Political problems

The incompetence of Nicholas II

The outbreak of the War in August 1914 led to a wave of patriotism sweeping the Empire. However, early defeats resulted in the mood changing.

In 1915, Nicholas declared himself Commander in Chief of the army and left for STAVKA (the High Command) to take control of operations. However, Nicholas was not well educated in the tactics of war. It also meant he could know be directly blamed for any setbacks on the battlefields.

Many members of the Duma left to help in the war effort. They also declared an end to opposition politics for the duration of the war. However, by the summer of 1915 they were unhappy with the conduct of the war and a group of Octoberists and Kadets established the Progressive Bloc.

This group wanted to replace the Tsars ministers with people who would have the support of the Duma and the population. In response, in September 1915, Nicholas closed the Duma. This alienated many liberals and also resulted in a two day general strike on Petrograd.

The war and the Tsarina

Formal portrait of youth in sailor suit posing with older woman
Tsarina Alexandra and her son, Tsarevich Alexis

As the war continued, the quality and effectiveness of the Russian Empire's government was called into question.

The departure of Nicholas II to the front left his wife, Tsarina Alexandra, in control. Alexandra was not hugely popular in Russia. She was reserved and awkward in public. More importantly, she was a German princess and some were suspicious as to where her loyalties lay.

Alexandra 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. She appointed less threatening, sometimes incompetent, ministers to replace those who knew how to govern.

During a period of 16 months she employed:

  • Four different Prime Minsters
  • Five different Ministers of the Interior
  • Three different Minsters of War

This was known as “Ministerial Leapfrog” and would have been bad enough with Russia at peace, but in wartime, it led to the work of the Government grinding to a halt and inevitably to disaster for the monarchy and for Russia.

Revolutionary groups

The membership and influence of revolutionary groups had been severely reduced by 1914, mainly through the repressive tactics of Stolypin and the Okhrana. But radical opinion was not wholly defeated:

  • Revolutionary groups survived underground and continued to attract support
  • Revolutionaries managed to assassinate Stolypin in 1911
  • Pravda, the Bolshevik newspaper, was highly popular amongst workers

Despite the Bolsheviks holding influence over many workers, Lenin had no part in bringing about the February Revolution. He believed that revolution should be organised, not developed from unorganised protest.