SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 205 February 2017

Russian revolution timeline

February 1917

Throughout the course of 2017, Socialism Today will cover the key issues and developments of the momentous events of 1917, which culminated in the October revolution and the establishment of the world’s first workers’ state, under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party. Alongside the articles, we will produce a monthly timeline, beginning here with February 1917, when the revolution began.

Dates are given in the old style Julian calendar used in Russia at the time. This was 13 days earlier than the Gregorian calendar (adopted in Russia in 1918).

Conditions in Russia are horrific, with extreme and widespread poverty. The dictatorial monarchy under Tsar Nicholas II pursues its ruinous part in the first world war as an ally of British and French imperialism. The war would claim twelve million Russian casualties (killed, wounded or captured). War-related industry drew millions of peasants into the factories – the workforce in Moscow grew by a tenth every year of the war, and that of Petrograd, the Russian capital, by 20% a year.

On 9 January 1917, 150,000 workers demonstrate in Petrograd, 30,000 in Moscow, 14,000 in the Baku oilfields, and 10,000 in Kharkov, Ukraine, to commemorate the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the massacre of protesters which triggered the revolution of 1905. Strikes, protests and food-queue riots escalate throughout January and February.

Bolshevik Party membership has risen to over 20,000 by early February, but its main leaders are in prison or exile: Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Grigory Zinoviev in Zürich, Switzerland; Alexandra Kollontai and Nikolai Bukharin in New York City – as was Leon Trotsky (not yet a member of the Bolsheviks).

February 1917

19: The tsar’s regime announces food rationing.

23: On international women’s day (8 March in the Gregorian calendar), 7,000 low-paid women textile workers – many of whose brothers, husbands and sons had been conscripted into the army – take to the streets of Petrograd demanding bread. By ten o’clock, 20,000 are on strike, 50,000 by midday. In the afternoon, men from engineering factories join in, taking the total number of strikers to over 90,000. The February revolution has begun.

24: Strikes escalate, with 180,000 now out in the capital. To the demand for bread, calls are added for an end to war and authoritarian rule. The tsar calls in the police, a paramilitary force which, alongside Cossacks, numbers 12,000.

25: The strike swells to 240,000, including 40,000 engineering workers from the giant Putilov factory. Smaller workplaces are shut down, shops close, trams stop. University and high-school students join the protests. The police are beaten back as Cossacks and soldiers waver – not always backing the police, not yet won over to the movement.

26: A Sunday. Petrograd city centre is under military occupation, yet the workers continue to assemble. The tsar has ordered that the movement is put down by force – around 1,400 people are killed in the course of the week. Police conduct mass arrests of political/worker activists.

27: Mutinies begin at seven o’clock in the morning when troops from the Volynsky regiment refuse to be deployed against the protesters. They call on other barracks for support. Soldiers disappear into the crowds, taking their weapons with them. Armoured cars fly red flags. Political prisoners are released. There are now 400,000 workers on strike, and 150,000 troops have mutinied. Workers in Moscow strike and demonstrate. The Petrograd Soviet (council) of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies is formed – dominated by the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, with the Menshevik, Nikolay Chkheidze, appointed leader.

28: The Moscow Soviet is formed during the citywide uprising. The first issue of Izvestia (News), the journal of the Petrograd Soviet, is published. The Duma (the now powerless tsarist-era parliament) and the Petrograd Soviet meet to try to work out a way forward. The tsar attempts to return to his palace on the outskirts of Petrograd, but his train is diverted by railway workers – the 300-year Romanov dynasty hits the buffers in a railway siding in Pskov. But a question hangs in the air: who holds power, the old tsarist establishment, the landlord/capitalist class, the liberals and right-wing social democrats, or the rising revolutionary masses?

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