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The Revolution of 1905 and Its Influence on Russian History

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The events of the 1905 Russian revolution were testing times for imperial Russia with the question of it becoming a modern state. As well as the Russo-Japanese War along with previous restructured revolutionary groups bringing about Blood Sunday. The magnitude of the reforms following the revolution achieves their objectives through political, economic and social change, thus paving a modern and advanced way of life for the Russian Empire. Industrial worker’s discontent, due to industrial decline causing workers to be discharged, led to protests and demonstrations of men, women and children on the streets of February 1905. Peasants were also suffering, as a result of living conditions hit badly by inadequate harvests, with this famine and death was on the rise in rural areas. In addition, middle class and intelligentsia citizens wanted more political participation for themselves on how the country was governed. Parliament was granted and political parties were legalised which is argued to strengthen or weakened the monarchy in the empire.

The revolution began with Bloody Sunday on the 22nd of January 1905, evidenced by many artist impressions of the event (Kossak, May, 1905) An Orthodox priest, named Georgi Gapon, attempted a peaceful march alongside industrial workers and their families to the Winter Palace with the intention of presenting a faithful petition to Nicholas II. However, the demonstration induced a scare of police towards the march, resulting in gunfire. It is estimated that up to 200 marches may have been killed during the riots (Lynch, 2008) The deaths of the people were seen by opponents of the tsarist regime as a purposeful massacre of unarmed protesters. 1905 marked the first time that a tsarist government had been challenged by a combination of three principal opposition classes in Russia, consisting of industrial workers, peasantry and reformist middle class. The immediate reaction to Bloody Sunday spread an epidemic of chaos with strikes arising in all major towns and cities. Followed by terrorism against government officials, a large part of it organised by the Socialist Revolutionists, eventually spreading to rural areas. (Farhad, 2015) Apart from secondary source evidence from historians and their perspective out the primary evidences, other primary sources can be taken into consideration. For instance, data for this massacre can be shown through many paintings created not long after the events. For instance, an artist I have referenced earlier (Kossak) depicts workers meeting with the shootings of the cavalry, which confused and trampled people who were unarmed. Using paintings as historical evidence can be debated. However, one factor of the Kossak reference is supported with the time it was painted. The image was created not long ago after Bloody Sunday itself. Therefore, historical accuracy is highly relevant. The image also supports the writings noted down by primary eyewitnesses, which means this supports the historical accuracy and representation of the source. However, some would argue that art used for historic reasoning should not be relied upon for facts or truth. Certain historians suggest that paintings can be fabricated and become misleading through the act of propaganda. (Yonghee Suh, 2013) Most artistic individuals, during the Russian revolution, were inclined to be wealthy citizens. That’s why they were more likely to be painting bias images of the event. On the other hand, some might argue this is improbable for the Bloody Sunday massacre as many people had been involved in the incident. As a result of this, it is difficult to cover up any information officials might want to hide away.

Amongst the public and political unrest, the summertime of 1905 brought the news of rebellions in the Tsarist army and navy. Most of the soldiers consisted of peasants who were reluctant to strike on their own people. With several occurrences of troops taking strikes and disobeying orders to shoot unnamed strikers. Even though the mutiny was confined to one ship, there is no question that the situation was deeply worrying to the Russian authorities. A government that lacks the faith and the loyalty of its armed forces, positions itself to be highly vulnerable. (EVAN ANDREWS, 2018) The Russo-Japanese war did little to ease the situation in August. Sergei Witte feared returning troops would join the Revolution back in Russia. Despite Witte’s worry of peasant and worker rebellion, Nicholas II found his reform agenda too progressive for the Empire. However, given the dangerous political, social and economic situations, the government had no option but to depend heavily on Witte to guide them through the predicaments. Witte’s first act was to negotiate peace terms with the Japanese. Upon successful completion, his political rank reached a new level with him now becoming the chairman of the Council of Ministers, chief of the tsar’s government. He described the government policy as a “mixture of cowardice, blindness and stupidity”. (Lynch, 2008)

The autumn of 1905 brought about major political reforms in Russia. It unlimitedly ended the autocracy in Russia and created the constitutional monarchy under the reign of Nicholas II. With the creation of the legislative Duma in St. Petersburg; the city’s Soviets formed. Due to the industrial turmoil, that had now evolved into common striking, the expansion of enraged city workers formed themselves into the elected soviet. Taking advantage of the governmental Duma, the soviets-built organisations to represent the workers’ needs for better conditions. (Farhad, 2015) However, enduring a challenge of the 1905 revolution, the tsarist government quickly recovered its confidence. Despite this fact, there were issues. The main problem examined by the First State Duma was land. The Duma also tried to carry out the political reforms and urged to stop dominations of the Revolution. Largely the representatives passed only one law initiated by the Government and the First Duma was dissolved by Nicholas II. It is known as “the Duma of people’s anger”. (The State Duma, 2019) This event was supported with numerous photographic evidences. For example, in one photograph archived in Saint-Petersburg, Emperor Nicholas II is speaking at the opening day of the First State Duma in the Georgian Hall of the Winter Palace on 27 April 1906 (Saint-Petersburg Archives, 1906) Photographs are amongst the crucial primary sources accessible to historians. In terms of the creation of the duma, they may be used to reconstruct major historic events which can demonstrate non-bias evidence. Unlike fine-art, photographs help display what people truly witnessed and how they interpreted these events. Photographs assist historians in acquiring a much deeper understanding towards what was happening. As photos are one of the single sources that can be permanently stored (away from the public if need be) reproductions are very hard to produce. However, some people have a tendency to think that the photograph itself is enough evidence or that the image. The issue is that it must be validated, legitimised, interpreted, read and delivered by an historian or period expert.

Following through the revolutionary war amongst the classes, major weaknesses were exposed, and land was still on the agenda for reform. Peter Stolypin was devoted to strengthening the tsardom in times of calamity. With the issue of the revolution, he approached the land problems in Russia. Stolypin began acting on the rural crisis, proposing that the industrial progress on its own could not solve Russia’s most urgent matter: how to feed the country’s people. The government’s land policies following the liberation of the serfs in 1861 did not help. The scheme under which states mortgages were advanced to the freed serfs, to enable them to buy their properties, had not created peace for which the government had hoped. (Jack M. Lauber, 2001) One of the Laws of 9 November 1906, the senior of a peasant family was granted the right to renovate his strips of land into private property on enclosed farms. More legislation followed in order to ‘speed up’ the separations and to help the separators buy additional land with low-interest credit from the Peasants. Rural communities resisted, using force or pressure to put them off. Overall, the land reforms were deemed as a failure. Amongst 1906 and 1917, 15% of all the peasants in Russia merged their land as private plots, bringing the total of peasant farms in hereditary tenure to around 30%. (Orlando Figues, 2014) When referring to the use of secondary sources, as I have been referencing throughout, their legitimacy can be argued. Secondary sources are invaluable to historians and scholars alike. However, their reliability and validity are open to discussion and often do not provide exact information due to bias thoughts and perspectives. One obvious element is that Secondary sources are documents that have been written about events in the past, meaning the author was not present at the event. Meaning that researchers often interpret those events through the ideas and context during the time written. However, even with changing attitudes over time, facts remain unchanged, but the interpretations of others are likely to shift. In terms of the Peter Stolypin’s land reform, there were many formal and official documentation of statistics during and following the events happened. With those numbers on record, it becomes easier to translate them through works overtime. Historians will likely use them as evidential back bone, or merely explain the reasoning behind the facts. Signifying that the evidence sourced by secondary reason may be relied in this case.

Following the tensions and instability of government not soon after, led to the October Manifesto of 17 October in St. Petersburg (Nicholas II). The tsar issued the manifesto, drafted by Witte. Confronting the monarchy was the most unified opposition in Romanov history, consisting of liberals, peasants and industrial workers who wished for free expression and worship, political party rights and freedoms and the legalising of trade unions, all granted by Nicholas II in the declaration. Having earned the liberals and peasant’s approval through easing their desire for reform and promising mortgage repayments, that formerly worried the peasants, were to be gradually reduced and then ended. (Farhad, 2015) The last remaining opposition group were the industrial workers. At this point, the government considered itself powerful enough to try and suppress the soviets. After a five-day siege, the St Petersburg soviets were marched on and leaders, such as Trotsky, were arrested. (Lynch, 2008) Russia was in crisis with the collapse of the tsarist government immanent. Along with Sergei Witte acting as an influential policymaker, he persuaded the Tsar to pass his October Manifesto. Evidence for the manifesto’s promises of social, economic and political reforms, particularly with the election of a State Duma along with Witte’s, reforms can be supported with a range of primary and secondary source evidence. The October Manifesto document provides information of the pledges stated by the tsar himself as a governmental text. It is arguable that this source provides high historical accuracy. Given that this text has not to be modified or adapted though earlier times, because it is such a notable document, certain historians claim that the document is completely reliable. Due to the fact it was a notable document, issued by official bodies of the Russian Empire, its validity is almost certain. Although, to fully confirm its legitimacy, there are some steps researchers will have to take, and questions that will need to be asked. Such as; Is the document from the original event? Does another reliable source present similar information? What other evidence is there that supports the information in the document? Questions like these should be asked when analysing a primary source such as the manifesto itself for its historical and high importance that changed the course of Russian history. 

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