As 2017 comes to a close, the end of October/ November, we will witness the 100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution, when Imperial Russia collapsed under the leadership of Czar Nicholas 11.
By late 1917, two revolutions had swept through Russia, ending centuries of imperial rule and setting into motion political and social changes that would lead to the formation of the Soviet Union and communism.
In the early part of the 1900s the first revolution took place in a dystopian Russia, social unrest had been simmering for decades, Russia was one of the most impoverished countries in Europe with an enormous peasantry and a growing majority of poor industrial workers. The first revolution in 1905, was instrumental in convincing Czar Nicholas11 to attempt a transformation of the Russian government from an autocracy into a Constitutional monarchy especially after their humiliating defeat in the Russian–Japanese (1904/05 war.
Diverse social groups demonstrated their discontent with the Russian social and political system. The protests ranged from liberal rhetoric to strikes and student riots and terrorist assassinations. These efforts, coordinated by the Union of Liberation Led by Leon Trotsky that culminated in Russian workers protesting against the monarchy led to the bloody Sunday massacre of 1905. Hundreds of unarmed protesters were killed or wounded by the czar’s troops in the square outside the Czars winter Palace in St Petersburg on January 22nd.
Much of Western Europe viewed Russia as an undeveloped, backwards society. The Russian Empire practiced serfdom—a form of feudalism in which landless peasants were forced to serve the land-owning nobility well into the nineteenth century, this practice had disappeared in most of Western Europe by the end of the Middle Ages, it was only after that Russia abolished serfdom.
The emancipation of serfs would influence the events leading up to the next Revolution by giving peasants more freedom to organize.
Russia had industrialized much later than other countries. When it finally did, around the turn of the 20th century, it brought with it immense social and political changes. Between 1890 and 1910, the population of major Russian cities such as St. Petersburg and Moscow nearly doubled, resulting in overcrowding with people living in destitute conditions.
A harsh growing season with crop failure due to Russia’s northern climate, and a series of costly wars—starting with the Crimean War (1854-1856) meant frequent food shortages across the vast empire.
The 1905 massacre had sparked a series of crippling strikes, after the bloodshed Czar Nicholas promised the formation of a series of representative assemblies, or Dumas, to work toward reforms.
In August 1914 Russia entered into the first World War in support of the Serbs and their French and British allies. Their involvement in the war would soon prove disastrous for the Russia militarily.
Imperial Russia was no match for an industrialised Germany, and Russian casualties were greater than those sustained by any nation in any previous war. Food and fuel shortages continued to plagued Russia as inflation mounted. The economy was hopelessly disrupted by the costly war effort.
Czar Nicholas left the Russian capital of Petrograd (St. Petersburg) in 1915 to take command of the Russian Army. (Russia had renamed the imperial city in 1914, because the name “St. Petersburg” had sounded too German.)
In her husband’s absence, Czarina Alexandra—an unpopular woman of German ancestry—began firing elected officials. During this time, her controversial advisor, a so called mystic Monk, Grigori Rasputin increased his influence over Russian politics and the Romanov family.
Russian Nobles eager to end Rasputin’s influence murdered him on December 30, 1916. By then, most Russians had lost faith in the failed leadership of the Czar. Government corruption was rampant, the Russian economy remained backward and Nicholas repeatedly dissolved the Duma, the toothless Russian parliament established after the 1905 revolution opposed his will. Moderates soon joined Russian radical elements in calling for an overthrow of the hapless czar.
The February Revolution (known as such because of Russia’s use of the Julian calendar until February 1918) began on March 8, 1917 (February 23 on the Julian calendar). Demonstrators clamouring for bread took to the streets of Petrograd. Supported by huge crowds of striking industrial workers, the protesters clashed with police but refused to leave the streets.
On March 11th, the troops of the Petrograd army garrison were called out to quell the uprising. In some encounters, the regiments opened fire, killing demonstrators, but the protesters kept to the streets and the troops began to waver.
The Duma formed a provisional government on March 12th. A few days later, Czar Nicholas abdicated the throne, ending centuries of Russian Romanov rule, the leaders of the provisional government, including young Russian lawyer Alexander Kerensky, established a liberal program of rights such as freedom of speech, equality before the law, and the right of unions to organize and strike. They opposed violent social revolution.
As minister of war, Kerensky continued the Russian war effort, even though Russian involvement in World War I was enormously unpopular. This further exacerbated Russia’s food supply problems. Unrest continued to grow as peasants looted farms and food riots erupted in the cities.