A Journal of People compilation
A poster of the Russian Revolution.
The Russian monarchy faced serious opposition in the early part of the 20th century. Tsar Nicholas II lost his credibility and popularity as the Russian army suffered embarrassing defeats in World War I.
“By 1917 the bond between the tsar and most of the Russian people had been broken,” writes Encyclopedia Britannica. “Governmental corruption and inefficiency were rampant. The tsar’s reactionary policies, including the occasional dissolution of the Duma, or Russian parliament, the chief fruit of the 1905 revolution, had spread dissatisfaction even to moderate elements.”
With resources committed to the war effort, the economy strained. Widespread food shortages in the winter of 1916-17 began hurting people. On March 8 (Feb. 23 according to the Julian calendar used in Russia during the time), an International Women’s Day festival in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) gave way to strikes by female factory workers protesting food shortages. Students, industrial workers and others joined the protests.
The demonstrations grew in the following days and gradually turned political. Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky described the situation in his book on the history of the period: “The slogan ‘Bread!’ is crowded out or obscured by louder slogans: ‘Down with autocracy!’ ‘Down with the war!’”
Nicholas called for police and military intervention. Police force could not control the crowds although the police shot at and killed many protesters. Many troops and officers began to join the demonstrators. On March 15, having lost authority over the city, Nicholas ceded his throne to his brother, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, who refused the throne.
Widespread strikes and demonstrations held during the last week of February (according to the Julian calendar or the second week of March according to the Gregorian calendar) led to the abdication. Romanov rule commencing with tsar Michael about three centuries earlier, was brought to an end by the refusal to accept the crown by Michael – the brother of Nicholas II. (Rex A. Wade, The Russian Revolution, 1917, Cambridge, 2005)
The political vacuum left by the abdication of the tsar was filled by two actors: On the one hand, the liberal Provisional Government first led by prince George Lvov, then after uprisings in July by Alexander Kerensky. On the other hand, the ‘Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies’, the organ of the political left. Although about 700 soviets (councils) emerged all over the country in March and April, the Petrograd Soviet (today’s St. Petersburg) was the most powerful. (Steve A. Smith, Die Russische Revolution, Stuttgart, 2011)
The New York Times ran the following dispatch to The London Daily News with Petrograd, March 9 dateline and the headline:
“Hunger Causes Petrograd Riots
Military Chief Orders Troops to Use Arms Against Demonstrators – Cars Stopped
CRISIS BLAMED ON BLIZZARD
Whole Question of Supply Put in Hands of Municipalities and Zemstvos”
[Special Cable to The New York Times]
“A number of causes, working together, brought the crisis momentarily to a head, although I do not personally believe there can be serious trouble while the Duma is sitting.
“A number of baker shops were destroyed, and at others crowds seized bread from those who succeeded in buying it. A crowd last night broke the windows of a factory because its workers refused to strike.
“The methods of the Cossacks, as I saw them this afternoon, are to make a cordon with their horses at opposite ends of the streets. Meanwhile, other troops ride through the crowd. The feeling of the people is not hostile to the Cossacks. For the most part the crowds are good tempered, and there is still hope that serious conflict will be avoided.
“The general character of the excitement is vague. Throughout yesterday the streets were full of people, although Petrograd is heavily patrolled by Cossacks and mounted police; most of the crowd, including many women, were out to watch other people make trouble. The general atmosphere of excitement is like a bank holiday with thunder in the air.”
The dispatch continued:
“During the sitting of the Duma today it was announced that Prince Gahtzin was calling a special conference to take measures for preventing a crisis in many places by demonstrators jumping on the cars and removing the controller handles. Yet extremely good relations continued to exist between the crowd and the Cossacks.
“The crowds often cheered the soldiers, thus giving the lie to those who tried to pretend they were hostile to the war. Both the ‘Marseblaise’ and the national anthem were sung. At night the whole town was quiet.”
In another dispatch datelined Petrograd, March 11, (dispatch to The London Morning Post) The New York Times said:
“The question of the food supply of the capital of Russia has reached a crisis. Petrograd is particularly badly situated on the confines of the empire, in a region incapable of producing breadstuffs, and therefore wholly dependent upon railways for the necessaries of daily life. Military needs necessarily absorb the greater part of railway activity, and the war traffic naturally tends to increase rather than diminish as time goes on. The people have cheerfully endured every manner of inconvenience throughout the long winter in obtaining food supplies. Latterly, however, there has been witnessed the phenomenon of shortage in certain quarters of the city of the staple food of the common people, namely, the favorite Russian black bread.
“When the Duma opened, the Minister of Agriculture, Rittich, brought this all important question of food supplies before the members. The Duma, however, seemed indisposed to devote too much time to the consideration of such a vital practical matter, and preferred to listen to speeches on the so-called political situation, of which the alleged mismanagement of Russia’s inexhaustible food supplies is regarded as only a part. The Duma put in only five days’ sittings since it opened, and a great part of these has been spent on speeches expressive of the general dissatisfaction with the Government without leading to any practical results.
“On Thursday a number of women and younger men of the working classes made a peaceful demonstration of protest against the mismanagement of the food supplies. A similar movement was noticed in certain quarters of the city yesterday. Last night an extraordinary meeting was summoned of ministers, Representatives of both legislative chambers, the municipality, and other public bodies to discuss measures to allay public alarm.
“From speeches made in the Duma this morning, it is clear there never has been any real shortage in Petrograd, although a heavy blizzard in South Russia, extending over weeks, interfered with the regular arrival of supplies from the grain-growing districts. The people, owing to the prevalence of pernicious rumors, appear to have been collecting stores of foodstuffs in advance, thereby causing a certain shortage, inasmuch as the food controller continued to issue only normal quantities. The extraordinary meeting last night decided in principle to hand over the whole question of food supply to the public self-governing bodies, the municipalities, and the Zemstvos.
“Certain speeches in the Duma this morning pretty plainly indicate that a political object is at the bottom of the panicky state of mind which was recently created in Petrograd on the subject of the food supply.”
The reports show the situation prevailing in Russia at the time.
The following declarations including the declaration of abdication of the tsar add further facts:
Declaration of abdication of Nikolai II, March 15, 1917
By the Grace of God, We, Nikolai II, Emperor of All the Russias, Tsar of Poland, Grand Duke of Finland, and so forth, to all our faithful subjects be it known:
In the days of a great struggle against a foreign enemy who has been endeavouring for three years to enslave our country, it pleased God to send Russia a further painful trial.
Internal troubles threatened to have a fatal effect on the further progress of this obstinate war. The destinies of Russia, the honour of her heroic Army, the happiness of the people, and the whole future of our beloved country demand that the war should be conducted at all costs to a victorious end.
The cruel enemy is making his last efforts and the moment is near when our valiant Army, in concert with our glorious Allies, will finally overthrow the enemy.
In these decisive days in the life of Russia we have thought that we owed to our people the close union and organisation of all its forces for the realisation of a rapid victory; for which reason, in agreement with the Imperial Duma, we have recognized that it is for the good of the country that we should abdicate the Crown of the Russian State and lay down the Supreme Power.
Not wishing to separate ourselves from our beloved son, we bequeath our heritage to our brother, the Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich, with our blessing for the future of the Throne of the Russian State.
We bequeath it our brother to govern in full union with the national representatives sitting in the Legislative Institutions, and to take his inviolable oath to them in the name of our well-beloved country.
We call upon all faithful sons of our native land to fulfill their sacred and patriotic duty of obeying the Tsar at the painful moment of national trial and to aid them, together with the representatives of the nation, to conduct the Russian State in the way of prosperity and glory.
May God help Russia.
Declaration from the Throne by Grand Duke Mikhail, March 16, 1917
A heavy task has been entrusted to me by the will of my brother, who has given me the Imperial Throne at a time of unprecedented war and domestic strife.
Animated by the same feelings as the entire nation – namely, that the welfare of the country overshadows all other interests – I am firmly resolved to accept the Supreme Power only if this should be the desire of our great people, which must, by means of a plebiscite, through their representatives in the Constituent Assembly, establish the form of government and the new fundamental law of the Russian State.
Invoking God’s blessing, I therefore request all citizens of Russia to obey the Provisional Government, set up on the initiative of the Duma and invested with plenary powers, until, within as short a time as possible, the Constituent Assembly, elected on a basis of universal, equal, and secret suffrage, shall express the will of the nation regarding the form of government to be adopted
(Source of the declarations: The Times, March 19, 1917)