The Russian Romanov dynasty collapsed in the chaos of the Russian Revolution of 1917. The rise of the Soviet Union from the ashes of the Romanovs is perhaps the most important event in the 20th century. It saw the world’s first Communist government, and it led to a wave of communist inspired revolutions round the world and ultimately the cold war. The revolution is often shown to be inevitable because of the unequal nature of Russian society and its undemocratic political system. However, the Russian Revolution was not unavoidable and was a direct result of the impact of the First World War on Russia.
Russia was and is still a vast and diverse country with a huge multi-ethnic population. The Russian empire was an autocracy, where effectively the Tsar’s will was the law. Tsar Nicholas II indulged in a fantasy of absolute power and he believed that he had been appointed by God to the throne. The Tsarist government repressed any signs of organized dissent, and as a result there were many political prisoners. Russia was changing in the early years of the 20th century. It was rapidly industrializing, and the country’s economy was growing fast.
A new industrial class of workers was emerging, and society was becoming increasingly urbanized. However, this class was impoverished and lived and worked in appalling conditions. The majority of the populations were still peasants that often worked the land for wealthy landlords and endured lives of great hardship. The industrial workers and the peasants did not benefit from the economic expansion in any way. Russia’s economic growth did create a new middle class.
However, this class was excluded from the political system and resented the Tsar’s restrictions on its political and personal freedoms. Only the aristocracy and the elite supported the Tsarist government and just out of self-interest. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was a series of political events in Russia involving first the overthrow of the system of autocracy, and then the overthrow of the liberal Provisional Government (Dumas), resulting in the establishment of the Soviet Union, which lasted until its dissolution in 1991. The Revolution can be viewed in two distinct phases:
- The February Revolution of 1917, which displaced the autocracy of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, the last effective Tsar of Russia, and sought to establish in its place a liberal republic.
- The October Revolution in which the Bolshevik party and the worker’s Soviets led by Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the Provisional Government.