Russian History

Russian and Soviet History

Features of Tsarist Government before the war

For an excellent summary of how strong the Tsarist regime was in the years leading up to the First World War, go to and read his excellent introduction to the period.


  • 1613 – the Romanov’s become rulers (Tsar’s) of Russia
  • 1812 – Napoleon invades Russia and is defeated on the outskirts of
  • 1861 – Tsar Alexander II emancipates (frees) the serfs (peasants)
    and introduces some reforms
  • 1904 – Russia is humiliated in her war against Japan
  • 1905 – Tsar Nicholas II forced to reform following failed Revolution
  • 1914 – Russia entered the First World War
  • 1916 – Rasputin is assassinated
  • 1917 – Tsar Nicholas II abdicates in February and is replaced by a
    provisional government
  • 1917 – Bolshevik Revolution
  • 1918 – Romanov family executed by Bolsheviks

System of government

Local Government

This consisted of a combination of Zemstvos and Dumas.

A Zemstvo was a district council. It was established to maintain and
provide roads, medicine and education within its area. The councils for
urban areas (towns) are sometimes called municipal dumas. These local
councils were elected by landowners, merchants and artisans. Power though,
was held by an execuive controlled by the Governor of the region – who
was appointed by the Tsar.

National Government

Following the 1905 Revolution, Tsar Nicholas II was forced to accept
a State Duma. This was introduced alongside the October manifesto. This
said that Russian people should have freedom of speech, assembly and association
and that laws in Russia should be ratified (agreed) by the State Duma.
However the Tsar wanted to retain power for himself, and before the first
State Duma met, he introduced the Fundamental Laws which stated that the
Tsar and his ministers had executive authority for matters relating to
the law, the chruch and the Duma. He also insisted that he could dismiss
the Duma and that decisions and laws made by the Duma had to be signed
by himself in order to become law.

Photograph of the main assembly hall of the Russian Duma, circa 1905.

Image – The Assembly Rooms of the Russian Duma.


  1. Limited democratisation introduced. The Duma provides a place for
    discussion and debate but holds no real decision making power.
  2. The Tsar retains authority and can bypass the will of the Duma if
    he wants to.
  3. Autocratic power retained by and for the Romanov Family.

Russian Society

Russia is HUGE. It contains hundreds of different ethnic groups who live
in hugely different environments. The Russian Empire stretched from modern
day Poland to the Pacific and from the arctic circle to Afghanistan. Russian
society reflected these massive differences.

Key Points:

Russia’s population in 1900 is estimated to have been approximately 110

Of these:

  • About 3 million were Industrial workers
  • 1 million were members of the nobility or aristocracy
  • Approximately half a milion were members of professional classes (Doctors,
    Lawyers, Teachers etc…).
  • The vast majority of the rest of the population were peasants.

This is quite different to Western European states at the same time.
In Western Europe Indstrialisation had led to a much higher proprotion
of Industrial and Professional workers.

Russian and Soviet HistoryRussian History Homepage
Russia before the First World WarOpposition to Tsarist RuleImpact of the First World War
1917: Abdication of Tsar Nicholas IIBolshevik RevolutionLenin and the Bolshevik Revolution
Leon TrotskyBolshevik Rule 1918-1924Russian Civil War
New Economic PolicyLenin's LegacyDevelopment of Communist Rule
Life in the Soviet UnionFailure of Reform and Decline of the Communist StateStalinism
Industry and AgricultureWomen in the USSRDe-Stalinisation
Khruschev's Reform ProgrammeDecline of the Soviet UnionCollapse of the Soviet Union