100 years ago today, the women factory workers of St. Petersburg (Petrograd) walked out on their jobs and took to the streets of Russia’s capital in protest of food rationing and the general mess their country had descended into. The movement they started quickly spiraled into a revolution that brought down the 300 year old Romanov dynasty within days. The date was February 23 (Old Calendar) March 8, 1917.
No one thought such a turn of events possible. At the time, Russia was the most repressive police state on Earth. The Kaiser’s Germany, which was portrayed as the villain in World War One, was a jolly summer camp beside Russia. France and Great Britain were embarrassed to claim Russia as an ally. Tsar Nicholas II was a total autocrat who enjoyed the power to ignore any legislative “suggestions” offered him by his Duma (Parliament). He hired and fired cabinet ministers with reckless abandon, while the psychotic holy man Rasputin dictated candidates for office to Empress Alexandra. At Nicholas’s direction, the country had blindly plunged into war with Germany and Austria in August 1914, triggered a global conflict.
By early 1917, the Russian nation was exhausted, having sacrificed millions of lives into the inferno while bread was rationed in the capital. Rasputin was murdered in December, but nothing changed. Nicholas was sedated, chain smoking hashish cigarettes at the Front while he played dominos with the generals and Alexandra called for him to hang anyone who dared criticize the regime. The level of anti-Semitism that permeated the country would not be matched until Hitler’s Germany.
When the demonstrations began, Nicholas was begged to return to Petrograd. His response, “Put down the rebellion with force. Instead, the Army mutinied and refused to carry out his orders and joined the strikers. Soon, there was no government. As the Tsar’s train crawled along sidetracks attempting to get back to the city, the tracks were blocked. A delegation arrived informing him that the government had fallen. He abdicated that day.
And so the reign of the Romanovs ended. But the Revolution was only just beginning. And so we remember, with a gaggle of Pop songs about revolution. From the raucous to the sublime.