War and Revolution

Russian field hospital during World War I.

Russia had not had the best track record when it came to recent wars in the early twentieth century. In fact, the last war they were involved in, the Russo-Japanese War, had ended in a humiliating defeat. The Tsar and the Russian military had lost to a non-European power that they had seen as subordinate to themselves. This loss caused major unrest throughout the empire, resulting in an incident known as “Bloody Sunday.” On “Bloody Sunday,” the Russian troops that wee guarding the Winter Palace shot and killed peaceful protesters. This incident causes the revolting to spread, causing the Tsar to pass laws in order to please the peasants and dissolve the riots. Tsar Nicolas II, along with the Duma, took a shot at a “constitutional experiment,” granting more freedoms to peasants and allowing the to own land. This attempt succeeded slightly in easing the tensions between the aristocracy and the lower class, but this would only be temporary.

Based on this history, it is not surprising that many Russians were not happy when World War I dragged on into its fourth year. A war that they had expected to be short and brief had turned out to be just the opposite, and this started to exert stress on many lower class Russians. Millions and millions of Russians had been enlisted in the military since the beginning of the war and little progress had been made overall. This caused the spirits of Russians to sink as they began to second think Russia’s involvement in World War I.

These feelings, along with the short food supply in Russia, set fire to the revolution in February 1917. People then began protest the government and the war openly. Shortly after the February Revolution, the Russian military began to disintegrate. A few weeks into the revolution, between 100,000 and 150,000 soldiers deserted the military and returned home. The Russian army attempted to stabilize the military be raising a patriotic feeling throughout it. End the end, their attempts failed and the military continued to collapse.

In conclusion, the stresses caused by Russia’s involvement in World War I helped accelerate the revolutions of February and October, 1917. The war had led to a famine throughout Russia, and when the women could not get their bread rations, the February Revolution ensued. Many everyday people were fed up with getting involved in wars that they were not able to win. The loss in the Russo-Japanese War had humiliated the Russian people enough, and they were not happy about their poor performance in World War I either. This disapproval of the war made it easier for the Bolsheviks to rally support behind their slogan, “bread, land, and peace.” Russia’s involvement in World War I is what set the stage for the revolutions to happen. Without the universal public disapproval of the war, it would have been harder to rally the people against the government. All in all, it’s hard to say that without the war there would be no revolution, but the conditions brought on by the war certainly exacerbated and intensified the revolutions of February and October, 1917.


“Context,” Module 03: 1917 – Did the War Cause a Revolution?, European History, accessed February 9th, 2018, http://www.dhr.history.vt.edu/modules/eu/mod03_1917/context.html.

“Introduction,” Module 03: 1917 – Did the War Cause a Revolution?, European History, accessed February 9th, 2018, http://www.dhr.history.vt.edu/modules/eu/mod03_1917/index.html.

(Image): Frank Herbert Simonds, History of the World War, Volume Two: The Making of Middle Europe (Garden City: Doubleday, Page, and Company, 1919), 128.

“Revolution in the Army,” Lewis Siegalbaum, Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, accessed February 9th, 2018, http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1917-2/revolution-in-the-army/.

3 Replies to “War and Revolution”

  1. I agree, it’s hard to overestimate the effects of years of sustained warfare on a society already under tremendous stresses. I like how you frame the trauma of World War I in terms of the earlier trauma of the Russo-Japanese war. And that image of the field hospital speaks volumes.

  2. I also talked about the affects of World War I on Russia, but with focus on civilians more-so than the military. I like how you discussed the fact that soldiers wanted to leave the war effort; in fact, over 100,000 did leave. You conclude with how all of these failures led to an easier promotion of the Bolsheviks, and how people just wanted “bread, land, and peace.” I thoroughly enjoyed your post and how it elaborated on the unrest with the military, as well as with the peasants.

  3. I could not agree more that lackluster performance in World War I was a huge motivation for Russians to look towards regime change. Failures in World War I definitely rhymed with the failures of the Russo-Japanese War. I hope you look forward to World War II and learning about how the Soviets face a similarly tense situation at home.

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