Revolution of 1905

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Revolution of 1905
Shestviye u Narvskikh vorot.jpg
Manifestations before Bloody Sunday
Date 22 January 1905 – 16 June 1907
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Location Russia

Imperial Government victory


Russia Imperial Government Supported by:

Revolutionaries Supported by:

Commanders and leaders
Nicholas II
Russia Sergei Witte
Viktor Chernov
Vladimir Lenin[citation needed]

The 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. It led to Constitutional Reform including the establishment of the State Duma of the Russian Empire, the multi-party system, and the Russian Constitution of 1906.


According to the author Sidney Harcave, who wrote The Russian Revolution of 1905, there were four problems in Russian society at the time that contributed to the revolution: the agrarian problem, the nationality problem, the labour problem, and the educated class problem. Taken individually, these issues may not have affected the course of Russian history, but combined, the problems created the conditions for a potential revolution.[1] "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."[2]

The government finally recognized these problems, albeit in a shortsighted and narrow-minded way. The minister of interior Plehve stated in 1903 that, after the agrarian problem, the most serious ones plaguing the country were those of the Jews, the schools, and the workers, in that order.[3] Because the Russian economy was tied to European finances, the Western money markets contraction in 1899–1900 plunged Russian industry into a deep and prolonged crisis which outlasted the dip in European industrial production. This setback aggravated the social unrest over the five years preceding the revolution of 1905.[4]

Agrarian problem

Every year thousands of nobles who found themselves in debt either mortgaged their estates to the noble land bank or sold their land to municipalities, merchants, or peasants. By the time of the revolution, the nobility had sold off one-third of its land holding and mortgaged another third. The government hoped to make peasants—recently emancipated from serfdom—a politically conservative, land-holding class by enacting laws to enable peasants to purchase land from nobility, paying small installments over many decades.[5]

The land, known as "allotment land", would not be owned by individual peasants, but would be owned by the community of peasants; individual peasants would have rights to strips of land that were assigned to them under the open field system. Unfortunately a peasant was unable to sell or mortgage his piece of land so in practice he could not renounce his rights to his land and thus he would be required to pay his share of redemption dues to the village commune.[5] The government had created this plan to ensure the proletarianisation of the peasants would never happen, but the peasants were not given enough land to provide for their needs.[6] "Their earnings were often so small that they could neither buy the food they needed nor keep up the payment of taxes and redemption dues they owed the government for their land allotments. By the tenth year of Nicholas II's reign, their total arrears in payments of taxes and dues was 118 million rubles."[6] As time went on, the situation grew worse. Masses of hungry peasants roamed the countryside looking for work and would sometimes walk hundreds of miles to find it. Desperate peasants proved capable of violence.[6] "In the provinces of Kharkov and Poltava in 1902, thousands of them, ignoring restraints and authority, burst out in a rebellious fury that led to extensive destruction of property and looting of noble homes before troops could be brought to subdue and punish them."[6] These violent outbreaks caught the attention of the government, so they created numerous committees to investigate the causes of these violent outbursts from the peasants.[6]

The results of their investigation found that there was no part of the countryside that was prosperous; some parts, especially the fertile areas known as "black-soil region", were in a state of decline.[7] Although cultivated acreage had increased in the last half century, the increase had not been proportionate to the growth of the peasant populations, which had doubled during that time.[7] "There was general agreement at the turn of the century that Russia faced a grave and intensifying agrarian crisis due mainly to rural overpopulation with an annual excess of fifteen to eighteen live births over deaths per 1,000 inhabitants."[8] The investigations revealed many difficulties; however, they could not find remedies that were both sensible and "acceptable" to the government.[7]

Nationality problem

Nakhichevan, the corpses of Armenians after the May massacre.

Russia was a multi-ethnic empire. Nineteenth-century Russians saw cultures and religions in a clear hierarchy. Non-Russian cultures were tolerated in the empire but were not necessarily respected.[9] "European civilization was valued over Asian or African culture, and Christianity was on the whole considered more progressive and 'true' than other religions."[9]

For generations, Russian Jews had been considered a special problem.[7] "The official view had come to be that they were enemies of Christianity, exploiters of the peasantry, and the fountain head of the revolutionary movement."[10] Like other minorities in Russia, the Jews lived in "miserable and circumscribed lives, forbidden to settle or acquire land outside the cities and towns, legally limited in attendance at secondary school and higher schools, virtually barred from legal professions, denied the right to vote for municipal councilors, and excluded from services in the Navy or the Guards."[11]

The government's treatment of Jews, although considered its own issue, was similar to the government's policies in dealing with all national and religious minorities.[11] "Russian administrators, who never succeeded in coming up with a legal definition of "Pole", despite the decades of restrictions on that ethnic group, regularly spoke of individuals 'of Polish descent' or, alternatively, 'of Russian descent,' making identity a function of birth."[12] This policy only succeeded in producing or aggravating feelings of disloyalty. There was growing impatience with their inferior status and resentment against "Russification".[11] Russification is cultural assimilation definable as "a process culminating in the disappearance of a given group as a recognisably distinct element within a larger society."[13]

Besides the imposition of a uniform Russian culture throughout the empire, the government's pursuit of Russification, especially during the second half of the nineteenth century, had political motives. After the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, the Russian state was compelled to take into account public opinion, but the government failed to gain the public's support.[14] Another motive for Russification policies was the Polish uprising of 1863. Unlike other minority nationalities, the Poles, in the eyes of the Tsar, were a direct threat to the empire's stability. After the rebellion was crushed, the government implemented policies to reduce Polish cultural influences.[14] In the 1870s the government began to distrust German elements on the western border. The Russian government felt that the unification of Germany would upset the power balance among the great powers of Europe and that Germany would use its strength against Russia. The government thought that the borders would be defended better if the borderland were more "Russian" in character.[15] The culmination of cultural heterogeneity created a cumbersome nationality problem that plagued the Russian government in the years leading to the revolution.

Labour problem

The economic situation in Russia before the revolution presented a grim picture. The government had experimented with laissez faire capitalist policies, but this strategy largely failed to gain traction within the Russian economy until the 1890s. Meanwhile, "agricultural productivity stagnated, while international prices for grain dropped, and Russia’s foreign debt and need for imports grew. War and military preparations continued to consume government revenues. At the same time, the peasant taxpayers' ability to pay was strained to the utmost, leading to widespread famine in 1891."[16]

In the 1890s, under the minister of finance Sergei Witte, a crash governmental programme was proposed to promote industrialization. His policies included heavy government expenditures for railroad building and operations, subsidies and supporting services for private industrialists, high protective tariffs for Russian industries (especially heavy industry), an increase in exports, currency stabilization, and encouragement of foreign investments.[17] His plan was successful and during the 1890s "Russian industrial growth averaged 8 percent per year. Railroad mileage grew from a very substantial base by 40 percent between 1892 and 1902."[17] Ironically, Witte's success in implementing this program helped spur the 1905 revolution and eventually the 1917 revolution because it exacerbated social tensions. "Besides dangerously concentrating a proletariat, a professional and a rebellious student body in centers of political power, industrialization infuriated both these new forces and the traditional rural classes."[18] The government policy of financing industrialization through taxing peasants forced millions of peasants to work in towns. The "peasant worker" saw his labour in the factory as the means to consolidate his family's economic position in the village and played a role in determining the social consciousness of the urban proletariat. The new concentrations and flows of peasants spread urban ideas to the countryside, breaking down isolation of peasants on communes.[19]

Industrial workers began to feel dissatisfaction with the Tsarist government despite the protective labour laws the government decreed. Some of those laws included the prohibition of children under 12 from working, with the exception of night work in glass factories. Employment of those who were between the ages of 12 and 15 was prohibited on Sundays and holidays. Workers had to be paid in cash at least once a month, and limits were placed on the size and bases of fines for workers who were tardy. Employers were also prohibited from charging workers for the cost of lighting of the shops and plants.[11] Despite these labor protections, the workers believed that the laws hadn't done enough to free them from unfair and inhumane practices. Many labourers were forced to work beyond the maximum of 11 and a half hours per day. Others were still subject to arbitrary and excessive fines for tardiness, mistakes in their work, or absence.[20] On top of working condition complains, Russian industrial workers were the lowest wage-workers in Europe. Although the cost of living in Russia was low, "the average worker's 16 rubles per month could not buy the equal of what the French worker's 110 francs would buy for him."[20] Furthermore, the government's "protective" labour laws prohibited organization of trade unions and strikes. Dissatisfaction turned into desperation for many impoverished workers, which made them more sympathetic to radical ideas.[20] These discontented, radicalized workers became key to the revolution by participating in illegal strikes and revolutionary protests.

The government dealt with this problem in the only way that they knew how: by arresting labour agitators and by enacting more "paternalistic" legislation.[21] Introduced in 1900 by Sergei Zubatov, head of the Moscow security department, "police socialism" planned to have workers form workers' societies with police approval to "provide healthful, fraternal activities and opportunities for cooperative self-help together with 'protection' against influences that might have inimical effect on loyalty to job or country."[21] Some of these groups organized in Moscow, Odessa, Kiev, Nikolayev (Ukraine), and Kharkov, but these groups and the idea of police socialism failed.[21]

In 1900–1903, the period of industrial depression resulted in many firm bankruptcies and a reduction in the employment rate. Employees were restive: they would join legal organizations but turn the organizations toward an end that the organizations' sponsors didn't intend. Workers used legitimate means to organize strikes or to draw support for striking workers outside these groups.[21] A strike that began in 1902 by workers in the railroad shops in Vladikavkaz and Rostov-on-Don created such a huge response that by the next summer, 225,000 in various industries in southern Russia and Transcaucasia were on strike.[22] These weren't the first illegal strikes in the country's history; however, the strikers' aims, political awareness, and support among non-workers and workers made them more troubling to the government than other strikes before. The government responded by closing all legal organizations by the end of 1903.[22]

Educated class as a problem

Troops in St. Petersburg.

The Minister of the Interior, Plehve, designated the schools as a pressing problem for the government, but he failed to realize it was only a symptom of antigovernment feelings among the educated class. Students of universities, other schools of higher learning, and occasionally those of the secondary schools and theological seminaries were part of this group.[22] They were taking up problems that were unrelated to their "proper employment", and were taking part in open disorderly displays of defiance and radicalism. To express their feelings, students boycotted examinations, rioted, arranged marches in sympathy with the strikers or political prisoners, circulated petitions, or wrote anti government propaganda.[22]

This was originally perceived by the government as lack of proper training in patriotism and religion. The government was disturbed by the widespread behavior but felt it could be fixed. Some believed the curriculum should be toughened up, but there was little improvement after the implementation of measures to emphasize classical language and maths in secondary schools.[23] Expulsion, exile, or forced military service were also tried by the government, but these measures were unsuccessful in stopping students. "In fact, when the official decision to overhaul the whole educational system was finally made, in 1904, and to that end Vladimir Glazov, head of General Staff Academy, was selected as Minister of Education, the students had grown bolder and more resistant than ever."[23]

Student radicalism began around the time Tsar Alexander II came to power. While also abolishing serfdom, he enacted fundamental reforms in the legal, administrative, and structure of the Russian empire, which were revolutionary for the time.[24] The Tsar lifted many restrictions placed on universities and abolished obligatory uniforms and military discipline. This ushered in a new freedom in the content and reading lists of academic courses.[25] In turn that created student subcultures, as youth were willing to live in poverty in order to receive an education.[26] As universities expanded, there was a rapid growth of newspapers, journals, and an organization of public lectures and professional societies. The 1860s was a time when the emergence of a new public sphere was created in social life and professional groups. This created the idea of their right to have an independent opinion.[25]

The government looked at these communities with alarm, and in 1861 it created stricter restrictions on admission and prohibited student organizations that resulted in the first ever student demonstration held in St. Petersburg, which led to a two-year closure of the university.[25] The consequent conflict with the state is an important factor in the chronic student protests over subsequent decades. The political engagement carried out by students outside of the universities became a tenet of student radicalism by the 1870s which originated in the atmosphere of the early 1860s. Student radicals described "the special duty and mission of the student as such to spread the new word of liberty. Students were called upon to extend their freedoms into society, to repay the privilege of learning by serving the people, and to become in Nikolai Ogarev's phrase 'apostles of knowledge.' "[27] During the next two decades universities produced a significant share of Russia's revolutionaries. Prosecution records from the 1860s and 1870s show that more than one-half of all political offences were committed by students despite their minute number in the population as a whole.[27] "The tactics of the left-wing students proved to be remarkably effective, far beyond anyone's dreams. Sensing that neither the university administrations nor the government any longer possessed the will or authority to enforce regulations, radicals simply went ahead with their plans to turn the schools into centres of political activity for students and non students alike."[28]

The combination of all four problems created the conditions for the uprising. Most of the country's population were peasants, so when they were emancipated from serfdom, the government hoped to turn them into a conservative land holding class. This failed mainly because peasants were forced to keep their land and weren't allowed to sell or mortgage it. Their earnings were too small for the peasants to earn a living. Desperate, they began revolting against the government. The nationality problem was important because the "Russification" of its minorities created resentment. Not only were they treated differently in social life; they were banned by the government from voting or from serving in the Guard or Navy, and were allowed limited attendance in schools. Instead of creating loyalty with these groups, the government created hostility. The labour problem began with the industrialization of Russia. Workers felt that, although the government had created reforms that were meant to protect them, the government wasn't doing enough for them. They were hostile towards the government because the government banned strikes and the organization of labor unions. The government's harsh reaction to their strikes made more people receptive to radical ideas. Finally, the educated class as a problem was important because the student movement constituted so large a share of the revolutionary movement. After Tsar Nicholas II relaxed the discipline in Russia's universities, the universities became lax; this gave rise to a new consciousness among students, who then wanted to bring freedom into society. All of these problems contributed to the popular uprising in Russia in 1905.

Rise of the opposition

The events of 1905 were preceded by a Progressive and academic agitation for more political democracy and limits to Tsarist rule in Russia; plus an increase in strikes by workers against employers for radical economic demands and union recognition, especially in southern Russia. Many socialists view this as a period when the rising revolutionary movement was met with rising reactionary movements. As Rosa Luxemburg stated in The Mass Strike, when collective strike activity was met with what is perceived as repression from an autocratic state, economic and political demands grew into and reinforced each other.[29]

At the start of the 20th century, Russian progressives formed the Union of Zemstvo Constitutionalists (1903) and the Union of Liberation (1904) which called for a constitutional monarchy. Russian socialists formed two major groups: the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, following the Russian populist tradition, and the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party.

In the autumn of 1904, liberals started a series of banquets celebrating the 40th anniversary of the liberal court statutes and calling for political reforms and establishment of a constitution. On 13 December [O.S. 30 November] 1904, the Moscow City Duma passed a resolution, demanding establishment of an elected national legislature, full freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. Similar resolutions and appeals from other city dumas and zemstvo councils followed.

Tsar Nicholas II made a move to fulfill many of these demands, appointing liberal Pyotr Dmitrievich Sviatopolk-Mirskii Minister of the Interior after the assassination of Vyacheslav von Plehve. On 25 December [O.S. 12 December] 1904, the Tsar issued a manifesto promising the broadening of the Zemstvo and local municipal councils' authority, insurance for industrial workers, the emancipation of Inorodtsy, and the abolition of censorship. However, the crucial point of representative national legislature was missing in the manifesto.

At the start of the 20th century the Russian industrial worker worked on average an 11-hour day (10 hours on Saturday), factory conditions were perceived as grueling and often unsafe, and attempts at independent unions were often not accepted.[30]

In 1902, strikes in the Caucasus broke out in March, and strikes on the Railway originating from pay disputes took on other issues, and drew in other industries, culminating in a general strike at Rostov-on-Don in November. Daily meetings of 15,000 to 20,000 heard openly revolutionary appeals for the first time, before a massacre defeated the strikes. But reaction to the massacres brought political demands to purely economic ones. In 1903 "the whole of South Russia in May, June and July was aflame",[31] including Baku where separate wage struggles culminated in a city-wide general strike, and Tiflis, where commercial workers gained a reduction in the working day, and were joined by factory workers. In 1904, massive strike waves broke out in Odessa in the spring, Kiev in July, and Baku in December. This all set the stage for the strikes in St. Petersburg in December 1904 to January 1905 seen as the first step in the 1905 revolution.

Years Average annual strikes[32]
1862–69 6
1870–84 20
1885–94 33
1895–1905 176

Start of the revolution

Artistic impression of Bloody Sunday in St. Petersburg.

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.[33] By 21 January [O.S. 8 January] 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.[34] to the Tsar on Sunday, 22 January [O.S. 9 January] 1905. The troops guarding the Winter 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, resulting in between 200 (according to Witte) to 1000 deaths. The event became known as Bloody Sunday, and is considered by many scholars to be 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 centers of the Russian Empire. Polish socialists—both the PPS and the SDKPiL—called for a general strike. By the end of January 1905, over 400,000 workers in Russian Poland were on strike (see Revolution in the Kingdom of Poland (1905–1907)). Half of European Russia's industrial workers went on strike in 1905, and 93.2% in Poland.[35] There were also strikes in Finland and the Baltic coast. In Riga, 130 protesters were killed on 26 January [O.S. 13 January] 1905, and in Warsaw a few days later over 100 strikers were shot on the streets. By February, there were strikes in the Caucasus, and by April, in the Urals and beyond. In March, all higher academic institutions were forcibly closed for the remainder of the year, adding radical students to the striking workers. A strike by railway workers on 21 October [O.S. 8 October] 1905 quickly developed into a general strike in Saint Petersburg and Moscow. This prompted the setting up of the short-lived Saint Petersburg Soviet of Workers' Delegates, an admixture of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks headed by Khrustalev-Nossar and despite the Iskra split would see the likes of Julius Martov and Georgi Plekhanov spar with Lenin. Leon Trotsky, who felt a strong connection to the Bolsheviki, had not given up a compromise but spearheaded strike action in over 200 factories.[36] By 26 October [O.S. 13 October] 1905, over 2 million workers were on strike and there were almost no active railways in all of Russia. Growing inter-ethnic confrontation throughout the Caucasus resulted in Armenian-Tatar massacres, heavily damaging the cities and the Baku oilfields.

Artistic impression of the mutiny by the crew of the battleship Potemkin against the ship's officers on 14 June 1905.

With the unsuccessful and bloody Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) there was unrest in army reserve units. On 2 January 1905 Port Arthur was lost, and the Russian Baltic Fleet was defeated at Tsushima; in February 1905, the Russian army was defeated at Mukden, losing almost 80,000 men in the process. Witte was dispatched to make peace, negotiating the Treaty of Portsmouth (signed 5 September [O.S. 23 August] 1905). In 1905, there were naval mutinies at Sevastopol (see Sevastopol Uprising), Vladivostok, and Kronstadt, peaking in June with the mutiny aboard the battleship Potemkin—some sources claim over 2,000 sailors died in the restoration of order.[37] The mutinies were disorganised and quickly crushed. Despite these mutinies, the armed forces were largely apolitical and remained mostly loyal, if dissatisfied — and were widely used by the government to control the 1905 unrest.

A barricade erected by revolutionaries in St. Petersburg.

Nationalist groups had been angered by the Russification undertaken since Alexander II. The Poles, Finns, and the Baltic provinces all sought autonomy, and also freedom to use their national languages and promote their own culture.[38] 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.[39]

The number of prisoners throughout the Russian Empire, which had peaked at 116,376 in 1893, fell by over a third to a record low of 75,009 in January 1905, chiefly because of several mass amnesties granted by the Tsar;[40] the historian S G Wheatcroft has wondered what role these released criminals played in the 1905–06 social unrest.[40]

Government response

On 12 January the Tsar appointed Dmitri Feodorovich Trepov as governor in St Petersburg and dismissed the Minister of the Interior, Pyotr Sviatopolk-Mirskii, on 18 February [O.S. 5 February] 1905. He appointed a government commission "to enquire without delay into the causes of discontent among the workers in the city of St Petersburg and its suburbs" in view of the strike movement. The commission was headed by Senator NV Shidlovsky, a member of the State Council, and included officials, chiefs of government factories, and private factory owners. It was also meant to have included workers’ delegates elected according to a two-stage system. Elections of the workers delegates were, however, blocked by the socialists who wanted to divert the workers from the elections to the armed struggle. On 5 March [O.S. 20 February] 1905, the Commission was dissolved without having started work.

Following the assassination of his uncle, the Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich, on 17 February [O.S. 4 February] 1905, the Tsar agreed to give new concessions. On 18 February [O.S. 5 February] 1905 he published the Bulygin Rescript, which promised the formation of a consultative assembly, religious tolerance, freedom of speech (in the form of language rights for the Polish minority) and a reduction in the peasants' redemption payments.

On 24 and 25 May [O.S. 11 and 12 May] 1905, about 300 Zemstvo and municipal representatives held three meetings in Moscow, which passed a resolution, asking for popular representation at the national level. On 6 June [O.S. 24 May] 1905, Nicholas II had received a Zemstvo deputation. Responding to speeches by Prince Sergei Trubetskoi and Mr Fyodrov, the Tsar confirmed his promise to convene an assembly of people's representatives.

Height of the Revolution

Ilya Repin, 17 October 1905

Tsar Nicholas II agreed on 18 February [O.S. 5 February] to the creation of a State Duma of the Russian Empire but 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.[41] Disturbances in the Russian-controlled Congress Poland culminated in June 1905 in the Łódź insurrection. Surprisingly, only one landlord was recorded as killed.[42] Far more violence was inflicted on peasants outside the commune: 50 deaths were recorded.

The October Manifesto, written by Sergei Witte and Alexis Obolenskii, was presented to the Tsar on 14 October  [O.S. 1 October]. 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 30 October [O.S. 17 October] 1905, citing his desire to avoid a massacre and his realisation that there was insufficient military force 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 Saint Petersburg and elsewhere officially ended or quickly collapsed. A political amnesty was also offered. The concessions came hand-in-hand with renewed, and 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 took preparations for upcoming Dumas 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 was 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 demobilised 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.

A train overturned by striking workers at the main railway depot in Tiflis in 1905

Between 5 and 7 December [O.S. 22 and 24 November], there was a general strike by Russian workers. The government sent in troops on 7 December, and a bitter street-by-street fight began. A week later the Semyonovsky Regiment was deployed, and used artillery to break-up demonstrations and to shell workers' districts. On 18 December [O.S. 5 December], 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 in December 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.[43] The historian Brian Taylor states the number of deaths in the 1905 Revolution was in the "thousands", and notes the existence of one source that puts the figure at over 13,000 deaths.[39]


Following the Revolution of 1905, the Tsar made last effort attempts to keep his regime from being toppled, and offered reforms similar to most rulers when pressured by a revolutionary movement. The military remained loyal throughout the Revolution of 1905, shown through their shooting of revolutionaries ordered by the Tsar, signifying a would-be difficult overthrow. These reforms were outlined under 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 wasn’t enough to prevent the 1917 revolution that would later topple the Tsar's regime.

Creation of Duma and Stolypin

The creation of the Duma and the beginning of the Revolution of 1905 was supported and sprung from Russia’s loss in the Russo-Japanese War, where Sergei Witte gained political notoriety. On 17 October 1905, the October Manifesto was signed by Tsar Nicholas II guaranteeing civil liberties to all citizens and the creation of the First Duma. The First Duma was created to be the lower house, with the upper house being the Council of State which was appointed. The composition of the First Duma was 48.1% peasants and 36.7% nobles. Peasants had more representation than the nobility, and were able to use that to their advantage to show discontent and be problematic towards authority. Both houses were needed to meet and agree on laws before they could go to the Tsar, and the Tsar had absolute veto power. Not only did the Tsar retain absolute veto power, there were certain powers left to only the Tsar, in particular control over the army, which hindered the Duma’s ability to truly be a representative and fully powerful legislative body. Among the political parties formed, or made legal, were the liberal-intelligentsia Constitutional Democratic party (the Kadets), the peasant leaders' Labour Group (Trudoviks), the less liberal Union of 17 October (the Octobrists), and the reactionary Union of Land-Owners. The electoral laws were promulgated in December 1905—franchise to male citizens over 25 years of age, electing through four electoral colleges. This was a weighted electoral system where the votes of some sections of society were worth more than others. For example, the vote of a landowner was worth 45 times more than the vote of an industrial worker. The first elections to the Duma took place in March 1906 and were boycotted by the socialists, the SRs and the Bolsheviks. In the First Duma, there were 170 Kadets, 90 Trudoviks, 100 non-aligned peasant representatives, 63 nationalists of various hues, and 16 Octobrists. The Duma's framework and power as controlled by the government issued Fundamental Law (Constitution of 1906), which retained most of the important functions of government to the Tsar. The Duma proved to be an ineffective institution with the Tsar still always having an upper hand in control and power, and it could be dissolved and recalled by the Tsar at any time, both of which were often executed. "The First and Second Dumas were dissolved before having time to enact into laws their comprehensive schemes of constructive reforms." Demanding further liberalisation and acting as a platform for "agitators", the First Duma was dissolved by the Tsar in July 1906. Despite the hopes of the Kadets and the fears of the government, there was no widespread popular reaction to this. However, an assassination attempt on Pyotr Stolypin led to the establishment of field trials for terrorists, and over the next eight months more than a thousand people were hanged. In 1907, another manifesto was written by the tsar to revise election law in the Duma, allowing for extreme manipulation by the tsar to determine who was in the Duma. While the election framework of the Duma is one that allowed for gerrymandering, the Duma was used as a platform for those elected to have an opinion and have some ground in Russia’s bureaucracy that the autocratic Tsar had to deal with. The Third and Fourth Dumas also had very little to say for themselves, and the Duma existed until 1917 with the end of the Russian empire.

October Manifesto

The October Manifesto served as a precursor to the Constitution of 1906. It was reluctantly put into place by Tsar Nicholas II who was convinced by Sergei Witte (the man who negotiated the end of the Russo-Japanese War) that it was necessary. Not only was it necessary, but it is what finally stopped the 1905 Revolution and kept Nicholas II in power for 12 more years. The opposition against the Tsar government was far too strong to not have a manifesto written to attempt to quell uprising. Witte was a strong proponent of a constitutional monarchy, an elected parliament, and enumerated rights and freedoms within the constitution. The main provisions and reforms of the manifesto were :

  1. To grant to the population the essential foundations of civil freedom, based on the principles of genuine inviolability of the person, freedom of conscience, speech, assembly and association.
  2. Without postponing the scheduled elections to the State Duma, to admit to participation in the duma (insofar as possible in the short time that remains before it is scheduled to convene) of all those classes of the population that now are completely deprived of voting rights; and to leave the further development of a general statute on elections to the future legislative order.
  3. To establish as an unbreakable rule that no law shall take effect without confirmation by the State Duma and that the elected representatives of the people shall be guaranteed the opportunity to participate in the supervision of the legality of the actions of Our appointed officials.

The manifesto was discussed by the Tsar and Witte till its signing by Nicholas II on 17 October 1905. Witte, the author of the October Manifesto, was also named chair of the new Council of Ministers under the new government. The strikes ended on 19 October, and singing, cheering, and other forms of demonstration followed the signing of the October Manifesto as it were unexpected that such concessions expressed by the constitution were to be made by the government. Main problems with the manifesto were that nowhere in the document does the word "constitution" come up, and Nicholas II never felt much pressure to follow to provisions of the manifesto as he for that moment regained the support of his people. However, the rights listed coupled with the institution of the Duma seemed to signal an end to authoritarian rule, and the October Manifesto failed to pacify liberals and isolate the left in Russia. Many groups either saw the manifesto as a movement towards democracy (while still holding doubts about its implementation), while other groups saw it as an incentive to keep moving forward with the Revolution. Kadets were in favor of the document's freedom of speech and other rights, while Marxists felt it wasn't enough of a concession and not a true signifier of democracy. While the October Manifesto outlined civil liberties and the establishment of a two-house Parliament, none of these measures came into effect until the Constitution of 1906.

Russian Constitution of 1906

The Russian Constitution of 1906 was published on the eve of the convocation of the First Duma. The new Fundamental Law was enacted to institute promises of the October Manifesto as well as add new reforms. The Tsar was confirmed as absolute leader, with complete control of the executive, foreign policy, church, and the armed forces. The structure of the Duma was changed, becoming a lower chamber below the Council of Ministers, and was half-elected, half-appointed by the Tsar. Legislation had to be approved by the Duma, the Council, and the Tsar to become law. The Fundamental State Laws were the "culmination of the whole sequence of events set in motion in October 1905 and which consolidated the new status quo". The introduction of The Russian Constitution of 1906 isn't simply an institution of the October Manifesto. The introduction of the constitution states (and thus emphasizes) this:

  • The Russian State is one and indivisible.
  • The Grand Duchy of Finland, while comprising as inseparable part of the Russian State, is governed in its internal affairs by special decrees based on special legislation.
  • The Russian language is the common language of the state, and its use is compulsory in the army, in the navy and in all state and public institutions. The use of local (regional) languages and dialects in state and public institutions are determined by special legislation.

Through the Constitution’s introduction, it makes no mention of any of the provisions of the October Manifesto. While it did enact the provisions laid out previously, its sole purpose seems again to be to propaganda for the monarchy and to simply not fall back on prior promises. The Constitution lasted until the fall of the empire in 1917, and the provisions coupled with the autocratic rule of the Tsar even under the new constitutional monarchy were never enough for Russians and Lenin.

Rise of terrorism

The years 1904 and 1907 were a time of decline for the mass movements, such as strikes and political demonstrations, but also a time of rising political terrorism. SR Combat Organization and other combat groups carried out numerous assassinations targeting civil servants and police, and robberies. Between 1906 and 1909, revolutionaries killed 7,293 people, of whom 2,640 were officials, and wounded 8,061.[44]

Notable victims of assassins included:


The years of revolution were marked by a dramatic rise in the numbers of death sentences and executions. Different figures on the number of executions were compared by Senator Nikolai Tagantsev,[45] and are listed in the table.

Year Number of executions by different accounts
Report by Ministry of Internal Affairs Police Department to the State Duma on 19 February [O.S. 6 February] 1909. Report by Ministry of War Military Justice department Figures by Oscar Gruzenberg. Report by Mikhail Borovitinov, assistant head of Ministry of Justice Chief Prison Administration, at the International Prison Congress in Washington, 1910.
1905 10 19 26 20
1906 144 236 225 144
1907 456 627 624 1,139
1908 825 1,330 1,349 825
Total 1,435 + 683[46] = 2,118 2,212 2,235 2,628
Year Number of executions
1909 537
1910 129
1911 352
1912 123
1913 25

These numbers reflect only executions of civilians,[47] and do not include a large number of summary executions by punitive army detachments and executions of military personnel that mutineed.[48]

Anarchist thinker Peter Kropotkin also noted that official statistics did not include executions during punitive expeditions, especially in Siberia, the Caucasus, and the Baltic provinces.[47]

By 1906 there were 4,509 political prisoners in Russian Poland, 20% of the empire's total.[49]

Ivanovo Soviet

Ivanovo Voznesensk was known as the 'Russian Manchester' for its textile mills. In 1905 its local revolutionaries were overwhelmingly Bolshevik. It was the first Bolshevik branch where workers outnumbered intellectuals.

11 May 1905: The 'Group', the revolutionary leadership, called for all the textile mills to strike.

12 May: The strike begins. Strike leaders meet in the local woods.

13 May: 40,000 workers assemble before the Administration Building to give Svirskii, the regional factory inspector a list of demands.

14 May: Workers' delegates elected at the suggestion[50] of Svirskii. He wants people to negotiate with. A mass meeting is held in Administration Square. Svirskii tells them the mill owners won't meet their demands but will negotiate with elected mill delegates who will be immune to prosecution according to the governor.

15 May: Svirskii tells the strikers they can only negotiate over each factory in turn but they can hold elections wherever. The strikers elect delegates by mill right there in the surrounding boulevards. Later the delegates elect a chairman.

17 May: the meetings are moved to the bank of the Talka on the police chief's suggestion.

27 May: The delegates' meeting house is closed.

3 June: Cossacks break up a workers meeting, arresting over 20. Workers start sabotaging telephone wires and burn down a mill.

9 June: The police chief resigns.

12 June: all prisoners released. Mill owners mostly flee to Moscow. Neither side gives in.

27 June: workers agree to stop striking 1 July.



Demonstrators in Jakobstad

In the Grand Duchy of Finland, the Social Democrats organised the general strike of 1905 (12–19 November [O.S. 30 October – 6 November]). The Red Guards were formed, led by captain Johan Kock. During the general strike, the Red Declaration, written by Finnish politician and journalist Yrjö Mäkelin, was published in Tampere, demanding dissolution of the Senate of Finland, universal suffrage, political freedoms, and abolition of censorship. Leader of the constitutionalists, Leo Mechelin crafted the November Manifesto that led to the abolition of the Diet of Finland and of the four Estates, and to the creation of the modern Parliament of Finland. It also resulted in a temporary halt to the Russification policy started in 1899.

On 12 August [O.S. 30 July] 1906, Russian artillerymen and military engineers rose to rebellion in the fortress of Sveaborg (later called Suomenlinna), Helsinki. The Finnish Red Guards supported the Sveaborg Rebellion with a general strike, but the mutiny was quelled by loyal troops and ships of the Baltic Fleet within sixty hours.


In the Governorate of Estonia, Estonians called for freedom of the press and assembly, for universal suffrage, and for national autonomy. On 29 October [O.S. 16 October], the Russian army opened fire in a meeting on a street market in Tallinn, killing 94 and injuring over 200. The October Manifesto was supported in Estonia and the Estonian flag was displayed publicly for the first time. Jaan Tõnisson used the new political freedoms to widen the rights of Estonians by establishing the first Estonian political party - National Progress Party.

Another, more radical political organisation, the Estonian Social Democratic Workers' Union was founded as well. The moderate supporters of Tõnisson and the more radical supporters of Jaan Teemant could not reach a consensus about how to continue with the revolution, only that they both wanted to limit the rights of Baltic Germans and to end Russification. The radical views were publicly welcomed and in December 1905, martial law was declared in Tallinn. A total of 160 manors were looted, resulting in ca. 400 workers and peasants being killed by the army. Estonian gains from the revolution were minimal, but the tense stability that prevailed between 1905 and 1917 allowed Estonians to advance the aspiration of national statehood.


Bloody Sunday Monument in Riga on the Daugava

Following the shooting of demonstrators in St. Petersburg a wide-scale general strike began in Riga. On 26 January [O.S. 13 January], Russian army troops opened fire on demonstrators killing 73 and injuring 200 people. During the summer of 1905, the focus of revolutionary events moved to the countryside with mass meetings and demonstrations. 470 new parish administrative bodies were elected in 94% of the parishes in Latvia. The Congress of Parish Representatives was held in Riga in November. In autumn 1905, armed conflict between the Baltic German nobility and the Latvian peasants begun in the rural areas of Livland and Courland. In Courland, the peasants seized or surrounded several towns. In Livland, the fighters controlled the Rūjiena-Pärnu railway line.[51] Martial law was declared in Courland in August 1905, and in Livland in late November. Special punitive expeditions were dispatched in mid-December to suppress the movement. They executed 1170 people without trial or investigation and burned 300 peasant homes. Thousands were exiled to Siberia. Many Latvian intellectuals only escaped by fleeing to Western Europe or USA. In 1906, the revolutionary movement gradually subsided.

See also


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  2. Defronzo, James (2011). Revolutions and Revolutionary Moments. New York: Westview Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Harcave 1990, 21
  4. Skocpol, Theda (1979). States and Social Revolutions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 93.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 Harcave 1970, 19
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Harcave 1970, 20
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Harcave 1970, 21
  8. Pipes, Richard (1996). A Concise History of the Russian Revolution. New York: Vintage. p. 8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 Weeks 2004, 472
  10. Conroy, Mary (2006). Henry, Laura. Sundstrom, Lisa. Evans, Albert Jr (ed.). Russian Civil Society: A Critical Assessment. New York: M.E. Sharpe. p. 12.CS1 maint: multiple names: editors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Harcave 1970, 22
  12. Weeks, Theodore (December 2004). "Russification: Word and Practice 1863-1914". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 148: 474.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Staliūnas, Darius (2007). "Between Russification and Divide and Rule: Russian Nationality Policy in the Western Borderlands in Mid-19th Century". Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas, Neue Folge. 3. 55. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. 14.0 14.1 Weeks 2004, 475
  15. Weeks 2004, 475-476
  16. Skocpol 1979, 90
  17. 17.0 17.1 Skocpol 1979, 91
  18. Skocpol 1979, 92
  19. Perrie, Maureen (November 1972). "The Russian Peasant Movement of 1905-1907: Its Social Composition and Revolutionary Significance". Past and Present. 57: 124–125. doi:10.1093/past/57.1.123.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Harcave 1970, 23
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 Harcave 1970, 24
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 Harcave 1970, 25
  23. 23.0 23.1 Harcave 1970, 26
  24. Morrissey, Susan (1998). Heralds of Revolution: Russian Students and the Mythologies of Radicalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 20.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 Morrissey 1998, 22
  26. Morrissey 1998, 20
  27. 27.0 27.1 Morrissey 1998, 23
  28. Ascher, Abraham (1994). The Revolution of 1905: Russia in Disarray. Stanford University Press. p. 202.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Rosa Luxemburg, The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions, 1906 [English translation Patrick Lavin, 1925]. Chapter 4, "The Interaction of the Political and the Economic Struggle."
  30. John Simkin (ed), "1905 Russian Revolution", Spartacus Educational, undated.
  31. Rosa Luxemburg, The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions, 1906 Chapter 3, "Development of the Mass Strike Movement in Russia".
  32. Abraham Ascher, The Revolution of 1905: A Short History, page 6
  33. Salisbury, Harrison E. (1981). Black Night White Snow. Da Capo Press. p. 117. ISBN 0-306-80154-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. This petition asked for "an eight-hour day, a minimum daily wage of one ruble (fifty cents), a repudiation of bungling bureaucrats, and a democratically elected Constituend Assembly to introduce representative government into the empire." R.R. Palmer, A History of the Modern World, second edition, Alfred A. Knopf (New York) 1960, p. 715
  35. Robert Blobaum, Feliks Dzierzynski and the SDKPiL: a study of the origins of Polish Communism, page 123
  36. Voline (2004). Unknown Revolution, Chapter 2: The Birth of the "Soviets"
  37. Bascomb, N (2007). Red Mutiny: Eleven Fateful Days on the Battleship Potemkin. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  38. Kevin O'Connor, The History of the Baltic States, Greenwood Press, ISBN 0-313-32355-0, Google Print, p.58
  39. 39.0 39.1 Taylor, BD (2003). Politics and the Russian army: civil-military relations, 1689–2000. Cambridge University Press. p.69.
  40. 40.0 40.1 Wheatcroft, SG (2002). Challenging traditional views of Russian history. Palgrave Macmillan. The Pre-Revolutionary Period, p.34.
  41. Paul Barnes, R Paul Evans, Peris Jones-Evans (2003). GCSE History for WJEC Specification A. Heinemann. p.68
  42. Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution, page 48
  43. Larned, J. N. (1910). "History for ready reference, Vol VII", p. 574. Springfield, MA: The C. A. Nicholson Co., Publishers. (The original source for this information, according to the book, was Professor Maksim Kovalevsky, who presented these figures in the Duma on 2 May 1906, "in the presence of M. Stolypin, who did not contest it."
  44. Galina Mikhaĭlovna Ivanova, Carol Apollonio Flath and Donald J. Raleigh, Labour camp socialism: the Gulag in the Soviet totalitarian system (2000), p.6
  45. Article Death penalty in Russia.
  46. 683 executions by sentences of Field Courts Martial, acting from 1 September [O.S. 19 August] 1906, to 3 May [O.S. 20 April] 1907 were listed separately and not subdivided by year.
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  48. Death penalty in Russia.
  49. Robert Blobaum: Feliks Dzierzynsky and the SDKPiL: A study of the origins of Polish Communism, page 149
  50. Solomon Schwarz, The Russian Revolution of 1905, pages 135-7 335-8
  51. Bleiere, Daina; Ilgvars Butulis; Antonijs Zunda; Aivars Stranga; Inesis Feldmanis (2006). History of Latvia : the 20th century. Riga: Jumava. p. 68. ISBN 9984-38-038-6. OCLC 70240317.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Abraham Ascher; The Revolution of 1905, vol. 1: Russia in Disarray; Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1988
  • Abraham Ascher; The Revolution of 1905, vol. 2: Authority Restored; Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1994
  • Abraham Ascher; The Revolution of 1905: A Short History; Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2004
  • Donald C. Rawson; Russian Rightists and the Revolution of 1905; Cambridge Russian, Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995
  • François-Xavier Coquin; 1905, La Révolution russe manquée; Editions Complexe, Paris, 1999
  • François-Xavier Coquin and Céline Gervais-Francelle (Editors); 1905 : La première révolution russe (Actes du colloque sur la révolution de 1905), Publications de la Sorbonne et Institut d'Études Slaves, Paris, 1986
  • John Bushnell; Mutiny amid Repression: Russian Soldiers in the Revolution of 1905-1906; Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1985
  • Anna Geifman. Thou Shalt Kill: Revolutionary Terrorism in Russia, 1894-1917.
  • Pete Glatter ed., The Russian Revolution of 1905: Change Through Struggle, Revolutionary History Vol 9 No 1 (Editorial: Pete Glatter; Introduction; The Road to Bloody Sunday (Introduced by Pete Glatter); A Revolution Takes Shape (Introduced by Pete Glatter); The Decisive Days (Introduced by Pete Glatter and Philip Ruff); Rosa Luxemburg and the 1905 Revolution (Introduced by Mark Thomas); Mike Haynes, Patterns of Conflict in the 1905 Revolution)
  • Pete Glatter, ‘1905 The consciousness factor’, ''International Socialism'', second series, no. 108, 2005
  • Scott Ury, Barricades and Banners: The Revolution of 1905 and the Transformation of Warsaw Jewry, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2012. ISBN 978-0-804763-83-7

External links