The End of Tsarism 1914-1917
How strong was the Tsarist regime in 1914?
The nature of Russian society in 1914
Russia is a vast country stretching from the Eastern European plain, across the Ural Mountains and the plains of Siberia to the Far East. Approximately 110 million people lived in Russia in 1900, 97 million of which were peasant farmers, three million were industrial workers, about a million made up the aristocracy and half a million or so were from the professional classes. Russia was socially and economically backward in contrast to the other Great Powers, although it was beginning to undergo rapid industrialisation in the cities as it attempted to catch up with the USA, Germany, Great Britain, France and Japan. The vast majority of Russians were peasant farmers who lived an almost medieval existence of dependence upon the soil and the local aristocracy. By 1900 the peasantry was growing rapidly and there was a hunger for land that was predominantly in the hands of the aristocracy.
The government of Nicholas II in 1914
The Romanov Tsar Nicholas II, an absolute monarch who was not restriced by a parliamentary system, ruled the whole rotten edifice from St Petersburg. This situation changed following Russia’s humiliating defeat by the Japanese in 1905. Following a general and widespread revolution, the Tsar was forced to accept the establishment of the Duma, a Russian parliament. However, this organisation was weak and essentially rubber-stamped decisions made by the monarchy and its council. Although the Duma theoretically limited Nicholas II’s power, he could still be described as an absolute monarch with absolute power over the Russian people.
The Romanov dynasty maintained its position through the traditional loyalty of powerful sections of Russian society. The most important of these were the aristocracy, the Church, the bureaucracy, the police and the Russian army. Each of these powerful elites was interested in preserving their own positions and the power of the monarchy. By 1914 Russia seemed to be very old fashioned, even medieval, in contrast to the other Great Powers.
Opposition groups such as Liberals, socialists and communists were suppressed and many of the Tsar’s political enemies were forced to live abroad.
The Liberals were the most moderate of the opposition groups. The aim of the Liberals was to introduce parliamentary democracy similar to those in the USA, France and Great Britain. This group achieved some success with the establishment of the Duma, or Russian parliament, in 1906. However, the Duma was really just a talking-shop and had no real influence over the Tsar.
The second major opposition group were the Social Revolutionaries who wished to create a new Russian society based on the traditional community of the peasant village.
The third group were the communists influenced by the writings of Karl Marx, a German Jew in exile in Great Britain from 1849. Marx was a philosopher and economist who believed that societies were constantly changing. Marx believed that whoever controlled the…