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The 1905 Revolution
The Reasons for Revolution
Prisons were overflowing with convicts innocent of any real crime, the city streets were full
of soldiers ready to shoot the people on a whim, and the censors' power stretched
everywhere denying freedom of religious and political expression.
Things were no better in the countryside where famine was a constant source of peasant
The government that squeezed money from people through heavy taxation was incapable of
The bleak picture that Leo Tolstoy, a Great Russian novelist and philosopher did not
necessarily mean that confrontation, still less revolution, was unavoidable. After all, if
oppression is applied firmly enough, it prevents effective challenges to government.
What weakened the Tsarist regime in the period before 1917 was not its tyranny, but its
incompetence. It is certainly true that the crisis that occurred in Russia in 1905 was in large
measure due to the mishandling of the situation by the Tsar and his government. This was
shown by the speed with which the government reasserted its authority once it had
recovered its nerve.
The year 1905 marked the first time the Tsarist government had been faced by a
combination of the 3 main opposition classes in Russia the industrial workers, the
peasantry and the reformist middle class.
Despite the efforts of the various revolutionary parties to politicise events, the strikes and
demonstrations in the pre-1905 period had been the result of economic rather than political
factors. They had been a reaction to industrial recession and bad harvests.
It was the Tsarist regime's ill-judged policies that turned down the disturbances of 1905 into
a direct challenge to its own authority.
The Significance of the 1905 Revolution
A notable feature of the 1905 revolution was how minor a part was played by the
revolutionaries. Hardly any of them were in St. Petersburg or Moscow when it began.
Revolution occurred in spite, rather than because, of them. With the exception of Trotsky,
none of the SDs made an impact on the course of events. This throws doubt on the notion
of 1905 as a revolution.
In a number of important respects, Tsardom emerged from the disturbances stronger rather
Despite its disastrous failure to win the war against Japan, which produced protest against
Japan which produced protest throughout Russia and united the classes in opposition, the
Tsarist regime survived 1905 remarkably unscathed. The mutinies in the armed serviced did
not spread and did not continue after the war. The readiness of the Liberals and the peasants
to accept the government's political and economic bribes indicated that neither of those
groups was genuinely ready for revolution.
It is true that the Tsar appeared to grant significant concessions in the October Manifesto,
but these were expedients rather than real reforms. The duma was not intended to be, nor
did it become, a limitation on the Tsar's autocratic powers. This was evident from the
Fundamental Laws which Nicholas II promulgated in 1906.
The Lesson of the 1905 Revolution
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What 1905 showed was that as long as the tsarist government kept its nerve and the army
remained loyal, the forces of protest would find it very difficult to mount a serious challenge.
The events of 1905 also raised questions about the extent to which the liberals wanted
change in Russia. Few of the enjoyed their experience of mixing with the workers during the
revolution. They found the proletarian coarseness unattractive and were frightened by the
primitive forces they had helped to unleash.…read more