In Russia, the February Revolution (known as such because of Russia’s use of the Julian calendar) begins on this day in 1917, when riots and strikes over the scarcity of food erupt in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg).
By 1917, most Russians had lost faith in the leadership ability of the czarist regime. Government corruption was rampant, the Russian economy remained backward and Czar Nicholas II had repeatedly dissolved the Dumas, the Russian parliamentary groups established to placate the masses after the Revolution of 1905, each time they opposed his will. But the immediate cause of the February Revolution—the first phase of the more sweeping Russian Revolution of 1917—was Russia’s disastrous involvement in World War I. Militarily, imperial Russia was no match for industrialized Germany. Russian troops were shockingly ill-equipped for fighting, and Russian casualties were greater than those sustained by any nation in any previous war. Meanwhile, the Russian economy was hopelessly disrupted by the costly war effort, and moderates joined Russian radical elements in calling for the overthrow of the czar.
On March 8, 1917, demonstrators clamoring for bread took to the streets of the Russian capital of Petrograd. Supported by 90,000 men and women on strike, the protesters clashed with police, refusing to leave the streets. On March 10, the strike spread among Petrograd’s workers, and irate mobs of workers destroyed police stations. Several factories elected deputies to the Petrograd Soviet (“council) of workers, following the model devised during the Revolution of 1905.
On March 11, the troops of the Petrograd army garrison were called out to quell the uprising. In some encounters, regiments opened fire, killing demonstrators, but the protesters kept to the streets, and the troops began to waver. That day, Nicholas again dissolved the Dumas. When the frustrated Russian army at Petrograd unexpectedly switched their support to the demonstrators, the imperial government was forced to resign and a provisional government was established. Three days later, Nicholas formally abdicated his throne, effectively ending nearly four centuries of czarist rule in Russia.