Monthly Archives: September 2013

Father Gapon’s role in Bloody Sunday

Bloody Sunday, 9th January 1905, seemed to have been one of the most crucial mistakes Nicholas II made during his whole reign. In one day, he dealt a devastating blow to Tsarism and the belief that they were chosen by God. The order, to allow peaceful protestors in St.Petersburg, holding images of Nicholas II and religious crosses, to be shot, did a lot to sour the opinion of the masses against him. The peasants largely up until that point were devoutly loyal to Tsarism, since the Romanov’s were supposedly appointed by God.

There had been a build up of revolutionary activity pre-1905. Primarily Marxist and Populist sentiments were increasing as well as just plain dissatisfaction with the Tsarist regime. Enter Father Gapon, the charismatic Orthadox priest. He was greatly influential and organised thousands of workers to join the Assembly of Russian Factory Workers. Civil rights and constitutional order became a bone of contention for the members. These members had been organised in an event a month earlier, the Putilov factory dismissal of four workers. This incident could not be solved by simply rehiring these men. Gapon had a vital role, Freeze suggests that he was a major component in giving the workers unity and direction. The Putilov incident led to a city-wide general strike and a peaceful mass march to Nicholas II at the Winter Palace. The main demands were not surprising: higher wages, shorter hours, a liberal programme with a constitution and free elections. Nicholas II failed to appear at the palace and authorised military units to shoot the petitioners, who included women and children. Public opinion drastically changed as soon as the people heard of those dead.

The article, published in the New York Times in 1909, titled: ‘How Father Gapon was led to his death: Vidid story of the Russian Priest whose fate was mixed with treachery’, discusses the role Gapon had in creating what became known as Bloody Sunday. This piece was written from the perspective of a man named Rutenburg, who, according to this account, was directly involved in saving Father Gapon after the petition took a dark turn at the Winter Palace. It was on January 5th when Gapon delivered his famous speech, inspiring people to take action. He had previously gone to other mediums of authorities but had gotten nowhere so he decided they needed to go directly to the Czar. Father Gapon beforehand had anticipated some form of governmental resistance as he claimed that during their rally, they would be willing to lay down their lives to achieve their aims. It did however seem unlikely that violence of that scale would occur. This is arguably a key reason as to why he managed to have much support for the movement.

Gapon became synonymous with the uprising but according to Rutenberg, the priest did not have a structured plan when it came to the day, at that point it became a real people’s movement, they just needed someone’s idea to rally around. These workers were marching for a cause that everyone believed in, going to the Czar primarily for work and bread. At the point of the march, knowing that the soldiers in support of Nicholas II had been preparing ammunition, Father Gapon still presumed that the people would not be shot. On the day, Gapon became a weak figure, he lost his charisma and leadership skills but the people were determined. The soldiers were brutal in their dealings with the crowd and unleashed volleys of shots until there was no more movement in front of them. The priest’s disillusion with Tsarism and the whole event is highlighted by him being quoted as saying ‘There is no God any longer! There is no Czar any longer!’. A very bold statement for a priest to claim, given his status at this point it is likely that he influenced many people against support of the Romanovs. Having had such a negative response from the Tsar, Father Gapon took it upon himself to flee, this is where Rutenberg became especially helpful to the priest. This even ,in Januay 1905, was the prelude to the 1905 revolution, which coincided with the Russo-Japanese War. It does seem likely that the Russian workers needed a figure like Gapon to lead them, without him and his Assemblym the Putilov affair could well have just been another of many incidents. The pressure of the Russo-Japanese war however no doubt was mounting the pressure on the proletariat to react against the Romanovs.

TRANSLATED BY, H.B., 1909, Nov 07. HOW FATHER GAPON WAS LED TO HIS DEATH. New York Times (1857-1922), 2. ISSN 03624331.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia A History. 3rd ed. Oxford University Press, 2009. 199-233. Print.

Transportation during war


Hello and welcome to my first ever blog! I am Matt and I’m effectively a junior but this is my first year at Virginia Tech. I’m an International Exchange student from London, here to study for one year. My major is History and I chose African American Studies for my minor. Being that I am from England, please excuse my occasional spelling mistakes, I will have to get used to spelling words like labour without the ‘u’.

Now on to the assignment, I chose this photo, taken by Prokudin-Gorskii, as I wanted to focus on the troubles that Imperial Russia had with locomotion and transportation, which was particularly evident when the nation was at war. The gentleman in this photograph seems to be holding a shovel, indicating that he may be involved in the construction of this railway line, as well as being a switch operator, which may suggest some inefficiency in the railway system, if he was involved in multiple roles. It does look like a particularly basic railway line, considering this was a mainline and the photo is from 1910.

In the late 19th and early 20th century Russia at war only had negative connotations. Russia lost the Crimean War, which took place between 1853-1856,  they opposed the French Empire, the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia. This defeat was especially poignant as it dissolved the great myth of Russian might, shattering the legacy of 1812. A big cause of their defeat was the limited transportation system, which was particularly ineffective at efficiently mobilising Russian troops and supplies across the huge nation. The opposing empires were far better than Russian when utilising their railways. My native news website, the BBC, nicely summarises the implications of the war defeat by saying that ‘the shock of defeat forced Russia to adopt a programme of sweeping internal reforms and industrialisation under Tsar Alexander II. Although this is a rather simplistic view it is arguably the most common line of argument for this period and does seem to be mostly accurate. The historian Freeze talks of Russia’s transportation backwardness when stating that their military forces were supplied by ox cart because of Russia’s late start into railway building. The overarching theme of this period is Russia’s failure to compete with the West’s modernisation which was highlighted by the war. Russia also established a passion to industrialise and catch up with the west.  Interestingly this was the war which made Florence Nightingale’s work famous.

The Trans-Siberian was a direct response to Russia’s industrial backwardness. The construction began in 1891 and it was completed by 1904. The poor railway system also was an important factor in the humiliating defeat in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-1905. This war developed out of the rivalry between Russia and Japan for dominance in Korea and Manchuria. An article on reveals that although the Trans-Siberian railway had been built, Russia still lacked an efficient transportation infrastructure to appropriately reinforce its limited army in Manchuria, with soldiers and supplies. This defeat to a supposedly weak nation reinforced the notion that reform and modernisation was vital. Both wars were met with social unrest, more so after the war in Japan as it led to the 1905 revolution.


Freeze, Gregory L. Russia A History. 3rd ed. Oxford University Press, 2009. 199-233. Print.