Russian Revolution 1905

For 400 years, the Tsars ruled Russia with an iron fist. This came to an end in 1905 with the First Russian Revolution, which aimed to put checks and balances on the Tsar's powers. 

Russian Revolution 1905 Russian Revolution 1905

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Table of contents

    The 1905 Russian Revolution was the result of growing discontent against the Tsar's rule, a discontent that would eventually usher in the Soviet Union.

    1905 Russian Revolution timeline

    Let's first look at a timeline showing some of the causes and events of the Russian Revolution in 1905.

    8 January 1904The Russo-Japanese War began.
    22 January 1905Bloody Sunday massacre.
    17 February 1905Grand Duke Sergei is assassinated.
    27 June 1905The Battleship Potemkin mutiny.
    5 September 1905The Russo-Japanese War ended.
    20 October 1905A General Strike occurred.
    26 October 1905The Petrograd Soviet of Workers' Deputies (PSWD) was formed.
    30 October 1905Tsar Nicholas II signed the October Manifesto.
    December 1905Strikes continued because Tsar Nicholas II had not created a Constitutional Assembly or a Republic as some of the protesters had demanded. Some of the Imperial Army had returned to Petrograd by December and dispersed the crowds, and dissolved the PSWD.
    January 1906All of the Imperial Army had now returned from the war, and the Tsar had regained control of the Trans-Siberian railway and controlled the protesters.
    April 1906The Fundamental Laws were passed, and the Duma was created. The First Russian Revolution had essentially come to an end.

    Causes of the 1905 Russian Revolution

    There were both long-term and short-term causes of the 1905 Russian Revolution.

    Long-term causes

    One of the key long-term causes of the 1905 Russian Revolution was the poor leadership of the Tsar. Nicholas II was the autocratic monarch of the country, meaning that all power was concentrated in his hands. The poor political, social, agrarian, and industrial conditions were worsening under his rule, especially at the start of the 20th century.

    Russian Revolution Saint portrait of Tsar Nicholas II StudySmarterFig. 1 - Portrait of Tsar Nicholas II as a saint.

    Let's take a look a look at the Tsar's poor leadership in political, social, and economic areas.

    Political discontent

    The Tsar refused to appoint a prime minister to the Imperial government, which led to contradictory policies regarding how the land was treated and how Russia's industry was run. Tsar Nicholas II limited the powers of zemstvos, so they could not enact national changes. Liberalism in Russia demonstrated increasing discontent with the Tsar's poor leadership, and the Union of Liberation was established in 1904. The Union demanded a constitutional monarchy, whereby a representative Duma (the name for a council) would advise the Tsar, and democratic voting for all men would be introduced.

    Zemstvos were the provincial government bodies throughout Russia, ordinarily made up of liberal politicians.

    Other political ideologies were growing at the time as well. Marxism in Russia became popular around the 1880s. The rise of this ideology created new political groups of communists and socialists who were unhappy with the Tsar's rule of Russia. Socialism in Russia, in particular, managed to gather a wide following, supporting the issues of the peasants.

    Social discontent

    Tsar Nicholas II continued his father Alexander III's Russification policies throughout the Russian Empire, which included persecuting ethnic minorities through execution or sending them to the katorgas labour camps. Political dissidents were also sent to the katorgas. Many fought for better religious and political freedoms.

    Agrarian and industrial discontent

    As their European neighbours underwent industrialisation, Tsar Nicholas II pushed for Russia's industrialisation. The rapid pace of this meant that cities went through urbanisation. As city populations increased, food shortages became rampant. In 1901 there was widespread famine.

    Industrial workers were forbidden from forming trade unions, which meant they had no protection from wage cuts or poor working conditions. The proletariat (such as industrial workers and peasants) demanded fairer treatment, which was impossible to achieve, whilst the Tsar ruled as an autocrat (with complete control).

    Short-term causes

    Although there was a developing culture of discontent with the Tsar's leadership, two key events pushed this discontent into protest.

    Russo-Japanese War

    When Tsar Nicholas II came to power, he wanted to expand the Russian Empire. During his youth, he visited parts of East Asia such as India, China, Japan and Korea. In 1904, the areas of Manchuria (a region in modern-day China) and Korea were disputed areas between Russia and Japan. There were negotiations between the Russian and Japanese empires to divide the territories between them peacefully.

    The Tsar refused to divide the lands, wanting the areas solely for Russia. Japan responded by unexpectedly invading Port Arthur, instigating the Russo-Japanese War. Initially, the war appeared popular in Russia, and the Tsar regarded it as a point of nationalist pride and an attempt to gain popularity. However, Japan decimated the Russian presence in Manchuria and humiliated the Tsar's Imperial Army.

    Russian Revolution 1905 Envoy reception of the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1905 StudySmarterFig. 2 - Envoy reception of the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1905

    Eventually, the US negotiated peace between the two countries with the 1905 Treaty of Portsmouth. This Treaty granted Japan South Manchuria and Korea, reducing the Russian presence.

    Russia was facing famine and urban poverty at the time. The defeat and humiliation at the hands of a much smaller power, Japan, increased discontent with the Tsar.

    Bloody Sunday Russia

    On 22 January 1905, Georgy Gapon, a priest, led a group of workers to the Winter Palace to demand that the Tsar help them to have better working conditions. Crucially, the protest was not anti-Tsarist but wanted the Tsar to use his powers to reform the country.

    The Tsar responded by ordering the Imperial Army to fire on the protestors, hundreds of which were injured, and around 100 died. The brutal massacre was named "Bloody Sunday". The event instigated a series of further protests against the Tsar's unwillingness to reform his rule of Russia and kicked off the 1905 Revolution.

    The 1905 Russian Revolution summary

    The First Russian Revolution was a series of events throughout 1905 protesting against the Tsar's inflexible rule. Let's have a look at the Revolution's defining moments.

    The assassination of Grand Duke Sergei

    On 17 February 1905, Tsar Nicholas II's uncle, Grand Duke Sergei, was assassinated by the Socialist Revolutionary Combat Organisation. The organisation exploded a bomb in the Grand Duke's carriage.

    Sergei had been the Governor-General of the Imperial Army for Tsar Nicholas, but after the disastrous defeats suffered during the Russo-Japanese War, Sergei resigned from his position. The Romanovs were often subjected to assassination attempts, and Sergei retreated to the Kremlin (the imperial palace in Moscow) for security but was targeted by discontented socialists. His death demonstrated the scale of civil unrest in Russia and showed how Tsar Nicholas II also had to be on alert for assassination attempts.

    Mutiny on Battleship Potemkin

    The Battleship Potemkin held Imperial Navy sailors. The crew discovered that the food they had been provided with was rotten meat infested with maggots, despite the admiral checking the supplies. The sailors revolted and took control of the ship. They then docked at Odessa to rally the support of the protesting workers and peasants in the city. The Imperial Army was ordered to quash the rebellion, and street fighting broke out. Some 1,000 Odessans died in the conflict, and the mutiny lost some of its momentum.

    Russian Revolution Image of the Battleship Potemkin docking at Constanza in Romania 1905 StudySmarterFig. 3 - After the mutineers had failed to gain supplies for the Battleship Potemkin, they docked at Constanza, Romania. Before leaving, the sailors flooded the ship, but it was later recovered by loyal Imperial troops.

    After sailing around the Black Sea for a few days in search of fuel and supplies, on 8 July 1905, the crew eventually stopped in Romania, called off the mutiny, and sought political asylum.

    The General Strike

    On 20 October 1905, railroad workers began to strike in protest against the Tsar. Once they had taken control of the railways, Russia's primary method of communication, the strikers were able to spread the news of the strike across the country and also stall other industries through lack of transport.

    The Russian Imperial Army

    Throughout the 1905 Russian Revolution, most of the Imperial Army fought in the Russo-Japanese war and only started returning to Russia in September 1905. When the Tsar finally had the full force of his army in December, he was able to dissolve the politically problematic PSWD and put down the remainder of the strikes that continued after October.

    By the start of 1906, the Revolution was practically over, but the public's discontent with the Tsar was still present. As the Tsar's rule continued after the Revolution, and especially with the unpopular First World War, the Imperial Army's loyalty began to falter. This weakness would eventually lead to the Tsar's fall from power in the further revolutions in 1917.

    Many industries joined them and brought Russia to a halt. The Petrograd Soviet of Workers' Deputies (PSWD) was formed on 26 October and directed the strike in the country's capital. The Soviet became more politically active as Mensheviks joined and drove the ideology of socialism. Under immense pressure, the Tsar eventually agreed to sign the October Manifesto on 30 October.

    First Russian Revolution effects

    Although the Tsar managed to survive the First Russian Revolution, he was forced to give in to many of the Revolution's demands.

    First Russian Revolution October Manifesto

    The October Manifesto was drawn up by one of the Tsar's most competent ministers and advisors, Sergey Witte. Witte recognised that the people wanted civil liberties, which would be achieved through the Tsar's political reform or revolution. The manifesto proposed the creation of a new Russian constitution which would operate through an elected representative Duma (council or parliament).

    The PSWD did not agree to the proposals and continued to strike, demanding a Constitutional Assembly and the creation of a Russian Republic. When the Imperial Army returned from the Russo-Japanese War, they detained the PSWD in December 1905, putting down the official opposition.

    First Russian Revolution 1906 fundamental laws

    On 27 April 1906, Tsar Nicholas II decreed the Fundamental Laws, which acted as Russia's first constitution and inaugurated the first state, Duma. The constitution stated that laws had to be passed through the Duma first but that the Tsar remained the leader of the new constitutional monarchy. This was the first time that the autocratic (complete) power of the Tsar had been shared with a parliament.

    The 1906 Fundamental Laws demonstrated the Tsar's action of the proposals made in the October Manifesto the previous year, but with some changes. The Duma had 2 houses rather than 1, with only one being elected, and they also only had limited power over the budget. Furthermore, the civil rights promised in the manifesto were drawn back, and voting powers were also limited.

    Did you know?

    In 2000, the Russian Orthodox Church canonised Tsar Nicholas II as a saint because of the nature of his execution in 1918 by the Bolsheviks. Despite his incompetent leadership whilst he was alive, his meekness and veneration of the Orthodox Church led many to praise him after his death.

    Further revolution

    Liberalism in Russia had won by instating a constitutional monarchy in Russia for the first time. The Duma was in place and was mostly run by groups known as Kadets and Octobrists, who emerged throughout the Revolution. However, the socialist and communist groups were still unhappy with the Tsar as the revolution had not created the political change they had hoped for. This meant that in the following years, political dissent continued to grow with the likes of Lenin's Bolsheviks, Left and Right Socialist Revolutionaries, and Mensheviks, resulting in further revolutions in 1917.

    Russian Revolution - Key Takeaways

    • The 1905 Russian Revolution had long and short-term causes, including Nicholas II's poor leadership, the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5) and the Bloody Sunday massacre.
    • The assassination of Grand Duke Sergei, the mutiny on Battleship Potemkin and the General Strike showed the civil unrest against the Tsar. The strikes brought Russia to a halt and forced the Tsar to sign the October Manifesto.
    • The 1906 Fundamental Laws acted on the October Manifesto and created Russia's first constitutional monarchy with the Duma, and introduced limited civil rights to the Russian public.
    • The Liberals had managed to create political change in Russia during 1905. However, the rising socialist revolutionary and communist movements meant that the constitutional monarchy was still unpopular, and further revolutions were to come.


    1. Fig. 1 Portrait of Tsar Nicholas II as a saint ( by 456oganesson ( licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (
    Frequently Asked Questions about Russian Revolution 1905

    Why did the 1905 revolution fail?

    The 1905 Russian Revolution was only partly a failure because it was successful at enacting political change in Russia. The 1906 Fundamental Laws created a new constitutional monarchy and granted some civil liberties to the population. However, the Duma had 2 houses, only one of which was elected, contrary to what was stated in the October Manifesto. Furthermore, for more radical groups such as the Socialist Revolutionaries and Communists, the political change was only minor, and still had the Tsar at the top of Russia's government. Ultimately, the Russian Imperial Army was still loyal to the Tsar, and this meant that he could put down insurgencies through force and halt revolutionary activities. This demonstrated his continued forceful control of Russia.

    How did the tsar survive the 1905 revolution?

    The Imperial Army were still loyal to the Tsar and protected him during the 1905 Revolution. The Army dissolved the Petrograd Soviet and used force to put down the revolution. 

    Why did the tsar survive the 1905 revolution?

    The 1905 Revolution was a success for Liberals in Russia rather than the anti-Tsarist socialist revolutionaries and communists. The liberals did not want to necessarily remove the Tsar, only to share power with Russian citizens through the elected and representative government of the Duma. When the Duma was instated, the Tsar was still allowed to be the head of Russia.

    Why was the 1905 Russian Revolution significant? 

    The 1905 Russian Revolution demonstrated the power that the proletariat had in the country, as strikes could halt infrastructure and industry and enact change. This would later inspire the proletariat to act in the 1917 revolutions. Furthermore, the Russian Revolution was significant as it showed the change of the 400 year absolutist rule of the Tsar into a constitutional monarchy, demonstrating the changing economic and political landscape of Russia.

    When was the Russian Revolution 1905? 

    The First Russian Revolution started as a series of strikes in retaliation for the Bloody Sunday massacre on 22 January 1905. Revolutionary activities continued throughout 1905 and resulted in the 1906 Fundamental Laws being decreed by the Tsar, creating the Duma and  a constitutional monarchy.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Who was in power during the 1905 Russian Revolution?

    What feature of Tsar Nicholas II's government made it particularly incompetent?

    When did Marxism begin to gain popularity in Russia?

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