John Quiggin in the NYT:
The February Revolution is one of history’s great “What if” moments. If this revolution — which actually took place in early March 1917 according to the West’s Gregorian calendar (Russia adopted that calendar only later) — had succeeded in producing a constitutional democracy in place of the czarist empire as its leaders hoped, the world would be a very different place.
If the leading figure in the provisional government, Aleksandr Kerensky, had seized on an opportunity presented by a now-forgotten vote in the German Reichstag, World War I might have been over before American troops reached Europe. In this alternative history, Lenin and Stalin would be obscure footnotes, and Hitler would never have been more than a failed painter.
By February 1917, after more than two years of bloody and pointless war, six million Russian soldiers were dead, wounded or missing. Privation on the home front was increasing. When the government of Czar Nicholas II announced the rationing of bread, tens of thousands of protesters, many of them women, filled the streets of St. Petersburg. Strikes broke out across the country. The czar tried to suppress the protests by force, but his calls to the army were either met with mutinies or simply ignored.
By the beginning of March, the situation was untenable: Nicholas abdicated, bringing an end to the Romanov dynasty.
The vacuum created by the collapse of the autocracy was filled in part by a provisional government, formed from the opposition groups in the previously powerless Duma, or Parliament, and in part by workers’ councils, called soviets. At the outset, the initiative lay with the provisional government, which seemed to embody the hopes of a majority of the Russian people.