R. Page Arnot

A Short History of the Russian Revolution

from 1905 to the present day (1937)

Part I
from 1905 to February 1917

Chapter III

The Revolution of 1905

1. The Russo-Japanese War

IN THE LAST DECADE of the nineteenth century there had been significant developments in the relations of the great Powers and also in the foreign policy of Tsardom. In the eighties, the policy of Bismarck had been to bind Italy, Austria, and Germany together in the Triple Alliance and at the same time by the “reinsurance policy” to keep on sufficiently good terms with Russia, so as to prevent any counter-alliance being built. Bismarck was able to count on the British Government’s nervousness about Afghanistan as a means of keeping it aloof from Tsardom; and upon the Tsar’s repugnance to the French Republican form of government, as a safeguard against any Franco-Russian alliance. The successors of Bismarck were not able to continue this policy, and this, coupled with the need of the Tsars for financial aid, began to make Russian overtures to France possible. In 1892, the Tsar made a visit of ceremony to the French naval base of Cherbourg and the Dual Entente of Republican France and Autocratic Russia was initiated. The cement of this alliance was to be the aid of the French Bourse to the impoverished coffers of the Russian State. Britain maintained her aloofness for more than another decade, until the growing power of German capitalism began to be felt as a menace which demanded the abandonment of the old policy of “splendid isolation.” Meantime, Tsarist expansion in the Far East had been proceeding apace, and had penetrated into the Northern Provinces of China. The Trans-Siberian Railway had been opened in 189'7, and a line was run down through Manchuria to Port Arthur. The Boxer rising in China in 1900, suppressed with great barbarity by a joint expeditionary force of the European Powers under the command of the German Field-Marshal Count von Waldersee, gave the desired opportunity to the Tsar to seize Port Arthur and instal a Russian garrison. This predatory act clashed with the interests of the new Power in the Far East, Japan. Port Arthur had already been a bone of contention. When Japan, five years earlier, as the result of its successful war with China, had emerged as a new Power, the Treaty of Shimonsheki had not only reft Korea from the Chinese Empire and set it up as a nominally independent State, but had given over Port Arthur to occupation by the Japanese. This booty was taken from them. Russia, Germany, and France jointly compelled Japanese withdrawal from Port Arthur on the pretext of maintaining the territorial integrity of China. And now the Tsar held Port Arthur. It was only two years since Tsar Nicholas had issued his famous Peace Rescript which summoned the Sovereign States of the world to maintain peace, and led to the establishment of nothing more than the Hague Court. The Apostle of Peace had become the Provocator of War; and it was in this sense that the Japanese Government interpreted it. Port Arthur, however, from the point of view of the Tsar, was only a stepping-stone. With Manchuria already in his grasp, there should now be no difficulty in passing on to the seizure of Korea. Here the predatory policy of Tsardom received a stimulus from the personal rapacity of the Romanoffs. Fabulous tales were being told at the Russian Court of the natural wealth of Korea in minerals and timber. Huge concessions for the exploitation of these resources were negotiated, and the Romanoff family was to have the lion’s share of the fat dividends that would result. Despite the warnings of Witte, the Finance Minister, and General Kuropatkin, the greed of Nicholas drove ahead with a “forward policy” that was bound to end in war.

Japan began to prepare both militarily and diplomatically. On the other side of the world it found an ally. Britain, dismayed at the conspicuous isolation in which she found herself at the time of the Boer War (1899-1902), was. similarly casting about for an ally. The diplomatic policy of more than three generations was abandoned, and Britain concluded her first military and naval alliance. The Treaty of 1902 between Britain and Japan stipulated that if either of those “High Contracting Parties” were attacked by more than one Power, the other “High Contracting Party” must come to its assistance. The Alliance was for a term of ten years, and thereafter renewable. It was to last until 1922. In its opening years, the Anglo Japanese Alliance prevented any repetition of the coercion exercised against Japan by Russia, Germany, and France in 1895.

Meanwhile, there was yet another reason impelling Tsardom towards the adventure of a foreign war. This was the growing revolutionary unrest within Russia, due to the growing misery of the vast mass of the population. After the economic crisis in 1900 the number of strikes amongst the workers became greater in number, more widespread, and more political in their quality. At the same time the peasantry was in a state of profound unrest. The influx of peasantry into the towns to find work in the rapidly expanding capitalist industry was stopped by the economic crisis of 1900. With this “natural overflow” dammed up, the village was more and more whelmed in the swamp of poverty and ruin. This, in turn, hindered the development of the home market, so that it became clear that the further growth of industry depended on the abolition of the survivals of feudalism which bore so heavily upon the peasants. The result was that the Liberal bourgeoisie also had begun to take up an attitude of extremely sharp opposition to Tsardom, while the intelligentsia reflected this in a still sharper form. In the case of the students, the most advanced section of the intelligentsia, a revolutionary spirit developed and was further influenced by the growing revolutionary movement of the working class. All these sections of the population in the winter of their discontent looked to revolution as the sun that would bring them the glorious summer. The extent of this can be measured by the renewal and increase of revolutionary activities and organisations. Amongst the groups which made up the social-Revolutionary organisation, the terrorist section became active, and in 1902 assassinated the Home Secretary Sipyagin. His successor Plehve, who intensified the repression and endeavoured to distract the masses from the revolutionary path by stirring up pogroms against the Jews, met with the same fate in 1904. The Social-Democrats, too, were growing at enormous speed. At the International Socialist Congress, held in Paris in 1900, they could report the existence of only six committees and three groups, all in European Russia. After the Second Congress of 1903, according to incomplete data given by the newspaper Iskra, there were already thirty-nine committees and eleven groups in European and Asiatic Russia. Under all these circumstances, a war with Japan might have the effect of damping down the revolutionary unrest within Russia: and it appears that this was one of the calculations of the Tsar’s Government.

War broke out in February 1904. Japanese destroyers torpedoed several warships at Port Arthur and blockaded that port. In the first land conflict, the battle of the Yalu River, the Japanese were victorious. The Russian Commander-in-Chief, Kuropatkin, was forced to withdraw up the South Manchurian railway line, and the siege of Port Arthur by land was begun. It was clear at the outset, therefore, that, though the Tsardom had been provoking war, it was not ready for war. Not only had, it not sent the requisite number of troops to the Far East in time, but the quality of the troops was inferior. The Japanese Army had been regarded with contempt. The most skilled and seasoned troops had been kept behind to be used against the internal enemy in the event of a revolutionary outbreak. The siege of Port Arthur was followed by the Battle of Liaoyang, in which the Russians were heavily defeated, although by this time they actually outnumbered the Japanese. The fall of Port Arthur was imminent, and a little later, on January 2nd, 1905, this huge citadel with 50,000 troops was surrendered to the Japanese. The series of land battles ended with the Battle of Mukden—a crushing defeat, with the loss of thousands of troops.

On sea, the Tsarist Navy fared no better. After the initial success of the Japanese Navy, the Russian ships in the Far East were, one after another, sunk or bottled-up in various ports. Accordingly, in the autumn of 1904, the Baltic Fleet under the command of Admiral Rozhestevensky set forth on a voyage round the Cape of Good Hope to the theatre of war. At the Dogger Bank, in the North Sea, Admiral Rozhestevensky encountered the English fishing fleet and, mistaking them for Japanese destroyers, attacked the fishermen. The indignation in England was widespread; newspapers demanded that the British Navy should immediately blockade the Tsar’s Baltic Fleet in the Spanish coaling station of Vigo Bay. Delcasse, the Foreign Minister of the French Republic, strove his utmost to prevent a clash between Russia and Britain. Eventually it was agreed that Tsardom would pay heavy compensation. After this sorry beginning, the Baltic Fleet continued its long six months’ voyage around the Cape of Good Hope, and eventually arrived, in the late spring, in the Sea of Japan, where, in the Straits of Tsushima, it was immediately annihilated by the British-trained Japanese warships. There was consternation throughout all the patriotic classes in Russia, and the Japanese Admiral Togo became the hero of the hour in England. It was the first large-scale war since the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. It was the first war which approximated, at any rate on the Japanese side, to the technique of the war of 1914-18. Russian losses were 400,000 killed and wounded. Tsardom was heavily defeated and its defeat brought matters to a head inside Russia; and the war had not ended when the Russian Revolution broke out.


Three weeks after the fall of Port Arthur on January 2nd, 1905, thousands of the workers of St. Petersburg, led by Father Gapon, went in a procession, bearing religious emblems, to petition their “Little Father,” the Tsar, in the Winter Palace. The Winter Palace stands on the left bank of the Neva, facing the Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul, within whose dank cells were confined prisoners for twenty years and more. A little farther down the left bank stood the Admiralty. As the peaceful procession passed behind the Admiralty and was reaching the great square, the officers gave orders to fire, and the Cossacks charged the unarmed workers-men, women, and children. There had been no prohibition of the procession; no warning had been given. One thousand were killed and two thousand wounded. The indignation of the workers of St. Petersburg, and, as the news spread, of all Russia, was indescribable. A shudder passed over Europe and the civilised world at the news of the massacre, but those who had thought to cow the masses by these means found that, instead, they had unleashed the Russian Revolution.

To understand how it was that so many workers of St. Petersburg had come forward in this peaceful and semi-religious procession, headed by a priest, it is necessary to go back a little. The strikes and general industrial unrest from the crisis year of 1900 onwards were frequently led by Social-Democrats-a fact which greatly troubled the Tsar’s police. To counter the influence of the revolutionaries, the police in those years had conceived the idea of organising “mutual aid” societies for working men—the Zubatov Unions—by which they hoped to be able to keep hold on the workers, and to transfer their activities from subversive to constitutional ends. In this they were encouraged by the landowning nobility around the Tsar, who controlled the Ministry of the Interior and cared little for the interests of the manufacturers—though their Cossacks were always available for the capitalists if matters came to strike action. For a considerable period these police unions had some vogue, particularly as the workers tended to transform them into fighting bodies. It was a police organisation of this kind that was founded in 1904 by the priest George Gapon. The workers joined it in large numbers and their pressure pushed on their leaders. In January a strike movement had begun at the Putilov Armament Works and spread rapidly. Gapon could think of nothing better than to propose a personal presentation of a petition to the Tsar by a procession to the Winter Palace, and, despite the advice of the Bolsheviks, the majority of the loyal and God-fearing workers followed Gapon’s lead. The petition began as follows:

“We, workers, inhabitants of St. Petersburg, have come to Thee. We are unfortunate, reviled slaves. We are crushed by despotism and tyranny. At last, when our patience was exhausted, we ceased work and begged our masters to give us only that without which life is a torment. But this was refused. Everything seemed unlawful to the employers. We here, many thousands of us, like the whole of the Russian people, have no human rights whatever. Owing to the deeds of Thy officials we have become slaves.”

The demands were for amnesty, civil liberty, normal wages, land to be gradually transferred to the people, a Constituent Assembly by universal and equal suffrage, and ended with the words:

“Sire, do not refuse aid to Thy people! Throw down the wall that separates Thee from Thy people. Order and swear that our requests will be granted and Thou wilt make Russia happy; if not, we are ready to die on this very spot. We have only two roads; freedom and happiness, or the grave.”

The massacre shattered the nalvet6 and simple trust in their rulers shown by many of the people. Within a few months the numbers of revolutionary Social-Democrats grew into thousands, and those thousands were leading two or three millions of proletarians. At first the movement took the form of a series of strikes unparalleled in their magnitude and acuteness. The average number of strikers in the ten years preceding had been 43,000 a year, or a total of 430,000. In January 1905 alone there were 440,000 strikers—more in one month than in the whole of the preceding decade. From economic strikes—that is, strikes with a purely economic aim—they developed in the course of the year to political strikes, and from political strikes into insurrection. This was the first time in history that the mass political strike had played such a big part in a revolution. In the whole of 1905 the number of strikers rose to 2,800,000, which was twice the total number of factory workers in Russia at that time. This revealed the enormous latent energy residing in the working class.

The strike movement of the workers roused the peasants. Already in the five years 1900 to 1904 there had been 670 uprisings of peasants, of which 441 were directed against the landlords and 196 against the Government authorities. In 1905, the ferment aroused amongst the peasantry by the workers led to revolutionary risings of peasants to a total number of three thousand. It recalled the rising of the peasants during the great French Revolution, when the chateaux were burned. In Russia in 1905, 2,000 mansions of the landlords were destroyed in these risings. Two or three million proletarians were now joined by fifty to a hundred million peasants. The peasant movement reacted on the army and navy so that some of the armed forces began to fight on the side of the people. “In this manner a colossal country, with a population of 130,000,000, went into revolution. Thus slumbering Russia became transformed into a Russia of the revolutionary proletariat and the revolutionary people.” (Lenin).

When the revolution spread to the armed forces, the Tsar, who in his diaries had noted with indifference the massacre of Bloody Sunday, now became really alarmed. The first of these mutinies took place on the Black Sea cruiser Prince Potemkin. The mutiny, which has been made the theme of Eisenstein’s famous film Potemkin, arose in this way. On a hot June day in 1905, the meat for the sailors turned out to be crawling with maggots. The sailors protested. The officers, some of whom were getting a rake-off on the food supplies, instructed the ship’s surgeon, who pronounced that the meat would do well enough to make soup for the sailors. Headed by Matushensko, some of the sailors refused the soup and began to behave mutinously. The officer commanding thereupon picked out a score or more of sailors, some of whom were entirely innocent of the whole affair, and ordered them to be shot. The firing squad refused to shoot, and within a short time the officers had been thrown overboard and the cruiser Potemkin hoisted the Red Flag. The mutineers issued a manifesto addressed “To the civilised world,” with the slogans “Down with the autocracy”; “Long live the Constituent Assembly.” Accompanied by some other ships which joined in the mutiny, the Potemkin steamed for Odessa, where there was a strike in order “to protect the revolutionary people.” There was, however, no plan of action, and eventually the Potemkin sailed for a Rumanian port, where it was interned. Some of the mutineers escaped to Europe; those who returned to Russia were shot or sent to Siberia.

Every fresh wave of strikes in 1905, every upsurge of peasant risings, was followed or accompanied by risings in the armed forces. Of these, perhaps the most remarkable was the mutiny of the Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol at the end of November. This was near the apex of events, and the following incident is illustrative of the temper of the sailors. On the morning of November 24th, 1905, a company of sailors, in full war kit, was posted at the gate of the naval barracks. Rear-Admiral Pissarevsky, in a loud voice, gave the order: “Permit no one to leave the barracks! In case of disobedience, shoot!” A sailor named Petrov stepped forth from the ranks of the company that had received the order, loaded his rifle in view of all, and with one shot killed lieutenant-Colonel Stein of the Brest-Litovsk Regiment, and with another wounded Rear-Admiral Pissarevsky. The command was given: “Arrest him!” Nobody budged. Petrov threw his rifle to the ground and exclaimed: “Why don’t you move? Take me!” He was arrested. The sailors, who rushed from every side, angrily demanded his release, and declared that they vouched for him. Excitement ran high. “Petrov, the shot was an accident, wasn’t it?” asked one of the officers, trying to find a way out of the situation. “What do you mean, an accident? I stepped forward, loaded, and took aim. Is that an accident?” “They demand your release. . . .” And Petrov was released. The sailors, however, were not content with that; all officers on duty were arrested, disarmed, and taken to company headquarters. Sailor delegates, about forty in number, conferred the whole night. The decision was to release the officers, but never to permit them to enter the barracks again.

Even in the middle of 1906 there could occur the great mutinies at Sveaborg in Finland and Kronstadt. Lenin comments on the mutinies in his lecture on the 1905 Revolution as follows:

“It is characteristic that the leaders of the movement came from those elements in the army and the navy which had been recruited mainly from among the industrial workers, and possessed most technical training, for instance, the sappers. The broad masses, however, were still too naïve, their mood was too passive, too good-natured, too Christian. They flared up rather quickly; any case of injustice, excessively harsh conduct on the part of the officers, bad food, etc., was enough to call forth revolt. But there was no persistence in their protest; they lacked a clear perception of aim; they lacked a clear understanding of the fact that only the most vigorous continuation of the armed struggle, only a victory over all the military and civil authorities, only the overthrow of the Government and the seizure of power over the whole State, could guarantee the success of the revolution.

“The broad masses of the sailors and soldiers were easily roused to revolt. But with equal light-heartedness they foolishly released the arrested officers. They allowed themselves to be pacified by promises and persuasions on the part of their officers; in this way the officers gained precious time, obtained reinforcements, broke the ranks of the rebels, and then the most brutal suppression of the movement and the execution of the leaders followed.”

The effect of the Potemkin mutiny, coming so near to the disastrous battle of Tsushima, roused the whole population to demands, to which the Tsar reluctantly had to pay heed. On August 19th, 1905, the Tsar issued a ukase proclaiming what was afterwards called the Bulygin Duma, or Parliament, with powers that were purely advisory. It was too late; and the concession which the Tsar found almost too hard to grant was too small for the people to accept. The strike movement developed and became more intense. The peasant movement followed. Renewed mutinies broke out in the army and navy. October and then December marked the climax of the revolutionary struggle. On October 20th there began at Moscow a railway strike which presently spread over the whole of the railway and telegraph system, and then developed into a political general strike. The Government was paralysed. Workers took and exercised the freedom they had so long sought. Open meetings were held, with open discussions, and political freedom of the Press was won by simply ignoring the censorship. Whereas previously no publisher dared print anything without referring to the authorities, now in these climax months of the Russian Revolution no publisher dared send copy to the authorities and the authorities dared not take measures against this. For the first time in Russian history, revolutionary papers appeared freely. In St. Petersburg, three daily Social-Democratic papers were being published.

The Tsar was compelled to yield. The Bulygin Duma was never to see the light of day. A new manifesto was issued by the Tsar on October 3oth announcing the creation of a Duma which would possess legislative powers. But now this was not enough for the workers, though for the Liberals and the opportunists, who had been willing to accept the farcical Bulygin Duma, it fulfilled most of what they wanted.

The workers were determined on the eight-hour day, but it became more and more clear that the eight-hour day and the democratic republic could only be won by force of arms. Meantime the workers had found a new revolutionary form. In the month of June, in the textile town of Ivanovo-Voznessensk, the first Soviet was formed. The Russian word “soviet” means council, but the meaning it has come to acquire is derived from the circumstances of its birth as an offspring of revolution. Other towns followed suit. In September, various trades in Moscow formed their trade Soviets. In October, in the middle of the political general strike, there was formed a St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies. This metropolitan Soviet lived for fifty days-from October 26th to December 16th. It took charge of the strike. On November 1st it proclaimed the freedom of the Press. On November 13th it proclaimed the eight-hour day. It supported the postal and telegraph strike; it organised the strike in November in defence of the arrested Kronstadt sailors and of revolutionary Poland, where martial law had been declared. It helped to create trade unions, to organise support for the unemployed, and finally, on December 14th, it issued the famous Finance Manifesto, in which it called upon the workers and the people to refrain from paying taxes, and warned foreign capitalists that if the revolution triumphed all Tsarist foreign debts would be repudiated. In its brief life it had three chairmen: Zborovsky, Nossar, and, in its last seven days, Trotsky. But the St. Petersburg Soviet, under Menshevik leadership, failed to follow up its bold programme with the necessary preparations for insurrection. By their very nature, Soviets were born to be organs of insurrection and of revolutionary Government. To them the well-known teachings of Marx on the art of insurrection applied. If they did not take the offensive, they were bound to lose. When the Government found that the Soviet was passive as regards the organisation of armed force, it arrested its chairman, Nossar, on December 9th. A few days later all its members were arrested. When the news reached Moscow of the arrest of the St. Petersburg Soviet, the Moscow Soviet of Workers' Deputies, together with the Moscow Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (strongly under Bolshevik influence) and the S.R.s, decided on December 19th to call an immediate political general strike. On December 20th, 100,000 workers ceased work. The next day the strikers numbered 150,000. The day after, on December 22nd, an armed struggle began. Cossacks fired on the crowds; barricades were thrown up; the Government brought in machine guns and artillery. For six days the struggle went on while reinforcements of troops were being gathered together and sent from St. Petersburg and Warsaw. Altogether the insurrection lasted nine days. On January 1st, when it was realised that the Government were too strong, the strike was called off. The rising in Moscow was followed by risings in other towns. The significance of the Moscow rising was that a small force of not more than 8,000 organised and armed workers had resisted the Government for nine days. It was an augury for the future. It was possible only because of the support of the mass of the people.

With the quelling of the December rising in Moscow the revolution began to subside, but the vanguard of the working class for another two years endeavoured to stem the retreat and prepare for a new offensive. By one means or another—by parliamentary struggle in the Duma and outside it, by legal and illegal struggles, by boycott of the Duma and by participation in it—they continued the fight. It was not until the dissolution of the first Duma and the defeat of the Kronstadt and Zveaborg mutinies in the summer of 1906 that the Tsar’s Government dared to apply martial law freely. The second Duma, with restricted powers, was summoned in the early spring of 1907 and was also dissolved. Only in late 1907 was the Tsar able to promulgate a third electoral law by which he secured a Duma that was to his liking.

Liberation movements amongst the oppressed nationalities had swelled the tide of revolution. The Tsardom took every precaution; for example, 400,000 Russian troops were thrown into Poland; nevertheless, the liberation movements continued. In Latvia and Esthonia there was a rising against Tsarism and against the Baltic barons. Here it was almost a regular war that was carried on between the numerous punitive expeditions sent into the countryside by the Tsar and the resisting agricultural population. In the Caucasus, the Georgian peasantry, under the leadership of the Social-Democrats, drove out the Tsar’s officials and police, and it demanded huge military forces sent from the centre of Russia before the rising in the Caucasus was crushed. In Finland the struggle for national emancipation was in the foreground. The Tsar, in October 1905, was compelled to grant national autonomy, and a Finnish Parliament, elected by universal suffrage. Naturally these concessions were restricted in subsequent years.

Throughout Europe and America, when it was heard that the Tsar had been compelled to grant an amnesty, to yield concession after concession, and to summon a Duma, it began to be thought that an age-long tyranny had come to an end. The situation in 1906 had some historical resemblance to the summoning of the Long Parliament by Charles I. The dependence of the Tsar upon the Duma for some of his revenue raised a mirage of “constitutional monarchy.” But their dreams came to naught. What actually happened was that before the Duma met in the spring of 1906 the British Foreign Office approved the flotation on the London Stock Exchange of a gigantic Russian loan, and so enabled the Tsar to snap his fingers at the Duma. This was the first occasion on which the Stock Exchange had handled Tsarist bonds. The loan was followed by the Anglo-Russian partition of Persia, negotiated in 1907 by the Liberal Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey. Thus it helped to build the Triple Entente of Russia, France, and Britain, and to prepare for the coming world war. This was its external effect. Inside Russia, the money thus acquired was used to re-establish the shaken autocracy and to crush and the both the constitutional and the revolutionary movement. By 1907 Tsarism was victorious. An era of repression set in.

But the effect of the years of revolution from 1905 to 1907, this flood-tide of the struggle for a democratic republic that began in earnest with the Bolsheviks and was to go on right up to March 1917, was by no means negative. The peoples and the parties learned a lesson. “As regards teaching the masses and leaders, classes and parties, the fundamentals of political science,” says Lenin, “one month of this period was equivalent to a whole year of ‘peaceful,’ ‘constitutional’ development. Without the ‘general rehearsal’ of 1905, the victory of the October Revolution of 1917 would have been impossible.”

The effect outside the Tsar’s dominions was incalculably great. What no previous movement had achieved in Europe was accomplished by the 1905 Revolution. The East began to awake. In Persia in 1906, in the Ottoman Empire of the Turks in 1908, in China in 1907, and then on a greater scale in 1912, revolution began. In India, the repercussions of 1905 initiated a movement towards liberation of a kind never known before. The Marquess Curzon, then Viceroy of India, wrote a State-Paper in which he drew a parallel between the dangers confronting the Tsardom and the similar dangers that confronted the similar despotism in Hindustan.

The Labour Party, like the other parties of Western Europe and America, collected money to help the Russian revolutionaries; and the author has seen the letter in which Oulyanov (Lenin) acknowledged the receipt of this effort of solidarity and friendship. But this was thirty years ago.

Next: IV. Years of Reaction