February Bourgeois Democratic Revolution

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The February Revolution (Февральская революция) of 1917 was the first of two revolutions in Russia in 1917. Centered around the then capital Petrograd (modern day St. Petersburg) in late February (Julian calendar – early March in the presently used Gregorian Calendar), its immediate result was the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, the end of the Romanov dynasty, and the end of the Russian Empire. The Tsar was replaced by a Russian Provisional Government under Prince Georgy Lvov. The Provisional Government was an alliance between liberals and socialists who wanted political reform. At the same time, soldiers and factory workers elected a Petrograd Soviet. Most of its leading members were moderate socialists. It ruled alongside the Provisional Government, an arrangement termed Dual Power.

The Setting

In 1914, Russia had a population of 155 to 160 million, about 83 percent rural, 17 percent urban.[1] Almost the entire rural population were peasants. The industrial labour force was about two and a half million.[2] In the 1897 census, about ten percent of Russians were counted as 'middle class'; hereditary nobility were one percent; non-hereditary nobility and non-noble officials together comprised half a percent.[3] About a third of the population could read and write, but the proportion was much higher in the cities.[4] Most of the drama of the February Revolution occurred in the Russian capital, Petrograd (pop. 2,118,000 in 1914[5]). The city had about 400,000 industrial workers in 1917. The Petrograd army garrison had about 160,000 soldiers, but they consisted "mainly of new recruits, untrained, housed in crowded barracks, often poorly fed." [6] The monarchy, though, did not consider the garrison to be their primary defence against popular insurrection; rather, the contingency plan was for first police, then Cossack cavalry to be used.[7]

14 February

Sixty enterprises go on strike, "involving some tens of thousands of workers."[8]

17 February

First deputies to the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies (a.k.a. Petrograd Soviet) congregate at the Tauride Palace, which is the building where the Duma held its sessions.[9]

18 February

One of the shops of the Putilov works went on strike.

22 February

Administration locks out all 20,000 workers at the Putilov plant.

23 February. International Womens' Day

Women workers hold illegal meetings in several textile mills in Vyborg district, decide to go on strike, go into the streets, some carrying red flags saying 'Down with Autocracy,' many shouting for bread; go to other factories, many of which join; by end of day fifty to ninety thousand workers from between twenty and fifty factories are on strike.[10]

24 February

200,000 on strike.[11] Try to cross Neva river to get to centre of Petrograd, police block bridges, workers walk across the ice. Cossacks refuse to intervene. Telegram, British Ambassador, Sir George Buchannan, to Foreign Minister Balfour:

Some disorders occurred today but nothing serious.[12]

25 February

General strike, 300,000 out.[13] Streetcars, newspapers, banks inoperative. University students out. Crowds attack police fiercly, but are conciliatory toward solidiers. Police in Vyborg retreat to their stations, barricade themselves in. General Khabalov receives order from Tsar to take vigorous measures, instructs subordinates to abandon no-shooting policy. Night: police arrest about 100 suspected radicals, including five members of the Bolshevik party's Petrograd Committee.[14]

26 February

In the morning, Rodzianko, president of the Duma, telegrams the Tsar: ". . . The situation is growing worse. Measures must be adopted immediately, because tomorrow will be too late. The last hour has come, when the fate of the fatherland and the dynasty is being decided."[15] Forty people killed by Volinsky regiment in Znamensky Square. In their barracks that night, the soldiers of the Volynsky Regiment agree among themselves that they will no longer fire on crowds.[16] Government dissolves Duma.

27 February

Volyn regiment joins street demonstrations; other regiments follow; [17] by evening "more than 66,000" [18] soldiers are in insurrection in Petrograd. Telegram from General Khabalov to M V Alekseyev:

Please report to His Majesty that I was unable to fulfill the command to restore order in the capital. Most of the units, one after the other, turned traitor and refused to give battle to the mutineers. Other units fraternised with the mutineers and and turned their guns against the troops loyal to His Majesty. Those who remained loyal to their oath fought against the mutineers all day and sustained heavy losses. Towards evening the mutineers held most of the capital.[19]

So the city passed completely into the hands of the revolutionaries. The accounts of many eyewitnesses of the upheaval are pervaded with a spirit of chaotic exaltation. The monarchy had fallen; and in the masses of the population there were few who mourned it. Vast throngs gathered to watch the burning of the large District Court building and the adjoining prison; and the Tauride Palace, where the Duma held its sessions, was a magnet for endless throngs of soldiers, workers, students and curious spectators of all classes. Red bands and ribbons appeared as if by magic; and trucks filled with soldiers raced through the city, with their guns levelled against non-existent enemies. Except for the police, who were given short shrift when they were discovered hiding in garrets or firing from roofs on the crowds, the Revolution, although tumultuous, was, in the main, good-natured. There were relatively few excesses . . . . Class lines had not begun to assume their subsequent sharpness. An atmosphere of vague, formless good fellowship was prevalent. . . .[20]

Also on 27 February, near midnight, the party leaders of the Duma turned themselves into a Temporary Committee to act as an emergency government.[21] Simultaneosly, and in fact in another wing of the same building, the Tauride Palace, representatives of the city's industrial workers decided to form a soviet (council) of deputies similar to the workers' soviet of 1905.[22] Although the Temporary Committee and its successor, the Provisional Government, would hold formal power and be recognised by foreign countries as the Government of Russia, it was this soviet, which would soon come to include soldiers' as well as workers' deputies, that would turn out to have the real power, because it had the loyalty of the working masses and the common soldiers. "It alone could issue orders, bring out the troops, and order the factories to operate."[23] The soviet chose as its first president the leader of the Menshevik faction in the State Duma, N S Chkheidze. Until late August 1917, Mensheviks and SRs had the dominant influence in the soviet. [24] According to the historian Dietrich Geyer, "This soviet resolved to do what the Committe could not do because of its [more conservative] composition: that is, represent the revolutionary people and express its will."[25]


On 1 March, soldiers deputies were added to the Soviet, the first session of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies being held on that date. The Soviet passed Order No. 1, which established elected Soldiers Committees in all army units, and decreed that soldiers would obey no order not sanctioned by their own Committee or the Soviet.[26]

Also on 1 March, spokespeople from the Soviet and representatives of the Temporary Committee negotiated an agreement calling for the establishment of a Provisional Government, whose purpose would be to wield executive power until a democratically elected Constituent Assembly could be convoked. That assembly would decide on the final form of government. Under this March 1st agreement the Provisional Government was obliged to issue an immediate amnesty, abolish capital punishment, allow freedom of speech, press and assembly, allow trade unions and strikes, remove all restrictions based on class, religion or nationality, create a peoples' militia to replace the police, and give soldiers as many political liberties as possible within the limitations required by service. Also under the agreement, two members of the Soviet, Nikolai Chkheidze and Alexander Kerensky, were to be members of the Provisional Government.[27] The next day, however, the Soviet passed a resolution prohibiting socialists from sitting in a bourgeois cabinet. As a result, Chkheidze did not join; Kerensky did join.

The Provisional Government was established on 3 March. "It was a conservative body of well-known and respected prerevolutionary public figures."[28]

Members of Provisional Government, 3 March
OfficeMemberPartyDescription of officeholder
Premier (and Minister of Interior)Prince George E LvovWealthy landowner, member of an old aristocratic family, veteran zemstvo leader.
Foreign MinisterPaul N Miliukovleader of Cadet partyHistorian, outspoken wartime critic of Tsarism
Minister of WarAlexander I Guchkova founder of Octobrist partyWealthy Moscow merchant.
Minister of FinanceMichael B TereshchenkoNon partyPhilanthropist, "one of the wealthiest men in Russia."
Ministrer of AgricultureAndrei I ShingarovCadetZemstvo member.
Minister of EducationA I ManuilovCadetUniversity of Moscow professor.
Minister of Commerce and IndustryAlexander I Konovalov"A progressive member of the Fourth Duma."
Minister of RailwaysNikolai V NekrasovCadetLeader of the left wing Cadet group
Minister of JusticeAlexander F KerenskyLeader of a non-Marxist labour group in the Fourth DumaLawyer. Deputy chair of the Petrograd Soviet.
Procurator of the Holy SynodVladimir N LvovConservative party

Source: Dymytryshyn (1978), p 44.

The overwhelming preponderance in this government of the representatives of the propertied reflects the relative strength of parties in the Duma rather than in the country. The basis of the Duma was exceedingly undemocratic. Its members had been chosen by electors selected by class groups on such a basis that there would be one elector for every 230 of the landed gentry, for every 1,000 wealthy citizens, for every 15,000 middle-class citizens, for every 60,000 peasants and for every 125,000 workingmen! The Duma, even after the ultra-loyalists of the Right had withdrawn, was scarcely more representative of the toiling masses than one of our Chambers of Commerce or Merchants' and Manufacturers' Associations. (Text from Ross, 1921, p 47.)

The "program" of the new government was the outcome of an agreement between the leaders of the Duma and the spokesmen of the Petrograd Soviet, and included the following clauses :

(1) An immediate general amnesty for all political and religious offenses, including terrorist acts, military revolts, and agrarian crimes.

(2) Freedom of speech, of the press, of association and labor organization, and the freedom to strike, with an ex tension of these liberties to civilians and soldiers in so far as military and technical conditions permit.

(3) The abolition of all social, religious, and national restrictions.

(4) Immediate preparations for the summoning of a Constituent Assembly, which, with universal suffrage as a basis, shall establish the governmental regime and the Constitution of the country.

(5) The substitution for the police of a national militia, with elective heads and subject to the self-governing bodies.

(6) Elections to be carried out on the basis of universal suffrage.

(7) The troops that have taken part in the revolutionary movement shall not be disarmed, and they are not to leave Petrograd.

(8) While severe military discipline must be maintained on active service, all restrictions upon soldiers in the enjoyment of social rights granted to other citizens are to be abolished.

(9) The Provincial Government wishes to add that it has no intention of taking advantage of the existence of war conditions to delay the realization of the above-mentioned measures of reform.

Particularly significant are Clauses 7, 8, and 9. The first six clauses voice the aspirations long cherished by the progressive elements among the Russian bourgeoisie. But the concluding clauses are evidently safeguards exacted by the suspicious and watchful leaders of the proletariat. These fought hard for another clause, viz., `Abstinence from all actions which would decide beforehand the formation of the future government.' This proposal gave rise to stormy debates and was firmly resisted not only by the Nationalists and the Octobrists, but also by the Cadets, who followed Miliukov in preferring a constitutional monarchy of the English type. They not only refused to proclaim a democratic republic as the popular parties desired, but they refused to pledge themselves not to establish a monarchy prior to the convening of a Constituent Assembly. (Text from Ross, 1921, pp 48-9.)


See [#Sources] below for bibliographical details.

  1. Total, and rural/urban split data appear in both Borys Lewytzkyj, Soviet Union: Facts and Figures, 1979, p 7. And J N Westwood, p 199.
  2. Westwood (2002), p 199.
  3. Westwood, p 171.
  4. Suny, p 41.
  5. Westwood (2002) p 170.
  6. Number of industrial workers and size and quality of garrison are from Chamberlain, 1987 (1935), pp 74, 75.
  7. Chamberlain, 1987, p 74.
  8. Nenarokov, 1968, p 86.
  9. Nenarokov, p 89.
  10. Suny, 2011, p 48; Chamberlain, 1987, p 75. The more conservative figures for number of strikers and factories are Suny's.
  11. Suny, 2011, p 48.
  12. Chamberlain, 1987, p 76.
  13. Suny, p 49.
  14. Chamberlain, 1987, p 77.
  15. Chmberlain, 1987, p 77.
  16. Chamberlain, p 77; Dmytryshyn, 1978, p 41.
  17. Dmytryshyn, 1978, p 41.
  18. Nenarokov, 1968, p 88.
  19. Quoted in Nenarokov, pp 88-89.
  20. The paragraph is verbatim from Chamberlain, 1987 (1935), p 80.
  21. Kochan, p 188; Suny, 2011, p 50.
  22. Geyer (1987), p 70; Suny (2011), p 50.
  23. Suny (2011), p 50.
  24. Date, proportions, and quote: A V Fadeev and E D Chermenskii, "Historical Outline, Period of Capitalism," in Robert Maxwell, Information USSR. Pergamon Press; New York City, USA; 1962.
  25. Geyer (1987), p 50.
  26. Fadeev and Chermenskii, p 178; and Suny, p 52.
  27. Kochan, p 188; Dmytryshyn (1987), p 45.
  28. Dymytryshyn (1987), p 44.


  • William Henry Chamberlain, The Russian Revolution 1917-1918. Princeton University Press; Princeton, New Jersey, USA; 1987 (1935).
  • Basil Dmytryshyn. USSR: A Concise History, Third edition. Scribner's; New York city, USA; 1978.

Dietrich Geyer, The Russian Revolution, 1977. Translated from the German by Bruce Little, 1987. Berg Publishers; Leamington Spa, England.

  • Kochan, Russia in Revolution.
  • Albert Nenarokov. Russia in the Twentieth Century: The view of a Soviet Historian. Morrow & Co.; New York City, USA; 1968.
  • Edward Alsworth Ross The Russian Bolshevik Revolution. 1921. American writer. Liberal in some ways. Very critical of Lenin's dissolution of the Constituent Assembly. archive.org
  • Ronald Grigor Suny, The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States. Oxford University Press; Oxford, England; 2011
  • J N Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour: Russian History 1812-2001. Oxford University Press; Oxford, England; 2002.
ru:Февральская буржуазно-демократическая революция