Amal Chandaria

The tsar and Russian civil society (1905-1917)

The purpose of this page is to collect key literature, primary sources, media and other resources in order to better understand the roles of the tsar and Russian civil society in shaping the social, economic, and political landscape of Russia following the Revolution of 1905. While it primarily will focus on the years between 1905 and the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917, the guide will also discuss sources that provide some context of the structure of society before 1905.

The events of the 1905 revolution (although a failed attempt to oust the presiding tsar, Nicholas II) prompted a wave of change, which led to both the autocracy and civil society reevaluating their roles in defining the future of Russia, and also changed how each group viewed each other. This guide intends to help uncover these perceptions and interactions through social, political, and economic lenses, and to that end, is divided into these three sections (it is important to note that some of the source may fit into multiple categories).



Left, photograph of Tsar Nicholas II; right, photograph of a demonstration during the 1905 revolution.

The social section contains sources that focus on the people of Russia; they look at how a more educated society, the rise of a middle class, and the onset of revolutionary fervour all contributed to the evolution of the people’s self-image as a tool for defining their own nationality and bringing about meaningful reform.

The political section lists sources that outline the new structure of the Russian government following the events of 1905, and that look at the internal politics of the autocracy between the tsar and his ministers. There are also sources which give a more detailed look at changes in civil society’s representation in government— namely the Dumas and the zemstvo.

Finally, the economic section contains sources that examine some of the reforms that the autocracy imposed on the people. One such example is the Stolypin Reforms which were a series of agricultural reforms between 1906-1914 that greatly impacted the peasantry. Looking at how and why these policies were created will serve to highlight the government’s perception of the people and what it perceived to be the needs of society.


Between Tsar and People: Educated Society and the Quest for Public Identity In Late Imperial Russia

  • This source contains a collection of essays that focus on the relationship between social change and the search for a social identity that defined an emerging middle class in Russia.
  • The way disparate groups in Russian society confronted the possibility of achieving national renewal.
  • One of the key terms to describe this phenomenon is obshchestvennost — an educated society whose sense of identify effectively rested on the perception that the Russian ‘nation’ was different from the Russian ‘state’. They felt that they had the power to change the ‘nation’ based by achieving a balance between autonomous social initiative & state power.
  • The idea of obshchestvennost and an educated middle class as a means to bring about social change is critical for understanding the role of this part of society in the greater context of Russia.
  • The source contains an examination of the definitions of what ‘civil society’ and ‘middle class’ meant in Russia at the time, with a special focus on what identity meant to the people, the evolution of culture (and how that defined ‘the self’).
  • Chapter 6 (“Impediments to a Bourgeois Consciousness in Russia, 1880-1905: The Estate Structure, Ethnic Diversity, and Economic Regionalism) discusses the development of social consciousness among the emerging middle class prior to the 1905 revolution — context which is important for understanding its dramatic escalation after 1905.
Clowes, Edith W., Samuel D. Kassow, and James L. West. Between tsar and people: educated society and the quest for public identity in late imperial Russia. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991.


Workers and Obshchestvennost’: St Petersburg, 1906–14

  • This article focusses on the concept of obshchestvennost, and more specifically attributes it as a sign of a developing civil society.
  • It provides several examples of how this sociological phenomenon prompted bodies such as educational societies and associations demanding reforms of the government — some of which actually resulted in some form of implementation.
  • While the purpose of this source is actually to examine the perception of Russia as a backwards society in the context of the Western European nations, the article provides several valuable examples of change brought about by an increasingly educated middle class.
Pate, Alice K.. “Workers and Obshchestvennost’: St Petersburg, 1906–14.” Revolutionary Russia 15, no. 2 (2002): 53-71.


Civil Society in the Baltic Sea Region

  • This book has a detailed chapter about the historical context in Russia of obshchestvennost, and how its definition evolved over time. This is important for understanding what it meant in revolutionary Russia.
  • It discusses the origin of the term and its evolution during the timespan of roughly 1840-1860.
  • Obshchestvennost initially used to define a social quality that people develop living ‘in’ and ‘by way’ of a society.
  • Evolved to mean a progressive part of society, consisting of the people who valued ideas and accomplishments — now was used to identify groups of people.
Götz, Norbert, and Jörg Hackmann. “‘Obshchestvennost’: Russia’s Lost Concept of Civil Society.” In Civil society in the Baltic Sea region. Aldershot, Hampshire, England: Ashgate, 2003. 63-69.


The Russian Revolution

  • While this is primarily a source that looks at the 1917 revolutions and their impact, Fitzpatrick makes an interesting point regarding the source of revolutionary fervour that existed within the working class prior to these revolutions.
  • Fitzpatrick asserts that the working class was revolutionary “…just because it had not had time to acquire the ‘trade-union consciousness’ of which Lenin wrote—to become a settled industrial proletariat, capable of protecting its interests by non-revolutionary means, and understanding the opportunities for upward mobility that modern societies offer with some education and skills”.
  • In short, because of Russia’s rapid industrialization, Fitzpatrick claims that there might have not been enough time for ‘non-revolutionary means to upward mobility’ to even be explored for the working class — effectively hard-coding revolution into their mindset just due to the way society had developed.
Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Russian Revolution. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.


Rebels in the Name of the Tsar

  • This book is primarily comprised of a collection of primary source documents, and aims to examine the relationship between the narod and the educated public, including officialdom.
  • It provides concrete manifestations of naive monarchism — a social phenomenon that contributed to the survival of the tsarist regime (Nicholas II was regarded as a batiushka or ‘affectionate father’ figure). The eventual erosion of this naivety, especially after the events of Bloody Sunday, made the 1905 and 1917 revolutions possible.
  • Radicals attributed this naive faith in the tsar as a quality of the common people (narod), as opposed to educated society (obshchestvo), which were essentially separated by a social void.
Field, Daniel. Rebels in the name of the tsar. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976.




Ivan Vladimirov — Shooting workers near the Winter Palace (Bloody Sunday), 1905-1917, painting.


The Decline of Imperial Russia, 1855-1914

  • This book has a section called ‘Reaction and Consolidation’ which looks at the time period following the 1905 revolution. It is divided into subchapters entitled: Tsar, Ministers & Duma, Agricultural Policy, General Economic Development, The Revolutionaries, and The Nationalities.
  • Tsar, Ministers & Duma looks which examines the structure of the regime that emerged from the 1905 revolution. Watson emphasizes that rather than being strictly an autocracy or constitutional monarchy, this regime had elements of both. He goes on to explain the structure of the Dumas, as well as the relationships between Nicholas and various ministers within the government (including Stolypin).
  • Agricultural Policy mainly looks at specific changes in the personal and land ownership rights of the peasantry as a result of the reforms enacted by Stolypin and later, Kokovstov. It also discusses some of the peasant’s (mostly negative) reactions to these reforms.
Watson, Hugh. The decline of imperial Russia, 1855-1914. New York: F.A. Praeger, 1952.


Lenin, ‘Our Father the Tsar’ and the Barricades

  • Written in response to Bloody Sunday in 1905, where unarmed protestors were fired upon by imperial troops.
  • This source gives a detailed overview of Lenin’s views of the autocracy, including his disdain for the “naive patriarchal faith in the tsar” and a clear call to action in response to that event.
“Lenin: Revolutionary Days, 1905: ‘Our Father the Tsar’ and the Barricades.” Marxists Internet Archive. (accessed November 3, 2013).


Манифест об усовершенствовании государственного порядка (The Manifesto on the Improvement of the State Order)

  • This document is the translated version of the ‘October Manifesto’ — a document issued by Tsar Nicholas II on October 17, 1905 in response to the events of the 1905 revolution.
  • The tsar promises to grant civil liberties to the people of Russia, and also introduces the Duma as a political body.
“Documents in Russian History: Manifesto of October 17th, 1905.” Documents in Russian History.,_1905 (accessed November 6, 2013).


Russia in Transition, 1905-1914; Evolution or Revolution?

  • This book looks at the period between 1905-1914 — characterizes these intermediate years as “the finishing touches to the performance” of 1917.
  • This source is especially useful as it includes a series of essays on the period that provide various (and often differing) viewpoints on the issue. For example, the section on Stolypin includes a criticism of the reforms as a failure, but also a piece defending them.
McNeal, Robert Hatch. Russia in transition, 1905-1914; evolution or revolution?. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970.


The End of Imperial Russia, 1855-1917

  • This book aims to understand the major issues that faced the people of Russia between 1855 and 1917, and to show how political, economic, social, and international forces impacted them.
  • It gives a thorough overview of the political structure of the Russian autocracy, including a section on how the Russian judicial system was organized and limited by the autocracy, and the impact of this on the Russian populace.
  • It also goes over the introduction of the zemstva and the tension that existed between these local councils and the centre.
  • Waldron also discusses how to Russian government swung between reaction and reform between 1900 and 1914; how external events impacted policy and how society viewed the government.
  • For example, the Russia’s crushing defeat at the hands of the Japanese in 1904 in the Russo-Japanese War brought about a dramatic crisis of confidence in the tsarist regime, as it was a clear indicator of the weakness of the autocracy. This disillusionment was only furthered by the events of Bloody Suday on January 9, 1905.
  • The chapter “Field and Factory: The Russian Economy” provides a detailed overview of the structure of the agricultural economy pre-1905, but more importantly, gives a cost-benefit analysis of the Stolypin Reforms.
Waldron, Peter. The end of Imperial Russia, 1855-1917. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.


The Problem of Social Stability in Urban Russia, 1905-1917

  • This source is a collection of two essays that examine how the period of reaction, that had been present in Russian society with the Stolypin coup d’état, ended in 1910-11 and was replaced by a revolutionary upsurge that continued to gain momentum until the events of 1917.
  • Most significantly though, Haimson highlights the ‘dual-crisis of polarization’ that existed in Russia in the inter-revolutionary years.
  • In addition to the polarization between workers and the educated, privileged society, there also existed polarization between this educated society and the tsarist regime.
  • Haimson also discusses the dissolution of the intra- and inter= party alignments as a symptom of political crisis.
Haimson, Leopold. The Problem of Social Stability in Urban Russia, 1905-1917 (Part One). Slavic Review , Vol. 23, No. 4 (Dec., 1964), pp. 619-642. Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies.




Left: photograph of Pyotr A. Stolypin; right: photo of Russian peasants.

Government Actions and Peasant Reactions during the Stolypin Reforms

  • Macey argues that most historians have analyzed the effects of the Stolypin Reforms through a statistical lens; whether these changes to the agricultural sector were evaluated from the perspective of the government or the peasantry, the majority of scholars agreed that they were generally negative.
  • There are also some conservative liberals who argue that despite numerous administrative problems related to the implementation of these reforms and initial resistance from the peasantry, they began to meet with widespread acceptance.
  • These two arguments however are limiting, because they reflect the positions of ‘the victors’ and ‘the vanquished’, and they tend to ignore inconsistencies (equating the government’s intentions with how the reforms were actually implemented, or even drawing conclusions about the peasantry’s reaction to the reforms just through measuring peasant unrest during that time period).
  • Macey’s essay aims to understand this issue through examining the relationship between the peasantry and the government’s local officials who actually implemented these reforms, as well as understanding the behaviour of both parties within the social and economic context of Russia.
Macey, David A. J., Government Actions and Peasant Reactions during the Stolypin Reforms in New Perspectives in Modern Russian History Selected Papers from the Fourth World Congress for Soviet and East European Studies, Harrogate, 1990, ed. Robert B. McKean.


Land Reform in Russia, 1906–1917: Peasant Responses to Stolypin’s Project of Rural Transformation

  • This book examines how peasants received, interpreted, and acted on the Stolypin Land Reform — an attempt by the government to help farmers recognize ‘their full potential’ by granting them independence from the commune and separate plots of land to farm.
  • These reforms were made in response to the 1905 revolution, but also to address the longer term problem of famine, poverty, and the need for agricultural modernization in Russia.
  • It provides insight into the disconnect between what the government perceived the peasantry and the needs of the people to be relative to the society’s image of the peasant.
  • Stolypin: “If we were to provide the diligent farmer…with a separate plot of land…making sure that there was adequate water and that it satisfied all the other requirements for proper cultivation, then…there would arise an independent, prosperous husbandman, a stable citizen of the land.”
  • Challenges statistics as a means of interpreting the success of these reforms — argues that they are unreliable indicators.
Pallot, Judith. Land Reform in Russia, 1906-1917 : Peasant Responses to Stolypin’s Project of Rural Transformation: Peasant Responses to Stolypin’s Project of Rural Transformation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.


P. A. Stolypin: The Search for Stability in Late Imperial Russia

  • This source is a biography on Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin, who served as the prime minister and Minister of Internal Affairs from 1906 to 1911.
  • Ascher paints Stolypin in a rather positive light, and saw him as one of the only ministers in the tsarist autocracy who had a clear vision on how to reform the socioeconomic and political system of the empire — this is especially useful to contrast to sources that see Stolypin and his reforms in a negative light.
  • Most importantly, Ascher discusses the internal political tension that existed between Nicholas II and Stolypin, namely their fundamental disagreement in the role of the government in the context of Russia.
Ascher, Abraham. P.A. Stolypin: The Search for Stability in Late Imperial Russia. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.


Russia from 1812 to 1945

  • This book is a fairly broad overview of the history of the Russian Empire (and later Soviet Union), ranging from 1812 to the end of the Second World War in 1945.
  • The chapter focussing on the peasants (“Serfdom, Emancipation, Discontent, and Revolution”) ranges from 1800-1917, and provides some valuable information about the peasants in the context of the 1905 revolution, as well as during the Stolypin Reforms.
  • One unique aspect of this source is Stephenson’s attention to the economic specifics of the Stolypin Reforms, including how they impacted the value of Russian foreign grain exports and the grain trade.
  • The book also provides a general overview of the events of 1905, as well as the repercussions (social, political, and economic).
Stephenson, Graham. “The Peasants: Serfdom, Emancipation, Discontent and Revolution: 1800-1917.” In Russia from 1812 to 1945; a history.. New York: Praeger Publishers, 19701969. 87-104.