Romanovs and Revolutions

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search

  • Main
  • Wikipedia
  • All Subpages
  • Create New
    /wiki/Romanovs and Revolutionswork

    People sometimes make the mistake of assuming that the Bolsheviks overthrew the Tsar. Not the case. There were in fact two steps in the process and two Russian Revolutions. If you count 1905 as one, there are three.

    The three revolutions were:

    • The Revolution of 1905: Covered here.
    • The February Revolution: The overthrow of the Tsar. Covered in Red October.
    • The October Revolution: Covered in Red October, a name sometimes given to it. The communist takeover.

    Due to the fact that the Russians were still using the Julian calendar at the time, these revolutions took place for the rest of the world in March and November. We will use the Julian dates, with Gregorian ones given where appropriate.


    The first revolution, or the thing before it, depending on your POV.

    Not much Surf, but plenty of former Serfs: Pre-1905 Russia

    In 1905, Russia was the world's largest country in terms of territory, even larger than the USSR would end up being. It controlled Finland and large parts of modern day Poland, in additional to the territory of the post-WW 2 USSR.

    It was a pretty ethnically diverse place too, with quite a lot of Rossiyane (Russian citizens) not being Russkie (ethnic Russians). Russia was engaged in Russification, banning the use of the local languages and the Latin scripts at times, especially in Lithuania.

    Economically, 82% (according to the 1887 census) of Rossiyane were peasants. They were mostly illiterate and uneducated. The upper classes (12.5%) thought the peasants were a threat to Russia.

    Imperial Russia was a militaristic-bureaucratic absolute monarchy. There was no parliament, no elections, and no political parties allowed.

    Under Alexander II, whose reign had started in 1855, there had been somewhat of a relaxation of repression. The serfs had been emancipated, there were less restrictions on expression and elected rural councils. He also abolished the death penalty. However, like Gorbachev later, this glasnost -- yes, the term was used then too -- was (arguably) not done out of the goodness of the Tsar's heart. He believed that a little bit of freedom would reduce opposition to the regime. The autocracy stayed, the rural councils were dominated by the landowners, and the serfs could not afford to leave their farms in most cases.

    With moderate opposition still not permissible, radicals resorted to terrorism. One group proceeded to blow up Alexander II in 1881 and that put an end to glasnost.

    Under the reign of his son the (understandably) embittered Alexander III and later Nicholas II ("Nicky"), the repression increased, with the Okhranka (the Secret Police) gaining more power. Jews in particular suffered, with an increase in pogroms (a word of Russian origin), anti-Semitic riots which appear to have been locally rather than centrally organised. Fiddler on the Roof features one of these.

    This repression had the opposite effect. The resistance just got more organised.

    There ain't no party like a revolutionary party

    A number of political parties had been set up, despite this being illegal. They fell into four groups:

    • The Populists: They tried to incite the peasants into revolution. When this didn't work, some of them turned to terrorism. One group, "The People's Will", were responsible for assassinating Alexander II.
    • The Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs): Grew out of the previous lot and split between moderates and terrorists. The latter dominated, and assassinated about 2,000 people for political reasons.
    • The Social Democrats: Marxists. Would split into two groups in 1903, the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. More on that later.
    • The Liberals: The two major parties after 1905, the Octobrists (supporters of the October Manifesto) and the Constitutional Democrats (better known as the Kadets).
    • The Anarchists, though not a political party as they opposed electoralism on principle, were also highly influential, mainly in peasant quarters where they were close to the Populists, but the rising industrial sphere as well.

    Alexander III (1881-1894) managed to either stabilize or improve situation in many respects, both in economy (support of domestic industry, Siberian railway construction begun) and military (unification and upgrades) spheres, so by the end of his rule internal conflicts somewhat cooled down (not that his customs policy pleased everyone, but it worked). Then he died and Nicholas II came to the throne. According to his diaries, Nicholas didn't really feel up to the task. He was a bit insecure, mistook his stubborness for resolve and he had been raised to believe that the autocracy was the best method of government (having trained as a soldier, he didn't have a lot of skill or experience as a statesman, which is why he was enthusiastic about the last part).

    The Great Games: Russian Foreign Policy

    In 1890, the new Kaiser of Germany, William II sank the career of Bismarck by sacking him. Bismarck would predict later on that the next war in Europe would start over the Balkans. He was very much right.

    This meant Germany became increasingly assertive and teamed up with Austria-Hungary. With the Ottoman Empire in trouble, Austria-Hungary could increase its influence in the Balkans. This concerned Russia for two reasons. One, the area was populated by Slavs, the ethnic group that Russians belong to who traditionally looked up to the Tsar as their protector. Two, the Dardanelles was a vital link from the Black Sea to the Med.

    Russia was also involved in a contest of influence with Britain in Central Asia; the "Great Game", as Rudyard Kipling called it, a precursor to the later, much more well known Cold War. This would be resolved as Germany grew more powerful and certain events occured in 1904-5.

    Russia wanted to expand into the Far East to compensate for its declining European influence. It also need a Pacific port that was ice-free all year round -- Vladvostok was summer-only.

    • Russian Navy used to winter in Nagasaki until Russian-Japanese relations deteriorated under Nicholas II.
    • Under Alexander III, while some European powers weren't too happy about tariff wars, relations with Japan improved. Soon after his death mutual "most favoured nation" treatment was agreed to in an 1895 treaty, but this trend was reversed later.

    It had the perfect place. The port today is called Lüshunkou and was known to the Chinese at that time as Lüshun. The British, the other Western powers and Russia called it Port Arthur, after a guy who had arrived there during the Second Opium War.

    In 1897, the Russian Navy arrived, the Chinese lent them the place and they started to fortify it. The Japanese weren't too happy about that. They concluded an alliance with the British that if anyone joined the Russians in an attack on the Japanese, the UK would join in.

    It's noteworthy that Nicholas II probably also had an abiding grudge against the Japanese, owing to the Otsu scandal, an unpleasant incident that occurred when he visited the country as tsarevich. While travelling to Kyoto, Nicholas was attacked by one of his Japanese bodyguards, who struck at him with a saber. Nicholas suffered a permanent scar on his forehead and probably would have been killed if his cousin hadn't intervened. The Japanese apologized profusely to Nicholas, sending more than 10,000 telegrams wishing him a speedy recovery, even as the Emperor publicly expressed his sorrow and one woman even slit her throat as an act of contrition. Despite all this, Nicholas cut his trip short and returned home. It was a sign of things to come in...

    The Russo-Japanese War, or Lesson One in Far Eastern Politics -- Don't Underestimate the Japanese

    In order to distract the opposition to the government in St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia decided to provoke a "short, victorious war" against Japan by rejecting Japanese proposals to resolve the Korea issue. The Russian Minister of War had used this phrase in his proposal, hoping it would help to "stave off revolution" at home. After all, Japan was just a semi-feudal country populated by "little yellow monkeys" (as Tsar Nick called them), right?

    Wrong. The Meiji Restoration had increased Japan's military power considerably, making them much stronger than Russia with modern weapons and vehicles, manned by troops and crews trained by Germans for land combat and Britons for naval. The Russians did very badly with disastrous incompetence. The Baltic Fleet spent 8 months sailing 18,000 miles/28,000 km to the Pacific (almost starting a war with Britain en route in the Dogger Bank Incident), arrived at Tsushima in May 1905... and was pretty much defeated within a hour.

    • Supposedly, this possibility was considered after the China-Japan war, both against the opinion of Great Prince Alexei Alexandrovich who thought Japan was a crucial ally (against Great Britain) and despite the notion of Chief of the General Staff N.Obruchev that such war would be logistically impracticable.
    • To the present day, the word Tsushima is used in Russian as a synonym of total disaster.
      • Despite the fact that the Japanese victory was in major part a fluke. For example, the Russian shell landed exactly on the bridge of the Japanese flagship Mikasa... but didn't explode. Had it worked as specified, it would've killed not only Adm. Heihachiro Togo, the Japanese CO, but also all his staff, including his flag lieutenant, one Isoroku Yamamoto...

    The Russians entered peace negotiations, and had to leave Manchuria. In 1910, Japan would take Korea.

    This was a national humiliation, and made Europe take notice; it was the first defeat of a (semi-)European power by an Asian one in modern times. Though the most bitter irony of it all was that Russia admitted defeat in a war that it was actually winning -- while suffering from several serious tactical defeats like Mukden and Tsushima, the strategic Russian position was virtually unassailable. The Siberian Railroad allowed it to supply its army by land, out of the threat of Japanese Navy, Port Arthur could be held almost indefinitely, and Vladivostok was widely considered so impregnable that it was never actually attacked -- the only action there was one token shelling that killed a couple of cows.

    In Japan, on the other hand, the situation was so dire that the kids and the geezers began to be drafted, the food reserves were running historical lows, the government debt skyrocketed and the country was actually on the brink of collapse. However, the indecisiveness of the generals, the defeatism of the press (it was controlled by liberal intelligentsia that in Russia had a history of vitriolic hatred to any government) and general remoteness of the action meant that the war was begun to be perceived as lost in Russia.

    In short, Russia simply threw up a fight -- and a guy who surrendered Port Arthur was later court-martialed for treason, but acquitted for political reasons. The peace talks were also dominated by Russian so much, that one of the Japanese envoys famously wondered who actually won there. However, war did much to bring the populace trust in the government to a historic low.

    Other events were already in motion...

    Pulling the trigger on the revolution -- and the crowd

    There were a series of large-scale strikes going on in St. Petersburg, leading to a lack of electricity and newspapers.

    On 9 January, a peaceful protest, led by an Orthodox priest (and Okhranka double agent) named Gapon, marched on the winter palace. Cavalry opened fire, there were stampedes and hundreds of people died. Nicholas II was out of the city, but it permanently damaged his reputation. Strikes, riots and terrorism broke out all over Russia.

    There was a mutiny on The Battleship Potemkin, where the officers were murdered and the crew sailed the ship to Romania. The famous "Odessa Steps" sequence shown in the famous movie of the same name commissioned by the USSR in 1925 (celebrating its 20th anniversary) did not actually happen.

    In Moscow and St. Petersburg, workers soviets (the word "soviet" literally means council in Russian) were set up.

    The government bought off the liberals with the October Manifesto - which granted some democratic concessions, including the establishmennt of an elected legislature (the Duma) - and the peasants via cancelling mortage repayments (redemption fees) which had caused them problems, which distracted everyone long enough to send in the army to destroy the soviets.

    If the opponents of the tsar thought the autocracy was weakened by these concessions, they were in for a disappointment. Almost immediately after the October Manifesto was promulgated, the Tsar passed the Fundamental Laws - which basically eliminated the legislative powers of the Duma by giving the Tsar and his cronies on the State Council a veto - and negotiated a substantial loan from the French that secured the regime financially. So, some changes had been made, but not enough yet to threaten Tsar Nick's supreme position too badly.

    The revolutionaries... were pretty much nowhere to be found. Only Trotsky played a noticeable role in the whole thing.


    Rather "Felonious" Monk, and his possible toadies

    Whether or not he was Russia's greatest love machine is a subject for historical speculation, as is his precise role in the whole revolution. He certainly played a role though, albeit inadvertently. From historical records, however, it seems he at least has a serious case for the title of "greatest love machine". Grigori Rasputin's force of will and unique personality seemed to endear himself to many a noble lady who should have known better, and his willingness to blend sex and Christianity may have been enough to convince his would-be lovers that it was God's will.

    • There's still controversy about how much truth and how much rumors made Rasputin's sexual adventures, ranging from "nothing" to "all and more" with authors mostly biased toward one or other version depending on attitudes to Orthodox Christianity and Radicals.

    Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were apparently rather a frisky couple, having 9 kids, a lot even by Victorian standards. These were married off among the royal houses of Europe and produced 40 grandchildren. The most important of these for this event was Alexandra Fyodorovna Romanova, consort of Nicholas II. She was German, which would be relevant later, but there was something else that would be relevant.

    Victoria and her daughter Alice (Alexandra's mother) were carriers of haemophilia. While that genetic disease only manifests itself in men, men can only inherit it from their carrier mothers (although some cases are spontaneous mutations - Victoria likely was one of these). By Victoria's time it was known that the daughters of haemophiliac men will always be carriers, and every daughter of a female carrier has a 50% chance of being a carrier herself. It was therefore known at the time that Alexandra could be a carrier, and if this had been an arranged marriage - well, it wouldn't have been arranged at all. But Nicholas and Alexandra chose each other and married for love, and loved each other deeply and truly from the first day they met to the very end.

    And yes, Alexandra did turn out to be a carrier. Whether any of her daughters would have been carriers as well will never likely be known, but her son Alexei Nikolaevich suffered from the disease. Enter the faith healer who would help him: Grigory Rasputin. The common way to treat haemophilia of the time was aspirin, which as a potent blood thinner was one of the worst things to give to a hemophiliac. Rasputin may have advised against its use, so Alexei got visibly better.

    Although it's vanishingly unlikely that Rasputin and Alexandra ever had a sexual relationship, their enemies spread libels about them using every method at their hands. Of course, one of the tricks in the bag of any republican revolutionary is to make the queen out to be a scheming foreign whore. (Worked with Marie Antoinette too.)

    Nonetheless, Rasputin's ability (or sheer luck) in keeping Alexei alive quickly made him intimate with the Imperial family, and he was very good at taking advantage of this to insert himself (har, har, har...) into high society. The aristocracy was not on board with this development, of course. When World War I started, his power grew even bigger due to Nicky being hen-pecked (and willingly so), Alexandra more than willing to give marching orders to her husband, and Rasputin having Alexandra's ear in pretty much everything. It eventually came to pass that if you wanted to get an exemption from military duty, or any other favor from the Tsar, you went to Rasputin, who would give advice to Alexandra, which would more than likely get the Tsar to do what you asked, even if it meant violating the laws he set down. Absolute power is nifty, isn't it?

    Eventually, Prince Felix Yusupov, a rather peculiar and somewhat... delicate noble, decided that enough was enough and that Rasputin had to be dealt with. He and a group of conspirators eventually managed to convince Rasputin to come to his house to meet his wife and engage in some partying. When Rasputin arrived, despite warnings not to attend, he was told that Yusupov's wife was still entertaining guests and that he could wait downstairs. Felix fed him some cakes with potassium cyanide inside.

    When the poison did not take effect (which could attest to Rasputin's inhuman endurance, the carbohydrates of the cakes slowing the process down, or perhaps poor planning in choosing such a bizarre and untested poison), Yusupov eventually lost patience and shot Rasputin. Apparently, this did not kill Rasputin either, as he regained consciousness once more. After some more shots and a swift kick to the head, it seemed as if he was finished, and the conspirators proceeded to dispose of the body. There is good evidence at this point to suggest Yusupov, who was quite upset at how far from the plan the assassination had gone at this point, proceeded to beat and, perhaps, castrate the corpse. Finally, at around 5:30 in the morning, the body was disposed of over the Petrovsky bridge.

    Hilariously enough, once the body was found and an autopsy was preformed water was found in the lungs, which may have meant that Rasputin was still alive until he drowned in the river. A recent study concluded that the third shot (to the head) was what killed him.

    Yusopov and his conspirators were found and exiled, and the investigation was still ongoing when the revolution occurred and put paid to investigating anything about the Imperial family.

    As a final note, Rasputin claimed that if he was killed by a member of the royal family, said royal family would follow him shortly. When he died and Nicky and his family refused to drop dead, this was considered the final proof that he was nothing but a faker. 18 months later, however, they were executed as a matter of tying up loose ends, and the rest is history.

    Duma Locomotion

    The Tsarist regime had decided to let the opposition have a little drive in the royal vehicle, hoping that it would calm them down and prevent Grand Theft Autocracy. It didn't work, partly because they'd locked the glove compartment (considering the original purpose of it, it rather restricted the opposition).

    The Duma would be set up with two chambers. The first was elected via a very strange method that essentially meant that the votes of an individual nobleman were worth far more than that of individual peasants (of course). The second (the State Council) was appointed by the Tsar.

    The first elections to the Duma were largely won by the liberals and the reformists, with the Kadets making up the majority party.

    Ordering Stolypin's Necktie: The First Duma

    When the first Duma met in 1906, they were rather bitter. They felt, rightly, that they'd been cheated and wanted an increase in rights. The autocracy told them this wasn't going to happen. After two months, Nicky ordered the Duma to be dissolved. Annoyed at this, 200 deputies met in Vyborg (later Finland) and urged the people of the Russian Empire not pay their taxes or obey conscription orders.

    This didn't quite work. Instead of passive disobedience, they got active disobedience -- violence. The regime had a good excuse for repression. The Vyborg group were arrested and barred from standing again. Pyotr Stolypin was appointed as chief minister and martial law was declared. There were over 2,500 executions in 5 years, leading to the hangman's noose being called "Stolypin's necktie".

    The Kadets Fail Politics: The Second Duma

    Another Duma was elected, meeting in February 1907. The Kadets had discredited themselves through their association with Stolypin, leading extremists on both sides to dominate the situation.

    Stolypin, despite his repression, was willing to deal with the Duma on reforms. He implemented a land reform policy, allowing peasants to leave the commune and have patches of consolidated land (like Western Europe) rather than engage in strip farming, as well as encouraging voluntary resettlement in places like Siberia. Wanting to preserve tsarism, he called this a "wager on the strong", hoped that it would de-revolutionise the peasants and said that it needed 20 years to work. Stolypin was assassinated in 1911, and the First World War meant it got eight, and it wasn't working anyway. Peasants were reluctant to leave the commune for uncertain individual farms and only 10% of land was consolidated by 1914.

    Some historians have since pointed to the gradual development of a slightly more prosperous class of peasants known as kulaks as evidence that the wager on the strong may have worked eventually, but without Stolypin's influence, nobody in the government had much interest in making it work. In any case, the kulaks were eventually purged by Stalin twenty years down the line.

    The Marxists get Bolshie

    There had been rather a disagreement in the Social Democrats for a while over how to get a revolution in Russia and who should be admitted to the party. The main parties were George Plekhanov vs. a man named Vladimir Ulyanov, who is far better known by his revolutionary pseudonym - Lenin. Plekhanov's arguments were supported by a Ukrainian named Lev Bronstein, who was himself better known by the name Leon Trotsky.

    In 1903, the issue had come to a head at a meeting of the Social Democrats in London. The SD congress was evenly split, but after a series of votes had gone in his favour, Lenin felt he represented the majority, and his group became known as the Bolsheviks (from the Russian word Bolshoi {as in the USSR Bolshoi Opera} for "majority"). The group led by Martov, Lenin's co-editor on the party paper Iskra, became the Mensheviks (from the Russian Menshoi for "minority").

    The differences hardened, resulting in two different parties:

    • Mensheviks, who held to the standard Marxist view that Russia was not ready for the revolution of the proletariat and had to go through the bourgeois revolution first, which would facilitate industrialisation and the consequent expansion of the working class. Their party should be open to all, run democratically, work with everyone else to bring about the revolutions and place a certain focus on social reform to ease the conditions for the growing working class.
    • Bolsheviks, who felt that the two revolutions could be merged into one. Party membership should be limited (to prevent disruptive influences getting in), the Central Committee should run everything, and there should be no co-operation with other parties.

    The Third and Fourth Dumas

    Compared with their predecessors, these Dumas were not exceptionally notable, mostly thanks to the effects of Stolypin's rigging the vote to ensure that parties sympathetic to the Tsar made up a majority. Perhaps for this reason, these Dumas lasted a bit longer than the first two because the Tsar had less reason to object to them.

    Firing The Guns of August

    When Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot in Sarajevo and Austria made a move on Serbia, Russia made a move on Austria. Slavs United and all. Germany then made a move on Russia, decided to make a move on France via Belgium, so Britain moved on Germany. This all started World War I.

    Speaking of moving, there was far more movement on the Eastern Front than on the others. In the early stages of the war, Russian successes led to Germany having to move two divisions over to that front, leading to the stalemate on the Western Front.

    Things didn't go quite so well from then on in.

    How Not To Fight A War

    Imperial Russia was dreadfully unprepared for war. Although its soldiers fought bravely, they were poorly trained, attacking in massed waves that were mowed down by the ruthlessly efficient German machine guns. The Russians were also plagued with logistical problems: bullets had to be rationed to prevent the soldiers from running out of ammunition; Germany had many more railroads than Russia, which meant it could ferry troops and supplies to the front much more quickly; the trains themselves could be bogged down in the mud, as they were at Archangel; and the soldiers were even reduced to cutting down telegraph poles for firewood. Oh, and the Russians commanders were Modern Major Generals, when they weren't General Failures. Although the Russians had some initial success against Austria-Hungary, this was mostly due to the fact that the sad-sack Austro-Hungarians were even more of a Redshirt Army than the Russians themselves. To say that It Got Worse when the highly trained and well-equpped forces of Imperial Germany joined the fray is an understatement of Biblical proportions. 1.7 million Russians would die in the war, with 5.9 million wounded.

    Nicholas II took over personal command of the military campaign in 1915. A make or break decision; Tsar Nick was now personally responsible for any further Russian defeats, so the security of the royal family relied on the success of the army. This also meant that the Tsarina, Alexandra was in charge back in St. Petersburg Petrograd. As we've mentioned earlier, she was German, so the name was changed to a Russified version since people were suspicious of German names by then, especially with her in charge.

    Mir, Kleb, Zemlya! (Peace, Bread, Land!)

    To top it all, there was a famine developing in Russia. With food being diverted to the front, rotting in the sidings or being forcibly requisitioned by the army, popular unrest was growing.

    The February Revolution

    In January 1917, General Krimov told the President of the Duma, Michael Rodzianko, that the army no longer had faith in the Tsar and would support a revolution. Rodzianko didn't take action, but warned Nicholas that the situation was in trouble. Nicholas responded by ordering the Duma to disband.

    Commodity prices increased six-fold and strikes broke out en masse. The use of force to end the strikes was authorised, but many units refused to obey orders and mutinied. As noted above, Nicholas attempted to close down the Duma, but its members refused to leave, Rodzianko telling Nicholas to appoint a government that had the people's confidence. Nicholas did not respond and a Provisional Government was established regardless. At last, Nicholas officially offered to share power with the Duma, but they basically told him to get stuffed; his efforts were too little, too late.

    At this point, the High Command told Nicholas II the game was very much up and that he should abdicate in favour of his young son. He did so, but the throne was offered to Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, who declined it. The Tsarist dynasty was over.

    To Be Continued in the Red October...

    Depictions in fiction