James W. Meng

Home/Resume/CV -- VLNLAB -- Projects -- Abuse by the United States Government -- Writings -- Donate


Units: Foreword 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5


The Russian Empire at the beginning of the 20th century.
8.1. Socioeconomic development of Russia. Agriculture.

Beyond Great Russia itself, in the early 20th century the Russian Empire also included Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Finland, Transcaucasia, Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Between 1897 and 1913, the population of the Russian Empire increased from 125 to 159 million people, and over 100 nations and nationalities lived on its territory. Non-Russian peoples accounted for 57% of the population.

In terms of religion, the majority of the population (roughly 75%) were Orthodox Christians. In the 1880s and 1890s, the Christianization of the peoples of the Volga region, Siberia and the Far East was conducted, and the activities of Russian Orthodox missions abroad were expanded. In the western provinces, the population was predominantly Catholic or Protestant. A large population of Muslims lived throughout different regions. A not-insignificant Jewish population also existed.

The Kalmyks and Buryats in Russia were followers of Buddhism, while the indigenous peoples of the North and Siberia maintained traditional pagan beliefs throughout the beginning of the 20th century.

At that time, the basis of the Russian economy remained agriculture, in which the majority of the population was still employed. During the years 1900-13, the cultivated land area grew 15%, while the yield grew by just 10%. Russia particularly lagged behind on crop yield per unit of land area - by as much as three times relative to Germany or Belgium. At the same time, Russia remained the world's largest grain producer, and sold as much as 25% of the world's grain exports abroad. Russia was also a major producer of technical crops: flax, sugar beets, and tobacco, which provided the needs of light industry. In Central Asia, nearly 25% of the cotton grown was intended for Russian textile factories. Sheep breeding developed and, at a slower pace - breeding of meat and dairy cattle.

At the beginning of the 20th century, agriculture in Russia was being increasingly mechanized, and much of the equipment used was produced in Russia. At the same time, imports of agricultural machinery and mineral fertilizers from abroad also increased. But only 2% of Russian peasant farmers used complex agricultural equipment; in fact, the majority worked only with wooden tools. The intensification of agriculture was merely beginning.

Perhaps the most notable problem in agriculture during this period was the old land ownership structure that remained in place. The majority of arable land - roughly 60% - was in the hands of landlords. A small portion of the peasantry held land privately. In central regions, the land belonged primarily to rural communities, which redistributed land in favor of large families.

Russia's peasantry at the beginning of the 20th century accounted for 75% of the country's population. It was typically broken down into three social groups: well-to-do farmers (kulaks), middle-class peasants, and poor people. In 1905 the poor (60% of the peasantry) held land allotments of less than 9 acres, and used one horse or none at all. Middle-class peasants typically held between 9-20 acres of land and 1-2 horses. The well-off (10% of the peasantry) owned more than 20 acres and had as many as 5-6 horses each. Most poor and middle-class peasants simultaneously engaged in trade or seasonal factory work.

A majority of Russian peasants drove a natural-consumer economy that was largely decoupled from the domestic and world markets. Some middle-class peasants and well-off peasants sold agricultural products, particularly grain, on the open market. 1-2% of the peasants of European Russia were entrepreneurs, in whose businesses wage labor, sophisticated machinery, and land rent were actively employed, and profits were invested in production.

During the second decade of the 20th century, immediately prior to the first World War, Russia began to see increases in agricultural production due to agrarian reforms.

8.2. Industry and finance in the Russian Empire.

Russian industry was both comparatively advanced and continuing to develop rapidly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The new Minister of Finance, S.Yu. Witte (1892-1903) expanded government intervention in the economy with direct support of certain industries and enterprises, and carried out a series of tax reforms. Between 1895-1899 the Ministry of Finance also carried out a monetary reform, with a gold-backed ruble introduced in 1897 to stabilize the monetary system.

Following the economic crisis of 1900-03, Russian industry grew, albeit slowly. The years of 1910-14 were years of great industrial growth: production increased at an extremely rapid rate (10.5% per annum), achieved through greater labor productivity and creation of new factories. During this period the government reduced direct interference in industry, and foreign investments began to take a bigger role. At the same time, Russian capital investment also increased, making up roughly two thirds of total industry investment.

During the years of the first World War (1914-16) Russian industry grew by an additional 22%, mostly a result of military enterprises that produced weapons and metal. At the same time, civilian industries reduced production due to shortages of workers and raw materials.

In industries where competition became aggrevated between enterprises, entrepreneurs began to create monopolies, cartels, and syndicates to stabilize prices and prevent plant closures. Over 150 of these organizations existed in Russia; their duties primarily involved monitoring compliance with their agreements and promoting industry interests - sale of products, etc.

The highest forms of association and cooperation among producers were concerns (Putilovskii-Nevskii, oil, etc.) and trusts (textile fiber, tobacco, and others). These groups had vertically integrated their entire production process, from cultivation and procurement of raw materials, to processing, production, and marketing. As a result, some industries exhibited a greater degree of monopolistic behavior than others (metallurgy, heavy engineering, etc.) Monopolies quickly seized the dominant position in the economy, dictated prices, and regulated the release of goods. Other industries remained almost totally unmonopolized (e.g., the textile industry).

Banks played a significant role in creating and maintaining monopolies. The most important of these was the State Bank, which already had 130 offices throughout the country. The number of joint-stock commercial banks also grew, of which the largest were the Russian-Asian Bank, the Commerce-Industrial Bank, and the Petersburg International Bank. They formed financial and industrial groups and controlled the actions of concerns, syndicates, and individual enterprises.

Domestic and foreign trade continued to develop significantly, nearly by two times. Russia's main trading partners were Germany and England; meanwhile, trade with Asian countries (particularly Iran and China) developed, as did trade with some South American nations. Primary exports remained agricultural products, mostly grain, while imports were generally machinery and equipment. Between 1900-13, wholesale trade also grew, though the growth of domestic trade was inadequate, primarily due to village poverty and the accompanying low purchasing power among the peasants.

The Russian government continued to pursue a policy of trade protectionism with respect to strategically-important goods (coal, metal, etc.) banning their import from abroad. Rail and water transport played an important role in the country. Russia also took second place after the United States for development of roads.

The growth of cities, in connection with the broader processes of industrialization and urbanization, drove major changes in the social structure of society. Between 1897-1913, the popultion of the country increased from 125 to 165 million people. At the same time, the number of urban residents increased by 70%; they now constituted 18% of the total population of the country. Peasant villagers were, as before, a majority.

Through accelerated industrial and financial development, the numbers of people engaged in entrepreneurial activity increased. In Russia, several hundred thousand people were engaged in business. Large businesses numbered 35000-45000 people. At the same time, the number of workers nearly doubled to 17 million people. Most workers maintained strong ties to their villages, where many continued to hold land plots.

The number of people engaged in knowledge work - engineers, teachers, doctors - grew rapidly, increasing to 1.5 million people by 1917.

Russian industry continued to develop along a path common to all developed countries, albeit at a slower pace. Russia at this time held 4th or 5th place worldwide in terms of industrial production. One unique aspect of the Russian economy was that it maintained a number of different economic structures, and that state-owned indutry maintained far greater weight. Foreign financial capital played an important role, particularly in the chemical and electrical industries, and became an integral part of enterprises' capital finance. At the same time, Russian financial capital continued to independently determine the direction of the Russian economy.

8.3. Sociopolitical crisis at the beginning of the 20th century.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the resting sociopolitical crisis had become further aggrevated for economic and political reasons. The economic crisis of 1900-03 and the severe consequences of the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05 had led to the deterioration of general conditions among the peasants and workers.

The absolute monarchy remained intact. It forbade many activities of the political opposition, and strict measures were taken against the workers' and peasants' movement.

The agrarian question had not yet been solved in the country, and this in turn led to the growth of general unrest and peasant uprisings. The movement reached a peak in the spring of 1902, when peasant uprisings broke out in 14 governorates of European Russia. The peasants, regardless of their own economic standing, demanded the redistribution of the estates of the landed gentry. The uprising was defeated.

In the coming years, the labor movement acquired considerable scope. Between 1900-04, over 1000 strikes occurred, and included major industrial regions: Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Donbass, etc. The strikers had not only economic demands (shorter workdays, improvement of working conditions, etc.) but also political slogans (abolition of the autocracy, introduction of democratic freedoms, etc.) In 1903-04, more than half of all workers' uprisings were political in nature. Strikes became more active, and workers began to resist. In May 1901, during a strike at the Obukhov military plant in Saint Petersburg, a clash of 3500 workers with police occurred. Participants in a strike in Rostov-on-Don in November 1902 also used weapons against the police.

A new form of struggle arose - a general strike in which the workers of an entire city, region, or industry would be on strike. Such a strike occurred throughout the entire south of Russia in July-August 1903. Over 200,000 workers took part, after which trade employees joined as well. The strike was eventually suppressed with the help of government troops.

The Russian intelligentsia (scientists, teachers, doctors, etc.) also took part in the struggle for democratic rights. They created radical parties and other liberal organizations. Many were sympathetic to the various political interests behind the protests. Perhaps the largest such group was that of students, who fought for the return of autonomy to universities. Student strikes swept the country in 1899, 1901, and 1902; students tending toward radicalism showed solidarity with worker uprisings in other cities.

As the unpopular Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05 began, and particularly after its first setbacks, uprisings also began in the army and navy, the most significant of which was the armed uprising of sailors in Sevastopol in November 1904.

Radical parties had begun forming prior to their close association with liberals: the first Social-Democratic organizations emerged in the 1880s and 1890s, and particularly in the western and southern periphery of the Russian Empire: Poland, Finland, the Baltics, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. In Saint Petersburg and Moscow, "Unions of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class" formed.

Following an unsuccessful attempt in 1898 to convene a congress in Minsk to form the Russian Social-Democratic Party, such an opportunity appeared abroad. In 1903 in London a second congress was convened at which the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party was formed. It created and distributed propaganda among workers and intellectuals with the intention of overthrowing the autocracy, and advocated for a democratic republic with improved conditions for workers, notably the introduction of an 8-hour workday - but the Party's ultimate goal was a victorious socialist revolution and establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat.

A variety of ideological and organizational disputes at the Second Congress split the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party into Bolsheviks, led by V.I. Lenin; and Mensheviks, a less radical wing led by Yuri Martov.

In 1902, various unorganized circles of revolutionaries organized to create the Party of Russian Socialist-Revolutionaries under the leadership of V.M. Chernov. It generally expressed peasants' interests: revolutionary overthrow of the autocracy; confiscation, nationalization, and redistribution of land among the peasants. For carrying out party work among the masses, the Peasant Union (1902), the Union of National Teachers (1903), and several workers' unions (1903-04) were also created.

The liberal opposition began to form around centers of local government bodies - zemstvos and city dumas; and these "Zemstvo Liberals" quickly moved to political struggle. The first liberal political organizations were created: the Union of Zemstvo Constitutionalists (1903) and the Union of Liberation (1904). Prominent figures who participated included P.B. Struve, P.N. Milyukov, N.A. Berdyaev, M.I. Tugan-Baranovsky, and others; they advocated moderate political change - constitutional monarchy, universal and equal suffrage, and mandatory forfeiture of landed estates. These organizations laid the foundations for a future legal constitutional-democratic party.

Neonationalist parties, primarily leftist and social-democratic, also arose: Hnchak (1887) and Dashnaktsutyun (1890) in Armenia; the Social-Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (1893); the Polish Socialist Party (1892), Bund - The Universal Jewish Workers' Union (1897), and others.

In the early 20th century, many new political organizations were added to this same list: the Socialist-Federalist Party of Georgia (1901), the Ukrainian People's Party (1901), the Belarusian Socialist Assembly (1902), etc. These neonationalist parties advocated primarily for greater national autonomy for their peoples, while social-democratic parties advocated generally for cultural autonomy. In the most developed regions - Finland, Poland, and Lithuania - a number of liberal parties emerged at the turn of the century in support of radical nationalistic slogans, e.g., the Lithuanian Democratic Party (1902).

In the late 19th and early 20th century, a national-confessional reformist Muslim movement of the peoples of the Volga, Transcaucasia, and Kazakhstan began to coalesce - Jadidism - led by religious reformers A. Kursavi, Sh. Mardzhani, H. Faizkhanov, and I. Gasprinsky. The Jadidists criticized religious fanaticism, and demanded improvement to the training of clerics according to current levels of cultural progress and the replacement of antiquated religious schools with their national secular counterparts. Among their demands were emancipation and education for Muslim women; greater development of science and culture; publication of newspapers in national languages; and the founding of cultural and educational institutions, all of which contributed to the inclusion of Russia's Muslim peoples in pan-European culture.

Following the 1905-07 revolution, the Jadids formed the core of the "Union of Muslims" party, defending the ideas of constitutional monarchy, local self-government, universal suffrage, democracy, etc. The revolutionary-democratic wing of the Jadids in the Bukhara Khanate became the basis for the Young Bukhari movement.

The broader political crisis, which threatened the autocracy, resulted in the creation of a number of right-wing, monarchist-aligned organizations, most notably the Scared Militia in Saint Petersburg, and the Voluntary People's Guard in Moscow. In the autumn of 1900 the monarchist organization "The Russian Assembly" was created, which acted in defense of the interests of the Russian language, culture, and monarchy.

The political crisis of the early 1900s quickly assumed an all-encompassing national character; one that integrated all elements of society - workers, peasants, soldiers and sailors, the intelligentsia, and nationalists. All spheres of public life were touched, including that of foreign policy.

8.4. Internal politics during the reign of Tsar Nikolai II.

After the death of Tsar Alexander III in 1894, his son, Nikolai II assumed the throne (1894-1917). He had a somewhat contradictory personality: an educated, sophisticated, and well-mannered family man, he was as Sovereign an indecisive and unprepared leader who was afraid to assume the responsibility to make important decisions on the country's behalf. Like his father, Nikolai II was a committed conservative who believed that reforms were likely to be unsafe for the existing order, and therefore did not pursue change.

Within Tsar Nikolai II's inner circle, there were both opponents (High Procurator of the Synod K.P. Pobedonostsev, and Interior Ministers I.N. Durnovo and V.E. Pleve) and supporters (Minister of Finance S.Yu. Witte, Minister of Internal Affairs P.D. Svyatopolk-Mirsky) of reform - but the course of the government was entirely at the Tsar's direction.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Tsar's domestic policies were intended primarily to address existing social tension while preserving the autocracy.

As strikes and demonstrations continued throughout the country, the government made several concessions to the lower classes, most notably in regard to factory work. In 1897 a law was passed to restrict the working day to 11.5 hours; factory inspections were expanded to monitor violation of laws by entrepreneurs. In 1903, a law was adopted to compensate factory workers for workers injured in production (though not all government resolutions were implemented).

One main measure used to combat the growth of the labor movement was the creation of legal workers' advocacy organizations under police control. In 1901-02 on the initiative of S.V. Zubatov, the head of the Moscow Security Department, more than 30 such organizations opened in Russia's ten largest cities. As the workers' struggle grew, the authorities lost control over these organizations, and their members actively participated in the general strike in the south of the country in the summer of 1903. With the outbreak of the 1905-07 revolution, Zubatov recognized the collapse of "police socialism".

In 1902, a special meeting was convened on the needs of agriculture under the leadership of Minister of Finance S.Yu. Witte, with the intention of developing a plan for further agrarian reforms. Its primary conclusion was that a transition from communal farming to private farming was necessary; and that there was a need to equalize peasants' rights with other levels of society and to resettle peasants from central regions to the country's more sparsely populated lands.

In a proclamation of February 1903, Tsar Nikolai II made a number of promises relating to various policy issues affecting the peasants, as well as an announcement on the preservation of the class system and a decision against the division of communal allotments. For peasants, circular bail (1903) and corporal punishment (1904) were abolished. But these concessions failed to solve the outstanding agrarian question.

The murder of V.K. Pleve in 1904 forced Tsar Nikolai II to appoint a new Minister of Internal Affairs - the liberal-minded P.D. Svyatopolk-Mirsky. He immediately announced publicly the need for greater trust between the authorities and society, refusing repressions against the liberal press and attempting to cooperate with zemstvos. In November 1904 he submitted a "Draft Political Program of the Government" to Tsar Nikolai, proposing to introduce reforms including a nationwide congress of Zemstvos in order to expand class rights, solve national questions, and etc. This period became known as the "Svyatopolk-Mirsky Spring".

In response, the Tsar refused to change the existing system and proclaimed the inviolability of the autocracy in a decree on the 12th of December 1904.

8.5. External politics.

During the late 19th and early 20th century, a new system of international relations began to take shape. The great powers fought over their colonial interests; and local wars for redistribution of spheres of influence also began. Like many others, Russia participated in this struggle, but lagged behind relative to both its allies and competitors.

Russia was faced with several key tasks in foreign policy. First - to prevent the military-political hegemony of Germany in Europe; to stop the expansion of Austria-Hungary and Germany in the Balkans; and to establish control over the Mediterranean straits of the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. Particularly of interest were the straits, which were of military-strategic and economic importance, and through which over 80% of Russian grain exports were transported.

In Asia, Russia tried to prevent the expansion of British influence in Persia and China, and that of Japan in Korea. The broader goal was to establish Russian dominance in Persia, North China, and on the Pacific coast of Asia.

The main direct objective of Russian foreign policy in the late 19th and early 20th century was to ensure rapid economic development and sociopolitical stability in order to relieve the crisis. This at once forced the government to act with peaceful initiatives, while pushing it to pursue military adventures.

The beginning of the 20th century was also characterized by a growing rivalry of the great European powers in third countries, in which they were joined by the United States and Japan. Russia's main competitors in this struggle were Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Japan.

Russia, meanwhile, began to strengthen its alliance with France. Relations also began to improve with England after the division of spheres of influence in Central Asia occurred was brought to a relatively final conclusion in 1895. As Anglo-German antagonism continued, two separate blocs of influence began to form in Europe.

Perhaps the greatest focal points of Russian diplomacy were in the Balkans and in the countries of Asia, where efforts were intended to restrain the advance of rivals to the borders of the Russian Empire and prevent them from building new spheres of influence. This, in turn, resulted in two main trends in Russian foreign policy.

The main form of Russian involvement in the Far East was that of economic expansion, particularly toward China, with whom an anti-Japanese treaty was signed in 1896. In 1897 a Russian squadron occupied Port Arthur on the Liaodong Peninsula. In 1898, Russia was given a lease for the entirety of the peninsula for 25 years, with rights to build a railway.

In exchange for rights to construct the Chinese Eastern Railway in Manchuria (1896-1901) and the expansion of influence of the Russian-Chinese bank, Russia issued loans to China and thereby managed to build a stronger presence in the Far East.

At the same time, Tsar Nikolai II authorized a course toward a war with Japan, in which he was supported by the Minister of the Interior, Pleve, who believed that a short, victorious war with Japan would alleviate the country's internal sociopolitical crisis.

But in so doing, Russia underestimated Japan's growing military aggressiveness: the Japanese fleet both technically and numerically surpassed that of Russia in the Pacific, and the military plans of the Japanese command included advancement to Manchuria and the Ussuri region, with intent to seize the Chinese Eastern Railway. In July 1903, Japan invited Russia to conclude an agreement on their mutual interests, though its state and military leaders did not abandon plans for war.

The Russo-Japanese War. On the 24th of January 1904, the Japanese government broke off diplomatic relations with Russia. The following day, without official declaration of war, the Japanese fleet attacked the Russian squadron on the roadstead of Port Arthur, initiating the Russo-Japanese War.

Following the death of Russian squadron commander Vice-Admiral Makarov on the 31st of March 1904, Japan dominated the sea.

Battles on land throughout April-October 1904 also demonstrated substantial weakness on the part of the Russian military command. The Russian army was unable to stop the Japanese offensive to the south, and to the north to Manchuria; subsequently, the Japanese took the port of Taolian. After months of defense, the Japanese were given the fortress of Port Arthur.

In February 1905 the battl of Mukden occurred. Again the Russian army was forced into retreat. 90,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured.

The battle of Tsushima (14-15 May 1905) was the final stage of the war: 30 Russian warships off the island of Tsushima were opposd by 89 Japanese military vessels; the result was the complete defeat of the Russian squadron. In June 1905, the Japanese landed two divisions on the island of Sakhalin; the struggle for the island lasted two months and resulted in a total defeat for the Russians.

Meanwhile, the major European powers became increasingly concerned about the strengthening of Japan in the Far East and the corresponding weakness of Russia. It became apparent that the need to conclude a peace was imminent. On the 23rd of August 1905, with the mediation of United States President Theodore Roosevelt, the Portsmouth Peace Treaty was signed between Russia and Japan. Japan's sphere of influence was recognized by Korea; Japan also received the Kwantung peninsula with Port Arthur and half the Russian island of Sakhalin on a rental basis.

Russian military losses in the war totalled over 400,000 people, of whom 50,000 were killed. Japan lost 86,000 people. The war led to a crisis in the Russian financial system, an increase in inflation, and a rise in taxes. The war also brought Russia closer to revolution: in the first half of 1905, a significant number of demonstrators demanded an end to the war with Japan, and considerable unrest within the army also arose. The authority of the autocratic monarchy had been severely shaken.