On January 22nd, 1905 (Old Style: January 9th), Russian demonstrators marched to petition Tsar Nicholas II for political and economic reform. The demonstrators, members of the Assembly of Russian Factory Workers, peacefully marched towards the Tsar’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. The demonstration and march was unsuccessful, as the Tsar failed to receive the petition. An even more fateful and provoking turn of events came when military units were given the order to fire on the workers, killing hundreds and wounding many more. This event would become known as Bloody Sunday.
This tragic event occurred despite the seemingly supportive attitude towards the Tsar held by the demonstrators. These workers were not hardline Marxist revolutionaries, but rather pro-government, who were unarmed, carrying Orthodox crosses, religious icons, and singing patriotic songs. These protesters believed that the benevolent Tsar, whom they called “our father,” would listen to his people and enact the necessary reforms. However, the Tsar did not receive their petition, and popularity of the Tsar amongst worker was instantly shattered and set off the Revolution of 1905.
The Assembly of Russian Factory Workers, founded the by a Russian Orthodox Priest named Georgi Gapon, which was initially approved and financed by the police, became an organization for both Marxist-leaning leaders and a grass-roots workers’ movement. In December 1904, several members of the Assembly were dismissed from the Putilov factory, which sparked Father Gapon’s petition, a large workers’ strike, and the unification of workers behind Gapon’s cause for the rights of workers.
A New York Times article on January 23rd, 1905, describes the story of Bloody Sunday. The Times cable puts the blame for the massacre on Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, the uncle of Tsar Nicholas II. The article describes Russian troops being positioned around the city at strategic points, “as if to resist an invading army.” Workers marched alongside their wives and children, with Father Gapon at the front with the petition. On the orders of the Grand Duke, soldiers fired volleys into the crowd of protesters. The casualties figures given in the article are much higher than others, with thousands of demonstrators killed and thousands more wounded.
The Bloody Sunday Massacre of 1905 was a complex and tragic event. The motivations for the incident involved Marxist ideals, loyalist intentions, religious incentive, civil rights, and misjudgment on the part of the tsarists to fire on the crowds. It led to the workers turning away from the Tsar as their protector, and seeing him as a more adversarial figure. The implications of this go well beyond the deaths and outrage of workers, but led to the 1905 revolution and the events that began to destabilize the Russian autocracy.
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Special Cable to THE NEW,YORK TIMES. 1905. “PEACEABLE MEN SHOT DOWN.” New York Times (1857-1922), Jan 23, 1. http://ezproxy.lib.vt.edu:8080/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/96502993?accountid=14826.