The Russian Revolution of 1905: Centenary Perspectives

The Russian Revolution of 1905: Centenary Perspectives

The Russian Revolution of 1905: Centenary Perspectives

The Russian Revolution of 1905: Centenary Perspectives


2005 marks the centenary of Russia's 'first revolution' - an unplanned, spontaneous rejection of Tsarist rule that was a response to the 'Bloody Sunday' massacre of 9th January 1905. A wave of strikes, urban uprisings, peasant revolts, national revolutions and mutinies swept across the Russian Empire, and it proved a crucial turning point in the demise of the autocracy and the rise of a revolutionary socialism that would shape Russia, Europe and the international system for the rest of the twentieth century.

The centenary of the Revolution has prompted scholars to review and reassess our understanding of what happened in 1905. Recent opportunities to access archives throughout the former Soviet Union are yielding new provincial perspectives, as well as fresh insights into the roles of national and religious minorities, and the parts played by individuals, social groups, political parties and institutions. This text brings together some of the best of this new research and reassessment, and includes thirteen chapters written by leading historians from around the world, together with an introduction from Abraham Ascher.


As the title of this volume on the Russian Revolution of 1905 suggests, the book is intended to provide readers with new perspectives on what is generally considered to have been one of the critical junctures in modern Russian history and, in many ways, in the history of the twentieth century, aptly termed the ‘age of extremes’. Initially prepared as papers for the XXXth Annual Conference of the Study Group on the Russian Revolution (at Nottingham, United Kingdom, on 3–5 January 2004), all the contributions except one were extensively discussed by a group of some forty scholars and then revised to take into account various criticisms and suggestions. The result, in my view, is a collection of highly interesting and stimulating chapters that shed light on an event that is still insufficiently understood.

My task in this introduction, it seems to me, is to help students of history derive maximum benefit from reading the book. I could best do this, I thought, by pointing out some of the scholarly controversies surrounding the Revolution of 1905, by showing how the essays fit into these interpretations and by raising general questions about them. Above all I would like to emphasize how the chapters collected here demonstrate that the discipline of History is not a closed book but, rather, an endless debate about the past.

Actually, the Revolution of 1905 has been a highly controversial topic from the moment it ended. Even the duration of the upheaval has been a bone of contention, and that is not surprising because this touches on all the questions in dispute. It is arguable that the event’s proper title should be ‘The Revolution of 1904–07’, which, admittedly, is rather cumbersome. But a strong case can be made that the upheaval began late in 1904, when liberals, dismayed by the country’s military defeats at the hands of the Japanese, engaged in widespread agitation against the autocracy, and that it did not end until June 1907, with the dissolution of the Second State Duma (the elected chamber of deputies). Historians who tend to downplay the agitation of 1904 and the conflicts in the two dumas, in 1906 and 1907, do so because they believe that it was not the liberals but the workers and, to a lesser extent, the peasants, who played the critical role in the revolution – two groups that were especially active in the opposition to the old order in the year 1905 itself. But there are two other reasons for the differing . . .

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