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The Revolution Of 1905

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The Revolution of 1905: The First Russian Revolution

We are, however, slightly ahead of our story. The short period of 1900-1906 provides an essential piece of the puzzle to make the picture of the Russian Revolution complete.

Russia's Asian policy under Nicholas II took a decidedly expansionist and aggressive tone, culminating in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. A primarily naval conflict on Russia's Far Eastern frontier, this war brought back the awful memories of the Crimean defeat when Japan's newly modernized army and navy routed the out-dated, ill-equipped Russian forces. Peace negotiations, organized by United States President Theodore Roosevelt in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, allowed Russia to save face on paper; however, no one could argue with the historical fact that this marked the first time a European power lost any conflict with an Asian power. For the Russian government, it was an utter humiliation; for the Russian radicals, it was an opportunity.

Even moderates radicalized their opposition to the central government by this time. The liberal constitutionalists, later called Kadets, organized their own illegal publication, called Liberation, to voice their complaints and grievances. Dissatisfaction with the inept central government--highlighted by its defeat at the hands of Asian Japan (there certainly was a racist element here)--was high atop any such list.

In mid-1904, a popular Russian Orthodox priest, Georgi Gapon, organized thousands of St. Petersburg workers into his Assembly of Russian Factory Workers, an association originally financed and approved by the government to minimize the influence of radicals among the workers and bolster the credibility of the autocracy by providing an outlet for worker grievances. However, despite the government's intention, this union took a decidedly Marxist and militant bent. When, in December 1904, numerous workers at the large Putilov factory in St. Petersburg were fired for no apparent reason, the Assembly, who counted these sacked workers as members, leaped into action. The result was a citywide general strike in January 1905. On January 9, 1905 the striking workers organized a mass march on the Winter Palace of the Tsar with representatives holding a petition for "our father" Tsar Nicholas II. The petition called for higher wages, an eight-hour workday, a constitution, free elections of a legislative assembly, and universal manhood suffrage.

Nicholas, however, would have none of this. Confused, inept, or simply self- consciously attached to his autocratic power, the Tsar ordered military units of his elite guard to fire upon the advancing petitions who carried Orthodox crosses, marched with women and children, and held no weapons. Nicholas's troops fired into the peacefully marching crowd, killing over one hundred and wounding nearly five times as many; the day became known as Bloody Sunday. The massacre dramatically turned public opinion against the Tsar and his government, and primed the country for revolutionary action.

Urban workers formed strike committees--some by industry, others by factory of employment--and in September 1905, coordinated a nationwide general strike, originating with the Moscow printers but forming solid allies all along the Moscow-St. Petersburg railroad. Industrial production and output came to a grinding halt. The strike led to the formation of the St. Petersburg soviet (Russian for "council") in October, with other cities and town following the model. The disruption of industry mirrored countryside unrest as disgruntled peasants began seizing and destroying gentry property across the country. Faced with these circumstances--not to mention the imminent return of army troops with little love for a government that sent them off to utter defeat in battle with Japan--Tsar Nicholas II conceded.

On October 17, Nicholas issued his October Manifesto containing a (vague) promise to create an elected legislative body (elected quite unequally, though based on universal manhood suffrage), to grant civil and religious liberties, and to legalize the organization of unions and political parties. Though this concession fell far short of the demands of most of the Russian left, it did serve to placate some of the regime's more moderate critics, who had grown wary of the unrest and radicalism unleashed by the lower class workers and peasants. These moderates organized into a political party called the Union of 17 October and its members, the Octoberists, promised to cooperate with the government as long as it adhered to the pledges of the October Manifesto.

In 1906, the government called for elections to the lower house of the newly established bicameral legislature, the Duma, granted broader freedoms of expression, and permitted the formation of unions and other political organizations. An upper house of the legislature was also created, constituted half by members appointed by Nicholas II and half by members elected by the conservative elites in an undemocratic fashion.

Russia and the Capitalist War

World War I#, known after the fact as the Great War or the War to End All War, began with the 1914 assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary while he was on a visit to the capital of Bosnia- HerzegovinaThe war pitted the Triple Entente of France, Russia, and Great Britain against the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire. Total War would require the mobilization of all men, resources, monies, and equipment and increased control from the center; in Russia, the autocracy. Faced with the onslaught of the more modern German war machine, numerous weaknesses plagued the Russian state. Railroads, the fundamental instrument of modern warfare because they could transport troops and supplies quickly to and from the frontlines, were relatively scarce in Russia. In fact, railroad lines were one-tenth as dense in Western Russia as in Germany throughout the war. Russian divisions also had only about one-half the artillery as the German divisions and an even smaller fraction of heavy artillery. The tsar's military was top heavy in cavalry, an antiquated military arm basically useless in the trench warfare of World War I. Medical treatment was poor and rarely given to peasant soldiers and even officers in the lower ranks--namely, sergeants, non- commission officers, et cetera. In addition, incompetence and corruption was rampant in the upper ranks since seniority was the only consideration affecting promotions It is worth noting that Russia fared quite well in battles against Austria- Hungary and the Ottoman Empire; however, against Germany, every one of these weaknesses came out and caused, more often than not, disastrous Russian defeats The German war plan hinged



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