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How convincing is the argument that WW1 was the main factor in the collapse of Tsarism in Russia

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Introduction

How convincing is the argument that WW1 was the deciding factor in the collapse of Tsarism in Russia? Nicholas II's abdication in February 1917 marked the end of Tsarism in Russia and the end of over 100 years of Romanov rule. By the time the war broke out in 1914 almost every section of Russian society felt betrayed by the autocracy, in particular the peasants and the growing number of urban workers. The peasants increasingly resented being exploited by the nobility and governing elite, and although Tsar Alexander II had started to make reforms beginning with the Emancipation act in 1861, most of these reforms had little or no effect on the everyday lives of the peasantry. Although the war exacerbated these social problems, even before 1914 a revolution was inevitable. Opposition began to grow within the industrial workers, especially due to the violence of Bloody Sunday and the 1905 revolution, after which workers lost faith in the 'Little Father' and realised that under rule of the Tsar they were always going to be oppressed. By the beginning of 1917 even the military, Cossacks and members of the aristocracy wanted rid of the Tsarist regime. This change in attitudes was much stronger than it had been in 1905 as the suffering of the peoples was now much greater and the autocratic system in such a critical state. However, Russia's political structure was in a dire state even before the war. Peter Waldron notes: "The Imperial Russian state perished from its own weakness"1. ...read more.

Middle

It is clear that even before the war workers were dissatisfied. The large concentration of labourers in huge enterprises allowed the city workers to talk to one another each day and engage in the same everyday struggle to live, which resulted in a huge unified urban workforce. By consolidating thousands of workers on the same premises for years on end they developed into an unparalleled political entity. Libertarian historians emphasise this growing unrest and strength of the workers as an unequalled political unit as a critical factor in the collapse of Tsarism. They take the view that without the efforts of the working people the revolution would not have taken place. When war broke out in 1914 Russia was not equipped for a modern war, and from the very beginning it was clear that the Russian forces were inferior to the German military in everything but numbers. Though Russia had endured an embarrassing defeat to Japan in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905, she had not seemed to learn any lessons in the intervening years. The Russian fighting forces were very badly equipped and there were massive shortages of ammunition, weapons and food supplies, as well as poor leadership, particularly after the Tsar assumed sole command. In 1914 there was just one machine-gun allocated for every 1,000 men and rifles were similarly in short supply. This resulted in huge numbers of Russian casualties, mainly inexperienced peasant conscriptions. The railways were particularly inefficient when placed under the heavy demands of the war. ...read more.

Conclusion

army joining the protesting workers in Petrograd, Russia would have simply relapsed into a repeat of the 1905 'revolution' or at worst, a civil war. They consider it was the army Generals and police force that made the revolution possible. Michael Lynch stresses, "It was when the army and the police told Nicholas that they were unable to carry out his command to keep the populace in order that his position finally became hopeless"5. Though this view seems valid, it is questionable as to how much control the army and police would have had in repressing the masses revolting in Petrograd if they had remained loyal. The incentive for change was so great, and the political system in such a critical state that it is likely that even without support from the army a revolution would have occurred. In conclusion, although the war exacerbated Russia's problems and brought them to a head, WW1 was not the fundamental reason for the collapse of Tsarism. Russia's problems were deep-seated in the inept and corrupt political system. The avarice and need for power lay deeply rooted in the Tsar and governing elites and the aspirations of the peasants and workers would never have been met. The poor execution of the war and the huge loss of life with conscripted peasants and workers poorly equipped and treated as little more than cannon fodder increased the level of discontent and acted as a catalyst for revolution. However, even if Russia had been successful in the war Tsarism would still have unavoidably collapsed given the widespread and deep-seated injustice and distrust of the ruling regime. ...read more.

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