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What were the causes of the March Revolution in Russia?

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Deborah Sheldon eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The fundamental long term cause of the Russian Revolution was economic. By the early Twentieth Century, the life of the peasant in Russia could only be described as deplorable. Food shortages during bad years caused widespread famine that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of citizens. Lack of food and sanitary conditions was exacerbated by the spread of diseases like cholera and diphtheria. Farmers were also wracked by debt burdens that they could not honor. In general, there was a growing discontent with the economic conditions that existed under the monarchy.

The government's inability to rule effectively was another underlying cause of the March Revolution. While the subjects in rural areas were suffering, the Russian government was more interested in developing its industries. This cost a heavy tax burden on the peasants that made their situation worse. Industrialism had its early successes, but when there were downturns, workers went on strike. The government responded with violence to put down worker's strikes. The most egregious reaction by the government occurred on January 22, 1905, in an event known as Bloody Sunday. On this day, troops fired on unarmed demonstrators and hundreds were killed.

The folly of Czar Nicholas also contributed to the growing unrest. In addition to being out of touch with the problems of his subjects, he felt that a war with Japan in 1905 would bring his people closer together. It did not. Russia was humiliated in defeat and the poor economic conditions were made worse. Czar Nicholas did not learn his lesson from the debacle that was the Russo-Japanese War. He entered World War I on the side of the Allies and his popularity increased for a time. Russians were unified in the cause of the war. Nicholas may have let his popularity go to his head, however, as he insisted in taking an active role in the military aspect of the war. He was not trained for such endeavors and when Russia was not successful in the war, the blame was his. In addition, he left his wife in charge of government affairs. She was almost as prepared for that as Nicholas was to mobilize an army. The inability of Czar Nicholas to govern effectively, coupled with Tsarina Alexandra's inability to handle the complex domestic problems of a country at war were important causes of the March Revolution.