Opposition to Tsarist Rule

Opposition to Tsarist Government had long been a feature of Romanov rule. Prior to the 1905 Revolution the main source of revolutionary opposition was the Social Democrats. This group split in 1903, following a disagreement between its leaders about the way forward. The result of this disagreement was the formation of two revolutionary groups, the Social Revolutionaries (later called the Mensheviks) and the Bolsheviks.

The 1905 Revolution was not a pre-planned attempt to seize power. It began when 150,000 people, led by Father Gabon, marched to the Winter Palace to ask the Tsar to help them cope with the hardships they faced. The army was sent out to meet and control the crowd, whose petition called for help, assistance and ‘justice and protection’ from the Tsar. Instead of the protection they asked for, they were forced upon by the army. It is not known why the army fired, or exactly how many died, but the day became known as Bloody Sunday and news of the massacre spread quickly throughout Russia.

Artistic impression of Bloody Sunday

Image – An artists impression of Bloody Sunday

As a consequence of this, strikes were called in Russian cities and the peasants love of the Tsar was dealt a severe blow. Shortly after the massacre, Russian soldiers and sailors who had been defeated in the Russo-Japanese War returned home. Some of these men, most notably on the battleship Potemkin, mutinied. The Tsar introduced some reforms, issued the October Manifesto promising representation and civil liberties. Whilst offering reform with one hand, the Tsar also used lethal force with the other. Loyal troops were used to crush the mutinies, to force strikes to end and to safeguard the nobility in the countryside.

This sequence of events led to an increase in support for revolutionary groups. In 1905 the Social Revolutionaries claimed 10,000 supporters in St. Petersburg and the Bolsheviks just 200.


Opposition to the Tsar before 1914

Click here to go to an exercise that helps to model your understanding of the nature of opposition to the Tsar and which assesses weaknesses in his government.

Russian and Soviet HistoryRussian History Homepage
Russia before the First World WarOpposition to Tsarist RuleImpact of the First World War
1917: Abdication of Tsar Nicholas IIBolshevik RevolutionLenin and the Bolshevik Revolution
Leon TrotskyBolshevik Rule 1918-1924Russian Civil War
New Economic PolicyLenin's LegacyDevelopment of Communist Rule
Life in the Soviet UnionFailure of Reform and Decline of the Communist StateStalinism
Collectivisation of Soviet AgricultureWomen in the USSRDe-Stalinisation
Khruschev's Reform ProgrammeDecline of the Soviet UnionCollapse of the Soviet Union
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