ethnic confrontation throughout the Caucasus resulted in Armenian-Tatar massacres, heavily damaging the cities and the Baku oilfields.

With the unsuccessful and bloody Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) there was unrest in army reserve units. On 2 January 1905, Port Arthur was lost; in February 1905, the Russian army was defeated at Mukden, losing almost 80,000 men. On 27–28 May 1905, the Russian Baltic Fleet was defeated at Tsushima. Witte was dispatched to make peace, negotiating the Treaty of Portsmouth (signed 5 September [O.S. 23 August] 1905). In 1905, there were naval mutinies at Sevastopol (see Sevastopol Uprising), Vladivostok, and Kronstadt, peaking in June with the mutiny aboard the battleship Potemkin. The mutineers eventually surrendered the battleship to Romanian authorities on 8 July in exchange for asylum, then the Romanians returned her to Imperial Russian authorities on the following day.[38] Some sources claim over 2,000 sailors died in the suppression.[39] The mutinies were disorganised and quickly crushed. Despite these mutinies, the armed forces were largely apolitical and remained mostly loyal, if dissatisfied — and were widely used by the government to control the 1905 unrest.

Nationalist groups had been angered by the Russification undertaken since Alexander II. The Poles, Finns, and the Baltic provinces all sought autonomy, and also freedom to use their national languages and promote their own culture.[40] Muslim groups were also active — the First Congress of the Muslim Union took place in August 1905. Certain groups took the opportunity to settle differences with each other rather than the government. Some nationalists undertook anti-Jewish pogroms, possibly with government aid, and in total over 3,000 Jews were killed.[41]

The number of prisoners throughout the Russian Empire, which had peaked at 116,376 in 1893, fell by over a third to a record low of 75,009 in January 1905, chiefly because of several mass amnesties granted by the Tsar;[42] the historian S G Wheatcroft has wondered what role these released criminals played in the 1905–06 social unrest.[42]

Government response[edit]

On 12 January, the Tsar appointed Dmitri Feodorovich Trepov as governor in St Petersburg and dismissed the Minister of the Interior, Pyotr Sviatopolk-Mirskii, on 18 February [O.S. 5 February] 1905. He appointed a government commission "to enquire without delay into the causes of discontent among the workers in the city of St Petersburg and its suburbs"[attribution needed] in view of the strike movement. The commission was headed by Senator NV Shidlovsky, a member of the State Council, and included officials, chiefs of government factories, and private factory owners. It was also meant to have included workers’ delegates elected according to a two-stage system. Elections of the workers delegates were, however, blocked by the socialists who wanted to divert the workers from the elections to the armed struggle. On 5 March [O.S. 20 February] 1905, the Commission was dissolved without having started work. Following the assassination of his uncle, the Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich, on 17 February [O.S. 4 February] 1905, the Tsar made new concessions. On 18 February [O.S. 5 February] 1905 he published the Bulygin Rescript, which promised the formation of a consultative assembly, religious tolerance, freedom of speech (in the form of language rights for the Polish minority) and a reduction in the peasants' redemption payments. On 24 and 25 May [O.S. 11 and 12 May] 1905, about 300 Zemstvo and municipal representatives held three meetings in Moscow, which passed a resolution, asking for popular representation at the national level. On 6 June [O.S. 24 May] 1905, Nicholas II had received a Zemstvo deputation. Responding to speeches by Prince Sergei Trubetskoi and Mr Fyodrov, the Tsar confirmed his promise to convene an assembly of people's representatives.

Height of the Revolution[edit]

Tsar Nicholas II agreed on 18 February [O.S. 5 February] to the creation of a State Duma of the Russian Empire but with consultative powers only. When its slight powers and limits on the electorate were revealed, unrest redoubled. The Saint Petersburg Soviet was formed and called for a general strike in October, refusal to pay taxes, and the withdrawal of bank deposits.

In June and July 1905, there were many peasant uprisings in which peasants seized land and tools.[43] Disturbances in the Russian-controlled Congress Poland culminated in June 1905 in the Łódź insurrection. Surprisingly, only one landlord was recorded as killed.[44] Far more violence was inflicted on peasants outside the commune: 50 deaths were recorded.

The October Manifesto, written by Sergei Witte and Alexis Obolenskii, was presented to the Tsar on 14 October  [O.S. 1 October]. It closely followed the demands of the Zemstvo Congress in September, granting basic civil rights, allowing the formation of political parties, extending the franchise towards universal suffrage, and establishing the Duma as the central legislative body. The Tsar waited and argued for three days, but finally signed the manifesto on 30 October [O.S. 17 October] 1905, citing his desire to avoid a massacre and his realisation that there was insufficient military force available to pursue alternative options. He regretted signing the document, saying that he felt "sick with shame at this betrayal of the dynasty ... the betrayal was complete".

When the manifesto was proclaimed, there were spontaneous demonstrations of support in all the major cities. The strikes in Saint Petersburg and elsewhere officially ended or quickly collapsed. A political amnesty was also offered. The concessions came hand-in-hand with renewed, and brutal, action against the unrest. There was also a backlash from the conservative elements of society, with right-wing attacks on strikers, left-wingers, and Jews.

While the Russian liberals were satisfied by the October Manifesto and prepared for upcoming Duma elections, radical socialists and revolutionaries denounced the elections and called for an armed uprising to destroy the Empire.

Some of the November uprising of 1905 in Sevastopol, headed by retired naval Lieutenant Pyotr Schmidt, was directed against the government, while some was undirected. It included terrorism, worker strikes, peasant unrest and military mutinies, and was only suppressed after a fierce battle. The Trans-Baikal railroad fell into the hands of striker committees and demobilised soldiers returning from Manchuria after the Russo–Japanese War. The Tsar had to send a special detachment of loyal troops along the Trans-Siberian Railway to restore order.

Between 5 and 7 December [O.S. 22 and 24 November], there was a general strike by Russian workers. The government sent troops on 7 December, and a bitter street-by-street fight began. A week later, the Semyonovsky Regiment was deployed, and used artillery to break up demonstrations and to shell workers' districts. On 18 December [O.S. 5 December], with around a thousand people dead and parts of the city in ruins, the workers surrendered. After a final spasm in Moscow, the uprisings ended in December 1905. According to figures presented in the Duma by Professor Maksim Kovalevsky, by April 1906, more than 14,000 people had been executed and 75,000 imprisoned.[45] Historian Brian Taylor states the number of deaths in the 1905 Revolution was in the "thousands", and notes one source that puts the figure at over 13,000 deaths.[41]

Results[edit]

Following the Revolution of 1905, the Tsar made last attempts to save his regime, and offered reforms similar to most rulers when pressured by a revolutionary movement. The military remained loyal throughout the Revolution of 1905, as shown by their shooting of revolutionaries when ordered by the Tsar, making overthrow difficult. These reforms were outlined in a precursor to the Constitution of 1906 known as the October Manifesto which created the Imperial Duma. The Russian Constitution of 1906, also known as the Fundamental Laws, set up a multiparty system and a limited constitutional monarchy. The revolutionaries were quelled and satisfied with the reforms, but it was not enough to prevent the 1917 revolution that would later topple the Tsar's regime.

Creation of Duma and Stolypin[edit]

There had been earlier attempts in establishing a Russian Duma before the October Manifesto, but these attempts faced dogged resistance. One attempt in July 1905, called the Bulygin Duma, tried to reduce the assembly into a consultative body. It also proposed limiting voting rights to those with a higher property qualification, excluding industrial workers. Both sides- the opposition and the conservatives- were not pleased with the results.[46] Another attempt in August 1905 was almost successful, but that too died when Nicholas insisted on the Duma’s functions be relegated to an advisory position.[47] The October Manifesto, aside from granting the population the freedom of speech and assembly, proclaimed that no law would be passed without examination and approval by the Imperial Duma. The Manifesto also extended the suffrage to universal proportions, allowing for greater participation in the Duma, though the electoral law in December 11 still excluded women.[48] Nevertheless, the tsar retained the power to veto.

Of course, propositions for restrictions to the Duma’s legislative powers remained persistent. A decree on February 20, 1906 transformed the State Council, the advisory body, into a second chamber with legislative powers “equal to those of the Duma.”[48] Not only did this transformation violate the Manifesto, but the Council became a buffer zone between the tsar and Duma, slowing whatever progress the latter could achieve. Even three days before the Duma’s first session, on April 24, 1906, the Fundamental Laws further limited the assembly's movement by proclaiming the tsar as the sole authority to appoint/dismiss ministers.[49] Adding insult was the indication that the tsar alone had control over many facets of political reins- all without the Duma’s expressed permission. The trap seemed perfectly set for the unsuspecting Duma: by the time the assembly convened in April 27, it quickly found itself unable to do much without violating the Fundamental Laws. Defeated and frustrated, the majority of the assembly voted no confidence and handed in their resignations after a few weeks on May 13.[50]

The attacks on the Duma were not confined to its legislative powers. By the time the Duma opened, it was missing the crucial support from its populace, thanks in no small part to the government’s return to Pre-Manifesto levels of suppression. The Soviets were forced to lay low for a long time, while the zemstvos turned against the Duma when the issue of land appropriation came up. The issue of land appropriation was the most contentious of the Duma’s appeals. The Duma proposed that the government distribute its treasury, “monastic and imperial lands,” and seize private estates as well.[50] The Duma, in fact, was preparing to alienate some of its more affable supporters, a decision that left the assembly without the necessary political power to be efficient.

Of course, Nicholas II remained wary of having to share power with reform-minded bureaucrats. When the pendulum in 1906 elections swung to the left, Nicholas immediately ordered the Duma’s dissolution just after 73 days.[51] Hoping to further squeeze the life out of the assembly, he appointed a tougher prime minister in Petr Stolypin as the liberal Witte’s replacement. Much to Nicholas’s chagrin, Stolypin attempted to bring about acts of reform (land reform), while retaining measures favorable to the regime (stepping up the number of executions of revolutionaries). After the revolution subsided, he was able to bring economic growth back to Russia’s industries, a period which lasted until 1914. But Stolypin's efforts did nothing to prevent the collapse of the monarchy, nor seemed to satisfy the conservatives. Stolypin died from a bullet wound by a revolutionary, Dmitry Bogrov, on September 5, 1911.[52]

October Manifesto[edit]

Even after Bloody Sunday and defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, Nicholas II had been slow to offer a meaningful solution to the social and political crisis. At this point, he became more concerned with his personal affairs such as the illness of his son, whose struggle with haemophilia was overseen by Rasputin. Nicholas also refused to believe that the population was demanding changes in the autocratic regime, seeing "public opinion" as mainly the "intelligentsia"[53] and believing himself to be the patronly 'father figure' to the Russian people. Sergei Witte, the minister of Russia, frustratingly argued with the Tsar that an immediate implementation of reforms was needed to retain order in the country. It was only after the Revolution started picking up steam that Nicholas was forced to make concessions by writing the October Manifesto.

Issued on 17 October 1905, the Manifesto stated that the government would grant the population reforms such as the right to vote and to convene in assemblies. Its main provisions were:

  1. The granting of the population "inviolable personal rights" including freedom of conscience, speech, and assemblage
  2. Giving the population who were previously cut off from doing so participation in the newly formed Duma
  3. Ensuring that no law would be passed without the consent of the Imperial Duma.[54]

Of course, despite what seemed to be a moment for celebration for Russia’s population and the reformists, the Manifesto was rife with problems. Aside from the absence of the word "constitution", one issue with the manifesto was its timing. By October 1905, Nicholas was already dealing with a revolution. Another problem surfaced in the conscience of Nicholas himself: Witte said in 1911 that the manifesto was written only to get the pressure off the monarch's back, that it was not a "voluntary act".[55] In fact, the writers hoped that the Manifesto would sow discord into "the camp of the autocracy’s enemies" and bring order back to Russia.[56]

One immediate effect it did have, for a while, was the start of the Days of Freedom, a six-week period from 17 October to early December. This period witnessed an unprecedented level of freedom on all publications—revolutionary papers, brochures, etc.—even though the tsar officially retained the power to censor provocative material. This opportunity allowed the press to address the tsar, and government officials, in a harsh, critical tone previously unheard of. The freedom of speech also opened the floodgates for meetings and organized political parties. In Moscow alone, over 400 meetings took place in the first four weeks. Some of the political parties that came out of these meetings were the Constitutional Democrats (Kadets), Social Democrats, Socialist Revolutionaries, Octobrists, and the far-rightist Union of Russian People.[57]

Among all the groups that benefited most from the Days of Freedoms were the labor unions. In fact, the Days of Freedom witnessed unionization in the history of the Russian Empire at its apex. At least 67 unions were established in Moscow, as well as 58 in St. Petersburg; the majority of both combined were formed in November 1905 alone. For the Soviets, it was a watershed period of time: nearly 50 of the unions in St. Petersburg came under Soviet control, while in Moscow, the Soviets had around 80000 members. This large sector of power allowed the Soviets enough clout to form their own militias. In St. Petersburg alone, the Soviets claimed around 6,000 armed members with the purpose of protecting the meetings.[58]

Perhaps greatly washed up in their newfound window of opportunity, the St. Petersburg soviets, along with other socialist parties, called for armed struggles against the Tsarist government, a war call that no doubt alarmed the government. Not only were the workers charged up, but the Days of Freedom also had an earthquake-like effect on the peasant collective as well. Seeing an opening in the autocracy's waning authority thanks to the Manifesto, the peasants, with a political organization, took to the streets in revolt. In response, the government exerted its forces in campaigns to subdue and repress both the peasants and the workers. Consequences were now in full force: with a pretext in their hands, the government spent the month of December 1905 regaining the level of authority once lost to Bloody Sunday.[59]

Ironically, the writers of the October Manifesto were caught off guard by the surge in revolts. One of the main reasons for writing the October Manifesto bordered on the government's "fear of the revolutionary movement".[60] In fact, many officials believed this fear was practically the sole reason for the Manifesto’s creation in the first place. Among those more scared was Dmitri Feodorovich Trepov, governor general of St. Petersburg and deputy minister of the interior. Trepov urged Nicholas II to stick to the principles in the Manifesto, for "every retreat ... would be hazardous to the dynasty".[60]

Russian Constitution of 1906[edit]

The Russian Constitution of 1906 was published on the eve of the convocation of the First Duma. The new Fundamental Law was enacted to institute promises of the October Manifesto as well as add new reforms. The Tsar was confirmed as absolute leader, with complete control of the executive, foreign policy, church, and the armed forces. The structure of the Duma was changed, becoming a lower chamber below the Council of Ministers, and was half-elected, half-appointed by the Tsar. Legislation had to be approved by the Duma, the Council, and the Tsar to become law. The Fundamental State Laws were the "culmination of the whole sequence of events set in motion in October 1905 and which consolidated the new status quo". The introduction of The Russian Constitution of 1906 was not simply an institution of the October Manifesto. The introduction of the constitution states (and thus emphasizes) the following:

  • The Russian State is one and indivisible.
  • The Grand Duchy of Finland, while comprising as inseparable part of the Russian State, is governed in its internal affairs by special decrees based on special legislation.
  • The Russian language is the common language of the state, and its use is compulsory in the army, the navy and all state and public institutions. The use of local (regional) languages and dialects in state and public institutions are determined by special legislation.

The Constitution did not mention any of the provisions of the October Manifesto. While it did enact the provisions laid out previously, its sole purpose seems again to be the propaganda for the monarchy and to simply not fall back on prior promises. The provisions and the new constitutional monarchy did not satisfy Russians and Lenin. The Constitution lasted until the fall of the empire in 1917.

Rise of terrorism[edit]

The years 1904 and 1907 saw a decline of mass movements, strikes and protests, and a rise of political terrorism. Combat groups such as the SR Combat Organization carried out many assassinations targeting civil servants and police, and robberies. Between 1906 and 1909, revolutionaries killed 7,293 people, of whom 2,640 were officials, and wounded 8,061.[61] Notable victims included:

Repression[edit]

The years of revolution were marked by a dramatic rise in the numbers of death sentences and executions. Different figures on the number of executions were compared by Senator Nikolai Tagantsev,[62] and are listed in the table.

YearNumber of executions by different accounts
Report by Ministry of Internal Affairs Police Department to the State Duma on 19 February [O.S. 6 February] 1909Report by Ministry of War Military Justice departmentBy Oscar GruzenbergReport by Mikhail Borovitinov, assistant head of Ministry of Justice Chief Prison Administration, at the International Prison Congress in Washington, 1910.
190510192620
1906144236225144
19074566276241,139
19088251,3301,349825
Total1,435 + 683[63] = 2,1182,2122,2352,628
YearNumber of executions
1909537
1910129
1911352
1912123
191325

These numbers reflect only executions of civilians,[64] and do not include a large number of summary executions by punitive army detachments and executions of military mutineers.[65] The Anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, also noted that official statistics excluded executions during punitive expeditions, especially in Siberia, Caucasus and the Baltic provinces.[64] By 1906 there were 4,509 political prisoners in Russian Poland, 20 percent of the empire's total.[66]

Ivanovo Soviet[edit]

Ivanovo Voznesensk was known as the 'Russian Manchester' for its textile mills. In 1905, its local revolutionaries were overwhelmingly Bolshevik. It was the first Bolshevik branch in which workers outnumbered intellectuals.

  • 11 May 1905: The 'Group', the revolutionary leadership, called for all the textile mills to strike.
  • 12 May: The strike begins. Strike leaders meet in the local woods.
  • 13 May: 40,000 workers assemble before the Administration Building to give Svirskii, the regional factory inspector, a list of demands.
  • 14 May: Workers' delegates are elected. This was done at the suggestion[67] of Svirskii who wanted people to negotiate with. A mass meeting is held in Administration Square. Svirskii tells them the mill owners will not meet their demands but will negotiate with elected mill delegates who will be immune to prosecution according to the governor.
  • 15 May: Svirskii tells the strikers they can only negotiate over each factory in turn but they can hold elections wherever. The strikers elect delegates by mill right there in the surrounding boulevards. Later the delegates elect a chairman.
  • 17 May: The meetings are moved to the bank of the Talka river, on suggestion by the police chief.
  • 27 May: The delegates' meeting house is closed.
  • 3 June: Cossacks break up a workers meeting, arresting over 20. Workers start sabotaging telephone wires and burn down a mill.
  • 9 June: The police chief resigns.
  • 12 June: All prisoners are released. Mill owners mostly flee to Moscow. Neither side gives in.
  • 27 June: Workers agree to stop striking 1 July.

Poland[edit]

Main article: Revolution in the Kingdom of Poland (1905–07)

Finland[edit]

In the Grand Duchy of Finland, the Social Democrats organised the general strike

Artistic impression of the mutiny by the crew of the battleship Potemkin against the ship's officers on 14 June 1905
A barricade erected by revolutionaries in Moscow
A locomotive overturned by striking workers at the main railway depot in Tiflis in 1905

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