Revolution of 1905

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1905 Russian Revolution
Bombs found in explosives lab of revolutionaries. 1907
Date 1905 - 1908
Location Russian Empire
Template:Country data Russian Empire

Political support from

Social support from


Political support from

Commanders and leaders
Template:Country data Russian Empire Nicholas II of Russia other Soviet leaders
Casualties and losses
Hundreds to thousands Thousands to tens of thousands

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

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 formed 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 13 December [O.S. Wp→ 30 November] 1904, the Moscow City Duma 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.

Tsar 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 25 December [O.S. Wp→ 12 December] 1904, the Tsar issued a manifesto promising the broadening of the Zemstvo and local municipal councils' authority, insurance for industrial workers, the emancipation of Inorodtsy, and the abolition of censorship. However, the crucial point of representative national legislature was missing in the manifesto.

Years Average annual strikes
1862-9 6
1870-84 20
1885-94 33
1895-1905 176


Start of the revolution

In December 1904, a strike occurred at the Putilov plant (a railway and artillery supplier) in Saint Petersburg. Sympathy strikes in other parts of the city raised the number of strikers to over 80,000. Controversial Orthodox priest George Gapon, who headed a police-sponsored workers' association, led a huge workers' procession to the Winter Palace to deliver a petition to the Czar on Sunday, 22 January [O.S. Wp→ 9 January] 1905. The troops guarding the Winter Palace who had been ordered to tell the demonstrators not to pass a certain point, according to Sergei Witte, opened fire on them, which resulted in more than 200 (according to Witte) to 1000 deaths. The event became known as Bloody Sunday, and is usually considered the start of the active phase of the revolution.

The events in St. Petersburg provoked public indignation and a series of massive strikes that spread quickly throughout the industrial centres of the Russian Empire. Polish socialists — both the PPS and the SDKPiL — called for a general strike. By the end of January 1905, over 400,000 workers in Russian Poland were on strike (see Revolution in the Kingdom of Poland (1905–1907)). Half of European Russia's industrial workers went on strike in 1905, 93.2% in Poland.[2] There were also strikes in Finland and the Baltic coast. In Riga, 80 protesters were killed on 26 January [O.S. Wp→ 13 January] 1905, and in Warsaw a few days later over 100 strikers were shot on the streets. By February, there were strikes in the Caucasus, and by April, in the Urals and beyond. In March, all higher academic institutions were forcibly closed for the remainder of the year, adding radical students to the striking workers. A strike by railway workers on 21 October [O.S. Wp→ 8 October] 1905 quickly developed into a general strike in Saint Petersburg and Moscow. This prompted the setting up of the short-lived Saint Petersburg Soviet of Workers' Deputies, a largely Menshevik group led by Leon Trotsky, which organised strike action in over 200 factories.[3] By 26 October [O.S. Wp→ 13 October] 1905, over 2 million workers were on strike and there were almost no active railways in all of Russia. Growing inter-ethnic confrontation throughout the Caucasus resulted in Armenian-Tatar massacres, heavily damaging the cities and the Baku oilfields.

With the unsuccessful and bloody Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) there was unrest in army reserve units. On January 2, 1905 Port Arthur was lost, and the Russian Baltic Fleet was defeated at Tsushima; in February 1905, the Russian army was defeated at Mukden, losing almost 80,000 men in the process. Witte was dispatched to make peace, negotiating the Treaty of Portsmouth (signed 5 September [O.S. Wp→ 23 August] 1905). In 1905, there were naval mutinies at Sevastopol (see Sevastopol Uprising), Vladivostok, and Kronstadt, peaking in June with the mutiny aboard the Battleship Potemkin — some sources claim over 2,000 sailors died in the restoration of order.[4] The mutinies were disorganised and quickly crushed. Despite these mutinies, the armed forces were largely apolitical and remained mostly loyal, if dissatisfied — and were widely used by the government to control the 1905 unrest.

Nationalist groups had been angered by the Russification undertaken since Alexander II. The Poles, Finns, and the Baltic provinces all sought autonomy, and also freedom to use their national languages and promote their own culture.[5] Muslim groups were also active — the First Congress of the Muslim Union took place in August 1905. Certain groups took the opportunity to settle differences with each other rather than the government. Some nationalists undertook anti-Jewish pogroms, possibly with government aid, and in total over 3000 Jews were killed.[6]

The number of prisoners throughout the Russian Empire, which had peaked at 116,376 in 1893, fell by over a third to a record low of 75,009 in January 1905, chiefly because of several mass amnesties granted by the Tsar;[7] the historian S G Wheatcroft has wondered what role these released criminals played in the 1905–6 social unrest.[7]

Government response

The Tsar dismissed the Minister of the Interior, Pyotr Sviatopolk-Mirskii, on 18 February [O.S. Wp→ 5 February] 1905 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. The commission was headed by Senator NV Shidlovsky, a member of the State Council, and included officials, chiefs of government factories, and private factory owners. It was also meant to have included workers’ delegates elected according to a two-stage system. Elections of the workers delegates were, however, blocked by the socialists who wanted to divert the workers from the elections to the armed struggle. On 5 March [O.S. Wp→ 20 February] 1905, the Commission was dissolved without having started work.

Following the assassination of his uncle, the Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich, on 17 February [O.S. Wp→ 4 February] 1905, the Tsar agreed to give new concessions. On 18 February [O.S. Wp→ 5 February] 1905 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 24 and 25 May [O.S. Wp→ 11 and 12 May] 1905, about 300 Zemstvo and municipal representatives held three meetings in Moscow, which passed a resolution, asking for popular representation at the national level. On 6 June [O.S. Wp→ 24 May ] 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.

Height of the revolution

Ilya Repin, 17 October 1905

Tsar Nicholas II agreed on 18 February [O.S. Wp→ 5 February] to the creation of a State Duma of the Russian Empire but with consultative powers only. When its slight powers and limits on the electorate were revealed, unrest redoubled. The Saint Petersburg Soviet was formed and called for a general strike in October, refusal to pay taxes, and the withdrawal of bank deposits.

In June and July 1905, there were many peasant uprisings in which peasants seized land and tools .[8] Disturbances in the Russian-controlled Congress Poland culminated in June 1905 in the Łódź insurrection. Surprisingly, only one landlord was recorded as killed.[9] Far more violence was inflicted on peasants outside the commune: 50 deaths were recorded.

The October Manifesto, written by Sergei Witte and Alexis Obolenskii, was presented to the Tsar on 14 October [O.S. Wp→ 1 October]. 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 30 October [O.S. Wp→ 17 October] 1905, 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 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 destroy the Empire.

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 unrest, and military mutinies and was only suppressed after a fierce battle. The Trans-Baikal railroad fell into the hands of striker committees and demobilised 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.

A train overturned by striking workers at the main railway depot in Tiflis in 1905

Between 5 and 7 December [O.S. Wp→ 22 and 24 November], there was a general strike by Russian workers. The government sent in troops on 7 December, and a bitter street-by-street fight began. A week later the Semenovskii Regiment was deployed, and used artillery to break-up demonstrations and to shell workers' districts. On 18 December [O.S. Wp→ 5 December], with around a thousand people dead and parts of the city in ruins, the workers surrendered. After a final spasm in Moscow, the uprisings ended in December 1905.

According to figures presented in the Duma by Professor Maksim Kovalevsky, by April 1906, more than 14,000 people had been executed and 75,000 imprisoned.[10] The historian Brian Taylor states the number of deaths in the 1905 Revolution was in the "thousands", and notes the existence of one source that puts the figure at over 13,000 deaths.[6]

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 17 October (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 a landowner was worth 45 times more than the vote of an 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 status of the Duma was changed, becoming a lower chamber below the half-elected, half-appointed by the 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 1906, Sergei Witte resigned, after having negotiated a loan of almost 900 million rubles to repair the Russian government's finances. 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 19 May [O.S. Wp→ 6 May] 1906, Goremykin was himself 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 this. 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 and other 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.[11]

Notable victims of assassins included:


The years of revolution were marked by a dramatic rise in the numbers of death sentences and executions. Different figures on the number of executions were compared by Senator Nikolai Tagantsev,[12] 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 19 February [O.S. Wp→ 6 February] 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[13] = 2118 2212 2235 2628
Year Number of executions
1909 537
1910 129
1911 352
1912 123
1913 25

These numbers reflect only executions of civilians,[14] and do not include a large number of summary executions by punitive army detachments and executions of military personnel that mutineed.[15]

Peter Kropotkin also notes that official statistics did not include executions during punitive expeditions, especially in Siberia, the Caucasus, and the Baltic provinces.[14]

By 1906 there were 4,509 political prisoners in Russian Poland, 20% of the empire's total.[16]

Ivanovo Soviet

Ivanovo Voznesensk was known as the 'Russian Manchester' for its textile mills. In 1905 its local revolutionaries were overwhelmingly Bolshevik. It was the first Bolshevik branch where workers outnumbered intellectuals.

11 May 1905: The 'Group', the revolutionary leadership, called for all the textile mills to strike.

12 May: The strike begins. Strike leaders meet in the local woods.

13 May: 40,000 workers assemble before the Administration Building to give Svirskii, the regional factory inspector a list of demands.

14 May: Workers' delegates elected at the suggestion[17] of Svirskii. He wants people to negotiate with. A mass meeting is held in Administration Square. Svirskii tells them the mill owners won't meet their demands but will negotiate with elected mill delegates who will be immune to prosecution according to the governor.

15 May: Svirskii tells the strikers they can only negotiate over each factory in turn but they can hold elections wherever. The strikers elect delegates by mill right there in the surrounding boulevards. Later the delegates elect a chairman.

17 May: the meetings are moved to the bank of the Talka on the police chief's suggestion.

27 May: The delegates' meeting house is closed.

3 June: Cossacks break up a workers meeting, arresting over 20. Workers start sabotaging telephone wires and burn down a mill.

9 June: The police chief resigns.

12 June: all prisoners released. Mill owners mostly flee to Moscow. Neither side gives in.

27 June: workers agree to stop striking July 1.


Demonstrators in Jakobstad

In the Grand Duchy of Finland, the Social Democrats organised the general strike of 1905 (12–19 November [O.S. Wp→ 30 October — 6 November]). The Red Guards were formed, led by captain Johan Kock. During the general strike, the Red Declaration, written by Finnish politician and journalist Yrjö Mäkelin, was given in Tampere, demanding dissolution of the Senate of Finland, 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 and 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 12 August [O.S. Wp→ 30 July] 1906, Russian sailors rose to rebellion in the fortress of Sveaborg (later called Suomenlinna), Helsinki. The Finnish Red Guards supported the 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 29 October [O.S. Wp→ 16 October], the Russian army opened fire in a meeting on a street market in Tallinn, killing 94 and injuring over 200. The October Manifesto was supported in Estonia and the Estonian flag was displayed 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 organisation, the Estonian Social Democratic Workers' Union was founded as well. The moderate supporters of Tõnisson and the 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 to 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 being 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.


Following the shooting of demonstrators in St. Petersburg a wide-scale general strike began in Riga. On 26 January [O.S. Wp→ 13 January], Russian army troops opened fire on demonstrators killing 73 and injuring 200 people. During the summer 1905, the focus of revolutionary events moved to the countryside with mass meetings and demonstrations. 470 new parish administrative bodies were elected in 94% of the parishes in Latvia. The Congress of Parish Representatives was held in Riga in November. In autumn 1905, armed conflict between the Baltic German nobility and the Latvian peasants begun in the rural areas of Livland and Courland. In Courland, the peasants seized or surrounded several towns. In Livland, the fighters controlled the Rūjiena-Pärnu railway line.[18] Martial law was declared in Courland in August 1905, and in Livland in late November. Special punitive expeditions were dispatched in mid-December to suppress the movement. They executed 1170 people without trial or investigation and burned 300 peasant homes. In 1906, the revolutionary movement gradually subsided.

See also


Additional references would be appreciated
  1. Abraham Ascher, The Revolution of 1905: a short history, page 6
  2. Robert Blobaum, Feliks Dzierzynski and the SDKPiL: a study of the origins of Polish Communism, page 123
  3. Voline (2004). Unknown Revolution, Chapter 2: The Birth of the "Soviets"
  4. Bascomb, N (2007). Red Mutiny: Eleven Fateful Days on the Battleship Potemkin. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  5. Kevin O'Connor, The History of the Baltic States, Greenwood Press, ISBN 0-313-32355-0, Google Print, p.58
  6. 6.0 6.1 Taylor, BD (2003). Politics and the Russian army: civil-military relations, 1689–2000. Cambridge University Press. p.69.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Wheatcroft, SG (2002). Challenging traditional views of Russian history. Palgrave Macmillan. The Pre-Revolutionary Period, p.34.
  8. Paul Barnes, R Paul Evans, Peris Jones-Evans (2003). GCSE History for WJEC Specification A. Heinemann. p.68
  9. Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution, page 48
  10. Larned, J. N. (1910). "History for ready reference, Vol VII", p. 574. Springfield, MA: The C. A. Nicholson Co., Publishers. (The original source for this information, according to the book, was Professor Maksim Kovalevsky, who presented these figures in the Duma on May 2, 1906, "in the presence of M. Stolypin, who did not contest it."
  11. Galina Mikhaĭlovna Ivanova, Carol Apollonio Flath and Donald J. Raleigh, Labour camp socialism: the Gulag in the Soviet totalitarian system (2000), p.6
  12. Article Death penalty in Russia.
  13. 683 executions by sentences of Field Courts Martial, acting from 1 September [O.S. Wp→ 19 August] 1906, to 3 May [O.S. Wp→ 20 April] 1907 were listed separately and not subdivided by year.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Executions. URL accessed on 2012-03-15.
  15. Death penalty in Russia.
  16. Robert Blobaum: Feliks Dzierzynsky and the SDKPiL: A study of the origins of Polish Communism, page 149
  17. Solomon Schwarz, The Russian Revolution of 1905, pages 135-7 335-8
  18. Bleiere, Daina; Ilgvars Butulis; Antonijs Zunda; Aivars Stranga; Inesis Feldmanis (2006). History of Latvia : the 20th century.. Riga: Jumava. p. 68. . . 
  • 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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