There was great amount of discontentment among the various interest groups of Russia such as the industrial workers, the peasants and the middle classes. The workers in industrial centres were required to live in horrible conditions and worked in hazardous surroundings. There was more labour than the industries could absorb and consequently the workers were at the mercy of their employers. Labour unions were not allowed to operate freely. The state even sent troops to help employers to suppress them.This led to labor unrest. The strikes gradually began to take political turn.
The peasant and serfs were in equal bad condition since they were tied to the land,sold by their lords along with the land. They rendered free labour for fixed number of days in a week and could not marry without the permission of the lord. The Czar while emancipating the serfs also made provisions for them to possess some land which was vested with the village community called the Mir. Every peasant worked in the Mir and took a share of the produce in return. Not being the owners of the land, the serfs looked upon the Mir as another kind of overlordship.They also felt that the payment demanded from them for the land was unjust. Consequently the peasants began to agitate for more meaningful reforms and between 1861 and 1917 staged a series of revolts.
The industrial revolution resulted in the emergence of a dynamic middle class consisting of merchants, factory owners and other businessmen who were economically better off but hardly possessed any political and social privileges. So they joined hands with the intellectual liberals in demanding some system of representative governments. The challenge to Russian autocracy was more from liberalism than from socialism.
The zemstovs or local assemblies which were dominated by the middle class became active and prepared a definite program of reform demanding a freely elected national assembly, responsible ministry, equality of all citizens and freedom of the press, religion and speech.
The Russian monarchy was autocratic without being efficient. The Czars enjoyed absolute powers. They believed in the divine kingship and hence kept a tight control over the state. The people were kept out of the political responsibilities. They were also discredited by the number of military disasters in 19th and 20th centuries. The Russian army had performed badly in all the wars thereby exposing the weakness of the Russian military and political systems. This forced Czars to concede some reforms. The Crimean War was followed by the reforms of Alexander II including freedom to serfs;Russo-Japanese war was followed by the introduction of Duma or Parliament, the World War I brought the institution of monarchy and rule of czars to an end.
The European thought and ideas was felt in the country bringing a movement disruptive to established order. The novels of Tolstoy,Turgonev and Dostoviesky greatly kindled the imagination of young Russians. The radical intellectuals on the other hand deriving their inspiration from Marx and Bakunin turned to Socialism and Anarchism.The Ideal of Socialism received its support from the new class of industrial workers and peasantry. The Workmen’s Social Democratic Party was formed in 1895.
The split occurred in the party on the questions of tactics and discipline. Its radical section was led by Lenin broke away and came to be known as Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks stood for extreme measures and were eager to establish a dictatorship of the proletariat by force or violence. The moderate members of the party known as Mensheviks were willing to wait for the eventual triumph of Socialism by a slow and gradual process and were ready to cooperate with other political parties in overthrowing autocracy.
The necessary spark to the revolution was provided by the World War I by weakening the government machinery. While on the battle front Russia suffered staggering losses in human numbers, on the home front criticism was aroused by the inadequate handling of the supply of arms and ammunitions. When Nicolas took the personal command of the army he became supreme at home. The supremacy of the Czar also gave extensive power to Empress and her unscrupulous adventurer Rasputin. Despite repeated warnings from moderates in Duma the government failed to create a responsible atmosphere.