The Russian Revolution of 1905

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‘The Russian Revolution of 1905 was a result of social and economic modernisation thwarted by a reactionary regime.’ Discuss.

The Russian Revolution of 1905, while it ultimately failed to overthrow the Tzarist regime, was said by several people, including Lenin, to be a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the Russian Revolution of 1917. Russia was an autocratic country ruled by an autocratic Tzar, where the Tzar ruled as he wished and was supported by the privileged nobles, who owned land and serfs. The distinction between the poor and the wealthy was great, and despite the attempts by Alexander II to modernize Russia by introducing reforms, the reforms ultimately acerbated the situation. This paper will identify several social and economic modernisations that were attempted and thwarted by a reactionary regime, as well as other causes that led to the Russian Revolution of 1905.

Alexander II, also known to as the Tzar-Liberator for his many reforms in Russia, began his reign in 1855 when Russia was defeated in the Crimean War. He thought that the main reason for Russian defeat was her backward social and economic system, and tried to strengthen the dynasty by introducing reforms to modernize the archaic institutions of Russia. His intentions were good, and had they been carried out properly would have made Russia stronger socially and economically. Among the reforms he introduced was the Emancipation Edict of 1861, where serfs were liberated and granted a portion of the nobles’ estates, and in return the peasants were to pay an annual sum to the government for 49 years, where at the end of this period the land would become their property. This Emancipation Edict was among the first social and economic modernisations attempted by Alexander II. In principle, this would have improved the social and economic situation of the people as they could now become small property owners and full citizens, and could participate fully in political life and in the market economy (Hosking, 1998). However, in practice, this reform could be considered a failure due to several reasons.

Firstly, despite no longer being subjected to the whims and fancy of the nobles, where the peasants could be bought and sold as chattel and be punished in any form by the nobles, they were still tied to the village commune. This is because until the end of the 49 year period, the land was to be kept by the village communities, where they would be the ones to allot a share of the land to the peasants. This meant that the peasants’ livelihoods were still dependant on a figure of authority, and they had no real freedom. Secondly, the share of land allotted to them was often insufficient to keep them above the level of grinding poverty, and as the population of the village community increased, at each re-allotment the share of the village land granted to each peasant would continuously decrease as the village communities kept the village land as collective property. Not only that, the annual sums to the government were often heavier than the dues to the nobles, and added with the fact that the village lands were often infertile as the nobles were allowed to give up the poorest parts of their estates and keep the better parts for themselves, it was not surprising that the peasants continued to be trapped in poverty even after their emancipation. It was due to these factors that peasant discontent increased after their emancipation and that riots continued even until 1917 (TheCorner, 2007).

Along with the emancipation of serfs, Alexander II also had district and provincial assemblies (zemstvas) created, where the members of the district assemblies were elected by the inhabitants of each rural district, peasants and nobles alike. Members of the district assemblies then elected delegates of the provincial assemblies. This system was aimed at integrating the peasants into the political nation and to teach them self - government, but not only did it fail to...
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