In January 1905 Russia was thrown into ‘revolution’ triggered by the events of Bloody Sunday. The causes for the revolution are a mix of long term problems and short term causes that made them all surface at one time. Also they were many consequences from this event on the people, Tsar and Russia itself. The causes of the 1905 revolution in Russia can be traced back as far as 1861. The Tsar was the ruler of Russia and ruled by autocracy at a time when Europe as a whole was becoming more democratic and liberal. Russia was very much medieval in the 19th century in the fact that Serfdom still existed.
The Serfs were peasants who were owned by the Tsar, according to law. The Serfs (80% of the population) became very disgruntled and Alexander II recognized this by granting them their freedom, through the Emancipation Act of 1861. He felt it was ‘better to abolish Serfdom from above than to wait for the Serfs to liberate themselves from below. ‘ With hindsight this caused further problems, as even though it was a major step in modernizing Russia, the granting of limited freedom to the Serfs resulted in them calling for further rights, and thus a long term cause of the revolution of 1905.
The Russian population was made up of a wide range in ethnic backgrounds, with over 22 different nationalities. Each group had their own customs, culture and religion and seeked independence. Alexander II tried to force Russian customs, culture, language and religion upon them. This was known as Russification and was a long term underlying problem in Russia. Alexander II did set up limited local authorities called Zemstva, which mainly concentrated on agricultural issues.
This created greater awareness amongst the people and a liberal class of Intelligencia was set up. They wanted Russia to become democratic and opposed the Tsars’ autocratic rule and later became known as the ‘Kadets’. Their opposition towards him was a long term cause of the revolution. The Kadets went about achieving their aims through conventional methods, whilst there were extremist groups, such as ‘The People’s Will’. They felt Alexander II had abandoned his earlier liberalizing policies and assassinated him in a bomb attack in 1881.
The turn of events meant that Alexander III, the Tsar’s son, became Tsar even though he was regarded as too young and out of touch with the people to rule Russia. Firstly he sentenced the 5 assassins to death and then ushered in an era where all the previous freedoms granted by his father were abolished, as he felt they were the reason for his father’s death. This caused great tension amongst the peasants, liberals and revolutionaries as they felt bitter about Russia taking a step backwards into medieval times. This lack of democracy given to the people was a major cause for the revolution.
Alexander III did not agree with his father’s reforms and when he came to power in 1881, he set about suppressing the peasants and all opposition to the Tsars. His Russification policy forced Russian culture on the 50 million non-Russians in the empire. The Jews also suffered greatly under his reign as Pogroms were organised attacks on the Jews which forced many to emigrate. Censorship was also increased and the freedom of universities was reduced. Alexander’s mistakes lay in the fact that the people had got a taste of freedom under his father, and now he was taking it away again.
Revolution was impending. There were many groups seeking revolution, with the main power being the Social Revolutionaries (SR’s). During Alexander’s reign extremist opposition to the autocracy also fermented. The Narodniks attempted to rally the peasants against the Tsar, but failed because of class differences. However, the Narodniks were to progress despite this initial failure and they became very influential in the 20th century in the form of he Bolsheviks. 1893-1903 was a time known as ‘the great spurt’. This was stimulated by the reforms of Sergei Witte, minister of finance.
He believed in making Russian industries efficient as the best way to bring it to the level of industrialisation seen in Western Europe. He achieved his aims through heavily taxing the peasants, who were already paying redemption payments on land given to them under the Emancipation Act of 1861. This caused discontent amongst the peasants and edging them closer to revolution. Peasants flocked to the cities during the great spurt as jobs became available which were more rewarding than agriculture. This then created slums full of peasants with too many people for too few jobs.
The economic downturn of 1903 caused huge problems for these urbanised workers and their anger was a short term cause of the 1905 revolution. There was little productivity and hunger and poverty was rife and in January 1905 workers began to strike in factories. To divert attention away from his domestic problems and to expand Russia whilst acquiring an ice free port, Alexander III decided a swift military victory over an easy opponent would patriotically make the people unite and forget their grievances so he decided to start war with Japan.
The Japanese turned out to be a very efficient and intelligent fighting force, whose navy comprehensively beat and embarrassed the Russian navy. This placed the Tsar on very weak political ground as he now had egg on his face from attempting to use war as a diversion from domestic strife. Russia didn’t lose because of their soldier’s performance, but because of their military leaders which the Tsar was one of. Military ranks were given based on wealth and prestige, not by military tactical skill.
These two factors were short term causes of the revolution. A general strike in Russia occurred in 1905, with both urban and rural workers protesting together. Father Gapon led a group of workers to the Winter palace with a petition for reforms for the Tsar. The protest was a peaceful one and the workers carried portraits and candles for the Tsar. However, the guards shot at the people, killing one thousand and injuring thousands more. This action completely alienated the people and their loyalty to the Tsar was no more.
It was “the political activation of the masses”. This massacre, known as Bloody Sunday was the spark that started the 1905 revolution. The fact that it was the Tsar who ordered the guards to shoot upon the protestors was significant as he was seen as the father of the people, thus the people felt bitter about his actions. This was the spark that ignited the revolution; hence it took one event for the people to do what some wanted to happen at least fifty years back, the overthrow of the Tsar.
The Tsar had always been able to crush opposition as the main groups, middle class, peasants and workers weren’t united in their goals but now that for the first time they had become a united opposition force, signified by the Union of Unions whose aim was to form a broad-based alliance. Thus the Tsar faced huge problems and his government steadily lost control of events and the country was on the verge of anarchy as Social Revolutionaries and others instigated revolts country wide, strikes caused production to grind to a halt and bring the country to its knees economically.
By October the Tsar was facing revolution against him so decided to concede to the forces of opposition and in doing so tried and successfully split them. By introducing the October Manifesto, in which he said all laws were to be approved by an elected duma, he satisfied the liberals, whose aim was to turn Russia into a constitutional monarchy, which it had seemed to achieve. The government then abolished land redemption payments, causing the peasants to be satisfied so only the workers were left as opposition. Returning troops stayed loyal and crushed the workers. There were many consequences of the revolution.
By December 1905 many of the leading insurgents of the revolution were exiled to Serbia. As mentioned Russia was now a constitutional monarchy, in theory. The Tsar never intended to let the Duma have any power and able to attack him on the economy, so he a received a loan from France as a reward for reforming by introducing democracy. Now that he was safe financially and had a loyal army, he introduced the fundamental laws, in which he again stated that he alone was the ruler of Russia and all laws had to be approved by him, thus making the Duma insignificant before they first met in April-June 1906.
Finance Minister, Sergei Witte was replaced due to suspicions of not being committed to the Tsar by Peter Stolypin, who became prime minister in 1906. He granted peasant out right ownership of their land. The Tsar was arguably in a stronger position than he was pre-revolution due to breaking up of opposition, satisfying peasants and exacted revenge on those who tried to topple him, this was the main consequence of the revolution. The 1905 Revolution was seen as many as the blueprint for the 1917 Revolution.