These Russian Revolution essay questions have been written and compiled by Alpha History authors, for use by teachers and students. They can also be used for short-answer questions and other research or revision tasks. If you would like to contribute a question to this page, please contact Alpha History:
Russia before 1905
1. Explain the challenges and difficulties faced by the tsarist government of Russia between the mid-1800s and 1905. How did tsarism respond to these challenges?
2. Discuss the relationship between the tsarist hierarchy, the Russian nobility and the powerful land-owning class. How did the actions of these groups contribute to the development of revolutionary sentiment?
3. On what basis did tsarism claim authority to rule Russia? What people or groups both reinforced and disseminated the idea of tsarist authority?
4. According to historian Orlando Figes, tsarism was held up by “unstable pillars”. Discuss the meaning and the validity of Figes’ analogy.
5. Compare Russia’s economy in the late 1800s to the economies of Britain, France and Germany. Why did Russia’s economic development fail to match that of her powerful European neighbours?
6. To what extent did the leadership and policies of Tsar Alexander III lay the groundwork for revolutions in Russia in 1905 and 1917?
7. Discuss the ideas, composition and methods of revolutionary movements in late 19th century Russia. To what extent were these movements able to reform or moderate tsarism?
8. Many writers considered Russia’s peasantry to be the most logical source of revolutionary energy. To what extent was this true? What obstacles were there to a ‘peasant revolution’ in Russia?
9. Explain how the program of economic modernisation championed by Sergei Witte contributed to revolutionary sentiment in Russia.
10. Evaluate Nicholas II’s fitness to rule as tsar, giving close attention to his personal qualities and political and religious beliefs.
Revolutionary and reform movements
1. Describe the ideas and methods adopted by Russian revolutionary movements in the 50 years prior to 1905.
2. With reference to three specific groups, explain why 19th-century Russian revolutionary groups were unable to overthrow, reform or moderate tsarism.
3. Why did the Russian Social Democratic Party (or SDs) split in 1903? What were the short-term and long-term ramifications of this split, both for the party and for Russia?
4. According to Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin), what were the requirements for a successful revolutionary and a successful revolutionary party?
5. Discuss how the Bolshevik and Menshevik parties each attempted to foment change between 1905 and February 1917. Which group was more successful and why?
6. Discuss the size, composition and policy platform of the Socialist Revolutionary party. What role did this party play in opposing tsarism before and during the 1905 Revolution?
7. Examine the composition and policy positions of the liberal movement in early 1900s Russia. Who belonged to liberal groups and what system of government did they desire?
8. How did the formation, expansion and treatment of Russia’s industrial workforce contribute to a growth in revolutionary sentiment?
9. Evaluate the role played by the Bolshevik party and its individual members in both the 1905 and February 1917 revolutions.
10. It is often said that the Bolsheviks were a party formed in Lenin’s own image. To what extent is this statement true?
The 1905 Revolution
1. Explain how the tsar’s commitment to a war with Japan in 1904 would eventually weaken his authority and threaten his regime.
2. Was the petition drafted by Georgi Gapon and the Putilov workers in early 1905 a simple list of grievances about working conditions? Or was it an incitement to political revolution?
3. Explain the impact of the ‘Bloody Sunday’ shootings of 1905, both on public perceptions of tsarism and on the revolutionary movement in Russia.
4. One historian described the 1905 Revolution as “a revolution with five arms but no head”. To what extent was this true and how did it affect the outcomes of the revolution?
5. Examine the tsar’s responses to the 1905 Revolution and the growing demands for an elected Duma. What do they reveal about his commitment to reform?
6. What was contained in the October Manifesto and what impact did this document have on the progress of the 1905 Revolution?
7. Compare and evaluate the contribution of the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries to the 1905 Revolution.
8. Leon Trotsky described the events of 1905 as a “dress rehearsal” for the revolutions of 1917. What lessons do you think were learned by the Russian revolutionaries from 1905?
9. Explain how tsarist chief minister Piotr Stolypin responded to the events of 1905. How successful were these responses in reestablishing tsarist authority?
10. Explore the activities and the role of the first three Dumas between 1906 and 1912. To what extent were these bodies effective or influential?
The February Revolution
1. Examine the effectiveness and popularity of the tsarist government between 1912 and 1914. How and why did the outbreak of World War I impact on tsarist authority?
2. Discuss the actions of Grigori Rasputin between 1905 and 1916. How did Rasputin contribute to revolutionary sentiment in the build-up to February 1917?
3. Discuss the role played by the fourth Duma and its Provisional Committee in the development of the February Revolution and the overthrow of tsarism.
4. To what extent was Russia’s entry into World War I a product of tsarist mismanagement? Did Nicholas II contribute to his own doom – or was he a victim of circumstance?
5. Evaluate the argument that the tsar’s decision to take personal command of the army in 1915 marked the beginning of the end for his regime.
6. Describe the political, economic and social impact that World War I had on Russia and its people, with a particular focus on the year 1916.
7. Explain how errors of judgement and mismanagement by the tsar and tsarina in February 1917 contributed to the overthrow of tsarism.
8. Discuss the role of propaganda and public perception in bringing down tsarism in February 1917. Refer to at least three specific pieces of propaganda.
9. The February Revolution is often described as a “leaderless” revolution. Was this really the case? Which people and groups were responsible for the revolution?
10. According to one historian, “tsarism collapsed with a whimper”. Evaluate this statement, referring specifically to the actions of the tsar and his advisors.
The Provisional Government and October Revolution
1. Discuss the composition, support and political legitimacy of the Provisional Government in March 1917. Did this government have a greater mandate to rule than the tsarist regime it replaced?
2. Examine the political career and rise to prominence of Alexander Kerensky. To what extent was Kerensky a socialist, both before 1917 and during his service in the Provisional Govechallenges3. What challenge did the formation of the Petrograd Soviet and the issuing of its Order Number One pose to the Provisional Government?
4. Explain how and why the German government backed Lenin’s return to Russia in April 1917. How was this perceived by Lenin’s opponents?
5. How did Lenin’s April 1917 speech at Finland Stand and the publication of his April Thesis shortly after radically transform the situation in Russia?
6. Give reasons for the political instability of the Provisional Government through the middle of 1917. What were the eventual outcomes of this instability?
7. Referring to specific conditions, policies and events, explain Kerensky’s statement that the Provisional Government had “authority without power” while the Petrograd Soviet had “power without authority”.
8. Explain how the ‘July Days’ and the Kornilov affair each affected the Bolsheviks and their position.
9. Describe the role of the Military Revolutionary Committee in overthrowing the Provisional Government.
10. Evaluate the ideas and actions of Leon Trotsky in 1917, comparing Trotsky’s contribution to the October Revolution with that of Lenin.
11. Was the overthrow of the Provisional Government in October 1917 a Bolshevik-engineered coup or a popular revolution?
12. Why has the Bolshevik capture of the Winter Palace become an iconic moment of the Russian Revolution? Is the significance of this event justified?
The Bolsheviks in power
1. To what extent was the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917 supported by non-Bolshevik socialists and ordinary Russians?
2. Describe the system of government developed in the weeks following the October Revolution. To what extent did the Bolsheviks honour Lenin’s demand for “all power to the Soviets”?
3. Explain the policy of “state capitalism”, articulated by Lenin during the first months of Bolshevik rule. What was this policy intended to achieve?
4. Referring to specific Bolshevik policies from 1917 and 1918, evaluate the extent to which Lenin and his government were able to deliver “peace, bread and land” to the Russian people.
5. Discuss the formation, sitting and closure of the Constituent Assembly in December 1917 and January 1918. Why did Lenin permit elections for this body, only to close it almost immediately?
6. Was the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk a victory or a defeat for the Bolshevik government? What were the short-term and long-term impacts of this treaty, both for the Bolshevik movement and for the Russian people>
7. Describe the Bolshevik policy of war communism. What was it intended to achieve and how successful was it?
8. Explain the conditions and causes that led to the Red Terror of 1918. Was the Terror a response to circumstances – or were the Bolsheviks destined to call on terror as a means of ruling Russia?
9. Why was Trotsky’s leadership as war commissar critical to the Bolshevik victory in the Russian Civil War? Identify and discuss five major contributions Trotsky made to the war effort.
10. Which groups or regions opposed the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War? Compare their political objectives, as well as their success in opposing the Bolshevik regime.
Crisis and consolidation
1. To what extent was the Great Famine of 1921 caused by Bolshevik policies? How did the Bolshevik regime respond to this catastrophe?
2. Discuss reasons for the formation and activities of the Workers’ Opposition. How did Lenin and the Bolshevik hierarchy respond to factionalism in the party?
3. Explain the reasons for the outbreak of the anti-Bolshevik uprising at Kronstadt in early 1921. What impact did this rebellion have on the Bolshevik regime?
4. Was the New Economic Policy, passed by Lenin and his government in 1921, a “strategic retreat” – or a sign that their revolution had failed?
5. In 1921 Lenin called for party unity and an end to factionalism. Discuss the impact that events like Kronstadt and the NEP had on unity within the Bolshevik movement.
6. “The Bolsheviks were successful revolutionaries but failures at political leadership and economic management.” Discuss the validity of this statement.
7. Lenin once likened revolutions to locomotives that must be driven fast but kept “on the rails”. Did the Bolshevik revolution lose direction because it attempted to move too quickly?
8. How did the Bolsheviks respond to Lenin’s withdrawal from public life in 1922-23? Why was there a crisis of leadership in the party during this period?
9. Many considered Leon Trotsky to be Lenin’s natural successor as leader of the party and the Soviet Union. Discuss at least three reasons why Trotsky did not assume the party leadership.
10. Explain Joseph Stalin’s career and contribution to the revolution up to and including 1922. How did Stalin ascend to the leadership of the party?
Evaluating the revolution
1. According to some historians, in any revolution, the revolutionaries always resort to the same ideas and methods as the old regime. To what extent is this true of the Russian Revolution>
2. Discuss three reasons why a democratic government failed to take root in Russia between 1905 and 1918.
3. “War made revolution possible but made rebuilding society impossible”. Referring to three different wars, discuss the relationship between war and revolution in Russia between 1905 and 1921.
4. “Women played an essential role in both the revolutions of 1917 and the development of the new Soviet state.” To what extent is this statement true?
5. The historian Orlando Figes called one of his Russian Revolution text A People’s Tragedy. How and why was the revolution a “tragedy” for the people of Russia?
6. The Russian peasantry was an “immovable mountain” when it came to change, claimed one writer. How did Russia’s peasants respond – or fail to respond – to reform and revolution?
7. “The Russian Revolution transformed Russia from a backward agrarian empire into a modern industrial state.” To what extent is this statement correct?
8. Was the Russian Revolution evidence that communism does not work in practice? Or did the Russian context make socialism impossible to achieve? Discuss.
9. What were the implications of Stalin’s leadership for the people of Russia? How did Stalin transform the Soviet Union in the first decade of his rule?
10. How different were Stalin’s ideology and methods from those of Lenin? Did Stalin take the Communist Party down a new path – or did he continue and expand what Lenin had started?