The causes of the February Revolution
In the space of a few days in February 1917, Tsarist Russia came to an end. The Romanov family, who had ruled Russia since the seventeenth century, was overthrown and the monarchy was no more.
There are several reasons why this happened:
World War I was a total disaster for Russia. The Russian army suffered defeat after defeat at the hands of Germany.
The effort and cost of waging war meant terrible suffering for soldiers and civilians alike. Best estimates state that almost two million soldiers were killed, as were a similar number of civilians, during the course of the war. Morale during this time was at a very low ebb and soldiers and civilians alike were looking for someone to blame.
In 1915, Tsar Nicholas II took personal command of the army. He left St. Petersburg and moved to army headquarters in Russian Poland.
Nicholas II may have believed that, by taking charge, his army would be inspired and would fight with renewed vigour. Unfortunately, the Tsar knew little about the command and organisation of large military forces, and the series of defeats and humiliations continued.
The organisation of the Russian army deteriorated and there were massive shortages of ammunition, equipment, and medical supplies.
Nicholas II's decision to take charge meant that he was increasingly seen by the Russian people as having personal responsibility for the military disasters inflicted on Russia.
As the war continued, it became increasingly obvious that the quality and effectiveness of the government of the Russian Empire was under serious question.
The departure of Nicholas II to the front meant that the effective government of Russia now came under the control of the Tsarina Alexandra. In particular, she gained increasing influence over the appointment of ministers to the government. She was determined that no member of the imperial government should ever be in a sufficiently strong position to challenge the authority of her beloved husband.
As a result, members of the government tended to be increasingly weak and ineffective men who owed their positions not to their ability and effectiveness, but to winning favour with the Tsarina. This would have been bad enough with Russia at peace. With the onset of the war, it led inevitably to disaster for the monarchy and for Russia.
The bizarre career of Gregory Rasputin, and his influence over the imperial family is well known.
Rasputin was a very unorthodox monk from Siberia. Myths spread that Rasputin could perform amazing feats and miracles. He came to the attention of the royal family because their only son, the Tsarevitch Alexis, suffered from the blood disease, haemophilia. The Tsarina Alexandra became convinced that Rasputin could control the young boy's illness.
While there is still debate over the nature of his powers over the health of Alexis, it is very clear that his influence over the Tsarina was considerable: He advised the Tsarina on appointments to the government; he interfered in important decisions; he could do no wrong in the Tsarina's eyes - excuses were always made for his excessive, antisocial behaviour.
To the Russian people, Rasputin symbolised everything that was wrong with imperial government. The court and the imperial family became objects of ridicule, to be despised. Rasputin's murder, at the end of 1916, came too late to undo the damage he had caused.
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