1917 Russian Revolution

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The 1917 Russian Revolution was not, as many people suppose, one well organised event in which Tsar Nicholas II was overthrown and Lenin and the Bolsheviks took power. It was a series of events that took place during 1917, which entailed two separate revolutions in February and October (with a great deal of political wranglings inbetween), and which eventually plunged the country into Civil War before leading to the founding of the Communist State.

Growing Unrest

The first major event of the Russian Revolution was the February Revolution, which was a chaotic affair and 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, poor 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 humilating losses in the Russo-Japanese war and, during a demonstration against the war in the same year, Tsarist troops fired upon an unarmed crowd - further dividing Nicholas II from his people. Widespread strikes, riots and the famous mutiny on the Battleship Potemkin ensued.

Such was the climate in 1905 in fact that Tsar Nicholas saw fit, against his will, to cede the people their wishes. In his October Manifesto, Nicholas created Russia's first constitution and the State Duma, an elected parliamentary body. However Nicholas's belief in his divine right to rule Russia meant that he spent much of the following years fighting to undermine or strip the Duma of its powers and to retain as much autocracy as possible. (Modern historians might note that Russian rulers haven't come a long way in the last hundred years!).

When Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by political activists in Serbia in 1914, the Austro-Hungarian empire declared war on its neighbours. Serbia turned to Russia for help. Tsar Nicholas II saw a chance to galvanise his people against a common enemy, and to atone for the humiliations suffered in the Russo-Japanese war. It didn't quite work out however...

World War I

In many ways Russia's disastrous participation in World War I was the final blow to Tsarist rule. In the very first engagement with the Germans (who had sided with the Austro-Hungarian Empire), the Battle of Tannenberg, the Russian army was comprehensively beaten suffering 120,000 casualties to Germany's 20,000. A continuing series of losses and setbacks meant that Nicholas left St. Petersburg in the autumn of 1915 to take personal control of the army. By this time Russia was sending conscripts and untrained troops to the front, with little or no equipment and fighting in an almost continual retreat. In 1916 morale reached an all time low as the pressure of waging the war fell hardest on prolaterian families, whose sons were being slaughtered at the front and who severe suffered food and fuel shortages at home. The Tsar and the Imperial regime took the blame as civil unrest heated up to boiling point.

The February Revolution (1917)

On 23rd February 1917 the International Women's Day Festival in St. Petersburg turned into a city-wide demonstration, as exasperated women workers left factories to protest against food shortages. Men soon joined them, and on the following day - encouraged by political and social activists - the crowds had swelled and virtually every industry, shop and enterprise had ceased to function as almost the entire populace went on strike.

Nicholas ordered the police and military to intervene, however the military was no longer loyal to the Tsar and many mutinied or joined the people in demonstrations. Fights broke out and the whole city was in chaos. On October 28th over 80,000 troops mutinied from the army and looting and rioting was widespread.

Faced with this untenable situation Tsar Nicholas abdicated his throne, handing power to his brother Michael. However Michael would not accept leadership unless he was elected by the Duma. He resigned the following day, leaving Russia without a head of state.

The Provisional Government

After the abdication of the Romanovs a Provisional Government was quickly formed by leading members of the Duma and recognised internationally as Russia's legal government. It was to rule Russia until elections could be held. However it's power was by no means absolute or stable. The more radical Petrograd Soviet organisation was a trade union of workers and soldiers that wielded enormous influence. It favoured full-scale Socialism over more moderate democratic reforms generally favoured by members of the Provisional Government.

After centuries of Imperial rule Russia was consumed with political fervour, but the many different factions, all touting different ideas, meant that political stability was still a long way off directly after February Revolution.

Lenin Returns to Russia

One person keen to take advantage of the chaotic state of affairs in St. Petersburg was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov - aka Lenin. Lenin had spent most of the 20th Century travelling and working and campaigning in Europe - partly out of fear for his own safety, as he was known Socialist and enemy of the Tsarist regime. However with the Tsar under arrest and Russian politics in chaos, Lenin saw the opportunity to lead his party, the Bolsheviks, to power. From his home in Switzerland he negotiated a return to Russia with the help of German authorities. (As a proponent of withdrawing Russia from the Great War, the Germans were willing to facilitate Lenin's passage back via a 'sealed train'.)

Lenin's return in April of 1917 was greeted by the Russian populace, as well as by many leading political figures, with great rapture and applause. However, far from uniting the fractious parties, he immediately condemned the policies and ideologies of both the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet. In his April Theses, published in the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda, he advocated non-co-operation with the liberals (ie. non-hardline Communists) and an immediate end to the war.

At first his uncompromising stance served to isolate Lenin and the Bolsheviks, however with powerful slogans like 'Peace, land and bread,' Lenin begin to win the hearts of the Russian people - who were increasingly unable to stomach war and poverty.

Summer of 1917

During the summer of 1917 Lenin made several attempts to invoke another revolution the likes of which had taken place in February, with the aim of overthrowing the Provisional Government. When the Machine Gun Regiment refused to leave Petrograd (as St. Petersburg was then known) for the frontline Lenin sought to manoeuvre them instead into making a putsch. However Kerensky, arguably the most important figure of the time - a member of both the Provisional Government and Petrograd Soviet - adeptly thwarted the coup. Experienced troops arrived in the city to quell any dissidents and the Bolsheviks were accused of being in collusion with the Germans. Many were arrested whilst Lenin escaped to Finland.

Despite this PR disaster Lenin continued plotting and scheming. Meanwhile Kerensky suffered his own political setbacks and even had to appeal to the Bolsheviks for military aid when he feared his Minister of War, Kornilov, was aiming for a military dictatorship. By autumn the Bolsheviks were climbing into the ascendency, winning majority votes within the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets. Leon Trotsky was elected as president of the former.

The October Revolution

(Nb. By the Julian Calendar used in Russia at the time, the revolution took part in November 1917, and is therefore often referred to as the November Revolution)

With Russian politics still in a state of constant flux Lenin realised that now was the time to capitalise on his party's popularity. He planned a coup d'etat that would overthrow the increasingly ineffective Provisional Government and replace them with the Bolsheviks. On October 10th he held a famous meeting with twelve party leaders, and tried to persuade them that a revolution was required. Despite receiving the backing of only 10 of them plotting went ahead.

October 24th was the date decided upon, and on that day troops loyal to the Bolsheviks took up crucial positions in the city, such as the main telephone and telegraph offices, banks, railroad stations, post offices, and major bridges. Guards commissioned by the Provisional Government, who had got wind of the plot, fled or surrendered without a fight. By the 25th October every key building in St. Petersburg was under Bolshevik control, except the Winter Palace where Kerensky and the other Ministers were holed up with a small guard.

At 0900 of that day Kerensky fled the Palace by car, never to return to Russia. On the 26th the Palace was taken with barely a shot fired, and Lenin's October Revolution had been achieved with the bare minimum of drama or bloodshed.

Aftermath and Consequences

Despite being allowed to seize power so easily Lenin soon discovered that his support was far from absolute. His Peace Policy with the Germans was particularly unpopular as it ceded large amounts of Russian territory. Shortly after the October Revolution, the Russian Civil War broke out between the 'Reds' (Communists) and the 'Whites' (Nationalists, Conservatives, Imperialists and other anti-Bolshevik groups). After a bloody four year struggle Lenin and the Reds won, establishing the Soviet Union in 1922, at an estimated cost of 15 million lives and billions of roubles. In 1923 Lenin died and Stalin took over the Communist Party, which continued to rule Russia until 1991 when the USSR was dissolved.


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emily kevello

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Reply Dec 10th, 2017
United States

It helps

Reply Dec 7th, 2017
United States

A i was kid in if every body’s power hungry were would we be"?

Reply Dec 7th, 2017

Well helped a lot. I am working on different sides of revolution as opposed and revolutionary groups. In this assessment we need to see different perspectives of people as Russians and other countries.

Reply Dec 2nd, 2017

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Reply Oct 30th, 2017
Edward Mutabazi

After a bloody four year struggle Lenin and the Reds won, establishing the Soviet Union in 1922, at an estimated cost of 15 million lives and billions of roubles. In 1923 Lenin died and Stalin took over the Communist Party, which continued to rule Russia until 1991 when the USSR was dissolved.

Reply Oct 30th, 2017

it seems that no blood shed happened never before revolution of russia in human history, it was the history of exploitation over the masses by the well up people of society in the name of religion in the name of caste etc it was the revolution of Russia by VI Lenin show the actual role of mankind and established the rights of the commoner, it has been failed long after that is other story definitely it should be reviewed properly on the light of November revolution

Reply Nov 8th, 2017
United States

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Reply Oct 25th, 2017
Just a girl
United States

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United States

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Virgin Islands

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United States

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Reply Jan 20th, 2017
Alan Nelson
United Kingdom

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Reply Jan 12th, 2017

who was supposed to take over for Lenin? who did and why

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Reply Jan 24th, 2017
Papua New Guinea

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Reply Dec 2nd, 2016

What's the difference between the two revolutions??

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one is stupid and the other one is stupider

Reply Jan 24th, 2017
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Reply Nov 22nd, 2016
Winifred Dubasoff

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Reply Nov 21st, 2016
United Kingdom

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Reply Jan 24th, 2017
your bff
United States

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United States


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United Kingdom

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United States

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your name
United States

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United Kingdom

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Reply Sep 23rd, 2016


Reply Sep 19th, 2016
United States

I wish it went into more detail about the life in Russia and other places that were affected.

Reply Aug 17th, 2016

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Really it's a great article to know about the facts of Russian revolution .

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United States

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United States

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United Kingdom

How did it effect the lives of the local less important people?

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Helped with my history work... didn't tell me who they were fighting against though...

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it doesn't tell me who they went against

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Reply Apr 4th, 2016
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United States

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Reply Mar 22nd, 2016
United States

I just want to know what Russia was famous for during the revolution plz help

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United States

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United States

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Reply Feb 24th, 2016
Damn Daniel
United States


Reply Feb 24th, 2016
United States

How am I to cite this??

Reply Feb 12th, 2016
Bob Marley
United Kingdom

When did it end?

Reply Feb 10th, 2016
United Kingdom

it was a good review. however, maybe use more complex writing. You could have added aftermath as Tsar Nicholas the second's death. thank you very much :)

Reply Feb 9th, 2016
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Reply Feb 2nd, 2016
United States

How am I to cite this. there is no author or date

Reply Jan 20th, 2016

It didn't state the changes to the poor and the rich after the revolution

Reply Jan 14th, 2016


Reply Dec 19th, 2015


Reply Dec 19th, 2015
United States


Reply Dec 15th, 2015
United States

Thank you

Reply Nov 20th, 2015
United States

Does anybody know the name of the person who wrote this? I am using the information for my school project and have to produce a MLA work cited page of all the websites and articles I used.

Reply Nov 18th, 2015

Thank you Very much who ever wrote this

Reply Nov 10th, 2015
United Kingdom

This was interesting, but didn't talk about the aims of the two revolutions! I think that's key to judging how successful they were or weren't, so I didn't personally find this very helpful. Sorry!

Reply Nov 2nd, 2015
United States

I'm doing a school report and this was kind of hard to use because I needed to know who, what, where, when, and why, this help a lot with why but not at all with what, and for the other 3, I had already used a different website

Reply Oct 23rd, 2015
United Kingdom

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Reply Oct 22nd, 2015

This was soooo helpful, the information is portrayed and written in a very simple, but informative way and even though it's not that long, it tells you everything you need to know, without unuseful details, for which I'm very grateful, because it helped me understand better the whole concept of the Russian Revolution. Thank you so much!!

Reply Oct 14th, 2015
United States

Thank you for all of the information! I will use this for an essay!

Reply Oct 14th, 2015
United Kingdom

such a useful page!!! helped sooo much with my essay!!!!

Reply Oct 8th, 2015

Thx! So helpful. So much useful information!

Reply Oct 2nd, 2015

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