Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Russian Revolution of 1905 (Part 10)

Tsar Nicholas II giving an opening speech of the First Duma
The October Manifesto propelled Russia to constitutionalism and parliamentary government. Yet, Tsar Nicholas planned to revive his powers as an autocratic ruler. Explore how Russia's new age of freedom transpired and how Tsar Nicholas perverted the contents of the Manifesto for his benefit.

New of Age of Freedom

With the October Manifesto, Russia prepared its way towards a constitutional autocracy. No longer the Tsar had the final and only say in the matters, he had to share it with a parliament – a Duma. In March 1906, Russia elected their representatives to the State Duma. Those who voted composed a majority of the Russian society. It included the landed gentry, urban population, peasants, and laborers. Nevertheless, it still marginalized women, soldiers, and men under the age of 25. Despite the limitations, the election proceeded and a month later, Nicholas enacted Russia’s constitution – the Fundamental Laws.

The Fundamental Laws Russia’s constitution. In Chapter 1, no. 7 it stated that “The sovereign emperor exercises power in conjunction with the State Council and the State Duma,” which clearly defined that the Emperor no longer rule alone. No laws could not also be enacted without the approval of the Tsar, State Council and the State Duma. Nevertheless, the Emperor had the power to dictate foreign relations and the sole right to “declare war, conclude peace, and negotiate treaties with foreign states.” The Fundamental Laws itself cannot be revised unless with the approval of the State Council and the State Duma. The Fundamental Laws also maintained freedom of worship, right for due process, right against warrantless searches and seizures, and right to travel freely. It also guaranteed freedom of peaceful assembly, of writing and publication, of unions. The Fundamental Laws guided the disposition of Russia under a constitutional autocracy.

In April 27, 1905, Tsar Nicholas II personally addressed the opening of the First Duma. Much to the disappointment of the government and the Tsar, the Constitutional Democrats, who belonged to the center left, dominated the Duma. Other than the Kadets, non-Russian minorities also took part in the first Duma. The Central Asian Muslims who had been lucky to be elected to the Duma established a Muslim block called the Ittigaq al-Muslimin or the Union of Muslims. They supported democracy and also a constitution. Meanwhile, Baltic countries also had their representatives in the Duma and represented the region’s aspiration for autonomy from St. Petersburg.

The Kadets dominance over the Duma led to the resignation of Prime Minister Sergei Witte on April 23/May 5 (Old Style/New Style), 1905. Ivan Goremykin succeeded him. The Kadets used their majority in the Duma to push for universal suffrage, a complete parliamentary form of government, abolition of capital punishment, and weakening of the State Council. But the most controversial of all, the Kadets wanted a complete socialization of lands, thus taking lands from the landlords for massive land redistribution program. Goremykin refused to accept any of the proposals. The rejection led to resignation of Goremykin as Prime Minister. With fear of hurting the interest of the landed nobility and his authority and government, Tsar Nicholas then dissolved the Duma, in hope of another election with more favorable results for them. In place of Goremykin, Nicholas appointed a strong man with skills that matched Witte’s – Pyotr Stolypin.

In protest of the dissolution of the First Duma, Kadets went to Finland and issued a threatening manifesto. Led by Sergei Muromtsov, the Kadets published a Manifesto calling for massive civil disobedience of the population, such as refusing conscription and paying taxes. The manifesto received reactions that amounted little to none. In addition, the act equaled to rebellion resulting to the arrest of numerous Kadets. 167 Kadets that sat in the First Duma found themselves arrested. Following the dissolution, other groups protested in more violent ways. Mutinies and terrorist acts rose again. One bombing even injured Stolypin’s daughter.

On the other, with most of the army already deployed throughout western Russia. Punitive expeditions cracked down on dissidents in many parts of the Empire. Meanwhile, Stolypin and Nicholas planned the reestablishment of Tsarist autocratic powers. They used the growing instability as an excused to establish court martial, which resulted to quick trials, imprisonments, banishments, and executions, throughout the empire. But their primary goal remained the weakening of the Duma and turning it into an advisory body.

The Second Duma met on February 21, 1907 (Old Style). To the much disappointment of the Tsar and Stolypin, their situation became worse. Indeed the Kadets lose seats in the Duma. However, the revolutionaries, Social Democrats and Social Revolutionaries, decided to participate in the elections and gained the majority. Octoberist and Kadets took only one-fifth of the seats. With more radical proposals being submitted to the Duma, Stolypin looked for ways to somehow weaken the Duma and he saw a coup d’etat as the only way to do so.

But before Stolypin handled the curbing of the Duma, he first addressed one of the factors in creating the Revolution of 1905 – economic reasons. On March 19, 1907 (New Style), Stolypin submitted to the Duma for approval his plans which became known as the Stolypin Reform. The Stolypin Reforms aimed in buying lands from landlords and redistributing them to peasants. It focused in creating new prosperous peasant landowners, which he hoped to join the cause of the conservatives, especially when they experience better conditions thanks to the Tsar and the government.

The Second Duma rejected the Stolypin Reform. They refused to pass it unless the government abolish the court martials that it established. In addition, in April 13, 1907 (New Style) the Social Revolutionaries submitted a bill with the objective of taking lands from the landlords for a massive land redistribution program. For the government, it threatened the existence of the economic and power base of the Tsars – the landed gentry. But with the revolutionaries holding the majority, the Duma passed the bill. Stolypin and the Tsar hardly looked for any reason to dissolve the Duma. It came on May, 1907 when Stolypin discovered a plot by Socialists to instigate a military uprising. Many of the Socialists involved in the plot sat as representatives in the Duma. With a perfect pretext of treason and mutiny, on June 14, 1907 (New Style), the police arrested 16 and investigate 55 members of the Duma implicated in the planned mutiny. Two days later, the Tsar issued a decree dissolving the Second Duma.

The decree that dissolved the Second Duma spelled what Stolypin and the government did next. In the decree, it blamed the election system for placing criminals and agitators in the Duma. In addition to the electoral system, it also pointed out the intrusion of non-Russians in a “Russian questions” also caused the inefficiency and treachery of the Second Duma. Alas, it proposed a changes in the electoral system to pick the right men for the job as representative. But beneath all the reasons as being benevolent, the government, in particular Stolypin and Tsar, wanted to choose as representatives men with privilege which would protect Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality.

As stated in the dissolution decree, Stolypin changed the election laws. He changed it without the approval of the Duma which violated the Fundamental Laws. The changes in the law made the election favorable to the landowners and the wealthy. Many peasants and minorities suddenly found themselves once again disenfranchised and marginalized. But in order not to make the changes blunt, in addition to changing suffrage, the style of election became indirect which passed through different colleges and bodies. The complication and reform of the election system, effectively disregarded the commitments of the Tsars in the October Manifesto. When the Third Duma convened, as expected landowners dominated it. It became widely regarded as a rubber stamp Duma. The Tsar broke his own words to revive his autocratic power.

Summing Up

The Russian Revolution of 1905 was a wide and turbulent movement aimed in achieving political and social reforms, which the Tsars refused to concede for a long time. Series of economic, political, social, and even diplomatic factors resulted to the Revolution. Nevertheless, Tsar Nicholas II remained hesitant and tried to evade reforms. But with threats closer at home, the Tsar in the end compromised. But even with his approval, he looked for allies and ways to change the reforms to favor his power and that of the landowning class. Thus, the Revolution failed to meet its goal of a constitutional and democratic Russia. A failure that resulted to an even worse end in 1917.

By the turn of the century, Russia transformed in many aspects. Politically, the throne went from liberal to reactionary Tsars. New ideas from Europe entered and spread in Russia, leading to developments of political ideologies and parties. Economically, Russia emerged from an economy based on serfs to an industrializing country by the 1900’s. Socially, the abhorred institution of serfs disappeared but left a huge number of landless peasants. Moreover, Russian society saw the rise of a working class, capitalist bourgeoisie and intellectuals known as the Intelligentsia. With the culmination of all these factors, the establishment of the Tsars came into question, and many sought to change it.

By the early years of the 1900’s, disturbances and violence surged. Starting from students, protest about government practices, arbitration, and abuses spread to other social classes. Workers began to strike for better conditions. Peasants protested for land. Intelligentsias petitioned for political and civil rights. And the Non-Russian population nationalism rose and started to demand autonomy and even independence. The government continued to be oblivious and took a tough stand against what they deemed as transgression.

But in 1904, a failed adventure in the east made the government vulnerable to criticism and attacks. The Russo-Japanese War weakened the military in Western Russia with most troops fighting losing battles in Manchuria. Russia lose international prestige and the people regarded the Tsar and his government as incompetent. Reformist took the chance to resuscitate demands for political reforms and civil rights and acted upon it.

In 1905, the events of Bloody Sunday opened the floodgates that burst with violence, anarchy, and turbulence. Killing of peaceful and loyal-appearing workers enraged many. Strikes, boycotts, mutinies, riots, assassinations reported across Western Russia, the Baltics, Poland, and the Caucasus. Students, workers, peasants, intelligentsias, and soldiers participated. Government promises failed to appease the people. Revolutionaries took the opportunity to start a revolution with the dictatorship of the proletariat by establishing Soviets or Council of Workers to direct strikes. With the economy in trouble, deaths rising, and threats within the capital, the Tsar had no choice but to concede to reforms by signing the October Manifesto.

The October Manifesto helped to calm things down. Moderates decided to give the Manifesto a chance and prepared for the elections. New parties, which supported the Manifesto and reforms appeared. Socialist had pessimistic views and decided to boycott the elections. In the peripheries of the Empire, non-Russian population set up their respective Congresses and decided the faith of their countries. Most demanded autonomy and participated in the Duma elections. Nevertheless, some reports of trouble continued. Moscow Soviet waged an uprising in December 1905 while Poland continued to be dragged in violence. Extreme conservative groups also launched pogroms against Jews with the view that they caused the upheavals.

In 1906, Russia experienced its first months as a Constitutional Autocracy. In March, the Tsar inaugurated the Fundamental Laws that served as the country’s constitution and a month later the First Duma convened. The moderate liberal Constitutional Democrats or Kadets held the majority and demanded further reforms. Two Prime Ministers resigned due to shaky relations between the Tsar and the Duma. Eventually in July, the Tsar dissolved the First Duma resulting to an election with worse results. Radical socialist held the majority. Tsar Nicholas and Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin looked for an excuse to dissolve the Second Duma and change the election system to turn in their favor. By May 1907, they discovered a plot of a mutiny that implicated several Duma members. Stolypin had the members the suspects arrested and investigated. The Tsar used it as a pretext to dissolve the Duma and change the election system that indeed led to the Tsar and Stolypin’s control over the Duma. From that point, Russia reverted where the Tsar held absolute power with the Duma only serving as a rubber stamp.

The effects of the Russian Revolution of 1905 remained until the Revolution of 1917. The 1905 Revolution showed how the people had become disillusioned with autocracy. It showed the Russian people interest in changing the establishment that only benefitted the privileged. It also showed the power of protest, strikes, and boycotts in a massive scale to a government to concede. In the end, however, the Revolution failed because what it gained in October 1905 disappeared within less than two years. Much to the credit of the Tsar and Stolypin Russia reverted back to the situation where autocracy ruled. The people failed to protect it because they had become weary of violence and the chaos of 1905. Nevertheless, they never forgot that the Tsar broke his own words and reversed many of the contents of the October Manifesto. For the Tsarist government, the Revolution of 1905 bought them another decade of Romanov rule. But only then another effect of the Revolution appeared.
The Revolution of 1905, radicalized many liberals. Liberals who had been dismayed by the Tsar with his broken promises. Many believed that reforms no longer provided the path for change, only a revolution toppling the Romanov Dynasty would bring true change. 1905 also provided an example or a rehearsal for many Socialist revolutionaries. Men like Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin, participated in 1905 Revolution. From that point, they strengthen their parties, and unleashing them in another revolution in 1917.

For non-Russians, the Revolution of 1905 gave them the stage to become politically active. It gave them the opportunity to reassert their respective nationalities and their right to govern themselves. They succeeded in being represented in the Duma, but later on, they too had been betrayed by the Tsar, when he decreed the reduction of numbers of non-Russian representatives in the Duma.

The Revolution of 1905 marked the last decades of the Romanovs. It showed that inflexibility of Tsar Nicholas to rule and weakened his position in the eyes of his people. Although Russia developed until 1913, the people remained dissatisfied unless social and political reforms truly happened. Eventually, what the Revolution of 1905 failed to achieve in the long run was taken up in a more revolutionary and violent Revolution of 1917.

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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