Imagine living in a nation where people worked eleven hours a day then went back to their tiny, windowless rooms they called home, gathered around and shared cabbage soup with fifteen other fellow workers from a single bowl (Oxley 48). Or how about a nation where people farmed day and night to produce food for the nation and in return, they were taxed 50% on everything they produced while they watched the wealthy, tax-free nobles have feasts and parties in their mansions and palaces (Beck 218). These were the living conditions that the peasants in Russia and France faced. Peasants in both nations were miserable and decided to end their suffering by starting a revolution. But what exactly were the causes of the peasants’ misery that brought these revolutions? The Russian and French revolutions were both caused by economic bankruptcy, inequality of the lower classes and the poor leadership of the leaders of their nations.
Russia and France both suffered from economical bankruptcy which brought harsh living conditions to the lower classes. Russia was involved in the Russo-Japanese War and World War I which cost a tremendous amount of money (Beck 434). The country was put under immense pressure to supply their army with food and equipment which led to food shortages, high unemployment rates and inflation in all prices (Oxley 49). As food prices started to rise, the peasants moved to factories where an average worker worked for about eleven to twelve hours a day, lived in a tiny room and ate cabbage soup in a common bowl shared by fifteen other men. This brought stress, hunger and even child labor among the lower class (Oxley 48). France wasn’t doing any better.
France fought alongside America in the war against the British during the American Revolution. Although it was successful, the war sent France into bankruptcy as a huge amount of money was required for the troops’ transport back and forth to America as well as weapons and food (Beck 219). Bad weather struck France during the 1780’s and caused a bad harvest of bread. Bread supply decreased and bread prices sky-rocketed. By 1789, bread prices were doubled and the lower class workers, who usually had to buy their own bread, couldn’t afford the prices and faced starvation (Beck 219). This caused so much discontentment among the peasants that in October 1789, thousands of Parisian women marched on a riot to Versailles over the soaring bread prices (Beck 221). The financial crisis in both Russia and France led to rising prices, starvation and difficult work conditions which caused discontentment among the lower class and led to the revolution.
The lower classes of Russia and France both received unequal treatment by bearing the burden of tax and receiving only ignorance from the government. The nobles usually had good relations with the Tsar were mostly very wealthy, living in mansions and owning land as “The royal family was generous to its servants” (Oxley 18). However, the peasant class which made up 80% of Russia’s population paid heavy tax. An example of their burden is redemption tax where each peasant had to pay 80% the value of their farmland for 49 years to the government (Oxley 26). In 1891, an early winter followed up by a dry summer destroyed much of Russia’s crops. Instead of aiding the farmers, Russia’s government simply raised taxes which forced the peasants to sell all their reserves of grain, leaving them with almost no food (Oxley 45). The government also tried to cover up the news of the famine to the public by manipulating the reports in newspapers (Oxley 45).
In January 9, 1905, the famous Bloody Sunday occurred where 105,000 workers led by Georgii Gapon went on a peaceful protest to the Tsar requesting for reinstatement such as an increase in wages, reduction of working hours, and better working conditions (Gapon). Their protest failed as the government completely ignored their plea and shot them down with no mercy when they refused to leave (Oxley 59, 60). The reaction of the government to the peasant’s famine and peaceful protest clearly shows us that the government ignored the peasants and their pleas. France’s lower class was also living in inequality. France’s caste system was divided into three estates where the 1st and 2nd estate consisted of the church and nobles and the 3rd estate which made up 97% of the population, consisted of peasants.
The 3rd estate was the only estate that had to pay tax, which was 50% of their income (Beck 218). While the 3rd estate was carrying the burden of tax, the 1st and 2nd estates paid no tax, owned 30% of the land and had access to high government positions (Beck 217). The wealthier 3rd estate member, the bourgeoisie desired more political power and privileges as the first and second estates (Beck 217). In the Estates-General, the 3rd estate class was also treated unfairly as the 1st and 2nd estates would always easily outvote the 3rd estate leaving their opinion and decision useless and ignored (Beck 220). Both lower classes in France and Russia were taxed heavily and were ignored by the government.
The leaders of France and Russia did a poor job of running their country and led their nation downwards. The leader of Russia, Nicholas II made a terrible decision of dragging Russia to World War I when Russia was not ready to handle the military and economical costs of the war and it ended up sending Russia into a financial crisis (Beck 435). As his army was struggling in the war, Nicholas II made a huge decision of moving the headquarters directly upfront to the battlefield and leaving his wife Alexandra in charge of the nation (Beck 435). Leaving Alexandra in charge was a horrible mistake as she was greatly influenced by Gregorii Rasputin who was a corrupt individual. When Alexandra gave Rasputin more power he abused his power such as giving his friends high positions in the government (Oxley 81, 82).
When Nicholas II involved Russia in World War I and left Russia in the hands of a corrupt ruler, the people started to lose faith in the tsar as he sent Russia bankrupt and failed to protect the happiness of the country (De Basily) The king of France, Louis XVI also made crucial mistakes. When France was in a state of bankruptcy, Louis XVI did absolutely nothing and just let matters drift (Beck 219). He had a financial advisor who attempted to deal with the bankruptcy by instituting reforms such as taxing landowners, easing laws to encourage industrialization and a huge cut in monarch expenses. However when the Parliaments who were mostly made of nobles, vetoed the reforms, Louis XVI dismissed him (Hooker).
When Louis XVI called the Estates General to tax the nobles, he was given the option to follow the medieval rules where each estate gets to vote once or the third estate’s demand of having one vote from each delegate from each estate. Louis XVI’s decision to follow the medieval rules rendered the third estate’s vote useless as the first and second estate easily outvoted them (Beck 218). The people started to view Louis XVI as a weak and indecisive leader who did not see and care at all the demands of the peasants and the country. Both leaders Nicholas II and Louis XVI made crucial mistakes; Nicholas who killed Russia economically by dragging Russia to World War I and left his wife in charge; Louis XVI who ignored the financial crisis, ignored his chief financial advisor’s reforms and ignored the third estate’s request in the Estates-General which got the nation, especially the peasants irritated.
The causes of the French and Russian Revolution were very similar. Both countries were bankrupt due to involvement in wars which led to sky-rocketing food prices and starvation. Both countries had lower classes that paid high taxes and received ignorance from the government. Both countries had leaders who made crucial mistakes and failed to lead their country into the proper direction. Had Russia not have gotten involved in World War I or had France not been involved in the American Revolution, and listened to the demands of the peasants, both revolutions could have been prevented. These factors stirred discontentment among the nation and caused the people to take charge and bring a change to their government because what the people truly wanted was to fulfill their dream of a country with food, freedom and equality.