This week in the Russian Revolution

February 20-26: War deepens crisis of Tsarist regime

20 February 2017

By the winter of 1916-1917, the World War on the Eastern Front had brought Tsar Nicholas II’s armies to the verge of collapse. Casualties for the Russian Empire approached six million dead, wounded, missing and captured. The army was woefully undersupplied. Mutinies proliferated against an incompetent officer corps indifferent to the suffering of the overwhelmingly peasant army. In Russia, as well as in Germany and even the United States, food prices grew rapidly, provoking increasing social unrest.

February 27-March 5: American imperialism prepares for world war

27 February 2017

As the Tsarist Russian Empire buckled under the weight of World War I, the United States government prepared to enter the battle. From the eruption of war in 1914 between Great Britain, France and Russia, on one side, and Germany and Austria-Hungary on the other, the US maintained a position of formal neutrality—partly owing to mass anti-war sentiment among American workers and farmers. The neutrality became increasingly fictitious as the war dragged on, with Wilson’s diplomacy “a mixture of knavery and democratic piety,” in Trotsky’s words. Ever more openly, Washington supported Britain and France as American industry armed the soldiers of the Allies, and its banks financed their war. By 1917, the question of US entry was a matter of when, not if.

March 6-12: February Revolution erupts in Petrograd

6 March 2017

The eruption of the February Revolution in Petrograd finds the two greatest figures of Russian Marxism—Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky—in exile. Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Party, exiled from Russia since 1900, is in Zurich, Switzerland. Trotsky, the leading figure of the 1905 Russian Revolution, for which he was imprisoned and then exiled, is now living in the Bronx, New York, and writing for the New York Russian emigré newspaper Novy Mir, after having been driven out of France and Spain. Both Lenin and Trotsky, along with scores of other political exiles, follow events in Russia closely, anxiously awaiting their chance to return.

March 13-19: Tsar Nicholas abdicates

13 March 2017

For three centuries, the Romanov Dynasty ruled Russia and its vast empire. They mercilessly stamped out all revolutionary threats, their armies drowning in blood the Revolutions of 1848 in eastern Europe, and their Cossacks and Black Hundreds unleashing savage repression on all opposition within the empire, as well as against Russia’s Jews. The Romanovs condemned to the gallows scores of revolutionaries, including Lenin’s older brother Aleksandr Ilyich Ulyanov, and sent to Siberia and foreign exile many thousands more, among them Lenin, Trotsky and Georgi Plekhanov, the father of Russian Marxism. In this way Tsar Nicholas II inherited the world’s largest army and an empire that covers one-sixth of the world’s land mass. But this seemingly timeless and powerful dynasty, the House of Romanov, will not survive this week in 1917.

March 20-26: Dual Power in Russia

20 March 2017

In the vacuum left by the abrupt and ignominious collapse of the “filthy and blood-stained cart of the Romanov monarchy,” to use Lenin’s words, a precarious configuration of “dual power” emerged in Petrograd.

March 27-April 2: Trotsky departs for Petrograd

27 March 2017

Parting for Russia with promises to bring down the Provisional Government and stop the war, Trotsky sets sail via Oslo aboard a Norwegian liner, while Lenin remains stranded in Switzerland, where he is feverishly working to shape Bolshevik policy in Petrograd from afar.