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The October Manifesto

 

The October 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.  

 
October Manifesto

The October Manifesto 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 Alexander Guchkov (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.

Though it 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.

                
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The Revolution of 1905-7

 

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