World War One had great short term significance on Russia, particularly socially, economically and politically and historians have many views on this matter. By 1916, over 14 million Russian men had been mobilised and the heaviest burden of this fell on the rural peasantry as almost halve of their male labour force had been called up, and many people also moved to the cities to work in factories, as the demand for machinery increased.This meant that there was a rise in need for food and industry so between 1914 and 1917, annual government spending rose from four million to forty million roubles, inflation increased as the gold standard was lost and money became practically worthless. This pressure on the Russian people led to a dissatisfaction with the autocratic rule and ultimately, the Tsar was forced to abdicate. One main significance of Russia’s entry into World War One was the greater political influence of Rasputin, a Russian holy man who treated the heir, Alexie.It can be seen from the historian Alex De Jonge that Rasputin’s power was not appreciated by Russia as he wrote that Rasputin’s enemies charged him of being “cynical” and of “using his religion to mask his drive for sex, money and power”.
This increase in power and influence is depicted in Source A as Rasputin is shown in the middle of the court as the larger person to show his greater effect on the decisions of the rulers, with the Tsar and the Tsarina on either side of him to portray their dependence, which adds weight to De Jonge’s argument that Rasputin wished to increase his power.Rasputin was able to gain greater political control because when the Tsar took personal command of the army in 1915, the Tsarina relied upon him more greatly, with some people even believing that they were having an affair (Source B), which could be seen as reflecting De Jonge’s opinion of Rasputin’s drive for sex. This reliance can be explicitly seen in Source C, where the Tsarina is writing to the Tsar in response to his brother’s criticisms of the influence of Rasputin states that without Rasputin, “all would have finished”.This reveals that it was the Tsarina’s believe that they would have already lost the war if not for Rasputin. When considering the nature of the sources, it must be realised that both sources A and B were two of many anti –Rasputin post cards that circulated Petrograd, with Source A being printed in 1916, before Rasputin was killed, and with Source B produced in 1917, during the abdication of the Tsar.
Even though this means that these sources were produced as anti – autocratic propaganda and it is highly unlikely that the Tsarina was sleeping with Rasputin, they are still useful as they show the people’s view of Rasputin’s political significance and how this was a factor for the negativity towards the autocracy, which was a great significance of Russia’s entry into the first word war.Another great impact of Russia’s entry into the war, which would also have contributed to the dissatisfaction of the autocracy, was food shortages. During World War One it was difficult for peasants to sustain agricultural output as by the end of 1916, half of the male labour force had been called up (Henry Cowper) and horses and fertilisers had been seized by the military for the war effort.Michael Lynch claims that the main blow to the Russian army were food shortages and bad internal production. This view is supported by Source G (p. 55) which shows that between 1913 and 1916, grain production in Russia had decreased by almost a third, which would have greatly affected the Russian army (supporting Lynch) as to sufficiently feed them, grain would have had to have been imported to make up for the lack of home production and this would have been very difficult to do.The significance of these food shortages is supported by Source H, where the British Ambassador remembers them as a provocation for “popular outbreak”.
This source is highly likely to be trustworthy as it is the Ambassador’s own opinion from his own memories so is not spoken for any purpose apart from to inform others about the situation in Russia in 1916, which greatly strengthens Lynch’s argument. This significance is supported by Source I, in which the Minister of Agriculture A. V.Krivoshien states that “hungry and destitute people are bringing panic everywhere” in a report to the Council of Ministers in July 1915, and he cannot overstate the seriousness of this lack of food as he goes on to state that the great migration of people which was caused by the food shortages “will bring Russia… to revolution and to ruin”.
From this statement, it is highly probable that this source is reliable as unless Krivoshein wanted to give a genuine account of problems in Russia, it is unlikely he would have risked his position by saying something which could be seen as serious negativity towards the Tsar (“revolution”).However, it could also be argued that Russia’s food shortages resulted from problems with the transport system because when you consider the size of Russia, it is obviously that it would be very difficult to transport the vast volume of food that the war would demand and even though there had been great growth in the Russian railway system before the war with the tracks expanding from 13,210 miles in 1881 to 43,850 miles in 1913 (p. 4), this still only mainly covered European Russia as the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok which was supposed to connect the remote regions of Russia with the industrialised west remained incomplete in 1914. Lynch expressed the opinion that “by 1916, stations were no capable of handling freight” and “less than two years after the war began, the Russian Railway had virtually collapsed”, which shows that the railways did not have the capacity for wartime Russia.
This is judgement is suported by Source I, in which Krivoshein writes, “the railway lines are congested”, so they would have been negatively affected by the war. As the main purpose of this report is to inform the council about agriculture matters, this statement clearly exhibits the significance of the problems caused by Russian transport during the First World War because if it had not been a major issue that affected the movement of food, it would not have been mentioned in a report which is not focussing on transport issues.Food shortages were not the only financial significance of Russia’s entry into World War One. Remarkable financial stability had been achieved by Russia by 1914; she had the largest gold reserves of any European country and her currency had been on the gold standard since 1897.Historian Peter Gatrell wrote that “In some ways, Russia was in a strong position to withstand the stresses that war placed on its economy” as it had plenty of raw materials, and this view is supported by primary evidence in Source J in which Ridzianko, when referring to the situation in 1915 states “there was plenty of labour and material in Russia”, which can be seen as believable at the beginning of the war, especially as historian Henry Cowper wrote “wartime production demands led to an overall increase in the number of factory workers” which shows that there must have been sufficient materials for these people to work on, particularly as there was a vast increase in the total number of factory workers in Petrograd and Moscow from 1914 to 1917 (395,800 to 597,700 workers).
However, between 1914 and 1917 annual government spending increased from four million to thirty roubles and to raise this necessary capital, taxation and borrowing from abroad intensified so that wages could be paid and the industrial action could continue. This then led to the abandonment of the gold standard so that more notes could be put into circulation, but this resulted in severe wartime inflation, which can be seen in the table (p. 68) with prices quadrupling and the number of notes almost tripling.
Guido Giacomo Preparata writes about this economic significance, stating that from “1916–17 Russia owed to Britain a sum that was roughly a third of her annual income”, which can be seen by the great economic problems of Russia mentioned above. Another significant factor of Russia’s entry into the war was the military conditions and the problems that the soldiers faced, with historian Peter Oxley writing that “the heroic efforts of their (Russian) badly trained and equipped soldiers were no match for the German superior tactics and artillery” and Henry Cowper wrote that “Russian military losses were enormous” showing that the army had severe difficulties.These opinions are supported by Source J (1915 – memoirs of Rodzianko) where it is stated by the Commander-in-Chief that there was a “lack of ammunition and boots” and this view from Rodzianko is continued by Rodzianko in 1916, as “the soldiers fought barefooted” and there was still a problem with ammunition. However, there is evidence to undermine these sources as an extract home from an officer in the army in late 1916 (Source K) states “there are plenty of guns and ammunition”. A reason for this lack of continuity could be that Rodzianko was President of the Duma, which was not overly supportive of the Tsar and autocratic rule, as Nicholas had disbanded it many times before 1914.
On the other hand, it could also be argued that the Officer was only trying to reassure his family as in 1915, Polivanov , the War Minister(Source L) made a report on the situation at the front and stated that “we (Russia) are powerless to withstand their (German) gunfire, deprived as we are of ammunition” and historian Joel Carmichael wrote “Russia was as badly prepared for World War One as it was for every war in its history”, giving more evidence in favour of the view that the Russian troops did not have the sufficient equipment for the war, which is further supported by Carmichael who wrote “it was obvious that the Russian forces were totally inferior to the Germans in everything but numbers”, implying that Russia’s only hope was to overcome the German artillery through its size alone. These military problems would have also led to political unhappiness, resulting in revolts and, eventually, the abdication of the Tsar.In conclusion, Russia’s entry into World War One up to 1917 had great significance. By looking at both contemporary and primary evidence, it is obvious that the war was badly managed in many aspects, especially in areas of politics, transport, economics and the military which when looked at separately may not be seen as too great a problem, particularly as Germany did not managed to overcome the Russian force. However, when these significant impacts are looked at together, it is easy to see how the culmination of the failure of all of these aspects infuriated the Russian people sufficiently enough for them to revolt against their incapable rulers and topple the Romanov rule in 1917.