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Were the events of February 1917 a collapse at the top or a revolution from below?
In this essay I will investigate whether the events of the February revolution were a collapse from
top; caused by the monarchy, aristocracy, Tsar, church, middle class or high ranking army members.
Or they were a revolution from the bottom; caused by the peasantry, new industrial working class,
soldiers or the navy.
In February 1917, the firs t revolution of the year took place. Centered around the capital Petrograd.
Its immediate result was the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, the end of the Romanov dynasty, and the
end of the Russian Empire. The Tsar was replaced by a Russian Provisional Government under Prince
Georgy Lvov. The Provisional Government was an alliance between liberals and socialists who
wanted political reform. They set up a democratically-elected executive and constituent assembly. At
the same time, socialists also formed the Petrograd Soviet, which ruled alongside the Provisional
To begin in February 1917, the Tsar and Tsarina were already unpopular with the majority of the
Russian population due to the Tsar refusing to with draw from the First World War. The Tsar was also
under threat by the royalists wanting to maintain a Tsarist autocracy and believed that Tsar Nicholas
was too weak and indecisive to maintain this traditional style of autocracy. I believe this to be a
reason in which it could be argued that the events of February 1917 were a collapse from the top.
Earlier in the month, the tsar began to receive a number of challenges one of these was the
Octobrists in the duma demanding the removal of unwanted ministers and generals. Also the
peasantry's hostile feelings began to grow against the government. The proletariat of the capital
was on the verge of despair. All of the above show unrest from `those below' increasing.
There was also many other incidents that occurred due to the lower classes. One of these was the
excessive hunger riots the industrial workers was prepared to go to. Another was the labour masses
were led by more advanced and revolutionary minded elements and assumed an openly hostile
attitude towards the government.
Although, it would be easy to already assume the events of February 1917 was a revolution from
below. One of various incidents caused by a collapse at the top was the desertion of the Tsar closest
confidants; this set the revolution into motion. Also throughout the incidents there was confusion and
little direction from those at the top. Another key factor to remember is that throughout the course
of events the Tsar was actually away at the military head quarters, 400 miles away from the capital.
Therefore, his only mean of finding out what was going on was through his wife. It is easy to assume
that his wife did not tell him the extent of the events, to avoid worrying him. So in essence, he did
not really know what was going on.
Meanwhile, the lower classes unrest was growing. The Putilov steel works employees started a full
scale strike; Putilov steel works was the largest and most politically active factory in the capital. Soon
many others joined the strike due to a rumour regarding bread shortage. This was purely a rumour
but in times of crisis rumours has the same power as fact. Also joining in the protest was the women;
due to it being International Women's Day, they were demanding food and an end to the war. The
police were ordered to disperse the protestors, but they only had sympathy for those on strike, in
result this prevented any means of restoring order.
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As the police failed to restore order, the job was passed on to General Khablov but he also failed due
to many of the police and army joining the protestors and those that chose to stay caused more
grief; the army and police began fighting each other rather than working together. In resolution to
this he decided to try to grant martial law. However, this also failed due to the complete breakdown
of society; the proclamation couldn't even be printed never mind enforced.…read more