The military failures and shortage of equipment displayed, especially to the Russian soldiers, how poor the Tsars leadership skills were. The huge death toll and military failures also undermined domestic support for the war, this lead to a lack of supplies on the front line which encouraged mass desertion within the army by Christmas 1916. The faith that the Russian soldiers lost in the Tsar was a major element of the February Revolution because the government was not able to call on the army to suppress an inevitable uprising. Without the disastrous First World War that undermined the country’s leadership, the government would still have had the support of the army like in 1905.
The Tsar’s crucial political decision to leave the Tsarina in charge of the government provoked nationwide frustration and suspicion, the Russian people suspected that the government had been infiltrated by Germans and was being controlled by a mad monk. After the Tsar had appointed himself commander-in-chief of the army, his wife took control of the government. In this position she became the “true autocrat”. Along with the influence of Rasputin she managed to change the personal within the government in order to eradicate the danger of reform and the threat to Rasputin’s position. In the 17 months of the “Tsarina’s rule”, from September 1915 to the February revolution in 1917, Russia appointed four Prime Ministers, five Ministers of the Interior, three Foreign Ministers, three War Ministers, three Ministers of Transport and four Ministers of agriculture. These government changes removed competent men from power, disorganised the work of the government and created further political instability. During her “reign” exaggerated suspicion grew that she was a spy for the Germans, as she was originally German. The dismantlement of government organisation also put Rasputin, the unorthodox monk peasant from Siberia, under great criticism. Rumours spread that Alexandria and Rasputin were having an affair and that Rasputin had complete control over the Tsar and Tsarina. However in reality, the Tsarina believed that Rasputin was able to heal many of Alexei’s (the Tsarovich) worst symptoms as a haemophiliac. The deterioration of the Russian government under the rule of the Tsarina provoked a growth of discontent, political opposition and a lack of support from the Duma. The rumours about Rasputin and scandal within the government being true or untrue was irrelevant, these rumours undermined the authority of the government and made the Tsar appear weak. Reputation was more important than reality. As the reputations of the Tsar and Tsarina decayed during the war the rumours of “German spies” and “sex scandals” were able to mobilize an angry mob against a suspected corrupt autocratic system, which is what happened in February 1917.
Russia was nowhere near as militarily modernised as the other European powers, but the Tsar continued fighting an increasingly hopeless war with a huge social cost at his disposal; the lives of millions of men. The endless military defeats throughout the whole war campaign drained the initial patriotic morale of Russia, depleted its already ravaged economy and generated much grief throughout the country. By Christmas 1916 15.3 million Russians had experienced military service. Humiliating defeats throughout the war such as the battle of Tannenberg had resulted in the death of 1.6 million men with just under 4 million men being wounded. This unimaginable death toll caused a great loss in agricultural workers, this lead to major food and fuel shortages in towns and cities. The Great War arrived with a huge economic cost for Russia. Higher taxes were introduced for peasantry and borrowing increased from Britain and France to fund the War. The government also printed more money in order to pay for the war; this caused inflation and prices rose 200% between August 1914 and Christmas 1916. The higher prices on basic goods and increased taxation on peasantry resulted in many people not being able to afford basic goods such as food. Not surprisingly the First World War put a huge economic strain on Russia that the government couldn’t handle. Russia’s overall military tactics of putting every able man into a soldier’s uniform only enhanced the economy’s depletion, supply shortages and accelerated the country’s journey to social chaos. The growth of social unrest, grief and discontent due to food shortages illustrated how the strain of the First World War was able to grow into anger and violence towards the government, but their had always been nationwide discontent without World War 1.
Social discontent had always been common throughout the reign of Nicholas II. An undiluted autocracy with an indecisive leader who was repulsed at the thought of political and social reform would always be a recipe for revolution. Nicholas II had always attempted to implement a political system of unshakeable autocracy much like his father before him. However, he was a weak shadow of his father who aimed to please his wife before pleasing Russia. His feeble nature was a target for opposition especially from intellectuals within the Duma like Kerensky. After the 1905 revolution the Tsar had had his chance to reform through the creation of the Duma. He repeatedly closed down the Duma to the point where it had no real power. Peasantry had not been reformed, they had no rights to their own land and they were still surrounded by poverty. Before 1914, peasants had suffered frequently from food shortages and hunger, so these were no new problems for Russian peasants during the First World War. However, these problems were enhanced by the family’s main source of income, the father, being away fighting. During a time of what was supposed to be political reform (after 1905) the Tsar continued to impose political oppression, this inevitably lead to a growth in opposition. Life was still incredibly harsh for millions of Russian’s but there was no sudden burst of united anger against the government to trigger a revolution like in 1905. Instead a long, drawn-out and disastrous war would be the key to the next uprising.
The disaster of World War 1was mainly responsible for the arrival of the February Revolution. The war consisted of shambles after shambles, especially on the part of the government, that was able to unite the Russian people against the Tsar and his autocracy. Constant military defeats, continuous military retreats and inevitable desertion by thousands of soldiers drained all hope of victory under the current regime. Russia suffered hugely from the strain that World War 1 put on the economy and social lives of the Russian people. However, the Russian people, especially peasants, had always experienced social and economic hardship under the Tsar’s regime. The First World War was able to worsen these daily hardships to the point where social unrest and discontent turned to action and violence in February 1917. A revolution in Russia was adamant, but the handling of and decisions made during World War 1by the Tsar, the royals and the government drove the revolution right to their doorstep.