History Today in Military History

Today in military history: First Russian revolution begins

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On Jan. 22, 1905, the first Russian Revolution began when 500 peaceful protesters were massacred by tsarist troops.

Led by a Russian Orthodox priest, 150,000 people — completely unarmed — took to the wintery streets of St. Petersburg to petition their grievances to Tsar Nicholas II, demanding things like working hours, wages, and improved conditions. Nervous at the large crowd, soldiers opened fire against the protesters, killing hundreds in what would be known as “Bloody Sunday.” The Tsar agreed to share power with the state Duma, a parliament. But the revolution was coming.

News of the event quickly spread throughout the country, launching strikes, the assassination of the tsar’s uncle, and disruption of the transportation system. 

By the fall, the population had shifted from petitioning for an improvement of livelihoods to massive unrest and demands for change. In October, Nicholas reluctantly offered concessions known as the October Manifesto, promising basic civil rights and an elected parliament. He managed to tenuously hold his seat until 1917 when he was forced to abdicate power, becoming the last Emperor of Russia — which would become the Soviet Union and the world’s first Marxist state.

The government ended up in the hands of the Duma and a lawyer named Alexander Kerensky in Petrograd (Saint Petersburg) and in small councils across Russia, called “soviets” at the local level. It was during this period of shared power that the old and new order clashed and vied for power.

It was the only time the American Army and the Red Army fought in an official battle between the two. Shortly after the October Revolution, the new government made peace with the Central Powers still fighting World War I, as it became embroiled in a Civil War that pit Red Russians (the Bolsheviks) against White Russians (an amalgamation of monarchists, capitalists, and social democrats).