The Women Behind the First Russian Revolution
On how a strike of tens of thousands of women led to the First Russian Revolution.
It is March 8, 1917, and people around the world are celebrating the seventh International Women’s Day. It was a special day in the socialist calendar, so large, festive gatherings were not a surprise. However, what might have seemed like an innocent rally in the morning, turned into a congregation of tens of thousands of women by midday.
They met at the Nevsky Prospekt, the main avenue of the then Russian capital — Petrograd (today’s Saint Petersburg). The country was hit hard with the effects of the First World War and was tossed with famine and a huge economic loss. The rebels were carrying banners with slogans such as ‘Feed the children of the defenders of the motherland,’ or ‘Supplement the ration of soldiers’ families, defenders of freedom and the people’s peace.’
The city’s governor noted that the crowd consisted of female peasants and students, and only in the afternoon it was joined with textile workers from the Vyborg district. Those were on strike for bread shortage. Later, their male companions allied as well. By the end of the day, around 100,000 workers were striking for bread and the tzar’s abdication.
The poorly equipped Russian troops vainly tried to disperse the crowds, as the more experienced members were at war in the frontlines. Due to terrible work conditions, some soldiers even sided with the protesters. Those soon started to loot the shops.
The following day, as many as 150,000 workers were rioting in the streets of Petrograd. The weakened army encouraged other people to join the protesters. Later on that day, the Nevsky Prospekt was taken over by workers and students, shopkeepers, office workers, and spectators. Revolutionaries gave speeches for the downfall of the monarchy — the Romanov dynasty — which had ruled over the country since 1613.
The Tzar Nicholas II, who was away, was advised to return to the capital and calm the unrest down. However, he at first did not pay attention to the riots, and neither wanted to resign.
Still, on March 13, 1917, he was on a train on his way to Petrograd, but the railways around the city were controlled by revolutionaries. Unable to reach the capital, he abdicated on March 15 on behalf of himself and his young son Alexei. Also, he nominated his brother — Grand Duke Mikhail — to take up the throne. The day after, Duke Mikhail realized that he would have no support as an emperor and handed the crown over to the Provisional Government, which instantly granted women the right to vote.
Although Romanovs gave up the throne, they remained unpopular for letting Russia stay at war despite the country’s economic crisis. The family was exiled to Yekaterinburg. A year later, they were murdered by the Bolsheviks. Those took over control on November 7, 1917, with Vladimir Lenin in the front, and Russia became the world’s first communist country.
There have been various discussions on whether the first Russian Revolution of 1917 was spontaneous or arranged by socialist agitators. According to Orlando Figes, it was more spontaneous than organized, but the crowd was led by internal inciters who shouted out directions of the parades.
March 8 was made a national holiday in 1917 by the Communists. Nonetheless, it remained a working day until 1965, when the Soviet government gave the citizens a day off.
This was a story on how tens of thousands of heroines tore down one of the most powerful empires on Earth. Be like them. #ChooseToChallenge