Czar Nicholas II ruled a vast territory, covering more than one-sixth of the earth’s surface and home to a population of over 150 million in 1913. However, just five years later the Russian czar would be forced to abdicate, ending 300 years of Romanov rule and making Nicholas the final member of his family to act as czar. Nicholas was executed, along with his wife and their five children, by the Bolsheviks on July 17, 1918.
Bloody Sunday, 1905
Events in the year 1905 dealt a serious blow to Nicholas’ authority. Public discontent following Russia's defeat in a war against Japan led to widespread strikes and civil unrest. On January 9, 1905, troops opened fire on protestors outside the Czar’s Winter Palace in Petrograd, killing about 200 people. Ongoing protests eventually forced Nicholas to issue his “October Manifesto,” which provided Russians with an elected parliament, the Duma. However, Nicholas retained many powers and his secret police continued to stifle opposition.
World War I
Russia’s involvement in World War I was also a crucial factor in Nicholas’ demise. Russia fought on the side of the Allies against the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. The first two years of the war did not go well; the Russians lost 250,000 soldiers in two 1914 battles and by 1915 Russian retreats had ceded territory in Poland, Latvia and Lithuania to German troops. Nicholas took control of the army as its supreme commander in mid-1915 but, despite some military successes in 1916, by the end of the year the Russian public would associate the deaths of 1,700,000 Russian soldiers and a further 5 million wounded directly with Nicholas.
Crisis at Home
Conditions were extremely difficult for ordinary Russians at home during the war years. In the fall of 1915, thousands of women employed in the textiles industry around Bogorodsk went on strike for better pay. Food supplies ran short and inflation eroded the value of earnings and savings -- prices in Moscow had risen by 131 percent and those in Petrograd by 150 percent by the end of 1916. Serious unrest began on February 23, 1917, as thousands of women took to the streets of Petrograd to protest about the price of bread, and within two days 300,000 people were on strike.
Loss of Authority
The civil unrest in February 1917 revealed the extent to which Nicholas had lost his authority. Nicholas ordered his troops to open fire on the crowds of protestors, but the 170,000 men of the Petrograd garrison mutinied, instead joining the protestors. Other soldiers and sailors also mutinied as news of these events reached them. Nicholas’ authority as czar and supreme military commander had evaporated, and he abdicated on March 2, 1917.
- BBC History: War and Revolution in Russia 1914-1921
- BBC History: Historic Figures, Nicholas II
- Department of State: Office of the Historian, The Treaty of Portsmouth and the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-5
- University of Central Arkansas: Political Science, Russia 1904-1922
- The Journal of Modern History; Subsistence Riots in Russia during World War I; Barbara Alpern Engel
- University of Newcastle, Australia: Humanities and Social Science, The 1917 Russian Revolution
- “Kronstadt 1917-1921: The Fate of a Soviet Democracy”; Israel Getzler (Google books)
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images