At the beginning of the 20th century, the average Russian peasant worked around 10 hours a day. Famine was a constant threat, and farmers were completely unrepresented in any sort of parliament.
Conditions in factories for industrial workers were extremely harsh, and little concern was shown for workers health and safety.
The tsarist government’s policy of political repression brought misery to the working class. Freedom of religious and political expression was denied, and the peasant class were taxed more they could afford by a government incapable of providing adequate leadership. The Russian government engineered a war against the Japanese in order to distract the Russian people from the increasing lack of government control. It was believed that by encouraging the nation to rally together in patriotic support of their country, the Tsar would be able to restore the people’s faith in himself and his government.
Japan was seen as a weak, inferior nation, and an easy victory was expected. When Russia was defeated due to incompetent military leaders, tension began to build amongst the Russian working class.
The embarrassing defeat of the Russian army, combined with the abominable treatment of the industrial workers and peasants lead to the first open challenge to tsardom, Bloody Sunday.
The year of 1905 was disturbed by demonstrations, strikes, and increasingly violent reactions by the government. The first major incidence of violence was begun by a peaceful protest march, held on January the 22nd. The march was lead by Father George Gapon, a Russian Orthodox priest, and popular working class leader. Gapon had assisted the revolutionary party made up of workers to write a petition to the Tsar. This petition requested, among other things, that the Tsar grant for the working class;
– Freedom of speech and of person, equality in the eyes of the law to all people
– An eight hour working day
– A normal working wage
– The participation of representatives from the working class in the drafting of a bill to improve working conditions for peasants and industrial labourers.
The purpose of the march was to present the petition to Tsar Nicholas II at his Winter Palace.
There are several different accounts as to what occurred in the square outside the gates of the winter palace. The description given by Father Gapon in his autobiography “The Story of My Life”, stated that the crowd moved as one, “singing in one mighty solemn voice the Tsar’s hymn, “God Save thy People.” The crowd, which was made up of men, women, children, and according to Gapon, several police officers, approached the gates of the palace when rows of infantry barred the road. Without any warning, the mounted officers rode upon the unarmed crowd. According to Gapon, “men, women and children dropped to the earth like logs of wood, while moans and curses filled the air.” The crowd continued to move forward, and when they were around 30 metres from the gates of the palace, the soldiers opened fire on the crowd. Gapon’s description is extremely emotional, and goes into great detail in emphasizing the brutality of the armed forces.
The account given by the police states that crowd marched on the palace carrying stolen images of the Tsar and his wife, and had already been confronted once by police before they began moving toward the palace. The report states that “despite pleas by local police officers and cavalry charges, the crowd did not disperse but continued to advance.” The report then claims that shots were fired, but only ten men were killed, and twenty wounded.
The official report of the Bloody Sunday massacre, states that 96 people were killed, and 333 wounded, though further evidence indicates that these figures may be much higher.
The effects of the 1905 revolutions were widespread. The Russian economy was paralysed by strikes, and increasing lack of workers to provide transport, communication and food supplies forced the Tsar to agree to a political reform.
The October Manifesto was the Tsar’s response to the suffering of his people, but it did little to ease the problems affecting them. The Manifesto granted to the people;
– Civic freedom of conscience, speech, assemblies and associations.
– The election of a people’s government, or Duma, voted for by the working class, for the working class.
– To establish an unbreakable law stating that no law can be passed by any government without first being approved by the peoples Duma.
Trotsky believed that the October Manifesto was not worth the paper it was written on. He claimed that the Manifesto held no real meaning, and though the Tsar may have given in and issued it, “Tomorrow [He] will take it away and tear it into pieces”.
Four days before the people’s Duma took power, the Tsar passed another rule which effectively restored his ultimate power. These were called the Fundamental State Laws, and removed any trace of power that was given to the people in the October Manifesto.