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1905 Russian Revolution: Causes & Consequences

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

In 1905, the Russian people had a short-lived revolution against Tsar Nicholas II due to his unpopular decisions. Learn about the causes of this revolution, and how it led to more anti-government feelings throughout Russia, in this lesson.

Powerful but Not Popular

What would happen if you had a class president? You'd get to choose someone to make rules, and if they made rules you didn't like you could choose someone else. But what if it were a class king instead? You couldn't choose your friends, and if you didn't like their rules you couldn't do anything about it. Think you would like that king?

There have been many times in history when a king or ruler was unpopular. Sometimes they simply ruled over an unhappy country. Other times, the people rose up against them. In 1905, the Russian people attempted a revolution, a change of government by force, to throw out their leader, Tsar Nicholas II.

Painting of Tsar Nicholas II, ruler of Russia in 1905
Nicholas II

Falling Apart

The tsars ruled Russia as kings for hundreds of years, holding absolute power. While other countries in Europe were changing from having kings in charge to having elected governments, Russia's royal family held on to power. However, they faced challenges to their rule. Russia fought a war with Japan in 1904, but struggled to win. Wars cost a lot of money, especially when you lose, and many people in Russia were poor and hungry by 1905, and struggled through the harsh winter. During the winter, a priest named Father Gapon staged a huge demonstration, or public protest, leading 150,000 Russians through the streets of St. Petersburg to the Winter Palace where Tsar Nicholas and his family lived. The soldiers protecting Nicholas fired their weapons on the crowd, killing hundreds of people. This event is remembered as 'Bloody Sunday.'

Picture of Russian soldiers and the crowd at St. Petersburg
Photo of Bloody Sunday

Reactions

As you can imagine, this act didn't make the tsar very popular. Instead, his political enemies began to claim that the attack was ordered by the tsar and that thousands and thousands of people died. Russians responded by refusing to work and attacking land-owners. Tsar Nicholas's uncle was killed. Many Russians began to create councils called soviets meant to give them power and influence the government.

While the winter protest led by Father Gapon was just an effort to get the tsar to help Russians with food, shelter, and work, more protests broke out in summer about larger political issues. Russians demanded freedom of speech and an elected government called a duma. What's more, the areas that we know today as Finland and Poland demanded independence from Russia. The American ambassador to Russia wrote a letter stating that Tsar Nicholas had lost the love of his people and would never be safe again.

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