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"Down with Autocracy!"

The Revolutionary Masses

The general discontent quickly spread to the whole of society and, in particular, to its lower strata. ‘Down with autocracy!’ was the revolutionary slogan and the battle cry that was supported and even enthusiastically embraced by an ever growing part of the population. The workers, in particular, became restless. They were no longer prepared to put up with the outdated economic and legal conditions of their existence. They had developed new cultural and material needs, a feeling of human dignity and formidable class solidarity. The workers’ movement now fought to resolve a broad range of vital social and political issues. Its growing strength was revealed in the dramatic increase in the volume of strikes - with more than 530,000 striking workers over the period of 1901-4. 

Despite this unprecedented growth of working-class unrest, the workers, for the most part, voiced their grievances and demands by means of strikes and protests that would be regarded as legitimate and permissible by the standards of civilized states. To the tsarist government, however, such expressions of popular discontent appeared unlawful. The Russian authorities interpreted the workers’ economic demands as an attempt to alter the foundations of the existing order, and they severely suppressed it.       

Much of the workers’ dissatisfaction arose from Russia’s lack of proper labor legislation which would regulate relations between capitalists and workers. There was no legal provision for the operation of trade-unions, for national insurance for illness and work accidents, or for a system of old-age pensions. If the government had had the wisdom to give thought to comprehensive labor legislation of this kind,  it is possible that this policy might have diffused an explosive social situation.  However, such a policy would have conflicted with the interests of the employers. Foreign investors in particular demanded firm  protection of their business interests in Russia, and the government was reluctant to quarrel with them. It found it easier to pursue its traditional policy of the suppression of discontent instead.        

As a result, the government unwittingly forced the workers to adopt a more radical, revolutionary course of struggle for their legitimate demands. They began to establish closer links with the radical intelligentsia and, first of all, with the Marxists. This new alliance would rock the Romanovs’ empire to its foundations and would ultimately destroy it. By dismissing the very possibility of Western-type reformism in Russia, the government pushed the masses to making ever more radical demands and taking revolutionary action.

In the early twentieth century the popular anti-autocratic movement had entered a new and crucial stage. It became nation-wide in scale and was increasingly guided by the revolutionary parties as well as organizations of a liberal-democratic orientation. The situation was pregnant with cataclysmic consequences. The social, political and ethnic unrest which had been gathering in the preceding years erupted in the First Russian Revolution of 1905.

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The Revolution of 1905-7


Tsarist Russia

Pre-Petrine Russia
Peter the Great
Catherine the Great
Alexander I
Nicholas I
Alexander II
The Revolutionary Movement
Appearance of Marxism
The Last Romanovs
The Birth of Bolshevism
The Revolution of 1905-7
Between Revolutions
The Revolutions of 1917
Interpretations of 1917
The End of an Empire
Tables and Statistics

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