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Russian Revolution

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Russian Revolution

For 400 years, the Tsars ruled Russia with an iron fist. This came to an end in 1905 with the First Russian Revolution, which aimed to put checks and balances on the Tsar's powers.

The 1905 Russian Revolution was the result of growing discontent against the Tsar's rule, a discontent that would eventually usher in the Soviet Union.

1905 Russian Revolution Timeline

Let's first look at a timeline showing some of the causes and events of the Russian Revolution in 1905.

DateEvent
8 January 1904The Russo-Japanese War began.
22 January 1905
Bloody Sunday massacre.
17 February 1905
Grand Duke Sergei is assassinated.
27 June 1905
The Battleship Potemkin mutiny.
5 September 1905The Russo-Japanese War ended.
20 October 1905
A General Strike occurred.
26 October 1905
The Petrograd Soviet of Workers' Deputies (PSWD) was formed.
30 October 1905
Tsar Nicholas II signed the October Manifesto.
December 1905Strikes continued because Tsar Nicholas II had not created a Constitutional Assembly or a Republic as some of the protesters had demanded. Some of the Imperial Army had returned to Petrograd by December and dispersed the crowds and dissolved the PSWD.
January 1906All of the Imperial Army had now returned from the war and the Tsar had regained control of the Trans-Siberian railway and controlled the protesters.
April 1906The Fundamental Laws were passed and the Duma created. The First Russian Revolution had essentially come to an end.

Causes of the 1905 Russian Revolution

There were both long-term and short-term causes of the 1905 Russian Revolution.

Causes of the 1905 Russian Revolution Long Term Causes

One of the key long term causes of the 1905 Russian Revolution was the poor leadership of the Tsar. Nicholas II was the autocratic monarch of the country, meaning that all power was concentrated in his hands. The poor political, social, agrarian, and industrial conditions were worsening under his rule, especially at the start of the 20th century.

Russian Revolution Saint portrait of Tsar Nicholas II StudySmarterPortrait of Tsar Nicholas II as a saint, Wikimedia Commons

Let's take a look a look at the Tsar's poor leadership in political, social, and economic areas.

Causes of the 1905 Russian Revolution Political Discontent

The Tsar refused to appoint a prime minister of the Imperial government which led to contradictory policies regarding how the land was treated and how Russia's industry be run. Tsar Nicholas II limited the powers of zemstvas so they could not enact national changes. Liberalism in Russia demonstrated increasing discontent with the Tsar's poor leadership and the Union of Liberation was established in 1904. The Union demanded a constitutional monarchy, whereby a representative Duma (the name for a council) would advise the Tsar and democratic voting for all men would be introduced.

Zemstvas were the provincial government bodies throughout Russia which were ordinarily made of liberal politicians.

Other political ideologies were growing at the time as well. Marxism in Russia had become popular around the 1880s. The rise of this ideology created new political groups of communists and socialists which were unhappy with the Tsar's rule of Russia. Socialism in Russia in particular managed to gather a wide following, supporting the issues of the peasants.

Causes of the 1905 Russian Revolution Social Discontent

Tsar Nicholas II continued his father Alexander III's policies of Russification throughout the Russian Empire, which included persecuting ethnic minorities through execution or sending them to the labour camps called katorgas. Political dissidents were also sent to the katorgas. Many fought for better religious and political freedoms.

Causes of the 1905 Russian Revolution Agrarian and Industrial Discontent

As their European neighbours underwent industrialisation, Tsar Nicholas II pushed for Russia's industrialisation. The rapid pace of this meant that cities went through urbanisation. As city populations increased, food shortages became rampant. In 1901 there was widespread famine.

Industrial workers were forbidden from forming trade unions, which meant that they had no protection from wage cuts or poor working conditions. The proletariat (workers such as industrial workers and peasants) were demanding a fairer treatment, which was impossible to achieve whilst the Tsar ruled as a autocrat (with complete control).

Causes of the 1905 Russian Revolution Short Term Events

Although there was a developing culture of discontent with the Tsar's leadership, two key events pushed this discontent into protest.

Causes of the 1905 Russian Revolution Russo-Japanese War

When Tsar Nicholas II came to power he wanted to expand the Russian Empire. During his youth he visited parts of East Asia such as India, China, Japan and Korea. In 1904, the areas of Manchuria (a region in modern-day China) and Korea were disputed areas between Russia and Japan. There were negotiations between the Russian and Japanese empires to divide the territories between them peacefully.

The Tsar refused to divide the lands, wanting the areas solely for Russia. Japan responded by unexpectedly invading Port Arthur, instigating the Russo-Japanese War. Initially the war appeared popular in Russia, and the Tsar regarded it as a point of nationalist pride and an attempt to gain popularity. However, Japan decimated the Russian presence in Manchuria and humiliated the Tsar's Imperial Army.

Russian Revolution The negotiating table for the Treaty of Portsmouth StudySmarterRussian delegates, including Sergey Witte, negotiated the terms of the Treaty of Portsmouth with Japan. Witte managed to get a relatively favourable deal for Russia, but the humiliating defeats of the Russo-Japanese war had damaged the Tsar's reputation. Public domain, Wikimedia Commons

Eventually, the US negotiated peace between the two countries with the 1905 Treaty of Portsmouth. This Treaty granted Japan South Manchuria and Korea, reducing the Russian presence.

Russia was facing famine and urban poverty at the time. The defeat and humiliation at the hands of a much smaller power, Japan, increased discontent with the Tsar.

Causes of the 1905 Russian Revolution Bloody Sunday Russia

On 22 January 1905, Georgy Gapon, a priest, led a group of workers to the Winter Palace to demand that the Tsar help them to have better working conditions. Crucially, the protest was not anti-Tsarist but wanted the Tsar to use his powers to reform the country.

The Tsar responded by ordering the Imperial Army to fire on the protestors, hundreds of which were injured and around 100 died. The brutal massacre was named "Bloody Sunday". The event instigated a series of further protests against the Tsar's unwillingness to reform his rule of Russia, and kicked off the 1905 Revolution.

The 1905 Russian Revolution Summary

The First Russian Revolution was a series of events throughout 1905 protesting against the Tsar's inflexible rule. Let's have a look at the Revolution's defining moments.

Russian Revolution Summary Assassination of Grand Duke Sergei

On 17 February 1905, Tsar Nicholas II's uncle, Grand Duke Sergei, was assassinated by the Socialist Revolutionary Combat Organisation. The organisation exploded a bomb in the Grand Duke's carriage.

Sergei had been the Governor-General of the Imperial Army for Tsar Nicholas, but after the disastrous defeats suffered during the Russo-Japanese War, Sergei resigned his position. The Romanovs were often subjected to assassination attempts, and Sergei retreated to the Kremlin (the imperial palace in Moscow) for security but was targeted by discontented socialists. His death demonstrated the scale of civil unrest in Russia, and showed how Tsar Nicholas II also had to be on alert for assassination attempts.

Russian Revolution Summary Mutiny on Battleship Potemkin

The Battleship Potemkin held Imperial Navy sailors. The crew discovered that the food they had been provided with was rotten meat infested with maggots, despite the admiral checking the supplies. The sailors revolted and took control of the ship. They then docked at Odessa to rally the support of the protesting workers and peasants in the city. The Imperial Army was ordered to quash the rebellion and street fighting broke out. Some 1,000 Odessans died in the conflict and the mutiny lost some of its momentum.

Russian Revolution Image of the Battleship Potemkin docking at Constanza in Romania 1905 StudySmarterAfter the mutineers had failed to gain supplies for the Battleship Potemkin, they docked at Constanza, Romania. Before leaving, the sailors flooded the ship, but it was later recovered by loyal Imperial troops. Public domain, Wikimedia Commons

After sailing around the Black Sea for a few days in search of fuel and supplies, on 8 July 1905, the crew eventually stopped in Romania, called off the mutiny, and sought political asylum.

Russian Revolution Summary The General Strike

On 20 October 1905, railroad workers began to strike in protest against the Tsar. Once they had taken control of the railways, Russia's main method of communication, the strikers were able to spread the news of the strike across the country and also stall other industries through lack of transport.

The Russian Imperial Army

Throughout the 1905 Russian Revolution, the majority of the Imperial Army was fighting in the Russo-Japanese war and only started returning to Russia in September 1905. When the Tsar finally had the full force of his army in December, he was able to dissolve the politically problematic PSWD and put down the remainder of strikes that continued after October.

By the start of 1906, the Revolution was practically over, but the public's discontent with the Tsar was still present. As the Tsar's rule continued after the Revolution, and especially with the unpopular First World War, the Imperial Army's loyalty would begin to falter. This weakness would eventually lead to the Tsar's fall from power in the further revolutions in 1917.

Many industries joined them and brought Russia to a halt. The Petrograd Soviet of Workers' Deputies (PSWD) was formed on 26 October and directed the strike in the country's capital. The Soviet became more politically active as Mensheviks joined and drove the ideology of socialism. Under immense pressure, the Tsar eventually agreed to sign the October Manifesto on 30 October.

First Russian Revolution Effects

Although the Tsar managed to survive the First Russian Revolution, he was forced to give in to many of the Revolution's demands.

First Russian Revolution October Manifesto

The October Manifesto was drawn up by one of the Tsar's most competent ministers and advisors, Sergey Witte. Witte recognised that the people wanted civil liberties which would be achieved either through the Tsar's political reform or through revolution. The Manifesto proposed the creation of a new Russian constitution which would operate through an elected, representative Duma (council or parliament).

The PSWD did not agree to the proposals and continued to strike, demanding a Constitutional Assembly and the creation of a Russian Republic. When the Imperial Army returned from the Russo-Japanese War, they detained the PSWD in December 1905, putting down the official opposition.

First Russian Revolution 1906 Fundamental Laws

On 27 April 1906, Tsar Nicholas II decreed the Fundamental Laws, which acted as Russia's first constitution and inaugurated the first state Duma. The constitution stated that laws had to be passed through the Duma first, but that the Tsar remained as the leader of the new constitutional monarchy. This was the first time that the autocratic (complete) power of the Tsar had been shared with a parliament.

Russian Revolution Image of Tsar Nicholas II opening the first state Duma in 1906 StudySmarterThe Tsar addressed the first state Duma after opening it in April 1906. There were two houses which would advise the Tsar and could pass legislation, but only one was actually elected. Public domain, Wikimedia Commons

The 1906 Fundamental Laws demonstrated the Tsar's actioning of the proposals made in the October Manifesto the previous year, but with some changes. The Duma had 2 houses rather than 1, with only one being elected, and they also only had limited power over the budget. Furthermore, the civil rights promised in the manifesto were drawn back and voting powers were also limited.

Did you know?

In 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church canonised Tsar Nicholas II as a saint because of the nature of his execution in 1918 by the Bolsheviks. Despite his incompetent leadership whilst he was alive, his meekness and veneration of the Orthodox Church led many to praise him after his death.

Further Revolution

Liberalism in Russia had won by instating a constitutional monarchy in Russia for the first time. The Duma was in place and was mostly run by groups known as Kadets and Octobrists who emerged throughout the Revolution. However, the socialist and communist groups were still unhappy with the Tsar as the revolution had not created the political change they were hoping for. This meant that in the following years, political dissent continued to grow with the likes of Lenin's Bolsheviks, Left and Right Socialist Revolutionaries, and Mensheviks, resulting in further revolutions in 1917.

Russian Revolution - Key takeaways

  • The 1905 Russian Revolution had long and short term causes, including Nicholas II's poor leadership, the Russo-Japanese Wr (1904-5) and the Bloody Sunday massacre.
  • The assassination of Grand Duke Sergei, the mutiny on Battleship Potemkin and the General Strike showed the civil unrest against the Tsar. The strikes brought Russia to a halt and forced the Tsar to sign the October Manifesto.
  • The 1906 Fundamental Laws acted on the October Manifesto and created Russia's first constitutional monarchy with the Duma, and introduced limited civil rights to the Russian public.
  • The Liberals had managed to create political change in Russia during 1905, but the rising socialist revolutionary and communist movements meant that the constitutional monarchy was still unpopular, and further revolutions were to come.

Frequently Asked Questions about Russian Revolution

The 1905 Russian Revolution was only partly a failure because it was successful at enacting political change in Russia. The 1906 Fundamental Laws created a new constitutional monarchy and granted some civil liberties to the population. However, the Duma had 2 houses, only one of which was elected, contrary to what was stated in the October Manifesto. Furthermore, for more radical groups such as the Socialist Revolutionaries and Communists, the political change was only minor, and still had the Tsar at the top of Russia's government. Ultimately, the Russian Imperial Army was still loyal to the Tsar, and this meant that he could put down insurgencies through force and halt revolutionary activities. This demonstrated his continued forceful control of Russia.

The Imperial Army were still loyal to the Tsar and protected him during the 1905 Revolution. The Army dissolved the Petrograd Soviet and used force to put down the revolution. 

The 1905 Revolution was a success for Liberals in Russia rather than the anti-Tsarist socialist revolutionaries and communists. The liberals did not want to necessarily remove the Tsar, only to share power with Russian citizens through the elected and representative government of the Duma. When the Duma was instated, the Tsar was still allowed to be the head of Russia.

The 1905 Russian Revolution demonstrated the power that the proletariat had in the country, as strikes could halt infrastructure and industry and enact change. This would later inspire the proletariat to act in the 1917 revolutions. Furthermore, the Russian Revolution was significant as it showed the change of the 400 year absolutist rule of the Tsar into a constitutional monarchy, demonstrating the changing economic and political landscape of Russia.

The First Russian Revolution started as a series of strikes in retaliation for the Bloody Sunday massacre on 22 January 1905. Revolutionary activities continued throughout 1905 and resulted in the 1906 Fundamental Laws being decreed by the Tsar, creating the Duma and  a constitutional monarchy.

Final Russian Revolution Quiz

Question

Who was in power during the 1905 Russian Revolution?

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Answer

Tsar Nicholas II

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Question

What feature of Tsar Nicholas II's government made it particularly incompetent?

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Answer

The Tsar refused to elect a prime minister

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Question

When did Marxism begin to gain popularity in Russia?

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Answer

1880s

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Question

Which policy, which was unpopular with the proletariat, did the Tsar follow which persecuted ethnic minorities in Russia?

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Answer

Russification

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Question

Which two key events are said to be the short term causes of the 1905 Russian Revolution?

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Answer

Russo-Japanese War

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Question

Between which dates was the Russo-Japanese war?

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Answer

January 1904 - September 1905

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Question

Who led the workers protest to the Winter Palace, resulting in Bloody Sunday on 22 January 1905?

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Answer

Priest Georgy Gapon

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Question

How was Grand Duke Sergei related to Tsar Nicholas II?

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Answer

Uncle Sergei

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Question

At which Black Sea port did Battleship Potemkin dock at to rally support in June 1905?

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Answer

Odessa

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Question

After the General Strike was called on 20 October 1905, which organisation formed on 26 October to direct the strike?

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Answer

Petrograd Soviet of Workers' Deputies

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Question

Which key group meant the Tsar was able to hold onto power after the 1905 Russian Revolution?

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Answer

Imperial Army

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Question

Which two outcomes did the PSWD demand during the 1905 Russian Revolution that was not included in the October Manifesto?

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Answer

Constitutional Assembly

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Question

Who became the President of the Council of Ministers (prime minister) of Russia after the October Manifesto?

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Answer

Sergey Witte

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Question

When did Tsar Nicholas pass the Fundamental Laws?

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Answer

April 1906

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Question

Through the establishment of a Duma which had legislative rights, what sort of politics did Russia adhere to after the 1906 Fundamental Laws were passed?

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Answer

Constitutional Monarchy

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