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?

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“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. ...

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