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This is a concise history of the Revolution of , a critical juncture in the history of Russia when several possible paths were opened up for the country. By the.
Table of contents



Most notably, Russia retained an elected legislature and political parties speaking for various social and economic interests.

The Revolution of 1905: A Short History – By Abraham Ascher

As a result, the autocratic system of rule was undermined, and the fate of the political and social order remained uncertain. Suggested Reading. In contrast, the practice had disappeared in most of Western Europe by the end of the Middle Ages. In , the Russian Empire finally abolished serfdom. The emancipation of serfs would influence the events leading up to the Russian Revolution by giving peasants more freedom to organize.

Russia industrialized much later than Western Europe and the United States. When it finally did, around the turn of the 20th century, it brought with it immense social and political changes. Between and , for example, the population of major Russian cities such as St. Petersburg and Moscow nearly doubled, resulting in overcrowding and destitute living conditions for a new class of Russian industrial workers.

Large protests by Russian workers against the monarchy led to the Bloody Sunday massacre of The massacre sparked the Russian revolution of , during which angry workers responded with a series of crippling strikes throughout the country. After the bloodshed of , Czar Nicholas II promised the formation of a series of representative assemblies, or Dumas, to work toward reform.


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Their involvement in the war would soon prove disastrous for the Russian Empire. Militarily, imperial Russia was no match for industrialized Germany, and Russian casualties were greater than those sustained by any nation in any previous war. Food and fuel shortages plagued Russia as inflation mounted. The economy was hopelessly disrupted by the costly war effort. Czar Nicholas left the Russian capital of Petrograd St. Petersburg in to take command of the Russian Army front.

During this time, her controversial advisor, Grigory Rasputin , increased his influence over Russian politics and the royal Romanov family. By then, most Russians had lost faith in the failed leadership of the czar. Government corruption was rampant, the Russian economy remained backward and Nicholas repeatedly dissolved the Duma, the toothless Russian parliament established after the revolution, when it opposed his will. Demonstrators clamoring for bread took to the streets of Petrograd.

1905: The Russian Revolution

Supported by huge crowds of striking industrial workers, the protesters clashed with police but refused to leave the streets. On March 11, the troops of the Petrograd army garrison were called out to quell the uprising. In some encounters, the regiments opened fire, killing demonstrators, but the protesters kept to the streets and the troops began to waver. The Duma formed a provisional government on March The economic situation in Russia before the revolution presented a grim picture. The government had experimented with laissez-faire capitalist policies, but this strategy largely failed to gain traction within the Russian economy until the s.

War and military preparations continued to consume government revenues. At the same time, the peasant taxpayers' ability to pay was strained to the utmost, leading to widespread famine in In the s, under Finance Minister Sergei Witte , a crash governmental programme was proposed to promote industrialization. His policies included heavy government expenditures for railroad building and operations, subsidies and supporting services for private industrialists, high protective tariffs for Russian industries especially heavy industry , an increase in exports, currency stabilization, and encouragement of foreign investments.

A Short History of the Russian Revolution

Railroad mileage grew from a very substantial base by 40 percent between and The "peasant worker" saw his labour in the factory as the means to consolidate his family's economic position in the village and played a role in determining the social consciousness of the urban proletariat. The new concentrations and flows of peasants spread urban ideas to the countryside, breaking down isolation of peasants on communes. Industrial workers began to feel dissatisfaction with the Tsarist government despite the protective labour laws the government decreed.

Some of those laws included the prohibition of children under 12 from working, with the exception of night work in glass factories. Employment of children aged 12 to 15 was prohibited on Sundays and holidays. Workers had to be paid in cash at least once a month, and limits were placed on the size and bases of fines for workers who were tardy.

Employers were prohibited from charging workers for the cost of lighting of the shops and plants. At the start of the 20th century, Russian industrial workers worked on average an hour day 10 hours on Saturday , factory conditions were perceived as grueling and often unsafe, and attempts at independent unions were often not accepted. Others were still subject to arbitrary and excessive fines for tardiness, mistakes in their work, or absence.

Although the cost of living in Russia was low, "the average worker's 16 rubles per month could not buy the equal of what the French worker's francs would buy for him. Dissatisfaction turned into despair for many impoverished workers, which made them more sympathetic to radical ideas. The government responded by arresting labour agitators and enacting more "paternalistic" legislation.

In —, the period of industrial depression caused many firm bankruptcies and a reduction in the employment rate. Employees were restive: they would join legal organizations but turn the organizations toward an end that the organizations' sponsors did not intend. Workers used legitimate means to organize strikes or to draw support for striking workers outside these groups. The government responded by closing all legal organizations by the end of The Minister of the Interior, Plehve, designated schools as a pressing problem for the government, but he did not realize it was only a symptom of antigovernment feelings among the educated class.

Students of universities, other schools of higher learning, and occasionally of secondary schools and theological seminaries were part of this group. Student radicalism began around the time Tsar Alexander II came to power. Alexander abolished serfdom and enacted fundamental reforms in the legal and administrative structure of the Russian empire, which were revolutionary for their time.


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  • This ushered in a new freedom in the content and reading lists of academic courses. The s was a time when the emergence of a new public sphere was created in social life and professional groups. This created the idea of their right to have an independent opinion. The government was alarmed by these communities, and in tightened restrictions on admission and prohibited student organizations; these restrictions resulted in the first ever student demonstration, held in St.

    Petersburg, which led to a two-year closure of the university. The atmosphere of the early s gave rise to political engagement by students outside universities that became a tenet of student radicalism by the s. Student radicals described "the special duty and mission of the student as such to spread the new word of liberty.

    Table of Contents

    Students were called upon to extend their freedoms into society, to repay the privilege of learning by serving the people, and to become in Nikolai Ogarev's phrase 'apostles of knowledge'. Prosecution records from the s and s show that more than half of all political offences were committed by students despite being a minute proportion of the population.

    Sensing that neither the university administrations nor the government any longer possessed the will or authority to enforce regulations, radicals simply went ahead with their plans to turn the schools into centres of political activity for students and non students alike. They took up problems that were unrelated to their "proper employment", and displayed defiance and radicalism by boycotting examinations, rioting, arranging marches in sympathy with strikers and political prisoners, circulating petitions, and writing anti-government propaganda.

    This disturbed the government, but it believed the cause was lack of training in patriotism and religion. Therefore, the curriculum was "toughened up" to emphasize classical language and mathematics in secondary schools, but defiance continued. The events of were preceded by a Progressive and academic agitation for more political democracy and limits to Tsarist rule in Russia, and an increase in strikes by workers against employers for radical economic demands and union recognition, especially in southern Russia.

    Many socialists view this as a period when the rising revolutionary movement was met with rising reactionary movements. As Rosa Luxemburg stated in The Mass Strike , when collective strike activity was met with what is perceived as repression from an autocratic state, economic and political demands grew into and reinforced each other. Russian progressives formed the Union of Zemstvo Constitutionalists in and the Union of Liberation in , which called for a constitutional monarchy. In the autumn of , liberals started a series of banquets celebrating the 40th anniversary of the liberal court statutes and calling for political reforms and a constitution.

    Similar resolutions and appeals from other city dumas and zemstvo councils followed.

    The Revolution of

    The crucial demand of representative national legislature was missing in the manifesto. Worker strikes in Caucasus broke out in March and strikes on the railway originating from pay disputes took on other issues and drew in other industries, culminating in a general strike at Rostov-on-Don in November. Daily meetings of 15, to 20, heard openly revolutionary appeals for the first time, before a massacre defeated the strikes. But reaction to the massacres brought political demands to purely economic ones. Luxemburg described the situation in by saying: "the whole of South Russia in May, June and July was aflame", [33] including Baku where separate wage struggles culminated in a citywide general strike, and Tiflis, where commercial workers gained a reduction in the working day, and were joined by factory workers.

    This all set the stage for the strikes in St. Petersburg in December to January seen as the first step in the revolution. In December , a strike occurred at the Putilov plant a railway and artillery supplier in St. Sympathy strikes in other parts of the city raised the number of strikers to , workers in factories. All public areas were declared closed. The troops guarding the Palace were ordered to tell the demonstrators not to pass a certain point, according to Sergei Witte , and at some point, troops opened fire on the demonstrators, causing between according to Witte and deaths.

    The event became known as Bloody Sunday , and is considered by many scholars as 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 centers of the Russian Empire. By the end of January , over , workers in Russian Poland were on strike see Revolution in the Kingdom of Poland — Half of European Russia's industrial workers went on strike in , and 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. Leon Trotsky , who felt a strong connection to the Bolsheviki, had not given up a compromise but spearheaded strike action in over factories. 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 — there was unrest in army reserve units.

    On 2 January , Port Arthur was lost; in February , the Russian army was defeated at Mukden , losing almost 80, men. In , there were naval mutinies at Sevastopol see Sevastopol Uprising , Vladivostok , and Kronstadt , peaking in June with the mutiny aboard the battleship Potemkin. The mutineers eventually surrendered the battleship to Romanian authorities on 8 July in exchange for asylum, then the Romanians returned her to Imperial Russian authorities on the following day.

    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. 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 3, Jews were killed. The number of prisoners throughout the Russian Empire, which had peaked at , in , fell by over a third to a record low of 75, in January , chiefly because of several mass amnesties granted by the Tsar; [43] the historian S G Wheatcroft has wondered what role these released criminals played in the —06 social unrest.

    He 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" [ attribution needed ] in view of the strike movement. Elections of the workers delegates were, however, blocked by the socialists who wanted to divert the workers from the elections to the armed struggle. Responding to speeches by Prince Sergei Trubetskoi and Mr Fyodrov, the Tsar confirmed his promise to convene an assembly of people's representatives. 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 , there were many peasant uprisings in which peasants seized land and tools. Surprisingly, only one landlord was recorded as killed.

    History of Russia (PARTS 1-5) - Rurik to Revolution

    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. He regretted signing the document, saying that he felt "sick with shame at this betrayal of the dynasty 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 prepared for upcoming Duma elections, radical socialists and revolutionaries denounced the elections and called for an armed uprising to destroy the Empire.

    Some of the November uprising of 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. The government sent troops on 7 December, and a bitter street-by-street fight began. A week later, the Semyonovsky Regiment was deployed, and used artillery to break up demonstrations and to shell workers' districts.

    After a final spasm in Moscow , the uprisings ended in December According to figures presented in the Duma by Professor Maksim Kovalevsky , by April , more than 14, people had been executed and 75, imprisoned.