Russia During the Petersburg Period (1703-1917) Part III
Internal conflicts, revolutionary movement and the overthrow of tsarist rule
Tsarism failed because of the unresolved internal conflicts. Since about 1890, as a result of the railway construction, the protective tariff policy of the Minister of Finance S. J. Witte and rising foreign bonds are affected by accelerated industrialization without, however, losing its agrarian character (up to 1917 about 80% agricultural population). The negative social side effects could not be prevented by labor protection laws (since 1882) and the establishment of a factory inspection. The industrial workers, which could only gradually break loose from their multiple ties to the village, were concentrated primarily in the large-scale companies in the capital and in southern Ukraine; it rose to 3.1 million by 1913 (more than doubled since 1890). Despite enormous growth rates in industrial production (especially metal and textile industry), agriculture still generated 51.4% of the national income in 1913 (industry 28%); the main part of Russian exports continued to come from agriculture (before 1914 grain 44%, cattle and wood 22%, industrial products just under 10%), only possible because the broad masses renounced consumption. Since industrialization and capital formation were dependent on increasing agricultural surplus production, overcoming the permanent agricultural crisis remained the main economic problem. The Prime Minister’s P.A. Stolypin Basic agrarian reform begun in 1906 led to the dissolution of the farming community (Mir); it strove to consolidate peasant private property and strengthen viable medium-sized enterprises, but got stuck because of the murder of the Prime Minister (1911) and the outbreak of the First World War. Although only about a fifth of the farmers (28% of the farms, 14% of the lands) had switched to the new form of ownership, in 1917 more than half of the farms were privately owned. A growing hunger for land provided social explosives in the villages and drove a starving rural proletariat into the industrial centers and cities. The urban population increased threefold from 6.7 million to 25.8 million between 1867 and 1916.
Since the 1890s, Marxism had been accepted in Russia in revolutionary circles (Lenin, L. Martow) and in groups in exile (G. W. Plekhanov) and the establishment of illegal party organizations was pursued. In 1897 the “General Jewish Workers ‘Union in Lithuania, Poland and Russia” was established as the first supraregional social democratic organization, and in 1898 the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party was founded in Minsk (Bolsheviks, Mensheviks). The Social Revolutionaries left the terrorist Narodniki groups in 1902emerged. The agitation of the revolutionary groups in the underground – together with the dissatisfaction of the working class, the peasants’ hunger for land, the constitutional demands of the intelligentsia and the liberal Zemstvo movement, as well as the resistance of the nationalities to the pressure of Russification organized in the peripheral provinces – after the defeat in Russian -Japanese war (1904–05) and the failure of the government in relation to the mass demonstration in Saint Petersburg (“Bloody Sunday”, January 22, 1905) finally led to the revolution. In St. Petersburg, a council (“Soviet”) of workers’ deputies was constituted for the first time in October from the strike committees. The general strike, supported by all social groups, forced the emperor to make concessions. The October Manifesto (October 30, 1905), Duma), fulfilled essential demands of the liberal opposition (Cadets, Octobrists). The unrest, particularly continued by the Bolsheviks (including the uprising in Moscow, December 1905) and spontaneous peasant uprisings were put down. Before the meeting of the first Duma, Nicholas II (1894–1917) was able to impose a constitutional form with the new edition of the “Reichsgrundgesetze” (May 6, 1906), which counterbalanced the Reich Duma with a Reichsrat with partially appointed members and practically the same powers. All laws passed by the Duma required the approval of the Emperor and the Imperial Council. When the electoral law was changed by the coup d’état of June 3, 1907 in favor of the possessing classes (the first and second Duma were prematurely dissolved because of their opposition), Nicholas II obtained loyal conservative majorities. The time of this “pseudo-constitutionalism” (M. Weber), despite all authoritative restrictions on parliamentary rights, at least promoted the development of political public opinion in Russia and created the organizational prerequisites for the replacement of tsarism.
In the long run, Russia was economically and technically unable to cope with the stresses of the First World War. In 1915 severe military defeats forced the Russian army to withdraw: Poland, Lithuania and Courland had to be evacuated. The economic catastrophe eventually led to the collapse of the monarchy. Mass demonstrations in Petrograd, which had expanded into a general workers ‘and soldiers’ uprising from March 8, 1917 (February Revolution), forced Nicholas II to abdicate on March 15, 1917 .
Government responsibility was taken over by a provisional government under Prince G. J. Lwow proclaimed by the Provisional Duma Committee until a constituent assembly was convened. The ability of this bourgeois government to act was restricted from the start by the claim to control of the Petrograd Council (Soviets) of workers and soldiers’ deputies (“dual power”). With his demand “All power to the councils” raised in the April Theses, Lenin prepared for the Bolsheviks to come to power alone in the October Revolution of 1917. On October 26th (November 8th) 1917, the first Soviet government (Council of People’s Commissars) was established in Petrograd Smolny, chaired by Lenin which was based here until the capital was relocated to Moscow (March 1918). As a result of the First World War, the tsarist multi-ethnic state was in a state of dissolution; Finland declared its national independence in December 1917, the Baltic regions, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and others.