The making of modern russia



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THE MAKING OF MODERN RUSSIA
1856-1964

THE MAKING OF MODERN RUSSIA

1856-1964


1.

Introduction

• Basic geography of Russia and her neighbours.

• Outline of Russia culture and history – key turning points.



2.

How successful were Alexander II’s reforms, 1855–1881?

• The motives for the reforms of Alexander II, including the emancipation of the serfs

• The impact of Alexander II’s reforms on Russian society

• The extent to which Alexander became a reactionary before 1881

• The significance of opposition to the Tsarist regime



3.

How much political, social and economic change took place, 1881–1904?

• The impact of industrialisation in Russia: the work of Vyshnedgradsky and Witte

• The problems of the rural economy

• The growth of internal opposition from liberals and revolutionaries, including the Social Democrats

• The personal rule of Nicholas II and its impact on Russia’s stability



4.

Why was there a Revolution in 1905?

• War with Japan and the causes of the 1905 Revolution

• The 1905 Revolutions: the part played by liberals, revolutionaries and nationalists

• The response of the Tsarist regime: Pobedonostsev, Witte and the October Manifesto and the promise of reforms

• Fundamental Law, the Dumas; repression and reform under Stolypin

• The response of the Tsarist regime: repression and the recovery of Tsarist authority

• The political, economic and social situation of Russia on the eve of war.



5.

How far did Nicholas II reform Russia, 1906–1914?

• Character, attitude and abilities of Nicholas II;

• The work of the Dumas

• The agrarian reforms under Prince Stolypin

• Economic development in Russia to 1914

• The condition of Russia in 1914


6.

Why were there two Revolutions in 1917?

• The impact of the First World War: defeats, losses, economic dislocation, food shortages, transport problems, inflation

• The collapse of Tsardom - Tsar’s leadership; Rasputin; criticism in the duma

• The February/March 1917 Revolution

• Provisional Government and Petrograd Soviet; return of exiles and April Theses; July Days; Kornilov revolt

• The October/ November 1917 Revolution; roles of Lenin and Trotsky.


7.

How well did Lenin tackle the problems he faced, 1917 and 1924?

• Constituent Assembly.

• Civil War: White forces, foreign intervention, Red army, ‘war communism’

• Murder of Tsar; Red Terror; Kronstadt Rising

• NEP; constitution and government

• Strengths and weaknesses of Lenin as leader.


8.

How did Stalin rise to power?


• Character and abilities of Stalin

• Stalin’s rise to power between the Death of Lenin and the beginning of the Second Revolution of 1928–1929

• Stalin’s defeat of the Left and Right opposition and establishment of personal rule between 1924 and 1929 - rivalries in communist party; Trotsky, Bukharin, Kamenev, Zinoviev

• Stalin’s tactics; ‘socialism in one country’ v. ‘permanent revolution’



9.

How successful were Stalin’s economic plans?

• The state of the NEP economy in 1928

• Stalin’s motives in launching rapid economic change

• Agricultural Revolution, 1928–1941 - Collectivisation and the war against the peasantry between 1928 and the early 1930s - kulaks, voluntary and forced collectivisation

• Industrialisation, 1928–1941 – Gosplan, Mechanisation, industrialisation and the first two Five Year Plans;

• The successes and failures of the first three Five Year Plans, 1928–1941 - economic, social and political effects of collectivisation and Five Year Plans.

• The impact of industrialisation on the Soviet economy and society to 1941

• The impact of collectivisation on the Soviet economy and society to 1941


10

What was the impact of Stalin’s Terror on the Russian people?

• The Terror State, 1934–1941 - propaganda and Cult of Personality, growth of police state (OGPU, NKVD, purges and gulags).

• The Kirov murder, 1934, and its effects

• The motives for the purges and the Great Terror

• The role of Stalin and other key individuals in the Terror

• The impact of the Terror on the Party, the armed services and the Soviet population as a whole

• The role and impact of Stalinist propaganda

• The impact of Stalinism on ideology, culture and society

• The strengths and weaknesses of the USSR on the eve of war in 1941

• What was ‘Stalinism’ and its overall impact on the USSR in this period?


11.

How far did the Great Patriotic War unite Russia, 1941–1953?


• The impact on the USSR of German invasion and Nazi ideology from 1941; Stalin’s role in the management

of the war effort; the nature of the wartime Soviet economy; the actions of the Communist regime to enlist mass patriotism for the war effort, including propaganda and religious concessions

• The extent of wartime opposition within the USSR and the Stalinist regime’s treatment of opposition; the

relationship between the Soviet people and Stalin’s regime by the time victory was achieved in 1945

• High Stalinism: Stalin’s dictatorship, 1945–1953; the cult of personality; economic recovery after 1945; the

impact of Cold War politics on the USSR



12.

How successfully did Khrushchev reform the Soviet Union, 1953–1964?

• The emergence of new leaders after the death of Stalin, and Khrushchev’s victory in the power struggle

• The 1956 Party Congress and reaction to Khrushchev’s ‘secret speech’

• Khrushchev’s leadership; Khrushchev’s motives for industrial and agrarian reforms and their impact; the reasons for the ousting of Khrushchev in 1964

• The impact of Destalinisation within the USSR and on Soviet relations with the satellite states




Unit 4: Historical Enquiry
In this unit you will carry out a historical enquiry. This enquiry will be based on a period of at least 100 years. While your teacher will teach a broad overview of the chosen period, you will be able to select an aspect within this period which particularly interests you, upon which to base your enquiry.
For example you could choose to base your enquiry on the significance of a particular individual or event. You will need to examine significance of the chosen factor, both in the short-term (about 20 years) and across the whole period studied.
Focus of the course:


  • Similarities and differences between the rule of the Tsars and Communist rule.

  • The impact on the peasantry of the main economic changes throughout the period.

You will learn about:


• The nature of Tsarist rule in Russia, 1856-1917.

• The structure of the Soviet system.

• The attempt to reform Stalin’s Russia to 1964.

• A comparison between dictators, Communist leaders and Tsars.


What will you have to hand in?
Two pieces of coursework, each about 2000 words.
Part A – an extended essay (2000 words) on the short-term significance of a key event or individual within the period of study.
‘Short-term’ means from 12 months up to 20 years.
You will use contemporary sources to help your answer.
Part B – an extended essay (2000 words) which focuses on EITHER the significance of a specific factor or the role of an individual in bringing about change across the whole 100 year+ period OR whether or not a particular event was the key turning point in the period.


Your coursework!
Part A
Choose from ...
Assess the short-term significance of Tsar Alexander II for Russia’s government and people, 1861-81?
or
Assess the short-term significance of Vladimir Lenin for Russia’s government and people, 1917-24?
or
Assess the short-term significance of Joseph Stalin for Russia’s government and people, 1928-41?

Part B
To what extent you do consider that the revolutions of 1917 were the key turning point in the development of a modern Russian state, 1856-1964?

Assess the short-term significance of Tsar Alexander II for the Russian government and people, 1861-81?
An English traveller, Sir Donald Mackenzie Wallace writing in 1905

The Crimean war had shown Russia’s problems; poor communication; undeveloped resources, hopeless or dishonest officials and an education system that could not produce even a good army.

There was so much to be done it was hard to decide what to do first. Administrative, judicial, social, economic, and political reforms seemed all equally pressing. Gradually, however, it became evident that precedence must be given to the question of serfdom. So long as serfs existed, it was a mockery to talk about reorganising Russia. How could a system of even-handed justice be introduced when millions of the peasantry were subject to the arbitrary will of the landowners?
Tsar Alexander II (March 1856), talking to nobles in Moscow

But of course, you understand that the existing order of serfdom cannot remain unchanged. It is better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait for the time when it will begin to abolish itself from below.


Alexander II’s Declaration of Emancipating the Serfs (1861)

We, Alexander II, by the grace of God Tsar and Autocrat of all the Russias, King of Poland, Grand Duke of Finland, etc., make known to all our faithful subjects...

The peasants now bound to the soil shall, be given the full rights of freemen. The landowners, shall retain all the rights of ownership over all their lands, but shall transfer to the peasants, the full use of their cottages, farm buildings, and gardens. Furthermore, in order to assure to the peasants their subsistence, the landlords shall turn over to the peasants a quantity of arable and other land. In return for these allotments the peasant families shall be required to pay rent to the landlords. Under these conditions, which are temporary, the peasants shall be designated as "temporarily owned."
Boris Chicherin, History of Political Theories (1868)

Alexander was called upon to execute one of the hardest tasks which can confront an autocratic ruler; to completely remodel the enormous state which had been entrusted to his care, to abolish an age – old order founded on slavery, to replace it with civic decency and freedom, to establish justice in a country which had never known the meaning of legality, to redesign the entire administration to introduce freedom of the press in the context of untrammelled authority, to call new forces to life at every turn and set them on firm legal foundations to put a repressed and humiliated society on its feet and to give it the chance to flex its muscles.


Peter Kropotkin witnessed the assassination of Alexander II in 1881

He passed close by a young man, who detonated a bomb to kill both himself and Alexander II. There Alexander II lay upon the snow, bleeding heavily, abandoned by every one of his followers. Thus ended the tragedy of Alexander II's life. People could not understand how it was possible that a Tsar who had done so much for Russia should have met his death at the hands of revolutionaries. I witnessed the first steps of Alexander II becoming a reactionary and his gradual deterioration ...



Alexander II Liberator, from Russia Now magazine, 2006

Censorship was relaxed, new education programmes drafted, independent press flourished. But the Tsar realised he had to go far beyond that. Alexander began to think of bringing an end to serfdom – an immense task advocated by many liberal intellectuals but fiercely opposed by landowners. But he pushed ahead with the reform and in 1861 Russia became one of the last countries in Europe to shake off serfdom. The change spurred other innovations – education and judicial reforms followed, an elaborate scheme of local self-government in large towns and rural districts was set up. The economy was boosted, railway construction boomed, trade soared, banks and factories sprang up across the country.


Jaffer Zaidi, Alexander’s Domestic Policy (1997)

Alexander II’s next major reform was the introduction of the principle of the rule of law throughout Russia, and basic judicial reforms in 1864. Alexander II was aware that the judicial system promoted anything but justice for the lower classes - his view was definitely a unique one in comparison to past Tsars, but it can be explained by his Western education. Furthermore, the status quo made it easy for judges to be bribed, as they were paid low salaries. His concern was that the discrepancies in the judicial system infuriated the lower classes, creating much anti-government feelings. By instituting a jury system in the Russian courts, and by raising the salaries of the judges, Alexander II almost completely eliminated the problem.


Matt Thompson, Reforms of Alexander (2006)

These reforms improved the army, which was Alexander’s goal, yet they failed to solve domestic problems. The emancipation didn't bring on any significant change in the condition of the peasants. In some regions it took peasants nearly 20 years to obtain their land. As Russia became more industrialised, larger, and far more complicated, the inadequacies of autocratic Tsarist rule became increasingly apparent.


Russell Sherman, Russia 1815-81, 2002

The majority of historians would agree that Alexander II’s period of rule was of great significance. However, agreement can be reached on little else . . . Alexander did implement more far-reaching reform than any of his predecessors, with the possible exception of Peter the Great. He certainly implemented more reform than any of his successors . . . Russia was transformed from a semi-feudal society into (at least) a putative modern state. It was an impressive achievement by any standards. In many ways, therefore, he was both a liberator and a constructive reformer.


Geoffrey Hosking, Russia: People and Empire 1552-1917, 1997

Alexander II’s reforms had severely shaken the traditional personalised power structure but had not managed consistently to replace it with institutions of civil society or the rule of law. To plug the resulting authority gap, the regime had nothing else at hand but the police, backed up by emergency powers. Having set out to demolish an old building and erect a new one, Alexander had then changed his mind and started repairing the ruins: the resultant hybrid architecture threatened the equilibrium of the entire edifice.


Assess the short-term significance of Vladimir Lenin for the Russian government and people, 1917-24?
Lenin, instructions issued to the Bolsheviks on 6th November, 1917.

I am writing these lines on the evening of November 6th. The situation is critical in the extreme. It is absolutely clear that to delay the revolution now will be inevitably fatal. I exhort my comrades with all my heart and strength to realise that everything now hangs by a thread, that we are being confronted by problems that cannot be solved by conferences and congresses (even Congresses of Soviets) but exclusively by the people, the masses, by the struggle of the armed masses. We must at all costs, this very evening, this very night, arrest the Government, first disarming the nobles and so forth. We must not wait! We will lose everything!


Decrees from Lenin, (October and November, 1917)

All private ownership of land is abolished immediately without compensation. All landowners' estates and all lands belonging to the Crown, to monasteries, church lands with all their livestock and buildings, are confiscated.

So-called "freedom of the press" will not be re-established. The return of printing presses and paper would be surrender to the capitalists - poisoners of the people’s minds! - giving up of one of the most important conquests of the Revolution.
Lenin, State and Revolution (1917)

During the transition from Capitalism to Communism suppression is still necessary; but it is now the suppression of the exploiting minority by the exploited majority. A special machine for suppression is still necessary. However, it is now a transitory state; the suppression of the minority of exploiters by the majority of the wage-slaves of yesterday is comparatively so easy, simple and natural a task that it will entail far less bloodshed than the suppression of the risings of slaves, serfs or wage labourers, and it will cost mankind far less.


During the Civil war, Ernest Poole visited rural areas of Russia. He interviewed a farmer who was a member of a village cooperative.

“Our cooperative store has still quite a stock of goods, and the steadier peasants all belong. We have eighteen hundred members now. Of course, our progress has been blocked by the war and the revolution. The price of goods has gone up to ruinous rates. Already we are nearly out of horseshoes, axes, harrows, ploughs. Last spring we had not ploughs enough to do the needed ploughing, and that is why our crop is short. There are not enough crops in the district to take us through the winter, let alone to feed the towns. And so the town people will starve for awhile. Sooner or later, I suppose, they will finish with their arguing, start up their mills and factories, and make the ploughs and tools we need.”


Maxim Gorky, New Life (7th November, 1917)

Lenin and Trotsky and their followers already have been poisoned by the rotten venom of power. The proof of this is their attitude toward freedom of speech and of person and toward all the ideals for which democracy was fighting - it is a road toward anarchy.

Lenin and Trotsky and all who follow them are dishonouring the Revolution, and the working-class. They imagine themselves Napoleons of socialism. Workers who follow Lenin must understand that a pitiless experiment is being carried out with the Russian people which is going to destroy the best forces of the workers, and which will stop the normal growth of the Russian Revolution for a long time.

Victor Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary (1945)

The New Economic Policy was, in the space of a few months, already giving marvellous results. From one week to the next, the famine was diminishing perceptibly. Restaurants were opening again and, wonder of wonders, pastries which were actually edible were on sale. The public was beginning to recover its breath, and people talked about the return of capitalism, which was synonymous with prosperity. On the other hand, the confusion among the Bolshevik party members was staggering. “For what did we fight, spill so much blood, make so many sacrifices?” asked the Civil war veterans bitterly.


Official Soviet textbook (1934)

War Communism fully justified itself in conditions of civil war. But it would have been a mistake to insist on a continuance of the policy of War Communism after those circumstances had disappeared which had necessitated it. The New Economic Policy ... is the normal economic policy of the proletariat after revolution.


The Socialist Alternative’ website (2009)

Lenin is one of the most vilified figures in history. This is the inevitable fate of those who stand up and fight against the system of exploitation and oppression that is capitalism. To the rulers of the world, Lenin represents the ideas and the forces that threaten their wealth and power, their "right" to rule over and exploit the vast majority of humanity. But to those who suffer exploitation and oppression, who hate war and poverty, who thirst for justice and freedom and equality, Lenin is a hero. The Russian Revolution provided a practical demonstration that the organised working class can defeat the power of the capitalists and make a better world.


Robert Gellately, Lenin, Stalin and Hitler (2008)

Lenin remains entombed on Red Square as Russia's most distinguished corpse. There still exists the myth of the “good Lenin”. This myth ignores Lenin's cruelty, his illegal and brutal seizure of power, his glee in ordering executions, the institution of mass terror as a means of political control and the construction of the first camps in what later became the gulag. Far from perverting or undermining Lenin's legacy, as is sometimes assumed, Stalin was Lenin's logical heir.


Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution (1991)

Lenin owes his Historical prominence not to his statesmanship, which was of a very inferior order, but to his generalship. He was one of history’s great conquerors...he was the first head of state to treat domestic politics...as warfare, the objective of which was not to compel the enemy but to annihilate him. The Communist regime was a monumental failure: it succeeded in one thing only, staying in power.



Assess the short-term significance of Joseph Stalin for the Russian government and people, 1928-41?
Lenin’s Political Testament, 1923

Comrade Stalin, having become Secretary-General, has unlimited authority concentrated in his hands, and I am not sure whether he is capable of using that authority with sufficient caution. Comrade Trotsky, on the other hand...is perhaps the most capable man in the party. Stalin is too rude. That is why I suggest that the comrades remove Stalin and appoint another man in his stead who in all respects differs from Comrade Stalin; being more tolerant, more loyal, more polite and more considerate to the comrades, less capricious, etc.


Stalin, speech made to the First Conference of Workers, 1931

The history of the old Russia has consisted in being beaten again and again, because of her backwardness...military backwardness, industrial backwardness, agricultural backwardness. If we are backward and weak, we may be beaten and enslaved. But if we are powerful, people must beware of us. We are 50 to 100 years behind the advanced countries of the West. We must make up this gap in 10 years. Either we do this or they crush us.


Speech by writer A.O. Avdienko, published in Pravda, 1936

Generations to come will regard us as the happiest and most fortunate men, because we are contemporaries of a man who never had an equal in world History. Men of all ages will call on thy name, which is strong, beautiful, wise and marvellous. Thy name is engraved on every factory, machine, place on the earth, and in the hearts of all men. When the woman I love presents me with a child, the first word it shall utter will be: Stalin.



O great Stalin, O leader of the peoples,

Thou who broughtest man to birth.

Thou who makes bloom the spring,

Thou who makest vibrate the musical chords...
John Scott describes the building of Magnitogorsk in his autobiography Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia's City of Steel (1941)

In April it was still bitterly cold, everything was frozen. By May the city was swimming in mud. Plague had broken out. People were in poor health because of lack of food and overwork. Sanitary conditions were appalling. By the middle of May the heat had become intolerable...I was welding when something swished down past me. It was a rigger who had been working on the very top. He bounced off the pipe and landed on the main platform about below me.

...The Russian people shed blood, sweat, and tears to create something worthwhile, a modern industrial base and the foundations for a new society farther along the road of human progress than anything in the West; a society which would guarantee its people not only personal freedom but absolute economic security.
Statistics on Collectivisation, published 1936 – from the State Statistical Committee of the USSR




1928

1929

1930

1931

1932

1933

1934

1935

Grain Harvest (million tons)

73.3

71.7

83.5

69.5

69.6

68.4

67.6

75

Cattle

(million head)

70.5

67.1

52.5

47.9

40.7

38.4

42.4

49.3

Pigs

(million head)

26

20.4

13.6

14.4

11.6

12.1

17.4

22.6

Sheep/ goats

(million head)

148.7

147

108.8

77.7

52.1

50.2

51.9

61.1

NKVD report on the village of Donshino, 1937. The report lists 60 dead, 27 from hunger.

The Kinyakin family of non-kolkhoz peasants: Kinyakin himself died in December 1936. His wife died in January 1937, followed by his 15 year old daughter and 13 year old son. The Potemkin family of non-kolkhoz peasants: Potemkin himself left the village in search of work while his wife and six children remained in the village. Four of them died in January, the rest of them are bloated with hunger. The Lyubaev family of non-kolkhoz peasants: Lyubaev and his 17 year old daughter died; his wife and other two children are bloated...


Soviet school textbook (1976)

The Soviet people achieved so much in such a short time. This happened because all the country's wealth belongs to the working people who create this wealth. The Stakhanovite movement spread all over the country. Thousands of workers produced more than their quota. Miracles were created by the enthusiastic work of the Soviet people. These achievements were a cause of rejoicing not only to the Party, and not only to the workers and collective farmers, but also to our Soviet intelligentsia, and to all honest citizens of the Soviet Union. The people saw the completion of the construction of a classless, Socialist society.


Alexander Solzhenitsyn describes a 1938 Communist Party meeting in his memoir The Gulag Archipelago (1973)

At the end of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone leapt to his feet. However, who would dare to be the first to stop? After all, NKVD men were in the hall waiting to see who quit first. And in that obscure hall, unknown to the Leader, the applause went on – 6, 7, 8 minutes! They couldn’t stop now until they collapsed of heart attacks! Aware of the falsity of the situation, after 11 minutes, the director of the paper factory sat down in his seat. And a miracle took place! Everyone else stopped dead and sat down. That, however, was how they found who the independent people were. And that was how they set about eliminating them. They sent him to a gulag camp for ten years.


Alan Bullock, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (1991)

Stalin was obsessed by ‘gigantomania’. He demanded industrial complexes to be built on a scale beyond Russia’s resources to construct or operate. His obsession with size was matched by his unrelenting insistence on haste. Not only did he throw the Five Year Plan into chaos by doubling the figures, but he then demanded that it should be completed in four years. Confronted by failure to meet impossible dates and targets, Stalin denounced those responsible as guilty of sabotage, wrecking and conspiracy, providing him with convenient scapegoats. Stalin’s revolution from above was not the replacement of a capitalist by a socialist economy, but using the power of the state to launch an assault on a backward society. Centralisation allowed him to keep control.


Stephen F. Cohen, Bolshevism and Stalinism (1977)

Stalinism was excess, extraordinary extremism. It was not merely coercive peasant policies, but a virtual civil war against the peasantry. It was not merely police repression, but a holocaust by terror that victimised tens of millions of people. Not merely a leader cult, but the deification of a despot. Excesses were the essence of Stalinism.



Recommended Reading
Russia and the Russians – Geoffrey Hosking

The Russian Revolution, a People’s Tragedy - Orlando Figes

Penguin History of Modern Russia – Robert Service

The Modernisation of Russia – John Laver


Plus – anything on Russia in the LRC! There is a whole shelf...
Tsar Alexander II
Alexander, the eldest son of Tsar Nicholas I, was born in Moscow on 17th April, 1818. Educated by private tutors, he also had to endure rigorous military training that permanently damaged his health.http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/53/tsar_alexander_ii_-6.jpg
In 1841 he married Marie Alexandrovna, the daughter of the Grand Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt. Alexander became Tsar of Russia on the death of his father in 1855. At the time Russia was involved in the Crimean War and in 1856 signed the Treaty of Paris that brought the conflict to an end.
The Crimean War made Alexander realise that Russia was no longer a great military power. His advisers argued that Russia's serf-based economy could no longer compete with industrialized nations such as Britain and France.
Alexander now began to consider the possibility of bringing an end to serfdom in Russia. The nobility objected to this move but as Alexander told a group of Moscow nobles: "It is better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait for the time when it will begin to abolish itself from below.
In 1861 Alexander issued his Emancipation Manifesto that proposed 17 legislative acts that would free the serfs in Russia. Alexander announced that personal serfdom would be abolished and all peasants would be able to buy land from their landlords. The State would advance the the money to the landlords and would recover it from the peasants in 49 annual sums known as redemption payments.
Alexander also introduced other reforms and in 1864 he allowed each district to set up a Zemstvo. These were local councils with powers to provide roads, schools and medical services. However, the right to elect members was restricted to the wealthy.
Other reforms introduced by Alexander included improved municipal government (1870) and universal military training (1874). He also encouraged the expansion of industry and the railway network.
Alexander's reforms did not satisfy liberals and radicals who wanted a parliamentary democracy and the freedom of expression that was enjoyed in the United States and most other European states. The reforms in agricultural also disappointed the peasants. In some regions it took peasants nearly 20 years to obtain their land. Many were forced to pay more than the land was worth and others were given inadequate amounts for their needs.
Alexander was assassinated in 1881by terrorists of the ‘People’s Will’ organisation.
Vladimir Lenin (1870 - 1924)
Lenin was one of the leading political figures and revolutionary thinkers of the 20th century, who masterminded the Bolshevik take-over of power in Russia in 1917 and was the architect and first head of the Soviet state.vladimir lenin
Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov was born in Simbirsk on the Volga River on 22 April 1870 into a well educated family. He excelled at school and went on to study law. At university, he was exposed to radical thinking, and his views were also influenced by the execution of his elder brother, a member of a revolutionary group.
Expelled from university for his radical policies, Lenin completed his law degree as an external student in 1891. He moved to St Petersburg and became a professional revolutionary. Like many of his contemporaries, he was arrested and exiled to Siberia, where he married Nadezhda Krupskaya. After his Siberian exile, Lenin - the pseudonym he adopted in 1901 - spent most of the subsequent decade and a half in western Europe, where he emerged as a prominent figure in the international revolutionary movement and became the leader of the 'Bolshevik' faction of the Russian Social Democratic Worker's Party.
In 1917, exhausted by World War One, Russia was ripe for change. Assisted by the Germans, who hoped that he would undermine the Russian war effort, Lenin returned home and started working against the provisional government which had overthrown the tsarist regime. He eventually led what was soon to be known as the October Revolution, but was effectively a coup d'etat. Almost three years of civil war followed. The Bolsheviks were victorious and assumed total control of the country. During this period of revolution, war and famine, Lenin demonstrated a chilling disregard for the sufferings of his fellow countrymen and mercilessly crushed any opposition.
Although Lenin was ruthless he was also pragmatic. When his efforts to transform the Russian economy to a socialist model stalled, he introduced the New Economic Policy, where a measure of private enterprise was still permitted, a policy that continued for several years after his death. In 1918 Lenin survived an assassination attempt. His long term health was affected, and in 1922 he suffered a stroke from which he never really recovered. In his declining years, he worried about the bureaucratisation of the regime and also expressed concern over the increasing power of Stalin. Lenin died on 24 January 1924. His corpse was embalmed and placed in a mausoleum on Moscow's Red Square.
Joseph Stalin 1879-53

joseph stalin, 1922

One of the most powerful and murderous dictators in history, Stalin was the supreme ruler of the Soviet Union for a quarter of a century. His regime of terror caused the death and suffering of tens of millions, but he also oversaw the war machine that played a key role in the defeat of Nazism.


Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili was born on 18 December 1879 in Gori, Georgia, which was then part of the Russian empire. His father was a cobbler and Stalin grew up in modest circumstances. He studied at a theological seminary where he began to read Marxist literature. He never graduated, instead devoting his time to the revolutionary movement against the Russian monarchy. He spent the next 15 years as an activist and on a number of occasions was arrested and exiled to Siberia.
Stalin was not one of the decisive players in the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917, but he soon rose through the ranks of the party. In 1922, he was made general secretary of the Communist Party, a post not considered particularly significant at the time but which gave him control over appointments and thus allowed him to build up a base of support. After Lenin's death in 1924, Stalin promoted himself as his political heir and gradually outmanoeuvred his rivals. By the late 1920s, Stalin was effectively the dictator of the Soviet Union.
His forced collectivisation of agriculture cost millions of lives, while his programme of rapid industrialisation achieved huge increases in Soviet productivity and economic growth but at great cost. Moreover, the population suffered immensely during the Great Terror of the 1930s, during which Stalin purged the party of 'enemies of the people', resulting in the execution of thousands and the exile of millions to the gulag system of slave labour camps.
These purges severely depleted the Red Army, and despite repeated warnings, Stalin was ill prepared for Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941. His political future, and that of the Soviet Union, hung in the balance, but Stalin recovered to lead his country to victory. The human cost was enormous, but was not a consideration for him.
After World War Two, the Soviet Union entered the nuclear age and ruled over an empire which included most of eastern Europe. Increasingly paranoid, Stalin died of a stroke on 5 March 1953.
A short overview of Russian history
The Power of the Tsars - background

Russian Tsars had followed a fairly consistent policy of drawing more political power away from the nobility and into their own hands. This centralisation of authority in the Russian state had usually been accomplished in one of two ways--either by simply taking power from the nobles and braving their opposition, or by compensating the nobles for decreased power in government by giving them greater power over their land and its occupants. Serfdom, as this latter system was known, had increased steadily in Russia. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Russian Tsars enjoyed virtually autocratic rule over their nobles. However, they had in a sense purchased this power by granting those nobles virtually autocratic power over the serfs, who by this time had been reduced to a state closer to slavery than to peasantry.


Alexander II – The ‘Tsar Liberator’

By the nineteenth century, both of these relationships were under attack. In the Decembrist revolt in 1825, a group of young, reformist military officers attempted to force the adoption of a constitutional monarchy in Russia by preventing the accession of Nicholas I. They failed utterly, and Nicholas became the most reactionary leader in Europe. Nicholas' successor, Alexander II, seemed by contrast to be amenable to reform. In 1861, he abolished serfdom, though the emancipation didn't in fact bring on any significant change in the condition of the peasants. As the country became more industrialised, its political system experienced even greater strain. Attempts by the lower classes to gain more freedom provoked fears of anarchy, and the government remained extremely conservative.


Russia expands

As Russia became more industrialised, larger, and far more complicated, the inadequacies of autocratic Tsarist rule became increasingly apparent. By the twentieth century conditions were ripe for a serious convulsion.

At the same time, Russia had expanded its territory and its power considerably over the nineteenth century. Its borders extended to Afghanistan and China, and it had acquired extensive territory on the Pacific coast. The foundation of the port cities of Vladivostok and Port Arthur there had opened up profitable avenues for commerce, and the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway (constructed from 1891-1905) linked the European Russia with its new eastern territories.

The revolution of 1905

In 1894 Nicholas II acceded to the throne. He was not the most competent of political leaders, and his ministers were almost uniformly reactionaries. To make matters worse, the increasing Russian presence in the Far East provoked the hostility of Japan. In January of 1905, the Japanese attacked, and Russia experienced a series of defeats that dissolved the tenuous support held by Nicholas' already unpopular government. Nicholas was forced to grant concessions to the reformers, including most notably a constitution and a parliament, or Duma. The power of the reform movement was founded on a new and powerful force entered Russian politics. The industrialisation of the major western cities and the development of the Batu oil fields had brought together large concentrations of Russian workers, and they soon began to organise into local political councils, or soviets. It was in large part the power of the soviets, united under the Social Democratic Party, that had forced Nicholas to accept reforms in 1905.


War and Abdication

After the war with Japan was brought to a close, Nicholas attempted to reverse the new freedoms, and his government became more reactionary than ever. Popular discontent gained strength, and Nicholas countered it with increased repression, maintaining control but worsening relations with the population. In 1912, the Social Democrats split into two camps--the radical Bolsheviks and the comparatively moderate Mensheviks. In 1914, another disastrous war once again brought on a crisis. If the Russo-Japanese war had been costly and unpopular, it was at least remote. The First World War, however, took place right on Russia's western doorstep. Unprepared militarily or industrially, the country suffered demoralising defeats, suffered severe food shortages, and soon suffered an economic collapse. By February of 1917, the workers and soldiers had had enough. Riots broke out in St. Petersburg, then called Petrograd, and the garrison there mutinied. Workers soviets were set up, and the Duma approved the establishment of a Provisional Government to attempt to restore order in the capital. It was soon clear that Nicholas possessed no support, and on March 2 he abdicated the throne in favour of his brother Michael. No fool, Michael renounced his claim the next day.


The October Revolution

The Provisional Government set up by the Duma attempted to pursue a moderate policy, calling for a return to order and promising reform of worker's rights. However, it was unwilling to endorse the most pressing demand of the soviets--an immediate end to the war. For the next 9 months, the Provisional Government, first under Prince Lvov and then under Alexandr Kerensky, unsuccessfully attempted to establish its authority. In the meanwhile, the Bolsheviks gained increasing support from the ever more frustrated soviets. On October 25, led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, they stormed the Winter Palace and deposed the Kerensky government.


Lenin’s rule

Although the Bolsheviks enjoyed substantial support in St. Petersburg and Moscow, they were by no means in control of the country as a whole. They succeeded in taking Russia out of the war (though on very unfavourable terms), but within months civil war broke out throughout Russia. For the next three years the country was devastated by civil strife, until by 1920 the Bolsheviks had finally emerged victorious.

The first few years of Soviet rule were marked by an extraordinary outburst of social and cultural change. Although the Bolsheviks had maintained complete control of the economy during the civil war (‘War Communism’), Lenin decided at its end that a partial return to a market economy would help the country recover from the destruction of the previous three years. His New Economic Policy, or NEP, brought about a period of relative prosperity, allowing the young Soviet government to consolidate its political position and rebuild the country's infrastructure.
Stalin – ‘The Red Tsar’

Lenin's death in 1924 was followed by an extended and extremely divisive struggle for power in the Communist Party. By the latter part of the decade, Joseph Stalin had emerged as the victor, and he immediately set the country on a much different course. The NEP was scrapped, to be replaced by an economic plan dictated from the top. Agricultural lands were collectivised, creating large, state-run farms. Industrial development was pushed along at breakneck speed, and production was almost entirely diverted from consumer products to capital equipment. Art and literature were placed under much tighter control. Stalin purged all opposition to himself within the party as well as all opposition to party policy in the country.


Effects of WWII

The Soviet Union emerged from World War II considerably stronger than it had been before the war. Although the country suffered enormous devastation and lost more than twenty million lives, it had gained considerable territory and now ranked as one of the two great world powers along with the United States. Nonetheless, life in the country continued to suffer. Industrial production was once again concentrated on heavy industry, agricultural failures produced widespread famine, political freedoms were restricted even further, and another huge wave of purges was carried out. As the Cold War got underway, an increasing proportion of the Soviet Union's resources were funnelled into military projects, further exacerbating the quality of life. Stalin remained in power until 1953, when he died of a cerebral haemorrhage.


Khrushchev and Destalinisation

Almost immediately after the death of Stalin, many of the repressive policies that he had instituted were dismantled. Under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev, political controls were to some degree relaxed, and cultural life experienced a brief period of revival. However, opposition to Khrushchev gradually gained strength within the party, and in 1964 he was ousted. In a notable break with historical traditions, Khrushchev was permitted to quietly retire.



Revision notes
Tsar Alexander II (1855-1881)
Russia was the most backward of the 19th century major powers (had little industry, an autocratic gov. w/ no constitution and mainly an illiterate peasant pop.)


  • Brought the Crimean War (against Franco-British forces) to an end.

  • Instituted ‘Liberalization’ processes

  • Edict of Emancipation (1861): peasants had no obligations to nobles / peasants were given 50% of the agric. land / the nobles were compensated through taxes for the loss of land / the commune (Mir) became a basis for tax collection & distribution of land

  • The establishment of the Zemstvo, which was elected local councils with the resp. for collecting taxes, building projects, levying rates…

  • Trial by jury (in public) was introduced / censorship lessened

  • Town councils were established (1870)

  • The army was reformed (conscription for all classes — 1870), service time was reduced, and training and education facilities were improved.

  • The national budget became subject to audit and transparency / a state bank was established. (transparency was not extended to the national gov. and the Tsar remained an autocrat)

  • Social protest:

  • The Populist (mainly students and intellectuals) / in 1866 a student attempted to assassinate the Tsar à tighter control of education / reduction in # of poor at Univs. / increased censorship / power of Zemstvo reduced / increased activity of the Secret police / political trials were taken to military court.

  • The Land and Liberty Party — rebellion from below (the peasants) led by the anarchist Michael Bakunin

  • Evaluation of his reign:

  • Serfdom was ended

  • Reduction in the power of nobles

  • Develop. of industry.

  • Failure to carry out political change à basis for revolution


Tsar Alexander III (1881-1894)


  • Reaction (after father’s assassination in 1881)

  • A return to ‘orthodoxy and autocracy’: censorship of the press / reduction in the power of the Zemstvo / Pogroms against Jews / increased secret police activities

  • Massive increase in industrial output (foreign capital flowing in) / Russia built up huge gold reserves.


Tsar Nicholas II (1894-1917)


  • Easily influenced by those around him

  • Convinced of the suitability of autocracy in Russia (therefore inflexible on political change)

  • Accepted danger fatalistically (didn’t step to change things)

  • Had little experience of gov.

  • His wife had immense influence upon him (ie: w/ Rasputin)

  • Not as firm as Alexander III his father à increased opposition

  • This led to the rise of several political movements

  • The Liberal Movement : a middle class party

  • The Social Revolutionary Party: (from Land and Liberty Party) prepared to use violence but rather utopian

  • The Social Democratic Party: Mensheviks (believed in a mass movement of workers gradually progressing towards a socialist state) and Bolsheviks (believed in revolution by a party of elite leading the workers)

  • The Revolution of 1905 (result of defeat against the Japanese in 1904-05 and Bloody Sunday)

  • General strike called

  • Tsar’s uncle assassinated by Social Rev.

  • Mutinies in the armed forces

  • Setting up of a workers council (Soviet)

  • Peasants seized the land of the nobles

  • The effects:

    • The October Manifesto which granted: Freedom of Speech / a Duma (parliament)

    • The Tsar made no move towards political change

    • The army remained loyal / this was not to be in 1917

    • The Duma only had limited power (couldn’t initiate constitutional change / could be suspended by the Tsar)

    • The Duma was not fully democratic

    • The creation of the Duma split the opposition: Constitutional Democrats (wanted full constitutional gov.) vs. Octobrists (satisfied w/ the October Manifesto)

Peter Stolypin (1906-11) (Prime Minister) ...




  • Abolished payments by peasants for their gain in land from the nobles

  • Introduced low interest loans for peasants (so they could buy land)

  • Tried to establish a middle class of peasants loyal to the Tsar

  • Firm against non-parliamentary opposition

  • Assassinated in Sept. 1911


The End of the Tsars – Russian Revolution

  • 1913 - the Romanov dynasty celebrated 300 years of ruling over Russia

  • Nicholas II had become obsessed with a vision of himself as a Muscovite Tsar and in many ways he ran his court as such:

  • “The Romanov dynasty presented to the world a brilliant image of monarchical power and opulence during its tercentenary.” - Figes description of the celebrations.

  • Many of Nicholas II’s methods were outdated and much of the pomp and ceremony was misplaced - attempted to reinvent the past - to create the ‘popular Tsar’  - response to challenge of democracy - obsessed with cult of Muscovy! Nicholas rejected the Petrine model of leadership (delegating responsibility) resorting instead to personal rule

  • Central theme of jubilee = communion between Tsar and people - attempt to quell growing discontent with Nicholas and the Tsarist system as a whole.

  • Nicholas major problems = instead of moving with the increasing pressure for democracy and modernising the Tsarist system, he resorted instead to the methods of previous Tsar

  • Nicholas’ own propaganda deluded him, he began to believe that his methods were working and that his people loved him and he was in communion with them

  • Reality - jubilee took place in midst of profound social and political crisis - even a revolutionary one?!? Increasing repression had set people against Tsarist regime - wounds of 1905 not yet healed

  • Peasant problem unresolved - no land reform

  • Industrial strikes over poor conditions

  • Growing support for revolutionary parties

  • Outside deluded Muscovite court, growing sense of imminent crisis and catastrophe.

  • Regime fell under weight of own contradictions - lacked the will for real reforms (Nicholas II and Alex III “instead of embracing reform, they adhered rigidly to their own archaic vision of autocracy

  • Society becoming rapidly more educated, urban and complex - fossilized autocracy refused to concede to its political demands.

  • Nicholas II - always a disappointment to his father Alex III - never the strong man his father was, Alex new Nicholas would make a poor Tsar, indeed he never wanted to become one - neither had father’s strength of character or intelligence - became meddling autocrat, disrupting work of govt. - obsessed himself with the minutia, the trivial matters. He was conscientious and diligent, but instead of delegating, attempted to do everything himself! Mistrusted able ministers - Witte and Stolypin not given sufficient influence to save regime - preferred mediocrity - not threat.  Saw ministers one-top-one - led to more confusion but kept Tsar in control.  After Stolypin’s downfall in 1911 - regime “drifted dangerously as one sycophantic mediocrity after another was appointed Prime Minister by the Tsar.”

  • Rasputin - acquired his influence over the Tsarina and he and she became the real ruler of Russia during the final catastrophic years of the Romanov dynasty. Introduced to the Tsar and Tsarina in November 1905 as ‘a healer’, he seemed to be able to check the bleeding of Alexis, the Tsar’s haemophiliac son, through some mystical power.  In October 1912, the Tsarevich suffered a particularly bad bout of bleeding and doctors were unable to do anything to prevent a large and painful tumour from forming on his groin. They told the imperial family to prepare for his imminent death. In desperation, Alexandra, the Tsarina, sent a message to Rasputin who replied by wiring the Empress a message saying: “God has seen your tears and heard your prayers. Do not grieve. The little one will not die.” Within hours, the Tsarevich was on the mend. The so-called ‘Spala miracle’ established Rasputin in an unassailable position at the court of Alexandra. He became powerful and prestigious, he accepted bribes, gifts and sexual favours in exchange for using his influence over the Tsarina.  Whilst his power was at its zenith during the First World War, he established a series of lucrative placements in government, the Civil service and the Church all of which were under his control. Rasputin had a tremendous lust for power and it was this that motivated his actions, he was a supreme egoist and boasted endlessly of his power and influence. ‘I can do anything’ was a favoured saying. He took pride in his many and varied sexual exploits. His actions and demeanour were unbecoming of a ‘holy man’, and he was even imprisoned after a night of drunken brawling, however, orders quickly came from the Tsar for his release. His influence was assured at court because the empress believed that only he could save her dying son. Even the Tsar believed that God had sent a man ‘from the people’ to save the Romanov dynasty. His power rested on the Tsarina’s belief in his ‘healing powers’ and Alexander’s belief in the Byzantine trinity ‘God, Tsar, People’ - part of the Tsar’s attempt to recast the regime along the lines of seventeenth century Muscovy. Rasputin, whatever else may be said about him, was a shrewd operator, he played on the Tsar’s belief by referring to him in folksy terms: ‘batiuska Tsar’  -‘Father Tsar’. Rumours about him were dismissed as those of jealous criticism from those envious of his position! The Rasputin affair was significant in the downfall of the regime: “More and more it poisoned the monarchy’s relations with society and its traditional pillars of support in the court, the bureaucracy, the Church and the army...By the time of Rasputin’s eventual murder, the regime was on the point of collapse”

  • The Tsarist system - Nicholas II: “I conceive Russia as a landed estate, of which the proprietor is the Tsar, the administrator is the nobility and the workers are the peasants” He could not have chosen a more archaic metaphor for the turn of the century. The Tsarist system was inefficient and bureaucratic; the ruling elite came from the rich landowning classes. There was much red tape and formality of proceedure that led to inefficiency.  They were also too committed to the old Tsarist order to embrace reforms and the onset of the industrial age.  The agencies of government were not properly systemised nor was their work coordinated as it was in the Tsar’s interest to keep them weak and dependent on him. The Tsarist system had resisted reform for the best part of the nineteenth century, despite several opportunities to change, the result was that at the dawn of the twentieth century, bureaucratic inefficiency still existed in Russia. Even the so-called ‘Great Reforms’ of the 1860’s introduced by Alexander II had had only a superficial effect. Also the liberalising effect of these reforms had resulted in the death of the Tsar, his two predecessors were to use this as a reason for repression and stagnation.

  • The geographical extent of Russia - The bureaucrats in St. Petersburg were trying to rule an empire that was geographically vast. The Tsarist Empire encompassed many nationalities and cultural groups. This diversity made provincial government essential, the governors had power to resist reform initiated from St. Petersburg, and this was a problem encountered by Stolypin with his local government reforms. Reformers quickly realised that reforming Russia was difficult, as the conservative governors would resist the reforms as every step. Furthermore, enforcing law and order was difficult as the number of police constables per head of population was roughly 1:50000 and therefore, even if something became law, it was often not enforced on a local level. Furthermore, poor communications, and general backwardness further enhanced the problems. The landowners who had traditionally helped to implement government decrees had largely fallen into debt after the emancipation of the serfs. Many had sold off their land, mortgaged it, or rented it to the peasants. They were no longer a reliable force for law enforcement.

  • Solution to these problems: the zemstvos

  • Many people such as Prince Lvov who would later become the First Prime Minister of democratic Russia in 1917, people who were not revolutionaries but simply liberal monarchists recognised the problems that the autocracy were facing and began a peaceful campaign for reforms.  His ideas were based on the ‘Great Reforms’ of the 1860’s.

The Russian Revolutions of 1917

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