How far was WWI the main cause of the fall of the Romanovs in February 1917

Although serious problems in Russia existed long before WWI, as we see from the 1905 revolt, they had never disrupted society to such a large scale as in the period of WWI. Those problems were being addressed to at the time by Nicholas II’s reforms, and they created a rather vulnerable society, prone to tipping over into disorder if its fragile balance was disturbed. WWI acted as this agent, exacerbating existing problems to such a point, that the trouble-weary citizens of St. Petersburg were led to revolution.One factor that pushed the Russian people to breaking point in February 1917 was the political situation that was created as a result of the war effort. Ever since 1905, Nicholas II had granted the people a duma, finally making a step towards a liberal and modern society, providing in this way a cushioning for his shortcomings as a leader. However, when in 1914 the people welcomed Russia’s entry into the war with a nationalistic and Czar-endearing sentiment, Nicholas saw his opportunity to regain his lost absolute autocratic control. Tensions within the duma intensified, as the Progressive Bloc tried to convince him to give up some of his power, so as to take away pressure from him as a figurehead, and disperse blame elsewhere. Ironically, the Czar saw this as a betrayal, suspended the duma and appointed himself Commander-in-Chief.As a result of such a move, all the blame for the failure of the Grand Plan and the Great Retreat that was occurring at the time was piled onto his head, acting as a justification for the radical ideals that usually overcame the public at times of great pressure. This was why Nicholas’ move was such a grave mistake: in the past, people had never had any solid excuse for why the Czar was to blame for their troubles, but now he completely accepted all blame for any failures within the country and gave them every right to demand his removal. In addition to this, the Czar decided not to disperse his power by keeping it within the family, and so appointed Alexandra and Rasputin to be in charge while he was away, achieving only to increase discontent towards himself. Once again, he lost a great deal of public confidence, as the pair not only continuously proved to the public that the royal family was corrupt and impotent, but they also left urgent problems of the people to just hang in the air.The ministers (who tended to be replaced every few months) they chose to appoint were elderly and very moderate in their abilities, choosing to “sit on the fence” rather than find a solution, whereas such a situation needed an innovative and dynamic personality who could find efficient solutions to pacify the public. This was something that had been proven from previous experiences of the Czar – Witte and Stolypin were the ones who saved the Czar from losing control of the country in 1905. To add to this disillusionment of the people, the impression of the pair that existed even before they were appointed as leaders was that of a “German spy” and of a “crazy heretic”. What we see here, is the inability of the Czar to give his people what they needed in the face of a crisis. Had this crisis not come in the form of a war, where changes to the structure of society need to be made, then perhaps the momentum from previous reforms would have been enough to pull the country through. However, WWI brought around such a change and so many simultaneous problems, that within that context, Nicholas’ shortcomings not only became apparent, but also directly affected the course of politics as a result of his choices.Another factor that led to the downfall of the Romanovs was the very circumstances that the war created. Russia could not have avoided entry into WWI, not only because they knew of the existence of the Schlieffen Plan and expected an attack from Germany anyway, but also as a result of previous humiliations, such as the Bosnian Crisis and the Russo-Japanese war, which meant that their imperialistic status would begin to be threatened if they avoided this war too. However, those humiliations very much act as proof that the country’s entry into the war was a reckless move, if the economy and the social instabilities are taken into account. The war effort was largely incoherent, with defeats in Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes leading to losses so great, that they would still cause problems in offensives to follow. In the Great Retreat, 1.5 million men were lost, along with railway lines, fortresses packed with shells, and strategically important cities.Chaos ruled over the front, with irregular supplies, high levels of desertions and a growing worry that there would have to be a call-up from the large agricultural reserve. This was dangerous for several reasons: Firstly, with the ongoing scarcity of food, the last thing that needed to happen was to decrease the people working the land to produce it. Secondly, they were untrained, and thirdly the peasant population was seen as largely unreliable and volatile. In addition to this unstable situation, the war effort itself was not even. In the south, the war effort was going great, with Brusilov achieving swift and spectacular victories. On the other hand, the north was stuck in a stalemate with the Austro-Hungarians. Such a situation only showed to the people back home that the people in charge of the war very much incapable, and despite the fact that it was not his decisions that etched the way for the war effort, the man acting as a figurehead for all this was the Czar.This failure however and the chaos that ruled at the front, was also affecting the situation back home directly. As it has become obvious, the strains that a war of that scale imposed on the economy were such that its yet to develop industrial capacity would not be able to pull it off. The measures that the government tried to take to solve this problem only made things worse: the prohibition of vodka only created further discontent amongst the people, as vodka was essentially a part of their staple diet. In addition to this, 30% of the country’s revenue came from the tax on alcohol, so the only great achievement of the government was to decrease its available cash flow.Other measures, such as the introduction of war bonds and income tax also failed, as by 1917, Russia was deeply indebted, needing five times its gross revenue to keep up a war, and handling inflations that were soaring at 400%, meaning that people would queue up in front of stores for an entire day to get food. Such a huge inflation meant that living and working conditions deterioted greatly and also that the rising prices were not matched by a proportional raise in salary. The social strains continued, as the war’s consequences were also creating the critical lack of food that was the immediate course of the February revolution. Had it not been for WWI, then Turkey (that was fighting on the side of Germany) would not have closed off Russia’s passage into the Black Sea, cutting off 90% of its trade. Although this did not have an effect in 1915, when St. Petersburg was available as a port, the problem became very evident in 1916 to 1917, when this breakdown of trade led to the breakdown of the economy, too.Russia’s stability, ever since Alexander II, depended on modernization and industrialization. The war had already paralysed modernization by stopping Stolypin’s reforms so as to gear towards a war economy, but the fact that now trade had been cut off too led to consumer goods and the expansion of industry to be stopped too, making for a very irregular market, where prices fluctuated according to the supplies. This situation eventually led to a grain crisis, since the farmers withdrew their supplies from the markets as they could not get a steady price for it. This happened at a time when urban population was rising exponentially, so the effect of this crisis was that the cities were starving, in the midst of a radicalized and concentrated workforce, of which a large percentage was not used to such rigid situations, since it had just recently moved to the city.So what we realize from here, is that so many interlinked problems where the entire country’s structure was essentially breaking down were created, that would not have been caused had the war not happened. Russian society, however tough, was not coherent enough to withstand such a complete breakdown and still retaining faith in their system of government.

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