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  • In one of the least industrialised European states , this situation was reversed .
  • Socialists took over the government in Russia through the October Revolution of 1917 . The fall of the monarchy in February 1917 and the events of October are normally called the Russian Revolution .

The Russian Empire in 1914

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  • The above map shows Europe and the Russian empire in 1914 and how the powers and alliances were divided among the empires .

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  • Tsar Nicholas II governed Russia and its empire in 1914 .
  • The Russian Empire also covered portions of modern-day Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and sections of Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus in addition to the region surrounding Moscow.
  • It extended to the Pacific and included the modern-day nations of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan , as well as the Central Asian states.
  • Russian Orthodox Christianity , which originated in the Greek Orthodox Church, predominated in the empire, although there were also Muslims , Buddhists , Protestants , and Catholics living there.

Economy and Society

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  • At the beginning of the twentieth century, the vast majority of Russia’s population were agriculturists
  • Russia was a major exporter of grain because about 85 per cent of the Russian empire’s population earned their living from agriculture.
  • This ratio was higher than in the majority of European nations.
  • For instance, the percentage ranged from 40% to 50% in France and Germany .
  • In the empire, cultivators produced for the market as well as for their own needs .
  • The industry was found in pockets .
  • Prominent industrial areas were St Petersburg and Moscow .
  • There were large factories alongside craft workshops , but most of the production was performed by craftsmen.
  • When Russia's railway system was expanded and foreign investment in industry rose in the 1890s, many factories were built.
  • Production of iron and steel quadrupled while coal production doubled .
  • In some places, factory workers and artisans were nearly equal in number by the 1900s .

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  • Most industries were the private property of industrialists
  • In order to assure minimum pay and set workday restrictions , the government oversaw huge factories .
  • But factory inspectors could not prevent rules from being broken
  • The average workday in craft units and small workshops was 15 hours , as opposed to 10 or 12 hours in factories.
  • Accommodation varied from rooms to dormitories .
  • Workers were a divided social group. 
  • Some have close ties to the villages they came from.
  • Workers were divided by skill . A metalworker of St. Petersburg recalled, Metalworkers considered themselves aristocrats among other workers. Their occupations demanded more training and skill . . . ’ 
  • By 1914 , women made up 31% of the workforce in factories , although they were paid less than men (between 50% and 75% of a man's income).
  • Workplace divisions were also evident in how people behaved and dressed .
  • Some workers formed associations to help members in times of unemployment or financial hardship but such associations were few.
  • Workers did come together to strike (stop work) when they disagreed with bosses about layoffs or working conditions , despite their differences .
  • These strikes were widespread in the metal sector in 1902 and the textile industry from 1896–1997 .
  • In the countryside, peasants cultivated most of the land but the nobility , the crown and the Orthodox Church owned large properties.
  • Like workers , peasants too were divided . They were also deeply religious
  • However, except for a few instances, they showed no respect for the nobles .
  • In contrast to France , where peasants revered nobles and fought for them throughout the French Revolution , in Brittany , peasants did not.
  • In the Russian empire, nobles got their power and position through their services to the Tsar and not through local popularity .
  • Peasants in Russia demanded that the land of the nobles be given to them .
  • They frequently eschewed paying rent and even killed landlords .
  • This happened extensively in south Russia in 1902 , and similar instances happened all over Russia in 1905 .
  • Russian peasants were different from European peasants in another way.
  • Periodically, they combined their land , and their commune (mir) divided it up according to the requirements of various households .

Socialism in Russia

  • Before 1914 , all political parties were illegal in Russia
  • Socialists who valued Marx's ideas created the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party in 1898 .
  • It had to operate as an illegal organisation because of government policing . It established a newspaper , organised strikes, and rallied the workforce .

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  • Some Russian socialists felt that the Russian peasant custom of dividing land periodically made them natural socialists .
  • Russia could transition to socialism more swiftly than other nations because peasants, not workers , would be the driving force behind the revolution .
  • In the late nineteenth century, socialists were active in rural areas .
  • They formed the Socialist Revolutionary Party in 1900 .
  • This party struggled for peasants’ rights and demanded that land belonging to nobles be transferred to peasants .
  • Social Democrats disagreed with Socialist Revolutionaries about peasants
  • Lenin believed that the peasantry was not a cohesive entity .
  • Some were poor and others rich , some worked as labourers while others were capitalists who employed workers
  • Given their internal " differentiation ," they could not all be associated with a socialist movement .
  • Over the organization's strategy , the party was split .
  • The leader of the Bolshevik movement , Vladimir Lenin , believed that in a society as oppressive as Tsarist Russia , the party needed to maintain discipline and keep tabs on the calibre and quantity of its members .
  • Others ( Mensheviks ) thought that the party should be open to all (as in Germany )

A Turbulent Time: The 1905 Revolution

  • Russia was an autocracy .
  • Even at the beginning of the twentieth century unlike other European rulers, the Tsar was not subject to parliament .
  • In Russia, liberals conducted campaigns to change the situation.
  • During the revolution of 1905 , they collaborated with workers and peasants to push for a constitution alongside the Social Democrats and Socialist Revolutionaries .
  • They were supported in the empire by nationalists (in Poland ) and in Muslim-dominated areas by jadidists who wanted modernised Islam to lead their societies .
  • The year 1904 was a particularly bad one for Russian workers because the prices of essential goods rose so quickly that real wages declined by 20 per cent .  
  • The membership of workers’ associations rose dramatically.
  • There was a call for industrial action after the Putilov Iron Works fired four members of the Assembly of Russian Workers , which was established in 1904 .
  • Over the next few days, over 110,000 workers in St Petersburg went on strike demanding a reduction in the working day to eight hours , an increase in wages and an improvement in working conditions
  • The police and the Cossacks attacked the workers' procession that was being led by Father Gapon as it approached the Winter Palace .
  • Bloody Sunday , the incident, was the beginning of a chain of occasions that became known as the 1905 Revolution .
  • Universities closed down as a result of nationwide strikes and student walkouts protesting the erosion of civil liberties .
  • Union of Unions were established by lawyers , doctors , engineers and other middle-class workers and demanded a constituent assembly .
  • During the 1905 Revolution , the Tsar allowed the creation of an elected consultative Parliament or Duma .
  • For a brief while during the revolution , there existed a large number of trade unions and factory committees made up of factory workers
  • Since they were deemed unlawful after 1905 , the majority of committees and unions operated in an unofficial capacity .
  • Severe restrictions were placed on political activity
  • The first Duma was dismissed by The Tsar within 75 days and the second Duma was re-elected within three months .
  • The Tsar did not want his authority to be questioned or his power to be diminished .
  • He changed the voting laws and packed the third Duma with conservative politicians .
  • Liberals and revolutionaries were kept out.

The First World War and the Russian Empire

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  • Two European alliances, France, Britain, and Russia (later Italy and Romania ) , and Germany, Austria, and Turkey ( the Central powers ), went to war in 1914 .
  • Each country had a global empire and the war was fought outside Europe as well as in Europe
  • This was the First World War .
  • At first, the war in Russia was well-liked , and the populace supported Tsar Nicholas II .
  • As the war continued, though, the Tsar refused to consult the main parties in the Duma . Support wore thin.
  • The renaming of St. Petersburg , which had a German name , as Petrograd demonstrates how strongly anti-German feelings were prevalent.
  • Tsarina Alexandra’s German origins and poor advisers , especially a monk called Rasputin , made the autocracy unpopular. 
  • The First World War on the ‘eastern front’ differed from that on the ‘western front’.  
  • Armies battled in trenches that ran the length of eastern France in the west .
  • Armies engaged in heavy casualty fighting and movement in the east .
  • Defeats were shocking and demoralising
  • From 1914 through 1916 , Russia's soldiers suffered heavy defeats in Germany and Austria.
  • There were over 7 million casualties by 1917
  • To stop the enemy from subsisting off the land, the Russian army burned dwellings and fields as they withdrew .
  • The destruction of crops and buildings led to over 3 million refugees in Russia. 
  • The situation discredited the government and the Tsar. 
  • Such a war was not what the soldiers wanted .
  • The industry was severely impacted by the war as well.
  • Russia’s industries were already few and the country was cut off from other suppliers of industrial goods by German control of the Baltic Sea
  • Russia experienced a faster rate of industrial equipment decay than the rest of Europe.
  • By 1916 , railway lines began to break down . Able-bodied men were called up to the war.  
  • As a result, there were labour shortages and small workshops producing essentials were shut down
  • Grain in large quantities was sent to feed the army .
  • For the people in the cities, bread and flour became scarce
  • Winter of 1916 saw a rise in the frequency of disturbances at bakeries.



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Davneet Singh

Davneet Singh has done his B.Tech from Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. He has been teaching from the past 14 years. He provides courses for Maths, Science, Social Science, Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science at Teachoo.