On the 15th of March 1917, the Tsar of Russia was advised to abdicate by his officials, during the third year of war. This was due to the enormous discontent with the economy, and workers began to strike. It was only when the army joined the strikers, when the Tsar realised that he had lost control. The army had refused to fire on their fellow citizens, and instead marched with them to demand a new government. Since the rule of the Tsar had depended on support from the military, the Tsar’s generals advised the Tsar to abdicate.
Although Nicholas tried to give the throne to his brother, and then his son, he could not and so he eventually abdicated. He was arrested within a week, and after a few months, he was assassinated. The tsar had faced other challenges to his authority before, but survived the major rebellion in 1905, and so seemed secure. Because of this apparent security, historians believe the war to have been the major cause of his having to abdicate. There were other problems before the war however, which led people to question the Tsar’s rule.
In Russia at that time, the workers were treated very poorly, had very poor conditions in both the town and countryside, but they even had no political rights. Trade unions were at that time banned, which would have led to some animosity between the workers and authority. The tsar was also growing more and more popular at the time, because there were several groups of people who opposed his rule. Some people wanted to live in a western style country, with democracy as opposed to autocracy, but the tsar dismissed democracy and the calls for an elected parliament as a ‘senseless dream’.
Nicholas made sure both the Church and the Ohkrana enforced his rule. Everything was censored and controlled, to prevent criticism of his rule, and critics were arrested. Because of this oppression, opposition groups were formed. Three groups of opposition developed. There were the middle-class educated Liberals or KaDets, who wanted an elected parliament to aid the Tsar. More extreme were the Social Revolutionaries and the Social Democrats, who wanted the Tsar to be overthrown.
However, where the SRs wanted the peasants to overthrow him, and were prepared to use violence, the SDs followed the ideas of Marx and believed it would be the workers who would overthrow the Tsar. This party became divided eventually into the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, which both had Communist ideals, but their methods differed. The leaders of these opposition groups were often caught and exiled. In 1905, many workers came to St. Petersburg on a peaceful protest, to campaign for better conditions. The Tsar was not present in the city, though, and troops blocked the marchers’ way into the town.
The troops fired at the protestors, and many were killed. This became known as ‘Bloody Sunday’, and was instrumental to the revolution, as was a huge defeat in the war against Japan. The navy mutinied in protest of the humiliating peace, in which Russia lost land to Germany. The workers then started to elect soviets to plan strikes in protest. The tsar was losing control, so he made changes to the way Russia was governed, in the October manifesto. He granted freedom of speech, and the right to a Duma, plus many other aspects.
However as soon as the tsar recovered some of his authority, he destroyed the opposition, and then limited the powers of the Duma. He maintained the right to appoint ministers at any time, and to appoint laws without consulting them. This greatly eroded the Duma’s power, and so autocracy continued. The tsar did not have to give up any of his power, and seemed secure. Rasputin managed to irreparably damage the reputation of the royal family by using his influence of the Tsarina to gain great control over the appointment of ministers.
The tsarina became dependent on Rasputin, and so Rasputin was hated by the general public, and therefore weakened the royal family. In 1914, just before war broke out, the tsar seemed relatively secure, although he had managed to upset almost every section of society in one way or another. He had promised much in the October manifesto, but in the end he was not prepared to give up any of his power. When World War I began, there was initially great enthusiasm, because it was expected to be short, and morale was high due to great patriotism.
The army was quickly mobilised, the Duma promised to support the Tsar and all strikes were ended. The Tsar was popular at this point in time, but then a chain of events occurred which greatly altered his popularity. The Russian army was unready for war; they had few supplies, little ammunition and weapons, and a shortage of medical supplies and food. The leadership structure of the army was also weak, since officials were only chosen for their social status, and not for their ability to lead. This resulted in a massive defeat in battle.
Whole armies were destroyed at the battles of Tannenburg and the Masurian Lakes, although the Russians had expected to win. Quarter of a million soldiers were wounded or taken prisoner in six weeks, and by 1915, three million soldiers were lost. The tsar’s support quickly faded in wake of the immense military defeats, although he could not directly be blamed for the defeats until he took charge of the army in August 1915. This decision was quickly proved to be fatal: the Tsar thought he could make his soldiers win because he was chosen to rule by God’s divine right.
He had little military experience, and this coupled with the fact that he now had direct responsibility for his troops meant that he could be blamed for all defeats. As well as that, the unpopular Tsarina had been left in charge of the country, at Petrograd. She was suspected of being a German spy, and of betraying the army, causing the defeats. She also ignored the Duma, and became completely dependant on Rasputin, further lowering the aristocracy’s popularity. The general public quickly grew to hate Rasputin, since rumours existed about his relationship with the tsarina.
They were thought to be working together to bring down Russia. With the start of the war, Rasputin grew ever more powerful; he was able to place his friends in ever more influential positions, and persuaded the Tsarina to dismiss many men in important positions in a short space of time. Due to Rasputin’s influence over the Tsarina, he was able to give the Tsar advice about how the war should be conducted. The result of his influence was that the royal family’s standing was diminished, and the nobility grew to resent him and his power.
The Inefficiency in government grew much more than might have been the case if Rasputin had not come to power; supplies of food, equipment and fuel to the towns ground to a halt. The workers again grew discontent and went on strikes and held demonstrations, and the army deserted. The murder of Rasputin came too late to save the reputation of the royal family. In the countryside, there were no longer enough peasants left to farm the lands, since they had mostly all been already conscripted, so insufficient food was produced.
The need for workers in the countryside, and conscription also meant that there weren’t enough workers left to man the factories. Many factories closed, which resulted in more unemployment. There were also transport problems, since there weren’t enough trains to provide the soldiers at the Front and the towns with the remaining food, so the civilian population were unable to gain access to the available food. The lack of food created the bread queues and high food prices, so most people could not even afford the food, even if they gained access to it.
These problems were heightened by the hard winter of 1916/1917, when temperatures dropped to -35i?? C. the low temperatures made many trains freeze and burst their boilers. It became increasingly difficult to transport needed supplies. These problems created widespread starvation and high food prices, and a black market came into existence. Inflation became as problem, as the value of money fell. Strikes became very common. Refugees were at the same time pouring into the cities, fleeing from the Germans, causing deterioration in the amount of food available.
By 1917, the Russian crisis was widespread, and all the sections of society became discontent with the rule of the Tsar. The middle and industrial classes were aggrieved by the war defeats, and the shortages of supplies at the Front. They wanted to help rule by government, but the Tsar refused their right to help, and made no constitutional concessions. The aristocracy were angry at the Tsar’s failure and the Tsarina’s bad judgement. Prince Yusopov did help murder Rasputin, but this achieved nothing. The peasants were offered low prices for the food they produced, since the middlemen made the profits.
They were faced with high taxation and wanted to own land. Most soldiers were peasants. The proletariat faced shortages of almost everything, including food and fuel, as well as there being bread queues for highly priced bread. The result was that the government faced enormous pressure from the severe weather of Jan/Feb, and by March, it had totally lost control. There had been 7 million war casualties, raw materials were not reaching the factious, and the unemployment rate was expanding. The final push needed for the tsar to have to abdicate was the March revolution.
Workers were striking at the Putilov engine works because they wanted higher wages. The strike spread quickly, and the strikers often clashed with the army. 90,000 marched for cheaper bread at this point. The tsar was warned of the breakdown of law and order, but he ignored the warnings, and stopped the Duma from meeting. The final event was on the 12th march, because the army did not fire on the strikers on that date, but joined them. Instead the army and police joined the General Strike that had been called. They marched together to demand a new government.
The tsar realised how serious events were, and tried to return to Petrograd. However his train was stopped outside the city. The generals warned him of how serious matters had become, and advised him to abdicate which he duly did on the 15th March. I conclude that although Nicholas had made many mistakes before the war, the mishandling of the war was the final catalyst that led to his abdication. If he had not mishandled the war so badly, he would not have lost the support of the army. The army’s support in previous crises ensured his survival then, but once he had lost their support, he was powerless to act.