Russian Revolution of 1905

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The Russian Revolution of 1905 was a popular uprising that created an element of constitutional monarchy in Russia following Nicholas II's October Manifesto of 1905.


The uprising was caused mainly by the horrible showing of Russian forces in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904/1905 but also because of the increased visibility of social agitators such as socialists, anarchists, liberals and other revolutionaries such as nihilists in Russian society. Nihilists assassinated the relatively reformist Alexander II in 1881, causing the accession of the more autocratic Emperor, Alexander III, who rolled back many of the legal and constitutional reforms implemented by Alexander II, his father. Alexander III was succeeded by Nicholas II in 1894, a Conservative who did not institute any major reforms necessary to alleviate the sufferings and privations experienced by workers in the industrial and agricultural sectors.

Alliance between Liberals and Radicals

Protests from the opposition varied from liberal rhetoric, strikes, student riots to assassination attempts. Terrorism had become an accepted course of action for the most discontented. All these efforts were sporadic and uncoordinated until the massacre of peaceful demonstrators in front of the Tsar's Winter Palace in St. Petersburg on January 22, 1905. That incident (known as 'Bloody Sunday') caused the liberal and radical opposition groups to form an alliance against the autocracy - the notion amongst the poor that the Tsar was the father of the nation who would protect them and peacefully bring them reforms were shattered when peaceful demonstrators holding images of the Tsar and Orthodox saints were shot down by the Tsar's own private guards. The new alliance was now determined to use this political capital to their advantage and cause enough agitation within Russia so as to force the Tsar to institute certain political reforms, namely the foundation of the Duma, a parliamentary-appearing body that had, however, no real legislative power at all.

The Revolution

Major strikes caused by relatively new trade Unions were the first wave of attack on the Tsarist system; major strikes in the capital and other industrial cities were followed by nationwide General strikes.

Nicholas II responded on February 18th that he intended to establish an elected assembly to advise the government (act as a consultative, not legislative body) His proposals did not go far enough for the radical Liberals or the other radical factions, but generally met the approval of more right wing Liberals. Nevertheless, the striking workers and peasants were not satisfied by these new proposals or even the liberals of the zemstva (Local government organs set up by Alexander II) who now demanded a full Constituent Assembly.

The revolts were also spreading to non Russian parts of the Empire, including Finland, Poland, the Baltic provinces and Georgia, where it was reinforced by nationalist movements. In some areas racists and nationalists of the Black Hundreds took the opportunity of general counterrevolutionary sentiment to renew their pogroms against Jews.

The government decree on August 6th announcing election procedures for the advisory assembly stimulated even more protest, which increased through September. The rebellion reached its peak in October-November. A railroad strike, beginning on October 7th quickly developed into a general strike sweeping most industrial cities.

Role of the Workers' Councils in the Revolt

The first workers' council, or Soviet's was formed at Ivanovo-Vosnesensk. Another was formed on October 13th at St. Petersburg. It initially directed the General strike, but as Social Democrats joined (especially Mensheviks) it assumed the character of a revolutionary government. Similar Soviet's were founded in other cities, such as Moscow and Odessa.

Reaction of the Central government

Nicholas initially tried to calm the revolt with force, as displayed by the 'Bloody Sunday' massacre. When this radicalized the revolt, he attempted to compromise by creating a consultative body. When this was rejected, he finally agreed to deal with the Liberals and issued the October Manifesto. This document promised a constitution and an elected legislative body (the Duma)

Radicals rejected the document - only a full Republic would do them now. Even the Liberals refused to participate in the new government. Many moderates on the other hand were satisfied, as were many weary strikers, who believed they had won a victory with the announcement of the October Manifesto. This was enough to break the oppositions coalition and to the weaken the St. Petersburg Soviet. At the end of November the government arrested its Menshevik leader and on December 3rd occupied the building and arrest other prominent leaders such as Leon Trotsky. In Moscow however a new general strike was called, barricades were laid down and fighting was put down on the streets. In Finland order was restored by removing some unpopular legislation, but special military expeditions were sent to Poland, the Baltic Provinces and Georgia, were putting down the revolution was particularly bloody. By the beginning of 1906 the government had re-assumed control of the Trans-Siberian railway, and the revolution was effectively crushed.


The uprising failed to replace the autocracy with a democratic republic or even to create a constituent assembly, and most of its revolutionary leaders were under arrest. It did however force the regime to institute certain changes such as the adoption of the Fundamental laws (1906), to function as a constitution, and the creation of the Duma, to foster the development of legal political activity and parties. It also provided revolutionary elements in the country with practical experience, which proved valuable in 1917. Lenin went so far as to call 1905 'the great dress-rehearsal for the Revolution'.


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