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To what extent was Nicholas II personally responsible for the downfall of the Tsarist regime?
The Romanov dynasty dates back to the early 1600s, and although many factors added up to it’s collapse, we can not deny that the last Tsar, Nicholas II, and his failures with the military and poor political decisions potentially played the largest part.
From the outset, it was clear to see that the Tsar was not well suited for his premature role as leader of Russia. For an autocratic state to function effectively, it needed clear direction from and control from above. There is no doubt that Nicholas was a kind, well-meaning person with “deep affection for his family”; he was passionately devoted to his wife, his son Alexi, and his four daughters. However, this kind disposition led to fatal flaw in his leadership skills as he would sooner spend time with his family than deal with any government matters. His sister, Grand Duchess Olga said that even Nicholas himself had admitted that “he was wholly unfit to reign”, and that he “had been trained as a soldier, he should have been taught statesmanship, and he was not”. Nicholas was ignorant, inexperienced and easily influenced, and seriously lacked the authority to lead effectively, especially given the unstable social and economic nature of the time.
Possibly the most fatal mistake that the Tsar made was appointing himself Commander in Chief of the Russian military as he was suddenly personally responsible for the many defeats in the first world war. The most famously devastating being the Brusilov Offensive of June 1916, killing in the region of 1.5 million soldiers. The people of Russia felt let down, and all sense of patriotism was lost. However, it was not just the Russian people who felt let down by the Tsar’s actions, the soldiers themselves began to desert, in some cases even killing their officers and fraternizing with the enemy.
As mutiny became more and more common, with military soldiers and officials joining in with strikes and protests at the home front, the Tsar was left virtually defenseless against any opposition he was to face. His poor leadership skills meant that when faced with conflict in the past, he relied upon the military to restore order. Without the military, Nicholas could no longer assert his authority upon the people of Russia.
With the Tsar’s efforts being completely focused on the war, he left room for disaster and discontent to spread among the home front. The military had took complete control over the already extremely limited railway, meaning the grain from the rural outskirts was unable to be transported to the inner city, resulting in food shortages and inflation in the cost of living of up to 300% across the nation.
The food shortages fueled strikes, particularly with women who were unable to feed and provide for their families whilst their husbands fought at the front. This consequently meant the economy, industry and agriculture crippled, which did not help the already failing war effort.
80% of the entire Russian population inhabited within the countryside. In the past, these people have been famously extremely loyal towards the Tsar, lacking in the education to believe anything other than the fact that the Tsar was some sort of divine super-human. That he was completely unaware of any of the hardships they faced; poverty, disease and suffering, and that everything that was wrong with the country was the fault of his advisors and ministers. They believed that if the Tsar was ever to become aware of their troubles, he would swoop in and save them all. They were the Tsar’s last defence against opposition, as they lacked the capacity to think anything otherwise, however, as even these people became aware of the Tsar’s serious lack of authority and myriad of political mistakes, peasant jaquries and uprisings began to spread across rural areas, meaning landlords were also discontent, and losing faith in the Tsar and his government.
Further issues at the home front spiraled from vicious rumors about the Tsarina, and her suspicious relationship with the toxic and extremely controversial Rasputin. After Rasputin apparently brought the Tsar’s son Alexi back from the brink of death with his strange healing abilities, the Tsarina developed a close rapport with the man and took him in to live in the palace. However, despite having no political or academic qualifications, Rasputin began dismissing and appointing government ministers, on the basis of his personal relationship with them or any financial “donations” he was to receive; resulting in incompetent ministers gaining power but above all, further weakening the unstable government. This of course, outraged the Russian people, their hatred towards Rasputin only to become even more intensified as more rumors of an affair between the Tsarina and Rasputin spread quickly. These rumors made the Tsar seem weak, and ignorant. Further rumors spread about the Tsarina’s loyalty to the country, her German heritage causing concerns amongst the press, as claims arose that she was communicating with German officials, releasing secret tactical information, explaining the Russian’s horrifying performance in the war thus far.
This brings us onto the various political factors that helped the collapse of the Tsarist regime. The formation of soviets such as the Petrograd Soviet meant that workers now had a voice, and could join together to create a virtually unstoppable force of opposition towards the Tsar.
Following their previously radical behavior the Tsar dissolved what was left of the “Duma”. Russia’s first attempt at democracy brought on following the October Manifesto. However, these people did not simply accept defeat and move on with their lives quietly and without argument. They formed an alternative government, what would later be known as the “Provisional Government” following the Tsar’s forced abdication. They were a strong force of opposition against the Tsar as they proved to the Russian people that there was an alternative to the Tsarist regime, that they did not have to simply accept this maltreatment and hope for a better future, they could create a better future instead.
Although the Tsar had a strong force of opposition against him, had he possessed the capacity, authority and simply the desire to lead more efficiently, he may have been able to cope with it more effectively, and the Tsarist regime may not have collapsed so quickly, or with quite such devastating effects.