The Russian Revolution (1917)


Figure 1.--This is a bread line in Petrograd in early 1917 on the even of the Revolution. It would be sponatenous rioting resulting from food shortages that would eventually lead to end of Tsardom and Romanov rule in Russia.

The Revolution of 1905 following the disastrous Russo-Japanese War had shaken the Tsarist Empire to the core. Tsar Nicholas had been forced to grant a constitution. This created a duma or parliament. The Tsar was back in control (1907). The Tsarist state was irevocably weakened. The shooting of striking gold miners at the Lena field in Siberia resulted in a new wave of unrest (1912). Thus Tsarist Russia was in no condition to enter a general European war (1914). The War was a disaster for Russia. The country was unprepared and the result was huge casualties. Russia suffered more casualties than any other country. Dusruptions in the economy and the advance of German forces resulted in shortages including severe shortages and bread lines in the major cities. As a result, the Tsarist Government collapsed with relatively little resistance when riots broke out in St. Persburg. Army revolts forced the Tsar to abdicate. Nicholas II abdicated on March 2, 1917, in favor of his brother Michael. No fool, Michael renounced his claim the next day. The abdication of the Tsar left the Duma in control of Russia. The Duma was dominated by liberal politicans. Defense Minister Alexander Kerensky formnmed a provisional government. The Provisional Government, however, was hampered by thev Petrograd Council (Soviet) of Soldiers and Workers's Deputies. And here radical elements including the Bolshevils had considerable influence. The Provisional Government also honored commitments to the Allies. Kerensky tried to keep Russia in the War. He gave Brusilov command of another offensive against the German Southern Army in Galicia. This time Brusilov made little progress. He drove through mutinous Austrian units, but was stopped at great cost by German units commanded by Hoffman and Hutier. The Germans after stopping the Russians, launched a major offensive. This was the stroke that shattered the Russian Army. It's collapse paved the way for the Bolsheviks to seize power. The first Communist state was of course the Soviet Union. The Revolution was a reaction to the huge losses, government incompetence, and privations of World War I (1914-18), in which the Russian people, suffered greviously. The Bolsheviks emerged victorious against a democratic Provisional Government (1917). The Russian Revolution is often described as a result of social forces that had been developing for centuries. A strong case can be made for the Revolution as a coupd'état that may have never occurred without the leadership of Lenin. [Pipes] The Germans allowed Lenin who was in Switzerland to cross their territory in a sealed railway car. Hecarrived in Petrograd (April 1917). His demands for "peace, land, and bread" resonated with the Russian people, especially the Petrigrad Soviet with was not faorably disposed toward the liberal duma and Kerensky Government. Lenin and his allies demanded "all power to the Soviets". As the situation in Petrograd deteriorated, General Kornilov attempted to seize power. This backfired when his troops mutinied. The Bolsheviks then moved on the Provisional Government (November 7). They arrested members if the Provisional Government theu could find and seized power in the name of the Soviets.

Tsar Nicholas II

Nicholas II, the last Russian Emperor, was the eldest son of Alexander III and was born on May 6, 1868. Nicholas was born on the Alexander Palace, as the eldest son of Tsar Alexander III and Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, of the House of Romanov-Holstein-Gottorp, in the small town of Tsarskoe Selo ("The Tsar's Village" in Russian), near St. Petersburg. Nicholas and his siblings were brought up very simply. They were brought up in the Imperial Palace of Gatchina, their father's favorite residence. Despite the palace having 900 rooms, their quarters were located on the mezzanine level, firstly destinated for servants. They slept in army camp beds without pillows or mats and they took cold showers every morning. Their father didn't want them spoiled. Being Tsarevitch and as a rule in the family of a Tsar, Nicholas was brought up by tutors and private teachers, the best of their time. Nicholas and his siblings attended classes in separate rooms but the same curriculum was given. Nicholas ascended the throne after the untimely death of his father on October 20, 1894, and was crowned on May 14, 1896. Nicholas was only 28 years old and probably not yet read for the emense responsinbilties he faced. According to contemporaries, Nicholas was gentle and approachable. Those who met him easily forgot that they were face to face with the Emperor. In private life, he was undemanding but had contradictions in his character, tending to weakness and inconsistency. A stubborn supporter of the right of the sovereign, despite growing pressure for revolution, he did not give way on a single issue, even when common sense and circumstances demanded it. Nicholas married the daughter of Grand Duke Ludwig of Hessen, Alice Victoria Eleanor Louisa Beatrice (Alexandra Feodorovna). The story of Nicholas and Alexander is one of the great love stories of the 20th Century. The two were devoted to each other throughout their lives. They had five children. The youngest child, Alexis Nicolaievich, was born August 12, 1904. The Czarevich Alexei suffered from hemophilia and was a permanent invalid. There were four daughters. Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. The First World War sealed the fate of Nicholas and his family. Without the War, Russia may have been able to have evolved into a democratic government.

Russia at the Turn of the 20th Century

Tsar Nicholas was the absolute ruler of Russia. There was no constitution or legislature. Western Europe at the turn of the 20th century had begun social reforms because of the democratic governments which gave workers the ability to demand change. This process had not yet begun in Tsarist Russia where the Tsar had absolute authority. Russia was still a largely agricultural country, but had one of the most rapidly expanding industrial sector in the world, albeit from a relatively small base. Workers had not yet obtained even minimal rights. Factory owners attempted to prevent them from forming unions by firing workers who attempted to join unions and attacking union organizers. As a result, Russian industrial worker was paid less than workers in the West and worked longer hours. Russian workers commonly worked 11 hours a day and even on Saturday the working day was often 10 hours. Working conditions were both harsh and often unsafe. Employers took no responsibility for accidents when they occurred. Father Georgi Gapon launched the Russian workers movement, the Assembly of Russian Workers (1903).

Russo-Japanese War (1904-05)

The Russo-Japanese War developed out of the competing designs of the Japanese and Russian Empires over Manchuria and Korea. Resource-poor Japan coveted the resources of Manchuria where local war lords limited the authority of the Chinese government. Russia's control over Siberia was tenous. Only the Trans-Siberia Railway connected the two. Resistance to Tsarist absolutism was growing in Russia. Minister of the Interior, V.K. Plehve, commented "In order to hold back the revolution, we need a small victorious war" (early 1904). Russia did sot see Japan as major threat and refused to negotiate spheres of influence which woyld allow both countries to persue their interests. Japan launched a surprise attack--never bothering to declare war. The Japanese Navu bottled up the Russian Pacific squadron at Port Arthur and then seized it by a land attack (1904). A Russian Army was defeated at Mukden. The Russians massed their Atlantic squadorn and made made an epic voyage to engage the Japanese Imperial fleet. The Japanese destroyed the Russian squadron at Tsushima (1905). Most Europeans were surprised that the Japanese had the capability to defeat a European naval force. American President Theodore Roosevelt was instrumental in negotiating the Treaty of Portsmouth ending the war. The War was a major factor in bringing about the Russian Revolution of 1905. It also marked the emergence of Japan as Asian powerhouse.

Revolution (1905)

The War withb Japan was a major factor in bringing about the Russian Revolution of 1905. The War had a range of consequences. One was inflation whih led to increases in the price of food and other goods (1904). Poorly paid Russian workers were barely able to afford essebtials before inflation drove up prices. Inflation rose so rapidly that workers found their wages could no longer pay for the food need by their families. Workers led by the new Assembly of Russian Workers (SRW) demanded wage increases. Management at the Putilov Iron Works fired four ARW members. ARW leader Father Gapon began to organize industrial action. It was the first effective industrial strike in Russia. Over 110,000 workers in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) went out on strike. Father Gapon deciding it was pointless to work with management which refused to deal with him, made a personal appeal to Tsar Nicholas. He compsed a petition describing the workers' sufferings and listing their demands. Father Gapon called for a reduction in the working day to eight hours which was becoming standard in Europe. Gapon also wanted an increase in wages, improved working conditions, and an end to the War with Japan. The petition was carried by a peaceful procession of workers to the Winter Palace. There the workers were attacked by the police and the mounted Cossacks. The result was more than 100 workers killed and about 300 wounded. This became known as Bloody Sunday in Russian history. The violent response of the Tsarist establshment launched the Revolution of 1905. Workers in other industrial cities went out on strike. The Revolution was not limited to workers. University students also went out on strike to support the workers. The universities had to close down. Students complined of the lack of civil liberties. There was considerable sympathy for the workers among the middle class, including lawyers, doctors, engineers, and other middle-class workers. Middle class organizers established the Union of Unions and demanded that the Tsar establish a constituent assembly. The support of the middke class was an ominous development for the Tsar. Even more important was the beginning of a crack in the military which kept the Tsar in power, Discipline in the military was strict and conditioins for the ordinary soldier and sailor were harsh. Sailors on the Potemkin battleship at Petrograd protested about the serving of rotten meat (June 1905). The captain ordered men he identified as the ringleaders to be sumarily shot. The firing-squad , however, refused to carry out the order. The crew then threw the captain and his officers overboard. The Potemkin Mutiny began to spread to ther navy and army units. The industria strike continued to spread. The crucial railwaymen went on strike (October 1905). This brought the Russian industrial economy to a stop. Leon Trotsky and other Mensheviks (Socialists) established the Petrograd Soviet which would play a major role in Russian history. This set arecedent and more than 50 of these soviets were organized in the major cities throughout Russia. The Revolution shook the Tsarist Empire to the core. Tsar Nicholas had been forced to grant a constitution. This created a duma or parliament. The Tsar was back in control (1907). The Tsarist state was irevocably weakened.

Lena Incident (1912)

The Lena goldfield is located in northeast Siberia on the Lena River. The nearest town was Bodaybo north of Irkutsk. The field was operated by the Lena Gold Mining Joint Stock Company (Lenzoloto). It was a British-Russian joint venture. The shareholders included A.I.Vyshnegradsky, Alexei Putilov, Count Sergei Witte, Empress Maria Fyodorovna, and others. Working conditions at Lena were harsh, even by Russian standards. The miners were required to work 15-16 hours a day. The operatuions were hasardous with extrodnarily high accident rates. The management fined miners for a variety of infractions, reducing their already low wages. They were not paid in cash, but rzther in cupons which could only be redeemed in a company stores. A spontaneous strike broke out at the Andreyevsky goldfield (March 13, 1912). The strike resulted from attempts to provide rotten meat at one of the company stores. The miners principal demands were an 8-hour workday, 30 percent wage raise, termination of fines, and better food (March 17). The management rejected the demands. Meanwhile the strike spread to the other fields. About 6,000 miners joined the strike. The Tsarist Government supported the owners. They dispatched army units from Kirensk to Bodaybo. The troops proceeded to arrest the the strike committee (April 17). When the workers learned of this in the morning, they demanded the strike committee be released. A group of about 2,500 miners in the afternoon marched on the Nadezhdinsky goldfield to deliver a complaint to the prosecutor's office. The workers were confronted by the soldiers. Captain Treshchenkov ordered them to open fire, leaving 150-270 dead. (The actual accounting is not well documented. This higher estimate t was from a local newspaper--Zvezda). This was the number commonly used by Soviet historians.) The incident became known as the Lena Massacre (Ленский расстрел). When news of the shooting reached the rest of Russia, there was a demand for the government to investigate. The Company offered the miners a new contract, but it was rejected by the strikers. The shootings resulted in a new wave of unrest. Protests began throughout Russia. Workers went out on strike in sympathy wuith the Lena miners. Thousands of strikes were reported in April and May. One source reports over 1,000 strikes just in the Petrograd area. The strike at the Lena goldfield lasted for several months (August 25). About 9,000 miners and other employees moved away seeking employment elsewhere. The Duma established a commission on the Lena incident. It was chaired by Alexander Kerensky. His reports made him a popular figure in Russia. They were higly charged and tended to exagerate what occurred. It turned him from an obscure backbencher to the leader of the Duma with a degree of national popularity. And later it would be Kerensky who headed the Provisional Government that replaced the Tsar.

World War I (1914-18)

Tsarist Russia was in no condition to enter a general European war (1914). Russia was tied to Serbia by religion and ethnicity. It also had an alliance with France. The Russian offensive launched after the Germans declared war and invaded Belgium and France almost certainly saved the French in the first month of the War. As it was, the Germans came very close to victory in the West. The War was, however, a disaster for Russia. The country was unprepared and the result was huge casualties. The Tsar took personal command of the Army (1916). This personally tied him to the war and removed him from Petrograd (St. Perersburg). Russia suffered more casualties than any other country. Dusruptions in the economy and the advance of German forces resulted in shortages including severe shortages and bread lines in the major cities. As a result, the Tsarist Government collapsed with relatively little resistance when riots broke out in Petrograd.

Tsar Abdicates (March 1917)

The first Russian Revolution removed Tsar Nicholas II from power. This occurred spontaneously out of a series of increasingly violent demonstrations and riots on the streets of Petrograd. The deprivations of the War and finally food shortages led to demonstrations than spun out of control. At the time the Tsar was out of the capital, with the troops at the Eatern Front. The Revolution was a popular uprising, but it was not a national uprising. It occurred in Petrograd, the capital. The Tsar attempted to return to Petrograd to restore order. Army revolts forced the Tsar to abdicate. Nicholas II abdicated on March 2, 1917, in favor of his brother Michael. No fool, Michael renounced his claim the next day.

Provisional Government (March 1917)

The abdication of the Tsar left the Duma in control of Russia. The Duma was dominated by liberal politicans. Defense Minister Alexander Kerensky formnmed a provisional government. The Provisional Government, however, was hampered by thev Petrograd Council (Soviet) of Soldiers and Workers's Deputies. And here radical elements including the Bolshevils had considerable influence. The Provisional Government also honored commitments to the Allies. Kerensky tried to keep Russia in the War. He gave Brusilov command of another offensive against the German Southern Army in Galicia. This time Brusilov made little progress. He drove through mutinous Austrian units, but was stopped at great cost by German units commanded by Hoffman and Hutier. The Germans after stopping the Russians, launched a major offensive. This was the stroke that shattered the Russian Army. It's collapse paved the way for the Bolsheviks to seize power.

Petrograd Soviet

The Petrograd Soviet was an influential local council which represented workers and soldiers. It operated on a overtly democratic basis. While it was only one local council, it was emsensely important because it was located in the capital. And it could mobilize both armed workers and soldiers. Lenin realized that the Blsheviks had no chance of dominating the Duma where it was a small minority. Thus the Bolsheviks focused their efforts in the Petrograd Soviet.

Bolshevik Revolution (November 1917)

The first Communist state was of course the Soviet Union. The Revolution was a reaction to the huge losses, government incompetence, and privations of World War I (1914-18), in which the Russian people, suffered greviously. The Bolsheviks emerged victorious against a democratic Provisional Government (1917). The Russian Revolution is often described as a result of social forces that had been developing for centuries. A strong case can be made for the Revolution as a coupd'état that may have never occurred without the leadership of Lenin. [Pipes] The Germans allowed Lenin who was in Switzerland to cross their territory in a sealed railway car. Hecarrived in Petrograd (April 1917). His demands for "peace, land, and bread" resonated with the Russian people, especially the Petrigrad Soviet with was not faorably disposed toward the liberal duma and Kerensky Government. Lenin and his allies demanded "all power to the Soviets". As the situation in Petrograd deteriorated, General Kornilov attempted to seize power. This backfired when his troops mutinied. The Bolsheviks then moved on the Provisional Government (November 7). They arrested members if the Provisional Government theu could find and seized power in the name of the Soviets. The Bolshevik Revolution was very different than the basically spotanenous revolution which oerthrew the Tsar and resulted in the establishment of the Provisional Government. The Bolshevik, was a carefully planned and orchestrated event. The Bolsheviks were a minority even within the Socialists. Other members of the Dunmasaw them as extremists. They also had only limited popular support throughout the country. They had only limited sypport when Lenin arrived (April). They were the best organized group, in part because of Lenin's leadership, and came to dominate the all important Petrograd Soviet.

Dictatorship of the Proletariat (January 1918)

As a minority power, the Blsheviks could not maintain power if they continued democratic procedures. Thus they abandoned any semblance of democratic procedures (January 1918). This meant supressing not only conservatives, but other socialist parties as well. Lenin declared the dictatorship of the proletariat. This led to the Russian Civil War.

Civil War (1918-20)

The abdication of the Tsar and subequent Civil War led to distructive fighting between Reds and Whites (1918-22). Foreign governments intervened to assist the Whites. The Red Army fought to retain the old Rusian imperial borders, but lost Finland, the Baltics Republic and large areas of White Russia to Poland. The Bolshevicks did succeed in the Russian hearland. The old Imperial Army was shatered by the Germans. Many soldiers mutinied and killed their officers. People's Commisar for War Leon Trotsky organized a new Red Army, recruiting massive numbers of peasants and workers. The Red Army without trained officers performed poorly in the early phases of the fighting. Leon Trotsky played a msajor role in fashioning the Red Army into an effective fighting force. The Bolshevicks attached political officers to all Red Army units to keep warch over the officers (many who had been in the old Imperial Army) and explain Communism to the largely illiterate peasant recruits. The Bolshevicks were especially concerned with the younger generation, untained by the Tsarist past and capitalism. The War and the Civil War affected agricultual production. Food shortsages were widespread. Large numbers of children orphaned in the fighting were psarticuilsrly at risk. As in Europe, American food again played a role in saving millions of children.

Dates

Dates can be very confusing when reading about the Eussian Revolution. This is because of the two different calendars used. Russia until the overthrow of the Tsar used the old the Julian calendar, while the Western world used the more accurate Gregorian calendar. By the time of the Revolution there were 13 days difference between the two calendars. As part of a modernizing effort, the Provisional Government adopted the Gregorian calendar. The change resulted in much confusion. The Julian calendar dates the Tsar's overthrow to February while the Geregirian calendar has it in March. This is also why the Bolshevik Revolutuon is dated in both October and November.

Sources

Pipes, Richard. VIXI: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger (Yale University Press: 2003), 264p. ("VIXI is Latin for "I lived." His parents managed to excape fom NAZI-occupied Poland. Most of their family perished in the gas chambers. Some describe him as the intelectual archetct of America's victory in the Cold War.)






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Created: 5:06 AM 12/15/2007
Last updated: 8:53 PM 12/19/2007