The Demise of the Romanov Dynasty

After over three hundred years of Russian rule by the Romanov Dynasty, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated his throne in March of 1917. The Russian leader was facing popular unrest over an enormous wealth gap and then chose to thrust his nation into an expensive and bloody war against Germany. Nicholas’ rule had experienced an uprising in 1905 which persuaded him to call a supposedly representative body known as a Duma, but the Tsar’s refusal to accept any of the body’s proposals only fueled discontent among the people. By 1917, Nicholas “recognized that it [was] for the good of the country that [he] should abdicate the Crown of the Russian State and lay down the Supreme Power.” ((Abdication of Nikolai II)) The Tsar blamed the domestic strife for further stunting the war efforts, but he claimed that “the moment [was] near when our valiant Army, in concert with out glorious Allies, will finally overthrow the enemy.” ((Abdication of Nikolai II)) Despite his apparent optimism, he decided to leave the Crown to his brother Mikhail Alexandrovich, who was equally hesitant about shouldering the burden of the Russian State. Mikhail dubbed the power bestowed on him as a “heavy task” ((Declaration from the Throne by Grand Duke Mikhail)) and left control to a provisional government. He hoped to avoid further public outcry by promising the populace a role in deciding what type of government would next rule over Russia.

The First Provisional Government proposed a liberal set of guidelines in the wake of the Tsar’s downfall. The people the cabinet presided over were meant to have freedom of speech, relative freedom of religion, universal suffrage, the power to elect those who will hold office, and universal pardons for anyone accused of political crimes. ((The First Provisional Government)) It would not hold true to its promise of a direct vote for the constitution and form of government that would lead Russia. Multiple provisional governments would be established before the so called Bolshevik Revolution just a few months later in November of 1917. The Revolution was technically a bloodless coup, orchestrated by Vladimir Lenin who would hold power until his death.


Lenin – Mouthpiece for the Future

Vladmir Lenin, a Russian Communist and revolutionary, was one of the most crucial, yet controversial, individuals of the twentieth century. Despite being born into a wealthy middle class family, he became interested in socialism and communism after Russian officials executed his brother in 1887.[1] Lenin wrote the text, What is to Be Done, just before the split of his party, the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, into the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks.[2] In his writing, Lenin depicted the type of revolutionary and system of organization that he wanted most and thought would work the best. He argued that the list of potential revolutionaries should be as wide and public as possible, that is, inclusive not solely of the working class, but others that wanted to join the cause as well. Lenin envisioned having revolutionaries based in multiple sectors of society. Furthermore, Lenin wanted his revolutionaries to treat the situation as an additional profession, if not their only profession. That meant that individuals who wished to become revolutionaries had to go through training and learn the necessary skills to be reliable and efficient. Lenin believed that if revolutionaries were trained, the organization would be harder to track down and it would allow more people to join up.  Lastly, Lenin emphasized that revolutionaries need to be willing to organize and work together, promoting stability; and thus allowing leaders to maintain continuity. Lenin concluded with a plea that demonstrated that too many current “revolutionaries” were using excuses and were not trained enough to complete their assignments. With his efficient system in place, Lenin believed that the revolution would work out better and that there would be no excuses for failure.

What makes Lenin’s theories so intriguing is that he essentially wants his revolutionaries to be trained like police officers or those in the military. While Lenin was not the first necessarily to propose this idea, it is apparent that other revolutions do not carry this form of revolutionary organization. Peasants and factory workers carried out the French Revolution. Factory workers especially pushed through the Revolutions of 1848. What’s further intriguing is that Lenin lays out a modern take on how to carry out a revolution. From the French resistance movement in WWII to the Chinese Communist Revolution, future revolutionaries follow Lenin’s guidelines. Furthermore, terrorist cells today are run on the exact same principles: include everyone you can who is willing, train them well, and respect authority, so as to keep stability and continuity. While Lenin may not be the first to try these tactics, it is his role as a mouthpiece to and for the future that makes his ideas so important.


Question for Commenters: Are there any other examples of those who may follow Lenin’s ideas on what it means to be a revolutionary?

[1] “Vladmir Lenin.” Wikipedia. Accessed March 24, 2015.

[2] Ibid.

Modernity in the Soviet Union

In this article, historian, David Hoffman discusses the trends of modernity during the late 19th to 20th century, particularly in Russia as it became the Soviet Union. According to Hoffman, modernity is linked with the many ideals of the Enlightenment. Many tend to link the term modernity with democracy and associate it with the political and economic systems of the United States, England, and France. Hoffman briefly discusses the ideas of the enlightenment and the need for reason. Instead of associating modernity with democracy and the spread of industrial capitalism, particularly in Western Europe, the basis of modernity are science and reason, and therefore, Hoffman argues that many facets of Enlightenment thought were integral in the emergence of the Soviet Union. Hoffman also makes the argument that modernity also largely consists of the idea of stemming away from tradition and transforming into something new using rational thinking.  Hoffman continues by giving examples of how certain aspects of Russian society such as, education, the military, health, etc. transformed into the Soviet state with the use of reason and rational thinking. Hoffman focuses a lot on the creation of the welfare state. Hoffman states, “throughout Europe the interventionist welfare state resulted from new forms of knowledge, new goals of government, and new technologies of social control … in their [government officials, political leaders, and professionals] quest to order society rationally and scientifically, they strove to know the population statistically” (252). With the use of rationale and scientific thinking, statistics and studies paved the way from new observations and developments within Russian society. Hoffman describes that when observing poverty, which had been previously been viewed as “human errors,” statistics showed that poverty was a social issue that called out for the establishment of a welfare state with social work and programs that could help the impoverished become better citizens (252). Ultimately, modernity in Russia consisted of an attempt to transform individuals and society in rational and productive manner.

Neo-Traditionalism from Modernization

In the 1930’s, the Soviet Union’s intentions were to create a more strongly collected, unified nation. While nations were an inevitable product of modernization through the massive uprooting and relocation of the working classes, there was a shift from a nation being modern in it’s fundamentals to focusing on the primordial roots of the citizen. What spawned from creating a national identity through the conduit of modernization was Neo-traditionalism. Neo-traditionalism in essence is the simultaneous cooperation of both modern and traditional aspects, and was the Soviet Union’s unexpected outcome. A pre-industrial state could not be considered a modern nation, because modernity cannot exist without the technology. However, industrialization exterminates old folk culture and is a catalyst for new culture. As the sense of nationalism developed, the game began to change with shifting ideologies with the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks saw nationalism as something which was on a different plane than class, and socialism would be the unifying principle. However, Soviet affirmative action made class and ethnicity an issue because of discriminatory institutions, a product generated by over zealous statism. The Neo-traditional outcome of modernization is what shaped Soviet nationalities.

This article made me think of how we view the ethnicity of each other in America. When people ask me what I am in regards to ethnic background, I say I am South African and Irish. Most people would answer this way I believe, even though all who were born in America are Americans. What is the line between immigration and a true, newfound sense of nationality? Why do many of us feel a sense of pride to our ethnic backgrounds despite the fact that we have never experienced the culture?