Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Russian Revolution of 1905 (Part 6)

Bloody Sunday, in Narva Gate, Fr. Gapon led the workers
With reforms and freedom constrained for decades, a war mishandled and a door opened for expression, Russians cried for changes Russia’s autocratic rule. They demanded civil rights, freedom, and social justice. But with a massacre in a cold January day, events spiraled out of control resulting to the Revolution of 1905. Explore how the event the 1905 Revolution transpired and brought the Tsardom went near the brink.

The Revolution of 1905

Bloody Sunday

Bloody Sunday caused an upsurge of disgust and anger towards the Tsar and his government fueling the growing demands for reforms. Various parties took the war’s events as a sign of weakness of the government and a signal for change. Workers and Intelligentsias took the opportunity to voice their complaints and petitioned the government for social justice.

On January 1/ 14 (Old Style/New Style), 1905, a group of St. Petersburg workers went to the Alexander Palace in Tsarkoye Selo, in the outskirts of the capital, to present a petition to Tsar Nicholas. They petitioned for better working conditions, higher wages, lower work hours per week, and protection against management abuses. To their disappointment, Tsar Nicholas ignored the workers’ delegation.

On January 3/16 (Old Style/New Style), 1905, 13,500 workers of the Putilov Iron Works went on strike against the abusive and hated management of the Works. Putilov strike grew as workers from the nearby shipyard and other factories and iron works joined the strike. And from a strike against management turned into a labor movement dedicated for improvements in working conditions.

Agent-provocateurs or leaders of Zubatovshchina felt pressured by the previous events. Members of one of the Zubatovshchina, Union of the Assembly of Russian Factory and Mill Workers, joined the strike. Union members wanted to march in the streets to present a petition to the Tsar in the Winter Palace.  The leader of the Union, Fr. Georgy Gapon, an agent-provocateur of the government, faced a dilemma. On one hand, if he refused to allow the march, workers would likely listen and follow the instigation of socialists. But on the other hand, allowing the march would challenge the government, which he, as a government hired agent, must prevent. Gapon choose to allow the march scheduled on January 9/22 (Old Style/New Style), 1905. But in order not to antagonize the government, Gapon warned the authorities and planed the march to be peaceful and supportive of the Tsar.

On January 8/21 (Old Style/New Style), 1905, government ministers met to discuss and to plan government actions towards the upcoming march of workers. The ministers sent troops in various streets leading to the Palace Square. They also attempted to prevent the march by issuing prohibitions against such actions. Yet, despite the meeting, they failed to concretely plan on how to react once the soldiers and the workers met face to face. This failed coordination with the military resulted to dire consequences.

On the day of the march, January 9 (Old Style), 200,000 workers from different parts of the city began their procession towards the Palace Square and submit their petition to the Tsar. The workers showed no hostility or aggression; but rather, they displayed peace, piety, and loyalty to the Tsar by holding images of religious icons and of the Tsar along their chanting of prayers along the way. Many of the workers expected the event to be calm and peaceful, so many of them brought their children and wives along. Fr. Gapon’s group held a petition, which they planned to submit to the Tsar.

The petition asked for the establishment of a more humane and equal society. They asked for the convocation of a Constituent Assembly of Representatives from all sectors of society (capitalist, workers, government officials, professionals, nobles, peasants, and clergy) to discuss reforms for improvements in the empire. They asked for elections of the members through universal suffrage. They wanted the Tsar to recognize and act against “ignorance and disfranchisement of the Russian People” under which they asked for liberty, freedom of the press, of association, of worship, and separation of church and state as well as education for all Russians, simplification of government structure and codifying administrative procedures. They also placed under it equality of all men in law and the release of all political prisoners.

They also laid out what they wanted for fighting poverty. Within it, they asked for the abolition of indirect taxes and implementation of more equitable income tax system. They asked for the repeal of the land redemption tax, which peasants had to pay for government loans to purchase lands. And most importantly, they asked for a massive agrarian reform and to break up the hold of the landed nobility.

Most importantly, the workers also demanded the Tsar to fight “against labor abuses.” It included protection against labor abuses, freedom to create labor unions, and imposition of 8-hour work day. Alongside it, they wanted rights to organize and carry out strikes, rights to have representation of workers in the government, and also standard wages.

The whole petition showed no hostility against the Tsar. It only attacked those who influenced the Tsar negatively. They addressed Nicholas as a father to his subject. The peaceful petition and march, however, had no effect on the military response that followed.

Many were shock as to what happened to the workers as they approach lines of soldiers blocking the roads towards the Palace Square. Sergei Witte, who stayed in his house and viewed the events from his balcony, wrote:

"The next morning, from my balcony, I could see a large crowd moving along the Kamennoostroky Prospect. There were among many intellectuals, women, and children. Before ten minutes, shots resounded in the direction of the Troitzky Bridge. One bullet whizzed past me, another one killed the porter of the Alexander Lyceum. The next thing I saw was a number of wounded being carried away from the scene in cabs, and then a crowd running in disorder with crying women here and there. I learned afterwards that it was decided at the abovementioned conference not to allow the marchers to reach the Square, but apparently instructions were not issued in time to the military authorities. There was no one present to speak to the workmen and make an attempt to bring them to reason. I do not know whether the same thing happened everywhere, but on the Troitzky Bridge the troops fired rashly and without rhyme or reason. There hundreds of casualties in killed and wounded, among them many innocent people. Gapon fled and the revolutionists triumphed: The workmen were completely alienated from the Tsar and his government."

New York Times also published a Russian witness’ account of the events of Bloody Sunday. The witness detailed how soldiers stopped the marchers approaching the Narva Gate in the west of the Palace Square. There, 8,000 workers met lines of soldiers blocking their way to the Palace Square. The military units composing of cavalry and riflemen, attacked the marchers. The cavalry charged with their swords while the riflemen first fired blanks as warning before shooting with live ammunition. 

Following the shooting that day, violence followed throughout the night. Civilians laid dead in the street while other marchers retreated and erected barricades. The barricades faced relentless salvo of rifle fire from soldiers wanting to break down the obstacles. Workers tried to retaliate by throwing stones towards the soldiers. Violent civilians and radical revolutionaries ransacked and looted shops. The following day reports of skirmishes between workers and soldiers continued, one included troops stopping a group of workers proceeding to Tsarkoye Selo to protest to the Emperor. In the end, the government reported only 800 killed. However, some estimated that civilians, including women and children, that perished numbered around thousands. While Russians fought in the street, Fr. Gapon, wounded from a gunshot fled to Finland. He hid there for months, before succumbing to a socialist assassin’s bullet for his actions that led thousands of workers dead.

The massacre of marchers that became notoriously known as Bloody Sunday caused a revolutionary wave against the Tsarist government. Many Russian believed that the Tsar had no care and oblivious to his people by allowing them to be shot and killed. It radicalized many and disillusioned more whether reforms would still be feasible. Revolutionaries gained ground and agitated for strikes and even uprisings against the government. Some ministers within the government even started to consider liberal reforms for the Tsarist government to survive.

Explore also:



Balkelis, Tomas. The Making of Modern Lithuania. New York, New York: Routledge, 2009.

Bolukbasi, Suha. Azerbaijan: A Political History. New York, New York: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 2011.

Croissant, Michael. The Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict: Causes and Implications. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Euchensehr, Kristen and Michael Reisman (Eds.). Stopping Wars and Making Peace: Studies in International Intervention. Leiden, The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill, 2009.

Kassow, Samuel. Students, Professors, and the State in Tsarist Russia. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1989.

Kasekamp, Andres. A History of the Baltic States. New York, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Kokovtsov, Vladimir. H.H. Fisher (Ed.). Laura Matveev (Trans.). Out of My Past: The Memoirs of Count Kokovtsov. Standford University, California: Stanford University Press, 1935.

Leslie, R.F. (ed.). The History of Poland since 1863. New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

O'Connor, Kevin. The History of the Baltic States. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2003.

Papazian, K.S. Patriotism Perverted: A Discussion of the Deeds and the Misdeeds of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, the So-called Dashnagtzoutune. Boston, Massachusetts: Baikar Press, 1934.

Pipes, Richard. A Concise History of the Russian Revolution. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1995.

___________. Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism, 1917 - 1923. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Palmer, Robert. A History of the Modern World. Boston, Massachusettes: McGraw-Hill, 2002.

Plakans, Andrejs. The Latvians: A Short History. Stanford, California: Hoover Institution Press, 1995.

Prazmowska, Anita. Poland: A Modern History. New York, New York: IB Tauris, 2010.

Raun, Toivo. Estonia and the Estonians. Stanford, California: Hoover Institution Press, 1995.

Witte, Sergei. Abraham Yarmolinsky (Trans.). The Memoirs of Count Sergei Witte. Garden City, New York: Dobleday, Page & Company, 1921.

General References:

"Jadidism," Historical Dictionary of Kazakhstan. Edited by Didar Kassymova et. al. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2012.

"Revolution of 1905-1906." In the Historical Dictionary of Poland, 966 - 1945. Edited by Jerzy Jan Lerski. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1996.

"Russian Revolution (1905)." In the Historical Dictionary of Marxism. Edited by Elliott Johnson et. al. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.

Corfield, Justin. "Russian Revolution (1905)." In The Encyclopedia of the Industrial Revolution in World History. Edited by Kenneth E. Hendrikson, III. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.

Frame, Arthur. Russia, "Revolution of 1905." In The Encyclopedia of World War I: A Political, Social, and Military History. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2005.

Gough, Jana trans. History of Civilizations of Central Asia V. 6. Paris: UNESCO, 2005.

Mikaberidze, Alexander. Historical Dictionary of Georgia. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.

Suny, Ronald Grigor. "Russian Revolution of 1905." in The Encyclopedia of Political Revolutions. Edited by Jack A. Goldstone. New York, New York: Routledge, 1998.

Suziedelis, Saulius. Historical Dictionary of Lithuania. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc., 2011.

Online Newspaper Articles:

A Russian Correspondent of The New York Times. "Russian Tells Story of Sunday's Massacre." New York Times (January 25 1905). URL:

"Troops Overawe St. Petersburg." New York Times (January 24, 1905). URL:

"Iron Ruler for St. Petersburg." New York Times (January 25, 1905). URL:


Ascher, Abraham. "Revolution of 1905." Encyclopedia of Russian History. 2004. 1 Feb. 2016.

Trotsky, Leon. “1905.” Marxist Internet Archives. March 12, 2016.

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