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The Russian Revolution of 1917 occurred for a number of different reasons, all of which are strongly tied up with the Romanov family. For one, the people of the Russian Empire felt exploited due to a series of political, social and economic grievances. Also, it was widely thought that the Tsar, Nicholas Romanov II, was unfit to rule his people. Finally, with the onset of World War 1 (WW1) and the crippling impacts that it had on the lower classes of Russia, the Russian people finally revolted against their ruling authorities, which resulted in the March Revolution and Nicholas’ abdication of the throne.
This marked the end of the Romanov Dynasty and the start of Communist Russia.
Russia modernized extremely late, relative to other European countries, and this mid-modernizing period played a large role in the lead up the revolution. Up until then, Russia was still stuck in the social constructs set up in medieval times, such as the hierarchy triangle, in which the Royals were most important, then the Clergy, then the Army, then the Capitalists and finally the working class and peasants.
Because of this system, the peasants were the lowest of the low, and although they made up the largest percentage of the population, they had the least rights and had no way of getting out of their social position. They felt the continual onslaught of political, social and economic grievances from the government, for example, up until the early 1880’s, they were not allowed to own land, and even when Tsar Alexander – Nicholas’ father – emancipated them and allowed them to own their own land, they were constantly crippled by taxes of crops and money.
These poor living conditions were only magnified when peasants heard stories of the emancipation in other countries in Europe, which eventually resulted in a cry for peasant rights that was not answered fully until the revolution. A new class had also arisen due to the modernizing of Russia – the working class. This class was mainly made up of poor farmers who moved to the cities in order to find work in the many factories that were appearing. These people lived in even worse conditions to the peasants. They worked 12 hour days, lived in disgustingly small, cramped, filthy living environments and only earned just enough money to survive, as food was more expensive in the city.
Even the nobility, those stuck with lots of money and land but no promotional opportunities, felt the strain of those political, social and economic grievances caused by the government. They felt the government had stolen their land to give to the peasants, because of their emancipations, which had caused a lot of nobility to loose their land. Because of this, they were stripped of their natural authority, as they did not owned all of the land anymore, and were no longer so far above the peasants. These three people groups strongly felt taken advantage of by the acts of the government through the political, social and economic grievances. They were discontent with their current situation, and this restlessness is what exploded at the start of the revolution.
The failure of the Russian Tsar, Nicholas Romanov, was also a contributing factor of the 1917 Revolution. It was widely acknowledged that Nicholas had not received the correct instruction for the ruling of a country, as his father had died while he was still quite young. This could be seen through his acts as a ruler. Nicholas was ignorant of constitutional matters, and he believed that it was his ‘right’ to rule because he wanted to keep the ruling power in his family. Nicholas did not have a strong character and would often listen to useless advice from his most trusted officials, while disregarding any advice that did not allow him to keep his absolute power. One of his most trusted officials, Gregory Rasputin, constantly fed the Tsar useless and potentially damaging advice, which he listened to. In fact, it was advised by some of the Russian officials that the Russo-Japanese War would leave Russia crippled, but Nicholas ignored them and suffered a terrible defeat in 1904-05.
He had wanted to obtain Manchuria as a colony so that Russia could start to build a fleet as the other nations had done, however after the disastrous defeat to the Japanese, the war served to bring the opposite affect, undermining the trust his people had in him and showing them the shortcomings of an autocratic government. An outcry arose all across Russia and strikes broke out in St Petersburg. This discontent among the people rallied them together, which lead to the 1905 revolution. Lead by Georgy Gapon, the revolution went from January 1905-June 1907. During this time, a petition was drawn up and over 150, 000 signatures were collected from the people of Russia. The petition called for 8 hour working days, increases in wages, better living conditions, universal suffrage and the end of the Russo-Japanese War.
Along with thousands of striking Russian workers, Gapon marched on the Winter Palace to present the petition to the Tsar, but he was not there. Instead, the Russian people met the bullets of the soldiers, and it is estimated that between there were between 400-4000 causalities. In the aftermath of this massacre of the Russian people, later referred to as ‘Bloody Sunday’, The Tsar wrote the October Manifesto, giving the people the rights to vote and hold parliament.
Personally though, the Tsar retained the right to rule absolutely and to disband the people’s government, called the Duma, at any given time. And so it was that although the October Manifesto seemed to answer the peoples cry for more rights, the Tsar retained all of his power and really changed nothing, as all laws could only be passed if he deemed them right, and he could make instantaneous laws without the approval of the Duma. This political struggle for power and instability ultimately led to the 1917 Revolution and the end of the Romanov Dynasty.
After years of struggle with the Dumas, being constantly dissolved and set up again by different political parties, there was finally a hint of political stability in Russia. This was crushed by the onset of WW1. As a developing nation, Russia had millions of soldiers entering the war, however almost no equipment. The war was a chance for Nicholas to regain some of the respect from those he ruled, however it ultimately exposed his inadequacy to rule to the nation. The war was badly organized, and troops were often sent to the front line with only a few weeks of training, if even that. They often only had one rifle between two soldiers, and were issued with only 6 bullets per day. In the freezing temperatures of Northern Europe, many of the soldiers did not even have boots, and there were many deaths not caused by German soldiers, but by disease and frostbite.
Nicholas appointed himself as Commander-in-Chief of the entire army, and considered it important to remain on the warfront, overseeing his troops, instead of ruling his country back at home. While he was away, his wife Alexandria ruled, however it is suspected the Rasputin was actually behind many of her decisions. As Alexandria was not Russian but German, and Rasputin not of royal blood, this caused dissention among the people. The war sapped all of Russia’s resources, and led to the transport system left in disrepair, massive inflation and a shortage of food. Strikes became a common part of everyday life, and small revolts across Russia started to appear. Finally, while Nicholas was at the warfront, a revolution sweeps across Russia, and this time there will be no peaceful resolution.
Violence increased and demands for food turn into demands for the Tsar to abdicate his position to his son and give power to the Duma. In the meantime, the Duma formed the Provisional Government to govern. The Tsar was asked to share power with the Prime Minister, however he refused. This led to the Tsars ministers being arrested, and the Provisional Government taking control of the army. Nicholas, seeing the absolute destruction raging across his country, finally decided to abdicate his power to his brother, Mikhail, however he refused. Because of this, the order to arrest Nicholas and his entire family was called for, and they are all taken to a palace outside St Petersburg and put under house arrest.
However, Nicholas still had some supporters, and they fought for his release. As the new government was formed from the Bolshevik party, those who supported Nicholas called themselves the ‘anti-Bolsheviks’. As they continued to fight their way towards Nicholas in an attempt to rescue his, the order was given by the Bolsheviks to kill the entire royal family. They were all shot and their bodies were hidden – a final end to the struggle for power. Because of this internal collapse, Russia had pulled out of WW1 in 1917, however it was the sapping nature and Nicholas’ failure to rule during the war that lead to this rebellion and the murder of the entire royal family.
Out of this chaos and confusion, Communist Russia stepped up and took control of the country. The Romanov Dynasty had finally come to an end, and this was caused by a number of reasons. The political, social and economic grievances felt by the people of Russia started the collapse of their faith in an autocratic rule, and the failures of the Tsar continued this belief, however it was the disorder caused by WW1 that finally brought about the 1917 Revolution, Nicholas’ abdication and the end of Romanov Rule in Russia.
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