Short-Term Causes of the end of Tsarism (March 1917)

  • Petrograd workers protest food shortages and criticize the Tsarist regime, March 8-10 Petrograd was on of the main cities of the empire
  • The Russian government was very tenuous- whether it would survive at all was point of debate in the years preceding World War One
  • The war was leading to huge inflation, food shortages and fuel shortages
  • Army units refuse to obey the Tsar’s orders to shoot demonstrators, then join the protests and seize government offices, March 11-12
  • As Nikolas attempted to regain control, it became apparent that he had little authority over even the administrative members of his government
  • Leading army generals oppose suppression of the rebellion by force, and urge the Tsar to abdicate, March 13-15
  • The human costs of the war – over 1 million deaths and nearly 4 million soldiers taken prisoner – and the numerous defeats suffered by the Russian army undermine support for the Tsar (means maybe one in seven fighting age men were either killed or taken prisoner)
  • Most of the population were poor peasant, descendants of or former serfs
  • By March 12 and 13 the Duma, the national parliament created in 1905, and the Petrograd Soviet, a council of workers also first created in 1905, start to exercise national power
  • Both of these councils wanted to assume full power- struggled in competition, but were united against the far right
  • The election for Duma was rigged to favor the wealthy….

Long-Term Causes of the March Revolution

  • The poverty of the Russian people, the oppressiveness of the state, and the weakness of republican institutions since the late 18th century, all in comparison with western European societies
  • Support of a large part of the Russian elite from the mid-19th century for radical changes in the Russian state and in Russian society

  • The failure to undertake reforms until military defeats in the Crimean War (1854-1856) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) humiliated the state
  • The loss against the Japanese was monumentally embarrassing

Reasons for the Bolshevik Seizure of Power in November 1917

  • The Duma executive continues the war, initially with some popular support, with disastrous results – defeats in the July of 1917 discredit the government
  • The leaders of the Duma fear a return of Tsarist officials to power, alienate the army, and refuse to take firm measure against the Bolshevik threat
  • The Bolshevik Party resolutely opposes continuation of the war, increasingly a popular position
  • The Bolsheviks have no scruples about seizing power by force from the executive committee of the elected Duma
  • The decisive role of Lenin, who focuses resolutely on taking power, is prepared for virtually any tactical compromise, and treats all opponents with ruthlessness

“It is not when things are going from bad to worse that revolutions break out.  On the contrary, it oftener happens that when a people that has put up with oppressive rule over a long period suddenly finds the government relaxing its pressure that it takes up arms against it.” -Alexis de Tocqueville, French historian, writing about the French Revolution

  • The Russian Calendar was two weeks behind the European calendar until 1919- that is therefore why the October revolutions in fact happened in November
  • The Bolsheviks banned all other parties in the early 1920s
  • There had been an attempt at revolt by the Decembrists- a group of individuals who wanted a constitution after fighting the Napoleonic wars. They had seen the governments of Western Europe and wanted to have a Russian system modeled after that
  • Series of Russian defeats in war was the catalyst for government change- not really public unrest
  • The Tsarist regime fell partially because of the stress of the first World War, inherent weaknesses in government, and the unrest and anger felt by the social elite in Russia
  • The attraction of Marxism was interesting- by Marx’s own analysis, the mostly agrarian population of Russia was not yet ready for a communist revolution
  • Lenin’s grandfather had begun his life as a serf, he mother was from the middle class. His older brother was chemistry student at the university of St. Petersburg…it was here that he was caught up in political currents and was arrested for his involvement in an assassination attempt
  • In Feb 1917 Lenin was stuck in Switzerland, really wanted to get to Russia. Got there with the help of the Germans who wished to weaken the government of Russia. Good call as he played a central role in toppling the government.
  • Staged a coup with 15-17 thousand soldiers based primarily out of Petrograd, occupied government offices and buildings

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