The Russian Revolution of 1917 was an event that gave wings to the dreams of liberation of the oppressed masses. The Russian Revolution was a combination of the February Revolution, which overthrew the Romanov dynasty that had ruled Russia for centuries, and the October Revolution, which later established a workers’ dictatorship led by the Bolsheviks. This was not a strike that broke out all of a sudden one day – it was the sum of many years of struggle.
The vast domain of the Romanov dynasty that ruled Russia from 1613 to 1917 included the present-day Russia. According to Britannica, farmers constituted 85 per cent of the Russian population at the beginning of the 20th century, and their main source of income was the export of agricultural resources. During the 1890s, rail transport in Russia expanded, export of coal and other products increased, and foreign investments in Russia was on the rise, leading to the establishment of numerous factories. All the factories were owned by private individuals.
Despite the boom in the industrial sector, workers who were not paid adequately, often had to work 10 to 15 hours a day. About 30 percent of the factory workers were women, but they received only a third of men’s wages.
During this period, as people migrated to urban areas, their population increased in cities and the lives of the workers became more miserable. Trade unions were formed at this time. The unions intervened in the workplace and organised strikes in the tanneries and industrial areas between 1896 and 1897.
The Duma constituted the lower house of the Russian parliament and State Council constituted the upper house.
The year 1905 was a very bad year for the workers. There was a food shortage in Russia and the wages were cut by 20 per cent. The workers at Putilov Iron Works who protested against this were fired. A few days later, nearly a hundred thousand workers led by Father Gapon marched to the Winter Palace. Troops opened fire on the peaceful protesters, killing at least 1,000 people. This event is known as Bloody Sunday.
Protests erupted across the country following the shooting. The need to form a legislature was so strong that Tsar Nicholas II, who was the emperor at the time, formed a legislature called the Duma. The Duma constituted the lower house of the Russian parliament and State Council constituted the upper house. The first Duma was restricted in its powers and authority. The emperor had the power to overrule any decision taken by the Duma. The Duma was dismissed within 75 days after its formation, and elections for a second Duma took place the following year.
Prior to 1914, political organisations were illegal in Russia. The Russian Socialist Democratic Party was formed in 1898 under the influence of Marx’s ideologies. In 1903, the Russian Socialist Democratic Party split into two groups – the Mensheviks under the leadership of Julius Martov, and the Bolsheviks under Lenin.
When World War I broke out in 1914, Russia became a part of it. Russia, which took the side against Germany, suffered heavy losses. About 7 million Russian soldiers died in battle. This worsened the situation in the country. According to Britannica, in 1916, rail transport came to a standstill, trade collapsed, and there was a severe shortage of food.
On February 22, 1917, strikes were held in about 50 factories to protest against the dismissal of workers. The protests, which were led by women in many places, spilled over to factory compounds as protesters marched into the Nevsky Prospekt, a major area of the capital, Petrograd.
Tsar Nicholas II resigned on March 2 at the suggestion of military leaders who warned him that if he did not resign, then the country would fall into anarchy and the ramifications of that would be undesirable in the light of World War I.
No political party was involved in the agitation at this time. Workers surrounded all the administrative offices of the rulers. The government declared a curfew throughout the area, and the protesters dispersed only to return to the city on the 24th and 25th. The emperor sent troops and police to quell the protest. On February 25, Sir Nicholas II dismissed the Duma.
Politicians reacted against this decision and the protests intensified. People took to the streets demanding bread, wages, change in hours of work, and implementation of democracy. On February 27, protesters seized the Police Headquarters. The army chief in Petrograd ordered to open fire on the protesters, but the soldiers joined the protesters and attended the meeting that was held in the building where the Duma assembled. This group later came to be known as the Petrograd Soviet.
Over the next few days, representatives of the rebels met the emperor. Tsar Nicholas II resigned on March 2 at the suggestion of military leaders who warned him that if he did not resign, then the country would fall into anarchy and the ramifications of that would be undesirable in the light of World War I. After the Tsar resigned, a provisional government led by Prince Georgy Lvov, a member of the Duma, was formed. According to Britannica, This marked the end of the monarchy. Restrictions on public meetings in Russia were lifted.
Subsequently, like the Petrograd Soviets, ‘Soviets’ were established in many parts of the country.The Soviets were essentially micro-level committees of governance. There were such committees in all regions of Russia.
In April, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov better known by his alias Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Party, returned to Russia. He was arrested in 1895 and was sentenced to exile for three years in Siberia in 1897. Even after completing his exile, he was banned from St Petersburg. Lenin left Russia for Western Europe in 1900.
After his return, Lenin expressed his opposition to Russia’s involvement in the war; Lenin raised three demands: stop the war, distribute the land to the peasants, and nationalise the banks. This is known as the April Theses. The Bolshevik Party in Russia was then renamed the Russian Communist Party in 1918.
There were agitations and struggles all over the country. More and more trade unions were formed and Soviets were established among the soldiers as well.
The workers went on to raise their demands with the employers, challenging exploitative work practices and continued organising protests. The Bolsheviks gained popularity. The influence of the Provisional Government waned as it was unable to implement any of the demands raised during the February Revolution. At the same time, the Russian army, which had been involved in the war, suffered heavy casualties. Soldiers in Petrograd took to the streets and the Bolsheviks became part of the uprising. Troops of the Provisional Government opened fire on protesters. Hundreds were killed in the strike.
The Provisional Government resisted the rebellion by using their authority and many Bolshevik leaders were arrested. Those who were not arrested went into hiding. Alexander Kerensky was the Minister of War at that time. After the incident, Kerensky became president. Kerensky was the leading political figure in the first months after the February revolution.
Lenin feared that the Provisional Government was moving towards dictatorship. The Military Revolutionary Committee was formed under the leadership of Leon Trotsky to unite the Soviets of the Petrograd Soviet Union and the Soviet sympathisers of the Bolsheviks to form a new government.
On October 16, 1917, Lenin called for overturning of the government, in order to create a socialist society.
On October 24, Kerensky used the forces that supported him to suppress the Bolsheviks. According to History.com, the telephone-telegraph offices were taken over by the army to protect the Winter Palace. In response, the people who supported the Military Revolutionary Committee called for the seizure of government offices and the arrest of ministers. Later that evening, the Military Revolutionary Committee captured the Winter Palace and other military points. By night, all government offices in the city were seized and the ministers were imprisoned. Riots broke out in other cities as well. By December, the Bolsheviks had full control of the Moscow Petrograd area.
This revolution that led to the dictatorship of the working class became known in history as the October Revolution.
** The Julian calendar was used in Russia during the time of the Russian Revolution. According to the Gregorian calendar we use today, the February Revolution is on March 12, and the October Revolution is on November 7.
Now put on your thinking hats and think about the following questions for a couple of minutes.
Can you think of the reasons that contributed to the formation of Duma?
How would you describe the influence of Lenin in the panning out of the October Revolution ?
Write down your thoughts and discuss them with your students, children and your colleagues. Listen to their views and compare them with your own. As you listen to others, note how similar or different your views are to others’.
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