Today I am going to talk about the inception of the 1905 revolution in Russia. Political unrest in Russia had been steadily increasing since the counter-reformative years of the 1880’s and 1890’s (following the 1860’s and 1870’s which brought land redistribution, formation of local governments, and other liberal reforms). Since these reforms, a new radical political group called the intelligentsia had come about, and was made up mostly of young educated elite intent on improving the lot of the peasants and workers and using these undervalued groups to bolster their revolution. During the period of counter- reforms liberal political groups were pushed back into almost obsolescence, until the great famine in the 90’s forced the government to re- construct local government councils (zemstvos) with greater power, and increased general dissatisfaction with the status quo government among all Russian people and society.
Bloody Sunday occurred on January 9, 1905. It was the turning point from civil unrest to outright revolution, in my opinion. A Russian priest named Georgii Gapon had spent the past few years organizing an extensive union of workmen, aimed at procuring better working conditions and increased rights for this working class from the stubbornly autocratic government. As unrest increased, Gapon decided that a direct plea to the tsar was the next logical step in the reform process, as it was clear in his eyes that his Ministers had simply failed to convey the extent of the situation on the streets. He sent a note to the tsar (perhaps made possible from his prior government connections, or perhaps simply as the figurehead of such a prominent adversarial group) alerting him as to the date and time of the march he and his followers would peacefully make in order to directly present him with their plea. According to his autobiography, it was understood between Gapon and the Imperial Ministry that their plea would be received by the tsar.
On the day of the march, Gapon’s unarmed procession made its way to the Winter Palace, leading with a picture of tsar Nicholas II himself and singing patriotic songs. The tsar, rather than receiving the petition, ordered the military to shoot to kill towards the advancing petitioners. Even the police showed outrage at the first shots by the military, asking how the soldiers could fire towards a picture of the tsar. Gapon had never believed the military would shoot on the procession, but as the volleys continued, and the men, women, and children present in the procession began to flee, Gapon and a small number of other followers marched on a ways, until they proclaimed that they had no tsar anymore, for no “Little Father” should commit such atrocities against his people. Gapon’s undamaged survival of the event was considered quasi- miraculous at the time by contemporaries in Europe and Russia alike, as hundreds had died and many others were wounded.
This event, now known as Bloody Sunday, created national outrage to a new extent and seems to me to have been the point in which legal labour movements transformed into fully revolutionary movements. This invoked full- on revolution for approximately a year until the government finally conceded enough to split the liberal movement, with the October Manifesto.
Background information on the conditions leading to the 1905 Revolution, and general accounting of Bloody Sunday from Chapter 8 of Gregory Freeze’s “Russia, A History”.
More specific information regarding Gapon’s personal actions and feelings on the event from ProQuest Historical Newspapars: The New York Times; an article titled “Gapon, the Hero of “Bloody Sunday”: Pages from the Autobiography of the Priest Who Led the Russian Workmen to Death in St. Petersburg.” from February, 1906.