1917 saw the conclusion of the reign of the Romanov Dynasty, as well as the demise of Russia’s last monarch, Tsar Nicholas II. It is evident that the downfall of the Romanov Dynasty was directly linked to key factors such as the autocratic style of the Romanov dynasty and the nature of the social structure, as well as the evolving nation of Russia, as a result of industrialisation. The Romanov family was viewed by the people of Russia as leaders ‘sent from God’. However as the 20th century neared, this mystical admiration the public possessed for the royal family receded and was replaced by intellect.
A growing sense of political and social awareness of the lower classes, as well as the introduction of democratic ideas from the West had sparked a change. The twentieth century saw the birth of new ideologies such as Leninism, Marxism, Liberalism and Socialism. These ideologies proposed new models of government techniques and questions the ruling of the Romanov Dynasty. Tsar Alexander II sensed the rising threat of terrorism threatening the Imperial family and more importantly the Dynasty’s autocratic rule.
The responsibility of Russia was bestowed upon Nicholas II, son of Alexander II, based on the dynasty’s ritualistic practice of passing the throne to the Tsar’s eldest son or closest senior male relative. Nicholas II was reluctant to accept the responsibility of Russia, as well as its 126 subjects; however he acknowledged the burden of the crown as a spiritual experience destined by God. By the beginning of the 20th century, Russia had established itself as a vast empire, however in comparison to other countries; Russia was a ‘backward society’ with mostly undeveloped resources.
At this time, Russia had established rigid class distinctions, with 88% of the population farming the countryside as serfs, whilst land and high government positions were owned by 5% of Russia’s population. In 1816, serfdom was abolished and peasants were free, however were required to pay compensation for land that they believed they already owned. Although agriculture remained the principle means of maintaining a livelihood for the lower class, peasants often struggled to live above starvation level, as they used inefficient farming techniques and had little land available to them.
Those who struggled with agrarian lifestyles flocked to the cities, consequently causing a major increase in the urban population. As a result factory working conditions also suffered. Factory workers received low wages, at times only 25-30% of British workers, as well as long working hours, sometimes extending to 15 hour shifts. Workers were forced to endure these conditions, with little hope of assistance, as the Russian government had provided no means by which workers could express their grievances or dissatisfaction with their present conditions.
The Tsar’s power was unlimited with no political party or constitution to inspect the Tsar’s ruling, as well as a secret police, known as the Ohkrana, which terrorised those threatening public order. ‘I shall uphold the principle of Autocracy as firmly and as undeviating as did my late father’ (Nicholas II, first proclamation, 29th January, 1895 source:Punch,9 February 1895 ) This proclamation illustrates Tsar Nicholas’s incentives to intimate his father Alexender II, by means of resisting modernisation and change, in the nation of Russia.
Despite these obvious signs of corruption within the Tsar, the public, largely due to the coercive influence of the Russian Orthodox Church, continued to hold a mystical admiration for the Tsar and the royal family. However, while the myth of Tsar Nicholas or the public’s ‘little father’ retained some currency, the events of the years 1904 to 1905 disrupted this myth dramatically. In 1904, the government’s decision to go to war against Japan highlighted its weakness.
The two countries had been competing for years over territory and influence in the Korean peninsula of Manchuria. Nicholas, along with most Russian’s believed that a brief encounter with Russia’s vast navy and army would be the solutions to their present conflicts with Japan. Nicholas was wrong. The war ended with the humiliation of Russian defeat, in August 1905. Confirmation of the Russian government and military weakness heightened discontent and fueled many reform movements.
Meanwhile other incidences, such as the massacre or ‘Bloody Sunday’ on the 9th of January 1905, sparked political unrest in the capital of Russia. On this day a large crowd of people marched towards the Winter Palace, in St Petersburg, presenting a petition to the Tsar. The petition demanded a series of measures that would improve the position of those being exploited by their factory owners. “Don’t refuse to help your people, lead them out of the grave of disfranchisement, poverty and ignorance…
Tear down the wall between you and your people, and let them rule the country with you… Look without anger at our requests, they are not intended for an evil but for a good cause, for both of us” (Petition of the Workers and Residents of St Petersburg for Submission to Nicholas II) This extract displays the continuing confidence in the Tsar and assurance that he will overcome his evil advisors and attend to the struggling lower classes. However this confidence in the Tsar was completely destroyed by the following event.
Under command, troops, who were guarding the palace, opened fire on the crowd, killing 100 protestors and wounding almost 300. Although it is still unknown who directed the final orders, Nicholas’s absence from the protest, eroded the iconic image of the Tsar and the myth upon which the Tsarist system was sustained. Hostility towards the blood bath was generated from the lower proletarian classes and reverberated upwards throughout the empire. As a result nine months of strikes, peasant revolts and mutinies among the army and navy, followed.
Workers began to form councils, known as soviets, where worker’s representatives would voice their grievances and political protest campaigns were fashioned. Under immense pressure from these disturbances, the Tsar was forced to make compromises to the demands of the people in order to preserve the support of the public. On the 17th of October, the Tsar introduced the October Manifesto. This granted the people of Russia the freedom of conscience, speech, meeting and association. The manifesto also promised the introduction of a Duma, or parliament, elected by universal suffrage.
The design of the Duma was to provide the people of Russia with the power to create and approve laws. The intentional exclusion of the word ‘constitution’ ensured that the Tsar autocratic power remained unscathed. The Duma was the Tsar’s puppet; he could dismiss and announce the duma, personally choose and dismiss ministers and declare new laws unaided, at any time. The first two Duma’s lasted only a few months before they were later dissolved, by the Tsar. The third Duma survived as a result of an alteration in the electing process of representatives.
Subsequently the Duma became dominated by land-owners and businessmen who were more conservative and ‘trustworthy’ elements to the Tsar. This alteration destroyed the sole purpose of Duma as it hindered all classes from expressing their opinions. Although evidence of reform in the government was present, the manifesto did not address current problems affecting the lower classes such as poverty, low wages and poor working and living conditions. The grievances of the lower classes remained unheard and the gap between the Tsar and his subjects widened.
For these reasons recently legalised parties such as the Social Democrats and Socialists revolutionaries had a willing audience. By the end of July 1914, the revolutionary discontent echoed the events of 1905 revolution. When World War II commenced early August 1914, Russia was in no state for battle. Although intensified emotions of patriotism temporarily calmed civil disputes, the hardships of the war brutally hit the home front. Russia’s undeveloped economy struggled to sustain the war efforts and keep up with increased demands. By late 1914, dreams of a short successful battle were doubtful.
In addition to previous hardships, concerns of high causality rates, inadequate medical care and shortages of resources, such as food, weaponry and ammunition were affecting the Russian front. In Mid 1915, Nicholas II, with the aim of improving Russia’s current stance in the war, accepted the position as Commander-in-Chief of the Russian forces. Nicholas II had few military skills and was surrounded by ministers who had been chosen by himself, therefore were also sufficiently inexperienced. Meanwhile, German-born Tsarina Alexandra was temporarily responsible for the home front whilst her husband was away.
The Tsarina was greatly influenced by Grigori Rasputin, a Russian mystic who was praised by Alexandra for his fanatical abilities to help her haemophilic son, Alexi, the heir to the throne. Tsarina had little political ability and looked towards Rasputin for advice. Due to the nepotism within the royal family, Rasputin was able to quickly posses doctrinal powers and become a influential member of the Russian court. The influence Rasputin had on the royal family as well as the scandalous relationship assumed to be between Alexandra and Rasputin discredited the Tsarist government.
These scandals affected the way the public viewed the royal family and supported the idea that the royal family was easily dominated by religious mystics. By late 1916, discontent within Russia had reached crisis point. The duma and the majority of Russia’s upper class no longer supported the Tsar. The Tsar had lost his authority in the eyes of the public. By 25th of January 1917, St Petersburg, the capital of Russia, was at a standstill. Numerous factories were shut, shops closed, public transport ceased to run and radical political leadership seemed to be using all possible means of protest.
Unlike 1905, troops did not restrain the strikes; some even rebelled and joined the workers. Tsarist authority had vanished. On the 2nd of March 1917, Nicholas II abdicated and within a few hours, the Grand Duke, Nicholas II’s brother, refused the responsibility of the throne. This was the definitive end to the Romanov Dynasty. In conclusion, although the Tsar’s character had great effect on the downfall of the Romanov Dynasty, it was ultimately the fault of Romanov dynasty’s ineffective style of government.
As Russia became more industrialised, larger, and far more complicated, the inadequacies of autocratic Tsarist rule became increasingly apparent. Ritualistic beliefs such as the nepotistic process by which successive monarchs were selected, was unsuitable in an ever evolving world desperate for change and development. The Romanov Dynasty’s Autocratic approach to leadership had been successful for the previous three centuries, however as the twentieth century approached, the need for social and political reform advanced with it.
For this reason, Nicholas II, was a victim of a time warp, where despite his best efforts to maintain authority of the autocratic crown, was forced to abandon inherited methods of leadership. He was trapped in a modernising world with outdated beliefs and traditions. Nevertheless, to a minor extent Tsar Nicholas was responsible for his own demise as he was aware of the changes occurring within the nation, however he didn’t not administer the needs and wants of his subjects.
Courtney from Study Moose
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