Nicholas Romanov, the last Tsar of Imperial Russia, became Tsar and was placed in a serious predicament. Leon Trotsky best summarizes this point in his book History of the Russian Revolution, “Nicholas II inherited from his ancestors not only a giant empire, but also a revolution. And they did not bequeath him one quality which would have made him capable of governing an empire or even a province or a county.” Nicholas is responsible for decisions and counter-decisions that inevitably led to the fall of the Great Russian Empire.
When the former Tsar had perished, Nicholas noted that he felt incapable to running Russia, and this was not off the mark. The last Tsar was plagued by an unnatural sense of indifference, for in his journals, he made modest notes at best. A tell sign is that in his own journal, “Pretty doings!” was the only article written in regards to a fireworks display. Nicholas did not do well among gifted, intelligent and talented individuals. “Men of brain and character he summoned only in extreme situations when there was no other way out, just as we call in a surgeon to save our lives,” states Trotsky. This comes from the fact that Nicholas, like all of Alexander III’s children were coddled and sheltered from the world. Alexander III wanted all of his children to be protected from behavior that seemed ‘weak’. Because of this, it seems as though this retarded the future Tsar’s social growth.
Alexandra, wife and Tsarina was an indomitable force in Nicholas’ court. While Nicholas was weak-willed, Alexandra played the role of a primary advisor. When Nicholas ever considered reforms offered by Duma, Alexandra would be the first to tell him how the autocracy needed to be preserved. At one instance during the Great War, Alexandra tells Nicholas, “Russia loves to feel the whip,” and many similar nudges that would prompt Nicholas to subjugate the citizenry and limit civil liberties.
Not that Alexandra had to earn a disreputable persona in Russia; she was disliked from the very minute she walked into Russia’s limelight. Alexandra was of German heritage, and she was marrying a man whose father, Alexander III had crafted his court and his country to be more ‘Russian’. This form of Russification brought with it an unheard of resentment of anything that was remotely German, a result of Alexander III’s extreme distaste of William I. By many reports, the Tsarina had actually adopted a true Russian mentality so she could mesh with the culture she would spend the rest of her days with. This attempt in assimilation garnered only contempt among the Russian people, who viewed her as a supporter of Germany.
Alexandra made some critical errors when making adjustments into the imperial family. The Romanov family was notoriously close, as cousins, aunts, grandparents, brothers and sisters. Upon her arrival, Alexandra immediately severed the intimate ties with the extended family. Cousins and such who normally had full access within the main palace suddenly did not. This started a public ‘feud’ with Empress Marie, wife of the former Tsar. The Russian citizenry enjoyed watching this fiasco unfold, and they clearly supported Marie, finding Alexandra conceited and contemptible. When Alexei, the Tsarevich, was diagnosed with hemophilia, Alexandra tried to keep that knowledge hidden from public view. It was very clear that there was something wrong with the Tsarevich; Alexandra bore the brunt of the blame for the secrecy that surrounded Alexei. It also did not help Alexandra that her husband’s advisors passed time by spreading rumors and allegations about her.
Nicholas’ advisors consisted of men with little in the way of innovation. Like Alexandra, they were all conservative, and wanted to preserve the autocracy at all costs. Numerous reports say that Nicholas’ advisors were lazy, uneasy of progress, and almost all were very conservative. Unfortunately for Nicholas, he chose many advisors who maintained similar or weaker resolves than he had. Foreign policy suffered, as Nicholas cycled through more than 6 different ministers. Each Foreign minister was less informed than the one before.
Another plague upon the last imperial Romanov house was that of the monk Rasputin. The ‘mad monk’ was an opportunist with a superior mental mind than a good majority of Nicholas’ court combined. While Nicholas was away to fulfill his desire to be Commander-in-Chief during the Great War, Rasputin used his strong influence on Alexandra to shape up the royal court. Rasputin was a well-known adulterer, and attempted to bed any female who crossed his path. He could always manipulate his way out of trouble with the Tsar or Tsarina, and then flaunted his control and charisma in front of the other members of the court.
With all this, it was certain to many that Russia was crumbling. Nicholas needed vigilant and effective leaders who could bring about change. To the chagrin of many, Nicholas surrounded himself with hubris and complacency, determined to keep the old way intact. None of these ‘advisors’ should have been surprised when the February Revolution came knocking at their door. If Nicholas had made even one decision differently, had he listened to an intelligent advisor, married someone that wasn’t from Germany, fired Rasputin, or kept a stern resolve when dealing with Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, the revolution that swept the imperial family out of power may have been averted.
Nicholas was plagued by bad decisions. Pan-Slavism was a rising ideology in Russia, which led to many protective treaties with Slavic nations such as Serbia, which was threatened by ultimatum by Austria-Hungary after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Due to the many redundant treaties, Russia was forced into war. Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich was appointed to command the largest army the world had yet seen. Never mind the fact that Nikolaevich had never led troops into battle before, the Tsar had full faith in him.
Nikolaevich and Rasputin clearly did not get along. The Grand Duke had warned the monk to stay far away from the battle lines. Rasputin, having the ear of the Tsarina he told Alexandra that the armies of Russia would continue to fail until the Emperor took command. Were the Tsar a musical instrument, Rasputin would be the maestro that played him perfectly! The Tsar had fantastic dreams about commanding armed forces into battle. Despite unanimous objections from his advisors and war generals, Nicholas took command of the armed forces with no formal military strategic training or expertise under him. By taking personal command, Nicholas inadvertently moved the capital of Russia to the war front. This made communication with his ministers back home very difficult. Nicholas realized that he was not capable of handling the affairs of Russia’s day-to-day decisions, so he left Alexandra in charge as an ad-hoc regent until his return.
Alexandra was possibly the least fit person to rule over Russia in place of Nicholas. Alexandra, as stated above, was not liked by many in Russia. Anna Vyrobova, a longtime friend of Alexandra, notes that the Tsarina was not comfortable in a ruling capacity. She desired to have all formal engagements over with as quickly as possible, usually slighting anyone who would be visiting at the time. Rasputin had extreme undue influence over her. His influence was due to his ability to cure Alexei’s hemophilic episodes. His natural charisma and personable nature made the monk appealable to the Tsar, his wife and family.
Rasputin knew he had strong support from the Tsarina, and he used that influence to manipulate the makeup of the royal court. Anybody who was leftist or exhibited leftist tendencies would become victims of Rasputin’s influence; they were usually removed from their office without exception. Rasputin would flaunt his influence over Alexandra, and this made him highly unpopular and led to his assassination attempts.
Another reason that Alexandra was unfit to rule is that she constantly nagged Nicholas to not give in to the demands to alter Russia’s form of government. “It is none of [Duma’s] business,” Alexandra would tell Nicholas regarding Duma’s demands for reforms. Her views were conservative in nature and whenever Nicholas had considered giving into any governmental reform by Duma, “…we’re not a constitutional country and dare not be, our people are not educated for it. . . Never forget that you are and must remain autocratic!”
Placing the other ideas aside, Nicholas had one other glaring aspect of his reign: the systematic subjugation of his citizens. Alexandra’s quote, “Russia loves to feel the whip” is one of many instances of Nicholas’ persecution of the under-privileged. Nicholas was known to continue the counter-reforms of his father, Alexander III. The Tsar insisted that the Russian citizenry was asking too much when they asked for relinquished land control. Much in the tradition of the Tsars before Nicholas, he subjugated the Jewish people. In 1905, Nicholas ‘promised’ more civil liberties to the Jewish people-they never came.
It could be argued that none of these matters caused rifts between the Tsar and the Russian peoples. When coronated, Russia was prime for more civil liberties, to have the reforms of Alexander II reinstated again. When news that Alexander III had died, the Russians hoped that his counter-reforms had died with them-they were mistaken. Being weak of will and character, Nicholas II gave no indication that he would reverse the despotic policies of his father. This caused much disgruntlement among Russia’s citizens.
The Russian Revolution of 1905 was the culmination of anti-government radicals, dissatisfied citizens and the oppressive, slow pace of reforms in Russia. Out of this revolution, Nicholas II reinstated the Duma, the representative government. This Duma was the first time it had been gathered since Alexander II had died. This Duma had come to some solutions that would have alleviated some of the many problems facing Russia. Soon after the new Duma’s establishment, Nicholas issued the Fundamental Laws; which made any minister of the Tsar’s court exempt from accountability.
Nicholas insisted on filling an imaginary role as Commander-in-Chief. His advisors were unanimous: Nicholas was not qualified to command a contentious, situation-sensitive, mother-of-all-wars. Nicholas had only minor military experience, but nothing in-depth. Nicholas believed that being Commander-in-Chief would inspire his troops and instill a new-found sense of national pride. The reality could not be farther from the truth; by replacing Grand Duke Nicholas, he greatly lowered troop morale. The Russian citizenry were offended at Nicholas’ attempt to inspire them; the Grand Duke was a respected war commander who was doing as good a job at the war front as anybody could have been expected to. The only thing Nicholas succeeded in doing was an overall demoralization of the country.
Under Nicholas’ command, Russia experienced the Great Retreat, where the Russian army withdrew from Poland. The Russian army used a scorched earth strategy- as the army was retreating; they set fire to the land. While this strategy delayed the oncoming forces, this act created refugees, who traveled east, becoming a drain on local resources, one of the leading causes of a future famine.
At the Prime Minister’s behest, the Tsar could have easily dismissed Duma. Since the Fundamental Laws, Duma had little influence on the Tsar. Due to this, Duma’s existence was negligible and impotent at best. Russia’s constant warring had left the country destitute long before World War I; the demoralization that came from The Great Retreat’s scorched earth campaign only poured salt in Russia’s seeping wound.
The Crimean War is a great example of how Russia had been on the bad end of losing wars. The Japanese military proved that superior tactics can overcome the Russian army’s sheer size. The Russians lost greatly in that war-they needed many years of reforms. These reforms needed to be in greater scope and proportion than Alexander II’s liberating reforms. The economy required redistribution, the military needed reorganization, the agriculture needed a method of optimization, etc. Russia desperately needed modernization to recover from their industrial losses. Instead of reforming Russia, Nicholas put the country in a position that forced the country into war again.
In the end, Nicholas was a poor leader who deprived his nation of all its morale, resources, military capabilities, and civil order. By his bad decisions, Nicholas made previous bad decisions worse by adding tension and strife to the strained relations between himself and his citizens. The Russian citizens revolted in 1905; it was obvious to all of the world’s governmental powers that some form of representation would help quell tension and stress among the citizens. Nicholas gave this representative government, Duma, an order to meet. He then neutered Duma by making himself and his ministers immune to scrutiny from Duma. This flagrant lack of public accountability only made matters worse. Closing Duma again only made the citizens hold the Tsar in more contempt than they already did.
If Nicholas had made any change in most of his decisions, there might not have been a February Revolution. Nicholas could have married a woman from a country that was not aligned with Germany, and the public at large would likely have greeted her with open arms. Had Nicholas granted Duma any oversight capability and allowed him and his administration to be accountable to Duma, there may have been some give and take from the public and the Tsar. If Nicholas had allowed his advisors to be smarter or more talented than he to be a minister, then some actual progress may have occurred, which would have supplied some much needed pressure to the overstressed people of Russia.
By ignoring logic, the ministers, his people, Nicholas isolated himself in such a way that prevented him from doing any good to or for his Russian countrymen. Nicholas infuriated his ministers by commanding an army he had no business taking command of. The Tsar placated his subjects by reinstating Duma, yet allowed it to have no authority, which stained bitterness across the expanse of Russia. The February Revolution, which brought about the end of the Romanov dynasty only proved what happens when you give no personal freedoms to your constituents for too long. The Bolsheviks came to power, instituted despotic regime changes, and was the polar opposite of the Romanovs with similar results.
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