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REVISION NOTES Russia 1905-1941

Key Topic 1: The collapse of the Tsarist regime 1917

The Nature of Tsarist rule

Autocracy meant that the Tsar had absolute power. He could
make laws, appoint ministers and decide on all polices
completely on his own.
Even after the setting up of the Duma in 1906, Nicholas II was
very reluctant to allow it any real power. This meant that it was
impossible to bring about any changes in Russia without Nicholas
agreeing to them.
Nicholas II was weak and easily influenced by others. Even when
he took the right decision, e.g. after the 1905 Revolution, he
changed his mind later on.
He did not want to be Tsar and was not capable of acting
sensibly. But he felt he had to keep going to pass the throne on to
his son.
The Tsars had traditionally relied on repression to deal with
opposition. The secret police, the Okhrana, were very efficient
and street disturbances were broken up by the Cossacks.
This had always worked in the past and he had no other
alternatives. This meant that opposition groups also tended to be
violent. Nicholass grandfather, Alexander II, was killed by a
bomb in 1881.
In Russia there were extremes of wealth and poverty, far greater
than in any other European country. These were made worse by
big increases in the populations of the two main cities, St
Petersburg and Moscow.
The number of people living in these cities nearly doubled
between 1880 and 1914. This led to overcrowding, shortages of
food and unrest. The opposition groups in Russia took advantage
of this situation. In 1917 events in Petrograd were all important.
Russia was a very backward country. Only 2% of the population
worked in industry, 80% worked in agriculture, which was often
very primitive, and there was 80% illiteracy.
Many Russians distrusted Western ideas and preferred to use old-
fashioned methods. This included the army commanders who
thought the bayonet was the most important weapon.
There were many opposition groups in Russia. The most powerful
and the biggest was the Socialist-Revolutionaries. They were
strongest in the countryside, where they were supported by
many peasants.
But the Bolsheviks, part of the Social Democrats (the other part
was the Mensheviks) were to be the most significant. All of these
groups used violence.
Industrialisation was proceeding rapidly in the big cities of St
Petersburg and Moscow. Their populations increased by more
than 50% in the twenty years leading up to the outbreak of the
First World War in 1914.

This meant that Russia became an important industrial power,

but also that tens of thousands of workers were squashed into
overcrowded districts in the centres of the cities.
In 1904 and 1905 Russia was defeated by Japan in the Russo-
Japanese War. This was humiliating. It led to protests, like Bloody
Sunday, which helped bring about the 1905 Revolution.
There were protests throughout the year and Nicholas was only
saved because the army remained loyal. But he did not learn his
The October Manifesto was granted by Nicholas II in October
1905, after the revolution of that year had threatened his
overthrow. In the Manifesto Nicholas II promised
Civil liberties for all people, including freedom from arrest and
freedom of conscience, speech, assembly and association
The creation of a State Duma, which would have to agree to
all laws
Universal suffrage for the election of the Duma.

Why was the October Manifesto ineffective?

Nicholas soon changed his mind; the Duma met in 1906 but was
closed by Nicholas after seventy-two days. Three more Dumas
met in the next ten years, but each had fewer powers and was
elected on a narrower franchise.
Nicholas retained the title of Autocrat and continued to appoint
and dismiss ministers. Laws continued to be promulgated by the
government without reference to the Duma. There was no
apparent relaxation in the power of the Tsar's secret police the
In fact Nicholas had probably never intended to honour his
promises. He had been forced to agree to the Manifesto under
threat of force. He deliberately omitted any reference to the word
'constitution' and retained the word 'Autocrat'.

Why did Tsar Nicholas become unpopular in the years

leading up to 1914?
Rasputin's influence grew from 1905, but became very important
after the Tsar made himself Commander-in-Chief of the Army in
1915. Nicholas left Petrograd and never returned.
Alexandra, Nicholass wife was stupid and short-sighted. She was
unpopular in Russia because she was German and was suspected
of being a German spy after the outbreak of war. She gave
Nicholas a very misleading picture of events in Petrograd in 1916
and 1917.

The impact of the First World War

The First World War was by far the most important factor in
Nicholas's unpopularity.

The Army
The Russian Government believed that they could win the war
against Germany easily. It did not realise how powerful the

German Army was. The Russian Army was poorly equipped and
In August all messages were sent by radio. The Germans were
able to listen in and find out just what the Russians were doing.
The Russians suffered a series of disastrous defeats at the hands
of the German army. The Russians relied on the bayonet. They
had few machine-guns and most of their soldiers were untrained.
Russian industry was not able to keep the army supplied. There
were 6,000,000 men in the army, but only 4,500,000 rifles.
Soldiers went into action with no rifles. They were told to take
them from soldiers who had been killed.
There were inadequate medical supplies. Thousands of casualties
were left unattended. 18,000 were left on a Petrograd station for
a week.

Nicholas II
To try to put things right, Nicholas appointed himself
Commander-in-Chief in 1915. This meant that he was now
directly responsible, before he was able to blame his generals.
As he had no military experience, he was no use as a
commander. He also left Petrograd never to return. He had to rely
on Alexandra for information.
As law and order in Petrograd broke down, Nicholas was out of
touch with events.

Inflation and shortages

The railway network was inadequate and soon broke down. There
was plenty of food, but not enough locomotives to pull the trains.
What trains were available were diverted to carry food and
munitions to the army.
This led to severe shortages of food. The worst affected places
were Petrograd and Moscow. Food shortages led to inflation.
In Petrograd prices rose by 300%, because the war meant that
more and more people flocked into the city to work in the
munitions factories.
Rasputin began to influence the Tsar through the Tsarina. He
persuaded her to ask her husband to dismiss ministers and
change military tactics.
Rumours spread about the influence of Rasputin and his
relationship with the Tsarina. Eventually he was murdered in
December 1916 by a group of Russian nobles.
The unpopularity of the Royal family and Rasputin was strongest
in Petrograd. There were many rumours that Rasputin was having
an affair with the Tsarina.
The reputation of the royal family fell to an all time low. The
Tsarina was accused of being a German spy
During the war more and more people had crowded into
Petrograd to find work in the munitions factories. They lived
squashed together in working class districts near the city centre.

The effects of inflation and shortages of food were most severe in

Petrograd because the population had grown very quickly and
the city was relatively isolated.

The fall of the Tsar and the establishment of the Provisional


The February Revolution

By January 1917 there was increasing unrest in Petrograd; then
on 22 February the temperature improved by 20 degrees C.
International Womens Day was held on 23 February; there were
parades and demonstrations. This led to strikes and by 25
February half the workers were on strike.
The Tsar was kept informed by his wife and Rodzianko, the
Chairman of the Duma. The Tsarina told him that all was well and
that there were only minor disturbances.
Rodzianko said that there was a serious crisis and that a new
government must be formed. The Tsar believed his wife. He
thought that Rodzianko was just trying to use the situation to
become prime minister.
By 27th and 28th February there were many demonstrations by
workers and when troops were sent to stop the unrest, the
Garrison of Petrograd supported the strikers. There were 340,000
troops in the city but they were mostly recruits.
When the Tsar tried to return on 1 March it was too late. He was
forced to abdicate on 2 March in favour of his brother, Michael.
His brother abdicated on 3 March.
In March 1917 a Provisional Government was formed by
members of the Duma. The first prime minister was Prince Lvov.

The problems facing the Provisional Government

The Provisional Government was a temporary government
created by members of the Duma until a general election could
be held. The first prime minister was Prince Lvov. It had no
authority whatsoever.
The members believed that they could take no major decisions
until a proper government had been elected, so they continued
the war against Germany.
The Provisional Government had little authority outside of
Petrograd and even inside the city it had to contend with the
Petrograd Soviet

What was the Petrograd Soviet?

The Petrograd Soviet was elected by the soldiers and workers of
Petrograd, so it had far more authority than the Provisional
Government. It governed Petrograd and was controlled at first by
the Socialists-Revolutionaries.
It issued Military Order Number One; this stated that orders from
the Provisional Government were only to be obeyed if they were
approved by the Soviet.

For the next eight months the Provisional Government always

had to gain the approval of the Soviet. This created chaos in

Why did the Provisional Government become unpopular?

The Provisional Government became more and more unpopular
because it did not end the war. The members did not believe that
they had the authority to make peace and did not want to let
down the western Allies.
The Provisional Government made no attempt to introduce land
reform, which many peasants wanted. The Provisional
Government did try to tackle the problems of shortages and
inflation, but, during the summer of 1917, rations in Petrograd
The main problem facing the Provisional Government was Lenin,
the leader of the Bolsheviks, which was the smallest of the
revolutionary parties in Russia in 1914.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks

In March 1917 Lenin was living in Switzerland. He was sent back
to Russia by the Germans, who hoped that he would create as
much trouble as possible, which would undermine the Russian
war effort.
Lenin returned to Petrograd in April 1917 and immediately
published the April Theses, an end to the war with Germany,
the abolition of the Provisional Government and all power to
the Soviets, all property and land to be taken over by the
all banks united into National Bank and put under the control
of the Soviets, all factories to come under the control of the
the army to be transformed into a national militia.
Lenin believed that he could take advantage of the chaos caused
by the February Revolution to seize power in Russia.
He was determined to stir up as much trouble as possible and to
attract as much support by making extravagant promises, which
he had no intention of keeping, e.g. allowing peasants to take
The Bolsheviks first tried to seize power in Petrograd in May, but
failed. In July they tried again, the July Days', but failed.
The Provisional Government was saved by the army. The
Bolshevik leaders were all either arrested and put in jail, or they
fled to Finland.
After the July Days, Prince Lvov resigned and Alexander Kerensky
became prime minister. He had been a Socialist-Revolutionary
before becoming Minister for War in the Provisional Government.

The Kornilov Revolt

In August the army commander-in-chief, General Kornilov
believed that Kerensky was about to make himself dictator. He
ordered his arrest.

As the army marched on Petrograd, Kerensky asked the

Bolsheviks to save him. Lenin agreed if they were let out of jail
and given weapons.
Lenin now realised that the Provisional Government had very few
supporters and that the Bolsheviks had a real chance of seizing

Tsarist Russia Past Paper Questions

Source Based Questions These questions seem to be the ones

tackled the worst by GCSE students, and it could be through fear of
the unknown, sources that they think they cant understand
because theyre foreign. There is no reason to panic with these,
they are just like British sources (and any essential Russian that you
will require has been translated into English for you!) You will have
to answer three such questions and there are a variety of different
types which come up, they tend to pose themselves as follows:
What is the message of this cartoon?
o Do exactly as you would with the British Political
Who do you think published this poster?
o This is often looking for which side made this source and
therefore what were they hoping to achieve by making
Why do you think this source was produced?
o Dont forget that many sources are made to win people
over or convince them of an idea. Look out for
excessive bias as the source might have been
propaganda in order to recruit people to their own cause
How useful is this source as evidence to us about?
o These types of questions usually hint at a part of the
answer for something happening, but the source only
suggests one reason, you MUST think about what else
occurred. Such as an image from Bloody Sunday with
the question asking How useful is this source as
evidence about what caused the 1905 Revolution? In
this case you should describe what you see in the
source and add your own knowledge to it but also
discuss other causes such as the unfair outdated system
of autocracy and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5.

Sources on Tsarism The only sources that tend to come up about

Tsarist Russia seem to be on either Bloody Sunday and the 1905
Revolution, or Rasputin and the First World War. These are some

A cartoon about Bloody Sunday. It

was published in a Russian political
magazine in 1905. The skeleton
represents the forces of the Tsar.

Why do you think this cartoon was published in 1905? Use the
source and your own knowledge to explain your answer

Tsarist Russia Past Paper Questions

A cartoon entitled
Peace and Quiet.
It was published in
Russia in 1906 in an
illegal journal.

What is the message of this cartoon? Use the source and your
own knowledge to explain your answer.

We workers have come to seek truth, justice and protection from

you. We working men have no say in how the taxes we pay are

Do not refuse to help your people. Destroy the barrier that exists
between yourself and your people.

From the Petition to the Tsar carried by Father Gappon in 1905

How far does this source explain the unrest in Russia by 1905?
Use the source and your own knowledge to explain your

Sunday 22 January, 1905

A painful day. There have been serious disorders in St Petersburg
because workers wanted to come up to the Winter Palace. Troops
had to open fire in several places in the city; there were many
killed and wounded. God, how painful and sad! Mama arrived
from town. We went straight to church. I lunched with the family
and went for a walk. Mama stayed overnight.

An extract from Tsar Nicholas IIs diary, recording the events of Bloody

How is this source useful evidence to historians studying early

twentieth-century Russia? Use the source and your own
knowledge to explain your answer.

Tsarist Russia Past Paper Questions

A poster issued by the Bolsheviks

during the First World War. The
people being carried represent
the Tsar, the Church and the
Russian nobility.

Why was this poster published? Use the source and your own
knowledge to explain your answer.

A Russian cartoon of Rasputin with

the Tsar and Tsarina. The caption reads The Russian Tsars at home.

Was this cartoon published by supporters or opponents of the


Use the source and your own knowledge to explain your

What is the message of this cartoon?
Use the source and your own knowledge to explain your
Tsarist Russia Past Paper Questions

A Russian postcard issued in 1916. It shows the Tsar as Commander-in-

The words say Rule the country so our enemies are afraid of us.
It is a line from a song entitled God save the Tsar.

Why was this postcard issued in Russia in 1916?

Use the sources and your own knowledge to explain your

The strikers and rioters in the city are now more defiant than ever.
Youngsters are running around shouting that they have no bread.
But it will not last providing the Duma does not cause trouble. The
papers do not report the most disloyal of the speeches in the Duma.
However, I think there should be immediate and severe punishment
for speaking against the Tsar.

From a letter from the Tsarina to her husband, the Tsar, 25 February 1917.

How useful is this source as evidence about why the Tsar

abdicated in March 1917?
Use the source and your own knowledge to explain your

Tsarist Russia Past Paper Questions

Description Question this is worth 4 marks and only expects a

quick description of an event, place or person. You will get one
mark for each piece of description so four bullet points will do.

Descriptions of Tsarist Russia The only description questions that

come up about Tsarism seem to be on the nature of Tsarism, the
causes and events of the 1905 Revolution, Bloody Sunday and
Rasputin. These are some examples:

Describe the main features of Tsarist rule in Russia at the

beginning of the twentieth-century.
What were the main causes of the 1905 Revolution?
Describe the events of the 1905 Revolution.
What happened on Bloody Sunday, January 1905?
Briefly describe Rasputins career.

Explanation Question this is worth 6 marks and requires you to

answer a question which asks you why something happened. In
order to answer a why question effectively you need to be able to
describe the background information and use words like because,
therefore, as a result of, this led to in order to explain as clearly
as possible.

Explanation of Tsarism Questions The only explanation questions

that come up about Tsarism seem to be on the causes, events or
effects of the 1905 revolution and how the First World War affected
Tsarism. These are some examples:

Explain the main causes of the 1905 revolution.

Why did Nicholas II survive the 1905 revolution?
Explain why the 1905 revolution was unsuccessful.
Why was the Tsar weakened by the First World War?

Tsarist Russia Past Paper Questions

Judgement Question This is the most difficult question and is

worth 10 marks. It requires you to describe and explain more than
one event or reasons for an event and, crucially, give YOUR VIEW
on which one you think is the most important and explain why you
think this. Sometimes they appear in the style of a quote and you
need to judge whether or not you agree with it and say why you
think this. Occasionally a judgement question will give you three
points to discuss, you must talk about all three and decide which
one is the most important. If a question suggests a reason for
something, think about what reasons are not included in the
question and write about them as well.
E.g. Were Russias defeats in the First World War the most important
reason why the Tsar abdicated in March 1917? Explain your answer.
In the case of this question you need to describe the state that
Russia found itself in during the First World War (e.g. the defeats by
the Germans, the leadership of the Tsar on the front line and the fact
that resources had been routed to the front leaving people at home
running out of food) but then also explain how this caused the
downfall of the Tsar, such as Nicholas taking the personal blame for
defeats and continued unrest at home as a result of the hunger
caused. Then dont forget to discuss other reasons, such as the role
of Rasputin, the Tsarina leading the country in the absence of the
Tsar, the backward Tsarist regime and the social unrest all contribute
in their own way, and to a degree that you need to decide, to the
downfall of the Tsar.

Judgement of Tsarism The only judgement questions that come up

about Tsarism seem to be on why Tsarism collapsed. The different
possible causes formed the focal point of this you should know
what you believe caused the downfall of Nicholas II before you go
into the exam. Remember there is no one right reason, its up to
you to decide but you must make it clear why you think this. These
are some examples:

How successful was the revolution of March 1917? Explain

your answer.
Were Russias defeats in the First World War the most
important reason why the Tsar abdicated in March 1917?
Explain your answer.
The most important reason why Tsarist rule in Russia ended in
1917 was the influence of Rasputin. Do you agree with this
statement? Explain your answer.
Did the overthrow of the Tsar in 1917 make Russia stronger or
weaker? Explain your answer.
The following were reasons why Tsarist rule ended in 1917:
o The influence of Rasputin;
o The collapse of the army;
o Strikes and food shortages.

Which of these reasons do you think was the most important?

Explain you answer referring only to the above points.