The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 20

Author: Peter Kropotkin  | Date: A.D. 1905

Revolution in Russia;
"Red Sunday" and the Constitution

A.D. 1905


On October 30, 1905, the Czar of Russia abandoned his ancient autocratic power and granted to his people a constitution. This proclamation was issued after almost a year of revolutionary tumult, the tragic progress of which is here depicted by the noted Russian patriot and exile, Prince Kropotkin. Many enthusiasts believed that the granting of the Constitution was going to transform the Russians immediately into a self-governing people. But revolutions have never thus accomplished themselves at a single step. The "Duma," or national assembly, elected under this Constitution soon found itself in dispute with the Czar, and was’forcibly dismissed. Many of its members were imprisoned or exiled to Siberia. All open revolt was crushed out in blood. More than seventy thousand of the Russian people were slain by the armed forces of the Government in a single year; and retaliatory "terrorists" murdered more than four thousand policemen, attacking them one by one in night and solitude.

After that other and more submissive Dumas were selected. Thus the amount of constitutional power granted to the Russian people seems as yet very slight. Yet it is a beginning, a reform that can not turn backward; and future generations of free Russians will doubtless point back to 1905 as marking the first step in the triumph of the people over the aristocracy.

Naturally so desperate and deadly a struggle has its other side. Official Russia assumes that all the tremendous upheaval of the masses is but the crime of a few wicked individuals playing upon the ignorance of the masses. That the reader may judge for himself, we balance against the fervid outpouring of Kropotkin the words of Count Cassini, who was Russia’s ambassador to the United States in 1905 and who published in one of our magazines, The world Today, the official viewpoint which he asked our nation to accept with regard to "Red Sunday," the opening event of the revolt.


EVENTS in Russia are following one another with that rapidity which is characteristic of revolutionary periods. On the 10th of August, 1904, the omnipotent Minister of the Interior, Von Plehve, was killed by the revolutionary Socialist, Sazonoff. Plehve had undertaken to maintain autocracy for another ten years, provided that he and his police were invested with unlimited powers; and having received these powers, he had used them so as to make of the police the most demoralized and dangerous body in the State. In order to crush all opposition, he had not recoiled from deporting at least 30,000 persons to remote corners of the Empire by mere administrative orders. He was spending immense sums of money for his own protection, and when he drove in the streets, surrounded by crowds of policemen and detective bicyclists and automobilists, he was the best-guarded man in Russia-better guarded than even the Czar. But all that proved to be of no avail. The system of police rule was defeated, and nobody in the Czar’s surroundings would attempt to continue it. For six weeks the post of Minister of the Interior remained vacant, and then Nicholas the Second reluctantly agreed to accept Sviatopolk Mirsky, with the understanding that he would allow the little local assemblies, or zemstvos, to work out some transitional form between autocracy pure and simple and autocracy mitigated by some sort of national representation. This was done by the zemstvos at their congress in November of last year, when they dared to demand "the guaranty of the individual and the inviolability of the private dwelling," "the local autonomy of self-administration," and "a close intercourse between the Government and the nation," by means of a specially elected body of representatives of the nation who would "participate in the legislative power, the establishment of the budget, and the control of the Administration."

Modest though this declaration was, it became the signal for a general agitation. True, the press was forbidden to discuss it, but all the papers, as well as the municipal councils, the scientific societies, and Ml sorts of private groups discussed it nevertheless. Then, in December last, the "intellectuals" organized themselves into vast unions of engineers, lawyers, chemists, teachers, and so on-all federated in a general Union of Unions. And amid this agitation, the timid resolutions of the zemstvos were soon outdistanced. A constituent assembly, elected by universal, direct, and secret suffrage, became the watchword of all the constitutional meetings.

The students were the first to carry these resolutions in the street, and they organized imposing manifestations in support of these demands at St. Petersburg, Moscow, and in all the university towns. At Moscow the Grand Duke Sergius ordered the troops to fire at the absolutely peaceful demonstration. Many were killed, and from that day he became a doomed man.

Things would have probably dragged if the St. Petersburg working men had not at this moment lent their powerful support to the young movement-entirely changing by their move the very face of events. To prevent by any means the "intellectuals" from carrying on their propaganda amid the working men and the peasants had been the constant preoccupation of the Russian Government; while, on the other side, to join hands with the workers and the peasants and to spread among them the ideas of Freedom and Socialism had always been the goal of the revolutionary youth for the last forty years-since 1861. Life itself worked on their side. The labor movement played so prominent a part in the life of Europe during the last half-century, and it so much occupied the attention of all the European press, that the infiltration of its ideas into Russia could not be prevented by repression. The great strikes of 1896-1900 at St. Petersburg and in central Russia, the growth of the labor organizations in Poland, and the admirable success of the Jewish labor organization, the Bund, in western and southwestern Russia, proved, indeed, that the Russian working men had joined hands in their aspirations with their Western brothers.

Father Gapon succeeded in grouping in a few months a considerable mass of the St. Petersburg workers round all sorts of lecturing institutes, tea restaurants, cooperative societies, and the like; and he, with a few working-men friends, organized within that mass and linked together several thousands of men inspired by higher purposes. They succeeded so well in their underground work that when they suggested to the working men that they should go en masse to the Czar, and unroll before him a petition asking for constitutional guaranties as well as for some economical changes, nearly 70,000 men took in two days the oath to join the demonstration, although it had become nearly certain that the demonstration would be repulsed by force of arms. They more than kept their word, as they came out in still greater numbers-about 200,000-and persisted in approaching the Winter Palace notwithstanding the firing of the troops.

This led to the tragedy of "Red Sunday," or Vladimir Sunday. It is now known how the Emperor himself, concealed at Tsarskoe Selo, gave orders to receive the demonstrators with volley-firing; how the capital was divided for that purpose into military districts, each one having at a given spot its staff, its field telephones, its ambulances. The troops fired at the dense crowds at a range of a few dozen yards, and no fewer than from 2,000 to 3,000 men, women, and children fell the victims of the Czar’s fears and obstinacy.

The feeling of horror with which eye-witnesses, Russian and English, speak of this massacre surpasses description. Even time will not erase these horrible scenes from the memories of those who saw them, just as the horrors of a shipwreck remain engraved forever in the memory of a rescued passenger. What Gapon said immediately after the massacre about "the viper’s brood" of the whole dynasty was echoed all over Russia, and went as far as the valleys of Manchuria. The whole character of the movement was changed at once by this massacre. All illusions were dissipated. As the autocrat and his supporters had not shrunk from that wanton, fiendish, and cowardly slaughtering, it was evident that they would stop at no violence and no treachery. From that day the name of the Romanoff dynasty began to become odious among the working men in Russia. The illusion of a benevolent autocrat who was going to listen paternally to the demands of his subjects was gone forever.

Distrust of everything that might come from the Romanoffs took its place; and the idea of a democratic republic, which formerly was adopted by a few Socialists only, now found its way even into the relatively moderate programs. To let the people think that they might be received by the Czar, to lure them to the Winter Palace, and there to mow them down by volleys of rifle-fire-such crimes are never pardoned in History.

If the intention of Nicholas the Second and his advisers bad been to terrorize the working classes, the effect of the January slaughter was entirely in the opposite direction. It eve a new force to the labor movement all over Russia. Five days after the terrible "Vladimir" Sunday, a mass-strike broke out at Warsaw, and was followed by mass-strikes at Lodz and in all the industrial and mining centers of Poland. In a day or two the Warsaw strike was joined by 100,000 operatives and became general. All factories were closed, no tramways were running, no papers were published. The students joined the movement, and were followed by the pupils of the secondary schools. The shop assistants, the clerks in the banks and in all public and private commercial establishments, the waiters in the restaurants-all gradually came out to support the strikers. Lodz joined Warsaw, and two days later the strike spread over the mining district of Dombrowo. An eight-hour day, increased wages, political liberties, and Home Rule, with a Polish Diet sitting at Warsaw, were the demands of all the strikers. We thus find in these Polish strikes all the characteristics which, later on, made of the general strikes of October last so powerful a weapon against the crumbling autocratic system.

If the rulers of Russia had had the slightest comprehension of what was going on, they would have perceived at once that a new factor of such potency had made its appearance in the movement, in the shape of a strike in which all classes of the population joined hands, that nothing remained but to yield to their demands; otherwise the whole fabric of the State would be shattered down to its deepest foundations. But they remained as deaf to the teachings of modern European life as they had been to the lessons of history; and when the strikers appeared in the streets, organizing imposing manifestations, they knew of no better expedient than to send the order: "Shoot them!" In a couple of days more than 300 men and women were shot in Warsaw, 100 at Lodz, forty-three at Sosnowice, forty-two at Ostrowiec, and so on, all over Poland!

The result of these new massacres was that all classes of society drew closer together in order to face the common enemy, and swore to fight till victory should be gained. Since that time governors of provinces, officers of the police, gendarmes, spies, and the like have been killed in all parts of Poland. In very few cases were the assailants arrested. As a rule they disappeared-the whole population evidently helping to conceal them.

In the meantime the peasant uprisings, which had already begun a couple of years before, were continuing all over Russia, showing, as is usually the case with peasant uprisings, a recrudescence at the beginning of the winter and a falling off at the time when the crops have to be taken in. They now took serious proportions in the Baltic provinces, in Poland and Lithuania, in the central provinces of Tchernigov, Orel, Kursk, and Tula, on the middle Volga, and especially in western Transcaucasia. There were weeks when the Russian papers would record every day from ten to twenty cases of peasant uprisings. In all these uprisings the peasants display a most wonderful unity of action, a striking calmness, and remarkable organizing capacities. In most cases their demands are even very moderate. They begin by holding a solemn assembly of the mir (village community); then they ask the priest to sing a Te Deum for the success of the enterprise; they elect as their delegates the wealthiest men of the village; and they proceed with their carts to the landlord’s grain stores. There they take exactly what they need for keeping alive till the next crop, or they take the necessary fuel from the landlord’s wood, and if no resistance has been offered they take nothing else, and return to their houses in the same orderly way; or else they come to the landlord, and signify to him that unless he agrees to rent all his land to the village community at such a price-usually a fair price-nobody will be allowed to rent his land or work for him as a hired laborer, and that the best he can do is therefore to leave the village. In other places, if the landlord has been a good neighbor, they offer to buy all his land on the responsibility of the commune, for the price which land, sold in a lump, can fetch in that neighborhood; or alternatively they offer such a yearly rent; or, if he intends to cultivate the land himself, they are ready to work at a fair price, slightly above the bow current prices. But rack-renting, renting to middlemen, or renting to other villages in order to force his nearest neighbors to work at lower wages-all this must be given up forever.

As to the Caucasus, the peasants of Guria (western portion of Georgia) proceeded even in a more radical way. They refused to work for the landlords, sent away all the authorities, and, nominating their own judges, they organized such independent village communities, embodying a whole territory, as the old cantons of Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwalden represented for several centuries in succession.

All these facts point in one direction. Rural Russia will not be pacified so long as some substantial move has not been made in the sense of land nationalization. The theoricians of the mercantile school of economists may discuss this question with no end of argument, coming to no solution at all; but the peasants are evidently decided not to wait any more. They see that the landlords not only do not introduce improved systems of culture on the lands which they own, but simply take advantage of the small size of the peasant allotments and the heavy taxes which the peasants have to pay, for imposing rack-rents, and very often the additional burden of a middleman, who sublets the land. And they seem to have made up their minds all over Russia in this way: "Let the Government pay the landlords, if it be necessary, but we must have the land. We shall get out of it, under improved culture, much more than is’ obtained now by absentee landlords, whose main income is derived from the civil and military service."

The peasant uprisings alone, spreading over wide territories, rolling as waves which flood today one part of the country and tomorrow another, would have been sufficient to entirely upset the usual course of affairs in Russia. But when the peasant insurrection is combined with a general awakening of the working men in towns, who refuse to remain in the old servile conditions; when all the educated classes enter into an open revolt against the old system; and when important portions of the Empire, such as Finland, Poland, and the Caucasus, strive for complete Home Rule, while other portions, such as Siberia, the Baltic provinces, and Little Russia, and, in fact, every province, claim autonomy and want to be freed from the St. Petersburg bureaucrats-then it becomes evident that the time has come for a deep, complete revision of all the institutions. Every reasoning observer, every one who has learned something in his life about the psychology of nations, would conclude that if any concessions are to be made to the new spirit of the time, they must be made with an open mind, in a straightforward way, with a deep sense of responsibility for what is done-not as a concession enforced by the conditions of a given moment, but as a quite conscious reasoned move, dictated by a comprehension of the historical phase which the country is going through.

Unfortunately, nothing of that consciousness and sense of responsibility is seen among those who have been the rulers of Russia during the last twelve months. I have told in my memoirs how certain moderate concessions, if they had been granted toward the end of the reign of Alexander the Second or at the advent of his son, would have been hailed with enthusiasm, and would have paved the way for the gradual and slow passage from absolutism to representative government. Even in 1895, when Nicholas the Second had become Emperor, it was not too late for such concessions. But it was also evident to every one who was not blinded by that artificial atmosphere of bureaucracy created in all capitals that ten years later such half-hearted concessions as a "Consultative Assembly" were already out of question. The January massacres widened that chasm still more. Therefore only an open recognition of the right of the nation to frame its own constitution, and a complete, honest amnesty, granted as a pledge of good faith, could have spared to Russia all the bloodshed of the recent years. Every intelligent statesman would have understood it. But the cynical courtier, Boulyghin, whom Nicholas the Second and his mother considered a statesman, and to whom they had pinned their faith, was not the man to do so. His only policy was to win time, in the hope that something might turn the scales in favor of his masters.

Consequently, vague promises were made in December, 1904, and next in March, 1905, but in the meantime the most reckless repression was resorted to-not openly, but under cover, according to the methods of Von Plehve’s policy. Death sentences were distributed by the dozen during the summer. The worst forms of police autocracy, which characterized the rule of Plehve, were revived in a form even more exasperating than before, because governors-general assumed now the rights which formerly were vested in the Minister of the Interior. Thus, to give one instance, the Governor-General of Odessa exiled men by the dozen by his own will, including the old ex-Dean of the Odessa University, Professor Yaroshenko, whom he ordered to be transported to Vologda! And this went on at a time when all Russia began to take fire, and lived through such a series of events as the uprising of the Mussulmans and the massacres at Baku and Nakhichevan; the uprising at Odessa, during which all the buildings in the port were burned; the mutiny on the ironclad Knyaz Potemkin; the second series of strikes in Poland, again followed by mas sacres at Lodz, Warsaw, and all other chief industrial centers; a series of uprisings at Riga, culminating in the great street battles of the 28th of July-to say nothing of a regular, uninterrupted succession of minor agrarian revolts. All Russia had thus to be set into open revolt, blood had to run freely in the streets of all the large cities, simply because the Czar did not want to pronounce the word which would put an end to his sham autocracy and to the autocracy of his camarilla. Only toward the end of the summer could he be induced to make some concessions which at last took the shape of a convocation of a State’s Duma, announced in the manifesto of the 19th of August.

General stupefaction and disdain are the only words to express the Impression produced by this manifesto. To begin with, it was evident to any one who knew something of human psychology that no assembly elected to represent the people could be maintained as a merely consultative body, with no legislative powers. To impose such a limitation was to create the very conditions for producing the bitterest conflicts between the Crown and the nation. To imagine that the Duma, if it ever could come into existence in the form under which it was conceived by the advisers of Nicholas the Second, would limit itself to the functions of a merely consulting board, that it would express its wishes in the form of mere advices, but not in the form of laws, and that it would not defend these laws as such, was absurd on the very face of it. Therefore the concession was considered as a mere desire to bluff, to win time. It was received as a new proof of the insincerity of Nicholas the Second.

But in proportion as the real sense of the Boulyghin "Constitution" was discovered, it became more and more evident that such a Duma would never come together; never would the Russians be induced to perform the farce of the Duma elections under the Boulyghin system. It appeared that under this system the city of St. Petersburg, with its population of nearly 1,500,000 and its immense wealth, would have only about 7,000 electors, and that large cities having from 200,000 to 700,000 inhabitants would have an electoral body composed of but a couple of thousand, or even a few hundred electors; while the 90,000,000 peasants would be boiled down, after several successive elections, to a few thousand men electing a few deputies. As to the nearly 4,000,000 of Russian working men, they were totally excluded from any participation in the political life of the country. It was evident that only fanatics of electioneering could be induced to find interest in so senseless a waste of time as an electoral campaign under such conditions. Moreover, as the press continued to be gagged, the state of siege was maintained, and the governors of the different provinces continued to rule as absolute satraps, exiling whom they disliked, public opinion in Russia gradually came to the idea that, whatever some moderate zemstvoists might say in favor of a compromise, the Duma would never come together.

Then it was that the working men again threw the weight of their will into the contest and gave quite a new turn to the movement. A strike of bakers broke out at Moscow in October, and they were joined in their strike by the printers. This was not the work of any revolutionary organization. It was entirely a working men’s affair, but suddenly what was meant to be a simple manifestation of economical discontent grew up, invaded all trades, spread to St. Petersburg, then all over Russia, and took the character of such an imposing revolutionary manifestation that autocracy had to capitulate before it.

When the strike of the bakers began, troops were, as a matter of course, called out to suppress it. But this time the Moscow working men had had enough of massacres. They offered an armed resistance to the Cossacks. Some three hundred men barricaded themselves in a garret, and a regular fight between the besieged working men and the besieging Cossacks followed. The latter took, of course, the upper hand, and butchered the besieged, but then all the Moscow working men joined hands with the strikers. A general strike was declared. "Nonsense! A general strike is impossible!" the wiseacres said, even then. But the working men set earnestly to stop all work in the great city, and fully succeeded. In a few days the strike became general. What the working men must have suffered during these two or three weeks, when all work was suspended and provisions became extremely scarce, one can easily imagine; but they held out. Moscow had no bread, no meat coming in, no light in the streets. All traffic on the railways had been stopped, and the mountains of provisions which, in the usual course of life, reach the great city every day were lying rotting along the railway lines. No newspapers, except the proclamation of the strike committees, appeared. Thousands upon thousands of passengers who had come to that great railway center which Moscow is could not move any farther, and were camping at the railway stations. Tons and tons of letters accumulated at the post-offices, and had to be stored in special storehouses. But the strike, far from abating, was spreading all over Russia. Once the heart of Russia, Moscow, had struck, all the other towns followed. St. Petersburg soon joined the strike, and the working men displayed the most admirable organizing capacities. Then, gradually, the enthusiasm and devotion of the poorest class of society won over the other classes. The shop assistants, the clerks, the teachers, the employees at the banks, the actors, the lawyers, the chemists, nay, even the judges, gradually joined the strikers. A whole country had struck against its Government; all but the troops; but even from the troops Separate officers and soldiers came to take part in the strike meetings, and one saw uniforms in the crowds of peaceful demonstrators who managed to display a wonderful skill in avoiding all conflict with the army.

In a few days the strike had spread over all the main cities of the Empire, including Poland and Finland. Moscow had no water, Warsaw no fuel; provisions ran short everywhere; the cities, great and small, remained plunged in complete darkness. No smoking factories, no railways running, no tramways, no Stock Exchange, no banking, no theaters, no law courts, no schools. In many places the restaurants, too, were closed, the waiters having left, or else the workers compelled the owners to extinguish all lights after seven o’clock. In Finland, even the house servants were not allowed to work before seven in the morning or after seven in the evening. All life in the towns had come to a standstill. And what exasperated the rulers most was that the workers offered no opportunity for shooting at them and reestablishing "order" by massacres. A new weapon, more terrible than street warfare, had thus been tested and proved to work admirably.

The panic in the Czar’s entourage had reached a high pitch. He himself, in the meantime, was consulting in turn the Conservatives (Ignatieff, Goremykin, Sturmer, Stishinsky), who advised him to concede nothing, and Witte, who represented the Liberal opinion; and it is said that if he yielded to the advice of the latter, it was only when he saw that the Conservatives refused to risk their reputations, and maybe their lives, in order to save autocracy. He finally signed, on October 30th, a manifesto, in which he declared that his "inflexible will" was-

"(1) To grant the population the immutable foundations of civic liberty based on real inviolability of the person and freedom of conscience, speech, union, and association.

"(2) Without deferring the elections to the State Duma already ordered, to call to participation in the Duma, as far as is possible in view of the shortness of the time before the Duma is to assemble, those classes of the population now completely deprived of electoral rights, leaving the ultimate development of the principle of the electoral right in general to the newly established legislative order of things.

"(3) To establish it as an immutable rule that no law can come into force without the approval of the State Duma, and that it shall be possible for the elected of the people to exercise a real participation in the supervision of the legality of the acts of the authorities appointed by us."

On the same day Count Witte was nominated the head of a Ministry, which he himself had to form, and the Czar approved by his signature a memorandum of the Minister-President in which it was said that "straightforwardness and sincerity in the confirmation of civil liberty," "a tendency toward the abolition of exclusive laws," and "the avoidance of repressive measures in respect to proceedings which do not openly menace society and the State" must be binding for the guidance of the Ministry. The Government was also "to abstain from any interference in the elections to the Duma," and "not resist its decisions as long as they are not inconsistent with the historic greatness of Russia."

This first victory of the Russian nation over autocracy was met with the wildest enthusiasm and jubilations. Crowds, composed of hundreds of thousands of men and women of all classes, all mixed together, and carrying countless red flags, moved about in the streets of the capitals, and the same enthusiasm rapidly spread to the provinces, down to the smallest towns. True that it was not jubilation only; the crowd expressed also three definite demands. For three days after the publication of the manifesto in which autocracy had abdicated its powers, no amnesty manifesto had yet appeared, and on the 3d of November, at St. Petersburg, a crowd 100,000 men strong, was going to storm the House of Detention, when, at ten in the evening, one of the Workmen’s Council of Delegates addressed them, declaring that Witte had just given his word of honor that a general amnesty would be granted that same night. The delegate therefore said: "Spare your blood for graver occasions. At eleven we shall have Witte’s reply, and if it is not satisfactory, then tomorrow at six you will all be informed as to how and where to meet in the streets for further action." And the immense crowd-I hold these details from an eye-witness-slowly broke up and dispersed in silence, thus recognizing the new power-the Labor Delegates-which was born during the strike.

Two other important points, besides amnesty, had also to be cleared up. During the last few months the Cossacks had proved to be the most abominable instrument of reaction, always ready to whip, shoot, or bayonet unarmed crowds, for the mere fun of the sport and with a view to subsequent pillage. Besides, there was no guaranty whatever that at any moment the demonstrators would not be attacked and slaughtered by the troops. The people in the streets demanded, therefore, the withdrawal of the troops, and especially of the Cossacks, the abolition of the state of siege, and the creation of popular militia which would be placed under the management of the municipalities.

It is known how, at Odessa first, and then all over Russia, the jubilant crowds began to be attacked by bands, composed chiefly of butcher assistants, and partly of the poorest slum-dwellers, sometimes armed, and very often under the leadership of policemen and police officials in plain clothes; how every attempt on behalf of the Radical demonstrators to resist such attacks by means of revolver-shots immediately provoked volleys of rifle fire from the Cossacks; how peaceful demonstrators were slaughtered by the soldiers, after some isolated pistol-shot-maybe a police signal-was fired from the crowd; and how, finally, at Odessa an organized pillage and the slaughter of men, women, and children in some of the poorest Jewish suburbs took place, while the troops fired at the improvised militia of students who tried to prevent the massacres, or to put an end to them. At Moscow, the editor of the Moscow Gazette, Gringmuth, and part of the clergy, stimulated by a pastoral letter of Bishop Nikon, openly preached "to put down the intellectuals by force," and improvised orators spoke from the platform in front of the Iberia Virgin, preaching the killing of the students. The result was that the University was besieged by crowds of the "defenders of order," the students were fired at by the Cossacks, and for several nights in succession isolated students were assailed in the dark by the Moscow Gazette men, so that in one single night twenty-one were killed or mortally wounded.

An organizing hand is seen in these outbreaks, and there is no doubt that this is the hand of the Monarchist party. It sent a deputation to Peterhof, headed by Prince Scherbatoff and Count Sheremetieff, and after the deputation had been most sympathetically received by Nicholas the Second, they openly came forward in the Moscow Gazette and in the appeals of the bishops Nikon and Nikander, calling upon their sympathizers to declare an open war on the Radicals.

Of course it would be unwise to imagine that autocracy, and the autocratic habits which made a little Czar of every police official in his own sphere, would die out without showing resistance by all means, including murder. The Russian revolution will certainly have its Feuillants and its Muscadins. And this struggle will necessarily be complicated in Russia by race-hatred. It has always been the policy of the Russian Czardom to stir national hatred, setting the Finns and the Karelian peasants against the Swedes in Finland, the Letts against the Germans in the Baltic provinces, the Polish peasants (partly Ukrainian) against the Polish landlords, the Orthodox Russians against the Jews, the Mussulmans against the Armenians, and so on. Then, for the last twenty years it has been a notable feature of the policy of Ignatieff, and later on of Plehve, to provoke race-wars with a view of checking Socialist propaganda. And the police in Russia have always taken advantage of all such outbreaks for pilfering and plundering. . . . Consequently, a few hints from above were enough-and several reactionary papers and two bishops went so far as to openly give such hints-to provoke the terrible massacres at Odessa, and the smaller outbreaks elsewhere.

Happily enough, there is a more hopeful side to the Russian revolution. The two forces which hitherto have played the leading part in the revolution-namely, the working men in the towns fraternizing with the younger "intellectuals," and the peasants in the country-have displayed such a wonderful unanimity of action, even where it was not concerted before-hand, and such a reluctance from useless bloodshed, that we may be sure of their ultimate victory. The troops have already been deeply impressed by the unanimity, the self-sacrifice, and the consciousness of their rights displayed by the workmen in their strikes; and now that the St. Petersburg workmen have begun to approach in a spirit of straightforward propaganda those who were enrolled in the "Black Gangs," that other support of autocracy will probably soon be dissolved as well. The main danger lies now in that the statesmen, enamored of "order" and instigated by timorous landlords, might resort to massacres for repressing the peasant rebellions, in which case retaliation would follow to an extent and with consequences which nobody could foretell.

The first year of the Russian revolution proved that there is in the Russian people that unity of thought without which no serious change in the political organization of the country would have been possible, and that capacity for united action which is the necessary condition of success. One may already be sure that the present movement will be victorious. The years of disturbance will pass, and Russia will come out of them a new nation; a nation owning an unfathomed wealth of natural resources, and capable of utilizing them; ready to seek the ways for utilizing them in the best interest of all; a nation averse to bloodshed, averse to war, and ready to march toward the higher goals of progress. One of her worst inheritances from a dark past, autocracy, lies already mortally wounded, and will not revive; and other victories will follow.


In the beginning of 1904, according to the petition presented by the workmen of several factories and workshops of St. Petersburg, there was established the charter of the St. Petersburg Society of Workmen of Factories and Work-shops, the establishment of which was authorized for the purpose of allowing the workmen to make use of their leisure hours in a more useful way as regards religious and intellectual enlightenment. Having this purpose in view, in compliance with the petition of the organizers of the society, the chaplain of the St. Petersburg prison, George Gapon, was instituted president of the above-mentioned society. Beginning his activity by holding religious meetings in the various branch institutions of the society, Gapon and his assistants, some of the workmen who were the organizers of the society, gradually merged into deliberating at their meetings upon the condition of workmen in various factories and workshops of the capital, and endeavoring to influence the owners in misunderstandings arising between these latter and their employees.

In December, 1904, this society took a prominent part in opposing the dismissal from the Putilov Works of four workmen, members of their society, considering this dismissal as a desire on the part of the administration of these works to get rid of men belonging to their association. Although it was found out later that two of the dismissed workmen had left the works according to their own desire, and that the third had been dismissed for staying voluntarily away, the Putilov section of the society, headed by Gapon, considering the dismissal of the four workmen from the standpoint of personal feeling, succeeded in influencing the majority of the workmen of the Putilov Works, and the works were stopped entirely on January 2, 1905.1

Taking advantage of the general strike, the workmen placed before the administration of the factory not only the demand that the dismissed workmen be reinstated in their positions and that one of the head workmen, suspected of having been instrumental in the dismissal of these persons, be dismissed, but also the demand that the mode of appreciation of the work done and that of the dismissal of the workmen be changed, insisting upon such right of agitation by members of this section of the above-named society among the workmen as would result in the section’s being given the right of control over the actions of the administration of the works. Persuasion on the part of the inspection of the works remained fruitless, and soon, under the influence of the agitation spread by the numerous sections of the society among the manufacturing districts of St. Petersburg, the strike spread through the greater part of the manufacturing establishments of the capital, first as a means of supporting the demands of the Putilov workmen, and later, taking advantage of the occasion, with the purpose of obtaining from the owners some private privileges.

How far the above-mentioned movement of the working classes, which first arose exclusively on the principle of comradeship and solidarity, not brought about by any special complications in economical conditions, was in the beginning from any political coloring and the influence of secret revolutionary societies, is best demonstrated by the fact that at the time attempts made by revolutionists to use the meetings as a means of agitation in the direction desired by them, suffered a complete defeat, and the agitators that penetrated into the assemblies of workmen were often exposed to blows on the part of the workmen and were invariably cast out of their midst. But as the strike grew, the demands of the workmen became more extensive, and, from the desire of seeing local needs complied with, grew into the laying down of one general program in the name of all the strikers to the owners, demanding the curtailing of the working day, the taking part by the workmen in the administration of the factories, etc. Such demands, in a written form composed by Gapon, were distributed among the workmen and still more strengthened the strikers in their opposition to possible undertakings in isolated cases.. The owners of works on which strikes had occurred came to the conclusion at one of their meetings that the compliance with some of the demands of the strikers would bring about the complete ruin of the national industry, while others could be investigated and partly granted, but only on the condition of separate consents for each case and not as a compliance with the demand of the whole mass of strikers. The workmen refused such an examination of their demands, asking for a general understanding with the plenipotentiaries named by the organization of the strikers. As, notwithstanding the obstinacy of the strikers, public order had nowhere in the capital been violated, and there were no data showing the participation in the strike of secret antigovernmental organizations, no measures of repression were taken by the authorities and no arrests took place among the workmen.

In the meanwhile Gapon, entering into relations with the heads of the local revolutionary groups, who desired to take advantage of the strike for their own purposes and give it the character of a general protest of the working classes against the existing mode of government, gradually began to introduce at the meetings into the program of the demands of the workmen corrections of a political character, and having consecutively introduced general constitutional principles, ended the program by demanding the separation of the Church from the government, a measure which is in absolute contradiction of the historical spirit of the religious creed of the Russian people and could in no way have been consciously dictated by the workmen. The same agitation was undertaken by the revolutionary leaders, who now were allowed in the meetings by the workmen, in view of the protection shown by the workmen to the revolutionists standing with Gapon at the head of the Society of Workmen of Factories and Workshops.

Having gone so far, Gapon, influenced by political agitators, was forced to end this movement by some extreme act, and, instigated by the agitators, began to instil among the workmen the idea of presenting publicly to the Emperor a petition from the workmen expressing their needs. Such a sermon on the part of Gapon in the midst of workmen, the majority of whom, like the whole Russian people, have a deep faith in their Czar and his constant care for the subjects entrusted to him by the Almighty, could not but be crowned with success, and really awoke among the strikers a general desire to go, on January 9th, in a mass to the square of the Winter Palace and to present to His Majesty in person, through Gapon and delegates, a petition on the general needs of the working classes. The faith in the possibility of presenting the petition in such manner was strengthened still more by the belief in the minds of the workmen that Gapon was not in their eyes a casual secret agitator, but a priest, acting as the president of a legally instituted society.

At the time the authorities were sufficiently acquainted with the fact that the leaders of the antigovernmental organizations existing in the capital had the intention of taking advantage of the sentiment of the workmen and their massing on the Winter Palace square for a series of antigovernmental demonstrations making the demand of an alteration in the existing mode of government, for the purpose of giving the character of a popular manifestation to the absolutely peaceful movement of the workmen. They further knew that the mass of the workmen were ignorant of the political demands introduced into their petition, and falsely believed that to His Majesty would be presented merely a petition for the satisfaction of some of the needs of the working classes. The accomplishment of such intentions could in no way be allowed, and consequently the inhabitants of the capital were warned in time to keep order in the streets, and that all assemblies and processions having demonstrations in view would be dispersed by military force. The arrest of Gapon was ordered then under the plea of his being a political agitator, yet it could not be put into execution, for as soon as he entered into relations with the secret political agitators, he appeared no more at the public meetings of the society and began to hide in the lodgings of the workmen in the distant suburbs of the city. Only on the eve of the day appointed for the meeting on the Winter Palace square, January 8th, did he make known the text of the petition of the workmen to His Majesty, into which, in addition to the wish of improvement of their economical conditions, were introduced impudent demands of a political character. This petition remained unknown to the greater part of the strikers, and thus the working population was deliberately deceived as to the true purpose of the assembly on the Winter Palace square.

The fanatical sermon delivered by Gapon, who had entirely forgotten his priestly dignity, and the criminal propaganda of his assistants belonging to the local revolutionary groups, excited the working population to such an extent that on January 9th enormous masses of people began to direct their course from all the suburbs of the city toward its center. And at the time that Gapon, continuing to influence the religious sentiment and loyalty of the people to their sovereign, previous to the beginning of the procession held religious service in the chapel of the Putilov Works for the welfare of their Majesties and distributed to the leaders icons, holy banners, and portraits of the sovereigns so as to give tile demonstration the character of a religious procession, at the other end of the city a small group of workmen, led by true revolutionists, was erecting a barricade of telegraph-posts and wire and hoisted a red flag over it. Such a spectacle was so foreign to the general sentiment of the workmen that from the enormous crowd going toward the center of the city were heard the words: "These are not our people, this does not concern us. These are students who are rioting."

Notwithstanding this the crowds, electrified by the agitation, did not give way to the general police measures and even at the attacks of the cavalry. Excited by the opposition they met with, they began to attack the military forces, endeavoring to break through to the Winter Palace square, so that it was found necessary for the purpose of dispersing the crowds to use firearms, avoiding, as far as possible, making useless victims. This latter measure explains the comparatively small losses experienced by the enormous mass of people marching to the Winter Palace square. The military forces were obliged to shoot on the Schlusselburg Road, at the Narva Gate, near the Tritzky Bridge, on Fourth Street and the Little Perspective of the St. Basil Island, near the Alexander Garden, at the corner of the Nevsky Perspective and the Gogol Street, near the Police Bridge and on the Kasan Square. As has already been said, the crowd had erected a barricade, surmounted by a red flag, on Fourth Street on St. Basil Island, and two more barricades were constructed in this rayon, these latter constructed of boards, and an attack was made against the Second Police Station of the St. Basil district, the building having been destroyed; also attempts were made to interrupt telegraphic and telephonic communication. Shots were fired against the mob from the houses in the neighborhood of the police station, the mob likewise raiding the side-arm factory of Shaff, the crowd trying to arm themselves with the blades found in the factory, which, however, were taken away from them. At the time that, thanks to the vicinity of several higher educational establishments, the disorders on St. Basil’s Island took the character of a political demonstration, on the St. Petersburg side, nest of the capital’s rowdies, the riot culminated in the devastation and robbing of five shops.

The total number of victims who suffered in the collision with the armed force, according to information received from the hospitals, was 96 killed and 333 wounded, from among whom 32 have died 50 far (including a police officer killed and assistant police master who died of wounds received).

The measures taken on January 10th for the maintenance of order, similar to those taken on January 9th, were not put into execution and the attempt of rowdies to sack the Gostinnoy Dvor was quenched without the aid of the military forces. Toward evening of that day the workmen of the electric stations joined in the strike, on account of which fact, taking advantage of the darkness reigning in some parts of the city, the same rowdies endeavored to break the windows of stores, but order was quickly restored by ordinary police measures. Beginning with January 11th, the city had again its usual aspect and the military details were discharged.

On January 14th the workmen of the Admiralty Works at Ijora, in the Kolpino district, who had struck at the same time as the others, petitioned the St. Petersburg and Ldoga Metropolitan, expressing their deep regret and contrition for having joined in the strike, avowing that only "on account of their benightedness they had allowed persons absolutely foreign to them to express political aspirations in their name," begging the Rt. Rev. Anthony to lay at the feet of His Majesty the expression of their most loyal sentiments and the belief that only His Majesty "our Father will arrange everything for she general welfare."

1That is, January 15th. The dates used by Count Cassini are Russian Old Style and are thirteen days later than the New Style used in America.


Related Resources

Russian Civil War

Download Options

Title: The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 20

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 20

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Peter Kropotkin and Arthur Cassini, "Revolution in Russia; Red Sunday and the Constitution," The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 20 in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. Rossiter Johnson (Harrogate, TN: The National Alunmi, 1926), Original Sources, accessed July 3, 2022,

MLA: Kropotkin, Peter, and Arthur Cassini. "Revolution in Russia; "Red Sunday" and the Constitution." The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 20, in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, edited by Rossiter Johnson, Harrogate, TN, The National Alunmi, 1926, Original Sources. 3 Jul. 2022.

Harvard: Kropotkin, P, Cassini, A, 'Revolution in Russia; "Red Sunday" and the Constitution' in The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 20. cited in 1926, The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. , The National Alunmi, Harrogate, TN. Original Sources, retrieved 3 July 2022, from