February Revolution


The was the first stage of Russian rebellion whichstarted in 1917. The strikes and riots, which were triggered by thescarcity of food in Petrograd, led to the end of Russian Empire andRomanov dynasty. The provisional government, which replaced themonarchy, was focused on the creation of democratic-parliamentarystructures, was later overthrown by the Bolsheviks in 1917. With theabdication of Nicholas II, Russia took a new political stride1.With the strikes spreading in the streets of Petrograd anddestructions taking place, the uprising led to the killing ofdemonstrators and many more others were taken as prisoners. On theirpart, Bolsheviks struggled to retain power through all meansincluding issuing of amnesties. This paper seeks to analyze thenature of the amnesties and how they assisted Bolsheviks to maintaincontrol of Russia amidst the 2.The paper will also compare Matthew Rendle views on therole of amnesties during Russia’s Civil War andWikipediaarticle on .

Oneof the notable merits of amnesty, as noted by the legal theorists,was that they reflected communist humanity and mercy for the peasantsand workers who had committed crimes as a result of been pressurizedby anti-Bolshevik forces and material hardship that was experiencedduring the revolution. The role played by some jurists in terms ofproviding retrospective justification that considered the level ofcrime and punishment arising thereof was also vital in addressing thesocial problems that the demonstrators were facing at the hands ofthe Bolsheviks reign. For instance, in his rulings, B.S Utevskiiindicated that crimes were socially dangerous but the punishmentshould be equivalent to that danger3.This implies that as the level of danger adjusts because of a changein a social-political situation or a person’s behavior, thepunishment should also vary. Through this legal notion, more peoplewho had reformed and no longer dangerous were allowed to return totheir daily work.

Amnestiesduring as noted by Matthew Rendle have not beenexclusively covered by Historians. For example, it is not clearlyknown why Petrograd issued so many amnesties and yet during such arevolution the war should continue uninterrupted4.While Soviet legal histories ignored the implication of amnesties andhow they operated, Matthew depicts that Western studies only focusedon repression and needed to reduce the prison population and onlytouched lightly on amnesties. During the revolution, amnesties actedas a safety valve.

Theincreased taxes, food requisitioning and private trade were notableissues that led to more arrests as people fought to secure theirrights and financial independence. Similarly, the Wikipedia articleattributes food shortage, scarcity of commodities and cruel treatmentof peasants by the government as major causes of the riots. The highrate of arrests as the result of demonstrations was far beyond thecapacity of courts and ability of the security apparatus5.In this regard, amnesties were adopted as measures to reduce thepressure and by ensuring social groups were given autonomy, politicalpositions of young people, workers and peasants were recognized inthe society. This approach was similar to the social theory that wasput forward by Matthias Neumann and which indicates how young peopleplayed an important role for the Stalinist turn in the 1920s. Theorganization by the youth which was attributed to the use ofamnesties became a driving force that shaped the destiny of theRussian Revolution6.Another impact of amnesties was that they temporary removed theprosecution of certain crimes and released individuals withoutadmitting to the mistakes that would undermine the power andindependence of the courts. To be in line with the New EconomicPolicy (NEP), amnesties aimed at enhancing a post-war equilibriumbetween the society and the state.

TheAmnesty Decrees

Beforethe Bolsheviks’ rule, in 1917, amnesties were very common inRussia. Even though under the leadership of Muscovy some amnestieswere seen as cynically deceptive, they were highly recognized evenduring Imperial Russia, and they ultimately became part of Romanovcelebrations. On its part, the Provisional Government issued acelebratory amnesty soon it took control of the state during the. Even though Bolsheviks were hesitant to releasepolitical prisoners after taking power, amnesties were part of thecountry’s celebrations. For example, Tver’ province was first togive amnesty to people who were imprisoned for less crimes such astheft. Another notable amnesty was issued in 1918 during May Daycerebrations.

Priorto the revolution, the leadership ability of czarist regime wasquestionable to most Russians, and they had lost faith in it. Some ofthe major factors that led to the loss of confidence in czarist ruleincluded rampant corruption in the government, backward economy, andunnecessary dissolution of parliament (Duma) by Nicholas II once itopposed his views. The Wikipedia indicates that Duma warned NicholasII of the possible dangers and often counseled him on how to form anew constitution. However, just like Matthew Rendle, the Wikipediaindicates that the Tsars and Nicholas II ignored the advice andcontinued with the dissolution of the parliament.

Inits efforts to spread the culture of amnesty to the entire country,the authorities embarked on publishing the Petrograd’s amnesty, anaspect that was opposed by various local leaders including Cheka. The amnesty was also opposed by Narkomiust, which argued thatPetrograd amnesty was only releasing robbers and people withundesirable characters. As a result, the new constitution obligedVTsIK and Congress of Soviet as the only bodies to issue amnesties.


As took its course, the state depicted changingconcerns which show some groups being favored at the expense ofothers. This was also evident in the three amnesties issued by thestate in 1919. The first amnesty, which was celebrated on 23rdFebruary 1919, marked the creation of Red Army. All prisoners whowere involved in mass or disorder crimes were released. However, thisamnesty was not given to prisoners who had engaged in seriousoffenses such as robbery, arson or military crimes. The secondamnesty was issued on 25thApril. During this amnesty, the courts were ordered to releasesprisoners who were no longer seen as dangerous. Notably, the decreetargeted peasants and workers who were caught an aware by thedemonstrations as well as those who were involved in the riotswithout their willingness. The third amnesty was issued on 5thNovember. This amnesty, which was part of marking the secondanniversary of October Revolution, resulted in the release of a largenumber of prisoners apart from the ones involved in gross misconductor armed crimes.

Impactand Implementation of Amnesties after

Amnestieswere effectively implemented only through the support andencouragement of Narkomiust as well as VTsIK. While the majority oflocal Soviets were perceived amnesties as beneficial to theiractivities, others adjusted to be in line with the state’s changingattitude on amnesties. Basically, a large number of people who wereinvolved in counter-revolutionary activities, undermining authority,hooliganism, and misuse of official power benefited from theamnesties7.The implementation of amnesties was also done by commissions thatwere made up of people’s courts, departments of justice, prisonofficials and the Cheka. According to 1919 Narkomiust report, therewere variations on the number of beneficiaries of amnesties. Forinstance, in Perm, 60% of prisoners were freed while 39 had theirsentences reduced. In Ekaterinburg 25 prisoners were released, eighthad their sentences reduced while 143 were denied amnesty since theystill posed a danger.


Accordingto Wikipedia, came about as the result oflong-term and short-term causes. The Imperial Russia failure duringthe 19thcentury is one of the long-term reasons for the revolution. Othercauses which are covered by the Wikipedia and which are notexhaustively addressed by Matthew Rendle include Revolution of 1905,Russia war with Japan and Bloody Sunday. On the other hand, MatthewRendle addresses the frequent amnesties which played a strategic rolein controlling the strikes that had engulfed the Bolsheviks rule.Between 1918 and 1921, there were more than eleven amnesties whoseobjectives included releasing all the categories of criminals whileother aimed at silencing a particular political or social movement8.As the violence continued to increase in the town and other places,amnesty benefited many people who have been taken as captives. On itscoverage of the events, the Wikipedia covers protests for example inthe streets of Petrograd, during International Woman’s Day andbread riots, but it does not indicate clearly the how thedemonstrators were treated by Tsarist regime. The prisoners were onlyreleased into the city by use of force from the revolutionaries forinstance, on 12thMarch after government buildings were burnt down. The Wikipediaprovides limited information on amnesties.

ChangesSuggested for Wikipedia Content

Toimprove the scholarly quality of the Wikipedia article, it isimperative to expound on the amnesties that characterized FebruaryRevolution. Secondly, the article should discuss the implication andimplementation of amnesties during the revolution. Thirdly, thearticle should cover the aftermath of the amnesty and how they haveshaped the Russia history. Fourthly, the contributions of Narkomiustand VTsIK on the amnesties should be expanded by the article toensure clear comparison with other articles from other historians.Furthermore, the article should expound on the reasons as to why thestate was supporting amnesties yet the demonstrations were aimed atdisassembling the ruling authority.


Theaftermath of revolutions is mostly characterized by life sentence anddeath penalties of prisoners among other consequences. However, asdiscussed in the paper, amnesties that were issued during and after, indicates a different approach that makes thewar to attract the attention of historians across Russia and otherregions. The amnesties that made the number of prisoners reducesignificantly, by 1928, played a major part in Stalin’s Russia andpost-Soviet Russia.


Gerwarth,R &amp John, H. (2011). Vectors of Violence: Paramilitarism inEurope after the Great War, 1917-1923.The Journal of ModernHistory 83, no. 3.

Hart,P. (2013). TheGreat War: 1914-1918. NewYork: Longman.

Neumman,M. (2012). Youth, its Your Turn! : Generations and the Fate of theRussian Revolution (1917-1932). Journal of Social History, 46,no. 2. 2012.

Rendle,M. (2014). Mercy Amid Terror? The Role of Amnesties during RussiaCivil War. The Slavonic and East European Review, 92, no. 3.

Spencer,M. (2010). The Russian quest for peace and democracy. Lanham:Lexington Books.

1 Rendle, M. (2014). Mercy Amid Terror? The Role of Amnesties during Russia Civil War. The Slavonic and East European Review 92, no. 3.

2 Hart, P. (2013). The Great War: 1914-1918. New York: Longman.

3 Spencer, M. (2010). The Russian quest for peace and democracy. Lanham: Lexington Books.

4 Rendle, M. (2014). Mercy Amid Terror? The Role of Amnesties during Russia Civil War. The Slavonic and East European Review 92, no. 3.


6 Neumman, M. (2012). Youth, Its Your Turn! : Generations and the Fate of the Russian Revolution (1917-1932). Journal of Social History 46, no. 2.

7 Gerwarth, R and John, H. (2011). Vectors of Violence: Paramilitarism in Europe after the Great War, 1917-1923.The Journal of Modern History 83, no. 3.

8 Spencer, M. (2010). The Russian quest for peace and democracy. Lanham: Lexington Books.