Causes Of Reform In Russia 18001917 Essay

Causes Of Reform In Russia 1800-1917 Essay, Research Paper

I believe that throughout history, the Tsars felt threatened. They then reformed in order to stay in power, and to stay in for power alone. However, this mindset only had an effect when the Tsar’s power was threatened. Nevertheless, I believe that to find the factors that had an effect on the Russian system of government, one must look for the reason why felt threatened. Here war was an important factor, however it was not the only factor. Otherwise reform would not have occurred without war. I believe that if these other aforementioned factors were important enough to cause political change, then they must rank alongside war in terms of importance. However it was not “the locomotive of history”. i Together with discontent in the populace, and its manifestations (strikes, revolutionary activity, and assassinations), I believe War invariably changed the Russian political system. I believe war had an impact for several reasons. Throughout the period described Russia took part in three wars, in which they were crushed. Firstly, when a country fails in war, some would see it as being a sign that the country is less advanced in general. Firstly, the realisation that one’s country was backward and prone to invasion threatened the Tsar’s power, which then induced political change. He realised that if something was not done to improve and modernise that external enemies could be more of a danger than internal ones. I have chosen an example to illustrate this. After the 1854-6 Crimean War, Alexander II initiated the emancipation of the Serfs, the creation of the Zemstvos, the Dumas, and the independent judiciary. He was even compelled to consider relinquishing a sizeable proportion of his power to the populace, but died before being able to implement these ideas. This was as a direct result of Alexander having the aforementioned realisation. Secondly, war has the inevitable effects on the populace. Unlike Bismark, the Tsars did not have the political clout necessary to ensure that a war was properly prepared for. Subsequently, the long drawn out wars slowly demoralised the Russian people and resulted in discontent. Aside from destroying any pride they had in the “system”, they were subjected to witnessing the death of their comrades and the draining of their country. However, war when carried out swiftly and with success can have positive benefits for the popularity of a ruler. Bismarck’s foreign policy showed this. But the wars in which Russia was involved in only served to weaken the resolve of the people, and the power of the Tsar. The floundering war effort was a factor in the Bloody Sunday, the October Manifesto and the first revolution of 1917. Yet there were other factors in these political upheavals and others, as I have said before. The other main factor I believe was important was the discontent of the populace. Ultimately, the Tsar’s power rested on support from below. When this support was not there, he had to act to regain it, as he felt threatened. The loss of public support came about for a number of reasons. Firstly, I would like to address the reasons why the Tsar sometime lost the support of the peasantry, and the effect this had. I believe that the peasants and proletariat lost faith in the Tsar, very gradually because while “privileged Russia” had worked tirelessly to become more westernised, the situation of the “dark masses” had become ossified. The only Russia that had existed was in the five-mile radius of their shantytown. Beforehand most peasants were politically unaware. However the effect of factors such as education, war and poor living conditions was to make them more politically aware. Under the shiny veneer of a happy, hard-working peasant lay a bitter hatred of the upper classes. All moves to industrialisation and urbanisation had been done without regard to him or his expense. He felt useless and was disenchanted with his country and situation, but did not realise what he could do about it. However when these factors arose, a political consciousness came with it. It was ultimately the humble peasant who caused the single most important political change in this period. The realisation that things could be better manifested themselves as strikes, revolts, assassinations and revolutionary activity, which then served to initiate political reform. These strikes and the spread of revolutionary activity then served to spread these ideas. This then resulted in the metaphorical vicious circle of strikes, which subsequently formed more strikes. The major factor I mentioned in the development of a “class consciousness” was the poor living standards. If we accept the notion that “man is an objective, natural, physical, sensitive being, he is a suffering, dependent and limited being, … that is, the objects of his instincts exist outside him, independent of him, but are the objects of his need, indispensable and essential for the realization and confirmation of his substantial powers… The first historical fact is the production of the means to satisfy these needs.”ii Thus while Russia remained a backward, agrarian society, with production and efficiency too low to satisfy the demands of the populace, discontent was likely to be rife. And in the cities where the close proximity of each worker to the other, combined with Dickensian working conditions, discontent was likely to have occurred much faster. However, here ends the parallel with Marx. The fact is that people were unhappy, and realised that their conditions were worse, inferior to what they could be, as in Western Europe. Thus they pushed for change, in the form of a revolt. Education only served to heighten the number of revolts. By educating the masses, a new intelligentsia formed. The “four-tier system of schools from primary to the university level”iii, and then subsequently the universal primary education in 1908 took the “dark masses” from being an indifferent class to one that was more revolutionary and literate. The massive support for the leftist revolutionary groups in the 1906 and 1907 Duma elections, (who managed to receive sixty-four percent of the voteiv despite a suffrage system weighted against them), showed that the peasants were not revolutionary. I would argue that education had a role to play in this. My logic is that because the workers knew that things could be better, and that they were being exploited, that they could subsequently improve their situation by pushing for reform, through strikes or even through revolution. These factors were of paramount importance in the Bloody Sunday rising of 1905 and the subsequent October Manifesto, and later the February revolution. Because the peasantry had become more revolutionary, they supported the middle class that had emerged in the push for more power. If Father Gapon and the Provisional government had not carried with them the support of the populace, then something similar to the abortive Kapp Putsch in Germany, 1919 would have occurred. However, the workers and even the soldiers were behind them, which meant that reform was very necessary to keep the populace in check. i Leon Trotsky ii Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 iii Encyclopaedia Britannica (1998) iv Based on data from Access to History: Reactions and Revolutions: Russia 1881-1924, Lynch, 1992. Page 50


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