8 March: Start of the Russian Revolution and International Women’s Day
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 6 Mar 2017
Rene Wadlow – TRANSCEND Media Service
8 March, International Women’s Day, was also the start of the Russian Revolution, which ended the rule of the Tsar. (It was 23 February by the Russian calendar then in use and so it is called the “February Revolution”) International Women’s Day had been first proposed by Clara Zetkin (1857-1933) at the Second International Conference of Socialist Women in Copenhagen in 1911, and the idea spread quickly in progressive circles. By 1917, the idea of a day calling for the equality of women within a more just society was well developed among women in Petrograd.
Thus for International Women’s Day in Petrograd (as St. Petersburg had been renamed in 1914) a group of women factory workers and lower class housewives decided to demonstrate near the buildings of the government to protest food shortages and working conditions. When they crossed from the industrial suburb, they found another demonstration of upper class women who were demanding the right to vote. The two demonstrations joined forces and were soon joined by men, making for the largest demonstration in Petrograd since the 1905 uprising.
The Tsar, Nicholas II, who was at the front inspecting his troops, telegraphed demanding the restoration of order. General Khabalov, commander of the Petrograd Military District called out the reserve infantry with tan order to shoot if necessary. As the regular army soldiers and officers were already fighting the Germans at the front, the reserves were made of persons who had returned to civilian life and thus had much in common with the demonstrators.
The crowd of demonstrators continued to grow, being joined by people from the countryside coming into the city. On 26 February, some of the soldiers following the orders of their officers did fire, causing hundreds of casualties. The loss of life provoked wide-spread mutinies, in effect ending the regime. The door was open to power for the revolutionaries who called themselves the “ Petrograd Soviet of Workers and Soldiers’ Deputies.” By 15 March, Nicholas II had abdicated and was placed under house arrest at his palace.
The crucial issue facing the new Provisional Government was the war with Germany and the Central Powers. The Germans had allowed their eastern front to fall dormant waiting for the outcome of the Russian turmoil and the possibility of a negotiated end to Russian participation in the war. The Provisional Government reaffirmed its treaty obligations with the Allies (France and England) and pledged to fight on to victory.
The decision to continue the unpopular war provoked new demonstrations. A crisis in the governing cabinet in July 1917 brought in new cabinet members from the Marxist factions. The lawyer Alexander Kerensky shifted from being the minister of justice to the minister of war as well as President of the Council of Ministers. He became the “strong man” of the revised government, yet he could look for new support neither to his right nor to his left.
The radicalization of the country and the divisions of opinion over the war made the survival of the Provisional Cabinet dubious. The Provisional Government faltered and splintered. Lenin in Zürich and Trotsky in New York realized that February was only the beginning of their revolutionary opportunity, which came in early November (24 October) marking the “October Revolution.”
René Wadlow, a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and of its Task Force on the Middle East, is president and U.N. representative (Geneva) of the Association of World Citizens and editor of Transnational Perspectives. He is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 6 Mar 2017.
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