When you google search ‘bloody sunday’, the first thing you will probably notice is how many bloody sundays have occurred throughout history. Do an image search, and about 99% of the photos that come up are in black and white and mostly depict Irish sympathizers clashing with British forces or have to do with a civil rights protest. However, when discussing Russian history, ‘bloody sunday’ takes on a whole new meaning. Sometimes referred to as the Revolution of 1905, the protest was another sign of the impending doom of the Tsarist regime.
As the Russian economy slowly developed factories, the unions that were already widespread in developed countries began to spring up in Russia. They all advocated for the typical things such as higher wages and shorter work days, but what makes the Russian unions unique is the fact that there is evidence that most of the ‘legal’ unions that had been formed were masterminded by police agents. These agents were acting under the orders of the government to persuade the workers to push for economic reforms and stay away from the radical revolutionary tactics of the ‘illegal’ unions that would also strive towards social and political change.
On January 22 1905 in St Petersburg, a protest that had been organized by Father Gapon, the leader of one of the labor unions, began its march towards the Tsar’s palace with a list of demands that they wished to have met. The protesters were carrying images of the Tsar, religious symbols, and were even singing patriotic songs. Unbeknownst to the protesters however, the Tsar was not currently at his palace in St Petersburg. As they drew closer to the palace, the Tsar’s uncle, being in charge of the police forces, ordered his men to open fire on the demonstrators, injuring many and sending them all running. Although casualty estimates were disputed by both sides, it is estimated that there were about 1,000 killed or seriously wounded in the ensuing chaos. Even though the Tsar was very troubled at what had happened and had not even given the order for the soldiers to open fire, the brunt of the blame was still placed upon his shoulders and the massacre only served to further anger and infuriate the common people. Many people rose up against the government and even some in the military began to mutiny, giving cause to the Revolution of 1905.
Widely regarded as one of the biggest catalysts to the Revolution of 1917, bloody sunday was fiercely remembered by revolutionaries. Ironic in that the very unions that marched were created to drive public ideology mainly towards economic and not social or political reform, the events that transpired in early 1905 put the revolutionary agenda on a high speed avenue towards uprising against the Tsar.