Bloody Sunday 1905: who is to blame?

On this day – 22nd (O.S. 9th) January 1905 – a peaceful procession of workers through the streets of St Petersburg would go down in history as Bloody Sunday.

“In 1905, workers marched to the Winter Palace with a peaceful petition demanding broader rights. Instead, they were met with gunfire, which completely destroyed Nicholas’s reputation and sent the Russian monarchy hurtling toward its eventual demise,” writes Oleg Yegorov in the July 15th 2019 edition of ‘Russia Beyond’

– Click HERE to read the article How Russia’s own Bloody Sunday turned Nicholas II into a public enemy. My personal comments are below – PG


There is no question, that “Bloody Sunday” was a tragic event, which sadly resulted in the deaths and injuries of innocent men, women and children. It is a tragedy which continues to haunt the legacy of Russia’s last tsar to this very day. Russian President Vladimir Putin has on more than one occasion, publicly referred to Nicholas II as “Nicholas the Bloody.” 

There are a couple of interesting facts which I would like to add to Oleg Yegorov’s article, on the events of Sunday, 22 January [O.S. 9 January] 1905, which are often overlooked or simply ignored by many academically lazy Western historians.

Despite the fact that the Winter Palace was the Tsar’s official residence, even during the early years of Nicholas II’s reign, the palace became little more than an administrative office block and a place of rare official entertaining. As Yegorov rightly points out, the Tsar was neither in residence nor was he present in St Petersburg on the day of the demonstration, which was organized by Father Georgy Gapon (see below).

Many modern-day historians and “experts” continue to falsely accuse Nicholas II of ordering his troops to open fire on the workers, however, there is no truth to support this theory.

This particular theory is the result of provocative rumours spread by the Bolsheviks and later the Soviets, who claimed that “Tsarist troops shot workers on the orders of Nicholas II” (which for obvious reasons later became the official point of view in Soviet historiography, and was never researched or even discussed by Soviet historians). Even more outrageous, was the claim that the Tsar “personally participated in the shootings, allegedly shooting at the demonstrators with a machine gun”.

In addition it is important to add, that upon finding out about the idea of ​​submitting the petition to the Tsar, members of three revolutionary party organizations: the Social Democrats (Mensheviks ), the Social Democrats ( Bolsheviks ), and the Social Revolutionaries, decided to swell the ranks of the “peaceful demonstrators,” on that fateful day. According to new documents discovered in the Russian Archives, it was these revolutionaries – who were both armed and dangerous – that agitated the situation by opening fire on the troops.

PHOTO: Commander-in-Chief of the Guards and the St. Petersburg Military District Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich (center), talking with Grand Duke Dmitri Konstantinovich (left) and officers, before the parade of the Pavlovsky Life Guard Regiment, on the Field of Mars, St. Petersburg. 30th August 1904

It was St Petersburg Governor General Ivan Aleksandrovich Fullon (1844-1920), who provided comprehensive support to the “Assembly of Russian Factory Workers of St. Petersburg”, with the priest Georgy Gapon leading the way. 

However, it was Guards Commander Prince Sergei Illarionovych Vasilchikov (1849-1926) who developed a plan of action for the police and troops to prevent the procession from even taking place.

It is interesting to note that Prince Vasilchikov was under the command of the Tsar’s uncle Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich (1847-1909), who served as Commander-in-Chief of the Guards and the St. Petersburg Military District. 

On the eve of of the procession 21st (O.S. 8th) January, Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich ordered his subordinate to use military force to prevent the procession from taking place. Vasilchikov obeyed his superior, and the following day when a large group of workers reached Winter Palace Square, troops acting on direct orders from Vasilchikov opened fire upon the demonstrators. 

Although Grand Duke Vladimir claimed no direct responsibility for the tragedy, since he was also away from the city, his reputation was tarnished. General Fullon was discharged after the events of Bloody Sunday.

The number of victims is greatly exaggerated by many historians. According to the Tsar’s official records: 130 dead and 299 injured; while anti-government sources claimed any where from 1,000 to 4,000 dead.

That evening, the events in St. Petersburg were reported to Nicholas II. The emperor was distressed and wrote in his diary:

“A terrible day! There were serious disturbance in Petersburg as a result of the workers wishing to reach the Winter Palace. The troops were forced to open fire in several parts of the town, there were many killed and wounded. Lord, how painful and how sad!” 

Photos: Father Georgy Gapon (1870-1906) ; the house in Ozerki, where Gapon was killed

Father Georgy Gapon (1870-1906) – the organizer of the procession – was a charismatic speaker and effective organizer who took an interest in the working and lower classes of the Russian cities. However, Fr. Gapon also had a hidden dark side, which has been proven by post-Soviet scholars – the priest was a police informant. 

After Bloody Sunday, Gapon fled to Europe, but returned by the end of 1905, and resumed contact with the Okhrana. On 26 March 1906, Gapon arrived for a meeting at a rented cottage outside St. Petersburg. A month later, his body was found hanged. Gapon had been murdered by three members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, after they had discovered that Gapon was a police informant.

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Click HERE to read Bloody Sunday 1905. What is the truth? [includes VIDEO in English] originally published on 21st October 2020

© Paul Gilbert. 22 January 2023