Russian failure during the Russo-Japanese war was the principal catalyst for Revolution in Russia in 1905. How far do you agree with this statement?
by emilyravenhill2000gmailcom (student)
“Russian failure during the Russo-Japanese war was the principal catalyst for Revolution in Russia in 1905.” – How far do you agree with this statement?
The Russo-Japanese war, a conflict largely of Russia’s own making, began in 1904 and for which one of the main motives was to distract national attention from Russia’s domestic troubles by rallying the nation in a patriotic struggle. To assess its significance with regard to its part in acting as a catalyst for the 1905 revolution it is necessary to consider how other economic, social and political factors of this era would have influenced the minds of the Russian people and how this would have contributed to revolution. Russia’s humiliating defeat in this conflict would have certainly been a factor in causing national unrest in that it undermined national confidence and thus provoked a want for change in Russian society. Despite this, long term political problems in Russia caused tension for years prior to the revolution and it is this which I believe was a more significant catalyst for Revolution in 1905.
In 1904 opposition to Tsarist rule was growing and consequently Tsar Nicholas II was advised by Plehve, the Minister of the Interior, that a ‘small, victorious war’ would ‘avert a revolution.’ This combined with the notion that Russia needed to further its expansionist policy in the Far East and a need to an ice-free port resulted in the Russian government rejecting Japanese proposals for the settlement of the Korea question in an attempt to provoke a military response. Despite Japan being widely viewed as an inferior military power, the war provided many humiliating defeats for Russia and after a final naval embarrassment at Tsushima in May 1905, Russia withdrew its remaining forces from Manchuria and accepted the Japanese control of Korea and Port Arthur. This defeat seems to prove to be a significant catalyst for the 1905 Revolution. Defeat to an Asiatic power contributed further to the view that the Tsarist government was incompetent and drew yet more attention to the government’s shortcomings as opposed to averting attention as was intended. Furthermore, this military defeat shattered the illusion that the ‘Little Father’ could ‘look after’ his nation and could have suggested to a number of Russians who were deeply religious that his position was not in fact ‘God-given’ as he had not succeeded in war. This could have suggested to Russians who were not opposed to Tsarist rule prior to the war that their country was not being run effectively and hence effectively encouraged revolution in contrast to ‘averting it.’ In addition, resources which were diverted to the war lessened the already limited supply of grain and fuel and the Trans-Siberian railway was used predominantly for the war effort. This in itself would have increased hardship in the lives of ordinary Russian people and decreased support for the Tsar’s war, thus further suggesting that the Russo-Japanese war was indeed a significant catalyst for Revolution in Russia. Despite this, I feel that the war was not perhaps the sole most significant factor in encouraging revolution as the government was already widely viewed as incompetent and Tsar Nicholas weak-willed prior to the conflict. It could also be argued that, despite the reality that the war was unsuccessful; this still distracted people from Russia’s economic and social problems and perhaps did even prevent a Revolution earlier than 1905.
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Economic Reform in Russia could also be argued to be a significant factor for Revolution in Russia in 1905. Sergei Witte, a highly influential Russian policy-maker, supported State Capitalism through which he believed modernisation could be achieved. He imposed heavy taxes and high interest rates at home in Russia and limited the import of foreign goods. Despite the fact that Witte’s aim of modernisation and urbanisation was largely achieved, this resulted in consumers being penalised as they had to pay the higher prices traders introduced and prices tended to rise as a result of tariffs making goods scarcer. The Trans-Siberian railway which Witte pioneered encouraged connection between the remote central and Eastern Empire and the industrial west, which in turn encouraged the migration of industrial workers to cities to work in factories. However, the living conditions in these factories were often appalling and thus it could be said that this contributed the emergence of events relating to the revolution such as Bloody Sunday, as they provided hardship which promoted social unrest. Moreover, he paid no attention to Russia’s agricultural needs, thus neglecting many of Russia’s peasants who lived in hardship and it could be said this further contributed to social agitation. Although it is certain that Witte’s Economic Reform did have positive benefits, it did also undoubtedly have negative impacts in Russia which could be said to have contributed to the Revolution. When comparing Russia’s humiliating defeat in the Russo-Japanese war to the negative effects of Witte’s economic reform, I would agree with the statement in that I feel Russia’s maritime defeat was a more significant catalyst for revolution than economic reform. Despite the fact that reform did cause hardship to some members of society, it also distracted revolution and protected Tsardom against many disruptive forces in Russian society by making the nation stronger, whereas the war in comparison impacted all areas of society in a national humiliation.
Long term political factors could also be said to have fuelled the 1905 Revolution, and in my opinion were more significant in having been a catalyst for Revolution than the Russo-Japanese war. To begin, many had been dissatisfied with the political condition in Russia for many years. Ethnic minorities were oppressed by the policies of Russification and Jewish people were persecuted by state-sanctioned pogroms. The middle class industrialists were also unhappy with their lack if say in how Russia was governed and increased industrialisation lead to major economic and social problems for peasants. Combined, these factors for discontent in Russia provided revolutionary groups with a bed of support which could be used to create change. These sources of opposition existed in the form of Liberals, who cited famine as a problem the government were responsible for and wanted the introduction of a state Duma who would assist the Tsar in decision making. Another group who wanted change were social revolutionaries, who adopted a combination of Marxist and populist beliefs and wanted to overthrow the government in order to give power to peasants. Finally, social democrats focused on agitation amongst city workers. After splitting into groups of Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in 1903, it became apparent that the Mensheviks wanted revolution to occur naturally whereas the Bolsheviks wanted revolution as quickly as possible. Although the social democrats were indeed not directly involved in the 1905 revolution, they did help spread ideas of strike and protest throughout the Empire. With regards to these political issues being a catalyst for Revolution, it is evident that the way Russia was run in the years running up to 1905 was strongly disliked throughout much of society. Despite the fact that the end to the Russo-Japanese war seemed to ignite the Pomtemkin Mutiny and the subsequent Revolution and is thus a significant catalyst, it is my belief that contrary to the statement in question long term political factors were more consequential. The long term effects of mistrust in the Tsar’s government policies and the opportunity this provided for revolutionary groups to inspire a vision of change seem to have provided the basis and thus principal catalyst for Revolution, whereas the end to the Russo-Japanese war seems to have come at a convenient time which provided a final force to ignite Revolution.
To conclude, it is my belief that the principal catalyst and predominant reason for Revolution in Russia in 1905 was in fact a combination of political factors leading to social unrest, as opposed to Russian failure during the Russo-Japanese war. Having said this, the war was indeed important in that it came at a crucial time for igniting revolution. These political reasons for agitation in Russia, including a dislike of the Tsarist government, affected many members of society which allowed revolutionary groups to essentially inspire revolution. Although Witte’s economic reform could be said to play a part in political issues given his high position in government, alone I believe that reform brought more prosperity to Russia and was a just attempt to avert Revolution. Finally, with regards to Russia’s failure in the Russo-Japanese war having been a principal catalyst for Revolution in 1905, I feel that although humiliating for Russia, it wouldn’t have had such a significant effect as it seems to without Russia’s economic and political issues alongside it and thus was not the principal catalyst.