As 1917 opened, the many and widespread popular discontents were caught up on a wave of industrial strikes and popular demonstrations that suddenly surged and swept away the imperial regime. It began with a great strike on January 9 [January 22 on the modern calendar], the anniversary of Bloody Sunday. About 140,000 workers from at least 120 factories – 40 percent of the industrial workers of Petrograd – struck that day. On February 14 [February 27], while educated society focused anxiously on political clashes between the reopened Duma and Nicholas’ government, another major strike brought out about 84,000 workers and idled fifty-two or more factories. Strikes and demonstrations became daily events, with student demonstrations at Petrograd’s higher educational institutions and strikes in other cities adding to the growing turmoil. Then on February 22 [March 7] a labor dispute at the giant Putilov plant, the largest in Russia, led to a general lockout of workers by the Putilov management. This threw approximately 30,000 workers onto the streets, inflaming tensions in the city. Some Putilov workers attempted a demonstrative march toward the governmental center of the city on the 22nd, but police blocked them. They disrupted work at nearby factories and some of the Putilov women workers demonstrated at food warehouses over the shortage of bread. Moreover, the strike immediately took on a clearly political nature as groups of Putilov workers attempted to contact two Duma socialist leaders, Nicholas Chkheidze and Alexander Kerensky. They did meet with the latter, warning him that the strike might be the beginning of a big political movement and that “something very serious might happen.”
The “something very serious” suggested by the Putilov workers happened the next day across the city in the heavily industrial and traditionally restive Vyborg district. February 23 [March 8] was “International Women’s Day,” a socialist holiday. The Russian socialist factions had argued about what kind of activities to plan for that day, but did not agree on what to do. Nonetheless, some issued appeals for meetings and demonstrations, in keeping with general socialist strategy to use all worker holidays or anniversaries to promote strikes and demonstrations in the belief that one of them might provide the spark for revolution. Given the level of strikes and tensions in February 1917, they could hardly ignore Women’s Day, even though there was no specific expectation, much less a plan, that this particular day would lead to revolution.