AS Level Russian History; edexcel D3; russia in revolution 1881-1924

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Tsars Alexander II & III

Alexander II known as 'Tsar liberator' because of liberal policies e.g. emancipation of the serfs 1861 and creation of the zemstva 1864. Assassinated by Populist group 'The People's Will' in 1881.

Alexander III therefore repressive. Issued temporary regulations which meant people could be imprisoned without trial as well as having the Okhrana monitor opposition very carefully.

Influenced by Pobednostsev (tutor to him and his son) who believed in:

  • Autocracy (Land captains replaced elected Justices of the peace in 1889, right to vote for zemstva and dumas limited)
  • Nationality (Russification; 1885 - Russian became official language, Jews suffered in particular; loss of rights (settlement, education, profession) and violence (pogroms encouraged))
  • Orthodoxy (Primary schools taken over by Orthodox church, rights of Orthodox Russians put above those of others)
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Tsars decided to modernise Russia because of growing population and desire to maintain great power status. Three ministers tried to do so:

  • Nickolai Bunge 1881-87 - founded the peasant's land bank to encourage peasants to buy more land BUT too small to be effective
  • Vyshnegradsky 1887-92 - encouraged foreign investment (through incentives) and increased taxes and exportation. Placed high tarrifs on domestic industries BUT continued to export through famine in 91 and sacked
  • Witte 1892-1903 - no middle class so encouraged state intervention. He focused on the trans-siberian railway (started in 1891) to link the east of the empire to the rest of it and increase the amount of heavy industry and migration BUT had many political enemies, never finished the trans-siberian railway -> little migration, the govnt. ran up large debts, increased taxes - less consumerism, didn't improve agricultural ind (80%)
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Industrialisation positive for economy but negative for the lower classes:

  • Peasants still restricted by mir, and had bad land as the nobility kept the best land for themselves, social gap was larger
  • Urban workers: bad working conditions and low wages, towns and cities overcrowded

Led to opposition...

Peasants had bad land because the nobles had kept the good land for themselves, had to continue to pay redemption payments and resented the increasing gap between rich and poor. They supported the populists.

Urban Workers had bad standards of living because of working conditions and overcrowding and resented their very low levels of pay.

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Populists were supported by peasants and urban workers. They wanted a democratic socialist republic and used propaganda and assassinations to try to achieve this. The People's will assassinated Alexander II in 1881 which led to the oppressive nature of Alexander III reign which is an example of their unsuccessful nature. They were also unsuccessful because of division within the SR party (which they grew into) who couldn't decide between the anarchist or revolutionary view. They were successful because their assassination tactic strengthened revolutionaries, they attracted, and thus deprived the government of, intelligentsia, and because they arguably delayed reforms.

Liberals had the support of the Middle Classes. They wanted a democracy and used illegal propaganda, law societies and moderate pressure on the government to try to achieve this. They were successful as the Kadets were the largest party in the 1st Duma and they did influence some political change. They were largely unsuccessful though because their limited aims meant they had limited power and they were divided into the radical Kadets and moderate Octobrists after 1905.

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Marxists managed to cater for everyone but were led from above. They wanted a Marxist revolution and used secret cells, propaganda and demonstrations to try to achieve this. They were successful because they ended up taking control of Russia and were easily able to overthrow the Romanovs. They had a wide support base because they were able to modify their policies to suit anyone, which also meant they were successful. They were however only given a chance because of industrialisation which is a sign of their weakness, perhaps caused by their split into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks after 1903. Their different tactics and political opinions meant they couldn't work together.

The parties also failed because:

  • The Okhrana watched them and many parties were weakened by double agents
  • The police and army were loyal to the Tsar in the 1905 revolution
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The 1905 Revolution

Causes; Long term:

  • Overcrowding in towns
  • High taxes and redemption payments
  • Growth of opposition because Nicholas II remained loyal to autocracy

Causes; Short term:

  • 1904 Russo-Japanese war; humiliating defeats = lowered morale
  • Bloody Sunday: 9th Jan. 1905 when Fr. Gapon led a peaceful march to winter palace and the army opened fire, leading to 2.7 million people striking, disrupting the country's transport system among others.


  • The forming of the Soviet in St. Petersburg which organised a series of strikes. Dominated by Mensheviks.
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The October Manifesto

This led to Nicholas II making a series of concessions;

  • In August, he announced the formation of a Duma with virtually no power. This led to a series of strikes in October because it pleased no-one
  • 17th October; October Manifesto promised: Freedom of speech, religion and the press and a duma with power
  • November; a second manifesto promised to improve the peasants Land Bank and abolish redemption payments

This manifesto worked; the soviet was abolished, the strikes were called off and a December uprising by the Bolsheviks was easily crushed.

The revolution strengthened the Tsar's position because it split the opposition, who couldn't react in the first place because the leaders were in exile and they were taken by surprise.

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The Dumas

Fundamental Law issued March 1906 went back on some promises by stating the the Tsar had supreme autocratic power and the government ministers which he appointed answered only to him.

Duma 1 April 1906-June 1906: Mainly Kadets, made radical demands such as all adult males having the vote, land reforms and the release of political prisoners. Nicholas II refused and dissolved the Duma. Ex-members encouraged strikes but these people were arrested and banned from standing for re-election in the future.

Duma 2 Feb. 1907-June 1907: More SRs, Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Passed land reform proposed by Stolypin. Lasted 4 months.

Duma 3 Nov. 1907-Jun. 1912: Peasants lost the vote, dominated by Octobrists. Worked with government and passed more of Stolypin's land reforms and a progressive system of insurance. Lasted a lot longer than the others

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The Dumas

Duma 4 Nov. 1912-Feb. 1917: Right wing; Mainly Octobrists. Worked with government until the outbreak of the war when its significance changed significantly.

Dumas 3&4 made some progress; land captains replaced with land captains again, more education provision, more freedom within the press. The attitude of the tsar changed towards the Dumas meaning that more was achievable.

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  • Strict governor who was promoted to Prime Minister in 1906
  • Effective use of army and police to create order in the country and created a new, quicker, court system which meant that many people were executed or sentenced to hard labour
  • Made the Tsar unpopular but restored order by 1908

Reforms; Land

  • Peasants had the right to their own land and could demand this from nobility
  • Sold large amounts of crown land to the Peasant's Land Bank for resale
  • Introduced agricultural education to develop underdeveloped techniques
  • Done to make it easier for peasants to make a profit and to reduce famine due to a higher yield and reduce the restriction of the mir
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Emigration to Siberia

  • Completed the Trans-Siberian Railway and gave incentives to encourage peasants to emigrate
  • Done to improve the overcrowding situation

Other Reforms:

  • Ended redemption payments in 1907
  • Abolished Internal Passports (freedom)
  • Land Captains replaced with Justices of the Peace


  • Very few peasants could afford to separate from the Mir; only 25% did
  • Little change in farming and lots of land still owned by Tsar
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World War One

Russia entered the war in early August 1914. It highlighted the weaknesses of Russia:

  • Armed Forces: Millions of men in an army - insufficient food and medical supplies, morale lost after initial defeats at Tannenburg and the Masurian Lakes in 1914, ineffective leadership (officers chosen because of social status) therefore the army was undisciplined by 1916; many desertions
  • Transport: Railways were ineffective at the best of times and so this was too much; arms and food were not transported and many townspeople were starving in 1916
  • Economy: 1914; gold standard abandoned leading to inflation. The peasants therefore hoarded the food; people starving in towns. The main exporting ports were also blockaded
  • The Royal Family: September 1915; Nicholas announced himself Commander-in-chief of the army and left Alexandra in charge. She was German, had too much faith in Rasputin and constantly changed ministers - instability and mistrust
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World War One

  • Political Opposition: Duma suspended in 1914 but recalled after failures of 1915. They made the same demands as Duma 1 but these were ignored leading to the formation of the Progressive Bloc in 1915. The Zemgor, who delivered supplies to villages, towns and hospitals, was also formed in 1915 but Nicholas refused to work with them.
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The February Revolution 1917


  • Socio-economic: Overcrowding in towns, bad living and working conditions, poor health and education created social inequalities, famine common BUT the economy had improved greatly since 1890
  • Political: The tsar was reluctant to give the Duma more responsibility or  pass reforms which disappointed many government ministers BUT by 1914 the Duma was more accepted and had the potential to grow into a powerful force
  • The Tsar: Weak; described as a 'girlie' by his father, admitted he didn't feel ready to rule and relied on the advice of his wife and therefore Rasputin too much BUT the celebration of 300 years of Romanov rule was celebrated publicly in 1913 without issue; attitudes had changed
  • The war: Over a million troops were dead and 4 million were wounded and workers in the cities were suffering and starving; Tsar advised by the Okhrana and Rodzianko about the crisis point the country was reaching but he ignored them
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The February Revolution 1917

There was widespread support for this revolution; troops unwilling to open fire so the event crushed the monarchy and upper classes.

Jan 1917: Bloody Sunday commemorated by large demonstrations

22nd Feb: 20,000 workers on strike in the city

23rd Feb: International Woman's Day;strikes and meetings demanding bread and fuel

25th Feb: Petrograd paralysed by a national strike - industry shut down

27th Feb: REVOLUTION: Troops refused to suppress strikers, Nicholas tried to shut   down the Duma but they set up the Provisional Committee; army ordered to follow them

28th Feb: Petrograd Soviet established to look after workers and soldiers

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The Abdication of Nicholas II

  • Train to petrograd diverted 28th Feb and he met with the army's high command and some ministers from the Duma who told him he had to abdicate for Alexei; his son
  • Feared Alexei not strong enough so abdicated 2nd March in favour of his brother Grand Duke Michael but he refused and Romanv rule ended
  • 3rd March: Provisional Committee became Provisional Government and ruled Russia for 7 months

Political Opposition parties had grown since the 1880s but the revolution took them by surprise and there was little influence as a lot of leaders were in exile. Therefore they failed to take control of the country and the only influence they had was the establishment of the Petrograd Soviet which shared power with the Provisional Government until October

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Politics after the revolution

The Provisional government was made up of mainly Liberals and had no lawful authority. They announced that they would rule until a constituent assembly could be elected to draw up a constitution. Quite popular but little influence in provinces where governors decided to rule without interference.

The Petrograd Soviet was made up of worked elected by their factories. It was mainly Mensheviks and SRs at first but Bolsheviks became more important. They were worried that they might be crushed by the army, so issued Soviet Order Number 1, giving them military power.

Successful at first: gave freedom of speech and of the press, agreed the constitutional assembly should be democratically elected, abolished the Okhrana, freed political prisoners, legally recognised trade unions and abolished the death penalty.


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Opposition to the Provisional Government

  • Internal conflict: Bolsheviks and Socialists wanted to fight a defensive war (but Lenin wanted an immediate end to the war so this changed) but the Kadets and Liberals wanted to continue fighting because of obligation to their allies and the humiliation of peace within Germany
  • Lenin arrived in Petrograd on 3rd April after being helped from exile by the German government (in the hope he'd undermine the government) and declared his total opposition to the government. He issued his April theses calling for:
    • A revolution to seize power from the PG and give it to the Soviets
    • An immediate end to the war
    • The transfer of all land to peasants

Lenin attracted support because of his radical demands; people against the war, who felt let down by the PG and peasants who wanted land (this was the SR policy recycled but they stole SR support)

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Opposition to the Provisional Government

  • April 1917: Milyukov (foreign minister) told the allies that Russia would stay in the war because he expected to gain Turkish land. These were leaked in April and he resigned in May as a result of violent demonstrations. Major changes were made to the government (the SRs and Mensheviks joined and a new minister of war (Karensky) was appointed)
  • June Offensive: Karesnsky believed offensive tactics would increase support so an attack was led by Brusilov against Austo-Hungarian forces, IT WAS A COMPLETE DISASTER, more than 400,000 died. There were many mutinies and desertions because troops were influenced by Bolsheviks and had lost the will to fight
  • The failure of the June Offensive led to the July Days: a period of rioting and violence in Petrograd which the Bolsheviks may have started but definitely took advantage of. It was badly organised and crushed within three days which strengthened the position of the PG because of the ease with which it had been crushed.
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The PG in Crisis

The PG managed to gain some support by taking it away from the Bolsheiks, but not too well:

  • Claimed Lenin was a traitor , arrested leaders and caused Lenin to flee as well as causing internal turmoil


  • Bolshevik support was increasing among peasantry and army

The 2nd Provisional government: formed in July, appointed Kornilov as commander-in-chief and re-introduced the death penalty.

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The PG in Crisis

2nd PG faced some problems:

  • Economic: Inflation got worse, peasants refused to sell grain and factories forced to close; army and towns had inadequate supplies
  • Agricultural: Angry peasants because they thought they'd be given the Tsars land and the PG ignored it until the CA, therefore violence towards land owners became widespread and stronger because of soldiers returning from the war
  • The Kornilov Affair: Kornilov ordered troops to march on the capital where he wanted to seize control, but this was easily crushed by workers with arms. This weakened the PG but strengthened the Bolsheviks because their leaders were released from prison and given guns, meaning they could lead the October Revolution, which the army and peasants supported. It also showed the Bolsheviks that the government could be easily shaken; WHICH THEY WERE.
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The October Revolution 1917

Lenin feared having to share power with the SRs after the election in November, so Trotsky (leader of the Soviet's Military Revolutionary Committee) carried out an uprising:

24th Oct: Bolshevik Red Guards ordered to seize key positions within Petrograd; they took the railway stations and the post and telegraph offices

25th Oct: Kerensky tried to organise a counter-attack with loyal troops which failed. The Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace and arrested the ministers without a fight

26th Oct: Lenin announced that the PG had been overthrown and that power was transferred to the All-Russian congress of Soviets, which gave it to a council of People's Commissars, chaired by Lenin.

Within a few weeks the Bolsheviks had gained control and begun communist rule.

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The Bolsheviks Take Control

The Bolsheviks position after defeating the PG was quite weak:

  • Russia was still at war, this needed to end: the Bolshevik first act was to issue a decree on peace and Lenin ordered a ceasefire. The Brest-Litosvk treaty was completely on the Central Powers terms and was humiliating; Russia lost large amounts of land including 1/3 the agricultural land and 1/2 it's heavy industry including 90% of their coal mines. Lenin signed because Russia couldn't continue to fight
  • The SRs were more popular than the Bolsheviks - they were heavily beaten in the Nov. 1917 elections
  • Lenin had little control over most of Russia, despite Moscow and other cities being under Bolshevik control

Lenin dissolved the CA after he had caused a long and heated debate by saying it was unnecessary and that there had been corruption. This was an early sign that they wouldn't share power with any other political party.

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The Red Terror

  • December 1917 - The cheka was established; aimed to maintain state security and ensure the continuation of Bolshevik rule. Very efficient and established themselves outside of the law. HATED BECAUSE THEY ESTABLISHED THE GULAG AND FORMED GRAIN REQUISITION TO FORCE PEASANTS TO GIVE UP THEIR GRAIN.

Two assassination attempts of the leader of the Cheka led to the Red Terror in 1918. Thousands of Russians were executed for anti-Bolshevik activity. Priests, members of the middle class, aristocrats and the Romanovs (July 1918) were targeted. The red terror ended in 1922 and up to 500,000 Russians were killed.

Bolshevik hold was strengthening by summer 1918, but opposition armies plunged Russia into civil war.

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Civil War

Opposition came from many sources who formed the White armies together:

  • SRs and Mensheviks opposed the one-party state; the 1917 election proved the SRs to be the largest party
  • Some National Minorities wanted self-government e.g. fins (they became known as the greens)
  • Several counter-revolutionary groups wanted to re-establish the PG or Tsarist rule
  • The allies invaded and occupied parts of Russia because of Russia's betrayal in WW1
  • The Czech Legion were formed by the Tsar and wanted an independent state. After WW1 they were allowed to return home but were encouraged by Britain and the US to fight the Bolsheviks. It was this that triggered a large amount of the fighting
  • In the Ukraine, Nestor Makhno led an anti-Bolshevik army (The Black Army)
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Civil War

Bolshevik forces (the red army) grew from a few hundred thousand to 5 million men in 2 years. They won the civil war quickly.

  • Jul. 1918 -  The Czech Legion started to move and the Romanovs were assassinated (removal of a potential figurehead)
  • Jul. 1919 -  Denikin, Kolchak and Yudenich made significant advances in 1919, but in July, Kolchak's eastern army was eliminated
  • Oct. 1919 - Denikin's forces in the South destroyed. Yudenich's made some progress but was neutralised
  • Nov. 1920 - The rest of the white army fought the reds in the Crimean Peninsula but was defeated
  • 1920-21 - The red army fought against the Polish
  • Oct. 1921 - The Red Army defeated and agreed peace terms
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Why did the Reds win?

The reds were surrounded by the whites; they only held around 15% of the land, but this land was not spread out making it harder for the Whites to penetrate it, as well as having good transport and communication. The whites were very spread out and controlled many rural areas but couldn't control the peasants because they thought they'd bring back their land lords.

Leon Trotsky led the red army very inspirationally and with great strength, ensuring through war communism that his troops were well-fed and had good arms while the whites were not unified by a common aim, meaning that the leaders never worked together.

The whites DID have the support Russia's previous foreign allies, but they were not very motivated as they were sick of fighting, so never co-ordinated any real attacks and were withdrawn between 1919-1920.

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Bolshevik Economic Policies

  • State Capitalism: Oct. 1917 - Poor economy; bad transport. Couldn't make revolutionary changes until out of WW1 but confiscated all land from land owners and redistributed it to peasants (didn't solve food crisis) and allowed factory workers to run the factories themselves (production fell). The VSNKh was charged with modernising Russia, but it didn't do a lot
  • War Communism: 1918 - all industry under state control, strikes banned and economy geared towards the red army, grain requisition (failed because peasants didn't grow enough grain)

War communism achieved it's aims but inflation was really bad in 1920, and workers were paid in goods. It created a flourishing black market and the transport system collapsed. It also caused a bad famine in 1921. It also caused disagreements in Bolshevism because some wanted to continue it but workers didn't and there was opposition within the party. Lenin didn't continue it after the Tambov rising (1920-21; well led) and Kronstadt Rising (1921; Kronstadt base; soldiers loyal 1917)

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Bolshevik Economic Policies

Lenin said the Kronstadt Rising was 'The flash that lit up reality' so he formed the New Economic Policy. The main features of this were:

  • Many small-scale industries returned to their former owners but heavy industry, transport and banks remained under state control
  • Grain Requisitioning replaced by a small tax paid in grain, and peasants were allowed to sell extra food at markets
  • The rouble was revalued to bring back some economic stability
  • Private trading permitted

This was good for the Russian economy; agricultural and industry output soared, particularly heavy industry.

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The New Economic Policy and the Bolsheviks

The New Economic Policy did, however lead to division in the Bolsheviks: Bukharin felt it should last for a long time, thinking that the Russian economy really needed to grow as it was doing, but Trotsky feared it was a return to capitalism because of the rise of Kulaks.

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