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An Overview Of The 1905 Russian Revolution History Essay

During the end of 19th century, Russia was under autocratic control of Czar Nicolas Romanov. The hereditary controls in place meant that the Czar was the ultimate decision maker for the countries armies, justice system and social economic policies. The Czars control even reached as far as the Orthodox Church – where he was able to control the countries religious affairs. The Czars autocratic rule had been supported by the privileged aristocracy, who were in possession and control of the land and peasants’.

The main premise of this important aspect of 19th century Russian history – is that the working classes were asking for improvements in their standard of living and generally poor conditions of their lives. When the Czarist government failed to respond to their demands the proletariat revolted, this was initially an unfocused, yet ever growing and organic social response; without which– the change in cultural regard for the Czar, as the “father of the nation” would never have changed – this presents as a precursor to the concept of revolution in 1905 . Therefore my argument is based on the fact that; socialising the concept of revolution was as important as the physical actions: as such if the following events had never taken place, nor would the 1917 revolution.

Source One - Nicolai Tolstoy made an open address to Czar Nicolas, which was published in 1902 – this statement clearly articulates the need for change, going as far as stating that the government maintained it ruled by violence.

“The rural population grow even poorer, on these 100 Million people is the power of Russia based, and yet famine is their normal condition. All classes are dissatisfied with the government and are openly hostile to it. Autocracy is a hopeless outdated form of government. That us why is impossible to maintain this form of government, except by Threat”

Russia entered a state of war with Japan on 8 February 1904. Little did the Czar or the government realise that this would be the catalyst for a series of failures that would permanently alter the Russian people’s views on Monarchy and Political leadership.

The Russo-Japanese War was a disaster for the Czar and his government. When Port Arthur fell in what Czar Nicolas saw as the most ignoble fashion- this was because the Japanese issued a declaration of war - however, just some three hours before Japan's declaration of war was officially received by the Russian Government, the Japanese Navy attacked the Russian Fleet at Port Arthur, and then commenced to decimate the Russian Fleet. This audacious move effectively, determined the outcome of the Russo-Japanese War. The Russian armies were also defeated on the battlefields because they were ill-equipped, and poorly trained. Corruption was rife and the ineptitude of the government was exposed by the management of the war. Basics such as bread saw prices increase exponentially – the transport system was failing, and the Czarist government was now totally discredited, in the eyes of the Russian people. The social discontent of the Russian people reached almost boiling point; as a consequence, social and labour unrest in St. Petersburg grew and developed – predominately due to the highly elevated prices of food and other daily necessities, but also because Russia was now a discredited power in the world and the stigma of military failure was felt by the Russian military returning home, and this was socialised to the masses.

On January 22, 1905, Father Gapon an orthodox Priest led a group of workers to the gates of the Winter Palace. They presented a petition calling for political changes, entailing an elected Duma, freedom of speech and an assembly; they also called for guarantee of fair trials and an amnesty for political prisoners – on the basis that the Russian secret services were actively arresting any political agitators. The petition was signed by 135,000 persons.

Source Three: The petition from the workers of St Petersburg on Sunday the 9th January 1905. This clearly shows that the rights they were fighting for were some of the more basic human rights, such as working conditions, and wages - also their political rights and the repression of these rights; to form any political or social organisation opposed to the current government policies:

“We ask for the reduction of the working day to eight hours, and the fixing of the wages rates in consultation with us, the investigation of our grievances against factory managements, an increase in the daily rate for skilled men and woman to one rouble. Neither we nor the rest of the Russian people enjoy a single human right, nor the right to speak or think or to meet together to discuss our needs”

Gapon was supported by approximately 150,000 people – they marched as a peaceful and orderly crowd. Suddenly and without provocation, the guards of the Winter Palace opened fired on the crowd, estimates of the day state that more than a hundred peaceful protestors were killed, and many more injured. After this bloody slaughter, the Russian people ever increasing loss of faith in the Czar (the Father of the people) was without precedence. this can be viewed as a significant contribution to the growing revolutionary culture that was being self propagated within the working classes.

In August 1905, the Czar was forced by his government to make concessions. A Duma with advisory power only , was implemented - however as they could not make any legislative changes, (the Czar still had final say) it was a empty gesture: this certainly did not suit everyone, as such only the right-wing liberals were content with the Duma, as it represented little change to the status quo. To the peasants, the concept of political concessions meant very little – they were unable to vote, and were still disenfranchised from the system. Riots continued, as the peasants seized land from the landowners – the momentum for social, political change was now in full swing, although headless, as there was no central point of control.

There was a non coordinated wave of strikes from September 20 to October 30, 1905. The speed of the strikes undoubtedly stunned the revolutionaries. The strikers were organised by the discontented working classes their self’s, and not by any coordinated revolutionary groups. The strikers then established soviets, also known as workers’ councils to coordinate the protests and strikes. Soviets were formed first in St. Petersburg, followed by Moscow and other less centralised industrial centres. The Bolsheviks and Mensheviks tried to control the workers' movement by challenging for the leadership and control of the soviets. The soviets were at this point mainly under Mensheviks' influence. This was the first, fundamental and socially impacting working class strike in Russian history – furthermore it added impetus to the socialising of the concept of revolution. The whole country was paralysed – these uncoordinated yet decisive actions were an accumulated response from the people; for the people.

Source Two: Of a senior Russian official concerning the situation is early 20th century Russia, published in 1904. This statement was prophetic is terms of the violence that would occur politically and socially due to the repression of the people:

“The end will be that terror from above that will awaken from below, that peasants revolts will break out and assassinations will increase.

Having said that, we are a rich country with all possible resources. We are simply ill governed and prevented from unlocking our resources”

The government advisers of the Czar convinced that the situation was becoming uncontrollable urged the Czar to implement a constitution on October 30, 1905. The Czar agreed to sign a new Manifesto detailing specific fundamental civil liberties: which included freedom of speech, of the people and the press, a free and elected assembly, the freedom to worship and freedom from arbitrary arrest; there were also freedom for political liberties: Ultimately the creation of a elected Duma with legislative power – for the first time, Russia became a constitutional monarchy, although the change in social attitude to the Czar had changed so much it was enviable that the working classes and intelligentsia were not satisfied.

The political parties shared the same definitive goal of overthrowing the existing order; there were however still deep seated ideological and social barriers that divided them from one another. The Mensheviks, the Bolsheviks, the Liberals, and the Social Revolutionaries had quite different political objectives. In 1905 the common consensus of each political party ( excepting the liberals) were similar in that they wanted the removal of the autocratic regency – this allowed the Czarist government to conquer and divide –suppressing any real coordinated attempts to undermine or over throw any real threat.

Ultimately the driving force of the 1905 Revolution were the masses – this people power represented the social cultural revolution – the need for change was driving forward the thinking and actions of the masses and they could not be turned aside. The fact that there was politically total disarray could not stop the revolutionary objectives of the people. The Liberals did not include social and economic reforms in their political objectives. The political objectives of the Social Democrats advocated the institution of a Socialist State, achieved by a class struggle – however the working classes did not related or understand this concept; their minds concentrated on the immediate need to better the economical struggle that was their daily lives. The Social Revolutionaries were more radical, and advocated the nationalisation of land, but this did not resonate within the working classes as they just wanted the land divided up and given to the peasants that had worked these large estates amongst their selves.

In conclusion Russia now had a parliament – however more than anything the concept of revolution had been successfully socialised - the events of 1905 accumulatively provided a powerful unstoppable influence in awakening the Russian peoples out of their inertia.

The events of 1905 saw millions of Russian and non Russian people (uprisings in Ukraine districts of Kharkov and Poltava) in the cities and villages actively take place in revolutionary activities. The abject military failures of the Russian- Japanese caused shortage of the most basic of foods - In the cities, in the country, workers became organised -they formed soviets, which were comprised of men and woman elected by co-workers of various factories. They even acted as an effective government for a short period of time. The St. Petersburg Soviet ordered the workers to refuse to pay their taxes, and the Moscow Soviet ordered the workers to go on general strike. The peasants also formed a nationwide Peasant Union. Therefore the 1905 Revolution was more than just a dress-rehearsal of the 1917 Revolution; it was the fundamental building blocks needed to change social and cultural attitudes to the Czar, and the autocracy that had been in place for over 500 years.

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