The Russian Revolution of 1917 was one of the most volatile political events of the twentieth century. The violent revolution marked the end of the Romanov dynasty and centuries of Russian Imperial rule. During the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks, led by leftist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, seized power and destroyed the ritual of Tsarist rule. The Bolsheviks would later become the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 had n massive impact on politics on a global scale for many decades. Nothing came close to it in importance – a fact recognized at the time and which continues to prove compelling a full century later.
Demonstrators demanding for bread took to the streets of Petrograd. Supported by huge crowds of striking industrial workers, the protesters clashed with police but refused to leave the streets.
On March 11, the troops of the Petrograd army garrison were called out to suppress the rebellion. In some encounters, the regiments opened fire, killing protestors, but the protesters kept to the streets and the troops began to waver.
The Duma made a provisional government on March 12. A few days later, Czar Nicholas abdicated the throne, ending centuries of Russian Romanov rule.
The leaders of the provisional government, including young Russian lawyer Alexander Kerensky, established a liberal package of rights such as freedom of speech, equality before the law, and the right of unions to organize and strike. They were opposing violent social revolution.
As minister of war, Kerensky continued the Russian war effort, even though Russian involvement in World War I was enormously unpopular. This further exacerbated Russia’s food supply problems. Unrest continued to grow as peasants looted farms and food riots erupted in the cities.
On November 6 and 7, 1917 (or October 24 and 25 on the Julian calendar, which is why the event is often referred to as the October Revolution), leftist revolutionaries led by Bolshevik Party leader Vladimir Lenin sprang a nearly peaceful coup d’état against the Duma’s provisional government.
The provisional government had been accumulated by a group of leaders from Russia’s bourgeois capitalist class. Lenin instead called for a Soviet government that would be ruled straight by councils of soldiers, peasants and workers.
The Bolsheviks and their associates occupied government buildings and other strategic locations in Petrograd, and soon made a new government with Lenin as its head. Lenin became the dictator of the world’s first communist state.
The first emblem that something big was happening was on International Women’s Day—February 23, 1917, in the old Russian calendar. Crowds of female factory workers met in the center of Petrograd, the Russian capital (formerly known as St. Petersburg).
Even as disillusioned and hungry workers, male and female, joined in the protests, some revolutionaries remained skeptical. Aleksandr Shlyapnikov was a leading figure of the Bolshevik drive, whose leader, Vladimir Ilich Lenin, had been living outside Russia for long periods of time since 1900. Shlyapnikov observed on February 25: “Give the workers a pound of bread and the movement will peter out.”
Notwithstanding initial doubts that the growing February dissents would amount to much, many viewers at the time—including Lenin’s Bolsheviks, Russian liberals, and foreign diplomats—were nevertheless certain that a uprising was only a matter of time.
The roots of Russia’s turmoil ran deep. During a overwhelming famine in the early 1890s, the inability of the government to deliver sufficient relief had fanned revolutionary fervor in the country. In the cities, the appalling exploitation and squalor suffered by the workers elicited waves of protests and strikes.
The pressures of industrialization were worsened by the activities of Tsar Nicholas II. Reigning from 1894, Nicholas had congenital Russia’s colossal empire and the autocratic ideas of his family, the Romanov dynasty. In 1905 the tsar’s fame was ebbing due to continuing domestic problems as well as an unpopular war with Japan. During a peaceful protest in St. Petersburg in January 1905, protesters were fired on and killed, an event that triggered months of protests.
The Russian Revolution paved the way for the rise of communism as a prominent political belief system around the world. It set the stage for the upswing of the Soviet Union as a world power that would go head-to-head with the United States during the Cold War.