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The events in Petrograd in 1917

The events in Petrograd in 1917 changed world history forever. The year saw two revolutions – that of February and that of October, and in the space of one year the world’s biggest country went from being a tsarist police state to a communist one.
With the deprivations caused by the war, along with a breakdown in the chain of command, morale was very low in early 1917. People were also incensed at the strong influence Rasputin had on the throne, via the Empress Alexandra. Nicholas II was blamed for failures of the Russian armies.

Political fragmentation had resulted in a reincarnation of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers & Soldiers Deputies, based on the 1905 model.

Workers’ protests turned into a general strike and troops mutinied, forcing the end of the monarchy.
On 1 March Nicholas abdicated after he was ‘asked to’ by the Duma. The Romanov dynasty of over 300 years officially came to an end.
A short time later, Nicholas II and his entire family were exiled to Yekaterinburg, east of the Ural Mountains, where they were later murdered and buried in a mass grave. Some of the bodies were exhumed and re-buried at the Peter and Paul Fortress in 1998.

A provisional government announced that general elections would be held in November. The Petrograd Soviet started meeting in the city’s Tauride Palace alongside the country’s reformist Provisional Government. It was to Petrograd’s Finland Station that Vladimir Lenin travelled in April to organise the Bolshevik Party. The Smolny Institute, a former girls’ college in the city, became the locus of power as the Bolsheviks
took control of the Petrograd Soviet, which had installed itself there.

During the summer, tensions were raised considerably by the coexistence of two power bases: the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet.
The Bolsheviks’ propaganda campaign was winning over a substantial number of people who, understandably, thought that the slogan ‘Peace, Land and Bread’ was a good maxim by which to live. Tensions were high; Lenin thought that it was now time for a Soviet coup. But a series of violent mass demonstrations in July, inspired by the Bolsheviks but in the end not fully backed by them, was quelled. Lenin fled to Finland, and Alexander Kerensky, a moderate Social Revolutionary, became prime minister.

In September the Russian military Chief-of-Staff, General Kornilov, sent cavalry to Petrograd to crush the Soviets. Kerensky’s government turned to the left for support against this insubordination, even courting the Bolsheviks, and the counter-revolution was defeated. After this, public opinion massively favoured the Bolsheviks, who quickly took control of the Petrograd Soviet (chaired by Trotsky, who had joined them) and, by extension, all the Soviets in the land. Lenin (who had cowered in Finland through all this) again decided it I was time to seize power and returned from Finland in October.

The actual ‘Great October Soviet etc etc’ revolution wasn’t nearly as dramatic as all those red-tinted, massive Soviet canvases dedicated to the event would have you believe. Bolsheviks occupied key positions in Petrograd on 24 October. Next day, the All-Russian Congress of Soviets appointed a Bolshevik government. That night, after some exchanges of gunfire and a blank shot fired from the cruiser Aurora on the Neva (a symbol of the navy’s allegiance to the uprising), the Provisional Government in the Winter Palace surrendered to the Bolsheviks.

Armistice was signed with the approaching Germans in December 1917, followed by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918 that surrendered Poland, the Baltic provinces, Ukraine, Finland and Transcaucasia to the Germans. This negotiation for a separate peace with Germany enraged the Allied forces, who would later back anti-Bolshevik fighters in a nose-thumbing effort to punish the revolutionaries for taking their ball and
going home.

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