Opposition: ideas and ideologies (Nicholas II)


The growth of liberal opposition to 1905

Liberals had only pressed for changes in the governmental structure of the country. The spread of education and the emergence of a stronger middle class as a result of industrialisation added to the numbers favouring more representation and the rule of law.

Liberalism was stronger in the zemstva. During the years of the great famine 1891-92 showed the government's incompetence and the zemstva's reputation was enhanced. In 1895, the zemstvo petitioned Nicholas II to set up an advisory body. The tsar dismissed this request and Prince Lvov continued to demand the creation of an all-class zemstva at district level and national assembly. Lvov attempted to set up an "All zemstvo organisation" in 1896 but was immediately banned. This encouraged the more radical liberalists to meet in secret to discuss matters of liberal interests such as judical reform and universal education.

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The development of Socialism and the SR party

By 1894, the slavophile and populist idea of a 'new Russia' based on the peasants, looked increasingly unlikely. However, ideas of 'agrarian socialism' were revived after the great famine which highlighted the need for reform. The same year the SR (Socialist Revolutionary) party was founded as a rally point for those who wished to appeal to the peasantry. It was a fairly loose organisation, comprising of groups with a wide range of views.

They attempted to mix up discontent in the countryside and strikes in towns, and disrupt the government with assassinations. They were successful as they carried out 2000 political assassinations between 1901 and 1905

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The influence of Marxism and the development of th

Industrial 'take-off' helped make Marxist theories attractive to Russian intellectuals from the late 1890s. While a number of discussion circles, workers' organisations, illegal trade unions, and other groups were attracted by marxist ideas. The socialism was common between the SR party and the SD workers' party, which emerged in 1898 as a mixture of various Marxist groups.

In 1898, the First congress of Russian Social Democratic Workers' party of the Soviet Union was held in Minsk, marking the launch of a new party welding these Marxist ideas together. They produced a manifesto, which asserted that the W/C had been, and were being exploited by their masters and that the future of Russia would be the product of the class struggle. The manifesto made it clear that the process for change had to come from the W/C themselves.

The congress was broken up by Okhrana agents who promptly arrested 2 of the newly elected committee. Lenin, who had converted to Marxist views as a student from 1887, came to play a prominent part in the development of the party.

The second party congress took place in 1903, commencing in Brussels, and then moved to a small congregational chapel in Shoreditch, London. The 51 voting delegates considered a variety of judgements as to how the party should move forward, and were divided on a number of these. Lenin argued in favour of a strong disciplined organisation of professional revolutionaries to lead the prolatariat. However, others led by Julius Martov, favoured working through trade union, cooperatives and soviets to destroy the government. Lenin wanted total dedication to revolution only. 

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The split in the Social Democratic Workers' Party

The split in the party was to have major consequences for the future of Marxism in Russia. In 1903-04, many members changed sides. Plekhanov abandoned the Bolsheviks, while Trotsky left the Mensheviks in September 1904 over their insistence on an alliance with Russian Liberals. Trotsky clashed with Lenin on the issue of the party.

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The extent of opposition between 1905 and 1914

Trade Unions

The 1905 revolution exposed many tensions in tsarist society and brought opposition to the front. After the excitement raised by the 1905 revolution, and the legalisation of the trade unions, a reduction in W/C discontent might have been expected through better state-employer-worker relations. However, despite some reforms such as the 1912 Insurance law, the state continued to fear independant W/C activity, and in particular, the potential for revolutionaries to work through the trade unions. As a result, 497 trade unions were closed down and 604 were denied registration between 1906 and 1910.

From 1907, an economic depression and rise in unemployment combined with the political clampdown reduced any opportunity for union action. From 1911 the beginning of economic recovery took place, which gave skilled labour more bargaining (negotiate the terms and conditions of transactions.) in the market place. A new round of strikes occured.

This trade union activity was mainly confined in St Petersburg. They demonstrade the state's failure to pacify the W/C in 1905. The bitter resistance of employers and the repressive measures taken to break strikes added to anger and opposition.

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Other Opposition Groups

There was no single, strong opposition among the nationalities after 1905. Apart from the Poles and Finns, none wanted outright independence. The revolutionary SR and SD parties were weakened by the exile of their leaders after 1905, as well as by the damaging split within the SD Workers' party and the rivalry between the SR's and SD's. Ideological divisions within the parties were compounded by disagreements over the appropriate response to the 1905 defeat and the use parties should make of the 'legal' opportunities to work in and through the Duma. They also suffered from the activities of the Secret Police network whose agents were very effective in smashing revolutionary cells. Party leaders, including Lenin, failed to exercise effective control over their parties within Russia. Membership declined and neither SRs nor SDs succeeded in achieving national, regional or even all-city organisations. At best they maintained an 'underground' organisation in individual factories and workshops, where the leaders were local labour activists.

Before 1914, opposition in Russia appeared weakened and demoralised. Most workers were politically apathetic (no interest), trade unions failed to provide a broad popular base and labour protest was contained by repression. The coming of war in 1914 further diminished support for action as a patriotic feeling swept through all political groupings. Lenin favoured defeat, believing it would bring Russia closer to revolution.

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A number of different strands of opposition emerged in Russia in the period 1894 to 1914. These included moderate liberals and radical SRs and SDs. While all sought to make capital out of the events of 1905, the tsarist concessions that won over some of the moderates left the left wing bitter but powerless in the face of repression. Neverthless, radicalism survived and while little progress was made before 1914, it would not take much to bring political opposition out into the open again.

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