In 1914 Nicholas II decided to get Russia involved in World War I. Russia was not strong enough to compete with the industrialized countries. In 1915 Nicholas left the Winter Palace and went to the fronts to encourage the troops. He left his wife Tsarina Alexandra in charge with his chief advisors.
Tsarina Alexandra was supposed to be listening to Nicholas’s advisors, but instead she began following the lead of a man named Rasputin. Rasputin was born a poor peasant and claimed to be a religious teacher, even though he was never ordained in any church. Alexandra’s son, Alexis, suffered from hemophilia and Rasputin claimed to be able to cure it.
Alexandra was so grateful for Rasputin’s healing powers that she allowed him and his friends to hold important positions in the government and didn’t listen to Nicholas’s advisors. Rasputin opposed reforms and wanted to maintain a strict autocracy, so that’s what Alexandra did. In 1916 a group of nobles at court (after several attempts) murdered Rasputin. Meanwhile Russia was suffering.
While Nicholas was on the fronts and Alexandra was occupied with Rasputin Russia was suffering greatly. The war was destroying the morale of soldiers and civilians. Many soldiers mutinied. Food and supplies were dwindling. The prices were rising wildly (inflation) and people from all different classes were struggling. Alexandra and Nicholas weren’t doing anything to solve these problems and people were losing faith in them.
In 1917 women workers led a strike in Petrograd. People rapidly joined in the strike protesting the lack of bread and fuel. Soldiers were ordered to shoot the rioters, but the soldiers quickly joined them and began firing at their commanding officers. They began shouting, “Down with autocracy and the war!”
The March Revolution quickly spread and resulted in Nicholas II abdicating (giving up) his throne. The Romanov family had ruled Russia for three centuries and was finally brought down. A year later Nicholas and his family were executed (this is where the Anastasia rumors come from).
Leaders of the Duma set up a provisional government or a temporary government, headed by a man named Alexander Kerensky. Kerensky decided to continue fighting in World War I which lost him a lot of support. Soviets, local councils consisting of workers, peasants, and soldiers formed and they began to rule in place of the provisional government.
Once the provisional government had taken over Germany was shocked that Russia didn’t leave WWI. The Germans thought if Lenin returned to Russia he would gather his Bolshevik supporters and pull Russia out of the war. The Germans kindly arranged for Lenin to be transported back to Russia on a secure train. He arrived in Petrograd in April 1917 and immediately got to work gathering supporters.
Once Lenin returned to Russia he began gathering the Bolshevik party together and gaining supporters. The Bolshevik party had two messages, “Peace, Land, and Bread,” and “All power to the Soviets!” Those messages were very appealing to a large number of people. Lenin saw that the provisional government was weak, and saw his opportunity to take action.
In November 1917 with no warning a group of Bolshevik Red Guards (armed factory workers) stormed the Winter Palace. They took over the government offices and arrested leaders of the provisional government. Kerensky and his colleagues disappeared, and the Bolshevik Revolution had taken place quickly and painlessly.
Lenin ordered that all farmland be divided up amongst peasants and that workers take control of the factories. He signed a truce with the Germans (Treaty of Brest- Litovsk) in March 1918. The treaty got them out of the war, but it also meant a large loss of land. This made many Russians angry and they disliked the Bolsheviks and their policies. This led to a civil war between the Bolsheviks and the people who wanted the autocracy (tsar) back.
After the war the economy was a disaster. In March 1921 Lenin began the New Economic Policy (NEP). He allowed peasants to sell excess crops for profit instead of turning them over to the government. Individuals were allowed to buy and sell goods for profit. This went against the ideas of communism, but helped get the economy back on track.
One of the issues Russia struggled with for a long time was the many different nationalities within the country. In 1922 the country was named the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) based off the councils that helped launch the Bolshevik Revolution. Moscow became the capital of USSR and they announced their type of government to be communism, based off of Karl Marx’s ideas. The country got back on track and by 1928 they were producing at levels they had before World War I. Lenin did not live to see this. He died in 1924, leaving a fight for leadership of the party.