The Russian Revolutions – 1917 Essay

The Tsars government had been failing for a long time, people were changing but the Tsar wasn’t. Steelworkers, women and other unhappy workers demanding bread and basic foods held strikes more frequently over the last few months of the Tsar’s rule. Railways didn’t have enough trains for armies and cities, so often food was left to rot at stations. The moral of the Russians was very low, the war wasn’t going well for them, and in March 1917 things got worse, the Tsar was forced to abdicate.

Some of the Reasons the Tsars Government went badly are:

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* impact of World War I

* the character of the Tsar Nicholas II

* the Tsarina and Rasputin

* food shortages and strikes

1. Explain how each of the above reasons contributed to the collapse of the Tsar’s government. What other reasons might there have been?

The impact of World War I greatly contributed to the collapse of the Tsar’s government. Russia entered the war in 1914, on the side of Britain, Belgium, France, Italy and Serbia, fighting Germany, Austria, Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria. At the beginning of Russia’s involvement moral was high, the soldiers all felt they were helping their country. But by December 1914 over a million men out of 14 million had died. The army was in full retreat, the soldiers had one gun between three of them, and many had no boots. In September 1915 the Tsar decided to take over as commander in chief, to win the war for Russia, and to gain all the credit. Unfortunately this failed, Russia’s place in the war did not improve, and the Tsar took all the blame for the failures. He was held directly responsible, and the moral of the soldiers and Russian citizens plummeted even lower as they looked for someone to blame.

Because so many farmers and factory workers had been called away to war, food production had suffered and factories were closing down. Neither army or the citizens had enough food, the armies were also lacking munitions and the food being left to rot was greatly needed by people throughout Russia. This started the March Revolution, 1917, and so helped add to the collapse of the Tsars government.

The character of the Tsar Nicholas II was an important factor in the collapse of his government. The Tsar was a family man, and cared greatly about his wife and family. He was keen for his son to be cured and his wife to be happy, and so allowed Rasputin to stay and advise him and his wife. The Tsar was a week willed, indecisive man who was easily influenced by his wife. The head of the Duma told him in 1916 that Rasputin advising Alexandra undermined his authority, and the Tsar sent an order to get rid of Rasputin. It was cancelled at the demand of the Tsarina.

The Tsar was an autocrat, the absolute ruler. He had a bureaucracy made up from aristocracy, most of them were corrupt and accepted bribes. Because he was an autocrat, if anything went wrong he got absolute blame. He left when trouble was brewing, and ordered soldiers to fire at non-violent protesters, who were holding pictures of him as a sign of respect. He refused to listen to anyone else’s advice, and refused to reform when the people made reasonable requests of an eight-hour working day and minimum wage of one rouble a day.

Also, the Tsar wasn’t a very good commander and still went to war, and left Rasputin (an unpopular peasant with a bad reputation) and Alexandra in charge of Russia. Rasputin’s reputation of being a womanising drunkard damaged the reputation of the Tsarina, he gave bad advice and soon became hated. There were many assassinations attempted on Rasputin, until Prince Yusupov finally murdered him on December 30th 1916.

The Tsar didn’t keep his word, he fooled the middle class liberals for a while into thinking he was fair with his ‘October Manifesto.’ In this he promised the right to free speech, the right to form political parties, and a Duma (elected parliament.) Although he allowed the Duma to take place, he did not follow through his other promises and he dissolved it as soon as it demanded changes. The first Duma lasted from April 1906 to July 1906. The second began in March 1907 and lasted until June 1907. For the next Duma, the Tsar changed the voting system. From now on, one landlord vote was equal to nearly 300 peasants or 60 workers, because the majority of the landlords supported the Tsar. The third Duma lasted until 1912, its full 5 years. People saw the Duma could do nothing without the Tsar’s agreement, and realised he wouldn’t change his ways or do as they asked. They lost total faith in the Tsar.

The Tsarina Alexandra and Rasputin affected the Tsars government mostly in 1915, when the Tsar became commander in chief of the army. Alexandra was left alone to rule the country, and because Rasputin was a healer had helped Alexis with his haemophilia she turned to him for help and advice. Rasputin had great influence over Alexandra, and Alexandra had great influence over the Tsar so if Rasputin really wanted something to happen, it would.

Alexandra was a very popular Tsarina until Rasputin came along. Rumours were spread about them having an affair, and to make matters worse Alexandra was German. People quickly came to the conclusion she was a spy, and letting a drunken peasant like Rasputin rule her didn’t help. People didn’t think they had the countries best interests at heart, and people knew something had to be done. The pair sacked good ministers together, hired bad ones, and in December 1916 some members of the Duma came to the conclusion that Rasputin had purposefully destroyed the Russian government because he was a Russian agent. Soon after this he was murdered.

Food shortages and strikes had been going on for years because only a small proportion of the land in Russia was suitable for farming. Because of all the farmers and factory workers fighting in the war, food shortages got a lot worse during the war. People began to strike, asking for better wages, more food and to show how they felt about the situation. Bad communications didn’t help the situation either, because Russia was so big half of it had no idea what the other half was doing. This is why the food was being left by the side of train stations to rot, and because of the lack in food shop owners raised prices and peoples morale got even lower. The value of the rouble dropped and people found it harder and harder to get food. The letters families sent to soldiers told them of the problems, lowering their moral too and making them lose more and more hope in winning the war or even surviving it.

The Duma’s provisional committee refused to disband, and when officers ordered the soldiers to put down the revolt they refused. Some even shot their officers, and they demanded that the Duma took over the government. This didn’t destroy the government alone, there had always been strikes and food shortages, it just helped make it collapse.

Other possible reasons for why the government collapsed included the Tsar not keeping his word. Every time a Duma criticised him or the way he ran the country, he dissolved it. Then he changed the system so the Duma was full of his supporters. He had promised freedom of speech, but had the Okhrana (Secret Police) around constantly, censoring books, newspapers and sending his opponents to Siberia. He refused to listen to anybody’s opinion or advice, and refused to acknowledge that his opponents (Bolsheviks and Mensheviks) were growing in strength.

World War I caused most of these problems, if it hadn’t happened then the Tsar wouldn’t have left the Tsarina and Rasputin in control and their reputations wouldn’t have been ruined. Food shortages and strikes wouldn’t have got so out of hand, and if there was less pressure on the Tsar to win the war, maybe he would have been more willing to listen to other people.

Was any one of these reasons more important than others? Explain your answer mentioning how you would rate all the reasons in importance.

The Tsar’s government had survived since 1896. The character of the Tsar, the Tsarina and Rasputin, and food shortages and strikes had been troubling it for a long time and it had survived. A few years after the war started, it collapsed.

If the War had never happened, theTsar wouldn’t have gone to fight and wouldn’t have left Alexandra and Rasputin in charge of Russia. The Tsar would then not have had any blame or bad reputation put on him for losing the war, and nobody would’ve minded that Alexandra was German. The farmers and factory workers would have carried on working as normal and the food shortage and strike situations would not have worsened. The Tsar wouldn’t have let the Tsarina fire all the able ministers and Rasputin wouldn’t have got so publicly involved in the ruling of the country.

It is difficult to say which of the problems were the most important, because they are all linked and entwined making it difficult to work out what would have happened if one of the problems wasn’t there. But I think that the impact of World War I was the most important, as not only did it create new problems but it worsened current ones too. On it’s own, the impact of World War I would not have collapsed the government, but along with everything else it pushed it over the edge.

The Tsar’s character was also very important. If he had been less stubborn and more willing to accept help from others, he could have sorted out the problems with Russia.

Food shortages and strikes were greatly worsened by the war, but they were still there before it. The most memorable was Bloody Sunday, where a crowd of non-violent protesters came together to ask for a maximum working day and a minimum wage and were shot at. But twelve years after that the government was still there, and smaller strikes and food shortages were still happening because of the quality of Russian land.

Although Alexandra and Rasputin were hated, they were not a substantial cause for the collapse. Before the war Alexandra had been very popular, and she had been married to the Tsar before he came into power so the government had survived twenty-one years with her there and also twelve years with her and Rasputin.

I would rate the reasons in order of importance like this:

1) The impact of World War I

2) The character of the Tsar Nicholas II

3) Food shortages and strikes

4) The Tsarina and Rasputin

All together all the reasons played a part in the collapse of the Tsars government. Overall I think World War I was most important because all the other reasons had been caused or worsened by it.

What reasons can you suggest for the collapse of the Provisional Government in November 1917?

The Provisional Government took control over Russia in March 1917, after Nicholas has abdicated. It lasted only 9 months, until November 1917 when the Bolsheviks overthrew it. The Provisional Government was unfair, because the Tsar had changed the voting system so the Duma was made up mainly of Mensheviks.

I think the Provisional Governments biggest mistake was staying in the war because they had promised to aid their allies. They didn’t want to lose the support of their allies should they ever need their help, and the decision to stay in the war made them very unpopular with the peasants. The soldiers and their families wanted the troops to go home because the death rate was so high, so moral was very low. The lack of farmers and factory workers had been causing shortages of food and clothing, there wasn’t sufficient transport to supply cities with food, and there was no way the revolution would be fixed with the attention on the war as well.

The Provisional Government were weakened by having to share power with the Petrograd Soviet (workers council). They were a threat to the provisional government even though they started off working together, the Petrograd Soviet had the support of the army. The Bolsheviks were also a posing threat, they weren’t a big party but had a good leader in Lenin.

Lenin returned from exile in Switzerland when he heard about the March Revolution, on a train provided by the Germans. Germany wanted Russia to pull out of the war, to make it as easy as possible and saw Lenin and his hopes of another revolution as a way of getting Russia out of the way. Without Russia, they could concentrate there armies on the Western Front.

Lenin brought up the April Theses, promising ‘Peace, Land and Bread’ whereas the Provisional Government were providing cautious plans with no immediate actions. The Bolsheviks promise of action made them very popular and therefore powerful. People wanted immediate changes and solutions, which the government was not offering.

A big problem in Russia was a lack of land, causing lack of food, causing peasants to try and help themselves to aristocracy’s land. The provisional government could have redistributed land to solve this problem, but instead did nothing except try to stop the peasants. If the government had solved this problem, good news would have been sent to the soldiers and the government’s popularity would have increased. Moral would’ve heightened and the Bolsheviks would not have had so much more to offer than the Provisional Government. Because they did nothing they became more unpopular and caused more price rises.

Then, they started to attack Russia to distract attention from problems at home. This just produced yet another problem for them to worry about and because they were defeated, the army deserted them.

During riots in July 1917 many Bolsheviks were arrested and Lenin escaped to Finland in disguise. In September 1917 there was a Kornilov revolt, in which the Provisional Government had asked the Bolsheviks for help. Thus leading to the release of the arrested rioters and the return of Lenin. The Bolsheviks used the ‘Red Guards,’ a small group of well-organised, well-trained, well-disciplined soldiers controlled by one man, Leon Trotsky.

The main reason for the collapse of the Provisional Government in November 1917 was because they stayed in the war far too long. This caused many other problems (such as food shortages and the starvation of 7 million people) They were also far too cautious and nothing really got done under their power, so their supporters turned to the Bolsheviks instead who took immediate action.

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