The Russian Revolution


The Russian Revolution of February 1917 was a huge turning point for Russia and even the world. The revolution began in Petrograd as a workers? revolt in response to bread shortages, and was aimed at the Tsarist system because it was believed that the government was hoarding the bread in order to drive up prices. However a workers? revolt, by itself, is very unlikely to result in the removal of the Tsar, and a critical phase of the revolution was the mutiny of the Petrograd garrison, and the loss of control over Petrograd that the Tsar experienced. Marxist historians have grossly exaggerated the extent of political involvement in the revolution, and it would be fair to say that only at a very late stage of the revolution did socialist political parties become involved. The Tsarist system fell for many reasons: the war against Germany meant that troops could not be deployed in force against the revolutionaries; the Tsar underestimated the extent of the revolts in Petrograd until it was too late, and the Tsar was convinced by his generals that only the Duma could deal with the situation. All of these events were necessary to bring down an autocratic system, which was centuries old, and taken very seriously by Russian people.

The revolution began as a peaceful bread protest on International Womens? Day. There was a bread shortage, not because the harvest was low, but because the railway system had become overloaded because of the war, and was unable to supply the northern cities with grain. In mid-February it was felt that ?only ten days supply of flour remained in Petrograd?. (Source A) The army recruited skilled laborers while the rail network was divided into sections, which were controlled by civil government and by the military. This, as well as the general belief that the government was hoarding bread in order to drive up prices, meant that the anger of the demonstration was not directed against the peasants for being incapable of producing enough food, but was aimed against the Tsarist regime because of its inability to distribute this food. The frustrated townspeople began to transform into an unruly mob because ?their protest had the support of demonstrations by the more militant Petrograd factory workers.? Textile laborers, as well as workers in the Putilov steel works, went on strike, and the crowds swelled from 100,000 on the first day on protest; February 23, to over 200,000 three days later.
It would not be true to describe the protests as purely a ?workers revolt?. The majority of the people involved in the revolt were just spectators who would cheer on mutinous soldiers. On the other hand, it would be fair to say that the workers played a key role with their demonstrations and were especially active in the violent aspects of the uprising. Basically, the protest took the form of a peasant riot, as acts of violence from the crowds became commonplace.

To turn a mass-demonstration into a full-blown revolution required more than just workers protesting in the streets; it required the government to lose control in the city of Petrograd. This occurred as a result of the mutiny of troops from the Petrograd garrison in response to a massacre in Znamenskii Square, which was a popular gathering place for political rallies, where troops of the Pavlovskii Guard Regiment fired upon a crowd that failed to disperse. About forty civilians were killed in the massacre, which enraged members of the Petrograd garrison into mutiny. But even though there had been a major power transfer to the workers, a revolution was hardly inevitable as the mutineers were described as a leaderless rabble, who when threatened, instantly panicked and ran for cover. It was inaction from the Tsar that transformed a minor rebellion into a revolution.

The revolt needed some sort of organization if it was to be successful. Unfortunately for the political parties that had most to gain from the revolt, many of their leaders were in exile. Most of the socialist parties had no expectation of a revolution, as Lenin had predicted in January that ?we older men perhaps will not live to see the coming revolution.? (Source A) Even Sergei Mstislavsky, a Social Revolutionary leader, admitted ?the revolution found us, the party members, in our sleep.? (Source B) So there was relatively little political involvement in the early stages of