Shoot for the Tsars


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:

Seventeen Moments:




6 Comments Add yours

  1. A. Nelson says:

    What did you think about Nicholas the person? I get that he was a less than stellar ruler, and that he was perhaps more a symptom than a cause of what was wrong with Russia. But what makes him interesting? (Thanks for commenting on Justin’s post!)


    1. nhinguyen14 says:

      Although he made mistakes where outcomes were less than favored, I think he was good-hearted and cared about the country. I think his outcomes portrayed him as a bad leader, but at the time, he thought he was making the right decisions.


  2. I also wrote about Nicholas this week and really enjoyed reading your post! I didn’t really discuss Nicholas identifying himself with the army, but like how you discuss how him doing so contributed to his downfall. I certainly think it was a poor decision since the people were already unhappy with him and the war, and then they associated the two together even more.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. pgiovannini says:

    There are several factors as to why the Russian military were not successful during WWI. With a mass mobilization you had a lack of training and equipment for the soldiers. Do you think if they mobilized slower and had more equipment and supplies, they would be more successful on the battlefield? What do you think about the Tsar taking command of the army? I personally believe it was the wrong thing to do, because now he is being blamed for their unsuccessful military campaign and scarcity of food for the Russian people.


    1. nhinguyen14 says:

      I definitely think they would have been more successful if they took their time, thought through strategy, and obtained more equipment. It clearly wouldn’t have hurt. I’m indifferent about the Tsar taking command of the army. It seems like a good idea, just as we have a commander in chief now, however, the outcome was greatly unsuccessful and led to his abdication.


  4. scmaclay says:

    Nicholas choosing to lead in World War I was a huge gamble. If he succeeded, people might view him, and his policies, in a better light. As you said, Nicholas identifying with the struggling military led to further discontent. Good post, I like the focus on the individual’s role in history.

    Liked by 1 person

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