Mass protests in Petrograd
International Women’s Day Protests
Army mutinies, Duma Committee set up
Tsar Nicholas abdicates; Duma Committee establishes Provisional Government
What were the triggers for revolt?
Over the winter of 1916-17, food shortages and unrest among workers caused tensions to increase in the two great cities of Russia: the capital Petrograd and the second city, Moscow.
Short term triggers for revolt
The final event, or ‘trigger’, for revolution was International Women’s Day, on 23 February. Shortage of bread was causing hunger and desperation in many families. Bread shortages were made worse by strikes in some city bakeries, and also by peasants holding onto their grain in the hope of getting better prices for it. It was this shortage of food that brought thousands of women out onto the streets of Petrograd. The demonstration combined with short-term causes to spark revolution.
Short term causes of revolution Feb 1917
The ‘trigger event’ of 23 February 1917 had such a dramatic effect because it accelerated problems that were already occurring. Looking back at the events of that month, we can see that the sequence of events led to the fall of the Tsar: strikes, demonstrations, the Tsar’s absence from the army and mutiny in the army.
Features of the strikes in February 1917.
During the winter, there had been a number of strikes protesting at the declining living standards of workers. This was nothing new: Russia had a history of industrial protests, which often led to clashes with police and soldiers sent by the government to end the strikes. The difference this time is that the strikes occurred at a time when more people than ever were dissatisfied with the government of the Tsar.
On 18 February 1917, another strike, demanding higher wages, started in the huge Putilov Steelworks. The mood of the strikers grew even more challenging when the owners of the steelworks declared a lockout. This meant that they recused to let workers into their place of work and stopped paying them.
January 1917 Demonstration
On 9th January 1917, 150,000 workers had marched in memory of Bloody Sunday (1905) when the Tsar’s soldiers had opened fire on a peaceful demonstration and had killed many.
February demonstrations (1)
Another large demonstration numbering about 80,000 took to the streets on 14 Feb 1917 in support of the Duma and demanding that it influences the Tsar.
February demonstrations (2)
Just over a week later, the crowds of protesting workers were joined by the women protesters on International Women’s Day.
February demonstrations (3)
The mood on the streets was getting more dangerous as it was on the 19th February that the government announced that bread would soon be rationed.
February demonstrations (4)
The demonstrations also increased in size because there was an unexpected improvement in the weather. The winter of 1916 to 17 had been very cold which had caused a lot of suffering to a civilian population that was already short of food and fuel as a result of the war. January and early February had been particularly cold with heavy snow. Railway traffic had been disrupted and Petrograd began to run out of flour for bread and fuel. .
Influence of the weather
Then in late February the temperature rose in an unseasonal way. The mild weather encouraged more people to come out onto the streets of Petrograd to protest.
Number of protesters
Nobody had planned this combination of events - but the large numbers of protesters soon became too much for the police to control. Over the course of two days (23 to 25 Feb) the size of the crowds rose to about 240,000 and there were clashes with the mounted police.
The Tsar’s absence from Petrograd
The Tsar’s government was beginning to lose control of the capital city but the Tsar was miles away. Ever since he had taken over command of the military, he had spent most of his time at army headquarters. This was at Mogilev, which was around 780km away from Petrograd.
What did the Tsar do on 22 February?
Unaware of the crisis that was building in Petrograd, Tsar Nicholas II left the city on February 22nd to go to Mogilev. It was there that he finally received reports that the crowds were taking over the streets in his capital city.
What did the Tsar issue at Mogilev?
From Mogilev, the Tsar issued orders to his police and army in Petrograd that the unrest in the city was to be stopped immediately. It was the evening of 25 February and although the Tsar did not know it, this order was about to cost him his throne.
Mutiny in the army
On the afternoon of 26 Feb, soldiers opened fire on protesters and killed 40 of them. This caused soldiers in other regiments to begin questioning their orders. That evening, some soldiers of the Pavlovsky Guards Regiment refused to obey commands from their officers.
What did the regiment do on 27 February?
The mutiny of the army was quickly put down, but on the next day things suddenly spiralled out of control. On 27th February, the same regiment that had shot the 40 demonstrators decided that it would no longer obey orders to use force against the crowds.
What did other regiments do?
Other regiments soon joined them. They refused to obey orders, and began to give weapons to the crowds on the streets. Many of the soldiers involved were young conscripts, who had recently been called up to join the army, along with more experienced soldiers who were due to be sent back to the front and who were tired of the war.
What did the polce do?
Faced with the crowds of demonstrators on the streets, the police stopped trying to keep order. Worse than this, other soldiers sent into the city from the Petrograd garrison were refusing to fire on the crowd too, and were beginning to mix with the demonstrators.
What happened by the evening of 28 February?
By the evening of 28 Feb, the military commander of Petrograd reported to the Tsar, by telegraph, that revolutionary crowds were taking over all of the railway stations in the city and had seized all artillery supplies to the garrison. He couldn’t use the telephone as control of the telephone exchange (from which land-lines were run) had been lost to the crowds. At this stage, the commander had few soldiers left who would obey the soldiers given to them by their officers.
What were the Duma’s actions?
As things began to fall apart in Petrograd, the members of the duma sent a petition to the Tsar. This asked him to create a cabinet that reflected the different parties represented in the Duma. It also asked him to let the Duma stay in session, as its time of meeting was about to come to an end. Despite all the problems that he was facing, the Tsar refused both of these requests. The Duma had thrown him a life line, but he had refused to take hold of it.
What about the Kadet Party?
One group of Duma members refused to stop meeting; these were members of the Kadet Party and other liberals who hoped to reform Russia. They formed a group called the Duma Committee. Faced with this, the ministers of the Tsar’s government held one last meeting which decided nothing and then many of them left Petrograd.
Military commanders withdraw support for the Tsar
Although the Tsar seemed incapable of decisive action, there were those in the Army High Command who knew that something had to be done in response to the chaos in Petrograd. They had two options.
What were the 2 options?
Option one was a military solution: send in more soldiers and hope they could crush the growing revolt. Option two was a political solution: try to do a deal with the members of the duma and hope that they could put a stop to the disorder.
Which option was picked?
Since they feared that soldiers could no longer be trusted, they decided on option two.
How did the abdication of the Tsar occur?
Tsar Nicholas II was on his way back to Petrograd from Mogilev when he learned that the route to the city was blocked by mutinous troops. Instead, he was diverted to the city of Pskov, where he was met by high ranking army officers and members of the duma. They suggested that, in order to save Russia, the Tsar should abdicate. There was a short discussion and the Tsar agreed. It was an astonishing anti-climax, and reveals how rapidly power had slipped out of the Tsar’s hands.
What happened to the Russian monarchy?
At first Nicholas considered handing over power to his son, the Tsarevich Alexsei. Due to Alexei being a haemophiliac (rare blood disorder), Nicholas instead offered to hand over power to his own brother, Grand Duke Michael. He declined and Russia became a republic. Hundreds of years of Tsarist rule had collapsed in a matter of days. This had not been planned by those who had persuaded the Tsar to abdicate. As with so much in the February Revolution, things just ran out of control and in directions that few could have predicted.
What did the Duma do?
The members of the duma formed themselves into a Provisional Government, which would govern Russia until a general election had taken place and a new government could be formed.
What was the goal of the general election?
Once this election had been held, the people’s representatives, forming a “Constituent Assembly” would then decide what kind of government Russia should have.
Finally, what happened to the Tsar in February?
The Tsar was finally sent to join his family outside Petrograd while the Provisional Government decided what to do with him.
The role of the revolutionary parties in the February Revolution
The surprising thing about the February Revolution is that it owed little to the revolutionary political groups, were caught by surprise by the sudden collapse of the rule of the Tsar. It was a revolution made on the streets, and the revolutionary parties had to run to catch up. Some of the leaders were in prison, some were in exile in Siberia, others in exile abroad. From his exile in Switzerland, Lenin could only follow the events back in Russia in the newspapers - with increasing frustration.
Petrograd and revolutionary parties in February
In Petrograd, it was only as things started to get out of control that some members of the revolutionary political groups helped organise protests - encouraging demonstrators and soldiers to rise up against the government of the Tsar and overthrow it.