Essay: The Revolution of 1905

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Tsar Nicholas’ use of nationalism to reinforce the social structure, as well as encouraging loyalty and order from Russian citizens was another significant push towards the 1905 revolution. Since the beginning of the Tsardom in 1547, the Tsar’s of Russia believed that nationalism and patriotism was essential for building a powerful empire. This was important to the Russians because increased power was thought to have come from increasing territory, and they wanted to prove that despite political and industrial backwardness, their country was a force to be reckoned with. To them, their nationalistic ideals were only achievable if they had a thriving ‘Russian-only’ culture and a firm military to protect and expand the empire. The nationalistic ideas under the Tsardom were proving to be a success, as the Russian empire was growing by 35,000 km squared per year between 1551-1800, encouraging the Tsardom to continue enforcing nationalism for years to come. Previous Tsar’s had promoted nationalism by offering the armed forces financial benefits and boosting their social status. Because revolutionary ideas were beginning to bubble up more and more as the 20th century approached, Tsar Nicholas II responded by using the Okhrana (secret police force) to shut down revolutionary groups and illegal trade unions in his attempt to obtain nationalism and repress revolution. The Tsar ordered the Okhrana to use methods such as arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture to gain information as well as contain small uprisings. Similarly to autocracy, the Tsar did not question the use of violent methods to obtain nationalism, reinforcing how detached he was from the needs of his people. In order for the Tsar to obtain the highest level of militarism and loyalty from Russian citizens -that could maybe translate into a greater sense of patriotism and therefore possibly rule out revolution later- the Tsar enforced russification. Russification was a policy that had been started by Alexander the III, which impressed Russian culture and ideas and tried to restrict the celebration of other national cultures. Discrimination was practiced against other nationalities, causing more superiority of Russian values, reinforcing the nationalistic ideals of the Tsar. Alexander the II had significantly increased russification policies after the Crimean War in 1856 and the Polish Rebellion in 1863, in an attempt reduce the threat of future uprisings and separatism. The true aim of russification for Tsar Nicholas II was to create a more loyal Russian society to in turn increase patriotism and nationalistic views. Anti-semitism was also practiced by the Tsar, and the ‘May Laws’- which placed regulations on Jewish people such as where they can live, whether they can take loans from the bank, and whether they can participate in business affairs- were to create inequalities between cultures even further. Russification significantly contributed as a cause of particular events in 1905, especially the uprising of Jewish protesters under the Jewish-Marxist Organisation. The Jewish people responded to the Tsar’s enforcement of russification by coming together to abandon cultural assimilation, adopt socialist views, and celebrate the rights of their religion. Despite the russification policies, the Tsar wanted to further increase nationalism as socialist and anti-tsarist groups were still in effect. Convinced by Kaiser Wilhelm II that a triumphant war against a non-European power would unquestionably increase nationalism, the Tsar intended to expand the Russian Empire into Asian territory, specifically around Port Arthur in Manchuria. This action by the Tsar reinforced a belief that all Tsar’s had continued throughout the Tsardom, that greater territory equals a stronger empire. After Japan had attempted to negotiate with the Tsar around their position in Manchuria, the Tsar remained confident that Japan would not go to war and therefore suggested that they reduced military presence in Korea. Japan declared war with Russia on February 8th 1904, and executed a surprise attack on Russian military at Port Arthur in Manchuria. However, the Tsar remained sure that Japan would be defeated- a further attempt to enforce his nationalistic views on his country. Japan strategically blocked Russian ships from entering and exiting Port Arthur, and their army of 100,000 soldiers ended up defeating Russia. 6,000 Russian soldiers were killed, 24,000 were wounded, and 20,000 were captured as prisoners of war. Because of Russia’s industrial backwardness, the Tsar had not realised the extent to which other countries had industrialized. The loss of Port Arthur, Russia’s only military stronghold in the region, was both strategically decisive and politically humiliating. Russian citizens were becoming increasingly frustrated by the Tsar’s nationalistic and militaristic views causing him to make irrational decisions -such as enter another war- as these actions were having devastating effects on the people. These effects contributed to the growing unrest throughout the country, leading to an expanding number of protests targeting the mistreatment and lack of moral regard for the people. The Tsar was forced to respond to this defeat by making peace with Japan, and had to sign the Treaty of Portsmouth in September 1905, which sharpened the impact of an economic recession gripping Russia. The tsar’s government increased military spending by 50 per cent, at a time when production levels and government revenues were both falling. Just a week after Russia’s loss of Port Arthur to the Japanese, the events of Bloody Sunday occurred, as this war had uncovered and further disturbed indescribable frustration of the Russian people towards the Tsar.

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