The 1905 revolution had tested the strength of Tsarism at its core. However, the survival of the regime was due to the fact that whilst in 1905 the Russian rebels were confidant enough to voice their discontent they were not on a mission to usurp tsarist authority. It can be argued that whilst there was an active petitioning for change in 1905 by 1914 many critics came to the realisation that real change under despotic and authoritarian Tsarism was a long way off. But whether or not this itself had set Russia on an irreversible path against the established system is debatable.The main argument against the intervention of foreign affairs being instrumental in stopping Russia’s prospects of stable evolutionary development is that Nicholas did not keep to one of the key concessions of the October Manifesto by a granting constitutional monarchy. Nicholas had absolutely no intention of handing power to the people and the Duma was the creation of an urgent need to appease the 1905 rebels. Once calm was restored to Russia he treated the Duma as an advisory body as he saw a compromise of his autocratic powers equal to a defeat of the monarchy. By going back on his promise Nicholas made it abundantly clear that little would change and that no elected body would impose its influence on him. Whilst in a Western society this situation would more often than not result in rebellion, in Russia where the tsar was always above criticism, his reluctance to yield to advice only made him seem a stronger autocrat to his people. However with the emergence of liberal opposition groups there was less of a likelihood of Nicholas being able to maintain a pure autocracy.One consequence of creating the Duma was that whilst it gave no effective power to the people it provided select members of previously powerless classes with a sense of importance and influence. The Socialist Revolutionary breakaway group which chose to be represented in the Duma had several peasant candidates standing for elections. These trudoviks were a sign of empowerment for the proletariat and peasants. However their role should not be overemphasised, as the majority of Russian peasants were apathetic to the kind of politics that promised changed but seldom delivered on the promise.The most radical of the four Dumas 1906-1914 were the first two. The Kadets the major group in the first Duma pushed for land reform, progressive income tax, health insurance for workers paid for by employers and the introduction of worker elected factory inspectors. Whilst the Trudoviks in the second Duma petitioned for socialisation and redistribution of land and full national self determination for all nationalities. By giving the power of making such demands to his own people Nicholas effectively shot himself in the foot due to his unwillingness to make any such concessions. The programme proposed by the Kadets was not a radical one, which risked undermining Nicholas’ autocracy, and it was his obstinate disregard for the creation of better conditions for his people that made him seem like an isolated and uncaring ruler. However, this in itself was unlikely to spark any great forces of change, thinking back to Alexander’s emancipation of the serfs it is clear that his fate as a benevolent and caring ruler was sealed by the very same virtues. Therefore any lack of concern that Nicholas may have shown towards his subjects was treated as something that came with his regal status.The Governments dissolution of the first Duma resulted in the Kadets calling for the people to adopt passive resistance and refuse to pay taxes and provide army recruits. The fact that these calls were ignored by the public points to a stable support base for Nicholas and that the majority of the Russian people were not yet disillusioned enough to follow an opposing force to the monarchy. But partly the innate conservatism of the Russian people meant that this lack of strong alternative leadership to Nicholas in 1914 was something that resulted in any critics of the regime being unsure of whom to support. The opposition was inherently disunited and the alliances of different social groups were hard to fathom in a society where traditional division had always stood between the upper and lower classes.Another explanation for the failure of groups like the Kadets and the Liberals to gain the active support of the public is that their concern for securing a constitution subordinated the social welfare of the people who did not feel that their cause was being fought for. By 1914 the opposing parties to the tsarist regime were much less powerful than in 1905. The liberals were no longer seen as revolutionary and Witte’s liberal concessions had split the opposition. Therefore anyone who wanted change did not think it achievable through a weak, liberal Duma with little influence. Consequently supporting the Bolsheviks in 1917 was a powerful alternative as it empowered a group of extremists willing to make vigorous changes.During the years 1908-1914 Russia was moving quickly forward, trying to develop its stagnant and backward economy. Growing 8.8% pa Russia was experiencing a period of prosperity and most importantly the peasants were satisfied with an adequate amount of food and good harvests. This is noteworthy as many rebellions backed by peasants and the proletariat were sparked by a lack of food and growing dissatisfaction with a sluggish economy. Therefore the fact that Russia was financially stable and domestic financial institutions were expanding meant that there was little for peasants to complain of in terms of getting the basic necessities. However, whilst the peasants had enough, the impressive economic growth meant that they weren’t content as the gap between them and the rich landowners and aristocracy increased, with the latter group reaping the long-term benefits of economic growth.Stolypin’s assassination was a contributing factor to the eventual triumph of the forces of change. His plan to achieve the universal education of the masses by 1922 stalled at his death. The implications of a successful execution of this plan would have been the creation of an educated middle class that would have filled the gap and possibly restored equilibrium in the heavily polarised Russian society. Stolypin had some success in de-revolutionising the peasants with his transfer of lands from the mir into private hands. However, the new class of Kulaks were hated by the poorer labourers and the reforms were undermined by rural overpopulation, poverty and the quality of the harvest. Moreover, land transfer was on the decline by 1914 as many peasants wary of change resisted abandoning the collective security of the mir. But even if Stolypin had survived and the uptake of his reforms remained constant it is likely that Russia’s fate would not have changed as the nature of his reforms was long term and the short-term spark that caused the break with the past was the war.Russia’s involvement in WW1 seems to be what moved Russia from evolution to revolution. Initially on the declaration of war Nicholas was supported in a surge of patriotism that leads one to believe that had the war been properly managed and not ended in complete and unparalleled disaster the effect on Russia may have been considerably different. By involving a force of 15 million men in the war Nicholas effectively disillusioned and radicalised a whole generation of men. Faced with problems of equipping the soldiers, providing provisions and successful management the inefficiency of Russian bureaucracy was seen in the cold light of day. Many of the generals were aristocrats selected on the basis of favouritism rather than merit and their every error resulted in a huge loss of life.The climate at the front was very much of bitter resentment and an environment in which anti-tsarist sentiment could spread from man to man, as they lived in appalling conditions and close quarters. Many blamed the suffering and conditions such as lack of ammunition, medical equipment and one bayonet between every two men on Vladimir Sukhomlinov the inept and corrupt Russian minister of war. The situation bought about by the slow Russian demise at the front prompted the Duma to demand greater power and a bigger share in government. This was exacerbated by a power struggle between the Duma and Rasputin who was seen as manipulating the tsarina and steering the country closer to catastrophe.The war was the force, which interrupted Russia’s progression into a more Western and developed society with better standards of living and equality. On the home front the food shortages, starvation in the big cities, coal shortages in the merciless Russian winter and inflation ensured a demoralised and exasperated population. The hopeless situation in Russia would later spark what was to be the end of tsarist Russia as Nicholas survived as long as he maintained the loyalty of the army and the Cossacks. Had it not been for the war these key groups would have remained loyal to Nicholas, especially due to the progressive and westward looking path that Russia was on. It is likely that at the end of Nicholas’ reign the Duma would have become a far more influential body and that his royal successors would have paid greater heed to the advice of the assembly. Obviously it cannot be denied that a stronger and more prudent ruler than Nicholas would have survived the war, at the cost of making small concessions and curbing his autocratic power. Whilst this may have weakened the monarchy significantly it would have more importantly ensured its survival well into the 20th century.
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