Strength of the Imperial Russian Government 1913

The Strengths of the Tsar’s government were those usually found in an autocratic regime. Church, army, a repressive secret police, and unthinking love of the peasantry. The weakness of the government lay in its incompetence, in the huge size of Russia’s economic poverty and in the pressures coming from a modernizing world. From a middle class in which had already in 1905 forced the Tsar to set up a Duma, and from extreme political groups who wanted even more radical change.


1.  The Peasants loved the Tsar as ‘their father’, and revered him as empowered from God – though this was shattered in St Petersburg in 1905, when the Cossacks attacked a peaceful demonstration (Bloody Sunday).

2.  The Romanov dynasty had ruled since 1613 – the 300th celebrations saw a wave of popularity for the Tsar.   In 1905, there had been a revolution and Nicholas was forced to accept a Duma (parliament), but it had no power and the Tsar dismissed it if it disagreed with him.  

3.  The church was powerful and supported the Romanov government.

4.  Government and the army were controlled by the nobles and supported the government, which used the Cossacks to put down protests (eg Bloody Sunday 1905)

5.  The secret police (Okrana) and press censorship.

6.  There were two parties in the Duma which supported the Tsar:

the ‘Rights‘ (called by Lenin ‘the Black Hundreds’) – deputies who so supported the Tsar that they wanted to abolish the Duma and restore autocracy.
The ‘Octoborists‘ – during the troubles of 1905, the Tsar and his chief minister Witte had published the October Manifesto, which promised freedom of speech, no imprisonment without trial, and a Duma to approve all laws.   The Octobrists were supporters of the Tsar who did not want to go so far as to restore autocracy, but wanted him to keep to the October manifesto.

The headquarters to the Okrana was located in the St. Petersburg Ecclesiastical Academy, and it was thus linked with the Russian Orthodox Church.


1.  Russia had been humiliated in a war with Japan, 1904

2.  There were many nationalities, languages and religions (the only unity was the Romanov dynasty).

3.  Russia was vast – 125 million people spread across Europe and Asia.   This made government difficult, especially because of poor communications – bad roads and few railways.

4.  An out-of-date farming economy.   Most of the population were peasants who lived in the country and are under the control of the nobles.  

5.  Russia was beginning to industrialize (eg Trans-Siberian railway, 1904).   Towns/ factories were starting to grow up.   But there was worker poverty and poor living conditions – which created a large workforce, disaffected and concentrated in Petrograd, the capital.   Also a small wealthier middle class were beginning to want a say in the government.

6.  Tsar Nicholas was an autocrat –  Nicholas carried out all the business of government alone, without even a secretary, an impossible load   He was a weak Tsar.   At first he refused to compromise then, in the crisis of 1917, failed to act.

7.  There was opposition to the government from:

The Kadets – middle classes and liberal landowners who wanted Russia to have a Parliament like England.
Social Revolutionaries (wanted a peasant revolution, and to take all the land from the nobles).
The Communists (followers of Karl Marx), who were divided into the moderate Mensheviks (wanted Communism without a revolution) and the extremist Bolsheviks (wanted a violent proletarian revolution).
After 1900, there were many assassinations and protests (eg Bloody Sunday, 1905 and the murder of Prime Minister Stolypin in 1911

The Russian’s lost the Russo-Japanese war because

  1. Japan made a Surprise attack on Port Arthur in 1904 (as it was to do at Pearl Harbor in 1941!).   It took Russia a while to organize its response.


  2. Although Russia had just finished (1904) the trans-Siberian railway, every gun, bullet and ration had to be sent thousands of miles by rail from St Petersburg .   Korea was at the end of a very long supply line. 


  3. The Russian Tsar was incompetent and fell prey to political intrigue – therefore his best adviser Witte fell from power and other advisers came and went – so the Russian High Command was incompetent and kept changing its strategy.   The Russian generals hated each other and tried to make the others fail.


  4. Just when the Russians had organized their army and looked as though they might be able to get the upper hand in the land war, in Jan 1905 the Russian commander of Port Arthur surrendered, without asking his officers and with plenty food and weapons for a longer siege.


  5. Japan had been growing stronger for many years.   It had a big army, and the Japanese beat the Russians in a very bloody land battle (battles of Fuhsien and Liaoyang in 1904, and Mukden in 1905).   It also had a big navy (remember the Anglo-Japanese naval Treaty of 1902) – when the Russians sent their Baltic Fleet to try to help, the Japanese also ambushed and defeated them at the battle of Tsushima (which effectively ended the war).


  6. The British Helped the Japanese – they stopped the Russian Baltic Fleet going through the Suez canal , and the British press led a campaign against the Russians.

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