Table of Contents
Section 5
World War One and the Destruction of the Old Order

The Two Revolutions of 1917

The March Revolution

Severe food shortages due to the war effort began causing major problems for the common people of Russia. As starvation claimed the lives of poor people, the duma began to publicly accuse the Tsar of destroying the country. Workers began strikes and riots against the government as a protest to the war and how it was being fought. Troops were called in to stop the riots and were ordered to fire upon the workers. Instead of firing upon the workers, they joined them in the protest against the war and therefore the Tsar.

The Tsar attempted to return to St Petersburg to take control of the situation, but the duma announced that they did not recognize the leadership of the Tsar any longer. They also announced the formation of a Provisional (temporary) Government to run the country in the absence of the Tsar. Nicholas II was shocked by the reaction of his people and was crushed by their lack of support. He abdicated the throne on 15 March 1917.

The Provisional Government

The new government of Russia immediately tried to fix the major problems facing the country. They promised the suffering peasants that they could own their land, and that all would be free to enjoy the new prospects of Russia. The new government had good intentions, but did not have experience in running a large country.

Furthermore, the Provisional Government announced that the war against Germany and Austria-Hungary must continue. Western Russia was under the occupation of the advancing German Army and had to be stopped. All reforms to the Russian system were to be placed on hold until the enemy was defeated. This decision was soon to become the downfall of the government, as the people did not want to wait.

During this time of confusion within Russia, many former exiles returned to carry out changes to the system. One of the major players to return from Switzerland was Vladimir Lenin. Lenin was brought to Russia by the German army in a sealed railcar. They wanted him to undermine the Russian war effort. They never believed that he would be able to seize power and change the history of Europe.

The November (October) Revolution

Under the leadership of Lenin, the Bolshevik party gained strong support from the workers and soldiers inside the city of St Petersburg. As Leninís support grew, the Provisional Government suffered further defeats at the hands of the German Army. In addition, major plots against the government by socialist and supporters of the Tsar began to erode its power.

On the night of 7 November 1917, Lenin made his move to seize power. The Bolsheviks surrounded the Winter Palace where the Provisional Government was meeting and arrested everyone. As well, Bolshevik supporters seized the power stations and centers of communication. Leninís party immediately moved into the government offices and began to issue orders to run the country. Russian historians have described this series of events as the October Revolution. This can cause confusion because Russia used the Julian calendar, so what the rest of Europe calls November, they call October.

The job of seizing control of the government was relativity easy one for Lenin. The difficult task of trying to unite and run a large country like Russia was to prove to be something much more difficult.