Monday, February 24, 2014

RUSSIAN REVOLUTION ~ February 24, 1917

The Russian Revolution is the collective term for the series of revolutions in Russia in 1917, which destroyed the Tsarist autocracy and led to the creation of the Soviet Union. In the first revolution of February 1917 (March in the Gregorian calendar) the Tsar was deposed and replaced by a Provisional government. In the second revolution of October that year the Provisional Government was removed and replaced with a Bolshevik (Communist) government.

The February Revolution (March 1917) was a revolution focused around St Petersburg. In the chaos, members of the Imperial parliament or Duma assumed control of the country, forming the Russian Provisional Government. The army leadership felt they did not have the means to suppress the revolution and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, the last Tsar of Russia, abdicated, effectively leaving the Provisional Government in power. The Soviets (workers' councils) which were led by more radical socialist factions initially permitted the Provisional government to rule, but insisted on a perogative to influence the government and control various militias. The February Revolution took place in the context of heavy military setbacks during the First World War, which left much of the army in a state of mutiny.

This revolution broke out without definite leadership and formal plans, which may be seen as indicative of the fact that the Russian people had had quite enough of the existing system. St Petersburg the capital, became the focus of attention, and, on 23 February (8 March) 1917, people at the food queues started a demonstration. They were soon joined by many thousands of women textile workers, who walked out of their factories—partly in commemoration of International Women's Day but mainly to protest against the severe shortages of bread. Already, large numbers of men and women were on strike, and the women stopped at any still-operating factories to call on their workers to join them.

The mobs marched through the streets, with cries of "Bread!" and "Give us bread!" During the next two days, the strike, encouraged by the efforts of hundreds of rank-and-file socialist activists, spread to factories and shops throughout the capital. By 25 February, virtually every industrial enterprise in had St Petersburg been shut down, together with many commercial and service enterprises. Students, white-collar workers and teachers joined the workers in the streets and at public meetings, whilst, in the still-active Duma, liberal and socialist deputies came to realise a potentially-massive problem. They presently denounced the current government even more vehemently and demanded a responsible cabinet of ministers. The Duma, consisting primarily of the bourgeoise, pressed the Tsar to abdicate in order to avert a revolution.

On the evening of Saturday the 25th, with police having lost control of the situation, Nicholas II, who refused to believe the warnings about the seriousness of these events, sent a fateful telegram to the chief of the St Petersburg military district, General Sergei Khabalov: "I command you tomorrow to stop the disorders in the capital, which are unacceptable in the difficult time of war with Germany and Austria." Most of the soldiers obeyed these orders on the 26th, but mutinies, often led by lower-ranked officers, spread overnight. On the morning of the 27th, workers in the streets, many of them now armed, were joined by soldiers, sent in by the government to quell the riots. Many of these soldiers were insurgents, however, and they joined the crowd and fired on the police, in many cases little red ribbons tied to their bayonets. The outnumbered police then proceeded to join the army and civilians in their rampage. Thus, with this near-total disintegration of military power in the capital, effective civil authority collapsed.

By nighttime on the 27th, the cabinet submitted its resignation to the Tsar and proposed a temporary military dictatorship, but Russia's military leaders rejected this course. Nicholas, meanwhile, had been on the front with the soldiers, where he had seen first-hand Russia's defeat at Tannenberg. He had become very frustuated and was conscious of the fact that the demonstrations were on a massive scale; indeed, he feared for his life. The ill health of his son (suffering from the blood disorder hemophilia) was causing him difficulties, too.

Nicholas accepted defeat at last and abdicated on 13 March, hoping, by this last act of service to his nation (as he stated in his manifesto), to end the disorders and bring unity to Russia. In the wake of this collapse of the 300-year-old Romanov dynasty—Nicholas's brother, to whom he subsequently offered the crown, refused to become Tsar unless that was the decision of an elected government; he wanted the people to want him as their leader—a minority of the Duma's deputies declared themselves a Provisional Government, chaired by Prince Lvov, a moderate reformist, although leadership moved gradually to Alexander Kerensky of the Social Revolutionary Party.

Image & text:

When my brother Sherry (Sheridan) was a student at Princeton in the early 1960's, he had an interview with Alexander Kerensky living in exile in New York.

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