A Cautionary Tale for Revolutionaries
Human society is continuously shaped by social, political, and technological developments. Some societies reject these developments and others embrace them. Normally, the rejection or acceptance is silent and smooth. At times, however, the process is violent and leads to conflict or revolution. According to Samuel Huntington, “a revolution is a rapid, fundamental, and violent domestic change in the dominant values and myths of a society, in its institutions, social structure, leadership, and government activity and policies.” The Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917 were marred by ardent violence and political maneuvering. This article will analyze both revolutions, illustrating that the revolution of 1905 was both a precursor and cause of the 1917 revolution, while having its own precursors and causes.
Aided by brutal defeats and unprecedented loss of life in two wars, the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917 were the collective backlash of the masses against the corrupt, incompetent, and uncaring autocracy of the Tsarist Regime which was unable and unwilling to change with the times. Moreover, the revolutions hardly yielded the type of productive and egalitarian change that masses called for. Thus, these revolutions serve as a cautionary tale for both governments and revolutionaries.
The 1905 Revolution
The indirect causes of the 1905 Revolution laid in the social, political, agrarian, and industrial developments that marked the preceding century. Since the 1860s emancipated serfs had become “free” peasants, though they were still tied to the communal agricultural system called the Mir. The Mir system was unjust and backward, causing the farmers great grief by requiring them to make installment payments to the government, in addition to the heavy taxes, for the land distributed to them. The double burden often resulted in ill feelings towards the government.
Tsar Nicholas and his government of nobles were aware of the backward state of the Russian economy, and so they pushed for modernization. This led to rapid industrialization, which created a new urban proletariat class and snatched peasants from behind the plow to work at high-tech industrial factories. The conditions at the Russia factories were unbearably miserable and the workers were often unhappy with their squalid work environment. Since many had come to the cities to work in these factories, they had become increasingly literate and aware of their plight. As a result, worker strikes and general discontent were commonplace. The workers, in a unitary effort, turned into a formidable force against both factory management and the government. At times, the strikes were for political aims, and other times they were economic. Thus, the workers were following the traditions of the peasants, who throughout the Russian political landscape of the 1700s and 1800s often rebelled in violent ways.
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