There have not been many instances in history which were so significant not only for the national situation but also for the events being played on international scene as the February Revolution in Russia. As far as outcomes are concerned, the end of Tsardom as one of them, historians are quite in agreement. However, there is a strong division between those who believe that the Great War (1914-1918) destroyed Tsarism or merely accelerated its destruction. Some historians argue that the war was the primary reason for the Tsar’s downfall. Steve Smith (2002), believes, with an optimist’s perspective, that by 1914 Russia was beginning a slow process of Westernisation, bringing economic stability and protection of the monarchy. More pessimistic historians argue that movements ignored by the Tsar had already ensured his fall from power, that the war was merely a catalyst or even, some including historian Steve Wright (1984) argue, delayed Tsarism’s inevitable collapse. It will be argued below in favour of the latter.
The alienation of the Tsar from his people, caused by his refusal to adapt to a rapidly changing Empire created a serious social and political grievances in Russia at the beginning of XX century. World War One exacerbated these grievances to the point at which they overpowered all loyalty to the Emperor and destroyed the monarchy. The question is how the European conflict influenced the destruction of the regime. However, it was not war itself but more underlying factors contributed to the outbreak of the February Revolution in 1917.
Nineteenth century Russia was a vast country stretching from the Eastern European lowlands, across the Ural Mountains, plains of Siberia reaching Japanese islands in the east. Approximately 110 million people lived in Russia in 1900, almost 90% of which were peasant farmers, three million were industrial workers, about a million made up the aristocracy and slightly fewer from the professional classes. In contrast to the other Great Powers, Russia was socially and economically backward, although it was beginning to undergo fast industrialisation in the cities. Most of the society lived an almost medieval existence of dependence upon the soil and the local aristocracy. By 1900 the peasantry was growing rapidly and there was a hunger for land that was predominantly in the hands of the aristocracy.
Living conditions were still poor. The rapid industrial growth and the fast growth of the population (from 125 million in 1987 to 173 million in 1913) caused problems as it enlarged the working class and drew labourers from the countryside, putting strain on antiquated urban infrastructure and overstretching farmers. This countered any improvement in the standard of living brought about by a stronger economy. Russia may have been stabilising, but it was not yet stable enough to withstand war. Moreover, the famine which resulted in food shortages further compounded the dissatisfaction of the proletariat and led to strikes and ultimately to 1905 revolution. The war therefore served to exacerbate problems which were already present.
Although enormous, Russia was not as strong as it looked on the map in 1914. Nicholas II commanded a huge army, but its lack of supplies and poor leadership, especially after the Tsar assumed sole command, left it relatively weak in comparison to the German army. Russia had suffered a defeat to Japan in 1905 and it did not seem to have learnt any lessons. The Russian soldiers were ill equipped to fight the Germans and Austro-Hungarians on the Eastern Front (just slightly more than half of them had rifles! (Wade, 2005).
Initially Russia had done well in the First World War, but by 1916 these successes had been reversed and the Russian army was pushed back. Tsar Nicholas II then decided…