Russia, January 1917 – An Attempt at a ‘Solution from Above’ …

Den Frauen einen Platz in der Konstituierenden Versammlung! Februar 1917
Demonstration in Petrograd 1917 Foto: Wikipedia Public Domain

At the turn of the year 1916/1917, the extent of the crisis in Russia became increasingly clear. The economic crisis worsened, making it more difficult to provide for the population and the army. Energy production declined, as did the production of goods important for the war within metallurgy and from metal-based industries. The transportation sector collapsed. Corruption became the only means of gaining access to goods crucial to production.

In the middle of December, sections of the ruling oligarchy attempted to convince the Tsar to at least dismiss unpopular members from the government and replace them with others who were more popular, if he wouldn’t agree to an at least partial democratic constitution. The attempt failed. Public rejoicing over the assassination of Rasputin, an adviser to the tsar, by a section of the courtly camarilla was not yet the expression of opposition to the Tsar, but one only of his ‘bad advisers’. However, the reactions demonstrated how weak the foundation of the political system had become. The oppositional bourgeoisie came to realise that the means of ‘loyal struggle against the government’ had been exhausted and that they saw themselves at ‘the eve of an open conflict’. Some generals stated that soldiers were increasingly sympathetic to the idea of an upheaval. General Krymov reported from the front, ‘The mood in the army is such that the news of an upheaval would be greeted joyously by all. The upheaval cannot be avoided; everyone at the front knows that. If they decide to employ this extreme measure, we will support them. There is no longer any other way. They and many others have tried everything, but the pernicious influence of the Tsarina has a stronger effect than anything said to the Tsar by honourable men’. The opposition in the ranks of the Russian oligarchy recognised that the miserable military situation as well as the condition of the Tsarist state apparatus would become a threat to the continued existence of the bourgeois order. The alternatives of, on the one hand, a ‘palace revolution’ (the replacement of the Tsar by another member of the Romanov family) and, on the other hand, the establishment of a bourgeois government in the modern sense (a ‘responsible ministry’ within the framework of a constitutional monarchy) while still preserving a strong position for the Tsar, were discussed more or less openly.

Two months later, however, the momentum and speed of the movement ‘from below’ torpedoed the plans of the subversives within the court and bourgeois opposition.

Sources and further reading

  • Chestomatija po istorii SSSR 1861-1917, Moskva 1970
  • Hellmann, M. (Hrsg.): Die russische Revolution 1917, dtv Dokumente, München 1964