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WWI: From Abdication to Revolution

As the Freeze text mentions, it is hard to imagine that after 300 years of power, the Romanov dynasty could disappear in just a few days.  However, it did just that, and today I am going to discuss this swift fall from power, as well as how World War I played into the abdication and the events following it.

People at all levels of society were becoming unhappy with the tsar, mainly because of the war.  Citizens at the top levels of society were worried about how WWI was affecting their country, and citizens at the lower levels of society were experiencing these effects firsthand (Digital History Reader), as food was scarce and bread prices were high.  The food crisis is illustrated in this photograph of people waiting in long lines to purchase bread:

Photograph of a Bread Line

When bread riots broke out in late February, police that were called to put down the riots ended up taking sides with the demonstrators rather than stopping them.  Nicholas, desperate to remain in charge, dissolved the Duma and attempted to make his way back to the capital.  However, his generals encouraged him to concede and abdicate the throne.  On March 2, 1917, Nicholas gave up the royal title, ending the Romanov dynasty in Russia (he abdicated to his brother Michael, who also declined the throne).  In his Abdication Manifesto, he wrote, “In these decisive days in the life of Russia, we deem it our duty to do what we can to help our people to draw together and unite all their forces for the speedier attainment of victory. For this reason we, in agreement with the State Duma, think it best to abdicate the throne of the Russian State and to lay down the Supreme Power.”  It is interesting that he claims to be abdicating in order to allow for “the speedier attainment of victory” in the war, because many people didn’t want to be involved in the war at all.


The Provisional Government was formed shortly after his abdication, while soviets began to emerge in the countryside and other cities.  According to Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, the overthrow of the tsar was celebrated by most.  New freedoms were exercised, such as freedom of assembly and press(ironic because a lot of these freedoms were soon to be diminished with the establishment of the Soviet Union).  However, while the Provisional Government addressed these more minor issues, it did not take an immediate position on the most pressing issue – the war.  The following poster states many Russians’ feelings on this:  “The tsar has abdicated! The people and the army demand PEACE!”  – which the Provisional Government did not bring.

Petrograd Municipal Duma: Revolution in Petrograd! (1917)

Perhaps the Provisional Government’s seemingly indifference to the war (or rather their indifference to the people’s opposition to the war) helped the Bolsheviks rise to power, as Lenin and his followers were much more radical in their position on this topic.  They demanded immediate peace, while the Provisional Government reassured the Allies that Russia was committed to fighting (Freeze).  This would eventually lead to a crisis down the road – one that would erupt into further revolution.

Just as the war doomed Tsar Nicholas by leading to the bread riots in February 1917, it also seemed to contribute somewhat to the downfall of the Provisional Government and the overtake by the Bolsheviks in October 1917.  Clearly it played an integral both during the two revolutions and between them as well.



“1917: Bolsheviks Seize Power.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. Web. 15 September 2013. <http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1917october&Year=1917&navi=byYear>.

“Module 03: 1917 — Did the War Cause a Revolution?.” European History. Digital History Reader. Web. 15 September 2013. <http://www.dhr.history.vt.edu/modules/eu/mod03_1917/context.html>.

“Petrograd Municipal Duma: Revolution in Petrograd! (1917)” found at http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&show=images&SubjectID=1917february&Year=1917&navi=byYear

“Photograph of a Bread Line” found at http://www.dhr.history.vt.edu/modules/eu/mod03_1917/evidence_detail_19.html, original image from National Geographic, 1917.

“Soldiers Opposed to the Monarchy” found at http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1917abdication1&SubjectID=1917february&Year=1917, original image from History of the World War


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