Key Topic1: The collapse of the Tsarist Regime, 1917 The Nature of Tsarist Rule Russia in 1917

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RUSSIA, 1917-39
Key Topic1: The collapse of the Tsarist Regime, 1917
The Nature of Tsarist Rule
Russia in 1917
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Russian economy was much less developed than other countries in Europe country. Only 2% of the population worked in industry; 80% worked in agriculture, which was often very primitive, and there was 80% illiteracy. Many Russians distrusted Western ideas and preferred to use old-fashioned methods. For example, army generals disliked the machine gun and preferred to rely on bayonet charges in battles.
In Russia, there were extremes of wealth and poverty, far greater than in any other European country. These were made worse by big increases in the populations of the two main cities, St Petersburg and Moscow. The number of people living in these cities nearly doubled between 1880 and 1914. This led to overcrowding, shortages of food and unrest. The opposition groups in Russia took advantage of this situation. In 1917 events in Petrograd were all important.
Autocracy, the form of government in Russia, meant that the Tsar had absolute power. He could make laws, appoint ministers and decide on all policies completely on his own. Autocracy led to the creation of many opposition groups in Russia. The most powerful and the biggest was the Socialist-Revolutionaries, who were strongest in the countryside, where they had the support of many peasants. In the cities, the Social Democrats were more influential.
Tsars had traditionally relied on repression to deal with opposition. The secret police, the Okhrana, were very efficient; street disturbances, which were common were broken up by the Cossacks (mounted soldiers from the south of Russia). These methods had usually worked in the past and he had no other alternatives. However, this meant that opposition groups also tended to be violent. Tsar Alexander II was killed by a bomb in 1881 and a Grand Duke was killed in 1904.
Tsar Nicholas II had come to the throne in 1894, when his father Alexander II had died suddenly. Nicholas had had very little preparation for ruling. He was a devoted family man but as Tsar he was weak and easily influenced by others. Even when he took the right decision, he often changed his mind later on. He did not want to be Tsar and was not capable of acting sensibly. However, he felt he had to keep going to pass the throne on to his son.

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