Revolutions of 1917:


Their effect in determining the rise of a single-party state in Russia


Russian 99A


“No real social change has ever been brought about without a revolution.... Revolution is but thought carried into action.”[1] The people of Russia were struggling before the period of 1917 with massive discontent, the revolutionary movement, and World War I. Whether the revolution was inevitable, historians can not agree but under these factors, the country was ripe for a political, economic, and social change.


This led to the abdication of Nicholas II in the March Revolution and the rise of a very unstable provisional government. The instability was aided by the two seats of power: the provisional government and the Petrograd Soviet, out of which rose the opposition that would inevitably bring the provisional government down. Returning from exile in April 1917, Lenin, with his party the Bolsheviks, began a strategy of revolution, a complete political change for the starving people of Russia. In November of 1917, the Bolsheviks revolted and began a new political wave of turmoil for Russia. To truly understand why Russia stood on the brink of revolution, the historical background of this dynamic country must be explored. One of the key historical changes that helped to form a revolutionary atmosphere in Russia was the emancipation of the serfs on March 3, 1861 by Alexander II.[2] Basically, the serfs were given land allotments (through a redemption tax) that proved to be inadequate in the long run. The former serfs maintained their stasis as second-class citizens and were denied full access to regular courts. As Russia shifted from a serf-based economy, other reforms were needed to make the economy more stable. In 1864, a local elected government, called zemstvos, was instituted. The zemstvos were given responsibility for matters of education, health and welfare. The second reform to come about after emancipation was the introduction of jury trials, independent judges, and professional lawyers.


These reforms all served to reshape the economy with the new absence of serfdom. Russia began to look toward the west for ideas of industrialization and capitalism and with it came the revolutionary ideology needed to carry out there this achievement. Government began to promote industrialization to help their ailing economy, and this sent the starving peasants into the urban centers in search of work. The jobs gave low wages and the peasants suffered under oppressive condition. While the peasants starved, the rising professional and business classes wanted a Western parliamentary rule because they were unhappy with the long tsarist regime. This unhappiness began the formation of the parties that would run the revolutions of 1917. Populist groups formed in the countryside, and soon joined the radical social workers groups to form the Socialist Revolutionary party. The Marxist Social Democratic Labor party was also established and later split into two factions: the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. Middle class liberals also formed the Constitutional Democratic Party (CADETS). Along with this new political disorder, came numerous loses in the Russo-Japanese war and with it cam the revolution of 1905. There were riots, strikes, and a call for civil liberties from the tsarist regime. The Revolution of 1905 is considered practice for the Revolutions of 1917. Nicholas II reluctantly granted the peasants with a range of civil liberties but not enough to satisfy their hungry desire for liberty.[3]


As the final stroke of unhappiness, Russia entered into World War I, already economically and politically unstable. The entrance into WWI caused all land reform to be suspended and new political restrictions were imposed. This came just shortly before the gaining of some civil liberties from Nicholas II. Russia proved to be rather unsuccessful and numerous losses lead to food shortages throughout the country. WWI paid a heavy toll on Russia, producing a breakdown of the standing social and political systems. Food riots were staged in Petrograd on March 8, 1917, and the Petrograd Soviet of workers and Soldiers Deputies demanded that Nicholas II step down and allow the parliamentary government to assume power. Nicholas II stepped down and with him came the end of the long 300-year tsarist regime.


The provisional government that rose in Russia was generally accepted worldwide. The power of the provisional government rested in the hands of leaders Prince Georgii Lvov, Miliukov, and Kerenskii. The