ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Revolutionary Expectations in 1917 Russia

The February Revolution of 1917 not only overthrew the Russian monarchy but raised great expectations among the population. The essay looks at the expectations of several key segments—workers, soldiers, women, peasants, upper and middle classes, and nationalities. As the Provisional Government was slow to fulfil their expectations, the population turned leftward politically. In a matter of months this led to the rise of the extreme left and the Bolshevik seizure of power.

In February 1917 Revolution broke out and successfully overthrew Tsar Nicholas II. The new revolutionary leaders faced many problems—political, social, economic, cultural, others—but two of them stand out: war and popular expectations. One was war. The Great War, World War I, had a massive impact on the population: human losses, dislocation of big sections of the population evacuated away from the front areas, large numbers of new widows and fatherless children, disruption of the economy and the beginning of runaway inflation, among others. Russia’s poor military performance and serious social-economic problems created strong dissatisfaction with the imperial regime of Nicholas II. Once the February Revolution overthrew Nicholas, people expected the new Provisional Government to quickly do something about the war and the problems it had caused. Differing ideas about that immediately emerged. Failure to find a way to peace quickly undermined the successive 1917 governments that made up the Provisional Government and helped bring the Bolsheviks to power towards the end of the year. I have examined this in other publications, starting with my first book, The Russian Search for Peace, February–October 1917, and continuing in many articles and books, including in my current third edition of The Russian Revolution, 1917 (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

The other massive problem was how to meet all the expectations that the revolution sparked in the population, especially as the population moved quickly to get their aspirations fulfilled. The February Revolution not only gave the people of the Russian Empire an unprecedented opportunity to express their wishes, but allowed them to organise for their fulfilment. Freed from the old regime’s censorship and controls over public life, they burst forth with a massive self-assertiveness, holding public meetings, creating new organisations, and forcing out political leaders who did not move quickly enough to fulfil their expectations. Announcements of conferences, congresses, committees, public meetings, organisations being formed, and other manifestations of a newly unfettered public life filled the newspapers, whose numbers exploded in 1917. Speeches became the order of the day in a society that had previously been gagged but now could and did speak not only freely but constantly. In some ways Russia in 1917 was a vast and ongoing meeting.

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Updated On : 7th Nov, 2017
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