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Russian Revolution 1905

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Explain government and political change in an historical setting.

Russian revolution - 1905.

The main theme of the Russian history at the end of 19th century is that the non-noble classes, which made up 88% of Russian population, asked for an improvement in their miserable and poor conditions of life. When the Tsarist government failed to do so, they revolted for the first time in 1905. Already there were opposition groups forming like the Social Democrats, Social Revolutionaries and Constitutional Democrats. The main events of 1905 were the Russo- Japanese war followed by Bloody Sunday, which vented anger across Russia. The government tried to clam the anger of the Russian people by agreeing to some of their demands, and therefore signing the October Manifesto. With the word of the October Manifesto, most of the opposition to the government melted away. But to deal with what was left of the radical opposition, a new court system was made, that made it easier for the arrest and conviction of political revolutionaries.

Up to the end of the 19th century, Russia was an autocratic country. It was ruled by an autocratic Tsar. He ruled as he liked. His will was the source of law, taxation and justice. He controlled the army and all the officials. He even controlled religious affairs. His autocratic rule was supported by the privileged nobles, who possessed land and serfs, and held all the chief offices in the Tsar's administration.

The mass of people were serfs. Serfs were 'slaves'. They worked on the estates of the nobles. They could be punished in any form by the nobles. They could even be sold as possessions by the nobles. Besides the serfs, there was a very small middle class in the towns. They were discontented with the backwardness of Russia.

When Alexander III died in 1894, he was succeeded by his son, Nicholas II. He was the last Tsar. He still believed that it was his duty to uphold the principle of autocracy, but he was unsuited to be an autocrat. He was weak and indecisive in character. He easily succumbed to the influences of stronger personalities--the most important one was his wife, Tsaritsa Alexandra. She was eager to preserve the full autocratic power for her husband.

While the Tsar clung to the principle of autocracy, there was the appearance of more dissatisfied groups which presented a greater challenge to Tsardom. The main groups were: the Marxist-oriented revolutionary parties (Social Democrats and Social Revolutionaries), the middleclass political parties (Cadets/Constitutional Democrats) as well as the working class in the industrial towns and the revolutionary groups of peasants in the countryside.

The most extreme of the groups were the Social Revolutionaries (SR's). They formed on 1900 but had a strong link with a group of 1800s called 'People's Will', which had a history of violence and terrorism. The SR's believed that the peasantry represented the true soul of Russia and that many millions of Russians must join in a revolt to overthrow the autocracy. Once this was done, the land would be shared between the people.

The Social Democrats also believed in the need for revolution. They formed in 1898 and formed their ideas around those of Karl Marx. The party was mostly made up mostly of working class. It was large and democraticly orgonised. However, their party split into two in 1903. They became knowen as the Bolsheviks (which were the minority of the party) and the Mensheviks (the majority).

The most conservative and the most respectable party were the Constitutional Democrats (Kadets). They formed in 1905 and most of their members were middle-class, professional groups, like lawers, teachers doctors, ect. The Kadets opposed autocracy, but were against violence. They wanted to set up a constitutional monarchy with a powerfill parlament, responsive to middle-class opinions.

With all the opposition groups a revolution was bound to take place in Russia. It took place when Russia was defeated in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905.

The Tsar, Nicholas II saw the possibility of a successful war as a way to distract the unhappiness of the Russians from his autocratic rule. This opportunity came in February 1904, when Japan launched an attack on Russia. The Russo-Japanese War was a disaster to the Tsar. The Russian armies suffered a series of defeats in the battlefields because they were poorly equipped, badly-armed and weakly trained. The corruption and the disorganization of the government were exposed in the conduct of the war. Transportation broke down, bread prices went up. The Tsarist government was totally discredited in the eyes of the Russian people. As war continued, dissatisfaction multiplied.

When Port Arthur fell, discontent reached almost the breaking point. There was much labour unrest in St. Petersburg due to a rise in prices of food and other daily necessities.

In such an atmosphere, on January 22, 1905, a priest, Father Gapon, decided to lead a group of workers to present a petition to the Tsar at the Winter Palace. The petition included political and economic demands. Political demands were the calling of an elected duma, freedom of speech and assembly, guarantee of fair trials and forgiveness for political prisoners. Economic demands were more labour legislation, the eight-hour day, a reduction in indirect taxes and the introduction of a graduated income tax. The petition also demanded to end the war immediately. The petition was signed by 135,000 persons.

Gapon hoped that the Tsar would grant reforms to lower the dissatisfaction of the workers. Gapon's group was followed by an enormous (about 150,000) but peaceful and orderly crowd.



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