Assess the reasons for the development of opposition groups in the reign of Nicholas II?

Many factors led to the development of opposition groups in the reign of Nicholas II as he didn’t appear to understand the real nature of the problems his nation and his dynasty faced. He was a weak leader that many believed was incapable of being Tsar. He knew very little about the Russian people, he never visited factories or villages so had no idea the extent of poverty. I think this may be why his policies hindered rather than helped Russia. This may also be why there were so many opposition groups

One of the many Nicholas II’s policies that weren’t favourable was Russification, during his reign discrimination against non-Russians became more open and vindictive, the state interfered in everything from education to religion. The Jews suffered most from this, in Nicholas II reign over 600 new measures were introduced that imposed heavy social, political and economic restrictions on the Jewish population. The majority lived in ‘ghettos’ so it wasn’t difficult for the anti-Semitist government to use them as scapegoats for Russia’s problems. Many pogroms were carried out; this was incredibly ill judged as the persecution of Jews meant the alienation of about five million of the Russian population many tried to escape. The 1890s witnessed a large influx of Jews into various anti-tsarist groups in Russia, especially increased Jewish support for the Mensheviks who also appealed to other non-Russian groups oppressed by the tsarist regime.

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Firstly the peasants were suffering the most; they were the part of the Russian social hierarchy that was ignored, the gentry exploited them and the government never helped them. They relied on agriculture to survive, their lives depended on how much they could grow and if it would be enough. As a consequence of the population growth land prices began to increase causing ‘land hunger’ this meant that the one thing they needed was the one thing they didn’t have, so many of them died from starvation. Even if the peasants had by some miracle got a piece of land good enough to grow crops on successfully, the Mir (village community authority) redistributed the land to different peasants from time to time, this discouraged peasants making improvements to the land and made them feel very insecure. The peasants were even more unlucky in the years 1891-92 as the country suffered from bad harvests, many peasants starved during this time. Furthermore the redemption payments that the peasants had to pay for emancipation from serfdom, the peasants could barely grow enough to live on so for many it was impossible to pay these. Witte’s policies made the peasants lives even worse as he squeezed resources out of the peasants to pay for industrialization so by 1902 they were at breaking point. Throughout this period peasant risings erupted sporadically and there was widespread violence in which the homes of the land owners were looted and burnt. The government’s response wasn’t to negotiate ideas to help the peasants no it was to use force to suppress the disturbances. It comes as no surprise that many opposition groups targeted the peasants as supporters for example the socialist revolutionaries; the peasants provided this group with large popular base.

The working class shaped about fifty percent of the socialistic revolutionaries’ opposition groups. Although this class was growing due to industrialisation the industrial workers were very passive initially as they feared for their jobs and wages. However they also suffered from low wages and Witte’s policy for industrial development didn’t help as in 1902 it all went wrong and thousands of industrial workers lost their jobs. This meant the working class was a very easy group for the opposition groups to target as supporters, this began in the 1890s. Lenin and the Bolsheviks organised strikes and soviets(strike committees) from 1896-97, causing working class rebellions to increase as they began demanding better pay, shorter hours and the right to have trade unions.

The gentry were also were angry and petitioned – spoke to the tsar about peasants uprising against them, they also began joining some opposition groups such as the Kadets, the Octoberists who tended to find support amongst industrialists businessmen and the larger landowners. The students and intelligentsia also liked and spread new ideas about democracy and so on. The tsar combated this by repressing them for example students were expelled from university and drafted into the army if they were thought to be spreading these ideas, organising strikes etc. Additionally the state increased their control over universities. However this repression just increased support for the opposition groups.

The increase in literacy rates meant it was easier to send out pamphlets and publish newspapers such the social democratic party newspaper the Lenin helped to edit (called Iskra meaning the Spark). This helped revolutionary ideas spread and many opposition groups emphasised on spreading propaganda both visual and literal to soldiers. What’s more Witte’s repressive regime did not give the image that he was trying to help Russia, in fact he was called the ‘hangman’ as he called out the army to tackcle many of the strickes and protests. He even went as far as declaring ‘Martial law’ where the military were enforcing the laws this included summary trials so you could even be sentenced to death on the spot without a clear reason why.

Overall the repression under which the Russian population suffered, due to the Tsar is what mainly led to the growth of opposition groups during Nicholas IIs reign. He was a weak leader which meant he stupidly gave the reigns to people like Witte which just increased the opposition. Also Nicholas wasn’t the type of leader who was willing to listen to his people, he believed that he was appointed by God and his wife believed he should not share his power with the people. This combination of views was the downfall for Nicholas II as it meant the Russian people could show their views only through force, through revolutions which the opposition groups helped organise.