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Causes and Effects of Russian Revolution of 1905

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The history of the Czarists system lasted more than 300 years, only to come crashing down during the reign of Czar Nicholas II. One of the most significant events that preceded the Bolsheivik revolution of 1917 that ended the reign of the Czars was the general uprising in 1905. This event, while spectacular in scope, was also a long time in the making. From the point of view of discontented Russian workers, underlying long-term issues of poor worker representation and appalling industrial conditions, accompanied by flash-point issues like the Russo-Japanese War and Bloody Sunday, combined to turn the populace away from the Czar and attempt Revolution.

The turbulent history of poor worker representation played a significant role in generating the events of 1905. This can be traced back to the long history of attempted reforms in the country, beginning with Czar Alexander II’s “Great Reform”. While these reforms formally ended the bonds of serfdom that had bound a significant portion of the population for centuries, the circumstances for the former serfs were frequently not significantly improved overall. The serfs were given exorbitant loans and were made to live in the same areas they had already been occupying, continuing to place them under the control of the landed gentry that had once owned them. Coupled with the greater information available to the common man as a result of the Czar’s other reforms, there was a greater awareness of where the former serfs stood even as the society around them industrialized, causing increased radicalism. This radicalism would would only grow over time, spreading into the mainstream amongst workers, and was key in calling for retaliation against poor treatment by the government.

Another significant long term issue that contributed to the rise of the revolution was the appalling conditions that industrial workers had been subjected to. Because Russia was slow to industrialize compared to other western nations, it came to be regarded as economically backward. In order to combat this, a crash program headed by finance minister Sergei Witte was instituted to bring Russia in line with a western economic standard. Unfortunately, Witte’s reforms towards crash industrialization produced a culture that pursued economic production above all else, with the workers being forced to bear the burden. Long hours and poor pay with little opportunity to protect themselves resulted in copious discontent, with many workers going on strike in the years before the revolution. The discontent within the workers would fester and would increasingly turn them against the state, raising the risks of armed revolution.

One of the short term causes of the revolution was the outcome of the Russo-Japanese war. The Russo Japanese war arose because of a belief by the Czar that a triumphant war would unite the people of Russia and draw attention away from domestic issues. Consequently, Russia provoked war with the Japanese in 1904 over Manchuria and Korea fully expecting a resounding victory over the Japanese. The expected victory never came, as the Japanese navy outmaneuvered and outplayed the Russians, soundly destroying most of their fleet in a series of decisive battles. The failure of the war increased the unrest within Russia and the initial aim to induce patriotism failed. The disastrous defeat would only further destabilize the people’s trust in Czar Nicholas II, and reduced their perception of him as a competent leader.

The final flash point that truly kickstarted the revolution against the Czar was the Bloody Sunday protests. The thousands of protestors involved followed Father Georgy Gapon, a Russian Orthodox Priest, to the gates of the Czar’s Winter Palace in order to petition the Czar for better conditions for the workers. Instead, the protestors were met by soldiers who ordered them not to proceed any further. Shortly thereafter, the soldiers opened fire into the crowds, killing several hundred, although the exact death toll is unknown. The callous treatment had immediate aftershocks as the news of the event carried around the country, producing a widespread strike movement around the country. Although the Czar himself had not ordered the shooting of the protestors, he was still held culpable, and public perceptions of him and his rule plummeted drastically.

From the point of view of an industrial worker reflecting back on the Russian Revolution of 1905, it would be clear that the events were spurred on by a combination of long term worsening of treatment of the workers, accompanied by flashpoint events like the humiliation the wake of the loss of the Russo-Japanese War and the violence of the Bloody Sunday Massacre. The overall event was astonishing in its scope, and it would be a major sign preluding the downfall of the Czarist regime and the Romanov family.    

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