Nicholas II (Reign- 1894-1917)

notes by Brice Robinson, Jorden Olton, Julian Madeyski

Past Questions:
  • “The outbreak of war in 1914 postponed the downfall of Nicholas II but also contributed to his overthrow in the first 1917 Russian revolution.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

  • Assess the successes and failures of Nicholas II between 1894 and 1917.

  • Analyse the strengths and weaknesses of Russia in the second half of the nineteenth century.

  • Why did Nicholas II survive the 1905 revolution, but lose his throne in the February/ March 1917 revolution?

v Nicholas II upbringing
  • Nicholas had been tortured by Konstantin Probedonostsev, Probedonostsev had instilled in Nicholas II mind that Democracy will never work and the Autocracy was the best government for Imperial Russia.

    Tsar Nicholas II
    Tsar Nicholas II

  • His upbringing has forced him to resist all change and continue with the repressive policies hee had inherited.
v Two main aspects of Nicholas II’s reign:
  • The problems he faced as Tsar at a particular critical stage in Russian history.
  • The growth of opposition in Russia to the Tsarist system.
v Question at hand in the early reign of Nicholas II was; could Russia modernize to sufficiently be able to compete with other European nations?
v Russification
  • This policy restricted the influence of the non-Russian national minorities within the empire by emphasizing the superiority of all things Russian.
  • The State also interfered with the non-Russians education, religion, and culture.
    Nicholas II political Cartoon
    Nicholas II political Cartoon
v Anti-Semitism
  • Perhaps Jews were the greatest victims of Russification.
  • Jews were used as Russia’s scapegoat for their problems.
  • Pogroms
    • Organized mobs of Russian ultra-conservative nationalists attacked the Jews and their place of business and homes.
    • Nicholas II encouraged these terrorist attacks on Jews, and the people of Russia had no problem attacking them.
v Response to Nicholas II’s policies
  • Opposition to the Tsar became more organized; many political parties came into being.
  • Russification caused about 5 million of the Russian population to flee or live in unrest
Key aims as Tsar:
Main aim was to “maintain the principle of autocracy just as firmly and unflinchingly as it was preserved by my unforgettable dead father”, in addition to modernize without revolution!

In terms of foreign policies, Tsar Nicholas the Second aimed to
  • To gain a warm water port.
  • To get the Straits of the Dardanelles (the entrance to the Black Sea from the Mediterranean) reopened to its warships. This had been closed to Russian ships after the Crimean War.
  • To extend her influence in the Balkans, taking advantage of the decline of Turkish power.
  • To promote a conservative, religious alliance among Slavs in Eastern Europe (Pan-Slavism) as a cover for expanding Russian control.
  • To expand eastwards into Asia especially in Iran, Tibet and India

Methods and policies to achieve these:The Fundamental Law of the Empire of 1906 - the Emperor of All of Russia has supreme autocratic power”(Methods and policies further explained in failures and success)_October 8th, 2011 Notes for Nicholas II:(Julian Madeyski)

  1. 1. Tax- Compulsory contribution to state revenue.
  • Witte raised taxes with the intention of raising state capitol for industrialization.
  • Tax on Income /Tax on Spending
  • Excise Tax (sin tax) - gas, tobacco, alcohol, etc. Tax on a good produced or sold.
  1. 2. Tariff – is a tax on an export or an import (protective tariff); the economic intentions of this tax can be to protect domestic industries from foreign competition, or to impact a country by imposing a tariff.
  • Under the rule of Nicholas II, Witte initiated a tax on imports in 1891 to make foreign goods more expensive to the population; this would encourage the purchasing of domestic goods and would demote the purchasing of foreign imports/ goods in Tsarist Russia.
  • Free Trade – In theory, no government regulation.
  • Sergei Witte- Influential figure in Russian Politics as the minister of finance before the Russian Revolutions; policies mainly regarded the industrialization of Tsarist Russia under autocratic rule.
  • Focused on building the national industry.
  1. 3. Interest Rates – Percentage of a sum of money charged or its use; borrowing money usually follows with interest rates so that it creates a profit motive for loaning money to people. Also creates an incentive for an individual to pay back the money loaned.
  • If you lower interest rates, you will encourage more people borrowing money (which creates a larger pool of money among the population).
  • If you raise interest rates, you will lower the amount of money in circulation, and will daunt the borrowing of money.
  • Bonds – a debt security; a formal contract to pay back a loan at a given interest rate during specific intervals.
  1. 4. Gold Standard – Basically the equating of a currency to the international standard of gold; think of it like the Big Mac index just with gold. (would encourage foreign investment in Russia if imposed)
  • Related to the idea of having a fixed currency.
  1. 5. Servicing a Debt- How are people actually going to pay a debt.
  • Interest Rates and Inflation are all factors of how people are going to pay a debt.
  1. 6. National Debt – the government borrows allot of money from foreign countries, and as a result they are indebted to that country for a certain amount.
  • Some amount of debt is somewhat healthy, because it creates an incentive for the country to keep their economy healthy in order to generate revenue to pay that debt to the foreign country.
  • We want to be the Best! Under Stalin, however they are dependent on foreign investment, so they could not be fully domestic. As a result this hindered the status of Russia as having strong domestic industries.
  • Reliance on foreign investment.
  • How to stimulate an economy (what Sergei Witte intended to do with Russia)
  1. 7. Trans-Siberian Railway – Connected the major pacific port of Vladivostok to the capitol of the Russian Empire, Moscow. This was meant to link economic possibilities in the pacific with the European part of Russia.
  • Even to this day Russia has their own gages, so at the borders they have to replace the wheels on the trains to make them compatible to Russian Railways.
  • The idea of efficiency vs. the idea of nationalism (created their own standard for railways instead of adopting the gages used by the rest of Europe).
  1. 8. Growth from a Low BasePercentage of growth vs. the actual level of industrialization of a given market, enterprise, or country. On the one hand huge industrial growth, however it is still growth from a low base (they can have a larger percentage growth than the rest of Europe, but they are still behind the West because they started from a low base). The Russians have more holes to fill than the Europeans.
  • Enormous economic growth under Witte as the minister of finance.
  1. 9. Terms –
  • Entrepreneur – THE PERSON WHO TAKES THE RISKS IN AN ECONOMY.
  • Kulaks – the farmers in Russia, who were commercial farmers vs. Subsidence Farmers (self-interest farmers)




Background history to the downfall of the last tsar
  • Modernization
    • In the early 20th century, Russia was a very backward and agricultural country compared to heavily industrialized countries like the US, Germany and Britain.
    • To be a great power in the 20th century Russia had had to industrialize. (had a lack of weapons, ships, and other military equipment required for modern warfare)
    • Russia was poor. Agriculture was insufficient (used out of date tools and methods). Thus, partly as a result of this and partly because of the rising population, hundreds of thousands of peasants starved in years when the harvest was poor. With little to lose, there would often be peasant uprisings and revolts.
  • Contradictions of modernization
    • It would be difficult to maintain the institutions of tsarist autocracy in a modernized Russia. Most modern industrial countries had democracies and parliaments in which the middle class featured strongly and the power of the monarchs was limited.
    • Industrialization created social te4nsions when millions moved from the countryside to the cities. A discontented working class living and working in poor conditions became volatile and led to instability. Packed together in the cities they would find it easier than the peasants to undertake concerted action.
    • The need for a more educated workforce would make people more able to challenge the government
    • The growth of the middle classes would create pressure for political change and for more accountable representative government
  • Witte’s economic policy
    • The problem for Russia was how to build up its industries and generate more wealth
    • Witte’s plan was to make a huge investment in industry to create a spiral of upward industrial growth: the more industry grew, the more demand there would be for other industrial products.
    • Whilst these would improve communications between cities, they would also create demand for iron, steel, coal and other industries associated with railway building.
    • However, the government needed to invest in industry on a huge scale to really get it going. (which meant buying expensive machinery – capital equipment- from countries like Germany to equip factories until Russia could manufacture its own
    • Foreign investment à he negotiated huge foreign loans, particularly from the French. The problem with foreign loans was that interest payments had to be made to regular intervals.
    • The peasants à he increased both the state taxes they paid and the taxes they paid and the taxes on everyday items that they used, such as salt, kerosene and alcohol. He used the surplus grain from harvests to sell abroad, to pay off the interest on foreign loans and to buy more capital equipment.
    • Witte’s policy was to squeeze resources out of the peasants to pay for industrialization. He also kept urban workers’ wages low so that all the money available went into industrial development. He hoped that industrial growth would lead to more wealth for everyone before the squeeze hurt too much.
    • There was a great expansion in the late 1890s and early 1900s. But in 1902 there was an international slump and Russia couldn’t sell the products of its industry. The home market wasn’t strong enough because the peasants had been squeezed so hard they didn’t have money to spend on manufactured goods.
    • Thousands of the new industrial workers lost their jobs. Strikes and protests broke out in most cities.
    • There were also problems in the countryside. Bad harvests in 1900 and 1902 pushed the peasants into starvation. They had already been squeezed by Witte’s policies and now they were at breaking point. From 1902 to 1904, peasant uprisings erupted sporadically and there was widespread violence in which the homes of landowners were looted and burnt.
    • The government’s only response to this was to use force to suppress the disturbances.


Overview of the Reign
  • Industry and Witte
    • Reluctanty, Nicholas allowed Sergei Witte to continue to expand Russia’s industry in the 1890s. This created much-needed economic growth but also led to serious social dislocation in the new overcrowded cities. This led to strikes, serious social dislocation in the new overcrowded cities. This led to strikes, demonstrations and political opposition, but Nicholas rejected the suggestion that the zemstva (local government councils) should participate in his government
  • The Russo-Japanese War
    • With tension rising, the Tsar embarked on what his foreign minister Pleheve described as a “Short victorious war to stern the revolutionary tide”.
    • Nicholas declared war on Japan over control of parts of Korea in 1904. He hoped that this would unite the people behind the regime
    • Unfortunately for Nicholas, the Russian navy was defeated at the Battle of Mukden in 1905. This futher damaged his reputation
  • The 1905 Revolution
    • In 1905 Nicholas ordered his troops to fire on a peaceful demonstration of St. Petersburg workers led by Father Gapon
    • “Bloody Sunday” sparked off a spontaneous wave of revolution which swept across Russia and for a time it looked as though Nicholas would be toppled.
    • Nicholas was saved by the continued support of the Army and his own reluctant agreement to introduce reforms
    • In the October Manifesto, He promised Russia a Duma, an elected parliament which would have some say in the government of the country
  • The Dumas
    • However, as soon as things had calmed down Nicholas went back on his promises and introduced the “Fundamental Laws” giving him complete power.
    • In 1906 when the first Duma, elected on a fairly wide franchise, began to demand immediate reforms to autocracy, Nicholas dissolved the parliament and demanded new elections. The franchise for each of the next three elections became narrower and soon only the wealthy and educated had the right to vote in elections. This gave Nicholas, by 1907, a Duma which would mostly do what he wanted it to do
  • Agriculture and Stolypin
    • Whereas problems in industry had been created by things moving too quickly, problems in agriculture were caused by things moving too slowly
    • Although the peasants had been given the right to buy their own land in the 1860s, the mortgage loans they had taken out left them on the poverty line and unable to improve the land
    • Various reforms were carried out by Peter Stolypin after 1906, but he was assassinated in 1911.
  • Rasputin and Alexandra
    • After the assassination of Stolypin, Nicholas became more reliant on the advice of his loving, but not wise, wife and her adviser Rasputin
    • Rasputin was a peasant “Holy man” who used hypnotism on Tsarevich Alexis, the sick heir to the throne, whenever he fell ill with haemophilia. This brought down his blood pressure and gave his body the chance to heal
    • Understandably, Alexandra adored Rasputin, but his sordid sex life and drunken antics brought the monarchy into terrible disrepute. Rumors abounded that the Tsarina had been bewitched by Rasputin and was even his lover.
  • World War One
    • In 1914, the outbreak of World War I briefly united the country behind the Tsar, but the war placed intolerable strain on the economy, transport and communications which left the cities starving and the army poorly supplied
    • In 1915, the Tsar made the disastrous decision to take personal control of the army and headed off to the Front. From this point on, government was left in the hands of Alexandra and Rasputin, and the Tsar was personally associated with all of the massive defeats which the army suffered.
    • In 1916, Rasputin was murdered by a group of noblemen in a desperate but unsuccessful attempt to restore the reputation of the monarchy
  • The February Revolution
    • A revolution fuelled by hunger and despair broke out in St. Petersburg in February 1917. This time the army did not support the Tsar, and neither did he show any willingness to compromise
    • Nicholas was forced to abdicate the throne and a Provisional Government was set up to rule Russia until democratic elections could be held.
    • In October 1917, the Provisional Government was overthrown by the Bolsheviks, who ordered the execution of Nicholas and his family during the civil war in 1918.



Notes By: Jorden Olton