Monthly Archives: December 2013

Failures of Nicholas II

Nicholas II arguably was crucial to the downfall of tsarism. Under his leadership there were two failures at war, as well as two large scale revolutions, calling an end to tsarism. His failure at a young age to grasp the full concepts of economics and politics did not bode well for his future in leadership, which he was not all too keen to inherit.  He had military experience however, which may explain his choice to head to the frontline in WWI, as the Commander in Chief but this decision was crucial to his downfall. The people blamed him directly for the major losses and defeats.

The reforms made after Bloody Sunday, created expectations but were not far reaching enough. Going back on these expectations, created by the Dumas, were important in furthering the discontent that was clearly present pre-1905. The long term cause of Nicholas II’s downfall can be attributed to this, or even as far back as the emancipation of the serfs, in 1861, which also did not improve the lives of the Russians substantially. The essential problem with tsarist Russia seemed to be that every reform introduced always created expectation but was never far reaching enough. The lid of liberation could not be opened a little and then shut. Once people acquired some freedoms, they naturally wanted more.

Nicholas II, as expected from a tsar, needed to produce an heir to the throne, after a long time of trying, eventually had a son, Alexei, but unfortunately he was a haemophiliac, which led to the introduction of Rasputin to the scene. This ‘mad monk’ was controversial to the core and led to much debate as the tsar’s reign continued towards wwi. The tsarina, Alexandria, of German descent, was increasingly dependent on Rasputin, which allowed him to heavily influence her political decisions in Nicholas II’s absence.

The role of Nicholas II in the success of the February Revolution. His inept leadership and mistakes certainly facilitated the revolution occurring. The protests had great popularity because Nicholas II had been crushed in two wars, incurred two attempted revolutions, had produced limited reforms and because he had proven himself to be a weak military and political leader, not up to the task of leading Russia. ii

No more Friendship and Cooperation

The Warsaw Pact, was established in 1955 by the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance. It was a military and political alliance between nations of Eastern Europe and was led by the Soviet Union. The founding members were the GDR, the USSR, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Albania (Albania left the pact in 1968). The original purpose of the initiation of the pact was to counter NATO, ideally they wanted both organisations to disappear. The countries collaborated together for many years, using intimidation methods as well as force against anti-communist threats within Europe. As it continued to have activity in Eastern Europe, resent emerged over the USSR’s willingness to sacrifice the population of its allies to look after its own interests.

The anti-communist wave in the late 1980s, which managed to dissolve the Soviet bloc was effectively the ending of the Warsaw Pact between the Eastern European nations. The GDR left the Warsaw Pact, in 1990, as it prepared to reunite with the FRG. There was a strong aspiration for escape from the pact by the former communist satellite nations, once they had rid communism from rule. By March 1991 it was clear to the Soviet leaders that the Warsaw Pact was over, as was the collection of Eastern European nations they had rule over. The pact had at times struck fear into those it was opposing and there were misconceptions of its power by the Western nations. Yet in the end, the Warsaw Pact disappeared with a whimper rather than a bang, thus offering a cautionary tale about the fragility of any modern military machine.

The end of the Warsaw Pact was intrinsically linked to the ending of the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc. Gorbachev ushered in a new Soviet form of communism, which it turned out was to be the downfall of the USSR. The nation was however crippled by severe stagnation and economic problems, one can argue there was little opportunity to keep the Soviet machine alive. Gorbachev attempted to resolve these problems by reform, in the shape of glasnost, freedom of speech, and perestroika, which was economic and political reform and restructure. The periphery of the Soviet ‘empire’ eroded first, the Baltic region left communism first and then the Eastern European nations followed suit, some smoothly, others with some violence. The opening of the ‘Pandroa’s box’ really left the USSR with little chance of holding on to dominance and power over its satellite states. This in turn meant that there was no real loyalty left and the nations had no enthusiasm to remain politically and militarily tied to the USSR in the Warsaw Pact, which had mainly worked to suppress the Eastern Bloc people from earning democracy sooner.

Polish Workers Unite

The end of the 1970s and the early 1980s marked a real negative period for the Soviet Union’s foreign policy. They ended the decade with an invasion of Afghanistan, which has often been compared to America’s involvement in Vietnam. Both of these wars were viewed negatively on the global scene. This context for the USSR was therefore still evident during the time of unrest in Poland.

The emergence of Solidarity and its popularity was huge and arguably was crucial to aiding the end of the Cold War in 1989 with the collapse of the Eastern European Soviet satellite nations. The fall of communism in Poland certainly was crucial to the spread of rejection of communism around Eastern Europe.  Although the Solidarity group was officially formed in August 1980, it had its origins in 1976 when there was a Workers’ Defense Committee (KOR). This group was formed by dissident intellectuals who organised strikes in many cities.

The creation of Solidarity was interestingly aided by religion. Pope John Paul II was, some would argue, very important to the creation of the group. He was the first Pope to be Polish and this no doubt had a big influence on the Polish people, especially when he visited them in June 1979. He called for his people to recapture their own destiny. Many thousands came to visit him in his papal visit and supposedly he broke down the barrier of fear, gave them belief. Many Polish people realised that by sticking together in Solidarity, the authorities would have less power. Some historians have gone on to use this Catholic influence to claim that the Pope was crucial to the ending of communism in Eastern Europe and the Cold War, which arguably is a little too farfetched and narrow of a view.

In 1980 Solidarity really began, with the economy in crisis, shortages everywhere and food prices rising, there was an illegal strike in the Gdansk shipyard. 17,000 workers barricaded themselves in and presented the Polish government with 21 demands based on workers’ rights. The government chose to negotiate with the strikers, and their leader Walesa, they gave way to the workers key demands. They agreed on self-governing trade unions, the right to strike, more political expression and religious freedoms. Once the lid of democracy had been lifted and eased open, the people would always want more, and this is what happened.

One Solidarity activist, Karol Modzelewski, claimed that they had a taste of being citizens, with civil liberties, which you don’t forget. Like a narcotic, like breathing fresh air for the first time.

This is a bold statement about how great this progression was for the people, especially for those in Solidarity in the early 1980s, who numbered about 10 million, about a third of the working age population. Interestingly, the USA provided covert aid to the group, met their requests of providing them with communication materials. The Solidarity movement had gained too much momentum for the Soviets, they were increasingly exerting pressure on Polish leader, Wojciech Jaruzelski. The USSR pressured him to fix the problem and placed Warsaw Pact forces around Poland but had no intention of following through with the threat. The opinion was that under no circumstance could they invade Poland, the USSR did not want another Afghanistan on its hands, the Polish government had to do it internally. Brezhnev sent this message in an ultimatum letter to Jaruzelski, the structure of the nation was not to be changed. Martial law was imposed, in December a nationwide strike was organised, the Polish government sent in the army, the Solidarity leaders were arrested and the group was banned. It did however remain active underground and re-emerged in the late 1980s.