History of Russia
Slav Settlement In Russia: From 1500 BC
Since prehistoric times, nomads have occupied the broad pathway called the steppes from Central Asia into Russia. It was only around ten thousand years ago, that northern forest region, that remained covered in ice until the last glacial period ended, saw human habitation.
An Indo-European group called the Slavs began settling in Western Russia and Poland regions from around 1500 BC. Khazars, another group and others dominated the steppes, making it vulnerable to attacks.
Presence Of Vikings From The 9th Century In Russia
During the 9th century AD, the Vikings penetrated deep into Russia with trading being the main reason, not plunder. Sending goods became easy between the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, with rivers in Eastern European rivers flowing south and north.
One trading centre, most favored was area near Lake Ilmen. Close to this Lake are headquarters of the Volga, Dnieper and Dvina rivers, all close to each other. These rivers flow into the Caspian, Black and the Baltic Sea. These regions were important for trading, for ferrying goods via water. The Rus also known as the Viking tribes made a base at the Novgorod site, by early 9th century.
The Rus were not Slavs however there is justice in Russia getting its name from Rus. Trade developed down the Dnieper Sea, which became known as the ‘Great Waterway’ or the Austrvegr.
Kiev town was seized and the headquarters were moved down the Dnieper, by Oleg, leader of the Vikings, in 882. With the Byzantine Empire he negotiated a commercial treaty in 911.
Triangular trade took place between the northern wild forests, the steppe lands located in the middle and civilized Byzantium placed in the south, at the Russian City.
The 10th – 11th Century First Russians
In the 10th century Vikings continue to be rulers of Kiev. However, as they settled down and became more prosperous they became aware of their new identity – that of being Russians. Vladimir captured Kiev from a rival in 980 and was proclaimed Russia’s prince.
It was in full-blooded pagan style, wenching and fighting that his early life was spent by Vladimir. He was credited with 800 concubines by the Chronicles, However Russia attained a characteristic identity due to his one particular step in 988 which brought him the halo of saint, personally. In the effort of finding out which religion is the best, an envoy is sent out by him. He is persuaded to choose Christianity’s Greek Orthodox brand for Russia.
In towns controlled by Vladimir and family, imposition of the new religion is done rapidly. In 989, the Novgorod inhabitants are baptized rapidly.
In 980, Vladimir won Kiev after a tough battle between him and his brothers. In 1015 after Vladimirs death, the process repeats. Yaroslav the Wise, the survivor out of Vladimir’s 5 sons, becomes the successor. In 1019, the last of the brothers is killed by Yaroslav and he becomes, Kiev’s grand prince.
Descendents Of Vladimir (1019-1169)
Russia is established during, Yaroslav’s reign of 35 years. Kiev is the capital and Russia now is established as a kingdom in mainstream medieval Europe. The throne for a dynasty is secured which survives till the time of Boris Godunov for six centuries.
As per the Byzantine tradition, Kiev is converted into a glorious Christian city, by Yaroslav. The town is given a Golden Gate to the fortress of the town, there are monasteries founded for monks who wish to pursue religious orders and last but certainly not the least, an ornate cathedral built.
Justinian is followed by Yaroslav to commission a codification for laws in Russia. It was during his reign that the Russkaya Pravda (Russian Truth) legal code is founded.
As compared to his contemporaries, Yaroslav plays the matrimonial diplomacy medieval game as assiduously as anyone else. He gets his 3 daughters married to kings of Hungary, France and Norway. The four sons he had guaranteed bloodshed after his death just as been happening in the past. But Yaroslav did not want a replay of the past. An inheritance code is devised by Yaroslav to prevent his sons from killing each other.
The whole of Russia is to be under the control of the ruling family as per the Yaroslav’s inheritance system. Kiev is to be ruled by his eldest son, while others are assigned to other territories. A general post is created after the death of a prince of Kiev. The senior brother next in line will move to Kiev where adjustments are similar all through the realm. The scheme’s essential element is that brothers will take precedence over their sons ensuring that younger brothers are given an opportunity to inherit the throne without having to resort to war.
Yaroslav’s plan becomes a success. In a span of 4 decades (1054-1093) his 3 sons succeed him peacefully.
Structure of the family becomes bit more diffused after the 2nd generation with one line of descent prevailing over the others. The third son of Yaroslav marries a Greek princess in Constantinople, born in an imperial family.
After Yaroslav dies, a hundred years later, the cousins in this line of descent fight for succession with each other. Kiev is threatened by new dangers from the south, Yaroslav himself grants the independence of Novgorod from Kiev and lastly the power shifts around Moscow towards the north.
Kiev’s Decline (12th Century-14th Century)
Kiev did well as a trading post because of its access to the wide steppes of Central Asia and Eastern Europe through which trade flowed. Though not an all weather terrain, it was relatively hospitable all year round. However, danger also lurked in the steppes. The arrival of Kipchak Turks (known as Polovtsy to the Russians) who were known to be marauding groups of clans on the steppes is mentioned in the Russian chronicle of 1054.
Trade in Kiev is disrupted frequently by the Kipchak. Kiev becomes a weakened city and in 1169 a Vladimir based royal family’s rival member conquers the city. In 1240 the Mongols arrive and destroy Kiev.
How Novgorod Gains Independence (1019-1478)
Novgorod had special advantages to become a trading centre. It linked Northern Russia’s fur-rich forests, the Baltic and Eastern Europe’s developed civilizations, making it a vital settlement of the Rus. Novgorod gains prosperity due to these advantages acquiring the ‘commune’ status like other famous mercantile European centers during the Middle Ages. In 1019 the city is granted a self-government charter by Yaroslav, the grand prince with Novgorod’s active support.
From the year 1019, the ‘Veche’, an assembly of citizens, rule Novgorod. Main function of the city’s prince is military but by vote of the Veche, the Novgorod prince from the royal family is selected (and dismissed on occasion).
After Kiev loses its authority in the 13th century, independence to a greater degree is asserted by Novgorod. In place of the prince, a city magistrate is elected by the Veche from 1270. Though executive responsibility is held by him, it is in an abstract civic concept that the authority resides ultimately. In other words, the ruler is the city itself.
In 1240, on Novgorod’s behalf, Alexander Nevsky defeats Sweden located in the northwest. Besides this, Poland and Lithuania to the southwest and Vladimir’s grand principality to the southwest are also defeated. Moscow and Poland contend for Novgorod from the later part of the 14th century. In 1478, the contest is won by Moscow, decisively.
The princes of the royal dynasties move northeastwards into the Russian forest from Kiev, during the 12th century, though in doing so they have to forsake the insecure but easy terrain of the steppes. Andrew Bogolyubski, one of the princes makes his capital at Vladimir in 1157.
Then he sends an army against Kiev in 1169 when he becomes strong enough. When the old capital city is captured he transfers the pride and dignity of the conquest to Vladimir and assumes the grand prince title.
Fate isn’t too good as Mongols sack Vladimir in 1238. The very same year Moscow located 120 miles towards the West, faces the same fate. From all directions the towns face years of pressure that is truly alarming. The country also has to deal with rampage by Mongols. All around are states and kingdoms ready to take advantage of the war ravaged towns. Both Teutonic knights and Sweden converge on Novgorod, making the most of this opportunity. In 1240 and 1242, in a dramatic display of valor, Alexander Nevsky sees off both.
In 1252, Vladimir’s grand prince is Alexander. He is skilful as a soldier and as a diplomat. He accepts a subservience position to the Mongols.
Zolotaya Orda Or The Golden Horde: 1237-1395
The invading Mongols were given the name the Golden Horde or the Zolotaya Orda by the Russians. For almost 2 centuries the Mongols dominated the region after sweeping the country from their encampments towards areas in Volga, right from 1237. Batu Kha, the horde’s leader used a golden tent, from which the term Golden Horde was derived. In the Russian context, Mongols were often described as ‘the Tatars’, yet another name that stuck to them.
In 2 year’s time, the Mongols ravaged most cities in Russia in between their sacking of Kiev in 1240 and Moscow and Vladimir in 1238. The horde goes back to the grasslands that surround the Volga in 1241.
Russia’s petty princes are controlled by the Golden Horde leaders from this region. A simple device used was treating the Golden Horde leaders as glorified collectors of tax.
From 1243, Batu Khan makes Sarai Batu, a place in Volga, his capital. In 1255, his leadership is succeeded by Berke, his brother who adopts Islam, the horde’s religion. Public baths and mosques in the tradition of Central Asia thrive at Sarai Berke, his capital with around 600,000 inhabitants. Timur destroys it in 1395.
The Grand Princes Of Moscow: c.1280-1462
Alexander Nevsky, the Russian prince collaborates with Mongol invaders, most fully. In 1246 he is appointed by the Mongols as prince of Kiev. In 1252 he is appointed as Vladimir’s grand prince and helps Mongols to carry out census of people in Russia. Besides visiting the Golden Horde, he maintains good diplomatic relations with Berke Khan, its leader.
Tax collection in large amounts is something the Mongols expect the Russian vassals to do. A leading role is played by descendants of Alexander in this degrading procedure of extracting money mainly by force from the smaller and less significant Russian principalities.
Within Russia, strength of unprecedented position is built by the family, by adopting these means. Moscow now is the base, not Vladimir. From around 1280, Daniel, Alexander’s son makes Moscow his headquarters.
In 1326, extra validity is provided to Moscow’s pre-eminent position when the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church transfers his permanent home from Vladimir to Moscow. Moscow now has the stamp of authority.
The designation of ‘Grand Prince of Vladimir’ is granted by Mongol Khan to Ivan I, grandson of Alexander, 2 years later, which automatically becomes transferred to Moscow.
A vast army is gathered by grand prince Dimitri Donskoi in 1380 from all the Russian principalities. The Mongol army is defeated by Dimitri near the Don River on the Kulikovo plain. The honorary name Donskoi has been derived from that spectacular victory. Though domination by Mongols on Russia doesn’t end with this one victory, among Russian principalities, Moscow is established as the leading power.
During Ivan III’s reign the grand princes now boast being princes ‘of Moscow and all Russia’. In 1462, Ivan III succeeded the throne of Moscow.
Coming To The Throne Ivan III: 1462-1505
At the age of 22, Ivan III came to the throne, with determination of bringing all lands in Russia under the control of Moscow in an effort to liberate Russia from the yoke of the Mongols. The commercial Novgorod Empire, the independent and rich territory in the northwest, was his biggest prize. He seizes many colonies of Novgorod, in the 1471 invasion.
The long standing independence of the city is brought to an abrupt end by Ivan III in 1478, finally. His sovereignty had not been acknowledged by the city council or the veche and from its tower, their symbol of freedom, the veche bell, was now removed.
The next important step is taken by Ivan after this matter of Novgorod’s independence is resolved. The annual tax or tribute is not paid to the Golden Horde by the grand prince of Russia, for the first time in more than two centuries, in 1480. Though the Mongol Khan goes on a march to sack Moscow, he doesn’t fight but withdraws. Ivan is enabled to present himself as free sovereign of an independent state internationally.
The Third Roman Empire: 15th Century
In 1453, Constantinople falls to the Turks. The ancient link between the Greek Orthodox Church and a Christian emperor, dating back to Constantine, is severed.
The grand prince of Moscow and the metropolitan headed Russian Orthodox Church are both in robust health and looked at as a renewed Byzantine Christian Empire.
The concept of the third Rome develops. The first Rome fell to the Roman Catholic heresy and the barbarians. The second Rome is controlled by the hands of the Turks. Moscow, the third one, becomes centre of the Christian world.
To carry this theory further, in 1472, Ivan III gets married to the niece of the last Byzantine Emperor, Constantine XI. Profound satisfaction is expressed by a Russian monk in 1512 when writing to Vasili III, Ivan’s son. Ivan the Terrible, the son of Vasili is the next one to reign. He is called Caesar or the monarch tsar, by the Russians.
Ivan the Terrible: 1547-1584
When the son Ivan is just 3 years old, Vasili the grand prince, dies. After a few years, the boyars from the landed nobility in Russia who take a position of influence for granted in any grand prince’s council in Moscow, enter into a violent struggle in which the young Ivan is at centre.
With this experience, he decides clipping the wings of the nobility in Russia, by creating a strong centralized state.
In 1547, at the age of 16 years, Ivan IV is crowned and given title of Tsar, instead of grand prince. Ivan IV gets married to Anastasia, three weeks later. She came from one of the boyar families of great repute. Roman is the name of her father. Romanovs is Anastasia’s great-nephew’s dynasty that came into existence in 1613, after his election as Tsar.
Ivan rules with ferocious severity, though he is a pious man. Along with the money he sends a list of 3000 men, whom he executed and wants the monks to pray for them. ‘Terrible’ is the name he thus earns.
Ivan wants to increase trade and territory in Russia, plans accordingly and strengthens the administration. Extending his grandfather’s dominance of the east, over the Tatar Khans is his major concern. Ivan III was his grandfather. Ivan IV marches on the upper reaches of the Volga, into Kazan. Volga becomes Russian, completely.
Western Siberia’s Khanate is conquered in 1581 towards the end of Ivan’s reign. The imperial expansion process begins and the Russian frontier is brought to the Pacific in less than a century.
The Livonian War: 1558-1583
In the west, the policies Ivan introduced are not too successful. Through the Baltic, he aims to trade with Western Europe. In 1478 after Novgorod is seized, easy access to the Gulf of Finland’s eastern end was possible, for Moscow. However, harbors and commercial towns are established in Livonia, down the Baltic coast. In the mid-16th century, these seem a tempting acquisition for the Teutonic Knights.The region is invaded by Ivan in 1558 in which the 25 year Livonian War is launched.
A long battle goes on for the Baltic between Sweden and Poland against Russia. In 1582 a peace treaty is signed finally with Poland and in 1583 with Sweden in which all early gains, the Tsar has made in Livonia, have to be given up. Some territory in Russia located on the Gulf of Finland is also lost by him to Sweden.
In 1581, before the conflict ends, a horrible blow on himself is dealt with by Ivan the Terrible. He attacks, wounds and kills Ivan, his favorite son and heir, in a quarrel within the family. In 1584, Fedor I, his younger and inadequate son succeeds him as a result.
Boris Godunov: 1584-1605
Two guardians are made to act as regents by Ivan IV, after he becomes aware of the fact that Fedor, his son is feeble-minded. One of the regents is a Tatar family member. In 1580, the status of boyar is given to him after Irina, Boris’s sister is chosen to be Fedor’s bride. In 1584, when Fedor succeeds his father, he becomes guardian as well as brother-in-law to the new Tsar.
A bit of support is given to the infant Dimitri, who is the other son of Ivan, early during the reign of Fedor. Dimitri was born in the same year, the Tsar had died. Dimitri’s existence wouldn’t be significant, but for its provoking, around 2 decades later, the false Dimitris – a trio of pretenders.
The infant along with its mother is exiled to Uglich by Boris Godunov, thus nipping the rebellion in the bud. In 1591, Dimitri breathes his last at age 7 and Boris is pointed to as the murderer.
Boris considering himself as Tsar and with complete confidence rules during Fedor’s reign. In 1583, towns lost to Sweden are recovered. In Siberia, presence of the new Russia is gradually strengthened. Labor cannot be transferred by peasants from one landowner to another, under Boris’s rule. The serfdom he introduced in Russia continued to prevail till the year 1861.
In 1598, after the death of the childless Fedor I, the next elected Tsar is Boris. The land assembly called as zemski sobor chooses the tsar. The council summoned in 1549, by Ivan IV’s is an innovation very much in the nature of estates general in other nations. The freemen from particular cities, the church, other landowners and the boyars are the 4 constituent parts that meet in Russia separately.
The full assembly does elect Boris but the boyars oppose him. Boris is viewed with resentment, considered an upstart but he continues the policy of restraining their power as per the policy of Ivan IV. Due to this, in 1604, the boyars offer support, for these first false Dimitris.
The False Dimitris And The Time Of Troubles: 1604-1613
A minor nobleman from Russia comes to Poland in 1603 and makes himself known as the son of Ivan IV, a Dimitri and that he has right as heir to the throne in Moscow. He takes advantage of Polish gullibility and their inclination to interfere in the affairs of Russia convinces almost all. Along with an army, he marches into Russia in August 1604.
Many boyars are reluctant to destroy any of Boris Godunov’s enemies which bring in some early successes to the pretender. However in April 1605, after Boris loses his life suddenly, the stroke of good fortune comes to him. Boris’s widow and her young son are killed 2 months later. Acclaiming himself as the rightful Tsar, the pretender makes an entry into Moscow.
Grandees of Moscow can no longer be convinced by the false Dimitri and his group of foreign advisors gives offence. Around 2000 foreigners are butchered in Moscow streets before which the false Dimitri is assassinated in May 1606, in Kremlin.
Next emerges the second Dimitri in 1607. Though many don’t show trust in him, a lot of them are ready to join his campaign. In 1608 and again in 1610 he arrives in Moscow with an army of discontented Russians, Cossacks and Poles. Later that year he is murdered. Around Moscow a mob goes on a rampage and acclaims a third Dimitri in 1612. Before he can taste much success, he is captured in Moscow within just a few months and executed.
In the history of Russia, from 1610 to 1613 in particular, this phase of anarchy comes to be called the ‘time of troubles’.
Poland’s Sigismund II has designs on the throne of the Tsarist. One Russian faction invites an army from Poland into Moscow in 1610. Besides this, another Russian faction offers the crown to Gustavus II’s brother, by seeking support from Sweden. An army from Russia having Swedish sympathies marches towards Moscow in the autumn of 1612. Into the difficult to beat Kremlin, the Poles in Moscow city withdraw.
Rival Russian factions that support Poland and Sweden get united due to this impasse, the Poles yield and decide to leave Moscow. At lasts a national candidate is agreed upon by Russians for the throne.
Near Kostroma, the 17 year old Michael Romanov with distinguished family connections hides along with his mother during the troubles. Ivan the Terrible’s first wife, Anastasia was his great-aunt. To the monastery a message is sent in March 1612, that Michael has been elected Tsar by a zemski sobor. The Romanov dynasty thus begins.
Rapid Expansion Of Russia Towards The East: 1613-1676
The reigns of Michael 1613-1645 and Alexis 1645-1676, the first two Romanov tsars are most notable for the rapid expansion of Russia towards the east. When Poland cedes Kiev and a major part of Ukraine a significant gain is seen in the west, which is actually the result of the Cossacks uprising in the region.
A major part of Russia’s drive towards the east is played by the Cossacks. Hunter tribes occupy the region and the Cossack bands try to move into new areas of Siberia.
Native Siberians do not find this surprising. The same method had been followed for collecting tribute by the Mongols. A similar currency in the form of fur is paid to Russia, in the same way which the Mongols previously collected tribute.
Astonishing advance is made by these inhospitable regions. There are outposts spreading beyond 1750 miles east of Moscow, as far as the Yenisei River, in 1613, the beginning of the Romanov Era. In 1630 advances are made further 1000 miles east towards the Lena River and in 1649, further by 750 miles towards the Pacific Coast. The Siberian coast is explored by Vitus Bering in the following century right up to the Arctic Circle.
During the 17th century, a rebel leader, named Avakkum Petrovich the player in the doctrinal crisis responsible for splitting the Orthodox Church in Russia is awarded the Russian punishment at Siberia. Moscow’s patriarch, Nikon had introduced reforms which were rejected by Petrovich.
The Old Believers And Orthodoxy In Russia: 1652-1667
In 1652 an energetic monk Nikita Minin known later as Nikon, is appointed as Moscow’s and Russia’s patriarch. He creates a major schism within the Orthodoxy system in Russia.
Within the Russian Church, a reform movement takes place early in Romanov’s dynasty. Wherever rituals from the Greek Orthodox example deviated over the centuries, corrections were ordered. This began even in the early days of the Romanov dynasty. The enthusiastic reformer Nikon, as a close friend of Alexis, the Tsar, insists on changes with the unlimited power that he has in the Church.
Nikon takes pains to correct many of the errors discovered though they seemed trivial to most. For example instead of singing 2 alleluias, the Russians were singing three and the Russians were now crossing themselves with two fingers when earlier they were wont to use three. Nikon, in 1655, goes further by removing icons from homes and churches that show any holy figures in an incorrect manner.
Avvakum Petrovich, the priest is chief opponent of Nikon right from the beginning of the reforms. He is banished to Tobolsk, Siberia and further towards the Lena River in the east in 1653. He is called back to Moscow only after 10 years.
The Tsar after having enough of the autocratic ways of Nikon finally dismisses him, but the reforms continue to remain. Eventually the dissidents become the Raskolniki – called Old Believers, a separate sect. Later they divide themselves into the Popovtsi, with their own church hierarchy and into the radical Bezpopovtsi who continue to survive without sacraments and priests till today.
In 1666-1667 a church council discontinues concessions and introduces a policy to continue persecution, after which the schism becomes final.
Avvakum is sent to prison in a small fort located within the Arctic Circle near Naryan-Mar where he writes books for the last 14 years of his life. Zhitie is a classic Russian book written in a colorful and racy style making it a firm favorite even centuries after it was written.
Peter The Great And His Boyhood: 1676-1689
In 1676 Alexis the Tsar dies after which between two halves of his family a struggle follows. From his first wife he had 2 sons, out of which Ivan, the younger one was mentally deficient and Fedor the elder is a sickly child. However, he has one talented daughter, named Sophia.
Natalia Naryshkin, his 2nd wife bore Alexis a bright and vigorous child named Peter. At the time of the Tsar’s death, Peter is just 4 years old. As the obvious heir is the capable Fedor III, there is no rivalry between the families for few years. However in 1682, Fedor III dies at the age of 20 years.
To proclaim Peter as Tsar, a zemski sobor is called in Moscow as Ivan is not suitable for the throne. However Sophia and her family take advantage of an uprising against the family of Peter by Streltsy, the dissatisfied household troops.
As a settlement, it is decided that while Peter I and Ivan will both be tsars, Sophia will act as regent till the boys come of age. The 10 year old Peter is sent by Sophia to live with his mother in the remote village named Preobrazhenskoye, out of Moscow. Foreigners reside in a settlement nearby with whom he gets friendly. It is his first exposure to the outside world. News of a world wider than Russia fascinates him.
Peter is 17 years old by 1689 and there are chances of Sophia losing status as regent. With the Streltsy, she makes a plan to wipe out the young Tsar and the Naryshkin clan to which Peter’s mother belonged. However the Naryshkins foil the plot this time and they themselves take over control of Moscow.
Sophia is confined to a convent where she is destined to spend the rest of her life. Peter becomes the co-Tsar till 1696 when Ivan V, his half-witted half brother dies.
The man’s character is indicated vividly during the first military campaign of Peter. Like his predecessors, he is irked by the lack of a port on any sea for Russia. The White Sea which has ports, remained frozen for much of the year. A suitable target then for him was Azov, a fortified town which he selects. He will have access to the Azov Sea and then the Black Sea if he accesses Azov from the Crimean Tatars. He would be able to strike a blow for Christendom as the Tatars are Muslim vassals of the Turks.
A huge Russian army is led by him to the south in the summer of 1695. The young Tsar returns to Moscow by November end.
After a characteristic reaction to the failure, Peter organizes an astonishing and rapid response. Around 26,000 laborers and craftsmen are gathered in and around a forested Voronezh. The laborers fell trees during the winter of 1695-1696 and drag them to new timber yards, cut them into planks and use them to build ships.
Ready for launching are a number of smaller boats, 23 galleys, 4 fire-ships and 2 warships, by April.
The Tsar along with his fleet set off towards Azov, downstream in mid May and reach a fortress. Turkish relief is prevented by the Russian naval power from arriving by water. Thus Azov surrenders in July.
This audacious revenge for the previous year’s defeat gives him other ambitious ideas. In an effort to enlist support against the Turks, he plans visiting the very powerful nations in Europe. He also hopes to observe western technology’s details personally to choose those which could be useful for Russia. Grand Embassy is the expedition he proposes.
The Grand Embassy The Proposed Expedition: 1697-1698
In March 1697, the Grand Embassy comprising 250 people and led by 3 official ambassadors leaves Moscow. The semi-anonymous role of a Russian sailor, Petr Mikhailhov is adopted at times by Peter.
He works at Saardam at the Dutch East India Company in the dockyards as carpenter on the ship for 4 months, where he is able to preserve the disguise. His identity is well known when he spends time at the Deptford dockyard in England.
During his travels, Peter is convinced that against Turkey, putting together a European alliance against is extremely difficult. When Spain’s childless king dies, Europe is to be locked in war between neighbours and friends.
Again Peter demonstrates his resolution and flexibility. Valuable presence on the Baltic Sea can be possible if securing the new port on the Azov Sea is difficult for Peter. Sweden blocks Russia’s access to the Baltic Sea, however in 1697, Charles IX of Sweden is no more. A 15 year old succeeds Charles IX.
Peter realizes that war with Turkey at this stage will do him no good. To make peace with Turkey, Peter initiates covert negotiations in 1698 as soon as he reaches Moscow. An alliance is formed against Sweden after secret discussions with Russia, Poland and Denmark.
Peter receives a message on 8th August 1700 about conclusion of peace with Turkey. New orders are given to the Russian army the following day to march into the Swedish Province, Livonia located between the Baltic and Russia. The country will be transformed after it gets involved in the long Northern War. It will turn into a major power in Europe 21 years later.
The Tsar Who Reformed Russia: 1698-1725
In 1698, Peter returns from the Grand Embassy with the sole intention of westernizing the hide-bound oriental society of Russia. While achieving this purpose he will be ruthless. As an uprising has been attempted against him by the Streltsy he hurries back from the tour to Europe.
The culprits are arrested after the rebellion is put down with ease. Personal interest is taken by Peter in the brutal torture, interrogation and execution of around 800 rebels, which is a kind of insurance policy against any threat to his rule in future. Though the reform program would take some time, it does start with a dramatic gesture.
Back in Moscow, near Preobrazhenskoe a foreign settlement (a village where he grew), the Tsar with his friends celebrates his first evening back in Russia. At a wooden hut which was his favorite when he lived in that area as a child, he spends the night and in the morning orders the leading boyars to report to him.
Peter’s shaven face and European clothing are a stark contrast to the boyars who arrive in their traditional long robes and flowing beards. In old Russia, the symbol of standard was preserving the beard consciously. However with a pair of shears, the young Tsar from one side the long whiskers of each boyar but he tempers his action with a touch of wit. If a boyar desired to remain without shaving was free to do so, but, a tax would be levied on beards from henceforth.
Practical reform that was extensive follows with this symbolic gesture. No antiquated society was transformed so rapidly by a ruler. At central and local levels, new government structures are introduced by Peter. A huge standing force of peasants, with proper training and conscripted for life, now replaces the unreliable and chaotic army. A fleet of warships and a naval service are created by him.
In an effort to build equipment and weapons for his navy and army and to develop mines, around 200 industrial enterprises are launched by the Tsar. The entrepreneurial class is given encouragement for setting up commercial ventures, privately.
Translation of western texts is done in the Russian language, foundation of secular schools and promotion of education are the other steps taken. Russian people requiring specialist skill are sent to foreign academies for further education. Mathematics professors are given the task of visiting homes of people with good social position to bring them to a particular standard of education until which they were not allowed to marry. From 1703, is published the (Vedomosti, ‘Records’) the first newspaper in Russian.
All aspects of life are touched by measures taken by Peter. Reformation of both the Russian script and currency is done. September 1, was the New Year previously in Russia, which now is changed to January 1. Though the new calendar Peter introduced is less modern, he opts for the Julian system instead of the Gregorian reform. Adoption of the Christian chronology of Anno Domini is done.
A pernicious informers system is encouraged to tackle the corruption issue. However for the attention of the Tsar, nothing proves to be very small. He introduces fire and building regulations and sends out orders that crops are to be cut not with sickles, but with scythes. Very little misses his attention.
St. Petersburg The Capital: 1703-1712
From the year 1703, on Russia’s behalf, Peter the Great has evidence of his achievements that are truly gratifying. At the mouth of the Neva River, takes shape a huge project. In 1703, the marshy woody land came into the possession of Peter. On the river’s right bank he begins to build the Peter and Paul fortress, within 14 days of gaining the area. Across the water a royal shipyard is founded the following year. In 1706, is launched the first warship from the yard.
At the site, growth of the town is rapid. After the patron saint of the Tsar, it becomes St. Petersburg, the capital in 1712. Swedish prisoners caught during the Northern War build Nevsky Prospekt, the main street of the capital.
After seizing the Gulf of Finland’s southern coast, in 1700, Peter the Great intervenes in the Northern War, the very first time. Since the year 1617, the territory belongs to Sweden thus cutting off the Russia from the Baltic Sea. When Russians are defeated at Narva, by Charles XII, the young king of Sweden, there is ignominious end to the campaign in the year 1700 after which he gains the coastline again. However he turns against other enemies in the south. From the Swedish troops he captures the mouth of the Neva, again in 1703.
In the Baltic, Charles XII , the Swedish king emerges as main rival of the Russians when he prepares to invade Russia in 1707. When Moscow is threatened, a classic Russian tactic is used in response by Peter the Great.
Russia And Sweden: 1707-1711
With a strong army of 40,000 men, Charles XII moves from Saxony towards the northeast in the autumn of 1707. His main aim is to advance towards Moscow during 1708. To defend his capital he wants to force Peter to withdraw from the Baltic. Devastating the countryside is strategy Peter resorts to avoid a pitched battle between Moscow and the Swedish army. Charles is frustrated in his plan of attack. In search of food, he is then forced to turn into the Ukraine form the south, by the autumn of 1708.
Even in these inhospitable regions it is unusually cold in the winters of 1708-1709. The Swedish army reduces to 18000 in number and the Russians meet it at Poltava in July 1709.
For the brilliant military career of Charles the first major disaster, is the engagement. Charles escapes into the Turkish region in the south, after the entire Swedish army is either killed or captured. The Turks he negotiates with share Charles’s hostility for the Russians. Recovering Azoz is their main aim now.
In an effort to provide a share of anti-Russian alliance with Turkey a new army from Sweden is summoned by Charles that finally never comes. At the Prut River, Peter the Great is defeated by the Turks in 1711. An agreement is made to return Azoz in the ensuing negotiations. Peter escapes lightly, with Sweden being provided with no concessions at all.
Father Of The Fatherland: 1721
In 1721, peace is signed between Sweden and Russia eventually at Nystad due to which whatever Peter hoped for right from the beginning of 21 years long Northern War, he now gets. St. Petersburg which is the coast of the eastern Baltic is accepted as Russia’s capital, internationally. It was on appropriated land that Peter had the effrontery and courage to build his capital.
At this junction the city is placed strategically to trade and prosper in just like Novgorod was one millennium back when it was founded in this region. To Western Europe, through the Baltic Sea the river routes from the Caspian and the Black Sea link with the sea route.
The peace of Nystad is signed and after a few weeks at the cathedral of St. Petersburg, a thanksgiving service is held. Peter goes to the Senate in procession after the ceremony where under a new title, higher than the Tsar, he is acclaimed. Peter is now the Emperor of all Russia, Peter the Great, Father of the Fatherland.
On the political scene the Tsar’s reign is indeed a triumphant one but in the private life of the emperor, it accompanies a dismal record. In his public career and within his family his cruelty and tyranny is revealed at times.
Alexis The Tsarevich: 1716-1718
Alexis, is the only surviving son and pathetic victim of Peter. As compared to his practical-minded reformer, intensely physical and hyperactive father, Alexis, a young man is inclined to a life of pleasure and ease, with conservative attitudes and intellectual interests. In 1716 Alexis takes refuge with the emperor of Austria after fleeing from Russia due to the tension between him and his father.
For Peter this is an act of treason; he gives his son a promise of clemency and tricks Alexis to return to Russia. To discover a non-existent conspiracy, he puts Alexis into prison and tortures his mistress and friends.
Other than reports that state that Alexis will return to Moscow’s capital and will reduce the size of the navy when he is Tsar, there is little that emerges. In Peter’s eyes intentions such as these are termed as capital offences. However while justifying the scandal that results from formal execution of the throne’s heir, the capital offences don’t seem enough.
Into his supposed rebellion, enquiry is made after he is flogged badly twice, but at St. Petersburg fortress, the prince chooses discreet death instead. Just 3 years before that, Peter makes the tactical mistake of having a son, the future Peter II. In existence thus are Peter the Great’s two male descendants. The autocratic emperor can dispose of one heir with no compunction.
Catherine And Peter: 1701-1725
In politics as in emotional life, Peter is proved as independent minded. Captured in the Northern war is a peasant from Lithuania who works as a Russian prince’s domestic serf. Peter II falls in love with her. When the first child is born the same year, the Russian Orthodox Church receives her as Catherine, a new name. She becomes an inseparable companion of the Tsar, bears around 7 children out of which only two daughters could survive infancy. In 1712, Catherine and Peter marry (in 1707 they both may have had a secret marriage) after he divorces his first wife. In 1724 she is crowned as empress. She succeeds Peter as Empress Catherine I, within less than a year’s time.
Empresses Of The Russian Empire: 1725-1796
For the next 70 years women rule Russia after the Russian Empire is established by Peter the Great, which is indeed a remarkable fact.
In that span reigned just 3 male emperors. In 1727, the grandson of Peter the Great, Peter II the 12 year old who comes to the throne an dies within 3 years. Then Ivan VI a 2 month old infant comes to the throne for 12 months and then is imprisoned till death and the last emperor is a feeble bodied and feeble minded Peter III who comes to the throne in 1762 for 6 months after which he is deposed and killed.
Spanning these decades are the reigns of 4 women. Before she reigns, Catherine I, the one with great character strength, fully endowed with common sense, but illiterate sure proves that she has sterling qualities. After coming to the throne for 2 years, she dies in 1727.
She is succeeded by Anna who is the daughter of Ivan V, the half brother of Peter the Great. Anna (who rules from 1730 to 1740) among the 4 is only weak character as she is keen on only daily fashionable entertainments. Much indignation is provoked locally after sumptuous amusements are offered in St. Petersburg, especially by the foreigners.
Peter the Great’s vigorous mood is brought back from 1741 to 1762 during the reign of Elizabeth the daughter of Catherine I and Peter. Pursued with energy again now are interest of the Russians, particularly in the initial stages of the Seven Years’ War in opposition to Prussia.
Peter III, the German grandson of Elizabeth’s elder sister takes over the crown after Elizabeth. He seems completely unsuited for the task as he inherits too early in 1762. His inadequacies are made up however by the German princess, his wife. She acquires his throne in half a year and with her connivance, it is certain that he got murdered before the year ends. Known as Catherine the Great, she rules for 34 years.
Catherine The Great: 1762-1796
Catherine is passionate and brilliant in equal measure. Rich material for gossip and scandal is provided by many of her loves in European courts. In the list feature most of her talented generals and advisors. It is her program for advancement of Russia and political theory that they put into effect. Although Catherine had scandalous affairs, they did not divert her attention from Russian polity.
She is fascinated most by contemporary French ideas. Catherine was a child of her times. She corresponds with encyclopedists and Volitaire, whose ideas are shaping the Enlightenment all over Europe. In this she resembles Frederick the Great of Prussia.
Being an enlightened despot, a reformed role is adopted rapidly by Catherine in 1762 after seizing the throne. She attains success in areas like culture and education and takes steps in providing education to girls in Russia in 1764. In St. Petersburg she founds the Hermitage, a court museum that is attached to the Winter Palace there. She fills it with exclusive collection sourced from European capitals.
In the effort to improve the lives of her people she doesn’t attain too much success. For her this social reform field seems difficult.
Catherine had favored emancipation of serfs in Russia before her accession. Outlining a program reform, she writes an Instruction in 1767 and to consider it, an elected assembly is summoned by her. But it becomes evident very soon that any change will be resisted by the nobles. She gives up her plan, knowing that she requires support of the nobles.
During Catherine’s reign the lives of the peasants deteriorate, ironically. This is because nobles and her favorites were granted crown lands and allowed to enforce conditions of serfdom.
At the expense of Poland and Turkey both, major gains are achieved eventually.
Breaking off from the earlier policy of being concerned only with the strategic matter of accessing the Black Sea, a new element to the Turkish policy is added by Catherine. Going back to an earlier claim, Russia is presented by her as the natural patron of all Christians who belong to the Orthodox Church within the old Byzantine Empire’s territory. This is an effort by her to project Moscow as the third Rome. She dreams that Constantinople will be ruled by one of her grandsons with the name Constantine. However against the Turks there is a practical matter of war.
The 1768-92 Russo – Turkish Wars
Peter the Great achieves the interest of Russia in reaching the Black Sea is furthered in two battles towards the end of the 18th century. Success is attained by Russia in many battles in conflicts from 1768-1774 thus leading to concessions that are important. Fortresses to the east and west of the Crimean Peninsula are gained by Russia along with the right of maintaining a fleet in the Black Sea.
Right to protect Christians within the Ottoman Empire’s European parts is granted to Russia, by the Turks. Though its meaning is specified rather vaguely, it provides the Russians with useful pretext for intervention in future in the Balkans.
Declaration of Crimea to be independent of Turkey is done in the 1774 treaty, under the ruling of Tatar Khan. In 1783, when Turkey and Russia are at peace, the valuable Crimean Peninsula is annexed by Catherine the Great.
In year 1787, again war breaks out and Russia prevails again. At Jassy, in January 1792, a treaty is signed leaving the Black Sea’s northern coast right from the Dniester River to the Kerch Strait, in the hands of Russia. Earlier during the century Russia wins a role in the Baltic now making the Mediterranean accessible through the Black Sea. In the meantime in the Baltic region valuable new acquisitions are made at Poland’s expense.
The Dismemberment Of Poland: 1772-1796
Poland is partitioned into 3 sections and consumed by her neighbors, over a period of quarter of a century. During the war between Turkey and Russia the process begins confusingly. The chance of occupying a section of Poland towards Cracow’s south is taken by Austria in 1769.
In 1770, following suit, Frederick the Great sends troops to seal off the coastal region between the kingdom of Prussia and Brandenburg, the 2 main parts. Polish Royal Prussia is the new valuable area which has been part of the Polish kingdom, since long.
His territory would be unified neatly when royal Prussia would be acquired, however.
In 1772, a cynic agreement is arrived between Austria, Prussia and Russia with regards to the first annexation of land in Poland, officially. Russia aims with its battle with Turkey to keep keen interest in keeping benign mood between Austria and Prussia. The proposal that Prussia and Austria must annexe a part of Poland is accepted by Russia.
The region around Lvov is acquired by Austria in 1772, by the treaties. Royal Prussia is secured by Frederick and a part of northeast Poland is taken by Russia.
To interfere in internal affairs of Poland, new excuses are found by Russia on the occurrence of the next 2 partitions. In 1792 during a disturbance the Russian army makes entry into the kingdom. In 1794 they are again on hand in the process of tackling national insurrection.
Superior Russian forces are offered strong resistance by Polish armies on both occasions, however force continues to prevail. In September 1794, Warsaw falls to a combined Prussian and Russian army after Poles are massacred in the suburbs and after a siege lasting 2 months.
In 1793, the 2nd partition is agreed upon in which Russia and Prussia benefit. Prussia gets a land stretch south up Cracow besides Gdansk. A vast part of eastern Poland ranging to approximately 97000 square miles is taken by Russia.
As compared to the territory retained by Poland, this is indeed greater which ranges from the coast of the Baltic down to Brody and Cracow. In 1795 and 1796 treaties are signed a few years later. Between the 3 predators division of the Polish remnant is done finally. Warsaw is included thus extending Prussia while the Austrian frontier moves to the same region, north. Russia gets the lion’s share in the east, once again.
Alexander and Paul I: 1796-1807
After reigning, for 34 years, in 1796, Catherine the Great dies and is succeeded by her son Paul. Paul has lived a life that is undermined by his mother consistently. He is under the conviction that Peter III, his father was killed in an organized murder by her in 1762. Disaffected officers of the army murder this tyrannical and unstable emperor in 1801. Warned in advance about the event Alexander I, Paul’s son, connives at the assassination. Due to his father’s despotism, Alexander I is keen in dissociating himself from the earlier rule. In the attempt, liberal measures are introduced by him during the beginning of his reign. However his policy is soon dominated by broader European issues.
From 1790s, attention of all rulers in Europe is demanded by various adventures of the French armies and the revolution in France. Preventive measures taken by Paul I have been an attempt to make sure that in autocratic Russia, the revolutionary ideas do not take hold. Ambiguity is observed in his foreign policy however. In 1798, the Second Coalition against France is joined by Russia. After 2 years, Russia changes sides. Against Britain, it forms the League of Armed Neutrality.
Right from accession in 1801 Alexander I veers from one side to the other in terms of foreign policy, up to 1812, till the decisive events take place. In 1805 he makes a firm commitment to join the Third Coalition and remain there.
Capturing Tilsit and beyond: 1805-1810
The Third Coalition is joined by Alexander against Napoleon in 1805. Napoleon is confronted by the Austrian and Russian armies, in Central Europe, during the early winter and autumn but is out-manoeuvred comprehensively. At Ulm, the Austrians lose on their own. At Austerlitz the Russian and Austrian army faces heavy defeat. The Russians agree only on a truce though a treaty is signed with the French by the Austrians.
In the coalitions the Russians have Prussians as their allies. However before they join the Russians, Napoleon tackles them. At the twin battles at Jena and Auerstadt, he alone confronts the Prussians in October 1806.
French comes out victorious at both the sites. Napoleon overruns entire Prussia within 6 weeks, before help arrives from the Russians.
At first the Russians prove that they are tough as opponents. Heavy casualties result from 7th-8th February 1807 at Eylau but bring no advantage to either side. On 14th June, at Friedland, a decisive victory is won by Napoleon over the Russian army. Near Tilsit, on 25th June 1807, Alexander I, the Russian Tsar and Napoleon hold an extraordinary meeting. Since either of them would not set foot on the other’s territory, it is agreed that the meeting would be in the middle of the Neman River. The River forms a border between the territories.
Built on a raft, is an elegant room with a door on both sides. An appropriate imperial eagle is shown on either side. At the same moment both emperors set a boat from their respective river banks. However the French oarsmen outsmart their Russian counterparts. Since Napoleon is far ahead, he gets to the Russian side, opens the door and welcomes the Tsar as he reaches the spot. This is the kind of one-up-man-ship that Napoleon was famous for. The Russians have much to learn of the man who is mending fences with them now.
Together both men set out to carve up Europe. This is because they get on well with each other. The mutual agreement between the emperors weakens Prussia, the ally of Russia, after the conference that lasted for 2 weeks. After Friedland, Russia could have fought easily but the French have occupied the now helpless Prussia.
A grand duchy of Warsaw to be ruled by the Saxony King is taken to provide Prussia the share of Poland. In the west, there is severe reduction in Prussian territory to make room for the Westphalia kingdom. 120 million francs indemnity has to be paid or French troops would continue to remain in Prussia. As part of the new Continental System introduced by Napoleon, Prussia plans to close her ports to Britain. As per the Tilsit agreement with secret clauses laid down, Russia agrees to join the Continental System.
A demand is made by France and Russia to Britain that freedom of seas to ships of all countries should be allowed by her. Another demand is that any territory seized since the year 1805 should also be returned by Britain. The ports of Portugal, Denmark and Sweden would be closed and would join Russia and France to declare war, the two emperors insist, if by November 1807 this is not agreed upon.
France would not object to annexation of Swedish Finland to Russia, if it is necessary for Russia to invade Sweden. In the Balkans, Russia would be provided diplomatic support against Turkey, by France. A satisfactory agreement results between both emperors.
Agreement at Tilsit is to Napoleon’s advantage. He can tighten his hold at other places after Russia is removed from the battlefields in Europe. Napoleon sends an army to the south for occupying Portugal in October 1807, 3 months after Tilsit. In a lone initiative, Austria enters into the war in 1809. With victory at Wagram, Napoleon ends a quick campaign in summer. He marries Marie Louise the archduchess, thus clinching his dominance of Austria.
Tilsit’s rosy glow now fades. Alexander gains less benefit from the Tilsit but it has served Napoleon’s purpose. A state having strong links with Russia named Oldenburg is annexed by Napoleon in 1810. French goods are taxed with trade restrictions by Alexander. It is likely there will be a war. Most people on either side now admit it was inevitable.
The Russian Empire: 1812
Napoleon takes a strong line with Russia feeling justified that he will get entire Western Europe. Prussia is crushed into submission and by marriage and conquest, Austria becomes an ally.
In 1807, there is bonhomie in Tilsit. In 1808, at a grand meeting at Erfurt, Napoleon makes an attempt to revive Tilsit. In the campaign in 1809, against Austria, Alexander I is not successful in providing his ally with any practical support for which there are different reasons. Baltic trade in Russian is harmed by the Continental System. St. Petersburg is alarmed that French republican principles are introduced into the grand duchy of Warsaw. Right from the beginning, the terms agreed upon at Tilsit by the Tsar have not been popular among his people.
There is increasing probability of war between both empires. In a rapid and massive strike, Napoleon moves in first. Armies start marching from various regions converging at the River Neman, from February 1812.
With 80,000 in the baggage trains, 100,000 cavalry and 500,000 infantry the assembled force is indeed an impressive one. From Napoleon’s world, there are other contingents which include half-hearted army units from Austria and Prussia. On 24th June, begins the army’s attempt to cross Neman into Russia.
The confronting Russian armies withdraw as they are outnumbered heavily. This withdrawal proves to be a better tactic than an offensive strike. The French are dragged into areas where finding food for the huge number of horses and men is difficult. Occasionally there are engagements but at Borodino, on 7th September, just 70 miles away, the first major war takes place.
Napoleon gets a narrow victory over the Russian army, which veteran Kutuzov commands. Once again, when the Russians withdraw, Moscow is left open to Napoleon. While retreating, Russia sets Moscow on fire to deny Napoleon the joy of capturing this jewel. Napoleon enters Moscow just to see it burning.
Napoleon has hopes that humbled Russian envoys would arrive to make terms and waits for a month in Moscow, but no one arrives. To suggest negotiation he sends ambassadors to the camp at Russia, which doesn’t indicate a strong sign. The cold season also is fast approaching. Napoleon gives orders to withdraw on 18th October.
In 1812, the Grand Army’s retreat from Moscow becomes a classic image of an invading force suffering destruction and disaster. The task of getting home for Napoleon seems impossible. Squadrons and columns of Napoleon’s army is harried by hostile villagers and guerillas, regular troops from Russia, plunging temperatures, falling snow and destroyed bridges.
That summer around 600,000 of Napoleon’s army enter Russia but only 112,000 come out of Russia alive. Napoleon’s ability of raising another army of such a caliber devastated, at least for the time being. His reputation too is mauled by the Russian retreat. As this news spreads that winter in all of Europe, all those who were under the domineering French yoke in different nations dream of a better future. Napoleon is not invincible; nature holds the upper hand.
Napoleon hurries, as he is desperate to reach Paris ahead of the bad news and hand over the command to Murat. On 18th December he reaches Paris and goes about trying to recover the situation. In just 18 months he is able to turn back the clock, indeed an astonishing fact, but very typical of the kind of man and his boundless energy.
His erstwhile friend from Tilsit becomes his sworn enemy. In 1813-1814, assaults by Russian armies upon France are a constant element. By the return to the Russian fold of Prussia and later Austria, the Russian army is reinforced.
On 31st March 1814, with ceremony and pomp, allies enter Paris, in which Alexander I the Tsar and Fredrick William III, the King of Prussia ride in the cavalcade. To take salute they dismount in the Champs Elysées. The return of Europe to a pre-revolutionary and reactionary status quo is supervised by both the men along with Austria’s Francis I. Their leading roles in the Holy Alliance and the Congress of Vienna prove to be of great help in the supervision process.
Holy Alliances And Quadruple: 1814-1822
Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia, the 4 main enemies of Napoleon pledge individually during the advance on Paris, not to make peace with France individually, in 1814 at the Chaumont treaty.
At the Congress of Vienna, the Quadruple Alliance renews in a distinct form .This is when the same countries come to an agreement to hold congresses regularly so that newly re-established peace in Europe is safeguarded. Till about 4 international gatherings, this congress system lasts in 1818 from Aachen to 1822 in Verona.
The same purpose is professed by another group. Initiative for this is derived from Alexander I, the Russian Emperor. In 1812, Russia suffers at the hands of Napoleon which inspires Alexander I and believes his mission to be God-given.
Among the victorious countries, two autocratic rulers from Prussia and Austria are persuaded in the autumn of 1815, in Paris, by Alexander. This takes place in 1815 when negotiations are in progress to hammer out a second peace treaty with France. The persuasion is for the emperor of Austria and the Prussian king to join Alexander I to promote a peaceful community of nations following Christianity. For this they are requested to join him in the Holy Alliance.
Though the Holy Alliance is joined by most European nations, the 3 absentees that are most notable are the Ottoman Empire, Papal Rome and Great Britain.
The Ottoman Empire And Rome
One issue confronted both alliances. The issue is that if an internal revolution threatens legitimate rulers, whether the powers should intervene. Holy Alliance members agree to this. In 1821, while intervening to protect, the crowned heads of Piedmont and Naples, Austria wins approval. However the intervention plans in Latin America and Spain are opposed by Britain at the Congress of Verona in 1822. Britain seeks withdrawal from the Quadruple Alliance, subsequently.
The Congress system comes to an end. However, between the nations, the regular cooperation principle is established on such issues and will always be remembered.
Members from the Holy Alliance defect gradually till just 3 founders, namely Austria, Prussia and Russia are left. In the age of revolution these founders vainly attempt holding back the tide of progress. Every ruler is on his own, confronting unrest now that across the frontiers, intervention is not encouraged. Rebellion proves to be a contagion that respects no boundaries. Despite the finest efforts put in by the secret police in Europe, isolating radical notions proves to be difficult.
The Revolution In December: 1825
In 1825, immediately after Alexander’s death, follows the first revolution in Russia. Constitutional reform takes place in Russia within the latter half of the 18th century. This reform takes the shape of attempts to ease off serfdom and introduce some representation in government. The reformists have been in touch with secret societies in the army, after the Napoleonic wars. In 1825, the incompetence within the imperial family provides them opportunities to press their demands even further.
Alexander I, is childless. Constantine, his elder brother renounces claim to the throne and resides in Poland with his Polish wife which is considered a secret of the state. The next brother, Nicholas in line of succession too, isn’t aware of this.
Unexpectedly Alexander I, dies before plans can be put in place. In St. Petersburg, in ignorance, Nicholas pledges alliance to Constantine, the elder brother as the new Tsar. The army too pledges the same, but nothing is done by Constantine who is in Warsaw. The interregnum continues for 3 weeks. Finally the muddle is sorted out by the imperial family. Instructions are given to the army to make a new allegiance pledge on 26th December to Nicholas I, the Tsar.
Upon Nicholas I, constitutional demands are imposed by some officers in the effort to make a calculated bid. Soldiers are persuaded that the pledge is nothing but a part of a coup. Holding banners, ‘Constantine and a constitution’, the streets are taken over by armed platoons.
At St. Petersburg, on a square, Nicholas argues and confronts the rebels for few hours. From his artillery he gives orders for grapeshot rounds to be fired, after which the confrontation stops. The panic stricken crowd and rebel soldiers disperse and around 80 lie dead.
Leaders responsible for the plot are caught and arrested out of which 5 are hanged. Nothing is achieved by this uprising. It is just a prelude to Nicholas I’s increasingly oppressive and long reign. In the revolutionary tradition in Russia which can be said to have begun then, the Decembrists are revered to as the very first martyrs.
Nicholas I: 1825-1855
By nature, Nicholas I is a martinet, for whom certainties of drill on the parade ground provide much enjoyment. For him, maintaining order in Christian Europe is his imperial responsibility in the Holy Alliance’s continuing spirit. Alexander I, his brother had formed the Holy Alliance.
Against the menace and likelihood of revolution threat, the policy means constant vigilance not only within Russia but also in partnership with Western Europe’s crowned heads. The revolutions of 1830 and 1848 both fall within Nicholas I’s reign. As leader of the Orthodox Christianity he asserts authority in the Balkans and Eastern Europe on behalf of Christians in the Ottoman Empire.
On sensitive issues like accessing the Black Sea, a diplomatic accommodation is sensibly achieved by him with other nations in Europe and the Sultan of Turk in the Balkans affairs.
From March 1854, due to diplomatic miscalculations, Russia is at war in the Crimea with, Britain, France and Turkey. Nicholas I had worked hard to avoid military interventions with other countries of Europe. This war involving Britain, France and Turkey must therefore have been a terrible disappointment for him, going some extent to cause his early death. About half of the 11 month long siege of Sebastopol’s Russian naval base in March 1855 happens during Nicholas’s lifetime testing the port’s powers of endurance. However elsewhere the gains achieved are more hence setbacks in the war prove to be minor in comparison.
Russian Expansion In Asia: 19th Century
Rapid expansion of the Russian Empire takes place eastward to the Pacific coast through Siberia during the 17th century. To the south of this region vital consolidations are made in the 19th century.
Russia exerts control gradually over the Turkish tribes, living towards the eastern side of the Caspian Sea. The Kazakhs are brought within the Russian empire by the mid-century, by securing the northern region of the Aral Sea. Territory of the Uzbeks on the southern side is under pressure during Alexander II’s reign. Russia is in control of ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara by 1885. Now command of the emperor reaches the Afghanistan and Persian frontiers.
Precious concessions are obtained by Russia far East from the feeble Qing Dynasty in China. In 1858, under the Aigun Treaty, Russia is granted the Pacific Coast from the Siberian border coast up to the frontier with Korea. The Vladivostok naval base is now developed by Russia at this coastline’s southern end which is as far as possible from the Arctic Circle ice.
The mighty empire assembled by Russia, the extensive territory on the Black and Baltic Sea is able to survive till the 1990s as a single state.
Emancipation Of The Serfs And Alexander II: 1855-1861
The Crimean War completes one year, in 1855 and Alexander II succeeds his father. The belligerent powers indulge in tentative discussions in March 1856 for the first time resulting in the Treaty of Paris. By this treaty Russia loses the right to keep a navy in the shores of the Black Sea but also lose some territory there.
This is a blow to the pride of Russia, more so because Nicholas is concerned about building the military strength of the empire. This calls for reforms on a large scale. Radical changes in policies are made by the new Tsar himself, focusing mainly on the surviving serfdom, the harmful and striking anachronism in Russia.
All through medieval Europe, serfdom is common in different forms but in the 16th century, Boris Godunov gives it a rigid legal status in Russia. This is at a period when serfs have become free laborers and peasants elsewhere in Europe. Many in Russia recognize serfdom as obstacle and injustice to the economic progress, by the 18th century. Early during her reign, Catherine the Great attempts introducing reforms but the reactionary nobles owning the serfs thwart her plan.
Committees are formed by Nicholas also to consider the serfdom problem. During his reign prevalent are frequent uprisings in the rural region, which brings in a sense of increasing urgency.
Alexander II moves effectively and fast in 1855 after his accession. Wide ranging discussions on proposals for emancipation are conducted between 1857 and 1861. The drafting commission receives recommendations from 46 provincial committees that represented the local owners of the serfs.
All serfs are freed in March 1861 as a result of the law. Landlords are obliged to provide every family a land plot with a fixed rent. Right to plot purchase is also provided to peasants, in which case full price in 5% bonds is paid by the government to the landlord. Instead of paying rent, the peasant redeems the loan received from the government over a period of 49 years.
The peasants are organized under a village council, in groups and with strong powers. Elected elders are the council members. Police pressure and the government influence these bodies in practice. However the excitable revolutionaries of Russia feel inspired by the village communes. The revolutionaries have vision of a society of different type on the political upheaval’s far side.
Emancipation of the serfs is followed by Alexander II with other important reforms in the army, the law and local government. These reforms have the often seen effect of demands for more fast moving reforms. Revolutionary ferment characterizes the 2nd half of the reign and in response. increasing repression of the government.
Narodniki And Slavophils: 1855-1881
A radical change in Alexander II’s reign is proposed by 2 main groups, namely the Narodniki and Slavophils. Representing the left and right respectively they are at the opposite ends of the conventional spectrum at the political front. However a romantic notion is shared by them about Russia. Real identity of Russia they find in the peasant communes and villages.
According to the Slavophils, Russia derives her identity from the Slav origins which intrinsically differs from the materialistic and rational nations of Western Europe. Westernization of holy Russia which occurs with efforts of Peter the Great, is their villain.
The Slavophils see the soul of Russian in the warmth and piety of a peasant community that lives around a Russian Orthodox Church away from harsh reality of politics. For this purpose the Russian Tsar introduces rules to offer protection from these realities. Yuri Samrin brings out a pamphlet named ‘Revolutionary Conservatism’ a phrase used to sum up political philosophy of the Slavophils.
The peasant commune is revered by the Narodniki but for another reason, a seed bed of communism. They believe that a life of shard ownership should be prevalent in a wider society.
It is from the Russian ‘narod’ (people) from which Narodniki is derived from. Translated as Populists, they adapt theories of Karl Marx, to make it appropriate for Russia. Achieving revolution by relying on the industrial proletariat, while going through a bourgeois capitalism stage is necessary if it is to be adopted anywhere else according to theorists in Western Europe. However an unbroken development is deemed possible from the peasant communes in rural Russia, right up to the point where socialism is achieved.
The peasants need to get this message first. A movement called Khozhdenie v Narod (going to the people) develops from the late 1860s. Peasant clothing is worn by young students and intellectuals in the campaign. Dispersing in the countryside they start on subversion and indoctrination work. The bewildered peasants identify the intruders easily, who are arrested soon after which trials follow.
Within the Narodniki, the response of more extreme groups is acts of terrorism.
These acts are orchestrated by a secret society, named Zemlya y Volya (Land and Freedom) formed in the year 1876. Narodnaya Volya (People’s Freedom) a more radical cell, soon follows making Alexander II the tsar himself, their most distinguished victim, killed in 1881. At St. Petersburg a bomb is thrown at him at close quarters. With this violent extremist act, great era of reform ends abruptly in Russia.
Mother Russia And Autocracy: 1881-1905
In the last 2 reign of the Romanov dynasty, continues the Russian tradition of autocracy. Its malign effects are even reinforced with more emphasis on ‘Russification’. This is a conservative version of the program that the Slavophils have been pursuing.
Both Alexander III and Nicholas II, his son, support the policy. This takes the form of discrimination against the non-Slav minorities (in Armenia, in Finland, Jews in any part of the empire, in the Baltic States, as against Muslims in Central Asia). Imposing Russian as the language of education and government is attempted everywhere.
Frustration mounts in localized resentment, due to the policies. Agitation for more general aims ranging from constitutional government right up to revolution at full scale, also mounts.
Political activity carried on in secret societies and universities is more intense in the 19th century’s last 2 decades. In particular, there is one group of Russian intellectuals that prove to be of lasting significance. They are involved in the Karl Marx’s socialist movement however, the intolerance of the royalty for all forms of socialism ensure that these intellectuals can live only outside Russia.
Radicals Outside And Inside Of Russia: 1835-1902
A predictable pattern is followed in the careers of revolutionaries in Russia under close observation by secret police of the tsar. In Siberia or Central Asia occur spells of enforced exile, in early life. Prudence later suggests that exile abroad should be voluntary. Inflammatory material is written by the influential rebel in a foreign land where laws are more liberal. The material is smuggled into Russia by inspired couriers.
After leaving Moscow University, Alexander Herzen is arrested and exiled to the Urals in 1835. He lives in Paris from 1847 till the 2nd French Republic collapses in 1852. Then he lives in London and later in Geneva from 1868. He writes a widely known newspaper (Kolokol, The Bell) from 1857 for 8 years. Radical circles in Russia read the paper secretly.
A group of Russian exiles make a base in Geneva who then establish, a movement called Liberation of Labour in 1883. Principles followed by the movement are Marxist as compared to Alexander Herzen. Educating Russian revolutionaries in Marxism and its principles is their main aim. Vladmir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) a young enthusiast visits Geneva in 1895.
Vladmir has a family link with revolution. His student brother Alexander attempted to assassinate Alexander III involving himself in the Narodnaya Volya plot, 8 years earlier and was executed. As compared to his brother, Lenin who was more practical, comes back from Geneva. In the struggle for liberating the working class, he becomes one of the Founders in St. Petersburg of the “Union for the Struggle of the Liberation of the Working Class” .
With a year and few months, he is arrested, put into prison and sent to Siberia for exile from 1897 to 1900. Lenin’s junior named Trotsky is sent to Siberia separately to exile from 1898 to 1900.
In 1898, in an effort to form the Russian Democratic Worker’s Party, many radical groups arrive from different cities at Minsk. Trotsky and Lenin, both are not present. Little immediate effect is seen from this Russian Communist Party. The police soon track down all its leading members and arrest them.
With an intention to publish a newspaper Iskra (The Spark) in other countries, Lenin leaves Russia in July 1900. With the help of this newspaper Lenin becomes the centre of an influential party.
The Mensheviks And Bolsheviks: 1903
The Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party gets together in 1903 in Brussels and moves to London under pressure from the police. Both Trotsky and Lenin are present. They get fruit of their journalism as all delegates present declare their agreement for the Iskra policies.
However on the membership issue, emerges, one significant split. Membership is to be limited only to activists as per Lenin and the majority. Trotsky is included in the minority, giving preference of supporters in a broader range. The issue grows into a significant split subsequently with its implications of compromise versus purity.
The agreement at London helps the two groups in the party, get their names. Those in majority and in agreement with Lenin, become known as the Bolsheviks (large, bolshoi) the minority are known to be the Mensheviks (smaller, menshe).
A armed warfare level is arrived at, by the disagreement between the 2 factions, by the year 1917. However, they become so estranged even by 1905, that their Congress is held at two different places with the Mensheviks in Geneva and the Bolsheviks in London. In Russia erupts a revolution suddenly, in the same year but not due to the prompting of Menshevik or the Bolshevik. Russia’s showing is disastrous in the far-eastern war against Japan and this defeat sparks off a series of very spontaneous events.
New Rivalries Coming Up In Asia: 1891-1904
It becomes more evident during the 1890s that a struggle between two powers is about to break out both eager to benefit from China’s continuing weakness and both in the mood of expansion. While one of the contenders is Japan, an already fighting-fit and emerging entity, the other is Russia, an incompetent empire in Europe.
In 1858, some decades back, Russia wins Vladivostok from China. However, visible growth is seen in Russia’s interest in the Far East. The future heir to the throne Nicholas is sent on a high profile tour of the region in 1891.
In opening the Far East, a vast project in engineering begins in Russia in the same year. The first sleepers are laid by construction gangs at Vladivostok on the Pacific Coast and in the Urals at Chelyabinsk. The sleepers are expected to be completed eventually as the trans-Siberian railway, in 1905.
Expansionist tendencies of Japan become evident during these years in relation to its nearest neighbor, Korea, which is rich in coal and iron. Russia too is interested in Korea, but it is China’s ‘tributary kingdom’ by a long tradition.
Many crises are caused in Korea’s affairs by the interference of Japan. Till 1894 these were being solved through diplomacy but an uprising that year provides an excuse for both the Japanese and Chinese armies to enter the kingdom in the guise of helping the Korean ruler put it down.
War between Japan and China, takes place as a result and Japan wins overwhelmingly. In the treaty of Shimonoseki, in 1895, peace is agreed upon. Punitive terms are accepted by China, including the ceding of Taiwan to Japan, a huge indemnity and ceding of the Liaotung peninsula located to the west of Korea. To Nicholas II the Tsar, the control of the Peninsula by the Japanese is more irksome. Nicholas has his own ambitions in the region and hence it not ready to accept it.
In the so called Triple Intervention, Germany and France are persuaded by Russia to join the diplomatic forces. As per the Triple Intervention, the Liaotung peninsula is to be returned to China. As part of compensation, China has to make an even larger payment to Japan. Necessary loan for this is provided by Russia.
A treaty with China is signed in 1896, thus concluding Nicholas II’s successful attempts to turn events his way. The right to build and protect with Russian troops the Trans-Siberian railway, which passes through Manchuria is granted to Russia in return for ensuring Chinese territorial integrity.
The strategically important harbor, Lü-shun (Port Arthur) located at Liaotung Peninsula’s southern tip, is seized by Nicholas II in 1898, which dispels doubts of the Japanese as to the intentions of Russia. Three years ago, this area was denied by Russia to Japan.
In Korea, in the meanwhile, Russia and Japan were at loggerheads. The Korean King’s queen consort is killed by Japanese assassins in 1895. The king had taken refuge in Seoul in the Russian legation, for a year. Instead of Japan he favors Russia when authority is recovered by the King. Between both the powers a direct clash seems very predictable but Japanese custom does not consider it necessary to provide any warning.
The Russo-Japanese War: 1904-1905
In February 1904, a devastating surprise attack is made by the Japanese fleet on Port Arthur, in a foretaste of Pearl Harbor which happens four decades later. While some Russian warships are blockaded in the harbor many others are destroyed.
In Korea, near Seoul, a Japanese army lands in the month of March. Before the end of June, three more attacks follow. In a series of engagements, the Russians and the Jap forces meet which for the Japanese are either clear victories or are indecisive battles. From February 1905 to March 1905 a battle lasts for three weeks for Shenyang in which 270,000 Japanese prevail over Russians numbering to 330,000.
China continues to remain powerless against armies of the west, for decades. Hence for the Japanese the initial Asian victories prove to be thrilling experience. The Japanese are eager to give a demonstration of its new role as modern military power.
One obvious fact is that Japan could be defeated by Russia which had land access to the war scene. This would be possible if the control of the waters surrounding Korea could be recovered from the Japanese fleet. A long term strategy is decided in St. Petersburg by the government, to this end. The Baltic fleet prepares its flotilla in 1904 summer and sets off on a half-way across the globe journey in October.
On the way minor disasters are experienced but finally in May 1905, the fleet arrives at the China Sea, finally. The Tsushima Strait is used to head to Vladivostok by the Russian warships. Lying in wait here is Japanese contingent of much swifter and more modern ships.
The battle lasts for 2 days in which six Russian ships are captured, 2/3rds of the ship sunk, just four reach Vladivostok and 6 limp back to the neutral ports to safety. The journey from home, lasting for 7 months, comes to a crushing and sudden end.
To mediate a treaty for peace, Theodore Roosevelt, the American President makes an offer which is accepted by both sides. One thing is sure that the terms will be at a disadvantage for Russia, when the diplomats get together in New Hampshire, at Portsmouth. Japan takes control of the southern part of the Liaotung Peninsula and Port Arthur. The Russians realize that Korea is shifting its allegiance to the Japanese, recognizing Russia as a weaker force in their sphere.
For the first time international recognition is achieved by the expansionist program of Japan, when these terms are accepted. Soon the policy is to be pressed further. Adverse effects are faced by Russia due to the humiliation nearer home and in the east in the turmoil experienced by Russia during the first year of revolution.
The Revolution: 1905
During 1905, in Russia, deterioration of the political situation starts steadily. In the history of Russia, the year begins with the most shattering day, called the Bloody Sunday.
On 9th January, a great demonstration is organized by Father Gapon, a priest, in St. Petersburg with the main intention of converging on the Winter Palace in an effort to meet the Tsar, present a petition and request him to redress his people’s sufferings.
Though desperate, the petition’s tone was respectful, which assumes that the brutal minions have let down the benevolent Tsar, which is believed by most in the crowd.
A religious flavor thus adds to the occasion. Soon after dawn, the demonstrators in the city gather in churches to pray that the day is peaceful. To converge at the palace, many bear icons and around 15,000 set off in columns. However, it is not likely that prayers for peace would be answered. To call off the demonstration, an order is sent two days previously to Father Gapon. Overnight, more than 120,000 troops are made to move into the city.
Many of the marchers are dispersed by troops during Sunday morning. However around 60,000 gather in front of the Winter Palace, in the open space.
The crowd is dispersed with open fire and chaos and bloodshed ends the demonstration. Around 800 are wounded and 200 lose their lives in the process. The shocking event transforms many, leaving some with burning anger and rebellious intent all through the Russian Empire.
Workers in thousands in the following weeks go on a strike. Manors of their Lords are burnt and riots are launched by the peasants (During 1905, uprisings of peasants are put down by troops almost 3000 times). Nationalist minorities take part in the unrest. In Latvia, 70 demonstrators are killed and 93 in the Warsaw streets by Russian troops.
Among the troops discontent spreads with the shaming news of Tsushima and Mukden. Many minor mutinies occur in early summer. In June the damaging incident of Bloody Sunday occurs in the Black Sea.
The captain of the battleship Potemkin gets complaints from the crew on 14th June that their meat contains maggots. Vakulenchuk, the crew spokesman is shot by the captain on the deck, thus leading to the murder of 7 officers, riots and raising of the red flag. Overnight the ship sails to Odessa, a place where the workers have been on strike for 14 days. At the marble steps, on the harbor, Vakulenchuk’s body is placed and is given a guard of honor.
Wreaths are placed by thousands the following day at the impromptu shrine. Disaster follows, with troops firing indiscriminately at the crowd from the packed space below. Even Bloody Sunday is dwarfed by this disaster. Around 3000 are wounded and 2000 lose their lives.
The revolutionaries in disguise begin slipping back into Russia. The first one Trotsky pretends to be a patient in an eye hospital. From his bed he writes a stream of revolutionary tracts and participates actively in the first of Russia’s soviets by October.
The Soviets: 1905
The word Soviet means ‘Council’ in Russian. In St. Petersburg a Soviet of Workers’ Deputies (an executive committee consisting of 50 elected members inclusive of a quota of 4 each for the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks) is organized in October 1905 signifying Russian history in the 20th century.
Action of the workers is spontaneous and closer to the philosophy of the Mensheviks. Right from the start Trotsky is the Menshevik member. In November, the first chairman of the Soviet is arrested after which Trotsky replaces him.
On the workers’ behalf, many of the government functions are taken over by the Petersburg Soviet. Izvestiya, a newspaper featuring Trotsky’s editorials is made use to control workers’ militia, organize strikes, disseminate polity and information and oversee food distribution.
During the autumn of 1905, in some 50 cities in Russia, the establishment of Soviets is inspired by St. Petersburg. Control is re-established by the Tsarist government by the year end, leaving to suppressed soviets and arrest of their leaders. Thus a vivid model is provided by them, making revival in 1917 easy.
The Duma And October Manifesto: 1905-1907
In 1905 the October Manifesto is the turning point of events. Except for Nicholas II, the Tsar, it is evident to all that unless concessions are made, the insurrectionary chaos can only worsen. Sergei Witte, one senior advisor of the Tsar forms a constitutional government by producing a manifesto on 9th October (NS Oct22). Nicholas II signs it with extreme reluctance.
An elected legislature or Duma is proposed by the Manifesto in which few basic civil liberties are promised. The executive council is to create the government. The Tsar is to appoint the council and be answerable to him. Liberal ideals fall short due to the measures taken. However as far as transforming the situation is concerned, they are sufficient enough.
New proposals are provided support by the moderates. The extreme violence reactionary backlash is prevented against radicals responsible for the disorder that occurs in 1905. The first ones to suffer are the Jews, like always. After the manifesto is published in the following weeks, around the country are more than 600 pogroms (organized massacres). More than 5000 Jews are injured and 800 murdered in June in the scene of massacre and demonstration in Odessa.
On 27th October, Nicholas II explains to his mother that people are angry by the impertinence of revolutionaries and socialists and nine tenth Jews are troublemakers and hence the pogroms are inevitable.
The government’s mood is vengeful. Around 45000 people are exiled and 15000 executed during 1905 for their activities in the 6 months of the October Manifesto.
The period is precisely the six month interval in which underway are the first Duma’s convening and the election arrangements. The elections are boycotted by the radical parties. In April 1906 the assembly made up of liberal deputies convenes with peasant delegates in a large minority. With shared determination, this unruly and excitable bunch is united in their shared determination to alleviate poverty in the rural areas with the help of land reform.
The Tsar is unhappy with their behavior. In July the first Duma is dismissed by him, much to the outrage and astonishment of the delegates since the Duma has been sitting for less than three months. In time the next Duma is elected after which it assembles in March 1907. Radical parties this time make a decision to join. The result is the largest single bloc consisting of different kinds of socialists. In June, before being sent home, the assembly lasts for just a few months.
In spite of the October Manifesto, the Tsar is within his rights in dismissing every Duma that is convened. His autocratic powers have not been diminished by the provisions in the October manifesto. However the Tsar’s move in changing the rules of this limited experiment in democracy runs foul of the new legislation.
As per the October Manifesto terms, the new electoral rules of Russia can be changed only by the Duma itself. Petr Stolypin, the Prime Minister and the Tsar decide to restrict democratic rights to the richer classes reducing democracy to mockery. It is to take a strong authoritarian line that Petr is appointed in the year 1906. Scaling down of representation of the regions that are non-Russian is also done.
As intended, in November 1907, complaint third Duma is formed. Following the heritage of enlightened despotism tradition, the program of reforms is initiated by the Prime Minister. Peter the Great’s vigorous approach to modernizing is reflected through his ideas, as per Russian terms. The Slavophil leanings imperial court are not amused by this.
The ruthless Stoylpin sends radicals in huge numbers to jail or to their deaths, and suppresses left wing newspapers. In reactionary Russia, many vested interests are offended by his own political aims, which include improvement of military and civil administration, development of education in a state system and land reform to for the benefit of peasants. A former police agent shoots Stolypin when he attends the Kiev theatre along with the Tsar in 1911. The deed is done but it is never discovered who is responsible for it.
From the 1905 events, little is learnt by Imperial Russia. In revolutionary politics, a much more conclusive lesson is to be taught by World War I and the happenings of the year 1917.
Plunging Into The War
War In The Open Plains Between Russia And Germany: 1914
Russia makes an attempt to relieve pressure of the Germans on France in August 1914, with rapid mobilization. Russian armies advance into the northeast corner of Austria-Hungary (Galicia) and into East Prussia, making early gains. Desired short term effect is gained with this move. In the eastern front, four divisions from Belgium are withdrawn by the Germans due to tactical Russian move. Russia enters the field without substantial preparation, as is proved by some events. Before the month ends, disaster strikes.
Many factors contribute to this disaster. In East Prussia, the huge Russian army is exhausted and ill-fed. Uncoded messages are sent by radio without any caution by the Russian commanders. The Germans interpret these uncoded messages.
During August 26-8, a devastating pincer movement is effected by the smaller German force. The movement is mainly to encircle the Russians at a site famous for the medieval war, Tannenberg. Around 92,000 men are captured and more than half of Russia’s army is destroyed. Aleksandr Vasiliyevich Samsonov, the Russian General, shoots himself.
In the invasion of Hungary-Austria, the Russians, further down south, enjoy success that is slightly more lasting. A major part of Galicia is in the hands of the Russians still, at the end of 1914. In the trench warfare stalemate, the western front becomes incapable for movement, by this time. On the open plains between Russia and Germany, on the eastern side, more movement is expected. However towards the end of the calendar year, the outcome suggests that victory will not be quick or easy.
War Of The Imperial Family
The royal family in Russia, as compared to the empires of Germany and Austria-Hungary, is more traditional in attitude and takes a leading role as far as military campaigns are concerned. In 1914, the war breaks out. Nicholas II, the emperor gives, the grand duke Nikolai, his cousin in supreme charge of the imperial army.
In 1914, the autumn campaign brings in heavy losses after which follow an expensive stalemate in winter. Eastwards into Russia a new energetic thrust confronts Nikolai the grand duke, in 1915. His army and infantrymen are short of supplies really desperately with some infantry troops not even having a rifle. Steadily he and the generals fall back. However their defenses prevent a full encirclement or a break in their ranks by the Germans troops.
The Germans move into the Russian territory, another 200 miles by the end of 1915, nevertheless. Almost a million prisoners are taken by them. There is also a change in the command, meanwhile.
The emperor dispatches his cousin on 5th September 1915, to take charge of a campaign into Turkey and through the Caucasus, which is already successful. A more dramatic coup matches success of Russia in Turkey, on the western front under the command of the emperor. In June, Aleksey Brusilov leads an offensive suddenly thus penetrating the Austrian and German lines and massive casualties are inflicted in the process.
A heavy price is to be paid, however. If 750,000 men are lost by the enemy then the losses of Russia are much higher during the Brusilov campaign amounting to almost a million. To truly understand this loss, one has to understand that it is borne by a nation that has never had much stomach for a conflict of this scale.
The imperial family firmly has strong hold on the conduct of the war. The public is discontented and for them the imperial family is a clear target.
Tensions Prevailing In Petrograd
A surge of patriotic hysteria rises with the outbreak of War in other belligerent countries and Russia. Nicholas II the emperor stands on the balcony of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg and witnesses huge crowds greeting his appearance and waving flags. The German embassy is not only attacked but ransacked also. The government, in an effort to keep with this mood, changes the name of the capital city from a German-sounding name to the more Russian Petrograd.
The war continues but the tragedies and hardships continue to accumulate, resulting in a change of mood. A prevailing view develops that incompetent courtiers and aristocrats appointed by the emperor at a high command post, can be blamed for setbacks of Russia on the battlefield.
To take command, Nicholas leaves Petrograd in September 1915 to reach headquarters of the imperial war in the Belarus forests. The target of criticism is another vulnerable imperial family member. To an alarming extent, Alexandra, the empress controls the government, during absence of the emperor.
Alexandra is a dominating empress and persuades her husband frequently to make government appointments that are completely not suitable. At the behest of the man whose influences her and rules her life, she makes many damaging appointments. She is obsessed since 1905, by a charismatic charlatan, Grigory Rasputin who poses as a holy man.
Alexandra’s only son, Tsarevich Alexis suffers from her haemophilia. She believes that her son can be cured with Rasputin’s power. If he does this then Holy Russia and the Romanov dynasty can be saved from threats from the revolutionaries. Dissolute behavior of Rasputin becomes a scandal in public. If any officer criticizes him then he is sent away from Petrograd and posted at a distant place. However whoever Rasputin recommends is placed in positions of power and wealth.
Rumors regarding Alexandra spread all round Petrograd. One of the rumors is that she is responsible for passing secrets of the Russian military to the Germans and the other is that Rasputin is her lover. Though both rumors are not true, nothing much can be done to lessen the damage.
In the capital, an agreement spreads widely during 1916 that a change is necessary. Feverish talk about a revolution is what extremists bandy about. On the other end, plans are more for a coup at the palace so that a group of enlightened insiders become powerful. Without much difficulty, one of the plots is put into effect quite successfully. Rasputin is assassinated by 3 of the imperial family members in December 1916.
In its cataclysmic effects, the upheaval happens with surprising speed and almost by accident.
The Revolution In February
Even by Russian standards it is exceptionally cold during the winter of 1915-1916. Factories are closed down and the railway network almost comes to a halt. Shortage of bread is severe in many parts of Russia but in richer areas of Petrograd, the shops are full. Rumors begin spreading that the shortage of bread is a plot of the capitalists to force the price of bread to go up.
A sudden thaw occurs on 23rd February 1917. The Day is International Women’s Day. People in large numbers take to the streets. Equal rights are demanded by women belonging to all classes who emerge on the streets. Women from the textile industry, who are on strike protesting against the shortage of bread soon join. More women, men and factory workers, make a decision to participate.
At the bridge that leads to the city centre, the crowds are held back by the police. However protestors in large numbers cross the icy Neva River and head to Nevsky Prospekt, the main street of Petrograd. Mounted Cossacks confront the protestors. The young recruits out of the many soldiers are not willing to attack the crowd. This development does not go unnoticed. Despite shouts of ‘Bread’ and ‘Down with the Tsar’ the day ends fairly peacefully.
The crowds increase in numbers over the next 2 days, in a holiday mood of merrymaking at first. But large sections of the crowd are armed with household implements like hammers and knives. Soon there is a distinctly hostile mood as they confront the huge numbers of soldiers and police.
An accurate and subtle distinction is made by the crowd between the two groups. Wherever possible the police enemies are to be attacked. However the young army recruits are encouraged by the crowd to avoid firing on their sisters and mothers, as they are potential allies. They are to be won over with flattery.
On Saturday afternoon, on 25th February, a symbolic and powerful incident happens on Nevsky Prospekt. The incident occurs at the very location where 12 years ago, the crowd was fired at, on Bloody Sunday. The mounted squadron confronts the crowd once again now. There is a deadlock. Out of it, a young girl moves towards the ranks of Cossacks, and from beneath her cloak takes a bouquet of red roses, which is seen as a symbol of revolution or peace and presents it to a mounted officer. At first the officer pauses, then gives a smile, leans down and takes the bouquet. The crowd is happy and shouts out cheering. A new term enters contemporary jargon – ‘comrade Cossacks’.
A turning point and dramatic escalation is seen on 26th February, Sunday which is the following day. The emperor is notified at his distant command post, that there are disturbances. To put the unrest down by force, he immediately sends orders. Soldiers and police are out in larger numbers. People lose their lives in huge numbers for the first time as they are fired upon. This is the second Bloody Sunday. Sides are changed by an entire military unit in response to the firing and they attack the police.
Through the capital barracks, there is rapid spread of mutiny. Once the soldiers and crowds are in allegiance, holding them would be impossible. Factories, weapons and the arsenal fall to the rebels on 27th February, Monday, thus bringing them more than 150,000 revolvers and rifles. The imperial prison noted for its notoriety and the hated Peter and Paul fortress fall into hands of the rebels by the end of the next day.
Hardly any prisoners are there in the fortress, similar to the Bastille centuries ago. However, above ramparts of the fortress flies the red flag, which is symbol enough demonstrating that Russian history has reached a turning point. For the rights of women, a peaceful demonstration was held mere 5 days before.
The Dynasty Ends
At first Nicholas II thinks of fighting back. To restore order he orders the senior generals to march on Petrograd. However they know that the mutinous spirit can spread to their troops like contagion. The results of that would be more serious, more disastrous than the predicament that the emperor was now facing, the battle against Germany. Generals convince the emperor by 2nd March he should abdicate by which he might save the dynasty for his progeny. He does so declaring that the Grand Duke Mikhail, his brother should be the successor. This proves to be a pitifully sad hope that will see no fulfillment.
The news about the abdication reaches the impassioned crowds in. The crowds have been involved in an orgy of class warfare and anti-imperial destruction since many days.
Wherever imperial statues and the two headed eagle emblem of the dynasty are found, they are torn down and destroyed. Properties and homes of old order associated rich families are looted and the lives of those living in them are endangered. In the violence lasting for a few days, an approximate 1500 to 7500 people are either injured or killed.
At first hand, these scenes are witnessed by Grand Duke Mikhail. Unsurprisingly for the new provisional government member, it proves unsurprisingly easy to induce him to decline the crown.
The Bolsheviks murder Mikhail and his brother Nicholas II (In July 1918, the Tsar, his wife and kids die at Ekaterinburg). At this time the emperor reunites with Alexandra and his family, which during the crisis was his major concern.
In the power struggle between the rival factions, political turmoil in Russia develops during 1917. Summer is spent by last of the Romanovs to the south of Petrograd in their Tsarskoe Selo palace.
The Provisional Government
The imperial dynasty collapses all of a sudden, leaving Russian political life in a vacuum. To fill it, are very keen two groups, the reformist and liberal members of the elected Duma. In the circumstances they think that they can be the only legitimate government with some constitutional justification. However the Petrograd Soviet possesses power that is much more meaningful. It speaks for the hopes of tens and thousands of soldiers and factory workers. A compromise is arrived at, in the event. In exchange for supporting particular immediate reforms the Soviet comes to an agreement to back a Provisional Government comprising Duma members.
In context of autocracy prevalent in Russia, a plan for extremely radical reforms is put forward by the Soviet – a people’s militia is to replace the police which is to be abolished and disbanded forthwith; universal suffrage unlike the earlier rich only practice, the freedom of assembly, press and speech; and removal of restrictions that are based on religion or class. In Petrograd of specific local interest is the assurance the army units involved in February revolution shall be neither be sent to the front nor disbanded.
A respected liberal, Prince Georgi Lvov is accepted at the first Prime Minister. When Lvov’s appointment is approved in the by the emperor on 15th March 1917 in his formal abdication act, a sort of legitimacy is given to by him to the Provisional Government.
To recommend a constitution, a rapid convening of the assembly is promised by the Provisional Government, after which follow the early elections. However, this commitment is an empty one, for a nation having no electoral register in existence and being at war. The assembly is not convened. The prince headed – unelected government proves to be a lame duck with a number of impossible dilemmas confronting it, much to the disapproval of the radicals.
Both, from an obligation sense to the Allies and national pride, the government has a strong instinct that the war against Germany should not stop and must be won. Russian people in huge numbers are left with just two prevailing hopes, due to sudden success of the February Revolution. This reality is not comfortable at all.
The first hope is that the war should be brought to a close as fast as possible. The second one is that land should be distributed immediately to the vast majority of population who live and work on it.
A bold gamble is taken up by the Provisional Government, with regard to the war, to change the prevailing mood. In June, plans are set for a major offensive that would boost the morale with success of the military. However the results prove to be disastrous. To carry out a campaign like this against the invading Germans, the Russian units are not so willing.
Hundreds and thousands of soldiers from Russia lose lives with millions of square miles of land ending up in the hands of the Germans, in the summer campaign of 1917. No real authority is recovered by the Provisional Government after this fiasco. During a fortnight, in the following month, the government topples. A new revolution in Petrograd is in its makings.
The soldiers of the Petrograd garrison take to the streets from 20th June. If an order is not rescinded to send them to the front, then they threaten to overthrow the government. The capital is not at ease now.
More and more factory workers, sailors and soldiers appear on the streets of the capital, gradually over the next 15 days. The Tauride Palace is surrounded by around 50,000 men on 4th July eventually. At the Palace, a meeting is being held by the Provisional Government’s terrified members. For a very good reason, the crowd isn’t sure about what has to be done. Leaders from whom guidance is expected by the crowd, fails deliberately in encouraging them. Nothing is said by Lenin, during his brief appearance. The bewildered and angry mob captures the government minister, Viktor Chernov, but is persuaded by the courageous Trotsky to release him rather than lynch him.
Since the February revolution, a new element which is of great significance is Trotsky’s and Lenin’s arrival on the scene.
In March 1917, the Russian imperial regime topples suddenly. No leading Marxists of Russia are in the country. This turn of events surprises all, completely. While Trotsky is in New York; Lenin and his entourage are in Zurich.
This is the right time to hurry back home, both realize. Trotsky reaches London after crossing the Atlantic but before he continues the journey the authorities in London briefly detain him. A greater problem is apparently faced by Lenin. Between him lie the Austrian and German empires that are at war with Russia, his country. Rather than being a hindrance this proves to be of great help. German authorities are aware that Lenin’s presence can cause damage to efforts taken by Russia in the war. Hence they are more in favor of facilitating his journey.
At the Swiss border a German engine pulling a single carriage is offered to him and his colleagues who then travel to the Baltic coast, via Berlin and Frankfurt. From the coast they cross to Stockholm and then move to Petrograd. On 3rd April 1917, Lenin sets his foot in his country for the first time since 1906.
Having been absent from his country for so long, Lenin has no firsthand knowledge of conditions in Russia. In Russia a recent uprising confounds the Marxist theory that the inevitable proletarian revolution must succeed an inevitable bourgeois revolution. However Lenin is busy writing the April Theses and revising theory on the train.
On reaching Finland Station, a hero’s welcome is given to Lenin. He immediately begins convincing his colleagues about the new program. The Petrograd Soviet leaders, in accordance to the Marxist theory have been primed to cooperate with the Provisional Government mainly because February 1917, is seen as the bourgeois revolution that must succeed before the proletariat can take over. Before they get their turn, this revolution has to run its course.
He explains the April Theses to the first hostile and stunned audiences with the argument that chances for peasantry and proletariat to directly seize power now exist. Three main policies are advocated by him out of which, the first two are those which the Russian people want to hear – immediate land distribution to the peasants and an immediate end to the war. Peasants have been demanding the complete end of serfdom for long and soldiers do not want to die in the war no one understands. Support will be provided to any party that advocates these policies.
A more practical point that Lenin makes is the third one. Soviets throughout the country should be strengthened by the party. The party should build an organization of peasants, workers and soldiers who are prepared to challenge the Provisional Government and when the moment arrives, they should seize power.
Before summer, the moment accidently comes, in the eyes of the enthusiasts. Armed rebels take to the Petrograd streets with the events of July 1917 which could make overwhelming the Provisional Government, much easier. Taken by surprise, Trotsky and Lenin make a quick decision that this yet not that moment. There was no guarantee that the successes seen in Petrograd would be seen elsewhere. They go about discouraging a revolution in the same way Marx did in 1871. This is a surprising position for these champions of revolution.
The 4th July crisis gets narrowly averted. Arresting the Bolshevik leaders and levying high treason on them is the first reaction of the government. At the Peter and Paul fortress, Trotsky with many others is put into prison. Lenin disguises himself and flees to Finland.
Lvov, the ineffectual and gentle prince gets some relief as Provisional Government head, once this is done. In his place, he nominates Alexander Kerensky a popular choice as the Prime Minister. With a foot in both camps, the only politician in the government is the Minister of war, Kerensky. Not only is he an elected Duma member, but also serves on the Petrograd Soviet committee.
Kerensky assiduously promotes his own personality cult, is an excellent orator and is able to hold the two extremes of politics in Russia. However ends up enraging both factions of Russian politics.
He limits influence of Petrograd Soviet in the Provisional Government in the effort to persuade the Kadets, the right wing party so that they enter his new coalition. In the process his socialist colleagues get alienated. He dismisses Lavr Georgyevich Kornilov the commander-in-chief of the army causing outrage in circles of the right wing. He suspects that Lavr is making a coup d’état plan against the Provisional Government. His intention is to curtail power in the Soviet, and so he thinks that troops should be sent to Petrograd.
However the troops are not happy about fighting people of their country. By August end, when they reach the capital’s suburbs, they are urged by the Soviet leaders to lay their arms down. Without a shot being fired, they do so.
Neither of the main contenders benefit from this damp confrontation squib. Kerenksy’s bloc of moderate Socialists whose Provisional government is not in effective control loses, besides which the right wing also loses. The outsiders, more particularly the Bolsheviks and the Petrograd Soviet are the winners. The brute force can rally the Bolsheviks the only group, to back up demands of the people. After the 4th July disappointment, the Bolsheviks lose their own popularity. An upward turn is taken by their fortunes, with the Kornilov revolt.
It is in the Duma elections that polarization of politics in Russia is reflected in these months. In Moscow around 11% of the votes are polled by the Bolsheviks in June. With 51% of the poll, the number increases to a majority of votes cast, in September. Simultaneously for the Kadets (right-wing) the votes double almost from 17% to 31%. As far as the moderate socialist parties are concerned the previous majority vote falls down from 68% to 18%.
In the meantime Kerensky is deluded by his own grandeur. In the country, the situation has been only worsening. Like Nero fiddling while Rome burns, he moves into the Winter Palace, uses the imperial suite, sleeps on the vast bed of the Tsar, as he goes and comes, he runs the red flag up and down and also assumes the heroic poses of Napoleon.
On the Baltic coast, the Latvia capital, Riga is taken by the Germans in August. This indicates a possibility that they would strike at Petrograd. Far from being diminished, the Soviet is becoming more aggressive and confident.
The Mensheviks including the moderate socialists control Petrograd Soviet, until now. Till the time Trotsky was persuaded by the April Theses of Lenin, to throw his lot with the Bolsheviks, Trotsky continued to be a member of the Mensheviks party. In September Trotsky is released from prison. The coup he stages in the Soviet results in a majority for the Bolsheviks. He is elected as chairman. The Soviets have fallen into the hands of the Bolsheviks in Moscow and many cities in Russia during the preceding weeks.
While making plans to seize power the Bolsheviks make secret plans. However, Kerensky with misplaced and sublime confidence feels that these would be feeble attempts just like the uprising which failed in July. Kerensky is on the lookout for a chance that could crush the Bolsheviks down, once and for all. In October, the provocative Kerensky deliberately announces the plan of transferring the garrison of Petrograd to the front. He wants to forestall the danger of the advancing Germans along the Petrograd coast, hence the announcement.
The July uprising too, was provoked by a similar kind of order. The same result is seen, once again now.
The Revolution In October
Lenin has been the most wanted Bolshevik leader for the police. In July he fled to Finland, thus escaping arrest. However the Bolshevik’s fortunes are up now making him decide that he should return to Petrograd. He wears a wig to cover his distinctive bald plate and slips into Petrograd, early October. He hides himself in Margarita Fofanova, a party worker’s flat.
The Bolshevik party’s secret meeting of the Central Committee is held on 10th October, which he presides. The decision taken here is fateful. A majority of comrades present are persuaded by Lenin to vote for his very own policy. Without specifying the particular intended date, they make a decision favoring the armed insurrection.
For the urgency, Lenin’s reason is a personal one. On 20th October, the 2nd All-Russian Soviet Congress is to meet in Petrograd. After that date if with backing of the Congress, an uprising takes place then all Socialist parties will have to be included by any government in the future. If this is achieved on their own by the Bolsheviks, and before the Congress then there are chances of Lenin achieving the one-party government his revolution requires.
A MRC – Military Revolutionary Committee is set up by the Petrograd Soviet Chairman, Trotsky. It represents supposedly a defensive organization and the whole of Soviet against the counter-revolution and the Germans, both. Now it is packed with members of the Bolsheviks and begins with active preparation for the uprising.
Well aware about the barely kept secret of the Bolsheviks, leaders of the Soviet postpone the Congress by 5 days. They want to rally the forces opposing them so give themselves some time. However with the additional valuable time, the Bolsheviks make preparations for the coup.
Within a matter of hours, the race is won by the Bolsheviks. The decision by Kerensky to send the garrison of Petrograd to the front helps greatly. Within a matter of hours, the race is won by the Bolsheviks. A mutiny is provoked with this order. Allegiance is transferred by soldiers to the MRC. By 21st October, the garrison is controlled by the MRC. It takes over the Peter and Paul fortress two days later, with its cannon and ramparts overlooking the Winter Palace.
The Bolsheviks have military control on Petrograd. Lenin is in minority however when he argues that action be taken immediately. Angry workers and soldiers fill the streets, meanwhile in early July, an opportunity Lenin doesn’t want to miss. He disguises himself and goes to the party headquarters on 24th October at 10 pm. To order insurrection immediately he persuades the central committee.
Events that took place in the 2 days are enshrined as a popular and glamorous uprising in ‘Ten Days That Shook the World’, Eisentein’s film. The coup of storming the Winter Palace is executed chaotically against a regime that has no strength to resist.
In the Peter and Paul fortress the cannons are nothing but rusty pieces suitable for only for a museum and cannot be used for firing. When shells are found they turn out to be of a wrong size that cannot be used as replacement. From the cruiser Aurora, on the Neva River, a blank shell is fired. This blast produces the most impressive explosion of these dramatic ten days.
Bolshevik sailors and soldiers get together in front of the Winter Palace, on the square on 25th October. To save the trapped ministers of the Provisional Government in the Palace, there is only a terrified contingent of soldiers. Rifle bullets and machine gun spray the building. The small detachment within is outnumbered by the Bolsheviks. Unopposed they rush into the building on the morning of 26th October at 2 am.
On discovering that Kerensky has escaped, the rebels become furious. However the remaining ministers are sent off to the Peter and Paul fortress.
At 10 pm, the Soviet Congress begin gathering for their first session, while these events are taking place. The uprising is presented as being successfully completed by the scheming Bolsheviks, although the Winter Palace falls only after four hours of the announcement. This way the first purpose of Lenin is achieved. Making deft moves to outmaneuver his Socialist colleagues is the next tough task for Lenin to seize power. The Provisional Government has been forced to relinquish its power.
Political Strategy Of The Bolsheviks
The Bolsheviks have delegates in the biggest number, in the Soviet Congress which assembles on 25th October night. However they do not make a majority. The assembly’s first resolution was unanimously passed, which the Bolsheviks find difficult to overturn. A united democratic government inclusive of all Socialist parties is proposed in the resolution. The two rival parties, with their petulance prove helpful in shaping Russia’s future in this important meeting.
Socialist Revolutionary and Menshevik delegates march out of the hall in huge numbers in a protest that they are not connected with the violent and criminal acts. They are of the argument that these acts are calculated well so that a civil war is provoked.
The rival parties are maligned as counter-revolutionary by Lenin and his cohorts. The purpose of forming a revolutionary government is thus achieved by Trotsky and Lenin. The revolutionary government has only Bolshevik members but is portrayed as representing the Soviets. The new government’s name is the Soviet of People’s Commissars.
No time is wasted by the new government. The Congress is presented with 2 bills that fulfill the main fundamental points of the Bolshevik platform, on 26th October. Russia’s enemies are invited to making peace negotiations immediately, in his first Decree of Peace (a process in which the Russia’s weakened position leads to the Brest-Litovsk treaty in March 1918).
A lot of people in Russia are willing to pay any price to attain peace. However the Decree on Land, the second bill of Lenin is more than what the huge majority of people in Russia wish to hear. Without giving any compensation, the huge estates of the monasteries, the church, the large landowners and the imperial family are to be expropriated after which the estates would be distributed amongst the peasants.
All over the country, village communes are encouraged by the Bolsheviks to get started with this alluring program. An ongoing revolution would thus be unleashed to control which would be their political task.
In other contexts the same is done including giving local power to soldiers’ committees and factory workers. Any coherent resistance by generals, capitalists and landowners would get hampered with the resulting chaos.
At the centre, seizing of secure political power is indeed a difficult task. With the civil services offering no cooperation, the task is made more difficult. The Russian state bank considers that providing cash is an illegal regime and so refuses. When Bolsheviks use guns and raid the bank in as armed robbers and force the bank staff to open the vaults, only the situation resolves. Around 5 million Roubles are sent to Lenin’s office.
With equal ruthlessness the Bolshevik position is secured in the political infighting. This is one exceptional talent Lenin has for this process.
The Constituent Assembly
For the Bolsheviks the proposed Constituent Assembly is the main political threat. This Assembly is the democratic baptism of Russia as seen by all moderate socialists. The first freely elected assemble has not delivered in time and so the Provisional Government is criticized by the Bolsheviks. It is impolitic for Lenin to suppress the proposal for a Constituent Assembly.
On 12th November 1917, the polls are due to begin but when the editors are arrested with Bolshevik gangs vandalising printing machinery, a huge outrage is caused. 419 seats are won by the Socialist Revolutionary Party to only 168 for the Bolsheviks (the Mensheviks get a mere 18 seats).
With an imprudent and bold behavior Lenin declares the results are not valid on two counts. In some rural areas, he claims there has been electoral malpractice. Then he claims that elections have been held before the peasantry has had time to realize the October revolution’s significance. The immediate task however in practical terms is to deny the forthcoming assembly, any kind of power.
On 20th November, Lenin takes the first step. The first meeting of elected delegates is to be postponed indefinitely. It had been due within eight day’s time. Many leaders of the other three main parties are arrested in the protest march. The Kadets, the only non socialist party is also banned.
To make a way for political detainees in increasing numbers, criminals are freed from prison by December end. Matters like these are dealt with by the newly formed sinister body Cheka. This new body later acquires the name KGB which is much more familiar to the world. Rapid transformation of a tsarist police state into a communist one is also taking place.
In a new set of Theses, Lenin argues about irrelevancy of the ‘bourgeois-democratic’ assembly. The irrelevancy results because power passes to the representatives of the people, the Soviets. 5th January 1918, is the date for the first sitting for the assembly.
The Union for the Defence of the Constituent Assembly organizes a demonstration so that the important event coincides with it. In a peaceful march, around 30,000 people move towards the Tauride Palace, the assembly building. They are not confronted by ranks of troops, like it happened in St. Petersburg, in earlier gatherings. Hiding amongst the roof tops, the machine-gunners who are Bolsheviks suddenly fire on them instead. In the firing around 10 people lose their lives.
At 4 pm the assembly opens, delegates are distressed and furious at events of the day. In the hall are the Bolshevik soldiers, screaming abuses, drinking vodka, drowning out the words of speakers of the opposition.
A Declaration of Rights of the Working People is put forth before the assembly by a Bolshevik speaker. The document is rejected by deputies in a majority after which the contingent of the Bolsheviks marches out of the hall. Declaration is made by Lenin to dismiss the assembly as it has fallen into the counter-revolutionaries’ hands. Next morning till 4.40 am the debate is allowed to continue. On the grounds are troops guarding the building, but tired now so the debate is brought to a close. Admission is refused to deputies that return the following day. A text of a decree that declares dissolving of the assembly is given to them.
The first democratic experience which Russia has had is a brief one and ends abruptly now. However outside the Petrograd hothouse, Lenin’s revolution has its hands full of trouble.
Lenin is left with a number of enemies after he seizes power. These include the White Russians (the old regime supporters), nationalists in many of the Russian Empire regions (who are of the belief that there is chance of gaining independence if they develop chaos), the majority of socialists in the disbanded Constituent Assembly and other former allies in Russia who are keenly interested in assisting any Russians who are against Germany.
The Brest-Litovsk treaty is signed by Lenin in March 1918. The small White army that fights all around Rostov city in the south, during winter actively opposes the treaty. Kornilov, whom Kerensky had dismissed as commander-in-chief, in the previous September leads this force. In February 1918, driven by a Red army from Rostov, he leads a large bourgeoisie contingent of the city and 4000 soldiers in a staggering procession across the frozen steppe, southwards.
As they progress they kill and torture peasants, treat them with extreme brutality and take away their scarce food supplies. However for the White cause their survival proves to be a heroic inspiration. It comes to be known as the Ice March.
The Bolsheviks perpetrate bigger brutalities which is helpful to the White cause. Terrorizing peasants now becomes an official policy. The Red Bolshevik army terrorizes peasants making them hand over their seed corn in the desperate need for securing enough grain for the cities.
Armed men cause a lot of suffering to the peasants, including the so-called kulaks – the richer peasants. In his hysterical speech, a new policy is announced by Lenin, in which rich peasants are denounced as leeches and bloodsuckers. A ruthless war is declared to result in death to all the Kulaks. This war is in reality against anyone who has stored grains. Lenin does not mind his ravaging renege army killing the very peasants he is pretending to support. In this civil war the Red Terror is more than matched by the White Terror.
Support for the Whites increases with the Bolshevik treatment effect of the peasants. The number of Whites swells to an appreciable extent by the Cossacks in the region of the Don and Rostov.
The victorious Allied nations provide help in the form of 30,000 troops and munitions in large consignments to the Whites by 1919. Main purpose of this is suppressing Communism instead of damaging Germany. Three massive thrusts increase in terms of strength, as a result during 1919, against Russia’s heartland. The first massive thrust is from the White armies, which press west towards the Volga, from Siberia. The second thrust is up towards Moscow, from the Crimea and the third is towards Petrograd, in the northwest.
For the same reason which is over-long defensive lines, ultimately all the three fail. However the Bolsheviks are confronted with a serious crisis with the kind of approach they adopt. The White army is just 250 miles away from Moscow in October 1919. Every Red Army unit available is assembled in hurry in the Kremlin by Lenin. Around 120,000 peasants and workers have to dig trenches across the approach roads to the city, as ordered by Lenin.
Hills overlooking the Petrograd suburbs are captured by the White army one week later. Trotsky takes a train from the north of Moscow to organize a brilliant defense at the last minute. With this oratory gift, morale of the army rises. The Whites are pushed southwards from the hills in the first battle. Advance on Moscow is stopped and reversed after the intense war.
In the civil war, a turning point is these events. It is evident that this is a lost cause, leading to a decline in Western support. In the Crimea, on the Russian soil there is just one White army. After the last brutality by the Bolsheviks, the war ends as regiments make preparations to escape from Sebastopol, to safety.
The Bolshevik revolution supporter and hero of the war against Germany is Alexei Brusilov. He offers amnesty to the departing offices on being persuaded to do the sponsorship. Aeroplanes are used to drop the leaflets, but there was no response, Brusilov is told. However seeing Brusilov’s name on the document by many officers make a decision to remain in Russia. As instructed they surrender to the Red army and are shot at. Brusilov makes this painful discovery too late.
Lenin makes swift moves for establishing the Bolshevik party which he makes the unmistakable Russian government.
On 10th March 1918, he moves the government seat to Moscow from Petrograd in a definitive break. Once again the centers of power are associated with Kremlin’s forbidding walls. A more national profile is adopted by the Bolsheviks, in the same month. Russian Communist Party is the new name they change to. The very same months and days are used as used by rest of the world as a sign of modernising. Russia is converted to the Gregorian calendar by Lenin on 31st January 1918. February 14, is declared to be the next day.
The changes are symbolic. The difficult task is to impose Communist power practically all over Russia.
However the prospect of utilizing police state techniques for imposing control to terrorize people is relished by Lenin. Lenin is a passionate believer of the need for a Dictatorship of the Proletariat. No way is he averse to various techniques of cruelty and repression related invariably with dictatorship.
The urgent need of fighting the civil war may modify or delay the imposition of the Communist dictatorship, one might expect. However if anything can help Lenin, it is the war.
The charge of building up the Red Army is given to the man having genius for organization, Trotsky, which he does with greatest efficiency. From the villages, the enlisted and intelligent peasants from the villages turn out to be a valuable source of political activists. The army educates them thus providing them an escape from rural poor life. They are made members of the party.
The party gets an excuse to impose War Communism (centralized control) as per demands of the civil war. Food is collected forcibly for distribution on behalf of the government. Any type of trading in the market is also suppressed. The Communist party now controls management of factories.
The workers and peasants alike are profoundly provoked by this campaign. Characterized by all Communist states this is the first type of managed economy to be imposed anywhere in the world. Unrest increases in both the factories and farmers from summer in the year 1918. After the defeat of Whites in the civil war in 1920, the extent of unrest becomes obvious. In 1917 the local soviets make the majority of the grassroots democracy. Reviving the local Soviets is the widespread demand made.
Furious workers and peasants resort to violence, which makes Lenin, confront the most serious crisis in the spring of 1921.
In rural areas, Communist soldiers and officials in the country are attacked. Guerilla warfare is ruthlessly used by peasant armies and savagery used by soldiers is no less brutal. In February 1921, starting from Moscow, cities are swept over by a rash of strikes. Near Petrograd at the Kronstadt Naval base, sailors create a mutiny, towards the end of the same month. Including free elections is their main demand.
A decisive decision is taken by Lenin with the chances of a mutiny spreading across other garrisons. The naval base is attacked on 16th March with massive aerial bombing, artillery fire and huge assault by around 50,000 troops of the Red Army across the ice. Thought the mutiny ends, almost 10,000 Red Army troops lose their lives By the next day without any trial, an approximate 2500 rebels are shot subsequently.
At Moscow the Tenth Party Congress is taking place at this time of ruthlessness adopted by the Communists. Lenin presses home his advantage by making best use of this mutiny crisis.
The Worker’s Opposition (a pressure group present in the party) argues for rights of trades union. Lenin receives a mass majority when he moves a motion to condemn them. When he moves further he passes a resolution banning formation of factions within the party and also succeeds in the same. From now onwards only the individual can criticize decisions taken by the Central Committee. The Central Committees’ control over the Communist party is very much secure from March 1921, in the same way as it the Communist party control is over the country.
The New Economic Policy
Lenin agrees to prepare himself to give way on other issues though he is not flexible on any other issue that affects the Communist Party’s power. The Tenth Party Congress is persuaded by Lenin to vote for a U-turn, after he acknowledges that the whole harvest of the peasants has been a disaster after the requisition attempt is made (the resentment is extreme, plantation of fewer fields is done, corn is hidden successfully). Peasants get the freedom of keeping surplus of the products after payment of tax to the state, as per the NEP – New Economic Policy. Ban on markets at the same time is also lifted.
At great speed, trade in the rural areas revives vigorously (however the trade also brings along with it Nepmen also known as profiteers).
Even if this action appeases the rural districts, greatly, the Red Army suppresses peasants involved in the revolts, without any kind of mercy, during the 1921 summer. In the campaign, poison gas, artillery, bombers and armored cars are utilized. Those captured are killed with guns. The rest (an approximate 50,000) are sent off to Soviet Union’s concentration camps, specially constructed for the same).
Any threat in future from the Socialist Revolutionaries, those who supported the peasants, the Mensheviks and rival socialist parties is removed as soon as Lenin gets the opportunity. During 1921, around 500 Mensheviks were arrested. In the following year, in the trials all the SR party members are termed as ‘enemies of the people’.
The Union Of Republics
A new name is give to the heart of the Russian empire, ‘the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic’ immediately after the revolution in October (the Russian Empire is from Moscow and Petrograd through Siberia to the Pacific Coast). In this vast stretch of land, nationalist aspirations of the huge number of minorities have to be accommodated hence this hint of federalism is given. From the center, no intension of any kind is implied to relax control, which becomes absolute by the year 1921.
While the civil war is on, a number of regions outside the central bloc (Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia, Belorussia) come under the Communist government control, which is secured by the Red Army’s local power.
To get Moscow into a closer relationship, with these regions this is the next natural step. The job of drawing up a federation plan is given to the secretary of the Communist Party, Joseph Stalin in early in 1922. In the same year in December, the Soviets’ first Congress is brought together by Stalin. A closer union is agreed upon by the Soviet republics of Russia, the Transcaucasian Federation, the Ukraine and Belarus, on 30th December. For the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, a new state, a constitution is established, in the following summer. On 6th July 1923, the USSR comes into existence, officially.
The right to secede is provided to each republic by the constitution. However as the same Communist party with Moscow as its headquarters, governs the republic, this proves to be a bit notional. For nearly 7 decades the political monolith can remain intact.
International acceptance is achieved by the new state that is born out of a violent revolution, at the same time. In the summer of 1921 the famine in Russia is the turning point. Communist policies get aggravated due to failure in crops. Starvation threatens more than 20 million people. USA spearheads prompts a huge international aid.
One of the pariah states begins edging back into the fold on getting this very first international contact, thus initiating foreign trade. Full diplomatic relations are established again by Germany in 1922. USSR gains recognition amongst many other European nations by the end of 1924. The new crisis is one thing leadership in Russia has to cope with by this time.
Stalin Takes Up Reign
Leadership of the nation and Communist party is in the hands of one person, unmistakably in 1917 since the October revolution. Trotsky has been an assistant who is extremely able, while Lenin’s achievement is securing the revolution, most ruthlessly. However a toll is taken by the incessant work load. He gets a stroke in May 1922 and does not get back to office till October. His right side is paralyzed with a second stroke, just 2 months later. Though he survives for another year he becomes an incapacitated invalid. He dies in January 1924.
The obvious successor has been Trotsky, but just before he gets the first stroke in April 1922, a dark horse is introduced to the race, by Lenin.
Joseph Stalin has passionately supported Lenin. From his early twenties and since the revolution, this committed Bolshevik has been in the party’s inner circle. However, in April 1922, his real power grows. General Secretary of the Communist Party is the new post created for him by Lenin.
Stalin can control party appointments while he is in this position. In May, Lenin falls ill giving him the right chance of preparing for the expected struggle. Around 10,000 of his own supporters are appointed by Stalin as provincial officials, during the later part of 1922. In September, Lenin gets back to his job to find that a Grigorii Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev a triumvirate of Stalin are effectively ruling Russia.
As far as hatred towards Trotsky is concerned, there is unity amongst all the three. Trotsky is seen as an arrogant and detached intellectual. Zinoviev and Kamenev both are viewing themselves as successors of Lenin. In their personal strategy, Stalin is used as a pawn. Stalin works towards strengthening his faction hence the case proves to be reverse.
Once again the reins are taken up by Lenin. He becomes aware of the ambition and character of Stalin for the first time. As counterweight to Stalin, he tries reinforcing position of Trotsky. In December 1922, he has his second stroke. Stalin makes quick moves. Not only does he persuade the central committee that for his own sake Lenin should be kept in isolation. He takes charge of doctors treating Lenin. In effect, Lenin becomes a prisoner of Stalin.
For a forthcoming Party Congress, a series of brief notes are dictated by Lenin, but in secrecy. In the notes he recommends that Stalin should be eliminated for the position of party secretary besides which he also condemns behavior of Stalin. He orders sealing of these notes and that they should be retained in complete secrecy.
Until 1956 the notes are destined to remain secret as Lenin suffers a massive stroke, the third one in March 1923. The stroke robs off his power to communicate. Stalin keeps on strengthening his position and all that Lenin can do is helplessly watch from the sidelines. At the Politburo’s plenary session, the Communist executive committee, a massive majority censures Trotsky for factionalism in the month of October. He makes a narrow escape from being thrown out of the party.
Stalin being cautious and instinctive argues against the expulsion of Trotsky. In the triumvirate are his partners Zinoviev and Kamenev against whom he makes slow moves. Trotsky and these two become allied in opposition to him in the year 1926. Stalin has the power to expel them from the Politburo. The following year he removes them from the party. In 1928 he forces Trotsky out of the nation.
In the year 1936, in the show trials, Zinoviev and Kamenev are defamed after which they are shot. A person reign of terror is secured finally by Stalin. Trotsky’s old adversary is sent to assassinate him in 1940 in a suburb of Mexico City. As part of treatment of his political rivals, ruthless methods are used by Stalin, in the meanwhile. The first Communist nation of the world is thus completely transformed by Stalin.
Collectivization And Industrialization
During the 1920, the Soviet Union leadership debates on whether the NEP which is enabling the economy would in a traditional way tick over. Debates are that a centralized and strong drive should replace it to improve the agricultural and industrial output of Russia. Stalin is not confident about his own power. He supports views of useful people thus trimming the issue. A drastic reform plan is forced in by him when he feels stronger enough, in 1929.
In 1929, the party adopts the first Five Year Plan. An increase of 50% in agricultural produce and 200% in industrial output is predicted by the party. It is on the work forces’ harsh coercion that these ambitions would depend.
In a sense the Five Year Plan is a kind of returning back to the civil war years where War Communism was in effect. Once again, brunt of the policy is borne by Kulaks, the supposed to be the rich peasants. The state seizes their land in an effort to make collective farms. Besides this their families are moved to Siberia and put in agricultural labor camps to work.
On the journey, on forced marches and in cattle trucks, one in five people, mainly children and children die. They are made to work immediately after arrival. In these barbarous conditions, more people die. In some more years, uprooted peasants amounting to 6 million are believed to be dead.
Collective farming is adopted in more than 90% of agricultural land in Russia, 2 years after the first Five Year Plan ends by 1935.
Instead of the increase that was predicted, production drops to a massive extent as a result. Peasants are forced into merging the smallholdings they have. In the process they kill their animals so that common stock is reduced. Coercing them to sow and plough for the future is difficult with anything like the commitment they made previously.
Millions die and famines repeat during the early 1930s. To lessen the suffering no foreign aid is available by this time, like it was in 1921. Stalin tries a lot for the disaster news to be suppressed.
Collectivization doesn’t work as expected. Imposing industrialization seems more feasible. Stalin is determined to give Russia heavy industry. So to ensure that unprecedented scarcities are accepted by the public, production is diverted away from consumer products.
Incentive schemes are introduced by Stalin for skilled workers and mangers so that efficiency is secured. Wage bills of the state are kept down with the use of slave labor. Peasants amounting to around 25 millions are transferred to factories from the land. Industrial discipline is very harsh and they have no choice but work at subsistence levels. However the policy becomes successful. In 1937 when the 2nd Five Year Plan ends, rural Russia has turned out to be a major industrial country.
Stalin indulges in the construction of a canal to link the White Sea and the Baltic, a project very close to his heart. Cost and method of these achievements, reflect in the project undertaken. The political police are entrusted the work of completing this difficult task. Workers in the camps and prisons under the political police control are to be provided for the work. In 1933 the canal does open but in the process out of the 300,000 workers transported towards the north for labor and digging work around 200,000 lose their lives.
Despite the Communist party that is tightly controlled, pockets of dissent are provoked with the evident collectivization failures and industrialization at the cost of humans. Lenin desires to settle his political scores, once and for all by the mid 1930s.
The Great Terror And The Major Purges
In Russia the Great Terror period lasts from 1936 to 1938. However in 1934, in this direction is a turning point. Assassinating comrades is a political weapon that Stalin has still not used. However one thing is clear and evident that he is responsible for the death of Sergei Kirov the one-time protégé this year.
In place of Zinoviev he appoints Kirov as the party head in Leningrad, in 1926 (after Lenin died in 1924, Petrograd as renamed as Leningrad). Marked signs of independence are shown by Kirov in the early 1930s. In fact he seems to be Stalin’s potential rival. A young member of the party assassinates Kirov in 1934.
The assassin and 13 other supposed accomplices are awarded immediate death by the swift acting Stalin. Claiming that thousands others are also involved in the assassination, he either executes them or deports them to Siberia.
This is Stalin’s major and first purge. After 3 great show trials are held successively from 1936, the purges become known to the world. The first purge is assassinations of his Leningrad comrades. The charges on the one-time subsequent opponents and close colleagues of Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev are not just the conspiracy of killing Kirov but also killing the whole leadership of Communists.
The description of being, ‘Mad Fascist police dogs! Despicable rotten dregs of humanity Scum of the underworld! Are given to them and their co-defendants by Andrei Vyshinsky the prosecutor. After they make confessions to the trumped up charges, they are then killed.
In 1937 comes the next show trail. Charges levied on the accused are of being terrorists in league with Trotsky. All are convicted once again and almost all of them are killed. A few notable opponents of Stalin from the right-wing’s party and victims in a more motley selection are bought together in 1938 in the third show trial. A police chief who had made preparations for some trials earlier is brought into the third show.
The world sees the high level victims as the purges of Stalin. However all these are simply the tip of an iceberg. Everyone who had participated to help achieve revolution is also purged during the same period. The most severe suffering is experienced by the non-Russian Soviet republics. In some regions the civil services, police and army services do not retain any above the 35 years of age. These so called ‘enemies of the people’ are charged with bourgeois nationalism and Trotskyite sympathies.
The probability is that various official and their families in millions are exiled, imprisoned and executed, figures not known. The slightly earlier Night of the Long Knives – Hitler’s scale of terror, appears to be a parochial event almost.
An active socialist and revolutionary, Mussolini becomes editor of an official publication of the Italian Socialist party, in 1912, in the years prior to the World War I. He abandons the neutrality policy and advocates joining Britain and France for the war for which he is expelled from the party in October 1914.
Popolo d’ltalia, is the aggressive and hostile paper he published within weeks, with the main aim of gathering a few of Italy’s socialist members who had the same views as his. His policy is adopted by the government of Italy, six months later after which in May 1915 a war is declared on Austria-Hungary.
The Russian Foreign Policy
In Berlin, Hitler is in power right form 1933. Thus it is evident that the likely appearance of an expansionist and aggressive Germany is taken into account by the foreign policy in Russia. The very first reaction that Stalin has is entering into the international community’s diplomatic networks. In 1934, the League of Nations sees USSR joining it.
Rhetoric against the bourgeois democracies softens with the Comintern or the Communist International which is controlled by Stalin. Defeating Fascism is the most important and urgent task, declares Stalin. Defensive military alliances are made with Czechoslovakia and France, by Russia in the very same year.
In 1938, Britain and France appease Hitler at Munich. The conventional strategy adopted for Russia’s protection, is doubted upon. From the point of view of Moscow the worst scenario is the safety of Hitler from retaliation in Western Europe. This would enable him to concentrate energy on the eastern front of Germany the place where he intends finding the Lebensraum much needed for the people of Germany.
Despite the implacable hostility supposed to be between Fascism and Communism, a preferred option is coming to an agreement of some kind with Hitler, in these circumstances. In March 1939, Stalin hints at a party congress that an arrangement of such kind may be considered. In the meantime the main concern for western nations is demand of Hitler, upon Poland.
The Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact: 1939
Stalin is being persuaded in Moscow by a Franco-British military mission in August 1939 for committing to a treaty for Poland’s defense. Ostensibly not much progress is made as the Poles are not agreeable to allowing the Soviet troops to cross their territory so that Germany can be attacked. Soon, becomes apparent another hidden reason.
In Hitler’s oratory, the demonic evil’s twin forcers are Communism and the Soviet Union. However now for a very strategic and real advantage he proves himself to be happy. One important thing for him is that any major battle on his eastern front should not distract him. He opens up negotiations in August, with Stalin. His bait is Poland.
Stalin finds that a more attractive option that is sizable increase and increase in his territory are offered to him by the Western powers. They invite him to join in an alliance which for no evident benefit would result in a costly war against Germany.
Stalin takes some time to think and select. On 21st August, from Berlin an announcement is made that Ribbentrop would fly to Moscow to meet Molotov the foreign minister of Russia to sign a pact of nonaggression. Both the implacable enemies become friends suddenly. Had people known the secret protocol the pact accompanies, this would not seem so inexplicable.
International boundaries in a new set are agreed upon in the protocol. In September, during Ribbentrop’s second visit to Moscow, slight modification is done in the protocol. Approval of Germany to annexing independent countries like Lithuania, Finland, Latvia and Estonia to Russia (in case this kind of opportunity occurs) is acknowledged. A division of Poland between Russia and Germany is established upon.
Stalin’s Pact Offers Breathing Space
In September 1939 after Poland is invaded by Germany, a breathing space of less than 2 years is available to Hitler after his pact with Stalin. Safe on the sideline is the outbreak of which provides the promised and immediate benefits to Stalin, namely the chance of an undisturbed attack on Finland, the military annexation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and also a slice of Poland.
With strong resistance from the Finns, the result is a costly Winter War, involving Russia. By March 1940 the Russians prevail eventually. However not before Hitler and world get to know that the Soviet army was indeed ill-prepared (many of the experienced generals became victims in the 1937 purge).
The increase in military equipment production in Russia increases in the second half of the 1930s. To accelerate the program, this breathing space is now used by Stalin. He is of the belief that the perfect chance for Russia to remain out of the main conflict is appeasing Hitler (huge shipments with material from the Soviet are sent to him) and in alliances with the neighboring nations.
In April 1941, during the same time, the troops from Germany start to mass on the borders of Soviet Russia.
Launching The Russian Campaign: 1941-1942
Doubts are cast by the Battle of Britain on invasion plans of Hitler across the Channel, in the autumn of 1940. It is on attack on Stalin, his eastern ally that his thoughts turn to. He orders plans, codenamed Barbarossa, to be readied. On 18th December 1940 a directive is issued in which he states that, in a quick campaign, the armed forces of Germany should be ready so as to violently subdue Soviet Russia before the war against England ends.
The intention Hitler has is to launch a quick campaign in the early part of May 1941. However valuable days are lost in shift from planning to execution. From southern Poland, three divisions of the army cross the border of Russia to reach the Baltic coast, by 22nd June.
The army commanders who are in charge of the campaign are the battle hardened veterans of past campaigns. A year earlier, a brilliant blitzkrieg to the west, was carried out by them. Their triumph is sure to be repeated, indicate the first signs. On the first day, armored corps of Guderain move forward by 50 miles. On 27th June, four days later, a thrust takes him 200 miles inside Russia to reach Minsk. The German thrust encircles around 300,00 Russians who are made prisoners.
On 10th July, the Dnieper River, which is an obstacle, is crossed by Guderian. On 16th July, he reaches Smolensk. The route he follows takes him to Moscow directly. He travels 400 miles in less than 4 weeks. The capital of Russia is just 200 miles away now and there is time too in his hands.
A strategy is used by Guderian and his commanders to make the straight push towards Moscow. However it is priority for Hitler to disable the Russian army as much as possible. Guderian receives orders to move towards Kiev. At Kiev in a pincer movement around 500,000 men are imprisoned.
In early October, resumes the move towards Moscow. Another 600,000 prisoners of Russia are brought in the victory at Vyazma towards the end of the month. Still, Moscow is 125 miles far away, the deep in mud roads would freeze soon. In early December some of the advance detachments try moving to the suburbs of the capital. The big freeze begins in earnest.
Further to the north pushing along the Baltic coast is another German army. In August, it reaches Leningrad, the second city in Russia. They begin a siege hoping that before winter, it would end. The siege lasts till January 1944 for 900 days.
The Germans, using the blitzkrieg technique are fully confident but not prepared for the climatic conditions in winter. Hitler passes orders to them that on any front, they should not turn back. The shivering commanders and their army people are aware about things that happened on the march to Moscow by Napoleon’s army.
Divisions brought from Siberia as are used as counteroffensive by the Russians, in December. Germans are made to roll back to about 150 miles as the Russians progress. The Germans resolve to hold on firmly even in the most appalling conditions, an endurance feat that could astonish anyone. Just 125 miles from the capital the enemy from Vyazma is dislodged by the Russians in around 15 months.
In 1942 in summer in place are the Germans for a renewed offensive, directed to the south, this time. Oil fields of the Caucasus are a big attraction for Hitler.
Protecting the Caucasus are 3 salient points. Capturing this precious region between the Caspian and the Black Sea is the strategy. They are Stalingrad on the Volga, Rostov at the mouth of the Don and Sebastopol on the coast of the Black Sea.
In early June, a campaign is launched. Sebastopol and the Crimea are in the hands of the Germans, in a month’s time. The German presses on towards the oil fields on the fall of Rostov on 25th July. Stalingrad is the elusive and third target. Routes from the east and the north are protected by this city, which is defended by Russians fighting from house to house with extreme tenacity. In the blitzkrieg that didn’t go right, a second winter is begun by the Germans.
A bitter battle is fought from building to building for Stalingrad city. The war lasts from August to November 1942. The entire Sixty Army of Germany is involved but none of the sides is able to evict the other or gain control over Stalingrad. Even if German army gains possession the danger to them is graver. They are at war far from their supply sources and trying to occupy the city may simply prove to be a trap instead.
On 19th November, launching of a Russian pincer campaign is done with the simple motive of encircling the Germans. Though not too tight, the noose is complete just 4 days later. Between the Don and Volga, a huge area is surrounded with around 200,000 of the Germans inside it.
General Friedrich Paulus, the commander of the Sixth Army is aware that this chance of extricating his men is the last one. To start a withdrawn he sends Hitler, a request letter but gets back a negative reply. The Sixth Army faces big losses in their breaking out attempt and freezing conditions during the winter time.
The dire circumstances make it impossible for any human strength to continue to war. Protests are made by Paulus eventually to Hitler in 1943 during mid-January. Hitler shows no sign of giving up, as seen from his reply. He states that Sixty Army at Stalingrad will continue doing its historic duty, to the very last man.
Von Paulus is promoted to field marshal, by Hitler, at the same time. At the time Führer, makes a remark that at the time that no German field marshal has been ever taken as prisoner. Only 91,000 survive with von Paulus, by the month ie. 31st January 1943. He surrenders to the Russians. Hitler makes a declaration that he has been betrayed, personally. He is apoplectic.
For one more year and more, the personal obstinacy of Hitler in Russia proves to be successful in maintaining the German front. However the fact is that he refused to yield obsessively due to which it cost him a whole German army. In North Africa it is expected that he will lose another.
The Great Patriotic War
Russians at Stalingrad show an indomitable spirit which indicates a wider effort in war. In the national crisis, Stalin proves to be a leader who can be admired and is accustomed to absolute control. The class struggle is replaced by the nation’s war while communist slogans are set aside. Instead of the Internationale, a new anthem for the nation is provided. The Orthodox Church’s religious hierarchy is used to persecution, since years. The Church now is treated as an ally important to list fervor the Russian people. The war is referred to as the Great Patriotic War.
The propaganda matches the practical achievements. During 1942, huge efforts are taken to relocate heavy industries to remote areas of eastern Russia from the threatened west.
Earlier on in 1943 rich territories of Russia were in the hands of the Germans, it finds that achieving increase in armaments production, quite difficult. From the factories around 35,000 planes and 20,000 tanks roll out during the year. Besides this, supplies keep arriving from Archangel and from the dangerous Arctic route towards northern Scandinavia.
In the 1943 summer finally the tide turns. Lasting gains are made by a Russian offensive which secures huge areas from southwest from Moscow in which Kharkov, Kiev and Smolensk are captured. By the year end Russia is able to now take back the 2/3rds of land which was taken by the Germans.
During 1944 success of the military continues. Russians call it the Year of the Ten Blows. Leningrad is freed from the German stranglehold after 900 days in January. The Russian armies reach the Romanian and Poland borders in March. Crimea is back into the hands of Russia by May end. Route to Warsaw is cleared after the capture of 30 German divisions in July. Romania surrenders in August after which in the Red Army in Hungary and Yugoslavia arrive.
Soviet forces are ready to move into the linked regions at the very heart of Hitler’s Reich, Austria and Germany.
A Soviet army makes an entry into Vienna on 6th April. The German capital is encircles by Soviet forces by the month end. Russian soldiers are on the Berlin streets on 30th April at the very moment when suicide is committed by Hitler in his bunker.
At Torgau, on the Elbe, 70 miles towards the south of Berlin, on 25th April, the Soviet and American troops make contact. Since 1942, Stalin had been wanted a second front located in the west so that pressure of Germans on Russia could be relieved. Until June 1944, the allies are in no position to provide the same which affects the postwar world, majorly. In May 1945, when Germany surrenders, deployment of Soviet armies is done already all through eastern parts of Europe.
In February 1945, in a Yalta conference, when Stalin plays host to Churchill and Roosevelt, this kind of an outcome is predicted already. An unlikely promise is made by Stalin of ensure that after the war, free elections will be held in Eastern Europe. He is also ready to break the treaty of neutrality with Japan and make an entry to the war in the east.
Seeds for the Cold War to be in the years to come, are laid with the success of Russia in the World War II. However, the heroism with which success has been attained should get detracted by nothing. Greatest losses are incurred by Russia as compared to the rest of the combatant countries. Around 17.5 million Russian civilians and soldiers have been estimated to be killed. For the Commonwealth and Britain, less than 400,000 is the equivalent.