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Russian Revolution Essay

In 1900 Russia was the last remaining absolute autocracy out of the great powers of Europe. Approximately eighty four per cent of Russians were peasants, lead by an over privileged upper class who had enslaved them for centuries. There existed a total lack of understanding or sympathy between the workers/peasants and their ruling class, who cared little about their responsibility and obligation to care for the welfare of their people. By the turn of the century many voices emerged in hope to see reforms of their backward nation. For many years there had been desire for reform, but not until the layer upon layer of revolutionary pressure in the precondition phase did it blatantly warn of change, which Tsar Nicholas 2nd attempted to ignore and oppress. However, his oppression only fueled the fire of revolutionary minds and hearts, who despite superficial concessions by the Tsar in 1905 strived to see a permanent transformation of their great yet backward nation. From the period 1900-1917 the events such as Bloody Sunday, the great strikes, famines and war would confront and enchant the Russian people and eventually leaders to revolution and an end to a 300 year dynasty.

The Tsar Nicholas the 2nd was a man who’s ignorance of his people’s hardships combined with his resistance to any political reform tragically led to his abdication and eventual assassination. He and all those loyal to him believed that he had a divine right from God to be the absolute ruler of Russia, therefore any attempt to undermine his power such as the formation of a constitutional monarchy was believed to be against the will of God. Nicholas 2nd was greatly out of touch with his people, and only received censored reports from the ministers he personally appointed. The many strikes from 1899 to 1903 were crushed with the force of his army, forbidding the population to have any alternate political voice. The peaceful protest of January 1905 lead by father Giorgi Gapon, was responded to with the brutal forces which had oppressed the majority of the Russian people for centuries. Any alternate political voice was outlawed, resulting in the execution, imprisonment or exile of identified revolutionaries. Core to the Tsar’s belief was absolute power, or none, and it was this resilience which would lead to his abdication, his inability to accept and compromise power over the Russian people whom he had little in common.

The upper class of Russian society had little to complain about in the beginning of the century, the many parties, picnics and concerts gave them little to complain about. Controlling most of the wealth of Russia, the upper-class nobles had no desire for change to their luxurious and decadent lifestyle. They had little will to help the starving and toiling masses, and chose to merely accept that it was God’s intention for those to be poor. The wealthy were so out of touch with the majority of Russian society that they did not at first take seriously the signs of revolution around them; the many emerging political parties, the growing amount of strikes and assassinations, and the increasing incidences of violence in the countryside. This ruling class supported the autocracy and had no intention to change Russia in the preconditions to the revolution.

Russia’s middle class had varying views upon the leadership of their country. The rich middle class had a healthy and relatively easy lifestyle and therefore little desire for change. However it was the middle class which fostered the intelligentsia who were the minds that fueled the revolution. As the working and peasant classes were without education, it was the well educated yet not overtly wealthy section of the middle class who developed revolutionary ideas, writings and underground political discussions. The Liberal party was supported by the educated and middle classes, which believed that Russia should become a constitutional monarchy with free democratic elections and that people should be granted civil liberties such as freedom of speech, association and worship. This group of people would in 1905 form the party named the Cadets. In addition the “father” of the revolution, Lenin, was raised in a middle class family with an excellent education at primary, secondary and tertiary level. The middle class who supported change provided the educated few who would provide leadership to the dissatisfied masses.

The Russian Orthodox Church created and supported the core belief that the Tsar was the only fit ruler of Russia. The power of the church, like it had been for centuries in many other countries, taught its followers to accept hardship, and believe that it was always God’s intention. It encouraged the people to believe that the Tsar was chosen by God to rule and protect them, and mislead them to believe that he had their best interests at mind. However, the people eventually realized that their “little father” had no interest in their welfare, and hence revolutionary groups condemned religion and the Orthodox Church which made people accept their unjustifiable hardships.

There also existed supporters outside of Russia who had an opinion of the ruling of Russia, especially during the Second World War. Allies of Russia, France and Britain, believed that any revolution in Russia during the First World War would lead to their retreat from the war and henceforth allow Germany and its allies to concentrate its army on the western front. Without Russia in the war its Allies would be in great vulnerability to the forces of Germany and Austria Hungary, giving them every reason to resist change until revolution inevitably broke out. It was Russia’s enemy Germany who provided a sealed train through the battlefields in 1917, containing approximately 30 revolutionaries. One of these was Lenin. It was in Germany’s best interests that they send people to Russia who would hopefully stir it up, as a revolution at the time would almost grant them victors.

The peasantry of Russia from 1860 had seen little real change in their living and working conditions, allowing continuous discontent due to their economic hardships and a harsh unsympathizing leader. Despite freedom from serfdom and the availability of government loans to buy land in 1861, they were in reality still enslaved by the wealthy landowners to whom they were indebted. In addition to this crushing debt, the peasantry would still use backward, inefficient agricultural methods using small strips of land. There was hardly enough land in comparison to the amount of peasants and mouths to feed, resulting in widespread famine. The government charged incredibly heavy taxes on grain and other produce, as well as every day items such as wheat and alcohol. There were poor harvests in 1900 and 1902 creating great famines and mass starvation in the country side. Such poor conditions and a series of harsh seasons led to outbreaks of violence against local landlords, burning their houses and seizing land for themselves. In reality, the uneducated masses of peasants would most probably have support a revolution which would allow them to own their own land without debts and fair taxes. The complaints of the peasants remained unheard by the leaders until certain political parties would rally to them in order to gain mass support for their causes. The assassinations of landlords and taking over of land did little in the long run other than to show signs of discontent; it was not until they could be organized and united by a strong leader would their complaints be listened to.

The Stolypin reforms resulted in more discontent as the most efficient peasants, which consisted of only around 15%, were allowed to buy land of those who were less enterprising, however this resulted in many losing their land without anything to feed their families on. Some would go to the cities and join the working class; others would roam the country side for work. Nevertheless, only a small percentage of peasantry would see an improvement in their living conditions upon the outbreak of the First World War, resulting in the increased pressure for revolution.

The working class of the relatively new industrial centers went through waves of discontent from 1900 to the offset of the revolution. Terribly poor working, sanitary and living conditions caused the workers to itch for reform, firstly by means of peaceful protest, then repeated strikes and acts of violence. After 1900, workers wages rose little, especially in comparison to inflation. In 1902 an industrial slump caused thousands of workers to lose their jobs. This created conditions for an outbreak of strikes, acts of violence and assassinations. The low wages, increasing food prices and declining working conditions only fuelled the industrial unrest which was crushed by the Tsar’s forces, killing thousands of protesting workers.

By 1917 there had been formed many parties which initially developed in the underground. The beliefs of Populism had influenced the socialist revolutionaries whose primary motivation for reform was the program of the “communization of the land”, where peasant life would be centered on the village, freed from the oppression of rural master, civil and personal liberties would be granted and everybody would have a right to education. Like most other revolutionary parties, they believed in the overthrow of the Tsarist regime and its replacement with a democratic, representative government. The socialist revolutionaries were mostly supported by the peasants, hence the occasional referral to them as the “Peasant’s Party”.

The Social Democratic Workers Party closely followed Marxist principles, believing that the road to a communist revolution was through different phases, including a intermediate capitalist stage. They believed that the working class would eventually rise up against their oppressive capitalist employers (the dictatorship of the proletariat), and create a system where there would be no rankings and all citizens would be treated equally no matter what their occupation would be. At the congress of this party in 1903 there were recognized two different groups which would split the party. The Bolsheviks, or majority, headed by Lenin, believed that the masses should be led by and elite party to which membership should be exclusive. In contrast, the Mensheviks, or minority led by Martov, believed that all people should be able to become members of the party. This main ideological difference separated the party at the only time when Lenin’s fraction would actually be in majority. Even when sent to prison and exiled to Siberia for being a revolutionary, this vivacious leader would still write about the collapse of the regime which killed his older brother and which was still oppressing him. Lenin’s beliefs became too extreme for many, as he specifically believed in the violent and bloody overthrow of the autocracy, and even challenged Marxism by preferring to rush through the supposedly lengthily capitalist phase of a country’s development into a communist state. He stressed the importance of the correct time to ignite revolution, and it was upon his return to Russia in 1917 that he knew the starved, war-torn and disillusioned country would be at boiling point in readiness to change.

Until 1917 the Russian armed forces had suffered a series of humiliating military defeats leading to outbreaks of mutiny and abandonment. The Russo-Japanese war saw the sound defeat of Russia’s aspirations to establish a naval base in Korea and Port Arthur. The sailors of the battleship Potemkin mutinied in 1905 and the losses of Russia’s Baltic Fleet and Far Eastern Army were demoralizing and deplorable. In 1914 the initial enthusiasm for Russia’s participation in the First World War quickly waned. The decisive defeats of the poorly organized Russian army against the Germans at Tannenberh and the Masurian lakes killed, wounded or took prisoner 8 million soldiers by 1917. Desertions began to be commonplace, the incompetent and ineffective officers allowed men to perish without ammunition or weapons, in the freezing cold without adequate weather protection. Upon return to their home towns or cities, the key force to change or its resistance was willing to support those revolutionaries who would end the war and slaughter of their comrades.

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