• A Level History - Tsarist Russia


AQA Tsarist Russia 1855-1917

Who were the Tsars?

  • The rulers were monolithic
  • The Tsars were a family (the Romanovs) line of emperors of the Russian empire
  • They were autocrats leading a socially, economically and politically backward nation
  • From 1855, the Tsars thought they were the embodiment of God
  • They held sovereignty
  • Were oppressive
  • In this unit there are 5 Tsars.
    • Alexander I 1801 - 1825
    • Nicholas I 1825 - 1865
    • Alexander II 1865- 1881
    • Alexander III 1881 - 1894
    • Nicholas II 1894 - 1918

Alexander I

  • Following the French Revolution, the Tsar considered setting up "an advisory representative assembly" with the possibility of law making powers much like parliament
    • This was never put into practice
    • His brother Nicholas I totally rejected this idea and did everything in his power to hide this idea from the people of Russia

Nicholas I

In 1855 An Autocratic Empire was born

  • According to the "Collected Laws of the Russian Empire" written by Nicholas I in 1832, "The Emperor of all the Russias is an autocratic and unlimited monarch; God himself ordains that all must bow to his supreme power, not only out of fear but also out of conscience."
  • The statement implies in a strong manner that he is the head of the orthodox church and is to be believed as the embodiment of God
    • The Russian empire belonged to him and it's people were his children therefore by convention he can treat them how he wishes

However, although it was an autocratic empire, the Tsar had a cabinet to advise him. The Patriarch of Moscow was appointed by the Tsar to run church affairs

    • This made all religious leaders of Russia subject to the Tsar
  • The cabinet was made of 50-60 nobles chosen by the Tsar which therefore formed a "Yes Cabinet" because the cabinet was filled with the Tsar's allies so the Tsar could
  • The Tsar has the world's largest army of 1.5 million conscripted serfs
    • Each serf had to serve for 25 years
    • The army took 45% of Russia's budget every year
    • The higher ranks were reserved for nobles
  • The Tsar had the elitist regiment of the Cossacks
    • Served as bodyguards to the Tsar and as police reinforcements
    • Came from the Ukraine and Southern Russia
    • Known for their skills in horsemanship and strong military tradition
    • Each soldier rode his own highly trained horse which was seen as their greatest strength and weakness.
    • Without his horse, the cossack was useless

Alexander II

  • Alexander was the most successful Russian reformer since Peter the Great
  • His most important reform was the emancipation of serfs in 1861 - liberated 51 million serfs - became known as Alexander the Liberator
  • Judicial reforms - reorganizing the judicial system
    • setting up elected local judges
    • allowing the defence to have an advocate and evidence to prove their innocence
  • Local government reforms - promoting local self-government through the zemstvo system. However, the system was made that only nobles could lead the zemstvo. However, it still meant that towns and villages could improve because the chairman would be local and therefore knew the problems of the area
  • Military reforms - the Tsar put Dmitry Milyutin as head of the army and oversaw the reform.
    • He made the army smaller and better trained in response to the Crimean war.
    • Modern weaponry was introduced as was a new command structure.
    • Conscription was reduced to 15 years of active service and 10 years in the reserves and even nobles were obligated to serve
    • Punishments were made less severe
    • Military colleges were set up which educated the non-noble officer corps
    • Literacy was improved with mass-army education in 1870 - 1890
  • Censorship reforms
    • Over 9000 titles were introduced to Russia literature over 40 years
    • More freedom of speech

However, was the title Tsar Liberator proper? The emancipation of the serfs only emancipated them.

  • It was up to the serfs to buy their land and attain food to survive.
  • 80% of the money needed to buy a cottage on the Lord's land was borrowed from the bank and 20% borrowed from the lord
    • This gave the lords to make more money
    • High prices for the land led to more money being borrowed
    • This led to Russia becoming bankrupt and hyperinflated because of the need for money
    • The high prices and high interest rate led to life crippling debt that was passed down through generations
    • The peasants had to grow crop to survive but surplus crop to make a living and survive
    • The lord gave them little land most of which was infertile
    • This led to mass starvation and death
    • More death followed after a cholera epidemic during Alexander III reign

Attempted Assassinations on Alexander II

  • In April 1866 a noble student shot the Tsar but missed. The attempted assassination shook the Tsar's confidence which led him to begin a more repressive policy
  • In April 1867 a Polish immigrant fired on the carriage carrying the Tsar and children but missed and hit a horse and cavalryman instead
  • In April 1879 another former noble student fired at the Tsar 5 times but missed....5 time
  • In December 1879 a bomb was supposed to blow up the Tsar but they put it on the wrong train
  • In February 1880 a mine positioned under the dining room in the Winter Palace by a revolutionary posing to be a carpenter came near to success. It killed 12 people and injured 15 but the Tsar was late to dinner and he survived the attempt
  • 13th March 1881 the Tsar was travelling to the Winter Palace. The People's Will threw two bombs which missed and landed next to Cossacks and the third killed the Tsar as he got out of the carriage to help the wounded.

Alexander III

  • Brought up to believe that with God's direction, he alone could decide what was right for Russia.
  • The duty of his subject was not to advise but to love and obey
  • As his first act of Tsar he hung the conspirators of Alexander II's death


Alexander III made a number of reforms that created a full autocratic "government" which handed full power to the Tsar and nobles. Changes to Local Government Because Alexander III knew that he couldn't undo the emancipation he decided to counter reform the Zemstvo power - "Their powers were distinctly curved and handed to the Ministry of the Interior."

  • This meant that the Tsar could control the Zemstvo elections by issuing Land Captains. They had the power to override elections in the Zemstvo and to disregard any Zemstvo decision.
    • This meant that the Tsar wanted to show the people that he is a modernist to gain their support even though he was regressing Russia by what seemed to be a 100 years.
    • A further act in 1890 ensured that the peasants votes would be reduced to restore power to the nobles because the peasantry was large in Russia at the time and the nobility was small therefore the peasantry were essentially using direct democracy which is where the people govern themselves (another example would be active citizenship which is a very modern philosophy developed by the Labour party in the 2000s)
    • Politically, autocracy is the opposite to democracy therefore the Tsar was completely against the concept of the peasants governing themselves
    • Land Captains were able to overturn court judgements to their liking
  • In June 1882, the electorate was filtered by the property owner's property value therefore the peasantry electorate was significantly reduced

"It could be argued that these changes helped ensure a more efficient collection of taxes" - See page 27 of "Tsarist and Communist Russia 1855-1964" by Sally Waller for full extract regarding this point (extract 3).

Changes in policing

  • The police and okhrana was led by von Plehve (Vyacheslav von Plehve) from 1881 to 1884
    • Police was then led by Pyotr Durnovo
  • The police were even more ruthless when it came to oppression because of Alexander III's assassination. He saw that the people couldn't be controlled through social reforms as well as liberalism
    • This made Alexander loath liberalism and reform
  • The enforcement of the Okhrana and censorship made Russia into a harsher Police State. This is where the state supervises the citizens to make the people fear the state therefore be able to control them to a high degree

Changes in the judicial system

  • Judicial reforms of Alexander II were reversed
    • In 1887 the Ministry of Justice was granted powers to hold close court sessions
    • This contradicted what Alexander II wanted, the need for open court sessions was a statement of how liberal the government was. Closed court sessions inferred that justice was not served therefore making Russia a stronger police state by preventing the course of justice to be correctly adhered to

Alexander III introduced Russification to try to unite the nation as a whole by trying to make the empire on nation.

  • To russify other cultures in Russia would result in a rebellion against the Tsar therefore it had to be done discreetly or by distracting the nation whilst Russifying them all
  • To do this the Tsar initiated pogroms
    • Pogroms are a mass movement against one religion
    • Historically they were against the Jewish religion
    • The Tsar initiated pogroms against the Jewish religion to distract the nation from his russification attempts
  • Although russification was attempted before Alexander III it was done isolated and not as a widespread movement which therefore made this "operation" so important because it had to be done covertly

Changes in education

  • Educational developments were overseen by Delyanov who made the appointments of chancellors, deans, and professors subject to the approval of religious, moral and patriotic orientation rather than their academic backgrounds
  • University life was supervised by the Okhrana
    • Students were forbidden form forming groups of more than 5 people
  • Children of the lower classes on the hierarchical pyramid would be limited to only primary education "lest they be taken out of the social environment to which they belong to"

Changes in Censorship

  • Tolstoy established a government committee in 1882 which issued a temporary decree that allowed newspapers to be closed down and life bans on editors and publishers
  • All literary had to be officially approved of and libraries had restricted reading rooms in the books they were allowed to stock
  • Censorship also extended to the theatre, art and culture where russification was enforced

Jewish Pogroms

  • Between the years of 1881 and 1884 there were a series of pogroms that were targeted on the Jewish Religion
  • This started in the Ukraine in April 1881 but the reasons why are unknown, some historians believe that it could be because of lucrative railway contracts
  • Pogroms were encouraged by the Okhrana for two reasons.
    • To hide the fact that the state was trying to russify the empire
    • To get rid of a community of people that are passionate of their culture and religion that are in contrast to Orthodox Russia

Nicholas II

  • Had been brought up to take up the role of ruler seriously and to believe that concessions or signs or weakness would be indications of concordance and failure on his part
    • Ironically he claimed before his coronation that he was, "to maintain the principle of autocracy just as firmly and unflinchingly as it was preserved by my unforgettable dead father."

Demands for change and the government reaction

  • The years after 1894 was a time of serious unrest for Russia
  • Russia saw the shift in the Russian society as it became more politicised in the years of the great famine(1891-92)
    • As a result, the Zemstvo system had to provide all the necessary relief work
    • As a result there was a nationwide public distrust in the government's competence
  • There was deep unrest in Russia's universities but these were seen to by the increase of the Okhrana
    • Students were expelled, exiled, drafted into the army or subjected to military force
  • In the years of 1902-07 there was an increase of unrest in both towns and villages and rural communities
    • Peasants destroyed their landlords barns and destroyed grain even attacking their landlords
  • Stolypin dealt with the disturbances with ferocity which just made the situation worse

OK, so here there will be a big jump because i really need to get this Lenin stuff in here then i'll backtrack to Nicholas the II and then make amendments to the rest of the article. After i finish Lenin, alongside Nicholas II, i will be making a second article for the modernisation of Britain. The link will be posted HERE

The Provisional Government

  • In March 1917, when the tsar's government collapsed, the members of the Duma set up the Provisional Government led by Alexander Kerensky
  • It had to share power with the Petrograd Soviet, which had a rule - Order No.1 - that its members should only obey the Provisional Government as long as the Soviet agreed with it therefore it was a balance of power
    • This can be called the dual government which is coincidently like a bicameral parliament but in Russia's case this isn't bicameral
    • Members of the Petrograd Soviet always rejected the PG proposals
  • The PG didn't carry out any major reforms other than abolishing the Okhrana and press censorship, and allow political freedom
  • Therefore this gave Lenin and the Bolsheviks some ammunition to shame the PG and prove to the people why he and his party should be in power
  • The PG never made an attempt to stop the war
  • Was unable to stop shortages of food and fuel in petrograd
  • "The Provisional Government did little to deal with its opponents. Even after the Bolsheviks rebelled in July 1917, it allowed Lenin to preach his popular message of 'all power to the Soviets'" - BBC

How Significant of a threat was Lenin to the Provisional Government?

  • Peasantry supported Lenin therefore the majority of Russia supported him because of his April Theses motto "Bread, Peace and Land"
  • Working class supported him because of the April Thesis but also because of the revolution he was campaigning for benefitted greatly the working class
  • The Baltic Fleet support the Bolsheviks and Lenin - Didn't recognise the provisional government as a power
  • All power to the soviets - Petrograd Soviet - Trotsky
  • The PG was conservative
  • Unrepresentative therefore undemocratic
  • Didn't solve the pressing problems Russia had
  • War still going on
  • Lots of opposition
  • Inexperienced with politics
  • Lacked legitimacy
  • National minorities still in question
  • Ineffective and unable to rule

Who are the Bolsheviks?

How were the Bolsheviks able to seize power?

  • The July Days
    • Took place in Petrograd in 1917 in July. Workers engaged in a spontaneous armed demonstration to try spark revolution (which failed dismally) against the Provisional Government
    • The Bolsheviks were initially trying to to stop the demonstrations then some Bolsheviks thought this was the time to strike which then led to Bolshevik leaders being arrested and Lenin going into hiding in Finland
    • The July Days were the temporary low point for the Bolshevik party
  • Kerensky and the Provisional Government
    • Kerensky replaced the PG with the Socialist Coalition party - Led by Kerensky
    • In the October revolution, the Bolsheviks handed power to Kerensky and in return Kerensky supported the Bolsheviks
  • Worker Radicalisation
    • This started in 1905 with Bloody Sunday (TO BE ADDED TO THE ARTICLE)
    • This is basically the July Days...
  • Bolshevik Popularity
    • Bolsheviks were popular because they were Lenin's party and for what Lenin stood for meant that the population, which was largely peasantry, wanted what Lenin was campaigning for (after the April Theses) "Bread, Peace, Land".
  • The Kornilov Affair
    • The PG was under threat of its own army. Kornilov tried to seize power.
    • Kerensky's army seemed powerless in comparison to Kornilov's
    • The Bolsheviks infiltrated Kornilov's party and persuaded soldiers to run away in fear
    • During this other Bolsheviks were striking on the railways to prevent supplies and orders arriving to Kornilov therefore the war was over before it even begun
  • The Bolsheviks responded to the Menshovik's challenge to whether they can seize power on October 14 which made the people think that the Menshovik party was a repressive party much like Tsarist authority therefore the Bolsheviks got a lot more support therefore power because without support where would a party go?

How did the Bolsheviks seize power?

  • Kerensky had supported a new offensive attack against Germany in June; its failure rebounded on him
  • He failed to suppress the Bolsheviks – allowing the troubles of the July Days
  • He appointed Kornilov as Commander-in-Chief of the army but panicked at his demands and foolishly called on the Soviet for help against the General thus fatally distributing arms to the Bolsheviks
  • He knew of plans for a Bolshevik attack in October/November but his decision to send radical army units away from the capital only led to accusations that he was abandoning Petrograd to the Germans and he made no further advance preparations to defeat the attack
  • He underestimated the amount of support for Lenin by October/November 1917. His last ditch attempts to close Bolshevik newspapers, restrict the powers of the Military Revolutionary Committee and close bridges linking the working class areas to the centre of Petrograd only gave the Bolsheviks an excuse for action
  • He fled before the Bolsheviks seized the Winter Palace.
  • The war situation and military failures
  • The economic circumstances which came as a result of war
  • The faults of the PG before Kerensky (e.g. under Lvov) and the Dual Power arrangement
the condition of workers and peasants and soldiers
  • The strength of the Bolsheviks, their ideological appeal and work of Lenin and Trotsky.

This was written by Mr.ItsJustMe Please message me any queries and i will reply as soon as i can. Information was extracted from "Tsarist and Communist Russia 1855-1964 by Sally Waller", Wikipedia and my own knowledge

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