Gapon, the son of a priest, was born in Russia in 1870. He became
a priest in St. Petersburg where he showed considerable concern for
the welfare of the poor.
the beginning of the 20th century the Russian industrial employee
worked on average an 11 hour day (10 hours on Saturday). Conditions
in the factories were extremely harsh and little concern was shown
for the workers' health and safety. Attempts by workers to form trade
unions were resisted by the factory owners and in 1903 Gapon formed
the Assembly of Russian Workers. Within a year it had over 9,000 members.
was a bad year for Russian workers. Prices of essential goods rose
so quickly that real wages declined by 20 per cent. When four members
of the Assembly of Russian Workers were dismissed at the Putilov Iron
Works, Gapon called for industrial action. Over the next few days
over 110,000 workers in St. Petersburg went out on strike.
an attempt to settle the dispute, Gapon decided to make a personal
appeal to Nicholas II. He drew up a petition
outlining the workers' sufferings and demands. This included calling
for a reduction in the working day to eight hours, an increase in
wages and an improvement in working conditions. Gapon also called
for the establishment of universal suffrage
and an end to the Russo-Japanese War.
150,000 people signed the petition and on 22nd January, 1905, Gapon
led a large procession of workers to the Winter Palace in order to
present the petition. When the procession of workers reached the Winter
Palace it was attacked by the police and the Cossacks. Over 100 workers
were killed and some 300 wounded. The incident, known as Bloody
Sunday, signalled the start of the 1905
the massacre Gapon left Russia and went to live in Geneva. He announced
that he had abandoned his ideas of liberal reforms and had joined
Revolutionary Party (SRP). However, a member of the SRP, Pinchas
Rutenberg, discovered that Gapon was sending messages to the Minister
of the Interior. Convinced that Gapon was spying on Russian revolutionaries
in exile, Evno Azev gave orders for him
to be murdered. George
was killed by members of the SRP when he visited Finland
in March, 1906.
Pares, a British academic, was a regular visitor to Russia
during the reign of Nicholas II.
Gapon's organization was based on a representation of
one person for every thousand workers. He planned a peaceful demonstration
in the form of a march to the Winter Palace, carrying church banners
and singing religious and national songs. Owing to the idiocy of the
military authorities, the crowd was met with rifle fire both at the
outskirts of the city and the palace square. The actual victims, as
certified by a public commission of lawyers of the Opposition, was
approximately 150 killed and 200 wounded; and as all who had taken
a leading part in the procession were then expelled from the capital,
the news was circulated all over the Empire.
Father George Gapon, letter to Nicholas II
(21st January, 1905)
believe in thee. They have made up their minds to gather at the Winter
Palace tomorrow at 2 p.m. to lay their needs before thee. Do not fear
anything. Stand tomorrow before the party and accept our humblest
petition. I, the representative of the workingmen, and my comrades,
guarantee the inviolability of thy person.
Nicholas II, diary entry (21st January,
all the factories and workshops in St. Petersburg have been on strike.
Troops have been brought in from the surroundings to strengthen the
garrison. The workers have conducted themselves calmly hitherto. Their
number is estimated at 120,000. At the head of the workers' union
some priest - socialist Gapon. Mirsky came in the evening with a report
of the measures taken.
Extract from the petition that Father George Gapon hoped to present
to Nicholas II on 22nd January, 1905.
our children, our wives and our old, helpless parents have come, Lord,
to seek truth and protection from you. We are impoverished and oppressed,
unbearable work is imposed on us, we are despised and not recognized
as human beings. We are treated as slaves, who must bear their fate
and be silent. We have suffered terrible things, but we are pressed
ever deeper into the abyss of poverty, ignorance and lack of rights.
The demands made by Father George Gapon and the Assembly of Factory
8-hour day and freedom to organize trade unions.
working conditions, free medical aid, higher wages for women workers.
to be held for a constituent assembly by universal, equal and secret
of speech, press, association and religion.
end to the war with Japan.
(6) Father George Gapon, The Story of My
moved in a compact mass. In front of me were my two bodyguards and
a yellow fellow with dark eyes from whose face his hard labouring
life had not wiped away the light of youthful gaiety. On the flanks
of the crowd ran the children. Some of the women insisted on walking
in the first rows, in order, as they said, to protect me with their
bodies, and force had to be used to remove them.
the company of Cossacks galloped rapidly towards us with drawn swords.
So, then, it was to be a massacre after all! There was no time for
consideration, for making plans, or giving orders. A cry of alarm
arose as the Cossacks came down upon us. Our front ranks broke before
them, opening to right and left, and down the lane the soldiers drove
their horses, striking on both sides. I saw the swords lifted and
falling, the men, women and children dropping to the earth like logs
of wood, while moans, curses and shouts filled the air.
started forward, with solemn resolution and rising rage in our hearts.
The Cossacks turned their horses and began to cut their way through
the crowd from the rear. They passed through the whole column and
galloped back towards the Narva Gate, where - the infantry having
opened their ranks and let them through - they again formed lines.
not more than thirty yards from the soldiers, being separated from
them only by the bridge over the Tarakanovskii Canal, which here masks
the border of the city, when suddenly, without any warning and without
a moment's delay, was heard the dry crack of many rifle-shots. Vasiliev,
with whom I was walking hand in hand, suddenly left hold of my arm
and sank upon the snow. One of the workmen who carried the banners
fell also. Immediately one of the two police officers shouted out
"What are you doing? How dare you fire upon the portrait of the
man named Lavrentiev, who was carrying the Tsar's portrait, had been
one of the first victims. Another old man caught the portrait as it
fell from his hands and carried it till he too was killed by the next
volley. With his last gasp the old man said "I may die, but I
will see the Tsar".
blacksmiths who had guarded me were killed, as well as all these who
were carrying the ikons and banners; and all these emblems now lay
scattered on the snow. The soldiers were actually shooting into the
courtyards at the adjoining houses, where the crowd tried to find
refuge and, as I learned afterwards, bullets even struck persons inside,
through the windows.
the firing ceased. I stood up with a few others who remained uninjured
and looked down at the bodies that lay prostrate around me. Horror
crept into my heart. The thought flashed through my mind, And this
is the work of our Little Father, the Tsar". Perhaps the anger
saved me, for now I knew in very truth that a new chapter was opened
in the book of history of our people.
Nicholas II, diary entry (22nd January,
painful day. There have been serious disorders in St. Petersburg because
workmen wanted to come up to the Winter Palace. Troops had to open fire
in several places in the city; there were many killed and wounded. God,
how painful and sad.
Maxim Gorky was one of those who took part
in the march to the Winter Palace. That night Gapon took refuge in
some miracle remained alive, he is in my house asleep. He now says
there is no Tsar anymore, no church, no God. This is a man who has
great influence upon the workers of the Putilov works. He has the
following of close to 10,000 men who believe in him as a saint. He
will lead the workers on the true path.
(9) Victor Serge, Year One of the
Russian Revolution (1930)
a remarkable character. He seems to have believed sincerely in the
possibility of reconciling the true interests of the workers with
the authorities' good intentions. At any rate it was he who organized
the movement to petition the Tsar which ended with the massacre of
22 January, 1905.
of the workers of St. Petersburg on Nicholas II, drafted by Gapon
and endorsed by tens of thousands of proletarians, was both a lugubrious
entreaty and a daring set of demands. It asked for an eight-hour day,
recognition of workers' rights and a Constitution (including the responsibility
of ministers to the people, separation of Church and State, and democratic
liberties). From all quarters of the capital the petitioners, carrying
icons and singing hymns, set off marching through the snow, late on
a January morning, to see their "little father, the Tsar".
cross-road armed ambushes were waiting for them. The soldiers machine-gunned
them down and the Cossacks charged them. "Treat them like rebels"
had been the Emperor's command. The outcome of the day was several
hundred dead and as many wounded. This stupid and criminal repression
detonated the first Russian revolution.
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