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Russias Involvement in Ww1 Rather Than the Revolutioary Parties Caused the Collapse of Tsarism

Essay by review  •  December 27, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  1,134 Words (5 Pages)  •  1,107 Views

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2. Russia's involvement in World War 1, rather than the revolutionary parties, caused the collapse of Tsarism in February 1917.' Discuss.

Russia's involvement in the Great War is accepted as a major factor in the collapse of the Tsarist system but whether it takes precedence in importance over the influence of the revolutionary parties is debateable. Historians are split between those who believe that the revolution was an inevitability, which was just hastened by war and those who believe that the revolution would not have had sufficient support to succeed in a peacetime situation. There is a significant amount of evidence in favour of the latter theory.

To gain a perspective on the plausibility of this theory the situation in pre-war Russia must be compared with the situation that fostered revolution 1917. In the period between 1905 to 1914 Russia was not in a favourable state economically, politically or socially when compared to the other great powers; but progress was being made which was to a certain extent appeasing both the liberals and socialist elements in the population. Following the 1905 revolution the Tsar had been forced to realise that the autocracy was fighting a losing battle against political agitators and opponents of the regime.1 So a policy of economic and political change was adopted in an attempt to pacify both the masses and the regimes political opponents. (At this time the liberals and moderate socialists were still seen as the real threat to autocracy)

The most immediate political changes were made in the October Manifesto, which was reactionary legislation to the 1905 action and promised political change and civil liberties. Between this October legislation and the Imperial manifesto of February 1906 a bicameral legislature was established but with the Tsar maintaining an absolute veto on all proposed legislation. This October Manifesto and subsequent legislation was spurned by most of the socialists and Liberals but it did demonstrate the direction the government was going and showed it would reform somewhat when forced to. 2 The proceeding years (1906-11) were dominated by, the minister of the Interior from July 1906, Peter Stolypin whose used strong arm tactics to quell the unrest in the country. This combined with an increasingly reactionary monarchy and an ineffective Duma further alienated the General public (especially ethnic minorities) and opposition parties.

But it was not all-bad news; there was also considerable economic and social development between 1906 and 1914 which somewhat quelled support for some of the more extreme political factions. Industrial growth was beginning to lift Russia out of its backwardness and peasants generally had higher incomes and more rights. Stolypins educational and agrarian reforms were particularly progressive and somewhat reduced the militancy of the peasantry which Lenin always stressed was to be crucial in the coming revolution.3 It can be deduced from this that Russia was on the whole, gradually becoming a more stable state through economic and social development. And it can be argued that had it continued on this path that the anarchic conditions that fostered revolution in 1917 would not have existed if not for the outbreak of war.

The one thing that the Russian establishment did not have was time, time for the reforms to really have an effect. Stolypin had said that his agrarian reforms needed twenty years of peace to have significant consequence. (They were in effect ended in 1915 largely due to the war) This can also be applied to both industrial and political development despite the continuing agrarian disturbances and widespread strike action. Russia in 1914 had only sown the seeds of change and the crucial thing that these seeds of change needed to prosper was peacetime, but instead the largest conflict in human history broke out, with disastrous consequences for the autocracy.

Bolsheviks later claimed that revolution was imminent after the general strike of 1914 but was subverted by the wave of patriotism following the outbreak of war. 4 But the strike was largely limited to the capital St. Petersburg where little more than one quarter of the workforce took part. It failed to attract the support of the liberal moderates and unlike in 1917, the army remained loyal to the government. The circumstances simply weren't extreme enough to create enough support for a complete overthrow of the system. The devastation caused by war was the missing factor.

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