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The World War I and the October Revolution

Why did war break out in Europe in 1914??

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Ans. After Napoleon was defeated in 1814, the death and destruction caused by the Napoleonic war created a lot of instability and disorder in Europe. To restore stability and to build peace among European nations, representatives of European countries gathered together at what was called The Congress of Vienna (1814-1815). The representatives of each nation agreed to honor the principles of the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) which had stipulated that all countries would honor geographical boundaries and sovereignty of each other. In this Congress, the nations agreed that maps redrawn after the defeat of France would be recognized by all concerned.

However, all the leaders failed to understand the fever of nationalism that was gripping their respective citizens who did not like the agreements and demanded that their original rightful lands be returned back. The new French Government under Napoleon III did not like the limits being put on them. Prussia too was not happy with the arrangement as it prevented their leader Bismarck from carrying out his ambitious plan of unifying previously owned German territories under his rule. As the Turkish Empire began losing influence in its own region, the ambitious Russians began demanding that the Orthodox Church institutions in Turkey be placed under Russian protection. This led to the Crimean war in 1854 leading to further death and destruction.

After the Crimean war ended, European nations again pledged to maintain peace according to the treaty conditions of Westphalia and the Congress of Vienna. However, territorial and national ambitions of almost all the main nations in Europe made them enter into secret agreements with one another and against one another. Some of these agreements were declared openly, while others remained secret. This ‘double dealing’ further increased suspicions amongst European nations and each nation started building up their armies to prepare for a possible war which led to further instability.

Thus by 1914, Europe was like a coiled spring ready to spring out and all that was needed was a trigger which was provided by the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria who was the next king of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Austria then accused Serbia of carrying out the murder of the Archduke and issued Serbia an ultimatum. The Serbians had a secret backing of the Russians and felt bold enough not to agree to all the points of the Austrian ultimatum letter. A small fight broke out between the Serbian armed forces and the Austrian forces. Since suspicions were already running high, Russia and France started mobilizing their armies. This led to all the major countries to mobilize their armies and start taking sides and soon the whole of Europe except Italy were divided into either the Allied Powers also called the Entente and the Central Powers which then resulted in the First World War which was also known as the Great War. Thus it can be concluded that competition between nation states, the ambition to gain territories from other nations, human greed for gathering wealth the easy way, the need for power, economic competition, the feeling of superiority and greatness as well as misplaced nationalism were some of the causes that led to the First World War. The assassination of the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was the final trigger point which started the war, the preparations for which had already begun a long time before the incident took place.

Why did revolution break out in Russia in 1917?

Ans. The French Revolution from 1789 to 1799 had been an uprising against the atrocities being committed by the French Emperor against the common people. French philosophers such as Rousseau had argued that the King was exploiting his workers. He had stated that the workers should be given more equal rights. This led to the overthrow of the French Emperor and the revolutionary ideas and spirit soon spread to the rest of Europe.

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Russia at that time was under the rule of the Czar. Nicholas II had become the Czar in 1868 and he was a cruel and a harsh ruler who believed that only he had the divine right to rule and would listen to no advice. In the 1900s, Russia too had been undergoing the Industrial revolution. Industries and factories were coming up in a large way and to make profits and goods, the Czar had forced the Russian people to work in the factories with very poor salaries and poor living conditions. These policies of the Czar bred resentment amongst his people.

Learning from the French philosophers, Russian philosophers and German philosophers started questioning the Czar’s right to rule and his exploitation of the masses. The effects of the industrial revolution in Russia were to promote uneven growth where some people became extremely rich while the majority continued to remain very poor. The Czar continued to enrich himself but cared little for his people. These policies made it easy for philosophers like Marx and Engels to call for workers of the world to unite as they had nothing to lose but their chains. The rising costs of food, lack of even economic development and the wretched conditions of the peasants and the factory workers set the stage for revolutionaries to gather followers which the Bolsheviks under the leadership of Lenin very effectively managed. The centuries of oppression of the working class by the Czarist regimes had been building up and that was given a voice by the Bolsheviks led by Lenin.

Russia’s participation in the First World War added to the misery of the people who not only had to suffer the poverty at home but also had to fight and support an unpopular war. To strengthen his war effort, Czar Nicholas II had ordered forced enlistment or conscription of the Russian people who hated this action. The Czar also ordered people to carry out forced labor to sustain the Russian war effort. Thus the poor socio-economic situation, the obstinate and arrogant behaviour of the Czar, Nicholas II who refused to carry out any reforms and believed only in his own judgement and the Divine Right to rule as he pleased, all became explosive factors for the revolt to break out.

The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin promised the suffering people equality and equal opportunity. The Bolsheviks promised the people that they would get rid of the Czar and that they would eradicate poverty and ensure that all lands and wealth of the rich people would be used and utilized by the state for the betterment of the people. Lenin’s propaganda was effective and the people of Russia rose up in revolt. All these factors led to a series of revolts starting with the February revolution (March 1917) and the October Revolution (November 1917). The October revolution sealed the fate of the Czar who was caught while trying to escape and shot dead along with his entire family. The October revolution brought Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks to power in Russia.

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