The fall of monarchy in February 1917 and the subsequent events of October are normally called the Russian Revolution.

Russian Empire in 1914

In 1914, Russia and its empire were ruled by Tsar Nicholas II. The Russian empire was huge in size, and included modern-day Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, parts of Poland, Ukraine and Belarus. It stretched to the Pacific and comprised modern day Central Asian states, as well as Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Orthodox Christianity was the majority religion in Russia but Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Buddhists also lived in the Russian Empire. So, it can be said that Russian Empire was multi-religious and multiethnic in character.

Economy and Society

Farming and Industry: At the beginning of the twentieth century, about 85% of the Russian empire's population was dependent on agriculture. Industrialization had begun in Russia but industry was present in some pockets, like St. Petersburg and Moscow. Much of the production was done by craftsmen but large factories also existed. Most of the factories were set up in the 1890s. This was the period when Russia&apoos;s railway network was extended and foreign investment in industry increased.

Most of the industry was owned by private individuals. The government kept an eye on large factories to ensure minimum wages and limited working hours. But rules were broken with impunity. Workers sometimes had to work up to 15 hours. Accommodation for workers could be in rooms or dormitories, with deplorable condition of living.

Workers: The workers were divided into different social groups. Some of them had strong links with their ancestral villages. Some others had permanently settled in the cities. Workers were divided by skill and metalworkers were on top of this hierarchy. This diversity was apparent even by their dress and manner.

In spite of divisions, the workers often united to strike work whenever there was some issue related to dismissals or work conditions. Such strikes frequently took place in the textiles industry during 1896-1897, and in the metal industry during 1902.

Peasants: In villages, the peasants cultivated most of the land, but large properties were owned by the nobility, the crown and the Orthodox Church. Barring a few exceptions, the peasants had no respect for the nobility. Nobles enjoyed their power and position because of their services to the Tsar. The peasants of Russia wanted the land of the nobles to be given to them. They often refused to pay rent and even murdered landlords. Such incidents occurred on a large scale in south Russia in 1902. And in 1905, such incidents happened all over Russia.

Mir: Russian peasants pooled their land together periodically. Their commune (mir) divided the land according to the needs of individual families. Thus, they had a long tradition of working in close association.

Chapter List

Socialism in Russia

Some Russian socialists felt that the Russian peasants' tradition of sharing the land according to commune (mir) made them natural socialists. They felt that peasants, rather than workers, would be the main force behind the revolution. They felt that Russia could become socialist more quickly than other countries.

Socialists were active in the countryside through the late nineteenth century. The Socialist Revolutionary Party was formed in 1900. This party demanded that land of the nobles should be transferred to peasants.

Social Democrats did not agree with Socialist Revolutionaries about peasants' rights. Lenin (leader of Social Democrats) thought that peasants were not one united group and hence they could not all be part of a socialist movement. Lenin thought that the party should be disciplined and should control the number and quality of its members. Others (Mensheviks) thought that the party should be open to all, as in Germany.

The 1905 Revolution

The Tsar was not answerable to parliament. The liberals in Russia (along with the Social Democrats and Socialist Revolutionaries) worked with peasants and workers during the revolution of 1905 to demand a constitution. They were also supported by nationalists and by jadidists (in Muslim dominated areas). The jadidists wanted modernized Islam in their lives.

1904 was a bad year for Russian workers. Prices of essential goods arose so quickly that real wages declined by 20 percent. The membership of workers’ associations increased dramatically. The Assembly of Russian Workers was formed in 1904. When four of its members were dismissed at the Putilov Iron Works, there was a call for industrial action. Over 110,000 workers in St. Petersburg went on strike within a few days. They were demanding an eight hour work-schedule, increase in wages and improved working conditions.

BLOODY SUNDAY: Father Gapon led the procession of workers. When the procession reached the Winter Palace, it was attacked by the police and the Cossacks. Over 100 workers were killed and 300 injured. This incident is known as Bloody Sunday. It started a serried of events which came to be known as the 1905 Revolution.

Cossacks: They are a group of East Slavic-speaking Orthodox Christian people. Cossacks have played important role in historical and cultural development of Ukraine and Russia. Ref: Wikipedia

Strikes took place all over the country. Student bodies staged walkouts and universities were closed down. Lawyers, doctors, engineers and other middle-class workers formed the Union of Unions. They demanded a constituent assembly.

CREATION OF DUMA: The Tsar allowed the creation of an elected consultative Parliament (Duma). Most of the committees and unions which were formed during this period were declared illegal after 1905 and hence many of them continued to work unofficially. The Tsar imposed several restrictions on political activity. The first Duma was dismissed within 75 day and the re-elected second Duma was dismissed within three months. The Tsar then changed the voting laws and the third Duma was packed with conservative politicians.

Effect of First World War

The War was initially popular and people rallied around Tsar Nicholas II. But the Tsar refused to consult the main parties in the Duma, when the war was prolonged. This led to reduced support for the Tsar.

Defeat of Russian Army: The War on the eastern front was different from the War on the western front. On the western front, the armies fought from trenches along the eastern France. On the other hand, the armies moved a good deal on the east and fought battles. Casualties were high on the eastern front. Russia’s armies lost badly in Germany and Austria between 1914 and 1916. By 1917, over 7 million people died in the battle. The retreating Russian army destroyed crops and buildings. The destruction of crops and buildings resulted in 3 million refugees in Russia. This development tarnished the image of the Tsar. Soldiers did not wish to fight such a war.

Effect on Industry: Industry was also badly affected by the war. German control of the Baltic Sea resulted in supplies being cut off to Russia. Due to this, industrial equipments disintegrated more rapidly in Russia than anywhere else in Europe. Railway lines began to break down by 1916. There was shortage of labor because the able-bodied men had been called for the war duty. This led to small workshops being shut and resulted in shortage of essential items. Large supplies of grains were sent to feed the army. There was so much scarcity that riots at bread shops were a common sight by the winter of 1916.

In the winter of 1917, conditions in the capital, Petrograd, were grim. Food shortages were severe in the workers' quarters. The winter was very cold, accompanied by frost and heavy snow.

February Revolution

February Revolution is important because it culminated with end of monarchy in Russia. Following are the sequence of events of this revolution.

On 22 February, a lockout took place at a factory on the right bank of the Neva River. On the next day, workers in fifty factories went on strike to show solidarity. Women led the way to strikes in many factories.

The demonstrators crossed from the factory quarters to the centre of the capital, the Nevskii Prospekt. The movement was not being actively organized by any political party. The government imposed a curfew and the demonstrators dispersed by the evening. But they came back on the 24th and 25th. Cavalry and police were called to keep a watch on the demonstrators.

The government suspended the Duma on 25th February. Demonstrators returned in larger number to the streets on the left bank on the 26th February. The Police Headquarters were ransacked on 27th February.

The government once again called out the cavalry to control the situation. But the cavalry refused to fire on the demonstrators. An officer of a regiment was shot at and three other regiments mutinied to join the striking workers.

By the evening of 27th February, soldiers and striking workers gathered to form a soviet or council in the same building as the Duma met. This was the Petrograd Soviet.

A delegation went to see the Tsar on 28th February. The Tsar abdicated on 2nd March, on the advice of the military.

A provisional government was formed by the Soviet Leaders and the Duma leaders. Thus the February Revolution of 1917 brought down the monarchy in Russia.

After February

The Provisional Government took steps towards an elected government. Restrictions on public meetings and associations were removed. ‘Soviets’ were set up everywhere, though no common system of election was followed.

Return of Lenin: The Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin returned from exile in April 1917. He made three demands which were known as ‘April Theses’. He declared an end to the war, transfer of land to the peasants and nationalization of banks. He proposed renaming of the Bolshevik Party as the Communist Party, to indicate its new radical aims.

Most others in the Bolshevik Party thought that the time was not ripe for socialist revolution. They wanted the Provisional Government to continue for some time. But various developments in the subsequent months changed their mindset.

The workers' movement spread through the summer. Trade unions grew in number, in industrial areas. Soldiers' committees were formed in the army. In the month of June, about 500 Soviets sent representatives to an All Russian Congress of Soviets.

The provisional government viewed these developments as erosion in its powers and as growing influence of Bolshevik. The Provisional Government decided to take stern measures. The demonstrations by the Bolsheviks in July 1917 were sternly repressed. Many Bolshevik leaders had to go hiding. Many of them fled as well. The peasants and their Socialist Revolutionary leaders demanded a redistribution of land. The peasants seized land between July and September 1917.

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