While Czar Nicholas was beloved by the people and reverently called ‘our father’, a new rival patriarch entered the Russian economic-political scene in 1904. Father Gapon, an Orthodox priest, retracted from his religious duties in order to join the plight of Russian laborers, organizing the “Assembly of Russian Factory Workers” (Freeze 150).
Gapon led the labor movement in hopes to peacefully achieve the national vision of civil rights and protective legislation for the working class. Due to his humane intentions and pure purpose, he is remembered as the “first romantic figure in the Russian revolution of 1905”. The petition he drafted for the czar was laden with lofty, yet democratic, ambitions: higher wages, shorter hours, a constitution, and free, direct elections with universal male suffrage (Freeze 151). With police support, Gapon and thousands of factory workers in St. Petersburg marched on the Winter Palace to deliver these bold demands.
Despite the civility of the demonstration, the imperial ‘father’ responded to this nonviolent movement with a harsh hand. While the working class simply wanted to “ask for bread and liberty,” the unarmed masses, including women and children, was fired upon, causing over one hundred casualties. Amid the chaos, a worker was able to rescue Father Gapon from harm. After surviving the tragic massacre of January 9th, 1905, later called Red or Bloody Sunday, Gapon became a national hero. Stories of his fame and leadership spread to the curious ears of party leaders, who then sought him out and attempted to recruit him to their political causes. His attention was widely demanded, and Gapon eventually fell under the influence of the highest bidder.
Gapon received 75,000 rubles from the czar, which was a little-know fact until Martin Ruthenberg, the same man who saved Gapon on Bloody Sunday, exposed him as a spy and a traitor to his fellow workmen and revolutionaries. Ruthenberg revealed that Gapon worked for the Okhrana, which was the secret police that operated under the czar, and the enemy of their movement. Besides his acts of espionage, Gapon squandered the workers’ money from the Assembly he created, and dishonored the victims of Bloody Sunday with his disloyalty.
Just as Russia’s hope had become their disappointment, Gapon’s savior had become his executor. After confirming these treacherous deeds to a room of enraged workers on March 38th, 1906, Ruthenberg left Gapon with his comrades to meet his fate. He was hung that night. Gapon had once been a pious and promising inspiration, but became corrupted under the influence of fame and greed. A leader with the potential to leave a legacy of change and revolution, Gapon instead left behind a cautionary tale of espionage and betrayal. This twentieth century Judas is the first in a series of modern day Russian revolutionaries to commit egregious acts and meet dire endings.
- Freeze, Gregory L. “Revolutionary Russia 1890-1914.” In Russia: A History, 250.
3rd ed. N.p.: Oxford University Press, 2009.
- “Revolutionary Leaders” by Aino Malmberg
- “How Father Gapon was Led to his Death”
- Image 1: Father Gapon
- Image 2: Bloody Sunday
- Image 3: “How Father Gapon Was Led to his Death”