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The first world war and the february revolution

The First World War and the February Revolution

The First World War had two main effects on Russia: firstly a huge number of men lost their lives, and secondly it caused economic chaos. On 8 March 1917 women in St Petersburg went on a strike for 'bread and peace', starting the February Revolution.

  • The First World War proved the last straw for the tsar's government.

  • Russian troops were slaughtered in their millions.

  • Nicholas made things worse by going to the front to lead the army. This made him responsible for the defeats in most people's eyes. It also left the government in the hands of the tsar's wife, the tsarina, and the monk, Rasputin.

  • The war effort caused economic chaos.

  • By February 1917, people in the towns were starving and freezing.

  • The revolution was started by the women - on 8 March 1917 they went on a march demanding bread, which turned into rioting.

  • The tsarina called in the troops. However, on 12 March they mutinied and started to help the rioters.

  • Workers and soldiers set up the Petrograd Soviet to coordinate the revolution.

Ten extra details

  • In February 1914 the Deputy Minister of the Interior and former head of police sent a memo to the tsar warning him that a war against Germany - even if Russia won - would destroy the monarchy.

  • The tsarina was German. Most Russians believed that she was helping the Germans to win by ruining Russia from within.

  • The huge casualties in the war - 9 million dead or wounded by 1917 - lost the tsar the support of the soldiers, so they turned against him when they were asked to put down the riots.

  • Taking 15 million men to fight in the army ruined Russia's agriculture. There were not enough workers to take in the harvest.

  • The war effort clogged up the railways with military transport, so food couldn't get into the towns.

  • On 13 March at the Kronstadt naval base, the sailors mutinied and murdered hundreds of their officers.

  • On 4 March, workers at the huge Putilov armaments factory in St Petersburg went on strike. Many historians say that this was the real start of the February Revolution.

  • The February Revolution was a genuine popular revolution, with spontaneous uprisings all over the country against the existing government - it was not planned by a particular rebel group or fuelled by a particular ideology.

  • On 10 March, with bread riots out of control, the tsarina wrote to the tsar blaming hooligans for the trouble. Her letter shows how out of touch the government was with reality.

  • The tsar tried to get back from the front on 13 March, but it was too late. None of the soldiers were loyal and his train could not get though to St Petersburg.

As part of your revision, think about the arguments and facts you would use to explain:

  • How the First World War affected Russia/the tsar.

  • The story of the February Revolution.

  • What were the short-term causes of the February Revolution of 1917?

  • What did the tsar do to make a bad situation worse?

  • How the First World War helped cause a revolution.

The february revolution of 1917 brought the 300 year old romanov dynasty to an end

The February Revolution of 1917 brought the 300-year-old Romanov dynasty to an end.

What caused the uprising?

Why did the monarchy collapse?

In 1917, the Russian monarchy collapsed. There are three main theories as to why:

  • Russia was old-fashioned and weak - it collapsed because it was unsuitable.

  • The First World War - its huge problems and disasters overturned a monarchy that had, so far, managed to survive.

  • The stupidity of the tsar - his decisions and actions cost him his throne.

Writing for an academic website, the historian Philip Mosley suggested:

“The immediate cause of the February Revolution of 1917 was the collapse of the Tsarist regime under the gigantic strain of World War I. The underlying cause was the backward economic condition of the country, which made it unable to sustain the war effort against powerful, industrialized Germany.”

Philip E Mosley, late Professor of International Relations, Columbia University

Notice how he doesn't choose one of the three factors as being the cause of the Revolution. Instead, he suggests that the revolution was caused by a mixture of all three factors working together - the underlying weaknesses of the government meant that, when he was faced by problems during the First World War, the tsar could not cope with them and fell from power.

You may wish to take this as your overview conclusion of the causes of the February Revolution of 1917 in Russia.

  • Review the importance of suggested:long-term weaknesses, the First World War, and the role of the tsar and decide which you think was the most important factor in causing the February Revolution.

  • Think about the arguments and facts you would use to explain:

    • How much the Russian Revolution of February 1917 was the tsar's fault.

    • Which was the most significant factor in bringing about a revolution.