Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Russian Revolution of 1905 (Part 1)

Coronation of Nicholas II
The 1905 Revolution shook the Russian Empire's foundation bringing change to its autocratic government. But its outcome created a profound change in the course of Russian History. Explore more how the Russian Revolution of 1905 transpired and how it changed Russia.

The Russian Revolution of 1905 brought a wave of unrest in all sectors of the Russia's society. It aimed to change the age old autocratic regime under the Tsars. Although it widely became known as the Revolution of 1905, the revolution transpired from 1905 up to 1907. It broke out in massive proportions after the events of Bloody Sunday. But the revolutionary spirit to wavered after the Tsar issued the October Manifesto, a document which momentarily ended the absolute rule of the Romanov Tsars. Although the reform promised during the Revolution never lived on, it served as a premonition to a bigger and bloodier revolution that emerged in 1917.

Before the Revolution

Tsarist Rule

The Romanovs ruled as Tsars of Russia for three centuries. They wielded absolute power over the destiny of millions of Russians. They flourished for centuries much to the credit to the support of the landed gentry, whose wealth came from the labor of millions of serfs. Thus, the serfs worked as the backbone of the Russian economy.

The status of serfdom and the autocracy came under threat in 1825 with the revolt of the Decembrist - young nobles and military officers influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment during their Napoleonic campaign. They came home inspired by liberal reforms and began to question and act on constricting Russian society. Their ill-planned coup to realize their goals, however, failed under the Russia’s conservative and reactionary Tsar Nicholas I.

Tsar Nicholas I’s son, Tsar Alexander II, set in motion one of the greatest reforms in Russian history and set the conditions for the Revolution of 1905. In 1861, Tsar Alexander II signed the Emancipation Manifesto that freed all Russia’s serfs. Alongside Emancipation Manifesto, he initiated numerpis liberal reforms that gave civil rights, freedom, and political powers. In 1861, the mirs or village councils formed the basis of rule within peasant villages.

In 1864, Alexander II issued a reform that gave rise to provincial assemblies known as Zemstvos. Zemstvos included representatives from various classes within a province, from free townsmen, artisans, nobles, to even deputies from different mirs. It had powers over local education, health, infrastructure, and taxation.

In 1870, Alexander allowed the establishment of Municipal Dumas. These Dumas served as assemblies for towns and cities representing various classes based on their wealth. The Dumas paralled with Zemstvos and Mirs in towns and cities.

In 1881, Tsar Alexander II planned his greatest reform – the creation of a constituent assembly to deliberate over the creation of a constitution and a legislature. However, the plan never materialize under his reign. The effects of his emancipation act gave rise to disillusioned radicals who used terrorism as their main weapon. In 1881, a radical terrorist group known as the People’s Will assassinated Tsar Alexander II, allowing the succession of the Tsar Alexander III.

Tsar Alexander III’s rule became known for its repression of liberties and adherence to conservatism and tradition. He surrounded himself with ultra-conservative officials like the Procurator of the Holy Governing Synod Konstantin Pobiedonostsyev, who tutored the future Tsar Nicholas II. Alexander III reversed or curbed the reforms of the late Alexander II with the view that it caused his father’s tragic demise. Many of the assemblies formed under the Era of Great Reforms fell under the control of the landed gentry and the Tsar’s governors. He also intensified the crackdown on opposition with the notorious secret police called the Okhrana.

In 1894, Tsar Alexander III passed away leaving the throne to his son, Nicholas II. Nicholas II followed the examples of his father. But the new Tsar lacked his father’s strength and strong stewardship of the country giving opportunity for instability.

Socio-Economic Developments

Russia saw tremendous social and economic changes over fifty years before the Revolution of 1905. The emancipation of serfs and the industrialization of the country created new social classes and challenges. With new challenges, all new answers emerged, which various political groups later exploited.

The emancipation of the serfs in the 1860’s brought tremendous challenges both for the newly freed serfs as well as for the government. Alexander II freed the serfs from bondage but not from poverty. He lacked a major agrarian reform aimed in giving former serfs land for livelihood. Freed serfs had the opportunity to purchase the lands that they once tilled. However, they could only purchase a part of the land in inflated or overpriced value. The government did provided financial assistance in loans, but they had to repay it under the form of redemption taxes. Facing difficulty financially and given the smaller portion of land they had the chance to acquire, the newly freed serfs had little to celebrate for their freedom. Thus, discontent followed.

Russia’s industrialization on the other hand gave rise to an urban working class.  Previously, the working class had been limited to artisans and other craftsmen. But in the 1890’s, Finance Minister Sergei Witte initiated a massive industrialization program aimed to make Russia an equal to other European powers. As a result of what later became known as the Great Spurt, many peasants moved to the cities to work in newly established factories and mills. The industrialization resulted to great economic progress, especially in the fields of iron and oil.

For the workers, however, conditions turned out to be dismal, with poor working condition, long working hours, and meager wages. These then became a source of strength for some political parties, in particular the Marxists.

Along with the working class, Russia’s industrialization also paved the way for the rise of capitalist bourgeoisie. The capitalist owned the industries that drove Russia’s industries and provided employment for many Russians. With power over the economy, they wield tremendous influence in Russian center wing in the political spectrum.

With economic development, many had the money to send their children to schools and graduate as professionals. These professionals became intellectuals or better known as the Intelligentsias. From their newly earned money, they studied in universities, giving them new knowledge and ideas. They began to question the establishment that they lived on. Many if not all of them criticized the constraint and lack of freedom in Russia. Many of them fought for those freedoms and changes through political activities.

The only class that seemed to be prosperous and flourishing was the nobility. They continued to hold tremendous power and influence over the Tsars. Not to mention, the Tsars relied on the landed nobility ever since the inception of the Tsardom. They provided numerous officials for the government effectively making them a strong pillar for Tsarist autocracy. Hence, many of the nobles wanted to preserve the status quo alongside with their wealth, power, and influence. Nevertheless, some of them saw the needs for reform in order to survive in a changing world and some expressed it carefully in front of the Tsar – men like Sergei Witte and Vladimir Kokovtsov.

The effects of the socio-economic developments in Russia for the past fifty years before the Revolution spelled the goals and desires for each class. For the peasantry, they desired land and better standards of living. For the workers, better working conditions and share in wealth. For the capitalist, they desired political participation or at least representation. The intelligentsia also desired reforms especially liberties and participation in the governance of the country as well. Within the nobility, a riff formed as some desired reform to the establishment while other wanted to preserve the present situation. Each of their objective then fell under the influence of various political ideologies and materialized in form of political parties.

Explore also:



Balkelis, Tomas. The Making of Modern Lithuania. New York, New York: Routledge, 2009.

Bolukbasi, Suha. Azerbaijan: A Political History. New York, New York: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 2011.

Croissant, Michael. The Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict: Causes and Implications. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Euchensehr, Kristen and Michael Reisman (Eds.). Stopping Wars and Making Peace: Studies in International Intervention. Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill, 2009.

Kassow, Samuel. Students, Professors, and the State in Tsarist Russia. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1989.

Kasekamp, Andres. A History of the Baltic States. New York, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Kokovtsov, Vladimir. H.H. Fisher (Ed.). Laura Matveev (Trans.). Out of My Past: The Memoirs of Count Kokovtsov. Standford University, California: Stanford University Press, 1935.

Leslie, R.F. (ed.). The History of Poland since 1863. New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

O'Connor, Kevin. The History of the Baltic States. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2003.

Papazian, K.S. Patriotism Perverted: A Discussion of the Deeds and the Misdeeds of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, the So-called Dashnagtzoutune. Boston, Massachusetts: Baikar Press, 1934.

Pipes, Richard. A Concise History of the Russian Revolution. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1995.

___________. Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism, 1917 - 1923. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Palmer, Robert. A History of the Modern World. Boston, Massachusettes: McGraw-Hill, 2002.

Plakans, Andrejs. The Latvians: A Short History. Stanford, California: Hoover Institution Press, 1995.

Prazmowska, Anita. Poland: A Modern History. New York, New York: IB Tauris, 2010.

Raun, Toivo. Estonia and the Estonians. Stanford, California: Hoover Institution Press, 1995.

Witte, Sergei. Abraham Yarmolinsky (Trans.). The Memoirs of Count Sergei Witte. Garden City, New York: Dobleday, Page & Company, 1921.

General References:

"Jadidism," Historical Dictionary of Kazakhstan. Edited by Didar Kassymova et. al. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2012.

"Revolution of 1905-1906." In the Historical Dictionary of Poland, 966 - 1945. Edited by Jerzy Jan Lerski. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1996.

"Russian Revolution (1905)." In the Historical Dictionary of Marxism. Edited by Elliott Johnson et. al. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.

Corfield, Justin. "Russian Revolution (1905)." In The Encyclopedia of the Industrial Revolution in World History. Edited by Kenneth E. Hendrikson, III. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.

Frame, Arthur. Russia, "Revolution of 1905." In The Encyclopedia of World War I: A Political, Social, and Military History. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2005.

Gough, Jana trans. History of Civilizations of Central Asia V. 6. Paris: UNESCO, 2005.

Mikaberidze, Alexander. Historical Dictionary of Georgia. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.

Suny, Ronald Grigor. "Russian Revolution of 1905." in The Encyclopedia of Political Revolutions. Edited by Jack A. Goldstone. New York, New York: Routledge, 1998.

Suziedelis, Saulius. Historical Dictionary of Lithuania. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc., 2011.

Online Newspaper Articles:

A Russian Correspondent of The New York Times. "Russian Tells Story of Sunday's Massacre." New York Times (January 25 1905). URL:

"Troops Overawe St. Petersburg." New York Times (January 24, 1905). URL:

"Iron Ruler for St. Petersburg." New York Times (January 25, 1905). URL:


Ascher, Abraham. "Revolution of 1905." Encyclopedia of Russian History. 2004. 1 Feb. 2016.

Trotsky, Leon. “1905.” Marxist Internet Archives. March 12, 2016.

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