Revolution of 1905

   Often referred to by historians as the “dress rehearsal” for the Revolution of November 1917, the 1905 action was the product of the tsarist regime’s gross incompetence and mismanagement of its military, and its total misunderstanding of the mood of the mass of workers and peasants. The regime survived because of Prime Minister Petr Stolypin’s ability to rally loyal troops, and the revolutionary movement’s lack of cohesion and direction. In 1904 the regime decided to pursue a fight with the emerging Japanese empire: what one minister referred to as “a short, glorious war.” But the Russo-Japanese War demonstrated the incompetence of the regime and set in motion events that led to a national insurrection. The war opened with a Japanese surprise attack on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur, China. Things went from bad to worse in Manchuria, where the war was fought, and on the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg. In January 1905, a march to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg by workers, which was organized by Father Georgi Gapon, an Okhrana agent, was suppressed with violence by imperial troops. The reaction was massive urban and rural violence. In St. Petersburg, workers’ soviets (councils) took control of much of the capital. Led by the charismatic Leon Trotsky, the St. Petersburg soviet seemed to signal a new form of revolutionary democracy. Strikes in many industrial areas were followed by military mutinies, including the revolt on the battleship Potemkin.
   The violence spread to industrial cities and then to the agricultural heartland; peasants burned manors and seized land. Only the competence of Stolypin saved the regime and prevented the rural riots from spinning totally out of control. Loyal troops reined in the violence; more than 1,300 rebels in rural areas were sentenced to death, and even more perished in fights with troops. After heavy fighting, urban soviets were defeated and their leaders arrested, jailed, and exiled. Trotsky established his reputation in his trial, in which he attacked both the prosecution and the regime. He was sentenced to exile in Siberia, from which he quickly escaped.
   The tsarist regime learned precious little from 1905. Reform measures were doled out too little and too late. The Okhrana, which had organized the disastrous march to the Winter Palace, did not improve as a counterintelligence organization. Less than five years later, an Okhrana double agent would kill Stolypin, removing the one man possibly capable of saving the regime. However, the 1905 Revolution demonstrated to Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin that a Russian revolution could only succeed with a competent and tightly organized party. Lenin and Trotsky, who flirted with the Bolshevik Party between 1905 and 1917, saw the keys to success as organization and violence. Their model was not totally Marxist; rather, it was more Jacobin, from the Paris of the French Revolution of 1789–1793.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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