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Russia from 1914 to 1918


Russian famine
Russian famine

The eruption of World War I in August 1914 halted Russia’s political development toward a working-class revolution. Russia joined with Britain, France, and other nations in waging war against Germany and Austria-Hungary. Issues of economic gain and political power motivated the governments and upper classes of the contending countries. In Russia, as elsewhere, enthusiasm for the war effort among the masses was whipped up under patriotic slogans of saving the nation from foreign aggressors. Opponents of the war were denounced as traitors and suppressed. The prowar patriotism swept up the Cadets, many Mensheviks, and even some SRs. Lenin’s Bolsheviks opposed the war. They found themselves isolated and severely repressed, along with those Mensheviks, SRs, and others who spoke out against the war. World War I turned into a disaster for both the Russian people and the tsarist regime. Russian industry lacked the capacity to arm, equip, and supply the 15 million men who were sent into the war. Factories were few and insufficiently productive, and the railroad network was inadequate.

Repeated mobilizations, moreover, disrupted industrial and agricultural production. The food supply decreased, and the transportation system became disorganized. In the trenches, the soldiers went hungry and frequently lacked shoes, munitions, and even weapons. Russian casualties were greater than those sustained by any army in any previous war. Behind the front, goods became scarce, prices skyrocketed, and by 1917 famine threatened the larger cities. Discontent became rife, and the morale of the army suffered, finally to be undermined by a succession of military defeats. These reverses were attributed by many to the alleged treachery of Empress Alexandra and her circle, in which the peasant monk Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin was the dominant influence. When the Duma protested against the inefficient conduct of the war and the arbitrary policies of the imperial government, the tsar and his ministers simply brushed it aside.

As the war dragged on, Russia’s cities experienced increasing inflation, food shortages, bread lines, and general misery. The growing breakdown of supply, made worse by the almost complete isolation of Russia from its prewar markets, was felt especially in the major cities, which were flooded with refugees from the front. Despite an outward calm, many Duma leaders felt that Russia would soon be confronted with a new revolutionary crisis. By 1915 the liberal parties had formed a progressive bloc that gained a majority in the Duma. As the tide of discontent mounted, the Duma warned Nicholas II in November 1916 that disaster would overtake the country unless the “dark,” or treasonable, elements were removed from the court and a constitutional form of government was instituted.

The emperor ignored the warning. In December a group of aristocrats, led by Prince Feliks Yusupov, assassinated Rasputin in the hope that the tsar would then change his course. The tsar responded by showing favor to Rasputin's followers at court. Talk of a palace revolution in order to avert a greater impending upheaval became widespread, especially among the upper classes. "Russia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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