- The Russian Revolution of 1917 ended up centuries of czarist rule in Russia.
- It led to violence, ending Russia’s rule under the Romanov dynasty.
- The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, seized power and overthrew centuries-long traditions of Russia’s rule.
The Russian Revolution resulted from a long period of oppression and unrest.
In Russia, the government of the czars has been very bad to the people. It has been mighty and hurt people without caring.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Russian student revolutionaries assassinated Alexander II, angry with how slow political change was and wanted to do something about it. He was a czar who wished to reform.
His son Alexander III took the throne. He censored letters and books. The czar’s secret police watched universities and high schools. Political prisoners were exiled to Siberia.
To make culture the same, Alexander III made Russian the official language of Russia. He also said that schools could not use other languages like Polish.
Alexander made Jews his particular target. This led to a wave of violence in which Russians looted and destroyed Jewish homes and synagogues.
When Nicolas II became czar, he tried to make Russia more like other industrialized countries. He passed laws that made workers work for long hours and give their whole paycheck to the company that they work for.
Workers in factories and railway lines began striking as the gap between rich and poor people widened.
In Russia, many people were unhappy and did not like the government. They wanted to change it. Different groups of people did this in different ways: some peaceful, some using violence.
Bolshevism is a movement in Russia that started in Russia. It was created by Russian people who were Marxists.
The group followed Karl Marx’s ideas. He said that the industrial class of workers could overthrow the rich. The workers would then be in power.
Bolsheviks wanted to change Russia. They took over the country. Lenin started it. He was a leader and had a lot of followers.
On Sunday, January 9, 1905, over 100,000 peaceful people marched through the center of St. Petersburg and then went to see the Czar’s Winter Palace.
The czar was not in town that day, but the people were not aware. They asked for the czar to come and present their petition to him.
The police followed their standing orders because they wanted to get rid of any problems. They tried to solve the problem by opening fire on the crowd, including women and children.
Many people died because they were trampled when there was panic. We don’t know how many people died in total, but it was probably several thousand. This became known as Bloody Sunday.
Afterwards, Russia had a lot of chaotic things happen. There were demonstrations, riots, and more.
The Russian Duma
Nicholas II was never able to regain his standing after many disasters and political failures.
First, Russia lost a war against Japan.
The czar gave in to pressure from other politicians and made Russia have a Constitution and Russia’s first parliament (Duma).
The first Duma wanted Russia to become like Britain. Some people were not happy about this. So the czar dissolved it after 10 weeks. None of the other Dumas that existed could make reforms.
Prince Nicholas and his wife Alexandra had a son who was sick. The Queen wanted help, so she talked to an older man named Rasputin. He was a peasant who claimed to be a seer.
Alexandra thought that Rasputin could make the boy’s symptoms go away. Rasputin got power over the czar.
Rumors spread that Rasputin had magical powers. People said he was controlling the royal family.
World War I
Then Czar Nicholas decided Russia should enter World War I. He moved his headquarters to the war front to encourage his troops to keep fighting.
The Czarina ran the country while the Czar was away. Rasputin had a strong influence on her and her decisions.
The war was bad for Russia. It caused high prices, a food shortage, and the deaths of 5 million soldiers and civilians.
World War I was the last straw for Russians. A group of nobles killed Rasputin because they were scared of his increasing role in the government.
Soldiers disobeyed orders. The food was not enough, and the fuel was not there. Everything got more expensive. Nicholas and Alexandra tried to fix the problems, but they couldn’t.
The March Revolution
On February 23, 1917, women protested for bread and peace. The women gathered in the center of Petrograd.
As the demonstration began, it turned violent as other workers joined in. The workers went on strike and flooded the streets. They wanted an end to the Czar’s monarchy.
The demonstrations became bigger and more people came. The police could not control the crowds, so it got worse.
There was unrest. The Czar ordered the riot to be put down at any cost.
The soldiers from a local guard regiment fired on the crowds. Yet more than 80,000 soldiers joined the crowds and began fighting the police.
Czar Nicholas II gave up his throne because he was forced to. The Romanov dynasty, which had gone on for hundreds of years, was over.
The leaders of the Duma established a temporary government led by Alexander Kerensky. He decided to continue with the wars. Things got worse than under the czar’s government.
Angry people demanded land. Workers became more radical. Soviets are groups of people with different jobs. In some cities, they were more powerful than the governments.
The Bolshevik Revolution
The Germans arranged for Lenin to return to Russia. The Germans thought that this would cause trouble in Russia and help the war in their favor.
Lenin traveled to Petrograd in a sealed boxcar.
Lenin and the Bolsheviks took their chance to overcome power. Lenin took over the Petrograd Soviet and other soviets in major cities.
“All power to the Soviets” was being chanted in the streets of Petrograd. Lenin decided to take action. Bolshevik Red Guards were armed factory workers. They took the Winter Palace by surprise in Petrograd. They took over government offices and arrested members of the provisional government.
When the Bolsheviks came, they took charge in a matter of hours. No one fought them; even the people ordered to guard decided to flee them. The headquarters of the army was taken without resistance.
Lenin in Power
After Lenin’s government took power, one of its first goals was to ensure Russian troops stopped fighting in World War I.
Russia left the war and gave back lots of land to other countries. The lost territories included:
- The Caucasus
The Soviet Union wouldn’t get these territories back until World War II ended.
The Bolsheviks, who had lost land to Germany in the Great War, also fought their enemies. They formed an army called the White Army in opposition to the Red Bolshevik Army.
The revolutionary leader, Leon Trotsky, commanded the Bolshevik army. For two years, civil war raged in Russia.
Western nations, including the United States, sent military aid and troops to Russia to assist the White Army.
Russia had a civil war that was more deadly than the revolutions. 15 million Russians died in the three years of fighting and the subsequent famine.
The fighting, hunger, and a worldwide flu epidemic destroyed Russia. But in the end, the Red Army won. They crushed all opposition.
The victory showed that the Bolsheviks could take power and keep it. Yet after the civil war, Lenin and the Bolsheviks faced many problems.
The New Economic Policy (NEP)
The Russian economy was damaged by war and revolution. Because of the war, people were unable to trade. Industrial production fell.
Lenin figured out how to fix the economy and restructure the government. He wanted to put his plan for a state-controlled economy, but he changed it. He made a new plan to use some capitalism. It was called the NEP (New Economic Policy).
The reforms meant that peasants could sell their surplus crops instead of giving them to the government. People could buy and sell goods and make a profit.
The government-controlled most industries, banks, and means of communication. It let some small factories, businesses, and farms operate.
Lenin also tried to get people from other countries to invest in Russia.
By creating several republics for Russia, Lenin organized the country. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was formed in 1922. Each republic answered to Moscow, the capital.
The Bolsheviks were renamed the Communist Party. Karl Marx’s work was responsible for this name. Karl Marx used communism to describe a society with no classes.
The Communists tried to make a constitution based on democratic and socialist principles. But in reality, the Communist Party held all the power.
Lenin established a dictatorship of the Communist Party, not the proletariat.
Thanks to the new policies and peace after the civil war, the USSR recovered. Factories were making as much as they had before World War I.
Lenin had strokes and was not able to do much. For the last 18 months of his life, he could only move around a little bit.
Lenin died. People in the party wanted to take control of the country.
Eventually, Lenin’s successor, Joseph Stalin, would build a new government. He made the government do everything he wanted them to do in a new kind of dictatorship.
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