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The Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Bolshevik Movement

Page history last edited by Robert W. Maloy 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Dictatorship of the Proletariat Russian poster

Russian Poster:  The Dictatorship of the Proletaria


Topics on the Page


The Russian Revolution

  • Film: Battleship Potemkin


Late Imperial Russia

The October Manifesto and Constitutional Russia

The 1st to 4th Dumas and the Rise of Lenin and the Bolsheviks

Russia Enters World War I

The February Revolution

Lenin's Return

Resurgence of the Bolsheviks



  • John Reed's 10 Days That Shook the World






Boris Kustodiyev painting of Nicholas II, 1915
Boris Kustodiyev painting of Nicholas II, 1915

The Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik Movement

In late February of 1917, unhappy factory workers, women honoring International Women's Day, students, and activists began massive protests in Petrograd that ultimately led to the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. The roots of the Russian Revolution, however, date back much further.


Teaching Resource- Project 1917, a website to simulate what happened today during the Russian Revolution in 1917, including profiles on key players of the revolution as well as world leaders outside of Russia. 

Timeline of the Russian Revolution, British Library


Potemkin mutiny. Odessa port.

Artist's drawing of battleships Knyaz Potemkin-Tavrichesky & Georgiy Pobedonosetz (right), 1905


  The Battleship Potemkin


Battleship Potemkin, (1925) classic silent movie directed by Sergei Eisenstein about the 1905 Revolution. The Odessa Steps sequence is possibly the most famous movie scene of all time 


Official Film Trailer for Battleship Potemkin


Click here for Teacher Notes to accompany The Battleship Potemkin

Review of the movie by Roger Ebert


Potemkin: The Mutiny, the Movie, the Myth



Late Imperial Russia


An interactive map of Imperial Russia


Alexander II and the Great Reforms


    • Alexander II ruled Russia from 1855 until his assassination in 1881.


    • His reign was characterized by a number of reforms, including the liberation of the serfs and the establishment of local legislative bodies known as Zemstvos.


    • With these reforms came an increased effort to industrialize Russia.
      The assassination of Alexander II
      The assassination of Alexander II 
    • Despite these reforms, Alexander was still an absolute monarch, and faced numerous assassination attempts.


    • On March 13th, 1881, Alexander's carriage was damaged by a bomb intending to kill him. While he stayed to survey the damage, another bomb was thrown, mortally wounding the Tsar, who died later that day. The assassins and co-conspirators, members of a Socialist-Revolutionary terrorist cell, were captured and executed. On March 13th, Alexander III, the son of the slain Tsar, was officially anointed the new Tsar.


The Counter-Reforms of Alexander III


    • Witnessing the multiple failed and finally successful assassination attempts on his father, Alexander III blamed his father for being too lenient with his people.


    • Upon rising to the throne, Alexander sought to reverse the great reforms that his father had instituted, including restricting personal freedoms, establishing a secret police, and curbing the power of the Zemstvos. For a flashcard activity on the Counter-reforms of Alexander II, see here.


    • Alexander III died in 1894 of kidney disease. His eldest son, Nicholas, became the new Tsar and was anointed Nicholas II.


Nicholas IIWar with Japan, and the Revolution of 1905


    • Nicholas II was born in 1868, so he was also present to his grandfather's death at the hands of assassins.


    • Nicholas continued to roll back the reforms brought on by his grandfather, and his reign as Tsar was characterized by attempting to hold on to as much power as possible in a radically changing world.


    • Part of that radically changing world would include the scramble for territories and colonies. In 1905, Russian and Japanese claims to territories in China and Korea led to increased tensions, and eventually to war. 


    • See here for a short video on the Russo-Japanese War from Feature History. Also The Russo-Japanese War Research Society has images and links to primary documents and articles about the war. 
      • Also see information on the Treaty of Portsmouth, and how President Theodore Roosevelt helped to broker peace between the two nations.


    • Russia suffered a massive defeat at the hands of the Japanese, who were also aided by the British. But the worsening war effort also led to instability within Russia, and to the Revolution of 1905.


Image result for russo-japanese war maps
Image result for russo-japanese war maps


Learning plan on the Romanov Dynasty, from its start, to its violent end.


Harper's Weekly Political Cartoon Depicting the Revolution of 1905


Harper's Weekly Political Cartoon Depicting the Revolution of 1905

Bloody Sunday


  • January of 1905 saw disgruntled industrial workers, overworked and underfed during wartime, forming general strikes. Members of the Russian Intelligentsia class, and various socialist and activist groups, saw this as an opportunity to sow the greater seeds of revolution.


  • On January 22nd, Georgy Gapon and over 100,000 workers marched on the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg to deliver a petition demanding worker's rights. These unarmed protesters were fired upon by the Imperial Guard, in what was called Bloody Sunday, or Red Sunday.


  • After Bloody Sunday, massive general strikes began forming, and universities were closed. Students and workers began organizing, aided by the radical factions within the Zemstvos and other revolutionary political organizations.


Father Gapon leads the crown on Bloody Sunday

Father Gapon leads the crown on Bloody Sunday


See Father Gapon's "St. Petersburg Workmen's petition to the Tsar"



See Archives from The New York Times, reporting on the Revolution of 1905 and Bloody Sunday

See here for a lesson plan on Bloody Sunday and the Revolution of 1905

for a brief video on the Revolution of 1905 with study questions, see here



The October Manifesto and "Constitutional" Russia


  • After the violence of the Revolution of 1905, and the defeat at the hands of Japan, Nicholas and the Tsarist regime had to make concessions, most notably those outlined in the October Manifesto.



    • The October Manifesto called for the recognition of basic civil freedoms of all Russians, universal male suffrage, and most notably the creation of a State Legislature, called the Duma.


    • The Duma had the power to craft legislation in Russia, but Tsar Nicholas still maintained sole veto power over any legislation, and could dismiss the Duma and call for new elections at any point.


    • The violence and general strikes were appeased by these concessions, and at that time, Nicholas II was able to maintain most of his standing as an autocrat.


  • The Duma, although mostly ineffective whenever it was not being dismissed, became the battleground for revolutionary ideals. Rival political parties and organizations, who had before been active in the local Zemstvos, began vying for support and power on the national stage.

See a copy of the October Manifesto here.

See here for a text of the Constitution of 1906

The 1st-4th Dumas, Political Parties, and the rise of Lenin and the Bolsheviks


For a background on the various political parties that vied for support in the Duma, see here.


  1. The First Duma was made up of mostly Kadets, who were to the left of the Tsarists, but to the right of the Bolsheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries. The Kadets attempted to pass a number of reforms, and Tsar Nicholas dismissed the First Duma within weeks of its founding.
  2. After realizing how beneficial representation in the Duma could be for popular support, more radical factions in Russia that rejected the October Manifesto and had boycotted the first Duma decided to run for seats in the Second Duma. This second body, then, was much more radical than the first Duma.
    • This Duma was also dissolved fairly quickly, for fears by the Tsarist regime that such a radical body would provoke violent uprisings. For more external image 1437530159.jpginfo, see Wikipedia page on the Coup of June 1907.
    • In response to the growing radicalism within the Duma, Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin altered the rules on who could become a representative in the Duma. Favoring more conservative representation, Stolypin gave more representative power to large landowners and wealthy businessmen. This was in clear violation of the Constitution of 1906.
  3. The Third and Fourth Dumas, in accordance with Stolypin's planning, were largely made up of Octobrists and other regime sympathizers. Little legislative reform was achieved, but the Fourth Duma was active while Russia began to slide into the First World War.

See here for images relating to the First Duma, including photographs of various members

Lenin, Trotsky, and The Bolshevik Party


  • The Bolshevik Party, initially a faction of the Russian Social Democratic Party, was a political organization founded in 1903 by Vladimir Lenin.


    • Lenin (1870-1924), a Marxist activist and revolutionary agitator, spent much of the first decade of the 20th century either imprisoned or in exile.
    • In exile, working and meeting with various Marxist groups across Europe, Lenin formulated and published much of his scholarly and literary work.
    • In 1902, Lenin published the pamphlet, "What is To Be Done?" arguing for the creation of a vanguard party that would help to guide the working people of Russia towards Communism. The pamphlet expressed Lenin's growing frustrations with the moderate factions in the Russian Social Democratic Party, and led to his forming of the Bolshevik faction as what would become his "vanguard".


  • Bolsheviks largely strayed from mainstream political action before 1917, mostly because of their lack of popular support and radical methods. Most of their leaders were often imprisoned or exiled at any given time, and they were still dealing with disputes and reconciliations between the remaining factions of the Russian Social Democrats.


  • Most of their support and power came from their representation in the various Worker's Councils, or Soviets, throughout Russia, and through their news publication Pravda, edited at the time by Leon Trotsky
    • Trotsky, who initially sided with the Mensheviks, started to become more sympathetic to the Bolshevik faction after Bloody Sunday in 1905. During and shortly after the Revolution of 1905, Trotsky was elected Chairman of the St. Petersburg Soviet, and helped to spur the growth of other Soviets throughout Russia.

external image St.+Petersburg+Soviet+Trotsky+at+the+St.+Petersburg+Soviet+of+Workers+Deputies%2C+middle+row%2C+holding+papers..jpg

See here for a database of Lenin's published works

For the published works of Leon Trotsky, see here

Russia Enters The First World War


  • Russia had joined the Triple Entente with France and Great Britain mainly to counter German aggression, but also to defend the Serbian Slavs, and likely to reclaim its reputation as a military power after the humiliating defeat in the Russo-Japanese War.


  • This entrance into the war did initially grant some respite from civil unrest and revolutionary activity. With the more radical leaders such as Lenin and Trotsky in forced exile, most political factions toned down their revolutionary activities and gave their support to Russia against a foreign enemy. The Fourth Duma gave their support to Nicholas II in leading the war and agreed to temporarily suspend the legislature during wartime.


  • This armistice was brief, though, and when Russia came to understand how wholly underprepared it was to fight this kind of war, public support for the war and for Nicholas began to falter again. 


Tsar Nicholas II takes personal command of Russian Forces, 1915

Tsar Nicholas II takes personal command of Russian Forces, 1915


  • Nicholas, as Supreme Commander of Russian Forces, was blamed for all of Russia's military defeats. Additionally, the rapid industrialization that the war effort demanded, compounded with the food needed to sustain the soldiers, led to massive food shortages and increases in civil unrest, crime, and strikes. The people of Russia blamed all of this on the war, and therefore on Nicholas.


  • In 1915, Tsar Nicholas decided to go to the front to take personal command of the armed forces, against the pleading of his ministers.
    • Being away from St. Petersburg, which changed names to Petrograd so as to avoid sounding German, only made the situation worse for the regime. Having Tsar Nicholas personally leading the failing war effort only made him seem even worse of a military commander.


    • See here for some differing viewpoints as to whether Tsar Nicholas' decision to take personal command accelerated his own demise as Tsar


    • Additionally, the political situation in Petrograd only continued to worsen as Nicholas' wife, Tsarina Alexandra assumed control of the regime. This  period was characterized by a rapid turnover of incompetent Ministers, and growing scandals about the conduct of Grigori Rasputin.


      • Rasputin, who came to Alexandra and Nicholas in November of 1905, was known as a sort of mystic and an Orthodox priest who was able to heal their son Alexei, who was a hemophiliac.


      • Rasputin made himself indispensable to Tsarina Alexandra by seeming as the only person who could heal her son and keep him alive, and was able to gain political power this way by becoming the sort of spiritual advisor to the Imperial Family.


See here for an NPR book review that tries to separate fact from fiction when it comes to Rasputin

See here for an interactive timeline of Russia in World War One.

A simulation from Spartacus-Educational, in which students will inhabit the roles of various socio-political groups and predict how they will react to the worsening war effort, and the continued failings of the Tsarist regime.

The February Revolution


  • On February 18th 1917, workers at the Putilov Factory began a general strike to protest the government. Five days later, Women honoring International Women's Day and protesting bread prices joined in the massive demonstrations. This continued to develop into a widespread riot against the Tsarist regime, with many demonstrators calling for an end to the monarchy.
    • Tensions worsened when police began to open fire on some of the demonstrators. Some of the police officers and military garrisons even began to side with the protestors.


  • Regime Ministers attempted to call the Tsar back to Petrograd, and tried to convince him to abdicate the throne, but Nicholas was still unaware how extreme the situation was, and ordered a continued crackdown on the demonstrators.


  • On February 26th and 27th, soldiers of the Petrograd Garrison began to mutiny and joined the demonstrators, now revolutionaries.
    • In the midst of all this, socialist parties that had been otherwise on political hiatus, re-established the Petrograd Soviet.


  • On March 1st The Provisional Committee of the State Duma, established just two days before, claimed to be the legitimate power in Russia.


  • On March 2nd, Tsar Nicholas II officially abdicated the throne on behalf of him and his son. He nominated his brother the Grand Duke to succeed him, but he deferred to the power of a constituent assembly as to how Russia would be led form now on.


  • The Provisional Committee established a government and a cabinet of ministers, mainly representatives from the Fourth Duma. However, they soon had to compete for power and influence with the recently re-established Petrograd Soviet, who had major influence with the working class and the military.


  • See here for more information on how women mobilized a large portion of the demonstrators from factories in Petrograd



  • Russian Provisional Government, March 1917
    Russian Provisional Government, March 1917
    external image 231368.p.jpg?mtime=1458043205

Dual Power and Lenin's return to Russia


  • After the February Revolution and the abdication of Nicholas II, The Provisional Government announced its aims in guiding Russia towards a new form of government.


    • This was to include the formation of a Constituent Assembly, amnesty for previous political revolutionaries, and the replacement of the police with a public militia.


    • Another major aim of the Provisional Government was a commitment to the alliance with Britain, France, and the United States in World War One, much to the disapproval of the Soviet, Workers, Soldiers, and Peasants.


    • A number of Tsarist sympathizers and more moderate political factions gave their support to the Provisional Government, but those more radical factions like the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks supported the legitimacy of the Soviets, and continued to assert their superiority while still cooperating with the Provisional Government.



    • In his April Theses, Lenin admonishes the Bolsheviks in Russia for cooperating with the Provisional Government. He argues that the Provisional Government is a capitalist and imperialist enterprise just like the Tsarist regime because of its continued commitment to the allied effort in World War One. Lenin declared that there would be no support for the Provisional Government.


    • In July 1917 Alexander Kerensky, a former Duma representative, Provisional Government Minister, and Vice-Chairman of the Petrograd-Soviet, became the new Prime Minister of the Provisional Government. Kerensky belonged to the SocialistRevolutionary Party, and was beholden to the belief that his only threats were from those to the right of him, or those who might want to re-establish a monarchy. He repeatedly underestimated the Bolsheviks, and continued to alienate the Right-SRs and any remaining Tsarist sympathizers. (See info on the Kornilov Affair)


  • For an assignment on Lenin's April Theses, see here

Decline of the Provisional Government, and Resurgence of the Bolsheviks

  • The increasingly worsening war effort, structural problems within the Government, and the loss of military support after the arrest of General Kornilov had completely tarnished the reputation of the Provisional Government by the end of July. In a last ditch effort, Kerensky tried to establish the Russian Republic on September 1st as a means to reclaim order of the populace and of the military.
    • The Soviets and other socialist groups did not agree with Kerensky's plan. They thought that it went against the goals of the February Revolution that outlined the specific way that a new government would have to be created, and it looked as if Kerensky was looking to consolidate power.


  • Kerensky attempts to disband the Military Revolutionary Committee on September 4th and move authority to the new Russian Republic, but the Committee refuses to cede their power or give up their arms.
    • At the same time, the Petrograd Soviet was now under Bolshevik control, with Trotsky once again serving as its chairman. They also had not given up weapons given to them by Kerensky during the Kornilov Affair, had established their own Military Revolutionary Committee, and commanded an army, the Red Guard. Lenin is in hiding, but he and the Bolsheviks are planning to overthrow the Provisional Government.


  • Fearing a German advance towards Petrograd, Lenin and Trotsky saw an opportunity to wrestle control form the Provisional Government entirely.
    • The Petrograd Soviet, under the leadership of Trotsky, start revolutionary campaigns throughout Russia. Ordering general strikes on the part of workers, and the disobeying of orders on the part of soldiers.


  • On the night of October 24th, Bolshevik forces and the Red Guard begin to take key positions in Petrograd, but they meet opposition. Fighting ensued through the day, but by the night of October 25th, Kerensky would flee Petrograd.



  • See here for information on a brief window of freedom for LGBTQ people under the two criminal codes established by the Bolsheviks following the October Revolution 


Bolsheviks take the Winter Palace
Bolsheviks take the Winter Palace

For more information on primary sources, see John Reed's Ten Days That Shook The World

See here for a timeline of the events of 1917 from marxists.org, with particular focus on the actions of the Bolsheviks

See here for podcasts covering the events of the Russian Revolution of 1917

For brief videos covering the entire revolution, see here and here


Click here for a brief overview of the Russian Revolution (1905-1917)




For primary sources, including personal correspondence between key figures, see here

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