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How Significant Was The First World War

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How Significant Was The First World War
How significant was the First World War in bringing about the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II in March 1917?

The abdication of the Tsar in 1917 is still talked about today; the reasons are still disputed to this day. There are three main views; the optimist view which states that Russia was on the right path but the First World War slipped Russia into revolution. This view is supported by A.Gerschenkron who says, “That in the absence of war, Russia could have continued in the road of progressive westernisation”. The second is the Marxist view which suggests that Russia was on the verge of revolution until war broke out. In addition, this view also comes with the idea that war was ultimately good for Russia as it unified the country under the Tsar, but also it suggests that as the war prolonged, Russia was heading down the revolutionary path yet again. The last view is called the Synthesis view which suggests Russia’s revolution was going happen no matter but the war was just a catalyst in this process. The view that I agree with is the synthesis view, the idea that revolution was coming but war sped up the process. The main reason I agree with this is because as oppression increases the people become radical and we already saw this in ‘1905 revolution’, there are also many examples of this happening in modern day history.
Nicholas II would be the Tsar that Russia would ever have, the Romanov dynasty would wiped out along with Nicholas II and his family. The Tsar was a caring father and a dutiful husband which could ultimately be the reason he abdicated, to protect his family but ended the way in he and his family would die. Because of his abdication. Russia was facing a series of problems when Nicholas II came to the throne; he had a series of poor harvest in 1891, 1892, 1898 and 1901. To complement this situation there was a serious rise in population. In 1796 the rural population was 35 million and this represented 96.4% of the population, whereas in 1897 the rural population was 113 million but this was only 87.4% of the population. The government tried to solve this with the improvement of the Land Bank and the reduction of interest rates down to 4%. Although these initiatives were not enough because Russia still faced major problems in the country side by 1905 like the lack of investment from foreign nations. Western Historian Buchanan says, "The Emperor Nicholas II is one of the most pathetic figures in history. It was he who brought Russia to utter ruin and misery". This statement highlights the failure of the Tsar to deal with the ever growing problems that Russia was facing. Although I agree with the message of this source, but the Tsar wasn’t completely useless as he raised tariffs which allowed Russia’s industry develop and protected it. Furthermore, he also invited foreign countries to come and invest in Russian modernisation; the main investors were Belgium, France and Great Britain. In addition to this, he put the Russian currency on the Gold Standard in January 1897 to give more international confidence for investors.
But when the Tsar came to power he had pledged to “uphold the principle of autocracy as firmly and indistinctively as my late, unforgettable father”. This was the main issue that was to hold the Tsar and Russia back, which would also lead to his abdication. He wanted to maintain a political status quo, but he would still have to address the economic developments which were also causing social transformation. Because of the series of the poor harvests, there was growing discontent in the country side which was also causing an huge increase in the number of strikes in the cities. For example in 1905 there were 6,024 political strikes and almost 3 million strikers (Haimson Ibid page 627) listed in St. Petersburg. This is supported by a Historian called Hasegawa who is a professor at the University of California, "The tsarist regime was pregnant with irreconcilable internal contradiction that it had no capacity to resolve". This is ultimately saying that with the Tsars mind set, Russia’s problems were never going to get solved. For example, the problems were highlighted in the war with Japan, they were seriously under equipped to deal with almost super power like Germany, and they had no military strategy or tactics to cope with the then ‘modern’ warfare.
Once the war broke out, it effectively unified Russia into supporting the war effort which was a good thing and be one of the reasons he went to war in the first place. Russia during that period was seen as the father of the Slavs and the Slavic region was being threatened by the Austria-Hungarian Empire. The Tsar saw it as his and all of Russia’s duty to protect them to which he mobilised his army which in sequence sparked the First World War. Soviet Historian Hills says, "The fundamental cause of the Russian revolution, then, was the incompatibility of the tsarist state with the demands of modern civilisation. War accelerated the development of revolutionary crisis, but their deep-lying causes could not be wished away in times of peace." Hill is trying to say the main cause of the revolution was the war itself and the incompetency of Tsarist Russia to cope with the demands that War brings. This shows us that Hill has the view of a Marxist historian because we know the fact that the war was supported in Russia but the longer the war went on the less and less support Russia were receiving back home. But these signs were clearly visible after the 1905 revolution or failed revolution. There were signs of change like the fact 20,000 revolutionary leaders were exiled, political reforms were introduced with things such as an election for the Duma and the that the Russian people actually had the ability to vote. Furthermore, Stolypin was in charge of making reforms to the Russian country side to try and make it more modern which would increase the efficiency to make Russia’s economic situation a lot better. What he done was create a new class of modern famers who were called Kulaks. But this ultimately failed because there was much jealously in the countryside which actually led to a class war which shows that Stolypins reforms were failing. In addition to this, there was also rapid industrialisation which would increase the middle class and the working class which would benefit Russia in the long term. Lastly there was also Naval reforms to try and increase the size and international strength of the Russian navy which would help them control their massive empire. With all of these changes, some things never changed, after 1905 there was still mass repression which would fuel revolutionary groups and individuals such as Lenin who would be the cause of pressure for the Tsar to abdicate. Also the fact that the Duma was a ‘lie’ because although elected, it had no real power. In addition to this, the Tsar also changed the election system so he always got the results he wanted which would actually be cheating the Russian people. The growing middle class were generally unhappy with the lack of genuine political reforms and that they had no power. But the massively increasing were becoming more angry and violent because of this which led to mass political strikes. “It was their (the workers) faith in the tsar that was riddled by bullets on that day. They came to realise that they could win their rights only by struggle." This is the soviet view, this highlight that the Tsar was losing support and that a revolution was coming.
The war as a whole was the main reason for abdication because the losing battles and loss of soldiers on the front line was affecting the civilian population in Russia. The network of railways was being used for military purposes which meant a lack of supplies to the people in the cities. They wanted an end to the war but the Tsar was determined to fight on, this led the majority of people to support Lenin and the Bolshevik cause because they promised an end to the war and the fighting which the people wanted. Once the war was lost in ‘Russia’ (Support), the Tsars advisors became adamant that he should abdicate, or there will be trouble. The Tsar abdicated, some say to try and keep his family safe which if the reason would fail because they would be executed.

To conclude I agree with the Synthesis view that revolution was only a matter of time but the war was a catalyst. This is because history has taught us that an Autocracy will eventually topple once you lose support of the masses. The war at the start was a good thing because it allowed Russia to become unified for a period but once that was lost, the masses would flock to what they thought would be the next best thing, the abdication of the Tsar and the withdrawal from the war which the provisional government did and what Lenin promised to do.
Word Count:1,572

Bibliography
Patrick Buchanan- Churchill, Hitler and the unnecessary war
Tsuyoshi Hasegawa- The February Revolution
A.Gerschenkron- Europe in the Russian Mirror
Haimson Ibid- Page 627 Ministervo Torgovl
Christopher Hill- Lenin and the Russian Revolution

Bibliography: Patrick Buchanan- Churchill, Hitler and the unnecessary war Tsuyoshi Hasegawa- The February Revolution A.Gerschenkron- Europe in the Russian Mirror Haimson Ibid- Page 627 Ministervo Torgovl Christopher Hill- Lenin and the Russian Revolution

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