Russia Before the 1917 Revolution I THE GREAT WAR Special
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Russia Before the 1917 Revolution I THE GREAT WAR Special

September 16, 2019

In 1914, when the war began, it was the world’s
fourth largest economy, and it covered 15% of the world’s landmass. It had what seemed like an endless supply
of men and they patriotically went to war in support of their leader. And yet three years later, that empire was
in tatters and wracked by revolution. I’m talking, of course, about Russia. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to a Great War
Special episode about Russia and the First World War. Russia had been ruled for two decades by Tsar
Nicholas II when the war began. He had ascended to the throne in 1894 at the
age of 26 upon his father’s death. That same year the zemstvos, a collection
of peasants and workers that made up local governments that had been instituted by Nicholas’
grandfather Alexander II, brought a proposal to Nicholas for adopting a European style
constitutional monarchy, and socio-economic and civil rights reforms for the peasantry. That group, mainly subsistence farmers, made
up 82% of the population. Nicholas denounced the idea as “senseless
dreams”; he would rule by autocracy. Now, Alexander II had made sweeping reforms
decades earlier after the Russian loss in the Crimean War. He modernized his empire’s military-industrial
complex, he expanded the scope of the railways and communications, but most importantly he
modernized Russia’s military personnel, which had been mainly serfs. Seeing the defeat of the Russian serf army
by the free British and French, he enacted the Emancipation Reform of 1861, which effectively
abolished serfdom in the empire over the course of a few years. Eventually, he was even planning constitutional
reform through the proposed Loris-Melikov Constitution, whose contents were a little
more modest than the name might suggest, but which would have made Russia a constitutional
monarchy. On February 16th, 1881, the Executive Consultation,
in which Alexander participated, unanimously approved the project, and on March 1st, Alexander
told Loris-Melikov that the Council of Ministers would discuss it in four days. That same day Alexander was assassinated by
an anarchist group and any progressive government or civil reforms died with him. Alexander III ascended to the throne, dismissed
the project, and ruled as an absolute monarch. You can imagine that this stirred up a fair
amount of civil unrest, but through sheer force of character and iron will, Alexander
kept order in his empire. His reign was cut short in 1894 by kidney
disease, and he had never taken the time to teach his son, now Tsar Nicholas II, how to
be a proper monarch and maintain peace and order. Nicholas inherited an immense job, personally
ruling the world’s second largest empire, and as time passed it became quite clear how
ill-prepared he was for a job that, on many levels he didn’t even want, and thought
was a burden. But he did it because he believed in Divine
Right, that he and the Tsarina had been chosen to rule by God and had to do it, like it or
not. He wanted to continue his father’s policies,
but Russia was entering the modern age, and the political landscape was shifting beneath
Nicholas’ feet, and his father’s policies would need a very strong ruler to carry them
out, which Nicholas was not. Still, for the first ten years of his rule,
Russia flourished. A lot of the credit for that goes to Finance
Minister Sergei Witte and Prime Minister and Minister of Internal Affairs Pyotr Stolypin. Russia became one of Europe’s fastest growing
economies, expanding at 4% annually. Then came 1905. Russia suffered a surprising and humiliating
defeat to Japan in the Russo-Japanese War, which they considered a “secondary power”. Morale plummeted and you saw major economic
stagnation. There was an unprecedented wave of worker
strikes and demonstrations that targeted landlord, industry, and the government. The strikes and civil unrest led to the 1905
Russian Revolution and also a series of anti-Jewish pogroms. Now, the Russian military remained loyal to
the Tsar during the revolution, so Nicholas was not removed from power but he was forced
to sign the October Manifesto, which promised basic civil rights and created a Parliamentary
body, the Duma. Nicholas hated this, though, and undermined
it at every turn. He had actually wanted to create a sort of
military dictatorship with Grand Duke Nikolai at the helm, but Nikolai threatened to shoot
himself in the head if the Tsar didn’t sign the manifesto. From then until the First World War, Russia’s
economy had something of a recovery, but the promised constitutional government never developed. Nicholas ceded none of his power, and would
dissolve the Duma time and again, rendering it into a feckless entity cooperative with
his own policy. This served to foment underground dissent
and there was a series of assassinations of Tsarist officials, including the Governor-Generals
of Moscow and Finland, and Stolypin himself in 1911. And then came the war. Nicholas called for all citizens to stand
united against the Central Powers, and to the surprise of many, they did. The peasantry went to war with great patriotism
and Nicholas, for maybe the first time in his reign, enjoyed great popularity. Okay, everybody thought that it would be a
short war. People like economic journalist Norman Angell
thought, “modern war had become unprofitable, and a drawn-out conflict had become impossible. Industrialized economies… were so bound
together by trade… that a conflict of any duration would lead quickly to collapse, starvation,
and revolution”. Russian financier I.S. Bliokh wrote that, it “was agrarian economies,
such as Russia, with a large population of subsistence farmers and a cushion of net food
exports, that would stand up best when global trade was disrupted and the industrialized
economies fell down”. Both of those guys were very wrong. Backed by massive military-industrial complexes
the war grew to a scale never before seen. It also turned out that the industrial economies
were actually better suited for mobilizing national resources. I’m not going to talk about Russian involvement
the war, since I cover all that in the regular episodes, but there were both great successes
and great disasters. Nicholas made what can only be regarded as
a serious error when he personally took command of the army in September 1915. This meant that any military failures in both
the field or in supply rested on his shoulders. The nation’s economy could not handle the
strain of the war, the unpopular Tsarina and even more unpopular Rasputin wielded great
influence in Petrograd, and as the misery continued, and food shortages became endemic,
strikes and demonstrations broke out on an almost daily basis, culminating in the February
Revolution that saw Nicholas abdicate, abandoned even by his own armies that had saved him
in 1905. Today I really wanted to look a bit at Russia
before the war. Heading into the 20th century, Russia found
itself racing to adapt to the modernization of the rest of the European powers. The economy expanded thanks to people like
Witte and Stolypin, but progress was stifled by the inflexibility of the autocratic rule
of Nicholas II. Crushing or dismissing all opposition, he
and the larger part of the ruling class disregarded the public unrest coming from below. Ignoring the warnings and lessons of the 1905
Revolution, he failed to see how broken and outdated his system was, and that didn’t
just affect the civilian population, but also the economy and the military. All of the Russian Empire’s woes were exposed
in 1917 when the demoralized, exhausted, and angry public joined together and ended 304
years of Romanov rule.

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  1. It seems that royals have learning difficulties. In 1837 Prince Ernest, fifth son of King George III of Great Britain & Hanover, inherited the crown of Hanover upon the death of his brother King William IV (their niece Victoria inherited the British crown.)

    The first thing King Ernie did was suspend the Hanover Constitution of 1833. A lifetime having grown up and lived in a Great Britain with its governments from Parliament, the War of American Independence, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the Bourbon Restoration, the July Monarchy, The Reform Act of 1832 and his brother William's endorsement of that comparatively liberal Hanover Constitution made patently no impression upon him.

  2. Inheriting power from inbred families reaches its obvious limits over time, as they get dumber and dumber after each generation.

  3. Hello Indy,

    I'm very interested in learning the different factors and aspects of the Great War. I'm also an armchair Russian historian, particularly interested in the rise of Marxist-Leninism and the USSR in general. I wanted to thank you for the contribution to my knowledge about Russian history prior to the February and October Revolution!!! You run a very interesting and thought-provoking channel that I appreciate and learn from every day. Keep up the good work!!!  I did want to ask you a question though, and hopefully (in my wildest dreams) that it will be featured in Out of the Trenches. What was it like for the average soldier during the dissolution of the Russian Army in 1917? What were the general sentiments, fears, or hopes of the average soldier during that time? I'd love to hear your answer.

    Joseph Ericksberg

  4. What are your plans for finishing up the tale of the war in 2019? Are you going to archive the videos somehow or keep telling about something else? I'd pay to get a DVD or a Blu-Ray with all of your videos!

  5. Wow, one could but wonder what would have happened if Alexander wasn't assassinated. Russia a constitutional monarchy, no reason to fight ww1, no Bolshevik revolution, communism might have never taken root. Another instance of an assassin's bullet fucking up history, for the worst.

    In fact when you come to think of it, in every single instance of historical figures assassinations, it never helped the agenda of the assassin.

  6. so educational video and easy to understand…but everytime I wathch your lecture I wonder why you don't handle WW2…DO YOU HAVE ANY PLANS TO DEAL WITH WW2??? THANKS…

  7. It's not popular to say, but the traditional Christendom of Russia was brought down by perfidious Jewish radicals.

  8. @The Great War Can you tell something more about concrete examples of inflexibility od autocratic rule od Nicholai II? Keep up with great work, greetings from Serbia.

  9. we're getting closer and closer to Czechoslovakian Legion, can't wait, mainly about how they almost saved the Tzar from execution and the battle on Lake Baikal 🙂

  10. According to Witte, then prime minister, Alexander III's opinion of the intellectual competence and suitability or disposition to rule of Nicolas was such that the future of the regime was questionable. Had Alexander III lived, there may not have been a WW I, or, therefore, a WW II. I wonder what his cause of death really was. It seems he never really recovered from the Borki incident.

  11. Kaiser Wilhelm II and Tsar Nicholas II are the worst Emperors I've seen so far. They let such mighty Empires to fall and Monarchies to die… I guess having II (The Second) after your name is a really bad luck lol

  12. >all those edgy commies in the comments
    reminder that communism was the worst disaster that ever struck russia.

  13. Спасибо большое за ваше предоставление этой исторической информаций без политического уклона.

  14. Seems to me that Czar Nicholas was actually a strong ruler in the sense that he was strong willed, otherwise he wouldn't have had the nerve to reject all those proposals from the officials in his government and ultimately assume direct command of the armed forces. His inability to govern successfully resulted from the simple fact that he was just not prepared for the awesome responsibilities of ruling such a vast empire with very tragic consequences for himself, his family, and his country.

  15. I find it interesting that the Czar would actually choose to rule by absolute power. Seems like Russian House of Cards to me. 😛

  16. fantastic job, sir. thank you. as always, your understanding of history is factual and clinical yet entertaining, as it should be.

  17. funny how all these countries destoryed Poland because of its freedom yet couple decades later were forced to change anyway,

  18. The people of Russia hated Tsar Nicholas. The peasants, the middle class, even the military command – who couldn't oppose him outwardly – loathed his horrendous decisions. He didn't make a single good choice for his country, and he deserved to die more than most men on earth at the time. My only sympathy is for the children, they did not deserve to die just for having a monstrous incompetent as a father.

  19. I was a bit confused when I saw the other video about the bankers perspective on WW1. You pronounce Iwan Bloch and Norman Angell's name differently in that video and instead of Iwan Block you call him I.S. Bloch in this video. Maybe it's petty but it made me question the credibility here a bit – as a history teacher I need scholarly videos!

  20. You know, his policies and lack of ability to rule aside, from my research, Nicholas II wasn't a bad guy at heart, he just wasn't the man that Russia, and the Imperial Dynasty, needed to at the time. He did ok, in peace time, but wartime was too much for a man like him. His flaws aside, and his wife's, they didn't deserve what happened to them in Yekaterinburg, and his children especially didn't. No one deserves that.

  21. I always wonder how many of those people that appear in the b&w footage died in combat achieving nothing… (not just the russians lol)

  22. The problem with Russia back then was its government refused to acknowledge how far behind they were and modernize. Japan on the other hand knew it didn't stand a chance against industrialized countries and worked overtime to catch up. The Russo Japanese war demonstrates how much of a difference modernization can make.

  23. Well Communism originates in Germany and Germans pushed Lenin to Russia. Cus they knew he will destabilize Russia.
    But betwen 1890 and 1910 Russia was the fastest growing economy in the world.
    The reason why Russia lost to Japan was a secret British contract whit Japan. Russians simply couldn't reinforce nor sully their military in far east

  24. Вудро Вильзен убил более 100 000 000 человек, заказав производство испанского гриппа, а затем выпустил его в мир во время Второй мировой войны. Все это было частью американской тактики, чтобы выиграть войну

  25. Once again, a filthy anarchist changed the fate of civilization for the worst. If there was no assassination – reforms – no October revolution – no communist states in Europe (most probably).

  26. Why blame raputin??? He actually called the tsar asking not to go to war…

    Nicholas and all the romanov are idiots

  27. Even though everything got bad for Russia that grand Duke fellow who threatened to shoot himself had some huge balls

  28. There is a very tall Russian military officer that is seen in this video. It would be interesting to know who that person was and how tall he was.

  29. You ever get the feeling the communists are deliberately accosting us with the most outrageous offenses to provoke us? A massive aggravated assault. As they did in 1917 Russia and Weimar Germany. How many of you know about these two places? White young Americans, you better bone up on history. And keep your guns well-oiled.

  30. Anarchists? Sure it wasn't one of those handy terrorist groups funding by the right to keep the political landscape "pure"? Being dastardly and blaming others for your deeds so you can seize power is kinda a long running theme in politics…

  31. Great Duchy of Finland was surprisingly loyal to Czar until 1917 (let's not exaggerate the case of murder of governor-general Bobrikov). It had also own currency, postal service and parliament. After 1906 every citizen aged 24 and over, the humblest maid and crofter included, was allowed to vote. Finns didn't have to serve in Russian military but they paid certain (though quite moderate) tax to compensate it. Economic growth was one of the fastest in Europe and many foreigners invested to Finland mostly because to target markets of Russian Empire (especially forestry industry).

  32. Czar Nicholas II didn't want the war just like Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary and Wilhelm II of Germany didn't want the war. It was mostly the war party of Sankt Petersburg wanting that confrontation. We should never overstate the power of monarchs. As Christopher Clark has mentioned: European monarchs were much more isolated and most of countries had several power centers making crucial and devastating decision in summer of 1914.

  33. Angell wasn't really wrong though, he was, if anything, prophetic, as revolution and the collapse of empires happened as a result of the protracted war (and starvation in Germany, at least.) He was warning against using military expansion in the same way as one saw in aspects of colonialism. It isn't that war can't happen but that the projected gains were illusory, industrialism and modern economic development made them destructive to a nation's ultimate interest.

  34. "If I die on the Russian Front honey honey.If I die on the Russian Front bab bab.If I die on the Russian Front, bury me in a Russian c*nt.Honey oh baby mine"(Army cadence)

  35. Long ago i heard that the Russian army was desperate for amunition, food, boots, blankets, winter clothing; everything was short.
    What they got, for christmas, was photos of the czar and his wife, to remind them what they were fighting for. No surprise they revolted.
    Can you confirm any of this delightfully absurd apocryphal legend/myth?

  36. Sergei Alexandrovich (Nicholas' uncle and governor of Moscow) was a thoroughly unlikeable guy. Extremely conservative, terribly self-loathing and closeted homosexual who emotionally (if not also physically) abused his wife, Elizabeth. Elizabeth was the sister of Alexandra, who later married Nicholas and was the last tsarevna of Russia. This led to the strange result that Elizabeth was Alexandra's sister, but also her aunt.

  37. In 1914 80% of Russian empire's population was rural. When a country makes the transition from a rural society to urban and industrial one it's economy has a huge boom. UK, France and Germany had did this transition before 1914. Russia not yet, this process was ongoing. Some economists predicted that Russia would become the Europe's greatest economy after this transition, they would be something much bigger and powerfull than UK, France and Germany.

  38. I made care to define myself as a Godwin Anarchist, and I continue to hold to Godwin's definition of what the duties of any legitimate government are. The two duties of any government are Defense & Education. My own novella "The Revolutionary" (amazon, audiobook being best version) taught me anarchy leads to isolation & despair. Philosophy matters a great deal. "I am my ideas." and the Russians get really passionate about it from all I can tell. What we have now is Russian Rand Dystopian Objectivism in conflict with waning, or ground down by numerous factors & beliefs American Ethical Eclectic Pragmatism. in short.

  39. Russia never lost the Crimean war the french wrote a peace treaty and Russia accepted it and singed it because the french and the English we’re starting to lose a lot of soldiers. Russia lost about 5k and the allies about 7k or 8k

  40. After the february revolution Russia was becoming Liberal democracy and had it's first and last ever fair election. Then came the bolsheviks.

  41. The ELITE ( monarchy families ruling Europe at these times were INTERCONNECTED with each other trough intermarriage. They ruled by STRONG ARMIES, FEAR and DECEPTION. Tcar Nikolaj Romanow of Russia was a cousin of King of England and ruler of India, George the 5th ( on pictures they look like brothers, so alike). Son of Tcar Nikolaj, Aleksej had the same HEMOFILIA disease ( blood disorder) as his grandmather Queen Victoria of ENGLAND, Wife of Nikolaj Romanov came from PRUSSIA and was very disliked by Russian people. As far as their DIVINE RIGHT to rule, its a BLATANT LIE, coming from the DECEIVER ( biblical Satan). Reminder: ENGLAND of times of Victoria conquered, COLONIALIZED and EXPLOIDED almost half of the world. They were going after TREASUREs ( DIAMONDS and GEMS of India and Africa) and other natural resources. Other reason for wars that broked up soon in Europe ( WORLD WAR 1) could be that Tsar left in HANDS of BANKERS ( Rothchilds, Chase etc) MILIONS of DOLLARS feeling social upheavals and unease in his country. He even planned to escape from Bolshevics to his cousin George in ENGLAND but he stood him up.

  42. Hmmm bet Sir Norm ( Angell did NOT!! write a sequel to his book <<<>>> something like " 1939 Why Another World Wars 100 % IMPOSSIBLE " …… talk about THE!! wrong call …

  43. Hey my great great grandpa was a Austrian in the Great War, I’m trying to figure out what faction he served. Can anyone tell me what kind of solder he was by he’s uniform? It has a black collar with six stars on it , and he also has a black cup like hat with a little thing on top with a red circle in the middle I think it’s a felt thing, and there’s a symbol on it that looks like a double headed eagle.

  44. Abraham Lincoln referred to Russia's despotism during his term . Apparently it was fairly common to think so of the Russian empire .

  45. There seem to be a small incoherence about Russo-Japanese War and the 1905 Revolution. The Revolution began in January 1905, well before the peace treaty was sealed in early September. It were the Russia's unclear goals for and unexpected setbacks in the war during 1904 that ignited the revolution, and it was revolution that forced Russia to end the war on conditions favorable for Japan.

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