Author Topic: The Russian Revolution - Causes and/or Prevention?  (Read 46978 times)

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Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Russian Revolution - Causes and/or Prevention?
« Reply #75 on: June 03, 2008, 07:42:04 PM »
The Russian revolution was consciously modelled on the French, in part because the political circumstances of an inflexible and reactionary government were the same.  But I detect something insidious in the argument that the people weren't ready for democracy - what people are?  And who judges?  In fact I'd argue that for a brief period in Russia (coincident with the Provisional Govt but not a result of it) there was a real flowering of democracy that culminated in the only meeting of the Constituent Asembly that was closed down by Lenin & co.

Phil T

The Russian Revolution of March 1917 was NOT consciously modelled on the French Revolution, it was not consciously modeled on anything - on the contrary, it was a spontaneous outburst of popular discontent with the current regime. But once the tsar abdicated and a new leadership was established, I think the new government tried to model themselves more on the American Revolution than on the French one. After all, the provisional government hoped to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, which was certainly not the goal of the Jacobins! The fact that the Bolsheviks probably took the French Revolution as a model is another story all together - and that's one reason why I have always had a hard time believing that Lenin's Terror was ONLY motivated by geopolitical exigencies - no, IMHO, it was always part and parcel of his entire program of revolution.

And Phil, sorry to say this, but I think you're being more than a little naive in arguing that the Russian people was ready for democracy in 1917-18. I do not think that most of them were. If you have an illiteracy rate of well over 50 percent, and a poverty rate that competes with that figure, and 80 percent of your entire population is peasant in origin and either uneducated or only very badly educated - then you do not have an adequately well-informed populace, and it follows that you cannot establish a true democracy. And let's have another reality check: the Russian people, in the elections to the Constituent Assembly (which were free elections, conducted before the Bolshevik takeover) voted overwhelmingly for the Socialist Revolutionaries, a radical party, very pro-peasant, which not merely advocated but actually practiced terrorism . I ask you, what hope exactly did Russia have, if this was the very best it could do at possibly the most defining moment of its entire history?



I think you're naive

I think a post February Revolution run by the SRs would indeed be interesting. It's a fairly well regarded concept in political thought than once a revolutionary party becomes a ruling party they start to become conservative, or perhaps more conservative would be more accurate. Would the SRs continued to practice terrorism if they were the ruling party?

To be fair to the Russians of 1918, few had much experience with democracy, so my thought is that absent of malific interests (Bolsheviks, German General Command) there was a chance in 1918 for Russia to develop into a democracy.

So, I do blame the Germans for infecting the country with Bolsheviks and the Bolsheviks for stiffling all dissent.

Hmmm, Lisa, i suppose the Jacobins became more conservative once they became the ruling party in revolutionary France? For that matter, I suppose the Bolsheviks became more conservative in revolutionary Russia?

Sarcasm aside (and please, I beg you, excuse me for this lapse, because I really do value your opinion) I simply don't buy this concept that the Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) would have become more conservative once, if ever, they got into power (and believe you me, they could never have held on to power for very long, they were too disorganized, but that's another discussion all together!). The fact of the matter is, however uncomfortable it might be for us to admit it (even with almost a century of hindsight) that the Russian revolution almost from its inception was geared towards terror. Because the masses were hungry for land and seized it despite all the provisional government's delaying tactics. Because masses of Russian soldiers, mainly peasants, returning home from the first world war, were not only traumatized but also without doubt completely brutalized by the experience. And finally and perhaps most importantly, because you simply cannot oppress the majority of your people for three centuries without there being some horrible recompense to pay in the end.
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Offline LisaDavidson

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Re: The Russian Revolution - Causes and/or Prevention?
« Reply #76 on: June 04, 2008, 01:41:06 AM »
Good points all. I think the Bolsheviks did become more conservative over the years (a relative term, to be sure!) in that they abandoned earlier aspirations about spreading their revolution globally and concentrated on their own country for the most part. The Jacobins, it could be argued, in not becoming more conservative, doomed themselves to fall out of power, which they did rather quickly.

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Russian Revolution - Causes and/or Prevention?
« Reply #77 on: June 06, 2008, 04:08:29 PM »
Good points all. I think the Bolsheviks did become more conservative over the years (a relative term, to be sure!) in that they abandoned earlier aspirations about spreading their revolution globally and concentrated on their own country for the most part. The Jacobins, it could be argued, in not becoming more conservative, doomed themselves to fall out of power, which they did rather quickly.

Lisa, thanks for the heads up, but I'm not sure what you mean by saying the bad old Bolshies became more conservative over the years. Of course, you have a point, and a very strong one, as far as Lenin's New Economic Policy (NEP) of the 1920s is concerned - certainly it encouraged small businessmen and entrepeneurs... Nevertheless, these were also the years of the Comintern. Remember that enveloping Soviet organization designed to instigate worldwide revolution? Which was busily infiltrating the Russian emigre community and even kidnapping and executing members of it, throughout the 1920s, as it saw fit?

And remember Stalin? He came to power in the years between 1925 and 1928, that is, less than a generation after the October Revolution. And his programs of mass collectivization and industrialization could not by any stretch of the imagination be characterized as conservative. They were radical to the very core. And they resulted in the unnecesary deaths of millions.
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Offline LisaDavidson

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Re: The Russian Revolution - Causes and/or Prevention?
« Reply #78 on: June 09, 2008, 01:09:40 AM »
You will get no argument from me about the deaths due to collectivization (and while I know less about deaths due to industrialization, i'll take your word for it).

But, if we can discuss agrarian policy only for a moment, the agrarian policy implemented by the Bolsheviks was conservative from a certain (non Western)  point of view. It was consistent with Marxist theory in that all farmland eventually became nationalized. This was in sharp contrast to the SR policy under which the land was to have been owned by the peasantry - one reason why the SRs won the Constituent Assembly elections in 1918 by such an overwhelming majority. (And another reason why Lenin shut the CA down immediately).

Russia is remarkable in that there was little concept of private property the way we know it in the West - at least there was prior to the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. So, land that was owned by landowners prior to 1861 was in part becoming owned by the peasantry by the time of the revolution - and then stolen by the national government under the Bolsheviks by the 1930's. While it was revolutionary, it was also conservative, as crazy as that sounds, because it was closer to the pre 1861 model than the 1917 one.

So, I remain convinced that the Bolsheviks did become more conservative as they governed - just not conservative the way everyone imagines that word.

Offline Zvezda

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Re: The Russian Revolution - Causes and/or Prevention?
« Reply #79 on: June 09, 2008, 05:09:50 PM »
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I simply don't buy this concept that the Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) would have become more conservative once, if ever, they got into power
Right Socialist Revolutionaries joined the Provisional Government after the April Crisis in which more than 100,000 workers and soldiers in Petrograd led by the Bolsheviks demonstrated against the war and in favor of soviet power. Joining the government along with representatives of the bourgeois-landlord parties (Cadets and Octoberists) were two Mensheviks Tsereteli and Skobelev and two SRs Kerenesky and Chernov. The right-wing SRs were identified by the people with the rotten Provisional Government and were therefore utterly discredited by the time the Kornilovschina rolled around.

The conduct of the Provisional Government during the July Days also needs to be underscored. The regime reacted with terror against the workers and soldiers demanding an end to the war and the distribution of all state power to the soviets. The military attacked the demontrators, leaving 56 people dead and 650 wounded. Thereafter attacks were made on the editorial and printing offices of Pravda. The regime demanded the arrest of Lenin. Bolsheviks began to be arrested, workers were disarmed, and revolutionary military units were disbanded. The formation of the second coalition government with Kerensky at its head marked the end of dual power.
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voted overwhelmingly for the Socialist Revolutionaries, a radical party, very pro-peasant, which not merely advocated but actually practiced terrorism

Please read Znmaensky's works on the Constituent Assembly in Russia.

The fact of the matter is that that soviet of workers' deputies was a far superior form of democracy than a parliamentary republic with a nominally representative constituent assembly. Practice and revolution tend to push parliamentary bodies into the background. Read Lenin's theses on the subject.

About half the electorate did not bother voting in the elections to the Constituent Assembly. The results did not reflect the actual interrelation of political forces in the country because the influence of the working class and the Bolshevik party on the non-proletarian masses was incomparably stronger in the extra-parliamentary than in the parliamentary struggle.

The machinery for handling the elections was in the hands of commissions appointed by the criminals in the Provisional Government, leaving the vote susceptible to fraud and sabotage.

The lists of candidates had been drawn up before the October Revolution and when the SR Party was still united and controlled by its minority right-wing faction. The list of SR candidates was heavily stacked with supporters of the right wing. Before the elections were held, however, the SR Party split, with the large majority of its members forming a separate Left SR party. At the third Congress of the Soviets of Peasants Deputies held in January 1918, the Bolshevik-Left SR bloc had 85 percent of the delegates. Of the 395 delegates at the peasants' congress, 385 declared their support for Soviet power and 322 approved the withdrawal of the Bolsheviks and the Left SRs from the Constituent Assembly.

Even a vote for the Socialist Revolutionary Party by the peasant did not equate to repudiation of soviet power: by October 1917 the agrarian policies of the Bolsheviks and SRs were indistinguishable. The peasant was not voting for the SR any more than he was voting for the distribution of land from the large estates. The election was held when the Soviet Government was still just becoming established and a sizable portion of the population was not acquainted with its decrees. 

Offline LisaDavidson

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Re: The Russian Revolution - Causes and/or Prevention?
« Reply #80 on: June 09, 2008, 05:38:16 PM »
Quote
I simply don't buy this concept that the Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs) would have become more conservative once, if ever, they got into power
Right Socialist Revolutionaries joined the Provisional Government after the April Crisis in which more than 100,000 workers and soldiers in Petrograd led by the Bolsheviks demonstrated against the war and in favor of soviet power. Joining the government along with representatives of the bourgeois-landlord parties (Cadets and Octoberists) were two Mensheviks Tsereteli and Skobelev and two SRs Kerenesky and Chernov. The right-wing SRs were identified by the people with the rotten Provisional Government and were therefore utterly discredited by the time the Kornilovschina rolled around.

The conduct of the Provisional Government during the July Days also needs to be underscored. The regime reacted with terror against the workers and soldiers demanding an end to the war and the distribution of all state power to the soviets. The military attacked the demontrators, leaving 56 people dead and 650 wounded. Thereafter attacks were made on the editorial and printing offices of Pravda. The regime demanded the arrest of Lenin. Bolsheviks began to be arrested, workers were disarmed, and revolutionary military units were disbanded. The formation of the second coalition government with Kerensky at its head marked the end of dual power.
Quote
voted overwhelmingly for the Socialist Revolutionaries, a radical party, very pro-peasant, which not merely advocated but actually practiced terrorism

Please read Znmaensky's works on the Constituent Assembly in Russia.

The fact of the matter is that that soviet of workers' deputies was a far superior form of democracy than a parliamentary republic with a nominally representative constituent assembly. Practice and revolution tend to push parliamentary bodies into the background. Read Lenin's theses on the subject.

About half the electorate did not bother voting in the elections to the Constituent Assembly. The results did not reflect the actual interrelation of political forces in the country because the influence of the working class and the Bolshevik party on the non-proletarian masses was incomparably stronger in the extra-parliamentary than in the parliamentary struggle.

The machinery for handling the elections was in the hands of commissions appointed by the criminals in the Provisional Government, leaving the vote susceptible to fraud and sabotage.

The lists of candidates had been drawn up before the October Revolution and when the SR Party was still united and controlled by its minority right-wing faction. The list of SR candidates was heavily stacked with supporters of the right wing. Before the elections were held, however, the SR Party split, with the large majority of its members forming a separate Left SR party. At the third Congress of the Soviets of Peasants Deputies held in January 1918, the Bolshevik-Left SR bloc had 85 percent of the delegates. Of the 395 delegates at the peasants' congress, 385 declared their support for Soviet power and 322 approved the withdrawal of the Bolsheviks and the Left SRs from the Constituent Assembly.

Even a vote for the Socialist Revolutionary Party by the peasant did not equate to repudiation of soviet power: by October 1917 the agrarian policies of the Bolsheviks and SRs were indistinguishable. The peasant was not voting for the SR any more than he was voting for the distribution of land from the large estates. The election was held when the Soviet Government was still just becoming established and a sizable portion of the population was not acquainted with its decrees. 

Yes, the Bolsheviks co-opted the SR Agrarian policy for a time, then changed it right back to nationalizing the land holdings as soon as they could. The result was that the peasants owned even less after the forced collectivization than they did prior to 1861! The Bolsheviks, then, stole assets from virtually every class of Imperial Russia, and maybe that would have been okay had they created the wonderful Russia they promised to, but, they didn't. Instead, they ruined Russian agriculture for many generations.

It was indeed sad that the Bolsheviks steamed over the SRs in favor of supporting the so called industrial proletariat.


Offline Zvezda

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Re: The Russian Revolution - Causes and/or Prevention?
« Reply #81 on: June 10, 2008, 05:24:31 PM »
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So, land that was owned by landowners prior to 1861 was in part becoming owned by the peasantry by the time of the revolution
That is misleading. Large-scale landowners, the monarchy, and churches held 40 percent of the farmland after 1861. Peasants owned 200 million hectares; of the total amount of peasant-owned land, about 40 percent was held by the kulaks.
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stolen by the national government under the Bolsheviks by the 1930's.
That is incorrect. A kolkhoz is a cooperative organization of peasants who have come together voluntarily for the joint management of large-scale, socialist agricultural production based on socialized means of production and collective labor.

Only the transition to large-scale socialist production was able to secure a systematic improvement in the material and cultural conditions of life for the toiling farmers, eliminate rural overpopulation, and lighten the burden of agricultural labor.

Collectivization was necessary to overcome the age-old force of habit among rural proprietors, to change their psychology, and to convince the of the advantages of collective labor. The socialist transformation of agriculture opened the way for increased agricultural output and for a steady improvement in the material and cultural standard of living of the peasantry. Collectivization in Russia was the first socioeconomic effort in the world aimed at fundamentally changing the conditions of labor and existence and the entire way of life of many millions of peasants.  From an economic point of view, it made it possible to develop agriculture on a modern industrial basis. From a social point of view, it freed the toiling peasantry from exploitation and poverty and made possible the establishment in the countryside of a new system of social relations. The idea of establishing cooperatives has become very attractive to the toiling peasants in capitalist countries, encouraging them to intensify the revolutionary struggle for emancipation from the yoke of monopolies.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2008, 05:26:15 PM by Zvezda »

Offline LisaDavidson

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Re: The Russian Revolution - Causes and/or Prevention?
« Reply #82 on: June 10, 2008, 05:57:17 PM »
Quote
So, land that was owned by landowners prior to 1861 was in part becoming owned by the peasantry by the time of the revolution
That is misleading. Large-scale landowners, the monarchy, and churches held 40 percent of the farmland after 1861. Peasants owned 200 million hectares; of the total amount of peasant-owned land, about 40 percent was held by the kulaks.
Quote
stolen by the national government under the Bolsheviks by the 1930's.
That is incorrect. A kolkhoz is a cooperative organization of peasants who have come together voluntarily for the joint management of large-scale, socialist agricultural production based on socialized means of production and collective labor.

Only the transition to large-scale socialist production was able to secure a systematic improvement in the material and cultural conditions of life for the toiling farmers, eliminate rural overpopulation, and lighten the burden of agricultural labor.

Collectivization was necessary to overcome the age-old force of habit among rural proprietors, to change their psychology, and to convince the of the advantages of collective labor. The socialist transformation of agriculture opened the way for increased agricultural output and for a steady improvement in the material and cultural standard of living of the peasantry. Collectivization in Russia was the first socioeconomic effort in the world aimed at fundamentally changing the conditions of labor and existence and the entire way of life of many millions of peasants.  From an economic point of view, it made it possible to develop agriculture on a modern industrial basis. From a social point of view, it freed the toiling peasantry from exploitation and poverty and made possible the establishment in the countryside of a new system of social relations. The idea of establishing cooperatives has become very attractive to the toiling peasants in capitalist countries, encouraging them to intensify the revolutionary struggle for emancipation from the yoke of monopolies.

I do love how your posts twist around truths like wet laundry hanging on a clothesline during an electrical storm.

In one sentence, you claim that collectivization was voluntary and in another "necessary to overcome age old force of habit". Which was it? It's a fact that forced collectivization resulted in the deaths of millions of people, so I guess that's a really Draconian way to break what the Bolshies considered a bad habit? Kind of like amputating a limb to take care of a hangnail?

Oh, and those people you call "Kulaks"? Peasants. Yes, the post Revolution days featured theft of billions of dollars in assets. And, they didn't produce anything worthwhile, which is really a shame.

In 1910, Russia provided 10% of the world's total grain exports. After the Revolution, Russia needed 10% of the world's grain imports. Rather sad, isn't it?

Offline Zvezda

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Re: The Russian Revolution - Causes and/or Prevention?
« Reply #83 on: June 11, 2008, 05:08:33 PM »
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It's a fact that forced collectivization resulted in the deaths of millions of people

While the famine of 1933 killed millions of people, it is debateable as to whether the formation of kolkhozes was the cause of the famine. Mark Tauger demonstrates that the poor harvests of 1931 and 1932 were to a large extent caused by bad weather, drought, and infestations. With the successful harvest of 1933, the famine came to an end. It is not accurate to attribute the formation of kolkhozes as the sole or even primary cause of the 1933 famine. The formation of kolkhozes in 1929-30 and the famine of February-August 1933 are two isolated historical periods.

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Oh, and those people you call "Kulaks"? Peasants. Yes, the post Revolution days featured theft of billions of dollars in assets. And, they didn't produce anything worthwhile, which is really a shame.

Kulaks in Russia were the rural bourgeoisie who became rich through predatory exploitation, loan sharking, and speculation. Kulaks arose among the peasantry when production for the market developed; they were the upper, prosperous stratum of the peasantry when the peasants still retained the features of a pre-capitalist class-estate. In pre-Revolutionary Russian and today in the developing countries, the kulaks basically represent the bourgeoisie in the epoch of primitive capital accumulation; they reinstitute a serf-like method of exploitation through labor-rent and similar methods.

In Russia, the kulaks formed as a class in Russia after the peasant reform of 1861. By the 20th century they were the most numerous stratum of capitalist exploiters; about one-fifth of the peasant households fell into the kulak category. Through rental and purchases they occupied peasant, noble, and state lands. Their farms had a significant share of the agricultural machines and implements, draft animals, and productive livestock. Kulaks produced as much as 50 percent of the grain marketed. They owned commercial and industrial enterprises, kept taverns and inns, engaged in loan sharking, loaned out draft animals and equipment to poor peasants in return to labor and hired agricultural laborers.

The kulaks' accumulations resulted from merciless exploitation of the countryside, particularly of the poor peasants and agricultural laborers. The kulaks used the peasant commune as a means of concealing their extremely exploitative methods, but the commune hindered the organization of capitalist production in agriculture. The vestiges of serf-owning presented obstacles to capitalist accumulation; these hindrances accounted for the kulaks' animosity towards the nobles. Along with the resent of the peasants, who remained a class-estate insofar as serf relations were preserved, the kulaks opposed the oppression by the nobles. Within the peasantry a social war arose and developed between kulaks and the agricultural proletariat. After the Revolution of 1905, tsarism carried out the Stolypin reform and effectively undermined the commune. Tsarism strengthened the kulaks hoping to turn them into a solid support for the regime.

Quote
In 1910, Russia provided 10% of the world's total grain exports. After the Revolution, Russia needed 10% of the world's grain imports. Rather sad, isn't it?

Russia was a grain exporter until the agricultural problems of 1970s brought about to a large extent by drought and poor weather.


Offline RichC

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Re: The Russian Revolution - Causes and/or Prevention?
« Reply #84 on: June 11, 2008, 10:49:41 PM »
It's one thing to attribute a poor harvest to the weather.  But one cannot attribute a famine to the weather, especially in modern times.  A poor harvest is one thing, but famine can be averted by government action, an appeal for international aid, and more effective distribution.  It's interesting that in modern times, famines seem to occur only in countries with authoritarian or totalitarian governments (or countries under colonial rule).  But Stalin instead sought to hide the famine from the world while his government actually exported grain during the height of the famine.

Offline Elisabeth

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Re: The Russian Revolution - Causes and/or Prevention?
« Reply #85 on: July 26, 2008, 03:36:43 AM »
I'm returning to the moderator's original question: what were the ultimate causes of the Russian Revolution? And simply for the sake of provocation (because I love a good discussion), I am going to lay the blame entirely on Peter the Great. Well, let's think about it. His legacy was a very mixed, very problematic one. Some, like myself, might even call it disastrous.

I'll enumerate what I view as Peter's chief areas of liability. First, by forcing the Russian upperclasses to adopt Western ways he caused an enormous cultural schism between the Russian nobility and the Russian peasantry, which was fully in evidence in the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, and accounts for much of the violence in the countryside. As far as I can see, from what I've read, this schism was unnecessary - it was the result of forced change at an unnaturally fast pace - Peter wanted Russia to become Western overnight. In fact Russia was already becoming gradually Westernized, long before Peter's reign, and this process, with a less impatient ruler at the helm, could have continued naturally, at its own pace, for the next hundred years or so, with much less (or even no) trauma to the national identity as a result.

Second "crime." Peter decided that Russia had to be a world power. Every Russian ruler since him has followed his (bad) example. Instead of concentrating on fixing the problems endemic to ruling a vast empire (communication, administration, and let's not forget serfdom), Russia's monarchs turned their attention - and most of their resources - to staking a claim as a major European political player. With great success, but only at an equally or even greater cost. First and foremost because serfdom wasn't abolished until the mid-nineteenth century. (But even the administrative problem was never solved while the tsars were still in charge.) And by the way, I'm borrowing this thesis, in toto, from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's history book about Russia.

Third "crime." Peter the Great left the succession undecided. He did not clearly outline his wishes as to who should succeed him after his death. This resulted in literally decades of misrule and confusion as the Russian empire fell into the hands of one incompetent and underqualified (and frequently foreign) ruler after another. This was a lost period in Russian history. Lost to history, also lost to progress.

In short, I blame most of tsarist Russia's endemic problems, which arguably came to full fruition in March and October 1917, on Peter the Great. In the immortal words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, "Peter the Great was Russia's first Bolshevik."
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Offline Michael HR

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Re: The Russian Revolution - Causes and/or Prevention?
« Reply #86 on: July 26, 2008, 09:08:45 AM »
What an intresting view point. I would not have thought of Peter. For me it was Alexander III and Nicholas II for not changing anything, Alexandra, Rasputin etc. Such a complex question it might take a life time to think through
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Offline LisaDavidson

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Re: The Russian Revolution - Causes and/or Prevention?
« Reply #87 on: August 01, 2008, 12:21:32 AM »
I recall a conversation with one of Xenia's grandsons who explained the Emperor's responsibilities were so vast that he had to personally sign every order and approve virtually every important government and religious decision. Under such minutia, I think anyone would get buried and not be able to see the big picture. One cause for the revolution - an outdated, inefficient method of governance.

Offline Michael HR

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Re: The Russian Revolution - Causes and/or Prevention?
« Reply #88 on: August 01, 2008, 04:22:41 AM »
One has to wonder why Nicholas did not have a secretary, which would have eased the burden a little. One man alone could not run the Empire single handed no matter how hard you try. A secretary would have taken the burden of some of the paper work at least. I know Nicholas did not like change but change would have to had happended eventually and would have made the Tsar look at the bigger picture.
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Offline LisaDavidson

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Re: The Russian Revolution - Causes and/or Prevention?
« Reply #89 on: August 02, 2008, 11:59:45 PM »
One has to wonder why Nicholas did not have a secretary, which would have eased the burden a little. One man alone could not run the Empire single handed no matter how hard you try. A secretary would have taken the burden of some of the paper work at least. I know Nicholas did not like change but change would have to had happended eventually and would have made the Tsar look at the bigger picture.

But, even with a secretary, it was still a very inefficient form of governance.