Long Term Causes
1861 (3rd March)
Serfdom was abolished when Tsar Alexander II
signed the Emancipation of the Serfs Decree bringing serfdom in Russia to an end.
A group of students published ‘Young Russia’ which argued that reform was essential and that revolution was the medium necessary to effect change.
The Zemstva, a form of local government, was established. It had responsibility for providing local services including health and education.
1866 (after July)
Many nobles and ministers including Alexander II’s son and heir, the future Alexander III
, felt that the reforms had gone too far, destroying the old order and allowing an influx of Western ideas. They persuaded Alexander to replace liberal ministers with more conservative ones.
‘The Communist Manifesto’ by Karl Marx was translated into Russian.
Elected town councils called dumas were introduced to urban areas.
The populist ‘Go to the People’ campaign was spread by the Nihilists and the Narodniks. Their aim was to persuade peasants to rise up against the regime by stirring up resentment at their lack of land and the taxes they had to pay.
Trial of the 193
Populists were put on trial as revolutionaries who spread propaganda against the Russian government.
A number of Populists that had evaded capture set up the group ‘Land and Liberty’ but it soon became clear that the peasants were not interested in joining a full scale revolution.
‘Land and Liberty’ split into two groups – the Black Partition and The People’s Will
The People’s Will declared that the Tsar had to be removed.
1881 (13th March)
Alexander II was assassinated
by the ‘People’s Will’ group. He was succeeded by his son, Alexander III who was much more conservative than his father. Almost immediately he ordered the rounding up and arrest of the assassins and put a ban on secret meetings.
Alexander III pursued a policy of Russification enforcing the use of the Russian language throughout the provinces and persecuting non-Russians especially the Jews. A number of anti-Jewish pogroms took place.
The Okhrana (security police) were given new powers to search, question, detain and even exile anyone who was likely to commit a crime.
First Russian Marxist group was formed in Geneva by former members of the Black Partition group.
Alexander III set up the new office of Land Captains. Recruited from the nobility these Land Captains had the power to over-ride decisions made by local Zemstva, overturn local court decisions and impose their own punishments.
An act was passed that reduced the peasant’s vote in elections.
Ivan Vyshnegradsky introduced a Tariff Act which reduced imports of foreign raw materials. Over the last years he had increased exports of grain by 18%.
1891 – 92 (during)
Around 2 million peasants died of starvation. Despite the famine, Russia continued to export grain, a move which was seen as controversial and led to the dismissal of Vyshnegradsky.
1891 – 1892 (during)
Famine victims received no relief from the Tsar or the government and it was left to middle class philanthropists to provide aid for those feeling the worst effects of the famine. These middle classes became more opposed to the Tsar and wanted a voice in government.
An act was passed that made it difficult for poor people living in towns to qualify for a vote.
Alexander III died of kidney failure. He was succeeded by his eldest son Nicholas II
who, like his father was a committed autocrat. However, unlike his father, Nicholas had no interest in politics and would have preferred not to be Tsar.
Russia had increased industrial output significantly and had become the World’s fourth largest industrial economy. However, the rise in industrialisation had led to a move away from the countryside to the cities where people depended on sufficient incomes to pay for rent, food etc. Those that rose through the ranks of industry to become managers together with those professionals that served the cities – doctors, teachers, bankers etc created a new middle class that wanted political representation.
The General Union of Jewish Workers, known as The Bund, was formed. It was strongly opposed to the autocracy and sought to advance Marxism.
The Russian Social Democratic Worker’s Party formed based on the theories of Karl Marx and Frederich Engels.
The average Russian working day was 11 hours for weekdays and 10 hours on a Saturday. Workers were forbidden from forming trade unions or from striking giving them no opportunity to improve their working conditions. Their living conditions were also very poor. Many factory workers lived in hastily erected buildings. Overcrowding was rife and facilities very poor. More than 40% of city houses had no running water.
The government ordered that hundreds of liberals be dismissed from the local Zemstva (local governments). This meant that local government was more conservative.
A worldwide depression caused an economic slump which in turn led to social and industrial unrest.
The Socialist Revolutionary Party was formed by Viktor Chernov. The Party believed that Russia should reform through armed revolution, that there should be no private land ownership, democratic elections should be held and an 8 hour working day introduced.
Another poor harvest led to an increase in rural violence.
In Kharkov and Poltava thousands of peasants, desperately seeking work to pay for food, began looting and destroying property. They were dispersed by the military.
The Commission on Agriculture was established led by Pyotr Stolypin to investigate the rural situation. A landowner himself Stolypin took a hard line on unrest.
Lenin wrote and published a pamphlet entitled ‘What is to be done.’ In the pamphlet he argued that trade unionism would not bring about reform alone that only an overthrow of the established Tsarist regime would bring a new reformed Russia.
The Minister of the Interior, Plehve, blamed the Jews for stirring up revolutionary feelings in Russia and secretly organised Jewish Pogroms.
1903 (30th July)
Second RSDLP Congress
This meeting of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was held in London over a period of two weeks. The Social Democrats split into Bolsheviks led by Lenin
and Mensheviks led by Martov. Lenin and the Bolsheviks wanted a full revolution while the Mensheviks were prepared to work with liberal groups to bring about reform. Bolsheviks wanted to restrict membership to the party and lead from a central core while the Mensheviks wanted an open membership and a democratic run party.
Pyotr Struve formed the Union of Liberation in exile in Germany. Struve was opposed to the Marxist idea of violent revolution and rejected both the Bolshevik and Menshevik models hoping that Russia would evolve naturally into a constitutional monarchy through which reform would follow.
Short Term Causes
War broke out when Japanese forces attacked and lay siege to Port Arthur on the Liadong Peninsular which had been leased to Russia by the Chinese. The Japanese had designs on the regions of Manchuria and Korea as areas to expand their own territory. The siege left the Russian inhabitants without supplies since the Trans-Siberian Railway had not yet been completed. The outbreak of war cost money that Russia could not afford leaving the people even poorer.
Prices of essential goods had risen so much that workers were effectively 20% worse off than they had been a year ago.
Peter Struve was instrumental in the formation of the Union of Liberation in St Petersburg. The Union wanted a constitutional monarchy and for everyone to be entitled to vote.
Gapon’s Assembly of Russian Workers had 9,000 members.
Workers went on strike in Odessa.
Workers went on strike in Kiev.
1904 (28th July)
Von Plehve the Interior Minister was assassinated by the Combat wing of the Socialist Revoutionary Party.
Nicholas II ordered the Baltic Fleet to sail to the East. Sailing out from the Baltic the fleet opened fire on two of its own ships believing them to be Japanese. In the firing a British fishing vessel was sunk killing two fishermen. This provoked an outcry in Britain and war with Britain was only avoided by the payment of a huge fine.
Workers went on strike in Baku.
Workers at the Putilov Iron Works in St Petersburg came out on strike after four members of Father Georgi Gapon’s Assembly of Russian Workers were dismissed.
1904 (13th December)
The Moscow City Duma passed a motion calling for the establishment of an elected national government, freedom of press and freedom of religion. Other cities followed suit.
1904 (25th December)
Nicholas issued a manifesto stating that he would widen the powers of the Zemstvas, abolish censorship and set up insurance for industrial workers. An elected assembly was not mentioned.
1905 (2nd January)
Port Arthur fell to the Japanese.
1905 (after January)
There were naval mutinies in Sevastopol, Vladivostok and Kronstadt.
1905 (9th January)
Father Gapon called for his Union members to strike in protest at the dismissal of four iron workers for being members of the union.
1905 (12th January)
Nicholas appointed Dmitri Trepov as governor of St Petersburg.
1905 (16th January)
The entire workforce of the Putilov Ironworks in St. Petersburg went on strike when the management refused to reinstate the four dismissed members.
1905 (19th January)
Father Gapon made the decision to organise a march to the Winter Palace to present a petition, signed by 150,000 people asking for fairer treatment, to the Tsar. He sent a copy of the petition and notice of the march to the Minister of the Interior.
1905 (21st January)
150,000 workers in 382 factories were now on strike in support of the four dismissed ironworks workers. St Petersburg was without power and all public areas had been closed.
1905 (22nd January)
Father Georgy Gapon had organised a peaceful march to present a petition to the Tsar to ask for measures to be put in place to treat the Russian people more fairly. The marchers included men, women and children carrying banners of the Tsar singing religious hymns. However, when the marchers reached the Winter Palace they were met by a line of armed Cossacks who opened fire on the demonstrators. More than 200 demonstrators were killed and more than 500 injured. Father Gapon escaped and left Russia. The event, known as Bloody Sunday sparked a series of revolts known as the 1905 Revolution.
Events of the Revolution
1905 (23rd January)
Although Nicholas had not been in St Petersburg and had not given the order to fire on the people, he was blamed for the tragedy and people lost faith in him. Workers all over Russia came out on strike and the Minister of the Interior, Sviatopolk-Mirsky resigned.
1905 (26th January)
130 protesters were killed in Riga.
1905 (late January)
More than 400,000 workers were on strike in Russian Poland. More than 100 were shot on the streets.
1905 (17th February)
Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, Nicholas II’s uncle, was assassinated by the Combat wing of the Socialist Revolutionary Party.
1905 (18th February)
Nicholas dismissed his Minister of the Interior, Pyotr Sviatopolk-Mirskii. He ordered an inquiry into the cause of the discontent among the workers of St Petersburg.
1905 (18th February)
This document, published by the Tsar, promised that a consultative assembly would be set up, freedom of religion and speech would be established.
1905 (19th February)
There were large scale protests in Kursk.
Demonstrations by students complaining about lack of civil liberties, by professional people (lawyers, doctors etc) complaining about the power of the nobility and demanding a constituent assembly and by workers complaining about their conditions were broken up by extreme force
The Japanese won the battle of Mukden. More than 90,000 Russian soldiers had lost their lives.
All the universities were closed. Many students joined the protests.
Nicholas abandoned the inquiry into workers’ discontent and ordered ministers to report on constitutional reform. This action actually encourages protesters to keep demanding more reform.
The All Russian Union of Railway Workers was established.
1905 (25th May)
Representatives of the Zemestvas held meetings in Moscow and passed a resolution calling for popular representation to be established.
1905 (28th May)
Russian Baltic fleet reached the east and were defeated and sunk by the Japanese at The Battle of Tsushima.
There were uprisings among the peasants who seized land and tools from their landlords/
1905 (6th June)
Nicholas told a deputation of Zemestva members that he would set up an assembly of peoples’ representatives.
1905 (27th June)
The Potemkin battleship sailors mutinied after refusing to obey the Captain’s order to execute sailors protesting against being served rotten meat. The Captain and officers were thrown overboard. The sailors then sailed to Odessa where they proceeded to foment revolution through drunken speeches. The police and Cossacks used violence to break the revolution killing 2,000 people and injuring 3,000. The sailors escaped by sailing to Romania.
1905 (8th July)
The Potemkin sailors surrendered in exchange for asylum.
Muslims in Russia founded the Union of the Muslims of Russia.
1905 (5th September)
Having been defeated in the Russo-Japanese War. Sergei Witte was sent to negotiate the Treaty of Portsmouth which agreed that both Russia and Japan would leave Manchuria and return it to Chinese rule. Russia lost Port Arthur to the Japanese.
Printers in Moscow went on strike.
1905 (6th October)
There were strikes by workers across Russia and a strike by the railway workers paralysed the rail network.
1905 (10th October)
A general strike in Moscow brought the city to a standstill.
1905 (13th October)
Trotsky who was a member of the Mensheviks returned to Russia and became a member of the St Petersburg Soviet. Other Soviets were formed by Mensheviks and Bolsheviks.
1905 (17th October)
This was issued and agreed by Nicholas II to try to appease the people. It promised: Freedom of speech, Freedom to hold meetings, No laws to be introduced without the agreement of the Duma. Political parties were no longer banned, elections to the Duma were agreed.
1905 (18th October)
Many strikes were broken up by violence and the strikers, fearful of the violence, returned to work. Others welcomed the October Manifesto believing it would lead to a fairer society. Those who opposed change and detested the Manifesto took out their anger on strikers, members of the political left and Jews living in Russia.
Pyotr Struve returned to Russia and together with Pavel Milyukov founded The Constitutional Democratic Party (Kadets). They believed that the October Manifesto was the first step towards a true democracy. They wanted The Royal family to become a constitutional monarchy rather than have the Tsar as an autocratic ruler.
The term Nationalists was coined to describe those nobles and politicians who ideally wanted things to remain as they had for centuries but understood that Nicholas had no choice but to issue the October Manifesto. They were against an elected Duma but saw it as a necessary concession. Within the Duma, Nationalists voted in favour of laws that were favourable to the Tsar and nobility but against reforms that improved the lives of the people.
1905 (October 17th)
The St Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Delegates was formed. Its aim was to coordinate workers’ strikes to make them as effective as possible and bring about change.
1905 (October 17th)
The Union of October 17 (Octobrists) was formed. It was a centre party that believed the October Manifesto was the solution to political demands and backed the Tsar.
1905 (21st October)
Railway workers in St Petersburg and Moscow went on strike.
There was an uprising against the government in Sevastopol.
1905 (26th October)
More than 2 million workers were on strike across Russia.
1905 (4th – 7th November)
There was a second General Strike in St Petersburg calling for an 8 hour working day.
1905 (8th November)
Lenin returned to St Petersburg.
1905 (14th November)
Peasant Union leaders were arrested.
1905 (26th November)
became head of the St Petersburg Soviet after its leader was arrested.
Father Gapon returned to Russia.
1905 (5th – 7th December)
There was a general strike across Russia.
1905 (7th December)
Troops were sent to break the general strike.
1905 (14th December)
Troops fired on demonstrators and shelled areas where they lived.
1905 (18th December)
Russian workers surrendered after more than 1,000 people had been killed by troops, many of whom had returned from the Russo-Japanese war. Trotsky and all members of the St Petersburg Soviet were arrested. Nicholas once more assumed an autocratic rule with little regard for the October Manifesto.
1905 (late December)
Leon Trotsky and all members of the St Petersburg Soviet were arrested. Nicholas once more assumed an autocratic rule with little regard for the October Manifesto.
Sergei Witte persuaded Nicholas II to allow the introduction of an elected Duma.
Father Gapon was found hanged. He was possibly murdered by the Okhrana.
1906 (6th May)
The Russian Constitution, also known as the Fundamental Laws was introduced. The Laws allowed the creation of a parliament with a State Council and a State Duma. Although the Duma was an elected body only certain classes of people could vote. The Tsar retained the right to veto any legislation passed.