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Russian Revolution

Dr Sangeeta S.
09 Feb 0 0


The Russian Revolution of 1905
The Russian Revolution of 1905 was a wave of mass political and social unrest that spread through vast areas of the Russian Empire, which included worker strikes, peasant unrest, and military mutinies.
Outline the events of the 1905 Revolution, along with its successes and failures
In January 1905, an incident known as “Bloody Sunday” occurred when Father Gapon led an enormous crowd to the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg to present a petition to the Tsar.
When the procession reached the Palace, Cossacks opened fire on the crowd, killing hundreds.
The Russian masses were so aroused over the massacre that a general strike was declared demanding a democratic republic, which marked the beginning of the Russian Revolution of 1905.
Soviets (councils of workers) appeared in most cities to direct revolutionary activity.
In October 1905, Tsar Nicholas reluctantly issued the famous October Manifesto, which conceded the creation of a national Duma (legislature), as well as the right to vote, and affirmed that no law was to go into force without confirmation by the Duma.
The moderate groups were satisfied, but the socialists rejected the concessions as insufficient and tried to organize new strikes.
By the end of 1905, there was disunity among the reformers, and the Tsar’s position was strengthened for the time being.
Russian Constitution of 1906: A major revision of the 1832 Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire, which transformed the formerly absolutist state into one in which the emperor agreed for the first time to share his autocratic power with a parliament. It was enacted on May 6, 1906, on the eve of the opening of the first State Duma.
State Duma: The Lower House of the legislative assembly in the late Russian Empire, which held its meetings in the Taurida Palace in St. Petersburg. It convened four times between April 1906 and the collapse of the Empire in February 1917. It was founded during the Russian Revolution of 1905 as the Tsar’s response to the rebellion.
Russification: A form of cultural assimilation during which non-Russian communities, voluntarily or not, give up their culture and language in favour of the Russian one. In a historical sense, the term refers to both official and unofficial policies of Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union with respect to their national constituents and to national minorities in Russia, aimed at Russian domination.
The Russian Revolution of 1905 was a wave of mass political and social unrest that spread through vast areas of the Russian Empire, some of which was directed at the government. It included worker strikes, peasant unrest, and military mutinies and led to constitutional reform, including the establishment of the State Duma, the multiparty system, and the Russian Constitution of 1906.
Causes of Unrest
According to Sidney Hargrave, author of The Russian Revolution of 1905, four problems in Russian society contributed to the revolution. First, newly emancipated peasants earned too little and were not allowed to sell or mortgage their allotted land. Second, ethnic minorities resented the government because of its ” Russification,” discrimination, and repression, both social and formal, such as banning them from voting and serving in the Guard or Navy and limiting attendance in schools. Third, a nascent industrial working class resented the government for doing too little to protect them by banning strikes and labour unions. Finally, the educated class fomented and spread radical ideas after a relaxing of discipline in universities allowed a new consciousness to grow among students.
Taken individually, these issues might not have affected the course of Russian history, but together they created the conditions for a potential revolution. Historian James Defronzo writes, “At the turn of the century, discontent with the Tsar’s dictatorship was manifested not only through the growth of political parties dedicated to the overthrow of the monarchy but also through industrial strikes for better wages and working conditions, protests and riots among peasants, university demonstrations, and the assassination of government officials, often done by Socialist Revolutionaries.”
Start of the Revolution
In December 1904, a strike occurred at the Putilov plant (a railway and artillery supplier) in St. Petersburg. Sympathy strikes in other parts of the city raised the number of strikers to 150,000 workers in 382 factories. By January 21, 1905, the city had no electricity and newspaper distribution was halted. All public areas were declared closed.
Controversial Orthodox priest Georgy Gapon, who headed a police-sponsored workers’ association, led a huge workers’ procession to the Winter Palace to deliver a petition to the Tsar on Sunday, January 22, 1905. The troops guarding the Palace were ordered to tell the demonstrators not to pass a certain point, according to Sergei Witte, and at some point, troops opened fire on the demonstrators, causing between 200 and 1,000 deaths. The event became known as Bloody Sunday and is considered by many scholars as to the start of the active phase of the revolution.
The events in St. Petersburg provoked public indignation and a series of massive strikes that spread quickly throughout the industrial centres of the Russian Empire. Polish socialists called for a general strike. By the end of January 1905, over 400,000 workers in Russian Poland were on strike. Half of European Russia’s industrial workers went on strike in 1905, and 93.2% in Poland. There were also strikes in Finland and the Baltic coast.
Nationalist groups were angered by the Russification undertaken since Alexander II. The Poles, Finns, and Baltic provinces all sought autonomy and freedom to use their national languages and promote their own cultures. Muslim groups were also active — the First Congress of the Muslim Union took place in August 1905. Certain groups took the opportunity to settle differences with each other rather than the government. Some nationalists undertook anti-Jewish pogroms, possibly with government aid, and in total, over 3,000 Jews were killed.
Height of the Revolution
Tsar Nicholas II agreed on February 18 to the creation of a State Duma of the Russian Empire with consultative powers only. When its slight powers and limits on the electorate were revealed, unrest redoubled. The Saint Petersburg Soviet was formed and called for a general strike in October, refusal to pay taxes, and the withdrawal of bank deposits.
In June and July 1905, there were many peasant uprisings in which peasants seized land and tools. Disturbances in the Russian-controlled Congress of Poland culminated in June 1905 in the Łódź insurrection. Surprisingly, only one landlord was recorded as killed. Far more violence was inflicted on peasants outside the commune, with 50 deaths recorded.
The October Manifesto, written by Sergei Witte and Alexis Obolenskii, was presented to the Tsar on October 14. It closely followed the demands of the Zemstvo Congress in September, granting basic civil rights, allowing the formation of political parties, extending the franchise towards universal suffrage, and establishing the Duma as the central legislative body. The Tsar waited and argued for three days but finally signed the manifesto on October 30, 1905, citing his desire to avoid a massacre and his realization that insufficient military force was available to pursue alternate options. He regretted signing the document, saying that he felt “sick with shame at this betrayal of the dynasty… the betrayal was complete.”
When the manifesto was proclaimed, there were spontaneous demonstrations of support in all the major cities. The strikes in St. Petersburg and elsewhere officially ended or quickly collapsed. A political amnesty was also offered. The concessions came hand-in-hand with renewed, brutal action against the unrest. There was also a backlash from the conservative elements of society, with right-wing attacks on strikers, left-wingers, and Jews.
While the Russian liberals were satisfied by the October Manifesto and prepared for the upcoming Duma elections, radical socialists and revolutionaries denounced the elections and called for an armed uprising to destroy the Empire.
Some of the November uprising of 1905 in Sevastopol, headed by retired naval Lieutenant Pyotr Schmidt, was directed against the government, while some were undirected. It included terrorism, worker strikes, peasant unrest, and military mutinies and was only suppressed after a fierce battle. The Trans-Baikal railroad fell into the hands of striker committees and demobilized soldiers returning from Manchuria after the Russo–Japanese War. The Tsar had to send a special detachment of loyal troops along the Trans-Siberian Railway to restore order.
Between December 5 and 7, there was another general strike by Russian workers. The government sent troops on December 7, and a bitter street-by-street fight began. A week later, the Semyonovsky Regiment was deployed and used artillery to break up demonstrations and shell workers’ districts. On December 18, with around a thousand people dead and parts of the city in ruins, the workers surrendered. After a final spasm in Moscow, the uprisings ended.
A locomotive overturned by striking workers at the main railway depot in Tiflis in 1905
Russian Revolution of 1905: A locomotive overturned by striking workers at the main railway depot in Tiflis in 1905.
According to figures presented in the Duma by Professor Maksim Kovalevsky, by April 1906, more than 14,000 people had been executed and 75,000 imprisoned.
Following the Revolution of 1905, the Tsar made last attempts to save his regime and offered reforms similar to those of most rulers pressured by a revolutionary movement. The military remained loyal throughout the Revolution of 1905, as shown by their shooting of revolutionaries when ordered by the Tsar, making overthrow difficult. These reforms were outlined in a precursor to the Constitution of 1906 known as the October Manifesto, which created the Imperial Duma. The Russian Constitution of 1906, also known as the Fundamental Laws, set up a multiparty system and a limited constitutional monarchy. The revolutionaries were quelled and satisfied with the reforms, but it was not enough to prevent the 1917 revolution that would later topple the Tsar’s regime.
Rising Discontent in Russia
Under Tsar Nicholas II (reigned 1894–1917), the Russian Empire slowly industrialized amidst increased discontent and dissent among the lower classes. This only increased during World War I, leading to the utter collapse of the Tsarist régime in 1917 and an era of civil war.
During the 1890s, Russia’s industrial development led to a large increase in the size of the urban middle-class and working-class, which gave rise to a more dynamic political atmosphere and the development of radical parties.
During the 1890s and early 1900s, bad living and working conditions, high taxes, and land hunger gave rise to more frequent strikes and agrarian disorders.
Russia’s backwards systems for agricultural production, the worst in Europe at the time, influenced the attitudes of peasants and other social groups to reform against the government and promote social changes.
The Russian Revolution of 1905 was a major factor of the February Revolutions of 1917, unleashing a steady current of worker unrest and increased political agitation.
The onset of World War I exposed the weakness of Nicholas II’s government.
A show of national unity had accompanied Russia’s entrance into the War, with a defence of the Slavic Serbs the main battle cry, but by 1915, the strain of the War began to cause popular unrest, with high food prices and fuel shortages causing strikes in some cities.

Bolshevik party: Literally meaning “one of the majority,” this party was a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) which split from the Menshevik faction at the Second Party Congress in 1903. They ultimately became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
St. Petersburg Soviet: A workers’ council or soviet circa 1905. The idea of a soviet as an organ to coordinate workers’ strike activities arose during the January–February 1905 meetings of workers at the apartment of Voline (later a famous anarchist) during the abortive revolution of 1905. However, its activities were quickly repressed by the government. The model would later become central to the communists during the Revolution of 1917.
Tsar Nicholas II: The last Emperor of Russia, ruling from November 1894 until his forced abdication on March 15, 1917. His reign saw the fall of the Russian Empire from one of the foremost great powers of the world to economic and military collapse. Due to the Khodynka Tragedy, anti-Semitic pogroms, Bloody Sunday, the violent suppression of the 1905 Revolution, the execution of political opponents, and his perceived responsibility for the Russo-Japanese War, he was given the nickname Nicholas the Bloody by his political adversaries.
Under Tsar Nicholas II (reigned 1894–1917), the Russian Empire slowly industrialized while repressing political opposition in the centre and on the far left. It recklessly entered wars with Japan (1904) and with Germany and Austria (1914), for which it was very poorly prepared, leading to the utter collapse of the old régime in 1917 and an era of civil war.

During the 1890s, Russia’s industrial development led to a large increase in the size of the urban middle-class and working class, which gave rise to a more dynamic political atmosphere and the development of radical parties. Because the state and foreigners owned much of Russia’s industry, the Russian working class was comparatively stronger and the Russian bourgeoisie comparatively weaker than in the West. The working class and peasants became the first to establish political parties in Russia because the nobility and the wealthy bourgeoisie were politically timid. During the 1890s and early 1900s, bad living and working conditions, high taxes, and land hunger gave rise to more frequent strikes and agrarian disorders. These activities prompted the bourgeoisie of various nationalities in the Russian Empire to develop a host of parties, both liberal and conservative.
The Russian Revolution of 1905 was a major factor in the February Revolutions of 1917. The events of Bloody Sunday triggered a line of protests. A council of workers called the St. Petersburg Soviet was created in all this chaos, beginning the era of communist political protest.
Agrarian Backwardness
Russia’s systems for agricultural production influenced peasants and other social groups to reform against the government and promote social changes. Historians George Jackson and Robert Devlin write, “At the beginning of the twentieth century, agriculture constituted the single largest sector of the Russian economy, producing approximately one-half of the national income and employing two-thirds of Russia’s population.” This illustrates the tremendous role peasants played economically, making them detrimental to the revolutionary ideology of the populist and social democrats. At the end of the 19th century, Russian agriculture as a whole was the worst in Europe. The Russian system of agriculture lacked capital investment and technological advancement. Livestock productivity was notoriously backwards, and the lack of grazing land such as meadows forced livestock to graze in fallow uncultivated land. Both the crop and livestock systems failed to withstand the Russian winters. During the Tsarist rule, the agricultural economy diverged from subsistence production to production directly for the market. Along with the agricultural failures, Russia had rapid population growth, railroads expanded across farmland, and inflation attacked the price of commodities. Restrictions were placed on the distribution of food and ultimately led to famines. Agricultural difficulties in Russia limited the economy, influencing social reforms and assisting the rise of the Bolshevik party.
Worker Discontent
The social causes of the Russian Revolution mainly came from centuries of oppression of the lower classes by the Tsarist regime and Nicholas’s failures in World War I. While rural agrarian peasants had been emancipated from serfdom in 1861, they still resented paying redemption payments to the state and demanded communal tender of the land they worked. The problem was further compounded by the failure of Sergei Witte’s land reforms of the early 20th century. Increasing peasant disturbances and sometimes actual revolts occurred with the goal of securing ownership of the land they worked. Russia consisted mainly of poor farming peasants, with 1.5% of the population owning 25% of the land.
Workers had good reasons for discontent: overcrowded housing with often deplorable sanitary conditions; long hours at work (on the eve of the War, a 10-hour workday six days a week was the average, and many were working 11–12 hours a day by 1916); constant risk of injury and death from poor safety and sanitary conditions; harsh discipline (not only rules and fines, but foremen’s fists); and inadequate wages (made worse after 1914 by steep wartime increases in the cost of living). At the same time, urban-industrial life was full of benefits, though these could be just as dangerous, from the point of view of social and political stability, as the hardships. There were many encouragements to expect more from life. Acquiring new skills gave many workers a sense of self-respect and confidence, heightening expectations and desires. Living in cities, workers encountered material goods they had never seen in villages. Most importantly, they were exposed to new ideas about the social and political order.
The rapid industrialization of Russia also resulted in urban overcrowding. Between 1890 and 1910, the population of the capital, Saint Petersburg, swelled from 1,033,600 to 1,905,600, with Moscow experiencing similar growth. This created a new proletariat that, due to being crowded together in the cities, was much more likely to protest and go on strike than the peasantry had been in previous eras. In one 1904 survey, it was found that an average of sixteen people shared each apartment in Saint Petersburg with six people per room. There was no running water, and piles of human waste were a threat to the health of the workers. The poor conditions only aggravated the situation, with the number of strikes and incidents of public disorder rapidly increasing in the years shortly before World War I. Because of late industrialization, Russia’s workers were highly concentrated.


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