There all factors were pre-existing, the war made all

There were a
number of factors which lead to the Russian Revolution in 1917 and brought
about the end to autocracy and Tsarism. It could be argued that the long term
economic and social discontent alongside political tension that hadn’t been
completely resolved following the events in 1905 were the main causes of the
revolution. Fitzpatrick highlights the backward nature of the Russian society
which in return generated social discontent amongst the peasants and workers in
Russia. However, Pipes argues that it was not the social unrest which caused
the revolution but it was the influence of the intelligentsia who were able to
push their agenda, through the tensions created by the First World War. Figes
argues that the poor political decision making by Tsar Nicholas II is the main
cause for the revolution, arguing that had the Tsar’s stubbornness not been
prominent in his ruling, he may have made better political decisions during the
war and therefore, remained in power for longer. However, I empathically
believe that while all factors were pre-existing, the war made all of these conditions
unbearable for the Russian people. With war conditions worsening and the Tsars incompetence
becoming more apparent, the Russian people ensured a successful revolution in
1917 which, contrary to the outcome of the 1905 revolution, made drastic and
everlasting changes to Russia.

The political flaws
in Russia were deep seated and often caused unrest amongst the Russian people.
Dating back to before the outbreak of the 1905 revolution, there had been a
growing plea for reforms to the governing of Russia and the Tsarist regime as a
whole. As Pipe’s states, in 1903 the League of Liberation was set up and led by
Pavel Milyukov and Pyotr Struve. A year later their political demands were
published which included: an end to autocracy, a democratic government based on
universal suffrage, self-determination for all nations in the Russian Empire,
redistribution of land to the peasants and a maximum of an 8 hour day for
workers. These liberal demands were shared amongst several groups in Russian
society yet the Tsar feared the League thus ordering the Okhrana to arrest its
leading members. Despite these demands being widespread, they were repressed by
the Tsar and never properly dealt with, leaving room for the spread of
revolutionary desires. As Orlando Figes asserts the, “the obstinate refusal of
the tsarist regime to concede reforms turned what should have been a political
problem into a revolutionary crisis.”1 Nicholas II was determined to
maintain the strict authoritarian system which had existed in Russia since 1440.
It could be argued that had political concessions been made, there wouldn’t
have been a need for the revolution of 1917 and autocracy could have remained
in Russia. The national upheaval caused by the Bloody Sunday massacre led to the
first Duma being established in 1906 as a result of the Fundamental Laws.
However the hopes of a new democratic Russia were short-lived due to what
Sheila Fitzpatrick regards as, “the old arbitrary habits of autocratic rule”2
which resulted in their powers being considerably limited and their eventual dismissal
through the activation of article 87 after just 73 days due to their supposedly
‘radical’ demands. Once again, the lack of political progression in Russia
despite the crippling demands for it shows, as Figes declares, Nicholas’
inability to, “cope with the task of ruling a vast Empire in the grips of a
deepening revolutionary crisis.”3 Instead of allowing the Duma to
have a degree of democratic power, the Tsar put a stop to it, causing even more
political tension. While the Duma lacked any legitimate power, as expressed by
John Morrison, it did create an, “open clash between society and the regime.”4
It could even be argued that the lack of political change in Russia made the
changes that did occur significant in perhaps sparking revolutionary drive from
the Russian people who felt they had to fight for more reforms.

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The damning
impact of the First World War entrenched the pre-existing political tension
while further intensifying the calls for change, making the revolution a
necessary action in the eyes of the Russian people as does Richard Pipes who
asserts that these political flaws, “proved fatal under the pressure generated by World War I.”5
When first entering the war, morale was high and the “patriotic enthusiasm”6,
as discussed by Seton- Watson, meant that during the lead up to the war, the
Tsar seemed to receive support from the Russian people. Robert Services concurs
with this notion, stating that the War generated a, “new mood of unity (that)
gave one last chance to bring regime.”7 Services interpretation
suggests that the war had the potential to heal the fractures in the regime
that had been exemplified by the 1905 revolution and other calls for reform. However,
Pipes maintains that while the Russian people wanted to dominate the war they
felt that the, “existing government was not able of doing it.”8 On
the eve of the First World War, there was an obvious divide within society
which according to Fitzpatrick, left Russia’s political structure, “fragile and
overstrained.”9 As a result, bodies such as the Zemgor were set up
in 1915 providing aid to the wounded as well as provisions and equipment which
the government was failing to do effectively. Moreover, other bodies such as
War Industries were formed by independent professional groups. Their main aim
was to provide military production to support the war effort as with the
government’s efforts alone, the approx. 6,000,000 men at the home front only
received around 4,000,000 riffles. The sheer lack of modernisation and
competitive weaponry supports Figes claims that the war was, “proof of the
regime’s failure to build a modern state.”10 In addition to the
Zemgor and War Committees being set up, in 1915 the Duma pressurised the Tsar
into reconvening them which saw the development of the Progressive Bloc who
wanted to share the responsibility of the war and not only help the Tsar lead
Russia to victory but also find a “political solution”11 to the crisis building up in
Russia as Figes explains. Similarly, Peter Waldron asserts that the Progressive
Bloc was, “a further
attempt to present the agenda of change which had originally been put forward
in 1905.”12 This highlights the opportunity that the war
presented for the Russian people who still wanted change. However, despite the
opportunity to share the war burden, the Tsar faced the Progressive Bloc with
suspicion and instead announced himself as commander of the military a decision
claimed which is to be ‘disastrous for politics.’ With the reports of
devastating defeats at the Front alongside multiple strikes and social chaos
amounting in cities, the Bloc saw themselves as the last chance for ‘a
political solution.’ I agree with the notion presented by Pipes that the
hostility, heightened by the war, between the Tsar and the Progressive Bloc was
the, “prime immediate cause of the regime’s collapse.”13 As
mentioned, the political tension in Russia dates back, however I believe that
the political climate had never been as fragile as it was during the First
World War. The Tsar’s decision to move to the front was, in my opinion, a fatal
error on his part as it made him directly responsible for all of the military
defeats in the eyes of the Russian people as well as the nobility who Pipes
argues lost their support for the Tsarist regime due to, “poor quality of the
top level military decision making.”14 Had better political
decisions been made during the destructive climate of the war, the Tsarist
regime would have been more likely to survive the war.

Another factor
contributing to the 1917 revolution was the lack of Economic progress made in
Russia and the hardship this created amongst Russian society. As Sheila
Fitzpatrick indifferently states, Russian society was ‘universally regarded’15
as backward at the beginning of the twentieth century particularly in
comparison to the other European superpowers of the time such as Britain and
France.  The 1905 revolution was a result
of social unrest, particularly amongst the peasantry and workers which shows
the inherent problems created by the outdated hierarchy in Russian society
which could have fuelled the collapse of the regime. The ‘Russian Wedding Cake’
poster of 199016 acts as empirical evidence depicting the hardship
felt by those at the bottom of society. It could be argued that this prompted
revolutionary ideas, as displayed in 1905, amongst the peasantry by arousing
anger towards the Tsar and autocracy. In terms of 1917, the peasantry still
constituted 80 per cent of the population, showing that nothing had changed
since the census of 1815. Despite the masses of peasants, they were majorly
inactive in state affairs, illustrating that they “never integrated into the
political structure”17 in Russia as Pipes asserts. Pipes goes on to
outline the on-going problems amongst the peasantry, “hung over Russia like a
black cloud.”18 Pipes and Fitzpatrick share different views on the
impact the peasants had on the Revolution. While Pipes addresses the problems
created by social unrest, he claims that it did not play, “any significant role”19
in the events of 1917.

While some
progress was made during the reign of Alexander II through the emancipation of
Serfs in 1861, Fitzpatrick believes that this was unsuccessful in quieting the
revolutionary spirit of peasants as they, “did not regard it as a just or adequate
emancipation…”20 This suggests that there were still desperate
calls for change however the inherent backwardness in Russian society would
remain present until Nicholas’ abdication in 1917. However Fitzpatrick herself states
that the terms of the Serfs emancipation was designed to, “minimize the change”21
that it caused meaning that their lifestyle remained in many ways, largely
unchanged in the years following the emancipation. She emphasises that their
economic situation would not deteriorate because, as previously mentioned, they
still made up eighty per cent of Russia’s population at the time of the
revolution, meaning major deterioration in living conditions would lead to
opposition to the Tsar. In both Alexander’s Manifesto and Fitzpatrick’s interpretation,
the Serfs were emancipated to prevent political and social unrest. Therefore, it
could be argued that the emancipation of Serfs and its aftermath was not a primary
cause for the collapse of autocracy in 1917. However, Figes does offer an alternative
view, stating that it could be interpreted that the failure of Tsarism could
date back to “centuries of serfdom”22 which left ordinary Russians
lacking “consciousness of citizens.”23 As a result, it could be
argued that the Serfs were responsible for driving the “arbitrary and violent”24
nature of revolutionaries. Interestingly, Figes suggests that the violent
nature of peasants came simply from their observation of the “power of the
gentry’ captain and the police”25 which were inherently violent.
Hence, it could be inferred that Figes blames the violent nature of the Tsarist
regime for the revolutionary and violent influence they had on the peasants and
former serfs.

Industrialisation
was a crucial factor that effected society and the economy as one of Russia’s
strongest industries was iron production, which despite seeing output double
between 1800 and 1850, Russia’s production of iron was still 12 times less than
England’s in 1850. Furthermore, Russia only averaged a wheat yield of 1:3,
whereas England’s average was 1:8. This resulted in severe famine throughout
Russia as well as widespread social impacts as there were 712 peasant uprisings
between 1826 and 1854, demonstrating a desire for change. Workers were
increasingly unhappy particularly during unionisation from 1906-1914. As a
result there were sporadic strikes in Russia from 1906 to 1911 and again from
1912 to 1914. The Lena Goldfields strike and ensuing massacre of April 1912 is
an example of the conflicts between workers and the regime in the final years
of autocracy. The Lena Goldfields strike in particular is said to be due to
long-term grievances such as wanting: better wages, better quality food, an
eight hour working day and many more demands that had been previously made in
Russia. Alan Woods expresses that there was even more: “industrial unrest
following the Lena Goldfields shooting.”26 In the summer of 1914
workers on strike had climaxed to approximately 1,500,000. As Fitzpatrick
expresses, the working class in Russia was, “exceptionally militant and
revolutionary”27 in their own right and the lack of reforms made by
the Tsar to better their working conditions could have unmasked the
revolutionary nature of the working class. Furthermore, Fitzpatrick argues that
the peasantry element of the working class, “probably made it more
revolutionary rather than less.”28 This suggests that the historical
“violent” and “anarchic” nature of the peasantry, which in accordance to the
views of Figes is an extension of “serf culture”29, added to the
revolutionary aspirations amongst workers. While Woods and Fitzpatrick agree on
the extent of social impacts, Fitzpatrick focuses heavily on the peasant unrest
whereas Alan Wood focuses mainly on the effects on workers and industry.

The First World
War had disastrous consequences for Russia both socially and economically.
Firstly, the war worsened Russians economy greatly. Despite having large
quantities of raw materials and fuel, Russia’s extreme dependency on its
railway meant these raw materials weren’t utilised as the Trans-Siberian
railway gave their priorities to the military meaning they were unable to deal
with the demands keeping ordinary Russian’s supplies as well as distributing
the manufactures resources. Additionally, a food crisis arose during the war
due to the peasants refusing to sell their grain to cities. The First World War
had further consequences for Russia economically as it required sustained state
spending to support the war effort and equipped soldiers efficiently. World War
One cost Russia fifteen times more than the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905. As
a result, the state was forced to print excessive amounts of money as well as
take out loans, resulting in faced huge debts as a result of the war, alongside:
soaring inflation rates, exceedingly low levels of revenue and immense
reconstruction costs. These consequences of war left Russia’s economy and
social prosperity utterly devastated.

The war also had
enormous consequences for workers and peasants in Russia. As Robert Service
explains, by the end of 1916, “a quarter of working men”30 were
conscripted into the Russian army. This fall in labour supply during the war
put meant increasing pressures were placed on those who remained in factories
as the war progressed. This also meant there was an influx of peasants moving
into cities. As a result there was a huge demand for housing in cities and many
Russian people were forced to live in dire and deteriorating conditions during the
war as a result. It could be argued that the gradual deterioration in living
standards for the ordinary Russian people is what caused the “rebelliousness
that turned Russian working class into a worldwide legend”31 in 1917
as asserted by Service. Additionally, almost half of the male rural labour
force was forced to leave their work and join the Russian army. By February
1917 the situation in Russia was critical. There was a huge shortage of vital
food and fuel with Russia’s capital, Petrograd only received a third of the
daily food by 1916, inevitably causing it to become a major source of hostility
towards the government and indeed the war. It’s estimated that the war was
responsible for the death of approx.  9.15
million Russians deaths.

Figes argues
that the way in which Tsar Nicholas II conducted himself throughout the war was
the architect of his downfall. His poor communication and weak leadership lead
to fatigue in Russia and thus the collapse of the Tsarist regime. Figes
mentions that Nicholas had an, “invisible wall of indifference”32
throughout the war as a result of his stubborn attitude as Tsar. His inability
to deal with the problems facing Russia as a result of war led to growing
impatience and hostility amongst the people of Russia. Robert Service concurs
with Figes views as he questions why Nicholas refused to distribute any power
to the Duma in 1905 or share responsibility for the war with the Progressive
Bloc. Instead, Service argues that the Tsars dismissal of ministers whom
supported the working of the progressive bloc left Nicholas deeply resented
amongst the middle and upper classes in Russia. Like Figes, Service also
suggests that a significant reason for the 1917 revolution and thus the
collapse of autocracy in Russia was down to Nicholas’ stubbornness and refusal
to accept change. Although Figes states that even the Tsars “military chiefs were
persuading him to abdicate”33 which depicts the lack of confidence
the army had in the Tsar, he later reveals that churches in the rural regions
of Russia were “full of crying peasants.”34 This contradiction means
the sources credibility is questionable as it depicts that despite the Tsar’s
mistakes throughout his leadership, he wasn’t wholly loathed by the Russian
population, instead, it could be argued that the Tsar still remained to a
number of peasants as a God-like figure regardless of his actions. As a result
Figes’ emphasis on the lack of trust that the Tsar received from the Russian
population in 1917 may not be completely justifiable.