16.4 Revolution in Russia

The year 1913 marked the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty. Everywhere, Russians honored the tsar and his family. Tsarina Alexandra felt confident that the people loved Nicholas too much to ever threaten him. “They are constantly frightening the emperor with threats of revolution,” she told a friend, “and here,—you see it yourself—we need merely to show ourselves and at once their hearts are ours.”

Photo of a bearded man in a suit, standing and delivering a speech to a large group of people outside.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin took his revolutionary ideas directly to the people, addressing crowds in the streets.


  • Explain the causes of the February (March) Revolution.
  • Describe the goals of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution.
  • Summarize the outcome of the civil war in Russia.
  • Analyze how Lenin built a Communist state in the Soviet Union.

Key Terms

  • proletariat
  • soviet
  • Cheka
  • commissar
  • V. I. Lenin

Causes of the February Revolution

Appearances were deceiving. In March 1917, the first of two revolutions would topple the Romanov dynasty and pave the way for even more radical changes. These revolutions are known to Russians as the February and October Revolutions, and to many westerners as the March and November Revolutions.

In 1917, Russia still used an old calendar, which was 13 days behind the one used in Western Europe. Russia did not adopt the Western calendar until 1918.

Roots of Discontent

In 1914, the huge Russian empire stretched from Eastern Europe east to the Pacific Ocean. Unlike Western Europe, Russia was slow to industrialize despite its huge potential. Landowning nobles, priests, and an autocratic tsar controlled the government and economy. Much of the majority peasant population endured stark poverty. As Russia began to industrialize, a small middle class and an urban working class emerged.

After the Revolution of 1905, Nicholas had failed to solve Russia's basic political, economic, and social problems. The elected Duma set up after the revolution had no real power. Moderates pressed for a constitution and social change. But Nicholas II, a weak and ineffective leader, blocked attempts to limit his authority.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments