The Student Movement in Moscow on the Eve of the 1905 Revolution: Anatomy of a Protest

Nefedov Sergey


The role played by the student movement in the political events of the late 20thearly 21st centuries should encourage researchers to carry out a more detailed analysis of similar events in the preceding century. The student community was one of the actors involved in the modernisation process which ultimately led to the three Russian revolutions. It is important to consider the events that occurred prior to the start of the Russian Revolution in 1905 and to clarify the extent to which the students were instigators of the revolution. Particular attention should be paid to the events that took place on 5–6 December 1904: the mass student demonstrations in Moscow, accompanied by violent clashes with the police. The analysis of police surveillance reports and documents from the Ministry of Education shows that one of the factors motivating the student movement was the propaganda campaign launched by liberal newspapers in connection with the convention of the Provincial Congress and the subsequent ‘banquet campaign’. The students were influenced by the mood which then captivated society; they listened to criticisms of the autocratic regime being spread by liberal professors and liberal newspapers. The students were moved by the enthusiasm inherent in youth: they eagerly took up the slogans advanced by the older generation and brought them onto the streets. The underground political parties, the Social Democrats and the Socialist Revolutionaries, had no significant impact on the students. The student movement was mainly spontaneous: the students independently joined the demonstration on 16 October and then made the Socialist Revolutionaries join the demonstration on 5 December. The participation of the SRs made this demonstration aggressive and provocative. The protesters themselves provoked the police to use force; thus, the police responded appropriately. The battles that erupted on the streets of Russia’s capitals did not bring any benefits to the struggle for liberal reforms. These clashes were interpreted by Nicholas II as a consequence of the ‘policy of trust’ and opened the frightening prospect of growing instability. As a result, the unbridled desire of students for reform forced the government to give up the idea of making any changes.


First Russian Revolution; student unrest; Russian Social Democratic Party; demonstration on 5–6 December 1904


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