The Soviet Union since 1917

The Soviet Union since 1917

The Soviet Union since 1917

The Soviet Union since 1917

Excerpt

The pomp and circumstance which attended the tercentenary celebrations of the Romanov dynasty in 1913 matched the occasion. The Tsar, Nicholas II, and the Tsarina, Aleksandra, glowed with pride. But pride comes before a fall. And the fall, in February 1917, was sudden, unexpected and complete. The autocrat of all the Russias passed from the scene without so much as a whisper of protest. How was this possible?

The First World War imposed intolerable strains on the State. Russia had been undergoing a process of modernisation before 1914 and the war quickened the pace but the demands were too great. By the end of 1916 public confidence in the government had evaporated, the army had been defeated and transport problems were mounting. About 80,000 metal and textile workers went on strike on 23 February. It also happened to be International Women's Day. It had not been organised by any political party, it was the spontaneous expression of increasing exasperation at the privations and shortages, exacerbated by war. There were 160,000 troops garrisoned in the capital, Petrograd. The regime did not appear to be in danger. The strike gradually spread throughout the city, bringing vast numbers of people on to the streets. On 26 February the troops fired on the demonstrators and drew blood but by the following day the mood of the army was different. The Volhynian regiment went over to the people and set out to convince others to do the same. Other regiments followed. The Cossacks, formally the most reliable of the imperial guards, changed sides and this doomed the dynasty. The revolution had almost been bloodless; only 587 civilians, 655 soldiers and 73 policemen sealed its victory with their blood.

The leaderless crowds turned to the only authority they knew, the parliament or Duma. It had been dissolved by the Tsar but a thirteen-man Temporary Committee composed of members of all political groupings except the right, and essentially middle class, was set up on 27 February. Also established the same day and in the same building, the Tauride Palace, was the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' Deputies (when representatives arrived from the . . .

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