From Czardom to Communist State:
by Rit Nosotro
The 1905 and 1917 Russian Revolutions
Compare the 1905 & 1917 Russian Revolutions (Nicholas and Alexandra).
At a signal, the soldiers raised their rifles to their shoulders. Bang! Immediate panic broke forth in the square of the Russian Czar Nicholas II's Winter Palace as bullets ripped through the ranks of peaceful protesters, mowing down men, women, and children. Their blood stained the snow on the ground, giving the date a name in history—"Bloody Sunday." Thus began the first of the two revolutions which changed Russia drastically, removing the centuries old czardom and replacing it with the first Communist regime in the world.
Eighteenth and nineteenth century Russia, the mystical land of the czars, sparked the imagination of visitors and story-tellers alike with its glittering courts, and fantastic palaces, chocolate, caviar, and vodka, icons, Fabergé eggs, and Russian Orthodoxy mixed with superstition. However, this fantasy land of princes and princesses had its dark side as well. Peasants made up the vast majority of Russia's population. For Russian peasants, life in Russia held little promise of success. Nevertheless, their poverty created less of a problem for the peasants than Russia's oppressive government did.
Until the twentieth century, Russia remained under the Medieval feudalistic social structure which had three basic levels. First, a czar ruled the country as an autocratic, and frequently despotic, monarch. Rich nobles, the next level in this society, owned vast quantities of land and also served in government posts. Last of all came the rest of the Russian people—the peasants or serfs. Serfs had few rights and worked for the nobility their whole lives. They were little better than slaves and lived in abject poverty.
This society naturally caused great dissatisfaction among the serfs. As the nineteenth century wore on, numerous reform and fanatical groups tried to change Russia's social structure and government. Revolutions, although suppressed, continued from time to time until two very important revolutions, one in 1905 and the other in 1917. Although these revolutions had two basic causes in common, civil rights and social discontent, they had very different results.
Russia's 1905 revolution began for several reasons. Discontentment with Russia's social system and living conditions among the masses truly began the revolution. While Russia slowly industrialized, Russia's labor force grew in size. Laborors worked and lived in horrendous conditions. This created the desire for a better way of life. However, the Russo-Japanese War, which lasted from 1904 to 1905, played a crucial role in aggravating the condition of workers and peasants alike and caused even more discontentment. During the war, the cost of many things inflated. As a result, peasants who before the war had just made ends meet, starved. Also, the Russian troops lost many battles to the Japanese due to inferior leadership, arms, and training. Although many Russians opposed the Russo-Japanese War, Czar Nicholas II nevertheless refused to end it.
On January 22, 1905, soon after Port Arthur fell to the Japanese, a trade union leader named Father Gapon organized a protest to demand the end of the war, industrial reform, a constituent assembly, and more civil liberties. More than 150,000 petitioners accompanied Father Gapon to the Czar's Winter Palace. There the palace guard opened fire upon them without provocation. This wanton slaughter broke the faith which the multitudes had had in the Czar up to this point.
Illegal trade unions and political parties began to organize strikes in an attempt to gain power. These strikes eventually brought Russia and its economy to a standstill. However, because of the numerous factions trying to gain power and because of the discord within each faction, the strikes failed to overthrow the czardom completely. In addition, many Russians did not necessarily want to overthrow the czar, they simply wanted a more democratic form of government, more civil liberties, and improved living conditions. Therefore, when Czar Nicholas II signed the October Manifesto in October of 1905, it appeased the desires of many Russians. Only radical revolutionaries continued to try to overthrow the czar, but since they did not have the support of the peasants or workers, the Czar soon crushed this minority. Czar Nicholas II's manifesto turned Russia into a constitutional monarchy, gave all Russians certain civil rights, and gave the Duma, Russia's parliment, legislative power.
Russia's peasants, though, were still discontented. Also, soon after the 1905 revolution had died down, Czar Nicholas II disbanded the Duma and violated many of the civil liberties promised in the October Manifesto. As a result, by 1917 another revolution had begun, not from a lack of freedom as in 1905, but from the violation of the October Manifesto. This revolution closely resembled the Russian Revolution of 1905, but it had certain important differences that resulted in an entirely different outcome.
To begin with, the outbreak of World War I precipitated and impacted the revolution of 1917 much like the Russo-Japanese War had influenced the revolution of 1905. Defeat and casualties on the battlefront discouraged most Russians and created a desire to withdraw from the war. Czar Nicholas II also continued to act incompetantly, appointing unqualified men to government positions and listening to the bad advice of his wife, Alexandra, who was strongly influenced by a supposed holy man named Rasputin. This made many Russians, whether peasant, worker, or nobility, discontented with the czar as well as his war.
In March of 1917 workers in Petrograd went on strike, but unlike in 1905 when strikers wanted civil rights, these strikers had an even more basic need: food. Because of the war, the price of bread had inflated so much that many Russians could not afford to buy it. Acting in response to the strikes, Czar Nicholas II ordered troops to suppress the strikers in Petrograd. However, unlike on "Bloody Sunday" during the 1905 revolution, the troops refused to obey the Czar's order and sided instead with the people. At this point, the revolution took a new turn unlike anything that happened during the revolution of 1905—the Duma set up a Provisional Government to rule the country, and the troops and strikers followed suit, each creating their own soviet (a local, popularly elected council or governing body) to replace the czar's rule. For a time, the Provisional Government ruled, but since Russia's wealthier elite mostly comprised this group, it ruled only as long as it complied with the wishes of the soviets which represented most of Russia's population.
This created the opportunity for whichever political party could rally the most people behind its standard to take control of Russia. Up until this revolution many political party leaders had been in exile, but after the March Revolution in 1917 many of them returned and began to organize their parties. Vladamir Lenin, Josef Stalin, and Leon Trotsky, three important leaders of the Bolshevik party, slowly began to win the support of the Russian peasants and workers with their slogans "Peace, Land, and Bread" and "All Power to the Soviets." Meanwhile, the Provisional Government and the two parties which controlled it, the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionary Party, lost popularity because of their decision to continue fighting in World War I and their failure to resolve Russia's economic problems. Thus, the Bolshevik party, lead by Vladamir Lenin and backed by the Red Guard, took control of Petrograd on November 7, 1917 (October 25 according to the Julian calendar used in Russia at that time), overthrowing the Provisional Government. Soon after this coup d'état, the Bolsheviks had complete control of Russia, establishing the new Communist state.
Thus the revolution of 1917 differed greatly from the revolution of 1905. In 1905, the peasants and workers had revolted on their own, and though many political parties tried to take control of Russia, none of them had the organization or support necessary to do so. However, by 1917, some of the parties, and particularly the Bolshevik party, had become more organized. They had also learned from the revolution in 1905—how to control and get the support of the multitudes and the importance of propaganda.
Propaganda made a difference between the 1905 and 1917 revolutions—in 1905 the political parties did not try to promise concessions to the people. But in 1917 the Bolsheviks used propaganda greatly to their advantage. Most importantly, though, the Czar had lost the support of all groups of society in 1917. Although the masses had been discontented with the czardom in 1905, the nobility and the military had continued to support it. For these reasons, although the 1917 revolution began much like the 1905 revolution, it ended with the overthrow of a centuries old monarchy.
In the end, however, one must pose this question: Why did these revolutions come about in the first place? Looking back on Russian history, the clearest reason is greed. Russian czars, greedy for power, offered greedy nobles land in exchange for power. Russia's peasants could do nothing but submit to the nobles and the czars since they lacked the power and means to resist them. This vicious circle continued until the peasants revolted against their greedy oppressors early in the twentieth century. As the Bible states in Ezekiel 7:27, "The king will mourn, the prince will be clothed with despair, and the hands of the people of the land will tremble. I will deal with them according to their conduct . . . ." God says in this passage that he will judge the people of the earth for their sins, and the czars had certainly sinned against the peasants of Russia and against God in their quest for more power. Thus one can conclude that these revolutions came about as a result of, and perhaps even punishment for, sin.
Marrin, Albert. Stalin: Russia's Man of Steel. New York: Puffin Books, 1993.
Meyer, Carolyn. Anastasia: The Last Grand Duchess. New York: Scholastic, 2000.
The Russian Revolution of 1905 The Corner. 10 Sept. 2003
The Russian Revolution of 1917 The Corner. 10 Sept. 2003
Russia Family Education Network. 19 Sept. 2003
History Family Education Network. 19 Sept. 2003
John Simkin.Bloody Sunday Spartacus Educational. 26 Sept. 2003
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