The Fall of Tsarism: From Revolution to the Rise of the Bolsheviks

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Russia of the Tsar: The 20th Century

At the dawn of the 20th century, the Russian Empire was ruled by Tsar Nicholas II. Civil rights were not recognized, and the Tsar maintained his power through a rigid bureaucracy, a powerful army, and the Orthodox Church. The Russian economy was largely agrarian and semi-feudal, worked by a vast peasant majority.

Life Under Tsarist Rule

Peasant living conditions were dire. The agricultural economy, characterized by low production, struggled to feed the entire population. While some capitalist elements had been introduced, industry was largely developed with foreign capital. This industrialization led to the emergence of a new social class: industrial workers.

Growing Opposition

Opposition to Tsarism grew alongside industrialization. Liberal ideas spread among the burgeoning working class. Anarchist groups formed clandestine organizations. In 1898, the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) was founded, later splitting into two factions: the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks.

The Revolution of 1905

During the reign of Nicholas II, social and political agitation intensified. Poor living conditions and rampant corruption within the Tsar's court fueled protests against the absolutist regime. The events of Bloody Sunday, a massacre of peaceful demonstrators, had grave consequences for the Tsarist regime.

The Potemkin Mutiny

Adding to the unrest, the Russian battleship Potemkin became a symbol of rebellion. The crew, driven to revolt by oppressive officers, staged a mutiny that further shook the foundations of Tsarist authority.

Russia in World War I

With the outbreak of World War I, international alliances compelled Russia to defend its Slavic allies against Germany and Austria. In 1917, Russia remained committed to the war effort. Factories were converted to war production, leading to a decline in agricultural output. Products became scarce, prices soared, and purchasing power plummeted. Hunger spread as military defeats against Germany mounted. The war resulted in widespread mortality and economic disaster.

The Fall of Tsarism

Popular discontent reached a boiling point. Masses took to the streets demanding an end to the war and improved living conditions. This culminated in a general strike that paralyzed the nation. Soviets, councils composed of workers, peasants, and soldiers, emerged as centers of power. The Tsar and his government refused to abandon the war, leading to Nicholas II's abdication. The Duma, Russia's legislative body, established a Provisional Government headed by Prince Lvov. The new government promised political reforms, but the war continued, and living conditions failed to improve. Two main political forces emerged: the Provisional Government and the Soviets.

Dual Power and the Rise of the Bolsheviks

The Provisional Government, now led by Alexander Kerensky after Lvov's resignation, struggled to maintain control. The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, argued that the revolution must transition into a proletarian revolution. With government reforms stalling and the situation worsening, the Bolsheviks, with Leon Trotsky at the forefront, seized the initiative, setting the stage for their eventual rise to power.

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