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The war brought wrenching transformation to all segments of Russian society , not least the military itself. The Russian army was continually engaged in modernization, transforming into a far more effective and capable organization than it had been at the start of the war. It nonetheless ultimately collapsed in 1917. This failure has two fundamental explanations : first, the army’s modernization did not take place in a vacuum, but was measured against similar changes on the other side of the lines. While the Russian army’s ability to sustain and transform itself matched and surpassed the Austrian and Ottoman armies, it fell short in comparison to the German. In this, the Russians shared the experience of their British and French allies, who also improved their performance markedly over the war, but nonetheless found the German army outfighting them man-forman through 1918. Second, while the Russian army was changing, the same was true of Russian society. In comparative terms, Russian civil society —industrialists, local government, charitable and professional organizations —coped with war better than Tsar Nicholas’s government. That government made matters worse by its reluctance to cooperate with civil society, preferring to maintain control regardless of potential gains from collaboration. When the final collapse happened in 1917, it began in the heart of the Russian state, in Petrograd, and only subsequently spread to the front lines. The Russian military was not blameless in this. It had many mistakes and blunders on its record, and its management of civil and economic affairs immediately behind the front lines showed its weak9 Russian Society at War 209 Stone_The Russian Army in the Great War 5/19/15 9:43 AM Page 209 nesses. Nonetheless, if there was a weak link in Russia, it was the tsar and his government. THE RUSSIAN PEOPLE AND THE OUTBREAK OF WAR Russians, both civilians and soldiers, proved more resilient than many had expected. By 1913, some observers, including Vladimir Lenin in exile, believed Russia on the verge of revolution. Others, particularly in the liberal Cadet Party, hoped for gradual evolution toward responsible government. While the May Day strikes of 1912 included 80 percent of St. Petersburg workers, the geographical extent of participation had been limited. By 1913, Russia had surpassed Germany in its number of strikes and striking workers , obtaining first place in the world, but its strikes were short by Western standards, lowering the intensity of labor unrest. By summer 1914, while the Duma was mired in political crisis, the strike wave escalated substantially . Two hundred fifty thousand Petersburg workers participated in a one-day strike on May Day, followed by a general strike in the oil production center of Baku later that month and a sympathy strike in Petersburg . Labor unrest was still largely confined to the capital; Moscow and other industrial cities remained generally quiet. More reassuring for the regime, worker unrest was not supported by peasants, soldiers, or students , and revolutionary parties were largely uninvolved.1 Russia, like the other belligerents, saw crowds of enthusiastic patriots on the streets of major cities at the outbreak of war. Nicholas greeted an enormous crowd outside the Winter Palace on 2 August, and those crowds rallied again for Russian victories through the first few months of the war. Russia’s urban, educated society was caught up by a feeling of national unity transcending class and politics. The war was called the “Second Fatherland War,” recalling the war to expel Napoleon from Russia. Even before the German declaration of war, massive spontaneous popular demonstrations took place in cities across Russia. The Duma approved the necessary credits to finance the war without a hint of protest. Representatives of Russia’s ethnicities whose loyalty might be suspect—Germans and Jews—proclaimed their unceasing loyalty to the Russian Empire and solidarity in time of war. How far this solidarity extended outside urban elites is questionable, though the provincial press claimed extensive peasant in210 CHAPTER NINE Stone_The Russian Army in the Great War 5/19/15 9:43 AM Page 210 terest in news of the war. The Russian popular press hailed the war as a “just cause,” though the precise nature of that cause remained obscure to Russia’s peasantry. Rural populations and the working class were generally more resigned than ecstatic. Even so, as late as January 1915, when defeats at the front and inflation at home had begun to undermine social solidarity , demonstrations to mark the Bloody Sunday massacre that had sparked the 1905 Revolution still drew only...


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