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Narrated by the British renowned actor Constantine De Goguel.
As with so many other events in the period of unrest in Russia, Bloody Sunday, which took place on Sunday, 9 January 1905, constitutes, even today, one of the most falsified chapters in the history of Russia.
From the beginning, more than any other event, Bloody Sunday has been set forth as the banner of Communist propaganda. Lenin even undertook the production of a film that depicted the so-called “crime of Bloody Nicholas.” Unfortunately, the period of Bolshevik dictatorship succeeded in etching what it desired in the consciousness of the people.
But what exactly took place on Bloody Sunday, and what exactly was Nicholas II responsibility for the event?
PHOTO: Crowd of petitioners, led by Father Gapon, near Narva Gate, St. Petersburg
Bloody Sunday, which took place on Sunday, 9 January 1905, constitutes, even today, one of the most misrepresented events in the history of Russia. The commonly known and widespread narrative goes as follows: At dawn on 9 January, a crowd of workers that were unemployed began to gather with their families in six different points of Saint Petersburg. Holding icons, church banners, and portraits of the tsar, chanting hymns and patriotic songs, they set forth in a peaceful march with the Winter Palace as their goal. There they intended to personally present to the tsar a petition for the improvement of working conditions. Unemployment in all the land at that time had already reached its peak. The inspiration and organizer of the entire event was the charismatic speaker, Father Georgi Gapon, president of the Assembly of Factory and Mill Workers of Saint Petersburg. For a long time Gapon had been rousing the workers with his sermons at factories to assert their rights militantly. At last his labors bore fruit and thus the march of 9 January was organized.
A large police and military force had been prepared to deter the crowds that would make up the march. The exact number of demonstrators has never been known. Estimates vary from 3,000 up to 50,000! When the march began, security forces had gathered at various points in the city; they instructed the demonstrators to disperse, but without result. At some point the security forces opened fire on the unarmed multitude, so that many were killed, and even more were wounded. The number of dead also remains unknown to this day. Eyewitness accounts vary from 40 up to 1,000 dead. The result of this tragic event was general indignation against the tsar. Nicholas was not Father to his people any more, but their murderer. Many people, revulsed by the frightful behavior of their autocrat, declared “We have no tsar anymore.”
The things that took place on Bloody Sunday have been accepted in history as an undeniable fact for nearly an entire century. However, as with so many other events in this period of unrest in Russia, Bloody Sunday itself constitutes one of the most falsified chapters of history. From the beginning, more than any other event, Bloody Sunday has been set forth as the banner of Communist propaganda. Lenin even undertook the production of a film that depicted the so-called “crime of Bloody Nicholas.” Unfortunately, the period of Bolshevik dictatorship succeeded in etching what it desired in the consciousness of the people. But what exactly took place on Bloody Sunday, and what exactly was Nicholas’ responsibility for the entire event?
First of all, it must be known that Father George Gapon was not the good and kindly father of the downtrodden workers that history portrays, but rather he played a curious, double game: he was an agent of the Okhrana, namely, of the Secret Police, while at the same time cooperating with the Socialist Revolutionary Party. Thus, Gapon’s dark role and the true motives of all his actions are not at all easy to discern.
At first Gapon presented himself as a champion of the tsarist constitution, and so the OkhRana indicated that it wished to utilize his charismatic influence on the masses of workers with a view to safeguarding the monarchical constitution in Russia. Later, however, Gapon appeared to reconsider his ideology and then began to cooperate with the extreme left, which in turn wished to use Gapon for the promotion of its own revolutionary ideas among the workers.
When Gapon officially announced the organization of the march, which he scheduled for the ninth of January, the police warned him that such a thing would constitute an illegal demonstration, for the dispersal of which, if necessary, force would be used. Furthermore, they informed him that the tsar would not be at the Winter Palace at that time, thus it would be impossible to accomplish the demonstrators’ purpose of handing over their demands to Nicholas in person.
On Saturday, 8 January, the Ministry of War in cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior placed the police and military forces necessary to confront the demonstrators in the capital. That evening an extraordinary meeting, attended by the Governor of Saint Petersburg, was called to consider which measures of public safety should be taken. After the end of the meeting the Minister of the Interior visited the emperor at Tsarskoe Selo in order to inform him that everything was under control, and that the impending march would not be able to cause any trouble.
Why did Nicholas not remain in the Winter Palace to receive the demands of the workers? The reason was the fear of yet another attempt on his life. These fears were absolutely justified, and their ground for this was not theoretical. A frightening event had taken place only a few days earlier during the Blessing of the Waters on the day of Epiphany. Some of the rifles fired during the celebratory greeting of the Feast were not loaded with blanks, as intended, but—quite strangely—contained live ammunition. The bullets wounded several of the bystanders and broke many windows in the neighborhood. Some of them passed directly over the head of the emperor. The crowd and the police began to run aimlessly in all directions causing great confusion and panic. However, Nicholas did not move one step from his place. Later at the palace, discussing the event with his sister Olga, he said that he had heard the shell whizz over his head, and added: “‘I knew that somebody was trying to kill me. I just crossed myself. What else could I do?’ It was typical of Nicky, added the Grand Duchess. He did not know what fear meant.”
PHOTO: Father Georgy Apollonovich Gapon (1870–1906)
In the end, Gapon did not comply with the police’s instructions. The march took place as planned. Perhaps Gapon did not believe that the authorities would disperse his “peaceful” march? He himself answered this question later when he admitted that he knew full well that the authorities would not permit the protest to take place under any circumstances, because—very simply—it would not have been peaceful. The chief of the Special Corps of the tsar’s secret personal guard, and afterward historian, Alexander Spiridovitch, wrote of this, “Nobody had the idea then at the time [that is, on 9 January 1905] that Gapon had played the role of traitor. It was some long time later that Gapon admitted that he had known, in inciting the workers to go before the Tsar with their petition, that the authorities would never permit the demonstration; he also knew that they would bring in the troops against the workers, and all the same, he still urged them to demonstrate and in fact insisted they do so.”
A great number of workers were members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, and even though the party did not officially take part in the demonstration, many of their members participated in the march. A multitude of witnesses relate that many of the demonstrators were armed; they broke windows, they looted stores, they burned vehicles and even broke into houses! Thus, the shots of the security forces were not in cold blood, but in reply to the repeated provocations of the demonstrators.
A highly confidential note by the head of the Petersburg Security Department L. N. Kremenetsky (Кременецкий) to the Director of the Police Department A. A. Lopukhin (Лопухин), on the preparation of workers for the demonstration of 8 January, reports the following:
According to the information obtained for tomorrow, at the initiative of Father Gapon, the revolutionary organizations of the capital also intend to use the march of the striking workers to the Palace Square to produce an anti-government demonstration.
For this purpose, flags with criminal inscriptions are made today, and these flags will be hidden until the police act against the march of the workers; then, taking advantage of the confusion, the flag bearers will take out the flags to create an impression that the workers marched under the flags of revolutionary organizations.
Then the socialist revolutionaries intend to take advantage of the disorder in order to plunder the weapon shops along Большая Конюшенная Street and Литейный Проспект. […]
Reporting on your excellency, I add that the possible measures for the removal of flags have been taken.
Lieutenant Colonel Kremenetsky (Кременецкий)
January 8, 1905.
As for the fact that some of the demonstrators held icons, church banners, and portraits of the tsar, that can also be explained. A certain portion of the workers did not realize what was about to happen. They believed Gapon’s fraudulent promises and did not know that the tsar was absent from the palace that day. These were the first to be surprised by the violent behavior of the other demonstrators. They indeed had peaceful intentions and believed that they would meet the tsar to hand over to him their humble petition. They also did not know that the content of the petition almost did not have anything to do with them at all.
A few days before the march Gapon met with Pinhas Rutenberg, a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, from whom he was inseparable during the days of preparation for the march. At midnight of the eighth going into the ninth of January, Rutenberg, with Gapon present, composed the petition on behalf of the workers who would hand it to the Tsar—certainly not personally, since they knew that the tsar would be absent. In no way was the content of this document a simple request to improve the working conditions of the workers, but a provocative political manifesto that demanded in a threatening tone the immediate devolvement of the absolute monarchy of Russia into a constitutional monarchy with a democratic constitution and the promulgation of significant reforms of a socialist character.
PHOTO: Pinhas Rutenberg (1879-1942)
Rutenberg’s meddling in the preparations for the march of 9 January constituted the active, however covert, participation of the revolutionary party in this demonstration. Rutenberg did not limit himself only to composing the document that they would submit to the tsar. Spiridovitch writes of this, “The Socialist-Revolutionary party as such had not taken part in the Gapon movement, however certain of its members had made a common cause with him. Thus, also many of the workers who were members of the party were also found among the crowds filling the streets. Rutenberg, a member of the party, had gotten to know Gapon some days before the 9th of January, and was almost never separated from him during those days. It was in fact Rutenberg who had chosen the route the marchers would follow, including Gapon himself, and it was also Rutenberg who came up with the suggestion that, in case the troops began to fire, to erect barricades, to seize the arms depots and to clear the streets, at all costs, to the Palace.” From this evidence it is manifest that he was essentially preparing for military action.
What in the end was the purpose of the march that Gapon organized? Spiridovitch gives the answer to that, “His genuine intention was to prove to the workers, in light of the measures which were to be taken against them, that the Tsar was not really protecting them and that the workers could never really hope to have any assistance coming from either the Tsar or his ministers.” Foreseeing, then, what would follow, Gapon wished to demonstrate to all the Russian people that the tsar was not the father of the nation, but its murderer. And in order to best achieve his goal, he undertook all necessary measures so that the blood of workers would be spilled.
At the end of January, Gapon fled to Switzerland, where with the help of his friend Rutenberg he met with Plekhanov and Lenin. On 7 February, he called from Geneva upon the workers in Russia to rise up in arms against the sovereign, to whom he sent a threatening and aggressive letter in which he wrote the following, “Nicholas Romanov, formerly Tsar and at present soul-murderer of the Russian empire. The innocent blood of workers, their wives and children lies forever between you and the Russian people. … May all the blood which must be spilled fall upon you, you Hangman!” At the end of this letter Gapon informed the emperor that copies of his letter had been sent to all the branches of the terrorist revolutionary movement in Russia.
Simeon Rappaport, a member of the Revolutionary Party, recounts a meeting he had with Gapon. When he asked if he had any ties with Zubatov, the chief of the Secret Police, Gapon replied, “Never! Never! Right from the beginning, from the very first minute, I led them by the nose. Otherwise nothing could ever have been done! …My entire plan was based on this.”
As for Nicholas, based on the information from his ministers, he believed that the march would not cause any significant disturbances in the capital. Surprised after these events, he wrote that evening in his diary about that fateful day, “9th of January. Sunday. A hard day! In Petersburg there was serious unrest due to the workers’ wish to reach the Winter Palace. The troops had to shoot in different parts of the city and there were many killed and wounded. Lord, how painful and hard!”
A few days later, on 14 January 1905, Alexandra wrote to her sister Victoria, “You understand the crisis we are going through! It is a time full of trials indeed. My poor Nicky’s cross is a heavy one to bear, all the more as he has nobody on whom he can thoroughly rely and who can be a real help to him. He has had so many bitter disappointments, but through it all he remains brave and full of faith in God’s mercy. He tries so hard, works with such perseverance, but the lack of what I call ‘real’ men is great. … The Minister of the Interior is doing the greatest harm—he proclaims grand things without having prepared them. … Reforms can only be made gently with the greatest care and forethought. … All these disorders are thanks to his unpardonable folly and he won’t believe what Nicky tells him, does not agree with his point of view.
“Things are in a bad state and it’s abominably unpatriotic at the time when we are plunged into war to break forth with revolutionary ideas. The poor workmen, who had been utterly misled, had to suffer, and the organisers have hidden as usual behind them. Don’t believe all the horrors the foreign papers say. They make one’s hair stand on end—foul exaggeration. Yes, the troops, alas, were obliged to fire.
Repeatedly the crowd was told to retreat and that Nicky was not in town, as we are living here at Tsarskoe Selo this winter, and that one would be forced to shoot, but they would not heed and so blood was shed. … The Petition had only two questions concerning the workmen and all the rest was atrocious … Had a small deputation brought, calmly, a real petition for the workmen’s good, all would have been otherwise. Many of the workmen were in despair, when they heard later what the petition contained, and begged to work again under the protection of the troops.”
This video is produced as part of the project for the book The Romanov Royal Martyrs, which is an impressive 512-page book, featuring nearly 200 black & white photographs, and a 56-page photo insert of more than 80 high-quality images, colorized by the acclaimed Russian artist Olga Shirnina (Klimbim) and appearing here in print for the first time. EXPLORE the book / ORDER the book.
© Mesa Potamos Monastery. 21 October 2020