The Rise of Soviet Russia, 1917-39

1. Revolution in Russia 1917


This is an extract from a exam revision book written in 1965 by PJ Larkin.   Unlike Peter Moss's History Alive, it was very old fashioned even for its time.   However, it took great pains to be factually correct, and to present the factual information necessary to understand the events.




Two revolutions       The First World War       Economic problems

Growing unrest       The February Revolution       The new government





A   The Background of Revolt 


i     Two revolutions occurred in Russia in 1917.   The first broke out on March 8 and the second on November 7.   The Russians, going by the old-style Russian calendar, date them towards the end of February and the end of October and therefore call them the February and October revolutions.


Two revolutions

ii     Russian losses in the First World War were very heavy and much of the country was overrun by the enemy, including large food growing areas.   The long strain of war and defeat caused the breakdown of transport and supplies including arms and ammunition.   Food was short both at home and at the front.   The government was discredited and its authority weakened.


The First World War

iii    The disasters and hardships of the war brought the old social and economic problems of Russia to the fore once again.   Russia was still a predominantly rural country.   The peasants' most bitter problem, the shortage of land, was made worse by the growth of population in the pre-war years and by the dis­location of war.   Large numbers of landless and unemployed rural workers flocked to the urban centres, both before and during the war, to swell the discontent in town and factory, or were swept into the army as unwilling soldiers, while their poverty-stricken families eyed with envy the widespread estates of the large landowners.


Economic problems

iv    In the towns since the end of the nineteenth century, the factory worker had been suffering the usual hardships of the early stages of an `Industrial Revolution'.   Low wages, depressed by the influx of unemployed peasants, were coupled with long hours and harsh working conditions, and strikes had been the prelude to revolution in St. Petersburg as far back as 1905.   There was an unusually high proportion of large factories in Russia employing over one thousand workers, so that the concentration of discontent on a large scale led more easily to the organization of the worker, in trade unions, in Soviets or workers' councils and in revolt.   To discontented land-hungry peasants and ill-fed factory workers, the war added the mutinous remnants of what had been a great army, soldiers who were too weary to fight, soldiers who had neither arms or ammunition to fight with, soldiers who wanted peace, not war.



Growing unrest

B   The March (February) Revolution, 1917 


i     On March 8, 1917, the women textile workers in Petrograd (previously called St. Petersburg) came out on strike demanding food.   Other workers joined the strike and with students added demands for the overthrow of the government.   Some regiments of the local garrison supported the discontented workers.   The Czar tried in vain to find loyal troops to put down the rising and he abdicated on March 15.


The February Revolution

ii     A new provisional government was formed of liberal, middle class ministers.   Kerensky, who was Minister of Justice, then Minister of War finally became Prime Minister and head of the new government, which at first enjoyed considerable support.


The new government