In August of 1917, famed Russian general Lavr Kornilov staged a military coup in the midst of World War I. Kornilov was upset at the Provisional Government, of which Alexander Kerensky had recently assumed power. The Provisional Government, lacking the authority to control all of Russia, had established a dual governance with the Petrograd Soviet. The country’s soviets, and citizens, were becoming increasingly radicalized and Bolshevik power was rising. In July a popular demonstration erupted led by workers and some soldiers that was beaten back by troops who were loyal to the Provisional Government. Public blame went to the Bolsheviks who supported the demonstrations but had not led them. Put that with the recent military revolt, and the unrest that was supposed to end with the abdication of the Czar hadn’t.
In step Kornilov, the Russian military’s commander-in-chief. To him the Provisional Government had become in danger of falling to the radical left. In a conversation with Kerensky it was implied that Kornilov should take power. But when Kornilov put a train full of troops on the way to Petrograd, Kerensky panicked and had the soviets organize a defense. The resulting armed workers were known as the Red Guard and they along with railway workers detained the train (as seen in this video excerpt http://www.soviethistory.org/bigScreenVideo.php?SubjectID=1917kornilov&Year=1917&navi=byYear) . Within days Kornilov was in jail and the duality remained intact.
The derailment of his coup was only half of why the Kornilov Affair was a train wreck. The aftermath paved the way for the eventual October Revolution. Kerensky lost most of his power once it was found out the part he had played in Kornilov’s counter-rebellion. The formation of the Red Guard and their success in defending the government put power into the soviets hands like they had never had before. The soviets had a way to defend their vision by force which decreased the Provisional Government’s power even more. In the October Revolution, the Red Guard would be instrumental in seizing the Winter Palace and disposing of the Provisional Government and afterward defending the fledgling communist government in a civil war.
A blog post is not enough to answer that question, but I needed to find out some of the basics after hearing his name in class. I have studied Russia and the incident of Bloody Sunday multiple times since middle school, mostly in passing, but I had never heard that name until this past week. It seemed to me that in order to understand Bloody Sunday I needed to learn more about Father Gapon.
I read two New York Times articles one from August of 1905 entitled “Russia in Revolution–More Confessions of a Revolutionaire” in which featured an account of the events preceding January 22nd, 1905. According to records and witnesses, Gapon, who had been enlisted by the Ministry of the Interior to organize workers into peaceful meetings, had given into the rebellious voices in the workers meetings. He took a message to the Minister of the Interior requesting a meeting with Czar Nicholas II. When he went back to talk to the workers he told them that they would approach the palace peacefully but if need be fight the soldiers in order to speak to the Czar. He believed if it came to a fight many of the soldiers would take the protesters side and if the Czar would not see them that there would be a revolution.
How accurate is this account? According to Gapon he was not turned against the government at the very end. The New York Times published another article on February 18, 1906, more than a year after Bloody Sunday, “Gapon, the Hero of ‘Bloody Sunday'” a review of Gapon’s autobiography written when he was living in London. Gapon says he never was truly believed the current system in Russia worked. From the time he was a young priest he ignored the state controlled aspect of the Orthodox Church eventually causing the government to send him to a re-education camp. He was loyal to the Czar but wanted him to change the system. Unlike the account in the previous article, Gapon claims that he connected with the revolutionaries early on and organized them into a formidable group. This claim is matched in the Freeze text. Gapon’s account of the events of Bloody Sunday are interesting, including the fact that two policeman were shot trying to defend the protesters and the procession was led by a huge picture of the Czar, he stayed through several rounds of fire from palace troops, and it is common opinion that it is nearly a miracle that he got out alive. Through the bullets Gapon pleaded with his followers not to give up although many fled.
Any way you tell it, it is certain that Gapon’s actions led to the eventual demise of the Romanov dynasty and czarist Russia. A fitting quote from the review of Gapon’s autobiography that indicated the end for Nicholas II, after many shots were fired at Gapon’s peaceful procession the men around Gapon looked at each other and agreed “‘There is no longer any Czar for us!'”.
New York Times “Russia in Revolution–More Confessions of a Revolutionaire”–http://ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/96527837?accountid=14826
New York Times “Gapon, the Hero of ‘Bloody Sunday'”–http://ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/96601455?accountid=14826