The Russian Revolution: History, Timeline & Causes

20 Feb 2023  Read 1224 Views

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.

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

  • 3rd March, 1861 (19th February)

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.

  • 17th February 1880 (5th February)

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.

  • 13th March 1881 (1st March)

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.

  • 1882

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.

  • 1891–1892

Famine in Russia killed around 375,000 and 400,000 & also affected millions more.

  • 1st November 1894 (20th October)  

Tsar Alexander III died after a sudden illness and after him, his son Nicholas II took the throne.

  • 20th December 1895 (8th December)

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.

  • 30 May 1896 (18th May)

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.

1900–1916

  • 22nd January 1905 (9th January) – 16th June 1907 (3rd June) 

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.

  • 1914

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.

  • 30th December 1916 (17th December)

Grigorii Rasputin, the controversial ‘holy man’ and close friend of Tsar Nicholas II’s family was assassinated.

  • 8th March –16th March 1917 (23rd February – 3rd March) 

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.

  • April 1917

Lenin now, returned from exile, travelling to Petrograd from Switzerland via Germany and Finland.

  • 1st May 1917 (18 April) 

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.

  • 1st July 1917  (18 June) 

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.

  • 16th –20th July 1917 (3rd –7th July)

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.

  • 9th September 1917 (22nd–27th August)

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.

  • 14th September 1917  (1st September)

Russia officially declared a republic.

  • 7th –8th November 1917 (25th –26th October) 

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.

  • 9 November 1917 (27th October) 

The Decree on the Press, the first Bolshevik censorship decree, abolishes the ‘bourgeois’ press.

  • 25th November 1917 (12th November)

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.

  • 15th December 1917 (2nd December)

An armistice between Russia & the Central Powers was signed, and fighting stopped.

  • 18th –19th January 1918 (5th –6th January) 

The Constituent Assembly meets but is dissolved by the Bolsheviks.

  • 28th January 1918 (15th January) 

The Council of People’s Commissars (Sovnarkom) issued a decree forming the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army.

  • 14th February 1918

Russia adopted the Western (Gregorian) calendar.

  • 3rd March 1918

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.

  • 8th March 1918

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.

  • 10th July 1918

The first constitution of the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic granted equal rights to men and women.

  • 16th –17th July 1918

Tsar Nicholas II and his family were executed by the Bolsheviks in Yekaterinburg.

  • 11th August 1918

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).

  • 30th August 1918

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’.

  • March 1919

The Comintern (or Third International) is formed in Moscow with the aim of spreading revolution all over the world.

  • 1920

Communist parties were formed across the world.

  • November 1920

The Red Army invades and conquers Crimea and the White Army is forced to withdraw

  • March 1921

An unsuccessful uprising, Kronstadt mutiny, against the Bolsheviks, took place.

  • March 1921

End of ‘War Communism’ & the introduction of the ‘New Economic Policy’ (NEP).

  • 3rd April 1922

Stalin is appointed General Secretary of the Communist Party.

  • December 1922

Creation of the Soviet Union.

  • 21st January 1924

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).

About the Author: Kakoli Nath | 275 Post(s)

She is a Legal Content Manager at Finology Legal! With a Masters in Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), a BBA.LL.B from ITM University, and patent analyst training from IIPTA, she truly specializes in her field. Her passion for IPR and Criminal laws is evident from her advanced certification in Forensic Psychology and Criminal Profiling from IFS, Pune.

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