Timeline of the Russian Revolutions: Pre-1905

Tsar Alexander II
Tsar Alexander II. Wikimedia Commons

Russia had chances to change in the early twentieth century, to avoid the chaos and bloodshed of the communist era. But perhaps the best chance Russia had to evolve a political system that would deal with the vast modernisations of the period actually came in the middle of the nineteenth century. In a statement which carries stark warning for the twentieth century, Russia's best chance was lost thanks to a terrorist attack and the aftermath of repression.

It is surprising more modern commentators don't look to this era of Russian, but when you consider how Russia is regarded in the west, perhaps not.

The Mid Nineteenth Century

• 1848-70: Alexander Herzen's ideas begin to blend Western Socialism with the traditional peasant communes of Russia.
• 1861: The emancipation of the serfs: peasants are freed from feudal controls and tied closely to their village communes.
• 1861 - 64: Disappointment at the emancipation leads to small amounts of physical rebellion and a surge in intellectual unrest; the Zemyla i volya (land and liberty) party is formed.
• 1864: The zemstvo, local councils, are created to replace feudal courts and government; the nobility are generally in charge.
• 1866: Karakozov tries to kill Tsar Alexander II, prompting The White Terror.
• 1866 - 70: The White Terror, a period of intense anti-rebellious activity by the government.
• 1867- 1870's: The ideas of Revolutionary Populism (narodnichestvo) develop, based on an idealistic look at rural communes as collective, land sharing, power sharing groups.

Believers are called narodniki.

The Late Nineteenth Century

• 1874: The Mad Summer, where thousands of young intellectuals flock unorganised to the countryside in order to teach socialism; peasant disinterest causes it to fail dismally and the socialists begin a turn to underground activity.
• 1876: A second Zemyla i volya group forms, but they split in 1879 over the issue of terror: the Cherny peredel denounce it, while the Narodnaya volya, want to use it to achieve their aims.

• 1881: Tsar Alexander II is killed by members of Narodnaya volya; the new tsar, Alexander III, begins a repressive, racist and xenophobic crackdown on the Russian people.
• 1883: The first Russian Marxist group is formed (in Switzerland): The Group for the Liberty of Labour.
• 1880-1900: Russia begins a period of swift industrialisation under Witte, creating a densely packed factory workforce living in poor conditions and doing dangerous jobs; this new population looks remarkably like Marx's proletariat and Russian Marxism grows around them. The new workers are politically aware, organising and striking.
• 1894: Death of Alexander III; Nicholas II succeeds as Tsar.
• 1897: A young radical is given a three year exile in Siberia for illegal workers activities; his name is Lenin.
• 1898: The First Congress of the Russian Socialist Democratic Labour Party (RSDRP) meets, an attempt to unite the many small Russian socialist/marxist groups. It takes place outside Russia and isn't very successful.

The Early Twentieh Century

• 1900: Socialist Revolutionary (SR) parties form, reflecting the aims of the Narodniki and the methods of the Narodnaya volya; Lenin is amongst a group that publishes Iskra (The Spark).

• 1901-5: An economic downturn creates discontent; the zemstvos begin to organise and form a coherent agenda; workers develop a strong strikers movement.
• 1902 - 7: The 'Years of the Red Cockerel', a period of rural unrest caused by anger at the injustices of the 1861 emancipation.
• 1902: The campaign for a national zemstvo assembly begins; Lenin publishes What is to be Done?, a work with very strong views on party organisation.
• 1903: The Second RSDRP Congress meets abroad; this achieves little, but Lenin and a friend argue over organisation, creating a divide that forms two new sub groups: the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.
• 1904: The Russo-Japanese war begins.
• 1904: 13 zemstvos organise a medical brigade for the war led by Prince Lvov, who persuades the Tsar to allow it; this is the first time zemstvos are allowed to unite nationally; Lvov becomes a hero.

• July 1904: Plehve, Minister of Interior and hardliner against reform, killed by SR's; public either indifferent or celebratory. Other opposition groups join campaign for national zemstvo assembly.
• November 6-9 1904: The Zemstvo Assembly: 103 representatives meeting with permission from the Minister of Interior; produces resolution on assembly and reforms, which is rejected by the Tsar.
• December 12 1904: Decrees expand the rights of zemstvos and ease censorship, but there is no assembly.

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