Revolution of 1905–07 in Russia

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Revolution of 1905–07 in Russia


the first popular revolution of the era of imperialism. The revolution shook the foundations of an autocratic system and created the preconditions for the subsequent successful struggle to overthrow tsarism. It was a new type of bourgeois-democratic revolution. For the first time in history, the proletariat, headed by a Marxist party, emerged as the leader of such a revolution.

Preconditions. The first Russian revolution occurred at a time when world capitalism, including Russian capitalism, had reached its highest, imperialist, stage. All the contradictions inherent in imperialism were clearly apparent in the country, which was gripped by an acute social conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. However, the main contradiction was that between the requirements for the country’s socioeconomic development and the vestiges of serfdom, guarded by an obsolete semifeudal political superstructure, tsarist autocracy. In Russia’s economy, a sharp disparity had emerged between the country’s highly developed industrial and well-developed agrarian capitalism and its semifeudal landownership. Some 10.5 million peasant households had virtually the same amount of land as 30,000 landlords, who employed the working-off system (otrabotkd) and other semifeudal methods of exploiting the peasants. Describing the main contradiction in Russia’s economic and social conditions, Lenin pointed to “the most backward system of landownership and the most ignorant peasantry on the one hand, and the most advanced industrial and finance capitalism on the other!” (Poln. sobr. Soch., 5th ed., vol. 16, p. 417).

The agrarian question was the most burning issue in the Russian revolution, one of whose main objectives was the abolition of pomeshchik (landlord) landownership. The Revolution of 1905–07 was a bourgeois peasant revolution: the peasantry as a whole advocated the transfer of the land to the people. The resolution of this problem depended directly on the attainment of the chief, immediate objective of the revolution—the overthrow of tsarism and the establishment of a democratic republic. It was also imperative to end the chauvinistic policies toward the non-Russian nationalities oppressed by tsarism and to give all the peoples of the Russian Empire equal rights and democratic liberties.

The diversity and sharpness of the socioeconomic, political, and national conflicts made Russia the focal point of all the contradictions of world imperialism, its weakest link. This circumstance determined, according to Lenin, the enormous scope of the revolution, in which two social wars were intertwined—the national struggle for freedom and democracy and the class struggle of the proletariat for socialism (ibid., vol. 11, pp. 282–83). The Revolution of 1905–07 in Russia was not only antifeudal but also anti-imperialist.

The motive forces of the revolution were the popular masses, led by the proletariat. The workers joined the revolution as the most politically mature class in Russia, the first class to form its own party, the Bolshevik Party, founded in 1903. By 1905 the Russian proletariat, having resisted not only the bourgeoisie but tsarist autocracy as well, had acquired experience in class struggle. With a nucleus of 3 million industrial workers, the working class represented a great social force, exerting an enormous influence on the country’s destiny and advancing at the head of Russia’s liberation movement. Among the harbingers of the ripening revolution were the Kharkov May Day Demonstration of 1900, the Obukhov Defense of 1901, the Rostov Strike of 1902, the General Strike of 1903 in Southern Russia, and the strike of Baku oil workers in 1904.

The main ally of the proletariat in the revolutionary struggle was the peasantry, who numbered in the millions. The peasant uprisings in the Ukraine in 1902 were a clear sign of its revolutionary potential. The economic crisis of the early 20th century intensified social contradictions and promoted the development of class struggle in the country. Tsarism’s military defeat in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05 revealed the rottenness of the autocracy, precipitated a crisis in the government, and hastened the onset of the revolution. A deep conflict ripened between the regime of the dvorianstvo (nobility) and bureaucracy and the revolutionary people.

Outbreak. The revolution began in St. Petersburg on Jan. 9, 1905, when the tsar’s troops fired upon a peaceful demonstration of St. Petersburg workers who were bringing the tsar a petition concerning the needs of the people. The first barricades appeared on the streets of the capital, signifying the beginning of the armed struggle of the working class against the autocracy. The proletariat of Russia supported the St. Petersburg workers with numerous strikes. Between January and March 1905, 810,000 industrial workers struck—twice as many as during the entire decade preceding the revolution. The metalworkers were the most active. Workers in the national regions—Poland, the Baltic region, and the Caucasus—rebelled. In many places, strikes and demonstrations were accompanied by clashes with troops and the police. The struggle developed under the slogans “Down with the autocracy!”, “Down with the war!”, and “Long live the revolution!” Concurrently, the proletariat put forward economic demands, including the demand for an eight-hour workday.

Under the influence of the struggle of the working class, a peasant movement erupted in Central Russia, where the vestiges of serfdom were particularly strong. There were strikes of agricultural workers in Latvia, Poland, and the Right-bank Ukraine. The Guria peasant uprising broke out in the Caucasus. Peasants destroyed landlords’ estates, cut down woods, took grain, and in places seized the land as well. In the spring of 1905, Lenin wrote that there occurred “the rise of the first big, not only economical, but also political peasant movement in Russia” (ibid., vol. 30, p. 315). Between January and April 1905, however, the peasant movement encompassed only one-seventh of the districts of European Russia.

Antigovernment student demonstrations flowed into the common stream of the revolutionary movement. The democratic intelligentsia intensified its activity. Professional-political unions of lawyers, engineers, technicians, doctors, and teachers were organized. In May they united to form the Union of Unions. The liberal bourgeoisie, too, asserted itself, claiming the role of leader of the national movement against the autocracy. However, although it voiced its discontent with the autocracy and flirted with the masses, the liberal bourgeoisie feared revolutionary actions more than reaction. It constantly vacillated between tsarism and the forces of democracy, negotiating with the government behind the scenes and betraying the interests of the people and the revolution at crucial moments. In contrast to the Western European bourgeoisie of the era of rising capitalism, the counterrevolutionary Russian bourgeoisie proved itself incapable of becoming the leader of the bourgeois-democratic revolution of the era of imperialism, and the proletariat ousted it from the leadership of the popular masses.

Thus, three distinct camps emerged in the country’s political arena: the government camp, the liberal opposition, and the revolutionary camp. The government camp, which included tsarism, the ruling bureaucracy, and the feudal landlords, sought to preserve the autocracy at any price. The liberal landlords, the bourgeoisie, and the upper strata of the bourgeois intelligentsia, who together constituted the liberal opposition, aspired to create a constitutional monarchy. The revolutionary camp—the proletariat, the peasantry, the petit bourgeois urban strata, and the democratic intelligentsia—fought for the establishment of a democratic republic.

While intensifying its military and police terror against the revolutionary people, the tsarist government also began to maneuver. In an attempt to deceive the popular masses with a promise of reform, the government created the Shidlovskii and Kokovtsov commissions and issued a decree on February 18 calling for draft legislation to establish a consultative Duma. However, the Bolsheviks exposed the intent of these maneuvers and appealed to the masses to intensify the revolutionary struggle.

The Third Congress of the RSDLP, held in London in April 1905, defined the strategy and tactics of the proletariat in the incipient revolution. The Bolsheviks firmly believed that the proletariat in alliance with the peasantry, after having neutralized and isolated the liberal bourgeoisie, had to strive for the maximum broadening and deepening of the revolution and to aim for a victorious armed uprising and the establishment of a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. The governing body of the dictatorship was to be the Provisional Revolutionary Government, whose function was to convene a constituent assembly and implement the political and economic demands contained in the minimum program of the RSDLP. The Bolsheviks believed that under certain conditions it was permissible for representatives of Social Democracy to participate in such a government.

The Third Congress of the RSDLP emphasized that one of the party’s primary current tasks was the practical military training of the proletariat for an armed uprising. Underlying the Bolshevik tactics was the Leninist idea of the hegemony of the proletariat in the bourgeois-democratic revolution. The proletariat was not only the most selfless and vigorous opponent of autocracy, drawing in its wake the peasantry and the urban “middle strata”; it also acted as the ideological leader and organizer of the struggle of the nonproletarian masses. Especially great in this respect was the role of the mass political strike as the key factor in the proletariat’s hegemony in the popular movement, as the proletarian method of mobilizing the masses for the struggle against tsarism. The vanguard role of the working class and the place of the strike and other proletarian methods of struggle between 1905 and 1907 imparted a proletarian character to the revolution.

The tactical line aimed at establishing the proletariat’s hegemony in the revolution was expressed in a resolution of the Third Congress of the RSDLP relating to the peasant movement. The resolution stated the necessity of immediately creating revolutionary peasant committees as independent organizations of the rural proletariat. It also affirmed the working class’ support for all the revolutionary demands of the peasantry up to the confiscation of manorial, state, church, and appanage land. The Bolsheviks explained to the workers the antirevolutionary and antiproletarian nature of the liberal opposition, and they vigorously opposed its efforts to seize hegemony in the revolutionary movement.

The Mensheviks advocated an altogether different tactical line. They saw in the Russian revolution only a repetition of the experience of the “classical” bourgeois revolutions of the past, and they assigned to the proletariat the modest role of “extreme opposition,” whose function was to nudge the bourgeoisie into struggle against the autocracy. The Mensheviks underestimated the revolutionary potential of the peasantry as the ally of the working class, and they rejected the idea of the hegemony of the proletariat, as well as the possibility of the organization and military-technical preparation of an armed uprising. From the beginning they were opposed to the Social Democrats’ participation in the Provisional Revolutionary Government. Their tactics were aimed at “not scaring off” the liberal bourgeoisie, whom the Mensheviks regarded as the motive force and leader of the revolution. The Menshevik tactics would lead to the political subordination of the proletariat to the bourgeoisie, to the curtailment of the revolution. No less dangerous was the adventurist ultraleftist line of the Trotskyist Mensheviks, who reckoned on “jumping over” the democratic stage of the movement and plunging directly into the struggle for socialism.

The Trotskyist theory of permanent revolution was especially dangerous because it rejected the alliance of the proletariat and the peasantry, isolated the workers from the broad democratic movement of the popular masses, and made the fate of the Russian revolution completely dependent on the success of the struggle of the proletariat in the West. Waging the ideological struggle on two fronts—against right and “left” opportunism—the Bolsheviks sought to end the schism in the workers’ movement and to unite the efforts of the working class in the interests of the revolution. They also aspired to create a united front of revolutionary-democratic forces under the direction of the proletariat. The Bolsheviks considered it permissible to make individual practical agreements with the petit bourgeois Socialist Revolutionaries (SR’s), who were influential among the peasantry and the democratic intelligentsia. Although they sharply criticized the erroneous tenets of SR doctrine, such as the program for socializing the land and the attitude toward individual terror, the Bolsheviks took into account the SR’s revolutionary democratic commitment and their readiness to join an armed uprising.

In July 1905, Lenin’s book Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution was published. The book substantiated all the fundamental propositions of the proletarian party’s policies in the bourgeois-democratic revolution and subjected to devastating criticism the opportunism of the Mensheviks in tactical matters. Lenin also outlined the prospects for the development of the bourgeois-democratic revolution into a socialist revolution without a protracted historical interval. The resolutions of the Third Party Congress and Lenin’s programmatic works armed the Bolsheviks and the working class with a scientific plan of struggle for the victory of the revolution.

Spring and summer upsurge. Throughout 1905 the revolution developed along an ascending line. The spring and summer upsurge began with May Day strikes in which 220,000 workers participated. May Day celebrations were held in 200 cities. Between April and August 1905, more than 50 percent of all strikers were involved in political strikes. New strata of the working class were constantly drawn into the struggle. The general strike of Ivanovo-Voznesensk textile workers that began on May 12 demonstrated the revolutionary maturity of the workers. The strike, which lasted 72 days, was led by the Assembly of Authorized Deputies—in effect, the first city-wide soviet of workers’ deputies in Russia. In the course of the strike, leaders of the workers emerged, notably the Bolsheviks F. A. Afanas’ev, M. V. Frunze, E. A. Dunaev, M. N. Lakin, and S. I. Balashov. The general strike involving 100,000 workers that broke out in Łódź in June rapidly grew into an armed uprising that stirred up all of Poland and reverberated through various parts of Russia. As a sign of solidarity with the Łódź workers, a general strike broke out in Warsaw, directed by the Warsaw Committee of the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, headed by F. E. Dzerzhinskii.

In the summer of 1905, there were about 900 disturbances in the countryside, encompassing one-fifth of the districts of European Russia. In a number of provinces, special Social Democratic agrarian groups were established to work among the peasants. The All-Russian Peasant Union, founded in August, demanded that the land be made public property. A major event of the revolution was the uprising of the crew of the battleship Potemkin in June 1905, the first effort to form the nucleus of a revolutionary army. Almost simultaneously, an uprising erupted among Baltic sailors at Libava (Liepāja). In all, more than 40 revolutionary outbreaks by soldiers and sailors occurred in the summer of 1905.

Alarmed by the scope of the popular movement, the government on August 6 issued a manifesto on the convocation of a consultative State Duma, commonly known as the Bulygin Duma, a concession made by tsarism for the purpose of suppressing the revolution. However, the plan failed to satisfy not only the revolutionary camp but even many liberals, who had shifted perceptibly to the left under the influence of the battleship Potemkin uprising.

In view of the upsurge in the revolutionary movement, the Bolsheviks called for a boycott of the Duma, combined with large-scale agitation, mass strikes, and intensified preparations for an armed uprising. Under the banner of boycotting the Duma, the Bolsheviks succeeded in rallying almost all of Russian Social Democracy, including the most influential national Social Democratic parties. The SR’s also supported the boycott. Only some of the Mensheviks rejected the boycott tactic. In the course of the anti-Duma campaign, a bloc of Social Democrats and revolutionary-bourgeois democrats, known as the “left bloc,” was formed. The left-liberal Union of Unions also passed a resolution calling for a boycott of the Duma. The right wing of the liberals, although it hypocritically condemned the Bulygin plan, advocated participation in the Duma, hoping to halt the revolution with its help. But tsarism never convened the Bulygin Duma.

Culmination. By autumn the revolutionary movement had enveloped virtually the entire country. The September strike of Moscow printers, bakers, tobacco workers, tram operators, and workers in certain other trades, supported by the proletariat of St. Petersburg, heralded a new upsurge in the revolution. The Bolsheviks attempted to turn partial strikes in the two capitals into city-wide strikes and to extend them to the entire country. The Bolshevik policy of rallying all revolutionary forces produced results. During October all the railroad workers of Russia struck. An important role in the strike was played by the All-Russian Railroad Union. The railroad strike prompted a general strike in factories, institutions, higher and secondary schools, and the postal and telegraph services. This was a genuinely all-Russian strike, and it paralyzed the political and economic life of the country. The general workers’ strike gave strong impetus to the national liberation movement of the oppressed peoples, particularly in Poland, Finland, Latvia, and Estonia.

The October strike demonstrated the power of the proletariat as the organizer and leader of a nationwide struggle against the autocracy, and it wrung from the tsar the Manifesto of Oct. 17, 1905, which proclaimed civil liberties. The Duma was granted legislative powers, and the number of eligible voters was increased. A decree giving amnesty to political prisoners was issued on October 21, and a decree restoring Finland’s autonomy was promulgated on October 22. On November 3 the government announced that redemption payments would no longer be collected from the peasants. Together, these concessions constituted the first major victory of the revolution. The proletariat won for both itself and the whole nation, albeit for a short time, freedom of speech and of the press. Social Democracy emerged from the underground. For the first time in the country’s history, workers’ newspapers were published legally, including the main organ of the Bolsheviks, the newspaper Novaia zhizn’ (New Life), which published articles by Lenin, M. S. Ol’minskii, A. V. Lunacharskii, M. Gorky, V. V. Vorovskii, and other party publicists.

A temporary, extremely unstable equilibrium was established between the struggling forces. If tsarism was by now unable to suppress the revolution, neither was the revolution as yet capable of overthrowing tsarism. The liberal bourgeoisie greeted the tsarist manifesto with rapture. A bourgeois party, the Constitutional Democrats (Kadets), was formed. Among its leaders were P. N. Miliukov, V. A. Maklakov, and P. B. Struve. The Union of October 17 (Octobrists) was organized under the leadership of A. I. Guchkov and D. N. Shipov. Russian liberals, planning their tactics with a view to making use of the Duma, turned toward counterrevolution. The masses, on the contrary, intensified the revolutionary onslaught against tsarism, which, recovering from its alarm, proceeded to consolidate the forces of counterrevolution by organizing the Black Hundred pogroms inflaming national dissension, murdering revolutionaries, and creating monarchist organizations.

The peasant movement grew rapidly from the end of October. At its high point it encompassed about 37 percent of the districts of European Russia. The largest peasant disturbances occurred in Saratov, Tambov, Chernigov, Orel, Kursk, and Voronezh provinces. Peasant uprisings engulfed Georgia and the Baltic region. On the whole, however, the onslaught of the peasantry was still insufficient for victory over tsarism.

In October, the proletariat managed to neutralize the troops in many cities. An indication of the further development of the revolution toward armed uprising was the spontaneous demonstrations of soldiers and sailors in Kronstadt and Vladivostok at the end of October and in Kiev, the Turkestan military district, and particularly Sevastopol’ (Black Sea fleet) in November. The Sevastopol’ uprising was led by a nonparty revolutionary democrat, Lieutenant P. P. Shmidt.

Preparing for an armed uprising, the proletariat established hitherto unknown mass political organizations—soviets of workers’ deputies—the embryonic governing bodies of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. The soviet of workers’ deputies in St. Petersburg began to function on October 13, and the soviet in Moscow, on November 21. Soviets operated in more than 50 cities and industrial settlements. They were transformed from organs directing the strike struggle into organs of the general democratic revolutionary struggle against the tsarist government, organs of armed uprising. During the struggle, the soviets established freedom of the press, introduced an eight-hour workday, and exercised control over business, municipal, and other enterprises. These were the rudiments of the new revolutionary regime. Trade unions of industrial and office workers, which had arisen in the course of the revolution, grew rapidly.

As a result of the October strike, the conditions under which the RSDLP operated changed fundamentally. The Bolsheviks used the days of “freedom” to create legal or semilegal party organizations, while retaining the illegal apparatus. In the newly created organizations the principle of democratic centralism was consistently implemented. All these changes contributed to the strengthening of ties between the party and the masses and to growth in the party’s ranks. In 1905 the worker core of the Bolshevik Party increased by about 62 percent. The illegal party apparatus applied itself to the military and technical preparation of an armed uprising. The military organizations of the RSDLP were active in the army and the navy. They were supervised by the combat technical group under the Central Committee of the RSDLP, headed by L. B. Krasin. The Bolshevik combat organizations formed detachments called druzhiny and instructed them in the use of arms and the tactics of street fighting.

On Nov. 8, 1905, Lenin, who was directing all the party’s work, returned to St. Petersburg from abroad. In preparing the uprising, the Bolsheviks tried above all to create a united workers’ front. They resolutely supported the unifying movement in the RSDLP, initiated by the workers in the party. By autumn, federated or unified Social Democratic committees had already been established. The Bolsheviks also worked for unity of action between Social Democracy and revolutionary bourgeois democracy, represented by the SR Party, the peasants’ and railroad unions, and other organizations. But the planned preparation of an armed assault, which encountered numerous difficulties, lagged behind the spontaneously growing uprising.

To forestall the further development of the revolution, the tsarist government took the offensive. Punitive expeditions were dispatched to the provinces engulfed by peasant uprisings. In the middle of November the leaders of the All-Russian Peasant Union were arrested. On November 21 the leaders of the postal-telegraph congress being held in Moscow and the leaders of the Postal-Telegraph Union were also arrested. On November 29 local authorities were empowered to take emergency measures against striking railroad, postal, and telegraph workers. A circular was issued calling for resolute struggle against revolutionary propaganda in the army. On December 2 temporary provisions establishing criminal liability for strikers were promulgated, and martial law or a state of emergency was declared in a number of cities and provinces. On December 2–3 the government shut down several democratic newspapers for publishing the Financial Manifesto issued by the St. Petersburg soviet, the Central Committee of the RSDLP, and other parties and organizations of the “left bloc.” The manifesto urged the people to refuse to pay taxes and duties, to withdraw their deposits from savings banks, and to demand payment in gold in all cases. On December 3 the police arrested members of the Executive Committee and many of the deputies to the St. Petersburg soviet. Under these conditions, the logical development of the revolution was armed conflict between the masses and autocracy.

The December Armed Uprisings of 1905 were the culmination of the revolution. Moscow was the center of the uprising. For nine days, several thousand workers, members of druzhiny, with the support or sympathy of the city’s entire working population, heroically battled tsarist troops. During the uprising, the workers performed incredible acts of heroism. Leaders emerged from among the masses—courageous heroes of the barricade fighting, among them the Bolsheviks Z. Ia. Litvin-Sedoi, A. I. Gorchilin, M. S. Nikolaev, F. M. Mantulin, and I. V. Karasev. Alongside the Bolsheviks fought SR’s, including A. V. Ukhtomskii and M. I. Sokolov.

The Muscovites were supported by the workers of Rostov-on-Don, Novorossiisk, Sochi, Nizhny Novgorod (Sormovo, Kanavino), Kharkov, Ekaterinoslav, the Donets Basin, Motovilikha, Krasnoiarsk, and Chita. Uprisings also broke out in Latvia, Estonia, and Georgia, but they were local and occurred at different times. As a rule, the insurgents adhered to defensive tactics. The situation rapidly changed for the worse in a number of industrial centers during December. The uprising did not spread to St. Petersburg, where government forces were especially strong and the proletariat, which had marched in the vanguard of the movement from the first days of the revolution, had been greatly weakened by the preceding struggle, the lockouts, and the arrests. The vacillation and indecisiveness of the St. Petersburg soviet, dominated by the Mensheviks, also had their effect.

The general political strike continued to be the predominant form of protest of the overwhelming majority of working people in December 1905. Only part of the proletarian forces were drawn into the December events; the broad strata of the proletariat entered the struggle later, in 1906. By early December, the large military forces sent to suppress the peasant uprisings had essentially eliminated the danger threatening the government in the countryside and had deprived the rebellious workers of adequate support from the peasantry.

The first attempt at an armed assault on the autocracy proved unsuccessful. In a number of regions punitive expeditions wreaked vengeance. By April 1906 more than 14,000 persons had been executed, and some 75,000 political prisoners languished in jail. The December uprisings enriched the proletariat with the experience of revolutionary struggle and demonstrated that it was possible to fight street battles with government troops. During the uprising in Moscow a new tactic was developed. Workers belonging to the druzhiny, operating in small, mobile bands, engaged in partisan activity. Among the lessons derived from the December uprisings was the realization that further preparation was necessary for a simultaneous all-Russian armed action of the working class, supported by the peasantry and the army. Generalizing from and propagandizing the experience of December 1905, the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, learned and taught the masses to regard rebellion as an art whose cardinal rule was to wage a bold and decisive offensive. They also called for an energetic struggle to win over the vacillating troops to the people’s cause. As Lenin wrote: “The December struggle of the proletariat left the people a legacy that can serve as an ideological and political beacon for the work of several generations” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 19, p. 215).

Retreat. With the defeat of the uprising began the slow ebb of the revolution, which was not completely suppressed for more than a year and a half. Twice the proletariat attempted to launch a new offensive. But neither the spring and summer upsurge of 1906, lasting from April to July, nor the spring upsurge of 1907 was able to attain the level reached in the autumn of 1905. In all, about 14,000 strikes involving 2,860,000 persons (60 percent of the industrial proletariat) were recorded in 1905. The next year more than 6,100 strikes were held involving 1.1 million persons (about 38 percent of the country’s industrial workers). In 1907 the number of strikes declined to 3,570 and the number of strikers to 740,000 (32.8 percent of the country’s industrial workers). In 1906 the greatest drop-off in the movement occurred among the metalworkers, the vanguard in the struggle of 1905, who needed a breathing space in order to gather strength (in 1907 the metalworkers once again intensified the struggle). Textile workers, the bulk of whom were drawn into the movement later than the metalworkers, provided the greatest number of strikers in 1906.

Because of dismissals and lockouts, by means of which the bourgeoisie sought to rid itself of the most active workers and frighten the proletariat, the movement of the unemployed spread in 1906 under the slogan “Work and bread!” Supported by the entire proletariat, the unemployed formed soviets of the unemployed in a number of cities. During this period, political strikes of the proletariat predominated over economic strikes, and in such nonindustrial provinces as Arkhangel’sk, Vologda, Kursk, and Simbirsk the number of strikers even increased between 1905 and 1906. The revolutionary upsurge in the summer of 1906 was accompanied by the reestablishment of soviets of workers’ deputies (July), the formation of new fighting units (druzhiny), the development of partisan warfare, and an increase in the number of trade unions, which by 1907 included about 245,000 workers.

The partisan movement gained momentum in 1906–07. Partisans attacked police stations and prisons, freed political prisoners, seized weapons, and expropriated funds for the revolution. The movement was strongest in Latvia, Georgia, and the Urals. The level of the peasant movement in the summer of 1906 approached that of the autumn of 1905. In all, about 1,850 peasant outbreaks were recorded between April and August 1906. The focal points of the peasant movement in 1906 were the Volga Region, the Central Chernozem Zone, the Ukraine, and Poland. The peasants shifted to struggle against the tsarist administration, particularly the police. Strikes of agricultural laborers broke out.

In the summer of 1906 revolutionary ferment among the troops took the form of armed uprisings on the Baltic, at Kronstadt and Sveaborg. The uprisings were led by the Bolsheviks A. P. Emel’ianov, E. L. Kokhanskii, D. Z. Manuil’skii, and I. F. Dubrovinskii. On the cruiser Pamiat’ Azova, stationed near Revel, the uprising was directed by the Bolsheviks N. Lobadin and A. I. Koptiukh.

Preparing for a new nationwide uprising, the Bolsheviks were convinced that such an uprising would succeed only through the united efforts of all the revolutionary forces, primarily the proletariat. The Fourth (Unity) Congress of the RSDLP, held in Stockholm in April 1906, revealed the deep rift in matters of principle between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. The unification was nominal and temporary. The ideological struggle between Bolshevism and Menshevism continued.

As in 1905, the government did not rely solely on persecution in the struggle against the revolution. In an effort to split and weaken the popular movement, to deflect the petit bourgeois strata of the population (chiefly the peasantry) from the revolution, and to conclude an alliance with the bourgeoisie and thereby placate “public opinion” within the country and abroad, tsarism convened a “legislative” State Duma in April 1906, having done everything possible beforehand to render it a powerless body. The electoral law that had been adopted at the height of the December Uprising of 1905 broadened the sphere of voters, permitting some workers to participate in the elections to the Duma.

In the elections to the first State Duma, held in February and March 1906, the revolutionary camp adopted much the same tactics it had used with respect to the Bulygin Duma. At the Tammerfors Conference of the RSDLP, convened in December 1905, the Bolsheviks had adopted a resolution to boycott the elections. The Mensheviks took a half-way position. They advocated the participation of electors in indirect elections but opposed the election of the members of the Duma themselves, allowing, however, for the possibility of electing individual Social Democratic deputies to the Duma. Foreseeing the inevitability of a new upsurge in the revolution, the Bolsheviks believed that worker participation in the elections to the Duma might foster constitutional illusions among the masses and deflect them from preparing for a new armed assault on the autocracy. When it became clear that the convening of the Duma could not be prevented, Lenin tried to use the Duma platform as effectively as possible in the interests of the revolution, and he later acknowledged that the boycott of the first Duma was a minor, easily rectifiable error (ibid., vol. 41, pp. 18, 46). Thus, as early as the spring of 1906 the Bolsheviks set out to combine parliamentary and nonparliamentary methods of struggle, subordinating their activities in the Duma to the tasks of developing the mass revolutionary movement.

The Kadets won a majority in the first Duma. In opposition to the Mensheviks, who supported the Duma as a whole, the Bolsheviks espoused the tactic of the “left bloc,” seeking to separate the peasant Trudovik (Toilers Group) deputies from the Kadets. The Duma’s growing oppositional attitude (reflected in its discussion of the agrarian question) during the spring and summer revolutionary upsurge of 1906 caused deep anxiety in the camp of reaction. On July 9, Nicholas II dissolved the first State Duma.

A new wave of persecutions engulfed the country. Field courts-martial, instituted on August 19, sentenced some 950 persons to death in the six months that they functioned. By the autumn of 1906, the workers’ struggle was gradually dying out. Simultaneously, the government attempted to appease the peasantry and to establish a new mass base for itself by creating a kulak class. Laws were enacted providing for the sale of part of the appanage and state lands to the peasants, facilitating peasant resettlement in the eastern sections of the country, and abolishing certain legal restrictions on peasants. In November 1906 a decree was issued permitting peasants to withdraw freely from the obshchina (commune). The decree initiated the Stolypin agrarian reform.

Having decided to use the Duma as a platform from which to conduct revolutionary agitation and expose the liberals, the Bolsheviks were among those who participated in the elections to the second State Duma, held at the beginning of 1907. In the course of the electoral campaign, the Bolsheviks opposed the formation of a coalition of Social Democrats and Kadets, upon which the Mensheviks stubbornly insisted. The Duma tactics of the Bolsheviks, worked out by Lenin, aimed at the creation of a revolutionary coalition of representatives of the working class and the peasantry. The Leninist tactics received the full approval of the Fifth (London) Congress of the RSDLP, which met in April and May, 1907.

Despite the calculations of the reaction, the second Duma was more radical than the first Duma. The Kadets lost their dominant influence in the Duma. On June 3, 1907, tsarism dispersed the second State Duma, and the Social Democratic faction was arrested. The government promulgated a new electoral law under which the rights of working people were curtailed still further. The coup d’etat of June 3, 1907, marked the end of the revolution.

Results and significance. The revolution was defeated for a number of reasons. The most important reason was the insufficient strength of the alliance between the working class and the peasantry. The actions of workers, peasants, and soldiers were uncoordinated; they were not successfully merged into a single stream. Only “a minor part of the peasantry,” wrote Lenin, “really did fight, did organise to some extent for this purpose: and a very small part indeed rose up in arms to exterminate its enemies” (ibid., vol. 17, p. 211). Although about 250 demonstrations by soldiers and sailors occurred between 1905 and 1907, the bulk of the army remained loyal to tsarism.

The struggle of the proletariat itself was insufficiently coordinated; considerable detachments were drawn into the revolution only when the vanguard had already been weakened. The necessary unity was also lacking within the ranks of the party of the working class. The opportunist line of the Mensheviks retarded the development of the revolution and weakened its force. Yet another reason for the collapse of the revolution was the traitorous role of the liberal bourgeoisie. Foreign capitalists, fearing the loss of their investments in Russia and the spread of the revolution to Western Europe, provided much aid to tsarism. Foreign loans of 843 million rubles in 1906 saved the tsarist government from bankruptcy and strengthened its position. The conclusion of peace with Japan also helped tsarism.

Although the Revolution of 1905–07 did not attain its immediate goals, it dealt a powerful blow to tsarism. During the revolution the lines between classes and parties were clearly delineated. It stirred to political struggle millions of working people, provided them with a school of political education, and transformed Russia into a land of revolutionary people. For the first time in history, the proletariat was the leader of a bourgeois-democratic revolution. For the first time, an alliance had been made between the working class and peasantry, and the foundation was laid for a revolutionary alliance of all the nationalities of the Russian Empire. The Russian working class rallied the toiling people of all the oppressed nationalities in the country and showed them the way to national and social liberation. The revolution engendered new forms of struggle and of the revolutionary organization of the masses and revealed the enormous role of mass political strikes. It gave the workers experience in armed struggle. For the first time in history, the working masses created soviets, which in 1917 developed into the state form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The revolution showed that the Bolsheviks were the only completely revolutionary party in the country. It was a comprehensive verification of the theory and tactics of Bolshevism. In a resolution adopted in 1975 and entitled On the 70th Anniversary of the Revolution of 1905–1907 in Russia, the Central Committee of the CPSU noted that the revolution revealed Lenin as the greatest theoretician of Marxism, which he enriched by working out questions relating to the hegemony of the proletariat, to the directing role of the party, to the development of the bourgeois-democratic revolution into a socialist revolution, and to the function of soviets as organs of armed uprising and revolutionary power.

In the course of the revolution, the Bolsheviks grew stronger organizationally, increased in numbers, and expanded and strengthened their influence among the masses. The organizing abilities of Leninist Bolsheviks were strikingly displayed from 1905 to 1907. Foremost among the Bolshevik organizers were Ia. M. Sverdlov, S. G. Shaumian, I. V. Babushkin, M. M. Litvinov, V. L. Shantser (Marat), S. I. Gusev, P. A. Dzhaparidze, S. A. Ter-Petrosian (Kamo), K. E. Voroshilov, M. I. Kalinin, F. A. Sergeev (Artem), P. P. Stučka, A. S. Bubnov, V. P. Nogin, M. G. Tskhakaia, and R. S. Zemliachka.

Under the leadership of the Bolsheviks, the proletariat won, if only for a short time, a number of democratic liberties and achieved a certain improvement in its economic situation. Tsarism was forced to assent to the creation of the State Duma, thus taking one more step on the path of transforming Russia into a bourgeois monarchy. Laying the groundwork for future class battles, the Revolution of 1905–07 was a “dress rehearsal” for the revolutions of 1917—not only the February bourgeois-democratic revolution but the October Socialist Revolution as well.

The first Russian revolution marked the onset of a new phase in world history—the period of political upheavals and revolutions. Its events evoked the sympathy of the Western European proletariat and stirred the oppressed peoples of the East. The struggle of the working class of Russia became an example for the workers of the entire world. The strike movement and the struggle for democratic liberties gathered force. The revolution in Russia was followed by revolutions in Iran (1905–11), Turkey (1908), and China (1911–13), and the national liberation and antifeudal movements in other Eastern countries were strengthened. There was a regrouping of forces in the international arena. Russia, hitherto the stronghold of international reaction, became the leading force, the center, of the world revolutionary movement between 1905 and 1907.

The experience of the Revolution of 1905–07 in Russia played a large role in the struggle against opportunism in the international workers’ movement. It shook many dogmas of the leaders of the Second International, strengthened the international position of Bolshevism, and exerted a powerful influence on the formation of the left, revolutionary wing in Social Democratic parties.

The experience of the first Russian popular revolution is being used creatively in the contemporary anti-imperialist struggle of the peoples of the world for democracy and social progress.


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