Once again I was watching one of the really informative videos on the Alternate History Channel (and I will embed the video, as I usually do, below) and it fuelled my imagination - this time in regards to the Russian Revolution. However, as I was thinking about how I would tackle this I suddenly realised that so many different things could have happened that would have had a significant effect upon the way the modern world would turn out, it is difficult to simply take just one path. For instance:
- Czar Nikolas could have given more power to the Duma after the 1905 revolution, which would have resulted in Russia becoming a constitutional monarchy;
- Czar Nikolas could have been assassinated, which would have resulted in the heir becoming Czar, and most likely launching a huge crack down of dissidents;
- Czar Nikolas could have died in a freak accident, resulting in his son becoming heir, and establishing a constitutional monarchy;
- The February Revolution could still have happened, Nikolas abdicates in favour of his son, and once again a constitutional monarchy is established.
These are just a few scenarios, however the scenario that I will explore will be that the February Revolution did happen, and Czar Nikolas is deposed, but the October Revolution either doesn't happen, or if it does then it fails (and I will work on the principle that it failed). Anyway, as I promised, here is the video from the Alternate History Hub:
Brief History of the CzarsOkay, while I won't claim to be an expert on Russian History, the period in the Early 20th Century where we saw the collapse of the Czarist government and the creation of the Stalinist State was one of the major topics that we studied in highschool. This isn't surprising because that one little event in October 1917 ended up having a huge impact upon the direction the 20th Century headed. Not only did we see the collapse of the European dominated world view and the rise of the superpowers, the creation of the USSR had a huge effect upon the political landscape, particularly with a huge shift to the right in the United States. In fact even though the Soviet Union is long gone, we still see a lot of tension between Russia and the NATO states.
To say that the October Revolution had a huge impact upon the course of the 20th Century is an understatement.
Anyway, as for the history of Russia, in my mind until the Napoleonic Era it simply seemed to be that frozen land to the north beyond the edges of civilisation, though it was the gateway through which the Monguls entered Eastern and Central Europe. In fact, Russia really didn't exist prior to the Mongul invasions and it was upon their retreat that the beginnings of Czarist (or Tsarist - both are correct) empire began to appear. However, while they did have a minor impact upon the European stage during the 18th Century, it wasn't until their victory against Napoleon in 1812 that Russia made a name for itself on the international stage. You could say that her defeat of Napoleon signalled her coming of age.
Actually, her defeat of Napoleon had a significant impact upon her development as a nation. Through the 18th and 19th century we see the beginnings of Russian expansion as she moved east over the Siberian plans and south into the Balkans, picking up land deserted by the Ottoman Empire. The beginnings of the empire emerged under the leadership of Czar Peter the Great (1672-1725) and Catherine the Great (1762-1796) and continued into the 19th Century. However her expansion into the Balkans came to a halt when she came into conflict with the British and the French that led to the disastrous Crimean War.
It was also during this time that we begin to see the flourishing of the arts with authors such as Dostoyevski, Nicolai Gogal, and composers such as Tchaicovski. While we begin to see what I would consider the Russian Renaissance, politically the empire was still an incredibly backward country. While the rest of Europe were establishing constitutional monarchies and republics, Russia was still very much an autocratic state with a system of indentured landholdings. This resistance to change created a rise in extreme political activists known as the anarchists and the nihilists. No doubt Karl Marx contributed a lot to the rise of extremism (despite the fact that his writings referred to the more industrialised states of Western Europe, as opposed to Russia, which was still very much an agrarian state).
Three RevolutionsThis tension between the populace and the aristocracy increased during the later years of the 19th Century with strikes becoming ever more common, and the government putting them down ever more brutally. This came to a head on 9th January 1905, a day that has become known as Bloody Sunday (though the U2 song of the same name has nothing to do with this event) when the Russian troops gunned down between 200 to 1000 protesters outside the Summer Palace in St Petersburg. This sparked off a series of revolts across the country, literally paralysing the state. One knows that one is in serious trouble when during the active phase of a revolution the army supports the protesters - this happened in France in 1789, in Egypt in 2011, and also in Russia in 1905. The most famous of these was the strike on the Battleship Potemkin that was docked in the harbour in Sevastopol, which is the subject of a movie of the same name. Okay, the movie is basically a load of communist propoganda, but it is still one awesome movie, and you can watch it in its entirety (with subtitles) on Youtube.
Anyway, Nicholas did put through a few reforms, including establishing a legislative assembly known as the Duma. Actually, calling it a legislative assembly is quite incorrect since they didn't actually do all that much other than rubber stamp Nicholas' laws, but sometimes to be seen to do something is just as good as actually doing something, and it was quite clear that Nicholas really wanted to maintain the status quo. It worked though because Nicholas managed to hold onto power for at least another 12 years.
Then comes 1917 and Russia was once again in a lot of trouble due to one major European event - World War I. The thing with Russia was that it was losing and losing badly. They did manage to win the battle of Tannenberg early on in the war, but that victory was fleeting and the Germans were pretty much thrashing them on a regular basis. This caused significant problems for Nicholas since being Czar he was also head of the armed forces. As it turned out he, and his hand picked generals, really didn't know how to fight a real war. In fact they had been beaten by the Japanese - decisively - in the Russo-Japanese War.
As such in January 1917 there was another revolution and Czar Nicholas was removed from power (actually he abdicated) and a democratic government was established. However this new government decided to continue fighting the war, namely because they really didn't want to upset their allies on the Western Front. Unfortunately things didn't improve all that much, and the war continued to go badly for them, which resulted in the Bolsehvik coup of October 1917 (they referred to it as a revolution, however it is more like a coup).
This is the problem with revolutions, and we saw it in the French Revolution, and we see it once again in the Russian Revolution - they are rarely, if ever, successful. Okay, what about America you might ask. Well, unlike France and Russia, the United States, when it revolted against Britain, already had an established government - the Continental Congress. With France and Russia they literally had to start from scratch, and if you look at France you will see them going from one failed government to another until Napoleon said 'stuff this' and took over himself.
October 1917The more I think about it the more I believe that the major turning point with modern Russia is the October Revolution (even though I prefer to call it a coup). The thing is that the major changes to world history came with the establishment of the Bolshevik government. If Nicholas, or the republic, managed to survive then, well, nothing much would have changed. Okay, there would have been more freedom of movement, and less of an autocratic rule, but it is more to do with what wouldn't have happened than what would have happened.
The thing with Russia is that the historical change would have been so dramatic that it is very difficult to see what would have happened if there had been no October Revolution. Quite likely Russia would have been much more integrated into Europe, and would have developed a more capitalistic society along the lines of the west. However to believe that it would have gone down the road of the extreme capitalism that we now see, I believe, is quite unlikely.
The Socialist Monster
Needless to say the Bolsheviks had made enemies with the west right from the outset. In fact as soon as Germany had been defeated the allies sent troops into Russia to attempt to overthrow Lenin. Obviously the allies lost that war (one of the reasons was that after five years of hell people simply didn't want to keep fighting, and the Bolsheviks appeared to be harmless enough) which meant that communism managed to gain a foothold in Russia. However one thing we notice is that with the rise of communism (for want of a better word) in Russia resulted in a dramatic shift to the right in the United States and the West.
It is interesting to note that in the early 20th Century we see the United States government making moves on the various monopolies and breaking them up, however after World War I there is a dramatic shift back to deregulation. We also see a rise in union busting and a greater disparity in wealth. As Calvin Coolidge famously said "the chief business of the American people is business". I suspect that if the Bolsheviks had failed then there wouldn't have been such as dramatic shift to the right in the United States.
The Great Depression
The Soviet Union (as it was then called) actually escaped the Great Depression due to it being economically isolated from the rest of the world. However one of the reasons that the great depression occurred was because there was a huge amount of faith placed in the markets. It wasn't as if this was the first time the stock market had crashed - the economic cycle had been going through peaks and troughs for the past two centuries (with the South Sea Bubble in the 18th century being quite a famous one). However with the sudden shift to the right, the belief that markets regulated themselves was once again in vogue.
Look, I'm not saying that Black Friday would not have occurred - for all we know this faith in the markets was inevitable, and people seem to keep on forgetting the past resulting in the economic cycle continuing. However, without the spectre of the Socialist Boogeyman, maybe it wouldn't have been as harsh as it was in our timeline. One thing that we do need to consider is that Russia would have been drawn into the Great Depression as well.
The Five Year Plans
Well, lets just say that without a Bolshevik coup there would have been no Lenin, and as a result there would have been no Stalin - which means no five year plans. These plans turned Russia from an agrarian backwater into a military superpower by World War II. In fact the rate of industrialisation was astounding, though we have seen a similar occurrence in modern day China. The reason that Russia was able to do can be simplified into one word - totalitarianism. For all of the flack that totalitarianism gets, if you have the right guy at the helm then things get done.
It was because of Stalin's desire to bring Russia into the modern world that enabled them to stand up to the might of the German Army. Okay, he also had the habit of going around and executing his most capable officers (Stalin had a serious case of paranoia - which ended up killing him because he came to the conclusion that his doctors were out to get him so had them executed), but despite that they were still able to turn the tide to the battle and storm over Eastern and Central Europe.
World War II
The Alternate History Channel, in one of it's videos, suggested that without communist Russia we wouldn't have seen the rise of Facism in Europe. I disagree because the rise of Facism, or extreme nationalism, came about due to economic turmoil and rampant poverty. I have suggested that the Great Depression may not have occurred, however I will stick to my position that it doesn't matter whether the Soviet Union had existed or not, it would have happened. The reason Hitler came to power in Germany was because they had been hit really, really bad by the depression, and he was able to capture the hearts and minds of the people.
It is quite possible that if the Soviet Union had never existed then World War II would have played out much differently. The reason that Russia managed to turn the tide of the battle was that Stalin had radically industrialised the country, and despite initial setbacks, they were able to fight back ferociously. A Russia that had not undergone the five year plans, and had been ravaged by the Great Depression, would not have had the infrastructure, or the materials, to be able to turn back Hitler. More likely than not, Hitler would have stormed through Russia, turned south through the Caucuses, and then captured the Middle East.
The Space Race
Okay, Hitler defeated Russia, and pretty much dominates Europe (namely because D-Day either never happened, or failed abysmally - though we must remember that when the Americans entered the war it significantly tipped the scales against the Germans). Okay, maybe Hitler wouldn't have won the war, but that is because Berlin is little more than a radioactive wasteland (they bombed Japan, so no doubt they would have bombed Germany as well if they hadn't defeated them already). However there is one major thing that the Soviet Union did for us that created the world in which we live today - space exploration.
The only reason that the Americans decided to send people up into space was because the Russians had done it first. When the Soviet Union put the first thing, dog, man, woman, and orbital platform in space the Americans realised that they were on the back foot. In fact the Americans, right up until Sputnik orbited the Earth sending little beeps back to the ground, really didn't care about space. The only reason that the Russians ended up lobbing something into space was because of, yep, you guessed it, Stalin's five year plans.
The Space Race has had a dramatic impact upon the world in which we live. In fact most, if not all, of the technology that we currently use that makes our life easier comes about because of that one little satellite that orbited the Earth with the letters CCCP emblazoned on the outside (as well as that stray dog that because famous because she got to be the first living creature to look down upon the Earth). Without the space race we would not have GPS, the internet, and quite a lot of the medical technologies that make our lives longer. So, the next time you make that phone call on your mobile phone, just remember that if it wasn't for Stalin's five year plan, you probably would still be using a phone box.
Parliamentary Russia - Lenin's Coup Fails by David Alfred Sarkeis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.
"RedSquare (pixinn.net)" by Christophe Meneboeuf - Personal work.More of my photos on my photoblog: http://www.pixinn.net. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons