The Tsar faced many problems in 1900. These problems were mainly brought on by the economic and social changes occurring worldwide in the 19th century. With industrialisation came the need for change, something which the Tsars had been unwilling to do for years which merely built up the problems. In 1900 these problems were widespread and difficult for the Tsar to deal with. Many of these issues such as the need for agricultural development and an improvement in social conditions were issues which would take a lot of time to improve and would often be expensive. There were however other short term problems which Nicholas II faced, particularly the opposition to the Tsar from political groups. There was growing calls for reform amongst these groups, and Nicholas II would have felt he had to deal with them.
Opposition groups were a problem in 1900 for Tsar Nicholas II. There were 3 main groups of opposition; the liberals, the socialist revolutionaries and the social democrats. The liberals were a non-militant or extremist group who challenged the absolute power of the Tsar, wanting a constitutional monarchy, but perhaps not total democracy.
This was because the liberals were mainly made up of upper and middle classes so would have little interest in the peasants, who were angered by the lack of democracy in Russia. They were influenced by foreign ideas especially European liberal ideas where democratic governments were in place in many countries. They didn’t want the Tsar to be removed, instead they wanted him to surrender some power and run a constitutional monarchy. The main danger of the Liberals was that if reform was granted then this may start the ‘ball of change rolling’ and the people wanting more and more reform and change and the Tsar would find it hard to resist this demand. Also despite their demands not being extreme or too radical when compared to the other opposition groups they opposed the system of Tsarism and the tsar would be averse to granting any change since it went against hundreds of years of tradition.
The socialist revolutionaries were the party with the most potential support since their support base was the peasants. They wanted the removal of the Tsar and for it to be replaced by ‘peasant socialism’. This was the idea that peasants would own the land and work it collectively. For this idea to work the Tsar and Tsarism would need to be completely removed. They were willing to use violence to achieve this aim which made them a danger to the safety of the Tsar. Despite their large potential support they were limited by the fact that the party itself was divided. Also the party had high class intellectual leaders, however the peasants, their support base were very weak as a political force because of their lack of education and their general insignificance in the grand scheme of Russia were a feudal system was in place and peasants were on the bottom rung of this ‘social ladder’.
The social democrats were the next large political opposition. Their support base was the industrial workers of which there were not that many in Tsarist Russia because many of the population worked the land and were not industrial workers. However the advantage of their support being workers is that they were located in cities which is a good strategic position for them to be in. Their support was however more theoretical than practical since there was no way of mobilising support, and in 1900 many workers wouldn’t have actively supported them. The party was run by intellectual men such as Lenin and Trotsky, however the leaders of this party were in exile and so could not unite support or conduct party matters very well since they were in different countries.
The Tsar could deal with opposition groups in one of two ways. He could either concede to the opposition groups, or he could repress the opposition to try and diminish their threat to him. He was well placed to do either of these options, and both would probably have reduced the threat to him from opposition groups. To reform he could bring in some liberal amendments to appease the opposition, particularly the liberals. This would perhaps lessen the pressure on him from opposition groups. This however would not have appeased the socialist revolutionaries or the social democrats because they wanted the complete removal of the tsar and the system of Tsarism.
Nicholas could also draw up a constitution which he would be forced to obey to reduce resistance to his regime. This again may not have pacified the social democrats or revolutionaries since he would still have power, however if he granted change it is possible that they may have accepted his rule if he would make concessions. He could also set up a parliament to increase democracy in Russia and so reduce opposition which would probably appease all opposition. However all of these reforms would have been fairly drastic. The Tsar ruled by ‘Divine Hereditary Right’, and if Nicholas honestly believed in this he would be unwilling to relinquish his power as he would have believed he was Gods appointed ruler. Also hundreds of years of tradition meant the Tsar was the ultimate ruler and he would probably be reluctant to go against tradition and surrender his power as he would feel pressured into preserving the status quo. Therefore the Tsar was more likely to repress the opposition than concede to them.
To repress the opposition he could use a number of well tried and tested techniques which the Tsars had been using for years. He could censor publications and the media to remove negative comments or opinions about him so he did not lose support. He could also sensor opposition publications to prevent them gaining support. The Tsar could also exile the leaders of opposition, which would therefore weaken the party and potentially prevent them from developing. He could also use the Okhrana, the secret police to infiltrate opposition. This would lead to arrests of leaders and also intelligence being built up by the Okhrana so that the party’s movements and activities would be known. Nicholas could also use propaganda against opposition groups to lose them support and also gain him support by exaggerating his successes. Finally in extreme cases Nicholas II could use troops against uprisings or large riots to crush any large threats which grew out of hand.
The Tsar was also faced by many long term problems. In 1900 Russia’s administration was very unorganised and backwards. Corruption was ripe and people were promoted and held positions on their status rather than their abilities. This weakness was compounded by the fact that the civil service was inundated with pieces of paper such as annual reports which had to submitted. Thousands of pieces of paper were collected which was impossible to sort through and organise. To transform the Civil Service would have been a long, tedious and expensive process for the Tsar, which wouldn’t have been helped by the fact that Russia’s sheer size worked against him, since to organise an efficient Civil Service to cover 23 million square kilometres would have been a logistical nightmare. Therefore Nicholas II was not well placed to deal with the problem of his inefficient Civil Service due to the expense, time and organisation needed.
Nicholas II was also faced with the problem of the need to increase industrial production. Due to reforms by Alexander III industry had been improved, however despite this production was not as high as in European countries with whom Russia would have liked to compete. Russia did not lack the resources for large industrial production with large oil reserves and iron deposits, however it lacked the man power and machinery. Machinery and foreign advisers could be brought in to Russia, and with such a vast population manpower was not short. However the weakness of the transport system in Russia meant it was difficult to transport the resources to the sites of production around the Urals. Also Russia traditionally had a rural based community and so traditions would have to change to increase production and bring workers to the cities. Also Nicholas was faced by the unavoidable fact that this was a long term commitment which took countries like Britain years to accomplish. Also such an undertaking would be very expensive and Russia’s economy wasn’t altogether very strong. For these reasons the Tsar wasn’t very well placed to solve the problem of slow industrialisation and therefore may have concentrated on other issues.
In the views of Marx industrialisation could not take place without there first being an agricultural revolution. Therefore agriculture was in need of improvement. In the times of the Tsar agriculture was very backwards in Russia, far behind that of European countries and struggling to keep up with Russia’s population. This was partly down to the fact that there were no innovators in Russian agriculture such as Jethro Tull in Britain to revolutionise Russian agriculture.
Without this revolution in agriculture it would be difficult for Russia to industrialise swiftly because industrial workers would be needed for this and so agriculture had to become more efficient to produce as much food with fewer workers. This would also involve a change in Russian society as people would need to move to cities for industrial production whereas historically the majority of Russians were rural dwellers. Nicholas II was ill equipped to deal with this problem because it was a massive, long-term, expensive undertaking even with the import of foreign machinery and advisors. It had taken a lot of money and time for the agricultural revolution to be reached in Britain and Nicholas had neither the funds for it, nor the time at present. He needed to improve the situation quickly which agricultural improvements would not do.
Nicholas II had the problem of the poor social conditions and structure of Russia. Russia’s social structure was more like a medieval feudal system than a 19th century one when compared to that of most of Europe and the USA. The peasants were largely uneducated which prevented developments in agriculture and industry so confounded others of Nicholas’ problems. Nicholas was not in a position to deal with the lack of education because of the funds which this would have required. Peasants lived in poverty whereas the minority upper classes lived in prosperity. Conditions for factory workers were especially poor with many of them living and working in appalling conditions for measly pay. Therefore there was a lack of incentive to become an industrial worker which hindered production. This unequal spread of wealth was a problem, however even if Nicholas II had been able to totally change the social structure of Russia, which he wasn’t due to the time scale of such a large undertaking, it is unlikely he would have wanted to since he had little to gain from such an action. It would have angered the upper classes and so won him more enemies.
Overall Tsar Nicholas II was not well placed to deal with the problems he faced in 1900. There were no immediate solutions to the issues he faced and in the face of growing opposition and discontent this was what he required. Many of the long term problems he faced would need to be brought in over a long period of time and also at great expense which meant he was less able to deal with them since it may take a life time to complete some of them. The short term problems Nicholas II faced were much more easy to manage, either by repression or concession. Therefore since repression was the policy he was most likely to pursue Tsar Nicholas II would have been forced to repress in the short term while bringing in a number of long term reforms, something which he had neither the vision nor the skill to do. In the words of The Miniaturist ‘only a genius’ could have ‘coped with the task of ruling a vast Empire in the grips of a deepening revolutionary crisis… and Nicholas was no genius’.