The February Revolution - vcehistory

VCE History: Unit 3
The February Revolution
• With the war a disaster and the home front no better, by
February of 1917 Russia was in a ‘critical condition’.
• But all the key players were away from Petrograd. Lenin
and his fellow revolutionaries were in exile and the Tsar
was 650 kilometres away at the military base in Mogilev.
• Two key crises in Russia – food and fuel shortages, well
not so much a lack of these but an inability to transport
them to the cities.
… in a critical condition
• In addition to the revolutionaries there were also many
liberal elements (e.g. industrialists and property owners)
who had lost belief in the autocracy and were pushing for
a constitutional monarchy.
• Their case was strengthened by the Tsar’s absence and the
presence of Rasputin who was accused (and probably
guilty) of corruption and abuse of authority.
Political discontent
• Two key features – Petrograd is built along a 30km
stretch of the Neva River. The system of canals means
that waterways are the main form of transport. This
means that the city can be protected by a raising of the
• The freezing of the waterways in winter meant that
marches and protests were limited for many months of
the year.
• The Okhrana regularly sent reports to the Tsar informing
him of the discontent in Petrograd and he is warned of
conditions that would make 1905 seem ‘but a toy’.
• Rodzianko, Chairman of the Duma, warned the Tsar that
‘all Russia’ were seeking a ‘change in government’ to
restore the ‘confidence of the nation’ as distrust and
hatred towards the German Tsarina grew.
• Buchanan, the British Ambassador, warned that most of
the army could not be relied on in the event of a
revolution. He pleaded with the Tsar to choose between
‘two paths’ (i.e. reform for peace or maintain the status
quo and suffer ‘disaster’).
Advising the Tsars
• 18 February, 1917: 20,000 workers locked out of the
Putilov Steel Works over a pay disagreement. Political
activism resulted. The Tsar, Duma and Soldiers failed to
• 23 February, 1917: International Women’s Day protest of
90,000. The Tsar, Duma and Soldiers failed to respond.
• 24 February, 1917: 200,000 workers on strike. Cossacks
patrol the city but refuse to fire on striking workers.
A lack of response
• 25 February, 1917: now 240,000 striking workers. Tsar
orders General Khabalov to ‘suppress’ them so Russia
can focus on the war effort. Tsarina calls them
• 26 February, 1917: Many soldiers join the protestors
turning protests into dangerous revolts. Rodzianko urges
immediate action but Nicholas angrily dismisses him as
a ‘fat pig’ and dismisses the Duma.
A lack of response
• 27 February, 1917: workers control the entire city except
the Winter Palace. Political prisoners and criminals are
released and riots ensue. Tsar is deluded calling the
mutiny ‘minor’. He again ignores Rodzianko’s pleas.
The Duma refuses the Tsar’s request to dissolve and
form a Provisional Committee.
A lack of response
• 28 February, 1917: Fighting escalates to extreme
violence. Soldiers take on the police. Alexandra sends a
telegram to the Tsar conceding that ‘concessions are
inevitable’. Nicholas again fails to act.
• 1 March, 1917: Soldiers, including the imperial guard and
the Cossacks march, demonstrating their allegiance to the
revolution. The Tsar approves the formation of the
Provisional Government and begins return journey to
Petrograd. Petrograd Soviet issue Soviet Order No. 1
(military units elect representatives, military must follow
the Provisional Government).
A lack of response
• 2 March, 1917: Tsar’s train journey is stopped by
revolutionary soldiers causing him to detour to Pskov.
Nicholas abdicates and requests that his brother
Mikhail becomes the new tsar. The Provisional
Government take official control of Russia.
• 3 March, 1917: key political action takes place and peace
is restored to the streets. Grand Duke Mikhail also
abdicates! The Romanov Dynasty ends. Official power
is transferred to the Provisional Government.
A lack of response
• Nicholas failed to react… ‘he probably found it easier to
abdicate than to turn himself into a constitutional king’.
• Reason 1: Failure to modernise industry – not strong as
Russia had made improvements.
• Reason 2: Failure to overcome backward agrarian
system – not strong as, apart from the war, agriculture
was promising.
• Reason 3: Failure to provide a representative
parliament – strong argument that it was all too late and
not enough.
• Reason 4: Weak leadership of Tsar Nicholas II – strong
argument, he was rubbish.

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