The world war had the effect of creating a sudden atmosphere of sacred union. All political parties, with the exception of the Bolsheviks, were determined to carry out the struggle against “Germanic imperialism” to the end; but on the aims of the war, on the way to conduct it, on the way to behave in front of the government, opinions diverged, even if in public the disagreements were not put on display, so that the enemy would not take advantage of it. The reactionary elements were satisfied to suddenly see calm in the country (the Bolshevik organizations themselves were numerically very small and disorganized by the arrests) and therefore believed that a new era had begun, in which the demands of the Democrats had lost all relevance and probability of being able to be realized. The liberal currents, decided to wage the war to the end, they lacked a sufficiently clear line: on the one hand they asked Constantinople for Russia, on the other they wanted the war to take on the aspect of a “democratic war” against William II. Moreover, there were numerous adhesions to the war even by anarchists like Kropotkin and social democrats like Plechanov.
After the first months of almost general enthusiasm, the military difficulties began to be felt: Poland had been cleared, masses of refugees were flowing inland, the front was approaching Petersburg, food was becoming scarce. Some street riots are directed at first against the shops that have German owners or are believed to be German: but the long “queues” in front of the food warehouses over time become a very favorable environment for revolutionary propaganda. The troops at the front have the impression of being led badly, of being sacrificed for purely prestige reasons; supplies of all kinds leave more and more to be desired.
There are persistent rumors that some reactionary circles around Rasputin, fearing a military disaster and new revolutionary riots inside, want to influence the Tsar for a separate peace with the Central Empires. Under the pressure of the liberal circles, strengthened by Menshevik groups and revolutionary socialists, which having joined the “sacred union” have obtained greater freedom of speech, the government decides to convene the Duma for a few days (February 1915). Despite the continuation of the sacred union, the disagreement between the government and progressive circles is accentuated. Decisive reactionaries like Goremykin and Suchomlinov are unable from the benches of the government to consolidate the state of mind of a national union, which the democratic currents desire. After a new meeting of the Duma on July 19 (August 1), the so-called “progressive bloc” was formed among parliamentarians, comprising all the nuances of liberal and democratic (in the broadest sense): the aim of the progressive bloc was at the forefront of to ensure supplies to the army, and finally to transform the Duma into a real parliament, which would prevent separate peace from being organized by irresponsible elements behind its pins. The progressive bloc also insisted on a general amnesty, for a policy that would meet the demands of the Poles, Ukrainians and other national minorities, for an abolition of the most serious measures limiting the freedom of Jews, for a greater development to be given. to the activity ofzemstvo. In the face of the progressive bloc, the reactionary currents and the government oscillate, according to the old tradition, between a squeeze of brakes and a few small concessions.
The tsar and the imperial family find themselves under the complete influence of the dissolute monk Rasputin: anyone who wants to obtain favors or rank promotions must now capture Rasputin’s benevolence. A protege of the monk, the reactionary Stürmer (Štjurmer), is placed in the presidency of the council. The Duma is now only convened for very short sessions. What’s more, there is the feeling in the country that what some call a separate peace, others treason, is being prepared behind the back of the Duma.
In December 1916, Prince Yusupov and Deputy Puriškevič killed Rasputin dramatically. Up to now it is difficult to establish exactly whether the attempt at a separate peace with Germany had assumed concrete features: certainly vast masses were tired of the war, the most reactionary elements hoped to avoid the revolution with a quick peace, the great grain exporters hoped that the very serious obstacles to trade cease with the end of hostilities.
On February 27 (March 12) 1917, while the deputies were meeting to discuss a ukaz of the tsar that had suspended parliamentary work, the news came that soldiers of several regiments had occupied the Peter and Paul fortress, the arsenal, the barracks. The progressive bloc, which until then had mostly envisioned the possibility of obtaining reforms from above with intense pressure, found itself, almost unwillingly, in the need to take power, caught off guard by the insurrection. In the early days, many deputies hope that the monarchy can be saved with the abdication of Nicholas II. But events precipitate: on March 4 (17) the abdication of the tsar takes place and his brother Michele renounces to ascend the throne. In fact, Russia is now a republic.
According to localtimezone, the provisional government is constituted by the “moderate” Prince L′vov, president of the ministers: in the ministry sit progressives, cadets (including Milyukov and Nehrasov), Octobrists (Gučkov), the “independent” Tereščenko, the “Labor” Kerensky, etc. The new government immediately promised the continuation of the war alongside the Allies, an improved supply to the fighting troops, the next convocation of a Constituent Assembly; a general amnesty is immediately proclaimed. But in the meantime the workers’ pressure is making itself felt more and more strongly. The Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries must accentuate their postulates so that the masses do not pass over to the Bolsheviks: the latter strengthen their organizations with sudden legality. Lenin returns to Russia from exile and Trotsky (Trotsky) also recently joined the Bolsheviks. Alongside the provisional government, the soldiers and workers’ sovereigns grew more and more, almost becoming a second government, even if Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries prevailed there for several months. The Provisional Government and the pro-war Socialists try to give the troops a new revolutionary impetus but the supplies are getting worse, the peasant masses no longer want to fight and instead want the land immediately, among the workers discontent against the Provisional Government increases gradually. that the latter postpones the fundamental social reforms to the postwar period. Among the more developed and conscious national minorities, the desire for autonomy is increasingly replaced by the desire for self-determination, up to the detachment from Russia.
Continuing internal crises of the Provisional Government strengthened the de facto authority of the Soviets (in which the Bolsheviks are still a minority). Under the growing pressure of the masses, the Bolsheviks find themselves obliged, albeit unwillingly, to launch an offensive in the month of July: the situation for the Bolsheviks is grave; to remain passive means for them to lose a good part of the masses determined to act; the leaders of the movement understand instead that it is still too early for the general insurrection. The riots in July resulted in a strengthening of the anti-Bolshevik forces. Following the repression of the Bolshevik uprisings and the new offensive on the front initiated by Kerensky, numerous nationalist demonstrations take place in various cities of Russia: the liberal forces also participate.