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The Outbreak Of Revolution 1905 In Russia History Essay

Info: 3641 words (15 pages) Essay
Published: 1st Jan 2015 in History

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The term ‘economically backward’ refers to countries which are both economically and socially below the average standard of development, the average standard is worked out by comparing how developed different countries in the world are. Therefore, it is apparent the Russia could have been described as ‘economically backward’ due to it only just beginning to industrialise while the rest of the world was already well on it’s way, in particular those in the East, in terms of it’s level of development as a country. The first indication of revolt within Russia was the Decembrist revolt 1525, these events could be factors as to why Revolution broke out in 1905 and as to how Tsardom was eventually overthrown. The Emancipation of the Serfs 1861 is a main focus and there are many reasons as to why it took so long for revolution to occur after this, one being the assassination of Alexander II and therefore the consequent taking over from a new ruler, the assassination is an indicator of the public’s opinion within Russia.

According to Orlando Figes one immediate cause for the outbreak of revolution in 1905 is the Russo-Japanese war 1904. It is said the Plehve planned this war as ‘a little victorious war to stem the revolution’

However it is also argued by Harrison E. Salisbury that it was Nicholas II who thought that going to war would be a good thing for Russia, he assumed that the prospect of possible success might take away the public’s general discontent towards him, therefore being beneficial to him personally and creating a more peaceful atmosphere within Russia and therefore making the prospect of an outbreak of revolution less likely.

Russia and Japan both wanted control of Korea and Manchuria mainly due to trade reasons, they were rich in resources and their locations were useful. Russia already had some territory in the East, the factor which allowed this ‘economically backward’ country to do this was their first step towards developing their country, the Trans-Siberian Railway 1891.

The extent to which the development helped Russia is debatable, of course, it improved transportation of goods and therefore trade also, being a huge help to life internally in Russia. However, in terms of the Russo-Japanese war, the railway was used to send necessities and ammunition to help the troops, although this made the process faster than it would have been 10 years previously, it was still much slower than the way in which Japan worked internally, therefore demonstrating that although Russia had obviously taken steps to further itself, it was still behind economically compared to other countries such as Japan.

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In modern times, Japan was the first Asian power to defeat a European power, this was most certainly due to Russia’s level of economic backwardness compared to it’s competitor, Japan. When the war began with the Japanese attack on Port Arthur, Nicholas made the assumption the Russia would of course be victorious. Nicholas finally was showing signs of positive leadership causing patriotism to be felt in high levels. ‘Never before had the Russian people in all it’s raw mass shown so clearly it’s love for the Tsar and it’s Fatherland. Even though revolutionary thoughts and groups had already been formed in 1904, this support shows the influence of the Tsar and therefore the autocracy has over the people of Russia, even at a time so close to the 1905 outbreak of revolution. What is surprising is the way in which the upper levels of the population behaved, they were the educated ones who were most influenced by revolutionary actions compared to any other social class, and still they whole heartedly supported the Tsar and his decision to go to war with great enthusiasm. Evidence we have of this are the many demonstrations outside the Winter Palace and the rallies of support throughout the whole country, in many different provinces. This support suggests that events in between the short period of time between this and the outbreak of revolution must have been significant enough to cause it. Another possibility is of course that these high levels of support are just an illusion and is simply the public’s wishful thinking. This could then mean that issues which were not as prominent at the time but which have built up over a number of years to an overwhelming feeling of discontent towards the autocracy, such as Russia’s economic backwardness and the Emancipation of the serfs.

The support for the war may also be a demonstration of how effective propaganda can actually be within a country to brainwash people. Making people believe that the Japanese were inferior to the Russians, and claims that the whole of Europe was being defended from ‘the yellow danger, the new hordes of mongols armed by modern technology’ [1] This quote can also link to Russia’s level economic backwardness. It confirms the claim that Japan is ahead of Russia in terms of development, Russia not being familiar with this technology causes them to view it as something unknown. They see it as something dangerous and evil and associate it with their enemies. It is not considered that the same technology may potentially be beneficial to them.

The Japanese took control of Korea eventually, and spent the whole rest of of 1904 with taking control of Port Arthur as their main focus. Port Arthur was finally surrendered to them in the early half of 1905, Russia had to surrender, as they had no way of defeating the Japanese, this is due to them being more advanced in terms of their fighting methods and technology, and Russia was unable to match this, perhaps because of their lack of development, or of new technology in this area. Another defeat for the same reasons was a few months later at Muckden.

However, despite these defeats, Russia was still persistent, and Nicholas was still planning a victory to help his standing in Russia. His intended to do so by sailing the Russian baltic fleet half way around the world to meet the Japanese, but the entire fleet was destroyed. Even with the element of surprise on their side, Russia was not advanced and therefore no match for Japan. These events turned out to be humiliating for the Tsar, especially since there had been so much emphasis on the war from the people in Russia. After being defeated a number of times, peace was decided upon and Japan took control of Korea and Southern Manchuria. Nicholas’ attempts at expansion into the far east were poor. The war did exactly the opposite of what Nicholas had hoped, it discredited him and the government in the eyes of the Russian people. The war failed in it’s main objective, which was to win support for Nicholas II and the autocracy. The discontent for the government grew in such intensity that Plehve, the minister for interior, was assassinated by a bombing. [2] One reason for this may be the public’s growing awareness of the corruption and inefficiency of the government during the Russo-Japanese war. Much of the transportation used to help in war efforts broke down, despite quite recent advancements, once again demonstrating how Russia is to an extent ‘backward’ in terms of the way it was run. Bread prices were soaring as a result of inflation, which the government did nothing to help try and reverse until it was too late. Generally, the state in Russia was declining, there seemed to be a problem with every aspect of it, and as nothing was yet being done about it, the Tsar and the government were just gaining further discredit for themselves in the eyes of the Russian people.

It can be argued that another cause of the 1905 revolution were the land problems in the countryside and the attitude peasants had towards Tsardom. In particular, the peasants were not always in favour of reforms which had taken place. On of the main reforms which did not benefit them was Alexander II’s Emancipation of the Serfs 1861, this got rid of Serfdom, which was they way in which all land in the countryside was managed, therefore the peasants’ way of life was consequently completely changed. This reform meant that all serfs were freed from their duties and obligations to their landowners and were granted area’s of the Noble’s estates for themselves. For this ownership, the peasants had to pay heavy annual sums to earn it, and in the meantime the land belonged collectively to the village communities and therefore was shared out equally between those who lived there. However, the peasants had problems with these terms; villages receiving land collectively rather than families receiving it individually meant that the size of the land given out was entirely dependent on the size of the population of a settlement. As the rural populations were becoming larger, this would mean there is less land and therefore less food to go around. The insufficient shares of land received were often infertile, therefore meaning less crops would grow. The annual sums were often heavy and it was unrealistic for the peasants to be able to pay them as they had no other source of income. The fact that this reform had not benefited the people meant that even from this early stage there was discontent felt towards the Tsar system, people did not feel they were able to put their trust in it as it had not helped them at all. Revolution did not happen until 1905 as this discontent was building up, also at these times it was mainly the peasants who were feeling this, and they were preoccupied with trying to grow their crops and get enough out of their insufficient shares of land to support their families. The peasants were made to think that they were being given more power over their lives initially, however, over time they would come to see that this way of life is not entirely beneficial to them. By giving them this one piece of power, may have been the encouraging factor to eventually lead them to want further changes within Russia. Other countries in the World had much more efficient methods of sharing their land, and had already had them in place for a number of years, the fact that Russia is only just changing it’s ways in 1861 to a method which is not entirely beneficial once again demonstrates how backward and behind they are compared to other countries of the world.

‘To an outsider’s eye, the villages from which the new industrial worker had come might seem to be sunk in backwardness, but they were not immune from change.’ [3] This suggest that the Tsar was doing all he could to try and help those in the countryside, and that his aim genuinely was to make life better for them. Russia was substantially behind in terms of economic development compared to the rest of the world in terms of how land was farmed and run. The Emancipation of the Serfs was meant to try and modernise and improve the system, in which the peasants lived, and try to improve life for them. The landowners were also not entirely happy with the terms, obviously they lost a lot of land due to it being given out to the peasants but they also lost the labour the peasants had always carried out for them for free. Many could not look after the land they did have by themselves, meaning it became infertile and not looked after, causing more land which food could potentially be grown on to be lost, and as a result many were facing large debts by 1905. This created discontent towards the Tsar due to the landowners’ position being made worse. [4] 

‘The Autocrat feared the social consequences of an uncontrolled influz into the cities, and hence made it very difficult for peasants to leave the villages’ This suggests the opposite, that the Tsar’s first reason for the Emancipation was not to help the peasants, but rather to help his own interests, this suggests he intentionally made life difficult for the peasants, and if this is true, then they have good reason to feel the discontent towards them that they do, and it is unfortunate that by the Tsar doing this he is also ensuring that they cannot revolt either. Alexander did not want the already busy cities to get out of control.

There are also views to suggest that he did want to help though, due to the rising rural populations it is possible that he had a real desire to make things better in Russia, both through the Emancipation, attempting to make life better in the countryside, and by stopping the peasants flooding into the cities, so that they would not get out of control. Was it really possible for him to do both of these things peacefully and whilst keeping everyone happy. ‘For five years he had fought inertia and obstruction to bring freedom to the peasants. That his efforts should have been misinterpreted and produced such violence and misery in it’s wake embittered him.’ [5] However, the fact that this is not Alexander’s only reform perhaps shows it is possible he had a real desire to change Russia for the better. He made a number of changes to the government and modernised the legal system, allowing there to be open trials. He introduced the national conscription service, abolished military colonies, relaxed censorship within Russia, and attempted to widen the basis of entry into secondary schools. He created town councils who were to be elected by the residents of each area and who were responsible for the general welfare of that area. This meant that Russians got a taste for governing themselves and for having more freedom to live as they wished, this was not necessarily a good thing for Tsardom as it may act as a triggering factor for the eventual challenge to the rule of the Tsar and the Revolution in Russia.

The peasants having insufficient land meant that they were not happy with the way they were living; it sparked a series of revolts. The peasants were of the opinion that the land was a gift from God and so they resented having to pay for something they considered to be rightfully theirs to begin with. Also landowners having no labour and being seriously in debt meant that all groups were against the Tsar and his actions. Economic Backwardness was the reason all changes were put into place, to try and develop Russia further in a number of ways, so it led to these factors which helped lead Russia to the revolution.

Famine within the countryside was a big factor in changing the attitudes of the peasants. These extreme circumstances only intensified the discontent felt towards the Tsar. The famine in 1891 meant that many were facing starvation in the summer. The crops which had been planted had not had time to begin growing before the frost came in the winter. The shortage was so severe that a large number of peasants believed that ‘God had singled them out for particular punishment’ [6] By the autumn, the threat of famine had spread, with around 20 provinces being in danger, this is an area double the size of France and with a population of thirty six million people. Peasants tried to flee where they could, but this only resulted in roads and trails becoming blocked with carts. Besides, there was nowhere for them to go, and most would not leave their homes. Due to the extreme conditions cholera and typhus spread, this is another demonstration of Russia’s backwardness, there were not the correct medical resources to deal with the diseases. Due to this, half a million people died by the end of 1892. Obviously, it was hard for the government to attempt to deal with these problems, they were not equipped to deal with a disaster of this size. As a result of the lack of help coming from the government, rumours began to be conjured up as to reasons why this would be. It was said that they were purposefully withholding food packages until they had statistical proof that people had no other way to feed themselves, however, by this time it was often too late to save people. The Government’s help came too slowly to save peasants and so the general impression was that the government was too slow and didn’t really care about helping the people. Anti-government feeling was intensified during this time, and as a result the peasants took part in a series of riots. The famine had proved the incapability of the old regime in place of Russia, and as a result people began to expect more and became more and more critical, up until the point in 1905 when they demanded change.

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Russia suffered a series of defeats in the Russo Japanese war. The Russian army was much larger than the Japanese, so theoretically it would have a high chance of success. However, this was not the case. Russia was defeated due to it’s armies being ill equipped, poorly trained and also the condition and inadequacy of transport, This demonstrates that although Russia has taken some kind of step to ‘better’ itself, it was still not as advanced as would be expected, meaning that it was most definitely ‘economically backward.

The Emancipation of the Serfs played a role in the happening of the revolution, however, it built up discontent for the Tsar, and allowed for this to build up over the years until it was felt overwhelmingly by the majority of the population. Economic Backwardness led to the attempted changes of Alexander II such as the Emancipation of the Serfs, these changes resulted in discontent for the tsar being felt from the peasants and the previous landowners, this was the majority of the population in the countryside. The Emancipation contributed much more to the revolution than the Russo Japanese war, the war only highlighted the factors which were wrong within Russia to the people. The Emancipation was the beginning of all the discontent within Russia, people did not act at the time because they were not in a position to be able to.

Economic Backwardness is the cause which sparked all the factors which contributed to the 1905 revolution, therefore, it is of great importance.

Evaluation of Sources

A People’s Tragedy, The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 – Orlando Figes:

This was a useful source for me, it starts early and explains all the factors which consequently triggered both revolutions. Orlando Figes is of the opinion that the revolution was able to take place due to Russia’s position at the beginning of the century, consequently, sunk in economic backwardness. He believes that because of the discontent towards the autocracy, revolution must have been inevitable to happen at some point over it’s history, or it would never have ended up progressing. Figes writes as though his book is absolutely definitive, when of course there are many views on the Revolution and not all of them agree. He is a university lecturer in History at Cambridge, and therefore is able to explain the topic in great detail, however this does not mean that his view is the correct one to deal with the happenings within Russia.

Black Night, White Snow, Russia’s Revolutions 1905-1917 – Harrison E. Salisbury:

This book is directly focussed towards specific information regarding the 1905 revolution only, it focuses mainly on the events rather than their causes. To some extent, this book is quite descriptive at times. Salisbury worked for the New York Times as well as writing several books on Russia, due to this he may be more ready to accept other people’s views and to be more open that his views are not necessarily true. He takes many views into account, and therefore is more likely to be reliable as he is taking into account other views as well as his own.

The Romanovs 1818-1959 – John Van Der Kiste:

Although this book does not go into the details of the causes of the revolutions in Russia, I used it to gain further information on the Tsars to get a better understanding of their positions and their reasons for doing the things they did. Admittedly, I did not use this for every Tsar, but I found it especially useful when dealing with Alexander II, and was able to add information into my study about him and his attitudes towards his reforms. John Van Der Kiste tells not only of the Tsar’s actions but of their feelings towards them, and their opinions on the actions of each other, it shows also how they were influenced by a number of factors, such as the actions of the ruler before them and the wishes of the families.

The Shadow of the Winter Palace, The Drift to Revolution 1825-1917 – Edward Crankshaw:

This book contained much useful information about the revolution, and also focussed on the actions of Tsar Nicholas. It keeps a neutral standing between the people of Russia and it’s rulers. It tells of Russia’s expansion into Asia, the impact of the Russo-Japanese war and the economic problems caused by serfdom influenced the country.


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