How a Women's March Shaped the 20th Century


100 years ago today (March 8, 1917), on the 9th International Woman's Day, the women workers of St. Petersburg (Petrograd) took to the streets. Women who were tired of waiting in bread lines and sending their men off to die in the war voiced their outrage at the repressive Tsarist government and demanded change.It was the start of the Russian Revolution. In the following days the men workers of the city joined them. And on March 12th (February 27th by the Russian calendar), the army disobeyed orders and sided with the protestors. Three days later the most powerful monarchy in the world fell.The February Revolution changed the course of history. So much of 20th century history can trace its roots to this event. The winning of WWII, the spread of communism, wars in Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, and of course the Cold War all lead straight back to it. You can add to that all of the technological advances that sprung from the Cold War - nuclear technology and arms proliferation, the space race, etc.In Russia today you won't see public celebrations in honor of the revolution. It remains to be seen if Putin will allow for a grand commemoration of the October Revolution, which is typically given more attention. In October of 1917 the Bolsheviks seized power from the quasi-democratic government that had ruled since the Tsar's abdication. Most Western academics call the October Revolution a coup, in contrast with the popular February uprising, but the two are often conflated.Either way, mum's the word out of Putin and his government today. The Russian president is ambivalent towards revolutionary history. As a leader with autocratic tendencies himself, he doesn't want to commemorate a popular uprising. Yet he has a nationalist affection for the USSR. In the end it seems to be a wash, and he's staying fairly quiet about the anniversary.And what a shame! It'd be great to see parades along Nevsky Prospect and ceremonies in Tsarskoe Selo. Granted, the Russian Revolution has a troubled legacy. It led to the slaughter of the whole royal family, to Stalinism, and to the ultimately failed USSR. But the revolution extolled some pretty important concepts -- it took power away from the autocratic Tsar, demanded universal representation, tore down (temporarily anyway) an unfair system of land distribution, created a representative government, and for several months led to a liberalization of the press, of free speech, of political association, assembly, etc etc. It also led Russia to become one of the 2 most powerful countries in the world for half a century. As historical turning points go, it was a big one.There are happily some online sources commemorating this important year in Russian history:

  • Pushkin House's Project 1917, chronicling the revolution by posting daily excerpts from primary sources
  • Helen Rappaport's new book Caught in the Revolution, another compilation of primary sources written by foreigners living in Russia during the revolution
  • The New York Times's Red Century, a series of articles and op-eds on the legacy of communism and the revolution
  • La Trobe University's recording of an interesting panel on The Russian Revolution of 1917 and World History, with Sheila Fitzpatrick and Mark Edele
  • Indy Neidell's YouTube series The Great War, which since August 2014 has traced the history of WWI exactly 100 years later on a week-to-week basis with weekly videos; now that it's contemporaneous to the Russian Revolution, hopefully he'll put up some interesting vids about it!
    • ETA: And he did indeed do an anniversary video!