1917 Russian Revolutions and Estonia

​The increasing dissatisfaction caused by Russia’s failures in World War I created preconditions for a revolution. The unrest over food in February 1917 in the capital city of Petrograd soon developed into a mass political movement. When the army took the side of the protesters, the days of the old power were numbered. The tsar abdicated, the cabinet of ministers stepped down and the Provisional Government was formed. At first it included several parties of liberals and a left-wing socialist-revolutionary party (Essers), joined later by the social-democratic Workers’ Party (Mensheviks). The Provisional Government tried to lead Russia down the path of democratisation. From Petrograd, the revolution quickly spread all over the empire.

After the February revolution, the Estonian nationalist circles managed to convince the Provisional Government to allow the uniting of all areas inhabited by Estonians into one national province with extensive autonomy. The Estonian Jaan Poska was appointed the highest local administrator, the provincial commissar, and Estonians were also given leading positions in the counties and towns. To decide local issues, the Provincial Assembly was democratically elected; Estonian became the language of administration and gradually also of education, and Estonian national troops were formed within the Russian army.

A great threat to the democratic Russian republic established in 1917 was the activity of the social-democratic Labour Party, or the Bolsheviks. They had no desire to develop Russian revolutionary democracy, but instead sought to establish a one-party dictatorship. They undermined the government’s authority, made demagogic promises and demanded the end of the war. Gradually they managed to find more supporters, gathered them in armed groups and carried out a coup d’état in Petrograd on 25 and 26 October 1917. Within a few months, they seized power in a large part of the former Russian tsarist empire.

Supported by the army, the Bolsheviks also seized power in Estonia. The provincial commissar was divested of office, the Provincial Assembly was disbanded, self-government institutions were taken over and preparations were made to disband the national troops, although they operated until January 1918. All other parties were kept out of power, their newspapers were closed, and their leading politicians were arrested. Additionally, an extensive nationalisation of properties was initiated, which caused the economy to collapse completely. The Bolshevik dictatorship and repression of political enemies strengthened the Estonian nationalists’ desire for an independent Estonia.

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