History 104: Western Civilization since 1648
Lecture: The Great War and Russian Revolution

Russia before the revolutions click here for audio

Unlike states which experienced revolutions in 1848, Russia remained relatively untouched by western liberalism. The Tsar ruled absolutely, and considered Russia his personal territory and responsibility.

The 1860s saw two interesting developments: the abolishment of feudalism and the rise of nihilism. Serfdom had been abolished after the Crimean War, the loss of which convinced Tsar Alexander II that modernization was needed. Nihilism was a philosophy of the young, who were rejecting traditional norms and traditional authority. ChernyshevskyThey didn't respect social conventions, promoting equality for women and living together in "common law" marriages. Women joined nihilist groups because it gave them far more freedom than conventional society.

One of the most outspoken of the nihilists was Nikolai Chernyshevsky, a socialist along the lines of Fourier. He wrote Alexander II that "liberal landowners, liberal writers, liberal professors lull you with hopes in the progressive aims of our government", believing the end of serfdom should be the beginning of socialist equality rather than liberal property ownership. His book What is to be Done? led to his arrest and prison in Siberia.

By the 1890s, Russia was becoming more industrialized, and a small proletarian class existed, though most were still peasants. Industrialization caused urbanization, and worker's parties began to form. All political parties were illegal in Russia, but strikes and demonstrations occurred that opposed the Tsar's rule. Marxist groups began to form, including the Mensheviks (majority) and Bolsheviks (minority). Mensheviks believed that Marxist revolution would come, with time. As the proletariat increased, pressure would build. They thus permitted anyone to join their party. The Bolsheviks restricted membership, believing that a socialist revolution would have to be led by "professional" revolutionaries who understood the intellectual concepts of Marxism. Lenin was one of these.
bookWorkbook document: Lenin on What is to be Done? (1902)

The title of his work was a deliberate reflection of Chernyshevsky's, though his approach was different. Lenin was exiled for his activities.

The Romanovs

Tsar Nicholas II was a cousin of Queen Victoria of England, as were many of Europe's rulers (that made the Great War a huge family feud). His tsarina was Alexandra, a German princess who was raised a devout Lutheran Protestant and was a grandchild of Queen Victoria. When Nicholas fell in love with her, she was afraid because it meant converting to Russian orthodoxy. She was convinced by Victoria herself, her cousin Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and Nicholas' aunt Ella, who was herself a convert.

1904-05 were pivotal years for the Romanovs. Their first son was born, after four daughters. Only males could inherit the throne. But the son had hemophilia (the blood fails to clot properly), an inherited disorder of the Saxe-Coburgs (Victoria's family). This had to be kept secret. The same year, the Russo-Japanese War occurred, and Japan had risen out of nowhere to destroy the Russian Pacific Fleet. This led to a wave of protest against the government, and Nicholas had to agree to allow a liberal assembly, the Duma, to meet. This has been called the Revolution of 1905.

Web document: Tsar's Manifesto of 1905

Tsar Nicholas dismissed them, though, when they criticized his rule. The same year, Siberian former-monk Gregory Rasputin arrived in St. Petersburg.

Rasputin and puppetsRasputin was quite a character. He seduced everyone's wives among the elite set, because he smelled like a man instead of like the perfumes everyone was wearing (my theory, anyway). He also had a reputation as a miracle worker; his eyes were hypnotic and some called him a Holy Man. He worked his way into the royal family, and got the Tsarina to permit him to see her son and heir, Alexi. Rasputin spent time alone with the boy, and when he left the child was cured of hemophilia. No one knows how he did it, but it earned him the Tsarina's profound devotion. When Nicholas left to lead the troops in the Great War (they were underequipped and had to take guns and boots off the dead on the Eastern Front), Rasputin was effectively in charge of the government. The cartoon at left shows him as the puppeteer controlling the Tsar and Tsarina.

A group of young aristocrats killed Rasputin. They had to get him drunk, shoot him, stab him, strangle him, and drown him to do it. Pretty spooky.

7. Revolutions of 1917 ->