Growth of Opposition 1881 - 1904

History AS - Unit 1

  • ten days after Alexander II's assassination, the 'People's Will' sent an open letter to Alexander III asking for general amnesty for all political crimes
  • within days, 150 out of 400 members of the opposition movement had been arrested

Revolutionaries and Liberals

  • Alexander II's assassination effectively ended the Populist movement BUT supporters continued to meet in secret and acts of terrorism continued
  • 1886: People's Will was reformed (students in St Petersburg)
  • March 1887: group making bombs (with intentions to assassinate Alexander III) were arrested + 5 killed (including Alexander Ulyanov)

Alexander Ulyanov (1866 - 87)

  • son of a government official and brother of Vladimir (Lenin)
  • attended St Petersburg University --> participated in radical student politics; attended illegal meetings + ran propaganda campaigns
  • helped reform the People's Will in 1886 - commitment to terrorism
  • arrested (after attempted assassination) and hanged

  • the assassination had been a huge disappointment to opposition groups; led to countless arrests, greater police surveillance, abandonment of Loris-Melikov's proposed reforms and accession of the tsar, Alexander III (aiming to enforce reactionary policies)
  • BUT showed the vulnerability of the autocracy; winning overseas support and popularising the revolutionary cause
  • Populist ideas/revolutionaries made contact with the West etc.
  • BUT police activity, execution, imprisonment, exile of leaders and lack of funds and enthusiasm among peasants reduced violent revolutionary activity
  • famine also reduced it and some radicals instead worked to relieve the peasantry during the disastrous years of 1891-92; this highlighted the need to reform the rural economy
  • 1901: new Populist groups came together to create the Socialist Revolutionary Party
  • most influential theorist -> Viktor Chernov
  • never centrally controlled but members had similar ideas; 'Russian' revolutionary programme - peasants + workers ('labouring poor') - identical
  • wanted to get rid of autocracy + bring about land distribution (not pure Marxists)
  • developed a wide national base: large peasant membership (50% urban working class)

Viktor Chernov (1873 - 1952)

  • 1894: joined People's Will + was arrested (spent some time in exile)
  • travelled to Switzerland in 1899 - provided much intellectual input into the founding of the Socialist Revolutionary Party (1901)
  • went on to become leader of the Socialist Revolutionaries in the Second Duma (1907) + minister of agriculture in Provisional Government (1917)
  • settled in the USA after Bolsheviks came to power
  • the Socialist Revolutionary Party tried to stir up discontent in the countryside + strikes in the towns to disrupt government by political assassinations
  • quite successful - promoted a wave of terrorism (early 20thC) -->
2, 000 political assassinations between 1901 + 1905 (including Dmitrii Sipyagin + Vyacheslav von Plehve)

Social Democratic Movement

  • 1880s - 1890s: development of industrialisation in Russia began to make Marxist theories more attractive to Russian intellectuals
  • 1883: Georgi Plekhanov (who had been forced into exile after his involvement with the Populist movement) established the Emancipation of Labour group in Switzerland - wanted to bring a proletarian-socialist revolution + spread Marxism more widely (propaganda + agitation)
  • Plekhanov stated that Russia was moving towards a capitalist stage anyway
  • tough policing + limited development of an industrial proletariat hindered its activities + Deich (German who smuggled Marxist materials into Russia) was arrested (1884)
  • 1890s: industrialisation sped up; workers' organisations, illegal trade unions, Marxist discussion circles + other groups sprang up

Repression and the police

  • Alexander III's government aimed to eradicate revolutionary activity + new legislation was introduced to extend powers of the police
  • Department of Police supervised Russian Gendarmerie + the Okhrana
  • Russian Gendarmerie:
  • uniformed security police responsible for law enforcement + state security; controlled riots, assisted local police + officials, tracked down fugitives
  • from 1882: police agents could search, arrest, detain, question or exile anyone (who may be likely of a crime or related to people who had) + arrested people had no right to legal representation
  • number of police was increased + new branches of Criminal Investigation Department set up: spies, counter-spies + 'agents provocateurs' (pretended too be revolutionaries)
  • Okhrana:
  • 'security and investigation'
  • intercepted + read mail and checked up on activities in factories, universities, army and the state - detaining suspects + resorting to torture + summary executions (particularly Communists, socialists + trade unionists AND government + civil service)
  • 1889: First Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party of the Soviet Union was held in Minsk; 9 delegates were present (very small) + produced a manifesto - would follow a different path to freedom; wanted to help working class
  • the Congress was broken by the Okhrana - arrested two of the newly elected committee
  • later Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) came to play a prominent part in the development of the party

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) (1870 - 1924)

  • expelled from the University of Kazan (involvement in assassination plot) - allowed to take exams + became a lawyer
  • worked within underground Marxist societies + became leader of 'The Elders' (Marxist group meeting in St Petersburg)
  • wrote pamphlets, organised strikes among factory workers + met Plekhanov
  • 1895: exiled to Siberia when found by secret police (missing launch of new Social Democratic Party, 1898) + returned in February 1900
  • wrote pamphlet 'What is to be done?' whilst in Switzerland + helped develop a strong underground party network
  • 1903: Social Democrats split into Bolsheviks + Mensheviks (Lenin remained in exile until 1917)
  • 1903: Second Party Congress took place in Brussels
  • 51 voting delegates considered a variety of ideas to how the party should move forward
  • Lenin argued in favour of a strong disciplined organisation of professional revolutionaries (others, led by Martov, wanted to develop a broad party with a mass working class membership)
  • Lenin won the vote, claiming his party was the 'bolsheviki' (the majority) while his opponents were the 'mensheviki' (the minority)
  • the division hardened; by 1906 they were effectively two separate Social Democratic parties

Leo Davodovich Bronstein (Leon Trotsky) (1879 - 1940)

  • son of a well-to-do Jewish farmer from the Ukraine
  • rejected university education in order to devote himself to revolutionary politics
  • 1898: formed a commune of workers + students but their activities were discovered by the secret police + he was imprisoned in Moscow then exiled to Siberia
  • studied Engels, Plekhanov, Marx + Lenin
  • 1902: escaped with false passport in the name of one of the prison guards - Trotsky
  • wrote Iskra in London + returned to Russia in 1905 - founded a soviet in St Petersburg; re-arrested and spent 15 months in prison
  • travelled round Europe and began writing Pravda in 1908
  • became a Bolshevik + worked with Lenin to plan a Bolshevik takeover during the second revolution of 1917
  • unpopular with other Bolshevik leaders for his arrogance
  • 1929: expelled from the party
  • 1940: murdered by a Stalinist agent in Mexico

Julius Martov (1873 - 1920)

  • Jewish middle class background
  • helped found the Emancipation of Labour + contributed to the party journal Iskra + was editor (1903 - 05)
  • worked with trade unions, cooperatives + soviets to destroy the government
  • not invited to join the Bolsheviks after October 1917
  • 1920: exiled and died in Germany

Split in the Social Democratic Party

  • 1903 - 04: many members changed sides
  • Mensheviks:
  • wanted the bourgeois revolution and believed it had to precede the proletarian revolution
  • wanted workers to uprise themselves
  • membership should be open to all + work through trade unions + organisations
  • feared approach of the Bolsheviks could lead to a dictatorship
  • Bolsheviks:
  • wanted to educate the workers + lead them through revolution
  • believed membership should be restricted + they should work within small cells


The Intelligentsia and The Liberals

  • very moderate; no revolutionary attitude
  • pushed for change + reform; promote welfare, education, liberty and the rule of law
  • wanted to reform autocracy (so tsar would listen directly to his people)
  • Tolstoy: opposed tsarist oppression and injustice of legal system but rejected violence; urging individuals to live pure + simple lives to bring about moral regeneration of the country - 'What I believe' - contributed to assault on authority of the autocratic government

Count Leo Tolstoy (1828 - 1910)

  • one of the world's greatest novelists
  • began career in army and travelled throughout Europe (writing short stories)
  • started a school for peasant children + wrote 'War and Peace' - established his reputation
  • devoted himself to social reform; simplicity + non violence BUT was in constant conflict with his wife
  • November 1910: left his estate in disguise + contracted pneumonia during his flight, dying a few days later

  • 'middle' classes became more vocal (after the Great Famine) - voluntary organisations + the zemstva provided the necessary relief work which helped to encourage the view that at least the educated members of society should have some direct say in the nation's governance
  • Prince Lvov demanded an all-class Zemstvo and a National Assembly but when he tried to set up an 'All-Zemstvo Organisation in 1896 it was immediately banned
  • this encouraged more radical members to reform at Beseda (1899) and meet in secret
  • 1900: the government ordered the dismissal of hundreds of liberals from the elected boards of the zemstva (the Beseda representatives attracted a wide-range of support from public figures, town leaders, members of the legal + teaching professions + industrialists
  • 1903: Union of Liberation was founded by Pyotr Struve (believed in peace)
  • 1904: the Union held a grand meeting - representatives of the zemstva and other professional societies were invited; people wanted a constitutional government
  • the liberals had limited political influence before 1905 (and were fortunate to escape police recognition) but they contributed to the momentum that was building up within Russia for political change

Pyotr Bergardovich Struve (1870 - 1944)

  • lawyer, economist + philosopher
  • became interested in Marxism and was involved in Marxist + Populist activities in the 1890s
  • opposed violent revolution; believed Russia needed a period of 'peaceful evolution'
  • wanted a constitutional system where workers could legally campaign to improve their conditions
  • founded Osvobozhdenie (Liberation) (originally his journal written in Germany)
  • 1903: the magazine became the Union's official publication + was smuggled into Russia - considerably successful
  • German police (under pressure from Okhrana) raided the premises (October 1904)
  • Struve moved his operations to Paris; continued publishing the magazine there until the October Manifesto proclaimed freedom of the press in Russia
  • October 1905: Struve returned to Russia + became a co-founder of the liberal Constitutional Democratic party; represented it in the Second State Duma (1907); after dissolution, continued writing
  • 1914: Outbreak of WW1 - Struve adopted a position of strong support for the government + after the Bolshevik revolution (1917) he joined the White movement (opposed the Bolshevik takeover)

Rule of the last two tsars, Alexander III and Nicholas II (1881 - 1904)

Alexander III (1845 - 94)

  • held an army career until death of elder brother, Nicholas (1865)
  • tutored by Konstantin Pobedonostsev; firm upholder of autocracy and repression + taught that any concessions or signs of weakness would be indications of cowardice + failure in his part
  • he refused to live in the Winter Palace in St Petersburg (after watching father die) and feared revolutionary activity
  • large (6 feet 4 inches) + immensely strong - looked an autocrat + commanding character
  • married a Danish Princess, Dagmar (Maria Feodorovna) + had six children
  • died young of a kidney ailment (possibly from heavy drinking)

Nicholas II (1868 - 1918)

  • grew up in father's shadow, never rated highly by him
  • small and naturally reserved; Alexander III thought he was a dunce and a weakling, referring to him as 'girlie'
  • excellent manners, good memory + spoke several languages
  • not a practical man; politics bored him + he admitted finding it difficult to 'focus his mind'
  • 1894: his father died and he felt in no way prepared to become tsar, but accepted his inheritance as God-given + set out to rule in 'the Romanov way' - asserted himself against the demands of the growing reform movement
  • his reign was marked by revolutions in 1905 and February 1917, after which he abdicated

  • after Alexander II died there was no longer any cautious reform; neither tsars were prepared to accept the dilution of the autocracy
  • Alexander III (advised by Pobedonostsev) produced a manifesto promising to 'reassert the principles of autocracy'
  • the tsars wanted to preserve the past; their power was being undermined by western ideas, constitutional theories, secular thinking + urban discontent
  • Nicholas openly declared that he preferred the traditionally slavic Moscow to the Westernised St Petersburg
  • 1889: Alexander III set up a new law for a new office of Land Captains (recruited from the nobility)
  • given a wide range of powers; ability to over-ride zemstva elections + disregard zemstvo decisions, ignore normal judicial process + overturn judgements of local courts (+ impose punishments) + order the public flogging of peasants for minor offences (trespassing + not paying taxes)
  • 1890: Act which changed election arrangements; reducing the peasants' vote + later (1892) it was difficult for less wealthy to vote in the towns - both groups encouraged to concentrate their activities on social services (education + health)
  • Nicholas II dismissed the attempts to create an 'All-Zemstvo Organisation' (1896) + abolished the elected boards of the zemstva in liberals (1900)

Marie-Feodorovna (1847 - 1928)

  • born Princess Dagmar of Denmark
  • 1865: married future Alexander III and adopted Orthodox religion, taking her new name
  • tried to oppose Nicholas's marriage to Alix (Alexandra Feodorovna), a minor German princess, fearing this would diminish her own influence over him BUT the couple married in 1894
  • Alix hated the parties + society which Marie-Feodorovna dominated
  • Nicholas was torn between his mother who constantly tried to help + meddle with state affairs and a wife who urged him to act more decisively
  • this ultimately led him to ignore the advice of his mother therefore cutting himself off from the broader royal family
  • Alexander III was in no way suited to be an autocrat; he could not decide anything + constantly changed his ministers (fearing their independence)
  • he feebly tried to preserve the policies of his father (whom he had admired) - ignored disturbances created by growing working class in the towns (who organised illegal strikes, demanding higher wages, better conditions + a shorter working day)
  • more police were recruited and the army was relied upon to put down disturbances; by 1902 they had been called out 522 times
  • Alexander III strongly believed in Orthodoxy, continuing policies such as the exclusion of lower class children from secondary education + state control over universities (judged on their 'religious, moral and patriotic orientation', women barred and all aspects supervised)
  • student demonstrations were crushed (1, 500 imprisoned in the Peter and Paul fortress during a particular incident)
  • both Alexander III and Nicholas II were believers in 'Nationalism' - spread through a state policy of Russification; forced Russian language + culture on peoples of other ethnic origins - widespread anti-semitism - produced a number of pogroms against Jews


  • both Poland and Finland suffered attempts too destroy their national culture
  • use of Russian language was enforced + risings of ethnic people suppressed
  • Jews were (and had been) forced to live in 'The Pale of Settlement' and anti-Jewish pogroms broke out in 1881 (in Ukraine) - large Jewish population and they soon spread to other towns; government did not help + Okhrana may have even encouraged the rioters
  • 16 major cities were affected; Jewish property was burnt, shops + businesses destroyed, women raped + many put to death
  • laws were also brought in that discriminated against the Jews (particularly in professions) - thousands of Jews emigrated at this time
  • this resulted in Jews joining revolutionary groups (Marxist socialist organisations in particular)
  • 1897: the General Union of Jewish Workers was set up in Russia + Poland - helped the growth of opposition to the autocracy under Nicholas II
  • by 1904: Russia was in chaos; widespread unrest in both towns + countryside; no sense of direction/proper leadership + no sense of reality
  • no effective leadership; 'autocracy without an autocrat'

The years of the Red Cockerel (1903 - 04)

  • the years 1903 - 04 were particularly turbulent; so many instances of arson in the rural communities - nickname referred to leaping flames resembling rooster's comb
  • unrest was at its worst in the central Russian provinces (where landlord/peasant relationship was still at its most traditional) - peasants set fire to their landlords' barns, destroying grain or attacked landlords + officials, seizing their woodland + pasture
  • industrial strikes in the towns increased from 17, 000 (1894) to around 90, 000 (1901)
  • 1900: Moscow chief of the Okhrana provided 'official' channels through which complaints could be heard + aid provided (only lasted until 1903)
  • 1904: Assembly of St Petersburg Workers was formed by Father Georgii Gapon - 12 branches + 8, 000 members

Vyacheslav Konstantinovich von Plehve (1846 - 1904)

  • from a noble German family + raised in Warsaw
  • attended Moscow University; trained as a lawyer + entered the Ministry of Justice
  • 1881: investigated Alexander II's murder + was made Director of the Department of the Police: control over the Okhrana
  • 1902: became minister for internal affairs; relapsed + abandoned the police-supported trade unions (after attempting to work with the zemstva)
  • victim of several assassination attempts; July 1904 succeeded

Father Georgii Gapon (1870 - 1906)

  • studied at St Petersburg Theological Academy
  • became an Orthodox priest + prison chaplain - worked in working class districts of St Petersburg - believed he had a divine mission to help the workers (began organising workers' unions from 1903
  • still remained intensely loyal, believing that the tsar was appointed by God
  • 1905: escaped death after the Bloody Sunday march (spent brief time in exile)
  • returned to Russia in December - re-made contact with the Okhrana
  • March 1906: found hanged (possibly murdered by Social Revolutionary agents, angered by his double dealing, or the Okhrana)