Why Was There A Disaster in 1917?



The First World War placed an unbearable strain on Russia's weak government and economy, resulting in mass shortages and hunger.

       In the meantime, the mismanagement and failures of the war turned the people - and importantly the soldiers - against the Tsar, whose decision to take personal command of the army seemed to make him personally responsible for the defeats.

       In March 1917, the Tsar lost control first of the streets, then of the soldiers, and finally of the Duma, resulting in his forced abdication on 15 March 1917.



The February Revolution


In March 1917 crowds rioted on the streets.   The soldiers joined them.   Then the members of the Duma joined the rebellion; they forced the Tsar to abdicate.


1  Weakness of Russia

Underlay everything (see weaknesses 1–7)


2  World War I

The First World War was the key factor.  

The army was badly led and poorly equipped.   Russian defeats at Tannenberg and Masurian Lakes – the Russians lost 200,000 men – lost the government the support of the army.  

The war took 15 million men from the farms and trains had to be used for the war (so they could not bring food to the cities) so there were food shortages and food prices rose, all of which created anger and unrest in Petrograd

The winter of 1916–17 was severe.   Food shortages got worse – there was a famine in the cities.


3  Tsar’s Mistakes

The Tsar took personal command of the army  – which did not help the war effort and meant he was blamed for the defeats.   

He left the Tsarina in charge.   She was incompetent (she let Rasputin run the government), and (because she was a German) rumours circulated that she was trying to help Germany to win.

By February 1917 the government was in chaos.

Finally, in the crisis, Nicholas went to pieces and failed to do anything (see Source A).


4   Army abandoned the Tsar

On 8 March 1917, there were riots in Petrograd about the food shortages and the war.

On 12 March the Army abandoned the Tsar – the soldiers mutinied and refused to put down the riots.   The government lost control of the country.


5   Duma abandoned the Tsar

On 13 March members of the Duma went to Nicholas to tell him to abdicate.  



Source A

On 12 March 1917 Rodzianko, the President of the Duma, telegraphed the Tsar:

The situation is getting worse.   Something has to be done immediately.   Tomorrow is too late.   The last hour has struck.   The future of the country and the royal family is being decided.  


The Tsar read it and said:

Again, that fat-bellied Rodzianko has written me a load of nonsense, which I won’t even bother to answer.


On 13 March the Duma forced Nicholas to abdicate.    




HOW did the Causes cause revolution? - important matching game


Textbook accounts:

PJ Larkin, Revolution in Russia (1965)

Peter Moss, History Alive (1967)

Reed Brett, European History (1967)

Chris Culpin, Making History (1984) - recommended reading; analyses the cause into long-term and short term

Norman Lowe, Mastering Modern World History (1988) - a difficult text which looks at the impact of WWI



The February Revolution - Spartacus

questgarden - interesting general information

Think Quest - simple and chatty

BBC Bitesize - long-term, short-term and summary of causes

Wikipedia - harder; analyses the causes into economic, social and political

How WWI caused the Revolution - Open University text



ppt from Redruth school - big file, takes a while to download.



- BBC debate-podcast on the Causes of the Russian Revolution of March 1917


Kirsten's Thesis - good idea

Frank E Smitha - narrative account of the February Revolution - quite hard


Collapse of the Tsarist Monarchy




 Did You Know?

In 1917, the Russian calendar had not yet been reformed, so it was 13 days behind other countries.  

This is why we call 8–15 March: The February Revolution,

and the Bolshevik coup d’état of 6–8 November: The October Revolution.



Events of the Revolution

7 March          

Steelworkers go on strike.

8 March

International Women’s Day – demonstrations/ bread riots.

9–10 March     

More demonstrations/strikes – Tsarina calls in the army.

11 March         

Troops fire on crowds.   The Duma urges action – Tsar dissolves the Duma.

12 March         

Soldiers mutiny and join riots.

Soldiers and workers set up the ‘Petrograd Soviet’ of 2,500 elected deputies   (i.e. the Tsar’s government had fallen/ Russia had 2 governments)

13 March         

Duma sets up a ‘Provisional Government’, led by Kerensky.

The Tsar gets on the train to Petrograd, but (on 14 March) is arrested on the way and  (on 15 March) abdicates.


1.   Find out more about:

a.   Rasputin

b.   Rodzianko

2.   To what extent was the Tsar responsible for his own fall from power?

3.   Which was more important as a cause of the revolution – the underlying weaknesses of the monarchy or the First World War?