Was the First World War the Cause of the February Revolution?

4 April 2015
A detailed analysis of the causes of the February Revolution in Russia (1917) – a paper which asks whether the Revolution was inevitable, or whether it only occurred because of WWI.

An essay which discusses the different causes of the February Revolution. It argues that severe wartime conditions played a major role in the events of 1917, as did the actions of the Tsar himself. However, it also argues that the Russian people were modernizing faster than the regime itself, and suggests that change was necessary, with or without the war.
“Relatively few people in Russia felt that the ‘constitution’ of 1905 was adequate. Although at the time it had represented a major concession by the Tsar, in practice it did little to appease the Russian people. Stolypin’s arbitrary use of Article 87, and the electoral law of 3 June 1907 caused many workers and peasants to lose interest in the Duma, as it no longer seemed to effectively promote their interests. Thus, before war broke out in 1914, workers, peasants, liberals and socialists all still sought political reform, and, as reform seemed unlikely through the Duma, revolution suggested a more viable means. The revolutionary intelligentsia was a lot more organized than it had been in 1905, particularly helped by relaxed censorship laws. An increase in primary education brought Pushkin, Tolstoy and Dostoevskii to the peasantry for the first time, and their ideas on nationhood were no longer restricted to the obshchestvennost, or ‘public sphere’. Russian society was showing obvious signs of modernization, while the regime was not. Certainly Russia was not on the brink of revolution in 1914; nevertheless, had war not broken out, it still seems likely that revolution would have happened at some point regardless. What the War provided was the weakening of the Tsarist regime, and thus the encouragement to defy it. The authority of the Tsar was paramount to the survival of the regime; hence, traditionally ‘peasants had often responded in an excitable and rebellious way to the authorities’ perceived weakness’ . This was an echo of 1905, when war with Japan had led to revolution. Furthermore, the War changed the character of the Revolution, as it was no longer solely about political and social reform, but about the survival of the nation. In some respects this delayed the Revolution, as many potential revolutionaries felt that a revolution during wartime could lead to the loss of the War. Others felt that unless the Tsar was overthrown quickly the War would be lost, which added a sense of urgency to the revolutionary movement. Finally, the War introduced a new element among the ranks of the revolutionaries: the army. Soldiers and workers had failed to work together in 1905, and this partly explains why the Tsar managed to survive for a further twelve years. In 1917, however, mutinous troops played a pivotal role, and their involvement empowered the revolutionaries, especially the more radical elements. Hence, although revolution seemed inevitable to many contemporaries, the First World War added new impetus to the revolutionary movement, radicalizing its protagonists, and thus shaping its very outcome.”
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