September 01, 2010

October Manifesto

the royal manifesto (right), made public on October 17, 1905, had an explosive impact. The country was teetering on the brink of disaster. During the first half of October in Russia, approximately two million people had been on strike. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, not only had major factories closed, but also universities, schools, theaters, and newspapers. Ministers had to use military ships to travel to Peterhof to report to the tsar, since trains were not running.

Nobody knew what to expect. Revolutionaries felt power was within their grasp, while conservatives were hoping that the government would act forcefully. The tsar himself was in a state of utter indecision. If he listened to the hardliners and instituted a dictatorship, there would surely be blood spilled, and a lot of it. But if he made concessions and granted political liberty? For Nicholas II, in whom a sense of the sanctity of autocracy had been nurtured from early childhood, this was almost unthinkable. “It is not my place to squander the legacy that has been handed down to me by my forebears,” he said. But he had to decide one way or the other.

If the memoirs of the outstanding statesman Sergei Witte are to be believed, a dictatorship was only narrowly averted. Witte, who drafted the Manifesto, was told by Baron Frederichs, a member of the tsar’s inner circle, that:

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