• Who: The people of Russia later joined by troops from the Russian Army and Imperial Guard vs Tsar Nicholas II, Imperial Government Gendarmes and Ministry of Internal Affairs Department (MVD) of Police.
  • What: Protests and marches that escalated into riots, mutiny and violence.
  • Where: Petrograd (St Petersburg) Russia’s second largest city.
  • When: 22 February – 3 March Julian calendar (8 – 16 March 1917 Gregorian calendar – adopted by Russia in 1918).
  • Part of: Took place during the First World War.
  • Result: Abdication of the Tsar and the end of nearly 500 years of autocratic rule in Russia. Provisional Government established and reforms introduced. Russia continues to fight in the First World War.

The February Revolution was the first of two revolutions that took place in Russia in 1917. 

At the time of the revolution Russia was an autocracy, with Tsar Nicholas II holding absolute power over his people. Its political, social and economic structures were extremely backward in comparison to other countries in Europe. Food shortages and military failures at the start of the twentieth century had caused strikes and riots that were often brutally suppressed. The 1905 Revolution had led to some reforms, including the establishment of a State Duma (legislative assembly), but there was still no real democracy in Russia.

Russia's entry into the First World War was initially supported by most Russians. However its infrastructure struggled to cope with the demands of war. Russia's industry depended almost entirely on foreign imports. When Germany and its Turkish allies blockaded Russia's Eastern ports, its railway, electricity and supply systems broke down. There were not enough laborers to collect the harvests and there were serious food shortages. 

The war was going badly for Russia with a string of defeats. In 1915, the Tsar attempted to boost moral by taking personal command of the army. This move had disastrous results. The Tsar was a poor military leader and he was now blamed for every defeat. He had also left his wife, the German-born Tsarina Alexandra, in charge at home. The Tsarina was very unpopular and seemed to be under the control of the equally unpopular mystic Grigori Rasputin

With little food, no ammunition or even proper uniforms, Russian soldiers began to mutiny in their thousands. Strikes and protests in Russia saw no reforms from the government. Trade unions were banned and 'troublemakers' were sent into exile. By early 1917 most Russians had completely lost faith in the Tsarist regime. 

Photographs

Land and Freedom

Photographs

Land and Freedom

A crowd gathers outside the Duma in Petrograd, February 1917. Some carry banners with the slogan 'Land and Freedom'.

On 22 February 1917, metal workers in Petrograd went on strike. They were joined the next day, International Women's Day, by female protesters marching against food rationing. More protestors and strikers took part and around 200,000 filled the streets of the city, demanding the replacement of the Tsar and an end to the war. Eventually nearly all industry in Petrograd was shut down. The Tsar ordered the commander of the Petrograd garrison, General Khahalov, to suppress the rioting by force. But troops in the city refused. They mutinied and joined the protesters.  Having lost the support of the army and under the advice of his army chiefs and ministers, the Tsar abdicated for himself and his son on 2 March 1917. His brother refused to succeed the throne, marking the end of the Tsarist regime.

Photographs

Fontanka Canal, Petrograd, 13 March 1917

Photographs

Fontanka Canal, Petrograd, 13 March 1917

Royal emblems torn from shop fronts an hour after the Tsar's abdication lie on the ice which covers the Fontanka Canal, Petrograd, 13 March 1917.

Immediately following the revolution a new Provisional Government was formed. This was a self-appointed 'cabinet', made up of members of the Duma and led by the politician and landowner, Prince George Lvov. The new government had no constitutional authority and was seen to still overwhelmingly represent the interests of the privileged and wealthy. Its position was also weakened because of 'Dual Power'. It had to share power with another body – the Petrograd Soviet of Worker's and Soldiers' Deputies. This was an assembly of over 500 which had been elected by ordinary people and so was seen as more representative.

Despite introducing a programme of liberal reforms over the following months, the Provisional Government decided not to take Russia out of the First World War. They failed to address one of the main causes for the February Revolution and this would be one of the factors that led to a second revolution, in October 1917.

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