The February revolution took place from 23 February to 3 March according to the Julian calendar, or 8-16 March according to the Gregorian, or current calendar, in Russia. Either way, the centennial of this revolution is upon us.
This was a spontaneous rising that marked a convergence of factors. Since the revolution took place there have been numerous theories as to what was the most important cause but most can agree on a list of causes:
- War weariness
- Poor conditions on the home front due to war
- Food shortages
- Dissatisfaction with Tsarina Alexandra’s governance of Russia
- Nicholas II’s decision to go to become commander in chief
- Poor transportation
- Limited harvests
- Lack of political representation
- October Manifesto never truly implemented
- Rise of political dissent and spread of political ideas
On 2 March, 1917 the Tsar abdicated and left Russia a de facto republic. The Provisional Government was an interim government that was intended to help Russia stabilize so that elections could be held and the government could be selected, an action that proved to be far more difficult than its original members thought it would be.
Nicholas II’s decision to abdicate ended three hundred years of Romanov rule and left a power vacuum that the more democratic elements in Russian society were less capable of filling. The spontaneous actions of the workers and soldiers in Petrograd demonstrated the power that the lower classes had but the lack of leadership provided opportunity for anyone with organizational skills, charisma and a message that appealed to the people who had been previously unrepresented. In February who that would be was completely unknown.
The Petrograd Soviet of 1905 was reformed to reflect the new reality: it was now a council that represented the workers and soldiers, and presented demands to the Provisional Government on behalf of those soldiers whose decisions led to the revolution. Order #1 was an equalizer designed to protect and empower the soldiers. The Provisional Government did not dare challenge its authority.
This revolution was watched not just by Russians but by the world. The outcome of this revolution would have ramifications for the continuing war. Russia’s allies hoped that she would remain in the war; the Central Powers hoped for the opposite, and the Germans sought to escalate the situation by funding Russian radicals such as VI Lenin so that Russia would exit the war.
This was the beginning of a period of uncertainty and change; the outcome was completely unclear, but the revolution that toppled a dynasty also led to a new political system, civil war and a massive shift in international relations. And it all began 100 years ago …