How stable was the tsarist regime in Russia on the eve of the First World War in 1914?
was the tsarist regime in Russia
on the eve of the First World War in 1914?
On the eve of the First World War, the Tsarist regime, headed by Czar Nicholas II was more unstable than it had ever been. In the decade before 1914 Russia was in a troubled state. The Czar insistently ruled as an autocrat, ignoring such constraints as parliaments, but failed to deal with many problems. There were numerous virulent discontented groups which presented a great challenge to the Russian autocrat, some of which resorted to terrorism to stimulate social and political revolution. Never had so many political organizations existed at once. Unrest and criticism of the government had reached a climax with the Russian defeats in the war with Japan from 1904 to 1905, and in 1905 burst into a revolution forcing him to make concessions in the October Manifesto, including the granting of the Duma, an elected parliament. When it became clear that the Duma was ineffective, unrest increased. The recent 1905 revolution had whipped up a will to effect change particularly among the peasants. The fact that some of the autocrat’s reforms following the revolution of 1905 improved living standards, may have faded chances for revolution had it not been for World War I. However, given that these reforms were too piecemeal, as well as the Czar’s deliberate flouting of his promises, the situation deteriorated at a rate at which it would soon bring revolution. The dynasty was also weakened by political decadence.
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The Czar retained considerable support among the masses due to some of the reforms of 1905. Kulaks, a class of comfortably–off peasants emerged as a result of the abolition of redemption payments. Several peasants were able to buy their own land. This was as a result of Stolypin’s determination to win over the peasants. There was still support, though extremely limited, from industrial workers because labour conditions had improved, profits increased due to significant coal and oil production, and in 1912 a workers’ sickness and accident insurance scheme was introduced.
It is certain, though that the support lost to the Czarist regime since 1905 was much more drastic than that gained. Stolypin’s land reform was failing because his schemes could not cope wit the growth rate of the peasant population of 1.5 million a year, and they were defeated by primitive farming methods. Riots erupted as the landless peasants had been wakened out of inertia by the events of 1905. Hunger was too common because grain production fluctuated and distribution was hampered by the limited transport system. The record harvest of 1913 was mere flash in the pan. Stolypin’s assassination in 1911 precipitated discontent, because he was one of the few able tsarist ministers, and perhaps the only man who could have saved the regime. Increasing discontent of industrial workers was vented through a wave of strikes in April 1912, set off by the shooting of 270 strikers in the Lena goldfields. There was a growing agitation among the workers which in St Petersburg in 1914 assumed proportions of incident revolution with street demonstrations, shootings and the building of barricades. The improvements were obviously not enough to palliate grievances.
There was little relaxation of the Government’s repressive policy as the secret police rooted out revolutionaries among university students and professors and deporting masses of Jews, Poles and other minorities, as well as liberals which dominated the Russian parliament. This ensured that these subversive groups were firmly anti-tsarist. These groups spread propaganda to tarnish the Czar’s image. The minorities despised autocratic rule, but they chiefly craved autonomy and not the overthrow of Czardom. However, the revolts of national minorities were in the borderland areas and were too localized in nature. Nonetheless, the situation was particularly dangerous as peasants, industrial workers, and the intelligentsias were pro-reform.
A few years before 1912, opposition from the Marxist-oriented revolutionary parties were weakened because their many leaders were in exile and they were short of money. Though in exile, however leaders like Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin maintained some control over the labour movements in Georgia, the Urals and northern Russia. Divisiveness was also a hindrance to the strength and effectiveness of opposition groups. The Social Democratic Party believed it was imperative to topple Czardom and transform Russia into a democratic bourgeois republic. However they split into the radical Bolsheviks and Mensheviks because of differences on how they opted to achieve this goal. However, as 1912 progressed, these groups were empowered by revived fortunes. The Bolshevik newspaper, Pravda was extremely important in publicizing Bolshevik ideas about establishing ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ and giving political direction to the already developing strike wave.
Political decadence of the Romanov Dynasty destabilized Czardom. With the massacre of the Winter Palace in 1905, the czar had already tarnished his image of being the great guardian of his people. Thus he was no longer supported by the age-old pillar of faith. as the The royal family was discredited by a number of scandals. It was widely suspected that Nicholas II was a party to the murder of Stolypin, who was shot by a member of the secret police in the tsar’s presence at the Kiev Opera. The royal family’s association with Rasputin, a self-professed holy man had made himself indispensable to the the czar’s wife Alexandra by his ability to help the ailing heir to the throne, Alexei. Through hypnosis, Rasputin was able to heal his haemophilia. Eventually Rasputin became a powerful figure behind the throne, but attracted public criticism by his drunkenness and affairs with court ladies. Because Alexandra ignored the scandals and the Duma’s request the Rasputin be sent from the court, the monarchy grew more unpopular.
On the eve of the first World War, the Romanov Dynasty was no longer supported by the Russian masses. The Czar had estranged himself from the people and progressively undermined the legitimacy of his own rule. However, the Czar still controlled the army and police and may have been able to hold on if a major revolution erupted. The army enabled him to secure authority and suppress the strikes. It was really the First World War, which exposed corruption and incompetence, and which caused recalcitrant troops which refused to protect their leader. This was what really shook the already delicate dynasty. As for the masses, their discontent festered over the years, and with the economic inflation and military defeat triggered by World War I, it was ready to explode.