Did the October Manifesto pacify the 1905 Russian Revolution?

January 28, 2017

Russian history in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was characterized by the instability and the prominence of revolutions. It was these revolutions that changed the course of European and world history forever, shaped the global political scene in the twentieth and early twenty-first century, and brought about a new type of conflict, one that is based on ideology. However, this text will not focus on the 1917 revolutions, but instead on the 1905 revolution. The ‘past sin’, the ‘dress rehearsal’. How was the Tsarist autocracy saved during this first revolution? Many, including Russian historian Edvard Radzinsky, pin the basis of their argument on the October Manifesto. This text will aim to analyze and summarize to what extent was the first revolution pacified by the granting of the October Manifesto.

The October Manifesto is a very important step in Russian history. For the first time, a constitution was devised, marking the transition from a complete autocracy- one that has ruled Russia for the majority of it’s history- to a constitutional monarchy. By promising the people a State Duma with universal [male] suffrage that all laws had to pass through to become active, basic civil liberties to all citizens, and land to those who worked it, the October Manifesto seemed to be a true step towards liberalized states such as the United Kingdom in Western Europe. Despite the fact that the Manifesto was only a promise, it satisfied the demands of most of the Russian people. By issuing the October Manifesto, the Tsar contributed to the pacification of the 1905 revolution by splitting the already disunited rebels. The moderates, and most the farmers and the middle class intelligentsia were pleased, as the clauses detailing a State Duma and land ownership appealed to their interests, while the hardliner revolutionaries continued their struggle for further reform. Groups such as the Kadets and the Octobrists were also taken out of the armed rebellion. Although these groups had conflicting attitudes towards the Manifesto, they welcomed the change as a basis for further reforms, exited the armed insurrection, and assisted the Tsar in putting down the remaining revolutionaries. By splitting the hardline revolutionaries and the moderate liberals and farmers, the Tsar was able to weaken the revolutionary force that was marching closer day by day to their victory. The weakening of the revolutionary forces would eventually contribute to the failure of the first, and 1905, revolution, keeping the Tsar in power and the autocratic system intact.

However, the Constitution can be argued to have only exacerbated the problems that the rebels were already facing. The Tsar was able to keep power because the government was able to secure the loyalty of many key institutions. Firstly, although there were mutinous elements in the armed forces, the army was under the general control of the legitimate government. Strong figures of the army such as Nicolas Nikolaevich, who was once considered by the rumored Camarilla as a replacement for the apparently weak Tsar, served the Tsar loyally during the uprisings, pacifying Moscow and many other cities to help maintain public order. By executing, arresting, and dispersing the revolting elemtents the government was able to remove many of the identified troublemakers, making the Tsar’s position more secure and contributing greatly to the institutions’ survival during the time of rebellion. Furthermore, the government itself was largely loyal. Although the likes of Sergei Witte held liberal views, they were undoubtably loyal to the Tsar during the entire fiasco. When compared to the loyalty of the government and military during the 1917 revolutions, the loyalty of the two important institutions during the 1905 revolution helped the weak Tsar stay in power.

In addition to the support from the legitimate powers, the Tsar’s rightwards turn in policy, marked by the appointment of Peter Arkadievich Stolypin as the new Prime Minister attracted the support of right wing groups such as the Russian Monarchist Party and the Union of Russian People. These groups were appalled by the revolutionaries in the fact that they dared challenge God’s given right to the Monarch, and formed paramilitary groups that fought the revolutionaries fervently on the streets of Russian cities. These powers all contributed to the weakening of the revolutionary forces, which caused the Tsar to survive in 1907.

The lack of the support from the intelligentsia was also a cause for the failure of the revolutionaries. Many intellectuals were appalled by the actions of the revolutionaries, after “looking revolution in the face for the first time. The intelligentsia had seen the bloody face of popular revolt and shuddered. The revolution was not a celebration of freedom but a natural disaster, like a tornado.” The lack of intellectual support led to the inevitable decrease in morale and funding for the revolutionaries, causing their strength to gradually decrease and decay. Without a significant and clearly identified revolutionary goal that was to be set by the leaders of the revolution, the lack of vision only amplified the petty squabbles between the incompatible revolutionary groups, weakening the revolution further and strengthening the position of the Tsar.

As such, it should be said that the most important factor leading to the defeat of the revolutionaries and the success of the Tsarist government was the disunity of the rebelling elements. Certain groups called for minor reforms such as the deduction of debt that contributed to the mass problem of ‘land hunger’, some called for the abolishment of autocracy and the institution of a freely elected legislative body, and others called for peace with the Japanese. In addition to these groups, the more radical and hardline elements such as the Social Revolutionaries, Social Democrats, the Saint Petersburg Soviet and the general socialist element called for a complete revision of the Russian political scene and advocated for the march towards socialism. These differences in demands caused the inevitable inability for these groups to work together efficiently, thus limiting the scale of the insurrections. Disturbances happened locally, and were not of a scale significant enough to cause major disruptment of the Tsarist system until the Soviets under the leadership of Trotsky took off into action. The limited scale of the insurrections were insufficient to remove the Tsar from power and shake the foundations of autocracy that had ruled Russian for hundreds of years. As mentioned previously, the disunity of the rebel elements further contributed to the failure of the revolutionaries as groups promptly pulled out of the struggle as their demands were met by concessions from the government. Other than the example provided by the October Manifesto, the end of the Russo-Japanese war also pacified some rebel elements that looked towards violence to force the government to negotiate a prompt end to the war that was dragging along, causing living standards for the masses to decrease. The constant and steady withdrawal of certain elements no doubt weakened the already disunified rebel elements, allowing in-fighting to take place and further limiting the scale of the insurrections. These all helped to contribute towards the survival of the Tsarist autocratic system.

To conclude, the 1905 revolution was pacified because of many factors. The most important factor should be said to be the disunity of the rebels, in which the October Manifesto, headed by the Tsar and Count Witte, was able to exploit. By exploiting this weakness, the rebel elements decreased in power, and due to other weaknesses such as the loss of support front he intelligentsia, and the fact that most powerful institutions were still loyal to the tsar, the Tsar was able to cause the revolutionary groups to disintegrate. This disintegration effectively brought an end to the insurrections of 1905, bringing the revolution to a stop. The Tsarist system would continue to survive and rule for another decade, but it’s days were number. In the Second revolution, the revolutionaries learned from their mistakes in this ‘dress rehearsal’, but the tsar, ever so adamant that his Manifesto had been his ‘past sin’, failed to even attempt to exploit the rebels weaknesses, leading to the success of the revolutionaries and the end of the Romanov dynasty in 1917.

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