russian revolution 1917


The women’s protest that sparked the Russian Revolution

The first day of the Russian Revolution – 8 March (23 February in the old Russian calendar) – was International Women’s Day, an important day in the socialist calendar. By midday of that day in 1917 there were tens of thousands of mainly women congregating on the Nevsky Prospekt, the principal avenue in the centre of the Russian capital, Petrograd, and banners started to appear.

 The slogans on the banners were patriotic but also made forceful demands for change: “Feed the children of the defenders of the motherland,” read one; another said: “Supplement the ration of soldiers’ families, defenders of freedom and the people’s peace.” [x]

The Czar Abdicates

Nicholas Romanov, pictured after his abdication, sometime between March and August 1917.

March 15 1917, Pskov–By late on March 1, Russia’s military leaders and even the Czar himself had reached the conclusion that the revolution in Petrograd was a fait accompli; there would be no use in crushing it by force, especially not while they also faced the German threat.  They hoped that if the Czar recognized this and handed over political power to the Duma, that the situation could be salvaged, Nicholas could remain as Czar, and the war against Germany could continue.  Nicholas had been attempting to reach Petrograd himself, but as the direct lines there were clogged with Ivanov’s stalled expedition to the city, on the night of March 1 he found himself in Pskov, along with General Ruzski, commander of the Northern Front.

Overnight, Ruzski was in contact with Mikhail Rodzianko, one of the moderate Duma leaders:

It is obvious that His Majesty and you do not realize what is going on here….The troops are completely demoralized, they not only disobey but kill their officers.  Hatred of Her Majesty has reached extreme limits, and the dynastic question has been raised point-blank….Troops everywhere are joining the Duma and the people and there is a definite, terrible demand for abdication…

Ruzski informed Alexeyev at Stavka of this conversation, who in turn informed the other army and navy leaders.  Ruzski also talked to the Czar, who after some reflection said “If it is necessary, for Russia’s welfare, that I step aside, I am prepared to do so.”

At around 2PM, Ruzski informed the Czar that it was the unanimous opinion of the commanders of the Army Fronts that the Czar would have to step down.  At 2:50 PM, the Czar announced that he would, and drew up a note that he would abdicate in favor of his son, the hemophiliac Alexei.

Later that afternoon, however, he changed his mind; worrying for his son’s health, and not wanting to be parted from him if he was forced to go into exile after abdicating, he decided to leave the throne to his brother Michael, instead.  This was of dubious legality, as the crown was “not the Emperor’s private property nor his patrimony to dispose of according to his will.” A few minutes before midnight, after meeting with representatives from the Duma, he signed a formal letter addressed to Alexeyev (backdated to 3:05 PM), announcing his abdication in favor of his brother, and giving the Duma free reign to establish the principles of the state.

After consulting with the Provisional Government (which was divided on the matter, but largely opposed to his succession), Michael decided the next day to refuse the crown unless offered it by an elected government.  This would never come to pass; the Russian monarchy had come to an end.

Today in 1916: Austria Declares War on Portugal
Today in 1915: Germany To Send Submarines to Austria, Turkey

Sources include: Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy; Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution

Bolshevik-Inspired Uprising in Petrograd

The scene on the Nevsky Prospekt on July 17 soon after some of the few troops loyal to the Provisional Government fired on the crowd marching on the Tauride Palace.

July 16 1917, Petrograd–The garrison in Petrograd had been the vanguard of the revolution that overthrew the Czar.  Since then, at the Soviet’s insistence, the garrison had remained unchanged; the garrison could be relied upon to defend the revolution from any reaction against it.  The Provisional Government, however, was concerned that these soldiers were too radical and might try to rebel against them, as the sailors at Kronstadt had done.  Using the Kerensky Offensive as an excuse, many radical elements of the garrison now had orders to depart for the front.

Many of these units were determined not to leave, and soon considered armed action against the Provisional Government.  They were encouraged in this by the Bolshevik Military Organization and many Bolshevik-affiliated politicians (like Trotsky).  The top Bolshevik leadership had urged patience, however, at least until the Kerensky Offensive was over–but in early July, Lenin himself was on vacation in Finland and could not provide direction himself.

On the morning of July 16, the soldiers took to the streets, and were soon joined by workers mobilized by the Red Guards.  They congregated mostly around the Tauride Palace, seat of the Petrograd Soviet, hoping to encourage them to take power from the Provisional Government.  The next day, the crowds grew as sailors arrived from Kronstadt.  But the crowds were largely leaderless, and their cries of “All Power to the Soviets!” depended on the Soviets wanting to take power–which, apart from the Bolshevik minority, they were not.

Lenin arrived that day, but could not make up his mind on how to proceed.  He addressed the Kronstadt sailors for a few moments, but did not say much beyond a few platitudes.  As they marched towards the Tauride Palace, shots were fired and order broke down.  The crowd could have easily taken the Palace, defended only by eighteen soldiers (fewer than the number of exterior doors).  The Provisional Government was in hiding or, in the case of Kerensky, had already fled the city (in the guise of departing to inspect the front).  

At around 5PM, it began to rain heavily and much of the crowd dispersed.  However, a more committed core, led by the Kronstadt sailors, remained and began to enter the palace.  They seized one of the leading Socialist Revolutionary members, Victor Chernov, with one man telling him: “Take power, you son of a bitch, when it’s handed to you!”  Again, however, the Bolsheviks backed down, and Trotsky ordered Chernov to be released.  Within an hour, a new regiment of soldiers arrived; they were unclear what they were supposed to do, apart from “defend the revolution.”  With the lack of effective leadership from the Bolsheviks, the Soviet leadership soon persuaded them to serve as guards for the palace.

The uprising fizzled out on the 18th, as troops loyal to the Provisional Government began to arrive in the city.  A warrant was issued for Lenin’s arrest, alleging that he was receiving funds from the Germans; he soon fled the city.

Today in 1916: 50,000 National Guard on Mexican Border
Today in 1915: D’Annunzio Made Official War Chronicler; Maria Luisa Perduca’s The Vigil
Today in 1914: Russians Gain Increasing Evidence of Austrian Plans

Sources include: Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy.
In Russia, early African American migrants found the good life
Growing up in the Soviet Union, Emilia Tynes-Mensah did the same things other children did. She read the classics of literary master Alexander Pushkin, listened to the symphonies of Peter Tchaikovsky and heard the propaganda that life here was better than anywhere else.
By Ann M. Simmons

But in her home, there was American jazz, Thanksgiving celebrations and stories of the struggles facing blacks in the United States. An improvised version of soul food sometimes replaced borscht. That’s because her father, George Tynes, was an African American agronomist from Virginia who moved to Russia in the 1930s. Tynes was among hundreds of blacks who traveled to the Soviet Union in the two decades after the 1917 Russian Revolution. Some were hard-core Communists. Others were curious adventurers.

Most of the African Americans who came to Russia were seeking a better life, desperate to flee the social inequality and Depression-era hardships that racked America at the time, said Allison Blakely, professor emeritus of history at Boston University who has written a book on the African American immigrants. “They were looking for a society where they could escape color prejudice and racism,” Blakely said.

Officials actively recruited skilled foreign laborers and professionals, Blakely said. About 18,000 Americans answered the call to work in the 1930s, he said. Among them were several hundred African Americans who traveled to the Soviet Union, including dozens who lived there for “the good part of a decade,” Blakely said.

Their ranks included graduates of historically black colleges such as Tuskegee University in Alabama and Virginia’s Hampton Agricultural and Industrial School, later called the Hampton Institute. They were engineers, educators, entertainers, journalists, lawyers. The actor-activist Paul Robeson and poet Langston Hughes were among those travelers captivated by communism. The Soviets gave the African Americans red-carpet treatment, including fat paychecks, subsidized housing and free vacations. “My father felt the U.S.S.R. treated him better than America,” said Tynes-Mensah, a former university chemistry instructor who was born in the Russian town of Krasnodar and now lives mainly in the United States, spending summers in Russia. “He was happy here.”

Today, fewer than 50 descendants of these African Americans are believed to still live in Russia. In all, their numbers in the former Soviet republics could be between 100 and 200, according to researchers. They have become footnotes to African American and Russian history, said Yelena Demikovsky, a New York-based Russian film director and researcher who is making a movie, “Black Russians — The Red Experience,” about the immigrants to the Soviet Union and their descendants.


Russian emperor’s multimillion pound Faberge egg depicts a cottage in Yorkshire

The last Russian emperor commissioned the elaborately-designed gift for wife Alexandra after she visited Harrogate in 1894.

A Yorkshire cottage was depicted in a Faberge egg worth millions, a letter sent by the legendary jeweller proves. Last Russian emperor Nicholas II commissioned the elaborately-designed gift for wife Alexandra. She had visited the spa town of Harrogate in 1894 to treat her sciatica and stayed at Cathcart House under an assumed name.

During her stay the property owner, a Mrs Allen, gave birth to twins. Alexandra - the granddaughter of Queen Victoria - took this as a good omen for her forthcoming marriage to Nicholas II and asked if she could be godmother to the twins and that they be named Alix and Nicholas.The couple sent the children expensive gifts for their birthdays for the next 21 years.

One such gift was a jewelled cutlery set made by Russian silversmiths the Grachev Brothers. The boxed set was passed down through the Allen family and was recently put up for auction.  Along with it was an incredible scrapbook kept by the Allens that documented all the correspondence they had with the Emperor of Russia and his wife during their friendship. It reads: “His Majesty has charged me to make a rich album containing views where Her Majesty lived in her youth. Would you be kind enough to send me a photo of your house in which the Princess lived in 1894?”.

The four-storey Victorian property joined places such as the Alexander Palace and the Winter Palace in St Petersburg, Windsor Castle, Balmoral Castle and Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.

The egg was one of 52 Imperial decorative eggs made by Carl Faberge and is currently owned by a museum in the US.The cutlery, scrapbook and signed photo of the Czar and Czarina - who were executed following the Russian Revolution of 1917 - sold at auction for £24,000. [x]

Over 100,000 Protesters and Strikers in Petrograd on International Women’s Day

Protesters in the International Women’s Day march.  “If woman is a slave there will be no freedom.  Long live equal rights for women.”

March 8 1917, Petrograd [St. Petersburg]Conditions in Petrograd had reached a tipping point in early March.  The severe winter that had caused so many problems in Germany did the same in Russia. Food prices skyrocketed, and shortages were frequent.  Announcements on March 4 that rationing would soon be implemented caused panic buying and a small amount of violence.  However, the cold weather discouraged discontent from spilling out onto the streets in any major fashion.

This changed on March 8, when the temperature rose to around freezing; over the next week, it would range between 23 and 46 °F, unseasonably warm by Petrograd standards.  March 8 was also International Women’s Day (observed on the same day as in the West despite the differences in calendars).  Large crowds of women marched along Nevsky Prospect in good order, though watched carefully by patrolling Cossacks on horseback.

Across the Neva, female textile workers went on strike to protest the lack of bread; by the afternoon, joined by their male colleagues, over 100,000 were on strike.  They attempted to join the marchers by crossing the river, but were prevented from doing so by bridge after some clashes with the police.  Most went home, but several thousand crossed on the ice.

The crowds gathered around city hall, but were not dispersed by the Cossacks.  The troops and horses were inexperienced in dealing with crowds, and they had not been given the whips that they would normally use to beat back the crowds.  Thinking that the Cossacks had been cowed, the marchers were emboldened in the coming days.

Today in 1916: Kut Relief Force Muddles Attack at Dujaila
Today in 1915: Emperor Franz Joseph Agrees to Offer Territory to Italy

Sources include: Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution; Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy.