1891 – The Great Famine hits Russia. The summer rains did not come that year, leaving people without a drop of water for over 100 days at one point. The fertile green area between the Ural Mountains and the Black Sea, where the majority of the country’s food was farmed, dried up entirely. Lakes disappeared and entire forests turned brown and withered up. Many peasants left their homes in a futile search for areas that still had food. The people began to weaken, leaving them vulnerable to huge epidemics of cholera and typhus.
Half a million people had died by the end of 1892. Many people were shocked by the response of the government to this crisis. For many weeks, the government continued to export grain even while people within the country were dying. Many of those nobles who believed that they had full responsibility for the lives of their peasants were horrified by this circumstance. They rallied around the peasants, calling for help from doctors and raising money to import more food.
This effort was partially led by Tolstoy himself, who was greatly upset by the numbers of people dying. The liberal nobles became more and more involved in the efforts to save the country so that when they began to make the move into involvement in politics, it was almost unconscious. 1892 – Sergei Witte becomes the Finance Minister to Alexander III. He will remain in this position until 1903, when Alexandra convinces her husband to replace him. He is a brilliant politician, highly capable and intelligent. He will eventually save the Romanovs on many occasions.
He attracts huge amounts of foreign investment on the theory that if people are wealthy, they won’t mind the stifling political system. He managed to more than double the income of the Russian government during his tenure as Finance Minister. 1894 – Nicholas II takes the throne unexpectedly after the sudden death of his father. Problems he inherits include: * General unrest within the multi-ethnic population.
* An antiquated class system. * A badly led military in which the soldiers were actually referred to as dogs. Much corruption within the government. * The current immense famine. * General difficulty with transportation. 1904 – The Japanese attack the Russians over the lush area of China known as Manchuria. The war is provoked by the Russian War Minister, Plehve. His plan was that the students and workers would desist protesting if they were provided with a situation in which they would renew their patriotism and pride in their country. His plan was to create this situation by provoking a short, victorious war.
However, his plan did not go exactly according to schedule. The war was short, yes, but ended up being disastrous for the Russians. They had not counted on the Japanese having basically bought a ready-made, state of the art navy from the British. The Russians sailed their fleet of ships all the way down nder Africa only to have the entire fleet demolished within a few hours of their arrival by the Japanese. However, Witte, once again saving the day, managed to negotiate a relatively easy peace treaty with Japan.
It was negotiated in New Hampshire, while Teddy Roosevelt won an early Nobel Prize for his work as the mediator of the treaty. The Russians did not have to give up any of their homeland or pay any settlements, and only had to turn over limited rights to Manchuria to the Japanese. 1905, January – A priest named Father Gapon decides to take advantage of Nicholas’ otal faith in the loyalty of the peasants. He gathers thousands of peasants together to march to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, where they humbly attempt to present their grievances through a letter to the Czar.
Unfortunately, soldiers were ordered to fire upon the peasants. There was mass panic and the numbers eventually totaled 200 killed and 800 wounded. “Bloody Sunday” was a hugely significant event that basically began the call for revolution. Out of this came the October Manifesto, which was the brainchild of Witte. It created a Parliament which existed with limited rights, called the Duma. Liberals rushed to create their own political party, known as the Octobrists. 1905 – The crazed monk Rasputin is introduced to Alexandra and Nicholas in St. Petersburg.
This fateful meeting changed the course of history when it was found that Rasputin had the ability to calm the screaming of the hemophilic infant prince, Alexei. Through this power, he gained immense reputation and imperial power through his influence on the Czarina. This made much of the country greatly unhappy, as Alexei’s illness was kept secret and so the people did not now where Rasputin’s seemingly magic influence came from. He did not seem fit to have so much power, with his disgusting hygiene and love of women and drink.
He was eventually assassinated in 1916 by some unhappy nobles who tried to kill him with poisoned cookies. When this didn’t work out, they shot him and eventually dug a hole in the ice and threw him under it. When his body was discovered, Alexandra was the only one who mourned for him. 1906 – Nicholas, while having promised some limited form of democracy, did not intend to keep his promise if he could help it. For a candidate for Prime Minister, he had to find a man who could get him out of all the hassles of dealing with the people’s wants and needs.
He found just what he was looking for in Petr Stolypin, who became the first Prime Minister of Russia (1906-11). Stolypin was an intelligent, intimidating man who was utterly devoted to Nicholas. He instituted many reforms including a land reform which took land away from communes and gave it over to individual peasants. He also managed to rid the country of almost all active revolutionaries, through hanging and exile. He survived a first assassination attempt but was eventually shot while at a performance on September 14, 1911 in the Kiev Opera House.
After his death, the Duma which had fallen by the wayside once again began to come to real power. 1914-17 – The Great War begins and Russia is immediately thrown into turmoil. Its unprepared and understocked army was a disaster. Huge numbers of Russians were killed immediately, and most civilians opposed the war. This created a huge political mess. Also, much of the food that used to be shipped into the cities began to go to the soldiers, creating a huge shortage of food.
1917, February – The weather begins to warm up in St. Petersburg and people are willing to go out into the streets to protest the shortage of food. The police and the army begin to falter in their loyalty to the government. Cossacks, the hugely frightening people who were mainly in charge of controlling the rioting, began to desert. The Czar begins to travel by train back towards the capital but he arrives too late. When he is told that there is no longer any loyalty to him left in St. Petersburg, he surrenders to a Provisional Government right there on the train tracks. He and his family are put under house arrest.
A Provisional Government takes charge, led by Prince Lvov and housed in the Winter Palace. The Winter Palace also houses the Soviet committee of socialist workers. When peasants begin to kill nobles, many nobles flee to France. Fear runs rampant through Russia. The US becomes the first government to recognize the new PG. The PG will eventually make two fateful decisions which bring about the next revolution. They decide a) to stay in the war and b) to not make any other immediate changes. 1917, April – A professional revolutionary who goes by the name of Lenin arrives in St. Petersburg via “sealed train. ” He is a driven man with clear ideas and total control over the Bolsheviks.
His April Theses lays out the following program of peace (including dropping out of the war), land (communal peasants receive land from nobles), and bread (moving food to the people). In September, after many long discussions, a plan comes about. The change of power happens relatively quickly. The Bolsheviks simply storm into the Winter Palace and take it over. This is the end of the truest democracy in the world (at that point) and the beginning of a new regime, that of communism.