There were many causes of the collapse of the Tsarist regime. One of the biggest causes, however, was the First World War, as it had many effects on everyone in Russia, who all blamed the Tsar. The Tsar abdicated in 1917 because he had no control over anyone in Russia. He had no support. This was because everyone in Russia blamed the Tsar for something. They layed all the blame at his feet because he was in charge and was the only person who could change things.
One of the main reasons why the 1905 revolution failed was because the Tsar had the support and control of the military. By the time the 1917 revolution had started, the Tsar had lost this support and control. He had no protection. This happened because of the war. Firstly, the army was very poorly equipped, as some men didn’t have any boots and only a third of men had rifles. The army also had very incompetent leaders. There is evidence of this in the battles at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes. In both of these, the ‘huge Russian armies’ (Brooman 1994) were wiped out when they should have easily beaten a single German army. The poor leadership combined with the poorly equipped army made Russia suffer many defeats in the war.
By 1917, 0.8 million Russian troops had been killed, 4.6 million wounded and 3.3 million captured. The fact that the war was very long also linked with the defeats to cause the soldiers to have very low morale. The shortage of medical supplies was exacerbated by the continuance of the war. This meant that the soldiers were poorly looked after and this led to the army losing their loyalty to Tsar Nicholas II. The army blamed the Tsar for all their problems, and they got even more chance to blame the Tsar in 1915, when he decided to go to the war front and run the army himself. The army could now blame the Tsar for everything bad in the military. They blamed him for all their defeats in the war. The low morale and loyalty eventually led to the army defecting and joining the revolutionaries. The spirit of the army was falling and General Krymov felt that ‘A revolution is imminent’. The Tsar had no way of protecting himself, and now, he had lost the reason why the last revolution had failed. This, in turn, ended up with the collapse of the Tsarist regime.
Even without the army’s support, the Tsarist government would not have collapsed without the revolutionaries. The revolutionaries were mostly workers back at the home front. They had many problems themselves because of the war, and again, blamed the Tsar. The workers’ problems were bad enough, but the First World War was the catalyst that pushed them over the edge. Before the war, there were worker protests about wages and working hours. The peasants were also already annoyed at the Tsar because of the land problems. They had to make redemption payments each year because they didn’t own the land they were growing things on. They wanted their own land. There were many shortages on the home front due to the war. The most important shortages were that of food and fuel. Many peasants were called to the army to fight. This factor is inextricably linked with the army defecting as many peasants fled the army to get home so that they got their fair share of land when they rebelled.
This also meant that there were less farmers, and as a result of this, less food being produced. At the same time, this food was being transported to the army. The fuel shortage also meant that people were cold. The winter of 1916/17 worsened this by making conditions even colder for the Russian population. Temperatures went as low as 35ï¿½C below zero. Supplies of grain, coal, wood and oil dwindled to nothing. The shortage of fuel also led to many factories closing, causing many workers to become unemployed. As a consequence of this, people fell into poverty. This was exacerbated by the inflation that had started. All of this resulted in the workers and peasants protesting and going on strike. In 1917, there were 1330 strikes with 676,286 strikers, compared to 61 strikes with 31,907 strikers in 1914, before the war. These poor conditions were, again, blamed on the Tsar, as he was the only person capable of changing or dealing with these things, as it was an autocracy. The Tsar had no support or control, and the workers and peasants started a revolution. The Tsar could do nothing, as it was now passed the point of no return, and the Tsarist regime collapsed.
Lastly, the Tsarist government collapsed due to the First World War because of its own actions. When the Tsar left for Petrograd in 1915 to run the war, he left the wartime government in the hands of the Tsarina, Alexandra, and Rasputin. This was a mistake, as the Russian population disliked both Alexandra and Rasputin. They didn’t like the Tsarina because she was German and they thought she was a spy for the war. They didn’t like Rasputin because of his character. ‘Rasputin’ meant ‘the disreputable one’. He drank heavily and had many affairs. He took part in wild orgies and he once raped a nun. He was very unpopular. The people also didn’t like the fact that Alexandra and Rasputin appeared to be having an affair.
They replaced ministers of the Duma with their ‘friends’ and this meant that there was nobody organizing food, fuel or other supplies. This was, therefore, a cause of the shortages on the home front. The transport system wasn’t run properly and couldn’t supply the factories, people and army at the same time. Thousands of tones of butter, meat and grain rotted while people went hungry. Russia fell into chaos. The Russian people blamed this wartime government for all their problems. When the Duma president, Rodzianko, called for a new government to deal with all these problems and because the capital was in a state of anarchy, he was ignored by the Tsar, because he was told by the Tsarina to listen to Rasputin. As well as blaming the government for all their problems, the people also blamed the Tsar for leaving that government in charge. They lost faith in the Tsar and were ready to revolt. The Tsarist regime, therefore, collapsed partly because of its own actions.
The First World War was a major factor in the collapse of the Tsarist regime. This was because it had effects on everyone that snowballed together to form a crisis in Russia. If the Tsar had kept control of the army, he could have dealt with the revolution, however, if Russia had been better ruled, there may not have been a revolution in the first place. All of the effects of the First World War worked together to result in the collapse of the Tsarist regime.
2) Examine A) The unpopularity of the Provisional Government and B) Lenin’s leadership. Explain how these two factors acted together to help the Bolsheviks seize power in 1917 (8 marks)
The Bolsheviks seized power in 1917 because of two main factors: the unpopularity of the Provisional Government and Lenin’s strong leadership. These two things acted together to help the Bolsheviks into power. The Bolsheviks wouldn’t have got power if the Provisional Government had been unpopular on its own, or if the Bolsheviks had been strong without a weak government already in place.
The Provisional Government was made to look weak and ineffective, and at the same time, the Bolsheviks became very popular and looked strong. This resulted in the Bolsheviks gaining power in 1917. The Provisional Government was made to look weak through its failure to make decisions or changes because they wanted to wait until a new government was elected in six months time. The people didn’t want to wait that long. They looked for an alternative and found it in the form of the Bolsheviks. While the Provisional Government weren’t making any changes, the Bolsheviks had a clear plan of what they wanted to change and do. They promised decisive change, unlike the Provisional Government. They promised ‘Peace, Land, Bread’ to the people in Lenin’s April Theses.
The First World War was a large problem for all of Russia at this time. Everyone wanted to end the war and stop the shortages and other problems. However, the Provisional Government decided to stay in the war. They did this because they didn’t want to admit defeat in the war. They also felt they had to stay in the war because they didn’t want to abandon their allies. The food, fuel and other shortages continued because of the war. A huge offensive in July 1917 failed and Russia suffered death and defeat again. The Bolsheviks, on the other hand, were the only group who stood up against the war. After the failed attack in July 1917, people protested about the war, and the Bolsheviks led these protests in the ‘July Days’. They wanted what the people wanted. They promised peace and an end to Russia’s part in World War One through their April Theses. The Bolsheviks were becoming more and more popular with the people of Russia. At the same time, the Provisional Government was becoming unpopular for continuing Russia’s problems.
Another major problem in Russia at this time was the land problem. 80% of the Russian population was peasants and they didn’t even own the land that they were farming on. The Provisional Government did nothing to solve this problem. They wanted to wait for the new government in six months time. They also believed that if they gave land to the peasants, other peasants would desert the army and come home to get land. The peasants couldn’t wait this long and started to take land anyway. They killed landlords and stole land. Some peasants were whipped and had their houses burned, but the violence continued. The Provisional Government had no control over the peasants. By contrast, the Bolsheviks and Lenin promised that land would be given to the peasants through their April Theses – ‘Peace, Land, Bread’. This made the people support the Bolsheviks even more and turn away from the Provisional Government.
Although the Provisional Government gave people many civil rights, it wasn’t enough. They freed political prisoners and announced that there would be freedom of the press, speech, the right to strike and an end to social discrimination and the death penalty. Although the people of Russia appreciated this, the things they really wanted were an end to the war and an end to the land problems. The Bolsheviks, however, offered all of this. They offered the same as the Provisional Government and an end to the war and the land problems. They also promised to champion the rights of the masses. Even when the Provisional Government offered something good, the Bolsheviks offered better. The Bolsheviks looked even stronger compared to the Provisional Government.
The Provisional Government had many opponents and did nothing to get rid of them. Instead, they were allowed to grow and become stronger. They even controlled Russia with dual power. One of their opponents was the Petrograd Soviet. They had army support and worked with the Provisional Government. The Provisional Government was official, but the Petrograd Soviet had the power. The Bolsheviks were also an opponent of the Provisional Government. They were defeated in the July Days but were then released and given weapons to fight the Provisional Government other opponent, General Kornilov.
He was a right wing general who was only stopped with the help of the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks, however, did not tolerate any opposition. They wanted power for the Soviets exclusively and were prepared to take up arms against their rivals, which they did against Kornilov. The Provisional Government allowing oppositions to grow made them look weak, whereas the Bolsheviks looked strong because they knew what they wanted and they wouldn’t allow other groups to get in their way. The Kornilov revolt also proved helpful in getting the Bolsheviks power. The Provisional Government looked weak because they were unable to defend themselves and the Bolsheviks looked strong because they were prepared to fight. They were also seen as heroes and became very popular. They Provisional Government was unpopular and the Bolsheviks were strong. The Bolsheviks were going to seize power.
Another way in which the unpopularity of the Provisional Government and Lenin’s leadership worked together to help the Bolsheviks seize power was the support they had. The Provisional Government had no support. On the other hand, the Bolsheviks had the support of the army, the workers and the peasants. This may have been partly to do with the leaders of the two parties. The Provisional Government had no strong leader that stood out. They didn’t have anyone who was capable of being a charismatic leader. The Bolsheviks, however, had very strong leadership in Lenin. Lenin appealed to the people of Russia because he tried everything to look and act like a worker – like one of the Russian people. He wore an ill-fitting suit and a crooked tie and looked like a small tradesman.
The people thought that he was one of them. ‘He has the ear of the man in the street, and of the man in the factory and barracks!’ (V. Serge – ‘From Lenin to Stalin’). He was ‘a man of iron will and inflexible ambition’ (‘The Times’ 1924). He made brilliant speeches that inspired people. He organised and planned the revolution and ‘there is no doubt that without Lenin the Bolshevik coup would have been postponed and might have failed’. He ‘provided tight control, and a degree of discipline and unity which the other parties lacked’. He was a strong and effective leader who was very popular with the Russian people. While the Provisional Government became unpopular with no real leader to follow, the Bolsheviks had mass support and a strong, charismatic leader. They were ready to seize power.
The unpopularity of the Provisional Government and Lenin’s strong leadership acted together to help the Bolsheviks seize power in 1917. One of these factors alone would not have been enough to secure power for the Bolsheviks. The unpopularity of the Provisional Government alone would not have been enough to bring the Bolsheviks to power because without the Bolsheviks presenting themselves as a strong alternative, the people may have chosen another party to rule Russia. As well as this, the strength of the Bolsheviks alone would not have been enough to bring them to power because if the Provisional Government had done well and been strong, the people would have supported them and not been looking for an alternative government. They acted together because as the Provisional Government became weak, unpopular and ineffective, the Bolsheviks were becoming stronger and popular. The people wanted a new government and they chose the Bolsheviks.
3) Was any one of these reasons more important than the others in the Bolshevik revolution? Explain your answer (14 marks)
There were many important factors that led to the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, such as the social and economic problems of the people, the organisation and skill of the Bolsheviks, the unpopularity of the Provisional Government, Tsar Nicholas II’s rule and abdication, Lenin’s strong leadership, the effects of World War One and mutiny in the army. Although all of these factors were important, I think that the effects of World War One were more significant than the others. Without the effects of the First World War, the Bolshevik revolution wouldn’t have happened.
The social and economic problems in Russia were bad. There were land shortages and food shortages because there was very little land that was available to live or farm on. Many people were unemployed, and those that did have a job, protested about their low wages, long working hours and poor working conditions. These problems had been going on for centuries, so they cant have been the main factor in the Bolshevik revolution. The First World War worsened these problems. There were more food shortages because it was being transported to the army. There was a now fuel shortage as well, which left people cold and hungry. Factories closed and left more workers unemployed. Inflation occurred and people fell into poverty. Peasants started to rebel and seize land. The First World War had made Russia’s problems even worse and only when they got this bad, did Russia fall into chaos. It was now at the point of crisis. The First World War had pushed the people over the edge. Without the First World War, these social and economic problems would have stayed the same as they had done for centuries and would not have caused a revolution.
Tsar Nicholas II’s rule was also poor, but again, was not enough to cause a revolution on its own. The First World War contributed to the Tsar looking worse than he was and it highlighted his flaws. Tsar Nicholas II was doing a bad job of ruling Russia in the first place. He handled the war poorly and allowed Russia to get all the problems and shortages during the war. Many people disliked the Tsar because of the way he ruled Russia as an autocracy. However, the First World War, again, pushed the people over the edge. The Tsar was blamed for all the defeats in the war and when he went to the war front, he left Russia in the hands of the Tsarina, Alexandra, and Rasputin, who the people disliked. The Tsarina and Rasputin didn’t control any of the problems and allowed Russia into even more chaos. Without the First World War, the Tsar’s flaws would not have been highlighted. He would not have left Russia to go to the war front and the problems would have been controlled. The Tsar would have stayed in power and, therefore, there would not have been a revolution to get the Bolsheviks power, as the Tsar would still rule and still have some support.
The mutiny in the army was also a major factor in the Bolshevik revolution being a success. This factor was caused by the First World War, rather than worsened by it. During the First World War, the army was very poorly equipped and led. They suffered many defeats and were poorly looked after. Medical supplies were short and men were left dying. Because the Tsar had come to the war front to run the war, the army blamed him for all the defeats. They had very low morale and they lost faith in the Tsar and the government. They defected and joined the revolutionaries. They were not there to protect the Tsar or the Provisional Government, and therefore, the Bolsheviks seized power easily. Without the First World War, the army would not have suffered at all. They would not have fought or been poorly looked after. They would still have had full loyalty to the Tsar and protected him. This would mean that the Tsar would still be in power and the Bolsheviks wouldn’t have been able to get power.
The unpopularity of the Provisional Government also played a major part in the success of the Bolshevik revolution. The people of Russia already disliked the Provisional Government. This was because they did nothing to solve any of the social or economic problems that Russia was experiencing. They wanted to wait for the new government to be elected in six months time. This was too long for some people to wait. The amount of protests and strikers rose and the Provisional Government lost control of many people, including the peasants who rebelled and stole land. The Provisional Government decided to stay in the war because they didn’t want to admit defeat or abandon their allies. Because of this, all of the problems and shortages in Russia continued and got worse and worse.
The Provisional Government looked weak and ineffective and the people started to look for a new government. They found the Bolsheviks. However, it was the First World War that made this worse for the Provisional Government. The First World War had made the problems in Russia too big for the Provisional Government to handle. The people of Russia wanted to end their part in the war and the Provisional Government decided to stay in it. If the First World War had not been there at this time, the problems in Russia would have not been as big, and the Provisional Government may have been able to deal with them. Also, they wouldn’t have been pressurised to withdraw from the First World War. Therefore, the Provisional Government would not have been unpopular and would have been doing a good job. The people of Russia would not have been looking for an alternative government and the Bolsheviks would not have succeeded in their plan to take power.
Even with the Provisional Government looking weak and the people wanting a new government, the Bolsheviks may not have been the replacement without looking strong themselves. They had a very strong and effective leader: Lenin. Lenin was a strong leader because he promised to give the people what they wanted, an end to the war. Without the First World War, he would not have been able to do this and wouldn’t have looked half as strong as he did with the war going on. Lenin was a popular leader because he made himself look like a worker and made the people think that he was one of them. He knew what the people wanted and said things that the people wanted to say but didn’t know how. He was a ‘man of iron will and inflexible ambition’ and made ‘brilliant speeches’ that ‘inspired the workers and soldiers to a determined struggle’. He planned the entire revolution and was very popular amongst the people of Russia. Lenin took advantage of the fact that there was a war going on. He saw that the Provisional Government was weak and very unpopular because of the war and he knew that the people wanted the war to end. Therefore, that is what he offered them, an end to the war and an end to all of their problems. Without the First World War, Lenin would not have been able to do this and wouldn’t have looked as strong. The people of Russia would have chosen another party to take over from the Provisional Government.