The collapse of autocracy, 1984-1917

Nicholas II and the 1905 Revolution

Personal rule:

  • admitted he had little idea on how to rule Russia
  • incapble of decision-making and had no sense of direction.
  • Tsar relied heavily on army and Okhrana to deal with issues for him.
  • in 1903, dismissed Witte and was with only reactionaries.

War with Japan:

  • Jan 1901 - attacked russian Port Arthur
  • Mar 1904 - 24 from 27 russian sheeps sunk
  • Dec 1904 - surrender to Port Arthur

Bloody Sunday( and its results) 1905:

  • 9 jan 1905 - peaceful march of 20,000 workers at winter palace led to troops firing and hundred deaths. 
  • In June, 2,000 died at a navil mutiny (Potemkin)
  • 6 August - Nicholas promised restricted state Duma but people saw it as weak.
  • Nobles wanted more representation and workers more land - no support.
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October Manifesto

By October 1905, Russia was close to collapse.

St petersburg soviet set up to organise a general strike.

under pressure, Nicholas issued a decree that promised civil liberties and a state duma.

Decree impact - Kadets, progressives and Octobrists accepted, revs and SDs rejected, workers unconvinced and peasant risings continued.

recovery of authority - army remained loyal and helped gain control gain in late 1905, leaders of soviet arrested and exiled to siberia ( or executed), troops retored order in countryside, government promised an end to redemption payments. The October manifesto split opposition.

Fundamental Laws 1906:

  • new constitution drawn up
  • SRs and bolsheviks refused
  • exercised supreme power, initiate legislation and approve laws, appoint and dismiss ministers, control the duma, rule by decree. Nicholas II gone back on word, never had any intention of a constitutional monarchy.
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The Dumas

First Duma (May-June 1906)

  • dominated by cadets and radicals, demanded radical constitution change and a vote of no confidence passed, the duma dissolved.

Second Duma (February-June 1907)

  • Bolsheviks and SRs participated, increasing radical deputies, opposed most tsarist proposals, dissolved and leading radicals exiled

Third Duma (November 1907-June 1912)

  • Stolypin - emergency law to reduce peasant and worker representation, Octobrists and Conservatives dominated., Still some disputes with tsar and suspended twice.

Fourth Duma (November 1912-1917)

  • Right and left couldnt co-operate and become ignored.,voted for war credits 1914suspended in 1915 after demand for more power.
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Industrial developments by 1914

Witte - Industrialisation was essential to curb revolutionary unrest.

1882 to 1914, russian economy grew eight percent per annum.

interest rates raised to encourage foreign loan.

a new rouble 1897, increase business confidence.

foreign capital raised to fund railways, electricity plants, mining and oilfields

Heavy industry preffered.

Extent of growth:

  • russia had 62,000 km railway, second largest in the world.
  • costs were high.
  • dependent on foreign investment.
  • fifth largest industrial power (coal from 3.2 million tonnes to 25.4 milllion tonnes from 1880 to 1900)
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Agricultural development by 1914

remained small, radical  reform required to prevent unrest, increase peasant ownership to create kulaks, mir system abolished 1906, redemption payments dropped 1905, peasant land bank to fund purchases, government subsidies to encourage a settlement for land in siberia increased


  • peasant land increased from 20 to 50 per cent 
  • grain production rose, 1909 leading cereal exporter
  • 3.5 million peasants to siberia.


  • ten per cent of land went private
  • siberia had bad terrain
  • stolypin avoived fair redistribution (50 % land with nobles)
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Social developments until 1914

The middle class emerged of factory workers, teachers etc., more prominant in society and had zemstva roles., lack of an elected national assembly until 1906., opposed the tsarist regime.

Urban growth and conditions - urban population quadrupled from 7 to 28 million from 1867 to 1917, appaling conditions, mortality rates high, 40 per cent rented houses in petersburg with no water, minimal wages, industrial depression from 1900 to 1908 hit hard, trade unions and strikes banned before 1905.

some improvements - 1914, hours in a factory day reduced to ten hours, 1912, sickness insurance, 1855, night time work for women was banned.

Industrial militancy - real wages declined until 1913 due to inflation, 1912 Lena goldfields strike had 500 killed, 2000 strikes in 1912 and over a million in 1914, July 1914, general strike in St Petersburg ended due to the war.

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Social divisions and cultural change

Countryside conditions - grain output 1/3 of Britain and Germany, peasants driven hard and paid high tax, living standards varied (prosperous in Ukraine but struggling in central Russia).

Church influence - close ties with Tsarist regime, had sway over peasants due to poor education, priests promoted tsaristm in the village, church exercised censorship controls.

Cultural changes - Church had less hold over working class with socialist ideas, economic development had new opportunities for women, by 1914 45% of children ages 8-11 in primary school, by 1914 books had flourished as censorship ended in 1905, HOWEVER millions remained respectful to the autocracy. 

Growth of Liberal opposition - main support from the middle class, liberal priorities were civil rights and a state duma to initiate and pass laws.

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Liberals 1914

Zemstva - Liberals represented in Zemstva, Zemstva petitioned for a national duma in 1895 and dissmissed as a 'senseless dream', an attempted all zemstva organisation was banned in 1896.

Liberal ideas and ideology - liberal opposition had limited political influence before 1905.

Tsar and Liberals - tried to co-operate through the duma, 1907 tsarist government altered the franchise so the electorate reduced in size, little semblance of constitutional monarchy by 1914.

Radical opposition - socialist revolutionary party who had 2,000 assassinations from 1902 to 1905 and assassinated Stolypin. Social democratics workers party used marxism to attract educated followers such as Lenin. This split, Lenin took Bolsheviks and Martov took Mensheviks. Bolsheviks more stubborn and disciplined.

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Political authority during wartime (1914-17)

Military defeats - Germany declared war on Russia on 19 July 1914. Battle of Tannenburg killed 300,000 and Masurian lakes of 1914 saw another Russian defeat.

Political impact - zemstva did more medical relief than government activity, local and national industries assumed reponsibility for supplies in absence of Tsar, zemstva and duma accused government of incompetence. Tsar held responsible for Brusilov offensive due to underdeveloped army.

Economic and social - war drained russia and costs rose from 1.5 million roubles in 1914 to 14.5 in 1918, distrubtion was not fair or easy due to lack of railway, peasants hoarded food, workers suffered unemployment and a 300 percent rise of living in Petrograd.

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Collapse of autocracy

winter 1917, starvation and desperation producers workers revolution.

timeline january to march 1917:

  • 9 january - 150,000 workers bloody sunday.
  • 14 february - 100,000 workers 58 factories on strike; duma demanded abdication.
  • 19 february - panic buying from peasants and urban class.
  • 22 february - 22,000 putilov strike
  • 23 february - women day march, 200,000 demonstrators called for bread and reform
  • 26 february - nicholas use troops and closed duma
  • 27 february - petrograd soviet created
  • 28 february - nicholas train diverted and ministers arrested
  • 1 march - duma and soviet agreed to support a provisional government
  • 2 march - tsar abdicated for brother. grand duke Mikhail.
  • 3 march - grand duke refused, prov government and soviet took charge and tsar under arrest. murdered in july 1918 by bolsheviks. 
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Provisional Government

Soviet agreed to accept provisional government authority until a new constitute was elected.

Soviet compromised of radicals, Social Revolutionaries and Mensheviks.

Declining support for the provisional government:

it promised civil liberties, an amnesty for political prisoners, abolition of capital punishment and exile, appointment of independent judges.

However, soviet and provisional government disagreed on many issues and fought over the war. 

It led to countryside peasants taking matters to their own hands and seizing land. 

Food supplies were chaotic and prices rose.

Summer 1917 - little support for the provisional government.

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Lenin and the takeover (October 1917)

April theses - Lenin gave a rousing speech, demanded all power to soviet and end the war, helped unite bolsheviks and managed to win most of central commitee to not co-operate with prov gov.

July Days - armed uprising in petrograd from 3-4 July, potential to undermine Lenin as bolsheviks protested, both Trotsky and Lenin escaped.

Kornilov affair - Kerensky opposed Kornilov coup on 25-30 August and Bolsheviks challenged. Forced Kornilov to be arrested and weakened Kerensky as PM.

Growth of Bolsheviks - grew at expense of mensheviks and by october 1917 had 200,000 members and 10,000 red guards.

October 1917 revolution - from finland, lenin urged seizure of power, 7 october - secret return, 9 october - set up military revolutionary committee under trotsky., 10 october - lenin won a committee vote for an uprising25 october - 8,000 red guards seized key positions in petrograd.26 october - red guards and civilians broke into winter palace and arrest remaining members of prov gov

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Suppressing opposition

  • anti-bolshevik newspapers closed down
  • civil servants dismissed and replaced with bolsheviks.
  • the cheka established in december.
  • hundreds of kadets, mensheviks and SR arrested  

constituent assembly:

  • main hope of opponents
  • majority SR seats
  • lenin appalled and announced a new assembly of different parties.
  • assembly met on 5 january 1918 and then closed down.
  • bolsheviks announced to rule on behalf
  • those opposed were dispersed with gunfire from red guards
  • not another democratically elected body in russia until 70 years later.
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