October General Strike of 1905

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The general strike of October was the culminating event of the 1905 Revolution and the most inclusive and consequential of several general strikes that took place in 1905, resulting in the announcement of the Manifesto of October 17. It was initiated first and foremost by workers in larger industrial enterprises, many of whom nursed unsatisfied demands from strikes earlier in the year. Although the ripeness of workers to strike in many diverse working situations across the empire was paramount, the call of the AllRussian Union of Railroad Workers for a national rail strike on October 4 provided a timely impetus. The railroaders' strike gave them control of Russia's means of communication, allowing them to spread word of the strike throughout the empire, while their immobilization of rail traffic forcibly idled many trades and industries.

Although workers and the urban public generally found themselves at different stages of organizational and political development in October, a unique synergy arose that stirred them all to greater effort. The spread of the strikes from the generally more unified and mobilized factory workers to artisans, small businesses, and whitecollar workers of the city centers lent the October strike its general character and explained its success. In St. Petersburg, the strike's most important site in terms of its political outcome, the participation of tram drivers, shop clerks, pharmacists, printers, and even insurance, zemstvo, and bank employees, meant that the center of the capital closed down, bringing the strike directly into the lives of most citizens by encompassing the broadest array of occupations and the broadest social spectrum of all the strikes in 1905.

Many of the worker strikes supplemented their factory demands with demands for political rights and liberties, so that the labor strikes blended seamlessly with the broader, ongoing political protests of the democratic opposition. University students in particular, but also secondary schoolers and educated professionals, promoted the strike with gusto and imagination, especially in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other university towns. Students opened their lecture halls to public meetings, where workers met the wider urban public for the first time and where much support for the strike was generated. The volume of this protest gave pause to the police and the government, providing an even greater margin of de facto freedom of speech and assembly. Many craft and service workers took the opportunity to organize their first trade unions. Several political parties, including the Kadet or Constitutional Democratic Party, were organized in this interval. Slower moving populations, such as peasants, soldiers, and policemen, drew inspiration from the widespread protests and began to demand their rights.

The revolutionary organizations prospered from the upsurge of labor militancy in October, recruiting new members and becoming better known among rankandfile workers. Revolutionary organizers, especially Mensheviks, were indispensable in the creation and leadership of the Soviets of Workers' Deputies, informal bodies of elected factory delegates organized in about fifty locales during 1905, especially in October, to lead and assist strikers over entire urban and industrial areas. The Soviet of St. Petersburg, the most celebrated of these organs of direct democracy, went beyond strike leadership to pursue a revolutionary agenda in the capital. Its arrest on December 3 cut short its political promise, but its brief career and its flamboyant second president, Leon Trotsky, inspired similar organs in later revolutions around the world.

In response to the January strikes, the tsarist government had granted an elected assembly to discuss, but not implement, legislation (the "Bulygin Duma"). To maintain the integrity of autocratic rule, several of Emperor Nicholas's ministers began to advocate a unified government, headed by a prime minister. Sensing the country's mood in early October and led by the respected Count Sergei Yu. Witte, they advised Nicholas to grant political and civil rights, legislative authority, and an expanded electorate. Nicholas hesitated between liberalization and forceful repression of the strikers; after deliberating several days, he reluctantly agreed to the former. The Manifesto of October 17 was the most significant political act of the 1905 Revolution. It provoked powerful, euphoric expectations of a total transformation of Russian life. These expectations remained over the long run, themselves transforming Russian politics and culture, though in the short run the promise of a constitutional state divided the opposition and enabled the government to restore the authority of the autocracy by early 1906 through a bloody repression not possible in October.

See also: bloody sunday; duma; nicholas ii; revolution of 1905; workers


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Gerald D. Surh