The Russian February Revolution (March 1917)

Russian February Revolution in Saint Petersburg. March 1917. The crowd is in front of the Tauride Palace.
Public Domain/Wikimedia

On March 8, 1917 (February 24 on the Julian calendar used at the time) events would begin unfolding in Russia that would bring about the end of the Czarist regime in Russia and the establishment of a new provisional government that would transition to a parliamentary democracy. Unfortunately that interim government would itself be overthrown in October (November) by the Bolsheviks that established the Communist government in Russia that would last until 1991.

Russia lagged behind the major powers of Britain, France and Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Unlike those powers which had fully industrialized and developed powerful economies, Russia was still primarily agrarian and had a very small industrial sector. Additionally it failed to modernize during this period and clung on to old social and political structures that made little sense in a more industrialized world. Capitalism was able to flourish in many places but not in Russia, where the autocracy did not allow it much room to develop. So Russia was considered a very backward nation.

Russia had disastrously involved itself in World War I. With a poor industrial sector, it was no match for heavily industrialized and better led German forces. Russia suffered heavy casualties and defeats. The economy could not absorb the cost of the war causing shortages of all kinds leading to unrest in the streets of Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg-renamed to remove any connection to Germany). Radicals and moderates united to call for change and the end of the Czar. Widespread demonstrations began on March 8 in Petrograd. By 10 March all of Petrograd’s workers were on strike and some factories had elected their own deputies to workers committees.

The Petrograd garrison was called out on 11 March and some demonstrators were killed but the demonstrations continued. Then the Czar dissolved the Duma on the same day and troops began to waver. The following day on 12 March 1917, the Petrograd regiments defected to the demonstrators giving them 150,000 new supporters. On 15 March 1917 the rule of the Czars came to an end with the formal abdication of Nicholas II (his brother declined to be Czar). The new provisional government decided to stay in the war but had major challenges such as how to resolve the food shortages and other crises as well. Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Party but exiled in Switzerland, was brought back to Russia by the Germans in a sealed train. He would take charge and ultimately lead the Russian Revolution later that year that would install the first Communist government in world history.