The main reason for the February/March Revolution was The World War I. Do you agree?
* The war caused serious food shortages. With millions of peasants conscripted into the army, there were not enough people to produce food.
* Any food there was was unable to make it to the cities to the starving people because the railways were being used to transport troops and supplies to the front.
* Food prices rose and wages stayed the same.
* Millions of Russian refugees fled to the cities for shelter from the advancing German armies. This caused overcrowding and more pressure on food supplies.
* Unemployment rose as factories closed down due to the shortage of manpower, coal and other raw materials.
* Russia faced many military defeats as the army was ill equipped and leaders were chosen for their birth rather than their military skills. The Russian people lost hope and were increasingly disillusioned by the war.
* The Tsar took control of the army, putting himself in the position of blame. The Tsar became very unpopular.
* The Tsarina was left in charge of Russia but she relied heavily on Rasputin who used his influence to put his friends in high places. This made the Russian people angry.
* Even before the war there were problems in Russia.
* The Tsar was incompetent and lacked the necessary qualities needed to make a good leader.
* The entire system in Russia was inefficient. The majority of the population were peasants and the minority were very wealthy.
* The people of Russia were denied freedom of speech.
* Nicholas’s secret police, The Okhrana, were employed to crush any strikes or protests.
* The living and working conditions of peasants and industrial workers were very bad.
* Revolutionary groups were formed: The Liberals, The Social Revolutionaries and The Social Democrats.
* In 1904, Russia suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of Japan. This caused more bitterness towards the Tsar and his autocratic rule.
* In 1905, a peaceful protest took place, with the aim of asking the Tsar peacefully to improve conditions in Russia. It was crushed by the police despite being non-violent. Hundreds of people were killed. The day was known as Bloody Sunday. It caused outrage in Russia and bitterness against the Tsar.
* The Tsar issued The October Manifesto in a bid to gain more control of Russia. But he failed to deliver what he promised in it.
* More people began to resent the Tsar’s autocratic rule and to support the revolutionary groups.
* The introduction of Rasputin caused more outrage in Russia.
“The First World War was the main cause of the March Revolution.”
How far do you agree with this statement?
I do not agree with this statement because the war, although important in order for the March Revolution to happen, it was not the main cause. There were other long term and more important causes which I will explain later.
The First World War did help cause the revolution and in many ways.
Firstly, it caused terrible food shortages. Because of the war, millions of peasants were conscripted into the army causing there to be less people available to produce food. As well as this, any food that was produced hardly made it into the cities where it was needed most. This was because the railways were being used to transport troops of soldiers and supplies to the front instead.
Because of the advancing German soldiers, millions of refugees flooded into the towns in escape. This created overpopulation and made the food shortages worse.
With food prices and unemployment rising and wages staying the same, the people of Russia were dying of starvation.
The war caused even more despair when news from the front reached the city telling of Russian defeats and many deaths. Although the Russian army was big, it was ill equipped with weapons, ammunition and even basic supplies such as boots, medical supplies and food.
In the mean time, the Tsar remained in Petrograd. This made it hard to blame him for the defeats suffered by the Russian army. However, in 1915 Nicholas decided that as Tsar, it was his duty to lead the Russian army in battle. This decision caused him to lose even more popularity since he could now be blamed personally for the continued Russian defeats. It also meant that he was no longer running the government.
Russia was left in the hands of the Tsarina Alexandra. This was a big mistake of the Tsar’s. Alexandra was not very popular in Russia and like Nicholas, was also incapable of governing Russia. What added to the Russians dislike of her was that she was of German birth and so she was suspected wrongly by many of being a spy of Germany. The Tsarina was also hardly seen in public and she ignored the Duma like her husband. This did not do much for her image.
Another factor which made her even more unpopular was her close relationship with the monk, Rasputin. Rasputin was a highly immoral peasant who claimed to possess spiritual powers and the ability to cure the heir to the throne Alexis, who suffered a fatal condition known as haemophilia. Both Nicholas and Alexandra had relied on Rasputin even before the war.
During the war, Alexandra depended heavily on Rasputin, taking his advice on important matters instead of the Duma. Rasputin used his influence to place his friends in important positions. This caused outrage in Russia.
Because of this, Russia’s economy was declining rapidly and conditions worsened. Russia was in chaos. The people were increasingly disillusioned by the war and further food and fuel shortages were caused during the harsh winter of 1916-17.
The government, at this point were extremely unpopular. By March 12th 1917, there was a full out revolution, the March Revolution.
The First World War did a lot to cause the March Revolution but there were other long term and more important causes even before the war, which I will now explain.
Tsar Nicholas II came to power in 1894 at the age of twenty six.
Nicholas, although he took his responsibilities as Tsar very seriously, knew very little about his people. He relied upon his advisors to inform him on current events instead of finding out himself.
Nicholas believed in autocracy. This meant he wanted to rule Russia alone with no Parliament. This was a major long term cause of the March Revolution. He ruled Russia with his wife Tsarina Alexandra and they both intended for their only son Alexis to inherit the throne.
The Tsar was incompetent. He was determined to rule Russia yet he lacked the necessary qualities to do so. This meant that instead of leading the government, he could only disrupt their work. He was too polite to confront ministers and his strange and unpredictable behaviour led to insecurities and rumours within the government.
Nicholas was the only one who had the power to make laws in Russia. Because there was no elected Parliament in Russia, local councils (zemstvos) had to look after important matters such as hospitals and schools. He dismissed the idea of electing a parliament in Russia when there were complaints. Anyone who criticised or disagreed with him was arrested. The Tsar’s secret police, the Okhrana, enforced his rule. All written material was censored and controlled to prevent criticism. The church preached that to oppose the Tsar was a sin.
The entire system in Russia was inefficient. Russia was considered to be a very backward country. This was because it still had a feudal system.
The majority of the population – over 90% were poor and illiterate peasants who barely made enough money for them to live on. The land they worked on was rarely owned by them. Agriculture was also in a very bad state due to the old fashioned, inefficient tools the peasants used.
Above the peasants on the feudal system were the middle class. These were educated people with careers such as doctors, lawyers and business men. They used their skills to earn money.
The small minority of the population who were above the middle class were the aristocracy. They were born into their positions and did not work to earn them. The aristocracy were very wealthy and they lived comfortably on the huge estates they owned.
About 1% of the population owned 25% of the land. Peasants often had uprisings and called for land, but this was never granted and they were crushed by force.
In 1900, industry in Russia started to grow rapidly. Large factories were built and a whole range of industries emerged such as coal mining, iron and steel. Large numbers of peasants flocked to the towns to work in the factories. They were the industrial working class, otherwise known as the proletariats.
The living conditions of the industrial working class were terrible. They had to live in slums and sometimes even in the factories they worked in. They worked long hours and were paid low wages. Although the workers were educated and had revolutionary ideas on how Russia should be ruled, they were not allowed to form trade unions to fight for better conditions and any protests were crushed by the police or the army.
All people were denied basic freedom of speech.
Although Russia was under the Tsar’s complete control, there was opposition to his rule. Three revolutionary groups were formed, all with different motives.
The Liberals (Cadets) were middle class people. They were educated and reasonable. All they wanted was an elected Parliament to help the Tsar to run the country. They were the least dangerous of the three parties.
The Social Revolutionaries were more extreme. They wanted the peasants to overthrow the Tsar and set up a republic. They wanted all land to be ruled by the peasants and were prepared to use violence to further their cause. The SRs were educated people and although dangerous, were small in number. This was because most peasants were very loyal to the Tsar. Therefore, they were not extremely dangerous to the Tsar.
The Social Democrats also wanted to overthrow the Tsar. However, they believed that the revolution would be made by the industrial workers. The SDs followed the ideas of the famous philosopher Karl Marx who believed that history was split into four stages; feudalism, capitalism (industrialism), revolution and finally communism, the ideal state, when everyone is equal. The SDs were clever, unlike the peasants and not very religious. They believed that Russia was ready for a revolution after feudalism and capitalism.
However, in 1903 the group split into two groups; The Bolsheviks (the majority group) led by Lenin, who believed that people should be forced to have a revolution and The Mensheviks (the minority group) led by Trotsky, who believed that people should be persuaded to have a revolution.
One major difficulty for these groups was that their leaders were often in prison or exile.
From 1903, the economy in the towns was suffering and there were bad harvests in the countryside. This caused strikes and violence which was crushed by the army, causing more bitterness towards the Tsar.
In July 1904, Russia and Japan waged war against each other. To the Russian people, the Japanese were seen as inferior and incapable. Therefore, many of them were confident that Russia would win the war without any effort. The Tsar welcomed the war as an opportunity to increase his popularity.
However, the Russian army suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of the Japanese. The war led the people to resent the Tsar’s autocratic rule even more.
Both the industrial workers and peasants were extremely dissatisfied with their working conditions, wages and land and so they decided that they would ask the Tsar peacefully without any protests to improve their conditions.
On 22nd January 1905, about two hundred thousand people led by Father Gapon marched to The Tsar’s winter palace in St Petersburg, carrying pictures of him and singing hymns, to ask him to improve things for them.
However, the Tsar was not in St Petersburg and the marchers’ way was blocked by troops. Fighting broke out and the troops opened fire. Hundreds of people were killed even though they were non-violent, peaceful protestors.
The huge massacre, known as Bloody Sunday was blamed on the Tsar. When news of the unfair killing of innocent people spread, the people of Russia were outraged. Strikes and violence broke out all over Russia. Shorter hours and higher wages were demanded in towns. Peasants attacked landowners’ properties, looting and burning properties as well as seizing the land for themselves.
In September, the Tsar was forced to sign a humiliating peace treaty with Japan. He had to give up Port Arthur and Korea to Japan. This made the people of Russia even more angry at the Tsar. In October, industrial workers began electing soviets (workers’ councils) to plan strikes. The Tsar was clearly losing control. Even some of his own army were supporting the revolutionaries. He needed to gain back some control.
Nicholas issued the October Manifesto in which he granted freedom of speech, the right to form political parties and land for the peasants. He also agreed to the election of a parliament (Duma) by the people.
For the Liberals, this was victory. They had finally achieved what they wanted, an elected parliament. However, the other two revolutionary groups still wanted to overthrow the Tsar.
By now, Nicholas had recovered some of his authority and put down opposition. Revolutionary leaders once again fled Russia. By the end of the year, Nicholas was in complete control of Russia.
In April 1906, the elections for the first Duma were held. However, by then the Tsar had regained so much of his power that he was allowed to dismiss the Duma and call for new elections whenever he wanted, only he could appoint ministers and in an emergency he could govern without consulting the Duma.
The Duma was a huge disappointment. It had not managed to change the conditions of the people of Russia in any meaningful way.
The Tsar had still not delivered any of his other promises mentioned in the manifesto and it was clear that he was not prepared to do so. The people of Russia were now very disappointed in the Tsar.
By this point, Rasputin had entered the picture. The Tsarina Alexandra had heard of him from a friend and summoned him in the hope that the monk could cure her son. Rasputin did seem to affect the young Alexis and was therefore embraced into the royal family. Rasputin was said to be highly immoral as he was often found in the company of women and had a reputation for drinking a lot.
However, he seemed to grow closer and closer to Nicholas and Alexandra. He was even starting to influence the way the Tsar ruled the country. This caused disbelief and outrage in Russia. Rasputin’s relationship with the royal family damaged their reputation even more.
By 1914, the Tsar seemed to have everything under control. All strikes and protests were crushed by the army, the Okhrana rooted out any trouble makers and revolutionaries and the revolutionary leaders were either in prison, in exile or doing labour in Siberia.
However, things were about to change with the outbreak of the First World War.
In conclusion, I believe that the First World War was not the main cause of the March Revolution even though it played a big part in causing it. The March Revolution occurred mainly because of earlier events which I have explained.
Russia was in a bad state way before the war started. Russia’s economy, politics, agriculture and social structure were suffering and in desperate need of modernisation. There already existed food shortages, resentment towards the Tsar and dissatisfaction. The war only magnified these problems and added a few more.
If there had not been so many problems in Russia before the war and Russia had been a healthy country, the war would most likely have not caused a revolution.
As well as this, the war was only a short term cause of the March Revolution as sooner or later, Russia would have to have a revolution. The problems in Russia would probably have built up slowly, increasing resentment towards the Tsar and his autocratic rule, dissatisfaction at bad working conditions and unfulfilled promises as well as support for revolutionary groups until it all led to a revolution, if not for the war. The war was just the spark that lit the bomb.