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February Revolution

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

February Revolution (Russian)
Part of the Russian Revolution

Attacking the Tsar's police during the first days
of the February Revolution
Date8–16 March 1917 [O.S. 23 February – March 03]

Revolutionary victory


Russia Russian Imperial Government

Petrograd Garrison (Late)
Commanders and leaders
Russia Nicholas II
Russia Nikolai Golitsyn
Russia Sergey Khabalov
Russia Mikhail Belyaev
Russia Nikolai Ivanov
Russia Various
Casualties and losses
1,443 killed in Petrograd[1]

The February Revolution (Russian: Февра́льская револю́ция, IPA: [fʲɪvˈralʲskəjə rʲɪvɐˈlʲutsɨjə]), known in Soviet historiography as the February Bourgeois Democratic Revolution,[2] was the first of two revolutions which took place in Russia in 1917.

The main events of the revolution took place in and near Petrograd (present-day St. Petersburg), the then-capital of Russia, where long-standing discontent with the monarchy erupted into mass protests against food rationing on 23 February Old Style (8 March New Style).[3] Revolutionary activity lasted about eight days, involving mass demonstrations and violent armed clashes with police and gendarmes, the last loyal forces of the Russian monarchy. On 27 February O.S. (12 March N.S.) mutinous Russian Army forces sided with the revolutionaries. Three days later Tsar Nicholas II abdicated, ending Romanov dynastic rule and the Russian Empire. A Russian Provisional Government under Prince Georgy Lvov replaced the Council of Ministers of Russia.

The revolution appeared to break out without any real leadership or formal planning.[4] Russia had been suffering from a number of economic and social problems, which compounded after the start of World War I in 1914. Disaffected soldiers from the city's garrison joined bread rioters, primarily women in bread lines, and industrial strikers on the streets. As more and more troops deserted, and with loyal troops away at the Front, the city fell into chaos, leading to the overthrow of the Tsar. In all, over 1,300 people were killed during the protests of February 1917.[5]

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • The Russian February Revolution 1917 I THE GREAT WAR Week 137
  • The Russian Revolution (1917)
  • The February Revolution in Russia - Professor Dominic Lieven
  • History of the Russian Revolution 1917: The February Revolution
  • The Russian Revolution 1917


What do you do when you can’t get food? When you can’t afford to buy even the food that’s available? When working conditions are intolerable? Well, if you’re the Russians, you hit the streets. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week French General Robert Nivelle proposed to take control of the British armies on the Western Front. The British were advancing there as the Germans fell back to the Hindenburg Line. They also advanced on the Tigris, taking Kut-al-Amara and setting their sights on Baghdad. The Serbian rebellion in Bulgarian occupied Balkan territory continued, as did major U-Boat sinkings at sea. The US public found out about a German plot against them, and Austrian Army Chief of Staff Conrad von Hötzendorf lost his job. That was a busy week. Well, they’re all busy weeks and this is no exception. There was more turmoil in Russia, for starters. This week, a strike began in the Putilov munitions works, which was the Russian army’s main provider of ammunition. Also in Petrograd, food riots began that continued for days, with citizens in the streets demanding bread. By the 8th there were 90,000 factory workers on strike. There were, in fact, food shortages in all the major cities; agricultural production was down from so many farm workers being called to the army and there were colossal distribution problems on the overstretched railway system. Inflation had soared, but wages remained the same, so the poor were being priced out of the market for any food that was available. The results were hunger, which caused food riots, and open political dissent that all blamed the Tsar for the suffering. More and more military units began to go over to the revolutionaries. A decade ago the military had put down a revolution, but in 1917 the army had no enthusiasm or desire to fire on the people. The 8th was also International Women’s Day and the strikers were joined by those celebrating that occasion, so by the end of the week, 200,000 protesters were in the streets of Petrograd. The Tsar was completely isolated from all this and totally out of touch; this week he wrote to his wife that he was going to take up dominoes again, and in his diary that he was reading a French book about Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul. It was the beginning of the end. A side note here - a while back I talked about Interior Minister Alexander Protopopov and it was a bit controversial. I will certainly bow to superior knowledge of the events and circumstances in Russia at this time, particularly about Protopopov and what he did or did not do. Many of you know far more about the subject than I do. I will say one thing further about him here, though. Now, I only have this from one source, “The Story of the Great War”, make of that what you will. They claim that he deliberately had food trains to Petrograd halted in the provinces, and when everybody was on strike, the two labor leaders who supported the Duma made an appeal for the workers to go back to work, but he had the appeal censored. That source claims Protopopov was deliberately fomenting revolution so that during the crisis a peace with the Central Powers could be made and the revolution put down by the army. Many of you have written that Protopopov was not capable of this kind of machination, and even I have described him as “laughably incompetent”, I’m just putting this out there. There is one source that claims this is so. I’m curious to hear your thoughts. There was action in the Middle East this week as well. The British were pursuing the Ottomans up the Tigris River, heading for Baghdad. On the 6th, British cavalry was 20km from the goal. On the 8th, the Tigris was bridged and the Ottomans driven from positions 10km from the city. The British also made a surprise crossing of the Diyala River. The Ottomans were actually also retreating en masse from Persia toward Baghdad, with the Russians in pursuit. This week the Russians occupied Kangavar, South of Hamadan. In the Balkans, the Serbs’ Toplica Rebellion continued occupations of its own. The rebels took half a dozen small towns and were threatening the town of Vranje, which would be a big blow to the Central Powers if it fell. So the alarmed Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian commands began to organize a counter attack. It would begin soon. And something else that could signal another beginning was the possibility that the US might join the war. It’s now been a month since diplomatic relations between the US and Germany were severed. This week, President Woodrow Wilson took the oath of office to begin his second term as President. His inaugural speech reaffirms his commitment to armed neutrality. This is primarily in response to Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare policy, which had sunk 500,000 tons of food for Britain in February alone. We’ve talked a lot about stuff dealing with the US over the past few weeks and I’d like to talk about something I haven’t had time for yet, the Great Call Up. In June 1916 there had been a real possibility of war between the USA and Mexico. The US army had put together around 12,000 troops for its cross-border campaign, but they’d need a lot more to show how serious the US was about protecting the border. So they mobilized the entire National Guard. There was a plan for orderly mobilization, but rushing as many guardsmen to the border as quickly as possible was the order of the day, and by the end of July there were 110,957 national guardsmen at the border. There was a lot of confusion and a lot of problems, and I’ll just briefly mention some of them here. Reluctance to serve was a big problem and the physical condition of the men another. The Surgeon General said, “The large percentage of rejections at the muster-in physical examination... appears to the department surgeon as the most disappointing... feature of the mobilization, indicating that the enlistment examinations had been nominal and superficial.” And the army’s logistical system was overwhelmed. There weren’t enough supplies for the guardsmen, and since there had been no prearranged plans for border mobilization, 100,000 inexperienced men suddenly there needed to be trained, so the regular army was stripped of officers to do so. The red tape was colossal, and I love this quote about the staggering problems with requisition forms just to get basic equipment, “There was not only a shortage of blank forms, but a shortage of the forms needed to requisition the blank forms.” The National Guard blamed the army for all the shortages, and the army blamed Congress. Let’s not even get into the overload issues for the railways that had to move all the men, and the economic issues at the border once 100,000 men arrived in border towns. Still, by Christmas, 156,414 guardsmen had been transported to the border, even though three quarters of them were untrained men led by officers of limited experience. And reports, like one in the excellent book “The Great Call-Up”, read like this, “Under most favorable conditions... the regiment might be made available for field service against an inferior enemy in six months, against trained troops it will require two years.” You can see why the Central Powers were not especially worried about American intervention if they could bring the war to a conclusion in 1917. Thing is, America learned a lot from the Great Call up; the mobilization problems were all highlighted on display, including things like the army’s reliance on animals instead of cars and trucks, and steps were made to correct all of this mess. So the period from June 1916 to now was one of intense training and troubleshooting. Why it’s important here is that it really served as a dress rehearsal for American mobilization. “The Great Call up transformed the National Guard into a much more effective fighting force, for it was as close as the United States came to the large scale military maneuvers in which European armies traditionally engaged.” The idea that the US would join the war was, for Germany, offset by the news from Russia, where things looked bad militarily as well as politically. British Military Attaché Colonel Knox had sent London a note saying that a million men had been killed, two million were either missing - dead - or prisoners, half a million were in hospital, a million and a half more were on leave or had been excused from more service, and another million had deserted. Knox said that the number of the troops at the front was not enough to continue the war as it was. But that’s how things stood at the end of the week. The British on the move in Mesopotamia, the Russians in Persia, rebel success in the Balkans, Chaos in Petrograd, and the US saying yet again that it would remain neutral. Armed neutrality. So ships could defend themselves from the U-boat menace. But that’s not neutral, is it? The Germans sinking ships with American civilians aboard is an act of war. American civilians firing on German subs is an act of war. You can get as technical with the terminology as you liked but that is war. And how long do you think the American public would put up with reading about drowned American civilians. And how long would the Russians put up with starvation and intolerable working conditions? I’m gonna guess not very long. If you want to learn more about the defenses against submarines, check out our special about that right here. Our Patreon supporter of the week is Kitsuka - help us out on Patreon so we can improve this show as the war gets even bigger. Don’t forget to subscribe, see you next time.



A number of factors contributed to the February Revolution, both short and long term. Historians disagree on the main factors that contributed to this. Liberal historians emphasise the turmoil created by the war, whereas Marxists emphasise the inevitability of change.[6] Alexander Rabinowitch summarises the main long-term and short-term causes:

The February 1917 revolution ... grew out of pre-war political and economic instability, technological backwardness, and fundamental social divisions, coupled with gross mismanagement of the war effort, continuing military defeats, domestic economic dislocation, and outrageous scandals surrounding the monarchy.[7]

Long-term causes

Despite its occurrence at the height of World War I, the roots of the February Revolution date further back. Chief among these was Imperial Russia's failure, throughout the 19th and early 20th century, to modernise its archaic social, economic and political structures while maintaining the stability of ubiquitous devotion to an autocratic monarch. As historian Richard Pipes writes, "the incompatibility of capitalism and autocracy struck all who gave thought to the matter".[8]

The first major event of the Russian Revolution was the February Revolution, which was a chaotic affair, caused by the culmination of over a century of civil and military unrest. There were many causes of this unrest of the common people towards the Tsar and aristocratic landowners. The causes can be summarized as the ongoing cruel treatment of peasants by the bourgeoisie, poor working conditions of industrial workers and the spreading of western democratic ideas by political activists. All of these causes led to a growing political and social awareness in the lower classes of Russia. Dissatisfaction of proletarians was compounded by food shortages and military failures. In 1905, Russia experienced humiliating losses in its war with Japan, then Bloody Sunday and the Revolution of 1905, in which Tsarist troops fired upon a peaceful, unarmed crowd, further dividing Nicholas II from his people. Widespread strikes, riots and the famous mutiny on the Battleship Potemkin ensued.

These conditions caused much agitation among the small working and professional classes. This tension erupted into general revolt with the 1905 Revolution, and again under the strain of war in 1917, this time with lasting consequences.

Short-term causes

Students and soldiers firing across the Moyka at the police
Students and soldiers firing across the Moyka at the police

The revolution was provoked by Russian military failures during the First World War,[9] as well as public dissatisfaction with the way the country was run on the home front. The economic challenges faced due to fighting a total war also contributed.

In August 1914, all classes supported[10] and virtually all political deputies voted in favour of the war.[11] The declaration of war was followed by a revival of nationalism across Russian society, which temporarily reduced internal strife.[9] The army achieved some early victories (such as in Galicia in 1915 and with the Brusilov Offensive in 1916) but also suffered major defeats, notably Tannenberg in August 1914, the Winter Battle in Masuria in February 1915 and the loss of Russian Poland during May to August 1915. Nearly six million casualties—dead, wounded and missing—had been accrued by January 1917. Mutinies sprang up more often (most due to simple war-weariness), morale was at its lowest, and the newly called up officers and commanders were at times very incompetent. Like all major armies, Russia's armed forces had inadequate supply.[12] The pre-revolution desertion rate ran at around 34,000 a month.[13] Meanwhile, the wartime alliance of industry, Duma (lower house of parliament) and Stavka (Military High Command) started to work outside the Tsar's control.[14]

In an attempt to boost morale and repair his reputation as a leader, Nicholas announced in the summer of 1915 that he would take personal command of the army, in defiance of almost universal advice to the contrary.[6] The result was disastrous on three grounds. Firstly, it associated the monarchy with the unpopular war; secondly, Nicholas proved to be a poor leader of men on the front, often irritating his own commanders with his interference;[15] and thirdly, being at the front made him unavailable to govern. This left the reins of power to his wife, the German Tsarina Alexandra, who was unpopular and accused of being a spy and under the thumb of her confidant, Grigori Rasputin, himself so unpopular that he was assassinated by members of the nobility in December 1916.[9] The Tsarina proved an ineffective ruler in a time of war, announcing a rapid succession of different Prime Ministers and angering the Duma.[9] The lack of strong leadership is illustrated by a telegram from Octobrist politician Mikhail Rodzianko to the Tsar on 26 February O.S. (11 March N.S), 1917, in which Rodzianko begged for a minister with the "confidence of the country" be instated immediately. Delay, he wrote, would be "tantamount to death".[16]

On the home front, a famine loomed and commodities became scarce due to the overstretched railroad network. Meanwhile, refugees from German-occupied Russia came in their millions.[17] The Russian economy, which had just seen one of the highest growth rates in Europe, was blocked from the continent's markets by the war. Though industry did not collapse, it was considerably strained and when inflation soared, wages could not keep up.[18] The Duma, which was composed of liberal deputies, warned Tsar Nicholas II of the impending danger and counselled him to form a new constitutional government, like the one he had dissolved after some short-term attempts in the aftermath of the 1905 Revolution. The Tsar ignored the advice.[4] Historian Edward Acton argues that "by stubbornly refusing to reach any modus vivendi with the Progressive Bloc of the Duma... Nicholas undermined the loyalty of even those closest to the throne [and] opened an unbridgeable breach between himself and public opinion."[6] In short, the Tsar no longer had the support of the military, the nobility or the Duma (collectively the élites), or the Russian people. The result was revolution.[19]


Towards the February Revolution

The abdication of Nicholas II on March 2, 1917 O.S. In the royal train: Minister of the Court Baron Fredericks, General N. Ruzsky, V. V. Shulgin, A. I. Guchkov, Nicholas II. (State Historical Museum)
The abdication of Nicholas II on March 2, 1917 O.S. In the royal train: Minister of the Court Baron Fredericks, General N. Ruzsky, V. V. Shulgin, A. I. Guchkov, Nicholas II. (State Historical Museum)

On 29 December O.S. (11 January N.S.), a hesitating Nikolai Golitsyn became the successor of Trepov, who was dismissed. Golitsyn begged the Emperor to cancel his appointment, citing his lack of preparation for the role of Prime Minister. On 3 January O.S. (16 January N.S) Dmitry Shuvayev, who did not speak any foreign language, was succeeded by Mikhail Belyaev as Minister of War, likely at the request of the Empress.[20]

"In the seventeen months of the 'Tsarina's rule', from September 1915 to February 1917, Russia had four Prime Ministers, five Ministers of the Interior, three Foreign Ministers, three War Ministers, three Ministers of Transport and four Ministers of Agriculture. This "ministerial leapfrog", as it came to be known, not only removed competent men from power, but also disorganized the work of government since no one remained long enough in office to master their responsibilities."[21]

The Duma President Mikhail Rodzianko, Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna and British ambassador Buchanan joined calls for Alexandra to be removed from influence, but Nicholas still refused to take their advice.[22] Many people came to the conclusion that the problem was not Rasputin.[23] According to Rodzianko the Empress "exerts an adverse influence on all appointments, including even those in the army." On 11 January O.S. (24 January N.S.) the Duma opening was postponed to the 25th (7 February N.S.).[24] On 14 January O.S. (27 January N.S.) Georgy Lvov proposed to Grand Duke Nicholas that he take control of the country. At the end of January/beginning of February major negotiations took place between the allied powers in Petrograd; unofficially they sought to clarify the internal situation in Russia.[25] On 14 February O.S. (27 February N.S.) police agents reported that army officers had, for the first time, mingled with the crowds demonstrating against the war and the government on Nevsky Prospekt. Kerensky took the opportunity to attack the tsarists regime.


A large gathering of people outside, some holding banners
Putilov workers protesting in the streets
Protesters on the Nevsky Prospekt
Protesters on the Nevsky Prospekt
Crowd on the Nevski Prospekt
Crowd on the Nevski Prospekt
Gathering at the Tauride Palace
Gathering at the Tauride Palace
Burning of monarchistic symbols on 27 February (O.S.)
Burning of monarchistic symbols on 27 February (O.S.)
Mutinying soldiers in and on a car
Mutinying soldiers in and on a car

By 1917, the majority of Russians had lost faith in the Tsarist regime.[26] Government corruption was unrestrained, and Tsar Nicholas II had frequently disregarded the Imperial Duma. Thousands of workers flooded the streets of Petrograd (modern St. Petersburg) to show their dissatisfaction.[27] The first major protest of the February Revolution occurred on 18 February O.S. (3 March N.S) as workers of Putilov Factory, Petrograd's largest industrial plant, announced a strike to demonstrate against the government.[5] Strikes continued on the following days. Due to heavy snowstorms, tens of thousands of freight cars were stuck on the tracks, with the bread and fuel. On 22 February O.S. (7 March N.S.) the Tsar left for the front.[28]

On 23 February O.S. (8 March N.S.), Putilov protesters were joined in the uprising by those celebrating International Woman's Day and protesting against the government's implemented food rationing.[29] As the Russian government began rationing flour and bread, rumors of food shortages circulated and bread riots erupted across the city of Petrograd.[29] Women, in particular, were passionate in showing their dissatisfaction with the implemented rationing system, and the female workers marched to nearby factories to recruit over 50,000 workers for strike.[30] Both men and women flooded the streets of Petrograd, demanding an end to Russian food shortages, the end of World War I and the end of autocracy."[27] By the following day 24 February O.S. (March 9 N.S), nearly 200,000 protesters filled the streets, demanding the replacement of the Tsar with a more progressive political leader.[27] The protesting mob called for the war to end and for the Russian monarchy to be overthrown.[29] By 25 February O.S (10 March N.S), nearly all industrial enterprises in Petrograd were shut down by the uprising.[5] Although all gatherings on the streets were absolutely forbidden some 250,000 people were on strike. The president of the Imperial Duma Rodzianko asked the chairman of the Council of Ministers Nikolai Golitsyn to resign; the minister of Foreign Affairs Nikolai Pokrovsky proposed the resignation of the whole government. There were disturbances on the Nevsky Prospect during the day[31] and in the late afternoon four people were killed.

The Tsar took action to address the riots on 25 February O.S (10 March N.S) by wiring garrison commander General Sergey Semyonovich Khabalov, an inexperienced and extremely indecisive commander of the Petrograd military district, to disperse the crowds with rifle fire[32][33] and to suppress the "impermissible" rioting by force. On the 26 February O.S (11 March N.S) the center of the city was fenced off.

That evening Golitsyn used a (signed,[34] but not yet dated) ukaze declaring that his Majesty had decided to interrupt the Duma until April, leaving it with no legal authority to act.[note 1]

During the late afternoon of 26 February O.S (11 March N.S) the Fourth Company of the Pavlovski Replacement Regiment broke out of their barracks upon learning that another detachment of the regiment had clashed with demonstrators near the Kazan Cathedral. After firing at mounted police the soldiers of the Fourth Company were disarmed by the Preobrazhensky Regiment. This marked the first instance of open mutiny in the Petrograd garrison.[36]

On the next day (27 February O.S, 12 March N.S), the Duma remained obedient, and "did not attempt to hold an official sitting". Then some delegates decided to form a Provisional Committee of the State Duma, led by Rodzianko and backed by major Moscow manufacturers and St. Petersburg bankers. Its first meeting was on the same evening and ordered the arrest of all the ex-ministers and senior officials.[37] The Duma refused to head the revolutionary movement. At the same time, socialists also formed the Petrograd Soviet. In the Marinsky Palace the Council of Ministers of Russia, assisted by Rodzyanko, held its last meeting. Protopopov was told to resign and offered to commit suicide.[38] The Council formally submitted its resignation to the Tsar.

By nightfall, General Khabalov and his forces faced a capital controlled by revolutionaries.[39] The protesters of Petrograd burned and sacked the premises of the district court, the headquarters of the secret police, and many police stations. They also occupied the Ministry of Transport, seized the arsenal, and released prisoners into the city.[39] Army officers retreated into hiding and many took refuge in the Admiralty building, but moved that night to the Winter Palace.[40]

Tsar's return and abdication

Gathering of the Duma on 1 March (O.S.)
Gathering of the Duma on 1 March (O.S.)
Protests in the street of Petrograd
Protests in the street of Petrograd
Protesters on Znamensky Square in front of the statue of Alexander III
Protesters on Znamensky Square in front of the statue of Alexander III

On 26 February O.S (11 March N.S) Mikhail Rodzianko, Chairman of the Duma, had sent the Tsar a report of the chaos in a telegram (exact wordings and translations differ, but each retains a similar sense[16]):

The situation is serious. The capital is in a state of anarchy. The Government is paralyzed. Transport service and the supply of food and fuel have become completely disrupted. General discontent is growing ... There must be no delay. Any procrastination is tantamount to death.

— Rodzianko's first telegram to the Tsar, 11 March [O.S. 26 February] 1917.[16]

Nicholas's response on 27 February O.S (12 March N.S), perhaps based on the Empress's earlier letter to him that the concern about Petrograd was an over-reaction, was one of irritation that "again, this fat Rodzianko has written me lots of nonsense, to which I shall not even deign to reply".[41] Meanwhile, events unfolded in Petrograd. The bulk of the garrison mutinied, starting with the Volynsky Life Guards Regiment. Soldiers of this regiment brought the Litovsky, Preobrazhensky, and Moskovsky Regiments out on the street to join the rebellion,[42][39] resulting in the hunting down of police and the gathering of 40,000 rifles which were dispersed among the workers.[5] Even the Cossack units that the government had come to use for crowd control showed signs that they supported the people. 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. Attempts were made by high-ranking military leaders to persuade the Tsar to resign power to the Duma in an effort to collapse war efforts and establish far-left power.[4] The response of the Duma, urged on by the Progressive Bloc, was to establish a Provisional Committee to restore law and order; the Provisional Committee declared itself the governing body of the Russian Empire. "Chief among them was the desire to bring the war to a successful conclusion in conjunction with the Allies; and the very cause of their opposition was the ever deepening conviction that this was unattainable under the present government and under the present regime.[43] Meanwhile, the socialist parties re-established the Petrograd Soviet, first created during the 1905 revolution, to represent workers and soldiers. The remaining loyal units switched allegiance the next day.[44]

On 28 February, Rodzianko invited the Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich and Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich to put their signatures to the drafting of the Manifesto, in which Emperor Nicholas II was recommended to introduce the constitutional system in Russia. Rodzianko said that the Emperor will be asked to sign this Manifesto on 1 March at the station of Tsarskoe Selo immediately after his return. Late in the evening the text "Grand Manifesto" was signed by the Grand Dukes Paul Alexandrovich, Kirill Vladimirovich and Grand Duke Dmitry Konstantinovich. But the Empress refused to sign the draft. "I'm not a ruler – said the Empress – and have no rights to take the initiative in the absence of the Emperor. Moreover, this paper may not be only illegal, but useless."[45]

On 28 February O.S (13 March N.S), at five in the morning, the Tsar left Mogilev, (and also directed Nikolay Iudovich Ivanov to go to Tsarskoe Selo) but was unable to reach Petrograd as revolutionaries meanwhile controlled railway stations around the capital. Around midnight the train was stopped at Malaya Vishera, turned, and in the evening of 1 March O.S (14 March N.S) Nicholas arrived in Pskov. In the meantime the units guarding the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo either "declared their neutrality" or left for Petrograd and thus abandoned the Imperial Family. The Provisional Committee declared itself the governing body of the Russian Empire.

The Army Chief Nikolai Ruzsky, and the Duma deputies Vasily Shulgin and Alexander Guchkov who had come to advise the Tsar, suggested that he abdicate the throne. He did so on behalf of himself and his son, Tsarevich Alexei.[42] At 3 o'clock in the afternoon on 2 March O.S (15 March N.S), Nicholas nominated his brother, the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, to succeed him. The next day the Grand Duke realised that he would have little support as ruler, so he declined the crown,[42] stating that he would take it only if that was the consensus of democratic action by the Russian Constituent Assembly, which shall define the form of government for Russia.[46] The 300 year old Romanov dynasty ended with the Grand Duke's decision on 3 March O.S (17 March N.S).[47] On 8 March O.S (22 March N.S) the former Tsar, addressed with contempt by the sentries as "Nicholas Romanov", was reunited with his family at the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo.[48] He and his family and loyal retainers were placed under protective custody by the Provisional Government in the palace.[49]

Establishment of Dual Power

The February Revolution immediately caused widespread excitement in Petrograd.[50] On 3 March O.S (16 March N.S), a provisional government was announced by the Provisional Committee of the State Duma. The Provisional Government published its manifesto declaring itself the governing body of the Russian Empire that same day.[47] The manifesto proposed a plan of civic and political rights and the installation of a democratically elected Russian Constituent Assembly, but did not touch on many of the topics that were driving forces in the revolution such as participation in World War I and land.[51] At the same time, the Petrograd Soviet (or workers' council) began organizing and was officially formed on 27 February. The Petrograd Soviet and the Provisional Government shared dual power over Russia. The term dual power came about as the driving forces in the fall of the monarchy, opposition to the human and widespread political movement, became politically institutionalized.[52]

Prince Georgy Lvov, first head of the Provisional Government
Prince Georgy Lvov, first head of the Provisional Government
Nikolay Chkheidze, first Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet
Nikolay Chkheidze, first Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet

While the Soviet represented the proletariat, the provisional government represented the bourgeoisie. The Soviet had stronger practical power because it controlled the workers and the soldiers, but it did not want to become involved in administration and bureaucracy; the Provisional Government lacked support from the population. Since the Provisional Government did not have the support of the majority and, in an effort to keep their claim to democratic mandate, they welcomed socialist parties to join in order to gain more support and Dvoyevlastiye (dual power) was established.[47] However, the Soviet asserted de facto supremacy as early as 1 March O.S (14 March N.S) (before the creation of the Provisional Government), by issuing Order No. 1:

The orders of the Military Commission of the State Duma [part of the organisation which became the Provisional Government] shall be executed only in such cases as do not conflict with the orders and resolution of the Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies.

— Point 4 of Order No. 1, 1 March 1917.[16]

Order No. 1 ensured that the Dual Authority developed on the Soviet's conditions. The Provisional Government was not a publicly elected body (having been self-proclaimed by committee members of the old Duma) and it lacked the political legitimacy to question this arrangement and instead arranged for elections to be held later.[53] The Provisional Government had the formal authority in Russia but the Soviet Executive Committee and the soviets had the support of the majority of the population. The soviets held the real power to effect change. The Provisional Government represented an alliance between liberals and socialists who wanted political reform.

The initial soviet executive chairmen were Menshevik Mikola Ckheidze, Matvey Skobelev and Alexander Kerensky. The chairmen believed that the February Revolution was a "Bourgeois revolution" about bringing capitalist development to Russia instead of socialism.[52] The center-left was well represented, and the government was initially chaired by a liberal aristocrat, Prince Georgy Yevgenyevich Lvov, a man with no connections to any official party.[54] The Provisional government included 9 Duma deputies and 6 from the Kadet party in ministerial positional, representing professional and business interests, the bourgeoisie.[51] As the left moved further left in Russia over the course of 1917, the Kadets became the main conservative party. Despite this, the provisional government strove to implement further left leaning policies with the repeal of the death penalty, amnesty for political prisoners and freedom of the press.[51]  

Dual Power was not prevalent outside of the capital and political systems varied from province to province. One example of a system gathered the educated public, workers and soldiers to facilitate order and food systems, democratic elections and the removal of tsarist officials.[51] In a short amount of time, 3,000 deputies were elected to the Petrograd soviet.[52] The soviet quickly became the representative responsible for fighting for workers and soldiers hopes for "bread, peace and land". In the spring of 1917, 700 soviets were established across Russia, equalling about a third of the population, representing the proletariat and their interests.[47] The soviets spent their time pushing for a constituent assembly rather than swaying the public to believe they were a more morally sound means of governing.[52]

Long-term effects

After the abdication of the throne by the Tsar, the Provisional Government declared itself the new form of authority. The Provisional Government shared Kadet views. The Kadets began to be seen as a conservative political party and as "state-minded" by other Russians. At the same time the Provisional Government was put into place, the Soviet Executive Committee was also forming. The Soviet represented workers and soldiers, while the Provisional Government represented the middle and upper social classes. The Soviet also gained support from Social Revolutionists and Menshoviks when the two groups realized that they did not want to support the Provisional Government. When these two powers existed at the same time, "dual power" was created. The Provisional Government was granted formal authority, but the Soviet Executive Committee had the support of the people resulting in political unrest until the Bolshevik takeover in October.[52]

A scene from the July Days. The army had just opened fire on street protesters.
A scene from the July Days. The army had just opened fire on street protesters.
The queue at the grocery store in Petrograd. 1917
The queue at the grocery store in Petrograd. 1917

Vladimir Lenin, exiled in neutral Switzerland, arrived in Petrograd from Zürich on 16 April O.S (29 April N.S). He immediately began to undermine the provisional government, issuing his April Theses the next month. These theses were in favor of "Revolutionary defeatism", which argues that the real enemy is those who send the proletariat into war, as opposed to the "imperialist war" (whose "link to Capital" must be demonstrated to the masses) and the "social-chauvinists" (such as Georgi Plekhanov, the grandfather of Russian socialism), who supported the war. The theses were read by Lenin to a meeting of only Bolsheviks and again to a meeting of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, both being extreme leftist parties, and was also published. He believed that the most effective way to overthrow the government was to be a minority party and to give no support to the Provisional Government.[55] Lenin also tried to take control of the Bolshevik movement and attempted to win proletariat support by the use of slogans such as "Peace, bread and land", "End the war without annexations or indemnities", "All power to the Soviet" and "All land to those who work it".[51]

Initially, Lenin and his ideas did not have widespread support, even among Bolsheviks. In what became known as the July Days, approximately half a million soldiers, sailors, and workers, some of them armed, came out onto the streets of Petrograd in protest. The protesters seized automobiles, fought with people of authority, and often fired their guns into the air. The crowd was so uncontrollable that the Soviet leadership sent the Socialist Revolutionary Victor Chernov, a widely liked politician, to the streets to calm the crowd. The demonstrators, lacking leadership, disbanded and the government survived. Leaders of the Soviet placed the blame of the July Days on the Bolsheviks, as did the Provisional Government who issued arrest warrants for prominent Bolsheviks. Historians debated from early on whether this was a planned Bolshevik attempt to seize power or a strategy to plan a future coup.[56] Lenin fled to Finland and other members of the Bolshevik party were arrested. Lvov was replaced by the Socialist Revolutionary minister Alexander Kerensky as head of the Provisional Government.[57]

Kerensky declared freedom of speech, ended capital punishment, released thousands of political prisoners and tried to maintain Russian involvement in World War I. He faced many challenges related to the war: there were still very heavy military losses on the front; dissatisfied soldiers deserted in larger numbers than before; other political groups did their utmost to undermine him; there was a strong movement in favor of withdrawing Russia from the war, which was seen to be draining the country, and many who had initially supported it now wanted out; and there was a great shortage of food and supplies, which was very difficult to remedy in wartime conditions. All of these were highlighted by the soldiers, urban workers, and peasants who claimed that little had been gained by the February Revolution. Kerensky was expected to deliver on his promises of jobs, land, and food almost instantaneously, and failed to do so.[58]

The Kornilov Affair arose when Commander-in-Chief of the Army, General Lavr Kornilov, directed an army under Aleksandr Krymov to march toward Petrograd with Kerensky's agreement. Although the details remain sketchy, Kerensky appeared to become frightened by the possibility of a coup and the order was countermanded. (Historian Richard Pipes is adamant that the episode was engineered by Kerensky). On 27 August O.S (9 September N.S), feeling betrayed by the Kerensky government, who had previously agreed with his views on how to restore order to Russia, Kornilov pushed on towards Petrograd. With few troops to spare on the front, Kerensky was turned to the Petrograd Soviet for help.[59] Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries confronted the army and convinced them to stand down. Right-wingers felt betrayed, and the left wing was resurgent. Pressure from the Allies to continue the war against Germany put the government under increasing strain. The conflict between the "diarchy" became obvious, and ultimately the regime and the dual power formed between the Petrograd Soviet and the Provisional Government, instigated by the February Revolution, was overthrown by the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution.[60]


When discussing the historiography of the February Revolution there are three historical interpretations which are relevant: Liberal, Soviet, and Revisionist. These three different approaches exist separately from one another because of their respective beliefs of what ultimately caused the collapse of a Tsarist government in February.

  • Soviet historians present a story in which the masses that brought about revolution in February were organized groups of 'modernizing' peasants who were bringing about an era of both industrialization and freedom.[61] Soviet historian Sokolov has been outspoken about the belief that the revolution in February was a coming together of the people and was more positive than the October revolution. Soviet historians consistently place little emphasis on the role of World War I (WWI) in leading to the February Revolution.
  • In contrast, Liberal perspectives of the February revolution almost always acknowledge WWI as a catalyst to revolution. On the whole, though, Liberal historians credit the Bolsheviks with the ability to capitalize on the worry and dread instilled in Russian citizens because of WWI.[62] The overall message and goal of the February Revolution, according to the Liberal perspective, was ultimately democracy; the proper climate and attitude had been created by WWI and other political factors which turned public opinion against the Tsar.
  • Revisionist historians present a timeline where revolution in February was far less inevitable than the liberals and soviets would make it seem. Revisionists track the mounting pressure on the Tsarist regime back further than the other two groups to unsatisfied peasants in the countryside upset over matters of land-ownership.[63] This tension continued to build into 1917 when dissatisfaction became a full blown institutional crisis incorporating the concerns of many groups. Revisionist historian Richard Pipes has been outspoken about his anti-communist approach to the Russian Revolution.
"Studying Russian history from the West European perspective, one also becomes conscious of the effect that the absence of feudalism had on Russia. Feudalism had created in the West networks of economic and political institutions that served the central state[;] once it replaced the feudal system, as a source of social support and relative stability. Russia knew no feudalism in the traditional sense of the word, since, after the emergence of the Muscovite monarchy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, all landowners were tenants-in-chief of the Crown, and subinfeudation was unknown. As a result, all power was concentrated in the Crown." — (Pipes, Richard. A Concise History of the Russian Revolution. New York: Vintage, 1996.)

Out of these three approaches, all of them have received modern criticism. The February Revolution is seen by many present-day scholars as an event which gets "mythologized".[64]

See also


  1. ^ On February 8, 1917 on request of the Emperor N. Maklakov and Protopopov drafted the text of a manifesto to dissolve the Duma (before it was opened on 14 February 1917).[35]


  1. ^ Orlando Figes (2008). A People's Tragedy. First. p. 321. ISBN 9780712673273.
  2. ^ Aluf, I. A. (1979). February Bourgeois Democratic Revolution of 1917. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (3rd ed.). The Gale Group, Inc.
  3. ^ History of the Women's Day. United Nations website.
  4. ^ a b c Steinberg, Mark (2017). The Russian Revolution. Oxford University Press. p. 69. ISBN 978-0-19-922762-4.
  5. ^ a b c d Curtis 1957, p. 30.
  6. ^ a b c Acton 1990, pp. 107–108.
  7. ^ Alexander Rabinowitch (2008). The Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd. Indiana UP. p. 1. ISBN 0253220424.
  8. ^ Pipes 2008, p. 18.
  9. ^ a b c d Fitzpatrick 2008, p. 38.
  10. ^ Service 2005, p. 26.
  11. ^ Of 422, only 21 voted against. Beckett 2007, p. 516.
  12. ^ Beckett 2007, pp. 521–522.
  13. ^ Beckett 2007, p. 525.
  14. ^ Beckett 2007, p. 518.
  15. ^ 1953-, Steinberg, Mark D.,. The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921 (First ed.). Oxford. ISBN 9780199227631. OCLC 965469986.
  16. ^ a b c d Browder & Kerensky 1961, p. 40.
  17. ^ Beckett 2007, p. 513.
  18. ^ Beckett 2007, p. 516.
  19. ^ Fitzpatrick 2008, pp. 39–40.
  20. ^ А.В., Евдокимов. "Последний военный министр Российской империи - Конкурс молодых историков "Наследие предков - молодым"".
  21. ^ Figes, p. 278
  22. ^ Crawford and Crawford, pp. 247–251
  23. ^ P.N. Milyukov (1921), p. 21
  24. ^ "The Russian diary of an Englishman, Petrograd, 1915-1917".
  25. ^ Dmitry Lyubin (2017) For the Faith, the Tsar and the Fatherland. The Romanovs in the First World War, p. 103. In: 1917 Romanovs & Revolution. The End of the Monarchy. Amsterdam 2017
  26. ^ February Revolution Begins in Russia.
  27. ^ a b c Curtis 1957, p. 1.
  28. ^ "Letters from Tsar Nicholas to Tsaritsa Alexandra - February 1917".
  29. ^ a b c Williams 1987, p. 9.
  30. ^ When women set Russia ablaze 2007.
  31. ^ Montefiore, Simon Sebag. The Romanovs 1613–1918. p. 612. ISBN 978-0-297-85266-7.
  32. ^ Curtis 1957, p.30
  33. ^ Salisbury, Harrison E. Black Night White Snow. p. 372. ISBN 0-306-80154-X.
  34. ^ Katkov, p. 286
  35. ^ Ф. А. Гайда, к.и.н., исторический факультет МГУ им. М. В. Ломоносова. "Министр внутренних дел Н. А. Маклаков: политическая карьера русского Полиньяка"
  36. ^ Salisbury, Harrison E. Black Night White Snow. pp. 349–350. ISBN 0-306-80154-X.
  37. ^ Orlando Figes (2006) A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891–1924, pp. 328–329.
  38. ^ Katkov, p. 288
  39. ^ a b c Wildman 1970, p. 8.
  40. ^ Katkov, p. 283
  41. ^ Wade 2005, p. 37.
  42. ^ a b c Beckett 2007, p. 523.
  43. ^ P.N. Milyukov 1921, p. 19
  44. ^ Wade 2005, pp. 40–43.
  45. ^ "Откуда Россия шагнула в пропасть… — Русское Имперское Движение".
  46. ^ Browder & Kerensky 1961, p. 116.
  47. ^ a b c d Smith, S.A. Russia in Revolution. Oxford University Press. p. 102.
  48. ^ Tames 1972, p. [page needed].
  49. ^ Service 1986, p. [page needed].
  50. ^ Malone 2004, p. 92.
  51. ^ a b c d e Smith, S.A. Russia in Revolution. Oxford University Press. pp. 104–106.
  52. ^ a b c d e Smith, S. A. Russia in Revolution. Oxford University Press. pp. 104–106.
  53. ^ Service 2005, p. 57.
  54. ^ Service 2005, p. 34.
  55. ^ "April Thesis". Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. 2015-08-12. Retrieved 2017-11-01.
  56. ^ 1953-, Steinberg, Mark D.,. The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921 (First ed.). Oxford. pp. 78–79. ISBN 9780199227631. OCLC 965469986.
  57. ^ Critical companion to the Russian Revolution, 1914-1921. Acton, Edward., Cherni︠a︡ev, V. I︠U︡., Rosenberg, William G. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1997. ISBN 0253333334. OCLC 36461684.
  58. ^ 1953-, Steinberg, Mark D.,. The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921 (First ed.). Oxford. pp. 78–79. ISBN 9780199227631. OCLC 965469986.
  59. ^ 1953-, Steinberg, Mark D., (2001). Voices of revolution : 1917. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. pp. 161–165. ISBN 9780300101690. OCLC 50418695.
  60. ^ 1953-, Steinberg, Mark D.,. The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921 (First ed.). Oxford. pp. 78–79. ISBN 9780199227631. OCLC 965469986.
  61. ^ Bradley, Joseph. "The February Revolution". Russian Studies in History. 56 (1): 1–5. doi:10.1080/10611983.2017.1326247.
  62. ^ Wildman, Allan (1970). "The February Revolution in the Russian Army". Soviet Studies. 22: 23.
  63. ^ O'Connor, Timothy E. (1995). "Review of Rethinking the Russian Revolution". Studies in East European Thought. 47 (1/2): 133–138. doi:10.2307/20099569. JSTOR 20099569.
  64. ^ "February's forgotten vanguard | International Socialist Review". Retrieved 2017-11-08.


Online sources

External links

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