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The Revolutionary Masses

In 1911 Stolypin was assassinated under mysterious circumstances. But even before the prime minister’s death, it became clear that his policies, which had had some stabilizing effect on the situation in the country, were unlikely to prevent a new revolutionary upheaval. In 1910 the workers’ strike movement revived and continued to rise throughout 1911. The discontent was fermenting again among university students and members of the democratically-minded intelligentsia. 

 
The Lena shooting Revolutionary attitudes were particularly heightened in 1912, after the tragic events at Lena goldfields in Eastern Siberia, where a peaceful march of the workers to present their demands to the bosses was gunned down by the troops and the police.

One-hundred and seventy miners were massacred. Like the ‘Bloody Sunday’ incident of 1905, the Lena shooting provoked a huge wave of sympathy strikes across Russia involving over three hundred thousand people.  In the same year the unrest spread to the army and the navy.

The revolutionary mood in the country continued to rise unabated up to the outbreak of the Great War. In 1913 and the first half of 1914 the number of striking workers in manufacturing industry grew to two million people. In Russia’s outlying regions movements for national independence gained momentum, especially in Transcaucasia, the Baltic region and the Polish Kingdom. As in 1905, a general crisis was beginning to engulf the empire, and the specter of a new revolution was rearing its head. With her domestic affairs in such a perilous state, Russia, in August 1914, entered the First World War.

Historians often comment on the fact that wars have precipitated major turning-points in Russian history. Many have been particularly fascinated with the question about Russia’s involvement in the First World War and its relationship to the 1917 revolution. Put simply, the question boils down to this: did the war generate the domestic crisis which brought about the collapse of the tsarist regime; or was the crisis of  Russia’s sociopolitical system already of such a refractory nature as to make revolution in any case inevitable? Was imperial Russia ruined by the war or would it have disintegrated because of its own pressures and contradictions, war or no war?

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