By the beginning of the Great War, Russia was already deeply divided, and the political structure so fragile, overstrained and vulnerable, that “it is hard to imagine that it could have survived even without war…” (Fitzpatrick) Soviet historians, who, at the time of writing, were seeking to justify their regime, would agree with Sheila Fitzpatrick that by 1914, Russia’s regime was already dead and it was inevitable that the forthcoming revolution of 1917 would take place.However liberal historians, with the aim of destroying the image of the Communist regimes, have tended to usually agree with Service’s equation, “No war. No revolution” and that the four year conflict was like a thunderbolt which prevented Russia from following the democratic path to modernisation as her Western allies had done.
However, it is the Revisionist point of view that stands in equal balance stating that “…war should be seen as a kind of ‘Final Judgement'” (Figes) to produce a verdict on all the events that have occurred in Russia prior to that. “The overthrow of the Romanovs grew likelier as year succeeded year…
” (Service) but it was the war that was the final nail in the coffin for Russia’s liberal and democratic hopes to equality, freedom and peace.”Students of revolutions have observed that, as a rule, the grievances of the people look backward not forward. Rather than clamour for new rights, people complain of being unjustly deprived of ancient rights, real or imagined..
.” (Pipes) and in Russia at the time the peasants continued to express the paternal and unequivocal economic demand for the abolition of noble land ownership.And as “Russia’s stability depended on the peasant” (Pipes), any uncertainty in the peasant’s life had far reaching consequences for the stability of the whole of society. Whilst liberals believe that the reforms introduced post- 1905 promised a solution to rural poverty and land hunger, which they also claim were the two reasons responsible for peasant unrest leading up to the war, and that the rural economy was on the ascending path to modernisation stability, the Revisionists cast many shadows of doubt as to the effectiveness of Stolypin’s reforms. Figes comments that “in fact, long before 1914, Stolypin’s land reforms had [already] ground to a halt.” He goes further to point out that Stolypin himself stated that it would take at least 20 years to transform Russian society, but according to the rate of progress, Figes argues “it would have taken the best part of a century for the regime to create the strong agrarian bourgeoisie that it had evidently decided to stake its future.
His conclusion on the subject is that the ‘land enclosure movement’, had, like all other tsarist reforms, come too late. This is in stark contrast to the liberals who have pointed out that after the immediate pressure was relieved by the abolition of redemption dues and the introduction of several tax breaks, the proposed land reforms would create a smooth path for sustained growth in agricultural productivity. They focus their argument on the fact that the ‘wager on the strong and sober’ held enormous potential benefits such as private enterprise, consolidated farmsteads, a lower population and a mobile labour force. In the words of Acton, “modern techniques.
.. would replace the archaic implements.” They then imply that social peasant disturbances fell in the pre- war years and this pointed to peaceful development, and with each year the peasant’s interest and support for the status quo would grow and if a sustained period of peace and tranquillity was delivered, the tension in the peasant would peter out and eventually cease. For the liberals of this world, “1905 marked a turning point.”Whilst one tends to agree with the liberals in saying that “the economic.
.. record of tsarism was not unimpressive”, neither was it impressive. For most revisionists, 1905 was in fact a turning point but not towards peaceful democratic recovery but towards instability and uncertainty. They shatter any illusions the democracy- loving and communist- hating liberals hold and inject into the picture a doze of cold reality.
They see the traditional liberal view of revolution as a “chance product of war” (Acton) as unacceptable. They not only argue that in the years leading up to 1914, peasant land hunger and militancy remained intense but state even further that social unrest came from not only those whose standard of living was horrifically low, but from the more economically rational and dynamic peasant (a fact the liberals never associated with the peasant).Mass disturbance evidence of Soviet historians, according to Revisionists is at best shaky, and those findings were based on unreliable evidence and sources. While liberals dismiss these figures altogether, Revisionists appear more eager to examine the evidence before concluding.
It is hard for a professional historian to dismiss 20, 000 social disturbances between 1907- 14 whilst there were exceptional harvests and a strong recovery of the grain price.Modernisation was taking place, even in the countryside, despite all the cries from the Soviets of “semi- feudal” exploitation on the farm. New land was being used, new crops seed strains and rotations systems were introduced, new farming equipment was being utilised and there was an increase in yield per hectare. But Revisionist historians cast a doubt over the liberal interpretation and analysis of events. For the average peasant, due to a marked increase in the level of investment in food and consumer products within the countryside, the standard of living rose in the decades prior to even 1905, but the revolution still occurred. Thus the Revisionists introduce the argument that peasant aggressiveness is not a direct consequence or function of overall level of poverty but their unrest also comes from a want to achieve political goals. They further dismiss the liberal point that a reduction in taxes or an end to redemption dues was likely to alleviate peasant rebelliousness.
In fact it was the failure to realise the rising economic and political expectations and the peasants’ assertiveness of those goals that would ensure tensions only got worse and instability flowered.The Neo- Populist Revisionist historians also point out that Stolypin’s reforms of the Commune were pointless as major innovations had taken place in villages where communes prevailed. Dismantling the commune would in itself be a major barrier to agricultural improvement, and “for the vast majority, the option of leaving the commune held little attraction and resistance to Stolypin was fierce.” (Acton) Few left it and few new useful ideas came out of those who had. Contrary to both Soviet and Liberal points of view, Neo- Populists state that there was no commercialisation’s creation of differentiation between the rural ‘bourgeoisie’ and the rural ‘proletariat’. Acton points out that “the ‘classical effect’ of the market and commercial competition, which both Marxists and liberal economists take for granted” was not happening. The communal redistribution of land, heavy impositions of the State and the vulnerability of the ‘kulaks’ to the ups-and- downs of weather and the climate all countered any commercialisation.
Communes didn’t split, even when times were ‘good’. No- one wanted rich farmers, especially if they were their neighbour, and they would dislike the fact that someone had more than them. So the vast majority of ‘middle peasants’ were bound together by the Commune and tensions in the village were constantly turned towards a more important enemy- the nobleman. The village had a “common interest, a way of life, and an outlook on life” (Acton).
The Revisionists believe that the peasants were united in their obvious resentment and enmity towards the gentry. Basically the peasants were not only united in the face of land shortages and economic hardships but were also politically motivated to get rid of the gentry and so would seize land just as eagerly as it had done in the revolution of 1905. This is diametrically opposite to the liberal idea to less disturbances and more rural contentment.
This only highlights and identifies the complex problem of stability in the regions surrounding the towns.The Revisionists also disagree with the Soviets. They do not equate social tensions with economic or political processes at the heart of the Marxist interpretation. As the rate of progress and the level of the standard of living increases, then the Revisionists point out that it becomes exceedingly hard for the Soviets to claim that there is feudal exploitation in the towns and that people are unhappy.
Also the revisionists dispute the insistence of the Soviet historians that the peasant movement followed the proletariat vanguard. Although Lenin’s ‘party of a new type’ offered guidance, the peasants could revolt and conquer all they need by themselves. Revisionists show that Lenin’s genius wasn’t needed, as peasants were capable of sustaining their own revolt. One Russian proverb goes thus: – “Give a starving man some bread, and he’ll soon take the whole loaf.” Expectations were high, and with every little bit of reform, the peasants insisted on more (bread).In fact the Russian peasant, in the eyes of Revisionists, soon learned the definition of starving and the reason why it was so, through an improvement of his literacy levels. The peasant became more politically conscious without the aid of the Socialists, in what ever form they came.
The peasants were independent, and this would prove correct in February 1917, when they finally did seize land without much help of socialist parties. Although we know, by looking at the last two Duma compositions, that the peasants were more favourable towards the socialists. When this combined with the peasant’s declining respect for established authority especially the nobles, the trend of demands accelerated.
If “noble landownership, the prime source of peasant resentment, was far from fading peacefully away” (Acton), then the hope for stability had disappeared as the peasants clamoured for improvements both economically and politically.Stolypin’s policy did little or nothing to restrict or halt the ferocity of the peasants’ attack upon the nobility. 1905 was a prime example. Despite increases in standard of living and wages, the revolutions went ahead. This shows the peasants were in fact more aware politically and the fact that it was impossible to have economic modernisation without political liberation, such as the right to own all land.
While Revisionists rightly agree that peasants could have been better off and perhaps this would have prevented revolution, they stop short of the extremities the Soviets choose to say. Revisionists contradict the central features of the Soviet camp, by stating that the situation wasn’t as bad as the Soviets say it was, and that there was hope and revolution was certainly not inevitable.There was at least hope for stability. While on the other hand both currents of Revisionists likewise show opposition to liberal optimism by playing down the significance of reforms that liberals place, and question whether those reforms would actually lead to social stability. According to Service, the conventional wisdom and feeling has been that some kind of revolution was on the way and highly likely, just no one knew when. He further adds that “basic tensions in state and society had not been alleviated”, and the peasants’ wish for egalitarian custom and social justice would in the events of February 1917, be hard to extinguish. “These were the ideals for which they (the peasants) would fight long and hard.
” (O. Figes)Economic transformation was also taking place in the towns. Liberals say that industrialisation would take time, and as the economy grew then conditions would improve. They say this is typical of early modernisation and after a certain period of time wages and conditions would ameliorate. “The channels were being opened for peaceful management- employer bargaining within the framework of a private enterprise company” (Acton), and a start had been made.
However this start and likewise future progress relied on what both Soviet and Revisionist historians agree to call brutal conditions. Pitiful wages, 60- hour working week, the rate of industrial accidents horrific, overcrowded housing etc. and a general crude attitude towards the workers means that the Liberal point of view seems like capitalism was simply not being implemented properly and that serious reforms would need to be considered if that ideal liberal market place, in which workers would be able to “become integrated with the rest of society” (Acton), were to appear.Both Revisionists and Soviets agree that there was in reality emerging a brutal form of industrial capitalism, rather than the “fostering of moderation, reformism and concern with purely economic goals” that the Liberals promise. This environment was creating a more radical and politically conscious set of workers eager to strike at any moment. While liberals assure us that without war, the levels of worker militancy would decline as workers became more capitalist minded, this is hard to reconcile with the more realistic Revisionist stance. The Revisionists in fact diametrically oppose the Liberal claim that the worker’s protest was becoming less intense. There remains a fact that in 1905- at a time when there was an extremely high level of protests and disturbances, there were 13, 995 strikers who attended 2, 863, 173 number of strikes.
But in 1914- at a time when liberals claim there was a period of less intense protest, there are 3, 574 strikers which attended 1, 337, 458 strikes1. These figures show that a time,1914, when Liberals believe there was a less intense programme of protest, more strikes per person (374 per person) than a time, 1905, when the Liberals state there was a huge number of protests (205 per person). The Revisionists clearly put to bed any doubt as to the stability of the Empire.
They prove that the liberal view of social unrest was less intense after the reforms of the Tsar as not only an understatement but a complete distortion of the truth. And the Revisionist L. Haimson, correctly states, about the stability of the workers: – “By 1914, strike action was running at a rate comparable to that of 1905.” Worse still, the Autocracy was being threatened by these strikes in its capital city. “If the modernity and concentration of labour which St. Petersburg epitomised were the pattern of the future, the prospects for urban stability were poor.
“Even further, the Revisionists undermine the Liberal view point, by providing opposing facts to what the Liberals say. Indeed, there existed a fusion between economic and political goals for the workers, and it was not a Liberal ‘labour aristocracy’ that emerged. That remains a Liberal dream. But in revisionist reality, “it was the most urbanised workers, those with the highest levels of skills, education and wages who were at the forefront of the labour protest” (Acton).
It shows the general level of discontentment with the autocracy, showing us that protests were not strictly tied with economic principles but also, and much more importantly with political motivations. If the print workers, exceptionally well paid individuals, were “the most promising candidates for” roles in the strike processions, then we are revealed a deeper sense of mistrust and uncertainty over the regime amongst normal people. We see beyond the “glittering exterior of autocracy”, as Pipes calls it, and see the base structures which are inherently weak and unstable. We see the pillars are wobbling inside the monarchy’s castle. And that in unison, Soviets and Revisionists cry that the workers really “confronted the tsarist regime with a challenge it could not withstand” (Acton).The politicisation of the workforce was now apparent, and the Revisionists showed that workers tended to side with socialists in the DUMA elections and Trade Union Boards (as Soviets rightly claim) but the Revisionists differ in their analysis of the nature of socialist influence. The Revisionists however limit “Bolshevik influence before the war [as] less a cause than a consequence of the Russian working class radicalisation” (Acton).
After all, it was less thanks to Bolshevik propaganda than to personal experiences of disillusionment, disappointment, and poverty that worker radicalisation occurred. In contrast to both Soviet and Liberal interpretations, “at every turn workers found themselves coming up against the State… and economic grievances could only be redressed by achieving political change” (Acton) which was possible without the ‘genius’ of Lenin.As experience determined how Russian workers acted, then if they were to follow a reformist path in the pre- war years, then that depended on whether “the delicate flowers of parliamentary politics” (Acton) were given time to blossom. The impact of war combined with the character of the Tsar further fuelled the fire which was already causing the system to come apart.
“The pressures of the First World War… threw the anachronistic traits of Russian autocracy into sharp relief, and made Nicholas II seem less like an upholder of the autocratic tradition than an unwitting satirist of it.” (S. Fitzpatrick) But first it was the personal inabilities of the tsar which rocked the autocratic boat.
His insistence on mentioning the principle of autocracy just as firmly as did his dead father, and opposing any real reforms took away political power from his hands and shifted the balance to the people. Also his personal deficiencies were in part responsible for his early demise, as he was neither resolute enough to uphold the status quo, nor was he dynamic or far- sighted enough to realise that through genuine reforms he would be able to avert revolution and save his family’s throne.However his conservative ‘aids’ were too strong to repel, and the Duma became a nothing more than a toy for the Tsar, and so he became more and more reliant on force, he lost the support of both the middle classes and the intelligentsia. The Revisionists agree with the Soviets here that the liberals were in an ‘insoluble predicament’, because although popular with the more influential individuals, they themselves proved too weak and unable to face up opposition. They could not move left because they were afraid of the masses and the potential revolutions which they could bring, and appealing to them could destroy the liberals. Neither could the move to the right and risk “becoming hostages in a regime which they would exercise no control” (Acton).They did not have a foothold on power nor could they present an effective opposition.
With no hopes for reform, Liberals tend to single out the Tsar who by now through his own stubbornness and unwillingness to co- operate was left with quite bluntly no friends to sustain him in power. His landed nobility support was too narrow a political base to keep him in power, the police force too small, corrupt and ill- trained to keep control of the towns and the Army refused to co- operate with the Tsar’s wishes when it itself wanted reform. The Autocratic regime was becoming more and more unstable, and “the writing was on the wall before the war broke out” (Acton). Tsarism was “a deadlocked political system, drifting helplessly towards destruction” (A. K. Wildman).
War only speeded up the regime’s demise, as Gorky said, one thing was clear and that was that with the entrance to the 1st World War, Russia was entering the 1st act of a worldwide tragedy.There are many points on which the Revisionists and Soviets agree, namely that by 1914 the regime was already on the road to revolution, but where as the Soviets explanations for that route take is due to the fantastical determinist highly inevitable socialist theory and the great genius of its leaders, the Revisionists point more towards personal experience being the key to the radicalisation of peasants and workers. The liberal view of gradual recovery by Russia if not for the “bolt form the blue” World War One seems just as unlikely as the Soviet claims. The Revisionists seems to offer a realistic explanation of the fall of one the greatest Empire’s of history, through a mixture of balanced arguments, analysis and a substantial examination of facts. We know that Russia was on the path to annihilation, but the Revisionists in detail provide a sensible answer, accommodating for the war being the last kick in the backside and how it proved to be the Empire’s undoing.