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Why was there a revolution in Russia in 1905? Essay

An event as complex and ideologically significant as the 1905 revolution is difficult to attribute to any single causal factors. Indeed it is vital to contextualise the historians of this revolution as much as the event itself. Marxist historians see the 1905 revolution as part of a broader pattern of ideological awakening leading inevitably to 1917.

Historians with a western capitalist bias writing in the aftermath of the revolution tend to emphasize the manipulative, charismatic attributes of this revolution from above. Both views are more dogmatic than evaluative; however by combing both positions we move closer to an accurate analysis of 1905. One where the revolutionary intelligentsia skilfully manipulated the popular discontent resuting from huge social and demographic change and where the Tsarist reactionary and conservative policies were wholly inadequate to manage this change or the growing discontent,

(para one doesn’t flow from this point)

This is exemplified by the ‘Bloody Sunday’ massacre on the 22nd of January 1905. As well as a ‘tipping point’ the massacre should be viewed as a metaphor for the inability of Nicholas’ regime to deal with the genuine grievance of the Russian people, whilst demonstrating the opportunism of the intelligentsia in exploiting this. A group of peaceful petitioners and their families were marching to the St. Petersburg palace, in order to present a petition to the Tsar to aid their desperate social and economic circumstances. The marchers demonstrate the socio-economic difficulties facing the majority of Russians outside of autocratic circles. Yet these marchers were peaceful and non-revolutionary in intent, hoping that the “little father” would consider their concerns and aid their conditions. The march induced a panic in the St Petersburg police forces, which began to fire upon marchers, killing approximately two hundred and injuring hundreds more.

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Revisionists’ critics may argue that Nicholas II himself was not directly involved in ordering the police to open fire and thus not to blame; however it was the culture of suppression resulting from his reactionary policies that created the atmosphere of tension and consequent use of violence by his authorities highlighting his responsibility, and explaining the contempt held for him. Similarly to the layout of the rest of the revolution it was accidental and unplanned, but substantial enough to cause widespread strikes and rioting as well as the Potemkin mutiny in the months that followed. Father Gapon the priest leading the march is said to have cried out “there is no God, there is no Tsar”, conveying the problem that Russian society as a whole faced with the eventual loss of faith in Nicholas the II, an arguably incompetent Tsar for the period of transition Russia faced in the late 19th and early 20th century.

This incompetence can also be seen in the inability of the autocracy to recognise that western economic change must be accompanied by social reform if it is to be successful. This is not to say that the Tsar caused an ideology awakening because of his failures. Indeed in 1903 one-third of the Russian army in western Russia had engaged in “repressive action” against the peasantry. Rather the Tsar was exposed as not being able to solve their problems and so alternatives became attractive. Helped along by improving literacy rates that stemmed from industrialisation, urbanisation and economic stimulation. The 1905 revolution captured this feeling.

There then existed a fertile ground for the politicisation of the urban proletariat. Yet the growth of both the rural and urban Marxist movement during this period can be attributed more to conditions (such as starvation and bad harvests) in which they found themselves in 1905 rather than any ideological awakening.

This is a clearer point

Tsar incompetent –> in dealing with the educated middle classes and the economy

Industrialisation in particular fostered the development of the urban middle classes, who desired a say in how Russia was governed, often debating liberal ideas such as constitutionalism. This caused the creation and rapid growth in support for the intelligentsia and social democrats, which split into the two Marxist ideological groups the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. Such a long term cause of the revolution could be easily disregarded, in the sense that alternative political ideas had always existed, and that the development of a literate middle class was inevitable with industrialisation; but all these factors played a major role in the organisation of the revolution, whether or not it was planned for 1905 and convey the substantial degree of social unhappiness that allowed new political theories to prosper.

The social and economic conditions were to some extent the result of Tsarist policies, offering little genuine and necessary reform. Nicholas emphasised Russia status as a “great power” and focused upon industrialisation without making the societal changes that would allow the distribution of its profits within Russia. It was a misguided attempt at applying 20th century fiscal policy, to a feudal governmental structure. The seriousness of this issue in causing the revolution can be seen in that the Zemstvo nobility, as well as professionals from the upper and middle classes began to rally behind the illegal liberal movement, defying the okhrana and show a significant difference in the social unrest seen by any previous Tsar. Clearly this best explains why there was a revolution in 1905, and why there was opposition not just from the workers but from a range of individuals desperate enough to find the ideological leaders more promising for personal prosperity than the Tsar.

Yet again in 1904 Nicholas clung so vehemently to the traditional autocratic values of Tsardom, within a context where such ideas were not only impractical but destructive to the very structures he sought to protect. Nowhere is this mistake more clearly demonstrated than the Russo-Japanese war. Russia’s expansionist desires in the east, combined with a military desire for an ice-free port led to the provoking of Japan, who also wanted ownership of Korean Port Arthur (but were willing to negotiate), into mounting an attack, and starting off the Russo-Japanese war. Rather naively Nicholas II and some interior ministers such as Witte, believed rallying the nation into a patriotic struggle would deter attention from the domestic issues of unemployment, economic recession and political unrest, and would prove to other ‘great powers’ Russia’s status as it easily defeated the small and inferior island.

However, inevitably the war only led to raised taxes, widespread food shortages, and is a significant cause because it heightened the pre-existing problems. Those groups and individuals questioning the Tsars capabilities, in particular the intelligentsia became certain in their support for alternative political groups, e.g. the Mensheviks. Russia’s dismal performance only further alienated all classes from the Tsar, whose image as the “father” of Russia was quickly becoming ruined. Whilst the war isn’t as significant a cause for the revolution as social unrest and resentment for the autocracy was, it acted in stimulating these problems. By inflaming economic and social issues at home, the war gave all types of revolutionaries a unique opportunity for attack, simultaneously displaying to the world Russia’s weaknesses and lack of democracy or effective leadership.

Nicholas may’ve been more effective to follow a policy of agricultural reform and help the starving peasants in stead of nurturing the kind of social unrest ready to be exploited through revolution. It can be said that by coupling his commitment to autocracy with a desire for the spoils and status of western economic power and productivity the Tsar in part crippled his own regime by overlooking his people. Although the importance of the war in causing the revolution can be questioned when considering that the war ended in September 1905, not as a concession by the Nicholas II, who obviously didn’t think it was significant enough in causing the revolution justify immediately withdrawal, even though he did take other measures such as the October manifesto. In reality though this criticism overlooks Nicholas’s incompetence and in reality only shows how the issue furthered revolution.

One of the most important and long standing causes of the revolution, which is linked to social unrest, is the long term effect of resentment for the autocracy. At a stage in the early 20th century when other great powers such as Britain were enjoying some form of democracy, Russia was still locked in a traditional and unforgiving (to those outside of autocratic circles) political structure.. Leo Tolstoy a Russian philosopher at the time openly addressed the Tsar, commenting upon Russian persecution, overflowing prisons, soldiers with too much power, censorship everywhere and other problems and said to Nicholas II in 1902 “it is impossible to maintain this form of government accept by violence”. Clearly this issue is part of the backbone that formed the 1905 revolution and joins into other causes as; longstanding resentment for the autocracy caused people to seek the newly developed political and social theories, and the urbanisation of towns allowed people to become organised and grouped. Although, some individuals have made a distinction between resentment of the autocracy, and resentment of Nicholas II.

Russian autocracy had rarely been rebelled against so much priory to Nicholas II, and its arguable that actually resentment of the autocratic structure did not cause the revolution but instead resentment of Nicholas II did. However even with Nicholas’s behaviour this seems unlikely as industrialisation and the emancipation of the surfs changed the structure of Russian society without changing the way it was governed which is clearly very important in answering why there was a revolution in Russia in 1905, and more significant than the Russo-Japanese war which in a different societal structure may have received the kind of patriotic support Nicholas was hoping to achieve. Clearly the role of the intelligentsia in exploiting this popular resentment is one of the best historical explanations for the 1905 revolution.

Overall it seems in answering the question why was there a revolution in 1905, whilst the short term causes are important, the long term causes that created social unrest are the most significant and relevant for answering the question. Without the build up of effects from long term causes, short term reasons wouldn’t have been so significant for example the police wouldn’t have overreacted so much on Bloody Sunday if it weren’t for the heightened atmosphere of revolution that came from the spread of liberalist or otherwise ideology. The reason there was a revolution in Russia in 1905 was the level of social unhappiness and resentment that came from years of autocratic rule, and terrible living conditions for a large sector of the population, combined with the skills of the intelligentsia to draw upon resentment and expose the reactionary nature of autocracy, which gave Nicholas’ enemies a platform on which to plan revolution.

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