The Revolution, which broke out a century ago in Russia, is a most controversial and multifaceted phenomenon, which exerted powerful influence on the fate of the humanity as well as Russia. Thus, the events triggered by February 1917 can justifiably be referred to as “the Great Russian Revolution”.
Professor Alexey Lubkov, Rector of the Moscow State Pedagogical University, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Science, Doctor of Historical Sciences, dwells on the events of the February Revolution.
It was a catastrophe, a tragedy for the Russian national identity of that period. It gave rise to the negative perception of the revolution, as any calamity brings about root-and-branch change, a break with the past, a painful departure from tradition. In 1917 the split affected both government and people. Unsurprisingly, many Russian scholars, who pondered over the phenomenon, turn to the February events, not just October, as they see them as a trigger for the collapse of traditional Russian nationhood.
However, it does not imply that we should paint only a grim picture of the Revolution and portray it as “the end of history”. History cannot stand dead ends; it is a flowing stream. Dialectically speaking, any of the most difficult periods still created opportunities for further development. It is the case here as well. The tragedy of 1917, however, offered prospects for the next stage of Russian history, the steps to be taken as part of the “Soviet project”.
I consider the events of February 1917 to be man-inflicted. What happened in early 1917 is mainly on the conscience of the contemporary elite, both the liberal opposition and the one in power. The authorities did not always opt for reconciling the interests. However, every event has its architects, its creators, and leaders. I think that it was the liberal opposition that systemically contributed to the February Revolution as it deliberately ruled out any cooperation with the authorities and constantly appealed to the public since as early as late 1915. Therefore, the opposition essentially rocked the boat.
In fact, it is like an avalanche. If one keeps throwing small stones in the mountains, it may earlier or later lead to a disaster, a landslide destroying everything on its way. History shows us that flirting with the revolution is a very dangerous game. Should the authorities and the opposition feel responsible for the nation’s lot, they should be tasked with averting the radical scenario.
The next fundamental issue is the cause of the February revolution. I believe that the long-standing problems, which tragically culminated with the developments of early 1917, were largely created by positive rather than negative trends in the Russian economy, including the booming Russian economy, the rapid pace of modernization, which was very difficult for the society to adapt to.
As regards the economic situation in the winter of 1916-1917, it was not as gloomy as it tends to be described in Russian textbooks and monographs on the February Revolution. In fact, the rationing system as such was not introduced in cities. With food supplies being regulated in a way, Russia avoided the problems of its enemies, say, Germany and Austria-Hungary. At best disruptions to bread deliveries occurred, nothing graver came our way.
From a popular standpoint, the plot against Tsar Nicholas II lay behind the February Revolution. In practice, the country simultaneously witnessed several secret plans within the Duma and military establishment ranks. After a while, the plotters joined their efforts, with particular scenarios considered and bridges built between liberals and left-wingers, as well as between the civil and military leadership. In this context, we cannot but touch upon the role of Freemasons or Masons. Even though boiling everything down to Masonic conspiracy theories naturally leads to oversimplification, neglecting the factor implies concealing truth and distorting the real picture. Undoubtedly, it is easy to deem the Revolution an exclusively democratic, spontaneous and popular uprising, which is often done by liberal historians. However, I consider the February developments a far more complex phenomenon.
Above all, the conspirators only intended to make the Emperor abdicate. They sought to preserve Russia’s monarchy, with the power of the Tsar being substantially limited. Moreover, they planned to replace Nicholas II with Tsesarevich Alexei, to establish a government accountable to the Duma, and to transform the country into a balanced constitutional monarchy. Yet everything turned out differently.
One can also dwell on the specific participation of the Triple Entente members which firmly believed that the Tsar’s inner circle and the monarch himself at some point could be biased in favor of a separate peace agreement with Germany. Our allies understandably found it unacceptable. 1916 revealed the resilience of the Russian army and the remarkable capacities of its weaponry. The Western allies expressed both interest in Russia’s continued fighting at their side and concern over its potential change in the attitude to war.
There is some sound reasoning behind the idea that the February Revolution provided the country with ample opportunities. At the same time, one cannot but point out that the liberal opposition caused the nihilism that eventually muffled all its calls and killed aspirations stone dead.
Finally, I think that we should look at the 1917 February and October Revolutions within the overall context. They are two interlinked and divergent processes. In other words, they cannot be dealt with separately. As I see it, today’s emphasis on considering the 1917 Great Russian Revolution from a broader perspective is very sensible. Obviously, we should assess the Revolution in this very way, as a conveyor belt of changes.