Manifesto of October 17, 1905

Manifesto of October 17, 1905


a manifesto, officially titled “On the Improvement of the State Order,” that was issued by Nicholas II during the October general strike of 1905.

At the time the manifesto was issued, there was a temporary balance of the contending forces. “Tsarism was no longer strong enough to crush the revolution” but “the revolution was not yet strong enough to crush tsarism” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed. vol. 12, p. 28). The manifesto was prepared by S. Iu. Witte, who considered constitutional concessions the only means of saving the autocracy. The manifesto promised that the people would be “granted” the “firm foundations of civil liberty,” including the right of habeas corpus and freedom of conscience, speech, assembly, and association. It promised that “as far as possible” those strata of the population that had been deprived of electoral rights (chiefly workers and the urban intelligentsia) would now be allowed to vote in the elections for the State Duma. It made the Duma a legislative organ: the Duma’s approval would be necessary for any law to take effect.

On October 19, the top executive authority in the government was centralized. The new government, the Council of Ministers, was headed by Witte. D. F. Trepov was sent into retirement. P. N. Durnovo replaced A. G. Bulygin as minister of internal affairs. On October 21, the government was forced to announce a political amnesty. Next, preliminary censorship of the press was abolished (Nov. 24, 1905, and Apr. 26, 1906), and a new electoral law was drafted (confirmed on Dec. 11, 1905).

The liberal bourgeoisie greeted the manifesto with rejoicing. The liberals declared that the goal of the revolution had been attained and prepared themselves only for legislative activity in the Duma. A political consolidation of the bourgeoisie took place, culminating in the formation of the Constitutional Democrat (Cadet) Party, the appearance of the Union of October 17, and the emergence of other parties. At the same time, the government assisted the reactionaries, who became active. Black Hundreds organizations were created, national hatreds were fanned, and pogroms and the murders of revolutionaries were organized.

The Bolsheviks exposed the falseness of the tsar’s promises and warned that the manifesto was only a maneuver by the government, a forced capitulation to the people in rebellion. In his article “The First Victory of the Revolution,” Lenin wrote: “The concession made by the tsar is indeed a great victory for the revolution, but this victory is still a long way from deciding the fate of the entire cause of liberty” (ibid., p. 27). The appeal “To the Russian People,” issued by the Central Committee of the RSDLP on October 18, and Bolshevik leaflets called upon the masses to continue the general strike and to prepare for a nationwide armed uprising.

Responding to the summons of the Bolsheviks, the working class on its own established the freedoms declared in the manifesto. At least for a time, the proletariat won what was until then the unheard-of freedoms of press, assembly, and association. After suppressing the December armed upising of 1905, the government trampled underfoot its “constitutional” promises.


Gosudarstvennaia duma v Rossii, Sb. dokumentov i materialov. Moscow, 1957. Pages 90-91.


Lenin, V. I. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 12 (See index volume, part 1, p. 349).
Witte, S. Iu. Vospominaniia, vol. 3. Moscow, 1960.
Chermenskii, E. D. Burzhuaziia i tsarizm v pervoi russkoi revoliutsii, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1970.