One group went to the peasants, but were not successful in gathering support, this was mainly because the peasants were under the influence of the church, and this meant that many of them were loyal to the Tsar. Another problem was that their desire for social change didn’t extend much further than the wish to take the nobles land, and share it out amongst themselves. They had no ambition to oust the Tsar, the only kind of ruler they had known in centuries. However, there were a few intelligent and angry enough to form a political party, which a group of them did in 1899. They called themselves the Social Revolutionary Party.
A second group went to the town workers, smaller in numbers than the peasants, they were nevertheless more willing to work against the Tsar, as they lived closer to their rulers, and knew very well how little the majority of them cared about the people. Quite a few workers were interested, and they came together to form the Social Democratic Party. The party believed in the ideals of Marx (Marxism), which meant that they were willing to go to any lengths to achieve their aims. They plotted terrorist attacks; they staged daring robberies (for funding) and helped political refugees escaped. They also had access to printing presses, which they used to produce propaganda.
However, the big men in the party had differing ideas, and when they held a conference in London, the debates were stormy. Throughout the ‘discussions’ there were two main groups. One wanted the party to be democratic, and allow membership to all Russians, whether or not they actively participated in party life. The other side wanted the party to be smaller, based around a group of dedicated revolutionaries, instead of democracy; they believed the party should have been under the close control of a central committee. This group found a leader in Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, who we think of as Lenin. In the end a large number of delegates left the conference, in disgust at what many perceived to be petty arguments between children. Lenin’s party won the day, and they called themselves Bolsheviks, or the majority. The defeated social democrats become known as the Mensheviks, or minority, despite the fact that their group had more support in Russia itself.
One thing that we must always remember is that not only did these different groups work against the Tsar, they worked against each other! Together they could have overthrown the Tsar relatively easily, but they were completely disunited, something that the Government had only encouraged. The middle classes feared the lower classes, the peasants and town workers had little in common, while the town workers party, small though it was, split into two. The subject races not only wanted to be rid of the Tsar, but any Russian government, so they were in no way sympathetic or supportive of other opposition groups.
So, there was a lot of discontent in Russia, but it was unlikely to lead to full-scale revolution unless something disastrous happened, something that people could blame on the Tsar. This disaster came in the form of war, when in 1905 Russia was thoroughly beaten by the armies of Japan.
The troubles began on the 22nd January 1905, a day immortalised under the name of Bloody Sunday. A crowd of 200,000 workers convened on the streets of Petrograd, and headed for the palace, with the intention of presenting a petition to the Tsar. They had many concerns, they requested a minimum wage at the value of 10p a day, and they also wanted the government to be more democratic. Their leader was a priest called Father Gapon, who was completely loyal to the Tsar, and the workers themselves were sure that if Nicholas became aware of their plight he would do something. The marchers even sang ‘God save the Tsar’ as they processed towards the winter palace. In what has to be one of the most tragic accidents in Russian history, the guards lost their nerve, and fired into the peaceful crowd, killing five hundred, and wounding thousands more. There was violence all over Russia, and nearly everyone blamed the Tsar, despite the fact he had not even been in Petrograd at the time of the massacre.
The governor of Moscow was assassinated, and in just a year, 1500 government officials were murdered. The crew of the Battleship ‘Potemkin’ mutinied, and bombarded the city of Edessa. In the country side peasants attacked their landlords. Peace was made with Japan, but the discontented and disillusioned soldiers that returned only made the problem worse. To cap it all off, there was a General Strike, and trade and industry grinded to a halt.
The general strike left the Tsar no choice but to give in, he sent out a document called the October manifesto in which he promised Russia would have an elected parliament. This satisfied the constitutional Democratic Party, who withdrew their support for the strike.
What followed, in the years between 1906 and 1914, could be seen as one of great hope and ideological change, because although conditions in Russia were still dreadful, changes were being made for the better. Unfortunately, the outbreak of war brought all these developments to an abrupt halt.
As soon as war was declared the people of Russia united against the Germans, and rallied to their Father, the Tsar. Vast crowds fell on their knees before him, and the sense of loyalty to the Romanov dynasty was overwhelming. However, this soon evaporated as disaster followed disaster, followed disaster.
For a start, the Russians suffered humiliating defeats, and may have lost as many as eight million men. To make matters worse, few commanders had the confidence of their men, the minister of war, General Sukhomlinov, boasted he had not read a military manual in twenty-five years. Russia’s industry could not supply the Army with enough equipment, and in some areas there was only one rifle to every ten soldiers. Because of poor transport, soldiers were almost always short of food and decent clothing. This wasn’t the only problem caused by a lack of transport. Because the trains had been commandeered by the Army, there were not enough to get the much-needed coal from the mines to the factories, several hundreds were closed. In the same way, although the farmers grew more than enough food, it remained piled up at the railway stations, and never reached those who needed it.
A shortage of food led to the prices rising dramatically, in the years between 1914 and 1917, prices rose by 400%, while wages only doubled. The workers were more discontented than they had ever been.
Arguably though, the worst thing to happen was the rise to a position of great influence the ‘holy man’ Grigori Rasputin enjoyed. Because of this man, the Tsar’s government lost all the respect it had once had.
The Tsar’s wife fell under the influence of Rasputin when it became clear that he somehow, through a strange power, able to relieve her son of his sufferings. Rasputin used his position to secure appointments for those who befriended him, and to dismiss those who opposed him. Luckily, as long as Nicholas was at court, he was able to put a stop to the worst of the holy mans schemes. Unfortunately, in 1915, Nicholas thought it necessary to go to army headquarters, to encourage the men, as a result the government fell into the hands of the Tsaritsa and Rasputin. In less than two years there were over twenty changes of ministers, including four prime ministers. None of the men Rasputin chose were at all suitable. Eventually, a group of nobles, led by Prince Yusupov murdered him, but the damage had already been done.
There were many politicians in and outside Russia, plotting revolution, but in the end it was the normal people who started it. There was more and more hunger and discontent until the workers went on strike and rioted for food. The army refused to fire on their fellow Russians, and actually joined them. At the same time the fleet mutinied. The angry crowds then took every building in the city (petrograd0 that was a symbol of the Tsars authority.
Eventually the mob realised that Russia needed to have a government of some kind, and accordingly went to the Tauride palace, where the Duma, or parliament met. The Duma realised it must act quickly, so they sent Roczianko onto the balcony, to announce the forming of a provisional government. However, others were busy as well, the sailors, soldiers and workers of Petrograd formed a soviet, as they had done in 1905. They to decided to meet in the Tauride Palace, and they too, claimed the right to give out orders. Neither group trusted the other, and they both sent out orders to the affect that no one was to obey the other organisation without their permission. In effect, Russia had two governments in one building.
This really marked a change in the west’s relationship with Russia, for two reasons. The first was of course the revolution. The potentially disastrous problem communism could cause was in everyone’s mind, and although at this time the country wasn’t officially communist, its influence could be seen seeping into every part of Russian life. Many governments, worried that the same might happen in their countries, did everything they could to portray communism as almost a type of evil, and maintaining close links with Russia would only have had a detrimental effect on this campaign. The second reason was just as horrific in the minds of the west. The newly formed Russian government was considering leaving the First World War, and making peace with Germany. If this had happened, millions of German soldiers would have been free to move to the western front, where they could have delivered some terrifying blows upon the heads of the allies.
However, there was a problem, it began to emerge that the provisional government wanted to continue in the fight against Germany. Alexander Kerensky, a brilliant orator and Prime minister of Russia decided that if his country was to receive help from great democratic powers, he would have to fight alongside them. A great offensive was planned, but the Russian army had lost the will to fight, too many had died for them to see any point in the exercise. They were easily defeated. This had terrible repercussions for the provisional government back in Russia. Another fatal mistake made by the Government was failing to redistribute land to the peasants; the wealthy landlords in the Duma felt that they might well be next. This caused much discontent in a country that desperately needed change.
Because of the war, many leaders of the Bolshevik party had been exiled, or where in a state of despair. But with the revolution they saw a new hope. Lenin decided to return to Russia, but how could he? Who would help him get there? Surprisingly, help came in the form of his countries national enemy, Germany, realising that the Bolsheviks were now the only political group willing to make peace, gave him the means to travel to the Baltic.
But why did the Bolsheviks succeed? After all, they were a tiny group, when Lenin stood up at the National congress of soviets, and stated that there was one party ready to lead Russia he was laughed at. Yet still, despite there apparent insignificance they managed to take control of the largest country in the world. How did they do it? First of all the Bolsheviks never worked with other parties, this decreased the chance of their aims being muddled up. They also started to round up the support of many of the common Russians, with slogans like ‘peace!’ ‘Bread’ and ‘land’. Some have remarked that Hitler’s own campaign slogans were worryingly similar. The party also used slogans like ‘all power to the soviets’ this was popular with the common Russian worker, who knew that the provisional government was run by the middle classes. Bolshevik agitators would often move among the factory workers, soldiers and sailors, to rally support for the second revolution. They also set up units of armed supporters, known as the Red Guard.
On the 7th of November the assault began, and the Bolsheviks seized the city of Petrograd, they stormed the winter palace, and arrested members of the provisional Government. But the success of the revolution ultimately lay in the hands of the Army, and how it would react. Luckily, the Bolsheviks had done their job well, and army group after army group fell in behind the revolutionaries. Kerensky gathered together a regiment of Cossacks, but they were easily overcome, and Kerensky fled from Russia.
Following this revolution there was a huge civil war, there were many in the country that still didn’t agree with soviet policy, and they raised armies to fight against the communists. Foreign powers, worried there might be a worldwide revolution, sent soldiers to support these anti communists, and there were a lot more of them than there were Bolshevik supporters. Yet, despite all the supposed advantages, they were completely defeated. The reasons behind this are quite evident in hindsight, although they had a common enemy; the anti communists were by no means friends. Almost every single group claimed legal leadership of the country, and at one point there were 20 different governments. When it came to the crunch they were unwilling to support each other, this made it easy for the Red Army to deal with each of them individually.
After this war the communists realised they had to make some real changes, and after a mutiny at a naval institution it became clear to them that many of their old supporters were discontented. Lenin decided to introduce a New Economic Policy, instead of the idealistic communist society he was forced to allow people to work for their own benefit, many people became rich in this period, as they sold surplus to fellow citizens, and reclaimed control of much of the industrial machine (although the upper echelons were still within the grip of Communist power.) This must have saddened Lenin, who at always dreamed of the perfect communist state. In 1924, Lenin died, and what followed must be one of the most notorious power struggles ever.
When Lenin died there was competition in the party as to who should become the next leader. Trotsky led the left of the party, and wanted to see worldwide revolution. The right of the party realised that this could earn Russia many enemies when she was still weak. Stalin sided with the right, and because of his position as general secretary managed to defeat the left, Trotsky was sent into exile. Stalin then proceeded to use the centre of the party against the right. He succeeded in breaking the power of the right, and the leaders of the National Communism movement were thrown out of the party.
Stalin believed that the NEP was a bad thing, he predicted (accurately) that in the future there would be a war with Germany, and he wanted Russia to be strong enough do win. The problem was that the NEP encouraged factories to produce household goods that people wanted, and they would be no help in a war. If the industry was back under Communist control he could focus on producing the weapons and armaments required by the Army. Furthermore, the NEP went against everything Stalin, as a communist, believed in. It allowed people to grow rich, promoting capitalism. Russia had to see an end to this madness.
Stalin ended the NEP and began a series of five-year plans, designed to take complete control of the economy. Gosplan, the organisation in charge of setting targets was to factory managers what Inspectors are to teachers. If a target set by Gosplan was not met, than a manager was criminally responsible. This led to a large number of very worried managers, as the targets were highly ambitious, intended to force Russia to progress in 10 years as much as Britain had in 100.
On the whole the five-year plans where a great success, output increased 400% between 1928 and 1938. Russia had indeed become a great economic power. And when the Germans invaded in 1941 they were defeated, due largely to the industry Stalin had built up.
Stalin continued to keep absolute control of Russia through and after the Second World War. He portrayed himself as a hero, who had saved the Russian people from a fate worse than death, he had many statues of himself built, and several towns were named after him, After the war a new, fie year plan was introduced, to rebuild Russia’s industry, it was very unpopular, but in a few years Russia was as economically powerful as it had been before the war. Stalin also tried to take control of the ordinary Russians mind. Authors and poets were told that the heroes in their stories had to be communists, while the villains must be Tsarists or capitalists. Biologists were forced to agree with some very strange scientific theories, simply because they fitted in with the communist belief. It seemed that Stalin was at the height of his power, he had complete control of the USSR, and almost all of his enemies had been killed in the great purge. Then something happened, Stalin accused a group of doctors of conspiring to poison Russian leaders, it seemed as if Stalin was preparing for another bout of purges, when he suddenly died, apparently of a stroke. We will never know if this was the true reason for his death, but we do know that few in the upper echelon of Communist government were sorry to see him go, at least not for the time being. Although they buried him beside Lenin, they showed little respect at the funeral, and he was later removed to be buried elsewhere. This was the beginning of a new era in Russian history.
So, It is quite easy to see that Russia’s relationship developed dramatically over the space of half a century, to such an extent did the social order of Russia change that often people did not know what to think. However, at the beginning of the 20th century, the rulers of Russia had maintained close link western powers, gradually this relationship began to break down, until the second world war, where they once again found themselves facing a common enemy. It has been said that the worst thing Hitler ever did was give the USSR a chance to expand, it is definitely true that Russia, and Stalin, has left a greater mark on the world than Hitler ever did, and the effect of the revolution can still be felt today. After the great patriotic war, relations started to become colder once more, and a new era was born. An era of missile crisis, war by proxy, superpowers, and the two greatest political and economic ideologies ever to be seen on this planet.
So, the period of the 20th century known as the cold war. Let us never fool ourselves into thinking that it is something that didn’t affect us, certainly, it would be easy for my generation to forget about it, just another old story our parents and grand parents like to tell. Why should we understand the horror and distress our family’s display when we announce that we have certain communist ideals, or when we state that communism is, fundamentally, a great idea. They were products of their time, and we are projects of ours. But let us not forget that many of us were alive when the Soviet Union fell, and that, for us, the cold war meant life and death. For if a few things had occurred differently, or if certain situations had not been dealt with as they were, we might never have been born.
What was the cold war though? Was anyone killed? Did America stand up for democracy and defeat the Soviet Union? Is that while it collapsed? No, not really. There was never a full-scale war, but it was because of the west’s influence, and her tainted treasures, that the Soviet Union fell in on itself, the people could no longer stand communism, and the economic hardship it forced them to bear.
However, people were killed, and there were several wars between communism and capitalism, it cannot be denied that the super powers were involved, but the troops of the USSR never fought the Western armies, but by no means were they friendly. Thin back to all the old James Bond films you have watched, a huge number of them focus on this period of rapid development and trouble. Russia is often portrayed as the enemy, with power hungry generals determined to seize control, or take large chunks of Europe for the Motherland. These kinds of film were the indirect result of an anti-USSR propaganda campaign that the western powers directed for years, in fact, it could be argued that the James Bond films in question were a part of that campaign. Certainly, the watcher is left in no doubt of where the world chief danger can be found. But enough of the propaganda, enough of the rumour, what really happened?
One of the first things that has to be mentioned is the Arms race, and connected to it, the space race. After Hiroshima, it was realised how powerful and deadly the atom bomb truly was, from then on, it became the United States of America’s policy to build up a nuclear arsenal, so that no country would ever dare to attack wage war again, for fear of being completely obliterated. This policy was known as deterrent, and it did nothing to improve the shaky relationship between Russia and the west.
Quite understandably, the USSR felt threatened, and decide to build up its own arsenal. Considering the fact that they started late, the Russians did well, and at one point they had more nuclear bombs than the USA (although they didn’t have enough warheads to fire them.) One of the things I find so annoying is people’s fascination with the number of NUKES each country had. Do people really believe that the country with the most would have won? The simple truth is that if nuclear war had broken out, there wouldn’t be ANYONE to celebrate victory. Yes, it is true that the USA’s arsenal was always superior, but really, if you can both blow up the world ten times over, it doesn’t matter at all how many more you have than the other person.
But lets have a look at how the weapons developed. To start of with both countries realised that the problem with their arsenal was that it relied on planes dropping the bombs. The important areas of Russia were so far away from the USA that neither side could get the planes over without refuelling. Further more, if you rely on planes you have to take the possibility that they might be shot down before they reach their target into account. The answer to this was relatively simple, create missiles with a longer range, and you can fire them from bases in your country. Unfortunately for military experts this ‘solution’ was itself flawed. The reason being that these bases would be obvious targets, and come under fire at the beginning of war, this meant that potentially, you could have hundreds of your own missiles exploding on your soil. This led to two developments.
The Americans decided to go the ludicrously expensive way. They would be a huge underground railway system in the American desert, and they would move the missiles along it constantly, so they were never in the same pace twice within the space of a couple of weeks. The Russians developed their space program, and left the Americans (who had thought themselves ahead in this field) flabbergasted, when they got the first man into space, as well as the first satellite. These satellites made it possible for a moving object to keep the enemy in target without any visual clues, this allowed both sides to develop nuclear submarines, and that explains the background to question 2.
But what about the other problems of the cold war, war by proxy would be an interesting one to look into at greater depth.
The two most famous would have to be the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
Korea was the scene of huge social upheaval, and during this time of change, two opposing fractions came into being. One communist, took power in the north, and one capitalist/democratic in the south. The south received international support in the form of advice and practical help, but the north received military aid and equipment from the USSR, this meant that when it came down to it, the North was a lot more powerful militarily. Eventually the communist party in the north of Korea decided to wage war, and they were very effective. In just a few short weeks they had taken almost the entire south, but things changed when the Americans came in, and the Northern armies were pushed back further than they had come. The only thing that stopped the advance was the stirring of Communist china’s military machine, as it became worried that the Americans were getting to close to its own borders. Although there was no direct confrontation between the USSR and the west, this hidden battle underlined everything the two powers wanted, the destruction of the other.
Then there was Vietnam, much the same as Korea, in terms of political scene. Communists wanted control of the country, and the USA sent soldiers to beat them back. The only significant difference for the purposes of this study is that the Americans were defeated, and this humiliation led to a self imposed break from the world that has only recently been mended, after the attacks America has faced in the last few years.
The last thing that must be mentioned is the Cuba missile crisis. Cuba is a communist island state, very close to America. The USA had already made an attempt at capturing it, but had failed dismally, however, this didn’t put an end to the west’s determination to control Cuba, and when they found that the USSR was setting up a missile base there, within a few hundred miles of the eastern seaboard, the Americans went ballistic. For a few weeks the world held its breath, for fear of what might follow. America demanded that all the ships bearing missiles to Cuba be turned back around, or there would be war. Russia refused, and instead declared that any attempt to capture or destroy the ships would be answered by war. The old theory that nuclear missiles are so powerful no leader will ever use hem was challenged here, and for a while it seemed as if rational headed men would destroy the planet. It was only at the very last minute that war was avoided. The Russians agreed to remove the missiles form Cuba, if America removed her missiles from Turkey. Both sides lived up to their side of the bargain, although the missiles in turkey were long out of date, and the bargain was probably an excuse for both sides to back out without losing face.
The cold war is now over, the Soviet Union just a memory in the minds of many people across the globe. So what is the relationship like now? And why is America offering to give money to safely destroy a rapidly ageing and dangerous nuclear submarine fleet that the new Russian government has inherited?
Well, first of all lets look at the relationship. As I have said before, people still look upon Russia as a highly strange and dangerous land; no one can truly believe that Russia has changed that much. People still think of the Russian Government as communist, and indeed, the Communist party did receive 15% of the vote at the last national election. Even the new president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, cannot be entirely disassociated with the Communists. In fact he was head of the KGB, the USSRs political police, during the last days of the Union. There can be no doubt then that he holds some Communist beliefs.
Still, despite the fact their election system has been called into disrepute, and despite the fact that the present leader of the country had done little to make his country more democratic, no one can deny that Russia has made great progress. It is now an official democratic federation, and at least there are a number of different political parties in parliament. The greatest change, though, has been that made to the economy, and it is because of these changes that Putin is so popular. It could be argued that the Soviet Union collapsed because the people had had enough o poverty, and they had glimpsed at all the benefits in the west. Because Russia had decided to develop closer links with the west, in order to benefit from their technology, the people of Russia got a true glimpse of the world outside their country, after years of politically enforced isolation. They realised that most of the nightmare stories they had been told were exaggerated or simply untrue. And they wanted to be as well off as their opposite numbers in the west. Because the country decided to go capitalist, people suddenly found that they were able to make money for themselves; they were able to run businesses for their own success and well being, not that of the country. For the first time in years, a middle class is coming onto existence again, and for now, the people of Russia don’t really seem to care who runs the country, as long as things get better for them. Relations are improving, but both sides are still wary of the other.
As for the submarines, well, the Soviet Union collapsed because it could no longer afford to run itself. Everything was falling into a state of disrepair. One story (a true one) sums up the situation. The state was so poor economically that when the power companies became privatised, the Russian Navy could not afford to pay for electricity. It was forced to send armed sailors down to the station, to ensure it had enough power to control the nuclear generators. The submarines have not been repaired or updated for a number of years now, and because of this they are highly unstable, and pose a threat to the environment, some of them should have sunk years ago. It could be argued that the Americans are offering money to improve relations between the two countries, and to prevent an environmental disaster, I am sure that that is part of it, but I feel it is important to note that the Americans are only paying for the dismantlement of the most modern submarines, the ones that still pose a military threat, not the older ones that will cause the real problems. What does that tell us about the constantly changing relationship then? I know what I think, but I won’t go into detail, suffice to say that there is an awful lot of mistrust on both sides. Governments may change, but the people near the top often stay the same, and I’m not just talking about Russia either.
The most up to date story of the Russian navies problems is that of there flagship, that has recently been sent back to port, because of some alleged problems with the nuclear reactor, although they are now saying it was because of the living conditions onboard. They may not be lying; a nuclear reactor leak usually does lead to some pretty nasty conditions.
Anyway, the relationship has changed hugely in the last 100 years, and no one could deny that Russia is perhaps the greatest example of rapid political, economic and social upheaval of its time, perhaps of any time. Never has a country experienced so much change, and never has change come at such a price, the lives of millions, and the shattered dreams of a few.