Popular uprisings are often described in volcanic imagery: the storming of the Bastille in 1789 grips the imagination two centuries later; the anti-Soviet revolt in Hungary in 1956 comes to us in pictures of uncontrolled mass fury on Budapest streets. The February Revolution of 1917 in Petrograd is no exception. The sudden outbreak of disturbances has been likened to the early stages of a hurricane. It happened so very quickly, and the crowds of workers and garrison soldiers constituted the force that brought it about. None the less, the notion that ‘the masses’ surged on to the Nevski Prospekt in spontaneous violence is at best a half-truth. The terms used betray the prejudices of the commentators (and these include Lenin and other leading Bolsheviks). ‘The masses’ and ‘the crowd’ are conventional terms for describing the participants in events in Petrograd. Yet the February Revolution was not just the outburst of some force of nature. Years of preparation had preceded it. Workers had turned against the monarchy in increasing numbers. They had not done this primarily under the influence of the political parties; but such parties also had for years been at work among them. Furthermore, although the party activists were few in Petrograd in February 1917, there were enough to give guidance to an uprising once the chance to overthrow the autocracy had become fully evident.
KeywordsPolitical Life German Army Poor Peasant Western Front Naval Blockade
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