1917 Russian Revolution

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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Mikaela from Australia Reply May 15th, 2016

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it doesn't tell me who they went against

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Horizon from Jamaica Reply Apr 4th, 2016

i need to see references and footnotes

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hey from United States Reply Mar 14th, 2016

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

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Kale from United States Reply Feb 12th, 2016

How am I to cite this??

Bob Marley from United Kingdom Reply Feb 10th, 2016

When did it end?

ginny from United Kingdom Reply Feb 9th, 2016

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 :)

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CURTIS from United States Reply Jan 20th, 2016

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

Bob from France Reply Jan 14th, 2016

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

Yape from India Reply Dec 19th, 2015


Yape from India Reply Dec 19th, 2015


Jake from United States Reply Dec 15th, 2015


Jake from United States Reply Nov 20th, 2015

Thank you

Megan from United States Reply Nov 18th, 2015

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.

Guest from Germany Reply Nov 10th, 2015

Thank you Very much who ever wrote this

Mollie from United Kingdom Reply Nov 2nd, 2015

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!

LinDsay from United States Reply Oct 23rd, 2015

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

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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!!

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Everyone Reply Oct 2nd, 2015

Thx! So helpful. So much useful information!

Thanks from United Kingdom Reply Sep 19th, 2015

This was super helpful for my 1917 history research project!! thanks !

Bob from United States Reply Sep 4th, 2015

This article left out any mention of the dreaded CHEKA or the part Jews played in the Bolshevik Revolution.

hello from United States Reply Aug 5th, 2015

Can anyone tell me who the author is? I want to cite this as a source in my bibliography for a Global assignment.

Bert Brechtold from Germany Feb 27th, 2016

The Jews created Christianity, too, unless I am mistaken. There would have been no Russian Orthodox Church without them. The Jews in Bolshevism had every right to be there as citizens of Russia and they were chosen for their positions by the Russian majority of the Communist Party which wanted at that time to show it was not racist like the Tsars - who themselves were German by race.

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nobody from United States Reply Jun 2nd, 2015

Why did Germany fight Russia in 1917? What did they want?

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StudentDoingTheirProjectTheNightBeforeItsDue from Turkey Reply Apr 23rd, 2015

Thank you so much. Helped me a lot on my project! Also cool history learned lots :)

StudentDoingTheirProjectTheNightBeforeItsDue from United States Reply Apr 15th, 2015

thank you sooo much I didn't know a lot about the Russian revolution

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Jamie from Germany Reply Mar 26th, 2015

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Av from United Kingdom Reply Mar 3rd, 2015

Is this a reliable source? i mean, when was this published and who's the author of this article?

SOMEONE from United Kingdom Reply Feb 26th, 2015

I know this is not a review, but does anyone know when this was published and who published/wrote it?

OldNorthernGuy from Canada Reply Feb 24th, 2015

I'm glad the article points out early that there were two Russian Revolutions, not one. I suspect the vast majority of people on the street just assume the Communists overthrew the Czar (or Tsar), and didn't know there was an all-too-brief period of Democracy-lite in Russia. However, even for a brief synopsis of an incredibly complex topic, there are a lot of crucial names given short shrift. For example, Leon Trotsky was more than the President of the Moscow Soviet. He led the Red forces to victory in the civil war, for better or for worse. Kerensky deserves more attention as a high-minded individual who did his best to build a Western-style state out of the ruins of an autocracy. And how can you not mention the Mensheviks? Russia didn't enter World War One because of a hangover from the Russo-Japanese War. The Tsar had much resentment built up over his treatment by Germany (do the reading; it's out there), so when Austria-Hungary (Germany's only ally) attacked Serbia, the Tsar didn't need much persuading to come to the aid of his Slav "brothers". Of course, the Germans miscalculated by underestimating England's determination to defend France and Belgium, but that's for another post.

jj from United States Reply Feb 24th, 2015

very good. I learned a lot. thanks.

jesus from Israel Reply Feb 23rd, 2015


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brian from United States Reply Feb 12th, 2015

thank u for the info

Guest Reply Feb 9th, 2015

thanks for the info, I feel an A+ coming my way!

Emily from United States Reply Feb 2nd, 2015

Really good! But I need to write an essay about the Russian Revolution including the terms Czar Nicholas II, Leon Trotsky, Joseph Stalin, & Communism and most websites I've found don't really go into the last 3 very much. This one has been pretty helpful though.

Adam from United Kingdom Reply Jan 26th, 2015

Good info that I used for History assessment

Compliment Giver from Eritrea Reply Jan 17th, 2015

Has some good info, but some part is missing (like u didn't mention Karl Marx,etc.....) . But much better than other sites so....Good Work :)

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Michael Hart from United Kingdom Reply Dec 8th, 2014

Really, really helpful! There were a few common spelling mistakes but other than that, the information was on point!

Megan from United States Reply Nov 6th, 2014

This was so helpful! Everything I have read about the Russian Revolution has been so confusing for me and this made me understand so well! Thanks!

Rajendra from India Reply Nov 2nd, 2014

Communism ended as the worst joke ever played on history.

US from United States Reply Oct 6th, 2014

thx so much

E from India Reply Oct 4th, 2014


Ed from United States Reply Jun 27th, 2014

very concise and and fairly easy to follow.

nithya from Netherlands Reply Jun 21st, 2014

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AGoodwin from United Kingdom Reply May 31st, 2014


chelsey from United States Reply May 20th, 2014

Good information

Alex from Netherlands Reply Apr 2nd, 2014

Agree with people on here, this was much better than Wikipedia. Does anyone know who is the author of this article?

Morgan from Australia Reply Mar 21st, 2014

Might want to check the "October 28th" part of this article in the February Revolution section. I believe that Nicholas II abdicated in March of 1917 so wouldn't the troops have mutinied in late February or early March? If they did mutiny in October wouldn't it have been a contributing factor in the October revolution rather than the February revolution?

Abigail from United States Reply Mar 11th, 2014

this was much more informative than Wikipedia! thank you!

Chelsea Begay from United States Reply Mar 7th, 2014

I liked it. Helped me with my World History work.. :P

Anastasia from Russia Reply Feb 8th, 2014

very helpful but incomplete

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Hey from South Korea Reply Jan 8th, 2014

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Scrooge1258 from United States Reply Nov 23rd, 2013

Helpful, gave me a great reference site to refer to, and helped at N.C.A.

me-me from United States Reply Nov 23rd, 2013


AIK from United Kingdom Reply Nov 20th, 2013

Thank you so much! This was really really helpful... Helped me a lot with my coursework..............

She he Reply Nov 12th, 2013

Very helpful It helped me with my work

Amanda from United States Reply Nov 6th, 2013

This is a great article for helping with schoolwork and is is chock full of the information of what happened during the Russian Revolution. Thanks!

Kevingulie Sechü from India Reply Oct 21st, 2013

Helped me in a great deal about clearing my keenness to know about the background of a mighty and exemplary nation.

Jacob Evans from New Zealand Reply Oct 1st, 2013

This article helped quite a bit

Amy from United States Reply Sep 15th, 2013

thanks for the info!

Zeb from United Kingdom Reply Aug 26th, 2013

I thought that this site contained well written information on this critical time in history. I would recommend it to anyone without hesitation. Good day to you!

lillian from Brazil Reply May 7th, 2013

that nz girl was quite harsh >;/

Sebastian de Sweese from France Reply Apr 30th, 2013

Ou je aime la revolution! ****

Alexander Koenig from United Kingdom Reply Apr 30th, 2013

Good and helped a lot but not very plain its a bit complicated all i wanted was the facts not a story !

Desi from United States Reply Apr 26th, 2013

Helped a lot with my English Paper!

darma from United States Reply Mar 14th, 2013

i think this is a good website to go to. it tells me alot about the Russian Revolution..i am from russia and i am glad to learn all of this information on my country :)

darma Johnson from United States Mar 14th, 2013

thanks :)

Cheyenne. from United States Reply Mar 13th, 2013

Hey, yeah, uh. I was wondering who is the author of this article? Who wrote this?

soen from Germany Mar 14th, 2013

ur mom

TJ from United States Reply Mar 8th, 2013

I would say that Russia exchanged one tyrannical rule for another. Poverty and hunger continued and Stalin sent millions of Russians to their deaths in Siberia. Internal spying was still rapant and freedom non-existent. Because a former KGB member is now in charge, Russia's future is a doubtful as ours.

Takisui from Japan Reply Mar 5th, 2013

I would agree with you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

hoover from United States Reply Mar 5th, 2013

it explains a lot about how the time period was in the Russian revolution when a time when poverty was a natural state. Nicolas 2nd was hated because when Alexander 2nd took freedom away from the country they needed to revolt but who? Men were fighting in the second world war so the only force was women. The women revolted in place of the men so the stole bread in order to go against their leaders. In this passage and I would really like to see the first person point of view on the women side on rising kid in that time.

willsss from United States Reply Feb 13th, 2013

Very good but add Stalin !! helpful read

Oliver Woodward from United States Reply Feb 8th, 2013

Excellent summary of the Russian Revolution. A big help to my midterm paper.

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