The Russian Tsarist system was extremely resistant to change in all forms. Reforms were only brought in to preserve, little improvement resulted from these reforms. This made the Tsar’s government ineffective. Reform was needed within Russia to improve the country in economic and military terms. However while the Tsar maintained absolute power, improvement was near impossible. Even war had no impact on the Tsar’s intent to preserve the Tsarist System.
The Tsar’s rule meant that his word was law; he appointed his ministers but did not have to listen to them. He could also ‘hire and fire’ them at will. He fired ministers that he thought would threaten him, and he hired family and friends, who were mostly incompetent and some were corrupt. He was a true autocrat; he would not delegate and tried to do everything himself. The Tsar gained massive personal wealth. He banned political parties, anyone who criticized him were exiled or put in prison. Also the press was censored.
The Tsar was ruling a country that covered a 6th of the earths total land surface. Only 40% of the people were ethnic Russians, 80% where peasants and 60% of the people were illiterate. Life expectancy was age 40 and land ownership was rare. Drought and crop failure was common, which lead to famine and poor health. 64% of peasants who were called up for military were declared unfit.
Despite all this still many Russians worshiped the Tsar and peasants typically had a picture of the Tsar on the wall of their hut. Some peasants did prosper and it was generally the shortage of land rather shortage of food that was the irritant. The rural population grew, but land owned by the peasants failed to keep pace. Faith in the Tsar remained strong but hunger for land would grow.
The Tsar wanted to show the Russian people that he was a strong leader and decided to fight Japan for control of Korea and Manchuria. He expected this to be an easy war and that Russia would gain victory easily. This was not to be the case and Russia suffered defeats on land and sea. Japan destroyed Russia’s Navy. This resulted in the Tsar becoming more unpopular; people felt that Russia had been humiliated. The Conditions for the people got much worse; there were food shortages, price rises and more unemployment.
Russia had grown industrially but living and working conditions were horrendous. The average working day for most people was 14 hours. Trade Unions where banned, but some strikes took place. There was potential for political activism. In January 1905 200,000, workers marched to the Winter Palace. They demanded better living and working conditions, an end to war and to have a parliament. Soldiers fired on the crowd killing over 500 people. This caused increasing support for the Revolutionaries and set off a wave of riots, strikes and murders. After this the Tsar was persuaded to allow some limited freedom of speech and trade unions and established a Duma.
Despite the Tsar’s promises the voting system was unfair as the rich had more influence than the poor. The Duma had little influence over the Tsar and new laws, and the first two Dumas were dismissed for demanding reforms.
Russia was an unfair society that desperately needed social, economic and political reform.
Why was the 1917 March successful?
The First World War weakened the Tsar’s government in many ways. Into the War the Tsar lost support from many key sectors of the Russian society.
The Problems faced in World War One that weakened the Tsar’s government and helped lead to the revolution are the problems for the soldiers, the problems for the peasants, workers and ethnic minorities, the problems for the middle class and the problems aristocracy.
Since the army was made up of mainly conscripts they were not to enthusiastic about fighting, they were mainly fighting to defend the country and not to show their loyalty to the Tsar. The army was also treated appallingly by their officers, which would have made the even less enthusiastic about fighting. The army was short of things like boots, rifles, ammunition, artillery and shells, so they did not stand much of a chance against the opposition. As well as not having enough equipment to go around all the soldiers, they were also badly led. The Tsar took command of the armed forces in September 1915, which made little difference to the war because he was not a very good commander. Since the Tsar was not a very good commander the people held him personally responsible for all of the defeats and blunders in the War. By not having control over the Army during the 1917 revolution meant that the Tsar could not call on them to stop the rioters like in 1905.
Since there was very large death toll during the war, this meant that there were many widows and orphans who needed state war pensions, but they did not always receive them. The government was also not very good at paying for the production of food; so many people in Russia were not getting food. Many of the people had to wait in bread queues to get their food. One of the problems was that there was a lot more food, but it was not getting transported to the cities and towns. The war did create a lot more jobs for people, but they were incredibly underpaid and were extremely overcrowded.
The middle class had to set up their own organizations for getting supplies to the troops, like medical supplies. They were annoyed about this because the government should have been doing all of these things. The industrialists were not getting enough raw materials to fulfill their war contracts, because the government was not getting them to them. The Duma tried to get the Tsar to do something about these problems, but he did not listen and just dismissed them.
The aristocracy was faced with losing their livelihoods because 13 million of the workers had been conscripted into the army, which meant they could not get any to work on their estates. Also many of them did not like the fact that Rasputin had a large influence over the government and the running of the country.
Some other things that contributed to the Tsar’s government becoming weak are that the Duma was always being dismissed instead of being listened to, to improve the country. Stolypin had exiled and hanged many strikers, protestors and revolutionaries, which meant that he was not very popular among these majorities. The living conditions in Russia were still appalling since nothing was getting done about it from the government. The money that was being made for Russia from the industries was all going to the capitalists and being paid back to France which was loaned from them.
This did not help the situation in Russia with the living conditions and food. This caused massive hunger in Russia, and despite all of the jobs made by the war, there was still massive unemployment. Strikes and protestors were being stopped violently by the army. This put the people of Russia against the Tsar’s government even more. Since the Tsar was losing his control over the army, he would not be able to use them against the riots in the 1917 revolution because they would be joining the rioters. The Tsar also did not appoint people in the government who were any good at the job, he appointed family and friends instead of people who might be good at the job and maybe threaten his hold over Russia. The people of Russia did not like all of the advice the Tsar was getting about running the country from Rasputin. Rasputin was said to be a drinker and a womanizer, so he was not trusted by them.
The Tsar had lost the faith of nearly the whole of Russia, the army was joining the demonstrators and the Duma set up a Provisional Committee to take control of the government. Strikers rose to 250,000 and the Industries had come to a standstill. Hardly anybody was listening to the Tsar anymore, the Duma had refused to give back the control of the government and the army refused to stop the revolts by force. The Tsar was in a weakened position, and the people of Russia had had enough of poor governing. By 15 March the Tsar had been abdicated.
The Duma’s Provisional Committee had taken power of the Government and many of the Russian people did not like the decisions they had made for Russia. Lenin, leader of the Bolsheviks, wanted to take the Revolution further and to get the Provisional Government out. In November of 1917 he led a Revolution to take power of Russia. They finally stormed the Winter Palace and arrested the ministers of the Provisional Government.
The Bolsheviks managed all this even though they did not have support from most of the Russian people. This was because most of the Russian people did not like the Provisional Government, and did not want to see them back. Also they had support from the right places; at least half of the army supported them.
So all of these factors led to the 1917 March being successful.
To what extent was disunity among the Whites the main reason for the Reds winning the Civil War?
I believe that the main reasons for the Reds winning the Civil War are that the Whites were disunited; this was in complete contrast to the Reds who were united. The whites were made up of many different groups, all with different aims. It was also difficult for the Whites to coordinate their campaigns against the Reds as they were so widely spread out, Anti-Bolsheviks from inside and outside Russia. There were 3 separate White armies controlled by different leaders who did not work together, and did not have a strong alliance. In fact personal rivalries among the White leaders plagued their cause.
Communication was also poor amongst the White armies who were spread around the edge of Russia, which gave the Reds an advantage. They had internal lines of communication and were able to move troops quickly and effectively by rail. The Whites used far less efficient methods.
In contrast to the Whites, Trotsky was a great leader for the Reds, who was well organized and tactical, and managed to defeat the different sections of Whites one by one. In an amazingly short time Trotsky created a Red army of over 300,000 men, and by 1921 this army had grown to almost 5 million. The White army never rose above 250,000 men who were separated from each other by huge distances around the edges of Russia. Trotsky was seen as a genius, a great leader, a hard worker and a great orator. He was extremely popular among many of the Russian people.
The whites had very little support from the Russian people, the peasants did not really like the Bolsheviks, but many preferred them to the Whites. The main reason for this was that the peasants knew that if the Whites won, landlords would return.
Both sides, Red and White, had caused suffering for the peasants, but generally the whites had caused more. For example both sides would take grain from the peasants, but the Reds would usually leave enough for the peasants, whereas the Whites would take almost all of the grain.
Politically the Whites played into the hands of the Bolsheviks because their slogan “A united and indivisible Russia” alienated national minorities. Also Denikan and Kolchak (White Leaders) were moderates who lacked effective political and economic programs. The whites also underestimated the Reds ability to resist. At times the White armies’ most effective fighters (The Cossacks) were more interested in collecting personal wealth and securing local areas than focusing on the larger issue of driving Lenin from power.