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The February (March New Style) Russian Revolution

%i1%La Domenica del Corriere%i0% (The Sunday Courier) of March 25 to April 1, 1917, an illustrated weekly supplement to Corriere della Sera, published in Milan, Italy. The front and back covers are full-page illustrations by the great Italian illustrator Achille Beltrame. The front cover depicts Russian troops cheering the deputies entering the Duma after what the paper calls, 'the Russian revolt for freedom and the war.' The secondary story was on the fall of Baghdad to British troops.
Text:
a Domenica del Corriere
25 Marzo - 1 Aprile 1917.
L'insurrezione russa per la libertà e la guerra. Le truppe acclamano i deputati che entrano alla Duma.
The Russian revolt for freedom and the war. The troops cheer the deputies entering the Duma.

La Domenica del Corriere (The Sunday Courier) of March 25 to April 1, 1917, an illustrated weekly supplement to Corriere della Sera, published in Milan, Italy. The front and back covers are full-page illustrations by the great Italian illustrator Achille Beltrame. The front cover depicts Russian troops cheering the deputies entering the Duma after what the paper calls, 'the Russian revolt for freedom and the war.' The secondary story was on the fall of Baghdad to British troops.

Image text

a Domenica del Corriere

25 Marzo - 1 Aprile 1917.

L'insurrezione russa per la libertà e la guerra. Le truppe acclamano i deputati che entrano alla Duma.

The Russian revolt for freedom and the war. The troops cheer the deputies entering the Duma.

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February (Old Style) / March (New Style), 1917

Russia

March, 1917 (The February Revolution)

At the end of 1916, Rasputin had been assassinated in Petrograd by a conspiracy of nobles and monarchists including the husband of the Tsar's niece, a cousin of the Tsar, and right-wing members of the Duma. Tsar Nicholas, already isolated, retreated further from the public and from political life. Within the army discipline had been breaking down after the 1916 Brusilov Offensive, and strikers and demonstrators had taken to the streets in Petrograd, Russia's capital.

Demonstrations, the Duma, and the Petrograd Soviet

On March 3, 1917 (February 18, old style), workers struck at the Putilev factory, one of the largest in the capital. March 8 (February 23) was 'Women's Day', and women factory workers joined the men already on strike. The previous night, the women had adopted two slogans for the march, 'Down with autocracy' and 'Down with the war', but they marched singing 'Give us bread.' Some bakeries were looted during the demonstration, but authorities managed to keep most marchers from the city center, preventing them from crossing the bridges over the Neva River that runs through the city. Returning the next day in greater numbers, the marchers reached the city center, this time largely unopposed by the authorities. Cossack troops, the last line of defense for the government, would not fire on the protesters, and in some instances rode among them singly or in small groups. A three-day general strike was called, to end on March 13. Accommodating the demonstrators' schedule, on the 10th the Military Governor of Petrograd ordered the workers back to work on the 13th.

On Sunday March 11, the demonstration continued to chants of 'Down with the German woman,' the German-born Tsaritsa who was widely felt to be sympathetic to Germany if not actively working for it. On Nevsky Prospekt the marchers were met by soldiers of the Volinsk Regiment who, when ordered to fire on the crowd, instead fired into the air. Later in the day, soldiers elsewhere in the city fired into the crowd, killing 60. The demonstration became violent, and by nightfall, police stations had been attacked, prisoners had been released from jail, court documents had been seized and thrown into the Neva, fires had been set, and a company of the Pavlovsky regiment had mutinied and killed its colonel.

On March 11, Nicholas, ordered troops to Petrograd and the disbanding of the Duma. The Volinsk Regiment came out for the demonstrators and on March 12, led by its regimental band, paraded to the barracks of two other regiments, both of which joined the revolution. By day's end, all but two thousand soldiers of the city's military units, other than the as-yet neutral Cossacks, joined the revolutionary regiments. Chaos continued through the day with the headquarters of the Okhrana, the Tsar's secret police, pillaged, the city arsenal overrun and its weapons taken, and the Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul, a prison and strong point in the city, broken into.

A steamer flying the Russian flag passes before the Winter Palace on the Neva River, St. Petersburg, Russia. The card was posted in St. Petersburg December 21, 1913.

At the Tauride Palace the Duma had been debating as the chaos had spread, and it was to the Duma and its representatives the mutinous soldiers now turned, massing in its courtyard, and forcing it to act. By the end of the day, a group of moderates led by the Cadets, but including the Socialist Alexander Kerensky, formed an Emergency Committee of the Duma. At the same time, Socialists, Social Democrats, Social Revolutionaries, Mensheviks, and Bolsheviks followed the model of the 1905 Revolution and formed a soviet, asking factories and barracks to send representatives. When the Soviet met that night — in the same Tauride Palace as the Duma — fifty workers and twenty soldiers took part. By the end of the night, they had formed an Executive Committee of the Soviet.

The Duma and the Soviet would rule jointly in the coming months, the Duma supported from the right, the Soviet from the left, but the Soviet had greater support in and control of the Army. Both the Duma and the Soviet feared that Tsar Nicholas would rally support to end the revolution, leading the latter to create a workers' militia. To prevent any troop movement against the capital and the new government, a right-wing representative telegraphed all railway stations to announce the Duma had taken power, and called on railway workers to block all troop movements within 250 versts of Petrograds. This would be, for much of Russia, the first word of the Petrograd revolt.

The End of Tsarism

By March 14, a mutiny of 660 soldiers on the 11th had grown to one of 170,000. On the morning of the 15th, the Duma agreed on a cabinet to lead the new government, with Price Lvov as Prime Minister. The Ministers and the Soviet Executive Committee met, agreeing on freedoms of the press and minorities, and that the Tsar must abdicate. The Soviet issued Order Number One, democratizing the Army and providing amnesty for deserters. The order made all military units subject to committees created by the soldiers and sailors, and ultimately to the Soviet. The same day, the 15th, representatives of the Duma set out to secure the Tsar's abdication.

Tsar Nicholas had previously requested military units sufficient to support a return to the capital, but only a battalion of the units he had ordered to take back the city had come to his aid. When he set out for the capital, railway workers responded to the revolutionary government's request for support by diverting the Tsar's train to Pskov, a city on the northern front 350km from Petrograd. It was there that he met with the Duma's representatives. After confirming with his doctor that his son's hemophilia would never be cured, Nicholas changed the papers from the Duma to abdicate in favor of his brother, the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, rather than to his son. When Grand Duke Michael abdicated on March 16, Tsarism ended.

Revolution and War

Prince Lvov's government remained committed to continuing the war, and hoped, as did the Allies, the revolution would follow the model of the French Revolution more than a century before, and that the soldiers would rally to the nation and the government.

But the army and its command structure was disintegrating, with officers being replaced by election, and soldiers no longer required to salute officers off duty, and sometimes refusing to do so when on. Order Number One had democratized the Army, and offered Amnesty for deserters. On Easter, April 15, 1917, Russian and Central Power troops fraternized along the front. With amnesty in hand, land available at home, and few to stop them, one million soldiers left the front to return home to share in the fruits of the revolution. Chaos spread from the war front to the home front as these men spread across the country, and as workers refused to run trains or produce munitions. Content to see how events played out, Germany ceased military operations against Russia.

Parted red curtains; in the center, in a trench, a German soldier, eyes closed, hands in overcoat pockets, leans against one side of a trench, smoking a pipe, his rifle resting on the other side of the trench. To the right, a Red soldier, red from red fur hat to red boots, holds two rifles. To the left, a Russian soldier casts away his his hat, backpack, and rifle. Across the bottom of the stage it reads, 1918. Operett: "Trockij", Operetta Trotsky. A watercolor postcard by Schima Martos.

Soviets were formed in Moscow and other cities, in factories, and in military units. Non-Russian states including Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Siberia called for autonomy or independence.

Neither the Duma nor the Petrograd Soviet had legal authority to rule the country, but France, Britain, and Italy soon recognized the Provisional Government, as did the United States where President Woodrow Wilson spoke positively of the events in Russia in his April 2, 1917 address to Congress calling for a declaration of War against the Central Powers.

On April 16, Vladimir Lenin, head of the Bolshevik party, and other revolutionary exiles living in neutral Switzerland, struck a deal with the German General Staff to deliver them from Switzerland to Russia. The group, primarily Bolsheviks but including Mensheviks and others, arrived in Petrograd, having traveled from Switzerland to neutral Sweden in a sealed German train. Arriving at Petrograd's Finland Station, Lenin received a hero's welcome from a huge crowd, and was paraded through the streets to Bolshevik headquarters. Other revolutionaries, including Leon Trotsky, who had been working in New York as a film actor, returned to Russia or from internal exile.

Russia's Last Offensive

On May 1, Milyukov, the Provisional Government's Foreign Minister, notified the Allies that Russia recognized its obligations to them, and that she would fight on. Soldiers and other protesters opposed to the war gathered at the Mariinsky Palace, the government seat, to force Milyukov out. In the coming days, their demand was met. The Minister of War resigned and Alexander Kerensky took his place, moving from Justice Minister.

In the coming months, only the Bolsheviks, particularly Lenin, and sometimes he held the position nearly alone, consistently opposed the war, as other parties and leaders argued to continue it, and to execute the plan for coordinated Allied offensives. As Minister of War, Kerensky launched his own offensive on July 1, 1917, a drive in Galicia towards the Austro-Hungarian fortress city of Lemberg, under the command of General Alexsei Brusilov, now army chief of staff. The Russians drove back the Austro-Hungarian troops initially and in a renewed attack on the 6th, but a counter-attack on July 19, 1917 under Generals Bothmer commanding German forces and Kövess leading Austro-Hungarians, defeated the Russians. By August 3, the demoralized Russians were driven from Galicia along a front extending from Poland into Romania with a loss of 40,000 killed. The offensive was the last major Russian initiative of the war. The Central Powers were victorious but Austria-Hungary had reason for concern: some Czech and Slovak POWs, Austro-Hungarian citizens and soldiers, fought alongside the Russians.

Subsequent events: The Bolshevik Revolution.

1917-03-11

1917-07-15

Events contemporaneous with The February (March New Style) Russian Revolution

Start Date End Date View
1917-02-24 1917-03-18 Operation Alberich