Opposition to the Tsar

  • Created by: Tori
  • Created on: 18-02-20 15:14

The League of Liberation

In 1903 middle-class opponents of autocracy made the League of Liberation, led by Pavel Milyukov and Pyotr Struve.

Russia's Bourgeoisie (1.5% of the population) tended to want to create more democracy in Russia. Middle class demands were reformist or liberal, generally wanting:

  • A government that respected individual rights.
  • A government with elected representatives to make laws.

Composition of the League - Represented 2 groups; Those who held elected positions in the Zemstvos and ideas of the urban middle-class intellectuals.     ->     Meant that the League represented liberal opinion in the country and the cities.

The government felt this group was dangerous, hence the Okhrana arrested leading members after it's first Congress.

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The League's Demands

Their demands included political and economic ideas, published in a programme in early 1904 after it's first congress held in St Petersburg, included:

  • An end to Autocracy.
  • Democratic government bases on universal sufferage.
  • Self-Determination for all nations part of the Russian Empire.
  • Land redistrobutions to the peasants.
  • A maximum 8 hour day for workers.
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The Working Class

Urban factory workers made up 4% of the Russian population in 1894. Them emerged as a result of Sergei Witte's attempt to industrialise the econonmy in the 1890's. 

Workers were better paid than peasants, but this was due to dangerous and tough work conditions.

Factories were dangerous and living conditions in the large slums of the major cities were filthy, hence mortality rates were higher than peasants.

Conditions were tough:

  • 12 hour work days were the norm (although some were forced to work for up to 17 hours a day).
  • Factory managers could beat employees and prone to verbal abuse and degrading body searches.
  • Harsh conditions led to strikes and the growth of socialist groups in Russian cities.
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Peasant Life

Peasants were 80% of the Russian population in 1984. The vast majority lived impoverished lives of hard work, large debt and high taxes, while owning little or no land.

Fearing peasant disorder, Nicholas introduced a series of counter reforms, taking away freedoms the peasants had enjoyed since 1860, hence causing resentment:

  • Land Captains replaced zemstvos (elected committees by the people).
  • Peasants lost the right to elect people to the local zemstvos (Land Captaians made the final decision about which candidates were allowed to serve on the zemstov.
  • Land Captains managed the work of peasants, and administered law and order (Became the main local government authority).
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The Socialist Revolutionaries (SR's)

Founded in 1902, the leading figure (Viktor Chernov) was influenced by Marxism. They argued the proletariat and the peasants should overthrow the Tsar.

They stressed the needs of Russia's peasants and believed that peasant communes (or mirs) could become the basis of a new socialist society, hence their main aim was land reform.

Political Violence) They were influenced by anarchism and nihilism, so they believed revolutionary violence was important.

           -> Radical SR's were responsible for the assasination of some government ministers:

  • Bogolepov (1901) - the Tsar's education minister.
  • Plehve (1904) - minister of the Interior.
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The Social Democrats (RSDLP)

The Marxist Russian Socialist Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP), established in 1898, advocated for a proletariat revolution against capitalism to create a free and equal society. 

Heavily influenced by Marxism.

Believed that industrialisation and capitalism led to the exploitation of the proletariat.

Divisions) Disagreed fundamentally on the strategy of the RSDLP:

  • Martov and the Mensheviks argued that the RSDLP should be a mass party   ->   They should educate and organise the proletariat.
  • Lenin and the Bolsheviks argued the proletariat in Russia was too weak and uneducated to create a revolution, hence arguing they should become a vanguard party   ->    A small secrative party of professional revolutionaries who would lead a revolution on behalf of the workers.
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Reasons for the Failure of Opposition Groups

The Okhrana) Kept revolutionary parties under surveillance   ->   Okhrana 'agents provocateurs' infiltrated radical parties, then stirred up trouble and divisions with them.

Repression) The government took precautionary actions:

  • Okhrana exile radical leaders (eg. Lenin exiled to Siberia).
  • Milyukov and Struve were both banned from attending the 1st Congress of the League of Liberation (seen as to influential as they were the organisation's leaders).


  • Liberals wanted reforms to guarantee political rights, however socialists wanted a full scale revolution to change the economic and social structure of Russia.
  • The RSDLP were divided between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks.
  • The SR's were divided between the radicals and moderates on the issue of violence.

Strike Breaking) The police and army used extreem violence to end strikes   ->   Used on almost 800 occasions betwwen 1900-02.

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Reasons for the Failure of Opposition Groups 2

Illiteracy) The SR's and the RSDLP's both relied on newspapers to spread their message   ->   However, the vast majority of Russian peasants couldn't read, hence it was difficult for radicals to influence the peasants, the group they were mostly aiming for.

The Ukase) A decree (ukase) was issued by the Tsar in 1904 to try diffuse the political opposition    ->    Stated that the government would respect individual rights. 

       The decree divided the liberals:

  • Some believed this was the first step to serious reform.
  • Some recognised this would never be implemented.
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