July 01, 2015

The 1905 Revolution

Revolution flared in Russia after a peaceful protest came under fire by imperial troops in St. Petersburg in January 1905. But another factor in the unrest was the Russo-Japanese War, which by then had been underway for almost a year.

Russia had gone to war against Japan with high hopes for success. As Minister of Internal Affairs Vyacheslav Plehve cynically put it, “What we need to stave off revolution is a triumphant little war.” Instead of triumph, Russia was facing catastrophe in the Far East. The surrender of Port Arthur in December 1904 provoked a great outburst of anger against the government. Caught off guard by both the burgeoning revolution and the danger of defeat at the empire’s eastern end, the imperial authorities struggled to find solutions.

In February 1905, the tsar ordered the recently installed Minister of Internal Affairs Alexander Bulygin (Plehve had been assassinated a few months earlier) to prepare plans for a Duma, a representative assembly. It appeared that the government was prepared to make substantial concessions. Meanwhile, the Second Pacific Squadron, which had set out the previous fall under the command of Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky, was making its way from Kronstadt to the Sea of Japan – essentially an around-the-world voyage.

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