Pictured: Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.
Tsar Nicholas II was the last emperor of Russia, ruling from 1894 to 1917 when he was abdicated. During his reign, Russia transformed from being one of the world’s great powers to a country of economic and military turmoil. Nicholas II was nicknamed Nicholas the Bloody, due to his numerous military defeats and deaths of millions of people. After the Russo-Japanese War and the eruption of revolts from Bloody Sunday, Nicholas II faced much rebellion and underwent a “constitutional experiment” in which Russia set up a rule of law and a legislative parliament called the Duma.
“Scholars have long debated the long-term prospects for the survival and evolution of constitutionalism in Russia in the absence of a devastating military conflict, but everyone agrees that World War I brought out the broader structural deficiencies of Russia’s industry, polity, and modernization programs. Russia mobilized rapidly and intensively for a war everyone hoped would be brief, but which proved protracted and exhausting,” (Digital History Reader). This statement demonstrates the decline of the Russian empire as it tries to mend itself politically while fighting a war.
Furthermore, the defeats in the fall of 1914 contributed to further Russian collapse as the Russians were pushed out of East Prussia. The “Great Retreat of 1915” led to over a million Russia casualties and another million prisoners.
Nicholas II faces further criticism as people believed he was incapable of handling the war effectively. Society took charge and led to a new group. “Despite their pledge of unity with the autocracy, the upper stratum of society and their representatives in the government were alarmed at the disastrous inefficiencies of the war effort and demanded a change in personnel. In July 1915, a “Progressive Blok” of 300 Duma representatives and a group from the State Council was formed. The Blok pledged its loyalty and support for the autocracy if it would appoint a united cabinet, cooperate with the legislature, adhere to legality, and issue an amnesty for political prisoners,” (Digital History Reader).
In 1915, Nicholas II identified himself with the military, which would prove to be his downfall as he is now identifying with the aspects of the military that is defeat and ineptitude. Political opposition further swarmed Nicholas II throughout society. The propertied classes were concerned about the country’s postwar status and filled with dissatisfaction; the lower classes were faced with long-term deprivation and limited rations. With this amount of dissatisfaction and anger, strikes spread throughout the country ranging from food shortages to high bread prices. “The majority of the strikes linked economic grievances to political concerns and agendas,” (Digital History Reader).
“More than three centuries of Romanov dynastic rule came to an end in late February 1917 when striking workers and mutinous soldiers in Petrograd forced tsar Nicholas II to abdicate the throne,” (Seventeen Moments). The overthrowing of Nicholas II resulted in much popularity and joy. “The loss of effective state authority gave the public unprecedented freedom of assembly and expression and resulted in the establishment of new newspapers, political organizations, trade unions, and other institutions of civil society,” (Seventeen Moments).
The relative importance of the events mentioned above all led to the February Revolution of 1917. In summary, the Russo-Japanese War was one of the many military defeats that led Russia towards a downward spiral. With Nicholas II in power and identifying with the military, further distaste for Nicholas II and tsarism grew. All these events combined led to slow and little economic development as there were over millions of casualties, food shortages, and overall dissatisfaction among the people. These events led to the abdication of Nicholas II which removed the crisis in political authority as the Provisional Government stepped in.
Digital History Reader: https://www.dhr.history.vt.edu/modules/eu/mod03_1917/index.html
Seventeen Moments: http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1917-2/february-revolution/