The Russian Revolution I. Review: Russia from 1815-1853 A. Tsar Alexander I

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The Russian Revolution

I. Review: Russia from 1815-1853

A. Tsar Alexander I (r. 1801-1825)

1. Alexander I initially favored some liberal ideals and

Enlightened despotism (modeled after Napoleon)

a. In 1803, gave nobles permission to free their serfs

but few nobles agreed to do so

Prussia had earlier freed their serfs leaving

Russia as the only major country with serfdom

b. Created a more efficient regime from top to


2. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, Alexander grew

increasingly reactionary.

a. Russian nobles opposed any liberal reforms that

threatened their influence

b. He saw the Russian Orthodox church as an

instrument in keeping his subjects under control

c. Liberals were watched closely in universities and


d. Traveling abroad to study was prohibited

3. He proposed the “Holy Alliance” after the Congress

of Vienna

a. First major post-Napoleon attempt to stop growth

of liberalism

b. Proposed for all monarchs to sign a statement

agreeing to uphold Christian principles of charity

and peace

c. Plan proved to be overly ideological and

impractical and few took it seriously

d. Liberals saw it as a sort of unholy alliance of

monarchies against liberty and progress.

B. Russia: Decembrist Uprising (1825)

1. Alexander’s death led to a power struggle.

a. His brother, Constantine, was supported by liberal

nobles but Constantine did not want the throne.

b. Younger brother, Nicholas, was next in line to the

throne and was supported by conservatives

2. Decembrists (junior military officers): liberal upperclass

opponents of the autocratic Russian system of

gov’t supported popular grievances among Russian


a. First upper-class revolt against Russia’s autocratic

system of government

b. Sought to prevent Nicholas I’s assumption of the


c. Revolt eventually suppressed by Nicholas I and

Decembrist leaders were executed

C. Nicholas I (1825-1855)

1. Nicholas became Europe’s most reactionary monarch

a. Relied mostly on political advice from military


b. Believed in “divine right” of kings

c. Sought to prevent western ideas from penetrating


d. The principles of autocracy, orthodoxy and

nationality became the foundation of the state

e. The Revolutions of 1830 and especially 1848

convinced Nicholas that suppressing liberalism

was crucial to maintaining order.

2. Russia became a police state with censorship, a

secret police (the “Third Section”), and state sponsored


a. No representative assemblies.

b. Education was limited and university curricula

were carefully monitored.

c. Though Nicholas (like Alexander I) believed

serfdom was inefficient, he believed trying to

change it would only stir up rebellion

d. Autocracy resulted in the severe alienation of

Russian intellectuals

Many western books, however, were smuggled

into Russia

3. Intellectuals developed two opposing camps in this


a. Slavophiles believed that the culture of the

Russian village (the mir) was superior to that of

the West.

Saw the mir as a foundation for a future

socialist society

Opposed to autocracy but supported the tsar

Favored the dominance of the Orthodox Church

on society

Suspicious of corruptive bourgeoisie influence

as in France and Britain

b. Westernizers wanted to extend the “genius of

Russian culture” by industrializing and setting up a

constitutional gov’t

Sought an end to serfdom

Due to a lack of parliamentarism in Russia they

believed that revolution was the key to change

II. Russia during the “Age of Mass Politics”

A. Defeat in Crimean War (1853-56) marked a turning

point in Russian history by fostering modernization

1. Russia realized it had to modernize or it would remain

vulnerable militarily and economically

a. The Russian army was largely composed of

uneducated & unskilled serfs who performed

poorly on the battlefield

b. Freeing the serfs now seemed necessary for

military and economic modernization

2. Russia lacked a sizeable middle class that promoted

liberalism economically, politically and socially.

a. This was a key difference for why Russia lagged

behind western and central Europe (e.g. Britain,

France and Germany)

b. The nobility (who controlled the serfs) were not a force for modernization and reform

B. Alexander II (r. 1855-1881)

1. Perhaps the greatest reform-minded czar since Peter

the Great

a. Most liberal ruler in Russian history prior to 20th


b. Yet, Russia still remained largely autocratic during

his reign

2. Alexander believed serfdom had retarded Russia’s

modernization: agriculture had been poor for


a. 90% of Russian people worked in agriculture

b. Serfs could be bought or sold with or without land

in early 19th century

c. Nobles enjoyed an unlimited source of labor from

serfdom and thus were not motivated to improve

agricultural production.

d. Serfdom had led to over 1,500 peasant uprisings

during the first half of the 19th century

Alexander sought to convince nobles that if

serfdom were not abolished peasants would

take matters into their own hands against the


e. Serfs could be conscripted into the army for 25


Few survived their term of service

Wives of conscripts could actually remarry 3

years after husbands began their military


3. Emancipation Act (or Emancipation Edict), 1861

a. Abolished serfdom

Peasants no longer dependent on the lord

Free to move and change occupations

Could enter contracts and own property

b. Land was given to serfs via the mirs.

c. Nobles were compensated by the state for land

given to serfs

Serfs had to pay gradually back the state over

a period of about 50 years.

d. Yet, most Russians not significantly impacted by

the Emancipation Edict

Mirs: most Russians lived in communes which

were highly regulated and that organized

payments to the state for land lost to nobles

Collective ownership and responsibility made it

difficult for individual peasants to improve

agricultural methods or leave their villages

e. Many serfs migrated to cities, despite restrictions

on leaving the mirs

4. Zemstvos established in 1864 by Alexander’s

decree: district or village assemblies that

administered local areas

a. Significant step towards popular participation

where peasants would elect representatives

b. Yet, in reality noble lords controlled the Zemstvos

and thus had more influence than towns and

peasant villages

5. Other reforms

a. Judicial system improved

Modeled on British system; separate judicial


Public trials by jury

Yet, czar could overturn court decisions and

political cases were often transferred to a

secret court martial

b. Term of military service reduced from 25 to 6


c. Brutal corporal punishment was eased

d. Censorship was relaxed during his early years but

eventually reinstated

e. Education liberalized

6. Industrialization in Russia was stimulated by railroad


a. Russia had fallen behind major industrialized

nations in Western & Central Europe

b. Russia needed better railroads, better armaments

and reorganization of the army

c. Between 1860 and 1880 railroad mileage grew

from 1,250 to 15,500

d. Railroads enabled Russia to export grain and earn

profits for further industrialization

e. Stimulated domestic manufacturing: industrial

suburbs grew up around Moscow and St.

Petersburg, and a class of modern factory workers

began to emerge

f. Strengthened Russia’s military giving rise to

territorial expansion to the south and east

7. Critics of Alexander II late in his reign

a. Alexander increasingly became more conservative

and autocratic

b. Anarchists, led by Mikhail Bakunin, believed

the state should be destroyed altogether

c. Nihilism: intellectuals who believed in nothing but

science and that the social order should be

completely wiped out and built up from scratch.

d. In response to nihilism, a radical populist

movement emerged that sought a utopian

agrarian order—shared Slavophile beliefs

8. Alexander II assassinated in 1881 by radicals who

bombed his carriage in St. Petersburg

C. Alexander III (r. 1881-1894)

1. Became most reactionary czar of the 19th century:

a. Sought to rule Russia through “Autocracy,

Orthodoxy, and Russification (nationalism)”

Zemstvos influence reduced and judicial power

shifted to the police and military courts.

o States grip on higher education was


Russian Orthodox Church persecuted other

religious groups (that constituted about 1/3 the

empire’s population)

Encouraged anti-semitism: pogroms resulted

in severe persecution of Jews (many


o Theodore Herzel: zionism -- advocated a

Jewish homeland in the Holy Land as a

remedy to continued persecution of Jews in

eastern and central Europe

Languages other than Russian were banned

(although Russians accounted for only 40% of

the empire’s population).

D. Count S. Y. Witte oversaw Russian industrialization in

the 1890s

1. Aggressively courted western capital & advanced

technology to build great factories

2. Resulted in rise of a small Russian middle-class

3. Gov’t built state-owned railroads doubled to 35,000

miles by 1900

Construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway helped

to modernize Russia; connected Moscow with

Vladivostok—5,000 miles

4. Russia put on the gold standard to strengthen the

government’s finances

5. By 1900, Russia 4th in steel production (behind U.S.,

Germany & Britain)

6. By 1900, Russia exported half the world's refined


7. As in western Europe, industrialization in Russia

contributed to the spread of Marxist thought and the

transformation of the Russian revolutionary

movement after 1890 (as industrial workers felt


E. Despite economic and social reforms, Russia's economic

problems were still profound by 1900

1. 1/3 of Russian farmland not used; food could not keep

pace with increasing population

Russia had become the most populous nation in

Europe by the late-nineteenth century

2. Depression of 1899 wiped out gains since 1890

resulting in tremendous unemployment

3. 60% of the population was illiterate, although literacy

was growing in urban areas like Moscow and St.


4. Russia’s plight was aggravated by Russo-Japanese

War of 1904-05

F. Nicholas II (r. 1894-1917)

1. Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905)

a. Russians had established a sphere of influence in

Manchuria and now sought Korea (which had just

been acquired by Japan in the Sino-Japanese War)

Sought a railroad through Manchuria to

Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean

b. Russian fleet was destroyed by Japan in 1904 and Russian losses were heavy at the bloody land

battle at Mukden

c. Treaty of Portsmouth (1905)

Russia accepted Japanese control of Korea,

concessions to Japan in Manchuria, and half of Sakhalin island

d. The Russian government now turned its attention away from east Asia and focused instead on expanding Russian control in the Balkans

e. Russia’s dismal showing in the war became a

major cause of the Revolution of 1905.

Many Russians were angry that soldiers were dying in a far away location for a losing cause

2. Revolution of 1905

a. Liberalism had gradually grown in certain

segments of the Russian population over the

previous 50 years.

A professional middle class emerged due to

increased educational opportunities, increased gov’t jobs, and industrial development.

Liberals also included some nobles and some leaders of the Zemstvos

Poor economy and strains of war led peasants, the growing urban proletariat and the middle class to demand reforms.

Some reforms included reduction of the work day (1897) and a factory insurance law (1903).

b. “Bloody Sunday”, Jan. 1905: 200,000 workers &

peasants marched peacefully to the "Winter

Palace" asking the tsar for reforms.

Czar was not in town.

Army fired on marchers in cold blood, killing about 300 and wounding an additional 1,000

c. A general strike, peasant revolts and troop

mutinies paralyzed Russia by October and

Nicholas was forced to make concessions.

One of the largest concessions was the

creation of a national parliament—the Duma.

Serfs no longer had to make payments to the state for lands received due to emancipation

Poles and Lithuanians were allowed to once

again use their own languages

Religious toleration allowed in Poland.

Political trials were returned to regular courts

Some restrictions on Jews were abolished

d. The October Manifesto of 1905 created the


The Duma met for the first time in spring 1906

o The majority consisted of Constitutional

Democrats (Kadets) who were committed


The Duma was a national assembly that would serve as an advisory body to the tsar

o Representatives elected by universal male


Granted freedom of speech, assembly and


Tsar retained absolute veto

Revolutionaries were divided, however,

resulting in Duma having no real influence

o Propertied classes benefited at expense of

workers, peasants and national minorities

e. Nicholas eventually dissolved the Duma twice in


Some Kadets sought to reduce the power of the tsar, give certain noble lands to peasants and make government officials answerable to the Duma

Many liberals and middle-class professionals continued to urge reform

A third Duma was created in 1907 that was

more conservative and sympathetic to the tsar.

f. Repression was used successfully by the regime to weaken political opponents or sympathetic critics

of the regime

Government-sponsored violence occurred in Latvia and Estonia in 1906 resulting in over 1,000 deaths.

Jews were once again savagely persecuted

German, Russian and Polish property owners were attacked

Almost 1,000 alleged political opponents were executed due to sentences by military courts in 1906-07.

3. Russia experienced mild economic recovery between

1907 and 1914

a. Peter Stolypin: new prime minister who pushed

through important agrarian reforms to break down

collective village ownership of land and encourage

the more enterprising peasants (kulaks)

Much land was transferred from communes to private owners.

b. Stolypin assassinated in 1911 (perhaps at the

request of nobles who saw him as too liberal)

c. Between 1911 & 1914 many industrial strikes and peasant violence occurred as dissatisfaction with the tsar’s regime grew.

4. Russia’s poor showing in World War I directly led to

the Russian Revolution

III. Rise of socialism in Russia

A. 1898--Social Democratic Worker's party founded in Minsk

with Vladamir Lenin as leader; Lenin eventually exiled

to Switzerland

1. Lenin became the heir to Marx in socialist thought

2. Three basic ideas central to Lenin’s philosophy:

a. Capitalism could be destroyed only by violent

revolution; he denounced revisionism

b. Socialist revolution was possible under certain

conditions, even in relatively backward Russia.

Peasants were poor and thus potential


c. Necessity of a highly disciplined workers’ party,

strictly controlled by a dedicated elite of

intellectuals and full-time revolutionaries

This constituted a major difference with Marx

who believed in a revolution controlled by the


B. 1903, Social Democrats (Social Democratic Worker’s

Party) split into two factions

1. Mensheviks (the "minority"): Wanted to await the

evolution of capitalism and the proletariat; sought a

more democratic party with mass membership

2. Bolsheviks (the "majority"): Followed Lenin's ideas

C. In light of the 1905 Revolution (“Bloody Sunday”) the

Bolsheviks in exile planned a revolution

1. Lenin and Leon Trotsky formed workers' Soviets

(councils of workers, soldiers and intellectuals)

2. Influence of Socialists, soldiers Soviets, & other

parties and soldiers’ increased before WWI

IV. The February Revolution, 1917

A. Causes for the overthrow of Nicholas II

1. Russia’s poor showing in the Russo-Japanese War

earlier had damaged the regime’s credibility and had

led to some reforms in 1905.

2. After 1905, widespread discontent with the regime

continued due to the lack of significant reforms after

the Revolution of 1905.

3. Most important cause: the tremendous human and

economic toll on Russia during World War I was the

most important factor leading to the revolution

a. Massive military casualties and food shortages

b. The tsar’s leadership during the war was

increasingly seen as incompetent

c. While the tsar was off fighting the war, the tsar’s

widely hated wife—Tsarina Alexandra—and court

was unduly influenced by the notorious Rasputin

The tsarina believed Rasputin had mystically

saved her son (and heir to the throne), Alexei,

from death due to hemophilia

Russia’s gov’t ministers were increasingly

frustrated by Rasputin’s hold on the royal


Noble conspirators eventually killed him

B. The Revolution was centered in St. Petersburg


1. Revolution was started by massive strikes in January

and February, largely caused by food shortages.

a. Notably, women rioted for bread in Petrograd and were supported by workers and soldiers

b. Demonstrators demanded the overthrow of the

tsar and the creation of a provisional government.

c. Thousands of soldiers, who had been ordered to

suppress the strikes, now gave the support to the


2. Nicholas II abdicated his throne on March 2

a. The royal family was placed under house arrest

b. Only about 1,000 Russians had died in the


3. The Duma responded by declaring a provisional gov’t

on March 12, 1917.

C. The Provisional Government

1. A dual government, in effect, ruled Russia

a. The Provisional Gov't consisted of Constitutional

Democrats and liberals, many of whom wanted to

continue the war

b. Petrograd Soviet consisted of workers and

soldiers who had overthrown the tsar (soldiers

now controlled the army)

Mensheviks led its organization

The Soviet accepted authority of the

Provisional Government seeing it as the best

chance for maintaining control of the country

Soon, the Soviet brought together

representatives from other soviets and

emerged as a national body.

Popular pressure demanded more radical


2. Alexander Kerensky became leader of the

Provisional Gov’t (while remaining a member of the


a. Participation of Kerensky and other socialists in

the new coalition government gave the Provisional

Government more legitimacy

No longer was the gov’t an exclusively

bourgeois institution

Sought peace in the war without losing land to

the Central Powers

b. Implemented liberal program

Equality before the law

Freedom of religion, speech, and assembly

Right of unions to organize & strike

Amnesty of political prisoners

Election of local officials

8-hr work day

c. Kerensky rejected outright social revolution

Didn't want to immediately confiscate large

landholdings and give them to peasants

3. Army Order #1 (March 1, 1917)

a. Issued by the Petrograd Soviet seeking to replace

military officers loyal to the tsar and place the

Soviet in firm control of the army

b. Stripped officers of their authority and placed

power in the hands of elected committees of

common soldiers

Soldiers feared that in the future they might be

liable for treason against the tsar

c. Led to collapse of army discipline

d. The Allies recognized the Provisional Government

hoping it would continue the war on the Eastern


4. Anarchy effectively plagued Russia by summer of


a. Numerous nationalities and local governments

took matters into their own hands

b. Russian peasants (like what had occurred in

France during the Great Fear of 1789) began to

take lands from the lords, often violently

By 1920, the number of landless peasants had

decreased by half.

V. October Revolution resulted in a communist dictatorship

A. Rise of Vladimir I. Lenin

1. Germany arranged for Lenin to be transported back to

Russia in a sealed railroad car in April, 1917

Hoped to get Russia out of the war by fomenting a

more radical revolution that demanded peace

2. "April Theses" (1917): Lenin rejected all cooperation

with the “bourgeois” provisional government

a. Called for a "Socialist revolution" and

establishment of a Soviet republic

b. Nationalization of banks and landed estates

c. “All Power to the Soviets”; “All Land to the

Peasants”; “Stop the War Now”

3. Lenin believed that a communist revolution could

occur, even in an industrially backward country such

as Russia.

However, breaking with Marx, Lenin believed that

a small professional revolutionary elite would have

to force the issue.

4. The Provisional Gov’t sought to repress the

Bolsheviks but were largely ineffective

Lenin forced to flee to Finland but continued

issuing directives to Bolsheviks while in exile

5. The Bolsheviks gained a slim majority in the

Petrograd Soviet by the summer of 1917

B. Fall of the Provisional Government

1. Kornilov Affair (August 1917)

a. Conservatives plotted an overthrow of Kerensky’s


Dissatisfied with Kerensky’s handling of the

war, inability to suppress Bolsheviks, and

peasant seizures of land

b. The plot eventually failed without bloodshed

c. However, Kerensky lost all credit with the army

d. Fear of a right-wing counter-revolution played into

the Bolsheviks’ hands as they were able to cast

themselves as the defenders of the revolution

2. Kerensky's refusal to end the war and prevent

anarchy led to fall of Provisional Gov't

C. Politburo formed to organize the revolution: included

Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin

D. October 25, Leon Trotsky, leader of the Petrograd

Soviet (the Red Army), led the Soviet overthrow and

arrest of the provisional gov’t

1. Trotsky was the second most important figure in the

October Revolution

2. The Provisional Government collapsed with relatively

little bloodshed (compared to the February


3. October 26, the Bolsheviks, who controlled the

Central Committee of the Congress of Soviets,

officially took control of the government.

E. Opponents of the Bolsheviks were arrested, including

many Mensheviks

1. Cheka, the secret police, created in December to

eliminate opponents

Became a much feared organization with virtually

absolute power

2. New elections for the Constituent Assembly

a. Lenin’s campaign: "Peace, Land, Bread"

b. Bolsheviks lost (only 29% of vote) but overthrew

new gov't in January 1918 with the Red Army

3. Bolsheviks soon thereafter were renamed the

Communist Party

4. The surprising result of the revolution was not that

the Bolsheviks took power but maintained power,

even though they were a small minority

F. Lenin’s reforms

1. Lenin gave land to peasants (although peasants

already had taken it, much like the “Great Fear” of

the French Revolution)

This move was shrewd in that Lenin had no real

control over lands in the countryside but was now

perceived as a friend of the peasantry

2. Lenin gave direct control of individual factories by

local workers’ committees.

3. Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918 took Russia

out of WWI

a. It was clear to Lenin that Russia had lost the war

to Germany

Prolonging the war would continue adding to

Russia’s misery

He was willing to achieve peace at any price

Many Bolsheviks disagreed with Lenin initially

but Russia’s poor showing in early 1918

convinced them to support peace

b. Provisions

Russia lost 1/3 of its population and 25% of its


Lost territories included the Baltic states,

Poland, Ukraine and Finland

c. Germany’s defeat by the Allies in November

nullified the treaty

4. Lenin moved the gov’t from Petrograd to Moscow

5. Trotsky reorganized the army

6. These actions resulted in much opposition to the

Bolsheviks and ultimately the Russian Civil War

VI. Russian Civil War (1918-1920)

A. “Reds” (Bolsheviks) vs. “Whites” (included officers of

old army, and 18 groups proclaiming themselves the real

gov't of Russia—had no leader to unify them)

1. Many peasants feared the Whites and thus supported

the Reds

2. Both sides proved to be extremely brutal

3. Over 2 million people left Russia due to the revolution

and the civil war

B. Allies sent troops to help "Whites," hoping to get Russia

back into the war

1. Archangel Expedition in Murmansk sought to keep

military supplies from falling into German hands

U.S. contributed about 5,000 troops

2. Allies also sent troops into Siberia to save thousands

of marooned Czech troops, prevent Bolsheviks from

gaining supplies and prevent Japan from taking

control of Siberia

3. The Russian communists never forgot the fact they

had been invaded by the U.S. and the Allies

C. “War Communism”: Bolsheviks mobilized the home

front for the civil war

1. Earliest form of socialism in the Soviet Union

2. Applied a "total war" concept to the civil war

3. Declared that all land was nationalized

4. State took control of heavy industries and ended

private trade

Resulted in huge decline in production

5. Forced peasants to deliver food to towns

6. Cheka (secret police) hunted down and executed

thousands of opponents, such as the tsar and his

family and other enemies of the proletariat

D. By 1921, the Reds were victorious

1. Communists extremely well organized and highly


The Red Army prevailed under Trotsky’s


2. Whites were divided and poorly organized

3. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)

was created in 1922

E. Results of the Russian Revolution:

1. Costs: 15 million dead, economy ruined, international

trade gone, millions of workers fled the country

2. Creation of world's first communist society: one of

the monumental events of 20th century

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