RUSSIA 1905 Williams, Beryl. History Today 55. 5 (May 2005): 44-51.
Hannah Arendt defines revolution as a spontaneous,
popular upheaval, during which new forms of self-government were
developed from below.
1. What were the causes of the revolution?
assumptions of the
inevitability of the collapse of tsarism,
and that the rapid growth of industry led to peasant poverty, an
agricultural crisis and a revolutionary-minded proletariat, are being
challenged. de Tocqueville
pointed out that
revolutions tend to happen at a time of an improving economy
combined with rapid and
unsettling social change rather than at a time of grinding poverty.
agricultural output was increasing. The peasantry adapted more
successfully to conditions of industrialisation
post-emancipation than had been realized. Peasants were buying and
renting land from the nobility, experimenting with new crops, growing
wheat for the export market and going into market gardening to supply
the expanding towns.
now enabled easy transport of goods and people. Young men left their
villages to work in the cities, but ninety-two
per cent of Moscow workers still had regular contact with their
villages in 1905. They had not become a full-time proletariat.
wealth, concentrated in the hands of industrialists, helped the
modernization of cities.
nascent civil society and a vibrant cultural scene were developing.
growth rate of 8 or 9 per cent throughout the 1890s
where, in December 1904, a huge strike in the oilfields led to
the first labour contract in Russian history. In some ways this event,
rather than Bloody Sunday, should be seen as the real beginning of the
However, the overall economic growth in the
1890's did not apply to everyone, or every area, of the huge empire.
set in after 1900 causing sharp price rises, reversing wage
gains, increasing unemployment, and affecting particularly the new boom
towns of the south and west
Petersburg had the reputation of being the most
expensive, worst-governed and most unhealthy city in Europe.
- peasant revolts in 1902-03, strikes
increased, and opposition movements became more
organized. The Union of Liberation, the Social Democratic party
(SDs) and the Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs)
was the character of the revolution?
Who were its leaders?
workers before 1905 ever saw a revolutionary. Revolutionary groups
functioning in Russia were often composed of students and
intellectuals, and were mistrusted by the workers.
- Workers supported government-sponsored schemes of police trade unionism. The Zubatov movement: a legal forum for
protest, even occasionally allowing strikes: the very success of
the movement worried the government, which closed it down in 1903.
precipitated the Bloody Sunday violence? (January 9th, 1905)
management of the huge Putilov works in St
Petersburg sacked four
members of Gapon's
leading to a strike, which rapidly paralysed a large section of the
George Gapon, a firm monarchist, and
his Assembly of Russian Working Men were allowed by 1904 to register
with the city governor and given considerable autonomy.
- a secret, more radical committee of 'worker assistants' within Gapon's organization was led by
Aleksei Karelin, a reformist Social Democrats who broke from the party, and got support
from workers by sticking primarily to economic rather than political
Bolsheviks had no worker on their St Petersburg committee, and their
leaflets were destroyed in the factories.
- Father Gapon brought a petition to the Winter Palace
with a list of worker demands. typical of worker demands throughout Russia in 1905.
- Economic demands: They
asked for the
right to elect permanent representatives in the factories,
who could negotiate with employers and participate in decisions on
hiring and firing of labour. They also asked for an eight-hour day
and increased wages, free medical care and access to education.
- Political demands:
a democratically elected constituent assembly, and
freedom of speech, assembly and the right to form legal
trade unions. The Union of Liberation,
composed primarily of intelligentsia and urban liberals, and the zemstvo movement of liberal landowners, were now
openly demanding political reform. The 'banquet' campaigns of November
1904 saw large meetings calling for civil liberties, an
amnesty for political prisoners and a democratically elected
constituent assembly. Gapon, spurned
by the revolutionaries when he at last approached them, turned to the
Union of Liberation, who helped to draw up the petition. Workers were
aware of the calls for a constitution, even if they did not always know
what the word meant.
Tsar's Response: petitions to the Tsar were illegal….. The police and
troops had been told by the minister of the interior to prevent the
reaching their goal, and when requests for them to halt were ignored,
the troops fired. Estimates of the death toll were hugely
exaggerated at the time, but the main Soviet source estimated 200
dead and 450-800 injured. Professor Ascher
puts it rather lower. Whatever the figures, the impact was
enormous, and the outcry, at home and abroad, deafening.
response to the international uproar, what reforms did the Tsar offer?
headed by Kokovtsov, duly proposed
concessions, which were not implemented. The other, headed by Senator
N.V. Shidlovsky, concentrated on St
Petersburg, and, although it never properly met, was to have wide
allowed workers in factories in the capital with over a hundred workers
to elect their own delegates who would in turn appoint those to sit on
the central committee.
- The immediate
response to Bloody Sunday was a wave of strikes and demonstrations
across the country. Factory committees formed at enterprise level, and by the summer trade
unions were mushrooming everywhere.
- The Leaders: Worker leaders were often local figures,
concentrating on local demands, and, even if members of the main
revolutionary parties, were successful only
so long as they concentrated on what their membership wanted. They
could be former Zubatov activists,
anarchists, leaders of existing mutual aid schemes, or nationalists in
the minority areas, or merely a local charismatic worker.
were economic, often for human rights, or more educational
opportunities or pensions, and where calls for a constituent assembly
were added, the workers often told their employers to concentrate on
the economic requests.
February 18th, the Tsar ordered A.G. Bulygin,
the new minister of internal affairs, to draw up plans for a
representative assembly on a very limited franchise, and with a
consultative role only.
How did activists push the Tsar to accept a constitutional government?
until now seen as the conservative wing of liberalism, veered sharply
to the left over 1905, calling for a legislative assembly with male
adult suffrage, and civil freedoms.
Union of Unions, a non-party organization,
which acted as an umbrella group for the thousands of newly formed
trade and professional organizations, and was headed by the Paul Milyukov), who
would lead the creation of the Kadets
(Constitutional Democrat). The Kadets
talked of universal suffrage, and some even called for a
republic and votes for women. The Kadets
had much popular support, with a radical programme
and over 350 local branches by 1906.
- From Bloody Sunday until October all sections of society
stood united against the government. Lawyers promised full solidarity,
including sanctioning the SR policy of assassinations, with the
revolutionaries, to force a constitution; white collar workers formed
trade unions and supported a general strike; doctors refused to
co-operate with the government over a cholera epidemic, and the Kadets, when the party was
founded in October, talked of universal suffrage, and some even called
for a republic and votes for women.
revolt started by the summer, with the peasants, as was clear from
their petitions, demanding land, reduction of rents and taxes, and
the abolition of redemption payments.
general strike paralysed the entire country.
- On October 13th, St Petersburg created a soviet of
workers' deputies, not the first but by far the most important. During
the general strike it effectively ran the capital, organising
its own militia, bakeries, press and sanitation. With Trotsky as one of
its leading lights, it included party members, but was mainly run by
worker delegates. By November there were over eighty
soviets across the country, including several peasant soviets and three
soldier ones. They became effective local governments on a city or
district basis, sometimes controlling the railway network around them.
Witte, back from negotiating the peace of Portsmouth with the
Japanese, convinced the tsar that concessions
were necessary. The October Manifesto essentially accepted the
main zemstvo demands, a representative
assembly with some legislative power, an extension of the Bulygin franchise to include peasants and some
workers, although on an indirect voting system, and freedom of speech,
religion and association. Above all, and this was the important
clause which was to be severely modified when the Duma met the
following April, no bill was to become law without Duma consent.
December a series of armed uprisings occurred throughout the country,
the most famous in Moscow, where the Bolsheviks took their only real
initiative of the year. It was put down, with great bloodshed, by loyal
troops brought in on the only railway line not on strike.
towns across the country soviets took control of their cities, or of
workers districts, and declared themselves 'republics', expelling
government representatives and declaring autonomy. Novorossisk,
Yekaterinoslav, Rostov and others
were all under 'people power' for a few days or weeks
until the army moved in.
- the empire fragmented as central power weakened.
- The people must help themselves and govern themselves'. At a
local level during 1905 they tried to do so. The central authorities
gradually regained control during the following months, but the demands
of 1905, and the
organizations formed during it, resurfaced twelve years later.