HIS 242
1905 remarks by Professor Evans


Russia could certainly have used some heroic figures in 1904-05, such as these depicted by Viktor Vasnetsov (1848-1926), Bogatyri (Bogatyrs, 1898.  Oil on canvas.  The Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow).  These three bogatyri were legendary heroes:  Ilya Muromets, Dobrynya Nikitich and Aliosha Popovich.  Each of the characters has his own set of legends.  Though every hero had his own adventures, every one defended his land, the poor, and fought the enemies of Russia; and they were all adored by the people.  Here the painter depicted them all together, guarding the Russian borders.

Vasnetsov Bogatyri
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You could argue whether what happened in Russia in 1905 was or was not a revolution, but most historians have tended to label it the 1905 Revolution; maybe taking their clue from Trotksii's book, 1905 (1907), in which he continually referred to the events of 1905 as a revolution.  I have my doubts as to whether it really was a revolution.

In some respects, it appeared as though the Russian government was doing everything it could to bring about a revolution!

OK, trouble began in 1904 when Russia got itself involved in the Russo-Japanese War, a war which, I might add, the Russian government welcomed for the most part; military disaster followed military disaster both on land and at sea.  There just was no way to completely hide those catastrophes from the Russian public, which made Russians increasingly wonder about the competency of their imperial leadership.  Remember, although Japan declared war first, it was the Russian government that really precipitated the war.

Consider also the radical (and very rapid) transformation that had been changing Russian society and the economy, in the process, creating a working class and also concentrating that working class in the political centers (Moscow, Kiev and St. Petersburg) of the country.  Remember it was the Russian government that had itself decided to undertake the program of heavy industrialization to build up an industrial infrastructure to support the needs of the Russian military.

Look also what the Russian government did with respect to the political opposition.  The tsarist secret police planted government informers throughout all of the opposition political parties (liberals and socialists).  Then in the case of the Battle Organization of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, those government agents, such as Evno Azef, carried out a series of spectacular assassinations of government officials, such as the ministers of the interior Dmitrii Sipiagin (1853-15/28April 1902) and Viacheslav von Pleve (1846-15/28 July 1904) and even the tsar's uncle, the Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich (1857-4/17 February 1905) .  The continued assassinations helped to really destabilize the political situation in Russia.

Keep in mind that the Russian government also had a peculiar policy with regard to workers.  (For a long time, the government even refused to acknowledge that Russia had a working class!)  Since worker organizations were illegal, the Russian police tried to create their own government-controlled workers associations, such as that in which Father Georgii Gapon (1870-1906) became involved.  That police socialism experiment lead directly to Bloody Sunday.

Finally, in October 1905, the General Strike, one of the most successful worker actions ever to have taken place in world history, brought Russia to a standstill.  Faced with the complete shutdown of Russia, it was Sergei Witte who counseled the tsar that he had to issue the October Manifesto that made the promises of a new, "constitutional" order in Russia.  Once the strike ended and then Moscow Uprising--largely a product of the Bolsheviks who were trying to get to the forefront of events in Russia when the party had not played much of a role so far--was put down (The war with Japan was already over.), Russia quieted down a bit.

In early 1906 (27 April/10 May), the day that the new Duma (Russian parliament) opened, the tsar issued Russia's new "constitution" in the guise of the Fundamental Laws.  These 223 articles had been prepared by Witte and the Council of Ministers with the later participation of the tsar to make sure that everything was conservative enough.  In the new "constitutional regime" the tsar reserved for himself enormous power. As a result,  I am not sure how you could call the outcome of events in Russia in 1904 and 1905 a revolution?

If you are interested you can take a look at some lecture notes on 1905 (*.pdf file) from one of my former advisors at the University of Virginia, Thomas T. Hammond.  When I was in graduate school there in the 1980s, Hammond had already been teaching at the University for over thirty years, and he had helped to build a very strong program of Russian studies.  These lecture notes show how detail-oriented he was, and how carefully he worked on his lectures.

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Some recommended books
  • Walter Sablinsky, The Road to Bloody Sunday: Father Gapon and the St. Petersburg Massacre of 1905 (1976)
  • Sidney Harcave, First Blood: The Russian Revolution of 1905 (1964)
  • Peter Waldron, Between Two Revolutions: Stolypin and the Politics of Renewal in Russia (1998)
  • Aleksandr Zenkovsky, Stolypin: Russia's Last Great Reformer (1986)
Some recommended websites



All materials on this site are copyright © 2005-11, B. Blois & C.T. Evans
For information contact cevans@nvcc.edu