Russia - 19th and 20th Century

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Characteristics of the Tsarist State

Land: size of Russia, 2.5 times the size of America, 5000 miles from East to West, 2000 miles from North to South

People:small dominant elite, poor communication, "dark masses", 80% peasant population

Economy: undeveloped industry/infrastructure, backwards agriculture

Tsarist Syster: autocratic government, reactionary church, corrupt aristocracy, oppresive army

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Why was Russia backwards?


  • autocracy
  • no opposition/other political parties
  • aristocracy in control
  • secret police - Okhrana
  • conscripted army - "Peasants in Uniform"


  • harsh winter - affected farming
  • backwards farming methods
  • banking undeveloped
  • no consumer demand for products
  • poor communications
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Why was Russia backwards? (2)


  • over 80% of 130 million population were peasants - "dark masses"
  • only 800,000 industrial workers
  • no demand to develop
  • social hierarchy
  • mostly of Russian Orthodox religion
  • 3500 people in 6 universities


  • climate - frozen lakes, had to import and train on
  • size of Russia - caused poor communications
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Nicholas II

Nicholas II's Personality

  • "lacked guts" - Rasputin
  • easily swayed or manipulated, especially by the Tsarina and later on, Rasputin
  • never wanted to be Tsar and wasn't ready
  • was a better father and husband than a Tsar

Nicholas II's Policies : Witte

State Capitalism: the direction and control of the economy by the government using it's central power and authority - Witte believed that modernisation could only be achieved through this

Foreign Help: invited foreign experts and workers to advise, plus engineers and managers from Europe

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Witte thought that Russia needed to raise capital so he:

  • Negotiated foreign loans from abroad
  • Protective tariffs were set up as a means of protecting Russia's domestic industries
  • Gold standard implemented on currency, making it stable and encouraging FDI in Russia - this was mainly successful 

Railways: most of the capital was invested in this, it was called the "transport revolution"


1881           13,270

1891           19,510

1900           33,270

1913           43,850 (+230%)

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Political Opposition to the Tsarist Regime

POPULISTS (Revolutionaries)

  • People's Will
  • Social Revolutionaries
  • assassinations - assassinated Tsar Alexander II in 1881
  • contributed to many uprisings and unrest

LIBERALS (Reformists)

  • no real organised party before 1900
  • Oktobrists
  • Kadets
  • limited as government ignored their requests
  • backwardness of Russia made them weak


  • Social Democrats
  • industrial unrest would've occured without them because of industrialisation
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Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905


  • territorial disputes over Manchuria and Korea
  • Minister of War believes Nicholas wanted to extend the Russian Empire further into Asia
  • Witte wanted to expand economy into the Far East
  • Russia wanted to obtain an ice-free port
  • distraction from domestic issues


  • saw them as an inferior nation - referred to them as "yellow danger" and "the new hoardes of Mongols with modern technology"
  • saw the war as nothing less than the defence of Russia's European identity against the Asian hoardes'
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Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905 (2)


  • Port Arthur fell in January 1905
  • Russian surrender of Mukden in February 1905
  • Russian fleet destroyed at Tsushima in May 1905 (after sailing for 8 months to get there, they were defeated immediately)


  • military poorly equipped
  • logistic problems in running a war 6000 miles away
  • commanders using 19th Century tactics - bayonets
  • underestimated the Japanese
  • Japan had rapidly modernised
  • Japan were better equipped
  • Japan were better prepared
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Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905 (3)


  • national humiliation
  • showed incompetence of the government
  • excited unrest in the country (shown by the assassination of Plehve in 1904, this was celebrated by crowds in the streets of Warsaw)
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Bloody Sunday 1905

  • 22nd January 1905
  • led by Father Gregory Gapon - Orthodox Priest
  • peaceful march of workers and their families to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg
  • marchers' intention was to present a loyal petition to the Tsar to relieve their desperate conditions
  • march induced panic in police force
  • marchers were fired on and charged on by cavalry
  • up to 200 marchers were killed and hundreds were injured
  • deaths depicted by opponents of the Tsarist regime as a deliberate massacre
  • events damaged the traditional image of the Tsar as the "little father"
  • Father Gapon: "There is no God any longer. There is no Tsar."
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Potemkin Mutiny

  • throughout 1905 there had been instances of troops refusing to fire/disperse on unarmed peasants
  • the crew of the Battleship Potemkin mutinied at sea - this was over the bad food and water they were given at sea - the crew took over the ship and sailed to Odessa
  • there were serious anti-government strikes in Odessa and the crew were greeted as heroes
  • troops were sent in, marched through the bayonets, trampling over people and driving many to the sea
  • 1000s dead
  • this was very worrying for the government as a government that can't rely on the loyalty of it's armed forces is in a very vulnerable position
  • Witte feared that troops returning from the Russo-Japanese war would join the revolution - he said that if this happened "everything would collapse"
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October Manifesto

By October, concession was unavoidable for the Tsar's regime.  Witte created the October Manifesto with the intention to divide the opposition forces (liberals, workers and peasants).

LIBERALS concessions were:

  • creation of a Duma
  • freedom of speech, assembly and worship
  • right for political parties to exist
  • lefalising of trade unions

PEASANTS concessions were:

  • mortgage repayments to be slowly reduced and then abolished - rioting stopped and there was a decline in lawlessness in the countryside
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October Manifesto (2)

WORKERS concessions were:

  • NONE

With two groups satisfied the government opposed only the workers

  • troops who returned from the East crushed strikers and seized the Soviet HQ in St. Petersburg
  • ring leaders (including Trotsky) were arrested
  • Moscow HQ was burned down
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October Manifesto (3)

The Tsar, under the guidance of Witte, issued the October Manifesto which agreed in principle to allow all classes to take part in elections.  It also granted freedom of speech, religion and from arbitrary arrest.  The new constitution with its limits on autocracy amounted to a revolution in Russia.  However, in 1906 Nicholas issued the Fundamental Laws stating that the Tsar could suspend the Duma at any time, that only the Tsar could propose laws and had sole command of the armed forces.  The Tsar had granted the constitution and could take it away, however the illusion of reform was there.  The Fundamental Laws maintained his autocracy.  However, the impact of the October Manifesto was enough to reduce the unrest.  It also split the Liberals into the Oktobrists who supported the Manifesto and the Kadets who continued to campaign against the government.  The Duma had no real power.

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The Four Dumas

"curse the Duma... it is all Witte's doing" - Nicholas II, 1906

suggesting: Nicholas disliked the Duma as it wasn't based on an autocratic system, he didn't want to give up his power

  • although the October Manifesto had implied that the Duma would be a truly representative body with power, the Fundamental Laws backtracked significantly on this promise : the Duma would only be called when the Tsar wanted it, and he could dissolve it whenever he wanted to
  • the Duma could only advise the Tsar and offer opinions on his policies, it couldn't initiate legislation by itself
  • the autocratic power of the Tsar was undamaged
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The First Duma (April to June 1906)

  • dominant parties - Kadets (liberalists and intelligensia)
  • most people elected were anti-government
  • wanted a Constitutional Monarchy
  • Tsar dissolved the Duma and authorised Stolypin to embark on a notorious wave of repression


  • no exercise of a financial hold over the government
  • Fundamental Laws
  • elected lower house and a state council appointed by the Tsar
  • only the Tsar could approve legislation
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The Second Duma (March to June 1907)

  • dominant party: Social Democrats
  • Tsar's police intimidated many Kadets into not standing for election - this BACKFIRED as 65 SD's were elected instead
  • Duma was dissolved


  • strong attack on imperial army's organisation and deployment


  • right-wing parties, SD's and Social Revolutionaries, disagreed
  • Duma and government disagreed
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The Third Duma (November 1907 to June 1912)

  • dominant parties: Oktobrists, Monarchists
  • opposition from below
  • Duma full of moderates
  • Russian masses felt ignored
  • turned against Tsardom
  • frustrated with Tsar


  • Stolypin's Land Reforms
  • committee's system (made important proposals for modernising the armed services)
  • social reform (schools for poor children built and national insurance for industrial workers


  • criticisms of the Tsar were muted
  • Stolypin rejected the vote to the proprietored class 
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The Fourth Duma (November 1912 to August 1914)

  • dominant parties: Oktobrists, Monarchists
  • opposition from above
  • Duma members increasingly resentful
  • felt ignored by Tsar
  • Tsar didn't give them any important legislation to debate


  • criticised the Tsar's government
  • state welfare
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The Fundamental Laws

  • provided a detailed framework for the operation of the government, under a new constitution - but that word wasn't used
  • strikingly conservative document and although it seemed to comply with the October Manifesto, it was a far cry from the aspirations of liberal society

The Tsar could;

  • veto any legislative measures
  • dissolve Duma prior to it's 5-year term
  • (under Article 87) issue laws when the Duma was in recess

The Tsar;

  • retained control of the administration of the Empire
  • determined foreign policy
  • commanded the armed forces
  • appointed all ministers
  • could declare a state of emergency
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The Fundamental Laws (2)

The Duma was circumscribed by the State Council and it's power over the budget was considerably watered down by taking away it's right to discuss financial matters

The Duma had;

  • right of free speech
  • parliamentary immunity
  • right to question ministers
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The Great Spurt

Witte's System

  • economic development financed from abroad
  • Russia's extra taxes were levied on already overtaxed peasantry
  • Trans-Siberian Railway - ran 700km across Russia - St. Petersburg to Vladivostokle, it provied communication needed to exploit Siberian economy
  • government placed emphasis on capital goods - iron and steel, coal and machinery

Aim: to make the Russian economy strong enough to maintain it's "Great Power" title

  • lacked industrialisation factors - economy didn't have sufficient funds to invest in industrial development - it couldn't produce enough surplus grain (more than what was needed) to raise money
  • peasants didn't have complete freedom of movement - limited immigration of workers into cities
  • very small business class - this class was central to the development of European economies in the 19th Century
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The Great Spurt (2)

IMPACT - 1900

  • half of industrial workforce employed in factories
  • large cities grew at phenomenal rates
  • poor working and living conditions
  • development of social unreast and radical alternatives
  • coal, iron and oil production rose
  • Russia still lagged behind the other great powers


  • most of railway complete
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Stolypin's Land Reforms

  • Stolypin was a political realist - knew the best way for the Tsar to survive was to form a new coalition between the Tsar, the Duma and the people to bring about peaceful changes to safeguard the Tsarist regime
  • 80% of the population were peasants whose grievings would have to be oppressed - unrest led to violence which had an impact on property that people owned in the country and also impacted on how much food was produced which then determined whether or not towns starved
  • Stolypin introduced reform as it was necessary because of the changed political climate over 1905
  • Stolypin believed you had to derevolutionise the peasantry and give at least a reason for saving the regime
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Stolypin's Land Reforms (2)

Stolypin encouraged the Tsar to introduce a number of regimes;

  • peasants could withdraw from communes without needing consent from the Tsar
  • peasants could farm their land as one concentration block - a move away from strip farming (everyone had a number of strips in different fields - farming methods were less efficient) - which would allegedly cause famines to be less common
  • all land to be held by head of the family and land could be passed on to the eldest son (hereditary system)
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Stolypin's Land Reforms (3)

Stolypin didn't regard peasants as "dark masses" - "wager on the strong" i.e. he didn;t believe all peasants were the same

  • believed in a group of hard-working peasants who wanted to create a better life for their families

Kulaks: new class of wealthy, hard-working peasants who Stolypin admired

  • he wanted to show the Kulaks that they could benefit under the new regime - a way of buying off peasants to increase Tsardoms chance of survival
  • he opened a land bank - Kulaks could get loands in order to buy their own land
  • peasants put a break on more revolutionary elements
  • there was still discontent bubbling under the surface but the possibility of moving forward kept a lid on it, therefore opposition to the Tsar was reduced
  • some peasants were moved to Siberia - good idea in theory as more land but difficult to grow crops
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Stolypin's Land Reforms (4)

Rural Crisis: The problem of land shortages and overpopulation of the countryside caused by rapid population growth.  Bad harvests in the 1890s led to famine in 1891 and 1897.

Problem: Rural Crisis

Stolypin's Aim: "De-revolutionising" the peasantry

Stolypin's Method: The "Wager on the Strong"

De-revolutionising the peasantry

  • high price of land led to mortgages increasing (redemption)
  • peasants joined 1905 Revolution due to fear of land being repossessed, in 1905 the government cleared the mortgage debts to "de-revolutionise" the peasantry

Wager on the Strong (1906-1907)

  • Stolypin introduced measures to restore peasants sense of security
  • aim was to create a new group of prosperous, productive peasants called Kulaks whose new wealth would turn them into Tsarist supporters
  • farmers were urged to abolish strip farming system with fenced fields
  • Land Bank was established to allow independent peasants to buy their own land
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Stolypin's Reform in Industry

  • "a way to modernise Russia"
  • would generate wealth
  • would make greater use of Russia's natural resources - would strengthen the regime in the long-term
  • growth in industry 1906 - 1913 was 6% per annum, achieved through heavy taxation of peasantry - Russia relied heavily on foreign loans
  • more industrial revolution than reform - tensions rose
  • poorer working conditions, wages and long hours
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Stolypin's Reform in Education

  • schools open to create a more educated workforce, diffusing unrest
  • encouraging people to think for themselves could bring about revolutionary ideas
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Did Stolypin's reforms work?

  • Stolypin had little chance of success as Russian peasantry was so backwards and he had little time to change things
  • Conservatism (suspicion of change and therefore resistance to it) of most peasants prevented change occuring
  • Stolypin admitted that he needed 20 years to achieve success
  • he was assassinated in 1911 and therefore he only got 5 years
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Opposition to Tsarist Rule


  • conservative group
  • supported October Manifesto
  • led by Guchkov in 1913
  • initially it was made up of the Tsar's most loyal supporters - they thought he'd gone too far in removing the Duma's rights given in 1905
  • they warned that there would be a catastrophe if the Tsar didn't make the government more respected


  • Constitutional Democrats
  • Liberal group in Duma
  • led by Milyukov
  • represented many middle-class professionals and businessmen who wanted a constitutional monarchy - this would mean that the Tsar and his government would have to answer to a democratic Duma
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Reasons why the Tsar was able to survive the 1905

By October 1905, the most united opposition in Romanov history faced the Tsar.  Concession was unavoidable, but by giving ground the government intended to divide the opposition forces that confronted it.  As well as this, other factors helped to contribute to the survival of Tsarism.

Weaknesses of the Opposition

  • divide between Social Democrats (Bolsheviks and Mensheviks)
  • not coordinating enough to form a strong enough attack (accentuated by the repression of groups and the Liberals splitting away due to the October Manifesto)
  • the fact that the opposition wasn't united enough was a major advantage for the Tsar because the ooposition were unable to effectively attack and sustain any power, thus resulting in the survival of the Tsarist regime
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Reasons why the Tsar was able to survive the 1905

Major weaknesses of the opposition were when the Liberals broke away after the October Manifesto; believed Tsar would then grant reforms

  • October Manifesto and consequenly introducing a range of Civil Rights
  • leading to the Dumas (most striking concession made to the Liberals) and the Fundamental Laws (restating the Tsar's absolute power)
  • by providing ground for the Liberals, the government split them away from the opposition, therefore eliminating a source of opposition and contributing to the continuation of the Tsar, even though it was a short-term solution

By "de-revolutionising" the peasantry the Tsar and his government succeeded in removing another component of the opposition

  • Stolypin's land reforms and cancelling mortgage repayments
  • "wager on the strong" - intention was to create a layer of prosperous, productive peasants whose new wealth would turn them into natural supporters of Tsarism (Kulaks)
  • appeasing the peasants was necessary to split up the opposition further, this would consequently result in a weak opposition and a stronger Tsarist system
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Reasons why the Tsar was able to survive the 1905

Contributing to weakening the opposition, was the suppression of the industrial workers, force was used to attempt to crush the Soviets

  • loyalty of the army (government felt strong enough to suppress the industrial workers bynot  granting concessions)
  • by suppressing the industrial workers the government eliminated another element of the opposition and confirmed the strength of the Tsar, once again this was only a short-term solution yet still enabled the Tsar to come out on top, with the support of the army

By ensuring that the army and elite remained loyal to the Tsar, much needed support was confirmed to allow the Tsar to survive

  • despite mutinies within the army they still generally supported the Tsar
  • key groups such as the elite still provided crucial support to the Tsar, which contributed greatly to his survival, especially with the role of the army in crushing opposition
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Reasons why the Tsar was able to survive the 1905

The nature of the revolution also contributed to the strength of the Tsar and the fact that Tsarism still remained after 1905

  • uncoordinated series of events from January to December
  • the lack of structure and order to the events made it possible for the Tsar and his supporters to crush the opposition due to ineffective planning
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Bolshevik and Menshevik Split - Social Democrats

  • two parts of the All-Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (Social Democrats)
  • formed in 1898
  • didn't split until their Second Congress in 1903
  • disputed over political tactics - how the party should be run, if the country was ready for revolution or not
  • split was as much to do with Lenin's personality as well as conflicting ideologies
  • opponents believed that Lenin was extremely determined to become the dictator of the party
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Reasons for the Split

Key reason for the split: the way issues would be discussed


  • wanted party to be run by a central committee who would make all decisions and exercise all authority of the party - DEMOCRATIC CENTRALISM
  • critics claimed it would lead to a dictatorship being established - dangerous for the country and the party
  • he and his followers believed that the oarty should be made up of a small number of highly disciplined professional revolutionaries


  • Plekahnov and his opponents believed there should be open and democratic discussions inside the party and everyone should have a say in the party's policy making
  • thought the party should be broadly based and everyone who wanted to join should be allowed to
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Revolution or not?

Bolshevik View

  • bourgeoise and proletarian stages of revolution would be merged into one

Menshevik View

  • Russia wasn't ready for revolution 
  • took the stand that there would be a long period of time where middle class democratic government would be in charge

Both believed that the revolution would come eventually.

Marxist View

  • with this party in charge, workers would develop class and revolutionary consciousness until they were ready for a revolution
  • wanted to see workers develop effective trade unions to defend their own interests

Lenin wanted revolution straight away.

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What did they want to do?

MENSHEVIKS: believed for government to be effective they needed to co-operate with other political parties and trade unions to get appropriate wages and better working conditions

LENIN: wanted to treat them even worse and didn't want to co-operate with existing parties, wanted living and working conditions to worsen so workers would be more dissatisfied with the government - he believed this would drive the proletariat revolution

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Main Support

  • both parties main support was from working class

BOLSHEVIKS: attracted younger and more militant workers who wanted some form of leadership, discipline and simple slogans (Lenin was good at turning complex political terms into easily understood soundbites), "All power to the Soviets", "Peace, Land, Bread"

MENSHEVIKS: attracted a range of different types of workers and members of the intelligentsia and more non-Russians (Jews and Georgians)

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What happened at the Second Congress?

  • Lenin won
  • Lenin and his followers forced the party to choose which side; Lenin or Plekahnov
  • split into Bolsheviks (led by Lenin) and Mensheviks (led by Plekahnov)
  • Bolsheviks means "majority" but Lenin's party was smaller
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Russia's Entry Into The War

Russia's Concerns

  • growth of United Germany
  • formation of Austria-Hungary
  • Russia saw itself as protector of Slav culture (Balkans and Serbia)
  • Austro-Hungary and Russia fighting over the Balkans (Serbia)

On 28th June 1914, Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by Serbians who wanted to break away from Austro-Hungarian influences.

In July 1914, Nicholas II sent telegrams to his cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II regretting the growing crisis between the countries - Willy-Nicky exchanges

Russia mobilised in order to scare off Austria-Hungary (realistic chance) however the German's plan was a quick attach so it mobilised also and declared war on Russia on 1st August 1914

Austria-Hungary & Germany VS Russia, Britain & France

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Impact of WW1 (2)


Food supplies dwindled as a result of requisitioning and transport disruption - urban areas suffered shortages.


  • requisitioning of horses and fertilisers, lowered production
  • inflation made trading unprofitable so peasants stopped selling food
  • army had first claim to food
  • army's priority of transport systems meant food supplies didn't get where they were needed such as in the cities
  • Petrograd suffered badly during the war, residents ate 1/4 of what they ate in 1914
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Impact of WW1 (3)


Transport broke down under the stresses of total war.

Problems in 1916 and 1917

  • signalling system on which train network relied broke down
  • blocked lines and trains stranded by engines having issues were common
  • 575 stations were no longer capable of handling freight


  • food rotted in stranded trains
  • pile up of supplies at Archangel Port that big that food sunk into the group under the weight of newer goods being placed on top
  • before war, Moscow received 2200 wagons of grain per month, in February 1917 they only received 700 bags of grain
  • lack of food in urban areas and military shortages of equipment
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Impact of WW1 (4)


The Russian Army was very strong because of it's size, however it's crippling weakness was it's lack of equipment.


  • lack of equipment caused by poor administration, transport chaos also affected the army and meant that it was often under-supplied, government departments for supplies didn't work well together
  • troops fought bare-footed due to a lack of boots


  • Russian Army was being beaten and they were losing the war
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Growth of Opposition to Tsardom


  • In August 1914, the Duma voted to be suppressed for the duration of the war, this was a sign of total support for the Tsar
  • By 1915, the Duma demanded to be recalled as a result of Russia's poor military showing


  • Duma deputies tried to persuade Nicholas to replace his cabinet with Duma members - Nicholas rejected
  • He denied a direct voice in national policies and over half of the Duma members formed a "progressive bloc" within the Duma
  • The Bloc was a supported of the Tsar trying to persuade him to make concessions but his unwillingness to cooperate made the Bloc a focal point of political resistance


  • brought in to heal Nicholas' son and became Alexandra's confident when it came to the Tsar being gone
  • "the German woman" and a "mad monk" effectively ran the country
  • the fact that Rasputin became so prominent with the Tsarist system convinced many that it wasn't worth saving
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February Revolution 1917

  • not a revolution from below
  • Bolsheviks played no part
  • revolution started by Tsardom's traditional supporters
  • failure of leadership
  • revolution in one city - Petrograd
  • result of war
  • institutional crisis

27th February 1917; first meeting of the Petrograd Soviet who represented sailors, soldiers and workers, they formed the Dual Authority with the Provisional Government

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Provisional Government and Petrograd Soviet

  • initial balance
  • considerable cross-over and jointed membership
  • "Soviet Order No.1" gave the Soviet an effective veto over the government
  • considerable cooperation in the early months after the Romanov's fall

This enabled the Provisional Government to achieve a number of progressive reforms such as;

  • full civil freedoms
  • religious freedoms
  • trade unions legally recognised
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Causes of the February Revolution 1917

Poverty and Hardship

  • big differences between rich and poor
  • peasants in countryside and workers in towns suffered low wages, long hours and terrible working conditions
  • poor wanted to improve their standard of living

Economic Collapse

  • Russian economy collapsed during World War 1
  • factories closed, transport was disrupted and prices rose faster than wages
  • terrible food shortages
  • strikes and demonstrations grew more common during 1917

Unpopular Tsarist Autocracy

  • many Russians wanted a more democratic form of government
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Causes of the February Revolution 1917 (2)

Duma Wanted Power

  • Duma was weak and had no real power, they wanted to play a bigger role in governing Russia by 1917

Growing Political Opposition

  • political parties and other groups began to demand changes in how the country was run
  • support grew for Social Democrats, Social Revolutionaries and the Kadets

Collapse of the Army

  • Tsar was blamed for all of the army's defeats when he took charge of it


  • believed to have power over the royal family and people became suspicious of his friendship with the Tsarina
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Events of the February Revolution 1917

  • strikes in major factories: Putilov works
  • 23rd February: international women's day protest turned into bread riot
  • disorder spreads throught the city
  • Nicholas ordered troops to take control but they changed sides and joined the revolution - by 26th February only 1000 of the 150,000 garrison in Petrograd hadn't deserted
  • 12 rebellious Duma members created the Provisional Government
  • Nicholas tried to return to Petrograd but was stopped by the railway workers
  • army advised Nicholas to abdicate
  • dual authority established
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Causes of the October Revolution 1917

Weaknesses/Limitations of the Provisional Government

  • failure of the Provisional Government to rally effective military support in it's hour of need
  • political failure over the previous eight months
  • inability to arouse genuine enthusiasm
  • Kerensky's government had come nowhere near to solving Russia's problems - support had evaporated
  • economically incompetent and militarily incapable - the Provisional Government wasn't considered worth struggling to save
  • "in October 1917, the Bolsheviks were pushing against an already open door" - Lynch
  • Provisional Government: never meant to last, temporary
  • Provisional Government was always open to the charge that as an un-elected, self-appointed body it had no right to exercise the authority that properly belonged to the Constituent Assembly alone
  • it claimed to be the representative of the February Revolution - Lenin intended to undermine this claim
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Causes of the October Revolution 1917 (2)

Kerensky became war minister and campaigned for Russia to embrace the conflict as a struggle to save the revolution.

Kerensky Offensive

This was a major offensive in June.  Low morale which was made worse by Bolsheviks agitators meant it was a massive failure.  Whole regiments mutinied or deserted.

Kornilov called for the PG to stop the offensive and focus on crushing the "Political Subversives" at home.  The appeal was taken up by the PG and Lvov stood down.  Kerensky became Prime Minister with Kornilov as Commander-In-Chief.

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Causes of the October Revolution 1917 (3)

Weaknesses of the Non-Bolshevik Parties

  • they had all accepted February as a genuine revolution - it made sense for them to co-operate with the P.G, which claimed to represent the progressive forces in Russia
  • the result was that the supposedly revolutionary parties (SRs) were prepared to enter into coalition with the Kadets (dominant party in the government) and await the covening of the Constituent Assembly
  • this gave the Bolsheviks a powerful propaganda weapon which Lenin exploited
  • he charged the socialists with having sold out to the bourgeoisie
  • other parties were weakened by their support for the war
  • none of them opposed the continuation of the struggle against Germany with the consistency that Lenin's Bolsheviks did after April 1917
  • non-Bolshevik parties regarded it as Russia's duty to defeat the enemy
  • the SRs, the Mensheviks and some individual Bolsheviks believed wholeheartedly in a revolutionary war against bourgeoise Germany
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Causes of the October Revolution 1917 (4)

The Menshevik Position

  • Mensheviks saw the February Revolution as marking a critical stage in the class war, when the bourgeoisie had overthrown the old feudal forces represented by the Tsar
  • "this stage was the necessary prelude to the revolution of the proletariat" - Marx
  • Mensheviks judged that since Russia did not yet possess a proletariat large enough to be a truly revolutuonary force, it was their immediate task to align themselves with the other parties and work for the consolidation of the bourgeoisie revolution
  • when this had been achieved the Mensheviks could then turn to the ultimate objective of a proletariate rising
  • Mensheviks were always more consisten in their Marxism than Lenin or the Bolsheviks
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Causes of the October Revolution 1917 (5)

Russia's Lack of Parties - Political Tradition

  • with the fall of Tsardom, carious parties found themselves in for a brief, heavy period free to advance their views
  • no accepted rules of political conduct
  • arts of negotiation and compromise were unknown in Russia 
  • politics was reduced to a question of who could gain power then assert it over others - "Who, whom?" - Lenin
  • power would go to the most flexible and the most ruthless party
  • Bolsheviks were prepared to adjust to circumstances if the occasion demanded
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Causes of the October Revolution 1917 (6)

Bolshevik Ruthlessness

  • near-fiasco of July Days had shown how narrow the gap between success and failure was
  • Bolshevik take-over in October depended on the weaknesses and mistakes of their opponents as well as upon their own resolution
  • none of the contending parties were as well-equipped as the Bolsheviks to exploit the crisis facing Russia in 1917
  • Tseretelli (Menshevik and leading member of the Petrograd Soviet before it's domination by the Bolsheviks) admitted: "Everything that we did at that time was a vain effort to hold back a destructive elemental flood with a handful of insignificant chips"
  • Struve, a liberal émigré, observed, "Only Bolshevism was logical about revolution and true to it's essence, and therefore in the revolution it conquered"
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Causes of the October Revolution 1917 (7)

Bolshevik Ruthlessness

  • Milyukov - Kadet leader - shared Struve's view of the Bolsheviks: "They knew where they were going, and they went in the direction which they had chosen once and for all towards a goal which came neared with every new, unsuccessful experiment or compromise"
  • the Bolshevik's drive and utter conviction came from the belief that they were an unstoppable force of history
  • Trotsky: "The party in the last analysis is always right, because the party is the only historical instrument given to the proletariat to resolve it's fundamental tasks
  • their ruthlessness didn't guarantee success but it did mean that no other party could hope to gain or hold power unless it was able to overcome the challenge of these dedicated revolutionaries
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Causes of the October Revolution 1917 (8)

Lenin's Role

  • in April 1917, Lenin returned to Russia with the assistance of the Germans.  He came back in a sealed train.  He immediately took control and direction over the Bolsheviks and began to make preparations for seizing power
  • Lenin had very clear objectives for what he wanted to achieve - first of all the Bolsheviks had to gain control of the Petrograd Soviet, then they would seize power in the name of the Soviet.
  • the first step was to increase Bolshevik support using slogans such as "Peace, Land, Bread"

Peace - end to the war

Land - Lenin and the Bolsheviks recognised the peasant seizure of land


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Causes of the October Revolution 1917 (9)

The April Theses

Issued on the 4th of April, this set out future Bolshevik policies.

He condemned Accomodationism and all that had happened since the February Revolution.  He instead claimed that the Bolsheviks were the only truly revolutionary party and that they must;

  • abandon all co-operation with other parties
  • work for a true revolution
  • overthrow the Provisional Government
  • pass power to the workers
  • demand that authority was passed to the workers (proletariat)

Lenin created two slogans - "Peace, Land, Bread" and "All power to the Soviets"

This first highlighted the problems in Russia that couldn't be solved by the Provisional Government because the were only interested in their own classes affairs.  That's why he wanted to sweep ministers aside with a completely new class of people, hence the second slogan.

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Causes of the October Revolution 1917 (10)

The July Days

In July it seemed that the government was not in control of events, the signs of this were;

  • the spread of soviets
  • workers control of factories
  • widespread seizure of lands by the peasants
  • the creation of breakaway national minority governments - Ukraine mostly

Ministerial clash over Ukraine's independence coincided with larger street demonstrations that were as a result of the Kerensky Offensive failure and other issues.  These demonstrations turned into a direct challenge to the Provisional Government.

However the rising was crushed easily as it was a confused affair with demonstrators often fighting themselves.  Troops loyal to the PG scattered the demonstrators.  This showed that;

  • Bolsheviks weren't the dominant revolutionary party, and in no position to take over
  • PG still had strength to be able to put down armed insurrection
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Causes of the October Revolution 1917 (11)

The Kornilov Affair - Kornilov, the Commander-In-Chief, believed before Russia could defeat Germany it had to destroy the socialist enemies within.  He said "It's time to hang the German supporters and spies, with Lenin at their head, and to disperse the Soviet"

Disorder - large number of refugees flooded into Petrograd spreading disorder, Kornilov feared that Russia was on the edge on anarchy, he told Kerensky that he would bring his loyal troops to Petrograd to save the Provisional Government

Response Kerensky publicly condemned Kornilov and ordered him to surrender his post, he placed Petrograd under Marital law for it's protection.  Kerensky called on loyal citizens to take up arms and defend the city, weapons were given to those who were willing to fight.  Kornilov stopped by railway workers on 1st September.


  • were given weapons by the very government they were trying to overthrow
  • many were realeased from prison
  • gained popularity - seen as defenders of the city and showed weaknesses of the PG
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Trotsky's Role in the October Revolution

  • That the Bolshevik's had a plan at all was the work of not Lenin but Trotsky
  • Trotsky actually organised the October Revolution
  • Trotsky realised that if the Bolsheviks could control the MRC (Military Revolutionary Committe) they would control Petrograd
  • He had at his disposal the only effective military force in Petrograd
  • When Lenin gave the order for the uprising to begin, it was Trotsky who directed the Red Guards in their seizure of the key vantage points in Petrograd such as the bridges and the telegraph offices
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October Revolution: Soviet Role

"All power to the Soviets" - Lenin said this in the April Theses because he saw the Soviets as a power base that could give his small party the power in which to take over

Bolshevik Majority

  • by the middle of September the Bolshevikshad a majority in both of the Moscow and Petrograd Soviet however this was only because attendance had dropped massively meaning it was easier for the Bolsheviks to influence the Soviet


  • elected chairman of the Petrograd Soviet in September
  • on 9th October the Soviet set up the Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC) in order to protect the city against another Kornilov
  • Trotsky was on the Troika meaning he had control of the only effecting fighting force in Petrograd
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October Revolution: Lenin


"History will not forgive us if we do not assume power"

Lenin wanted to overthrow the PG when it was at it's weakest point, he was concerned about two events that were taking place in the Autumn - the meeting of the All-Russian congress of Soviet in late October and the election of the Constituent Assembly in November.

The Pre-Parliament

Kerensky created this as a body to fill in before the Constituent Assembly, it was a body of a variety of parties to advise the government.  Lenin instructed his Bolsheviks to condemn the Pre-Parliament then walk out.


Lenin returned to Petrograd from Finland on the 7th October and spent the next two weeks convincing the Bolsheviks that the time was right for revolution.

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October Revolution: Course of Events


Kamenev and Zinoviev (both on the central committee) wrote in an article that they felt it would be a mistake to overthrow the PG at present circumstances.

Kerensky acted first and ordered an attack on the Bolsheviks, on 23rd October Pravda was shut down.  Attempts were made to round up Bolsheviks by PG troops.

In response, Lenin ordered a Coup to begin and Trotsky directed the Red Guards and the MRC to seize key locations over Petrograd (bridges, telegraph offices).


In the three days (25th-27th October) that it took for the Bolsheviks to take control only 6 men died, all Red Guards.  The PG had hardly any military force, the ones it did were not willing to fight a futile struggle so they surrendered.

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October Revolution: Power

The Bolsheviks did not seize power, it fell into their hands.

On the 27th of October, Lenin said that "being on the to supreme power makes one dizzy"

The next day at the All-Russian Congress of Soviets it was announced that the Soviets had seized power.  A list of 14 names were read out of the new government, all were Bolsheviks or left Social Revolutionaries.  Mensheviks and others walked out saying it was not the Soviets that had taken power, but a Bolshevik military Coup, they were right.

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October Revolution: Strengths VS Weaknesses

Strengths of Bolsheviks

  • MRC; Trotsky said their control of this gave them "three quarters" of their victory
  • ruthless and hugely dedicated to the revolution
  • Lenin's leadership
  • Trotsky's organisation skills

Weaknesses of Provisional Government

  • wasn't elected therefore lacked legitimacy/mandate to rule, would only be judged on it's dealing with Russia's problems
  • authority limited by "Dual Authority" with the Petrograd Soviet
  • no military support in October as it wasn't seen as worth struggling to save
  • feared Tsarists (right) more than Socialists (left)
  • strain of war
  • no answer to the land question
  • lack of popular support
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October Revolution: Weaknesses of the Provision Go

Decision to continue the war

  • this meant that the PG blocked any radical social and economic changes until the end of the war, which only increased frustration and the feeling that the PG was distanced from the real concerns of the people as the masses became more radicalised, the PG seemed to become more reactionary
  • they were divided about how the war should be conducted, some argued for a policy of "revolutionary defences" (just holding the line against Germany), while others argued for a more aggressive strategy
  • launched the June Offensive (unpopular and disastrous)

Delay in calling elections for a Constituent Assembly

  • meant the land issue could not be resolved
  • peasant desertions from the army increased
  • peasant seizure of land increased
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October Revolution: Weaknesses of the Provision Go

Release of political prisoners/granting freedom of the press

  • popular but had the effect of helping to spread radical ideas

Failed to address concerns of national minorities looking for greater self-determination

Failed to act decisively against the Bolsheviks after the July Days

  • sailors at the naval base at Kronstadt organised an armed demonstration under Bolshevik slogans and marched into Petrograd, this posed a dilemma for the Bolsheviks
  • while some leading Bolsheviks supported the attempted rising in July, Lenin's attitude was "wait and see", the events of July discredited the Bolsheviks, Kamenev and Trotsky were arrested and others were forced into hiding, this was an opportunity for Kerensky to crush the Bolsheviks completely and he failed to take it
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October Revolution: Weaknesses of the Provision Go

Kerensky's response to Kornilov's march on Petrograd

  • Kornilov, as Commander-In-Chief of the Army, planned to march on Petrograd and put down the Bolsheviks, Kerensky suspected Kornilov was secretly planning a Coup, he released the Bolsheviks, who had been imprisoned after the July Days, and gave them weapons to defend Petrograd
  • made Kerensky and his government look weak
  • allowed the Bolsheviks to present themselves as defenders of Petrograd 

Kerensky's decision in October to close down the Bolshevik newspaper and arrest leaders

  • this forced the Bolsheviks to take action
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Reasons for Bolshevik Victory in the Civil War

Divisions Within The Whites

  • No one person was in charge of the Whites.  Whereas the Bolsheviks had Lenin, the Whites had several rival people, such as Yudenich, Wrangel, Kolchak, and Denikin, vying for control. They were all ambitious men and each was determined to take control of Russia for himself. As a result, there was virtually no co-operation between the various White Armies - they fought independently, making it easier for the Red Army to defeat them individually.

Geography/Location of The Whites

  • The sheer size of Russia worked against the White Armies.  They had to move their forces and supplies over huge distances, making it difficult to maintain effective control.  The lack of effective railways was an added complication to the existing communication difficulties between them.
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Reasons for Bolshevik Victory in the Civil War (2)


  • The Bolsheviks were fighting for a very definite cause - the establishment and survival of a Communist Russia.  The Whites, however, had problems motivating their troops and building up support.  Why should soldiers face death simply to make Kolchak or Yudenich master of Russia?  As time passed, more and more soldiers deserted from the White Armies.


  • The government set up by the Whites in areas they controlled soon became corrupt and inefficient.  For example, medical supplies sent by foreign countries often ended up being sold on the black market rather than being used to help the soldiers.  Often they fell into the hands of the Bolsheviks, so often that Trotsky actually thanked them.
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Reasons for Bolshevik Victory in the Civil War (3)


  • White Army forces often behaved with great brutality and cruelty in areas they controlled. Towns were burned, property destroyed or stolen, peasant farmers' crops and livestock taken by force - if people objected, they feared torture and execution.  Inevitably, the Whites became hated and feared because of this.  Bolshevik propaganda focused on this.  Given the choice between the Bolsheviks or the Whites, it was hardly surprising that Bolshevik support increased drastically.
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Reasons for Bolshevik Victory in the Civil War (4)

Personal Unity

Although the Whites had a number of able Generals, this advantage was offset by the fact that many of them (for example, Denikin and Kolchak) did not get on with each other and there was no effective overall leader to co-ordinate their efforts.  The foreign powers too were divided. In contrast, whilst the Reds had similar rivalries, these were not as damaging because they had a recognised leader in Lenin.

Ideological Unity

The contrast between the fragmented Whites and the focused Reds was a result of ideology as much as personality: Red soldiers were not only twice as numerous as Whites, but were also united in a common cause.  In contrast, the Whites had divided loyalites.  Their patriotic rallying cry of "Russia: one and indivisible" was both hopelessly vague and utterlyh unconvincing, given their reliance upon foreign aid, which was a propaganda disaster.

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Reasons for Bolshevik Victory in the Civil War (4)

Geographical Unity

Personal and ideological factors were compounded by geographical considerations.  Firstly, the position of the Bolsheviks in the compacted heartland of Russia gave them a strategic advantage.  It not only made it easier for them to organise and co-ordinate their defence, but also gave them the largest chunk of the population and most of the war industry.  Moscow and Petrograd stayed in Red hands for the entire Civil War.  In contrast, the three main White armies were located at opposite ends of Russia - Denikin and Kolchak were 10,500 kilometres apart and had to communicate via Paris.  Secondly, the large size of Russia gave the Reds strategic depth.  When under attack on on front they could safely give ground until troops were transferred from other fronts to repel the attack.


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Weaknesses of the Whites (Based on Essay)

  • geographically scattered - Russia was 2000 miles North to South, 5000 miles East to West
  • poor communication - Denikin and Kolchak had to communicate via Paris
  • lack of an effective transport system - Bolsheviks had control of the Trans-Siberian Railway
  • disunited with different political objectives only thing that held them together was their hatred for the Bolsheviks
    • National Minorities wanted freedom from Russification
    • Kadets and SD's had no share of power and they wanted to have a say in the government - they knew that Lenin was achieving an autocracy
    • Tsarists wanted an autocratic government - return of the Tsar and Tsarist system
    • Monarchists wanted a Constitutional Monarchy similar to that in Britain
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Weaknesses of the Whites (Based on Essay) (2)

  • no clear leader with the qualities of Lenin or Trotsky
    • Admiral Kolchak declared himself "supreme leader" because he was encouraged to do so from the presence of Czech Legions and set up a White Army in Siberia and he often disagreed with General Denikin
    • General Denikin began a White "volunteer army"
    • Yudenich was an ex-Tsarist commander who gathered troops in Estonia
    • Kornilov of the famous Kornilov coup against the Provisional Government was already dead along with the Romanovs who Lenin had ordered to be murdered in July 1918 - this eliminated the threat from Tsarists and was a huge pyschological blow as they had no figurehead to follow behind - neither the Tsar nor his son nor his family
  • there wasn't really any form of government other than the Bolsheviks available due to disunity amongst the Whites which is one of the reasons why they won the Civil War 
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Reasons for Bolshevik Victory in the Civil War (5)

Foreign Intervention

  • On paper, the Whites looked stronger than the Reds because of Foreign Intervention
  • Bolshevik propaganda persecuted the intrusion of other nations in Russia as the Whites had invited Russia's enemies onto Russia soil - the Bolshevik's could claim to be "saviours of Russia" just as they had been at the Kornilov Coup and that the Whitees weren't able to defend Russia on their own
  • Lenin had nationalised banks which angered the French who had considerable investment in Russia and caused them to get involved in the Civil War
  • The countriese were worried about Lenin fulfilling his vision of "world revolution" as many communist parties were beginning to spring up in nations such as France, Italy and Great Britain and they would look to Bolsheviks for instruction 
  • They sent supplies and weapons to the Whites however because of the poor communication system they didn't always reach the Whites - the supplies endedd up with the Reds so often that Trotsky thanked them for them
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Reasons for Bolshevik Victory in the Civil War (6)

Role of the Red Army

  • Trotsky became Commisar for War in the Bolshevik government.  A brilliant organiser and improviser, Trotsky created the Red Army from the Red Guards (the Bolshevik workers militias) and from the remnants of the old Tsarist army.  Trotsky imposed a very tough system of discipline and control over the Red Army.  Officers found guilty of cowardice or treachery were executed.  However, men who showed initiative and courage were promoted rapidly.
  • At times of crisis, Trotsky readily assumed personal command of areas under threat, inspiring and encouraging the troops to greater efforts, and to eventual victory.

Trotsky turned the old rubbish Red Army into a 3 million strong fighting force in 2 years

  • he reinstated old fashioned army, making it very strict - reinstated ex-Tsarist officers with political commissars to ensure they were following orders
  • conscripted anyone "everyone to the front" - people who weren't loyal to the Reds were made to dig trenches and move guns, ect.
  • Red idealism boosted morale
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Russian Economy 1917-1924

Problems Confronting the Bolsheviks in 1917

  • Bolsheviks had few plans to help themselves
  • before 1917 they'd spent their time preparing for revolution, they'd given little thought to details of how affairs would be organised after
  • the shortage of raw materials and investment capital had reduced industrial production to two-thirds of it's 1914 level
  • inflation had rocketed
  • the transport system had been crippled
  • hunger gripped large areas of Russia, grain supplies were over 13 million tons short of the nation's needs
  • within a few months of the October Revolution, the food crisis had been further deepened by the ceding to Germany of the Ukraine, Russia's richest grain-producing region (the Ukraine was known as Russia's "bread basket")
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Russian Economy 1917-1924 - State Capitalism

  • Lenin's policy after taking power in 1917 was a pragmatic one
  • argued that the change from a bourgeois to a proletariat economy couldn't be achieved ovrenight
  • Bolshevik governement would continue to use existing structures until transition was completed and a fully fledged socialist system could be adopted
  • the transitional stage was referred to as "State Capitalism" - "The majority of specialists are bourgeois.  For the present we shall have to adopt the old bourgeois method and pay higher salaries for the 'services' of the biggest bourgeois specialists.  All who are familiar with the situation can see the necessity of such a measure.  Clearly it is a compromise measure."
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Russian Economy 1917-1924 - State Capitalism (2)

Creation of the Cheka

  • the first Soviet Union security organisation
  • All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Comating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage established in December 1917
  • by 1918 - under the rule of die-hard Polish Bolshevik, Felix Derzhinsky - the Cheka became the most feared institution in the whole course of the Russian Civil War
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Russian Economy 1917-1924 - War Communism

War Communism

  • nationalisation (state ownership) of all industry, controlled by the state, through the Supreme Council of National Economy
  • introduction of rationing
  • deliberate attempt to introduce Communist principles into Russia
  • forcible requisitioning of food from the peasants in order to feed the army and towns
  • reintroduction of hierarchial structures (ranks) in the army and industry
    • in factories, Workers' Councils were replaced by management who previously worked under the Tsar to ensure discipline
  • only after measures had failed and changes had to be made did Bolsheviks claim that War Communism had been a response to circumstances

Achievements of War Communism

  • foreign debts cancelled
  • banks and railways nationalised
  • state commission set up to generate more electricity 
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War Communism - Effects on Industry

  • considerable increase in Bolshevik influence in factories
    • result of infiltration of Workers' Committees by political commissars
    • helped prepare the way for the issuing of the Decree on Nationalisation (June 1918)
  • unregulated Black Markets sprung up - huge roaring trade and if you had enough money you could still buy some of the goods there
  • factories depreived of manpower
    • result of conscriptuion into the Red Army and of the flight of large numbers of inhabitants from urban areas who left in search of food and to escape the Civil War
    • populations of Petrograd and Moscow dropped by half between 1918 and 1921
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War Communism - Effects on Industry (2)

  • production decreased
    • nationalisation did nothing to increase production - it was imposed at a time of severe industrial disruption that was initially caused by the strains of WW1 but worsened during the Civil War
    • military needs given priority: denying resources to those industries not considered essential
  • hyper-inflation
    • industrial problems deepened
    • scarcity of goods and the government's policy of printing more currency destroyed the value of the money
    • by the end of 1920, the rouble had fallen to 1% of it's 1917 worth
  • War Communism did NOT lead to economic growth
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War Communism - Effects on Agriculture (Grain Requ

  • government resorted to coercion
  • Cheka requisitioning units were sent into the countryside to take grain by force
  • August 1918, people's commissar for food ordered that "every food requisition detachment is to consist of not less that 75 men and 2 or 3 machine guns"
  • between 1918 and 1921, the requisition squads systematically terrorised the countryside
  • Kulaks targeted for particularly brutal treatment 
    • Lenin ordered for them to be "mercilessly suppressed" and in a letter in 1920 he gave instructions that 100 Kulaks were to be hanged in public in order to terrify the population for hundreds of miles around
  • less food became available
  • knowing that any surplus would be confiscated, peasants produced only the barest minimum to feed themselves and their families
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War Communism - Effects on Agriculture (Famine)

  • by 1921 the combination of requisitioning, drought and the general disruption of war had created a national famine
  • grain harvests in 1920 and 1921 produced less than half that was gathered in 1913 
  • Pravda admitted in 1921 that 1 in 5 of the population was starving
  • Bolsheviks prepared to admit that there was a famine and to accept foreign assisstance
  • a number of countries supplied Russia with aid
  • outstanding contribution came from the ARA (American Relief Association formed by Herbert Hoover to provide food and medical supplies to post-war Europe) provided food for some 10 million Russians
  • of the 10 million deaths during the Civil War over half were due to starvation
  • Lenin resented accepting aid from the ARA (it had spent over $60 million in relief work) and ordered it to withdraw from Russia in 1923 after 2 years
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Russian Economy 1917-1924 - the New Economic Polic

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