Key Topic 1: The Nature of Government

provisional-govt.jpg1.1 Autocracy, dictatorship and totalitarianism

  • Nature of rule in Russia from 1855-1964.
  • Tsarist and Communist aims, ambitions, fears and concerns.
  • Similarities and differences in leadership between Tsars, Communists and individuals.
  • The effectiveness of Tsarism, Communism and individual rulers.

Reading: pages 12-24

Key question: How did the aims of the Tsars differ to those of the Communist leaders? [post your answer in the comments section for this blog entry – use your ‘nature of government’ table to provide specific evidence your answer]

To consider – were there more similarities than differences? Was this as a result of ‘type’ of rule or individual personalities of the rulers? Is there a common thread that can be attributed to all major periods of rule in Russia, 1855-1964?

Lesson resources:

1.1 cover sheet

summary of main periods of rule

nature of government table





  1. How did the aims of the Tsars differ to those of the Communist leaders?

    The tsars weren’t as different to communist leaders as people may think. Both tried to keep the power through reforms (Alexander II abolition of serfdom 1861/Nicholas II religious ideas and Lenin through Marxism/Leninism) others preferred using fear such as Stalin with his death camps for political prisoners, which should be said were previously established by Lenin, and Alexander III who repressed freedom of the serfs after his father’s death in 1881.
    They of course had to oppress those that were against reformation for example the People’s Will who assassinated Alexander II as they were not getting every reform that they wished for. This was also followed by the Social Revolutionists against the Social Democrats which later had changed into a completely new threat, Marxism. This became a problem for Lenin when the party split into the Bolsheviks (the reds) and Mensheviks (the whites) after the Russian Revolution of 1917 between the bourgeoisie (middle class) and proletariat (working class).

    There were differences between the two however, for example, the tsars tried to uphold autocracy and to maintain it no matter what and even though Khrushchev did try to do the same via 5 year plans he and Stalin were overall totalitarian in control, whilst Lenin surprisingly was ruling as a dictator. The Tsars also believed that like with the English monarchs they were the mouth piece of God and would have his word spoken through them so could not be challenged. The only one to really uphold his believe was Nicholas II, whereas the communist leaders spoke for the workers and not God and in fact outlawed the practise after Nicholas II.
    The government also changed between leaders with all factions under the Tsar and had to listen to his absolute word and make reforms and laws according to his word, however under Nicholas II there was a chain of control with the tsar at the top and all others below him.


    • Ines, good level of detail and comparison, you show a good grasp of the different periods of rule. FYI ‘Socialist Revolutionaries’; Nicholas II seen as political reformer too with introduction of the Duma; 5 year plans were Stalin, not Khrushchev’s idea; why have you described Khrushchev as totalitarian? Can we not consider him autocratic, but not totalitarian, given his liberal reforms under de-Stalinisation? Just a thought, let me know what you think.


  2. The Russian tsars and communist leaders did have slightly different ways of ruling but for similar aims. For starters, the tsars’ main aims were to uphold autocracy by any means necessary whereas the communists wanted power given to the people, predominantly the proletariat. The tsars also believed that they were appointed by god and had the duty to rule in a paternalistic way, such as how Nich II took every decision on his shoulders for religious morality; the communists did not believe religion was the right way to go and ruled for the benefit of the people to make a dictatorship while the proletariat strengthened, similar to the tsars, but for the workers instead rather than all.

    They also had many similarities however in the way that they ruled over Russia.They all used oppression in order to maintain power, even Alex II put down riots of groups such as the peoples will extremist group as well as the social reformists and the social democrats and Lenin with the bourgeoisie. All of them had to oppress those who rose up against them in order to maintain the ultimate goal of maintaining power. They can all be considered to also do this through reform as all of them can be considered to be reformists, not just Alex II. Even Nich brought in the electable Duma for a sort of democracy, Stalin brought in economic 5 year plans and collectivisation, Lenin adapted Marxism to suit him keeping the power and Stalin did this too in his rule, as well as Khrushchev changing Soviet style communism to be more socialist by letting satellite states choose their own way to it at the 20th Party Conference in 1956. This was all for power alone, their key aims overall.

    Even if all of them used oppression and reform in order to maintain power, the tsars took it as a moral role to god to rule over the people, whereas the communist leaders did it while the proletariat grew.


    • Good level of detail Ash, and clear comparison of similarities and differences. The SR’s = Socialist Revolutionaries rather than Social Reformists.


  3. The aims of the Tsars differed from those of the communist leaders because they believed in autocratic rule as the chosen representatives of God. As such, they believed that all Russians should support and follow them as a matter of faith. By contrast, the communist leaders believed that they were taking control whilst waiting for the workers to develop in order to then take over with a dictatorship of the proletariat. Ultimately, the aims of all Russian rulers during this period was to maintain control over the vast Russian empire and overcome opposition that threatened the greater good.

    To this end, all rulers employed a combination of reform and oppression. For example, Alexander II responded to emerging concerns over land reform and serfdom by introducing the Emancipation of the serfs, 1861, which earned him the title of the Great Reformer but didn’t prevent his assassination in 1881. His son, Alexander III, reacted to this by oppressing the opposition, rounding up and killing the leaders of the People’s Will. Nicholas II, an autocrat in every sense, unable to delegate also introduced political reform following the disastrous defeat in the Russia-Japanese War, 1905. He brought in the Dumas, representative bodies able to debate the key issues. However, these were short-lived and subject to both Nicholas’ whims and Stolypin’s disapproval.

    Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev can all be viewed as reformers, the former two with their adaptation of Marxism to meet the needs of the emerging communist state, Khrushchev with de-Stalinisation. Like the tsars, they justified their reforms as essential to overcome opposition, like the tsars the reforms were created to maintain their own position and tighten central control over Russia.

    All leaders, to some extent responded to opposition with firm measures, although Khrushchev denounced Stalin’s use of terror, only resorting to military intervention when the integrity of the Soviet Union was challenged. Ultimately, autocrats or dictators, all the Russian leaders built their leadership around themselves with varying degrees of control.


    • the aims of the Communist and the tsars did differ because the tsars tried to upheld the idea of autocracy And the idea that they came from god. However, the communists worked on the idea of oppression of the workers and their opposition similarly to Alex II when he tried to remove the peoples will due to them assassinating his farther.

      However, the main similarity between the tsars and the communist leaders was that many of them where reformers to an extent. Alex II liberated the serfs in 1861 causing the end of slavery in Russia. Nicolas II introduced the duma into the Russian government. like wise with Lenin moulded marxism to suit his needs and maintain power. As well as Khrushchev was one of the main communist leader who reformed with destarliniseation collapseing starlins rain over the USSR allowing more freedom from the USSR.


      • Great paragraph on reform Jono. Couple of misconceptions in paragraph 1: Communists didn’t want to oppress the workers – they oppressed anyone who opposed the revolution (accused of being bourgeois). Lenin argued that his dictatorship was necessary to carry Russia forwards whilst waiting for the ‘workers’ or proletariat to develop enough to take power themselves. It was Alexander III who arrested and executed the leaders of the People’s Will for the assassination of his father Alexander II. Lastly, ‘de-stalinisation’ – check spelling.


  4. Whilst there is a perceived difference between Communist and Tsarist rule, there are many more similarities than differences. Both regimes wanted to secure their power base within Russia. This was to be achieved through reformation. From Tsar Nicholas to the Premiers of the USSR; every leader attempted reform to some degree. Nicholas’ Emancipation of the Serfs(1861) was a significant starting point in moving into a reformed society. Khrushchev’s version of reform was his openness to the west, which enabled a slightly more liberal country. There was however some differences in why they wanted to gain power, the Tsars wanted to do the will of God but the Communists wanted to do it for the workers


    • Great summary George, but remember, it was Alexander II not Nicholas who introduced the Emancipation of the Serfs in 1861. Can you identify how Stalin can be considered a reformer?


  5. How did the aims of the Tsars differ to those of the Communist leaders?

    Upon looking at the above question, one could and would assume the Tsars would be worse in terms of oppression as Communism, in its purist form, is for the people where everyone is equal under the eyes of the law. However, whilst there are some contrasting differences between them, there are also some surprising yet obvious similarities between them too.

    In terms of similarities, both groups could be seen as reformists with the Emancipation of the Serfs in 1861 under Alexander II which was revolutionary and also, showed the rest of the world that Russia was more of an advanced state than the United States of America (the supposed leader in freedom and democracy) as the USA had a Civil War which lasted from 1861 – 1865 based on the argument of slavery. Lenin brought a massive reform through the execution of the Tsars on July 17, 1918, as it changed the whole hierarchy of the country and used the ideas of Karl Marx to form a Karl-Marxist communist state as there was not enough proletariat to work efficiently for the greater good of Russia. However, the main difference between the Tsars and the Communists was that the Tsars believed they were the bridge between humanity and God (or the divine), much like the 16th and 17th century English Rulers with their belief in Divine Right of Kings.
    They were also similar in their way of ruling and their reasons why. The Tsars and Communist leaders tended to rule under an autocratic regime coveted with oppression of the press and severe punishments for anyone who opposed the rule or state. This is evident by Alexander III when he rounded up and killed the leaders of the People’s Will who were responsible for the assassination of his father, Alexander II. It is again reiterated by Stalin with the purges that affected not only those who openly opposed Stalin, but ordinary people too. During Stalin’s rule of the country over 20 million people were sent to labour camps, where nearly half of them died. Ergo, the Tsars and Communists were in actual fact very much similar.

    On the other hand, they have very different forms of government structurally. The fundamental principles of a government is to protect its citizens from an outside invasion; provide their citizens with basic utilities such as, shelter, water, food, and medical assistance; and lead in a way that develops the country so that it can provide the protection and utilities needed. Under the Tsars, which was an autocratic regime, Alexander II halted the progressiveness of the country which consequently caused Russia to lose out on trading deals with the Western countries and thus lost them money which halted any proposed development. The Tsars also ruled solely by themselves until Nicholas II created the Dumas for debates and the commencement of progression.
    The Communists however, rocketed forward in the innovation of technology and became the world leader on October 4, 1957 when they launched the first satellite into orbit as a direct consequence of the Space Race which then derived from the Cold War. Unfortunately, the advancement of technology was on the back of the people who they were supposed to be providing for. Food shortages increased in correlation with poverty. Even though, the state had a government of representatives called the Supreme Soviet.
    This then consequently shows that they were both strikingly different too.

    In conclusion, the aims differed due to different goals intended on being reaches but they were also very similar in how they tried to achieve them.

    Nathaniel C Betts


    • A well presented and supported answer Nathan, great work. Lenin’s adaption of Marxism is known as Marxist-Leninism. Can you clarify your concluding comment – I’m not sure how aims and goals differ? But definitely agree that their methods were similar.


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