Main themes in Russian History
Change from above
• Russian politics not democratic for much of its
existence… power in hands of rulers
• Change as a result of war eg Russian defeat in
Crimean war (1856).. Led to Alex II’s reforms in
1860s…. Eg 1905 rev, PG
• 1905 led to Dumas, Feb 1917 – no Tsar, Oct
1917 – creation of first communist state, great
changes to social, econ, pol structure of Russia
• Serfdom – obstacle to modernisation
• 1861 – Emancipation of the Serfs
• Still not completely free, former serfs had
to pay ‘redemption payments’ for 49 years,
forced to live in ‘mirs’, had to get
permission from elders to leave.
• 1864 – intro first form of elective gov
(although electorate limited)
• 1870 – modernised Russian Judicial
system, introduced trial by jury.
• Tsar Alex II assassinated by ‘People’s Will’ (on
way to sign law for first national assembly in
• Alex III – the repressor (not like his dad!)
Problems facing Alex III
• Keeping large multi ethnic empire together
• Needed to maintain own supreme political power
(hard as his dad had raised expectations of
major change!)
• Pressure to become more like west
Repression and reaction
• Widespread support from upper levels of society
(fear of ‘dark masses’!)
• Moderates left office… replaced with more
• Pobedonostsev – Tsar’s chief minister
• April 1881 – Alex III’s manifesto – declared
absolute political power resided in the Tsar
• Aimed to destroy terror organisations like
People’s Will – gov could now arrest and put on
trial political opponents, without jury.
• Press freedom severely restricted (14
newspapers banned 1882-1889)
• Foreign books censored
• University fees increased to exclude all but
the wealthy
• 1884 – uni’s came under gov control
(extremist groups not destroyed, continued
underground, 1887 – tried to assassinate
Alex III)
• Many changes made by Alex II reversed
by Alex III and Pobe
• Wide ranging police powers to deal with all
those who criticised tsarist authority
• From 1890 – gov exercised the right to
choose juries
• By the time Alex III died – Pobedonostsev
had turned the clock back in terms of
social and political reform!
• Policy of ‘Russification’ – insisting on use
of Russian language
• All documents in Russian, all other
languages forbidden in schools
• Jews suffered most – organised attacks
increased during Alex III’s reign
(thousands fled)
Financial reform
• Finance minister Bunge – important
economic and financial reforms
• 1882 – introduced laws which reduced the
tax burden on peasants, peasant land
bank offered loans to peasants
• 1889 – financial incentives to migrate to
Siberia (pressure off demand for land)
• Important: began to finance long term
econ dev from foreign loans
• Whole system underpinned by Okhrana –
infiltrated extremist groups, ran its own
prisons etc.
• Tsar re-established control but at a cost,
political freedom brutally suppressed,
rights undermined
• Many opponents arrested/exiled
• Land issue still a time bomb…. Famines
1891, 1892 and 1893
1881 – On the eve of Alex III’s
1894 – On Alex III’s death
Autocratic rule by Tsar
Autocratic rule by Tsar
Moderate political reform
Repression of political opponents
Backward economy
Financial and econ reform but
economy still far behind great
Violence by extremist groups
Political repression and secret
police tackle extremist groups, but
attacks still occur
Linguistic diversity across empire
Policy of Russification – minorities
Witte – economic/social change
Russia still economically backward
1890s – ambitious programme of econ
• Aim to industrialise but Russia lacked 3
main factors required to industrialise;
1. Russia had a small business class
2. Peasants did not have complete freedom
3. Economy did not have enough funds to
invest in Industry
Witte’s plan (‘Witte system’)
1. Economic development sponsored and
directed by the government (emphasis
on goods like steel etc)
2. Much of econ development was financed
from abroad (eg France, Britain etc)
3. Extra taxes levied on already over taxed
4. Vast construction – Trans Siberian
railway to run 7000km across empire
Impact of the system
Impact was dramatic
Coal, Iron and Oil production all rose
By 1903, much of railway was completed
By 1900 – over ½ of ind workforce employed in
factories of more than 1000 workers…. Eg pop of
St Petersburg doubled from 1890 to 1914
• Russia could exploit vast resources in Siberia
• Rapid growth in towns/cities – led to poor living and
working conditions
• Russia still lagged behind other Great Powers
Radical parties
Appearance of the populist movement
Creation of the Social Democrat party
Creation of the Social Revolutionary
party (SR)
Split in the SD party between
Bolsheviks and Mensheviks
Revolution and October Manifesto
Division of the liberals into two major
groups – the Octobrists and the Kadets
• SR Party – Russia’s future lay with the
peasantry (important role in 1905 Rev)
• SD Party – looked west to the radical ideas of
marxism… industrial development was essential
for Russia to succeed
• Mensheviks – wanted the party to have a broad
membership, admitting anyone who was in
sympathy with party aims.
• Bolsheviks – (led by Lenin) – wanted to limit
membership to those dedicated revolutionaries
who could lead a worker rev
Marx’s view of political/economic
Feudal Phase
• This will change when society industrialises and
the business classes gain more power
Capitalist Phase
• This will change when industrial workers are
treated so badly under capitalism that they will
start a rev and take control of production
Socialist Phase
• In this phase, equality and harmony will develop
under the political guidance of the industrial
working class
The liberals
• Octobrists - believed that the Oct
Manifesto provided the best settlement for
Russia’s constitutional development
• Kadets – more radical liberal group, saw
Oct Manifesto as beginning, not end of
political reform. Hoped a truly
parliamentary system of gov, based on
democratic franchise would eb the best
way to deal with Russia’s problems
• Jan 1905, 150,000 workers demonstrated
outside Tsar’s winter palace (petitions for reform,
expanded suffrage, 8 hr working day, higher pay
• Troops used to disperse demonstration… 1000
demonstrators killed!.... Known as ‘BLOODY
• Sparked a revolution across Russia that
lasted a year
• ‘The 1905 revolution did more than anything else
during Nicholas II’s reign to undermine support
for the regime’ – Historian Richard Charques
Causes of 1905 Revolution
• 1905 Rev was spontaneous, not planned
• Long term resentment… both in Ind and Agr,
Russian peasants faced poverty and poor living
• Demand for political reform – wanted Tsar to
share power with a parliament
• Russo-Japanese war – humiliating defeat
undermined support
• Bloody Sunday – damaged ‘Little Father’s
How did the Revolution develop?
Took many forms;
• Strikes by industrial workers (by end of 1905,
2.7 million workers had been on strike)
• Peasant uprisings (poor harvests, high taxes!)
• Mutinies (in some army/navy units)
• St Petersburg Soviet (creation of an assembly
of workers – leading figure, SD Trotsky)..
Although closed down, its existence =
significance = showed workers could organise
• Oct 1905 – Tsar issued October Manifesto
– proposed freedom of speech, civil rights
etc…. Liberals happy with it, more radical
groups – wanted major social and econ
Result = Oct Manifesto split the
• Oct Manifesto – major turning point – Tsar
regained control
Why did the Revolution end?
• Loyalty of the armed forces – some mutinies, but
stayed loyal to Tsar
• Lack of unity among revolutionaries – lack of
central co-ordination, spontaneity meant armed
forces, police and Black Hundreds could
suppress them. Revolutionaries had very
different aims – fought among themselves
• Splitting of the opposition – October manifesto
split the opposition to the government
OCTOBER MANIFESTO – turning point
Consequences of 1905 Revolution;
• Fundamental Law 1906 – created a
national parliament, with the lower house
(duma being elected), upper house –
partly elected – partly nominated by the
• Article 87 – gave Tsar right to govern by
decree – ignoring parliament
• Dumas – First one elected 1906
Stolypin (Tsar’s chief minister) –
repression and reform
• Severe and ruthless political repression
• Creation of ‘Union of the Russian People’ – political
party designed to defend Tsarist regime
• Nov 1905 – St Petersburg Soviet closed down
• 1907 – 1200 gov officials murdered in terrorist
attacks by revs…. Stolypin met terror with terror –
1144 death sentences handed out
• 1906-1912 – 1000 newspapers ceased publication,
600 trade unions,
• 1908-1909 – convicted 16,500 people of political
crimes (3600 sentenced to death)
Stolypin the reformer?
Wanted to modernise agriculture
• Nov 1906 – freed peasants from control of
• Nov 1906 – land bank to give loans to peasants
• 1907 – redemption payments abolished
• Encouraged peasants to move to areas of siberia,
incentive… cheap land!
• Impact of reforms was considerable…. Agr
production rose from 1906 – 45.9 mill tonnes….
1913 – 61.7mill tonnes
• World War One disrupted these developments!
• Little done to improve living and working
First Duma – broad franchise, Duma dissolved
after 72 days – wanted further reforms
• Second Duma – no. of kadets halfed (many
banned), only lasted 3 months, criticised army
which angered Tsar
• Third and Fourth Duma – elections to duma
restricted to the wealthy – more conservative
Duma (Third served full term, fourth lasted till
outbreak of WW1)… did bring in some
successful reforms… example…
1. Gov introduced a plan to have universal
primary education within ten years
The First World War
• Began well, strong sense of patriotism
• Successes short lived, lower popularity for
• 1915 proved to be the turning point in the
fighting on the eastern
• Defeats in 1915 led to Nicholas’ disastrous
decision…. To make himself
The First World War
• Aug 1916 – Brusilov Offensive failed, poor
command, poor communications, shortage
of equipment
• By Christmas 1916, 1.6 million Russian
soldiers were dead, 3.9 million were
wounded, 2.4 million had been taken
Impact of World War One on
Enormous impact
Great strains on economy
National budget 1913-1916 – X8
Gov printed money – led to inflation
Loss of life, military humiliations – undermined
domestic support for the war
• 1917 – Russian government in crisis!
• Progressive Bloc created from Duma – wanted
more control, denied by Tsar
1915 – Tsarina in charge! Big mistake!
Only ultra conservative tsarists were appointed
Rasputin – monk and mystic
Alexei – heir to tsarist dynasty, haemophilia..
Called in to heal
• Regular member of court, confidant of Tsarina
• Constant ministerial changes – influenced by
Rasputin… Royalists wanted to preserve Tsarist
regime through removal of Rasputin
• 1916 – murdered.
The February Revolution
• Fall of Tsarism was due to a combination of factors, all
associated with Russia’s involvement in the First World
• Jan 1917 – 140,000 workers on strike
• Gov made matters worse saying bread rationing would
start again 1st March… leading to panic buying
• 23 Feb – key event – International Women’s day – tens
of thousands of women took to the streets plus strikers =
• 24 Feb – strikes and dems over food shortages
• Gov shut down all newspapers and public transport
The February Revolution
• Defection of armed forces
Turning point – 25 Feb – Cossack troops
refused to fire on the demonstrators
28 Feb – Tsar calls Duma offering to share
power – they refuse!
• Tsar abdicates – 2 March! His brother
refused the throne… end of Romanov
• In 2 weeks – unplanned demonstration
had resulted in political revolution

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