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Background and Overview

In the early twentieth century, Russia was still an absolutist country with power centered
in the czar figure. The transition from feudalism to capitalism that took place in the
Russian Empire was also a late one, the delay in the political and economic structures of
Russia compared to the rest of the world was an important factor in this Revolution.
With the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815), many of the officers of the Imperial Army
of Russia that were campaigning in the West, particularly in France, were in contact
with the ideology of Liberalism. So, to return to their land, they came convinced of the
need to eliminate for once the absolutism of the Tsars, disguised in the form of
"enlightened despotism" and transform Russia finally in a constitutional liberal
monarchy.
In 1825, these noble officers also linked to supporters of liberal ideas rebelled in
December 1825.
The reaction of Tsar Nicholas I (1825-1855) was severe. He suppressed the revolt and
rejected Western influences in Russia, adopting a political program that boiled down to
"autocracy, Catholic orthodoxy and nationalism".
The population of the Russian Empire was formed by people of various ethnicities,
languages and cultural traditions. About 80% of this population was rural and 90% did
not know how to read and write, and were by force explored by feudal lords.
The extreme situation of poverty and exploitation in which the population lived became
fertile ground for the flourishing of socialist ideas.
A defeat in the Crimean War showed the weakness of the Military forces and the
Russian economy, the demand for reforms came.
Alexander II, Tsar of Russia from 1855 to 1881, became best known for his reforms to
Russia.
He was aware of the need to promote modernizing reforms in the country, to relieve
internal social tensions and transform Russia into a more internationally respected state.
With its reformist politics, Alexander II promoted the abolition of serfdom, incentivized
elementary education and granted academic autonomy to universities.
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The end of serfdom in the Russian countryside has released hand labour to the cities,
encouraging industrialization. Little by little an industrial growth emerges in Russia.
This was seen as a turning point in the history of Russia but despite all this, the
reformist measures were insufficient and the climate of social tension continued
increasing among the popular sector.
After the assassination of Alexander II, the Russian conservative forces joined around
the new Tsar, Alexander III (1881- 1894). He was highly conservative. He wanted to
restore the nobility power and limit the power of universities. He was known for making
a counter-reform, for strengthening the government's political police (Okhrana) that
exercised strict control over educational, media and courts sectors, as well as the two
major parties, such as Liberals and the Social Democratic Workers Party.
Prevented from protesting, peasants and urban workers continued under the oppression
of the aristocracy and industrial owners.
Although the political repression led by Okhrana was strong, socialist ideas were
introduced in the country by intellectuals concerned in organizing the class.
In their exile in the West, many of the major revolutionary leaders of Russia come into
contact with the ideas of Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895).
In 1894, Alexander IIIs son, Nicholas, became Czar Nicholas II of Russia. He
continued his fathers strong rule. He launched a program that aimed at building up
Russias industry. Russia quickly became a leading producer of steel in the world.
However, this rapid industrial growth brought problems.
Working conditions were poor, wages were low, and children were forced to work.
Workers grew angry and often went on strike. The wealth of the nation was in the hands
of a few, the aristocracy. It was clear that the Revolutionary groups wanted to topple the
government.
In this context, PSDOR, became the main workers' party, but in 1903 it split into two
factions. The Mensheviks, led by Martov, argued that the workers could take power by
participating regularly in politic activities. Because these group was less popular and
had less votes compared to the other faction it became known as Mensheviks, which
means minority. In the other hand, Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky, argued
that the workers would only have political influence and power with a revolution.
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Revolution of 1905
In 1904, after the defeat of Russia in the war against Japan, the socio-economic situation
of the country worsened.
On 9 January 1905, thousands of unarmed workers and their families marched
peacefully to the czars palace in St. Petersburg, to ask for reforms. Their requests were
met by bullets from the czars troops. This event was known forever as the Bloody
Sunday. The people answered by going on strike, which brought the country to a stop.
Workers, peasants and soldiers form popular councils where the decisions to be taken by
the whole community are democratically discussed. In them were decided the actions
undertaken by the working class against tsarism. The Soviets were located in the
factories, villages and cities.
Reluctantly, Nicholas II agreed to implement some reforms: as the most important was
the creation of a constitutional government, with the creation of a parliament better
known as Duma, which ended the absolutism. The liberals accepted the reforms, but the
misery of the people continued and the workers maintained rebellion.
After the end of the 1905 unrest, Nicholas II was already confident enough to limit the
advances he had allowed in the heat of the moment. In 1906, through the Fundamental
Law, he was confirmed as supreme leader Russia, with complete control over the
executive, foreign policy, church and military. The Duma lost power in the new Council
of State, composed of members appointed by the tsar.

The February Revolution of 1917


Russia was involved in another major conflict, the First World War (1914-1918) which
also suffered heavy losses in the fighting against the Germans. The long duration of the
war brought the food supply crisis in the cities, triggering strikes and riots.
After entering the World War with great nationalist enthusiasm, successive defeats to the
Germans were seen as sign of incompetence of Nicholas II and the weakness of the
tsarist government.
The huge human losses suffered by Russia - in its absolute majority of workers and
peasants, effectively those who are recruited for war - caused a state of upheaval
between these classes. In the middle of the war, in February 1917, the workers strike in
order to press Nicholas II.
Nicholas II, ignoring his peoples wishes, commands the Army to dissolve the strike
using all the necessary violence. However, most of the battalions sent to Petrograd to
dissolve the rebellion ended joining the workers on strike, ignoring their orders and
standing against the czar. It was clear at this point that Nicholas II had lost political
control of the country.
On March 15, 1917, the number of opposite political forces (bourgeois and socialist
liberal) overthrew Tsar Nicholas II, beginning the Russian Revolution. On March 15,
1917, Nicholas II gave up his throne. At the same time, leaders in the Duma, or the
Russian parliament, settled up a temporary government. The leaders of the temporary
government wanted democracy. In addition, this temporary government wanted to keep
Russia in the war.
This decision lost the support of soldiers who didnt want to fight any longer, and also
that of workers and peasants who wanted an end to food shortages.
The Bolsheviks, Marxism-Leninism supporters and opponents of the parliamentary
liberal regime, formed across the country local councils called soviets which would
be ready to challenge the Provisional Government and seize power when the moment
was favourable.
In some cities, the soviets actually had more real power than the government.

Revolution of October 1917


The Bolshevik leader most wanted by the police has been Lenin.
Self-exiled in Finland, Lenin returns to Russia to lead the final phase of the revolution.
In early October he enters into the city, wearing a wig to cover his distinctive bald head.
Finally, the Petrograd Soviet had come to control the government. His slogan Peace,
Land, and Bread was soon taken up by many people. In November 1917, armed
workers took control of government offices. The democratic government was at the end.
Kerensky and the other moderate members of the Provisional Government are
imprisoned by the Bolsheviks and exiled with barely any kind of resistance.
To win peasants support, Lenin ordered all farmland be given to them. Workers were
given control of the factories. Lenin also reached a peace treaty with Germany, which
allowed Russia to withdrawal from the Great War.
Lenin and most of the other major revolutionary figures at his side believed sincerely in
their

cause

and

were

not

motivated

purely

by

thirst

for

power.

The reason why they seized power was believing that they were doing something for the
greater good of the mankind.
Unfortunately, this belief in Marxism would come to be implemented through brutal and
repressive means.