January 22, 1905: (The date was January 9 in Old Style calendar still in use in Russia at the time.)The streets of St. Petersburg, Russia run red with blood. Father Gapon, a popular Russian Orthodox priest, organized the Assembly of Russian Factory and Mill Workers union. The group was patronized by the Department of the Police and the St. Petersburg secret police, Okhrana. The workers’ union quickly expanded to 12 branches with 8,000-9,000 members. Gapon, defrocked for “sinfulness” in 1902, continued to be supportive of the working poor. By 1904, job loss and real wage buying power decreases brought the masses to protest.
The 65-hour workweek with harsh and unsafe conditions led more people to the illegal trade unions. Four members of the Workers Union were fired from the Putilov Iron Works. Gapon called for industrial action and a strike by the ill-treated workers. Over 110,000 workers in St. Petersburg responded. Father Gapon proposed to take a petition to Tsar Nicholas II. Workers sought an 8-hour workday, wage increases, and improved working conditions. Universal suffrage was proposed as well as a demand for the end of the Russo-Japanese War.
About 150,000 people signed the petition. Gapon led a procession of workers to the Winter Palace in the hope of presenting his petition to the Tsar. The crowd numbered between 150,000 and 200,000. They approached the palace carrying religious symbols and singing patriotic songs including “God Save the Tsar.” The peaceful procession was fired on by the Cossacks of the Palace Guard. The Tsar’s count of the dead and wounded was 96 and 333 respectively. Anti-government sources claim 4,000 killed while other sources cite 1,000 dead and wounded.
This was the beginning of the 1905 Russian Revolution. Father Gapon survived Bloody Sunday and managed to escape to Geneva. He announced his disassociation with the unions and declared he joined the Socialist Revolutionary Party. It came to light that he had been a member of long standing, playing both sides. His motive for leading the procession to the Winter Palace was to ignite a revolution. While the 1905 Revolution was a failure, eventually another Revolution would succeed in bringing a Socialist based government to Mother Russia.
“The first duty of a revolutionary is to get away with it.” – Abbie Hoffman
“The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.” – Hannah Arendt
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” – John F. Kennedy
“While the State exists, there can be no freedom. When there is freedom there will be no State.” – Lenin
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2010. Editor’s update: Geordiy Apollonovich Gapon was a Russian Orthodox priest who was born in 1870. His parents were peasants in what is now called the Ukraine. He studied at the Saint Petersburg Theological Academy after being widowed at the age of 28. He worked at the St. Olga children’s orphanage and got involved with factory workers and their plight at the turn of the century. While he survived Bloody Sunday, he did not live much longer. On March 26, 1906 he met Pinchas Rutenberg (who had saved his life during the riot). Their meeting place was a cottage outside St. Petersburg and it was there he was found hanged the next month. He was 36 years old at the time.
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