Russia's Geography and People
Tsarist Russia was the largest land empire in modern history. The empire covered over 8 million square miles - more than twice the size of the USA.
By 1914, the population was 165 million. Ethnically, the majority were Slavs.The majority of the population were Christians and members of the Russian Orthadox Church, but the empire also contained sizeable minorities. Roughly 5% of the Tsars subjects were jews. There were also many muslims.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, Russia was still predominantly agricultural. 80% of Russian people were peasants who worked on the land as part of small farms. Only 4% were industrial workers based in urban areas. The middle class, those who owned factories or those involved in trade only accounted for less than 2% of the population.
For 3 centuries, Russia had been ruled by the Romanov dynasty headed by the Tsar. Unlike Europes other royal famililes, the Tsar had absolute power and was accountable to no parliament or court of law. Consequently, the Tsar's subjects had no civil rights.
The Collapse of Tsarism
For many years, the Tsars simply ignored, exiled or executed radicals who called for reform but in 1905, a year of revolution revealed the vulnerabilty of the Tsar's position. By the end of the year Tsar Nicholas II had been forced to concede, promising limited civil rights and an elected parliament, the Duma. However, new laws soon reasserted the Tsar's supreme power.
By 1914, Tsarism seemed secure.The strains of war proved too much for Russia's backward economy and outdated political system. Russia had very little industry and so was unable to produce the weapons and supplies necessary to fight. Moreover, war production stifled the manufacture of consumer goods, and food became scarce, a problem that was made worse by the number of peasants who were fighting at the Front.
In early 1917, in the face of imminent economic collapse and military defeat, the people of Petrograd and Moscow revolted. The Tsar ordered his army to crush the uprising, but they disobeyed and joined the revolutionaries calling for the overthrow of the Tsar. Without the support of the people or his army, the Tsar was forced to abdicate, handing power to a hastily formed 'Provisional Government'.
The Rise of the Bolsheviks
In April 1917, Lenin, the leader of the Bolsheviks, returned to Russia. Lenin argued that a new kind of government was necessary. At the time of the Tsar's fall, councils were set up spontaneously across the country. As government broke down, these councils - soviets - took over the management of local affairs. The soviets were highly democratic and represented the workers, peasants and soldiers. For Lenin, the soviets represented a form of workers' democracy that was superior to the elected parliament promised by the Provisional Government. Consequently, he demanded that the soviets seize power on behalf of the workers and peasants.
Initially, Lenin's vision gained little support. However, as economic conditions worsened, and as military victory eluded the Provisional Government, Lenin's call for 'Peace, Land and Bread' became increasingly attractive. By late 1917, the Provisional Government had lost credibility and against this background, Lenin argued for an armed seizure of power. Lenin's audacious plan was carried out late on October 25, and in the early hours of October 26 Lenin proclaimed the birth of the worlds first socialist republic.
Lenin's bold decision to take power in Russia was motivated by a particular ideology which, an amalgamation of Marx's and Lenin's ideas. The stages of this are: 'Primative Communism' -- 'Feudalism' -- 'Capitalism' -- 'Socialism' -- 'Communism'.
Initially, human beings were all equal and lived together in a condition called 'primative communism'. However, in order to produce more wealth, a more complex social order was necessary and social classes emerged. These different classes had different aims and interests and were therefore in a permanent state of conflict. In the 19th century, when Marx was writing, most European societies were in the process of changing from 'feudalism' to 'capitalism'. Marx believed that a change from one stage to another would be accomplished by a revolution. He anticipated that capitalist societies would be dominated by two classes: the bourgeoisie (middle class) and the proletariat (working class). The conflict between the two classes would lead to a final revolution, which would abolish the class system and creare a socialist society. Significantly, Marx argued that only the most economically developed countries would have a sufficiently large proletariat to create a successful socialist revolution.