Monday, March 21, 2016

The Russian Revolution of 1905 (Part 8)

The Potemkin achored in Constanta (July 1905)
As the Russian Empire plunged into anarchy, officials discussed measures to abate the situation, including the need for reforms. But the Tsar hesitated for any reforms. Explore how the government acted upon the proposed reforms that ultimately resulted to the October Manifesto continuing crisis that shook the government.

Fight for a Duma

As reports of violence across all corners of the Empire, more and more officials believed that reforms was the only way out of the reformist revolution of the people. Many officials feared that if the strikes, riots, and uprising might turn into an anti-Tsarist revolution, especially when socialist revolutionaries cried slogans like “Down with the Tsar.” When the Committee of Minister met under the presidency of Count Dmitry Solsky, officials like Witte, Bulygin, and the finance minister Vladimir Kokovstov voiced the need for reforms. In what became known as the Solsky Conference, deliberation for reforms followed to avert the increasing threat of a total collapse of the Tsarist government.

The Union of Zemstvos and Town Assemblies met once again in June 1905. Tsar Nicholas graced them with his promise of reforms, including the extension of autonomy to localities and the creation of a Duma. Although Nicholas promised change, he himself remained abrasive towards any curbing of his autocratic powers. After all, he had centuries of Romanov autocratic legacy to protect.

Reforms, however, became ever more urgent as news of new problems reached St. Petersburg. In June 14 (Old Style), 1905, the crew of the battleship Potemkin mutinied and executed their abusive officers. The warship then went to Odessa where workers launched a massive strike and barricaded themselves in the streets. Workers and soldiers clashed and the sight of the Potemkin in Odessa complicated the situation of the government as it showed the unity of the working class and the military, at least an element of it, against the establishment. In July, the peasants of Western Russia founded the Peasants Union and organized mass demonstrations demanding agrarian reform. The fear of the fall of the Tsarist regime came ever more increasing as the military and peasants started to demand and protest against the government.

In August, the government attempted to pacify opposition by providing some concessions. In an attempt to ease down student qualms, the government gave back the autonomy of universities and gave professors and students stakes in school administration. In addition, they also banned police from entering university grounds. The policy, however, failed to stop student protests; but rather, it made universities a safe haven for revolutionaries to meet. The Tsar also attempted to calm down the whole populace with his manifesto issued on August 6/19 (Old Style/New Style), 1905.

The August 6 Manifesto finally discussed the definition and place of a Duma in the Tsarist government. In the Manifesto, Nicholas promised to create a Duma composed of elected representatives. It defined the Duma a “consultative body” to discuss and elaborate laws and state budgets. The Manifesto entrusted the handling of the election of the representatives to the state council. Alongside the manifesto, Nicholas also issued a decree about the proposed Duma. Sergei Witte recounted what the decree said. The decree as stated by Witte defined the Duma’s function as a parliament. It also stated that the Duma worked as a consultative body. Finally, the members of the Duma were to be elected based mostly from the peasantry.

The Decree following the Manifesto showed irony. Although it finally recognize the majority of people from the peasantry and giving them power to elect Duma representatives, it, however, defined the Duma within contradictions. Witte himself saw the manifesto as ironic. Based on the decree, the Duma paralleled to European parliaments. Parliaments shared power with the monarch if not held all powers with the monarchy only as a symbol. But Nicholas’ decree and even the manifesto, defined it as a consultative body, henceforth it only work as an advisory status and had no power whatsoever. Due to the Manifesto’s continuing adherence to the Tsar’s autocracy and depriving powers to the Duma, little to no one listened or stopped.

The August Manifesto ceased nothing. In facts, strikes even went worst. In September a new wave of general strikes hit Russia. Print shop and railroad workers and professionals went on strike. The strike of railroad workers led to a paralysis in travel in the country. Workers from other industries, such as iron, textile, communication, all stopped working too. The economy suffered tremendously and life in Russia stood still. 

The only good news that came in September for the government was the signing of the Treaty of Portsmouth that ended the Russo-Japanese War. For the government, it meant that they would have finally the resources and soldiers needed to restore order. But the return of troops from the eastern front would take months, thus, they needed to buy time.

St. Petersburg Soviet

September also saw another development in the side of the striking workers. On September 25/October 8 (Old Style/New Style), the Union of Liberation formed strike committees in major industrial cities. In St. Petersburg, the established strike committee elevated itself to the Soviet or Council of Worker’s Deputies, a bold step that exercised what the Marxist called the rule of the working class or the proletariat.  

The St. Petersburg Soviet first convened on October 13/26, 1905 (Old Style/ New Style) with Khrustalev-Nosar, a young socialist who took part in the 1899 student strike in the University of St. Petersburg, as chairman. The St. Petersburg Soviet met in university halls due to government’s recent policy of prohibiting police from entering it. The Soviet demanded political reforms, especially the curbing of the Tsars autocratic powers and the extension of civil liberties such as free press and freedom of assembly.  However, the authorities locked down universities forcing the Soviet to cancel their session on October 16, 1905 (Old Style). But a day later, the Soviet began to publish their own newspaper called the Izviestiya or the Buttletin.

As danger within the capital growing, ministers continued to tackle possible solutions. They had two options. First they would conceded political reforms. Second they would impose a military dictatorship, with most officials looking up to Alexander Trepov as top candidate as military dictator and to restore order. The second option, however, required huge number of troops and resources, which at their present state unavailable. The most practical decision that the ministers saw would be the first option. And the man tasked to take care of the reforms was Sergei Witte.

Sergei Witte, orchestrator of the Great Spurt and negotiator for Russia in the Treaty of Portsmouth, was tasked to compose a manifesto embodying the reforms that the Tsar must concede to. The result was the October Manifesto.

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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