The causes and aftermath of the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917

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            The Russian empire refers to a state that ended after the Russian Revolution of 1917.The Russian empire had the people ruled under an autocratic style of government where the tsar acted as the ruler. After its collapse in 1917, the Soviet Union was formed.  The Russian Empire is acknowledged for being the worlds’ second largest contiguous empire.  Mongol empire still remains the worlds’ largest.  Russia was the worlds’ largest country at the beginning of the 19th century having extended to the Pacific Ocean on the East, Black sea on the South, Arctic Ocean to the North, and Baltic Sea on the West.  The Empire had an estimated population of 176.4 million people, which made it the third largest population.  After its collapse in 1917, the Russian Empire led to the establishment of one of world’s great powers.

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The Russian Empire is considered to have been established after the signing of the treaty of Nystad.  The treaty which ended the Great Northern war had Russia receive several territories.  These territories included, Ingria, Karelia, Estonia and Livonia.  In addition, Tsar Peter I of Russia became the ruler of the conquered provinces after replacing King Fredrick I of Sweden.  Russia would then become one of Europe’s great powers in place of Sweden.  The Empire collapsed in 1917 after the Russian Revolution.  In this paper, the causes and the aftermath of the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917 will be discussed.


            The Russian Empire at the time of its collapse was under the rule of Tsar Nicholas II. One of the causes of the collapse was the resent that the Russian people had towards the autocratic style of leadership in the empire[1]. Before the Russian Revolution took place, the Russian people who were under the rule of Tsar Nicholas II showed their dissatisfaction with the autocratic government that existed then. Because the empire was autocratic, the political power was greatly held by a single and self-appointed ruler.   Nicholas II had great political power which he failed to use in order to cater for the aspirations and the needs of the Russian people. In addition, the Russian people accused Nicholas II government of being corrupt and also having some anachronistic elements. Due to this, poor socio-economic conditions were witnessed in Russia. Just before the revolution, many Russians were poor as a result of the poor socio-economic conditions that were witnessed in the empire. By the mid 1915, inflation was mounting as low-paid factory workers expressed their disappointment with the empires’ government through strikes. The peasants also started to demand for land reforms. There was migration of poor villagers between the industrial work and agrarian environments.  Though an urban labor force was created by the rapid growth of the empire and the expansion of social opportunities, many Russians were peasants and those who worked in factories were poorly paid.

             As compared to European nations’, Russia experienced minimal industrial growth which resulted to very few opportunities for the industrial workers and the peasants to benefit through employment. This in combination with food shortage and widespread inflation demanded that the needs of the people be addressed urgently.  When Nicholas II failed to address these needs, the public distrust of his regime deepened.  In addition, the public was angered by claims that Grigory Rasputin who was semiliterate had great influence within the government.  The public distrust of the Nicholas II regime triggered resistance such as the strikes that were organized in the Capital Saint Petersburg. Street fighting that broke out, dismissal of Duma by Tsar, and Tsars’ order that striking workers return to work led to the February Revolution.  This later led to the Russian Revolution that led to the collapse of the Russian Empire.

        The negative effects of the World War I on Russia led to the collapse of the Empire [2].Russia was actively involved in the world war I. Tsar Nicholas II had entered the war with great patriotism and determination when it began.  The Russian army entered Germany in August 1914 in order to support the French army.  As a result, the Russian people viewed the government as incompetent for its failure to address the needs of the people and instead using its financial resources to support the military operations during the war.  Russia’s Baltic Sea and Black sea were taken over by the Germans.  This negatively affected Russian’s potential markets and foreign suppliers.  By 1915, signs of food and fuel shortage had begun to show even as the war continued to become more intense.  Russia experienced economic problems that led to increasing inflation.  Russia also suffered severely from heavy financial losses as a result of inadequate supplies and huge spending on weaponry used during the war.  This made Nicholas II rule incompetent and weak, a situation that later acted as a motivation for people to demand for changes that led to the collapse of the empire.

            Widespread poverty and oppression of the lower classes by the Tsarist government led to the collapse of the regime.  The Russian peoples’ desires and expectations for a better life were triggered by the poor living conditions they experienced and oppression they received from the government.  Urban overcrowding led to poor living conditions for the industrial workers. Furthermore, economic problems in Russia made it hard for the people to be well paid and to acquire employment. For instance, Saint Petersburg is estimated to have had a population increase from 1,033,600 to 1,905,600 between 1890 and 1910.  The large number of people in the urban areas who lived under poor conditions could easily protest and go on strike.  It is estimated that about six people in Saint Petersburg lived in one room where there was no running water or sanitary facilities.

            The number of strikes that were held before the collapse of the empire kept increasing each day, while incidents of public disorder rapidly increased.  This was made worse by the war (WWI) when the production of equipment and weapons to be used during the war had skilled workers stripped from the cities.  This was in efforts to replace them with unskilled peasants who would provide cheap labor in factories that produced war supplies. Strikes and labor riots continued to increase. The Russian people efforts to demand for reforms in order to alleviate their suffering led to the empire collapse. Peoples’ poor living conditions and the oppressive rule (authoritarian system) of Nicholas II government prepared the ground for the empire’s collapse.

            The Russian Empire governing system which advocated for loyalty in the people despite their suffering made Nicholas II have little commitment in reforms [3].The Empire was a monarchy.  Peter I, the Great who had ruled the Russian Empire from 1672 to 1725 had consolidated autocracy in Russia.  Nicholas II embraced a strict authoritarian system of governing.  Furthermore he was a conservative ruler.  According to the system, all Russians were expected to be devoted to the community, show a sense of duty to their country and show self restraints.  As a ruler, Nicholas experienced difficult conditions and sought reassurance and comfort in the religious faith that advocated for peoples’ devotion and duty to their country.  The Russian’s belonged to the Russian Orthodox religion and his belief that his power was a Divine right had Nicholas protect his crown by limiting the liberty of the people.  The Russian intellectuals supported enlightment ideals such as democratic representation and the dignity of the individual.

            The support of democratic reforms by Russians’ liberals and Marxists strengthened the opposition against the monarchy. The Bloody Sunday massacre which took place in January 1905 continued to trigger public dissatisfaction with the Russian empire’s autocratic system.  The crippling general workers’ strike then led to the establishment of Duma under the October Manifesto.  Nicholas continued to undermine reforms when he dismissed the formerly formed Dumas. The state Duma was the empires’ democratically elected parliament. It was Nicholas’ lack of commitment to reforms that led to the Russian peoples’ unfulfilled hopes of democracy.  This in turn led to the collapse of the empire when people sought to fight the empires’ governing system.  Lack of loyalty by the soldiers and army officials to Tsar made Nicholas II government militarily weak.  This made it easy for the empire to collapse after the Russian Revolution.

The Aftermath of the Russian Empire collapse

            After the collapse of the Russian Empire, the long reign of tsars in Russia ended.  This was followed by the creation of the communistic Soviet Union.  The revolutionary wave that had led to the collapse of the empire lasted until 1923.  After the Russian Empire collapse, a new style of leadership different from that of tsardom was established.  The government was formed after Tsar Nicholas II was abdicated.  After the Russian revolution, two rival institutions (the Petrograd Soviet and Duma) began to fight and compete for power.  After Tsar Nicholas II had been abdicated he chose his brother Grand Duke Michael to succeed him. However, Michael deferred the acceptance of power the day that followed his appointment.  Michael authorized the transfer of power by signing a proclamation.  This allowed the provisional Government to be established with the aim of having it rule until the form of government that Russia would have was determined by the Constituent Assembly.

            The provisional government had the responsibility to set up elections and to maintain the Russian government services[4].  However, the government powers were limited by the growing authority of the Petrograd Soviets.  The provisional government weakness is even related to the nickname that was given to Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky.  He was nicknamed the “Persuader-in-chief”. The provisional government had a responsibility to ensure that the rights of the workers council and the working class (Soviets) were addressed.  In November 1917, Vladimir Lenin made the Bolsheviks to seize power from the Russian Provisional Government.  This was referred to as the October revolution. Vladimir Lenin had advocated for socialist revolution on the streets and in the Soviets. This was then to be followed by the Russian Civil War of 1919-1921.  The war had the fighting between the White Army and the Bolshevik Red Army take place.  The war attracted foreign armies such as the Allied and the Ukrainian nationalist Green Army. So many people were killed during the war.  There was drought and famine in Russia between 1920 and 1921 which made living conditions in Russia so difficult for the people. Disease pandemics that were experienced had about 3 million people estimated to die in 1920.  Millions of people faced widespread starvation.  Due to the effects of the World War I and the civil war in Russia, about 7 million street children were found in Russia.  A good population of the well educated and skilled Russian fled to the newly independent Baltic countries and the Far East. The Russian economy became devastated and industrial production declined drastically.  Agricultural production also declined.

          Vladimir Lenin who led the October revolution advocated for the political ideology Marxism – Leninism.  This began the spread of communism in Russia.  The end of the Russian civil war marked the beginning of the Soviet Union.  The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was formed with the approval of the Treaty of Creation of the USSR in December 28, 1922.  The declaration of the creation of the USSR also supported the formation of the USSR, and the heads of delegations signed the documents after they were confirmed by the 1st Congress of Soviets.  The Russian economy intensive restructuring was supported by the Bolshevik Initial Decrees.  The Communist Party which was led by the Bolsheviks supported a one party rule.  The economic policy of War Communism encouraged private enterprise to grow, while the Soviet leaders advocated for a one party rule which would ensure that the Soviet Union did not experience “Capitalist exploitation”.  The will of the people was supposed to be represented by the Principles of Democratic Centralism[5].

         Georgian Joseph Stalin became the Soviet Union leader by the end of the 1920s after the death of Lenin in 1924.  A first five year plan to build a Socialist economy was introduced in 1928.  The plan aimed at building Socialism in Russia.  The state later came to take control over the enterprises that existed and also embarked on an intensive program of industrialization in Russia where collective farms were established. The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFRR) was the predecessor for the Soviet Union and it existed from 1917 to 1922.  The RSFSR was independent, including the other Soviet republics.  The official establishment of the Soviet Union took place in December 1922.The union brought together the Bolshevik Russia and the Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus which were under the rule of Bolshevik parties.


            The Russian Empire is known for being one of the world’s largest empires. In addition, the empire is acknowledged for resulting to one of the world’s greatest super power(Soviet Union).Before its collapse, the  Russian Empire  had an autocratic government which was led by Nicholas II.There are various factors that contributed to its collapse. These factors include; the Russian people resent for the autocratic governing system of Nicholas II, negative effects of the World War I, widespread poverty, oppression of lower classes by the tsarist government, and the Russian people support for reforms while Nicholas II lacked commitment for reforms. After the collapse of the empire in 1917, the changes that were witnessed in the empire led to the formation of the Soviet Union.


Fitzpatrick, S.2001.The Russian Revolution. Oxford University Press

            The book discusses the Russian revolution and the events that led to the revolution. The

            author acknowledges that the revolution marked the beginning of a new leadership in               Russia. Before the revolution, the Russian people had expressed their resent for the tsar

            Style of leadership through strikes and their support for reforms in the government. The

            desire to change the imperial system of government that existed during the Russian                    Empire led to the collapse of the empire.

Grant, T.1997. Russia, from Revolution to Counter-Revolution, London, Well Red Publications

          The book focuses on the Russian Empire and the likely factors that triggered the revolution

            That later led to the collapse of the empire. The Russian people had various reasons why            they participated and supported the revolution. Some of the factors that have been     attributed to encourage the Russian people to  initiate changes in the governing system            includes; their desire to end the autocratic rule of Nicholas II,widespread poverty, and                        the diversion of financial resources to support military operations during the World War I

            by the government.

Dominic, L.2002. Empire: The Russian Empire and Its Rivals. Yale University Press

           The book gives an assessment of the forces that led to the end of political imperialism in             Russia. The author looks at the Russian rulers who ruled under the old regime in Russia.

            He attributes the downfall of the Russian empire to the World War I. The leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev is discussed. The author is a British author and a Russian scholar who            in the past has written about Nicholas II and pre-soviet Russia.

Malone, R.2004 Analyzing the Russian Revolution, Melbourne, Cambridge University Press

           The book acknowledges the Russian Revolution as an event that changed the leadership of       one of the world’s largest empire. The revolution also led to the establishment of the      Soviet Union, which was later to become one of the world’s great powers. The Russian        peoples’ desire to have a new leadership that addressed their needs had them give their        full support for the revolution. The revolution led to the end of stardom in Russia.

[1] Fitzpatrick, S.2001.The Russian Revolution. Oxford University Press
[2] Dominic, L.2002. Empire: The Russian Empire and Its Rivals. Yale University Press
[3] Ibid,2
[4] Grant, T.1997. Russia, from Revolution to Counter-Revolution, London, Well Red Publications
[5] Malone, R.2004 Analyzing the Russian Revolution,  Melbourne, Cambridge University Press

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