These days the media carries any number of features dedicated to the centennial of the Russian and Ukrainian revolutions (the difference between them rates a different story). Some of these features are informative and others very interesting. Small wonder, considering that the topic remains attractive, dealing with past events and lessons from history that should be learned today. One question, though: Why do we still hear about the “February revolution” that overthrew tsarist autocracy?
Some will say this word combination has long been established within the scholarly community and among journalists. True, but only to an extent. According to the Gregorian calendar, it is believed by most historians to have begun on March 8 (or on March 23, according to the Julian calendar), 1917. It is internationally referred to as the March revolution. In fact, even using the Julian calendar, political power changed hands in the Russian empire in early March, rather than February. On March 1, the revolution in Petrograd [as St. Petersburg was known at the time] became a fact in Moscow. It was then the Petrograd Soviet issued Directive No. 1, to the effect that soldiers’ committees were now in command of the military units, not officers. This marked a radical military reform. On March 2, the Petrograd Soviet voted to authorize the Duma’s committee to form a new government. That same day, Nicholas II of Russia abdicated in favor of his brother Michael, who abdicated the following day. On March 3, a declaration on the action plan and membership of the Provisional Government, headed by Prince Georgy Lvov, was issued, whereby he assumed full power until the convocation of the Russian Constituent Assembly.
Therefore, the main events of the revolution (rather, of its phase one without which it would be an armed revolt) took place on March 1-3. Then why February revolution? Vladimir Lenin, closely following the events, wrote about the Russian revolution that had taken place on March 1, 1917. In modern Russian historiography, one often comes across the “February-March revolution.”
I do not think that the appellation of the initial phase of the revolutionary events in 1917 is a scholastic issue. If one tries to understand Ukrainian history within a single coordinate system, one must bear in mind that various parts of Ukraine belonged to various countries at the time, countries that used various calendars. While in Muscovy chronology used the initial date as that of the “creation of the world,” Cossack chronicles read that Ukrainians had long started using the Julian calendar. Also, Western Europe (I mean the Ukrainian lands that were outside the Russian empire) had started using the Gregorian calendar while those within the empire began using the Julian calendar in 1700. To be precise, most of Ukraine was within the Russian empire (that would exist from 1721 until 1917). And this considering that some Ukrainian territories would remain part of the empire throughout this period, while others ranged from 50 to more than a hundred years, with the exception of Galicia (Halychyna) and Bukovyna that stayed there for about two years, with an interval during WW I. Therefore, the chronology of events in each such part of Ukraine was different. However, historians need uniform chronology. The most rational approach appears to be by applying the Gregorian calendar, the one in effect today – or at least the Revised Julian calendar being practiced by most Orthodox churches (under this calendar, Christmas is celebrated on December 25, not on January 7 – which is the Moscow tradition, and which we have been mechanically following for so many years).
As a matter of fact, the revolutionary events in Petrograd were a phenomenon of Russian as well as Ukrainian history. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians took part in them, in most cases siding with the revolutionaries, regarding the revolution as a way to free Ukraine from its social and national yoke. Above all, they regarded it as a way to build a Ukrainian state, even if as an autonomous republic. I think this is another reason for discussing the March, rather than February or February-March revolution. As it was, the revolution’s original democratic plans were reduced to nil by the October coup d’etat (as Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin would refer to it for several years after the event). From the historical standpoint, what happened in Petrograd and Moscow in the fall of 1917 can only be described as a counterrevolutionary, antidemocratic act.
I am in no position to pass final judgment in this case, so I will share my own ideas, hoping that The Day’s readers will take part in this discussion. My impression is that the word combination “February revolution” has become so firmly established precisely because it was first used by Stalin in The History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) in 1938 (later to appear in print as The History of the CPSU [Communist Party of the Soviet Union]). Any deviations from the dogmas laid down in that book were qualified as aimed against the party line, as crimes against the state, with the attendant grim consequences. One other thing: Stalin constantly used “February revolution” in the lower case [according to Russian grammar] because there was the “October Socialist Revolution” [always in the upper case], and because the future “leader of all peoples” had taken part in its organization [to which degree is another matter].
Isn’t it time we started discarding Stalinist dogmas in every sphere?