In 1917, one of the biggest revolutions occurred when Russia shifted from a monarchy to a communist or socialist government. In this revolution, the peasants and Russia’s working-class people revolted against the government of Tsar Nicholas II. These people were led by Vladimir Lenin and a group of revolutionaries called the Bolsheviks. It was after this war that the Soviet Union marked its origin. Before the revolution, Russia was ruled by a powerful monarch known as the Russian Tsars. The Tsar held complete power in Russia & commanded the army, owned vast areas of land & even controlled the church.
During that time when Tsar used to rule, the life of the peasants & the working class was highly tough as they worked for much less pay, were left starving and even exposed to dangerous working environments. The aristocratic class (a class of persons holding exceptional rank and privileges) treated the peasants like slaves, treating them like animals and giving them few legal rights. This article discusses the entire timeline of the Russian revolution. But firstly, Let’s start with Bloody Sunday.
One of the major events that led to the Russian Revolution was on January 22, 1905, when several workers were marching towards the Tsar's palace to present a petition for better working environment & conditions. As a result, soldiers opened fire on the workers, killing many of them. So, this day was called Bloody Sunday. Before this day, people thought Tsar would always be on their side, but after this incident, the blame was put on the government and Tsar made a lot of enemies among the working class then, the revolution started to spread.
World War I & the Russian Revolution
During the Russian Revolution, the world was already witnessing the great war: World War I and Russia in this first world war supported allied powers such as Serbian, French and British allies in declaring war against the Central Powers of Austria, Germany and Ottoman Turkey on August 1914.
This world war I marked the Central powers against the Allied powers (the US joined the Allies in 1917) which ended with the defeat of the Central Powers.
Central Powers- Germany, Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire (Turkey)- Austria- Hungary supporters
Allied Powers- Great Britain, Russia, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Rhodesia, Romania, Greece, France, Belgium, United States, Canada, India, Portugal, Montenegro, and Poland- Serbia supporters
Russia’s army was not modernised due to which the war proved disastrous for Russia. Even its casualties were far more than any other nation. Germany seized significant Russian territories that further caused food shortages tampering with its economy. In order to rally the Russian troops and the people, Tsar Nicholas II personally took command of the army, leaving his wife behind, Tsarina Alexandra in charge of the government.
Tsarina had a German heritage, due to which the Russians hated her. She began dismissing elected officials on the alleged advice of the controversial monk, Rasputin. Rasputin’s influence over the Russian imperial family was renowned at that time. In an effort to get rid of Rasputin so that his influence over the country could end, he was assassinated by a group of nobles, led by Prince Felix Yussupov (the richest man in Russia), the husband of the Czar's only niece, and Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich (Czar's first cousin) on December 30, 1916. Many ordinary Russians then lost faith in the Tsarist government. Soon this resentment turned into a full-blown revolution.
Now, discussing the main parts of this revolution: The February Revolution & the October Revolution.
The February Revolution
The February revolution commenced on March 8, 1917, as Russia used the Julian Calendar at the time, known as the February Revolution. The Julian calendar date of the revolution is given as February 23. Therefore, this is February Revolution.
Protestors took to the streets of the capital of St. Petersburg, supported by industrial workers. On March 11, the troops defending St. Petersburg opened fire upon them, but still, the uprising continued. So, ultimately, the Russian Parliament; the Duma formed a provisional government on March 12, and Tsar Nicholas II resigned from the throne, ending centuries of his family rule in the country
The new government was now under Alexander Kerensky that established a statuette of rights like freedom of speech & the rights of unions to organise and strike. Also, on the other hand, the country continued the war with Germany in World war I, due to which the situation in Russia worsened with problems of food supply & peasants looted farms (food riots began).
The October Revolution
The revolution commenced on November 6 and 7, 1917 (But it is considered October 24 and 25, again as per the Julian calendar, hence referred to as the October Revolution). In this revolution, now the communist revolutionaries led by Vladimir Lenin launched a coup against Alexander Kerensky’s government.
The new government under Lenin comprised a council of soldiers, peasants and workers. The Bolsheviks and their allies occupied key locations across St. Petersburg and finally, the whole of Russia formed a new government with Lenin as its head. Lenin became the dictator of the world’s first communist state.
The struggle was not yet over concerning the new government. Civil War broke out in Russia in late 1917 where the Red faction, consisting of communists & socialists, fought against the White factions, comprising monarchists, capitalists & democrats.
The Bolsheviks executed the entire family of Nicholas on July 16, 1918, and the war would end in 1923 with Lenin’s red army claiming victory. This made the country a communist super-state marking the origin of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union became an intimidating player during the events of the Cold war in the forthcoming decades.
Timeline of the Russian Revolution
Dates marked in brackets is as per the Julian calendar
Tsar Alexander II passes the Emancipation Edict, ending bondage or labour in Russia. However, it kept peasants tied to the land through continuing labour obligations.
After multiple failed attempts to assassinate Tsar Alexander II by blowing up his palace dining room that killed and wounded many, he still managed to survive as he came late to dinner.
Tsar Alexander II was assassinated by a member of the radical group People’s Will. He was then succeeded by his son, Alexander III, who enacted anti-terrorism measures which curbed the civil rights and freedom of the press.
Pogroms against Jews (Pogrom was a violent riot incited with an objective of massacring or expelling an ethnic or religious group, specifically Jews) spread across the Russian Empire, which resulted in the emigration of Jewish population.
Famine in Russia killed around 375,000 and 400,000 & also affected millions more.
Tsar Alexander III died after a sudden illness and after him, his son Nicholas II took the throne.
Vladimir Lenin (future leader of the Bolsheviks) was arrested to be kept in solitary confinement for 13 months and then he was exiled to Siberia.
The Khodynka Tragedy: A stampede in Moscow happened during festivities following Nicholas II’s coronation (as he was taking the throne), as crowds were worried that the supplies of free memento would run out, so they rushed for the stalls to get them. This resulted in the deaths of thousands of people.
This period started with Bloody Sunday & later to civil unrest, ending with the Coup of June 1907.
22nd January 1905: Bloody Sunday– when several workers were marching towards the Tsar's palace to present a petition for a better working environment & conditions. As a result, soldiers opened fire on the workers, killing many of them. The liberal press blamed Nicholas II.
30th October 1905: October Manifesto – Tsar Nicholas II issued the October Manifesto, promising civil liberties like freedom of speech and an elected parliament (Duma). Consequently, certain restrictions were implemented on the absolute power of the Russian monarch, and a de facto constitution was issued.
16th June 1907: Coup of June 1907 led to the dissolution of the Second State Durma of the Russian Empire, and important changes done in the Russian electoral law.
Outbreak of First World War: In this Great War, Germany declares war on Russia, with Russia entering the First World War. St Petersburg was renamed Petrograd to make it sound less German.
Grigorii Rasputin, the controversial ‘holy man’ and close friend of Tsar Nicholas II’s family was assassinated.
February Revolution: A series of public protests began in Petrograd that lasted for 8 days and led to the abolition of monarchy in Russia of the Tsars. On International Women’s Day (8th March), demonstrators and striking workers, many of whom were women, took to the streets to protest against food shortages. As discussed, Tsar Nicholas II resigned and removed his son from the succession. A Provisional Government replaced the tsarist government, with Prince Lvov becoming the leader.
Lenin now, returned from exile, travelling to Petrograd from Switzerland via Germany and Finland.
The Milyukov note: A telegram sent to the Allied Powers by Foreign Minister Pavel Milyukov stated the provisional government’s intention to continue the war. This leaked note resulted in protests and increased support for the Bolsheviks.
June Offensive: It was Russia’s greatest feat of arms during World War I. Russian Minister of war Alexander Karensky launches an offensive (most lethal) against Austria-Hungary forces in Galicia (As Russia was against the Central powers).
Even though the Russian effort was initially successful but the soldiers soon refused to leave their trenches and fight, due to low morale caused because of the Russian revolution. Soldiers committee even disobeyed officers & returned home. The offensive collapsed four days later, and Russian troops responded to the Austria and Germans counter-offensive.
These days were a series of continuous armed anti-government demonstrations of industrial workers and soldiers, commencing in Petrograd. Lvov resigned as the leader of provisional government, and Alexander Kerensky replaced him Also, this time the death penalty was reintroduced, and women were granted the right to vote & hold office.
Kerensky issued the arrest of Lenin & the printing offices of the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda, the headquarters of the Bolshevik Central Committee were raided. The aborted uprising resulted in Soviets losing their control over the Provisional Government.
The Kornilov affair: A failed coup by General Kornilov, commander of the Russian army, took place, when he ordered troops towards Petrograd to counter the threat of the Bolsheviks. But PM Kerensky presented General Kornilov’s actions as an attempted right-wing coup.
This gained power for the Bolsheviks among Petrograd’s working classes, workers and soldiers, and crushed the credibility of a coalition Provisional Government between socialists and liberals due to the Kadets (Constitutional Democrats) and even Kerensky himself being implicated in the affair.
Russia officially declared a republic.
October Revolution: The Bolsheviks seized control of Petrograd & took control of the Winter Palace, the last remaining holdout of the Provisional Government. The Decrees on Land (proclaiming the abolition of private property and the redistribution of the land amongst the peasantry), etc. along with eight hours of working a day, were adopted. But once again, the death penalty was abolished.
The Decree on the Press, the first Bolshevik censorship decree, abolishes the ‘bourgeois’ press.
Constituent Assembly’s election took place and the Socialist Revolutionaries won the largest number of seats, while the Bolsheviks won less than one-quarter of the vote.
An armistice between Russia & the Central Powers was signed, and fighting stopped.
The Constituent Assembly meets but is dissolved by the Bolsheviks.
The Council of People’s Commissars (Sovnarkom) issued a decree forming the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army.
Russia adopted the Western (Gregorian) calendar.
Brest-Litovsk Treaty: Ultimately Russia ended its participation in the WWI. Bolshevik Russia loses 1/3rd of the old empire’s population, 1/3rd of its railway network, half its industry, three-quarters of its supplies of iron ore, 9/10ths of its coal resources & its food supplies.
At the 7th Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, the Bolsheviks changes their name to the Russian Communist Party. The Russian capital is also moved from Petrograd to Moscow.
The first constitution of the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic granted equal rights to men and women.
Tsar Nicholas II and his family were executed by the Bolsheviks in Yekaterinburg.
Lenin sends a telegram to communists in Penza, Central Russia, complaining of the uprisings in the area and demanding the public execution of 100 kulaks (wealthy peasants).
Beginning of ‘Red Terror’: A murder attempt on Lenin by the Socialist Revolutionary Fanny Kaplan leaves him wounded. The attempt, combined with the murder of Uritskii, led to mass arrests and executions called the ‘Red Terror’.
The Comintern (or Third International) is formed in Moscow with the aim of spreading revolution all over the world.
Communist parties were formed across the world.
The Red Army invades and conquers Crimea and the White Army is forced to withdraw
An unsuccessful uprising, Kronstadt mutiny, against the Bolsheviks, took place.
End of ‘War Communism’ & the introduction of the ‘New Economic Policy’ (NEP).
Stalin is appointed General Secretary of the Communist Party.
Creation of the Soviet Union.
Lenin died, leading to a power struggle within the party and Stalin emerged as Party leader with his rival Leon Trotsky being dismissed, exiled & murdered in 1940.
Conclusion of the revolution
After the revolution, Russia withdrew from the World War I by signing a peace treaty with Germany called the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Then the Russian economy saw a shift from rural one to industrial one because of the new government which took control of all the industries. Farmlands from landholders were seized and distributed among the peasants. Women were given equal rights to those of men. From 1918 to 1920, Russia witnessed a civil war between the Bolsheviks (“Red Army”) and the anti-Bolsheviks (“White Army”). The end result was that the Bolsheviks won and the new country was called the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics).