Revolution in Russia

The impact of the Soviet Revolution in October 1917 has been so overwhelming that we seldom look back to the February days when the Tsar was compelled to abdicate forty-eight hours after the outbreak of disturbances, and even more seldom to the First Revolution of 1905. Yet, A.J. Halpern writes, October came as a culmination of the February crisis, and 1905 was the necessary prologue to the 1917 drama. 

In the history of Russia, revolutionary movements, whether they appear as a revolt of the masses or as conspiratorial activities of the elite, are usually the immediate consequence of a war. Just as the aristocratic conspirators of 1825—the Decembrists—were children of the Napoleonic wars, so the 1917 revolution would never have broken out if the country’s whole social structure had not been in a state of total chaos caused by the First World war; while the troubles of 1905 arose when Russia was plunged in the disastrous conflict with Japan. Besides being extremely unpopular, the Japanese war demonstrated to the public the hopeless incompetence of the Government.

A change was imperative; but the Tsar and his closest advisers were definitely against a change. Nicholas IPs spiritual director, Pobedonostseff, believed that: “Parliamentarism is the greatest lie of our times”; and, had he known them, the Tsar might have gladly repeated the words of Ivan the Terrible: “The rulers of Russia have been accountable to no one.” But the people thought otherwise. Count Witte, who could scarcely be suspected of political liberalism, observes in his Memoirs that,

“the strongest evidence of the collapse was the total and universal dissatisfaction with the existing situation which united all the classes of the population. All demanded radical measures, though the desiderata differed. The gentry was ready to restrict the autocracy, but only in its own interests—to establish an aristocratic constitutional monarchy: the merchants and industrialists wanted a bourgeois constitution: the intelligentsia, a democratic constitutional monarchy which would later go over to a bourgeois republic; the workmen dreamed of socialism: and finally the majority — the peasants — wanted more land and the end of all oppression from above, be it from the landlords or from the police.”

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