Domestic and Global Causes of the Russian Revolution

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08/02/20 History Reference this

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Assess whether the Russian Revolution was primarily the product of domestic or global causes.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 was a time of complete turmoil for both the autocracy running the country and the public living in it. The key causes of the February Revolution were the harsh conditions within the country, the incompetence of Tsar Nicholas II ruling the country and the impacts of World War 1 on Russia. The main contributor to the October Revolution was the rise of the Bolsheviks through the chaos and confusion of the fall of the autocracy and then the Provisional Government taking its place. Although there is debate amongst historians as to which one of these revolutions, the February or the October, is considered the proper revolution in terms of being more influential on Russian society, there is certainty that both of them were primarily the products of domestic causes. 

The harsh conditions within Russia were a key domestic cause of the Revolution as they were a product of incompetent governing from inside the country. Russia endured a rapid and overwhelming population increase throughout the late 19th to the early 20th century with their population doubling between 1881-1914 and the problem that came alongside this increase was that the country was extremely unprepared it.[1] The governing autocracy at this time were unsure on how to handle this new influx of people and as a result, the public, particularly those in the lower classes, were the ones who suffered. The types of conditions they endured were job and food shortages, low wages and working 9-10 hour days in crowded, unsanitary factories.[2] These unjust conditions made people very discontent and gave them a desire for change, shown through the illegal protests that occurred such as the infamous “Bloody Sunday” which resulted in 14 deaths of unarmed, peaceful protestors.[3] Historian John N. Westwood says that this proved that the current regime was not successful and that the government was not acting with the Russian public’s wellbeing in mind[4]. This illustrates how the cause was domestic as it was made up of how the public were being treated by those in control of their country. These acts of protest were foreshadowing what was to come with the Russian Revolution as they were all ways of encouraging change in the society. Although the increased population was likely due to increased globalisation, the unfavourable conditions which caused the discontent amongst the public and a desire for change results of the way that Tsar Nicholas dealt with the growing population. Therefore, despite the global influence of an increased population, the living and working conditions in Russia were a domestic cause of the Revolution. 

The poor handling of the country by Tsar Nicholas was another domestic cause of the Russian Revolution all on its own. The autocracy throughout the early 20th century and particularly Tsar Nicholas were incompetent in their ruling and incapable of keeping the Russian public happy. A key example of his incompetent ruling was with the 1905 war between the Japanese and Russia over Manchuria.[5] By sending troops to the other side of the large country to fight in a war they were already losing, left the remaining part of the country even poorer than they already were and open for strikes. These particular strikes showed how the public were wanting change as it was estimated that 65% of them were political based and therefore wanting change in how their country was being run.[6] The constant hunger and desperation for money that forced them to work in demanding jobs was not a maintainable way of living and it was desire for change and the conflicts that both came from this way of living, encouraging the formation of the 3 major political protest groups in Russia between 1898 and 1905 – the Social Democrats, Socialists Revolutionaries and the Union of Liberation.[7] Overall, the country at this stage was in complete pandemonium as the majority of the public were discontent and angry at the autocracy. Historian Richard Stites concludes that the Russian society may have been so torn apart by this alone that the Revolution was inevitable even without the occurrence of World War 1, supporting the idea that this was a domestic cause.[8] Russia may not have even needed the global influence of World War 1 for the Revolution to have occurred. It was the incompetent ruling of the country by Tsar and anger of the public that followed which was a significant enough domestic cause of the Russian Revolution.

World War 1 was very much a global event and may not have been needed for the Russian Revolution to occur, however, it was still another domestic cause of the Revolution due to the way that Tsar Nicholas dealt with it and the impacts it had on the country. Tsar Nicholas’s decision to pursue Russia’s part in the war despite the nation being extremely ill-equipped resulted in many negative consequences for Russian society. There were great defeats and many Russian lives were taken such as when Russia lost two whole armies at the beginning of the war during the Battle of the Masurian Lakes and in over the entire war,  5.5 million soldier casualties occurred[9]. Other issues which occurred during the Great War were further food and resource shortages, increasing the already large poverty crisis in the country[10]. The Tsar went against the words of his advisors, family and army generals, so Russia, which was already suffering through poverty prior to the war began to suffer even more[11]. The act that turned this situation into a complete disaster, however, according to Stites, was when Tsar Nicholas decided to leave the capital, Petrograd, abandoning his wife, leaving her and Grigori Rasputin influencing the government.[12] This was such a disastrous move because it grew the anger in Russian civilians, since they viewed Rasputin as a fraud, and initiated revolutionary actions in people which unravelled the government to its threshold. Thus, after World War 1, a civil war was created.[13] The negative impact that Russia’s involvement in World War 1 had on the country causing it to be a direct cause of the Russian Revolution is illustrated through the civil war as it shows how desperately the public wanted change and since this cause was particularly made up of the actions that Tsar Nicholas made for the country during this time, it was purely domestic. World War 1 was a global influence on Russia but it was the way that the country was ruled from within during and the lasting impacts it had on the nations’ economy, and living conditions for the people that made it a key domestic cause of the Revolution.

Although the Tsar abdication was the proper revolution as argued by many historians, the second revolution known as the Bolshevik Revolution in October was also significant as it resulted in a further change of government and policy and it was also made up of primarily domestic causes. Having the Provisional Government take control after the fall of the autocracy in February 1917 quickly became just as difficult of a time for the Russian public as having the Tsar in control because it was not a permanent government[14]. 1917 was a time of complete turmoil for Russia since there was no official government and an overarching feeling that nobody was actually in charge.[15] It was due to this which allowed Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Party and a key figure in the October Revolution, to excel in gaining enough support to eventually take over[16]. Lenin showed enough dominance that Russia needed at this time for a successful revolution to actually take place and avoid returning to the old autocratic way of leadership. In Lenin’s own words, he believed it was “necessary to prepare men who devote to the revolution not only their free evenings, but their entire lives” and he fits that description himself.[17] One of his actions which led him to success was supporting the peasants of Russia as they made up 77% of the total population.[18] Having their support meant that he had the majority of Russia’s support, giving him the confidence and power to carry out the successful October coup and invade the Winter Palace as they did[19]. It is therefore evident that the October Revolution was made up of the domestic causes of Lenin gathering public support to strengthen his movement and not any obvious global causes.

The Russian Revolution resulted in a variety of causes which included the harsh conditions Russians had to endure, the inability of Tsar Nicholas to rule the country efficiently, the internal failings of World War 1 and finally, the rise of the Bolsheviks after the fall of the autocracy. Collectively, all of these initiated the Russian Revolution and they all directly impacted Russians and were made up of actions made within the borders of the country. This shows that these were primarily domestic causes and not global as it would be unlikely that any outside, global influences would have changed the outcomes in Russia. Due to this, it can be concluded that the Russian Revolution was a product of primarily domestic causes and not global.

Bibliography

  • Christian, David Imperial and Soviet Russia: Power, Privilege and the Challenge of Modernity, 3rd edn, Basingstoke, 1997 pp 203
  • Evtuhov, Catherine and Stites, Richard, A History or Russia: Peoples, Legends, Events, Forces since 1800, Boston, 2004 pp. 227-258
  • Pipes, Richard, A Concise History of the Russian Revolution, New York, 1995, pp. 106-110
  • Stites, Richard, ‘The Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, 1900-1945’, in Michael Howard and William Roger Louis, The Oxford History of the Twentieth Century, New York, 1998, pp 118-120
  • Westwood, J.N. Endurance and Endeavour: Russian History 1812-2001, 5th edn, Oxford, 2002 pp. 177

[1] J.N. Westwood,  

[2] Westwood,Ibid.

[3] Westwood, Ibid.

[4] Westwood, Ibid.

[5] Catherine Evtuhov and Richard Stites, A History or Russia: Peoples, Legends, Events, Forces since 1800, Boston, 2004 pp. 227

[6] Catherine Evtuhov and Richard Stites, Ibid

[7] Catherine Evtuhov and Richard Stites, Ibid

[8] Richard Stites ‘The Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, 1900-1945’, in Michael Howard and William Roger Louis, The Oxford History of the Twentieth Century, New York, 1998, pp 118

[9] Richard Pipes, A Concise History of the Russian Revolution, New York, 1995, pp. 110

[10] Pipes, Ibid.

[11]  Stites ‘The Russian Empire’ in Howard and Roger Louis, The Oxford History of the Twentieth Century pp. 119

[12] Catherine Evtuhov and Richard Stites, A History or Russia: Peoples, Legends, Events, Forces since 1800, Boston, 2004 pp. 258

[13] Richard Pipes, A Concise History’ pp. 110

[14] Stites ‘The Russian Empire’ in Howard and Roger Louis, The Oxford History of the Twentieth Century, , pp 120

[15] Stites, Ibid.

[16] Pipes, A Concise History, pp. 106

[17] Pipes, Ibid

[18] J.N. Westwood, Endurance and Endeavour: Russian History 1812-2001, 5th edn, Oxford, 2002 pp. 177

[19] David Christian, Imperial and Soviet Russia: Power, Privilege and the Challenge of Modernity, 3rd edn, Basingstoke, 1997 pp 203

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