The 1905 Russian Revolution was the first of the revolutions that took place in attempt to overthrow Russia’s Tsarist (or Imperial Autocracy) regime. The revolution broke out in 1905 because of the public unrest and economic depression caused by the Russo-Japanese war in 1904-5; and because of the “Bloody Sunday” of January 9th, 1905. The significance of the 1905 Revolution was determined by the October Manifesto, which was the Tsar’s response to the revolution, and by the Tsarist-opposing parties realisation after the Tsar’s issuing of the Fundamental Laws.
In 1904 the Tsar Nicholas II’s Minister of the Interior, Plehve, recommended to him that Russia expanded its Empire in the Far East and in doing so create “a small victorious war to stop the revolutionary tide”. The resulting Russo-Japanese war was a failure for the Russians, as the Japanese seized Port Arthur and destroyed most of the Russian fleet. The war ended in 1905 with Russia defeated by Japan. Although the resulting peace treaty (the Treaty of Portsmouth) was relatively easy on the Russians, the defeat was humiliating as Japan was only a second-rate power and should have been easily defeated by Russia, one of the five great powers of the time. The war itself caused significant economic strife in Russia, creating food shortages and mass unemployment. This, added to the public opinion that the war with Japan had been completely unnecessary, created unrest among the Russian population, and many of those who were upset blamed the Tsar.
On January 9th 1905 the Leader of the Assembly of Russian Factory Workers, Father Gapon, led 150,000 workers to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg to hand the Tsar (also known to the people as the “Little Father” of Russia) a petition asking for the release of political prisoners; freedom of speech, press, meetings and conscience in religion; universal and compulsory education; responsibility of the ministers before the people; and equality before the law of all. The Assembly of Russian Factory Workers was tolerated by the government because the police had several informers -including Father Gapon himself- in the group. However, on the workers’ arrival at the palace, the troops there opened fire on the mass, killing more than a hundred of the demonstrators. This caused the Russian view of the Tsar as their “Little Father” to be completely shattered and produced a great deal of unrest and sympathy strikes, leading to the 1905 Russian Revolution.
One significant effect of the 1905 Revolution that brought about political change was the Tsar’s response to the revolution. In order to appease those who would overthrow him, Nicholas II set up a Duma (Russian Parliament) under the October Manifesto of 1905, as well as a set of constitutions granting freedom of conscience, speech, meeting and association and promising that in future no one would be imprisoned without a trial. Although many Russians felt that the Manifesto was not enough of a reform, the small step towards democracy was also seen as a basis for further development, and was enough to put an end to the revolution. The first and seconds Dumas were dissolved by Nicholas as they contained too many radicals from parties such as the Mensheviks, Bolsheviks, Octobrists and Constitutional Democrat Party. However, these first two Dumas allowed the Russian people to discuss and vote on issues, which to them was the slow beginning of a democracy, and was very significant in bringing about political change.
The fact that the October Manifesto was meant by the Tsar not to bring about change to Russia, but to stall for time, was made clear to the Russian population when Nicholas II issued the Fundamental Laws in 1906. These laws stated that “The Emperor of all the Russias possesses the supreme autocratic power”, and “The Emperor approves laws; and without his approval no legislative measure can become law.” While the Fundamental Laws also confirmed the rights granted by the October Manifesto, they sent out the message that while the Tsar had granted the Russians a Duma, Russia was still very much an autocratic country, and that the Tsar could take away the Duma any time he wished. After these Laws were issued, Tsarist-opposing parties such as the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks realised that there could be no real political change in Russia while the Tsar was still in power. This idea, brought about by the Fundamental Laws, was of crucial significance in bringing about political change in Russia.
In conclusion, the 1905 Revolution broke out in Russia because of unrest and the depression caused by the Russo-Japanese war in 1904 to 1905; and because of the “Bloody Sunday” on the ninth of January, 1905. The 1905 Revolution was of important significance in bringing about political change by 1912 because the Duma granted by the October Manifesto allowed the Russian people to get their first taste of democracy, and because the Fundamental Laws issued by the Tsar the following year made them realise that in order to bring about political change, they must overthrow Nicholas II, Tsar of Russia.
“Lenin and the Russian Revolution” by Steve Phillips, published 2000