Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Russian Revolution of 1905 (Part 5)

Pyotr Sviatopolk-MirskyWith the assignation of Interior Minister Plehve, a new Interior Minister, Pyotr Sviatopolk-Mirsky, relaxed controls against dissent. The relaxation resuscitated hopes of reforms. The Tsar fueled further calls for reforms when he plunged the country into the terrible Russo-Japanese War. Explore how the reformist movements restarted and the factor of the Russo-Japanese War contributed to the Russian Revolution of 1905.

Under Interior Minister Pyotr Sviatopolk-Mirsky

Interior Minister Pyotr Sviatopolk-Mirsky took a more subtle stand than his predecessor. Although he did not had the extreme reactionary inclination as Phleve, he wasn’t also a liberal. He relaxed controls over political activities that made reformist and revolutionaries to reinvigorate movements for reforms.

In November 1904, representatives from various Zemstvos met in St. Petersburg. With the consent of the local police, the representatives formed the Union of Zemstvos and Town Assemblies. The meeting, however, ended with a split between the Conservative Liberals and Liberals. Conservative Liberals only wanted representation in the central government while the Liberals wanted a constitutional monarchy. Nonetheless, they both agreed that Russian government must change one way or another and the Tsar must recognize civil liberties and freedoms.

After the convocation of the Union of Zemstvos and Town Assemblies, liberals began what became known as the Banquet Campaign. It ran from November 1904 to January 1905. Through private gatherings or banquets conducted in over 26 cities in Russia, liberals discussed political reforms and pushed for the creation of a constituent assembly.

A month following the meeting of the Union of Zemstvos, the Moscow Duma passed a resolution calling for the creation of a constituent assembly and guarantee of civil liberties. In answer to the calls of the Union and the Moscow Duma, Tsar Nicholas II signed a decree extending individual freedom and autonomy of local governments. Although, the effects of the decree never fully realize as the climate of situation deteriorated the next month – January of 1905.

The tenure of Minister Mirsky and his moderate stand allowed the revival for calls for liberties and political reforms. But another factor for the sudden rise of reformist movement was the worsening results of the Russo-Japanese War.

Russo-Japanese War

For the past 50 years, China had been sliced into different spheres of influence by western powers and Japan. The Opium War opened the ports of China to western countries while Japan also gained a slice of conquest over the declining Qing Empire after the Sino-Japanese War in the 1890’s. China further suffered humiliation and defeat when troops of eight western Empire including Russia along with the Japanese marched into the Forbidden City during the Boxer Rebellion.

Russia wanted to extend further its influence in the East and to seek the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean for the Russian Navy. The completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway with some section laid in the Chinese region of Manchuria contributed to Russian imperialist ambition. However, Russia had an opponent for the control of the region – Japan.

The Land of the Rising Sun, after almost fifty years of transformation under the Meiji Restoration, desired to stand equal with the west by building an Empire for herself. She already had a strong foothold in Korea and wanted to expand to China through Manchuria. They saw with grave concern Russia’s actions in Manchuria. In 1903, Japan scored an alliance with the British who also saw Russian expansionism with suspicion. Japan and Russia tried to settle the Manchurian question through negotiations. However, this broke down in February 5, 1904 (New Style).

Japan launched a pre-emptive strike three days later on February 8, 1904. A Japanese fleet attacked Port Arthur in Manchuria leading to several month of blockade. Russian and Japanese forces mobilized their military to the region. Russia used its Trans-Siberian railroad to send troops from west to east while the Japanese landed troops in Korea.

The Tsarist government saw the war as an opportunity to unite the country in fighting a foreign foe. They also saw it as a chance to score victory and to show to the opposition that autocracy won wars and bring glory to Russia. For a while, the people did unite behind the Tsar and forgot most of the reform demands. But soon enough, they had episodes of disillusionment.

Russia suffered defeats and thousands of casualties. In May 1904, Russia suffered 2,500 killed in the Battle of the Yalu River. Following the land defeat, Russia’s Vladivostok Naval Squadron fell to the Japanese Navy. As Russia’s Pacific fleet laid in ruins, Nicholas and his admirals sent the Russian Baltic Fleet to the Pacific to reinforce Port Arthur. However, Japan’s ally Britain refused to give the Russian fleet access to the Suez Canal forcing the Russian commanders to sail south towards the Cape of Good Hope before proceeding to the Indian Ocean then to the Pacific. Before the Baltic Fleet arrived, on January 2, 1905 (New Style), Port Arthur fell to the Japanese. The Russian army retreated to Mukden where on March 10, 1905 (New Style), a long and arduous battle claimed the lives of 97,000 Russian troops. Defeated in land, Russia also suffered a huge defeat in sea when in May 27, 1905, the Russian Baltic Fleet, after their long journey, sank before the Japanese in the Battle of Tsushima.

The huge number of casualties and the defeat of two fleets forced the Tsar to negotiate a peace treaty. Tsar Nicholas sent Sergei Witte to America to obtain a face-saving deal. Eventually, Russia did not loss too much when the Treaty of Portsmouth was signed between Japan and Russia. However, much of the news of peace did little to alleviate what became a serious threat to the Tsarist regime back in Western Russia.

The Tsarist government loss the confidence of the Russian people. The Russian people, on the other hand saw their government as inept and incompetent. The war, which Nicholas and other ministers saw a way to pacify opposition and bring back glory and popularity to the establishment, led only to defeat, suffering, and hardship for many. The popularity of the government plummeted and the people went on a revolutionary wave, especially after the events of Bloody Sunday.

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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