In 1905, the social and economic tensions building up within Russia boiled over into Revolution. It was described by Lenin as the “Great Dress Rehearsal” for the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and may give us clues as to why the 1917 revolution started. The suggestion that Tsar Nicholas II and his actions were to blame for this revolution is debatable and there are many factors such as the repressive Tsarist system, the growth of opposition from the time of Alexander II and the defeat in the war with Japan to consider. These events can be separated into short and long term effects on the revolution. Bloody Sunday and defeat to Japan would be short term effects whereas the Tsarist system of rule and the increasing opposition the Tsar would be long term.
Perhaps the revolution all started with the Tsarist system of rule. Sergei Witte and Konstantin Pobedonostev were important figures in influencing Nicholas. Witte recommended Nicholas to arrange an elected parliament whilst Pobedonestev wanted to preserve an older, almost peasant-ridden Russia. Nicholas did the same as his father and Grandfather and remained conservative by not changing Russia backward ways. This may make it seem as though Nicholas could have had Russia take a course change and throw out autocracy, and so may have to take responsibility regarding Russia’s current system of rule during the revolution. It could be said that Tsar Nicholas II never wanted to take on the responsibilities of being the Tsar as he was never prepared to be Tsar in the first place so may not have had the incentive to make the necessary change.
Alexander II’s emancipation of the serfs in 1861 turned them into free peasants, meaning they could not be bought and sold. This would have seemed a change for the good of the people and a great move towards modernisation but the debt they fell into because of the required money to pay for the land out-weighed the good side of being free. This made the peasants bitter towards the Tsar which carried on to Nicholas II’s rule. Bad harvests in 1902 and 1903 brought an increase in the number of violent attacks on the landlords but Nicholas was disinclined to make any changes to the lives of the peasants.
The strikes in the 1890s were becoming more organised as 97,000 went on strike in 1897 but Nicholas refused to do anything about the situation. He wanted Russia to modernise as an industrial company admirably but was less concerned what impact it would have on the workers. Both the strikes and the growth of opposition were long terms effects on the revolution.
However, Bloody Sunday which saw soldiers shooting as many as a thousand protesters in a panic, was a short term effect. It was just after a strike involving 111,000 workers and was responded by large numbers of troops to guard public works. Although Nicholas was at the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoye Selo, he was still heavily blamed for the deaths, perhaps unfairly as he of course did not directly order the soldiers to fire upon the protesters. It was most likely due to the soldiers’ inexperience when handling protests so they handled it as if it were a riot. Nicholas in fairness expressed his sorrow and grievances for those that died and was persuaded to appease the workers but failed to realise the seriousness of the situation as it led to the revolution.
The other short term cause of the revolution was the Russo-Japanese War. It was made to seem to the public that the motive for war was because Japan attacked Port Arthur, a Russian Naval base. In fact there were private motives, a combination of strategic and economic motives with a sense of foreign adventure. Perhaps the foremost reason for war was initiated by Plehve who was the minister of the Interior when he suggested that a “short victorious war” would unite the people and dampen revolutionary feelings. Furthermore, Russia and Japan were in dispute over territory and trade in Korea and were seeking to resolve this through war. The Tsar believed Russia could defeat an Asian nation like Japan, as would most people. This imperialist war showed the backwardness, inefficiency and corruption of Russia compared to Japan and utterly humiliated Russia, and therefore the Tsar. It was the immediate context to the Revolution and was perhaps due to Nicholas II and his advisors’ disillusion that Russia was a great power that could bully a smaller Asian nation such as Japan.
Nicholas II was mainly to blame for the 1905 Revolution as he was the supreme ruler and so most of the wrong decisions Russia made were down to him. Although his advisors such as Pobedonostev and Plehve had a great influence on him, he had the final decision to make. However some events such as Bloody Sunday were out of his control, it could be said he should have been there or made an effort to get there as he knew it was happening or had the soldiers been better trained in the first place it may not have happened. However, the opposition had been growing since his Grandfather’s reign and Nicholas was therefore at a disadvantage as soon as he became Tsar. The War with Japan can easily be blamed on Nicholas as his motives for war in the first place were not the way he was going to get Russia to unite. Instead of this he should have kept to his plans of Russification. His initial attitude when he became Tsar may tell us he was never going to take his position as Tsar seriously and would never accept the responsibilities of his poor decisions as he had the excuse he never wanted the position as Tsar in the first place.
There is no definitive answer as to whether Nicholas was to blame but the view that Nicholas’ rule was doomed from the start may have the greatest support. This is mainly because could not do a great deal to reverse what was slowly happening to Russia. Nevertheless, his role in the time leading up to the revolution was still important as the actions he took or lack of them, for example Bloody Sunday, all played a part to cause the 1905 revolution.