The Revolution of 1905: The First Russian Revolution
We are, however, slightly ahead of our story. The short period of 1900-1906 provides an essential piece of the puzzle to make the picture of the Russian Revolution complete.
Russia's Asian policy under Nicholas II took a decidedly expansionist and aggressive tone, culminating in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. A primarily naval conflict on Russia's Far Eastern frontier, this war brought back the awful memories of the Crimean defeat when Japan's newly modernized army and navy routed the out-dated, ill-equipped Russian forces. Peace negotiations, organized by United States President Theodore Roosevelt in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, allowed Russia to save face on paper; however, no one could argue with the historical fact that this marked the first time a European power lost any conflict with an Asian power. For the Russian government, it was an utter humiliation; for the Russian radicals, it was an opportunity.
Even moderates radicalized their opposition to the central government by this time. The liberal constitutionalists, later called Kadets, organized their own illegal publication, called Liberation, to voice their complaints and grievances. Dissatisfaction with the inept central government--highlighted by its defeat at the hands of Asian Japan (there certainly was a racist element here)--was high atop any such list.
In mid-1904, a popular Russian Orthodox priest, Georgi Gapon, organized thousands of St. Petersburg workers into his Assembly of Russian Factory Workers, an association originally financed and approved by the government to minimize the influence of radicals among the workers and bolster the credibility of the autocracy by providing an outlet for worker grievances. However, despite the government's intention, this union took a decidedly Marxist and militant bent. When, in December 1904, numerous workers at the large Putilov factory in St. Petersburg were fired for no apparent reason, the Assembly, who counted these sacked workers as members, leaped into action. The result was a citywide general strike in January 1905. On January 9, 1905 the striking workers organized a mass march on the Winter Palace of the Tsar with representatives holding a petition for "our father" Tsar Nicholas II. The petition called for higher wages, an eight-hour workday, a constitution, free elections of a legislative assembly, and universal manhood suffrage.
Nicholas, however, would have none of this. Confused, inept, or simply self- consciously attached to his autocratic power, the Tsar ordered military units of his elite guard to fire upon the advancing petitions who carried Orthodox crosses, marched with women and children, and held no weapons. Nicholas's troops fired into the peacefully marching crowd, killing over one hundred and wounding nearly five times as many; the day became known as Bloody Sunday. The massacre dramatically turned public opinion against the Tsar and his...