Okay, something I realize I have not written about is history, even though my blog has the name of an ancient-ish empire in it. So it’s time to change that! One of my students has requested a history lesson with visuals, so I’m going to write until I have exhausted all of my resources and brainpower. It’s 12:30 AM, why not? Pack your lawn chairs, it’s Russian Revolution time. LET’S BEGIN.
Our fair tale begins in Russia in the mid-1800s. On one fateful day, a man named Alexander Ulyanov was hanged. To be specific, the year was 1887. His crime? Plotting to kill the tsar, Alexander III. Why is he special, you may ask? Isn’t he just a random would be assassin? No, not quite. He was a leader by example, his younger brother would become the famous?? infamous?? Russian leader V.I. Lenin. This event likely left a great impression on small Lenin, for he grew up to fill his brother’s shoes…and more.
This says a great deal about the political climate of the day. Europe alone is fairly imperialist and centered around monarchy in 1887, Germany is bursting with nationalism and will soon cause trouble, see: World War One, but for now most everyone is holding it together. But underneath, especially in Russia, things are growing more and more tense. Rulers like Catherine and Peter the Great favored the landowners and nobles above all others, knowing that without their support, they were toast. But that came at the expense of the peasant class, which would make up 80% or more of the population by the time the revolutions begin. And the peasants were not pleased.
Alexander III dies in 1894, and a very inexperienced tsar named Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra rise to the throne. Nicholas has very little political or military savvy and neither does his wife, but they do have four daughters. Then, in 1904, they have a son, Alexei. Alexei is the heir to the throne, but there is something…wrong with him.
He has hemophilia, a genetic disease making it so his blood doesn’t clot. Alexandra is a descendant of Queen Victoria of England, from whom the disease originated. Hemophilia is carried by females and manifested in males, as was the case with Alexei. It’s a battle just to keep him alive. Alexandra is desperate for hope, and finds it in a mad ex-monk who is known to history as Rasputin. He has so called prophetic powers and is the only one who can heal Alexei, or so Alexandra says. Then the World War One breaks out.
Before I can tell you that story, however, I must tell you this one. Remember our friend Lenin? He is still here, and he is up to no good. While the royals have been getting married and having kids, Lenin has been stirring the pot of revolution. He picked up Marxism when he was younger, and he believes it can work for his country. In 1903, there are two factions in Russia’s main socialist group, the Mensheviks (meaning minority) and the Bolsheviks (majority), and they split over a few key issues.
The Mensheviks are in favor of educating the populace and gradually phasing in communism, but the Bolsheviks wanted a revolution and they wanted it NOW. With that in mind, let us continue. In 1905, they lead a revolution, and it is violently crushed. The tsar issues the October Manifesto, which is a sort of compromise that says that the tsar will grant civil liberties and make use of an elected parliament, called the Duma.
It’s enough to hold the nation together for a few more years. But then World War One breaks out. Russia is failing miserably in the war from the outset, and continues to fail miserably after they are beaten time and time again. Our friend Nicholas II may not have any military experience, but has a strong sense of duty to his country and as such feels the need to go and assume supreme command of the army. The situation goes from bad to worse.
Now, picture this. The year is 1916, and you’re a peasant. Your family was tied to the land until the 1860s as serfs and even then you’re still pushed around by the nobles, who always seem to have full stomachs while yours is empty. And now your son is sent to war, where he will almost certainly die. And then you run out of food. What’s a hungry person like you to do in a situation like this? Start a revolution? Sounds good.
It’s situations like the one above that led to the March Revolution. Protests and demonstrations turn violent in Petrograd, and the tsar abdicates when his soldiers, ordered to stop the protesters, join them. A new provisional government is put in place. It only lasts a few months, because unrest breaks out anew in Petrograd in November after a failed coup in July. This unrest boils over and the Bolsheviks take a chance and seize the Winter Palace, the final stronghold of the Provisional Government. Their coup is successful; the Bolsheviks are now in control of the country. How did this coup succeed where others failed? What now?
To be continued….