reasons for the first Russian Revolution
Identify and evaluate the main reasons for the first Russian Revolution of Feb./Mar.1917
Russia in joining World War I induced social, political, and economic crisis's on the already weakened country, consequently, causing the March Revolution of 1917. Although the Tsar was responsible for the humiliating loss against Japan during the Russo-Japanese wars, the Tsar felt that it was necessary to attest Russia's validity as an ally. By joining the war, the Tsar was hoping that his people would support him. Contrary to his hopes, the country's economy only worsened, and the people came to hate the war and those who pushed for it. The culminating hatred amongst the people would lead to the eventual abdication of the Tsar for a provisional government.
Through joining World War I, the support for the Tsar was supposed to increase; however, the opposite occurred. In the beginning, Russia's military was much more powerful as compared to Austria-Hungary and the initial thoughts were that Russia would defeat Austria-Hungary quickly; therefore, bringing Russia's people together. Despite this strong start, Germany's entering the war quickly forced Russia to retreat into a humiliating position. However, Russia was not easily defeated, as they had a high-ranking officer who organized the Russian offensive against the German front: General Alexei Brusilov had organized the initial success of the offensive front, Russia's military was affected more so than the German army due to the lack of general supplies such as ammunition, clothes and food (Hoare 31). "By the spring of 1916 the Russian forces on the southwestern front numbered 510,000 men and 1,770 pieces of artillery."1 Russia's large army was useless due to the supply deficiency, in lacking artillery and demoralized, the German and Austrian armies quickly took advantage and overtook the Russian soldiers by July 23, 1916 (Dupuy and Onacewicz 74). Russia soldiers, which consisted mainly of peasants, could not wait to head home as they heard of the "promised division of the estates of the nobility."2 By freeing the serfs and the division of land between the hierarchies, the Tsar had hoped to settle the unrest that had been occurring between the classes. After hearing of the turmoil occurring in March of 1917, the soldiers, mainly composed of serfs, decided to help overthrow the Tsar as they did not want to fight the war anymore (Hoare 30). They were fighting a fight they did not wish to.
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Tsar Nicholas II lacking qualities to rule an empire decided that he should take personal control of the military and deemed himself the supreme commander of the armed forces. His failure to ensure proper ruling of his country resulted in his wife, Tsarina Alexandra, taking over his role as he had left the country for military reasons. This was politically incorrect since his wife was of German and British origins. The people assumed that she was a German spy; furthermore, Rasputin, a self-proclaimed healer, stated that he was able to cure the Tsarevich Alexei from haemophilia. Tsarina Alexandra was highly influenced by Rasputin as Alexei's condition was a state secret and Tsarina Alexandra believed that Rasputin was a messenger from God. Rasputin's influence over the Tsarina eventually reached her governmental affairs, which she was not well-versed in. Through leaving German wife in charge and having a strange monk in the castle as the Tsar was not present resulted in a complete loss of support for the Tsar.
The autocratic ruling resulted in a united peasant front as they were impacted on the largest scale. They did not own land, and if they did, they were unable to produce food as they lacked the money to buy supplies to harvest such crops. The lack of food production in the country, and one of the harshest winter's Russia had experienced resulted in a direct depletion of food (Figes 307). "By early 1917 Russia's social fabric was weakening rapidly. Food shortages and riots, monetary inflation, a record number of industrial strikes, and general economic disruption battered civilian morale. Duma deputies and other political governmental leaders talked openly of a coup d'état. Russia was ripe for revolution."3 The autocratic rule affected society on all levels, not only were the peasants affected, but the upper middle class as well. They wished for democracy as they did not approve of the new policies that were being passed. These views that they shared were held in secret meetings, because if they were shared they could possibily lose their position. One of the political parties that rose from these common beliefs was the Kadet, the Constitutional Democratic Party (Sukhanov 2). United against the Tsar's entering the war, this provided a reason to end autocracy and fight for democracy. When the strike consisting of workers and peasants hard marched to Petrograd in 1917, the upper middle class finally joined in to bring democracy to Russia.
While the rest of the world had advanced through the Industrial Revolution, Russia was still stuck in a technological rut. But, the reason for this was the country itself was simply unable to afford it. With 80% of the country stuck in poverty, the inability to afford such luxuries was more than common (Ross 36). In order to make money, many families were sending away their loved ones to work in factories in hopes of generating an income. Stolypin, the Prime Minister at that time, had made changes by allowing peasants to own land, and distributing it. Through distribution, the peasants were able to keep some of the crops to sell and eat, while the rest was handed over to the state (Ross 23). Although significant changes were made in the hierarchy at the peasant level, the majority of the country was still living underneath the poverty line. The frustration of living below the poverty line was almost too much to bear; having to line up for bread on a daily basis, only to be turned away after hours resulted in unrest amongst the people. The people were bitter and upset with the autocracy, food shortages and economic failure. The peasant's disappointment with the Tsar and his advisors would greatly influence the rise of the March Revolution.
From military failures to incapability in ruling a country, the end to the Romanov era was predictable as the Great War was the catalyst for it all. Russia was unable to defeat Germany an Austria-Hungary, a humiliating defeat which would affect the social, economic and political aspects of Russia. The ancient autocratic era would be overthrown in hopes of a democratic ruling to improve the way of life.
Figes, Orlando, A People's Tragedy: A history of the Russian Revolution. Penguin Group, 1996.
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Ross, Stewart, The First World War. Paris: Wayland, 1986.
Carr, E.H., The Russian Revolution from Lenin to Stalin 1917-1929. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 1979.
Ross, Stewart, Timelines: World War I. Minnesota: Arcturus Publishing, 2008.
Smith, Brenda, The Collapse of the Soviet Union. San Diego: Lucent Books, 1994.
Hoare, Robert, World War One. London: Macdonald and Company, 1973.
Dupuy, Trevor and Onacewicz, Wlodzimierz, The Military History of World War I: Triumphs and Tragedies in the East, 1915-1817. New York: Franklin Watts Inc, 1967.
Sukhanov, N.N., The Russian Revolution 1917, A personal Record. Great Britain: Richard Clay and Company, 1955.
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