Provisional Government in Russia: Overview, Politics & Post-Revolution Chaos

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  • 0:02 First Russian Revolution
  • 0:33 Background
  • 2:11 Bloody Sunday and Uprising
  • 4:28 Response
  • 5:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the First Russian Revolution in 1905 and the representative government the revolution first instituted, in addition to the violent crackdown and chaos after its institution.

First Russian Revolution

'No take-backs' is the children's playground way to guaranteeing someone's honesty. If someone says they are going to give you the basketball in ten minutes and you stamp it with a verbal 'no take-backs,' well, it might as well be written in stone.

In the early 20th century, many of the Russian people likely wished they could have held Czar Nicholas II to such an ironclad code of honor. This is because soon after granting Russians an array of civil rights, he went back on his promise and began a brand new crackdown on his political opponents.


Prior to the 20th century, Russia spent several centuries being governed by a succession of authoritarian czars. Whereas in other European countries, like England and the Netherlands, incremental change toward constitutional monarchy was slowly taking place, Russia remained a bastion of absolutism. The Russian czars of the early modern period could rule nobly with their people in mind as some did or enact arbitrary, draconian policies that terrorized the populace. Others did both.

However, in the 19th century, international intellectual movements like nationalism, liberalism and socialism began to motivate the people of various European countries to rise up in rebellion and demand greater rights and freedoms from their monarchs. In the German states, France, Portugal and Spain, significant rebellions attempted to overthrow the monarchies of Europe and institute constitutional monarchies or republics. Most ultimately failed, though many gained greater concessions from the monarchy and some guarantees of personal freedoms for citizens.

19th century Russia also saw some significant change, though these changes were instituted from the top-down and not from grassroots movements. For example, Czar Alexander II freed the serfs in 1861, releasing peasants who were previously tied permanently to the land they farmed and the landlords who owned the property. Though serfs were not slaves, they were pretty close. The move angered many, and Alexander was assassinated in 1881. The czars that followed enacted tough legislation, suppressing political activism and persecuting religious minorities, especially Jews.

Bloody Sunday and Uprising

In the first decade of the 20th century, Russia was ruled by Czar Nicholas II. A weak and ineffectual ruler, Nicholas cared more for family life and leisurely pursuits than ruling the country. Nicholas' lack of direction angered much of the Russian populace. At this point, intellectuals had already been unhappy with Russia's authoritarian system for decades - now they were joined by Russia's growing industrial working class and the farmers and peasants in the countryside, all of whom were experiencing significant financial hardship.

To make matters worse, Russia was humiliated in a short war with Japan from 1904-1905. The conflict began because of a dispute between Russia and Japan over control of Chinese Manchuria. Russia had been slowly moving south and east into East Asia, threatening Japanese hegemony in Korea. To check the Russian advance, Japan attacked Russia at Port Arthur in 1904, scoring several significant victories in the next two years. As a result of the defeat, Russia lost any influence it had in Korea and Manchuria, and was forced to cede the southern half of Sakhalin Island to Japan. The defeat further damaged the Czar's already poor reputation in Russia.

Protests broke out in 1905, beginning with the infamous Bloody Sunday episode in January. One hundred fifty thousand Russians, led by a local Russian Orthodox priest, participated in a demonstration in St. Petersburg, intent on petitioning Czar Nicholas II to help better the people's living and working conditions. The protest was confronted by Russian soldiers throughout the city, and after a short while, the troops began firing. By the end of Bloody Sunday, several hundred protestors had been killed, though the Czar's officials claimed the actual number was under 100.

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