The year 1917 saw Russia partake in two revolutions; each played a significantly important role in the progression of world history. The first revolution in February overthrew the monarchy. It was commonly known as the ‘February Revolution’. The February Revolution involved a series of uprisings by workers and peasants throughout the country and by soldiers, who were predominantly of peasant origin, in the Russian army. Councils known as ‘Soviets’ led many of the uprisings; ultimately, they led to Tsar Nicholas II’s downfall and the setting up of a ‘Provisional Government’ (who were basically the old Duma). The second revolution of 1917 took place in October. It was known as the ‘Bolshevik Revolution’ and it created the world’s first communist state. The goal of those who carried out the second revolution was the creation of social equality and economic democracy in Russia.
The February Revolution was due to various long-term causes of the Tsars rule. In 1904 the Tsar, in an attempt to regain the loyalty of his people and to show the might of his country, waged war on Japan. Unfortunately the war did not have the outcome the Tsar expected. Russia lost. Russia’s defeat by Japan caused the army and the people of the country humiliation and made them discontent with Tsar Nicholas’ rule. The peasants, urban workers, and middle class were sections of society Nicholas II struggled to deal with appropriately. The peasants remained poor and hungry for land, urban workers were alienated and dissatisfied, and the middle class were doing well and wanted to be more involved in local and national government, but were not allowed to take part in it.
The country was industrializing fast. The Tsar failed to acknowledge this proving that the autocratic nature of his regime and its unwillingness/inability to modernize to suit Russian society was the foundation of his downfall and the revolution. An uprising in 1905 forced the Tsar to make concessions (i.e. the Duma, however, Tsar could overrule any decisions made by it. He maintained ultimate authority). All these factors contributed to the eventual downfall of the monarchy and the February Revolution.
World War I was the main contributory short-term aspect that sparked the February Revolution. Defeats in the war hit the morale of the army, soldiers became more and more increasingly reluctant to fight. The Tsar’s decision to take control of the Russian army in September 1915 was a huge mistake. He was personally blamed for the army’s defeats. When gone he had put the Tsarina and Rasputin in charge of Russia. This damaged his credibility; the Tsarina and Rasputin removed able ministers from government and replaced them with friends. The Tsar refused to let the Duma govern while he was gone which further caused problems with his ‘public image’.
By the middle of the war the middle class came to the realization that the government was incompetent and plead for a more representative government. The war left a devastating economic impact on the countries cities. Inflation, unemployment, and shortages of food, fuel, and raw materials were but a few of these impacts. The peasants were hit by a loss of animals to the army and a loss of sons in the war. At this point almost all support for the Tsar had depleted and revolution was the best alternative. Hence, in February of 1917 the Russian public launched the February Revolution. The revolution removed the countries monarchy and set up a representative government known as the ‘Provisional Government’.
Russia’s second revolution, the ‘ Bolshevik Revolution’ was quick to follow. After the resignation of the Tsar Russia came under dual government. Government by dual authority was unsteady. The Provisional Government had limited support and was liberal, whereas the Petrograd Soviet (the second ruling body) had widespread support by Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries. The Provisional Government did not induce changes people expected (i.e. didn’t give land to peasants because they were worried about more chaos & they did not want to alienate the landowners). They did not stop the war because they wanted to keep the support of the allies. This was beneficial in the long-term for a new democracy. However, the Russian people did not see this. Their only sentiments went towards their men dying in the war. Within 6 weeks of the provisional government taking power they were under pressure because of the resignation of two leading war ministers. This did not help in that the masses saw this as a weakness of the government. After the June offensive of World War I the people of Petrograd led by Bolsheviks, Kronstadt sailors, and soldiers led a series of uprisings known as the July Days.
This was a clear demonstration of the disillusionment felt by the people. When empathizing with them one can see them asking, ” Why get rid of the Tsar only to continue fighting and queuing for bread”. In the meanwhile the support for Lenin’s Bolshevik party grew. His simple answer to the nations problems, ‘ Peace, Bread, Land’, appealed to the people. The continuation of the Provisional Governments saw Kornilov (the commander of the Army) trying to takeover Petrograd in September. Kerensky (the head of the Provisional Government) called on the Bolsheviks to help him keep Petrograd. He gave them arms and released them from prison. They in return saved the countries capital. The Bolsheviks impressed the public. Lenin, realizing this, quickly initiated a revolution, which came to be a success. He had answered the peoples’ prayers. Lenin knew that if he were to have waited longer Bolshevik support would have died down and the revolution would never have been achieved.
Historiographers view the Bolshevik Revolution in three different ways. The Soviet interpretation follows the traditional Marxist View that this was an uprising of the people (orthodox). The revisionist view of the revolution, mainly developed by a man known as Volkogonov, was that it took place only due to Lenin and his intuition. The Post-Revisionist view of this revolution was that it was not determined by social processes (i.e. Marx’s Theory), but instead it was due to the role of individuals and politics.
In conclusion, long/short -term causes constituted to the downfall of the Russian monarchy and peoples dissatisfaction with the provisional government were the root of the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.