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revolution of 1905

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At the turn of the twentieth century, Russia was a curious society, still stratified

into nobility and peasantry. The Russian people seemed to be as immovable as

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the dark ground which they farmed, welded to the ground by centuries of

struggle. While the Europeans fought political battles, the Russians wrestled

against the cold and starvation. Four decades earlier, Czar Alexander II signed

the “Emancipation Manifesto” which freed the serfs from ownership by the

nobles.1 He had hoped to finally bring Russia out of the dark ages.


bureaucracy continued to elevate the peasants by making all classes of society

equal under the law and increasing the availability of education.2 Nevertheless,

the Dark People of Russia remained in their darkness, understanding little

besides their own existence in the context of their communes. The commune

oriented nature of the Russian peasants made Russia a prime target for

Marxist revolutionaries. The uniquely backward culture of Russia spawned a

singularly Russian form of Marxism, Narodnichestvo.

Russian intellectuals of

the 19th century felt that the socialist revolution must come from the uprising of

the rural peasant masses, rather than through the proletariat of the cities. The

peasants were remarkably unreceptive to revolutionary agitators. They were

blind to events outside of their own commune. More often than not, the

agitators were run out of town by suspicious peasants. 3 By 1900, the remnants

of the Narodonik philosophy had melted into the Social Republican party. 4 The

“Emancipation Manifesto” had marked the beginning of the end for the nobility.

Deprived of their serfs and unable to gain any power in the government, the

Nobles were forced to sell off their land, little by little, to support their lifestyle.

For a government supported by nothing more than the momentum of history

and tradition, the decline of the nobility foreshadowed the destruction of the

autocracy. At the turn of the century, the Czar had very little support outside

his own bureaucracy. Young Nicholas II, heir to the throne in the late 1800’s,

inspired hope in those rallying for governmental reform. Zemstvos and volosts,

local governments elected by nobles and peasants, hoped that Nicholas would

at least allow these legislatures to have an advisory function for the Czar. 5

They were sadly disappointed once Nicholas II ascended the throne. Upon the

death of Alexander III, the zemstvo of Tver petitioned Nicholas II to allow

local representative bodies “to express their opinion on questions of concern to

them, in order that. . . the Russian people might reach the height of the throne.

. .”. Nicholas replied, “I am extremely astonished and displeased with this

inappropriate d’emarcheellipses” 6 To add injury to insult, more than 2000

people were trampled to death early one morning in a massive gathering of

over 700,000 people for the coronation festivities. 7 Nicholas II did not let this

tragedy interrupt his celebration, against the bitter opposition of other members

of the royal family. 8 Despite the disappointment of the intellectuals and the

bloody coronation, Nicholas II remained popular with the general population. A

tight control of printed material and a diligent campaign to send revolutionaries

into Siberian exile led most Socialist groups into decline. The Social

Republicans, with a faith in the popular will of the people, were able to inspire

nothing beyond the assassination of minor officials. This terrorism worked

against their political goals, by giving the government reason to increase its

crack down on the organization (it also inspired a once popular phrase among

Russian chess-players for poor chess moves, “polozhenie khuze

gubernatorskoe”, which is literally, “that position is worse than that of a

governor). 9 What was to become the most successful Socialist party, the

Social Democrats, arose out of an underground organization set up to distribute

the Marxist newspaper, Iskra (“The Spark”). 10 Among its chief editors were

Lenin and Plekhanov. The Russian Social Democratic Worker’s Party officially

began with a congress held in Brussels, in 1903. Dramatic differences of

opinion as to how the party should operate soon arose, and a second congress

was convened in London. Out of this, the party essentially split into Mensheviks

(the minority) and Bolsheviks (“Majority Men”). 11 While the Mensheviks and

Bolsheviks struggled to unite the Social Democrats, Nicholas II was busy

insulting Japan, hoping to start a war. Nicholas allowed the advice of his more

competent advisors to be drowned out by the flattery of his incompetent uncle,

the Viceroy of the Far East and by vain imperial ambitions. 12 The cautious

and competent Minister of the Interior, Witte was replaced by the more

agreeable Pleve, an experienced policeman. Nicholas allowed tension to

develop, until Japan had no other choice than to go to war. Pleve felt that a

“small victorious war” would arouse patriotism and help relieve domestic

pressures. Unfortiantly, Russia’s single-track, Trans-Siberian railroad could not

provide sufficient supplies across 5,500 miles. 13 Furthermore, it was still over

a year from completion. 14 The Czar’s ministers eventually convinced Nicholas

that war with Japan would be a disaster, but it was too late to stop. News of

Japan’s attack on the Russian fleet reversed whatever momentum the

revolutionaries had been building. Rumors began circulating that the Japanese

fleet had been sunk. A large group of students from St. Petersburg University

marched to the Winter Palace, serenading the Czar with hymns of “God Save

the Czar” and “Holy Russia”, interspersed with cheers, “Hail to the Russian

Army”, “Long Live Russia” and “Hail to the Czar”. From there, the procession

marched through St. Petersburg, gathering support from all classes of society

and walks of life. These patriotic demonstrations spread through other cities,

uniting the country in a common emotion. The Czar was not aware of his

unanimous support. He was caught up in the midst of the dire predictions of his

advisors, warning him that this war may cost him his throne. 15 Where

Nicholas II was unaware of the national sentiment, the leaders of the Social

Democrats were doubly so. Lenin became the leader of the Bolsheviks, hoping

to unite the party in a military power structure, comprised by only completely

devoted revolutionaries. Trotsky lead the Mensheviks, promoting a more open

party, permissive of discussion and debate within itself. The debate between

Lenin and Trotsky employed all of their energies. Mention of the

Russo-Japanese War is all but absent from Lenin’s writings. The battle

between the two factions became so severe that Lenin had a nervous

breakdown. Lenin spent the critical months of the war hiking on deserted trails

in Switzerland. 16 To state it kindly, the war did not go well for the Czar. The

Baltic fleet was sent to reinforce the Pacific fleet. They were delayed by the

long trip around Africa. War with Britain was narrowly avoided after the fleet

accidently sunk a group of British fishing boats in the North Sea, mistaking

them for Japanese torpedo boats. When the fleet finally arrived in the Pacific,

there was nowhere to refuel or to clean the hulls. 17 One after another,

Russian ships were sunk or critically damaged by Japanese torpedoes. 18

Russian strategy was foiled by the early death of a series of admirals. The

patriotic mood of the Russian people did not last long when the truth of the war

became clear. Witte, the ex-Minister of the Interior, was called upon to

negotiate a settlement with the Japanese. He managed to end Russia’s

humiliation quickly, with only a minor loss of territory to the Japanese. Rural

peasants remained indifferent to national affairs. They could not be made to

hate anything that they could not see. Revolutionaries were forced to recognize

that revolution from below, from the unanimous uprising of the dark masses,

would be impossible. Lenin realized that the workers in the cities were his only

hope. He toiled to accomplish the revolution by any means possible, even if it

meant sacrificing ideals in the short term. Discontent with the Czar’s leadership

increased greatly in the cities, during the Russo-Japanese war. The largely

defunct Bolshevik organization in St. Petersburg blossomed with new

members. Most dramatic, however, was the incredible development of the

movement lead by a monk, known as Father Gapon. Beginning in 1902, the

police had been trying to promote the organization of unions. Trepov, the police

chief, theorized that by focusing the attention of the workers against capatilists

and bourgeoisie, anti-government sentiment would be quelled. Father Gapon

began his career as a pawn of the police. After the war, his movement

gathered enough strength to exist without police support. When four members

of Gapon’s union were fired and the company refused to negotiate, a massive

strike snowballed through St. Petersburg. Gapon instantly became the

movement’s charismatic and independent leader. Between January 3rd and 7th,

1905, St. Petersburg was paralyzed by Gapon’s strike, involving between

140,000 and 150,000 people. Socialist parties were still met with skepticism by

the workers, however Gapon allowed them to espouse their ideas in his

meetings. The demands of the strikers grew to include political goals, in

addition to the standard union demands. Father Gapon decided that the most

effective means of delivering their petition to the Czar was by assembling in

mass, in front of the Winter Palace. Gapon drew up the worker’s petition with

a moving description of the suffering of the workers. It stated that their main

goal was to obtain public representation in the government. The petition also

asked for freedom of the press, the establishment of a public education system,

improved working conditions, the legalization of labor unions, and a minimum

wage. It ended with a sadly prophetic final paragraph, 19 . . . We have only

two roads open to us: one leading to freedom and happiness, the other to the

grave. Let our life be a sacrifice for suffering Russia. We do not regret this

sacrifice. We offer it willingly. George Gapon, Priest Ivan Vasimov, Worker

Perhaps as many as 50,000 people assembled in various parts of St.

Petersburg, before sunrise, on the chilly morning of January 22, 1905. Father

Gapon’s group, in the lead, bore a large portrait of the Czar and smaller ones of

his family, as well as an assortment of religious banners and icons. In large,

prominent letters, a banner read, “Do not fire on the people!” They sang, as

they walked, “Save us, Oh Lord, Thy People.” Gapon met no resistance until

they arrived at the Narva gates to the palace. Alerted of the rally, officials

panicked, fearing a replay of the French Revolution. A bugle sounded. Calvary

stormed through the gate, swinging around, dividing the crowd into two halves.

Confused, the procession proceeded slowly towards the gates. Without

warning, a second bugle sounded, and infantry stationed on an adjacent bridge

fired on the crowd. Horrified and unbelieving, a police officer named

Zhultrevich shouted, “What are you doing? How can you fire on a holy

pilgrimage and portrait of the Czar?” A moment later he too was struck down

by a bullet. The elderly workers carrying the portraits fell. Gapon himself fell to

the street, struck by the body of one killed beside him. The crowd dispersed in

a confused panic, some standing firm in defiance, while others fled towards the

surrounding streets. 20 Other such groups throughout St. Petersburg met

similar action, that morning. Everywhere, the words “ready. . . aim. . . fire”

were repeated, and unbelieving, horrified crowds broke apart. A slogan from

the previous night’s rally must have been echoing in many minds, “If the Czar

does not receive us. . . Then we have no Czar!” 21 Between 800 and 1000

people had been killed the morning of January 22nd. 22 The Russians had

finally been awakened; the Czar’s historical momentum, his only support, was

exhausted. Through the following months, universities closed down. Many

government officials were assassinated, with little popular

counter-revolutionary disgust. In Poland, the Russian language was

successfully boycotted. In the Caucasus, Christian Armenians and Tartar

Moslems joined in civil war against the Russians. 23 Mutinies within the

military occurred. Most notably, the crew of the pride of the Black Sea fleet,

the Potemkin threw their officers overboard, and attempted to help

revolutionaries in St. Petersburg. The Czar remained as isolated in his own

world as each peasant commune was to its own. In his diary, Nicholas wrote,

“A terrible day. Troops had to fire in many places of the city, there were many

killed and wounded. . .”, unknowing that the people had actually amassed to

meet him. Likewise, Lenin remained out of touch with Russia through the

summer and into the autumn. In October, the country erupted into a unanimous

strike against the Czar. Over the course of a few weeks, everyone from stock

brokers to the Mariinsky corps de ballet quit working. The strike radiated out

from St. Petersburg, to every large city, crippling the country. The police and

military were powerless to operate, because no trains were in operation. By

October 17th, Nicholas II’s leadership was frantic. 24 Suppressing the

unanimous revolt of an entire nation was impossible. On October 30th, the Czar

signed the October Manifesto, a document drafted by Witte, granting freedom

of speech and assembly, and the creation of the State Duma, an elected

legislature with veto power over the Czar. 25 The revolution was complete; the

autocratic rule by the Romanovs, almost three hundred years long, had come to

an end. Through the following years, the Duma became a stage for the legal

publication of Marxist ideas. The population returned to quiescence, but each

year brought an increase to the representation of revolutionary parties in the

Duma. History shows us that any great event or revolution can not be the

result of any single person or happening. The Revolution of 1905 was the result

of the sum of Russia’s history. As such, it becomes more than the mere

installment of a constitution, (which was never obeyed, anyway) it was the

awakening of a people to a world that had passed them by. In the cities, a

spark of light was racing through the Dark People. The Revolution of 1905

awoke the sleeping population of Russia, paving the way for the Revolution of

Cite this revolution of 1905

revolution of 1905. (2018, Aug 18). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/revolution-of-1905-essay/

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