December Armed Uprisings

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

December Armed Uprisings


the highest stage in the development of the Revolution of 1905-07 in Russia. Lenin noted: “This war was prepared, not by the subjective will of parties or groups, but by the whole course of events since January 1905” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 19, p. 367). The Bolsheviks prepared the uprising, proceeding from the concretely developing historical circumstances and basing themselves on the decision of the Third Congress of the RSDLP (April and May 1905). Lenin strived to accomplish the massive organization of the fighting druzhinas (armed workers’ detachments) of 1905-07, their arming and training, and the political, organizational, and technical preparation for the uprising. The Technical Group of the Central Committee of the RSDLP, headed by L. B. Krasin, carried out the practical work in preparation for the uprising. It secretly purchased arms, both abroad and within the country, created laboratories for the manufacture of explosives and bombs, and trained people who were capable of leading an armed struggle. Special fighting and military organizations were created within the committees of the RSDLP. The former organized detachments of armed workers, and the latter worked within the army. The fighting druzhinas, detachments of rebelling peasants, and the revolutionary army units had to become the main forces in the uprising. The soviets of workers’ deputies, which Lenin defined as the organs of rebellion and the embryonic organs of power, were called upon to lead it.

The revolutionary movement grew throughout the country: from October to December 1905, 1,277,000 workers were involved in strikes (66.4 percent of them participated in political strikes); and in November there were 796 peasant demonstrations. Unrest in the army and the navy more and more frequently took the form of open armed actions. At the end of November, revolutionary ferment increased in army units of the Moscow garrison. The Rostov Grenadier regiment rose up on December 2-4. At the beginning of December, the balance of forces that had formed after the publication of the Manifesto of October 17, 1905, was definitively destroyed. Tsarism, regrouping its forces, went on the offensive against the revolution. The whole St. Petersburg Soviet was arrested on December 3.

The Moscow proletariat, headed by the Moscow Committee of the RSDLP (with V. L. Shantser [Marat], M. I. Vasil’ev-Iuzhin, M. N. Liadov, and R. S. Zemliachka as leaders) and the Moscow Soviet led by the Bolsheviks, played a decisive role in the armed struggle that was breaking out. On December 5 a conference of the Moscow Bolsheviks, taking the will of the Moscow workers into consideration, decided to declare a general strike to begin at noon on December 7 and to transform this strike into an armed rebellion. A plenum of the Moscow Soviet passed the same resolution on December 6. On December 7 the newspaper of the Moscow Soviet, Izvestiia, published a manifesto entitled To All Workers, Soldiers, and Citizens, in which a decisive and merciless war against tsarism was proclaimed. “The entire future of Russia is at stake: life or death, freedom or slavery. … Bravely the combat, comrade workers, soldiers, and citizens!” summoned the manifesto. The All-Russian Conference of Railway men, which was meeting in Moscow at this time, called on the railroad workers to strike. On December 7, no less than 100,000 workers left work; on December 8 there were 150,000 on strike. All railway lines except for the Nikolaev (now the October) were struck. A significant number of workers in the industrial cities of Moscow Province went out on strike. Governor-General F. V. Dubasov declared a state of emergency in Moscow and in the entire province. On December 8 the police carried out an armed raid on a meeting in the Aqvarium Theater on Bol’shaia Sadovaia Street. Dozens of workers were beaten and seriously wounded. Participants in a meeting at Strastnaia Square (now Pushkin Square) and druzhinniki (armed workers) at Triumfal’naia Square(now Mayakovsky Square) were fired upon that evening.

On the evening of December 9 the strike in Moscow developed into an uprising. The workers began to build barricades in response to artillery firing on the Fidler School at the Pokrovskie Gates, which was one of the bases of the druzhinniki. Barricades were constructed in all districts of Moscow on December 10-11. The fighting druzhinas, numbering about 2,000 armed and 4,000 unarmed fighters, defended the barricades. In their ranks were workers from Socialist Revolutionary (SR) and Menshevik druzhinas, leadership was, in fact, exercised by the Bolsheviks. days the druzhinniki fought fought off the police and troops. Battles raged on Kudrinskaia Square (now Vosstaniia Square), on Arbat and Lesnaia streets, on Serpukhovskaia (now Dobryninskaia) and Kalanchevskaia (now Komsomol’skaia. squares, and at the Krasnye Vorota (Red Gates).

The Presnia district, where the struggle was led by the district soviet, became the center of the uprising. The main base of the fightingthe fighting druzhinas, led by Bolshevik Z. Ia. Litvin-Sedoi, and the SR M. I. Sokolov, was the Prokhorov Factory (now the Trekhgornaia Factory combine). In the region beyond the Moscow River, the strong points of of the druzhinniki, led by the Bolshevik V. M. Savkov (Timofei), were the Sytin Typographic Plant (now the Pervaia Obraztsovaia Typographic Plant) and the Tsindel’ Factory (now the Pervaia Textile Printing Factory). Fighting druzhinas of railroad workers led by the Bolshevik A. I. Gorchilin and the SR A. V. Ukhtomskii battled on Kalanchevskaia Square and in the neighboring district. The arrest of V. L. Shantser (Marat) and M. I. Vasil’ev-Iuzhin on the night of December 7 and the morning of December 8 had an adverse effect on the course of the uprising. Fearing unrest in army units of the Moscow garrison, Dubasov ordered that the majority of soldiers be disarmed and confined to their barracks.

The tsarist authorities had at their disposal a small, unreliable force of soldiers, cossacks, and gendarmes and 2,000. policemen, armed with rifles. Dubasov did not trust the Moscow garrison, and he asked for reinforcements from St. Petersburg. Although there were large numbers of troops, including all the Guards regiments, concentrated in the capital, Tsar Nicholas II did not immediately decide to transport troops to Moscow. A strike, soon involving more than 100,000 workers, began on December 8 in St. Petersburg. But the strength of the workers was exhausted by the preceding struggle and by lockouts. Furthermore, mass arrests of revolutionaries had to affect the rebellions adversely. The St. Petersburg Soviet, led by the Mensheviks, adopted a waitand-see position. The heat of the struggle in St. Petersburg began to diminish. The tsar decided to send the Semenovskii Guards regiment to Moscow and to transfer the Ladozhskii infantry regiment from the Warsaw region. Arriving in Moscow on December 15 and 16, these units gave the government absolute superiority over the forces of the insurgents. The troops began to storm the Presnia district using artillery.

The Moscow Soviet decided to halt the armed struggle on December 18 and to end the strike on December 19. The last order of the staff of the Presniadruzhinas stated: “We began, we are ending. … Blood, violence, and death will follow on our heels. But that is nothing. The future belongs to the working class. Generation after generation in all countries will learn persistence from the experience of Presnia.” The Moscow workers suffered significant losses in the course of the battles on the barricades and in the following days of harsh reprisals against those who had participated in the uprising. According to the incomplete data of the bureau of the medical union, 1,059 persons were killed, including 137 women.

The Moscow uprising was the signal for other cities to follow suit. An uprising occurred in Rostov-on-Don. The Bolsheviks (including Iu. P. Butiagin, sent by a fighting organization of the Central Committee of the RSDLP to the Northern Caucasus, S. Voitenko, and V. O. Sobinin), who represented the Donskoi Committee of the RSDLP and the Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, succeeded, in spite of the Mensheviks, in organizing the workers and creating druzhinas based in the Temernik proletarian district. The workers battled the tsarist troops for eight days, from December 13 to 20. The Soviet of Workers’ Deputies in Novorossiisk, led by the Bolshevik Nikolaev (Bernshtein), took power on December 12 and held it for two weeks. In Georgia rebellions engulfed all of Guriia. Uprisings took place in a number of cities in the Ukraine. A strike that began in Ekaterinoslav on December 8 developed into a rebellion. The workers’ district of the city, Chechelevka, was occupied by the insurgents and remained in their hands until December 27. In Aleksandrovsk, where the railwaymen played a major role in the uprising, a stubborn battle between the druzhinas and the troops and police took place on December 13-14. In the Donbas the workers at the Iasinovataia, Grishino, and Avdeevka railway stations were especially active. A mass uprising took place in Gorlovka. On the morning of December 17 approximately 4,000 workers, armed with lances, rifles, hunting guns, and revolvers, attacked the bar-racks, compelling the dragoons and soldiers to abandon Gorlovka. Cossacks arrived to aid the troops. The battle broke out anew and continued for several hours, but it ended with the defeat of the insurgents. An uprising occurred in Kharkov on December 12. The locomotive works, railroad workshops, and other industrial establishments were the centers of the uprising. The Bolshevik committee of the RSDLP, led by Artem (F. A. Sergeev), directed the revolt. In the Baltic region, uprisings took place in Tukums, Talsy, Aizpute, and Vindava (Ventspils). In the Ruiyena district, armed detachments numbering 1,000 men were organized and were led by the Riga worker and Social Democrat K. Boch. The rebels seized several railroad stations, organized their defense, and disarmed the penal troops. In Krasnoiarsk, the railroad battalion went over to the side of the insurgents, who were mainly railwaymen. The United Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies was created and assumed the leadership of the uprising. (Its chairman was A. Mel’nikov, a member of the committee of the RSDLP, and its assistant chairman was I. N. Vorontsov.) Railwaymen and soldiers played a major role in the uprising in Chita. The Chita committee of the RSDLP included V. K. Kurnatovskii, I. V. Babushkin, A. A. Kostiushko-Valiuzhanich, and M. K. Vetoshkin. An armed struggle raged for several days in Nizhny Novgorod (Sornovo and Kanavino), where the leaders of the United Committee of the RSDLP were N. A. Semashko, A. P. Nevzorova, and P. I. Lebedev-Polianskii. It took the tsarist government 1½ months to defeat the uprising in Perm’, where the Bolshevik group at the Motovilikhin Plant was headed by A. L. Borchaninov.

The main reason for the defeat of the uprisings was the fact that the peasantry and the army did not rise up alongside the workers. In Moscow the proletariat was not able to bring the soldiers over to its side, although a large portion of the troops of the Moscow garrison was undergoing revolutionary ferment. A moment that was favorable for the beginning of the uprising was lost when the Rostov regiment revolted in Moscow. The arrest of its leaders transformed the uprising into a number of uncoordinated actions in individual districts of the city. The revolts in different cities did not merge into a unified, Russia-wide armed uprising against tsarism. The insurgents defended themselves rather than taking the offensive. The leadership of the rebellion in the country lagged behind the spontaneous pressure of the masses. The rebels did not have experience in armed struggle, and they lacked sufficient weapons. In the course of the December revolutionary events, the toiling masses acquired great experience in armed struggle and came to understand that tsarism could be and must be overthrown by an armed uprising of the people.

In evaluating the uprising, the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks took positions that were opposed to each other in principle. The leader of the Mensheviks, G. V. Plekhanov, declared: “They should not have taken to arms.” Lenin and the Bolsheviks pointed out that “on the contrary, we should have taken to arms more resolutely, energetically, and aggressively; we should have explained to the masses that it was impossible to confine things to a peaceful strike and that a fearless and relentless armed fight was necessary” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 13, pp. 371-72). Lenin wrote: “Before the armed insurrection of December 1905, the people of Russia were incapable of waging a mass armed struggle against their exploiters. After December they were no longer the same people. They had been reborn. They had received their baptism of fire. They had been steeled in revolt. They trained the fighters, who were victorious in 1917” (ibid., vol. 37, pp. 386-87). Assimilating and disseminating the experience of the December battles of 1905, the Bolsheviks studied themselves and taught to the working class the need to regard revolution as an art.


Lenin, V. I. “Zadachi otriadov revoliutsionnoi armii.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 11.
Lenin, V. I. “Pobeda kadetov i zadachi rabochei partii.” Ibid., vol. 12.
Lenin, V. I. “Uroki moskovskogo vosstaniia.” Ibid., vol. 13.
Lenin, V. I. “Doklad o revoliutsii 1905 goda.” Ibid., vol. 30.
Iakovlev, N. N. Vooruzhennye vosstaniia v dekabre 1905 goda. Moscow, 1957.
Iakovlev, N. N. “Moskovskoe dekabr’skoe vosstanie 1905 g. v istoricheskoi literature.” In Istoriia i istoriki: Istoriografiia istorii SSSR. Sb. st. Moscow, 1965.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.