What was the Russian Revolution of 1917? Summary and Facts
The Russian Revolution of 1917 was one of the 20th century’s most explosive political activities. The Romanov dynasty and decades of Russian Imperial rule came to an end with the violent revolution. During the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks, led by leftist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin took power and ended the czarist legacy. Later on, Bolsheviks become the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
When Was the Russian Revolution?
Two revolutions swept through Russia in 1917, bringing an end to decades of imperial rule and igniting into motion political and social reforms that would lead to the foundation of the Soviet Union. While the two revolutions occurred within a few months of each other, civil discontent in Russia had been simmering for decades.
Russia was one of the poorest countries in Europe in the early 1900s, with a large peasantry and an increasing minority of poor factory workers.
Russia was seen as an undeveloped, backward civilization in most of Western Europe. Serfdom, a type of feudalism in which landless peasants were forced to serve the land-owning aristocracy, was upheld by the Russian Empire into the 19th century. In comparison, by the end of the Middle Ages, much of Western Europe had abandoned the tradition.
Serfdom was officially abolished by the Russian Empire in 1861. Serf’s liberation would have an effect on the events leading up to the Russian Revolution by allowing peasants more space to organize.
Following the bloodshed of 1905, Czar Nicholas II vowed to establish a series of legislative assemblies, or Dumas, to move toward reform.
In August 1914, Russia joined World War I in defense of the Serbs and their French and British allies. Their participation in the war would quickly prove catastrophic for the Russian Empire.
Militarily, imperial Russia was a mismatch for industrialized Germany, and Russian losses were higher than those suffered by any other country in any prior conflict. Russia was ravaged with food and fuel shortages as inflation rose. The expensive war effort wreaked havoc on the economy.
In 1915, for taking charge of the Russian Army Front, Czar Nicholas left the Russian capital of Petrograd (St. Petersburg).
Rasputin and the Czarina
Czarina Alexandra, an unpopular woman of German descent, started dismissing elected officials while her husband was away. At this time, her divisive lawyer, Gregory Rasputin, grew in power over Russian politics and with the royal Romanov family.
On December 30, 1916, Russian nobles willing to end Rasputin’s influence assassinated him. By that time, most Russians had lost confidence in the czar’s failed leadership. Government corruption was rampant, the Russian economy was stagnant, and Nicholas regularly abolished the Duma, Russia’s toothless parliament formed after the 1905 revolution, when it disagreed with him.
Moderates quickly joined Russian radicals in pushing for the czar’s downfall.
On March 8, 1917, the February Revolution (so-called since Russia’s used the Julian calendar until February 1918) began (on the Julian calendar, February 23).
Protesters demanding bread took to the streets of Petrograd. Protesters clashed with police but refused to evacuate the streets, backed up by large crowds of protesting factory workers.
On March 11, soldiers from the Petrograd army garrison were summoned to put down the uprising. In several clashes, the regiments opened fire, killing protestors, but the protesters remained on the streets and the troops started to back down.
On March 12, the Duma established a temporary government. Czar Nicholas abdicated the throne a few days later, bringing an end to decades of Romanov rule in Russia.
The provisional government’s representatives, including young Russian lawyer Alexander Kerensky, developed a political program of rights like freedom of speech, equality before the law, and the right of unions to unite and strike. They were opposed to a brutal social movement.
As minister of Defense, Kerensky kept the Russian war effort going, despite the fact that Russian involvement in World War I was extremely unpopular. This aggravated Russia’s food security issues. Unrest grew as peasants looted farms and food riots erupted in the towns.
The two sides ruled Russia for several months after that. The Bolsheviks were one of the major forces of the Petrograd Soviet. Vladimir Lenin led them, and they insisted that the new Russian government should be a Marxist (communist) government. In what is known as the Bolshevik Revolution, Lenin took complete control of the government in October 1917.
Russian Civil War
Following the Bolshevik Revolution in late 1917, Russia saw civil war. The Red and White Armies were among the warring factions.
The Red Army struggled for Lenin’s Bolshevik regime. The White Army was a closely aligned coalition of movements that included monarchists, bankers, and proponents of democratic socialism.
The Romanovs were executed by the Bolsheviks on July 16, 1918.
The Russian Civil War came to an end in 1923 when Lenin’s Red Army declared victory and formed the Soviet Union.
Following the revolt, Russia exited World War I by signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany. The new government seized charge of all industries, transforming the Russian economy from an agricultural to an industrial one. It also seized farmland from landholders and distributed it among the peasants. It also took farmland from landowners and allocated it to peasants.
From 1918-1920, Russia was at war between the Bolsheviks (also known as Red Army) and the anti-Bolsheviks (the White Army). The Bolsheviks prevailed, and the new republic was known as the Soviet Union (United Soviet Socialist Republic).
Interesting facts about Russian Revolution
- The Russian Tsar was descended from the Romanov family for 303 years.
- While the February Revolution started on March 8 according to our calendar, it was February 23 on the Russian (Julian) calendar.
- The Bolshevik Revolution is sometimes referred to as the October Revolution.
- The Bolsheviks’ principle figures were Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Leon Trotsky. After Lenin death in 1924, Stalin centralized power and expelled Trotsky.
- On July 17, 1918, Bolsheviks executed Tsar Nicholas II and his whole household.
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