While the Russian Revolution technically began in March 1917, it comprised two rebellions. The seeds of the revolt had been taking root for decades and to understand how and why it happened, one must take a quick glimpse at Russian history.
The Romanov family had ruled the Russian Empire for three hundred years. The emperors (called Tsars) reigned without restriction until Tsar Nicholas II assumed the throne. Youthful and naïve Nicholas knew nothing of governing a country and made many mistakes which cost innocent lives. Though he and his family loved Russia and its people, they couldn’t relate to the struggles of the average man and woman. The peasants had a hand to mouth existence. Nicholas and his family lived in seven different palaces, went on an annual trip on their yacht, and traveled extensively. They greeted the three hundredth anniversary of their reign with balls and large celebrations. The Romanovs ruled by Divine Right, which meant their power was absolute, instituted by God, and no one could take it away.
The year following the anniversary, in the summer of 1914, Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination drew Russia and the rest of Europe into WWI. Related through various marriages and alliances, the European monarchies were now enemies. The Russian people galvanized into a patriotic fervor, their cause for power, territory, and the divine. Tsarina Alexandra was a German by birth, which made it difficult for the Romanovs and the Russian people because Germany was now the enemy. Her critics looked upon her with suspicion.
When the tide of war turned, believing himself capable, Tsar Nicholas took command of the Russian Army. His decisions on the battlefield led to unnecessary bloodshed. Meanwhile, on the home front, Tsarina Alexandra turned to her close friend and advisor, the mystic Grigori Rasputin for advice. The outcome led to further suffering for the Russian people. While the royal family worked in the hospitals and had their charities, the Russian people starved. Often born in misery, they knew they would die that way. For years, dissension had brewed among the young and the intellectuals. Some went the extreme route and made assassination attempts against the royal family. They longed for the freedom other nations possessed. The poor did not always want to be poor, they wished for equality. As war devastated Europe, the monarchies of the Old World collapsed. It did not spare Russia.
In Petrograd, what began with a series of strikes and demonstrations evolved into riots and destruction. Tsar Nicholas ordered the army to quell the uprising, but it was too widespread. The Duma, which was to act as a parliamentary counterbalance to the Tsar, temporarily assumed control and confronted Tsar Nicholas, demanding him to abdicate or die. He abdicated in favor of himself and of his son and heir Alexei, bringing an end to the Romanov’s three-hundred-year reign. Now known simply as Nicholas Romanov, the Duma placed Nicholas and his family under house arrest in the Alexander Palace.
Alexander Kerensky, a member of the Socialist Revolution Party, assumed control of the Provisional Government and did his utmost to maintain the peace. However, the effects of a three year long war continued to devastate the nation. Led by the formerly exiled Vladimir Lenin, the Bolshevik party grew more powerful. They embraced a concept inspired by Karl Marx: the ideal communist utopia being the absence of social classes, money, and state. The promise of equality and governmental security was too tempting for the people to resist. In October 1917, the second phase of the Revolution (called the October Revolution) took hold. Lenin and the Bolsheviks revolted against the Provisional Government, overthrowing it. To protect and punish the Romanov family, Kerensky sent the Romanovs to Siberia. Eventually, the Romanov family fell into Bolshevik hands.
By early 1918, civil war broke out between the Bolsheviks (called the “Reds”) and the “Whites” (those loyal to the Romanov family and the monarchy). The Whites hoped to rescue the royal family from exile and restore them to the throne. Concerned the Whites might succeed, Lenin ordered Nicholas and his family’s executions in July 1918. Buried in mass graves in Ekateringburg, no one exhumed the Romanovs until seventy years later.
By 1923, the Bolsheviks/Communists put the last of the White rebellions down. Joseph Stalin succeeded Lenin after his death. Rather than fulfilling the dreams of freedom and prosperity for the Russian people, many consider what followed the darkest regime in human history. An atheistic dictatorship, the Soviet Union stripped people of their rights, censored the press, executed their critics, persecuted Christians and Jews, and committed ethnic cleansing on the Ukrainians. While we may never know how many died at the hands of the Communists, it’s estimated as many as 20 million perished.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Veronica Leigh has been published in several anthologies and her work has appeared on GoWorldTravel.com and the Artist Unleashed, and she has published a couple of fictional stories. She makes her home in Indiana with her family and her furbabies. To learn more about her, visit her blog.