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The Historical Context of the Russian Revolution

From February to October 1917

On 23 February 1917, thousands of women textile workers walked out of their jobs in Petrograd and joined already striking crowds. Fueled by bread shortages, these demonstrations turned violent. Tsarist troops were again ordered to fire on crowds and many were killed; the following day, the soldiers took the side of demonstrators. The funeral for those who died was held in Petrograd. The Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai wrote on the occasion in Pravda: “Today is a solemn day of joy and mourning. Today the eyes of the oppressed and deprived of the whole world are turned towards Russia, to this city where the heroic courage of the workers and the downtrodden Russian peasantry has thrown off the yoke of tsarist autocracy. . . . The first step, the hardest step of the revolution, has been taken. Tsarist autocracy, a decaying corpse upon a throne, has been committed to the earth” (1917, 3).

The October Revolution

The October Revolution began with the occupation of government institutions, telegraph offices, and railway stations by the Bolsheviks, and culminated in their taking of the Winter Palace, which “was a less heroic occasion than later Soviet accounts suggest” (Fitzpatrick 2001, 64). The first Constitution of the Russian Republic proclaimed the working class as the ruling class and limited the political powers of what Bolsheviks considered the “exploiting classes” (officers of the White Army, kulaks (i.e. affluent peasants), priests). Today, debate continues about the significance of Vladimir Lenin over the course of the events in 1917. Returning to Russia following the February Revolution, he voiced his uncompromising stand against a possibility of a coalition with the Provisional government and favoured a fully proletarian revolution in what became to be known as his “April Theses.” Lenin was forced to flee Russia in July. He remained in Finland, from where he called for the Bolsheviks to seize power in an armed uprising.

The Historical Context of the Russian Revolution