World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

February Revolution

Article Id: WHEBN0045137597
Reproduction Date:

Title: February Revolution  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Russian Revolution, Russian Empire, Soviet Union, House of Romanov, Nicholas II of Russia
Collection: 1917 in Russia, Nicholas II of Russia, Russian Provisional Government, Russian Revolution
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

February Revolution

February Revolution
Part of the Russian Revolution of 1917
Date 8 – 12 March 1917 [O.S. 23 – 27 February]
Location Petrograd, Russian Empire

Revolutionary victory

Government forces
MVD Department of Police
Petrograd garrison
Petrograd garrison (later days)
Commanders and leaders
General Sergei Khabalov (Petrograd MD) Aleksandr Shlyapnikov, and others
Casualties and losses
1,443 killed (Petrograd alone)[1]

The February Revolution (constituent assembly. At the same time, socialists also formed the Petrograd Soviet, which ruled alongside the Provisional Government, an arrangement termed Dual Power.

This revolution appeared to break out spontaneously, without any real leadership or formal planning. Russia had been suffering from a number of economic and social problems, which were compounded by the impact of World War I. Bread rioters and industrial strikers were joined on the streets by disaffected soldiers from the city's garrison. As more and more troops deserted, and with loyal troops away at the Front, the city fell into a state of chaos, leading to the overthrow of the Tsar.

The February Revolution was followed in the same year by the October Revolution, bringing Bolshevik rule and a change in Russia's social structure, and paving the way for the Soviet Union.


  • Causes 1
    • Long-term causes 1.1
    • Short-term causes 1.2
  • Events 2
    • Protests 2.1
    • Tsar's return and abdication 2.2
  • Provisional Government and Petrograd Soviet share power 3
  • Aftermath 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


A number of factors contributed to the downfall of the Imperial government in the spring of 1917, both short and longer term. Different historians apply different weights to each: liberal historians would emphasise the turmoil created by the war, whereas Marxists placed their emphasis on the inevitability of change.[3]

Rabinowitch summarizes the main long-term and short-term causes:

The February 1917 revolution...grew out of prewar 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.[4]

Long-term causes

Despite its occurrence at the height of World War I, the roots of the February Revolution date much further back. Chief among these was Imperial Russia's failure, throughout the 19th and early 20th century, to modernize its archaic social, economic and political structures whilst 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".[5]

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. The causes of this unrest of the common people towards the Tsar and aristocratic landowners are too many and complicated to neatly summarise, but key factors to consider were ongoing resentment at the cruel treatment of peasants by patricians, low-quality working conditions experienced by city workers in the fledgling industrial economy and a growing sense of political and social awareness of the lower orders in general (democratic ideas were reaching Russia from the West and being touted by political activists). Dissatisfaction of the proletarian lot was further 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, 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 led to considerable agitation among the small working and professional classes. This tension then erupted into general revolt with the 1905 Revolution, and did so again under the strain of total war in 1917, but this time with lasting consequences.

Short-term causes

Wounded Russian soldiers retreating from the front

The revolution was provoked not only by Russian military failures during the First World War,[6] but also by public dissatisfaction with the way the country was being run on the Home Front. The economic challenges Russia faced fighting a total war also contributed.

In August 1914, all classes supported[7] and virtually all political deputies voted in favour of the war[8] (despite calls from "defeatists", including Lenin of the Bolshevik party, that it was not a war worth fighting). The declaration of war was accompanied by a wave of jingoism and flag-waving, which served to effect a temporary moratorium on internal strife.[6] 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 of the major armies, Russia's armed forces suffered from inadequate supply.[9] The pre-revolution desertion rate ran at around 34,000 a month.[10] Meanwhile, the wartime alliance of industry, Duma and Stavka (Military High Command) started to work outside of the Tsar's control.[11]

In an attempt to boost morale and to repair his own reputation of being a weak ruler, Nicholas announced in the summer of 1915 that he would become the new Commander-in-Chief of the army, in defiance of almost universal advice to the contrary.[3] The result was disastrous on three grounds. Firstly, it associated the monarchy with the unpopular war; secondly, Nicholas proved to be a low-quality leader of men on the front line, often irritating his own commanders with his interference; and thirdly, whilst at the front, he was 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.[6] The Tsarina proved an ineffective ruler in a time of war, announcing a rapid succession of different Prime Ministers and angering the Duma.[6] The lack of strong leadership is illustrated by a telegram from Octobrist politician Mikhail Rodzianko to the Tsar on 11 March [O.S. 26 February] 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".[12]

On the home front, a famine was looming and commodities were becoming scarce as a result of problems with the overstretched railroad network. Meanwhile, refugees from German-occupied Russia came in their millions.[13] 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 put under considerable strain and when inflation soared, wages could not keep up.[14] The Duma (lower house of parliament), 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 Duma's advice. 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."[3] In short, the Tsar no longer had the support of the military, the nobility or the Duma (collectively the élites), at the same time as the legitimacy of the monarchy with the Russian people was at a low ebb. The result was revolution.[15]



A large gathering of people outside, some holding banners
Putilov workers protesting in the streets

The first major protest of the February Revolution occurred on 7 March 1917 (O.S. 22 February) as workers of Putilov (also called Kirov Plant), Petrograd’s largest industrial plant, announced a strike to demonstrate against the government.[16] By 1917, the majority of Russians had lost faith in the czarist regime.[17] Government corruption was unrestrained, and Czar Nicholas II had frequently disregarded the Dumas.[18] Thousands of workers flooded the streets of Petrograd (modern St. Petersburg) to show their dissatisfaction.[19]

On 8 March (O.S. February 23), Putilov protesters were joined in uprising by those celebrating International Woman's Day and protesting against the government's implemented food rationing.[20] As the Russian government began rationing flour and bread, rumors of food shortages circulated and bread riots erupted across the city of Petrograd.[21] 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.[22] Both men and women flooded the streets of Petrograd with red flags and banners which read “Down with the Autocracy!” to show their political unrest.[23] By the following day [O.S. February 24], nearly 200,000 protesters filled the streets, demanding the replacement of the Tsar with a more progressive political leader.[24] The protesting mob called for the war to end and for the Russian monarchy to be overthrown.[25] By 10 March [O.S. 25 February], the uprising had escalated so greatly that nearly every industrial enterprise in Petrograd was shut down.[26]

The Tsar took action to address the riots on 10 March (O.S. 25 February) by wiring garrison commander General Khablov to deplete the crowds with rifle fire.[27] At least 180,000 troops were available in the capital, but most were either partially trained recruits or older working class reservists from the Petrograd area recalled for duty. There was a serious shortage of officers amongst the reserve battalions of the Imperial Guard which made up the bulk of the Petrograd garrison and the morale and discipline of these units was low. Historian Ian Beckett suggests around 12,000 of the soldiers could be regarded as reliable, but even these proved reluctant to fire on the demonstrators, both out of fellow feeling and because the crowds included so many women. Police armed with machine guns were placed in the upper stories of buildings throughout the city, but mutiny soon broke out.[28] It was for this reason that when, on 11 March [O.S. 26 February], the Tsar ordered the army to suppress the rioting by force, troops began to mutiny and join the protesters.[29] On the morning of 12 March (O.S. 27 February), mutinous soldiers of the fourth company of the Pavlovski replacement regiment refused to march when commanded, fired shots onto the commander, and joined the protesters on the streets.[30] Other regiments quickly joined in the mutiny, resulting in the hunting down of police and the gathering of 40,000 rifles which were dispersed among the workers.[31]

By nightfall of 12 March (O.S. 27 February), General Khabalov and his forces faced a capital controlled by revolutionaries.[32] The protesters of Pentrograd burned down government buildings, seized the arsenal, and released prisoners into the city.[33] The officers retreated into hiding and took refuge in the Admiralty building of Petrograd. In all, over 1, 300 people were killed in the protests of March (O.S. February) 1917.[34]

Tsar's return and abdication

Meeting Germans in No Man's Land
Meeting before the Russian wire entanglements

The Tsar had returned to his frontline base at Stavka on 7 March [O.S. 22 February]. After violence erupted, however, Mikhail Rodzianko, Chairman of the Duma, sent the Tsar a report of the chaos in a telegram (exact wordings and translations differ, but each retains a similar sense[12]):

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.[12]

Nicholas' response on 12 March [O.S. 27 February], perhaps based on the Empress' 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."[35] Meanwhile, events were unfolding in Petrograd. The bulk of the garrison mutinied, starting with the Volynsky Life Guards regiment. In addition, the Cossack units that the government had come to rely on for crowd control, began to show 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. The response of the Duma, urged on by the liberal bloc, was to establish a Temporary Committee to restore law and order; meanwhile, the socialist parties 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.[36]

The Army Chiefs and the ministers who had come to advise the Tsar suggested that he abdicate the throne. He did so on 15 March [O.S. 2 March], on behalf of himself and his son, Tsarevich Alexei.[29] Nicholas nominated his brother, the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, to succeed him. But the Grand Duke realised that he would have little support as ruler, so he declined the crown on 16 March [O.S. 3 March],[29] stating that he would take it only if that was the consensus of democratic action by the Russian Constituent Assembly, which shall define form of government for Russia.[37] Six days later, Nicholas, no longer Tsar and addressed with contempt by the sentries as "Nicholas Romanov", was reunited with his family at the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoye Selo.Service 1986, p. .

Provisional Government and Petrograd Soviet share power

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

The immediate effect of the February Revolution was a widespread atmosphere of elation and excitement in Petrograd.[38] On 16 March [

  • Leon Trotsky's account
  • Лютнева революція. Жіночий бунт, який знищив Російську імперію (February Revolution. Female mutiny that destroyed the Russian Empire). Ukrayinska Pravda

External links

  • "When women set Russia ablaze". League for the Fifth International. 11 July 2007. Retrieved 1 September 2012. 

Online sources

  • Acton, Edward (1990). Rethinking the Russian Revolution. Oxford University Press US.  
  • Beckett, Ian F.W. (2007). The Great war (2 ed.). Longman.  
  • Browder, Robert Paul; Kerensky, Aleksandr Fyodorovich (1961). The Russian Provisional Government, 1917: documents. Stanford University Press.  
  • Fitzpatrick, Sheila (2008). The Russian Revolution. Oxford University Press US.  
  • Malone, Richard (2004). Analysing the Russian Revolution. Australia: Cambridge University Press. p. 67.  
  • Pipes, Richard (1997). Three "whys" of the Russian Revolution. Vintage Books.  
  • Pipes, Richard (2008). A Concise History of the Russian Revolution. Paw Prints.  
  • Rabinowitch, Alexander (2008). The Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd. Indiana UP. p. 1.  
  • Service, Robert (1986). The Russian Revolution. Macmillan Education.  
  • Service, Robert (2005). A history of modern Russia from Nicholas II to Vladimir Putin. Harvard University Press.  
  • Tames, Richard (1972). Last of the Tsars. London: Pan Books Ltd.  
  • Wade, Rex A. (2005). The Russian Revolution, 1917. Cambridge University Press.  


  1. ^ Orlando Figes (2008). A People's Tragedy. First. p. 321.  
  2. ^ History of the Women's Day. United Nations website.
  3. ^ a b c Acton 1990, pp. 107–108.
  4. ^ Alexander Rabinowitch (2008). The Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd. Indiana UP. p. 1.  
  5. ^ Pipes 2008, p. 18.
  6. ^ a b c d Fitzpatrick 2008, p. 38.
  7. ^ Service 2005, p. 26.
  8. ^ Of 422, only 21 voted against. Beckett 2007, p. 516.
  9. ^ Beckett 2007, pp. 521–522.
  10. ^ Beckett 2007, p. 525.
  11. ^ Beckett 2007, p. 518.
  12. ^ a b c d Browder & Kerensky 1961, p. 40.
  13. ^ Beckett 2007, p. 513.
  14. ^ Beckett 2007, p. 516.
  15. ^ Fitzpatrick 2008, pp. 39–40.
  16. ^ Curtis 1957, p. 30.
  17. ^ February Revolution Begins in Russia.
  18. ^ February Revolution Begins in Russia.
  19. ^ Curtis 1957, p. 1.
  20. ^ Williams 1987, p. 9.
  21. ^ Williams 1987, p. 9.
  22. ^ When women set Russia ablaze 2007.
  23. ^ Curtis 1957, p. 1.
  24. ^ Curtis 1957, p. 1.
  25. ^ Williams 1987, p. 9.
  26. ^ Curtis 1957, p. 30.
  27. ^ Curtis 1957, p. 30.
  28. ^ Curtis 1957, p. 30.
  29. ^ a b c Beckett 2007, p. 523.
  30. ^ Wildman 1970, p. 8.
  31. ^ Curtis 1957, p. 30.
  32. ^ Wildman 1970, p. 8.
  33. ^ Wildman 1970, p. 8.
  34. ^ Curtis 1957, p. 30.
  35. ^ Wade 2005, p. 37.
  36. ^ Wade 2005, pp. 40–43.
  37. ^ Browder & Kerensky 1961, p. 116.
  38. ^ Malone 2004, p. 92.
  39. ^ Service 2005, p. 34.
  40. ^ Service 2005, p. 57.
  41. ^ Beckett 2007, p. 527.
  42. ^ Fitzpatrick 2008, p. 58.
  43. ^ Beckett 2007, p. 526.
  44. ^ Pipes 1997, p. 51, "There is no evidence of a Kornilov plot, but there is plenty of evidence of Kerensky's duplicity.".
  45. ^ Service 2005, p. 54.


See also

Another issue for Kerensky, 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.[43] 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 quite adamant that the whole episode was engineered by Kerensky himself[44]). On 27 August, 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 forced to turn to the Petrograd Soviet for help. Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries confronted the army and convinced them to stand down.[45] The damage was already done, however. 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 replaced in the October Revolution.

Kerensky declared freedom of speech, ended capital punishment, released thousands of political prisoners and did his best to maintain Russian involvement in World War I, but he faced numerous challenges, most of them related to the war: there were some very heavy military losses still being experienced on the front; dissatisfied soldiers were deserting in larger numbers than before; other political groups were doing their utmost to undermine him; there was a strong movement in favour of stopping Russia's involvement in the war, which was seen to be draining the country, and many who had initially supported it now wanted out; 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 he had failed to do so.

as head of the government. Alexander Kerensky minister Socialist Revolutionary Lvov was replaced by the [42] In what became known as the [41] Initially, neither Lenin nor his ideas had widespread support, even among Bolsheviks.

A scene from the July Days. The army has just opened fire on street protesters.


Order No. 1 thus ensured that the Dual Authority developed on the Soviet's conditions. As the Provisional Government was not a publicly elected body (having been self-proclaimed by committee members of the old Duma), it lacked the political legitimacy to question this arrangement and instead arranged for elections to be held later.[40]

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.[12]

Between February and April, the Provisional Government, which replaced the Tsar, cooperated grudgingly with the Petrograd Soviet. This arrangement became known as the "Dual Authority" or "Dual Power". However, the de facto supremacy of the Petrograd Soviet was asserted as early as 14 March [O.S. 1 March] (before the creation of the Provisional Government itself), when the Petrograd Soviet issued Order No. 1:

(or workers' council) four days earlier. The Petrograd Soviet and the Provisional Government shared dual power over Russia. The Petrograd Soviet had the stronger case for power as it controlled the workers and the soldiers, but it didn't want to be involved in administration and bureaucracy. On the other hand, the Provisional Government chafed at not having absolute control over all aspects of the government, and made many attempts to convince the Petrograd Soviet to join with the Provisional Government. Petrograd Soviet The socialists had formed their rival body, the [39]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.