Moscow uprising of 1905
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The Moscow uprising, which was centered in Moscow’s Presnia district between December 7 and 17, 1905, was the culminating point of the Revolution of 1905. Thousands of proletariat workers joined in an armed insurrection against the Imperial Government for better socio-democratic conditions. The uprising ended in defeat for the Bolshevik revolutionaries and provoked a swift counter-revolution that lasted till 1907. In many respects, the revolution of 1905 was a turning point. The December uprising played an important role in fostering revolutionary consciousness among workers throughout the country. Several years later the experience gained by the Moscow proletariat would also help them win the October Revolution of 1917.
The October Manifesto may have satisfied Russia's liberals with a constitutional monarchy, and freedom of speech, rallies and unions, most left-wing revolutionaries saw it as a cynical move by the Nicholas II to isolate the bourgeoisie from the workers and peasants, whose own social and political demands were still unanswered. Socialists continued to encourage revolutionary movements.
Lenin returned from Geneva to St Petersburg on November 8 (21st Gregorian calendar) after months of delaying. He immediately called for an armed uprising, not really caring whether it succeeded or not: "Victory?!...That for us is not the point at all...We should not harbour any illusions, we are realists, and let no-one imagine that we have to win. For that we are still too weak. The point is not about victory but about giving the regime a shake and attracting the masses to the movement. That is the whole point. And to say that because we cannot win we should not stage an insurrection-that is simply the talk of cowards."
The final trigger was the arrest of the St. Petersburg Soviet on December 3.
Nicholas II's government knew an uprising was being planned but allowed it because it would justify crushing the revolutionaries. The Tsar wrote to his mother: "Although the events in Moscow are very distressing and cause me much pain, it seems to me that they are for the best."
Moscow's Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries planned a revolt on December 5 and hastily called a general strike on December 7. During the first two days, the strike went on peacefully. On December 9, the situation changed.
There were four soviets of workers' deputies coordinating the uprising. The governor of Moscow, Vice Admiral Fyodor Dubasov, tried to arrest the ringleaders, which merely provoked a city-wide uprising. The revolt was based in Maxim Gorky's apartment—bombs were made in the study and food for the revolutionaries in the kitchen. Gorky disliked the Bolsheviks' dogmatic collectivism but saw them as an ally against the backward peasants and Tsar. The Joint Council of Volunteer Fighting Squads armed the workers with 800 stockpiled weapons. Barricades were made from whatever people laid their hands on, even overturned trams. 2,000 manned the barricades with 200 guns. The police tried to dismantle them to no avail. Workers were joined by students and even some bourgeois, angered at the violence of the government.
December 9: About 150 representatives of Moscow’s worker squads gathered at Fidler’s technical school, the workers’ “war ministry,” where thousands of worker squads had received military training. Troops shelled Fidler from 10 pm to 3 am despite the besieged waving the white flag. Most workers were killed.
December 10: The SRs bombed the HQ of the Moscow Okhrana at night.
December 11: The Bolsheviks issued a handbook on street fighting. The military wing of the Moscow Committee of the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party sends out a pamphlet to its members during the uprising: "Comrades, our top-priority task is to hand power in the city over to the people. In the section we have seized we'll establish an elected government and introduce the 8-hour work day. We shall prove that under our government the rights and freedoms of everyone will be protected better than they are now."
December 12: Six of the seven railway stations and many districts were in rebel hands. 50 officers were seized as they arrived by train. The troops and artillery were hemmed in the squares and Kremlin.
December 15: The head of the Moscow Okhrana was assassinated. The Moscow Soviet had its last meeting. Presnia was shelled.
December 17: Presnia was shelled.
December 18: General Min ordered the last assault: "Act without mercy. There will be no arrests."
December 19: Realizing its loss the Moscow Committee of Social-Democratic Workers’ Party ordered its comrades back to work. The commander of Presnia’s fighting unit Litvin-Sedoy issued a last communiqué: "We are ending our struggle… We are alone in this world. All the people are looking at us — some with horror, others with deep sympathy. Blood, violence and death will follow in our footsteps. But it does not matter. The working class will win."
The issuing of the October Manifesto and ending of the Russo-Japanese war meant there was no hope for a socialist revolution, but the rebels could well have taken the Kremlin. They failed because each rebel area looked after itself and did not consider the city as a whole. The main rebel district was Presnia, home to 150,000 mainly textile workers. It set up its own police and Soviet rather than attack the Kremlin. Another key failure was that one station, the Nikolaevski station, remained in government hands. This allowed the Semenovsky Regiment (Russia's second oldest) to arrive from St. Petersburg December 15 (the government feared a mutiny if the Moscow garrison were used) It shelled Presnia into submission after two days. On December 18 the uprising was called off, then the General Strike the next day. 35 soldiers died, while 1,059 rebels were killed including 137 women and 86 children.
- Orlando Figes, A People's Tragedy, page 199
- Richard Pipes, The Russian Intelligentsia, page 37
- Orlando Figes, A People's Tragedy, page 200
- Martin Gilbert, The Routledge Atlas of Russian History, page 77
- Helen Rappaport, Conspirator: Lenin in Exile, page 123