Discontent, unrest, uprisings and rebellions characterize Russian history from around 1825 until the successful Bolshevik revolution of 1917. The primary reason for Russia being poised on the edge of revolution for almost a century was that it was an autocracy. This means that legislative power was in the hands of one man - the czar.

The December Revolution 1825

For centuries Russia was ruled by its monarchy with the aid of a circle of aristocratic advisers. Russian society was feudal: Russians who worked the land were serfs - subsistence farmers indebted to their landlords - and there was no democratically elected government. In 1825, following the death of Czar Alexander I there was a minor revolution led by the army, known as the December Revolution. When Nicholas I was made the new czar in December 1825, rebel troops protested in front of him and demanded a political constitution. Nicholas ordered his artillery to shoot the rebels. Serfdom was abolished in 1861 during the early part of the reign of Czar Nicholas II.

Bloody Sunday And The Revolution of 1905

On Sunday, January 9, 1905, the priest George Gapon led a crowd in peaceful protest to present a petition to Czar Nicholas II outside the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. They wanted the czar to do something about the shortages of food and work. The protest ended in bloodshed when the czar's troops fired on the crowd. It set off a series of strikes and riots around Russia which led to the formation of "soviets," which means council, in major Russian cities by the end of 1905. These were led by workers, supported by the revolutionary leaders who played a major role in the 1917 revolution.

The Duma

Sergei Witte, one of the czar's advisers, drafted a proposal for a constitutional government, known as the October Manifesto, which the czar reluctantly signed. This government, or Duma, would be made up of elected members but run by a council reporting to the czar. Only Russian males were allowed to vote. The czar dismissed the Duma on two occasions, going against the terms of the October Manifesto. Four Dumas met in the period leading up to World War I. Although Russia now had a constitutional government, the czar's autocracy prevented it from being democratic. Russia's losses during the war fueled the revolution of 1917 and the end of autocratic government in Russia.

The Revolutionary Undercurrent

Russian revolutionaries had planned for the 1917 revolution since just before 1900. They were closely watched by the czar's secret police and both Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky were forced to leave Russia. While in exile the revolutionaries split into two factions: the Bolsheviks led by Lenin, who formed the majority of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party, and the Mensheviks supported by Trotsky. Food shortages at the beginning of 1917 provoked protests and then riots. In a repeat of 1905 the czar's troops began shooting demonstrators. However, many ordinary soldiers supported the people and joined forces with them to take over military installations. Czar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate in March 1917, and was executed in 1918. The first Bolshevik-led government was established after the revolution of October 1917.