Octobrists to Bolsheviks: Imperial Russia, 1905-1917

Octobrists to Bolsheviks: Imperial Russia, 1905-1917

Octobrists to Bolsheviks: Imperial Russia, 1905-1917

Octobrists to Bolsheviks: Imperial Russia, 1905-1917

Excerpt

The sheer size of Imperial Russia impressed friend and foe alike. The largest country in the world from the sixteenth century onwards, although it was backward by West European standards, it was always regarded as one of the countries of the future. Russophobia surfaced in Britain about the middle of the nineteenth century and in July 1914 the German Chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg, saw the growing power of Russia as a 'nightmare'. However Russia's weaknesses outweighed her strengths. The system of government was autocratic. Power was centralized in St Petersburg (Petrograd-Leningrad) - on the periphery of the state. Communications were always a problem with such a vast terrain but no less so than communication between Russians and non-Russians. The authorities were dismayed to discover that only just under 45 per cent of the population declared themselves Russian in the 1897 census. Afterwards Russification was attempted in order to try to hold in check the growing national consciousness of the many non-Russian peoples. Baltic Germans and Finns played an important role in the government administration and the army; Jews - restricted to certain areas - were keen to deploy their commercial and other skills; Muslims had a well-knit social system; most Ukrainians saw themselves as different from Russians, and so on. How was St Petersburg to keep such an empire together on a shoestring budget? If any power was devolved would it not lead to local autonomy and even eventually to federalism? Russians could lose their dominating role in their own empire.

Given the size of the country and the population the bureaucracy was small and this meant that it could not deal very efficiently with the enormous burden of work placed upon it. There were enlightened bureaucrats but the dead hand of tradition and inertia worked against them. War turned out to be the midwife of change and the modern Russian state emerged after the shock of defeat in the Crimean War. Russia had to become more like the advanced countries of Europe or . . .

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