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HOW STABLE WAS THE RUSSIAN EMPIRE ON THE OUTBREAK OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR IN 1914? The Russian Revolution of 1917 was born to a large extent out of the defeats and chaos of the First World War, and many historians have argued that the Bolshevik seizure of power was mainly attributable to this factor. Certainly the war highlighted the weaknesses of the Russian economy and system of government. Nevertheless, the level of revolutionary activity in the preceding fifty years suggests that the Tsarist regime was vulnerable to political upheaval, and therefore it might be fairer to say that war determined the nature, timing and course of the revolution rather than being its main cause. Jose' The autocratic Russian government had to contend with many problems. At the heart of these problems was her backwardness economically, socially and politically. The dilemma facing her rulers from the end of the Napoleonic Wars to the outbreak of World War One was whether or not to modernize and unleash potentially dangerous forces for change, or resist change and risk falling further behind her Western European rivals. ...read more.


Not even the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 could improve the social and economic situation of the peasantry. Russian industry was still under-developed in the second half of the nineteenth century. Witte's attempts at rapid, government-inspired modernization carried with them the threat of political upheaval in so far as they created for the first time in Russian history a sizeable bourgeoisie and urban proletariat. The Russian tsars also faced the problem of a tradition of violent revolutionary activity, which arguably dated back to the Decembrist consp�racy of 1825. Alexander II had been assassinated by members of the 'Narodnaya Volya', and this reinforced the reactionary policies of his successors. Marxists, Social Revolutionaries, Nihilists, Anarchists and others were all committed at various times to the overthrow of Tsarism. It would probably also be fair to say that the policies of the Tsars actually increased and inflamed this revolutionary threat, and by 1914 the support base for the Romanov dynasty was dangerously narrow and decreasing alarmingly. ...read more.


Indeed, it is possible that the Tsar and his advisers hoped that the surge of patriotism accompanying the war might deflect people's attentions from the deteriorating economic situation, thus repeating the mistake of the Russo-Japanese War. Thus the Tsarist regime faced major challenges to its very existence in 1914. What eventually destroyed it, however, were the disasters and humiliating defeats of the First World War. Quite clearly the Imperial Russian Government was unable to cope with the political, social, economic and military demands of a modern war. Some historians (eg - Hugh Seton-Watson) have lamented the fact that the war prevented Russia from developing into a liberal, Western European style state. Such arguments ignore the fact that most of the Tsars preferred to resist, or at the very least delay, such political changes. Besides, it is clear that the Russian Empire was inherently backward and unstable, and peaceful, evolutionary development was unlikely. Tsarism had faced many previous challenges to its existence, and it is quite possible that it might have succumbed to another crisis even without the experience of defeat in war. ...read more.

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