Many believe that the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 was the main factor in the fall of the Romanovs; however it could be argued that there are other reasons for this. For instance, many perceived Nicholas II as a very poor tsar as a whole, regardless of the war.
There are also other issues such as the difficulty of governing Russia due to its sheer size, backwards economy, and poor communication and transport.Nonetheless, the war was evidently a major factor in the fall of the Romanovs in 1917. In any case, a war strongly affects the leaders of a country, and particularly as this was such a vast war, it wasn’t going to be any different. Firstly, one of the most crucial and ultimately devastating decisions made during the war, was one by Nicholas II in September 1915 when he decided to dismiss his uncle Nikolai as commander in chief of the Russian army and took command himself.
During his spell as commander, Nicholas proved to be a very weak military leader, it is said that he didn’t look capable to command a single military unit, let alone an army consisting of millions. He also proved to be very poor in terms of communication, particularly with the railway which in turn led to shortages of military equipment, ultimately heavily influencing Russia’s war effort. Matters on the front line were looking very bleak, by Christmas 1916 1. 6 million Russian soldiers were dead, 3.
million were wounded and a further 2. 4 million were taken as prisoners. However, not only the front line was looking dismal but back in Russia, Nicholas II’s wife Alexandra and the devious monk Rasputin were left to govern the gargantuan country. Alexandra often sent word to Nicholas, advising him on policies, transport and communication, but even herself admitted it all ‘made her head spin’.
As anarchy became more and more apparent, rumours began to spread about the Tsarina Alexandra.Due to her German nationality, some believed she was sympathetic towards the enemy, and there were even claims that she was a German spy. As well as this, there was a lot of scepticism surrounding Rasputin, who Alexandra believed had great healing powers over the Tsar’s son’s haemophilia. She trusted him greatly because of this but by and large he was a very deceitful character.
It is said he would frequently divulge in orgies and rumours also circulated of an affair between Rasputin and Alexandra.Ultimately, Rasputin doesn’t seem like the type of person you would hope to have running a country in turmoil, as Russia was at the time. Conclusively, Nicholas’ decision to take command of the army was evidently an extremely poor one, and clearly had a big influence in the eventual demise of the Romanov’s, not only because of Nicholas’ poor skills as a military leader, but also as his absence outlined the incompetence of the government and the Tsarist regime, not just to the people of Russia but the Imperial family also received criticism from the Duma and others within the Russian parliament.Despite there being a strong argument that the First World War was the main cause of the fall of the Romanov’s, there is also a credible argument that other factors had more of an affect than this.
For example, it was clear that Russia was, and always had been a difficult country to govern, principally due to its sheer size and range of diverse cultures and beliefs. Because of its great magnitude, communication and transport were consistently very poor throughout the country.Although the Trans Siberian had been developed and it looked like a promising prospect, it was only part done in numerous places thus still leaving Russia in a state of ‘backwardness’. All in all, this left Russia a very difficult country to totally reform and modernise, meaning it trailed behind other great powers such as France and the United Kingdom.
Furthermore, much of Russia was made up of a countryside setting, and peasants living here were often left unsatisfied by the Tsarist regime as many reforms were not enforced in relation to the countryside.Eventually, when someone in the form of Peter Stolypin, actually tried to make a difference to the countryside and help it progress, his plans were dismissed by Nicholas when he was fired in 1911, outlining Nicholas’ reluctance to change and also his stark stubbornness. Moreover, the people Nicholas then employed were less qualified and far more repressive, meaning the peasants (80% of the population) that worked or lived in the countryside, who had previously tolerated or even supported the Tsar, now very much didn’t. In addition to this, the issues surrounding communication and transport were clearly highlighted by the war.
This may be interpreted as being an argument for the war being the biggest factor in the fall of the Romanovs, however it also shows that Russia, and ultimately the Tsar were never prepared for such a full scale event and demand on resources that eventually occurred. This outlines the Tsar’s incompetency even before the war, suggesting that the Romanovs may have fallen in spite of the war, with the combination of difficulty governing the country, poor communication and transport and also Nicholas’ general inability as a Tsar, all putting a great strain on the Imperial family.As mentioned before, Nicholas was gradually unmasked as a very poor Tsar before and during the war. During his reign, he experienced hardships such as the 1905 revolution, which although wasn’t particularly successful, showed that he could be challenged and had a fair few people who opposed him.
Secondly, he disregarded Stolypin’s ideas which may well have contributed greatly to the modernisation of Russia and finally he generally showed a severe lack of governing power and decisiveness, despite ruling under an autocracy.Whether a war occurred or not, this is a vivid weakness and may have seen Nicholas II abdicate the throne regardless of WWII. On the other hand, the war caused huge problems throughout Russia in countless ways, all of which had a very negative effect on the reputation, support and general regard of Nicholas II. Not only did the war further inhibit the modernisation of Russia, and lead to disastrous consequences on the front line and in terms of politics, but it also strongly affected Russia’s already unstable economy.
Russia’s import of bread and grain steeply declined.In 1917, the amount of bread available to the population was only a quarter of what it had been in 1914. Also in 1914 Moscow was getting 2200 wagons of grain a month, but by 1916 it was only 300 a month. This affected Russia’s economy greatly, but also caused unrest amongst countless numbers of peasants, who relied on the import of grain in particular as a source of food and something to sell.
In turn, this meant peasants also made less profit on their food when selling, thus they had little incentive to sell more than necessary hence many horded food rather than sell it.Food shortages became more and more frequent across Russia and unsurprisingly the working classes and peasants became very unhappy, leading to civil unrest in many cities, Petrograd being a prime example where 100,000 workers went on strike in February 1917. The war effort also had a huge effect on the Russian currency. The problem of inflation swiftly arised and affected many people’s lives for the worst.
Between 1913 and 1916 the Russian National budget rose by 800%, and this was by and large financed by taxes and borrowing from Britain and France.In order to keep up with the demand of the war effort, the government printed more money, leading to inflation, which made the currency virtually worthless. Average earning doubled between 1914 and 1916, however food prices quadrupled thus peasants in particular were left in a very poor situation. Conclusively, although I believe factors not concerned with the war somewhat contributed to the fall of the Romanovs, it appears to me that without the war the Tsar and Russia as a whole would’ve been in a far better condition and the Imperial family may have survived to rule for many more years.
The war ultimately acted as a catalyst and sparked copious problems in Russia, leaving all social classes dissatisfied with Nicholas II. It could be argued that if Russia had performed better in the war, the Romanovs would’ve remained autocratic rulers; however it could also be perceived that Nicholas II was the reason for Russia’s failure during the war. Therefore, I believe that although the Tsarist government was in a fairly bad state prior to the war, WWI was the final straw for Nicholas II and was a more than big enough problem to finally end his reign.