The Russian Revolution officially started in 1917 but its ideas had been around for nearly a century. The rule of the 19th-century czars caused social unrest, forcing Army officers to revolt in 1825. Secret revolutionary groups plotted overthrows, acting in 1881 when they assassinated the reform-minded czar, Alexander II. Russia underwent a revolution.

  • Czars Resist Change

    In 1881, Alexander III rose to power. Once he gained power, he halted all reforms, reinstating the autocracy, a form of government where he had total power. Anyone who opposed him, did not speak Russian, or did not believe in the Russian Orthodox Church was considered dangerous.

    • Czars Continue Autocratic Rule
      • Alexander III used harsh measures to wipe out revolutionaries. He used censorship and secret police to limit free speech and watch schools and universities. The teachers had to write reports on each student and any political prisoners were sent to Siberia, in eastern Russia.
      • Alexander wanted a uniform Russian culture by oppressing all other groups. Russian became the official language and all other minority languages were not allowed to be taught in school. Jews were especially targeted and waves of pogroms, organized violence, broke out. The police and soldiers would stand by and watch Russian citizens destroy Jewish property.
      • When Nicholas II became czar in 1894, he continued these traditions. Unfortunately, he was blinded to the changing conditions of the time.
  • Russia Industrializes

    The industrialization changed the Russian economy. The number of factories in Russia doubled from 1860 to 1900 – however, they were still behind the western European nations. In 1890, one of Nicholas’s ministers launched a program to accelerate the industrialization. The government used foreign investors and higher taxes to boost the growth of industry. By 1900, Russia became the world’s fourth largest producer of steel.

    With British and French investors helping, they began to create the world’s longest rail line – the Trans-Siberian Railway. This railway started in 1891 and was completed in 1916, linking European Russia in the west to the Russian ports in the east.

    • The Revolutionary Movement Grows
      • Rapid industrialization brought many problems such as bad working conditions, low wages, and child labor. The government outlawed unions so unhappy workers organized strikes.
      • As a result, several revolutionary movements began. The Marxists followed the views of Karl Marx, believing that the industrial workers would overthrow the czar to form a dictatorship of the proletariat. Workers would rule the country.
      • However, the Marxists split in 1903 creating the moderate Mensheviks and the radical Bolsheviks. The Mensheviks wanted a broad support base while the Bolsheviks wanted a small number of committed revolutionaries willing to sacrifice everything.
      • Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) led the Bolsheviks. He was ruthless and a good organizer. In the 1900s, Lenin fled to western Europe to avoid arrest by the czar. He still maintained contact and waited for a good time to return.
  • Crises at Home and Abroad

    The revolutionaries did not have a long wait, and Russia’s government began to collapse between 1904 and 1917. At this time, a series of crises showed the czar’s failures and weaknesses, leading to revolution.

    • The Russo-Japanese War
      • In the late 1800s, Russia and Japan were fighting for control of Korea and Manchuria. They managed to reach an agreement. However, Russia broke them and Japan retaliated, attacking Russians at Port Arthur, Manchuria in 1904. Repeated losses sparked unrest and led to revolt.
    • Bloody Sunday: The Revolution of 1905
      • Bloody Sunday was an event that occurred on January 22, 1905. Around 200,000 workers approached the czar’s palace in St. Petersburg carrying a petition. However, Nicholas II’s generals ordered the military to fire on the crowd, killing hundreds and injuring thousands.
      • This bloody Sunday started a wave of violence. In October, 1905, Nicholas agreed to give people more freedom and created the Duma – Russia’s first parliament. This Duma met in May 1906 and was moderate, trying to make Russia a constitutional monarchy like Britain. However, czar dissolved the Duma after 10 weeks as he did not want to share his power.
    • World War I: The Final Blow
      • Nicholas II made the decision to join World War II in 1914. Russia was woefully unprepared and Germans crushed the Russians. More than 4 million Russian soldiers were killed in a year. This showed the weakness of the czar and military.
      • In 1915, Nicholas moved to the war front to rally his troops. His wife Czarina Alexandra ran the government when he was away. However, she ignored advisers and listened to a “holy man” named Rasputin.
      • Alexandra’s son, Alexis had a life-threatening disease and Rasputin pretended to make him better. Alexandra showed her gratitude by allowing Rasputin to make many decisions. In 1916, some nobles murdered Rasputin for being anti-reform.
      • On the war front, Russian soldiers deserted. At home, food and fuel supplies became rare and prices soared. People from all classes wanted change and an end to war. Both Nicholas and Alexandra failed to solve these issues.
  • The March Revolution

    In 1917, women textile workers in Petrograd led a strike. Riots started all over because of the lack of bread and fuel. Nearly 200,000 workers went on the streets protesting. Soldiers originally followed orders and shot the rioters. However, they soon joined the rioters.

    • The Czar Steps Down
      • The protest grew into an uprising, the March Revolution. This revolution forced Czar Nicholas off the throne and led to his and his family’s execution. The three-century czarist rule collapsed, but the new government that came to power was still weak.
      • The Duma leaders created a temporary government, led by Alexander Kerensky. He decided to continue fighting in WWI, causing him to lose support. Conditions worsened as peasants demanded land, workers grew more radical, and other revolutionaries competed for power. The socialist revolutionaries formed soviets, councils that were more influence than the government in many cities.
    • Lenin Returns to Russia
      • The Germans believed that Lenin would make Russia’s war effort weak. They returned Lenin and his Bolsheviks to Russia in a sealed boxcar, reaching Petrograd in 1917.
  • The Bolshevik Revolution

    Lenin and the Bolsheviks gained control of the soviets in many major cities. By the fall of 1917, many people wanted to give power to the soviets. Lenin’s slogan gained support and he decided to take action.

    • The Provisional Government Topples
      • In November 1917, armed workers stormed the Petrograd Palace. These “Bolshevik Red Guards” took over the offices and arrested the provisional government. Kerensky and his colleagues dissapeared.
    • Bolsheviks in Power
      • Lenin ordered that the farmland be split and given to the peasants. The factories were given to the workers. The Bolshevik government also created a treaty with Germany.
      • In March 1918, Russia and Germany signed the treaty and Russia gave much of its land to Germany. This humiliation caused anger among Russians.
    • Civil War Rages in Russia
      • The Bolsheviks also had to crush their enemies at home. Their opponents created the White Army, a mixture of different groups. These groups barely got along, and even split into 3 White Armies at one time.
      • The Bolshevik Red Army’s leader was Trotsky. He expertly commanded his troops. Many Western nations sent aid to Russia to help the White Army. However, they were unsuccessful.
      • This civil war was extremely deadly. Around 14 million Russians died in the fighting and famine. This left Russia in chaos. However, the Red Army eventually won, showing that the Bolsheviks could keep their power.
    • Comparing World Revolutions
      • The Russian Revolution was similar to the French Revolution because it tried to destroy existing social political structures. The Revolutionaries used violence and terror. This is different from the American Revolution which built a constitutional government on top of existing structures.
  • Lenin Restores Order

    War and revolution destroyed the Russian economy. Trade halted, production dropped, skilled workers fled. Lenin tried to revive the economy and restructure the government.

    • New Economic Policy
      • Lenin temporarily aborted his plans for a state-controlled economy. He decided on a small-scale capitalist system called the New Economic Policy. These reforms allowed peasants to sell surplus crops instead of giving them to the government. The government still kept control of major industries. However, small businesses could have private ownership. The government also promoted foreign investment and relations.
      • Due to these new policies, the country recovered. By 1928, Russia was back to its pre-war production.
    • Political Reforms
      • Bolshevik leaders saw nationalism as a threat. Lenin split Russia into self-governing republics under a central government to stop nationalism. By 1922, the country became the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. USSR
      • The Bolsheviks renamed themselves to the Communist Party. This name came from Karl Marx, who described a classless society as a communist system. In 1924, the Communists created a constitution based on socialism and democracy. However, the Communist Party held all the actual power.
  • Stalin Becomes Dictator
    • Lenin had a stroke in 1922. He survived but the competition grew. Trotsky and Stalin were two notable men. Stalin was cold, hard, impersonal. (Stalin = man of steel in Russian)
    • Stalin started his ruthless rise to power. Lenin knew Stalin was dangerous, and was proved correct when Stalin seized complete control in 1928. Trotsky was forced into exile in 1929 and Stalin gained absolute power to become a dictator.