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Revolution of 1905

The rigidity of Russia's autocracy stifled dissent and change in the 19th century. There were serious problems in Russia, but solutions could only come from the top.

Russia's defeat in the Crimean War triggered an attempt at modernization, including the emancipation of the serfs — peasants bound to the land they tilled. Despite major reforms, agriculture remained inefficient, industrialization proceeded haltingly, and new problems emerged.

Despite its internal problems, Russia continued to play a major role in international politics. Its defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, however, sparked a revolution in 1905. Professionals, workers, peasants, non-Russians, and soldiers demanded fundamental reforms. Reluctantly, the last tsar granted a limited constitution, but for a decade he circumvented it and continued autocratic rule.

The Russo-Japanese War was a turning point in Russian history. It led to a popular uprising against the government that forced the regime to respond with domestic economic and political reforms. Advocates of counterreform and groups serving parochial interests, however, actively sought control of the regime's policies.

In foreign affairs, Russia again became an intrusive participant in Balkan affairs and in the international political intrigues of major Euro - pean powers. As a consequence of its foreign policies, Russia was drawn into a world war that its domestic policies rendered it poorly prepared to wage. The regime, severely weakened by internal turmoil and a lack of strong leadership, was ultimately unable to surmount the traumatic events that would lead to the fall of tsarism and initiate a new era in Russian and world history.

The Russo-Japanese War accelerated the rise of political movements among all classes and the major nationalities, including propertied Russians. By early 1904, Russian liberals active in assemblies of nobles, zemstvos, and the professions had formed an organization called the Union of Liberation. In the same year, they joined with Finns, Poles, Georgians, Armenians, and with Russian members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party to form an antiautocratic alliance. They later promoted the broad, professional Union of Unions.

In early 1905, Father Georgii Gapon, a Russian Orthodox priest who headed a police-sponsored workers' association, led a huge, peaceful march in St. Petersburg to present a petition to the tsar. Nervous troops responded with gunfire, killing several hundred people, and thus the Revolution of 1905 began. Called "Bloody Sunday," this event, along with the failures incurred in the war with Japan, prompted opposition groups to instigate more strikes, agrarian disorders, army mutinies, and terrorist acts and to form a workers' council, or soviet (see Glossary), in St. Petersburg. Armed uprisings occurred in Moscow, the Urals, Latvia, and parts of Poland.

Activists from the zemstvos and the Union of Unions formed the Constitutional Democratic Party, whose members were known as Kadets. The Kadets were not students at a military academy, Rather, the name 'Kadet' drives from the initials of their name when written in Russian - Konstitutsionno Demokraticheskaya Partiya. Kadets were normally members of the liberal ‘intelligensia’ of Russia, including small scale businessmen, professionals, academics and liberal landholders, including a large proportion of zemstov men. Roughly 60% were noble.

Some upper-class and propertied activists were fearful of these disorders and were willing to compromise. In late 1905, Nicholas, under pressure from Witte, issued the so-called October Manifesto, giving Russia a constitution and proclaiming basic civil liberties for all citizens. The constitution envisioned a ministerial government responsible to the tsar, not to the proposed national Duma — a state assembly to be elected on a broad, but not wholly equitable, franchise. Those who accepted this arrangement formed a center-right political party, the Octobrists. The Kadets held out for a ministerial government and equal, universal suffrage.

Because of their political principles and continued armed uprisings, Russia's leftist parties were in a quandary over whether or not to participate in the Duma elections. At the same time, rightists, who had been perpetrating anti-Jewish pogroms, actively opposed the reforms.

Several monarchist and protofascist groups wishing to subvert the new order also arose. Nevertheless, the regime continued to function, eventually restoring order in the cities, the country side, and the army. In the process, several thousand officials were murdered by terrorists, and an equal number of terrorists were executed by the government. Because the government was successful in restoring order and in securing a loan from France before the Duma met, Nicholas was in a strong position and therefore able to dismiss Witte, who had been serving as Russia's chief minister.

In response to the uprising of 1905, Czar Nicholas II decided to issue the October Manifesto, which granted full civil rights and promised a popularly elected parliament called a Duma. The First Duma, which was elected in 1906, was dominated by the Kadets and their allies, with the mainly nonparty radical leftists slightiy weaker than the Octobrists and the nonparty center-rightists combined. The Kadets and the government were deadlocked over the adoption of a constitution and peasant reform, leading to the dissolution of the Duma and the scheduling of new elections. In spite of an upsurge of leftist terror, radical leftist parties participated in the election and, together with the nonparty left, gained a plurality of seats, followed by a loose coalition of Kadets and of Poles and other nationalities in the political center. The impasse continued, however, when the Second Duma met in 1907.

The French revolution was at that time as frightening to the world as the Russian revolution was frightening later. To the Russian Revolutionists, the French Revolution was not a dead and distant past, it was a living present; it continues to exert a subtle and profound influence which it was impossible to overrate. Even as the leaders of the French Revolution were haunted by the memories of ancient Rome, and by the heroes of Plutarch, the Russian Revolutionists were possessed by the tragic events of 1789, and the heroes of the Terror.

These events and these men were to them a permanent source of inspiration. Every psychologist and sociologist who has investigated the power of hypnotic suggestion and the laws of imitation realised the enormous significance of the fact, all the more so because the Russian Revolution is to some extent a purely artificial revolution and not a spontaneous outburst of elemental forces.

These leaders had been brought up on the theories of 1789, they had been fed on the "Immortal Principles." They appeared like students who were repeating to themselves lessons vaguely understood, or like actors who wanted to rehearse the same tragic parts over again. They would like to persuade the world that the Russian people were engaged in the same struggle for freedom and equality, and that their triumph would inaugurate a New Era for Russia and for mankind.

The Russian revolutionists did not see in the workers' Soviets of the revolution of 1905 the germs of the future organized form of proletarian power, but only organizations of the struggle against the bourgeois government. The Russian workers originally had no revolutionary purposes when they undertook to control production, but desired only an immediate improvement of their own condition materially.

Two circumstances necessarily influenced in a decisive manner the Russian workers' movement and the tactics of the Russian workers' parties as early as 1905. First, the retarded development of Russian industry and the resulting comparatively subordinate situation of Russian capitalism as opposed to feudalism and Tsarism. Second, the fact that there was only a numerically insignificant proletariat as compared with the many millions of the peasantry. The Bolsheviki and Mensheviki were already agreed in 1905 that the Russian revolution would first afford a free opportunity for the development of capitalism.

But while the Mensheviki drew the inference that the bourgeoisie should be entrusted with the conduct of the revolution, the Bolsheviki defended the view that the working class together with the peasantry must seize power, if the Russian revolution was to carry out thoroughly even so much, as its bourgeois, democratic aims. The Bolsheviki therefore wanted to draw the peasantry, not only the working class, into the struggle. Their conception of the function of the working class in the revolution was the first fundamental difference between the Bolsheviki and the Mensheviki.

Repeated devastating defeats of the Russian army in the Great War led to widespread rioting in the major cities of the Russian Empire and to the overthrow in 1917 of the imperial household. The Russian revolution of the year 1917 can be understood only as a consistent and inevitable continuation of the revolution of 1905-1906. Karl Radek contended that the social roots of the drama of 1905 were the same as those of the drama of 1917. "The revolution of 1905 was the prelude ef the revolution of 1917. In the former all those classes were lined up in battle which twelve years later were found locking horns under entirely different circumstances, and therefore the former encounter brought about the formulation of all the questions that are now being answered in practice by the acts and destinies of the Russian revolution."

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Page last modified: 15-01-2016 17:25:28 ZULU