Female protesters in Petrograd (now St Petersburg) on 8 March 1917. Photograph: Fototeca Storica Nazionale/Getty Images
Don’t mess with women’s bread.
From the beginning, the Tsar was warned that war would not be good for the republic. The state was fragile since the 1905 revolution. But Tsar had something to prove, he wanted the other countries of Europe to know that Russia was still of great-power status and not afraid of growing Germany.
At first, the war formed a “patriotic union,” citizens wanted to provide and win for their leader who would take care of them. In less than 3 years, 15 million men were drafted into the war; rapid mobilization. Everyone’s brother, husband, and son were being forced into this war. And even with the number of men, the Russians were experiencing massive defeats in battle. Russia didn’t have the ammunition and weapons they needed, their own industries couldn’t make weapons fast enough and they were not importing nearly as much as they needed.
Citizens started to get impatient. The Tsar was not providing for them like they needed. The population was cold because it was the middle of winter and because of the war in the fields, there were food storages so people were starving. On top of that, the tsar started seeing society as the enemy. He tried to appease the population by replacing ministers with men who were apart of the professional and economic elites. The Duma was still not pleased. They formed the Progressive Bloc and tried to get the government to be responsible to the Duma while also assuming personal command of the army.
The tsar figured the population would be more willing to support the war effort if he himself went to the frontline and commanded his men. This had the opposite effect. Russia was still losing battles and now Tsar Nicholas was directly associated with the failing war. Inflation and food shortages reached critical levels in the autumn of 1916 which leads to February 1917.
With starving peasants and mutinous soldiers, the Romanov dynasty that ruled for three centuries was dissolved. The revolution started when working-class women took to the streets to protests the food shortages and the high price of bread. It just so happened that the Bolsheviks, an underground revolutionary group, also called on their followers to take to the streets to resume their demonstrations. The police, Cossacks, and soldiers from the Volhynian regiment tried their best to disperse the crowds but ended up only joining them and supplying arsenals a few days later.
The tsar tried everything, he dissolved the State Duma and tried to return to the capital but even his ministers told him that was a bad idea. The Duma had already declared themselves the Provisional Government. The people were done with the dynasty and wanted change. The tsar had no choice but to abdicate to save his son and for the sake of domestic tranquillity. The year that followed was the establishment of dual power, The Duma vs the Petrograd Soviets. Both vying for power.
The war lead to the food shortages, the women protesting in the streets about the high price of bread lead to the Bolsheviks coming out from the darkness, which lead to the February Revolution and fall of the House Romanov.
So if you are going to get anything out of history from this; don’t mess with a woman and her bread.
Russia A History, Third Edition. Gregory L Freeze, Pg 269-275.
Siegelbaum, Lewis. “February Revolution.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 28 Dec. 2015, soviethistory.msu.edu/1917-2/february-revolution/.