Friday, October 2, 2015

AltHistory Scenario #10: What if the Russian Revolution Never Happened?

Let's face it: Russia has gotten the short end of the stick in, well... forever. Tyranny, backwardness, oppression, racism and dealing with all the leaders that not only weren't the sharpest knives in the drawer but also had a few screws loose. Sure, there were the good moments like kicking Napoleon out of Russia in 1812 and the collapse of the USSR in 1991, but for the most part Russian history just seems to get darker and more depressing as time goes on.

One of those dark moments was the Russian Revolution in 1917 that overthrew Czar Nicholas II and established a Bolshevik regime that would later become the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. While the revolution itself is long overdue and welcomed at first, in hindsight it can't be said that it improved the lot of the ordinary peasant, especially once Joseph Stalin showed up.
Stalin. Pretty much the most hated person in Alternate History. We even let Hitler win a few times.

So, what if the Russian Revolutions never happened?

Point of Divergence

The Russian Revolutions were very much a product of incompetence of Czar Nicholas II, the army, his ministers, and almost everyone in the top of the political structure of the Russian Empire, and it finally lead to a complete breakdown of the Empire after the February Revolution. Now, before any Russian History majors starts shouting at me in Cyrillic in the comments, I'll point out that Russia was still using the Julian Calendar in 1917, and not the Gregorian Calendar that most of the Western World started using in 1583 and still use today. So I'll most likely be referring to the Gregorian Calendar dates here on out.

Because if I were to use the Mayan dates, the conspiracy theorists would think I'm predicting the end of the world.

So, in order to avoid the February Revolution, and with it the October (November) Revolution a few months later, we need to give a boost to the Russian military. The best I can think is that the Brusilov Offensive in June 1916 had more support than it got in our timeline. First, when the main attack was running out of steam by late July, General Alexei Evert had used his armies to support the offensive, instead of delaying like he did, and then only launched a half hearted offensive. Second, STAVKA, the Russian high command, doesn't interfere as much as in our timeline after the initial successes.

Immediate Consequences

When Brusilov's attack began to slow down in the face of German reinforcements and extended supply lines, Evert's attack began. While not as tactically finesse as Brusilov's, the attack had the intended consequence to diverting German strength away from Brusilov long enough to allow supplies, reinforcements and artillery to advance and catch up with the main army. In mid-August, Brusilov ordered the attack to begin again, smashing the Austro-Hungarian armies and German forces in front of him, gaining more prisoners, and advancing to the Carpathian Mountains.

You are going to hear a lot about this guy, General Aleksei Brusilov, in this article.

With the entire Austro-Hungarian army now pretty much in disarray and panic, Germany was forced to send more and more troops to the Eastern front, removing troops from the Western front to confront the crisis in the east. This allows the Battle of Verdun and the Somme to go easier for Britain and France, though the slog is still tough and brutal in the trenches. Eventually, Brusilov told STAVKA that he can't continue any more in September, and order's his troops to halt and dig in. German forces mount several counter attacks, and while they do force the Russians back in some areas, it's clear that Russia has not only won it's first major victory of the war, but that they can hold it. Russian morale soars as winter falls, and offensive maneuvers are put on hold.

Casualties are high, though not as bad as it could have been due to the tactics that Brusilov used. While the desire for peace is still high, many think that maybe there is a possibility it could be done with a Russian victory. The Bolsheviks try to stir up discontent and strikes, however they begin to lose support, especially when Brusilov takes a dramatic step in January 1917. Rumours reached Nicolas II, accusing Brusilov of disloyalty to the Czar, which he begins to take seriously. However, a coalition of liberal and conservative nobles, land owners and factory owners organize themselves into The Committee for Victory, see Brusilov as the best chance Russia has for victory int he war. When the court intrigue finally forces Nicholas II to summon Brusilov to dismiss him, equally intense pressure erupts to not only keep Brusilov in command, but to make him the Commander-in-Chief, the title that Czar Nicholas II took in 1915.
Honestly, about the only thing Nicholas II did right was his beard and moustache. And that can be hard enough some times.

The crisis reaches a fever pitch, but eventually the Czar is forced to back down, and instead of firing Brusilov, makes him his deputy commander-in-chief, though in reality he now has most of the power, nearly a military dictator in Russia. Brusilov uses his new position to force out incompetent officers, reorganize the economy for full mobilization, engage in a massive propaganda blitz to keep up morale, and a tight lid on dissent, including suppressing the Bolsheviks. The biggest coup occurred when Vladimir Lenin, believing Russia was ripe for revolution, convinced the beleaguered Germans to let him return. When Lenin arrived in Petrograd, he was met immediately by members of the Okhrana, the secret police, and he was never heard from again.

By Summer 1917, Russia was in a much better position than just a few months before. However, Brusilov knew that he couldn't squander this chance by throwing Russia straight into the German machine guns. Instead, knowing that Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff, who had been named the new commander-in-chief and deputy commander in chief of the German Army, advocated a Russia first approach, Brusilov had his army prepared for the defensive. When Germany did attack the front near the city of Minsk, Brusilov was willing to allow organized retreats, drawing German troops deeper and deeper into Russia, voluntarily ceding Minsk to Germany. However, this stretched German supply lines, and by the time the German's had advanced close to 75 miles past the front, with the line stretched but not broken, a counter offensive was called for, smashing the German armies in battle, taking over 400,000 prisoner's in just a couple of weeks.
So... would this make the Germans "Beer drinking surrender monkeys" in this ATL? I dunno...
While the strategy was unpopular, it was successful, and soon Russian troops were on a general offensive. Vilnius was retaken, as was all of Ukraine, and soon Minsk was recaptured as the pocket surrendered. Germany tried to rush more troops to the east, but they were unable to pull more troops from the west. The Western Allies, seeing the weakness of Germany, launch their major offensives in June 1917, quickly turning into a rout for the Germans. When they propose unrestricted submarine warfare again to force Britain from the war, Hindenburg and Ludendorff, their "Russia First" strategy in tatters, are instead both relieved from command in July. Belgium is reclaimed and Russian troops approach Brest-Litovisk. Italy, long stalemated against Austria-Hungary, finally cracks the Isonzo Front, and soon spread out into Slovenia. Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire also begin to face reinvigorated Russian troops, and defeat and defeat occurs.

By August 1917, Germany's military situation was dire. Austria-Hungary, in the throes of nationalist upheaval, signs armistices' to the Allies, followed by Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire. By the end of August, Germany too gives up. The war is over almost a year before it actually does.

Later Consequences

It wouldn't be until 1918 that the final peace treaty is signed. However, while the original demands of the Allies are harsh, the Central Powers are able to negotiate to lessen the terms. The effects are still severe. Alsace-Lorraine is returned to France, East Prussia and the Rhineland de-militarized, the Navy reduced in size to only a third of the UK's size, all the colonies divided between France and Britain. The Ottoman Empire see's Mesopotamia, Syria and Palestine freed from their control and given independence as their own nations with no British or French interference.

Because, in remarkable foresight, they realize that arbitrary lines in the desert will just lead to douchebags that kill thousands of innocent people, displace millions and destroy priceless historical treasures because they believed a nutbag's reading of the Koran.  

The biggest loser is Austria-Hungary. It was difficult to sign a peace with them, and in the end it wouldn't be done until 1920, when the "Austro-Hungarian Civil War" finally ends, with a half dozen new countries: Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, Transylvania, Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia are all established, with only Austria maintaining the Hapsburg monarchy. While Russia and Italy do take a bit of territory, in general all the nations are recognized.

In Russia, the effect of the war is profound. The empire is fatally weakened, the incompetence of the Czar, the Czarina, his ministers, the generals and the nobles all exposed. While the Bolshevik's are no longer a threat, the demand for reform is still strong. Brusilov, not wanting to see Russia break apart, demands that the Czar give a representative Duma to the people. Nicholas II, broken, nervous, ill and mourning over the death of his son due to haemophilia in 1918, accepts. By 1920, elections have established a new Duma, a new constitution, and named Brusilov as the new Prime Minister. Using his position, a series of reforms are undertaken, though it leaves everyone unhappy except for the army, which he devotes special attention to.

Because even when the Russian army loses, it still wins.

The landowners are compensated for the land they have to give up, but a fraction of their actual value, and not enough to satisfy most peasants. New state controlled business, with modern machinery from Britain and France and paying a higher wage than most factories, force factory owners to raise their own wages and improve their own equipment to compete. However taxes remain high due to the cost of the war, and with a manpower shortage the harvest of 1919 nearly leads to famine, but it's only averted by emergency shipments of grain from the US and Canada. The Bolshevik's attempt an armed coup, as do some die-hard Monarchists, and though hundreds are killed in the separate revolts, Brusilov's new government survives. When Brusilov passes away in 1924, he is replaced by his protege, the young Alexander Kerensky, who remains Prime Minister for the next 15 years. By 1939, Russia has been transformed from a backwards, slow, and lumbering empire to a vibrant, economic powerhouse. While the government has a strong, heavy hand to it, democracy is slowly flourishing, and politics is more peaceful than in times past. While nationalist minorities wish to break away, an effort in 1931 to give them more autonomy has sated all but the diehard nationalists for the current time.

The rest of Europe is also changed: the new nations of Central Europe are a mixture of republican and monarchist, with equal measure democracy and autocracy. Germany is the best example: while a Republic was declared, and elections are generally free, the governments have been heavy handed in their dealings with those that disagree with them, and there are many conservatives, monarchists, moderates, socialists, Bolsheviks and others that engage in sometimes cutthroat and fierce political maneuvering. While Kaiser Wilhelm II remains a "special guest" of Emperor Charles of Austria, it's pretty much impossible to consider bringing him back. However, despite men like Ludendorff claiming their was a "stab in the back," the peace treaty is accepted by most of the people, which undercuts extreme nationalists like a certain Austrian corporal, who leads a fringe anti-Semitic, anti-slavic, warmongering and dictatorial party that eventually collapses when he dies in a car accident in 1935. The Ottoman Empire, in comparison, stagnates for decades, with Sultan's still lording over Anatolia, modernizing the army to the neglect of the economy and politics, seeking the next chance to reclaim lost lands in Europe, Asia and Africa.

Maybe not realizing that most of the people in this yellow blob actually hate them.
The United Kingdom and France, while victorious, suffer a sharp economic depression after the war. The reparations that they receive from the Central Powers, while large, is no where near enough to cover the huge expenses they racked up. This, followed with a quick demobilization, means millions of people are unemployed. It would take until the mid 1930s for the economy to recover. Italy recovers Trento and Dalmatia, and are generally satisfied with what they got in the war, but a simmering revolt in Dalmatia continues to be a problem.

The US, not having been dragged into the war, continues in "splendid isolation" for decades. A stock market crash in 1937 nearly craters the American economy, and causes ripples throughout the world, but it would be years before the US recovers, and after a disastrous war with Japan in 1943 awakens the US to the realization they are isolated in the world leads to a gradual diplomatic opening with the rest of the world.

Before you ask: yes, Dr. Seuss did draw political cartoons mocking Hitler and America First. And also racist Japanese ones, but let's not talk about that right now.

A Second World War wouldn't break out for years, and eventually a new "balance of power" is established in the world by 1950: the UK, France, Russia, Germany, Japan and the US are the six most powerful nations in the world, and generally resolve disputes with diplomacy, though minor wars break out between one power and the other; the war between Japan and the US, and later Russia and Japan, are the most notable. With a minor victory against the US and a protracted stalemate against Russia, Japan is seen, in a sense, as a "rouge nation," and have allied with Germany as a balancing force. The UK, France and Russia maintain their tenuous alliance, with the US still trying to get in to the "big boys club," and instead maintain alliances with many smaller nations like Italy, Sweden, Iran and Brazil in return. All the nations maintain strong militaries, and conscription is a universal trait, as well as big navies and untested airforces.

As of the 1950s, it's not known if a World War could break out between the great powers. But while several crisis have been solved, especially over the lingering imperial powers, it's to be seen if a new "Great War" will soon break out.

But most not likely with these guys to keep the moral questions a bit more black and white. Damnit!


I honestly think that this scenario gives Russia quite a few lucky breaks in order to prevent a revolution. But this is perhaps the scenario I could think of that avoids the revolutions when Russia enters World War One. Had Russia stayed out of the fighting, then it's possible the revolutions could have been delayed, but in that case, Russia might no longer have been considered a great power, and a revolution would occur anyway.

Perhaps the only true way to avoid the 1917 Revolution was to have the 1905 Revolution succeed, and Czar Nicholas II just meekly accepts his new role as constitutional monarch. I don't know if Russia would be in better shape in time for 1914 if that happened, but I'm inclined to believe that possibly it would be. Instead of a single, ineffectual autocrat controlling everything, maybe an elected Duma would have been able to modernize the military and reform the economy, though it's hard to see if it would be for the good of the Russian Empire or for the industrialists, nobles and wealthy that made up the electors of the Duma in 1905.

In the end, I think the Russian Revolutions of 1917 were bound to happen. If not over the war, maybe over a misstep of the Czar in 1919, or 1921, or any other time. But do the communists have to come to power? Well, that's another debatable point, and one that could be explored in other alternate histories.



  1. Agreed about Russian history: it's a depressing slog from one failed experiment to another (though Catherine the Great is a high spot). Thanks for introducing me to an aspect of the forgotten Eastern front that I wasn't aware.

    I wonder: without the violent overthrow of the Romanovs (and their subsequent deaths), do you think communism/socialism as a movement would get stronger in other countries? What I mean is: would other leaders have a more lenient attitude toward labor/socialist movements without the specter of an October Revolution repeat? I could see that sort of thing having a big impact on both English and US policy moving forward, especially in each nation's reactions to the economic Depression of the 1930s. Would the Socialist Party actually get sizable votes in the US, or would FDR pass even more policies than he was able to in our timeline without having to defend against being too Bolshevik?

    Also: kudos on the new theme, I like it better.

    1. Communism and Socialism were already dirty words in the US/Western Europe, though maybe without a violent take over as in Russia OTL, maybe Socialism would be more acceptable today.

      And thanks. I realized there was a problem when the old theme pretty much made it impossible to see a link in my picture captions.

  2. Ițm sure it would be a better world if the Russian Revolution hadn't happen.