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What Were the Causes of the 1905 Revolution? Why did the Revolution Fail to Overthrow the Tsarist Regime?

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What Were the Causes of the 1905 Revolution? Why did the Revolution Fail to Overthrow the Tsarist Regime?

During the reign of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia, the 1905 Revolution occurred. This revolution was the first ever in Russia and contradicted everything the Russian people were taught about loyalty to the Tsar. It therefore was the first time Russian monarchy had faced so much opposition from so many different social groups. It may’ve been the first revolution Nicholas and indeed Russia had faced, but it wasn’t the last. Nicholas also experienced a second revolution in 1917 and as a result was forced to abdicate. This essay will explore causes of the 1905 revolution and seek to discover why Nicholas survived the events of this year, yet abdicated during the events of 1917.

There are various factors that lead to the 1905 revolution; some long term and some short term. The earliest event I believe helped cause the revolution was dissatisfaction towards the policy of emancipation. This policy was introduced in 1861 by Nicholas’ grandfather: Alexander II. The emancipation meant serfs were allowed personal freedom and in time were allowed to purchase land. These were known as redemption payments and were paid over 19 years. Although Alexander wanted reform, it appeared he would have to try harder to satisfy his people. Peasants didn’t like terms of emancipation as they ended up with poor land that nobility were forced to sell them. The land was less fertile and very overpriced. Nobles also resented terms of emancipation. They had to give up a third of their land, meaning they struggled to make agricultural payments and had to sell up. It also lead to an educated middle class being created who could later on turn against the government. Overall, the emancipation caused a big lack of devotion from nobility, peasants and the middle class towards the Tsar. As the political cartoon “The Release” implies, it also gave serfs a “taste” of freedom which once issued, would be extremely challenging to take away without protest.

Another long term cause of the 1905 revolution was the repressive reign of Alexander III. Alexander II, Nicholas’ grandfather, was assassinated in front of Alexander III, Nicholas’ father and Nicholas himself. This deeply affected Alexander as a ruler; he believed that the introduction of reform or indeed change of any kind would be the downfall of a ruler. He promised himself that he wouldn’t make the same mistake that his father made and therefore ruled in a completely contrasting manner, fighting extremely hard to return autocracy to its original, feared state.  This new strict regime included the press being censored and public meetings being controlled, opposition was dealt with by being sent to prison or exile and it resulted in the people of Russia having next to no human rights. They lost the power of free speech, free will and even the right to choose who to marry. They did as landowners told them. There were no permanent laws to protect the people. As Tolstoy said Russia lives “without lawful guarantees.” This meant that the people of Russia had no constitutional laws to protect them and no laws were “set in stone”. Tolstoy also spoke of a general dissatisfaction of the classes towards the government and their open hostility against it. This was the start of growth in opposition towards the Tsar. One law however that Alexander did introduce was The Statues on Measures to Preserve National Order. This law turned Russia into a police state, and included Alexander employing a special police section called the “Okhrana”. It was their job to crush any opposing political party. During Alexander’s reign, there were no constraints to the Tsar’s powers. Indeed, his powers were absolute.

Another factor I believe contributed to the first revolution was the weakness of Nicholas II as a ruler. Nicholas II became Tsar, Grand-Duke of Poland and Finland in 1894 at the age of twenty-six; and so immediately had unbelievable amounts of responsibility forced upon him. He was ill-equipped and unprepared for such a position and found it extremely pressurised business obtaining his father’s hard work in returning autocracy to its original, humble state. When Nicholas first took the throne, it appeared that Russia was in a state of tranquility and peace However, beneath the veneer of industrial growth, the 20th Century was slowly but surely leading the Tsarist Regime into a state of crisis. Nicholas, an inexperienced and unfortunately timed leader, was oblivious to the fact that reform was desperately needed socially, economically and indeed politically to avoid a major crisis.

The final long term cause that encouraged revolution was the economic problems facing Russia at this time. As industry continued to grow, serious problems faced Russia. Working conditions were horrendous: textile factories were poorly lit and fast moving machinery had no guards. Employers offered accommodation to workers but houses were simply too over-crowded and unsanitary. Working and living conditions were even worse in the country-side that in the towns. Farming was primitive in the country and yet investment was virtually non existent. In 1899, 97,000 workers went on strike due to poor working conditions. This was the start of the people of Russia becoming more politically aware and more determined to gain rights. The major grievances among peasants were the lack of land and the lack of food. Despite peasantry making eighty percent of the Russian population, they were living in famine and were constantly ignored. Less than a third of the population could read and write.

The first short term affect I’m going to discuss is the failure of the war with Japan. Nicholas decided upon war with Japan to create a distraction from the current problems facing his Tsarist regime. The population greeted the idea with great passion, yet a humiliating defeat simply dismantled any remaining respect for the Tsar causing his unpopularity to continue even further on a downward spiral. Not only did Russian pride among the people disintegrate, but the defeat also made Russia considerably weaker and more vulnerable to other countries. The Russian population felt let down and insecure as a nation.

The final factor that contributed towards the 1905 revolution was “Bloody Sunday”. On 22nd January 1905, 200,000 people led by Father Gapon, set off for the Winter Palace to present their petition to the Tsar. The marchers were completely peaceful in their protests and showed this by carrying icons of the Tsar, whilst marching. The marchers simply wanted the Tsar to meet their requests of:

  • Reducing a working day to eight hours
  • Minimum wage of a rouble a day
  • The abolishment of overtime
  • A constitutional reform put into power.

The peaceful procession soon turned violent when armed guards and mounted Cossacks were sent out in a massive, yet unnecessary force. It was called “Bloody Sunday” because of the hundreds of unarmed men, women and children that were wounded and killed. The Tsar didn’t even come to receive the petition. Instead, alarmed by warnings, he fled to the town of Tsarkoe in Selo, fifteen miles away. This cowardly act not only rendered the bloody procession pointless, but it also led to a series of countless strikes and problems for the Tsar. For example, 400,000 workers went on strike in February and by the end of the year, the figure had rocketed to 2.7 million. Peasants were unhappier than ever before and a peasant revolt would cause a huge collapse in economy. In one year, 29 million roubles of damage was inflicted upon Russian landowners. On 4th February, the Tsar’s uncle, the governor general of Moscow was assassinated. Lastly, several mutinies were taking place as a result of Bloody Sunday. The most famous being the June mutiny on the battleship “Potemkin” in the Black Sea.

        All of the above factors contributed to the Revolution of 1905, however some had more impact that others. I believe the most important causes of the revolution were the dissatisfaction towards the policy of emancipation and “Bloody Sunday”. Alexander II introducing emancipation simply caused general unhappiness throughout the nation, in a variety of classes. Peasants weren’t happy as they lost money buying infertile land, nobles were dissatisfied as they had to sell their land to peasants and the middle class had the chance to become more educated resulting in them turning against the Tsar. The whole nation were given more rights and opportunities. For example, the Zemstra and Dumo being set up made people much more politically aware. They were awoken, in a sense, to how a county should be fairy ran and the power and freedom in which it involved. Emancipation gave the serfs (eighty percent of the population) a taste of freedom that they’d never before experienced and just as people were becoming more aware, it was taken from them. This great tease meant it was inevitable that people were going to search for freedom again in the near future.

I believe Bloody Sunday played a huge role in triggering the revolution because it was the first, united political stand that the people of Russia had taken and the Tsar responded to it by fleeing to another town. This cowardice showed the people just how scared the Tsar was of political change and that strikes and protests were indeed his weakness. We know this is true because of the great amount of further strikes and mutinies that took place after Bloody Sunday.

        I believe that the 1905 revolution failed to overthrow the Tsarist regime because it was extremely unplanned and people were only just beginning to see the possibilities of political power. None of the protestors were working simultaneously and had decided upon no set aims. Despite naval mutinies taking place, the army was still completely loyal to Nicholas. I believe the 1905 revolution acted as a rehearsal for the 1917 revolution that was yet to follow. I believe it enabled the protestors to experiment in forms of protest and therefore protest, just as “Bloody Sunday” had helped them realise that political protests were what the Tsar feared most.

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