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Russia in February 1917


Russia February revolution
Russia February revolution

In February 1917 socialists organized mass protest rallies in Petrograd (as Saint Petersburg had been renamed after the outbreak of war in 1914). These protests took place on February 23, International Women’s Day, rallying women workers to demand bread, peace, and liberty. But, as a contemporary police report stated, the women workers “got out of hand.” They attracted the support of large numbers of male workers as well. The police proved unable to contain the growing and increasingly volatile protests. Soon 385,000 workers were on strike, and many engaged in confrontations with the police in the streets.

Troops were brought in, but they proved unable to quell the disturbances that engulfed the city over the next five days. In fact, the bulk of the soldiers, who were largely peasants in uniform, joined the insurgency. Consequently, a demand for land reform—to break up the large estates of the nobles and distribute the land among landless peasants—also became a major revolutionary demand. The workers and soldiers organized a growing network of soviets to coordinate their efforts and to establish control throughout the city.

On February 28 the last of the troops loyal to the tsar surrendered, revolutionary soldiers arrested the tsar’s ministers, and the tsar abdicated on behalf of himself and his son. Nicholas II wanted his brother, Grand Duke Michael, to assume the throne. Fearing the implications of the revolutionary upheaval, moderate politicians of the Duma urged Michael to do so. However, the grand duke recognized the popular hostility to the monarchy and declined. At this point the Duma moderates, hoping to thwart the coming to power of what one of them called “the scoundrels in the factories,” established a government that became known as the Provisional Government. The Provisional Government was made up of the same liberal leaders who had organized the progressive bloc in the Duma in 1915, as well as some moderate socialists.

The prime minister, Prince Georgy Y. Lvov, was a wealthy landowner and a member of the Cadets, who favored an immediate constitutional monarchy and ultimately a republic. Lvov was largely a figurehead; the outstanding personality in the Provisional Government until early May was Pavel N. Milyukov, minister of foreign affairs and the strongest leader of the Cadets since its founding in 1905. He played the principal role in formulating policy. The most prominent of the moderate socialists was Aleksandr F. Kerensky, the minister of justice, who was associated with the SRs and had been the leader of the Trudovik (laborite) faction in the Duma. At this time the now powerful soviets of the working-class districts were under the control of Mensheviks and SRs, and they mobilized popular support for the new coalition regime.

Prince Georgy Y. Lvov
Prince Georgy Y. Lvov

The collapse of the tsarist regime thus left in its wake two centers of political authority: (1) the traditional politicians of the Provisional Government, who had little control over the people, and (2) the democratically elected soviets, which exercised more political power owing to support from the great majority of workers and soldiers. This system of dual power proved to be unstable. The instability grew as the moderate politicians proved increasingly unable to meet the rising expectations of the laboring masses.

The Provisional Government declared an end to tsarist repression and established full civil liberties. It also promised early democratic elections for a Constituent Assembly, which would decide the future structure and policies of Russia’s government. At the same time, the new regime dodged the questions of land reform, relieving the workers’ economic distress, and ending Russia’s involvement in World War I. In Petrograd the network of soviets quickly reorganized itself as a single soviet, a representative body of deputies elected by the workers and soldiers of the city. The Petrograd soviet immediately appointed a commission to cope with the problem of ensuring a food supply for the capital, placed detachments of revolutionary soldiers in the government offices, and ordered the release of thousands of political prisoners.

On February 28 the soviet ordered the arrest of Nicholas's ministers and began publishing an official organ, Izvestia (Russian for 'the facts'). On March 1 it issued its famous Order No. 1. By the terms of this order, the soldiers of the army and the sailors of the fleet were to submit to the authority of the soviet and its committees in all political matters. They were to obey only those orders that did not conflict with the directives of the soviet, and they were to elect committees that would exercise exclusive control over all weapons. Also, they were to observe strict military discipline on duty, but harsh and contemptuous treatment by the officers was forbidden. Disputes between soldiers' committees and officers were to be referred to the soviet for disposition; off-duty soldiers and sailors were to enjoy full civil and political rights; and saluting of officers was abolished. Subsequent efforts by the soviet to limit and nullify its own Order No. 1 were unavailing, and that order continued in force. "Russia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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