Russia and Revolution Keynotes

Sample from Chapter 4

The collapse of Tsarist Russia

The mad chauffeur - the journey towards disaster

"Imagine you are driving down a steep and narrow mountain road. . . .Suddenly you realize that your chauffeur is unable to drive . . The chauffeur refuses to give way . . .he clings to the wheel and will not give way to anybody. . . One error in taking a turn, or an awkward movement of his hand, and the car is lost. . . So you will leave the steering-wheel in the hands of the chauffeur . . . you will try not to hinder . . . you will even help him with advice . . . "

Vasilii Maklakov (Kadet member of the Duma)

September 1915

The state of things

  • Shortages of food, basic household items and fuel supplies were becoming serious
  • The transport system was grinding to a halt
  • There was widespread corruption in the government and its military suppliers
  • Social disorder and crime was increasing
  • There was the endless slaughter and defeat in war
  • There was a growing sense of panic and hysteria amongst the general public
  • The Tsar and his government were spoken of with undisguised contempt
  • Maxim Gorky said: "More and more people are behaving like animals and madmen. They spread stupid rumours and this creates an atmosphere of universal fear which poisons even the intelligent"

The Tsarina

  • A pro-German clique around the Tsarina was believed to be working for Russia's defeat
  • The Tsarina was commonly called "German woman"
  • Rasputin was making anti-war statements
  • Anti-German riots erupted in Moscow in June 1915 - German shops and offices were burned and looted
  • The Tsar had appointed Boris Stürmer to the combined post of Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Minister of the Interior and Supreme Minister of State Defence - in other words a virtual dictator
  • It was claimed that the Tsarina and Rasputin were working for the Germans
  • It was also claimed that the palace had a radio link to Berlin
  • The Tsarina was accused of being the mistress of Rasputin and sexually corrupt
  • There is no evidence to support any of these rumours - but that is not the point - rumours can be as damaging as the truth
  • The revolutionary crisis was made worse by these rumours
  • Identifying the court as German helped identify the revolutionary movement as patriotic
  • In his opening speech to the Duma on 1 November 1916, Pavel Miliukov, a moderate, condemned the government, listing its abuses of power and ending each point with "Is this folly or treason?"
  • Most people answered "treason"


  • By the end of 1916, many saw the relationship between the Tsar,Tsarina and Rasputin as poisonous and destructive to Russia
  • Plots were hatched to remove the Tsar, lock the Tsarina in a mental asylum and remove Rasputin
  • Rasputin had been responsible for the appointment of Stürmer, Protopopov and Shuvaev to the most important posts in the government
  • He was suspected of meddling in military affairs - he had given advice in November 1915 through the Tsarina
  • "I must give you a message from our Friend . . . He begs you to advance near Riga . . . . otherwise the Germans will settle down so firmly for the winter . . ."
  • On the advice of Rasputin, A. D. Protopopov, who was seen by the Tsar and Tsarina as a "Duma man", was appointed as a minister
  • He was probably mad, certainly vain and inept but was a protégé of Rasputin to whom he paid 1 000 roubles a month from the funds of the Police Department
  • The Prime Minister, A.F. Trepov, attempted to remove Rasputin with a 200 000 rouble bribe and a monthly allowance to leave the capital
  • Rasputin strengthened his position by informing the Tsarina and Trepov was duly removed

"For a dog, a dog's death"

  • As a consequence, a plot was hatched to murder Rasputin
  • It centred around Prince Felix Yusopov who recruited Vasilii Maklakov and Vladimir Purishkevich, both members of the Duma, Lazavert, a young army doctor, and Grand Duke Dmitrii, a member of the Imperial family
  • Rasputin was murdered on December 16, 1916
  • The Tsarina wrote to Nicholas "I cannot & won't believe He has been killed. God have mercy."
  • In Petrograd, Rasputin's death was celebrated by both the rich and the poor - "For a dog, a dog's death"
  • When General Voeikov, the Tsar's aide, gave Nicholas the news he described the Tsar's reaction:

" . . . I did not observe any signs of sorrow . . . (but) a sense of relief"

  • Contrary to their intentions, the assassins found that Rasputin's death only pushed the Tsar closer to the Tsarina and confirmed the correctness of her argument that there could be no compromises

The growing disruption of the rear

  • By late 1916, opposition to the autocracy had spread to include the workers, peasants, the middle class, intellectuals and even members of the royal family
  • In October 1916, the Chief of Police of the Petrograd Province commented in an official report that the:

" growing disruption of the rear " was so bad that " . . . . it promises in the very near future to plunge the country into the destructive chaos of catastrophe and elemental anarchy"

  • He identified a number of key factors:

1. the collapse of transport

2. "unrestrained" pillaging and swindling

3. the irregular distribution of food and other products

4. wage levels had not kept up with price increases

5. food shortages

6. excessively long queues of people waiting to buy basic foodstuffs

7. increased incidence of disease

8. unsanitary living conditions

9. rumours among the peasants of corruption and treason

10. growing war weariness

  • These, he states, have "made the workers as a whole prepared for the wildest excesses of "a hunger riot' "

The Guchkov coup

  • A. L. Guchkov was a prominent member of the Duma, leader of the Octobrist Party and chairman of the influential War Industries Committee
  • He realized that a revolution from "below" could have disastrous consequences for Russia
  • He decided to engineer a "palace coup" and change Russia from an autocracy and into a constitutional monarchy
  • He believed that stability could only be achieved as a result of the abdication of the Tsar in favour of his son Alexei (with Grand Duke Mikhail, the Tsar's brother, as regent)
  • Senior army officers were recruited into the conspiracy along with prominent politicians and leaders
  • Events soon made the plot irrelevant - the February revolution saw the abdication of the Tsar and the collapse of the autocracy

End of sample