The Russian Revolution

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Problems in Russia under the Tsar

The two main problems in Russia were: 

  • Social Inequality: The Rich were TOO rich and the poor were TOO poor. This caused problems such as: 
    • Overcrowding 
    • Shortages of Food
    • People were not treated very well: harsh and in terrible condition
  • Autocracy: Autocracy, a form of goverment where the Tsar ruled the country completely. He was in charge of every decision and was treated like a God. Autocracy suppported social inequality. As long as the Tsar has the power, Russia will continue to suffer from social inequality. This is because the Tsar and the nobility owned quite a lot of land- this meant that peasants will never really be able to own much land themselves. 

Both problems made people radical, eager for a dramatic change. 

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The 1905 Revolution and what the Tsar promised

Because he wasn't very popular, the Tsar went to war with Japan thinking he would win. However this was not the case. The Russians were defeated and this meant that many people started strikes, assassinations etc. 

On January 9th, 1905, the Tsar's army fired on the peaceful demonstraters in St. Petersburg (later: Petrograd). They only wanted to present a petition in front of the Tsar in front of the winter palace. Several hundreds of people died. Nicholas II survived because the army remained loyal.


The Tsar (to avoid liberal reform) then promised: 

  • More freedom of speech 
  • To rule less autocratically 
  • Allow a parliament- a duma. He still chose the government. 

He marked anyone who opposed him as terrorists. He had thousands of them killed, including his prime minister Peter Stolypin. All of these terrorists were sent ti Siberia. 

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Opposition to the Tsar

Many people opposed the Tsar. More and more people wanted change and had heard ideas from foreign writer such as Karl Marx who suggested the idea of communism. Quite  a lot of people liked it. They wanted Russia to modernise, not be stuck in seemingly 'middle ages'.

Socialist Revolutionaries:

  • They were the biggest marxist group.
  • They wanted all power to be given to working class, and be taken from the Tsar.
  • They were violent and killed many people.


  • They also wanted to overthrow the Tsar. 
  • They were not very radical. 
  • They believed change would be gradual. 


  • Lead by Vladimir Ulianov. 
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Opposition to the Tsar: continued

  • They wanted to be ready to seize power. 
  • They were very agressive. 
  • He wanted to use terror to seize power and protect the government. 


  • They critisised the Tsar but did little to influence him. 
  • Were active in 1906-16. Wanted a democracy
  • Two main parties were Kadets and Octobrist.
  • A strong duma to represent the people and prevent the goverment to have too much power.
  • Didn't want to get rid of middle class property. 
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Impact of WW1

The war didn't go very well for the Russians. People blamed the Tsar. The war became a long term cause while social inequality and autocracy became long term causes. 

  • Military Failure: 
    • The russian army was poorly supplied. Only 4.5 m rifles for 6 m soldiers. 
    • Terribly old fashioned- communicated by radios. 
    • Poorly fed and equipped. 
  • Political Failure
    • The Tsar went to the warfront, became commander in chief. 
    • Russians were still defeated. 
    • Now everyone hated the Tsar and blamed him for the defeats. 

Meanwhile, the Tsarina ruled Russia. She was suspected of being a 'german spy' and her 'lover' Rasputin influenced her into making unpopular decisions. No one like the Tsarina and her having an affair made the Tsar look weak. Rasputin was finally murdered in 1916 by Prince Yusopov. Economy also started to fail, making conditions 'back home' very bad. Prices rose by 300%. St. Petersburg's name changes to Petrograd.  

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February Revolution 1917

On February 23rd 1917, many people marched down the streets of Petrograd. Over the next 10 days, more people joined in. At first the army remained loyal to the Tsar. Then, on  27th February, the army joined in. People were determined not to be defeated. Any officers who remained loyal were shot. 

The Tsar realised that he had no army and no support. So, he resigned on the 2nd of March, 1917.


NO opposition party organised the revolution.  

A temporary government was made- this was the Provisional Government. They were all members of the previous duma. They believed that they had at least been elected, even though the elections were fixed. They would only stay in power until a Constituent Assembly was elected to write a new constitution. 

Their weak rule lead to another revolution in October 1917. 

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Problems faced by the Provisional Government

The problems faced by the Provisional Government were: 

  • They were not legitimate. They were elected in a fixed election. The soviets who represented the workers seemed more legitimate and representative of the population. Also the first prime minister was a Prince which indicated that the upper class had more power. 
  • The petrograd soviet made military order number one. This meant that all orders by the PG first need to be approved by the Petrograd soviet- This makes the PG look wealk 
  • The PG were too fair for their own good: 
    • They postponed elections so that they are properly organised- this made them look like they just wanted power
    • They did try to solve inflation and food hortages- rations fell
    • Continued war 
    • introduced basic freedom of speech
    • postponed how to deal with land and didn't make major changes. 
  • They faced many problems with the Bolsheviks. 
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The Bolsheviks and The October Revolution

Lenin presented the Bolsheviks as an alternative to the Provisional Government. Here's how: 

  • In April 1917, he was smuggled back into Russia by the Germans (they hoped he would cause internal problems) and made a thesis- it promised 'peace, bread and land'. It was people wanted the most: peace with Germany, more bread i.e. more food and land to be shared out properly. 
  • In June 1917, the PG tried to conclude the war- this failed and the everyone was angry. 
  • In July 1917 many people protested and wanted the Bolsheviks to take over. Lenin didn't think they were prepared- the army still supported the Provisional Government- they blamed the bolsheviks for the riots. Many Bolsheviks were imprisoned, Lenin fled to Finland. 
  • After the July days, Kerensky became the new prime minister. He had been a socialist revolutionary and then a minster of War. 
  • In August 1917, General Kornilov marched through the streets of Petrograd- seemingly to take power. The Bolsheviks' army (the red guard) along with some support from Kerensky stopped the Kornilov revolt and were known as the protectors of the workers and peasants- they were loved. 
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Lenin's and Trotsky's contribution

Lenin played a significant role in the seizure of power: 

  • He opposed the PG from the start. He now uses this information to his advantage. 
  • He realises that the PG doesn't have much support. He convinces the other Bolsheviks to seize power. This was his biggest contribution.  
  • He took advice from the other Bolsheviks and other groups of people. This made him look better and as if the Bolsheviks had been chosen by the people themselves. 

Trotsky, Lenin's right hand man also contributed in the following ways: 

  • He took care of all the organisation. On the 24 to the 25 October, he was in charge of everything. 
  • He used his position as the leader of the Military Commitee of the Petrograd Soviet and used the soldiers under his control to defeat the armies still loyal to the PG. 
  • He was in charge, leader of the Bolsheviks, while Lenin was in hiding. 

Neither Lenin, nor Trotsky would have been able to carry out the Bolsheviks' actions without each other. 

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The October Revolution

Lenin had come back from hiding on the 16th October. Although he remained in disguise until the end of the revolution, he thought it was time for the Bolsheviks to take hold of the Government.  This is how the Bolsheviks took hold of Russia:

  • Kenensky sent repeated messages to the army asking for help. Only 140 or so women, some students and 40 soldiers ever turned up. Most were unfit for a battle. The PG even sent messages outside Petrograd, pretending it was from the more popular Soviet. He had very limited support. 
  • Bolsheviks took over the most important buildings in Petrograd- bridges, main telephone and telegraph facilities etc. Unlike the February revolution, most people stayed at home. 
  • The ministers of the Provisional Goverment were arrested in the Winter Palace. Kerensky, however escaped by a stolen car, in search for help and ended up in America until his death in 1970. 

This revolution was quite different to the one in February. People were happy to let the Bolsheviks take power, October was less violent and a single party organised. However both revolution overthrow a govenment. 

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Bolsheviks in Power: the problems

Bolsheviks set up a government in 1917 called the Sovnarkom (Council of People's commissars). However he had to face a number of problems. 

  • Many soviets all over Russia took control- most of Russia was under their control by 1917. This did not however mean that Russia was under the Bolshevik control. Many Russians, especially the peasants supported the Socialist Revolutionaries, not the Bolsheviks.
  • Even more problematic, the PG had arranged for elections to be held in November for a Constituent Assembly. If Lenin wanted the Bolsheviks to be in power, he had to seize power before the elections because the Socialist Revolutionaries were more likely to get more votes than the Bolsheviks. If this happened than he would have to hand over the Sovnarkom to the Socialist Revolutionaries. 
  • Lenin also had to fulfill his promise: Peace, Bread and Land. 

 To remain in power, the Sovnarkom (with Lenin as chairman) issued a set of decrees. The first set in November, the second in December. 

REMEMBER: Russia is now a communist country.

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The Decrees set in November

  • Decree on Land: Land is to betaken from the rich and given to the poor to divide fairly. 
  • Decree on umemployment insurance: There is an insurance for injury, illness and unemployment
  • Decree on Peace: Peace is made with Russia's opponents- WW1 ends for Russia 
  • Decree on Work: A person can only work for 8 hrs/day and 40 hrs/week. Restrictions on overtime and there is holiday entitlement.
  • Decree on titles: All titles and class distinctions are abolished. Women are declared equal to men. 
  • Decree on the press: All non- bolshevik newspapers are banned. 
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The Decrees set in December

  • Decree on the worker's control: Factories are given to elected commitees of workers
  • Decree to set up political police: Cheka- the secret police is formed
  • Decree on political parties: The constitution democratic party is banned 
  • Decree on banking: All banks in the Bolshevik's power
  • Decree on marriage: Divorce made easier and non religious weddings made possible. 

Some people liked these decrees. These were mainly the previously lower class. 

Others didn't- these were mainly the  previously upper classes. 

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Opposition to the Bolsheviks

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