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Bombs found in the Bolshevik explosives lab.
The 1905 Russian Revolution was a wave of mass political unrest through vast areas of the Russian Empiremarker. Some of it was directed against the government, while some was undirected. It included terrorism, worker strikes, peasant unrest, and military mutinies. It led to the establishment of the limited constitutional monarchy, the State Duma of the Russian Empire, the multi-party system and the Russian Constitution of 1906.


Tsar Alexander II, who had emancipated the serfs in 1861 and passed a range of local government and military reforms, was assassinated on March 1, 1881 by members of the 'Peoples Will', a small terrorist group. His successor, Alexander III, was a reactionary who governed with an iron fist. Both the state and the church were subordinate to this autocracy. He died in 1894 and was succeeded by his son Nicholas II, of the House of Romanov who governed at the time of the 1905 Revolution.

Rise of the opposition

At the start of the 20th century Russian liberals formed the Union of Zemstvo Constitutionalists (1903) and the Union of Liberation (1904) which called for a constitutional monarchy. Russian socialists organized into two major groups: the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, following the Russian populist tradition, and the Marxist Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party.

In the autumn of 1904 liberals started a series of banquets, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the liberal court statutes, and calling for political reforms and establishment of a constitution. On November 30, 1904, the Moscow City Dumamarker passed a resolution, demanding establishment of an elected national legislature, full freedom of the press and freedom of religion. Similar resolutions and appeals from other city dumas and zemstvo councils followed.

Nicholas II made a move to fulfill many of these demands, appointing liberal Pyotr Dmitrievich Sviatopolk-Mirskii Minister of the Interior after the assassination of Vyacheslav von Plehve. On 12 December 1904, the Tsar issued a manifesto promising the broadening of the Zemstvo and local municipal councils' authority, insurance for the industrial workers, the emancipation of Inorodtsy and the abolition of censorship. Still, the crucial point of representative national legislature was missing in the manifesto.

Start of the revolution

In December 1904, a strike occurred at the Putilov plantmarker in Saint Petersburg. Sympathy strikes in other parts of the city raised the number of strikers above 80,000. Controversial Orthodox priest George Gapon, who headed a police-sponsored workers' association, led a huge workers' procession to the Winter Palacemarker to deliver a petition to the Tsar on Sunday, . The troops guarding the Winter Palace who thought the demonstrators had come to take over opened fire on them, which resulted in more than 1000 deaths. The event became known as Bloody Sunday, and is usually considered the start of the active phase of revolution.

Events in Saint-Petersburg provoked public indignation and a series of mass strikes throughout Russia. Growing inter-ethnic confrontation throughout the Caucasus resulted in Armenian-Tatar massacres, heavily damaging the cities and the Baku oilfields. Polish socialists - both the PPS and the SDKPiL - called for a general strike; over 400,000 workers became involved in strikes all over Russian Poland.

The government responded fairly quickly. The Tsar dismissed the Minister of the Interior, Pyotr Sviatopolk-Mirskii, on January 18, 1905 O.S. and appointed a government commission "to enquire without delay into the causes of discontent among the workers in the city of St. Petersburg and its suburbs" in view of the strike movement. Commission was headed by Senator N.V. Shidlovsky, a member of the State Council, and included officials, chiefs of government factories, and factory owners. It was also to have included workers’ delegates elected according to a two-stage system. Elections of the workers delegates were blocked by the socialists, trying to divert the workers from the elections to the armed struggle. On February 20 (March 5), 1905, the Commission was dissolved without having started work.

Following the assassination of his uncle, the Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich, on February 4 O.S. Tsar agreed to give new concessions. On February 18 O.S. he published the Bulygin Rescript, which promised the formation of a 'consultative' assembly, religious tolerance, freedom of speech (in the form of language rights for the Polish minority) and a reduction in the peasants' redemption payments.

On May 24 and 25, about 300 Zemstvo and municipal representatives held three meetings in Moscow, which passed a resolution, asking for a popular representation at the national level. On June 6, 1905 Nicholas II had received a Zemstvo deputation. Responding to speeches by Prince Sergei Trubetskoi and Mr. Fyodrov, the tsar confirmed his promise to convene an assembly of people’s representatives.

In October, 1905 Saint Petersburg Soviet was formed. It called for a general strike, refusal to pay taxes and withdrawal of bank deposits.

Height of the revolution

On February 5 O.S., Nicholas II agreed to the creation of a consultative State Duma of the Russian Empire. When the slight powers of this and the limits to the electorate were revealed, unrest redoubled and culminated in a general strike in October.

On October 14, the October Manifesto, written by Sergei Witte and Alexis Obolenskii, was presented to the Tsar. It closely followed the demands of the Zemstvo Congress in September, granting basic civil rights, allowing the formation of political parties, extending the franchise towards universal suffrage, and establishing the Duma as the central legislative body. The Tsar waited and argued for three days, but finally signed the manifesto on , owing to his desire to avoid a massacre, and a realisation that there was insufficient military force available to do otherwise. He regretted signing the document, saying that he felt "sick with shame at this betrayal of the dynasty" - "the betrayal was complete".

When the manifesto was proclaimed there were spontaneous demonstrations of support in all the major cities. The strikes in Saint Petersburg and elsewhere either officially ended or quickly collapsed. A political amnesty was also offered. The concessions came hand-in-hand with renewed, and brutal, action against the unrest. There was also a backlash from the conservative elements of society, with right-wing attacks on strikers, left-wingers and Jews.

While the Russian liberals were satisfied by the October Manifesto and took preparations for upcoming Dumas elections, radical socialists and revolutionaries denounced the elections and called for an armed uprising to "finish off the tsarism".

Some of the November uprising of 1905 in Sevastopol, headed by retired naval Lieutenant Pyotr Schmidt, was directed against the government, while some was undirected. It included terrorism, worker strikes, peasant unrests, and military mutinies and was only suppressed after a fierce battle. The Trans-Baikal railroad fell into the hands of striker committees and demobilized soldiers returning from Manchuria after the Russo–Japanese War. The Tsar had to send a special detachment of loyal troops along the Trans-Siberian Railway to restore order.

The uprisings ended in December with a final spasm in Moscow. Between December 5 and December 7 O.S. there was a general strike by the Russian worker class. The government sent in troops on December 7, and a bitter street-by-street fight began. A week later the Semenovskii Regiment was deployed, and used artillery to break-up demonstrations and shell workers' districts. On December 18 O.S., with around a thousand people dead and parts of the city in ruins, the Bolsheviks surrendered.

By April 1906, more than 14,000 people were executed and 75,000 were thrown in prison.

Duma and Stolypin

Among the political parties formed, or made legal, were the liberal-intelligentsia Constitutional Democratic party (the Cadets), the peasant leaders' Labour Group (Trudoviks), the less liberal Union of October 17 (the Octobrists), and the reactionary Union of Land-Owners.

The electoral laws were promulgated in December 1905—franchise to male citizens over 25 years of age, electing through four electoral colleges. This was a 'weighted' electoral system where the votes of some sections of society were worth more than others. For example, the vote of an landowner was worth more than the vote of a peasant or industrial worker. The first elections to the Duma took place in March 1906 and were boycotted by the socialists, the SRs and the Bolsheviks. In the First Duma there were 170 Kadets, 90 Trudoviks, 100 non-aligned peasant representatives, 63 nationalists of various hues, and 16 Octobrists.

In April 1906 the government issued the Fundamental Laws, setting the limits of this new political order. The Tsar was confirmed as absolute leader, with complete control of the executive, foreign policy, church, and the armed forces. The Duma was shifted, becoming a lower chamber below the half-elected, half-appointed by tsar State Council. Legislation had to be approved by the Duma, the Council and the Tsar to become law and in "exceptional conditions" the government could bypass the Duma.

In April, after having negotiated a loan of almost 900 million rubles to repair Russian finances, Sergei Witte resigned. Apparently the Tsar had "lost confidence" in him. Later known as "late Imperial Russia's most outstanding politician", Witte was replaced by senior Ivan Goremykin. On May 6, 1906, Goremykin was replaced by Pyotr Stolypin.

Demanding further liberalisation and acting as a platform for "agitators", the First Duma was dissolved by the Tsar in July 1906. Despite the hopes of the Kadets and the fears of the government, there was no widespread popular reaction to the Vyborg appeal. However, an assassination attempt on Pyotr Stolypin led to the establishment of field trials for terrorists, and over the next eight months more than a thousand people were hanged.

The Coup of June 1907 was the end of the revolution. The Duma was dispersed and the social democrat deputies were arrested. The autocracy was restored.

Rise of terrorism

The years 1904 and 1907 were a time of decline for the mass movements, such as strikes and political demonstrations, but also a time of rising political terrorism. SR Combat Organization, PPS Combat organization and Bolshevik combat groups carried out numerous assassinations, targeting civil servants and police, and robberies. Between 1906 and 1909 revolutionaries killed 7,293 people, of whom 2,640 were officials, and wounded 8,061.

Notable victims of assassins included:


Years of revolution were marked by sharp rise of death sentences and executions. Different figures on number of executions were compared by Senator Nikolai Tagantsev and are listed in the table.
Year Number of executions by different accounts
Report by Ministry of Internal Affairs Police Department to the State Duma on February 6, 1909 Report by Ministry of War Military Justice department Figures by Oscar Gruzenberg Report by Mikhail Borovitinov, assistant head of Ministry of Justice Chief Prison Administration, at the International Prison Congress in Washington, 1910
1905 10 19 26 20
1906 144 236 225 144
1907 456 627 624 1139
1908 825 1330 1349 825
Total 1435 + 683 = 2118 2212 2235 2628

Year Number of executions
1909 537
1910 129
1911 58
1912 123
1913 25
These numbers reflect only executions of civilians, and do not include a large number of summary executions by punitive army detachments and executions of military personnel that mutineed .

Peter Kropotkin also notes that official statistics didn't include executions during punitive expeditions, especially in Siberia, the Caucasus, and the Baltic provinces .


In the Grand Duchy of Finland the Social Democrats organized the general strike of 1905 (October 30 – November 6). First Red Guards were formed, led by captain Johan Kock. During the general strike the Red Declaration, written by Yrjö Mäkelin, was given in Tamperemarker, demanding dissolution of the Senate of Finland and universal suffrage, political freedoms, and abolition of censorship. Leader of the constitutionalists, Leo Mechelin crafted the November Manifesto, that led to the abolition of the Diet of Finland of the four Estates and to the creation of the modern Parliament of Finland. It also resulted in a temporary halt to the russification policy started in 1899.

On July 30, 1906, Russian sailors rose to rebellion in the fortress of Viapori (later called Suomenlinnamarker), Helsinki. The Finnish Red Guards supported rebellion with a general strike, but it was quelled by the Baltic Fleet in sixty days.


In the Governorate of Estonia, Estonians called for freedom of the press and assembly, for universal suffrage, and for national autonomy. On October 16, the Russian army opened fire in a meeting on a street market in Tallinnmarker, killing 94 and injuring over 200. The October Manifesto was supported in Estonia and brought the Estonian flag out publicly for the first time. Jaan Tõnisson used the new political freedoms to widen the rights of Estonians by establishing the first Estonian political party - National Progress Party. Another, more radical political organization, the Estonian Social Democratic Workers' Union was founded as well. The moderate supporters of Tõnisson and more radical supporters of Jaan Teemant could not reach a consensus about how to continue with the revolution, only that they both wanted to limit the rights of Baltic Germans and end Russification. The radical views were publicly welcomed and in December 1905, martial law was declared in Tallinn. A total of 160 manors were looted, resulting in ca. 400 workers and peasants killed by the army. Estonian gains from the revolution were minimal, but the tense stability that prevailed between 1905 and 1917 allowed Estonians to advance the aspiration of national statehood.

See also



  • Abraham Ascher; The Revolution of 1905, vol. 1: Russia in Disarray; Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1988
  • Abraham Ascher; The Revolution of 1905, vol. 2: Authority Restored; Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1994
  • Abraham Ascher; The Revolution of 1905: A Short History; Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2004
  • Donald C. Rawson; Russian Rightists and the Revolution of 1905; Cambridge Russian, Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995
  • François-Xavier Coquin; 1905, La Révolution russe manquée; Editions Complexe, Paris, 1999
  • François-Xavier Coquin and Céline Gervais-Francelle (Editors); 1905 : La première révolution russe (Actes du colloque sur la révolution de 1905), Publications de la Sorbonne et Institut d'Études Slaves, Paris, 1986
  • John Bushnell; Mutiny amid Repression: Russian Soldiers in the Revolution of 1905-1906; Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1985
  • Anna Geifman. Thou Shalt Kill: Revolutionary Terrorism in Russia, 1894-1917.

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