Full version How Did The Tsar Survive The 1905 Revolution?

How Did The Tsar Survive The 1905 Revolution?

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How did the Tsar survive the 1905 Revolution?


Controversy surrounds whether or not the revolution was a "dress rehearsal" for the 1917 revolution or a missed opportunity for Tsar Nicholas II to consolidate a constitutional monarchy.

This dissertation will focus on the survival of the Tsar, as it is ultimately an open question whether he would have saved the monarchy. The dissertation will also reveal that in the Tsar's heart was more in reaction than reform. This coursework will show that part of the key to the monarchy's survival was the division of the opponents of Tsarism. It took World War I to cause a major breakdown in relations that left the monarchy open to further revolution through total war.

The 1905 revolution was the result of the Russo-Japanese war which broke out in 1904. The war saw military and naval defeats for the Russian forces. There were food shortages in cities and the Soviets (assemblies of workers and soldiers' representatives) were formed in St. Petersburg and Moscow. The event which started the whole revolution in the Russian Empire was "Bloody Sunday"; the event of the massacre of armament workers by Cossacks in front of the Winter Palace at St. Petersburg. The leader, Father Gapon, wanted to present the Tsar a petition requesting an improvement of living conditions and more freedom of expression. Riots spread to Odessa, the Black Sea Port and to Moscow where the Soviets were formed and Trotsky became involved. The battleship Potemkin mutinied and tried to help the Odessa rebels. There was a film made by the director Eisenstein which implied that the 1905 rebellion gave the momentum to a new revolutionary movement. However, ultimately, the revolution of 1905 was suppressed in the short term.

Summer brought mutinies from both the navy and army. The loss against Japan at Port Arthur and defeat at Tsushima far from strengthened the position of the Tsar's government, in fact had weakened it. Autumn saw the transformation of industrial discontent give way to an all-out strike. It was then that the Soviets began to form-councils to demand improvements for the workers, led by Lev Trotsky.

Disturbances and riots such as Bloody Sunday clearly proved to be a challenge to the Tsarist system. There are key factors which allowed the Tsar to survive. We can isolate three factors which enhanced the Tsar's survival: the loyalty of the army; the economic transformations made by Witte and Stolypin; and the weakness and division of the opposition to the Tsar.

The loyal army was able to contain the "major threat" of mutiny and riots after the war with Japan, the economic reforms helped to buy off the peasantry and political parties were divided by aims, social class, and often poorly led. The provision of votes, the Tsar's promise of "participatory politics" and a chance at Parliament helped to "take out the fire" of the Kadets (Parliamentary Liberals).

Repression and Loyalty of the Forces

The armed forces were to apply the idea of, "to counter terror with terror" with Wheatcroft commenting, "in the end it was the methods of Ivan the Terrible, or at least Peter the Great, which provided the key to the situation." The army was able to arrest 260 of the Soviet (half its members). Desperate rebellions in Moscow (up to a thousand revolutionaries) were suppressed by regular troops. Mutinous soldiers along the Trans-Siberian railway were also executed, even with most of the army being in Japan. With the introduction of the Imperial Manifesto, military discipline was largely restored by the end of the year.

During the event of Bloody Sunday, troops successfully defended the Winter Palace. It was obvious that the Nicholas's paternal image and as the leader of their church was now severely weakened due to the numbers of deaths during a peaceful protest.

Peter Stolypin, the President of the Council of Ministers, was to ensure the safety of Russia after the 1905 revolution. He was dedicated to strengthen Tsardom after a time of crisis and made the restoration of order his immediate task. His coercive attitude was, "suppression first, and then, and only then - reform." He carried out this attitude in 1907 by arresting an estimated 1,231 officials. He created a field court martial under the Article 87 of the Fundamental laws which enabled military courts to deal with cases of disturbances without cause or difficulty. Six hundred unions were closed between 1906 to 1912 and all one thousand propaganda newspapers during this period banned.

Richard Pipes describes the "noose" as, "Stolypin's necktie." One could say this increase of executions of revolutionaries helped in the consolidation of the Tsar's position. The agitators were hung, or sent into exile in Siberia. Trotsky who had played a leading part in the St. Petersburg Soviet was arrested. Striking workers had to stop and start to work again or face starvation. Alexander Guchkov compliments, "If we are witnessing the last convulsions of the revolution and it is undoubtedly coming to an end, then this is the man that we owe it to." Leo Tolstoy believes that "it is impossible to maintain this form of government except by violence."

Economic and Social Reforms

Some historians regard Sergei Witte as the most significant in saving the government due to his economic reforms as Minister of Finance from 1893 to 1903. His task was modernising the Russian economy up to the standard of Western countries. He encouraged the inflow of foreign capital, the protection of tariffs and Russia's currency to be put on the gold standard. The growth of railway between 1900 and 1913 increased 10,680 miles in track and helped Russian economic production increase significantly. This stopped opposition parties from using the Russian economy as an issue to overthrow the Tsar.

Witte negotiated the Treaty of Portsmouth in August 1905. Russia did not have to pay any reparations to Japan and very little land was lost to Japan. At home people would have been happier, thinking the defeat had not been so humiliating. This would have improved the Tsar's image slightly. Also the railway network had been freed up so food and supplies were now reaching towns and cities in larger quantities. Making peace with Japan brought the Tsar's best troops back into Western Russia to crush the revolution. However, the Tsar sacked Witte and appointed Stolypin as chief minister.

Stolypin was also to concentrate on the agrarian reforms of Russia, as Witte had achieved on industry. He was aware of a rural crisis in Russia's countryside as there were high prices on land, which led to heavy mortgage repayments and impoverished the peasantry trying to repay the mortgages. Peasants had to work in very poor conditions, for very long hours and little pay. Therefore most of the rural sectors of Russia were in opposition to the state. He acknowledged that one of the main reasons why the peasants joined the revolutions was because of the fear of the government repossessing their land.

Stolypin followed the October manifesto and continued to implement the concessions involving the cancellation of outstanding repayments. He maintained the strong relationship with the Duma, and respected their system. Once gaining the Duma's trust, they allowed Stolypin to carry out his reforms. One of his various policies was the "de-revolutionising" of the peasantry.

Eventually the Tsar accepted the Duma and ceased to purge it. This particularly fulfilled the wishes of the Octobrists, as they comprised mostly of commercial and landowning interests. After this, the Octobrist party considered the Duma and Stolypin as, "a major constitutional advance."

Stolypin introduced the Land Bank, which gave funds to assist independents in buying land. He further wanted to promote colonisation of Siberia to those who sold their land to the more prosperous. Giving in to parties such as the Octobrists and the different social classes decreased numbers of the opposition to the Tsar. Stolypin and Witte differed in their own economic beliefs; Witte wanted a quick hothouse growth, but Stolypin wanted a slower reform by putting the "the wager on the strong" . This further made the Tsar aware of the opposition parties and now knew some sort of concession had to be passed to decrease the nation's agitation.

Division of the opposition

The lack of capable leadership in political parties and their different causes (such as the split of the Social Democrats, into the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks) resulted in strikes that remained frequent, but increasingly of less significance. There were communication problems with only the higher class having benefited from education. The illiteracy rate was 76 per cent , there were only ten universities in the whole of Russia and the rich were often reluctant to give significant financial backing. The intelligentsia were slow to get involved (Bolsheviks arrived too late to do anything). Hardly any revolutionaries were in Moscow or St. Petersburg when the revolution began. They were disorganised (though really a lack of coordination). Lenin was still in exile in Siberia and in any case he saw the events as being of little significance.

In the newly issued Fundamental Laws of 1907, Nicholas declared, "Supreme autocratic power belongs to the Tsar." And indeed to all intents and purposes it still did as Nicholas had managed to restore his authority and in some respects emerge even stronger than he'd been before the revolution took place.

The culture of Russia was dominated by a population which was 87 per cent rural. This enabled the Tsar to buy off political groups with concessions granted by the October manifesto- it calmed down the largest party at the time, the Kadets. In doing so, Nicholas may have realised that appeasement can pacify such parties, and that intervention from the army can be minimalised.

Political concessions in the form of the October manifesto were essential in the Tsar's survival. In appeasing the largest political party in 1905, Witte was able to detach the opposition from a united front. He was able to isolate the Radicals, and at the same time, pacify the Liberals. In the passing of these concessions, Peter Struve writes "Thank God for the Tsar who has saved us from the people." The manifesto granted full civil liberties, extended the franchise and ordered immediate election to a parliament, the Duma.

The document was not a constitution in the received liberal sense of the term, but these concessions (not reforms) seemed to work. What Michael Lynch calls "a nationwide outbreak of disorder" had been calmed for the time being. It managed to end the general strike, with aristocratic supporters also accepting the Tsar's changes to the manifesto. About 50,000 people celebrated the October manifesto in St. Petersburg, yet few really understood what it meant or contained. Pipes remarks that "the manifesto was extracted from Nicholas under duress, virtually at a point of a gun." Nicholas did not use the word "constitution" on purpose, and so created deliberate ambiguity so he could revoke what he had granted.

David Evans and Jane Jenkins comment that the Tsar only passed the October manifesto temporarily only, "to buy time and to split the opposition in order to re-establish his control." Nicholas with little choice but to make some concessions to put a halt, even if only temporarily, to the paralysis that had struck the nation.


The Tsar survived through a mixture of reform and repression. The reform was the October manifesto and the repression was based upon Stolypin's actions. The Tsar's heart was more in achieving stability than it was a genuine drive for a representative and constitutional monarchy. He thought that 1905 revolution was a result of a conspiracy and overlooked its profound social causes. The Tsar survived because he dealt with the froth of riots and protests but did not save the monarchy because he neglected genuine and political and social grievances. Stolypin was dropped and he had been assassinated by 1911. The Duma was distrusted and total war after 1914 prepared the road of revolution by 1917. The Tsar survived the 1905 Russian Revolution by a combination of repression, economic reforms and tactics which divided the opposition.


Ascher, Abraham (1992) Second Edition: The Revolutions of 1905, Stanford University Press.

Bushnell, Albert (1985) Mutiny amid Repression: Russian Soldiers in the Revolution of 1905, Indiana University Press.

Evans, David and Jenkins, Jane, (2001) Years of Russia and the USSR, 1851-1992, Hodder and Stoughton Educational.

Karpovich, Michael (1960) Imperial Russia, Holt, Rhinehart and Winston Inc.

Lynch, Michael (2000) Reactions and Revolutions: Russia 1881-1924, Hodder and Stoughton.

Lynch, Michael (2000) "The Russian Revolution: Russia 1881-1924", Hodder and Stoughton.

Morris, Terry and Murphy, Derrick (2000)"Europe: 1870-1991" HarperCollins Educational

Pipes, Richard (1990) The Russian Revolution 1899-1919, Alfred A. Knoph Inc.,

Pipes, Richard (1970) Struve: Liberal on the left, 1870-1905 Cambridge Massachusetts Press.