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The October Manifesto

1905 Revolution, October Manifesto, 17 October 1905, Repin
Ilia Repin, '17 October 1905'

Under pressure from his advisers, who feared he would lose his throne, Nicholas II reluctantly agreed to sign a Manifesto, drawn up by Count Witte, granting civil liberties, cabinet government, and a legislative Duma elected on a wide franchise. It was in effect the political programme of the Union of Liberation, effectively (though not in name) transforming Russia into a constitutional monarchy. Witte's aim was to isolate the Left by pacifying the liberals.

The Manifesto's proclamation was met with jubilation in the streets on 17 October 1905. The general strike was called off. There was a euphoric sense that Russia was now entering a new era of Western constitutionalism and freedom.

Socialist leaders returned from exile. New political parties were established to compete in the Duma elections: the Kadets (Constitutional Democrats), a party of liberal-radicals committed to political reforms on the Western model; the Octobrists, who supported the new legal order created by the October Manifesto; and the Union of the Russian People, an extreme nationalist and anti-Semitic party, openly supported by Nicholas II, whose paramilitary groups (the Black Hundreds) fought the revolutionaries in the streets and carried out pogroms against the Jews.

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