The disagreement between historians concerning the occurrence of an actual revolution in 1905 is arguably because of their different definitions of what can be classified as a revolution. A revolution can be defined as 1’a fundamental change or a reversal of conditions’, and this I consider is very much the case in Russia 1905. The dispute surrounding the dates however is understandably ambiguous as peasant revolts punctuated the years between 1904-1907. I consider however, that the political unrest peaked in this period in 1905, resulting from both short and long term origins.
The latter can be traced back as far as the reign of ‘Peter the Great’ and his attempts to Westernise Russia, or more recently the 2’Great reforms of the 1860’s’, concerning the judiciary, and the military but perhaps most importantly the educational system. These reforms were surprisingly successful, however they were accompanied by a changing and underlying pattern of social tensions. The short-term origins include three catalysts, Bloody Sunday, the Russo-Japanese war and finally the economic recession that gripped Russia in the early 20th century.
The repercussions of these stirred up revolutionary activity from all groups of society as violence and unrest began to surface. All these reasons I consider culminated in the revolution which would cause a ‘fundamental change’ in Russian autocracy by giving rise to the first form of a partially democratic, centralised governing body that Russia had ever seen, the Duma. The judicial system however did progress much earlier in the ‘Great reforms of the 1860’s’ via the establishment of the Zemstva, regional courts in each province which, for the first time in modern Russian history, granted a degree of representation.
The Zemstva, was the body with which the most important political group in 1905 was formed, the liberals. They benefited from the educational reforms in the 1860’s’, and the economic boom of the 1890’s saw the rapid development of this small but ambitious class of industrialists, lawyers and financiers as liberal ideas for modernisation took form. This alliance of enlightened gentry was to provide the organisational basis for a constitutional movement that was to become more radical as the regime later reacted by trying to undo the reforms and reassert firm central control.
This suggests a link between literacy and revolution, and through this connection arises the regime’s dilemma, 3’How to advance the state by educating the people without educating the people to question the state’. Some historians argue that from this point revolution in Russia was inevitable, once the people were educated they would undoubtedly question the autocratic power of the tsar and his bureaucracy. However the reformist middle classes represented only a small proportion of Russian society, in 1855 90% of Russians were peasants.
The emancipation of the serfs in 1861, in order to produce an influx of migrant labourers to further Russia’s industrialisation, may have removed Russia’s moral blot but it created great unease for the Tsar. The regime was reluctant to grant freedom to a group in society who they felt they held little control over, since Russian history was punctuated by revolting peasants, they were viewed as ‘dark, brooding masses’ on the brink of rebellion.
The emancipation however was only partial since the peasants were forced to pay redemption dues on the land they considered to be their own, and these payments led to the formation of a mechanism with which the populists believed they could change from feudalism to Russian socialism, bypassing the capitalist phase. This mechanism was the commune with which the peasants developed a sense of joint responsibility, 4’What one man cannot bear the mir can’.
Industrialisation however, was vital to Russia if she was to regain her great power status, which she had lost after the humiliating defeat in the Crimean war, her motives for catching up with her Western contemporaries therefore, were military and not economic. The emancipation of the serfs was the tsar’s only option, however they were by no means integrated as part of society, the segregation remained clear and this division made the peasants open to outside influences of rebellion. The high state of tension in the regime was further worsened by the demoralising economic recession at the beginning of the new century.
The poor harvests and the subsequent international trade recession brought the great spurt of industrialisation to a halt in 1902 and spelled unemployment as the regime turned their attentions to military needs. The unemployed ‘wandering the streets of St. Petersburg’ became perfect targets for local activists as the liberals began to spread the word. The moderate Octobrists called for a national congress of the Zemstva, whereas the radical Kadets called for a constitutional monarchy and the creation of a legislative assembly. ‘Social modernisation had bred these new social groups whose aspirations for rights and opportunities were enjoyed by their peers in Europe clashed with the political immobility of the regime’. The Tsar was aware of the growing threat to Russia’s autocracy and considered the need to direct attention away from domestic troubles by engaging in a foreign war, 6’A short victorious war that would stem the tide of revolution’. However the Russo-Japanease war was a humiliating loss for Russia and undermined the political authority of the Romanov dynasty.
There was the added fear of returning rebellious troops and the war was seen as a catalyst for revolution at home. The Tsar became under increasing pressure to compromise to the demands of the people. His destroyed image as ‘the little father’ of Russia after the massacre of Bloody Sunday in January 1905 resulted in a broad based revolution. It was the first time that the tsarist government had been faced by a combination of the three main opposing classes in Russia; the industrial workers, the peasantry and the reformist middle classes.
The repercussions of Bloody Sunday led to an ‘unprecedented strike movement’ and a wave of social revolutionary terrorism broke out following the murder of the Grand duke Sergei. Revolution spread to the agricultural regions of European Russia and violence ensued. These protests took the form of petitions, strikes that called for the same reforms as the petition that Father Gapon had taken to the Winter’s palace on Bloody Sunday.
The national minorities sensed the weakness of the regime as they petitioned for full citizenship and self-determination, and every aspect of Russian society seemed to be petitioning for their own personal demands, private ownership of land for the peasants and full civil liberties for everyone. The radical liberals were compelled to join the peasants and the workers revolts to achieve a 7’revolutionary resolution of the crisis’. The frenzy of political meetings climaxed to the general strike of October 1905 grounding the country to a halt.
The Tsar under the instruction of Witte his finance minister began to make the concession that so many were waiting for. The October manifesto promised a constitution, full civil liberties and a legislative assemble voted for in centralised elections. The Tsar had reluctantly decided upon concessions over bloody repression, and a plan of divide and rule. The manifesto split the opposition thus enabling the regime to recover and autocracy to survive. Russia had changed irreversibly due to the revolution but it still had a long way to go before all the revolutionaries would be satisfied.
The reforms of the 1860’s coupled with the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 paved the way for the modernisation of Russia. Had this been allowed to develop further some historians argue that revolution could have been avoided, but with the assassination of Alexander the II, came the reaction period. The reforms were downsized as the regime began to back track trying to reassert its previous power. The culmination of education and reform and then the back-pedalling were I consider the signs that revolution was inevitable.
I do consider that the link between educational reforms and revolution is the most important explanation for the revolution in 1905. Certainly Russia’s desire to industrialise meant these reforms were necessary however the social structure of Russia was ill prepared for these changes. Her backwardness allowed for social and therefore political unrest. The effect of Bloody Sunday was certainly disastrous as it worsened the high tensions of revolution already brewing among the masses deep in the economic recession of 1902.
Russia’s failure in the Russo-Japanease exacerbated revolutionary crisis at home and brought them to a head. The subsequent concessions made by the Tsar changed Russia fundamentally and although diluted by all manner of restrictions on popular sovereignty and democratic rights, the social unrest had prompted them to set in motion a wave of 8’Clandestine revolutionary activity’ that was to culminate in the overthrow of the imperial regime twelve years later.