| Tomorrow is a mystery,|
but yesterday is
|Wie es eigentlich gewesen|
The February Revolution of 1917 was a disorganised series of protests and demonstrations in Russia which ultimately led to the downfall of the Russian Tsarist Dynasty of Romanov, which had ruled Russia since 1613.
The revolution was largely a spontaneous combination of demonstrations against Tsar Nicholas II and his administration in the last week of February 1917. Russia had been fighting in World War One against Germany since 1914, and the shortages of food, military supplies, public war weariness and strain on the economy was causing discontent amongst the Russian public.
On 22nd February, workers at the Putilov plant (Petrograd's largest industrial plant) announced a strike. The striking atmosphere spread to other plants across Petrograd and over the following days brought the capital to a standstill.
The next day, celebrants of International Women's Day joined in with the protesters. The women workers were angry about the food rationing, the war, and the tsars, and so they went on strike for "Bread and Peace." With the rallying of the women, the protest swelled to hundreds of thousands of people. Over the next two days, almost every industrial enterprise in Petrograd had been shut down.
“”23 February (8th March) was International Woman’s Day and meetings and actions were foreseen. But we did not imagine that this ‘Women’s Day’ would inaugurate the revolution. Revolutionary actions were foreseen but without date. But in morning, despite the orders to the contrary, textile workers left their work in several factories and sent delegates to ask for support of the strike… which led to mass strike... all went out into the streets.
On 25th February, Tsar Nicholas II ordered Petrograd's garrison commander, General Sergei Khablov, to stop the uprising and authorized opening fire on the protesters. Khablov had around 180,000 troops under his command, but most were ill-trained recruits or reservists and there was a shortage of officers, resulting in low discipline and morale. Due to the large numbers of women in the crowds, the soldiers were reluctant to pull the trigger. When the Tsar ordered his army to quell the uprising with force, soldiers began to mutiny and join the protest. Army commanders and the police became targets and the mutineers seized the Petrograd arsenal and stole tens of thousands of rifles to arm the civilian protesters. As the sun set on February 27th, the protesting revolutionaries had secured the city, razed government buildings, freed prisoners, and had the remaining military officers cowering in the Petrograd Admiralty building. Over 1,300 people lost their lives during the five days of protesting.
Tsar Nicholas II returned to Petrograd on 1st March to calls of abdication from his remaining staff in the capital. Nicholas II resigned on March 2nd, ending the 304-year-old Romanov dynasty. He and his family were then placed under house arrest, being moved several times (both by the Provisional Government and then the Bolsheviks) until they were executed by the latter on the 17th of July 1918 as White Russian forces approached.
A Provisional Government was formed in Petrograd in the wake of the revolution - a government which largely comprised former Tsarist officials who had refused a direct order from Nicholas II to dissolve parliament in the first few days of the demonstrations.
The weakness of the Provisional Government due to its lack of political legitimacy and failure to address the needs of the nation ultimately led to the success of the October Revolution later that year. A major cause of the downfall of the Provisional government was its choice to continue the war with Germany when the people's will for war was long past exhausted.
- At least according to the Russian Empire's Julian calendar; according to the Gregorian calendar, it was actually the second week of March.
- United Nations "History of International Women's Day"
- Archive, World March of Women Leon Trotsky, "History of the Russian Revolution"
- History Channel "This Day in History: February Revolution begins in Russia"