How Strong was the Tsar’s Government in 1913?



The strengths of the Tsar's government were those usually found in an autocratic regime - Church, army, a repressive secret police and the unthinking love of the peasantry.

       The weaknesses of the government lay in its incompetence, in the huge size and economic poverty of Russia, and in the pressures coming from a modernising world - i.e., from a middle class which had already in 1905 forced the Tsar to set up a parliament (the Duma), and from extreme political groups which wanted even more radical changes.



Photos of Russia c.1900

Reed Brett on Russian autocracy


The 'social pyramid' -an anti-government cartoon  


The 1905 Revolution     

Explanation of political parties in Russia by Louise Bryant, an American journalist


Nicholas II  


A Summary of Events 1914–1941


     Russia is ruined by entering World War I.

March 1917     

     February Revolution; Nicholas abdicates.

Mar–Nov 1917 

     Provisional Government (Kerensky)

November 1917           

     October Revolution (Bolsheviks)


     Lenin in power

     Civil War and War Communism

     Kronstadt mutiny and the New Economic Policy


     Stalin comes to power

     Five Year Plans, Collectivisation and Purges.  

Source A

The coronation of Nicholas, 1896.   It was a bad omen when the Cross of St Andrew fell from his cloak.



1.  The Peasants loved the Tsar as ‘their father’, and revered him as empowered from God – though this was shattered in St Petersburg in 1905, when the Cossacks attacked a peaceful demonstration (Bloody Sunday).

2.  The Romanov dynasty had ruled since 1613 – the 300th celebrations saw a wave of popularity for the Tsar.   In 1905, there had been a revolution and Nicholas was forced to accept a Duma (parliament), but it had no power and the Tsar dismissed it if it disagreed with him.  

3.  The church was powerful and supported the Romanov government.

4.  Government and the army were controlled by the nobles and supported the government, which used the Cossacks to put down protests (eg Bloody Sunday 1905)

5.  The secret police (Okhrana) and press censorship.

6.  There were two parties in the Duma which supported the Tsar:

  • the 'Rights' (called by Lenin 'the Black Hundreds') - deputies who so supported the Tsar that they wanted to abolish the Duma and restore autocracy.

  • the 'Octobrists' - during the troubles of 1905, the Tsar and his chief minister Witte had published the October Manifesto, which promised freedom of speech, no imprisonment without trial, and a Duma to approve all laws.   The Octobrists were supporters of the Tsar who did not want to go so far as to restore autocracy, but wanted him to keep to the October manifesto.


Did you Know?

The head-quarters of the Okrana were in the St. Petersburg Ecclesiastical Academy, and it was thus linked with the Russian Orthodox Church.






1.  Russia had been humiliated in a war with Japan, 1904 (why?).

2.  There were many nationalities, languages and religions (the only unity was the Romanov dynasty).

3.  Russia was vast – 125 million people spread across Europe and Asia.   This made government difficult, especially because of poor communications – bad roads and few railways.

4.  An out-of-date farming economy.   Most of the population were peasants who lived in the country and are under the control of the nobles.  

5.  Russia was beginning to industrialise (eg Trans-Siberian railway, 1904).   Towns/ factories were starting to grow up.   But there was worker poverty and poor living conditions – which created a large workforce, disaffected and concentrated in Petrograd, the capital.   Also a small wealthier middle class were beginning to want a say in the government.

6.  Tsar Nicholas was an autocrat –  Nicholas carried out all the business of government alone, without even a secretary, an impossible load   He was a weak Tsar.   At first he refused to compromise then, in the crisis of 1917, failed to act.

7.  There was opposition to the government from:

  • The Kadets - middle classes and liberal landowners who wanted Russia to have a Parliament like England.

  • Social Revolutionaries (wanted a peasant revolution, and to take all the land from the nobles).

  • The Communists (followers of Karl Marx), who were divided into the moderate Mensheviks (wanted Communism without a revolution) and the extremist Bolsheviks (wanted a violent proletarian revolution).

  • After 1900, there were many assassinations and protests (eg Bloody Sunday, 1905 and the murder of Prime Minister Stolypin in 1911).


Did you Know?

There were FOUR Dumas, 1905-17:

The first Duma (May 1905) was dominated by the Kadets - Nicholas dismissed it in July 1905.

The second Duma (February 1907) was dominated by the Social Revolutionaries - Nicholas dismissed it in June 1907.

The third Duma (November 1907) was dominated by the Octobrists and Rights - it lasted its full term to 1912.

The fourth Duma was also full of  the Tsar's supporters, although many turned against him during the First World War - it lasted until 1917.






Source D

The workers have nothing to lose but their chains.   Workers of the world, unite!

Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto  (1848).

Karl Marx was the founder of Communism. 


Source B

The Russian monarchy before the First World War was out-of-date.   It ruled a huge area which - even with all our modern technology and communications - we would find virtually ungovernable even today.   Its Tsar was weak and indecisive.   But it was underpinned by the massive authority of the Church and of the nobles, and by 300 years of unquestioning obedience by the Russian peasants.

      These forces were weakening as Russia moved into the modern world, but the proof that they were still potent in 1913 is simply this: the Tsar was still unchallenged on his throne.

Written by the modern historian John D Clare (2005)

John D Clare is a teacher in a secondary school in England.


Source C

[In 1905] Russia got a new constitution...   A new, elected parliament, the Duma, was established, and political parties (such as the Octobrists) and trade unions were legalized.   Although the government was still not responsible to the Duma, this reform seemed only a matter of time, and the foundation seemed to have been laid for a responsible and liberal opposition.   Industry was booming, and the government of Petr Stolypin (prime minister 1906-11) made some reforms to remove the causes of peasant discontent.

Hutchinson Encyclopaedia (2000)



1.   Find out more about:

a.   the war with Japan, 1904 b.   Bloody Sunday 1905

c.   the 1905 revolution

d.   Karl Marx

e.   the Octobrists   

2.   What do you think was the greatest strength, and what the greatest weakness, of the Russian monarchy before 1914?