(Scene from Eisenstein’s film ‘Battleship Potemkin’)
The social tensions in Russia came to a head in 1905 as revolution engulfed Russia and threatened the Romanov monarchy. Although the revolution was ultimately unsuccessful, the tsar was forced to grant significant concessions (in the form of a representative parliament) and it took a year for the tsarist government to restore social order in the urban centres.
The 1905 revolution was triggered by the events of Bloody Sunday - January 8, 1905. Thousands of protesters marched under Father Gapon to petition the tsar for better working conditions and increased political rights. As the protesters approached the Winter Palace, Cossack troops became intimidated and fired at the unarmed protesters, killing hundreds of them.
The reign of Tsar Alexander III (1881-1894) has traditionally been characterised as a period of reaction and conservatism. Though this is generally true on the political front, it should be recognised that Alexander III encouraged economic reforms in order to build up Russian economic power. The policies of Finance Minister Sergei Witte (1892-1903) are said to have resulted in a period of unprecedented economic growth for Russia driven by foreign investment. However, despite what appear to be strong economic performance indicators, it is also necessary to examine the impact of the economic reforms on Russian politics, and therefore Russian society as a whole.
In 1881 Alexander III appointed Nikolai Bunge to head the Ministry of Finance. In his time in office (1881-1886), Bunge pursued policies which may be retrospectively described as Keynesian in order to modernise the Russian economy. Attempts were made to lighten the burden of tax on the peasantry, and in 1883 the Peasant Land Bank was created in order to provide loans to the peasantry to encourage economic development.