Historians have long argued whether the events of 1917 were due to a build up of tension between the Tsar and his people over a long period of time or whether they were due to the cataclysmic events of the years between 1914 and 1917 and the consequences that Russia felt because of these. But first, we need to establish what 'stable' means? One can define 'stable' as 'firmly fixed or established; firm in character' which in this context means whether the Russian system was carrying out its purpose to effect. Unstable would mean that the organisation and running of the country is a shambles and that nothing was safe and nothing could be predicted. Obviously, there are the examples of 'mildly stable' or 'superficially stable', which need to be considered as well. To consider the answer fully, it is essential to look at the social situation in the period between 1900 and 1910, the economic problems Russia was facing at this time, the political experiments carried out by various members of the 'government' and finally to look at the revolutionaries themselves and if their actions were having an effect on the population.
During this period, Russia was facing a major economic problem and in the years between 1900 and 1910, it had gone into a huge economic recession. This was largely due to the fact that the Tsars had not allowed any technological advances because to do this, the peasants would have to be taught, but the Tsars wanted to keep them illiterate so that their power could not be undermined. As a result of this, Russia had remained a backward society and while the other great powers of the time were producing more and therefore getting more money, Russia was producing less and therefore getting poorer and poorer. The economic growth between 1894 and 1900 was 9% whereas the growth between 1900 and 1914 was 5%. Due to the poverty, no improvements could be made in the country and so the working class were beginning to get angry, because they still had to live like serfs, in that they would be living in the factories where they worked with their families, alongside all the machinery. In one small room, there could be anything like 30 people, working, living, sleeping and eating day in, day out.
The peasants were just as bad because they were making no profit, so in effect it didn't make a difference whether they worked or not, because they had to rely on subsistence farming which means they sold their yield and bought their food. Therefore, they couldn't have any even minor luxuries and when they saw their Tsar and the aristocracy living in fancy palaces decked with the finest jewellery and clothes, they obviously got angry. To counter this problem, the new Prime Minister, Peter Stolypin encouraged the richer peasants to leave the 'Mir' or village community and buy out some of the poorer peasants to use the land more efficiently. These richer peasants were called 'kulaks'. Stolypin's idea basically made the richer, richer and the poorer, poorer. It may have helped Russia to get back on its feet, economically, but it didn't quell the peasants' anger, in fact, it probably made it worse.
To make matters worse for the Tsar, the middle classes and the nobility itself became angered. The middle classes felt that the Tsar ignored their pleas and problems and continuously pushed for a constitutional government. The nobility was angry because it had lost its power over the serfs as a result of the 'emancipation of the serfs'. They also resented the fact that the Tsar was hiding away from his problems at Tsarskoe Selo (Tsar's village) and leaving the nobles to try and sort out the pleas, which they couldn't. This would have left them feeling humiliated, because even though they had so much power, they could not control some 'petty' peasants. In their minds, it was the Tsar's fault that they were helpless, because he wasn't helping them.
This would have made tensions between the Tsar and the nobles very high. The main reason for the 1905 revolt was the defeat against Japan in the Russo-Japan War of 1904. The Tsar had been contemplating whether to attack Japan to regain some popularity because it was most likely that Russia would win, but before they could launch an attack, Japan made a surprise attack on Port Arthur on 8 February 1904. Port Arthur was a Russian naval base on Chinese land. A little before this time, the Chinese Empire had broken up and the Russians and Japanese both grabbed parts of the empire. The Russians faced a problem that the army was stationed in the west near the major cities, and it took six days to get the troops to the east on the single-tracked Trans-Siberian Railway.
The Russian army was badly organised, and at some times, soldiers didn't get ammunition on time and would therefore be 'sitting ducks'. The Russian Pacific Fleet was shut up inside Port Arthur, and the Japanese laid siege to the Port and captured it in January 1905. In February, the two armies met at Mukden. Within two weeks, the Japanese had defeated the Russians. The Russian Baltic Fleet had to sail halfway around the world to get to the rescue. After eight months it met Admiral Togo in the Straights of Tsushima.
Togo had a much better equipped fleet and had an easy victory. Out of twenty-seven, three Russian ships remained. This caused uproar and outrage within the country because such a huge country like Russia had lost to a small island like Japan, but more so because it had made conditions at home worse rather than better. Also, someone had to be blamed for this and the obvious target for the revolutionaries was the Tsar.
The masses would not see through these claims and would also blame the Tsar. This obviously made the Tsar very unpopular and the revolutionaries would have used this anger and spread it around the whole country. Apart from this defeat, the event that made popular anger its highest in 1905 was 'Bloody Sunday'. On 9 January 1905, a mass of 150,000 workers, led by Father Gapon, processed to present a petition to the Tsar at the Winter Palace. Before they reached the Tsar, troops started firing on the crowd. They killed 1000 and injured a further 3000.
After this, the Tsar's image of the 'father of his peoples' had been destroyed. The anger sparked off strikes all over the country. In June, the sailors on the warship the Potemkin mutinied at the Port of Odessa. This sparked off street fighting in which 2000 people died. In October, the workers, students and professional classes of St Petersburg went on general strike and brought the city to a standstill. This shows the extent that the people would go to get their own way.
On 17 October, the Tsar conceded to the opposition to buy some time for the army to get from the east to the west. In the 'October Manifesto' he gave freedom of the press, opinion, assembly and association; he gave permission for the election of a legislative Duma and he created a council of ministers under the presidency of Witte. By conceding, the Tsar shows that he cannot control the situation, and therefore is incompetent as a ruler, which is more 'fuel to add to the fire' for the revolutionaries. The opposition consisted of a number of different groups who opposed each other as well as the Tsar. There were the Octobrists who were a conservative group who supported the October Manifesto. Even though they were the Tsar's most loyal supporters, they felt he had gone too far in removing the Duma's rights and they warned that if he didn't do something to give the Duma more rights there would be a huge catastrophe.
The constitutional democrats, or kadets, were liberals led by Melyukov. They worked for liberal reform and a republican constitution. When the Tsar summoned the Duma, the kadets party hoped to turn it into an instrument of government and change him into a constitutional monarch. The kadets became angered when the Tsar made it clear that he had no intention of sharing his power with the assembly. The original socialist party was the Social Democrats (SD). They were a Marxist group who thought that a revolution was necessary to bring Russia back on its feet.
They broadly agreed that the Tsarist reign would be over-thrown by an industrializing middle class, which in turn would be over-thrown by the working class. In 1903, the party split due to a dispute of interests. It split into the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks. The Mensheviks, led by Martov, wanted to have a party that included sympathisers for the peasants and middle classes. They were prepared to have a role in the Duma after 1905. The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Ulyanov, or Lenin, wanted a small party that was immune from the police.
It wasn't ready to enter the Duma and didn't want to cooperate with the middle class. The city workers had the same goals as the social democrats. The far left party and most extreme party was the Socialist Revolutionaries. Its members included the peasantry.
Its objective was to obtain equal land for the peasants and equality for peasants in general, but its agenda had a rather anarchist slant. Examples of this are the confiscation of noble estates, creation of self-governed groups and partaking in political assassinations. These different groups opposed each other as well and the leaders stirred up trouble between the members as well. This caused chaos among the Russian population and these leaders of the groups could have blamed this chaos on the Tsar, and therefore the mob would become angry with the Tsar, and continuous unrest would lead them to make some drastic actions that were the continuous strikes during 1905. In December 1905, there was the 'Insurrection in Moscow'. The socialist democrats urged for an armed uprising by trying to influence the military, but by this time, the military situation was much better.
The Socialist Democrats rejected the October Manifesto, which forced the Tsar to dissolve the St Petersburg Soviet. This resulted in an armed revolt in the Moscow Soviet. There was two weeks of fighting leaving 1000 dead and the revolution crushed. Even though the Tsar had been successful, at this time, the feelings of the masses would still be against the Tsar, and a loss would just make them more anxious to get what they wanted and would be prepared to do it in any way they could think of... A major problem the Tsar had to face was his own beliefs. Both, his parents and his tutor had taught him that reign other than Tsardom was impossible.
Tsardom in Nicholas II's mind was total power. An autocracy. He chose his own ministers from his own close court circle. His mistake was that he didn't want to and didn't give any authority or power to the other classes. He didn't like the idea of the 'Duma' or parliament because they could easily undermine his authority and he knew it would become a constitutional monarchy, which he believed couldn't work. As the Duma disagreed with him, in June 1906, he dissolved it.
In March 1907, he dissolved the second Duma but then he changed the voting laws anyway. Now, the vote of one landlord consisted of 300 peasants or 600 workers. After this, the third and fourth Duma remained for the full five years, as they backed the Tsar. During the period between 1907 and 1912, it was relatively peaceful, but it can be questioned if this was actually a superficial feeling.
The revolutionaries could have calmed the masses down so that they got some time to plan the next revolution. In April 1912,270 strikers were shot dead on the Lena Goldfields. Waves of strikes followed and the feelings of resentment against the Tsar were stirred up again by the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda (Truth). In 1913, the Romanov family celebrated 300 years on the throne.
This celebration went well, but it is easy to get 100 thousand royalists to turn up on the day and shout their happiness to the Tsar. This is superficial stability, because the actual masses' reactions and feeling were not seen or heard. What was actually heard was what the Tsar and the rest of the world wanted to hear, that the Russian population was happy with the Tsar and that the situation in Russia at the time was calm. So, was Russia on the verge on revolution before the Great War? It is certainly likely that Russia was on the verge of revolution in 1914 because even though the period between 1906 and 1911 had been spent relatively peacefully, it is evident that the feelings of the masses had not changed since 1906, because any attempt to quell problems with the workers by the Tsar, would have stirred up the masses again, like it did in 1912 on the Lena Goldfields.
The success of the anniversary for 300 hundred years was evidently superficial because in 1914, the masses were rioting again. If the First World War had not come, it is very likely that the revolution would have occurred in 1914. Instead of the War being the cause, it seems like it was the prevention. Of course, the results of the War didn't help the situation but even without this extra anger, tensions were very high. And so, it seems safe to say, that stability in Russia c. 1910 was extremely unstable.