In 1904 the liberation movement came to life. From 1905 St. Petersburg became the acknowledged center of the Russian Revolution, yet its role in the awakening of 1904 was possibly even more seminal and initiatory. Already in January 1904, the founding congress of the Union of Liberation, a loose coalition of zemstvo and intelligentsia liberals, and two professional congresses, held in Petersburg, marked a new stage in the maturation and growing momentum of the zemstvo and intelligentsia opposition throughout the country. These meetings were transformed from private into public events, demonstrating that the mobilization of the opposition was accelerating even before war and other dramatic external events intervened to spur ever wider circles of the educated public to open commitment.
The outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War in February at first set the process back, both by calling forth a patriotic enthusiasm among the broad public and by convincing even many of the liberal leaders to temper their opposition with concessions to the popular mood and efforts in the national defense. Despite some early lapses, most liberals remained quite skeptical of the importance of the war and of the regime's motives in it. With the first defeat at the Yalu in April of 1904, followed by further reverses in May and early June, the public was reminded of the regime's incompetence and indifference to public opinion. With each ensuing defeat the war became an engine of discontent, accelerating the consolidation of support for the entire political opposition, but especially the liberals, who were most effective in mobilizing urban opinion. They had, since April, linked their call for constitutional reform to a demand for the immediate conclu