The Tsar who formally abolished serfdom in 1861, freeing Russia’s serfs from indentured servitude to their landowners. Though reformers hailed the move, it engendered a severe economic crisis, angered landowners, and prompted a number of revolutionary groups to agitate for a constitution. In 1881, Alexander II was assassinated by a member of one of these groups, prompting his successor, son Alexander III, to implement a harsh crackdown on public resistance.
The son of and successor to the assassinated Tsar Alexander II. Upon taking power in 1881, Alexander III cracked down severely on reform and revolutionary groups, prompting growing unrest. Alexander III’s son, Nicholas II, was the tsar in power during the Russian Revolution in 1917.
Lev Kamenev (a.k.a. Lev Rosenfeld)
A prominent member of the Bolshevik Party who initially resisted Lenin’s call to hold a revolution sooner rather than later. After the revolution, Kamenev went on to serve in the Soviet government but was executed during Josef Stalin’s purges of the 1930s.
A member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party and an active participant in both the provisional government and the Petrograd Soviet. At first, Kerensky acted as a liaison between the two governing bodies. Within the provisional government, he served as minister of justice, minister of war, and later as prime minister. After the October Revolution, Kerensky fled the country and eventually immigrated to the United States
Vladimir Lenin (a.k.a. Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov)
The founder of the Bolshevik Party, organizer of the October Revolution, and the first leader of the Soviet Union. Lenin spent most of the early twentieth century living in exile in Europe (primarily Britain and Switzerland). He was a devout follower of Marxism and believed that once a Communist revolution took place in Russia, Communism would spread rapidly around the world. Though not involved in the February Revolution, he returned to Russia in April 1917 and orchestrated the October Revolution that turned Russia into a Communist state.
The last Russian tsar, who ruled from 1894 until 1917. Nicholas II, who assumed the throne with trepidation upon his father Alexander III’s death, was a clumsy and ineffective leader whose avoidance of direct involvement in government caused resentment among the Russian people and resulted in violence in 1905. Nicholas II abdicated on March 2, 1917, as a result of the February Revolution. In July 1918, the Bolsheviks executed Nicholas along with his wife, Alexandra, and their children.
A Russian peasant and self-proclaimed mystic who gained significant influence over Tsar Nicholas II’s wife, Alexandra, in the years immediately prior to the revolutions of 1917. Rasputin’s sexual escapades in the Russian capital of Petrograd caused scandal, and the Russian people began to believe that the tsar himself was under Rasputin’s influence. Aware that Rasputin’s presence was damaging Nicholas II’s credibility, supporters of the tsar had Rasputin killed in late 1916.
Joseph Stalin (a.k.a. Joseph Dzhugashvili)
A Bolshevik leader who became prominent only after Lenin’s return to Petrograd in April 1917. Although Stalin was very much a secondary figure during the October Revolution, he did gain Lenin’s attention as a useful ally, and following the October coup, Lenin gave him a position in the government as commissar of nationalities. As Stalin was a member of an ethnic minority—he was from the central Asian region of Georgia, not Russia proper—Lenin felt he would be an effective ambassador of sorts to the many ethnic minorities within the former Russian Empire. After the revolution, Stalin became increasingly powerful and eventually succeeded Lenin as leader of the Soviet Union upon Lenin’s death in 1924.
The prime minister under Nicholas II. Stolypin was renowned for his heavy crackdown on revolutionaries and dissidents, in which thousands of suspects were given quick martial trials and promptly executed. A hangman’s noose was often referred to at the time as a “Stolypin necktie.” Stolypin himself was assassinated in 1911 by a revolutionary activist.
Leon Trotsky (a.k.a. Leon Bronstein)
A Bolshevik leader and one of the most prominent figures of the October Revolution. Trotsky, who was in exile abroad during the February Revolution, returned to Russia in May 1917, closely aligned himself with Lenin, and joined the Bolshevik Party during the summer. Trotsky headed the Revolutionary Military Committee, which provided the military muscle for the October Revolution. After the revolution, he was appointed commissar of foreign affairs and led Russia’s negotiations with Germany and Austria for the armistice and subsequent peace treaty that made possible Russia’s exit from World War I.
Grigory Zinoviev (a.k.a. Osvel Radomyslsky)
A prominent member of the Bolshevik Party, closely associated with Lev Kamenev and a close friend of Lenin during Lenin’s years in exile. Initially resisting Lenin’s call to hold a revolution sooner rather than later, Zinoviev played virtually no role in the October Revolution and temporarily receded from party activities after the revolution. However, he became a member of the Politburo in 1919 and went on to serve in the Soviet government until he was arrested and executed during Stalin’s purges in the 1930s.
The ideas for Russia’s future that Vladimir Lenin expressed upon his return to Russia in April 1917. They were published in the newspaper Pravda on April 7. In short, Lenin called for the overthrow of the provisional government and its replacement with a communist form of government led by the working class. He believed that other countries would follow Russia’s example. PEACE, BREAD & LAND!
A radical political party, led by Vladimir Lenin, that split from the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party in 1903. The Bolshevik Party favored a closed party consisting of and run by professional revolutionaries and supported the idea of a dictatorship that would accelerate the transition to socialism. It placed an emphasis on the working class, from which it drew much of its support.
A political group (an acronym for Constitutional Democrats) that wanted to see Russia established as a democratic republic governed by a constitution and an elected parliament. This stance put the Cadets at sharp odds with the Bolsheviks, who favored a dictatorship of the proletariat. The Cadets drew support primarily from professional workers and the bourgeois class.
An elected body of representatives from around Russia, created in November 1917, that was meant to decide on the country’s governmental structure. When Nicholas II abdicated in February 1917, the provisional government that took power made plans for the formation of this Constituent Assembly in order to choose a more permanent government for Russia. After Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks took power in the October Revolution, they initially allowed elections for the assembly to go forward as scheduled but changed their minds after receiving less than 25 percent of the vote in those elections.
A term referring to the two governments that Russia had following the February Revolution—the provisional government and the Petrograd Soviet.
The Russian legislature from 1905–1917. The term, an ancient Russian word referring to small village councils that existed in early Russia, was resurrected when Tsar Nicholas II agreed to allow the formation of a legislature after the uprising of 1905. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the term has once more come into use, this time specifically referring to today’s lower house of the Russian parliament.
A political group that, like the Bolsheviks, split from the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. The Mensheviks, less radical than the Bolsheviks, supported the idea of a socialistic party that was open to all who wished to join and that would be ruled and organized in a democratic manner.
A body that existed prior to the February Revolution as a sort of underground revolutionary labor union for workers and soldiers in the Petrograd area, containing members of a number of different political parties. During the February Revolution, members of the Petrograd Soviet saw an opportunity and declared themselves to be the government of Russia. However, they quickly found themselves competing with the provisional government.
A government that members of the Duma formed following the February Revolution. The provisional government was meant to be temporary and would rule Russia only until the Constituent Assembly decided on a permanent government later.
Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (SDP)
A party that formed in 1898 and was among Russia’s earliest revolutionary movements, though by no means the first. In 1903, the RSDLP split into two factions, the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks.
Socialist Revolutionary Party (SRs)
A Russian political party during the revolutionary years that was more moderate than the Bolsheviks but less so than the Mensheviks. The SRs drew their support primarily from the peasantry and thus had a much larger base than the other parties in Russia. Before and during the October Revolution, the SRs were probably the Bolsheviks’ closest allies among Russia’s many political movements. After the revolution, however, the Bolsheviks abandoned the SRs after the SRs enjoyed a major victory over the Bolsheviks in the elections for the Constituent Assembly.
A Russian word literally meaning “council.” In the early twentieth century, Soviets were governing bodies, similar to labor unions, that existed primarily on the local/municipal level and collectively made policy decisions for their respective regions. The idea of Soviets was popular among the various socialist parties of the time, including the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, and Socialist Revolutionaries. When Tsar Nicholas II abdicated in early 1917, the powerful Petrograd Soviet wielded significant political power in Russia.
1825 Alexander I dies; succession crisis prompts Decembrist Revolt 1861 Alexander II abolishes serfdom 1881 Alexander II assassinated; Alexander III cracks down on dissenters 1894 Nicholas II becomes tsar 1905 Troops fire on Russian civilians during demonstration in St. Petersburg Russia loses Russo-Japanese War Nicholas II concedes to creation of Russian constitution and Duma 1914 Russia enters World War I.
Key People (Pre-FebRevolution1917)
Alexander II - Son of Nicholas I; abolished feudalism in 1861; assassinated in 1881 Alexander III - Son of Alexander II; cracked down harshly on dissenters Nicholas II - Son of Alexander III; was tsar in power during the 1917 revolutions Petr Stolypin - Nicholas II’s prime minister; had many suspected terrorists tried and executed Grigory Rasputin - Peasant and mystic who influenced Tsarina Alexandra; was killed by Nicholas II’s supporters in 1916
World War I
It was in the midst of this scandal that Nicholas drew Russia into World War I in the summer of 1914. The war was a disaster for Russia: it caused inflation, plunged the country into a food shortage, and ultimately cost the lives of nearly 5 million Russian soldiers and civilians, as well as a series of humiliating military defeats. The war was the final straw for the Russian people. Although Russian aristocrats had Rasputin killed in a last-ditch effort to preserve the tsar from ruin, it was too late, as popular discontentment was at an all-time high. Within three months, Russia would be without a monarch for the first time in its history.
Events (FebRevolution 1917)
February 22, 1917 Nicholas II leaves Petrograd to visit troops February 23 International Women’s Day demonstration in Petrograd February 24 Massive strikes and demonstrations occur throughout the capital February 25 Unrest continues; Mensheviks meet and set up a “Workers’ Soviet” Nicholas II orders military to stop riots February 26 Troops fire on demonstrating crowds Mass mutiny begins in local army regiments Firefights break out between troops and police February 27 More than 80,000 troops mutiny and engage in widespread looting February 28 Duma and Workers’ Soviet gather separately and begin making decisions about restoring order and establishing a new state March 2 Nicholas II abdicates the throne; provisional government formed
Nicholas II - Last Russian tsar; abdicated as a result of the February Revolution Alexander Kerensky - Member of the provisional government and Petrograd Soviet; wielded significant political power after Nicholas II’s abdication
April 3, 1917 Lenin arrives in Petrograd April 7 April Theses published in the newspaper Pravda April 21 First Bolshevik demonstrations
Key People (Lenin)
Vladimir Lenin - Revolutionary and intellectual; founded Bolshevik Party; returned to Russia from exile in April 1917 and advocated armed rebellion to establish Communist state
Events (Summer of 1917)
June 3, 1917 First Congress of Soviets opens in Petrograd June 9 Bolsheviks call for demonstrations by civilians and soldiers Congress of Soviets votes to ban all demonstrations; Bolsheviks desist June 16 Final Russian offensive of World War I begins June 30 Petrograd Machine Gun Regiment is ordered to the front July 3 Bolsheviks plan massive demonstration against the Petrograd Soviet and the provisional government July 4 Bolsheviks’ July Putsch fails; many Bolsheviks are arrested, but Lenin escapes and goes into hiding August 27 Kerensky dismisses Kornilov and accuses him of treason Kornilov calls on his troops to mutiny
Key People (Summer of 1917)
Vladimir Lenin - Bolshevik leader; made numerous attempts to start second revolution during the summer of 1917 Alexander Kerensky - Minister of war and later prime minister of the provisional government; lost credibility during Kornilov affair Lavr Kornilov - Commander in chief of the Russian army; became embroiled in misunderstanding with Kerensky Vladimir Lvov - Russian politician who favored military dictatorship; may have instigated Kornilov affair
Events (October Revoltution)
August 31, 1917 Bolsheviks achieve majority in the Petrograd Soviet September 5 Bolsheviks achieve majority in the Moscow Soviet October 10 Lenin and the Bolshevik Central Committee decide to proceed with revolution October 23 Provisional government acts to shut down all Bolshevik newspapers October 24 Provisional government deploys junkers Bolshevik troops begin to take over government buildings in the city October 25 Kerensky escapes Petrograd Bolsheviks struggle all day long to capture Winter Palace Second Congress of Soviets convenes October 26 Provisional government is arrested early in the morning Lenin issues Decree on Peace and Decree on Land Congress approves Soviet of the People’s Commissars, with all-Bolshevik membership, as new provisional government
Key People (October Revolution)
Vladimir Lenin - Bolshevik leader; became leader of Russia after October Revolution; issued Decree on Peace and Decree on Land Lev Kamenev - Bolshevik leader who resisted Lenin’s plans for a prompt revolution Grigory Zinoviev - Bolshevik leader who sided with Kamenev, voting against revolution Alexander Kerensky - Prime minister of provisional government; fled Russia during revolution to live in Europe and then the United States
Events (The Aftermath)
November 1917 Nationwide elections for the Constituent Assembly held throughout the month December 15 Russia signs armistice with the Central Powers December 20 Cheka established with Dzerzhinsky as its leader January 5, 1918 Constituent Assembly meets for first and last time March 3 Russia and Germany sign peace treaty at Brest-Litovsk May Bolsheviks institute military conscription June–July Russian Civil War begins August 30 Lenin shot in assassination attempt but survives September 5 Red Terror begins
Key People (The Aftermath)
Vladimir Lenin - Leader of Russia after the October Revolution; suppressed dissent by disbanding Constituent Assembly, declaring opposing political parties illegal Felix Dzerzhinsky - Polish revolutionary whom Lenin appointed head of Cheka secret police Joseph Stalin - Commissar of nationalities in Lenin’s government; succeeded Lenin as leader of Russia in 1924