Imperial Russia — government and people

Imperial Russia — government and people

The Autocracy of Tsar Nicholas II

  • Tsar Nicholas II upheld the autocratic rule, wherein he had absolute power and was regarded as the ‘little father’ of Russia — a paternal figure who knew the best for the Russian people.
  • Government functioned under the absolute authority of the Tsar. He was the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, the army, and the state.
  • The use of secret police (Okhrana) was widespread to suppress any forms of opposition against the state. Supporters were rewarded while detractors were sent to Siberia.

Socio-Economic Structure

  • Russian society was hierarchical. Tsar and nobility occupied the top tiers while peasants formed the majority of the population.
  • The serfdom system prevailed until 1861. Despite its abolition, peasants were still tied by debt and land taxes, leading to continuing hardships.
  • Russia was primarily agrarian. Industrialisation was in its earliest stages, majorly focused in the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. This urban development led to the emergence of a small, but vocal, urban working class.

The Orthodox Church

  • Russian Orthodox Church played a significant role in society. It supported the Tsarist regime and propagated the belief in Tsar’s divine right to rule.
  • The Church was closely intertwined with the state — the education system was heavily influenced by religious doctrines.

The Revolutionary Movement

  • Opposition to Tsar’s rule took the form of isolated outbreaks of violence and organised groups like the Social Democrats and the Social Revolutionaries.
  • The chief driving forces of such opposition were discontent peasants, intellectuals advocating for social reforms, and an emergent working class.
  • Russian intelligentsia, influenced by western political ideas, played a crucial role in the rise of opposition movements.
  • The Revolutionary movement was characterised by Marxism, which divided opponents to the Tsar into different groups, notably the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks.

Economic Problems

  • Late industrialisation led to several challenges. The urban working class lived in poor conditions with low wages, long working hours, and lack of political representation.
  • Economic crisis triggered by the cost of the Russo-Japanese War and World War I led to food shortages, high inflation, and increased labour unrest.

Political protests

  • The Bloody Sunday took place in 1905 when peaceful protesters demanding better working conditions, more freedom, and a democratic government were fired upon by soldiers of the Imperial Guard.
  • The massacre of Bloody Sunday ignited a series of strikes and protests known as the 1905 Revolution, resulting in the Tsar reluctantly agreeing to establish the Duma – Russia’s first parliament, albeit with limited powers.

These points aim to give an overview of the context within which the Russian Revolution happened. Understanding the social and political state of Imperial Russia is crucial to fully grasp the causes and implications of the revolution.