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Compare and contrast the causes of 1905 and February Revolutions in Russia.

The Revolution of 1905 and the February Revolution of 1917 were both a result of the inability
of the Tsardom to control the internal situation in the country. Factors, which increased the
general discontent in 1905, were, for example, Witte’s industrialization policy, repressive
government and the indecisive Tsar, who was even said to be unfit to run a village post office.
In 1917, apart from the further dissatisfaction of the population with the government system
and the outbreak of the First World War, for which Russia was prepared neither militarily nor
economically, further worsened the situation in the country. On the basis of these points a
pattern can be observed, as in 1905 and 1917 the main factors affecting people’s discontent
were the autocratic regime, unstable economic situation and the Tsar himself.
Both in 1905 and 1917 people rebelled in order to express their dissatisfaction with the
autocratic regime, however in 1917 the nature of the government was already partially changed.
In 1905 tsar Nicholas II was still, as the Fundamental Laws of 1832 stated, an autocratic and
unlimited monarch. Both Imperial Council and the Cabinet of Ministers were responsible to
him alone. The aim of the 1905 Revolution was not to completely abolish the Tsardom, but to
create a representative government, what was ultimately granted in the form of Duma in the
October Manifesto of 1905. On the other hand, what contributed to the outbreak of the February
Revolution in 1917 was lack of the visible political change, which was supposedly granted in
1905. Duma could neither pass laws nor control the finances, and was once again fully
responsible to the tsar. Despite tsar’s promises, the political system was still to a major extent
an autocracy. According to the historian Alan Wood, Nicholas II threw away the last chance of
survival by not compromising and living up to his promises, what was clearly reflected on the
example of the Russian parliament. All in all, even though the incompetence of the Tsardom
played an important role both in the Revolution of 1905 and the February Revolution, the
character of people’s dissatisfaction in these two examples did differ.
Devastation of the economy was a significant factor in the outbreak of both revolutions.
Poor harvests in the years 1900 and 1902 led to nationwide starvation, similarly in 1917 the
war effort during the First World War led to the food shortages. Just like in 1917 inflation and
growing unemployment, resulting from the cost-intensive war contributed to the increasing
urban discontent, the economic slump of 1902 and its influence on the unemployment rate led
to the appearance of social tensions in towns. What is more, in 1905, it was the industrialization
policy of Siergiei Witte, which squeezed the resources out of peasants, what further enlarged
the common discontent to the rural area. In case of both revolutions Russia was at the time
actively engaged in the war effort – the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 and the First World War
in 1917. They became the immediate causes of the war as a result of shortages of food and
raising prices. Historian Christopher Hill even describes the Great War as the thing which
accelerated the development of revolutionary crisis. What can be concluded is that the
economic factor, which provoked the Russians to revolt, had a similar pattern in January of
1905 and in February of 1917.
The public image of tsar Nicholas II, regarded as weak and indecisive, played a
significant role both in 1905 and in 1917, however the feeling of antagonism towards him has
even increased prior to the outbreak of the February Revolution. As historian Orlando Figes
concludes, Nicholas was the source of all the problems. In a sense, Russia gained in him the
worst of both worlds: a Tsar determined to rule from the throne yet quite incapable of exercising
power. The mentioned incapability of the tsar was well visible in 1904, when in the midst of
the economic crisis he decided to start a war with Japanese in order to divert the attention of
the Russians. Yet another tragic decision made by him was his will to take control of the Russian
army during the First World War, in September of 1915. As a result of that he became the one
to be blamed for Russia’s humiliation on the Eastern front, what further damaged his authority.
Historian Hans Rogger explains it by saying, that Nicholas had no knowledge of the world or
of men, of politics or government to help him make the difficult and weighty decisions that the
Tsar alone must make. Ultimately his inability to improve the internal situation in the country
contributed to the outbreak of two revolutions in 1905 and 1917.
To sum up, even though a pattern, including discontent with the autocratic regime and
the Tsar and an unstable economic situation, can be observed in terms of the causes of the
outbreak of the 1905 Revolution and the February Revolution, these factors may differ in terms
of their character. While the people who rebelled against the government were demanding the
creation of a representative government, the Revolutionaries of 1917 were, apart from that,
dissatisfied with tsar’s unwillingness to fulfill the promises made in the October Manifesto. The
economic situation in 1905 and 1917 was pretty similar – in both cases shortages of goods could
be experienced as a result of the war effort, and social tensions were present. Finally, the
weakness of the Tsar himself became the ultimate factor, which prompted the Russians in 1905
and 1917 to rebel against the government.

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