The Russian Revolution: Timeline, Causes & Effects

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  • 0:09 The Russian Revolution
  • 0:49 The Revolution of 1905
  • 3:09 The February Revolution
  • 4:17 The October Revolution
  • 5:44 Aftermath and Implications
  • 6:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

In this lesson, we will examine the Russian Revolution. We will see what events led to the revolution, and we'll learn how the revolution impacted Russia's involvement in World War I.

The Russian Revolution

The Russian Revolution - what was it and why did it happen? That is the subject of this lesson. The Russian Revolution was actually a series of revolutions taking place in Russia throughout 1917. They ultimately resulted in the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II and the establishment of a communist state. We need to understand that the Russian Revolution did not come about overnight. It was preceded by years and years of social unrest. Let's go back to the year 1905, and learn about some events that set the stage for the Russian Revolution of 1917.

The Revolution of 1905

In 1905, Tsar Nicholas II was the Emperor of Russia. He came to power in 1894, and he was not particularly popular with the Russian people. He did not have the charisma characteristic of other leaders. Many people felt he was haughty and aloof. Many peasants and middle-class citizens felt the Tsar was out of touch with the realities of their meager existence.

For these reasons, his political power was less than secure. Adding to the Tsar's unpopularity was the fact that Imperial Russia was losing the Russo-Japanese War. This, compounded with agricultural stagnation, class warfare, and general unrest, caused many Russians to become dissatisfied with their monarchist government.

In early 1905, protests broke out in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) and elsewhere. Peasants and industrial workers went on strike and put on demonstrations throughout the city, including at the Tsar's Winter Palace. On January 22, 1905, a day that became known as Bloody Sunday, the Tsar's imperial guards open fired on a crowd of thousands of peaceful protesters. No one knows for certain how many people were killed, but figures range from a hundred into the thousands. The heavy-handed action of the Tsar's imperial guards sparked further rioting and added fuel to the fire of revolution.

Concerned his rule might be toppled, Nicholas II sought to appease revolutionaries by granting reforms. Caving to political pressure, he approved the creation of the Duma, a legislative assembly. The first Duma convened in 1906. The Tsar also agreed to a constitution granting basic civil liberties and transforming his absolute monarchy into more of a limited constitutional monarchy. We need to remember the Tsar absolutely did not want to institute these changes, but given the tide of resentment toward him, he basically had no choice; his hands were tied.

The February Revolution

At first it looked like Nicholas II had weathered the storm of revolution. Demonstrations winded down as his reforms were supported by the people. Then came World War I in 1914. With war came unimaginable loss of life, food shortages, and countless other forms of human misery. As the war dragged on, the people increasingly became dissatisfied with it, feeling it simply wasn't worth the cost. Again, the Tsar's leadership came into question.

In March of 1917 (which was actually February according to the old style Julian calendar system), large-scale demonstrations swept the capital city of Petrograd. Peasants, workers, and even soldiers came out in armed protest. The capital soon devolved into anarchy, forcing Nicholas II to abdicate the throne. The February Revolution, as it is called, was important because it resulted in the overthrow of the Tsar and the installation of a new leftist provisional government.

The October Revolution

Russia's new provisional government was highly divided between moderates and radicals. Members of the radical faction were called Bolsheviks. They were composed primarily of working class citizens, and were followers of Vladimir Lenin's communist ideology.

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Additional Activities

Writing Prompts About the Russian Revolution

Diary Prompt 1:

Pretend that you are Tsar Nicholas II confiding to your diary in 1905-1906. What are your thoughts on the current state of Russian society? Why is there so much unrest and what do you think is the best way to handle it? How did you come to decide to grant the Duma more power?

Diary Prompt 2:

Imagine that you are a peasant or industrial worker who took part in the 1905 protests on Bloody Sunday. Write in your diary what prompted you to participate in the protests, being sure to articulate clearly the societal, agricultural, labor, and political conditions that caused you to become dissatisfied with your life in Russia. Then, describe your feelings on the czarist regime after the military attack on Bloody Sunday.

Writing Prompt 1:

Compare and contrast the revolution of 1905, the February 1917 revolution, and the October 1917 revolution. What were the catalysts to these revolutions? Who was responsible for starting them? How did they end? What were the similarities and differences shared by all three revolutions? Present your findings in an essay of at least three to five paragraphs.

Poster Prompt 1:

Imagine you are a Bolshevik on the eve of the 1917 revolution(s). Create a poster that depicts the Bolsheviks' main goals and tenets and explains why Vladimir Lenin would be a better Russian leader than Tsar Nicholas II.

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