Opposition to the Tsars

Opposition to Tsardom


An Introduction:

Alexander III’s ‘reaction period’ continued under the rule of his son Nicholas II. It oppressed but did not destroy opposition and despite greater police surveillance, opposition became more organised and a bigger range of political parties came into being during his period. Factors such as industrialisation, urbanisation, an increasing population and economic depression contributed in undermining the social order and stability of the regime.


The war with Japan presented the government with an opportunity to divert attention from domestic problems and rebuild the prestige of the monarchy. However, the opposite happened. The humiliating defeat was blamed directly on the governments inept handling of the war effort. It was no coincidence that workers, peasants and middle class liberal chose the same time to join together in the 1905 ‘Revolution’.


Nicholas II was forced to make a series of concessions. In the October Manifesto, he gave into the demands for the creation of a Duma. Yet, his lack of commitment to the concept of a constitutional reform was indicated by the quick introduction of the ‘Fundamental Laws’ and the political repression that followed the events of 1905. The government lead by Stolypin was ruthless in crushing political opposition. But strikes and demonstrations continued and by 1914 many reformists had begun to consider violence.


Until the issuing of the October Manifesto, political parties were illegal in Russia. This had not prevented their existence but had had the effect of forcing their activities underground. They resulted in extreme methods in sharing their ideas as they were prevented from developing in any other way. As a result, during 1905 till 1921, the Russian political parties proved generally to be highly suspicious and intolerant of each other. This made co-operation and collective action difficult to organise and sustain.


The Populists:

Began in the 1870s as a revolutionary movement which believed that the future of Russia lay in the hands of the nation’s peasantry. Believed that the peasants were the largest social group in Russia and would take lead in in transforming the country by overthrowing the tsarist system. The populists were not members of the peasantry themselves but from middle and upper classes. They saw it as their duty to educate the peasants and therefore prepare them doe the revolution which they would lead. This involved going to the people. Educated populists from universities went to the countryside to show the peasantry the idea of revolution but this wasn’t a success as they didn’t understand or did not accept the message given to them.


Some populists turned to terrorism as a way in achieving their aims. In 1879, a group called The People’s Will was founded with the intention of murdering members of the ruling class. This group had no more than 400 members and was responsible for the assassination of Alexander II in 1881. 


Base of Support:Peasantry and Industrial Workers

Aims:A constituent Assembly – Democratic Socialist Republic

Tactics:Propaganda, Terrorism (Assassinations)

Successful:Assassination tactic gave revolutionaries strength, attracted the intelligentsia (deprived the government) and arguably delayed reforms.

Unsuccessful:Assassination of


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