Russia was an Autocracy before 1905 and the Tsar was Nicholas 2nd. Many people dispute over whether he was in control or not, the main factors being: The Tsar’s leadership, Opposition to the Tsar, Social and Economic conditions and finally means of control. It can be argued that some factors are more important than others, but they are all significant in how I believe the Tsar was losing control.
The Tsar’s flaws as a leader were an extremely important reason as to why he was losing control of his country. Russia was an autocracy- this meant that the Tsar had full control of the country and had the final say in every decision. This could have been positive, but I think it was a negative thing. He was not a very decisive person, and he would not delegate to others (An example of this being, how he interfered in the appointments of local midwives.) While he was busy doing the wrong jobs he needed employees that were capable of the best. Another flaw of Nicholas’ was that he was extremely suspicious of those cleverer than him and fired many of his best workers (Count Witte) and preferred to hire only family and friends. This helped to weaken his control on Russia because not only did he lose respect from his people, but also he was not doing his job and as the only ruler of the country, Russia did not have a focused authority figure.
The Tsar had a lot of opponents within Russia and he did not deal with them to the best of his abilities. This meant he was not firmly in control of Russia at all. The 4 main opposing groups were: The Liberals (Cadets), The Social Revolutionaries (SRs) and The Social Democratic Party (Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks) Although the different groups were all angry at different things, the one thing they had in common was that they were all unhappy about Russia’s Social and Economic Situation. In my opinion the Bolsheviks were the most dangerous group towards Tsar and the government, followed by the SRs then the Mensheviks finally the Liberals. Even though the Liberals had the most supporters, they were a peaceful group; they were not doing any damage to Russia. The Tsar did not believe they were a threat so chose to ignore them.
However with the Bolsheviks they had a huge following (the working class.) Their approach to change was violence as was the SRs. The SRs managed to get close enough to the government to kill 2 of their officials. The Tsar dealt with the Bolsheviks and the SRs by killing them or exiling them. By exiling them he showed a lot of inexperience with how he dealt with these groups .All he did was send them away; this did not stop them from coming back! Siberia is in the east of the country (the opposite side as to where the Tsar was), but it is also a desert. This meant that the people the Tsar exiled became resentful towards him, as they had to live in a desert. An advantage to being exiled was that it was in the middle of nowhere.
The organisations could discuss ideas and produce plans of future rebellions without the Tsar knowing what was going on. By not knowing this he lost an element of control because he did not know what his most violent organisations were doing. Every group in the Feudal system (except the aristocrats) had an organisation to rival the Tsar. This was bad because that meant at the very least only 1.5% of the population (aristocrats) were in full support of him. By not having the full support of his people the Tsar lost a lot of control because as a leader your people need to respect you but also have faith that you will do the right thing for the country in general (not just a specific group.)
The monarchy was mostly made up of aristocrats, so was the government and army officials. By having only aristocrats in important positions the Tsar was not being fair, the 80% of the population that were peasants had a lot of reasons to despise the Tsar. This further allowed his control on Russia to loosen, it lost him support of people and the public started to realise that the Tsar was not the leader they needed to help them receive a better way of living.
They needed someone that was not desperate for the power and someone who could hold control. Finally the fact the organizations even existed meant that he had lost some control already. If people respected him they would no t have started oppositions and formed plans. The groups all had plans. Whether they would work or not was a different issue. His weak leadership meant that he would not let anyone help him, he had resorted to last attempts by exiling people and had become desperate this shows how out of control he was and he knew it, because no one helped him he did not have a well thought out plan as to how to deal with the groups.
The social and economic conditions in Russia would have made it hard for any leader to keep control, never mind the Tsar (a poor leader who had a lot of opposition.) 80% of Russia were peasants where as the aristocracy who owned 25% of the land and were only 1.5% of the population. This suggests that the gap between the rich and the poor was extreme. As the number of peasants moving to the city increased, more and more people started to realise how big this gap truly was and did not like it. Having to walk past lavish mansions on their way home, to rooms they probably shared with at least 1 other family created tension between the two social groups. The rich were getting richer and the poor poorer and nobody could move up the system.
To make matters worse Russia spans 12 time zones and 60% of the population did not speak Russian. The Tsar lived in the far west so if a problem occurred in the east he would not be able to deal with it for days which meant his control of the situation decreased. If only 40% of you population speaks the national language it makes it harder for internal communication. The laws in Russia may have been harder to understand and those who did not speak the Tsar’s language would not have been as easy to control. The Tsar did not have as much domination as he thought he did because he could not control what was happening with some of the people and circumstances in the other end of his country.
The Tsar used a lot of resources to try and keep his people under control, but to me it became apparent that the more resources he used the more the people refused to submit to his rules. One of his many means of control was the religious persecution of the Jews. All throughout history dictators have used specific groups of people (mostly the Jews) as scapegoats. Trying to pass the blame of the country onto someone else showed that the Tsar feared he would lose all of his control over the people if they thought it was his entire fault. Other means of control the Tsar used were: Secret police, regular police, prisons, and the army. In Leo Tolstoy’s letter to the Tsar in 1902 he says, “The numbers of regular police and of the secret police are continually growing.”
This shows that the Tsar had started these policies but they were not working. People refused to be led by a man that was not objective to all groups in society and did not have the leadership required to be a successful Tsar. Overall I think that in the long-term it weakens his control but in the short term in strengthens his control. Showing the force he has the power to use might scare some of the population into behaving (but not for very long, I think they will see right through him.) However, having to rely on force (only at the point of a gun) shows his concern of the control he has over his country. The fact that the severity of the situation ended in armed forces patrolling the people, carrying live ammunition also shows his concern and ever shrinking clasp of control.
After reviewing all of the evidence I believe that the Tsar was not in control of Russia before 1905. The Tsar’s poor qualities as a leader lost him respect from the people, as did the organizations opposing him. His desperation showed a lot in the decisions he made. If you are in control you are not desperate, you believe in the decisions you make, and the Tsar did not. Almost all of his forms of control failed in the long-term.
The opposing groups managed to create plans and had a substantial number of followers. The social and economic situation made it ever harder to control Russia and his flaws isolated him from help and minimized the 1.5% of people that believed in him. The strongest evidence in my opinion is the opposition to the Tsar. All of the other facts contributed to the main point that he had opposition. If a leader has friction between him and his people he will always struggle to have control but the Tsar just had to many recurring problems to have control.
Courtney from Study Moose
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