Strike quickly gained support of most strands of the opposition
movement. The rare display of unity by the opposition finally forced
the government to its knees. Frightened by the scale of the workers’
protest, terrified by the growing unrest in the army and peasant
disturbances in the countryside and unable to move troops by
railways to quell the dissent, the authorities found themselves in a
critical situation. On 17 October 1905 Nicholas II, on the advice of
Sergei Witte, signed a Manifesto which granted his subjects basic
civil and political rights and promised the convocation of a State
Duma, an elected legislative national assembly (instead of a
purely consultative assembly proposed by the government in August).
A few days later, on 21 October, the government also announced
partial political amnesty.
undermined the united revolutionary coalition forged in the days of
the general strike. The right-wing of Russian Liberalism immediately
accepted the Manifesto as a satisfactory conclusion of the
revolution. On 4 December it established a new liberal party, the
Union of 17 October (or
‘Octobrist’ Party) whose leader was a major industrialist
(1862-1936). In contrast, the left-wing liberals who had already set
up their own Constitutional-Democratic Party (or Kadets) at a
founding Congress held in October, denounced the Manifesto for its
failure to meet their main demand to grant an elected legislative
assembly which would be empowered to draft a new constitution.
However, they were willing to accept the new system as a starting
point for reform and were prepared to end revolutionary activities.
was not radical enough to satisfy fully the revolutionary parties
and even many of the liberals, the Manifesto signified a major
victory of the pro-democratic forces. The promises, contained in the
Manifesto, were wrung out of the tsarist government mainly by
peaceful means with only a few instances of serious street fighting
of workers with troops and the police. For a brief moment following
the publication of the Manifesto there was a fragile equilibrium
between the government and the opposition.
This was soon
broken, however, by the conservative elements of Russian society
which mounted a counteroffensive to avenge the humiliation suffered
by the Tsar at the hands of the revolutionaries. The right-wing
elements stirred up a horrendous wave of anti-Semitic pogroms,
carried out by hooligan gangs with official support at the highest
level, which claimed several thousands lives across Russia. The
massacres of the Jews were organized with the aim of intimidating
the revolutionaries, worker activists and members of the radical
intelligentsia. By fanning the flames of chauvinist and monarchist
hysteria, they also hoped to impel the Tsar to take tougher actions
against the revolution.