Q1. Choose any reason and explain how it contributed to the downfall of the Tsar in March, 1917. You do not have to restrict your answer to just the chosen reason if other factors are relevant. I believe that there wasn’t a single factor that led to the downfall of the Tsar, but several factors were inter-related. I think that the Tsar becoming Commander-in-Chief was the first stage towards his downfall. The Tsar leaving Petrograd in 1915 to go to be Commander-in-Chief was a big factor in his downfall. When the Tsar had gone, he left the Tsarina Alexandra, and Rasputin to rule the country.
The Russian people did not like either the Tsarina or Rasputin for several reasons. The Tsarina was a German, and the Russian people thought that she was a spy, and was secretly helping the opposition. The German people greatly disliked Rasputin, especially the aristocracy, because Rasputin was from Siberia, and was born a peasant. The aristocracy also heavily disliked him, because he had cured the Tsar’s son, Alexis. Once he had performed this ‘miracle’, he became highly thought of by the Royal Family, as Alexis was in a very serious state, and was thought to be dying.
He was known to be a heavy drinker, and a flirtatious womaniser. He was thought to be having an affair with the Tsarina, and the Russian people also thought that Rasputin had had control over the Tsar. The pair of them were also very unpopular, as the Tsarina was thought to be having an affair with Rasputin. As a result of the Tsarina and Rasputin ruling the country in the Tsar’s absence, Tsarism became very unpopular among the Russian people, especially the peasants.
A modern historian, Alan Wood argued that there was nothing that could stop the Tsar being overthrown. He said that Tsarism was doomed in Russia, despite the Duma being established. He said that Russia was still an autocracy, and was doomed to failure, as nothing had really changed since the establishment of the Duma. He also said that the Tsarist system was corrupt, and was suspect to changes made for personal gain. He did say that the war hastened the fall of the Tsar, but that the Tsar would’ve been eventually overthrown anyway.
I disagree with Wood about the fact that Tsarism was doomed from the start, as if there had been no war, then there would’ve been no starvation in the cities. Urban workers wouldn’t have had working hours that were as long, and therefore the concentrated numbers of urban workers in the cities would not have revolted. Before the Tsar had left Petrograd, the war was already going badly, but the Russian people didn’t blame the Tsar, as he was thought to be God’s representative on Earth, but instead they blamed their military defeats on the Russian generals.
The Russian army was defeated severely by the Germans who only had a small part of their army fighting the Russians in Poland during May, 1915, as the majority of their army was in France executing the Schleiffen plan. This was an embarrassing defeat for the Russian army, as they lost over 1. 4 million men, and nearly a million were injured in this battle alone. The men that they lost in this battle had made up nearly half of their army. At this time, the Tsar had a scapegoat, who would take the blame for anything that happened on the battle front.
This scapegoat was in the form of the Russian generals. By this time, the Tsar thought that if he took over as Commander-in-Chief of the army, then they would not do so badly against the Germans. The actual reason why the Russian army was regularly losing to the Germans was not all down to bad leadership, but was due to the lack of weapons that the Russian army had in their possession. The lack of weapons became so bad, that they had to go into battle with wooden rifle, and were told to capture arms from the opposition.
When the Tsar became Commander-in-Chief, nothing was going to change, they would still be poorly supplied with food, ammunition, weaponry and other essentials that are needed to fight a war successfully. Once the Tsar became Commander-in-Chief of the army, he led the Russian army into war, and still suffered heavy military defeats. Now the Tsar had no excuse, no scapegoat was there to take the blame for the lack of military successes. The Russian people now began to realise that there was no one else to blame for all these military defeats, but the Tsar himself.
Now, as the Russians suffered more and more military defeats, and the German army were continuously advancing, more and more territory was lost, but this wasn’t just normal territory, it was productive territory. Most of Russia is not very good for farming, and it is hard to transport goods across such vast a country. The western side of Russia was much more densely farmed, and populated then the rest of the country, so this area manufactured most of the supplies needed by the army who were fighting for this region.
As more and more land was being lost in the productive western front, less and less food and goods were being produced. This led to an increase in the price of food, as it became more scarce, and harder to get hold of. As the price of food increased, the Tsarina and Rasputin, who were currently running the country thought that they could get over this problem, by simply printing more paper money. For a very short time, this seemed to work, but as more and more paper money was produced, the value of the currency became lower, and lower.
The poor handling of the war by the Tsar, and the handling of the economy by the Tsarina contributed to an economic catastrophe in Russia. This made the Tsarist system unpopular among the Russian people. Another modern historian, Michael Florinsky argued that it was the war that had led to the downfall of the Tsar, because after Stolypin’s reforms had taken place, Russia was becoming a more economically secure country. This was as some of Stolypin’s reforms included a new rail network being built, a Duma was set up, and several other factors, which were helping to increase conditions in Russia.
He argued that as the war took the Tsar away from Petrograd, it left Rasputin, and the Tsarina in charge of the running of the country. He also argued that the hunger, and unpopularity of the war led to the Tsar’s downfall. He said that if there had been no war, then the Russian people would’ve been happy with the state of the country, and therefore wouldn’t have revolted against the Tsar. From the evidence given, it shows that the Tsar becoming Commander-in-Chief of the army was the first stage, and triggered the other factors, which eventually led to his downfall.
Once he became Commander-in-Chief, there was no scapegoat to take the blame for the military defeats, as now the Tsar was on the front, trying to lead by example. Once he became Commander-in-Chief, he left his wife, the Tsarina Alexandra in charge of the country along with Rasputin, who he had met due to the circumstances that surrounded the condition of the heir to the throne, Alexis. Once these two were in charge of the army, the Tsar was still on the front, and was suffering heavy military defeats against Germany.
As the Russian army were defeated again and again, they lost more and more productive territory to the Germans. Due to the loss of this productive territory, there became a shortage of food, as less was now being produced. As less food was being produced, less food reached the cities, so it was in higher demand, as people were lacking it. Due to the lack of food in the cities, the price of it rose steeply. Due to the rise in food prices, the Tsarina and Rasputin thought that they could solve the problem by simply printing more paper money.
They did this, which did stabilise the economy for a short time, but as more and more money was produced, the currency became so devalued, that it became almost worthless. The enormous rise in inflation meant that the army, and the people in the cities were all starving. This led to the Bread Riots in February 1917. The people of Petrograd marched through the streets, arguing that they are not able to feed themselves. As a result of this, the Tsar doesn’t know what to do, so he abdicates his throne. His downfall was now complete.