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Why did opposition to the Tsarist regime increase between 1881-1904? Page 1
Opposition to Tsarist Government had long been a feature of the Romanov rule with strict laws in place to oversee that nobody spoke out against the Tsar’s rule. During the autocratic years from 1881-1904 Russia went through two Tsars, Alexander III and his successor Nicholas II both obsessed with keeping absolute power over Russia. During that period it was an offence to speak out against the Tsar whilst nobody could challenge the Tsar’s rule as there was no parliament in place to speak for the people and no free press which meant that no one could release information that might influence the people to revolt for a better quality of life. This led to a hard struggle for the Russian people who endured numerous years of hardship under the Tsar; however it also resulted in the formation of politically organised parties in Russia that would each have separate ambitions for what they wanted for the future of Russia and her people.
The causes of Tsarist opposition could be argued to have been started by Alexander II who ironically was trying to stop opposition to the Tsarist regime by relaxing controls over the press and universities which inadvertently saw the emergence of the intelligentsia. After Alexander II assassination in 1881 the first signs of opposition to Tsar Alexander III where the educated and free-thinking middle class, who were able to travel to western nations and read new ideas that, had never before been herd of in particularly the idea of Karl Marx’s, Marxism where it was thought that the people would overthrow the government and become a Democracy, and without a state Russia would become communist. The 1890s saw the ‘great spurt’ of modernisation and industrialisation in Russia. Modernisation was driven by one man, Sergei Witte, the minister of finance from 1893 to 1903.
An increase in the production of coal in the Ukraine and oil in the Caucasus promoted massive economic growth. Iron, chemical, engineering, petroleum and steel industries were established within ten years. Although this benefited the Russian economy the growth in industrial workforce concentrated in urban areas. This along with the combined high taxes and low incomes caused terrible living and working conditions in the cities. Witte’s economic policy created long term discontent within the Russian people as the high taxes and low wages led to high poverty throughout Russia whilst the increase in peasantry created more pressure on the agricultural land which led to an economic slump after 1902 which resulted in an increase in unemployment. Civil unrest further increased in 1900-1902 with poor harvests leading to starvation and an outbreak of violence in the countryside.
This civil unrest led to the formation of various political parties throughout Russia which became the main sources of opposition to the Tsar’s rule. Parties such as the Liberals, and Social Democrats followed the relatively new idea of Marxism. However the Democrats wanted a revolution whereas the Liberals thought they could achieve their aims through a series of non-violent protests. The Democrats would later split into the Bolsheviks who thought the party should be ruled under one central leadership and that the way forward would be revolution whereas the Mensheviks beliefs were more democratic as they believed in allowing each member a say. The Liberals would also later split into the Kadets who wanted a parliament and better re-distribution of land for the peasants but had no problems with a constitutional monarchy whereas the Octoberists who also wanted a parliament were more focused on increasing Russia’s economic strength.
A third party the Social Revolutionaries grew directly out of the Populists and continued their predecessor’s approach of terrorism to reach their aims as a group founded in 1879 “the peoples will” were responsible for the assassination of Tsar Alexander II whilst also continuing their extremist views into the early 1900’s between 1901 and 1905, were it was the terrorist faction of the Revolutionaries that dominated with over 2000 assassinations, including Plehve, the interior minister, and the Tsar’s uncle, Duke Sergei.
Eventually this unrest along with several assassination attempts from the Revolutionaries resulted in Alexander III abdicating in 1894 leaving his young and shy son Nicholas II as supreme ruler of Russia. Nicholas was never interested in politics however he was a great admirer of his father Alexander III. He had been brought up to believe that repression was the only way to keep the Russian people under control and that any kind of reform would simply encourage them to want even more. Nicholas wanted to rule like an autocrat but he did not have the skill to do so as he was an untrusting individual always being afraid of conspiracy which led to him refusing chair meetings, only seeing his ministers one at a time, trying to use divide and rule tactics which ultimately led to the government not making any decisions for Russia.
Nicholas II further created unrest as he was unwilling to give any concessions to national minorities such as Finns and Poles with any protests repressed and his secret police the Okhrana crushing political activists, rounding them up and exiling them. The culmination of the revolution reached its climax with the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War in February 1904. Defeats on land and sea at the hands of the Japanese military shocked the Russian public creating mass humiliation. The war was beyond any doubt a Japanese victory when Russia lost Port Arthur in January 1905. With the Russian peoples pride in tatters after defeat from what they believed was an inferior Eastern nation along with the war creating shortages in food, fuel and higher prices leading to further unemployment it seemed the last straw for the Russian people creating a huge upsurge of discontent.
On the 22nd January 1905 Father Gapon and orthodox priest decided to lead a peaceful march of workers and families on the Winter palace in St. Petersburg where they wanted the Tsar to acknowledge the needs of the Russian people such as living conditions, poverty and starvation in Russia. However this peaceful protest soon caused mass panic for the police and authorities who did not know what to do, with no decisive leader they felt the only option was to fire at the protesters in the hope they would disperse. Hundreds of people died on the day that is now known as Bloody Sunday. This led to a national outbreak of disorder with strikes and riots in major cities whilst even minor mutiny in the Army and Navy who were ashamed of the defeat in the war, the Tsar was at war with his own people the revolution had begun.
There were many factors of why opposition increased between 1881 and 1904 however the main reason was the introduction of western ideas to what had previously been a nation in isolationism with the prevention of free press. The ideas (Marxism) that had seeped in to Russia made the public question why they couldn’t have a say in how their country was run which led to the development and rise in organised political parties which became the main opposition to the Tsarist regime as both Tsar’s struggled to cope with what the people wanted. Ultimately the sheer size of Russia and its massive population made it impossible to govern and whilst Russia struggled to get out of its backward status the public’s welfare was compromised as both Tsars main priority was to increase Russia economically. This led to an inevitable uprising.