These were the answers to questions I've recieved as e-mails. Unfortunately I'm not normally able to answer such questions now as I spend most of my time in Croatia where I don't have internet access.
There were more reforming minded ministers such as Witte and Stolypin but they were never really supported by the Tsar. Stolypin's attack of the village commune (allowing villagers to create separate plots) had the Socialist Revolutionary party in a panic as their land policy was based on the commune but it was no magic solution (ie for Tsarism). Figes (A peoples Tragedy) tells the story of Sergei Semenov a peasant who took the chance of establishing a separate plot yet in 1917 he rejoined the commune to lead the peasants against the landlords. And Semenov was one the reform's successes. Many separators found that they had chosen poverty without the support of the commune. Victor Chernov the leader of the SRs saw this too. He argued that the egalitarian spirit of the peasants was too strong to be undermined by the separators and in any case, while the SR policy was inspired by the commune the commune needed shaking up, being far from truly democratic.(This is in Radkey: The Agrarian foes of Bolshevism).
Stolypin's reforms was the most important attempt of Tsarism after 1881 to initiate social reform. I think it is typical in that the possible reforms would have had gainers and losers. Stolypin's reforms were labeled "The wager on the strong". Implicit was that the weak would go under. The radical alternative (that Stolypin's reforms were intended to avoid) was land reform that would have led to the landlords loss of their land. I really don't think it is possible to talk of "for the whole country, generally". If we are talking about increase in the GNP then the question remains which parts of that divided society gain the extra GNP. The lack of central control was a "problem" for Tsarism. In some ways the autocracy was a dictatorship which sat upon thousands of village republics that were mere vassals. That was a "problem" for Tsarism in that it was really sitting on a volcano. For the SRs the autonomy of the commune was what made Russia potentially revolutionary and democratic.
The crunch tho is that the final outcome with Bolshevism followed by Stalinism was the nightmare scenario. With hindsight anything was better than that. Had Alexander the 2nd not had second thoghts about a constitution, had not halted the reforms (and hence avoided getting himself assassinated in 1881) then changes might have come in a more gradual and less drastic way than in October 1917. But had the socialists of 1917 had that kind of hindsight then they might well have satisfied the popular movement so avoiding the workers and peasants turning to Lenin.
The revolutionary movement had provided continuity since before the 1905 revolution so both the workers and the soldiers of Petrograd 1917 had idea in their minds that there was an alternative to Tsarism even if they were not responding to leaflets given out on the day. This is especially important for the soldiers. It is very much easier to mutiny if the result is revolution and the end of the old order because if the result is merely concessions you are faced with a government that regards you as having committed a serious offense. Mutineers tend to get shot unless they can become "Heroes of the Revolution". Soldiers were also in the majority peasants who would have experienced Socialist Revolutionary propaganda in the previous years.
After the mutiny the revolutionary parties set up the soviet and were able to involve the garrison as delegates. Without the soviet the liberals of the progressive bloc might have been able to secure a constitutional monarchy. The soviet provided a focus for republicanism that made it impossible. But note "focus". The soldiers, as mutineers, would have wanted a republic as a clean break in any case.
Recommended reading must include Orlando Figes as mentioned bellow - not just for February but also for the description of peasant life and how little power the autocracy had over what went on in the villages. Arguably the peasants were such natural revolutionaries that revolution might have occurred without the revolutionary parties.
The peasant based Socialist Revolutionary Party in theory was much more open to immediate revolution. However it had a conservative right wing. Its leader Chernov belonged to the left and in later years cursed his weakness in not taking a more radical line. He however was bound by personal friendship to the Mensheviks and the right SRs and did not wish to split his party.
Both these parties had a left wing that was advocating Soviet power and giving the people what they wanted. Because they did not split from their parties they had no public face. The left SRs only split from the Socialist Revolutionary Party at the time of the October revolution by which time the Bolshevik Party had become the focus of the popular revolution.
Lenin is crucial. He pushed the Bolshevik Party into it's uncompromising opposition to the provisional government and so ensured Bolshevik victory. It was he who ensured that the Bolshevik party would resort to dictatorship rather than bow to the will of the Russian people.
The details of all that are in my October essay.
Initially it was the Socialist Revolutionaries who led the opposition but their insurrection was led by their most right wing faction. In the Volga region this led them to alienate the peasants by insisting that the landlords could retain some of their land on a temporary basis. (see Figes: A Peoples Tragedy p580) In a Russia deeply polarized between left and right they tried to sit in the center and so pleased no one. In Siberia they simply handed over power to a technocratic government that built up the Siberian Army as a right wing force. The result was, after some Byzantine intrigues, the Kolchak coup in Nov 1918.
From then on it is the Whites, Kolchak and Denikin, who were the focus for the anti Bolshevik movement. They were a fairly mixed bunch often motivated by the mirror image of Bolshevik class hatred. They had no popular support to speak of and the brutal methods deepened the resentment of the local population in the areas they controlled. Newly conquered territory often meant they gained only the problem of keeping down a population that hated them. In Siberia many of the areas were run by warlords who resembled simple bandits concerned only to see how much they could loot as a result of the chaos. However much workers and peasants in Russia felt that the Bolsheviks had not livved up to their promises almost any regime seemed preferable to the Whites.
In short the anti Bolshevik forces failed to create a popular anti-Bolshevik politics.
For this bit try taking a glance at V Brovkin "Behind the Front Lines of the Civil War" if you can get hold of it.
>and how it influenced the western world? I suspect this question is unanswerable or to me more precise it has too many answers. I don't have any books at all but I'll add a comment of my own. The communist party was a major force in late Weimar Germany. What made the political crisis of the last days so deadly was that the Nazis and the Communists together could vote down any government. But the Communists had been an insignificant force until the left wing Independent Socialists fused with the Social Democrats. The left wing workers who had till then voted for the Independent Socialists switched to voting Communist. Hence the communist-socialist split was not the result of the Russian revolution but of fractures in German society as a result of the German revolution of 1918. I suspect that if you look at the effect of the Bolshevik revolution in other countries you will see something similar. If Communism or anti-communism were significant forces they almost certainly will turn out to be the result of local conditions. Hence similar movements would have occurred had there been no revolution in Russia. Of course the fact that such left wing movements often developed a slavish loyalty to the Moscow regime must have made a big difference but how much is probably impossible to untangle.
Christopher Read's "From Tsar to Soviets" doesn't pretend to tell the story, concentrating instead on analysis. He focuses on the tension between the revolution of the grass roots and the revolution of the great political leaders in Petrograd. Spelling Conventions for these pages .