Russia - war and revolution

war and revolution

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Russia at war

Nicholas became the symbol of the nation's resistance in it's hour of need. The socialist parties abandoned their policies and committed themselves to the war effort. However 3 years of war ruined their economy. The 'progressive bloc' formed from 236 of the state duma deputies and became the centre of potential opposition. 

Military performance

1914 - strong sense of moral, Russian advance caused german schlieffen plan to fail. Russia captured przenzyl ,110,000 prisoners. 

30,000 russia troops dead, only 20,000 german casualities, Germany deafeated russia battle of lodz.

1915- no victories! 

Russia lost poland! Nicholas II became commander of the army and left tsarina in charge at home, 

1916 - Romania joined russia in the war, russia launched brusilov offensive. 

Brusilov offensive ran out of momentum, forced to retreat, short of materials and food, 1.6 million dead, 3.9 wounded and 2.4 prisoners.

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Reasons why war failed

  • lack of morale
  • lost poland
  • Poor internal communication during war
  • no equipment for the army
  • Nicholas II poor commander - couldn't blame it on anyone else
  • Inflation - 1.5 billion roubles spent on war. Government abandoned gold standard and just printed more notes
  • Food supplies - farms were requisitioned for army so less food being made for soldiers and people at home. Inflation made trading unprofitable, Army had roads and trains which meant food getting to cities was unreliable, serve food shortages
  • Transport - Millions of soldiers didn't have weapons or enough food and supplies, breakdowns were very common on trains. 
  • The army - serve lack of equipment, hospitals had no bandages.
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February revolution - why it happened

  • ZEMGOR made the government look bad as they were providing food and supplies to army where tsar couldn't.
  • Progressive bloc
  • lots of strikes
  • weakness of russia - size/peasants/poverty/corrupt autocracy/okhrana/censorship = lack of support
  • War- army led badly and poorly equipped = anger and unrest
  • tsar and tsarina unpopular - hated for bloody sunday 1905, tsar blamed for WW1 defeats/ tsarina and rsaputin hated
  • Attacks and opposition in dumas - the Kadets were angry over lack of power; social revolutionaries wanted peasant revolt; social democrat split into B and M wanted communist gov = duma didnt support gov
  • Reforms failed - Stolypin had tried - he let kulaks buy own land and tried to improve conditions for workers but he was murdered 1911 - last chance for reform lost
  • Industrialization - huge urban workforce & terrible conditions = disaffection in petrograd
  • Famine - trains diverted to war effort so fewer supplies to cities = demonstrations and bread riots.
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Events of February revolution

  • 18th feb - steelworkers on strike
  • 23rd feb - international womens day , demonstration by socialists to demand female equality
  • 25th feb - a general strike begins, police had sympathy for workers, city wide strike in petrograd
  • 26th feb - out of 150,000 petrograd troops only a few thousand stayed 
  • 27th feb - formation of petrograd soviet by the mensheviks (played a big part) dual allience with provisional committee. 
  • 28th feb - nicholas prevented from returning
  • 2nd march - tsardom over.

July days : 

  • Kadet ministers resigned, armed soldiers and workers took to the streets, sailors from the naval base Kronstadt arrived and all went to Bolshevik headquaters
  • Lenin was being offered power but came out against the idea, so the crowds moved to the provisional government
  • Lenin was declared an agent of the kaiser and fled to Finland.
  • Kerensky appointed prime minister 21st july, he chose Kornilov to be commander in chief of the army. 
  • Kornilov wanted the military to take over petrograd and get rid of the soviet.
  • Kerensky gave the workers of Petrograd weapons to attack Kornilov.
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The Provisional Government

  • Petrograd soviet issues order number 1 which stated workers and soldiers only obey the provisional government if Soviet agrees = government has little power
  • terrible conditions - continuing war led to worse inflation and food shortages = people feel let down
  • Peasants = took nobles land/provisional government sent in troops = anger
  • War - Russian defeat in Austria/ deserters executed = naval mutiny desertions increased
  • Bolsheviks - lenin returned / he published 'April thesis' (peace, bread and land) / July days riot/ provisional arrested leaders but allowed bolshevik party to continue = continued power for bolsheviks. 
  • Kornilov - attempted right - wing coup / provisional government had to ask bolsheviks for help = appeared weak.

what the july days revealed : the opposition was disunited and unorganised, that the Bolsheviks were still far from being the main revolutionary party, and that the provisional government still had enough strength to be able to put down the revolution.  

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October Revolution

Provisional government moved to the right, while the petrograd soviet moved to the left. Lenin needed to take power before the november election for the constituent assembly. 'All power to the Soviets' was his slogan. Lenin returned to Russia 7th october. Kerensky ordered an attack on the Bolsheviks after he thought they had planned a date for the coup. So Lenin ordered the planned insurrection to begin. That there was a plan at all was not down to Lenin but due to Trotsky. 

  • 25th october - red guards take over bridges/telephone exchanges
  • 26th october - red guards take over banks, government building, railway stations, winter palace, provisional government members arrested
  • 27th october - new communist government declared.

The provisional government had barely any military to call on. When the red guards went to the winter palace there was barely any resistance. Lenin then read out the list of ministers (commissars) and his own name as chairman. The SRs and mensheviks stormed out. 

Reasons why Lenin was successful 

  • provisional gov weak 
  • slogans appealed to people 'all power to the soviets' and 'bread, peace and land'
  • propaganda via 'Pravda'
  • German money - financed publicity campaigns 
  • Lenin - brilliant leader and organiser 
  • Army - well trained/ dedicated to Lenin
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Bolshevik Consolidation of power

  • After Bolsheviks only gaining 1/4 of the seats in the constituent assembly so he dissolved it at gun point and killed objectors
  • Brest - Litovsk treaty - Bolsheviks ended war 1918/ gave good argiculture and industrial land to germany / lost Ukraine, Estonia, LAtvia and Lithuania.
  • land was taken from nobles and given to peasants/elected committees of workers controlled factories. 
  • religion was banned/ labour law came about (8 hour day, unemployement pay and pensions) education - science was encouraged/ divorce and abortion allowed and greater equality for women
  • Terror - CHECKA - secret police / totalitarian state/ arrested and killed opponents/ censorship.
  • War communism - Very harsh ( large factories taken over by government, strikes illegal, strikers shot, rationing and peasants forced to give surplus food to government)
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Civil War


  • SRs, Mensheviks, Tsarists, former army officers, former landlords all challenged the Bolsheviks. Called 'White army' 
  • Comitern was set up which stated the aim to make the world communist, frightened british, american and france so supported the whites
  • The greens fought for political and economic power
  • the nationalists fought for independance 
  • Huge famines played a main part in the cause of the war. 
  • Czech legion - prisoners of war who wanted to create own state. 

Events :

  • Red army defeated Admiral Kolchak/ british french and americans went home - 1919
  • Last white army defeated in Crimea - 1920
  • Red army invade Poland, but was defeated - 1921
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Why the Bolsheviks won

  • White armies were disunited/thousands of miles apart = easy to fight one by one
  • Trotsky - brilliant leader and excellent war strategist
  • Beliefs - many Russians believed they were fighting for a better world/ others hated foreign armies = army enthusiastic and determined
  • War communism - factories neutralised/ military discipline in factories/ strikes illegal/ surplus food handed over to government/rationing = sufficient army supplies
  • Terror - the Cheka murdered whites/ terror was used to ensure loyalty and unity
  • Wherewithal - Bolsheviks held moscow and petrograd = factories and supples ALSO controlled railways = communication/ supplies and army of 300000 men.
  • there was rivalry between generals in the whites and didnt trust each other
  • if the whites won all the land the peasants got after 1917 would be taken back which they didnt want.
  • very high morale with the reds, low morale with the whites.

Russo-Polish war 1920-21

  • Lenin ordered invasion of poland after polish forces entered Ukraine and captured kiev
  • Poles saw russians as aggressors not liberators and faught back. 
  • april 1921 treaty of Riga Poland was given Belorussia.
  • Biggest communist defeat in civil war.
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the NEP

War communism - 1918 - 1921 

  • infiltration of the worker's committee by political commissars 
  • all major enterprises in russia under government control
  • Populations in moscow and petrograd dropped by half which meant not adequate manpower in factories
  • did not lead to economic growth. 

Nep-  cause - the Kronstadt mutiny 1921: sailors at kronstadt naval mutinied - demanded free speech, free elections, free trade unions and end to war communism

the Bolsheviks concerned, bought in NEP - it was opposed by some member of government as capitalist, but it restored some prosperity. 


  • new small businesses - small factories returned to owners/small private businesses allowed
  • Experts - bought in to increase production in nationalized industries
  • peasants - allowed to sell surplus and pay tax - some peasants became rich (Kulaks) 
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lenin introduced 'one party unity' which made factions illegals so there would be no criticism of the NEP. 

He also outlawed all other political parties other than the Bolsheviks. 

NEP worked to increase production of grain, factory output, electricity and to increase wages, but 75% was private trade and agriculture expanded faster than industry. and still high unemployment in urban areas. 

Greater harvests meant a fall in the price of food. but factories were unable to meet the growing demand for manufactured goods. By 1924 industry had recovered from the depression. 

Lenin's greatest single achievement as a revolutionary was to reshape the marxist theory to fit russian conditions. 

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