Few can argue the fact that Nicholas didn’t have a wide range of positive qualities. It is notable that he was weak, inflexible and politically naï¿½ve. He was not really interested in politics, he found the daily work of the monarch intolerably boring and gave the great events of his reign little attention. He was a convinced believer that only autocracy could save Russia from anarchy. While his wife, Alexandra, had a stronger personality she too lacked political sense. Nicholas lacked imagination of his ancestor, yet it was exactly this imagination that was required to cope with the dramatic changes occurring within Russia. However, while his personal inadequacies are obvious, it is debatable as to whether they were fully responsible for the downfall of the Romanov Dynasty in 1917.
There are several factors which lead to the spontaneous revolution in February 1917. Firstly, the Tsar made several mistakes. He was frequently firing able ministers such as Witte and Stolypin and replacing them with incompetents as stated in source 6. He also changed electoral laws to a give a massive over-representation to the nobility. Perhaps his biggest mistake is when he took personal command of the army, which didn’t help war effort and meant he would be blamed for any defeats, and in the end he lost control of the army completely when on March 12th soldiers mutinied and refused to put out the riots which had broke out a few days earlier.
Consequently to the Tsar being occupied on the front, the Tsarina was left in charge which led to further problems. She was seen as incompetent, she let Rasputin practically run the government and rumors stimulated that they were having an affair. Also, the fact that she was German made her even more unpopular, rumors circulated that she was trying to help Germany win.
In February 1917 when it became increasingly obvious that the government was in crisis, Nicholas failed to do anything. It was obvious from the beginning that Nicholas refused to recognize the Duma as a future partner in government, and on March 13th they told him to abdicate.
However, other factors leading to a revolution include the First World War. The Russian army was badly led and poorly equipped. Russian defeats at Tannenburg and Masurian Lakes meant the Russians lost 200,000 men and the government lost support of the army. The war took 15 million men from the farms and trains to be used for war; they couldn’t bring food to the cities, meaning food shortages and inflation, all of which created anger and frustration in Petrograd. The winter of 1916- 17 was severe, food shortages got worse and there was a famine in the cities. It has been argued that whether Nicholas had taken control of the army or not, only Russian success in the war would be acceptable, ‘the good of her people demand this war to be waged to a victorious conclusion no matter what’.
Economic discontent, closely linked with war, was another major factor contributing to the downfall of the government. The living standards of the population suffered a rapid decline after the outbreak of fighting in 1914. Rising prices destroyed the buying power of wages, and to meet the heavy costs of war the government resorted to simply printing more money ultimately leading to inflation. Russia enjoyed good harvest in 1914, 1915 and 1916 however these were not getting through to cities and towns, due to a serious breakdown in rail communications. There was also fuel shortages, not only did this affect people in their homes but also factories, which in February 1917 were forced to close or operate on short time. As stated earlier the winter in 1917 was harsh, freezing railway lines meant further interfering with the distribution of food and fuel to the armed forces and the urban population. All of which created great discontent and dissatisfaction allover Russia.
Other historians believe a revolution was inevitable due to the weak state of Russia. There are various reasons why the Russian state at the time could be deemed as weak. In 1904 Russia had been humiliated in a war with Japan, and a year later a ‘revolution’ broke out the only reason the Tsar survived was by promising changes (October Manifesto), however he couldn’t fool the people twice. However, it can be noted that he did have time to change it around but he obviously did not learn from the near disaster of 1905 as stated in source 6.
Another reason for the weakness of Russia was due to the many, nationalities, languages and religions, the only unity was the Roman Dynasty which was obviously not strong another to bind the people together. The fact that Russia is such a vast country also caused problems, there were 125 million people spread across Europe and Asia. This made government difficult especially because of poor communications – bad roads and few railways.
Political parties and other groups in Russia began to demand changes in the way the country was run, and support for them was constantly increasing and a series of political strikes which had been building up since 1915 exploded in to food riots and a wave of strikes in February 1917. The Kadets, middle class and liberal landowners, wanted Russia to have a parliament like England. Social Revolutionaries wanted a peasant revolution, and to take all the land from the nobles. The Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks both were in favor of Communism; however the Bolsheviks wanted a proletarian revolution. Autocracy was viewed by many as simply outdated and inefficient.
Peasants and workers in the towns were extremely dissatisfied, as they suffered from low wages, long hours and terrible working conditions. The poor wanted to improve their standard of living and of course blamed Nicholas for the hardship they received.
In conclusion, some people viewed the war as inevitable due to the war, economic crisis and many other key factors. They believe Nicholas was not simply unfit to rule Russia, but a convinced believer that only autocracy could save Russia from anarchy, and he was clearly wrong. However, as a Tsar and ruler of the country he is responsible for what happens and will ultimately get the blame no matter what goes wrong; however he didn’t help himself by making numerous crucial mistakes along the way. Overall, Nicholas II played a major role in the downfall of the Romanov Dynasty but other factors did play a part.