A) Lack of Leadership of Tsar Nicholas II:
- By the turn of the twentieth century, Russian society had never been more divided, nor had a Russian tsar (Emperor) ever been so far estranged from his people.
- Tsar Nicholas II, who had come to power in 1894, had never shown leadership skills or a particular desire to rule, but with the death of his father, Alexander III, the Russian crown was thrust upon him.
B) Revolution of 1905:
- The Revolution of 1905 was a wave of mass political and social unrest that spread through vast areas of the Russian Empire. Some of it was directed against the government, while some was undirected. It included worker strikes, peasant unrest, and military mutinies.
- It led to the establishment of limited constitutional monarchy, the State Duma of the Russian Empire, the multi-party system, and the Russian Constitution of 1906.
- The Duma became a constant thorn in Czar Nicholas’s side, as increasingly radical political parties emerged into the open after years of existing underground.
- Nicholas dealt with the problem by repeatedly dissolving the Duma, forcing new elections.
C) Economic and social factors:
- Change was facilitated by the physical movement of growing numbers of peasant villagers who migrated to and from industrial and urban environments.
- Living in cities, workers encountered material goods such as they had never seen while in the village. There were many encouragements to expect more from life. In cities, they were exposed to new ideas about the social and political order.
- Workers also had good reasons for discontent:
- overcrowded housing with deplorable sanitary conditions,
- long hours at work,
- constant risk of injury and death from very poor safety and sanitary conditions,
- harsh discipline, and
- inadequate wages
- Most of these were the result of rapid industrialisation of Russia.
- The social causes of the Russian Revolution mainly came from centuries of oppression of the lower classes by the Tsarist regime, and Nicholas’s failures in World War I.
- While rural agrarian peasants had been emancipated from serfdom in 1861, they still resented paying redemption payments to the state, and demanded communal tender of the land they worked.
- The World War I only added to the chaos. Conscription swept up the unwilling in all parts of Russia.
- The vast demand for factory production of war supplies and workers caused many more labor riots and strikes. Workers abandoned the cities in droves to look for food.
- The soldiers themselves, who suffered from a lack of equipment and protection from the elements, began to turn against the Tsar.
D) Political issues:
- Many sections of the country had reason to be dissatisfied with the existing autocracy.
- Nicholas II was a deeply conservative ruler and maintained a strict authoritarian system.
- Individuals and society in general were expected to show self-restraint, devotion to community, deference to the social hierarchy and a sense of duty to the country.
- Religious faith helped bind all of these tenets together as a source of comfort and reassurance in the face of difficult conditions and as a means of political authority exercised through the clergy.
- Even after the 1905 revolution spurred the Tsar to decree limited civil rights and democratic representation, he worked to limit even these liberties in order to preserve the ultimate authority of the crown.
E) Factors Related to World War I:
- War as a tool to quiet protests:
- One of the Tsar’s principal rationales for risking war in 1914 was his desire to restore the prestige that Russia had lost amid the debacles of the Russo-Japanese war. Nicholas sought to foster a greater sense of national unity with a war against a common enemy.
- The outbreak of war in August 1914 initially served to quiet the prevalent social and political protests, focusing hostilities against a common external enemy, but this patriotic unity did not last long.
- As the war dragged on inconclusively, war-weariness gradually took its toll.
- Instead of restoring Russia’s political and military standing, World War I led to military defeats that undermined both the monarchy and society in general to the point of collapse.
- Entry of Ottoman Empire distrusts trade route:
- After the entry of the Ottoman Empire on the side of the Central Powers in October 1914, Russia was deprived of a major trade route through Ottoman Empire, which followed with a minor economic crisis, in which Russia became incapable of providing munitions to their army in the years leading to 1917.
- Rasputin and Alexandra:
- In the autumn of 1915, Nicholas had taken direct command of the army, personally overseeing Russia’s main theatre of war and leaving his ambitious but incapable wife Alexandra in charge of the government.
- Reports of corruption and incompetence in the Imperial government began to emerge, and the growing influence of Rasputin (a self-professed ‘holy man’ and a mystical adviser in the court of Nicholas II) in the Imperial family was widely resented.
- Rasputin was a “fatal disease” to the Tsarist regime. In December, a small group of nobles assassinated Rasputin.
- Staggering losses to Russian Forces:
- In 1915, when Germany shifted its focus of attack to the Eastern front, the superior German army – better led, better trained and better supplied – was terrifyingly effective against the ill-equipped Russian forces, driving the Russians out of Galicia, as well as Russian Poland.
- Staggering losses of solders and territory played a definite role in the mutinies and revolts that began to occur.
- Economic crisis, Food crisis, Supply shortages, Strikes, Crimes etc.:
- By the end of 1915, there were manifold signs that the economy was breaking down under the heightened strain of wartime demand.
- The main problems were food shortages and rising prices.
- The war developed a weariness in the city, owing to a lack of food in response to the disruption of agriculture.
- Food scarcity had become a considerable problem in Russia, but the cause of this did not lie in any failure of the harvests.
- The indirect reason was that the government, in order to finance the war, had been printing off millions of rouble notes, and by 1917 inflation had made prices increase up to four times what they had been in 1914.
- The peasantry was consequently faced with the higher cost of purchases.
- At the same time rising prices led to demands for higher wages in the factories.
- Strikes increased steadily from the middle of 1915, and so did crime; but for the most part, people suffered and endured, scouring the city, prostitution for food.
- Nicholas was blamed for all of these crises, and what little support he had left began to crumble.
- As discontent grew, the State Duma issued a warning to Nicholas in November 1916.
- It stated that, inevitably, a terrible disaster would grip the country unless a constitutional form of government was put in place.
- In typical fashion, however, Nicholas ignored them, and Russia’s Tsarist regime collapsed a few months later during the February Revolution of 1917.
- One year later, the Tsar and his entire family were executed by Bolsheviks.
- Spread of Liberalism and Socialism during the world war:
- The Liberals were now better placed to voice their complaints, since they were participating in war more fully through a variety of voluntary organizations.
- This gave renewed encouragement to political ambitions, and, in September 1915, many in the Duma demanded the forming of a responsible government. The Tsar rejected these proposals.
F) Demand for liberal reforms by new middle class
G) Influence of Western Ideas:
- In spite of the attempts of Czars to seal Russia hermetically against the liberal and radical ideas of the West, the influence of Western ideas filtered into the country and produced movements.
H) Czar’s policy of Russification:
- (as Jews, Poles, Uzbeks etc were among many ethnic groups in Russian Empire and they opposed Russification)
I) Weaknesses of the regime
- Failure of the land reforms
- Industrial unrest
- Government repression
- Revival of the revolutionary parties
- One of the Social Democrat leaders was Vladimir Lenin, who helped to edit the revolutionary newspaper Iskra (The Spark). It was over an election to the editorial board of Iskra in 1903 that the party had split into Lenin’s supporters, the Bolsheviks (the Russian word for ‘majority’), and the rest, the Mensheviks (minority).
- Lenin and the Bolsheviks wanted a small, disciplined party of professional revolutionaries who would work full-time to bring about revolution; because the industrial workers were in a minority, Lenin believed they must work with the peasants as well, and get them involved in revolutionary activity.
- The Mensheviks, on the other hand, were happy to have party membership open to anybody who cared to join; they believed that a revolution could not take place in Russia until the country was fully industrialized and industrial workers were in a big majority over peasants; they had very little faith in co-operation from peasants, who were actually one of the most conservative groups in society.
- Social Revolutionaries:
- They were another revolutionary party; they were not Marxists – they did not approve of increasing industrialization and did not think in terms of a proletarian revolution.
- After the overthrow of the tsarist regime, they wanted a mainly agrarian society based on peasant communities operating collectively.