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In the Nineteenth Century, Russia was changing. It was feeling a lot of pressure to become more modern as times were also changing and many of the neighbouring countries had begun their journey to modernity. As changes were happening throughout the empire, new ideals were also arising which influenced a rise in industry and a growth in arts.
Russia, at this time, was ruled by a Tsar who held absolute power. Alexander I was the first in the nineteenth century and rose to power during the Napoleonic wars, followed by four others up until the revolution.
Russia was generally an undeveloped empire; however, it was a large one and was very vastly populated although only 50% of the population were Russians. Russia had many traits of a feudal society, 80% of its population were still living as peasants but it was also run solely by the Tsar, whom all authority came from. The Tsar was also supported by the Orthodox Church. The most obvious difference however, between the Russian state and feudalism was that social control was governed by a state bureaucracy and the army.
In 1905, a spontaneous and very uncoordinated revolution occurred following the shooting of St Petersburg industrial workers who were protesting, which is known as “Bloody Sunday”. This revolution didn’t exactly have an objective as such but were a number of rebellious acts carried out by several different classes and groups who had their own individual set of problems with Russia at that time, although it was mainly people who lived in the cities. These acts spread throughout the empire, including mutinies in naval bases. The revolutionary acts became so severe in 1905 that it looked like the Tsar being overthrown was undoubtful, however the regime managed to survive through promises of liberal reform and due to the fact that the revolutionaries were fairly unorganised and lacked cohesiveness and objectivity.
The statement regarding this essay is implying that the biggest reason for the fall of the Tsarist regime in 1917 was that it failed to learn the lessons of 1905. The lessons it is referring to were; the need for political reform, to avoid war where possible, to restore discipline and morale in the army in order to stop mutiny, to help the peasants and working class more in regard to debt and poverty in order to decrease discontent among the large groups of people and to exert less force on the people. It can be argued that even though the Tsar put in place several reforms to try and fix these issues, that he failed as there was still a large amount of discontent, if not more amongst the people of Russia due to several things, including overcrowding and violence.
Other explanations for the fall of the Tsarist regime could be the fact that the Tsar at the time, Nicholas II, was not suitable to run an empire. One example of this was how indecisive he was during the first world war (1914 – 1919). Another explanation could even be due to the influence of the Bolsheviks at the time.
To address the issues raised in 1905, the Tsarist government introduced a series of reforms, such as Army reforms to restore discipline in the army. They increased the pay for Russian soldiers and limited punishments, such as beating, to restore some morale. They also took education out of the churches and funded poorer people to go to school. They cancelled peasants’ debts from when they were in serfdom and declared that all peasants were equal citizens in the eyes of the law. This made it possible for peasants to leave, buy and sell land without permission. They also introduced economic and financial reforms, established the Duma so there was now representation for all classes and also introduced unemployment insurance. These were effective as there was an economic surge, there was no mutiny in the army again until the first world war, the empire freed itself from the dependence on foreign investments, land under cultivation grew by 15% and food production increased and 25% of Russian peasants had left their villages by 1914. However, these also failed because cities then became overpopulated and this created a larger group of discontented people due to limited jobs and homes, the Duma was dissolved when it and the Tsar had disagreements and it had limited functions anyway as it wasn’t allowed to become a genuine democratic body. “Thus, the laws, which were not open to debate, made it clear that the new assembly’s role was after all to be no more than consultative” There was the Lena Goldfields strike in 1912 which ended in violence and many of the reforms didn’t have enough time to make a difference anyway.
The Tsarist government were also being extremely repressive as the Tsar had created his “secret police” who were taking down anyone who had was showing any sort of rebellion against the Tsarist regime. The historian, Lowe, wrote about this saying that “The situation was particularly dangerous because the government had made the mistake of alienating three of the most important sections in society”. (Lowe, N (2005)) He was talking about the peasants, workers and the educated class also. This caused more unrest throughout those different classes which was not in favour of the Tsar.
After 1914 with the outbreak of World War One, a series of events happened that threatened the authority of the Tsar and the 300 years of Tsarist rule. During the time Nicholas II ruled, strikes across the country spread and illegal trade unions were widespread. Nicholas II’s uncle, the Grand Duke Sergei was also assassinated near the Kremlin in Moscow and a mutiny broke out amongst the sailors on the battleship Potemkin.
Economic discontent was also a long term cause toward the revolution as over three-quarters of the population were unhappy with their position in the empire. The peasants and workers in the empire were working and living in awful conditions and these discontents continued to increase in the years prior to the revolution. The people began protests, illegal strikes and riots which all threatened the Tsarist regime.
The discontent among the peasants was mostly related to the fact that Russia had no income tax, therefore the Tsar taxed the peasants against the produce that they raised in order to maintain his regime, this taxation burdened the peasants greatly as they were then making no income and suffering because of it. This led to periodic riots. In 1861 Alexander II who was the Tsar at the time freed the peasants from this tax, however, to give the peasant their land, the government had to pay the landowners for it and in return the peasants had to pay the state back the money in form of redemption payments. This led to an increase in the suffering of the peasants. They were also expected to produce surplus grain for export even though they did not have enough to feed themselves and this led to widespread famine in 1901.
The discontent among the workers was due to terrible working conditions and the banning of trade unionism. This was because of the increase in urbanisation which increased the population in Russia’s towns and cities. Developers struggled to deal with the demand for accommodation which meant that many were living in communal houses with shared kitchens, toilets and bathrooms and others were forced to sleep in the factories where they worked with little comfort. Protests and strikes increased drastically and by 1905 were very widespread and severe.
The political conditions caused a lot of discontent as well, ethnic minorities were very oppressed due to Russian policies, Jewish people were persecuted by state sanctioned pogroms, in 1900 officials who criticised the government were purged and increased industrialisation and urbanisation led to many social and economic problems for workers and peasants, all of this gave revolutionaries a cushion of support to create change.
From the 1880’s Marxist ideas started to gain popularity. The theories of Karl Marx proposing that the proletariats would rebel and rise up to seize the power from the ruling class spread through Russia. Social revolutionaries adopted Marxist and populist beliefs and wanted to overthrow the government and give power to the peasants, they carried out around 2000 assassinations on the people with political power in the years prior to the revolution.
Social democrats focused their efforts on the workers rather than the peasants and based their beliefs solely on Marxism. The group did disband during 1903 due to the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks having ideological disagreements, but they were able to spread strikes and protests though the empire.
It is clear that there was a lot of conflict surrounding Nicholas II and how he was ruling over Russia. Orlando Figes argued that Nicholas II was not a suitable person to rule the Russian empire “. Russia’s last two Tsars were deeply hostile to the idea of a modern constitutional order… “ and talked about his indecisiveness regarding the first world war. He was also extremely incapable when dealing with the needs of his people. Russian citizens went to Winter Palace, led by Georgy Gapon who was a priest to express their concerns to the Tsar on the 22nd of January 1905 and were attacked by his guards leaving many wounded or dead. The Tsar was not there at the time however the attack tore apart the bond that was left between the Russian people and their ruler. The Tsar and his family also did not help their people during the first world war when they were left with severe shortages of food and supplies which also did not help keeping a good relationship between the people and Nicholas II. “Time and time again, the obstinate refusal of the tsarist regime to concede reforms turned what should have been a political problem into a revolutionary crisis”
Lowe also talked about how Nicholas II wasn’t keeping to the promises he made in his October Manifesto. “Unfortunately, Nicholas seems to have had very little intention of keeping to the spirit of the October Manifesto, having agreed to it only because he had no choice”. This again shows the selfishness shown by the Tsar during difficult times and times of unrest within his people.
The idea that the Tsarist regime fell since they did not learn the lessons of 1905 is backed up by the fact that the Tsar kept little promises surrounding the reforms and many of them fell through or did not have time to make any difference at all. He was also very selfish regarding the reforms, especially in terms of the Duma as he held all the power there, which meant that even though the people finally had something to give them a voice, they didn’t really have a voice. On the other hand, a lot of evidence is there to show that his personality, and that of the prior Tsar’s, left very little confidence in the Russian people surrounding him being in power, or the Tsarist regime in general. To say that his personality is the only thing that made the regime crumble, however, is very bold and personality alone is not enough to cause a revolution. There was a large amount of social unrest and discontent and a lot of factors surrounding that, that had built up over a long period of time until the people had finally had enough.
I think the statement is correct to a certain degree. I do think that the lessons of 1905 could have been taken a little more seriously in terms of result. However, I don’t think that they hold all the blame and I believe that the discontent of the people over such a long period of time had the most impact building up to the revolution. There are a lot of factors to consider here; Nicholas II personality, the overcrowding, unemployment, shortages of food, the social unrest. And I think that they all had equal amounts of impact and because they all happened, together, or around the same time it was just about timing. It was inevitable.
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