Question by Fred G.: Was the Russian Revolution inevitable? Or, were there opportunities missed by the tsar and others…?
Specifically, given the dramatic sweep of events from 1860 to the October Revolution (e.g. the emancipation of the serfs, the Great Reforms, industrialization, war, radicalism and the failure of liberalism) could it be legitimately argued that the Revolution was inevitable?
Answers and Views:
Answer by Spellbound
Arguably Russia had been undergoing a slow revolution from the Crimean War onwards, a revolution that was spurred on by war. The Russia of early 1917 wa a very different place to the Russia of Alexander II, it was industrialising, becoming more literate, more socially mobile and more economically prosperous.
However, Nicholas was not the right man to prevent the February (as the March Revolution is more correctly known as) Revolution, he was an inept ruler who believed in his divine right to rule without a parliament. But it was by no means inevitable, even as late as January 1917 he could have quashed the desire for change.
He needed to address the following problems:
The cities were starving – this was because the peasants needed to bring in the harvests and to transport food to the cities were mostly in the army.
The workers were poorly paid for very long hours, worked in harsh conditions and had very poor living conditions.
The army was falling apart due to military defeats, poor leadership, infiltration of the army by political groups and the fact that the mainly peasant army wanted to return to their farms.
The peasants were dissatisfied with the Emancipation of some 50 years earlier, which saw them take on 50 year redemption mortgages in order to buy their freedom – millions were indebted.
And the intelligentsia and middle classes were dissatisfied with the lack of political representation.
To solve the crisis that led to his abdication and the February Revolution he could have ensured that enough peasants were left to work the land – even raising city-living volunteers to go to help sow & bring in the harvests.
He could have increased pay for the workers, with promises of better living and working conditions after the war ended.
He could have sent his officer corps to Britain or France to learn how they were holding up the Germans – they would possibly be willing to send troops and advisors to help shore up the Russian front lines.
He could have freed the peasants from their debt, and given them the land on which they worked.
He could have offered a constitutional monarchy, perhaps following the British model, which would have placated the intelligentsia.
In the end, he did none of these things, believing that as God made him Tsar, so he did not have to modernise Russia.
The October Revolution – Roy Medvedev
The Russian Revolution – Sheila Fitzpatrick
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What do you think?