While the police maintained law and order, the Tsars organised secret police called the Okhrana, for the surveillance of revolutionaries and anarchists while also censoring certain information and activities. The Russian Orthodox Church was a major influence in instigating the tsar’s autocratic powers. As the primary religion of Russia, the church claimed that it was the Tsar’s ‘divine right’ to rule and that his autocratic powers were derived from God. The church taught the Russian people to embrace autocracy and to love and obey the Tsar’s supreme power.
The Tsar was described as being a dictatorial emperor and that ‘neither a constitution nor other institutions limited the Tsar’s authority. The sudden outbreak of World War One was a great reflection of Nicholas II and his inefficiency commanding Russia. Before the war even began, hundreds of thousands of people had started to grow restless with the government. Many strikes and public demonstrations began to occur within the Russian borders constantly protesting for better working and living conditions. Many started to revolt and the citizens had their sights set on a change of government.
Strong socialist and liberal encounters occurred for the Tsar and when he consistently brought disappoint and humiliation to the nation, much of the state grew sick of the tsarist rule. A major strike movement largely influenced by the humiliating defeat by the Japanese instigated the revolution of 1905. This day on January 9th was given the name ‘bloody Sunday’ as thousands of protestors marched on the Tsar’s palace and were massacred by members of the Russian military. This hint of a revolution resulted in the Tsar introducing an elected legislative assembly called a Duma in the parliament.
However, even with a more efficient parliament, the uprisings continued throughout the year and for years to come with growing political discontent sending Russia on the verge of a national crisis. Then war broke out in 1914 saving the government from a large revolutionary movement and the country suddenly became fixated on an external enemy. This war deeply reflected the inadequacy of Russia’s military and economy. Almost a quarter of the army had not been issued with rifles and shortages of ammunitions, food and supplies became an epidemic.
After endless defeats on the battlefield, many knew that ‘the Russian army was fighting a 20th century war with 19th century training and inadequate equipment. ‘ As a result, the government strained to withstand the economic pressures, with the war costing 5 times the annual budget. Then in 1915, Nicholas II went to the battlefront as commander in chief leaving Alexandra in control of the government back in Russia. The Tsarina frequently took advice from Gregory Rasputin also referred to as the ‘mad monk’, who many believed became so influential, that he in fact was governing Russia.
Meanwhile, problems in Russia began to exacerbate with increased prices, economic hardships, a decline in living standards and a growing domestic frustration which provoked more civil unrest. By 1916, dissatisfaction within Russian monarch had reached boiling point. Rasputin was murdered by the Tsar’s own cousins and the majority of the parliament and upper classes ‘were no longer willing to meet expectations of loyalty, respect and patriotism. ‘ Even though the Russian Revolution transpired quite suddenly, the foundations of it may have started centuries earlier.
Since the 1700s, the ideas of European regime had begun to influence the minds of Russian citizens. Lower classes began to believe in democratic rights and equality, newspapers and books spread concepts about universal rights and many believed in a future with a just ruler and a more cultured society. From the 1800s, the Russian monarchy gradually became weaker and increasingly fragile. After the death of Alexander I in 1825, a group of Decembrists made up of thousands of soldiers seized advantage of a succession issue and demanded reforms plus a written constitution.
This displayed a hint of light and prompted many to rethink the government system and their place within the hierarchy. Then after the death of Nicholas I in 1855, Alexander II rose to power and was referred to as the ‘great liberator’ after emancipating the Russian serfs in 1861. While the act earned Alexander public affection and respect, it angered landowners, created an economic crisis and also left the people wanting more. Some revolutionary groups then pursued a constitution, and after the emperor’s assassination in 1881, his successor Alexander III began to crackdown on public opposition and upheaval.
The new Tsar was seen as an oppressor who tightened restrictions and enforced new policies that drove thousands out of the country. When Nicholas II rose to power in 1894, he was faced with intense resentment from the people. His ineffective ruling was the tip of the iceberg for most of the country and when the 1905 rebellion began, the emperor was forced to make more changes. The duma was introduced and civil liberties such as freedom of speech, protection and assembly were endorsed. A parliament was created on the basis of election which challenged the Tsar’s autocratic power.
There were also growing pressures involving communism and socialism particularly after the split of the Russian Social Democratic Party which created the two major revolutionary groups of the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Despite both groups in support Marxism, the Bolsheviks with communist ideologies, were growing as the largest political rivals and the most radical revolutionary group in Russia. In addition, when the October manifesto was issued religion became a more flexible issue gaining support from Liberals who were searching for maximum individual freedom.
This gave much of the nation a glimpse of a reforming government and a new hope for the future. Once the war started and tensions flared again, Nicholas II may have been the Russian leader; however only a very little population followed him. By 1914, Alexander Kerensky was in fact the parliament’s most illustrious radical who largely objected Russia’s involvement in the war. He was convinced that the country needed a major change and he openly called upon the emperor to step down at the end of 1916. While Kerensky was a great revolutionary leader, Vladimir Lenin was one of the major political figures and mastermind of the 1917 Revolution.
Lenin led the Bolsheviks who had taken power in most of Russia and introduced communist rule by the beginning of the revolution. Lenin further went on to become the first head of the new republic of the Soviet Union. It is without doubt that Nicholas II was a major player in the Russian revolution and the fall of the renowned Romanov dynasty. For centuries, Russia believed in autocracy, but it was Nicholas’ objectionable beliefs and actions in maintaining his Tsarist rule, that ultimately lost the support of his people leading to the inevitable revolution.
When Nicholas ascended to the throne it was clear he knew little about commanding millions of people. He was known for making poor decisions when it came to politics, the economy and military. Despite this, Nicholas gained confidence and inner power from the belief that his autocracy was a gift from God. Growing up in a Romanov family, came the belief that the Tsar was called to be God’s representative on earth and that it was their ‘divine right’ to rule. For Nicholas to object his autocratic power would mean that he would fail in his duty to Russia and his family, as well as in his duty to God and the church.
As well as having unlimited power over the state, Nicholas II had full control over the Orthodox Church and the Okhrana. These two groups were so influential in the 1900’s and would assist the emperor in any controversial or scandalous matter. After Nicholas’ predecessors, in particular Alexander II, the new emperor felt grave pressure in pleasing the Russian people. Despite introducing the duma, the Tsar later has it dissolved because he was not willing to give up his unlimited power. With the country constantly on the brink of civil unrest and revolts, this move reflected Nicholas’ poor decision making and his need for superiority.
Many would argue that Nicholas II abused his autocratic authority and failed to keep up with other western powers. Before the revolution, Russia was mainly a large agricultural country, and it wasn’t until the 1900s that the country started to industrialise. Because of the lack of modernism, Russia was unable to survive the war and withstand its repercussions. When people started to focus on the war, the discontent towards Tsarist rule eased down, however it was once again Nicholas’ decisions that angered the Russian public and military even further.
As the war was nearing its end, Russian anarchists and revolutionaries had already reached the point of no return. By 1917, hundreds of social activists and the majority of the working class had gone on strike, protesting in the streets. Students, farmers and the majority of the nobility joined in the demonstrations as the outbursts became more frequent. When Nicholas was informed of the seriousness of the events, he commanded General Khabalov to impose any force necessary to contain the violence.
When news spread that the Tsar used string military force to restore order, other soldiers, police and members of the parliament joined the rebels with weapons at their sides. Nicholas received a telegram from the Chairman of the duma saying ‘state authority is totally paralysed and utterly unable to reimpose order. ’ With all authority having collapsed, Nicholas II abdicated marking the beginning of a new phase of Russian life. The Bolsheviks then took over the government under the command of Marxist, Vladimir Lenin and the Romanov Dynasty had finally reached its conclusion.