Reasons Why Did The Russian Revolution Occur
Revolution refers to the forceful overthrow of a country’s government so as to introduce a new political system often by using war or violence as stated by the University of Cambridge (2018). The revolution occurred due to a number of reasons such as Russia being involved in The Crimean War, The Russo-Turkish War, The Russo-Japanese War and the First World War often leaving the country’s government and economy weak. Also, peasants who made up most of Russia suffered famine, while the industrial working class experienced poor housing as well as low wages. Soldiers lacked ammunitions and medical supplies during war and Tsar Nicholas II ignored the struggle the Russians were facing leading people to revolt. This revolution led to the collapse of Tsar Nicholas II and the rise of the Marxian socialism under the Bolsheviks and Lenin according to Fernholz (2007). This essay will expound on the reason the Russian revolution took place and issues that led to this revolution.
The Russian state was based on tyranny and arbitary rule and many saw Russia as a country that could not ignore terror and absolutism. This influenced the rise of Mongol, Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great (1553-1584) who wanted to end the selfish and anarchic power of the monarchs. Before the death of Peter the Great, he had succeeded to a certain extent by limiting the power of the monarchs (Fitzpatrick, 1993). Catherine II (1762-1796) became the representative of Europe’s absolutism with the aim of ensuring Russia is not backward and develop like the rest of the Western countries as she had the same aims as Mongol Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great (Qualls, 2003, p.4). Catherine reforms made Russians feel isolated due to the strict punishments she enforced on them. For instance, men had to shave off their beards, all homes in St. Petersburg had to be stone homes and ensure that they adopt to Western dress codes. Additionally, this led to many intellectual reforms suffering brutality while the rest turned to violence. ‘’The failed revolt led to a crackdown of dissent that created a movement of intellectuals who sought to change the system’’ implies that Russians themselves had different views regarding adopting to the Western culture. Some believed that Russia was very backward and should develop whilst many saw that the main reason the development would not work is because of capitalism hence these people wanted to change this system and form a new one thus Catherine II failed to influence the Russians.
Moreover, in the nineteenth century, Marquis de Custine a French aristocrat who was well known for his travel writing visited Russia and was dismayed by the autocracy practiced in Russia and saw the backwardness the country was in. He believed that Russians were oppressed and cut off from the rest of the world whilst the autocrats made all the decisions. In the event of the Napoleonic war, thousands of young aristocrats serving in the army realized that Russia is very backward and deserves progress as well as liberty (Liebman,1972, p45). This led to the rise of Alexander Herzen, a famous revolutionary writer who wrote Émigré paper Kolokol (The Bell): ‘Go to the people,’ which impacted thousands of Russians who left their families, studies, homes and went to live with the peasants. They wanted to be treated like the peasants and to be accepted by them (Liebman, 1972). Furthermore, the Populist movement was categorised into two; the People’s will which mostly considered of aggression and violence and the Black Partition which came up with a strategy to give land to the peasants. Alexander Herzen’s main aim was to ensure that Russia adopts to the Western culture. However, after 1848, the French proletariat was crushed by the bourgeoisie and Populists looked at Western Europe as their competitor in international trade as Herzen would phrase it ‘syphilitic sore infecting the blood and bones of society.’ Moreover, Alexander Herzen had failed to improve the lives of the Russians due to his reforms not satisfying the radicals and liberals who wanted freedom of speech and democracy. Peasants were frustrated about the agricultural reforms as some were given inadequate amount of their needs, it took others about thirty years for them to obtain their land and majority were forced to pay more than the land’s worth. Statistics show that by 1900, 85 percent of Russia earned their living from agriculture and lived in countrysides whilst the peasants lived in absolute poverty (Simkin, 2014). The Populists noticed that peasants were paying for the development of Russia despite them already earning low wages. This was unfair since Russia was not developing as compared to the other Western countries (Riha, 1996).
Due to the Populist being split into two led individuals to have different views as well as opinions influencing the rise of Karl Marx who regarded workers as the catalyst that could help transform the social unrest and replace the Populist movement. Marx saw that the main problem Russia had was that workers suffered due to low wages, poor working conditions and owners being greedy thus if all workers came together and overthrew capitalism a socialism state would be created (Qualls, 2003, p. 8). This socialism state would then be improved to a point where communism would emerge and all individuals will be equal. However, Karl Marx still viewed Russia as a rural and autocratic state that was not ready for revolution. This still did not prevent Russians revolutionaries.
In addition to that, the Russians were dissatisfied with the Czar monarchy as it caused social and economic problems in their country thus in 1881, Czar Alexander II was assasinated and Alexander III responded to this assasination by imposing harsh political restrictions on Russia (Orwell, 2010, p. 7). The Russian socialists wanted to prepare the urban working class, also known as the proletariat for a revolutionary movement. However, the socialists themselves were divided into two; the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks who both had different views on revolution. The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin believed that revolution could effectively take place if the proletariat led the struggle of social change and seize the state power while the Mensheviks assumed that for revolution to take place, the Russians working class had to grow in size and become politically aware (Reed, 2010).
Furthermore, in 1904 prices of essential goods rose drastically that the real wage declined by about 20 per cent (Simkin, 2017, p.12). Georgy Gapon, a Russian Orthodox priest tried to look for jobs for the unemployed by talking to the governor of St Petersburg and factory owners. Nevertheless, he demanded that if workers will be employed they should be treated well, this is in terms of working for not more than eight hours a day, free medical aids, higher wages for women, freedom of trade unions, and an improvement of working conditons. This clearly failed to happen since by 3rd January, 1905, 13,000 workers were on strike and by 8th January, 1905, 110,000 workers went on strike. Tsar Nicholas II became very concerned about thousands of workers going to strike and demanded them to get back to work. However, Gapon argued that workers were being treated like slaves and given unbearable work that humans themselves could not do. Both workers and peasants marched to the Tsar’s palace to present a petition regarding better working conditions and wages. Instead of the Tsar taking this petition into consideration, soldiers ended up firing shots that left hundreds dead and wounded, Oliver (2016). Initially, the peasants and workers would blame their problems on the government, however, after the shooting they viewed the Tsar as an enemy and wanted Russia to revolt.
Russia then got involved in the First World War which lasted for four years, from 1914 to 1918 and was part of the tripple Entente which consisted of the British Empire, France and Russia. The main reason as to Russia joining the war was because Czar Nicholas Romanoff saw the war as an opportunity for Russia to expand and gain more land (Fitzpatrick, 1999, p.38). Since the Napoleonic war, Russia had limited opportunities and saw the war as a chance for their expansion and development. Russia’s expansion may seem impractical since they already had a huge land however, their land was frozen and never had any warm water ports. Consequently, Russia’s involvement in World War One left their economy in tatters and the population freezing and starving. Soldiers suffered due to lack of medical supplies leaving soldiers either dead or wounded. Many soldiers died from wounds that would have been treated and the reason most of the soldiers died was because for 10,000 soldiers there was only one surgeon who could not do all the surgeries. Also, soldiers lacked food and lost battles as they did not have enough ammunitions. Statistics show that the Russian army had 6,553,000 men and only 4,652,000 rifles of course this would lead to defeated battles and many people argue that the men fighting in the Russian army were untrained Simkin (2017). This created a massive impact on Russia as a country.