From Tsardom to Communism: Russia, 1914-24

AQA History B: Section 1- From Tsardom to Communism: Russia, 1914-24


Why did the Tsar's rule collapse, Feb/Mar 1917?

1914: Russian Empire (vast and backward) had been ruled by the Romonov tsars for 300 years, nothing appeared to be changing on the surface.

1917: 2 revolutions, Tsar forced to give up his throne, revolutionary Bolshevik Party seized control after 7 months- Lenin (Bolshevik leader) tried hard to create the first communist country in the world.

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The government of Nicholas II, 1914

Russia: autocrasy-  Tsar Nicholas II been on throne 20 years, believed he ruled Russia on behalf of God so no-one had right to challenge him, Romanovs ruled Russia 300 years.

Wife, Alexandra= German princess, 4 daughters, desperate to have a son- heir to throne- son, Alexis, born= rejoicing, but discovered he had haemophilia- protected from injuries as much as possible while growing up, only a small number of people knew what was actually wrong with what they assumed was a rather sickly boy.

Tsar= all-powerful, priests in Russian Orthodox Church  supported this claim. Tsar had appointed advisors, but he made the decisions- was not very good at this.

1905:  forced to allow a Duma to be elected- little power, dominated by educated upper & middle classed. Tsar could dismiss it whenever he wished, he wasn't forced to take any notice of what it wanted.

Actual government= cumbersome, inefficient, slow, had poor communications- information took months to be recieved.

Tsar's wishes enforced by the Okhrana (secret police). Newspapers and books were censored.

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The nature of Russian society, 1914

Tsar ruled huge empire across Europe and Asia, 8 time zones, >125 million people, only 55 million= Russian, other nationalities: Finns, Poles, Ukranians, Estonians, Lithuanians, Georgians- own languages & religions e.g. Roman Catholic Christians in Poland, Muslims in south of empire, people lived in Arctic Circle in north, in south, nomads in tents in semi-desert areas.

Most people= peasants, huge contrast between them and rich nobles. Peasants: only recently got right to own land, little machinery, desperately poor, farmed on strips of land, old-fashioned tools. Poor harvest= famine & deaths. Nobles= immensely rich, owned ornate palace rivalling Tsar's.

19th century: process of industrialisation started- coal mining, iron, steel, textiles. Conditions in rapidly expanding cities even worse than in countryside.

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Importance of traditional loyalties

Russian peasants: loyal to country and Tsar, religious (often mixed with popular beliefs and superstitions), obeyed priests by being patriotic to Mother Russia, thought of Tsar as father-figure. 

Army: loyal to Tsar

Discontented elements, but structure of society gave impression of stability and ability to resist change.

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Existence of opposition groups

Some people wanted change, Russia was changing with industrialisation. Some becoming more educated and aware of different methods of ruling a country. Tsar did not allow political opposition, Okhrana hunter down suspects. Opposition groups had developed nevertheless:

The Kadets (Constitutional Democrats): middle-class liberal party, wanted peaceful political chagne with elected Duma gaining real power (as Parliament had done in Victorian Britain). Support limited to more educated people in towns and cities.

The Social Revolutionaries (SRs): wanted to seize power by revolution, some support from peasants- planned to take lant from landlords (nobles) to give to them. But, difficult to organise the peasants as they were scattered across large areas of land.

The Social Democrats: supports mostly from workersin factories, communist teachings of Karl Marx. Split into 2 groups in 1903: Mensheviks and Bolsheviks. 

Bolsheviks: smaller group, believed revolution possibleeven without mass support, if plotted in secret and carried out ruthlessly. Leader= Lenin.

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Impact of First World War on Russia

Russia fought Germany & Austria-Hungary on Eastern Front. Russia had huge army, but had an inefficient & corrupt government. Was assumed that war would be short. Lacked weapons, uniforms & army commanders with relevant military experience.At first, orders not even sent in code- Germans could intercept secret messages telling them of Russian positions- helps explain why Russians suffered military defeats. Trenches poorly built providing little protection from artillery fire.
Much patriotism, initially, fighting to defend homeland, linked with religious fervour, priest played important role in ensuring support for war.
Could sometimes win victories over Austria-Hungary, but not Germany. E.g. August & September 1914 Germany defeated Russia at Battles of Tannenberg and Masurian Lakes. Suffered >1 million casualties, German armies advanced deep into Russian territory. 
1915: Tsar took personal control as Commander-in-Chief of the armies- potentially disastrous, indecisive character made him totally unsuitable, defeats would be seen as his personal responsibility, Alexandra in charge in Petrograd (capital). 
1916: Russians launched major offensive on Austria led by General Brusilov. Russian armies forced to retreat, another millions killed or wounded. End of 1916: army totally demoralised & near mutiny, some soldiers deserting ther posts.  

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Effects of the war on the cities

Felt increasingly in the cities: food shortages, prices rising up to 700% over 3 years, wages only increasing 200% over same time period.

Food in short supply- much good farming land had been occupied by Germans & shortage of peasants on land in some areas as they had been conscripted into the army. 

Transport: inefficiently organised, engines & trucks comandeered for moving troops or supplies, leaving food rotting in railway sidings. Many railway engineers called up to fight- shortage of skilled people to carry out basic repairs to engines & trucks.

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Growing unpopularity of Romanovs

Romanov rule seemed secure, but by 1916, royal was very unpopular- partly due to defeats and hardships leading to collapse in patriotism, also due to consequences of Tsar going to front:

Alexandra left in charge with Duma to advise- unpopular due to German background, uner influence of Rasputin- peasant form Siberia believed (wrongly) to have been having an affair with Alexandra. Influence came from alleged power over Alexis' haemophilia- Rasputing appeared able to stop internal bleeding. He had almost hypnotic powers over Alexandra- naturally desperate to keep him at courst refusing to listen to any criticism of him. Rasputing influenced the government-'recommended' changes in ministers & getting friends appointed to prominent positions. 

Leading nobles (related to royal family) detested Rasputin. December 1916: group led by Prince Yusopoz, killed him. Too late to save monarchy. 

The government of the Russian Empire had reached crisis point.

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Traditional story of death: he was lured to a private party by Prince Yusopoc and friends. Given poisonous cakes and wine. Didn't kill him, so shot with a pistol by Yusopov. Still alive, so shoved through a hole in the ice of the River Neva. Corpse found- discovered he'd drowned as water found in lungs.

Police records: shot by masked men who dumped his body in the River Neva. Post-mortem foudn no poison in bloodstream.

Traditional story publisshed by Yusopov- admitted murder but escaped punishment. Lived until 1967, retaining hero status for ending life of a super-human but evil mystic, even though Yusopov modified the details of his alleged expoits from time to time.

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March 1917 revolution: abdication of Tsar

Winter 1916-17 exceptinally severe: fuel froze, women queued to hours to buy basic necessities such as bread. Many starving to death in Petrograd. 
Strikes broke out and factory workers met in hugge crowds int he streets. 8th March: 90,000 people on strike in Petrograd, demonstrations against shortage of bread and fuel. Strikes spread including Putilov armaments works employing 40,000 people. 

Succeeding days, large numbers in streets with slogans such as Down with the German Woman! and Down with the Tsar!. Tsar ordered army commander in Petrograd to cruch the marchers and rioters. Increasingly, regiments refused to obey orders, many officers fled. Petrograd in the hands of the rioting mob.

Rodzianko (President of Duma) telegraphed Tsar informing of seriousness of situation, ignored by Tsar who preferred to read wife's telegraph saying that they would soon be under control. Duma reluctanly decided to take over control of the government. Workers also organised themselves into a soviet (workers' council) inPetrograd. 

Tsar tried to return to Petrograd- reached Pskoz, railway blocked. Train moved into siding, he was persuaded by army commanders to abdicate. Tried to pass throne to brother Michael, he refused. Alexis was not fit to rule. 300 years of Romanov history ended on 15th March 1917.

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Problems facing the Provisional Government

March 1917 Revolution= not planned, spontaneous caused by despair and suffering from war. NO group planned to take control, not group had plans for if there was no tsar- thought impossible.
Provisional Government (under Prince Lvov, then Kerensky from July 1917) faced problems:

  • Members no used to making decisions: previously limited to advising Tsar, now to make decisions, questioned by Petrograd Soviet- issued Order Number One: soldiers need not obey orders from Provis. Gov. if not agreed by Soviet. Period of dual authority.
  • Temporary: responsibility until elections- difficult to organise during war, meanwhile, members reluctant to make decisions.
  • Most Russians wanted an end to war: Kerensky knew they needed support from West so important to keep fighting on Eastern Front to take pressure off Britain & France on Western Front, hoped Russian victories could restore morale.
  • Peasants demanded land from landlords: Provis. Gov. needed to keep support of influential groups in society, no decision about land made, peasants seized land encouraging others to desert army to gain their share.
  • Economic situation worsened: inflation continued, shortages & starvation only eased slightly because of summer season.
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Failures of Provisional Government

Censorship allowed oposition (tsar supporters & revolutionary parties) to make policies known. Small Bolshevik Party created biggest threat, April 1917: Lenin returned from exile in Switzerland on special train provided by Germans- hoped he would cause chaos & reduce Russia's war effort.

On arrival to Petrograd, Lenin surprised even Bolsheviks by reading out April Theses: Bolshevik plan of action for overthrow of Provis. Gov.: 'All power to the Soviets', 'Peace, bread, land'.

July 1917: major crisis for Provis. Gov.- large, disorganised demonstrations against government led by soldiers & sailors with Bolshevik support. Kerensky crused demonstrators, 400 killed, leading Bolsheviks arrested, Lenin went into exile again, this time in Finland.

September 1917: General Kornilov (new Commander-in-Chief of army) decided to seize control, wanted to restore discipline, destroy Petrograd Soviet, gain control of Provis. Gov. Right wing views appealed to many middle & upper classes. Troops ordered to march on Petrograd. Kerensky desperate, armed Bolshevik Red Guards to have suffient troops to defend the city. Succeeded, bolsheviks hailed as saviours- kept the weapons Kerensky had loaned them!

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Growth of Bolsheviks, summer/autumn 1917

Lenin devoted life to prepariing for revolution, disappointed by progress, didn't expect to see revolution take place, Tsar's abdication encouraged him to return to Russia but Bolsheviks were numerically small and lacking ambition. He committed Bolsheviks to April Theses.
May 1917: Bolshevik Party Congress held in Petrograd, 9-man committee set up representing 80,000 Bolshevik members, party had trebled since March but still tiny, policies included: all power to Soviets, end to war, workers to control the factories.

July 1917: Riots & demonstrations, Bolsheviks involved but not organised, leaders not encouraging it. After order restored by Provis. Gov., Bolsheviks seemed weaker. Newspaper closed down, leaders went into hiding, Lenin fled to Finland- accused of causing troubles & paid to by German government. Events moved on, Russia defeated by Austria, discontent increases, Provis. Gov. seen to be weak & lack authority, Trotsky officially joined Bolsheviks.

September 1917: General Kornilov, decided drastic action was necessary, to march on Petrograd & seize control, released Bolshevik leaders, armed Red Guards. Petrograd Soviet took charge, Bolsheviks persuaded Kornilov's men to desert, attemopt failed, Bolsheviks= saviours.
Descending into chaos, peasants seizing land, soldiers deserting army, Bolsheviks gained control of various Soviets- minority party with key support where it mattered- workers in cities and town and among soldiers in army. 

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Bolshevik Uprising

October 1917: Lenin secretly returned to Petrograd to attend meeting of Central Committee. Persuaded committee to support planned Bolshevik uprising. Set up a Military Revolutionary Committee, led by Trotsky, to arganise planning of the operation.
Early November: gained support from Petrograd garrison, Kerensky knwe Bolsheviks were planning takeover- closed Bolshevik newspaper offices & recalled Russian troops from war but Provis. Gov. had little support from people living in the city. 
Night of 6th Nov: Bolsheviks gained control of much of Petrograd. 7th Nov: only Winter Palacen (where Provis. Gov. were meeting) remained outside Bolshevik control. Kerensky had fled the city to gain support of loyal troops. Cruiser Aurora, moored in River Neva & under Bolsheviks fired shells in Winter Palace direction. Red Guards attacked and met little opposition- guarded by women's battalian & trainee cadets: Provisional Government surrendered. 8th Nov: Lenin announced that Bolsheviks had taken over Russian gov. 
Bolsheviks established a communist government & provided their version of events- workers had supported them in getting rid of Tsar then Provis. Gov.

Lenin & Trotsky saw importance of cinema- >1000 cinemas & travelling cinemas on trains, propaganda films had large audiences who wanted to know what gov. would do: october  by Sergei Eisenstein marked 10th aniversary of revolution: transformed Winter Palace into heroic struggle between Bolsheviks & enemies: the Storming of the Winter Palace.

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Initial establishment of totalitarian rule

Most parts of Russia not involved when Bolsheviks seized control, most thought that it wouldn't last. Lenin gained support from decrees which:

  • called on governments of WW1 to open negotiations of peace
  • confiscated all land belonging to nobolity and Church to redistribute to peasants
  • introduced an 8 hour working day for industry
  • told local soviets to take control of factories
  • granted non-Russian nationalities in the Empire the right of self-government

...some had little practical effect, but were good propaganda.
Lenin was creating a dictatorship which he claimed he needed to do to protect the revolution from its enemies. Council of People's Commissars with himself as chariman to rule Russia. Opposition leaders gradually arrested.
Dec 1917: Cheka (secret police) created to round up enemies of the State- executed or to concentration camps. Red Guards became Red Army to impose military rule. Wealthy lost money & forced to share houses with workers. Decree banned use of titles. 
Jan 1918: elections for Constituent Assembly- supposed to decide how Russia would be governed. Bolsheviks only got 175/707- couldn't survive alongside it, so was prevented from meeting. 1921: only one party: the Communist Party. They had created a one-party State.

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End of WW1 for Russia & Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

War= big problem for Lenin. Germans invaded Russia and were threatening Petrograd. He needed peace at all costs- ceasefire agreed with the Germans. Trotsky sent to negotiate terms. Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed in March 1918. 

Harsh terms: Russia lost 26% population, 27% farmland & 74% iron ore and coal. Ukraine (main source of grain) lost. Huge reparations demanded.

Peace with Germany was unpopular, Lenin persuaded other bolsheviks to accept the terms, assuming that other countries' workers would rise up in communist revolt- international boundaries didn't matter when workers had control across Europe.

Paid off for a different reason. Autumn 1918: Germany forced to retreaton Western Front, war ended in November 1918. German troops withdrawn from Russia, most of treaty was meaningless.

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Causes & nature of Civil War, 1918-1921

Bolshevik enemies organised themselves, but the only thing holding them together was their hatred of the Bolsheviks. Enemies included: 

  • other revolutiontary parties (e.g. SRs)
  • Kadets- wanted Constituent Assembly back and government like Britain
  • landowners- lost land, wanted monarchy back
  • Church leaders- opposed seizure of Russian Orthadox Church
  • foreign countries- wanted Russia back in war (e.g. Britain, USA & France)
  • national groups (e.g. Finns & Estonians)- wanted to enure their independence wasn't removed

Bolsheviks ('Reds') forced to fight a coalition of 'Whites' led by Denikin, Yudenich & Kolchak (former generals of Tsar). Romanov family, in captivity, provided a possible replacement for Whites.

Czech leader- 50,000 Czechs who wanted to continue fighting the war, so were being sent to France via Trans-Siberian railway to Vladisvostok, then by sea. Told to disarm by Trotsky, so seized control of railway and headed back to Moscow to fight the Bolsheviks.

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Propaganda war

Reds- showed Whites as cruel oppressors operating on behalf of foreign capitalist powers and Reds as defending Russian national interests against invading countries. 
Trotsky used rail network for travelling cinemas- propaganda films to Red Army and local people. Trotsky toured around & made speeches to raise morale. Troops told they were defending their country from capitalists & foreigners.

Whites- less united leadership, divided aims and language barriers, failed to get propaganda across as effectively.

Reds used Cheka as well as army. 'Red Terror'- many people killed, including Tsar & family, because of who they were.
Whites just as bad- tortued & murdered opponents & innocent people.  

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Advances in Civil War

North-west: General Yudenich threatened Petrograd. Only few kilometres away by 1920, Trotsky inspired army, Yudenich driven back.

South-west: General Denikin (later replaced by General Wrangel) advanced towards Moscow, eventually stopped by Red Armies.

East: Admiral Kolchak advanced, but forces defeated in 1919.

Poles: trying to win more territory from Russia. Pushed back to Warsaw & forced to sign a peace treat with Bolsheviks in 1921.

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Reasons for & consequences of Bolshevik success

Whites appeared to have substantial advantages (trained army generals, territory control, foreign support) the Reds increasingly had long-term advantages:

  • Whites had no common aim- different causes, generals jealous of each other, refused to co-ordinate offences, failed to capture Tsar as government figurehead.
  • Whites fighting over such a huge area- impossible to co-ordinate attacks.
  • Whites appeared to represent old unequal Russian society- couldn't promise material improvements for peasants, brutality of generals reinforced impression.
  • Foreign intervention harmed them more that it helped- Reds able to portray themselves as patriotic defenders of the Motherland against foreign imperialists.
  • Reds controlled industrial areas and railway network- move troops and materials to any area under threat, psychologically important to control Petrograd & Moscow.
  • Bolsheviks fighting for a cause- establishment of first communit government in world- propagana important here.
  • Trotsky a brilliant leader for Red Army- training officers, brutal discipline, giving soldiers a sense of mission.
  • Lenin's policy of War Communism helped provide essential supplies.

1921: much of Russia devastated- famine, industrial production plummeted, communist uprisings had failed, Russia had to be restored. Nationalities previously under Tsar communist but expected independence- Russia couldn't afford.

Dec 1922: Lenin announced USSR- Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Into effect in 1924.

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War Communism

Red army had to be supplied with food and equipment diring Civil War- only way was for government to control the economy. Firms employing >10 nationalised. 

Peasants forced to hand over food. Any food found assumed to be 'surplus' & requisitioned. Kulaks were the main targets & were angry- had worked hard, wanted profit from selling. They cut down so there was less 'surplus' next year.

Taking over major parts of economy had appearance of communism, but motives were of desperation during Civil War. Government had to be brutal to survive.

1921: after 2 bad harvests and effects of Civil War, widespread famine. Around 5 million died.

Early 1921: various strikes in Petrograd and other cities, most serious at Kronstadt naval base. March 1921: sailors refused to obey orders even though they'd supported Bolshevik takeover in 1917. Serious threat to government- Trotsky sent army of 60,000 to defeat the sailors. 3 weeks of fighting, 1000s of sailors and Red Army soldiers killed, many rebel sailors imprisoned or executed.

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New Economic Policy

lennin realised change was necessary, had to persuade other leading Bolsheviks. War Communism had basic ingredients of communism. Persudaded that Russia was not ready for this- had to change the harsk policy to win back peasant and industrial worker support.

March 1921: New Economic Policy introduced- involved taking a step back from communist ideas.

Government stopped taking surplus crops- peasants could sell surplus food for profit paying 10% tax in crops. Let most industry be run privately, but kept control of the largest industries. Private owners allowed to make a profit- people could buy and sell & money became important in the economy again.

Lenin argued NEP shoudl be seen as temporary. Government should regain control of teh economy when it was more secure.

 The policy worked: production did increase.

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Lenin & Trotsky: roles & achievements

Lenin: brief rule. suffered sever stroke & survived attempted assassination, severly disabled. Died in January 1924, aged 54.

Achievements 1917-1924: huge, cult of Lenin developed after death, image everywhere, Petrograd renamed Leningrad, body not buried but enbalmed and put on display in a mausoleum in Moscow's Red Square (Moscow was adopted capital during Civik War- easier to defend).

Achievements could be exaggerated. Impossible for Bolsheviks to seize power without his leadership. He had kept going once the Bolsheviks had been created and it was he who returned in a 'sealed' train from Germany to Russia in April 1917 and told a small number of Bolsheiks to prepare for revolution. He persuaded Control Committee to organise immediate takeover of Provisional Govenment.

Trotsky: involved in successful revolution of Oct/Nov 1917, responsible for planning of the takeover, had led the Red Army to victory in the Civil War with efficiency and orginisation, had orginised the Red Terror during the Civil War and struck fear into the hearts of those wavering towards supporting the Whites.

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