- Czar Nikolas could have given more power to the Duma after the 1905 revolution, which would have resulted in Russia becoming a constitutional monarchy;
- Czar Nikolas could have been assassinated, which would have resulted in the heir becoming Czar, and most likely launching a huge crack down of dissidents;
- Czar Nikolas could have died in a freak accident, resulting in his son becoming heir, and establishing a constitutional monarchy;
- The February Revolution could still have happened, Nikolas abdicates in favour of his son, and once again a constitutional monarchy is established.
Brief History of the Czars
Okay, while I won’t claim to be an expert on Russian History, the period in the Early 20th Century where we saw the collapse of the Czarist government and the creation of the Stalinist State was one of the major topics that we studied in highschool. This isn’t surprising because that one little event in October 1917 ended up having a huge impact upon the direction the 20th Century headed. Not only did we see the collapse of the European dominated world view and the rise of the superpowers, the creation of the USSR had a huge effect upon the political landscape, particularly with a huge shift to the right in the United States. In fact even though the Soviet Union is long gone, we still see a lot of tension between Russia and the NATO states.
To say that the October Revolution had a huge impact upon the course of the 20th Century is an understatement.
Anyway, as for the history of Russia, in my mind until the Napoleonic Era it simply seemed to be that frozen land to the north beyond the edges of civilisation, though it was the gateway through which the Monguls entered Eastern and Central Europe. In fact, Russia really didn’t exist prior to the Mongul invasions and it was upon their retreat that the beginnings of Czarist (or Tsarist – both are correct) empire began to appear. However, while they did have a minor impact upon the European stage during the 18th Century, it wasn’t until their victory against Napoleon in 1812 that Russia made a name for itself on the international stage. You could say that her defeat of Napoleon signalled her coming of age.
Actually, her defeat of Napoleon had a significant impact upon her development as a nation. Through the 18th and 19th century we see the beginnings of Russian expansion as she moved east over the Siberian plans and south into the Balkans, picking up land deserted by the Ottoman Empire. The beginnings of the empire emerged under the leadership of Czar Peter the Great (1672-1725) and Catherine the Great (1762-1796) and continued into the 19th Century. However her expansion into the Balkans came to a halt when she came into conflict with the British and the French that led to the disastrous Crimean War.
It was also during this time that we begin to see the flourishing of the arts with authors such as Dostoyevski, Nicolai Gogal, and composers such as Tchaicovski. While we begin to see what I would consider the Russian Renaissance, politically the empire was still an incredibly backward country. While the rest of Europe were establishing constitutional monarchies and republics, Russia was still very much an autocratic state with a system of indentured landholdings. This resistance to change created a rise in extreme political activists known as the anarchists and the nihilists. No doubt Karl Marx contributed a lot to the rise of extremism (despite the fact that his writings referred to the more industrialised states of Western Europe, as opposed to Russia, which was still very much an agrarian state).
This tension between the populace and the aristocracy increased during the later years of the 19th Century with strikes becoming ever more common, and the government putting them down ever more brutally. This came to a head on 9th January 1905, a day that has become known as Bloody Sunday (though the U2 song of the same name has nothing to do with this event) when the Russian troops gunned down between 200 to 1000 protesters outside the Summer Palace in St Petersburg. This sparked off a series of revolts across the country, literally paralysing the state. One knows that one is in serious trouble when during the active phase of a revolution the army supports the protesters – this happened in France in 1789, in Egypt in 2011, and also in Russia in 1905. The most famous of these was the strike on the Battleship Potemkin that was docked in the harbour in Sevastopol, which is the subject of a movie of the same name. Okay, the movie is basically a load of communist propoganda, but it is still one awesome movie, and you can watch it in its entirety (with subtitles) on Youtube.
Anyway, Nicholas did put through a few reforms, including establishing a legislative assembly known as the Duma. Actually, calling it a legislative assembly is quite incorrect since they didn’t actually do all that much other than rubber stamp Nicholas’ laws, but sometimes to be seen to do something is just as good as actually doing something, and it was quite clear that Nicholas really wanted to maintain the status quo. It worked though because Nicholas managed to hold onto power for at least another 12 years.
Then comes 1917 and Russia was once again in a lot of trouble due to one major European event – World War I. The thing with Russia was that it was losing and losing badly. They did manage to win the battle of Tannenberg early on in the war, but that victory was fleeting and the Germans were pretty much thrashing them on a regular basis. This caused significant problems for Nicholas since being Czar he was also head of the armed forces. As it turned out he, and his hand picked generals, really didn’t know how to fight a real war. In fact they had been beaten by the Japanese – decisively – in the Russo-Japanese War.
As such in January 1917 there was another revolution and Czar Nicholas was removed from power (actually he abdicated) and a democratic government was established. However this new government decided to continue fighting the war, namely because they really didn’t want to upset their allies on the Western Front. Unfortunately things didn’t improve all that much, and the war continued to go badly for them, which resulted in the Bolsehvik coup of October 1917 (they referred to it as a revolution, however it is more like a coup).
This is the problem with revolutions, and we saw it in the French Revolution, and we see it once again in the Russian Revolution – they are rarely, if ever, successful. Okay, what about America you might ask. Well, unlike France and Russia, the United States, when it revolted against Britain, already had an established government – the Continental Congress. With France and Russia they literally had to start from scratch, and if you look at France you will see them going from one failed government to another until Napoleon said ‘stuff this’ and took over himself.
The more I think about it the more I believe that the major turning point with modern Russia is the October Revolution (even though I prefer to call it a coup). The thing is that the major changes to world history came with the establishment of the Bolshevik government. If Nicholas, or the republic, managed to survive then, well, nothing much would have changed. Okay, there would have been more freedom of movement, and less of an autocratic rule, but it is more to do with what wouldn’t have happened than what would have happened.
The Socialist Monster
The Great Depression
The Five Year Plans
World War II
The Space Race
Parliamentary Russia – Lenin’s Coup Fails by David Alfred Sarkeis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.