When the world was moving towards industrialisation, Russia was not keeping pace as the rest of the world. The internal politics of Russia was in a crisis as there were many changes happening. It was not just industrial development across the world but new powers centres, new leaders were emerging very fast. Russia was going in for a political change that was to be the biggest change and which was more lasting affecting many other countries in the world. Monarchy came to an end and Socialism was becoming the way of life. Tsar Nicholas II was repressing the changes happening in the country. Russia also declared war with Japan in 1904. It also joined the Britain and France to fight Germany and Austria but they were not at all prepared for the war and this led to collapse of the Empire.
Russia at the beginning of the 20th century
The industrial development in Russia during 1890s created a large number of urban middle class and this led to dynamic political changes. Unlike other countries, foreigners and state owned most of the industries. Therefore Russian working class was more powerful than the bourgeoisie. The Russian working class formed political parties and they were more political powerful than the nobles and wealthy people of Russia. The Russo-Japanese war that was waged between Feb 1904 and September 1905 gave an impetus to many political movements amongst all classes and nationalities who were living in Russia. Georgiy Gapon , a radical priest led a mass procession of workers to give a petition for the Tsar. Though the procession was peaceful it was suppressed with violence and what followed on January 9th 1905 is always known as ‘Bloody Sunday’, as there were spates of violence and vandalism, assassination of government officials, mutinies in the navy and more. It spread from Moscow to many other cities. Late 1905 Nicholas the Tsar agreed to the October Manifesto which promised a change in the political order and liberties for the citizens. Trade unions and people were allowed to strike as an exhibition of their protest. However police monitored these trade unions and had the right to close unions which were involved in illegal political activities. Press was given a lot of freedom.
Involvement in WWI
Russia entered into an alliance with Britain and France forming the Triple Entente. The main interest of Russia was in Serbia. Austria-Hungary also had their interests in Serbia, so Russia was their enemy. When a Serbian killed Archduke Ferdinand Serbia was forced to sign an agreement. Serbia agreed to most of the clauses except the one where it said the troops of Austria-Hungary would be stationed in Serbia. Russia supported Serbia in this and did not agree to the stationing of troops. War broke out and all the alliances formed earlier came into force. Russia fought on the side of Britain and France against Germany and Austria-Hungary.
In the war, Russia’s offensives into East Prussia brought the German troops from the western side helping the Belgians, French and British. Russia had two invading armies and one of it was defeated at the Battle of Tannenberg. Meanwhile it turned back an attack from Austria and moved into eastern Galicia. Fighting in winter was difficult for Germany. But in the spring of 1915 Germany gave a stiff fight and retaliated with full force and sent Russia out of Galicia and Poland. Once again in 1916 Germany had to drop the fight with France to meet the Russian attack on Austria-Hungary. On October 26, 1917 Soviet government issued a decree of peace that wanted negotiations and not war. On March 3rd 1918, the Treaty of Brest- Litovsk was signed with Germany ending the aggression between the two countries.
Political developments: Domestic
Anti establishments got together and organized into parties. The industrialists, who were capitalists, and the rich, wanted social reforms. They were in support of a constitutional monarch and they founded the Kadets which was popularly known as Constitutional Democratic Party in the year 1905. Radical factions in the nation had their own parties. There were widespread revolts and the Tsar could not keep it under control. He finally promised an elected parliament, the Duma, and then the revolts subsided. In 1906 this Duma was dissolved and he appointed Peter Stolypin to bring in reforms. In June 1907 the second Duma was also dissolved and new electoral law was promulgated. The second gave a lot of importance to nobility crushing the other classes. Again there was a political and a third Duma was elected in the autumn of 1907 where Ocotbrists was established.
Even the third Duma had many quarrels over many issues. Some of them were the composition of the naval staff, reform of the peasant court system, worker’s insurance organization. The Duma was more conservative than the Government in these issues. In 1911 Stolypin was assassinated by Dmitry Bogrov. The finance minister Vladimir Kokovstov took charge. He was supporter of the Tsar. But he could not control the powerful factions in the government.The fourth Duma was elected in 1912. The composition of the fourth Duma was similar to the third but some of the progressive members of the Octobrists moved out and joined the political centre. Historians believe that had the Tsar given up his autocratic rule Russia had a good chance of developing a constitutional government between 1905 and 1914.
Political developments: Foreign
• Russia was always interested in the affairs of Balkans
• It became a self proclaimed protector of Orthodox Christians in Serbia.
• In an effort to spread its influence in Far East the Balkan interest was put in abeyance.
• However the Far East ambitions did not prove fruitful as there was a war with Japan in 1904-1905 but was defeated.
• The defeat forced Russia to enter into deals with Japan and Britain.
• The logic of Russia and Japan uniting was to prevent USA from building a base in China.
• Russia entered into an alliance with Britain and France informally but did not antagonize Germany either.
• Even after these careful measures Russia and Austria-Hungary issues resumed and Serbia became the focus once again. This time Herzegovina and Bosnia also became an area of contest.
• Austria-Hungary annexed Herzegovina and Bosnia and the tense situation escalated.
• Austria-Hungary became the protector of Bulgaria which was a rival of Serbia.
• Russia made closer deals with Serbia acting as its patron.
• All these complex alliances were very unstable.
• When a Serbian assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand an ultimatum was given to Serbia.
• Serbia accepted two but rejected the third which stated that Austrio-Hungary troops will be positioned in Serbia.
• This third ultimatum was rejected and war was declared war.
• Russia came to the support of Serbia.
• With an eye to win Serbia, Russia entered into war on the side of Britain and France with whom it had earlier formed an alliance.
Economic policies and changes
In the early 20th century agriculture was the largest sector of Russian economy. However it could adapt technology into agriculture. It produced half of the national income employing two thirds of Russian in this sector. With division of land grazing land reduced which further affected the livestock. Railway tracks were laid across farmlands, reducing the lands for grazing. The livestock and the crops could not with stand the severe winter of Russia. Along with these issues the population of Russia was growing adding to the woes. There was rationing of food. An average urban labourer ate 200 to 300 gms of food in a day. People living in the urban areas could buy only one pound of bread per day per adult. The ones who prospered the most during the war were the Kulaks who were the peasant land-owners. As people died in the war front land was being grabbed by the ones back home. By 1817 Kulaks owned 90% of the land. The price of food rose during the war. In 1916 the price of food went three times higher than the pay. This was in spite the bumper crop that Russia got in 1915-1916. To make the situation worse Kulaks hoarded the food surplus. When things were getting out of hand, Land Decree was enforced on October 26th 1917, wherein peasants took back their land from the Kulaks. By 1914 steel production in Russia equalled that of Austria-Hungary and France. Russia had some external debts which was high. Yet during the period 1907 to 1914 the economy recovered and grew.
Social policies and changes
During the period of Stolypin the biggest reform was the peasant reform program. Communes were broken up and private properties were being re-established. These reforms were in support of Tsar’s policies. Peasants were not willing to leave the safety of the communes so by 1914 only 10% of the communes had been dissolved. Agricultural problems led to the rise of the Bolsheviks party. Slowly Russia became a growing urban proletariat. The working class formed 80% of the population. Most of the peasant turned working class lived in intellectual darkness and could not read even their names. Superstitions were rampant and they believed in witches flying on broomsticks. They did not know about foreign countries and a tractor was looked at with amazement. Lenin said, “I come to abolish the village idiot.”
The village which was called ‘mir’ had a council of the heads of the household. They met informally to decide on communal matters. The landlord discussed matters with the village headman who also headed the council. He was the one who enlisted his people into the army during the wars. Land was commonly owned but there were some private plots. There were strict laws on sexual behaviour and those who transgressed it were punished brutally. Russia was a huge country and even when there was a government, the villages were independent and had their own rules and laws. Ideologies did not affect them; they were practical people who went about their every day work. The intelligentsia was not happy with the Tsar and wanted a change in the political system but the peasants were not too worried. Into such a scenario Bolsheviks led by Lenin could bring a drastic change later.
Consequences of WWI
After the loss at Tannenburg the soldiers was disgruntled the way the army was run. The Tsar Nicholas II himself took charge of the army and this boosted the morale of the army. However there was a gap in the governance. In his absence rumours about the Tsarina having an affair with Rasputin was rife. Rasputin was a mystic man who cured the ills of the Tsar. In his absence Rasputin took many things into his hands. The Tsarina was not a Russian and this coupled with her affair enraged the people. Rasputin was murdered in 1916 by the supporters of the Tsar. At the home front with more people being recruited for war, the economy of the country was coming down. The railway lines that were laid were used only to transport people to the front and not food supplies. Number of discontented people and number of starvation deaths were on the rise. Soon revolts broke out. The revolutionary groups soon got a lot of supporters because the army and police were concentrating on the war and did not stop them. Nicholas II was at the war front and the changes brought about a strain in the government which was too difficult to manage. Since nothing was done to bring a relief to the situation, the February Revolution broke out in the year 1917. The position of the Tsar was weak and he had to abdicate. Now it was up to the Duma to take control of the governance. Lenin, the ardent supporter of communism, who was in exile for a few years surfaced after the abdication of the Tsar. He lead the October Revolution of 1917 and from then started the regime of the Bolsheviks who were later known as communists.