What You Need to Know First to Understand the Russian Revolution

Read this first in a series of columns chronicling what led to that 1917 cataclysm

we begin today with a series of columns that will highlight how the Russian Empire, ruled by the Romanov dynasty for more than 300 years, transformed into the Communist Soviet Union.

.. In an 1895 speech to representatives of the nobility and municipal officials, the czar declared “there have arisen the voices of people carried away by senseless dreams of taking part in the business of government. Let everyone know that I will retain the principles of autocracy as firmly and unbendingly as my unforgettable late father.” The speech shattered the hopes of elected municipal officials who hoped for a gradual transition to a system closer to a constitutional monarchy.

.. These land reforms were designed to foster a conservative, monarchist peasantry than would serve as a counterweight to urban workers, who repeatedly demonstrated for better working conditions and compensation and were more likely to be drawn to Bolshevism.

.. The outbreak of the war prompted a burst of patriotism that initially reinforced the czar’s rule. Sixteen million soldiers were mobilized on the Eastern Front over the course of the conflict including 40 percent of all men between the ages of 20 and 50. Despite the enthusiasm and rapid mobilization, the Russian war effort was beset with problems from the start. The wages for workers in the munitions factories did not keep up with the increased cost of living, exacerbating the discontent that existed prior to the outbreak of hostilities.

.. The importance of the railways for transporting military supplies to the front disrupted the transportation of food to the cities and, outside of sugar, no other goods were subject to a regimented rationing system. Alexandra and her two eldest daughters, Olga and Tatiana, trained as nurses, endowed hospital trains and established committees to address the needs of war widows and orphans, and refugees.

The philanthropy of the Imperial women, however, could not compensate for the absence of a coordinated government response to the needs of thousands of wounded soldiers, military families and displaced persons.

.. The czarina turned to faith healers, including a wandering holy man from Siberia named Grigori Rasputin, who became known as “the Mad Monk” though he never entered a holy order and was in fact married with three children. Before the war, Rasputin provided spiritual counsel for the Imperial couple and prayed for the recovery of the heir to the throne. During the war, however, Rasputin provided Nicholas and Alexandra with political advice. When Suklominov was released from prison after only six months, the Russian public blamed Rasputin’s influence.

.. little could be down to quash the rumors swirling about Rasputin, who had a disreputable reputation because of his drunkenness and womanizing.

.. In November 1916, Vladimir Purishkevich, a reactionary deputy known for his militant anti-Bolshevism gave a speech in the Duma denouncing what he described as the “ministerial leapfrog” in which Nicholas, under the influence of Alexandra who was in turn influenced by Rasputin, removed competent ministers from office and replacde them with unqualified figures endorsed by Rasputin. Purishkevich concluded his speech with the words, “While Rasputin is alive, we cannot win.” Prince Felix Yusupov, the wealthiest man in Russia and the husband of Nicholas’s niece Irina was impressed by the speech and began plotting the murder of Rasputin.