Tsar Nicholas II first came into power in 1894 following the death of his father, Alexander III; he promptly celebrated his coronation, however during the celebrations many people were killed in a stampede. Although genuinely concerned, he was advised to attend his meetings with the French Embassy as previously planned, Nicholas visited the injured later but only after the impression of him being uncaring had spread. Almost immediately, we see how great an influence the Tsar's advisors had on him and his decisions, particularly his tutor, Pobedonostsev.

Fuelled with wholly ultra-conservative, autocratic, views from an early age due to Pobedonostsev's influence, the new Tsar proceeded to reject the zemstva's request for greater opportunity to express their views as well as alienating the striking students by closing universities. Although Nicholas could have put an end to the unpopular Russifacation or removed some of the harsher policies brought in as part of 'The Reaction', he refrained. Already Tsar Nicholas II was losing popularity with the Russian people, at a time when population increases meant higher levels of poverty; whilst Sergei Witte's policies, including high government taxes were economically straining the Russian people even further. Witte longed for Russia to modernise and join Europe's elite, he was responsible for policies that made living in Russia very expensive in order to raise the country's capital. Although there was an industrial expansion during the 1890's, there was a political repression and the people were finding life increasingly difficult.

With the intention of containing the problems, Nicholas established police run trade unions and hoped to divert further discontent by encouraging pogroms, clearly Nicholas was still sticking to his autocratic ways in the face of adversity. His largest plans involved a short war with Japan in order to increase national pride and take peoples' minds away from their personal troubles and hardships. Nicholas' government had concluded that Japan was a medieval country with an inferior military, this was not the case however and the Russian army suffered yet another embarrassing defeat.

Military defeat in the war with Japan, growing economic hardships and the government's refusal to broaden the basis of the government led to increased criticism of the Tsar. Consequently there was a wave of strikes involving over 100,000 workers in St. Petersburg, Father Gapon also famously led a mass march on the Tsar's winter palace. Nicholas was absent from the capital at the time, however his troops at the winter palace fired and charged Gapon's peaceful crowd, Nicholas was later held responsible for this attack. The strike wave grew even greater following this malicious attack and the peoples' unrest encouraged growth in political opposition to the Tsar, including political assassinations. With the whole country on the brink of revolt, and the Tsar fearing for his own life following the assassination of his uncle, Nicholas was forced to make concessions. In February 1905, Nicholas offered the consultative national assembly, however this was not enough; unrest had already spread to the countryside and momentum had built up for major changes, which was not to be denied.

Whilst the Tsarist government experienced arguably one of its most difficult periods, other political parties began to gather more and more support; workers set up councils known as 'soviets' in many towns and cities, including Moscow and St. Petersburg. The soviets commanded a great deal more authority that the imperial government at the time whilst revolutionaries rushed back from exile as liberals continued to press for major reform. A rail strike in Moscow developed into a national strike which effectively paralysed the government system; the army had suddenly become immobile. Nicholas' reaction was firstly to try and set up a military dictatorship however these plans were abandoned as Nikolai Nikolayevitch, Nicholas' preferred choice to lead the dictatorship, refused to comply. Following this setback, Witte was virtually named prime minister and there was promise of a genuine government. This was known was the 'October Manifesto'.

The huge strain put on the government up until October 1905 had been leading to revolution however the manifesto appealed to many of the opposing political parties' demands, more importantly however the manifesto included promises to end redemption payments. Nicholas had been forced to do something that was completely against his political and social views, he only agreed to the manifesto out of fear that he was losing control of his country, certainly not because he believed in its liberal promises. However, the manifesto succeeded in saving the Tsar from almost certain ruin in 1905, his apparent moving away from his previously stout autocratic rule had given hope to much of his opposition. It appeared as though the Tsar had recognised his country's awful condition and wanted to help by offering reform and a government to make decisions with the people in mind.

The manifesto succeeded in splitting the protest forces and unrest grew within the opposition parties as they no longer felt that they were all aiming for the fall of tsarism; both the Social Democrats and the Liberals split into two separate wings. Most of the more influential leaders of opposing political parties were middle class academics who wanted reform rather than the fall of tsarism, the promise of a government contented many of these men as they didn't want further unrest. Consequently the peasants ceased in their opposition as they lacked coherence and leadership, they were also contented with the promise to end redemption payments. A more conservative group of Liberals formed the 'Octoberists' in support of the government following the manifesto.

Furthermore, the troops returned to western Russia after peace was declared and helped to suppress the resistance, throughout the turmoil the troops were generally loyal to the Tsar which was very important. A main reason for the failure of the revolution was the largely uncoordinated and incoherent protests which lacked clear purpose and powerful leadership; many of the protests were more short outbreaks of rage only sufficient to force small concessions, rather than the downfall of the tsarist government.