Russia and the Soviet Union 1905 - 1924


Tsarist Rule and Reasons for discontent in 1905

How was Russia governed?

  • 'Tsar' = Russian king/emperor.  They ran the country themselves with the help of ministers.
  • Tsar Nicholas' family had ruled Russia for nearly 300 years!
  • No democracy or parliament. Government was in hands of officials appointed by Tsar.  
  • Most Tsars ruled in a repressive, autocratic manner - crushing any opposition.
  • Very religious nation (Russian Orthodox Church) - close to the Tsar.  

Tsar Nicholas II 

  • Came to the throne in 1894 - he was an unfit leader:
    • indecisive 
    • unintelligent and a lack of concentration on running the country
    • unable to respond to the pressures for change 
    • he ruled repressively using harsh penalties, censorship, Okhrana and army to control dissent.


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Reasons for Discontent in 1905

  • Peasants (85% of Russian Empire) - Angry as government dealt very badly with famine and tried to hide it 
  • Industrial workers - (newly created but rapidly increasing industry)
    • Work was dangerous. Long hours + little pay.  They were forced to live in overcrowded, dirty houses where disease spread quickly.
  • Nationalities-(1897: 125million people in Russian Empire: 44% Russian by Nationality)
    • Some wanted independance because Empire always put Russia first.
    • Russification - put pressure on other nationalities to speak Russian and adopt their culture 
  • Police State - No one could feel free because police were always watching:
    • Censorship of books and newspapers prevented radical ideas from being published.
    • People suspected of opposition were imprisoned or exiled to Siberia
    • The Okhrana (secret police) kept watch on people suspected to be revolutionaries 
  • Middle-classes - Most were liberals:
    • see change in Russia, but scared of radical revolutionary groups that wanted to share all property among the poor. 
    • The way to prevent revolution by replacing the Tsarist regime with a constitution that guaranteed rights for everyone 
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Political Opposition to the Tsar

Political Opposition to the Tsar - Revolutionaries: (Social revolutionaries and Social democrats).  Believed Russia couldn't progress until autocracy and the tsarist system was destroyed. 

  • SRs - Focused on land based issues with peasants.  Largest and most popular political party in Russia until banned following 1917 revolution.
  • SDs - (1898-1903) aim: achieve a revolution in Russia by following ideas of Karl Marx, created to support workers.  But they went through with their plans so in 1903, Vladimir Lenin pushed the party into a split - majority: Bolshevics, minority: Menshevics
  • Bolshevics - believed party should be a small, (so not infilterated with Okhrana)  secret group of professional revolutionaries who would seize power when the time was right.  Leader: Lenin (in exile)
  • Menshevics - believed party should should be a mass organisationto which all workers could belong: grow until it was big enough to take over.  Leader: Trotsky (in exile from 1905 revolution)
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Causes of 1905 Revolution

Why did the 1905 Revolution happen?

Long-term discontent and short-term triggers:

  • Russo-Japanese war (1904-5)
    • Japan defeated Russia due to its old fashioned military techniques.  Russian people were angry because they believed they would easily beat Japan. 
    • Catalyst for revolution: war exacerbated economic problems, causing food shortages and unemployment.  
  • Bloody Sunday
    • Masacre of unarmed protestors (workers and family) in St Petersberg led by priest; Father Gapon to bring a petition (signed by 150000) to the Tsar.  It was to have an 8 hour working day, the right to organise trade unions and a constitution to guarantee in other freedoms in law 
    • Over 100 protesters were killed and many more injured

Anger spread across the whole of Russia and strikes broke out in St Petersberg, quickly spreading to other cities.  Peasant uprisings spread and demands for political reform increased

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The Events of the 1905 revolution

  • Potemkin Mutiny - 14th June 1905
    • Sailors faced harsh conditions on the ship. Crewmen like Matyushenko planned to lead a mutiny: Black Sea fleet that would link up with the peasants to take down the Tsar.
    • After complaints about bad meat, workers and sailors continued to disobey orders.  When an officer shot a sailor the Potemkin Mutiny began.  Sailors overtook the ship (imprisoning and shooting officers) and sailed it into Oddesa where strikes and protests took place.
  • Peasant rebellions 
    • Across countryside, peasants rioted against landlords and burnt their houses, sometimes killing them.  The peasants created communes by taking the land that their parents and grandparents had worked as servants.
  • Strikes in the City 
    • Industrial workers used strikes to achieve their aims. Over 400'000 workers on strike in Jan 1905 alone!)
    • General Strike (20th Sept - 2nd Oct).  Workers from all industries joined strike - without them Russia couldn't function.  Linked workers with middle-class liberals who wanted political reform.  
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Setting Up the Soviet Unions

Setting up Soviets

  • Council of workers set up in Oct 1905 - help organise general strike in city.  Other soviets set up in other cities to organise strikes.
  • St. Petersberg Soviet (lasted Sept- early Dec: govenrment shut it down) - wasn't responsible for general strike but was a very important development: idea of workers soviets for organising resistance.

Revolution also became improtant again in 1917, as did the chairperson of the St. Petersberg Soviet - Lev Trotsky

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Why did Nicholas II survive the 1905 Revolution

  • October Manifesto (October 1905) - Passed laws to appeal to the middle class: 
    • Create a Duma which would approve new laws, Civil rights, Political parties could exist and Legalising trade unions 
    • This appealed to the middle class - general strike was called off
  • Repression under Stolypin 
    • Setting up military courts: he could sentence and hang offendors on the spot (60k opponments killed or exiled)
    • Repression of public:- Russians forced to carry passports, freedom of press had been promised by Tsar but there was still little freedom.

Divided Opposition - Workers, peasants, liberal middle classes etc didn't combine forces to make effective opposition. 

  • General Strike lacked strategic planning
  • Liberals appealed by October Manifesto
  • Activities of SD + SRs limited: SDs split into 2 groups in 1903.
  • The military stayed loyal to the Tsar
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Nicholas and the Dumas


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Stolypin's policy of repression and land reform

  • Land Reforms
  • Stolypin believed the commune system of farming was outdated and believed the creation of a new class of land owners would prevent the 'wealthier' peasants from revolution.
  • Peasants were allowed to leave their mir to consolidate strips of land and build a farmhouse by loaning from a land bank.
  • Also schemes to resettle peasants in Siberia where there was more land to farm. Reforms weren't properly continued after Stolypin was killed
    • However, not very effective:
  • It created a big gap between the wealthiness of the peasants, (rich became richer and poor became poorer)
  • By 1917, there was peasant unrest through Russia
  • Repression
  • Government used repressive measures to keep population in line/beat them into submission
    • Crushes opposition in city (1905)- mass arrests, beatings and executions
    • Stolypin set up military courts to sentence and hang offenders.  He also forced everyone to carry an internal passport.
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The economy and the Lena Goldfields Strike

1905-1914 - Huge expansion of industry in Russia.  Industrial production increased by 100% made Russia 4th largest producer of coal, pig iron and steel.  Major producer of oil.  

However, whilst those who owned/ran the factories became wealthier, the workers became poorer and working conditions became worse = More strikes.  

1912 Lena Goldfields Strike - Siberia: After 1905, labor movement had retreated due to the repression of the trade unions and strikes, but there was a revival of militancy from 1912.

  • Lena Goldfields massacre April 1912 - Massacre of  strikers at the Lena Goldfields in Siberia 
  • Working conditions across Lena River was terrible.  It was triggered by a gang protesting about rotten horsemeat they were supposed to eat.  This led to a strike which led through the goldfields along the Lena River. 
  • They clashed with troops, leaders were arrested and over 200 people were killed.
  • The Okhrana appeared to have acted as agents to identify the organisers of the strike.
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