October Manifesto Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The October Manifesto outlined Czar Nicholas II’s grudging concessions to political reform in the wake of massive civil discontent and revolutionary activity in Russia.

Summary of Event

In January, 1905, the czar of Russia’s troops ruthlessly fired on a peaceful procession of petitioners in the capital city of St. Petersburg in what came to be known as Bloody Sunday. Bloody Sunday This tragedy, combined with the disasters that befell Russia during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905)[Russojapanese War] sparked the Revolution of 1905. Revolution of 1905 (Russia) The revolution proved to be largely abortive, but out of it came one famous document: the October Manifesto promulgated by Czar Nicholas II. This document marked, at least at face value, Russia’s first departure from czarist autocracy in favor of a constitutional government with substantial limits on the monarch’s authority. The October Manifesto also revealed Nicholas II’s begrudging and belated concessions to the growing demands of the people for sweeping reforms. October Manifesto Revolution of 1905 (Russia) Russia;October Manifesto [kw]October Manifesto (Oct. 30, 1905) October Manifesto Revolution of 1905 (Russia) Russia;October Manifesto [g]Russia;Oct. 30, 1905: October Manifesto[01400] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Oct. 30, 1905: October Manifesto[01400] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Oct. 30, 1905: October Manifesto[01400] Dubrovin, Aleksandr Lenin, Vladimir Ilich Miliukov, Pavel Nicholas II [p]Nicholas II[Nicholas 02];October Manifesto Trotsky, Leon Witte, Sergey Yulyevich

From January through October, 1905, Russia experienced strikes in the industrial centers, peasant revolts in the countryside, periods of national and ethnic unrest in the western border areas, and mutinies in the army and navy. In order to conciliate his people, Czar Nicholas proclaimed in August the establishment of the Duma, or Russian parliament, to advise the monarch concerning legislation. Although it was an elective body, the Duma was chosen by a limited and indirect franchise, and its function was solely consultative. Announcement of its creation proved to be completely ineffective in quieting the general unrest and the antagonism of political organizations.

In October, a widespread general strike paralyzed the entire country for about ten days, forcing Nicholas to decide on his options in the crisis. As he noted in a letter to his mother dated November, 1905, he had two choices: one was to use military force to impose ruthless control within the major cities and across the nation; the other was to make concessions to the opposition. On October 30 (October 17 by the Julian calendar still in effect in Russia at that time), the czar made his decision. He reluctantly agreed to issue an imperial manifesto promising a constitution that would include a stronger Duma and also place limits on the royal authority. This document was largely the work of Count Sergey Yulyevich Witte, the czar’s former finance minister and now prime minister.

The October Manifesto promised the institutions and procedures of a constitutional limited monarchy in Russia. The government promised to make significant concessions: to guarantee fundamental civil liberties (including freedom of speech, assembly, and conscience; freedom of the press; freedom from arbitrary arrest; and the right to form trade unions), to extend the franchise for elections to the Duma Duma;provisions in October Manifesto to those excluded under the previous decree made in August, to guarantee that no law would be enacted without the consent of the Duma, and to provide that the Duma should have the right to decide on the legality of decisions of the czar’s administrators. A second body, the State Council, was created later to serve as the upper house of the promised parliament.

A Moscow crowd celebrates the freedoms promised by Czar Nicholas II in the October Manifesto.

(Library of Congress)

The government hoped that publication of the October Manifesto would quell unrest, but in fact it ushered in fresh waves of disorder throughout the country. The enthusiasm of those supporting the manifesto was matched by elements of the population who demonstrated against the government for what they saw as high-sounding but meaningless promises. Many viewed the document as no more than a clever trick intended to divide the opposition. Indeed, the October Manifesto did accentuate the divisions that already existed in the ranks of the revolutionary movement, and it helped the government to restore much of its autocratic authority by late 1905 and early 1906.

Significance

Broadly speaking, the responses to the October Manifesto differed according to whether individuals and groups fell on the right, the center, or the left of the political spectrum. On the extreme right, conservative advocates of the czar’s absolute power urged Nicholas to make no concessions to the reformers and revolutionaries. Reactionaries in the service of the government and the Russian Orthodox Church organized the Union of the Russian People Union of the Russian People under the presidency of Dr. Aleksandr Dubrovin. Elements from this group, to which Czar Nicholas himself belonged, led gangs of toughs known as the Black Hundreds Black Hundreds in demonstrations on behalf of the czar and against supporters of the manifesto. During the week after the manifesto’s publication, the Black Hundreds launched a wave of violent riots known as pogroms Pogroms against the traditional scapegoats, the Jews, many of whom suffered loss of life or property. Meanwhile, moderate rightists fully in accord with the principles of the October Manifesto created a new political party known as the Octobrists Octobrists (Russia) and hailed the concessions as the climax of a successful revolution. They now gave their support to the government. Those in the center established another new party in the fall: the Constitutional Democratic Party, Constitutional Democratic Party (Russia) led by the historian Pavel Miliukov. This party wanted to move forward rapidly on such matters as land reform and also wanted more certain guarantees of parliamentary authority and meaningful civil rights.

The leftist parties rejected the manifesto outright as unsatisfactory, if not an outright deception, and they attempted to continue the revolution. In St. Petersburg, the Soviet, or Council, of Workers’ Deputies included members of the Social Revolutionary, Social Revolutionary Party (Russia) Bolshevik, Bolshevik Party (Russia) and Menshevik Parties. Menshevik Party (Russia) It had been established several days before the manifesto’s publication. Vladimir Ilich Lenin, the Bolshevik leader, was not in Russia at the time but sent frequent messages to his group demanding continued militancy and violence against the authorities. After the manifesto’s appearance, the leaders of the Soviet, among them Leon Trotsky, made plans for new strikes they hoped would expand into an armed uprising. Although encouraged by continuing peasant revolts and sporadic troop mutinies, by November the radicals had clearly begun to lose their hold over the workers. The program of strikes failed, and by mid-December the government made many arrests. In Moscow, the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies attempted an armed uprising in December, but by the end of that month the government was able to muster sufficient loyal troops to put it down. Severe measures, including prison and several executions, were taken against the most militant of the government’s opponents.

The Revolution of 1905 was over. The czarist monarchy had survived the crisis. The authority of Nicholas II was shaken, but he now began to restore his traditional autocratic rule at the expense of the promises he had made in the October Manifesto. Witte, reluctantly willing to consider some limits on the monarchy, resigned as prime minister in the spring of 1906. The new constitution, known as the Fundamental Laws, went into effect at the same time.

The Revolution of 1905 was a prologue to the Russian Revolution of 1917. Russian Revolution (1917) In a sense the Revolution of 1905 was not a revolution at all: The czar remained on his throne, the throne remained autocratic despite promises made in the October Manifesto, and most of the army remained loyal. In 1917, however, the czar fell, partly because massive numbers of troops went over to swell the ranks of the revolutionaries. In 1905, concessions to the contrary notwithstanding, the czarist autocracy prevailed over the demands of the moderates and the radicals; in 1917, czarism gave way to a moderate regime that was in turn overthrown by Bolshevik radicals. The two revolutions are nevertheless similar in some respects. Both began when Russia was severely weakened by military disasters in unsuccessful wars. Both the Russo-Japanese War and World War I underscored long-standing political, social, and economic grievances that could not be redressed within the framework of government then in existence. Both revolutions took place partly because mediocre leadership had cut itself off from reality and the growing discontent of the Russian people. October Manifesto Revolution of 1905 (Russia) Russia;October Manifesto

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ascher, Abraham. The Revolution of 1905: A Short History. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2004. Concise history by a highly respected scholar explores the factionalism among the regime’s opponents as well as that within the Russian government itself.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ferro, Marc. Nicholas II: The Last of the Tsars. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. Provides informative background on Nicholas in the 1905-1906 period, drawing on his diary and family correspondence.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Harcave, Sidney. First Blood: The Russian Revolution of 1905. New York: Macmillan, 1964. Readable account of the revolution provides solid coverage of a complex period.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mehlinger, Howard D., and John M. Thompson. Count Witte and the Tsarist Government in the 1905 Revolution. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972. Focuses on Witte’s role during this critical period in Russian history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Miliukov, P. N. Political Memoirs, 1905-1917. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967. Revealing recollections by the founder of the Constitutional Democratic Party, who was at the center of events during the Revolution of 1905.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Verner, Andrew M. The Crisis of Russian Autocracy: Nicholas II and the 1905 Revolution. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990. Traces the responses of the czar’s government in the face of growing opposition to autocracy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Von Laue, Theodore H. Why Lenin? Why Stalin? Why Gorbachev? The Rise and Fall of the Soviet System. 3d ed. New York: Longman, 1997. Classic interpretive essay situates the events of 1905 in the larger context of modern Russian and Soviet history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Witte, Sergey. The Memoirs of Count Witte. Translated and edited by Sidney Harcave. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1990. Translation of the self-serving but informative memoirs of one of the central decision-making leaders of the Russian government in the early years of the twentieth century.

Pogroms in Imperial Russia

Bloody Sunday

First Meeting of the Duma

Assassination of Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin

Lenin Leads the Russian Revolution

Bolsheviks Mount the October Revolution

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