Teacher's Notes
Duration: 20 min
Grades: 11-12
A revolution overthrowing Romanov rule had been
expected in Russia for some decades prior to 1917. Perhaps
the more remarkable feature about the revolution was not
that it occurred, but that the Tsarist regime lasted as long as
it did.
The Tsars had shown that they would not voluntarily give
up their absolute power and the Tsarist system of
government was too rigid and autocratic to allow for any
reform from within. To many the only alternative was to
overthrow the system.
There were three revolutions in Russia in the first two
decades of the twentieth century. The events of Bloody
Sunday in January 1905 precipitated the 1905 Revolution, a
revolution in which autocracy was to survive. There were
two revolutions in 1917. The first one in February was a
largely unplanned revolution which overthrew the Tsar and
his government and established the Provisional
Government. The second was in October, when the
Bolsheviks led by Lenin and Trotsky, overthrew the
Provisional Government under the slogan of All power to
the Soviets .
This video opens with footage of the last Tsar, Nicholas II,
and the changing nature of the empire he inherited. The
video gives an insight into the reasons for discontent
among both the peasants and proletariat, the growth of
revolutionary activity and the repressive measures used by
the Tsarist government.
Footage from old newsreels and photographs show aspects
of the Russo-Japanese War and Bloody Sunday leading to
the Revolution of 1905 and show how the Tsar was able to
weather this storm.
The impact of World War 1 on the Tsarist government, the
economy and the people is highlighted, leading to the
overthrow of the Tsar in the February Revolution and the
formation of the Provisional Government. The footage
illustrates the nature of the problems faced by the new
government and how the Bolsheviks were able to overthrow
this government in the second revolution of 1917.
The video deals with footage of the civil war that followed
the Bolshevik takeover, leading to the Bolshevik policies
known as War Communism and later the New Economic
Policy. The video concludes with the death of Lenin and the
question of his successor.
The video is relevant to both those studying the Russian
Revolution as part of their study of Russia / USSR, and those
studying Russia as part of a course on Revolutions.
Note: The February and October revolutions mentioned in
the video and notes are based on the old Russian calendar.
The Gregorian calendar which would date them as the March
and November revolutions was not introduced until January
31, 1918.
The term revolution lacks a precise meaning for historians.
Revolutions however have a number of distinguishing
features :
* They bring about a displacement of the existing political
and social order.
* They affect the whole state or nation rather than a faction
within it.
* They are the result of deep rooted causes rather than a
specific incident.
In studying revolution in Russia an examination could be
made of the following:
* Pre-conditions / causes
* Leaders
* Role of peasants and proletariat
* Revolutionary techniques and propaganda
* Revolutionary ideas / ideology
* Counter-revolution
Define the following terms : Revolt, insurrection, coup d’etat,
Explain : How does a revolution differ from a revolt or a
coup d’etat?
In order to understand why revolution took place in Russia,
it is important to know the conditions in which the peasants
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and proletariat worked and lived. Only then can an
appreciation be gained of why the masses were driven to
such extreme measures as the overthrow of the Tsarist
Research : How far had the condition of the masses
improved in the period from the Emancipation of the Serfs up
to about 1900?
In what ways did industrialization affect these conditions?
Film Study : From your study of the video, what were some
of the issues within Russia that affected the life-style of the
peasants and the city workers?
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Impact of decision to take over control of army during
World War 1.
Research : Why was the Tsar able to survive the events of
Film Study : From a study of the video, what was the
nature of the Empire that Nicholas II inherited from his
Nature of Russian interest in the Far East (Northern China
and Korea).
Concessions gained from the Chinese (for example, lease on
the Liaodong.)
Peninsula and the right to build a railway to Port Arthur.
Impact of the ideas of Karl Marx (Communist
Provocative Russian plan to establish a naval base in
Early revolutionary groups (for example, the People’s Will
and their involvement in the assassination of Alexander II.) Clash of Russian aims with those of Japan led to conflict.
Significant events in Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905 :
Emergence of three main political parties at the turn of the
* The siege of Port Arthur, 1904
century :
* The Battle of Mukden, 1905
* The Social Revolutionaries
* The Battle of Tsushima, 1905
* The Constitutional Democrats or Cadets
* The Treaty of Portsmouth, 1905
* The Social Democratic Party
Impact of the defeat on Russia (humiliation; conditions for
Split of the Social Democratic Party in 1903 into the
Mensheviks under Martov and the Bolsheviks under Lenin. workers further deteriorated; food shortages in cities;
Repressive measures of the Tsar’s secret police, the Okhrana. demonstrations; weakening of Tsar’s position.)
Contribution of war to 1905 Revolution and eventual
Research : Who were the Bolsheviks and what were their
overthrow of Tsar.
aims and methods?
What were the main differences between the Bolsheviks and Research : Why was the Battle of Tsushima so humiliating
for Russia?
the Mensheviks?
Film Study : From a study of the video, what was the
impact of this conflict on the Tsarist regime?
Unsuitability of Nicholas for position of Tsar.
Autocratic and repressive policies. Censorship; role of
Okhrana; punishments.
Significance of strike at Putilov Engineering Works at St.
Role of Orthodox Church in maintaining authority of Tsar.
Petersburg. Spread of strike; organization of petition to the
Impact of German wife, Alexandra.
Choice of ministers and ‘advisers’ (For example Stolypin and Tsar.
March to Winter Palace in St. Petersburg to present petition
to Tsar, January 1905.
Reaction to the establishment of the Duma.
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Peaceful march led by Father Gapon.
March turned into a massacre; hundreds killed.
Bloody Sunday heralded the start of a revolution against the
Key issues :
Mutiny on Battleship Potemkin
Emergence of Soviets
Issue of October Manifesto by Tsar; promise of a
Duma (Parliament).
Crushing of revolutionary activity by Tsarist forces.
Issue of Fundamental Law by Nicholas in 1906.
Aftermath of 1905 Revolution :
Abolition of first two Dumas.
Stolypin reforms.
Repression of revolutionaries.
Research : What did the petition reveal about working
conditions in Russia?
Were any of the requests of an anti-Tsarist nature?
Discussion : Who should bear responsibility for the events
of Bloody Sunday?
What does the Fundamental Law reveal about the real
intentions of Nicholas?
Film Study : What does the video footage reveal about
Bloody Sunday and the 1905 Revolution?
How does the film enhance an understanding of this period?
The role of Russia in the Triple Entente and her support of
The outbreak of war brought an outburst of patriotism and
tended to unite the country. The Tsar was given another
chance by the people. Strikes diminished.
The Tsar’s uncle, the Grand Duke Nicholas was made
Commander-in Chief of the armies and faced a daunting task
with so many inexperienced soldiers over such a wide
Impact of Russian defeats at Masurian Lakes and
Problem of desertions, refugees, high casualty rates,
transportation, price rises, disease, munitions and food
shortages led to problems of morale and lack of confidence in
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the Tsarist regime.
The decision of Nicholas to take personal command of the
armies had been a disaster in both a military and political
sense. Problems compounded by leaving.
Alexandra in charge of the government at Petrograd and
the influence of Rasputin over her.
Anti - Tsarist propaganda suggested Rasputin was having
affairs with the Tsar’s wife and daughters. Even the death
of Rasputin in late 1916 did not help the Tsar’s position.
Research : How far was Russia really prepared for war in
What problems did the war create for the workers in the
How did these problems lead to riots and strikes?
Discussion : How might the political problems facing
Tsarist Russia during World War 1 have been avoided?
What does the decision to take personal control of the
Russian armies reveal about Nicholas II ?
Film Study : What does a study of the video reveal
about the hardships faced by Russian soldiers during
the war?
During the month of February 1917,conditions caused by
the war grew rapidly worse.
In Petrograd strikes at the giant Putilov steel works broke
out and the workers were joined by those in other
factories; International Women’s Day also brought
thousands of women out on the streets; transport
stopped; food shortages continued; Cossacks refused to
fire on strikers; mutinies occurred in a number of army
regiments and soldiers continued to desert.
The Duma set up a Provisional Committee with the
intention of taking over the government.
The newly created Petrograd Soviet also made provision
to take over the government.
Nicholas finally realizing that Tsarist authority and power
in Petrograd had disappeared, abdicated for both his son
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and himself. His brother Grand Duke Mikhail refused to
accept the crown and the Romanov dynasty came to an
Russia’s new official government, until elections could be
held, was the twelve man committee set up by the Duma.
However in order to rule, the Provisional Government
needed to co-operate with a second unofficial government,
the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.
Note the impact of Soviet Order No.1
In the first few months the Soviet and the Provisional
Government were suspicious of each other. It appeared that
disputes between the two might finally have come to an end
when Alexander Kerensky, who was a member of the
Petrograd Soviet as well as the Duma, became President of
the Provisional Government in July 1917.
The Provisional Government however, was hampered by
the fact that it contained people from different political
parties, who had different ideas on how the war should be
run, if indeed they should continue in the war at all.
After Lenin’s return to Russia in April 1917, with the aid of
the German High Command, the Bolsheviks continued their
campaign against the Provisional Government.
Lenin issued the April Theses calling for a second
The Provisional Government’s decision to remain in the war
brought more desertions and more recruits to the
The Bolsheviks joined in the riots against the government
during the July Days and were discredited when it was
claimed the Bolsheviks were in the pay of the Germans.
Bolshevik leaders were arrested and Lenin fled to Finland.
A second unsuccessful uprising was led by the right-wing
army officer, General Kornilov inAugust 1917.
To help him defend Petrograd, Kerensky allowed the
Bolsheviks to set up a defence force called the Red Guards.
The Kornilov threat was suppressed and the Bolsheviks
took credit for saving the Provisional Government.
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The Bolsheviks strengthened their position by gaining
control of the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets as well as
other cities.
By October, the Bolsheviks were more powerful than any
other time and prepared to carry out a second revolution.
On the evening of October 24 1917, the Bolsheviks
occupied key locations in Petrograd. The Provisional
Government was powerless to stop the Bolsheviks and on
October 25, Lenin announced he had taken power in
Research : In what ways did the 1905 Revolution differ
from the February Revolution?
In what ways did the Tsar contribute to his own downfall?
What role did Lenin and Trotsky play in the overthrow of
the Provisional Government?
Discussion : To what extent was the overthrow of the
Tsar a spontaneous revolution?
Why did the Provisional Government find it easier to win
power than to hold power?
How important were the slogans of Peace, Bread and
Land to the Bolshevik victory?
To what extent could the Bolshevik victory be regarded as
a bloodless coup d’etat?
Film study : How far does the footage in the video
support your reading on the nature of the two
revolutions in 1917?
How important is documentary film in obtaining a
balanced view of revolutionary activity in Russia?
In the weeks following the Bolshevik seizure of power,
Soviets all over Russia joined the revolution and took
control in most towns and cities, with most of Russia in
Soviet hands by the end of 1917.
Elections previously organized by the Provisional
Government for a Constituent Assembly were allowed to
take place by the Bolsheviks. These were the first ever
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free elections in Russia.
The Social Revolutionaries obtained over fifty percent of
the seats with the Bolsheviks obtaining less than twenty
five percent.
The Constituent Assembly met for the first time on
January 18,1918. It was closed down the following day by
the Red Guards.
Lenin carried out his promise of ending the war with
Germany by signing the very harsh Treaty of Brest Litovsk with Germany in February 1918.
By May 1918 enemies of the Bolsheviks began making
attacks on them and the government was forced to move
to Moscow.
Leon Trotsky organized a new and effective army, known
as the Red Army. The Cheka (secret police) were also used
to strike fear into those opposed to the Bolsheviks.
The armies opposed to the Bolsheviks were known as the
Whites and included all those opposed to the Bolsheviks
or Reds . In addition to the Whites, the Reds had to fight
military forces from Britain, France, Japan and the USA.
The Tsar, his wife and children were executed by the
Bolsheviks in July 1918 to avoid any attempt at rescue by
the Whites.
By 1919 foreign armies had withdrawn from Russia and the
strength of the Whites began to diminish.
During the Civil War the Bolsheviks introduced measures
known as War Communism, in which factories were
nationalized, private trading was banned and food was
rationed. While it did not achieve all its aims, it was able to
keep the Red Army supplied with food and equipment.
In March 1921, following the Kronstadt uprising, Lenin
abandoned War Communism and introduced the New
Economic Policy. This allowed peasants to sell surplus
food for profit, allowed some private ownership of
factories and once again allowed the use of money.
Under the NEP food production and industrial output
Russia was given a new constitution in 1923 and now
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became known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
After a series of strokes, Lenin died in January 1924.
However the question of a successor had not been
determined. This led to a fierce struggle for power
between Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin.
Research : What were the main political, social and
economic changes in the period from the October
Revolution in 1917 up to the end of War Communism?
Why were the Bolsheviks able to achieve victory in the
Civil War?
Discussion : Was Trotsky or Lenin the more important to
the survival of Russia during the Civil War?
Film Study : From your study of this video, what role
can documentary film play in the understanding of
historical issues?
Produced & Written by
Jo Adendorff
Phil Sheppard
Graeme Whittle
Online Editor
Roddy Balle
Executive Producer
John Davis
Konrad Skirlis/Dominique Fusey
Teachers notes/Consultant
The Last Tsar
The Russo-Japanese War
Bloody Sunday
The Duma
World War 1
Civil War
Paul Latham
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