Before 1905, Russia was a country that was led by a Czar who held full power and control over the country and its inhabitants. The people of the country suffered greatly under the regime of the many of the Czars through reforms, incompetence and general disregard of the needs of the people. Repression and unrest with the peasants in Russia were the cause on the 1905 Russian Revolution.
There were many causes of the 1905 Russian Revolution in which some can be traced back to 1861 under the rule of Czar Alexander II and his series of reforms, such as, the Emancipation of the serfs, and creating the Zemstva1. The Emancipation of the serfs was a reform which allowed serfs the freedom of civil rights and allowed them to own land2. There were many problems with this reform. The peasants paid more money to the monarchy than they did to landlords, and nobles kept the best lands for themselves resulting in the peasants to have land which was difficult to farm3. The reform, which was intended to help the peasants and help industrialize the country, did not actually help the peasants at all but increased their impoverish state. With an increase of population, land prices rose while income wages were kept low4.
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With the growth of Industrialization, the peasants were forced to find jobs in factories, and with the building of railways they were able to travel great distances for work5. This aided in an increase in literacy as items such as books and news papers were more accessible to peasants. The governmental body, the Zemstava was established in 1864 and held responsibilities such as social welfare6. The Zemstava consisted of intellects such as doctors, teachers, nurses and lawyers who often opposed intellectual values of the state. Some members of the Zemstava even had thought of a constitutional monarchy in place of a ruling Czar7. Due to these liberal changes where elected people we given some power, people began to think they could question the authority of the Czar. These reforms, along with other reforms, were still not solving the problems for the people within Russia. The people were still quite discontented and within intellectual classes and secret societies began to for8.
When Alexander II died in 1881, his son Alexander III took the throne. In 1891 a great famine occurred, due to rapid industrial growth. During this crisis the Czar displayed incompetence and ill regard towards the peasants that made up the majority of the Russian population9. The government attempted to deal with the famine and mass starvation, but was slowed down by its bureaucracy and a transportation system that was unable to cope10. Politically, it was a disaster as it presented the government as irresponsible, torpid and incompetent. There were many instances that perceived the government as uncaring, as such; widespread rumors of food deliveries being held back until 'statistical proof was given11 showing the people were unable to feed themselves, often too late for actual help; relief work schemes set up to employ peasantry who where on their death beds; and the removal and quarantine of people who had contracted cholera, which resulted in riots from the public12. The biggest mistake the government made was the postponement of cereal exports which did not come into effect until late into the crisis. The respite of the ban was seen by the people as the main cause of the famine13. Not only did the government fail to help the people, but it was also forbidden for newspapers to publicly name the problem, even though they printed the stories anyway. November 1891, the government finally issued an imperial order asking for volunteers to help with the crisis they were unable to deal with14.
Once the crisis had passed, the people no longer trusted the government as the regime had been discredited with its inability to help the people when the people were suffering. The public began to press for a greater role in the affairs of the nation. Social groups began to reappear with great enthusiasm15. Only Marxism seemed able to explain the causes of the famine and began to become a national ideology. The 1890's seemed to become a decade of social change within the emergence of civil society that opposed the czarist state. This seems to be a condition of the upcoming revolution16. It would also seem that in 1894 when Czar Nicholas II ascended the thrown, he would lead a regime that was doomed to failure with all the problems the nation was having. This was all made worse by the loss of the Russo-Japanese war of 1904, the depression and the beliefs of the people that they were not being treated well17.
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Under the rule of Nicholas II, the people believed they were 'not being treated as human beings18 as cities grew rapidly and people were forced to live in daunting and unhealthy conditions Many people suffered from debt they were unable to rise out of, and they were exploited within their jobs. In the early 1900's depression set in and many Russians became unemployed. With the Russo-Japanese war in effect, wheat exports to the far west were stopped and the economy suffered as the Czar refused to change.19 In 1902-1903, peasant revolts became more common as strikes increased. The opposition to the Czarist state, the Social Democratic parties, the Bolsheviks, the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, became more organized. However, these groups were often not trusted by the workers who supported mutual aid schemes devised by other workers20.
The governmental scheme, the Zubatov movement was successful as it provided workers with a legal platform for protesting and allowing occasional strikes. The success of the movement worried the government about worker loyalty to the Tzar and it was shut down21. However, one still existed in 1904, led by Father George Gapon, The Assembly of Russian Working Men. At first this group was focused on forming clubs and such activities, but as time went on they became more radical. The catalyst, which led to the march on Bloody Sunday, was sparked by four members of Father Gapons association being fired from their jobs22. It expanded to a strike of over 100 000 people stopping work on 7 January 190523. The demands, the right to elect permanent representatives in factories, an eight hour work day, better wages, free medical care and access to education, were typical worker demands. The workers wanted to be treated as people with more equality, justice and dignity within the work place and end issues such as sexual harassment and ill treatment. On January 7 Father Gapon was ordered to put an end to the march. Even if he had wanted to, it would have been impossible as the people were ready to die for this cause24.
Bloody Sunday was final blow to the Russian people who after this day fully revolted against the Tsarist state. 150 000 people marched on the Winter Palace. They marched singing Hymns and patriotic songs in a peaceful state of mind.25 The people believed they would present their problems to the Tzar, and the Tzar, having an obligation to the people, would help end their miseries and solve the problems they desperately wanted solved. However, the Tzar was not even at his traditional home as he had left for some quiet time and reflection with his family26. What was intended as the people of the nation coming to their Tzar in peaceful display for help turned into a day of massacre.
During the night 12 000 soldiers were dispersed through the city in anticipation of the march and to prevent marchers from reaching the palace. As the marchers approached the Narva Gates, they were faced with the guns of the waiting infantry27. The soldiers fired two warning shots and a third gun was aimed directly at the crowd. The people panicked and some of the marchers dispersed, but most dropped to the ground. The soldiers, who were nervous, also panicked and open fired into the crowd. Estimations of the death toll ranged between 150-200 people, while 450-800 people were estimated as being injured.28 In the middle of the chaos, Father Gapon was heard exclaiming "There is no God any longer. There is no Tzar."29
After the display of ill regard towards the peasants during the march, people, much in anger, continued to strike against the regime. In January over 400 000 workers participated in a workers strike across the country. However, without an organized leader, they did not result in much success. It was known by many that that the events of Bloody Sunday where just the beginning as shown in a letter by a student named Kerensky:
"I am sorry not to have written to you earlier, but we have been living here in such a state of shock that it was impossible to write. Oh, 'these awful days' in Peter will remain forever in the memories of the people who lived them. Now there is silence, but it is also the silence before the storm. Both sides are preparing and reviewing their own forces. Only one side can prevail. Either the demands of society will be satisfied (i.e. a freely elected legislature of people's representatives) or there will be a bloody and terrible conflict, no doubt ending in the victory of the reaction." 30
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Throughout 1905, peasants continued to participate in strikes. May of 1905 is significant within the strikes as it was the the first time a strike committee called themselves 'soviets'.31 70 000 were involved in the strike and and took charge of local military and political operations.32 This was achieved through non-official elections held throughout Russia in the beginning of creating the soviets.33 As the people rebelled, cases of arson on gentry land increased, and land seizures occurred. People from all types of work joined unions that organized massive strikes. The people began to call for a constitution.34 In September unrest continued to escalate. The All Russian Peasant Union to over 100 000 members in 42 provinces. By this time Lenin was an active member and encourage the people to 'fight an uninterrupted revolution that might convene until socialism was established.'35On October 17 1905 the Czar issued the October Manifesto. This reform offered civil liberties, a state Duma and a cancellation of peasant redemption payments36. As well, a large amount of land was sold to the peasant bank for resale to peasants with easy terms. However, the Manifesto did not seem to help. Provincial leaders began to complain that the peasants took the promises of the Manifesto and seized lands as the peasants still resisted tradition authority37
The people continued to revolt. In November, the country was in full rioting. By December of 1905 army mutinies began to take affect in cities and in Odessa on the Potemkin battleship. However, by this time, the government began to repress the strikes by force. Punishments, such as public floggings and the burning of peasant villages were becoming common. Between October 1905 and March 1906, The number of strikes receded from 450 000 to 50 000 soviet strikes.38
In November, The All Russian Peasants Union met in Moscow. The Union delegates demanded a few things such as a constitutional assembly and the transfer of all landed property. The Financial Manifesto of December 1905 was signed, which called for a mass refusal to pay taxes and a demand by depositors for payments39. The regime responded by arresting the delegates. A congress of Zemstva and Town Duma representatives met and to organize a proposal to the government to restore order to the nation. The proposal was made of agrarian and legal reforms. Soon things began to settle down and people began to lose interest40.
There were many causes of the 1905 Russian Revolution as the people suffered under the regime of a Czar. Reforms,such as the Emancipation of the Serfs, creation of the Zemstva aided in the beginning of the road to revolution. Issues were intensified and the Czar showed incompetence and ill regard towards the peasants in the famine of 1891. These issues caused a lot of unrest within the peasant population of the Russian regime. The catalyst of Bloody Sunday and the response of repression through the massacre sent the country into a series of mass revolt that made up the revolution. Czar Nicholas II's repressive response was met with more rebellion from the inhabitants of the country. It wasn't until the government and Duma officials came a an agreement accepted by the regime and the people that the revolution of 1905 came to an end. However, through all these issues it remains evident that the main cause of the 1905 Russian Revolution was caused by the repression and unrest of the peasants.
1 Maureen Perrie, "The Russian Peasant movement of 1905-1907: Its social composition and revolutionary significance"
Past and Present 57 (Nov., 197):123-155
2 Perrie, 123-155
9Orlando Figes, A People's Tragedy: Russian Revolution 1891-1924 (Great Britain: Jonathon Cape, Random House, 1996), 157
16Beryl Williams, "1905 Russia" History Today 55.5 (May 2005) : p. 44-48
31Eric R Wolf, Peasant wars of the twentieth century (United States of America: First Harper Torchbook, 1969), p.85
33Robert Service, The Russian Revolution, 1900-1927 () p.31-32
35Esther Kingston-Mann, "Lenin and the challenge of Peasant Militance: From Bloody Sunday, 1905 to the dissolution of the first Duma," Russian Review, 38.5 (Oct, 1979) pp. 434-455