The Opponents of Tsardom

Concise notes on the different opponents to Tsardom


The Populists- Ideas and Facts

Key Ideas:

- Regarded the future of Russia as being in the hands of the peasants

- They believed the peasants must take the lead in transforming Russia

- Wanted to overthrow the Tsarist system


- The Populist leaders were drawn from the middle and upper classes

- They were mainly University students who felt that it was their duty to educate the peasants about their revolutionary role.

- One of their key campaigns was 'going to the people' where the Populists went from the Universities into the countryside to live for a period with the peasants in an attempt to turn them into revolutionaries.

- A stem from the Populists called 'The People's Will' assassinated Alexander II (Bomb)

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The Populists- Drawbacks

Why did they have seldom success?

- The peasants tended to regard the students as airy-fairy thinkers who had no knowledge of real life.

- Its' concept of a peasant-based revolution was unrealistic; The Russian peasantry were not interested in political revolution.

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The Social Revolutionaries


- The Social Revolutionary party grew out of the Populist movement.

-The economic spurt of the 1890s opened an opportunity to gain recruits from the rapidly growing urban workforce.

- Between 1901 and 1905, it was a terrorist faction that dominated. During these years the SRs were responsible for over 2000 political assassinations, including Plehve, the Interior Minister, the tsar's uncle, the Grand Duke Sergei.

- Until the 1917 Revolution where the Bolsheviks outlawed them they had the largest popular following due to their promise of returning the land to those who worked on it.

Key Ideas:

- They began to agitate among the workers. The intention was to widen the concept of the'people'. So that it encompassed not simply the peasants but all those in society who had reasons for wishing to see the end of Tsardom.

Victor Chernov was a vital figure in the reshaping of the Populist strategy, in its formation in 1901 he became its' leader, he was a member of the Interlligentsia, he wanted to provide a firmer base for Populism than its previous passionate but vague ideas it had produced.

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The Social Revolutionaries- Drawbacks


- The SRs were weakened by disagreements among themselves.

- Leon Trotsky (who was later to play a large role within the party) described the SRs as being made up of two competing groups: 'Left Social Revolutionaries and the Right Social Revolutionaries'

- Even though Chernov tried to hold the factions together, from 1906 onwards the SRs were a collection of radical groups rather than a united party.

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The Social Democrats

Facts and Key Ideas:

- The Social Democrats were short for the All-Russian Social Democratic Workers Party.

- Their main aim was to achieve revolution in Russia by following the ideas of Karl Marx

Lenins Impact on the SDs:

- When Lenin returned from exile to western Russia in the 1900, he set about turning the Sds into his idea of what a truly revolutionary party must be.

- He founded a party newspaper called Iskra (The Spark) which he used as chief means at putting his case to the party members.

- He criticised Plekhanov for being more interested in reform rather than revolution.

- He believed that the revolution in Russia would only be possible if it was organised and led by a party of dedicated, professional revolutionaries. The workers could not be left by themselves; they didn't know enough. They had to be directed by informed members of the SD party.

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The Bolshevik-Menshevik split

The dispute between Lenin and Plekhanov had come to a head during the second congress of the SD Party in 1903. The Congress met in a number of different places, including Brussels and London, turned into a heated affair which frequently descended to a series of slagging matches over points of procedure. They eventually split into two groups, Lenins' Bolsheviks and Martov's Mensheviks.

Lenins' aim:

To choose between Plekhanov's idea of a broad-based party, open to all revolutionaries, and his own concept of a small, tightly knit and exclusive party.

By 1912 the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks had become two distinct, conflicting Marxist parties. Lenin deliberately emphasised the difference between himself and Martov by resigning from the editorial board of Iskra and starting his own journal, Vyperod (Forward). A Bolshevik daily paper, Pravda (The Truth) , was first published in 1912.

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Lenin and the Bolsheviks

The Bolsheviks had been systematically preparing the ground for revolution since 1903. However from 1904-17 Lenin was largely absent from Russia. He lived variously in Finland, France, Switzerland and Austria, and his visits to Russia were rare and fleeting, Although he continued from exile to issue a constant stream of instructions to his followers, he and they played only a minor role in events in Russia before 1917.  

Bolshevik tactics before 1917

Lenin and his fellow exiles set up training schools for revolutionaries who were smuggled back into Russia to infiltrate worker organisations such as the trade unions. Whilst those still in Russia were raising money to fund the party, they did this through terrorist acts such as raiding post offices.Even though they lacked the number unlike the Mensheviks which overpowered them, they made up in determination. When a revolutionary situation in 1917 it was they who proved the best prepared to seize the opportunity to take over government. The Bolsheviks' readiness was one of Lenin's major political achievements.

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The Liberals

How did it come about?

The economic boom of the 1890s saw the rapid development of a small but ambitious class of industrialists, lawyers and financiers. It was among these social groups that liberal ideas for the modernising of Russia began.

Key Ideas:

- There was also often a strong national element in Russian liberalism.

- The national minorities viewed the liberal movement as a means of advancing their claim to be independent of Russian imperial control. Two main liberal parties came to prominence in the pre-1914 period- the Octobrists and the Kadets.

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The Octobrists


- This group dated from when the Tsar issued the October Manifesto in 1905, which created the Duma.

- The Octobrists were mainly drawn from the larger commercial, Industrial and landowning interests.

Key Ideas:

- The Octobrists were basically loyal to the Tsar and his government

- They believed in the maintenance of the Russian Empire and regarded the manifesto and the establishment of the Duma as major constitutional advances.

- Their limited aims led them to be dismissed by the revolutionaries as bourgeios reactionaries who were unwilling to challenge the existing system. Although they were very willing to point out the failings of the Tsars rule.

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The Kadets (The Constitutional Democrats)


- They came about during the 1905 Revolution

- They were to play a major role in the events surrounding the 1917 revolution.

Key Ideas:

- The Kadets, who were the largest of the liberal parties, wanted Russia to develop as a constitutional monarchy, in which the powers of the Tsar would be restricted by a democratically elected constituent assembly.

- They believed that a constituent assembly, representative of the whole of Russia, would be able to settle the nation's outstanding social, political and economic problems.

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