28 February 2021
Fine Art Images / Heritage Images / Getty Images
Fine Art Images / Heritage Images / Getty Images

ON 8 MARCH 1917, carrying banners that translate to “Feed the children of the motherland’s defenders” and “Increase rations for the families of soldiers, defenders of freedom and peace,” workers from the Putilov factory, who had been locked out after demanding a wage increase, march through the streets of Petrograd. It was the first day of the February Revolution. (The Julian calendar used in Russia at the time was 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar.) The workers were led by around seven thousand women from Petrograd’s textile mills, who were protesting against the tsarist regime, its continued participation in the First World War and the food shortages in the Russian capital. Four days earlier, the city duma had announced that rationing would begin in two weeks.

The various factions of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party had been planning a demonstration on International Women’s Day since December 1916, but had failed to agree on a joint action. On the morning of 8 March, workers at several textile factories in the Vyborg district held meetings at which they decided to go on strike. The women fanned out to nearby factories, urging workers to join them. Around a hundred thousand people—about a quarter of the Petrograd workforce—participated in the protests that day. That number doubled over the next two days, as a general strike began.

On 11 March, ten thousand soldiers and policemen were deployed in the centre of Petrograd, and all the bridges leading to the city were drawn. When the protesters crossed the frozen Neva River to enter the capital, security forces opened fire on four occasions, killing or injuring almost two hundred people. The following day, soldiers garrisoned in Petrograd, many of whom had been ordered to shoot civilians, began an armed insurrection, and, on 15 March, Nicholas II was forced to abdicate.