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The February 1917 Revolution

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The two revolutions of 1905 and 1917 were both different in their own ways. The 1905 revolution was ultimately crushed but it was crucial and necessary in succeeding to overthrow the Tsar in the February revolution of 1917. Key factors that played a part in the 1905 revolution were exploited by Bolshevik leaders such as Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin in the 1917 revolution. These Bolshevik's who were exiled learned from the 1905 revolution and capitalized on this in the 1917 revolution.

The 1905 revolution was caused by a numerous amount of reasons. Discontentment with living conditions in Russia amongst the people was the main instigator of the revolution. While Russia's labor force grew, the living conditions of the workers diminished. This saw a need for a better way of life for the workers. The Russo - Japanese War between 1904 - 1905 caused even more discontent between the workers and peasants because of the inflation the war had caused. The workers who just had enough to eat before the war now starved.

On January 9 1905, Priest Father Gabon led a unarmed and peaceful march to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg to present a petition to the Tsar demanding the end of the war, industrial reform, a constituent assembly and more civil liberties for the Russian masses. The petition does not blame the Tsar for all the problems that have been caused rather than blaming those who come between the Tsar and his people. According to Nelson this "petition reflects continuing confidence in the Tsar as the source of initiative and change in the system". [1] However, the Russian guard unprovoked opened fire on the people killing and injuring many of them. This dramatic event ultimately lead to the "erosion of the popular image of the Tsar and the major sustaining myth of the Tsarist structure." [2] 

These two events were the ultimate reasons for revolution in 1905. However, we must examine as to why the 1905 revolution failed to overthrow Tsar. The political parties that were involved in the 1905 revolution shared the same goal of overthrowing the Tsar but they were divided rather than united. Each of the political parties had their own way of tackling Tsardom. Because of this it allowed the monarchy to crush any form of resistance against Tsardom. The political parties also had discontent amongst themselves: the Mensheviks disagreed with the Bolsheviks and also the moderate Socialist Revolutionaries disagreed with the radical Socialist revolutionaries. This also lead to the internal structure of the parties being weak and struggling to overthrow the monarchy.

The propaganda programs led by the political parties failed to secure the support from the masses. Their ideas did not represent the wishes of the masses for social and economic reforms. The social democrats promoted the creation of a Socialist State through a class struggle. However, many of the workers failed to understand the revolutionaries ideas and only wanted an improved economic livelihood. The Socialist revolutionaries campaigned for the government takeover of land , even though the peasants wanted just the land to be divided amongst themselves.

The 1905 revolution was momentous as it was the first time in Russia millions of people took part in a revolutionary movement. In and around Russia, Soviets were formed and acted as a somewhat government and ordered the workers not to pay taxes and to go on strikes. The peasants also formed a peasant union which was replicated along with the Soviets in the 1917 revolution. According to Lenin, the 1905 revolution was the "Great dress rehearsal" for the February revolution of 1917. [3] These new forms of worker organizations would later be the centerpiece of the successful revolution of 1917.

After Tsar Nicholas II signed the October Manifesto in 1905, it seemed as though the needs of the workers and peasants were met. This manifesto gave the people certain civil rights, introduced the Duma and turned Russia into a constitutional monarchy. Even though Tsar Nicholas II promised certain civil rights and the Duma in the October Manifesto, he abused it shortly after the 1905 revolution. This infringement of the October Manifesto also led to the beginning of the February revolution.

World War I impacted the February revolution the same way the Russo - Japanese War had impacted in 1905. Defeat and causalities in the war disheartened the Russian population and wanted the Tsar to withdraw from the war. Following on in March 1917, workers in Petrograd went on strike demanding food: whereas in 1905 the workers were striking for civil rights. The war had inflated the price of bread and the Russians were unable to afford it. In spite of the strikes, Tsar Nicholas II ordered the army to take care of the strikers but unlike in 1905 on Bloody Sunday were the troops opened fire, this time they teamed up with the people. Unlike what happened in the 1905 revolution, this saw the Duma set up a provisional government to rule the country and consequently the workers and troops followed setting up their own branches of Soviets. The provisional governments ruled as long as it obeyed by the wishes of the Soviets.

At this stage in Russia, it created the opportunity for a political party to form and take control of Russia. Lenin who had been in exile, along with Trotsky comprised the Bolshevik party and began to win the support of the masses. Their main slogans were "Peace, Land and bread" and "All power to the Soviets". This attracted the masses which promised them a sustainable way of life: unlike in 1905 were this was not seen. The Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionary party lost the support of the people as decided to continue fighting in World War I. Lenin, backed by the Red Guard soon took control over Petrograd and by October the Bolsheviks had complete control of Russia.

The revolutions of 1905 and 1917 differed in their own individual way. In 1905, the workers and peasants revolted on their own and even though political parties had tried to seize control of Russia, they failed in each respect to have the organization and support to do so. However, as we see in 1917, the Bolshevik party was far more organized and structured which lead to them taking complete control. While Lenin and other leaders were in exile, they had learned from the 1905 revolution and this knowledge proved invaluable in how to gain support of the masses and the importance of propaganda. Propaganda had made a significant difference from both revolutions. In 1905, the political parties did not promise anything to the people. However, as we see in the 1917 revolution, slogans such as "Peace, Land and bread" proved pivotal and unquestionably made the revolution successful.


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