The slogan “Daite khleb – Give us bread!” echoed throughout Petrograd as 90,000 people gathered to strike against the tsar, Nicholas Romanov (“February Revolution”). The demonstration began on March 8th, 1917 when working class women marched through the capital’s streets angry over food scarcity, overgrown breadlines, and the seemingly indifferent tsar.
They ardently demanded for change – anything to at least put more food on the table. Evolving into a large scale revolution, the insurgency lasted less than a week, but their influence forced Nicholas to abdicate the throne.
The events leading to the February Revolution had left the nation simmering, and Petrograd was the outlet. Nicholas’s rationing of bread infuriated his subjects.
On top of food scarcity, Russia was poorly equipped to fight in the Great War. The tsar’s command over the army was less than stellar, and while he was commanding troops, he left his German-born wife Alexandra in charge of the country. In addition to these problems, Nicholas’s repeated dissolving of the Dumas, a “workers government” with the final say in the tsar’s laws, fueled the Russian peoples’ anger (“Why”).
The populace was suffering, and his subjects were ready to revolt.
The revolution began small, but within a few days it amassed underground activists with men and women from all around the city.
The day the February Revolution began, Nicholas was on a train to Stavka, blissfully unaware of the upheaval taking place. The next day, March 10th, the mass of people in Petrograd had grown larger, and they were yelling “Down with the war!” and “Down with the tsar!” Incensed mobs of workers destroyed police stations; however, in Stavka, Nicholas paid little attention to the frantic reports streaming in about the riots in Petrograd (Siegalbaum).
He merely observed the quality of the refreshing air, and he wrote to Alexandra saying, “My brain is resting here. No ministers, no troubling questions, no demanding thought” (Fleming 161).
Rioters in Petrograd during the February Revolution (Russian Revolution) The foremost banner says, “Long Live the Council of Workmen’s and Soldiers’ Deputies” (Fleming 245).
By then, most city workers were on strike, bringing the entire city to a halt; there was no electricity and no water. They waved banners, chanted, and threw rocks and chunks of ice at the police.
Nicholas’s desperate ministers offered their resignations if only the tsar were to return, yet Nicholas could not grasp the seriousness of the situation, refusing to return. Instead, he called armed soldiers to quell the revolt.
On March 11th, demonstrators taking to the streets early were greeted with posters declaring it was forbidden to assemble, and if they did so, the strikers would be immediately and forcibly disbanded. Nevertheless, they surged through the streets.
In reaction, the soldiers fired.
Two hundred strikers lay dead and forty were wounded. The soldiers, many who were country boys recently deported from their villages, were sickened at the sight and sympathized with the demonstrators. They had had enough. Many troops emptied their rifles into the air and joined the revolution (Fleming).
One furious officer commanding a company refusing to fire ordered they “aimed for the heart.” The soldiers shot him instead. The Duma president, Mikhail Rodzianko, pleaded with the tsar in a telegram:
“Your majesty, save Russia; she is threatened with humiliation and disgrace… Urgently summon a person in whom the whole country can have faith and entrust him with the formation of the government that all people trust… In this terrible hour… there is no other way out and to delay is impossible.” (Fleming 163)
Nicholas ignored the telegram and continued his evening playing dominos declaring, “That fat Rodzianko has written all sorts of nonsense to me, to which I shall not even reply” (Fleming 163).
Monday, March 12, the uprising was still growing in numbers and strength.
The tsar’s own army joined the revolutionaries, and the whole city was in chaos. They raided the arsenal, set prisoners free, looted shops, and burned police stations and other government buildings.
Instead of putting out the fires, firemen cheered and watched the buildings burn. With Nicholas oblivious and absent, the people needed order and leadership, so the Duma stepped up and temporarily took charge to calm the revolt. Nevertheless, the Duma did little to abate the people’s anger (Fleming).
Nicholas Romanov on the imperial train, the location of where he writes the Abdication Manifesto (Emperor Nicholas II).
Days later, March 15th, Nicholas’s train arrived in Pskov, delayed by revolutionaries who had seized control of the tracks. Suddenly, telegrams began to flood in from Nicholas’s most valued generals.
In order to save the war effort, the country, and his dynasty, Nicholas would have to resign his autocratic power. Hours later, after heavy chain smoking and pondering the telegrams, he wrote his Abdication Manifesto, giving up the throne in favor of his brother Grand Duke Michael (Fleming).
In Petrograd, when the mob learned of the news, they exploded with anger. They wanted a republic, not a new tsar. They inundated the streets screaming “Down with the dynasty!”, toppling all tsarist symbols. In the Winter Palace, Nicholas’s picture was slashed with bayonets.
A new tsar would only incite more violence and possibly a civil war, so after carefully listening to reports of Petrograd, Michael declined the throne and 304 years of Romanov rule came to an end (Fleming).
After Nicholas’s abdication, revolutionaries dismantled any tsarist symbol including the bronze statue of Alexander the III, Nicholas’s father (Alexander III).
The nation reveled at the demise of the Romanov dynasty. Red flags were hung from roofs and balconies. Everyone was singing, dancing and marching in parades.
Cannons went off, and passionate orators rallied the crowds. Overnight, red ribbons appeared everywhere, and Russian soldiers fighting in the trenches shouted with delight. The public rejoiced over their newfound freedom of expression, resulting in trade unions, newspapers, and political organizations (Siegalbaum).
One villager remembers, “People kissed each other from joy and said that life from now on would be good” (Fleming 177). This one moment in history changed the course of Russia’s entire history. Thus, the Russian Revolution had officially begun.
Alexander III. 1917. Moscow, Russia. Print.
Emperor Nicholas II. 1917. St. Petersburg, Russia. Print.
“February Revolution Begins in Russia.”History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2014.
Fleming, Candace. The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia. Schwartz & Wade, 8 July 2014. Print.
Russian Revolution. 1917. St. Petersburg, Russia. Print.
Siegalbaum, Lewis. “1917: February Revolution.”February Revolution. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2014.
“Why Was There A Disaster in 1917?” JohnDClare. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2014.