Bloody Sunday or Red Sunday refers to a series of events that took place on Sunday, 22 January 1905 in St Petersburg, Russia. During these, unarmed demonstrators, led by Father Gapon, were fired upon by soldiers of the Imperial Guard as they marched towards the Winter Palace to present a petition to Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.
Following the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 by Tsar Alexander II of Russia, a new peasant working class emerged in the cities. These peasants had to face the abuse of authority of their factory employers, which was made evident by the long working hours, low wages and lack of safe working environments. All of this led to strikes in Russia.
Although strikes were hardly punished by the government, the complaints of the strikers were often reviewed and employers were required to correct their abuses. However, the failure of the government to address an unbalanced system which favoured employers led to the continuation of strikes and the first major industrial strike in Russia in 1870. After the strike at Morozov’s cotton mill in 1884, the government was prompted to take measures. Consequently, a law was passed in 1886 which required employers to specify working conditions in their factories in writing. Despite this, strikes continued and reached high proportions during the 1890s, leading to the restriction of the workday to eleven and a half hours in 1897.
A leading role in the strikes was played by priest Father Gapon, who headed the “Assembly of the Russian Factory and Mill Workers of the City of St. Petersburg”, also known as “the Assembly”. This organization served as a type of union for the workers and was depicted as conservative in its support of the autocracy. It was a means of preventing revolutionary influences and appeasing the workers by striving for better working conditions. On January 19 1905, the Assembly decided to present a petition to Tsar Nicholas II to ask for improved working conditions, fairer wages, and a reduction of the working day to eight hours. Other demands included putting an end to the Russo-Japanese War and introducing universal suffrage. Gapon also notified his intention to lead a procession of workers to the Winter Palace the following Sunday. As a result, troops were deployed around the palace and the Tsar left the city.
On the morning of Sunday, 22 January, a crowd of more than 3,000 workers marched towards the Winter Palace. The strikers, who marched peacefully holding religious icons and singing patriotic songs, did not know that the Tsar was not in the city. The plan was for all columns of marches to converge in front of the building at around 2 pm. The chief of the security police—Nicholas’s uncle, Grand Duke Vladimir—tried to stop the march and ordered his police to fire upon the demonstrators. At around 10 and 11 am the column led by Gapon was fired upon, resulting in the death of forty people. At 2 pm, a detachment of 2,300 soldiers made their way to Nevsky Prospekt, the main street of the city, and fired into the panicked crowd, many of whom had not been participants in the march.
The total number of killed is uncertain. The government recorded 96 deaths, while anti-government sources claimed more than 4,000. Moderate estimates average around 1,000 killed or wounded. The massacre was followed by strikes in other cities, peasant uprisings throughout the country, and mutinies in the armed forces. The Assembly was closed down that day, and Gapon left Russia.
Soon after the events of Bloody Sunday, strikes began to erupt in Russia and other cities outside it, such as Warsaw, Riga, Vilna and Baku. Nicholas II was widely blamed for his inefficiency in the crisis, resulting in a surge of bitterness towards his rule. Although he tried to appease the people with a duma, his government eventually resorted to violence near the end of 1905 to stop the strike movement that continued to spread.
Even though Bloody Sunday was not conceived as a revolutionary movement, the consequences of the government’s reaction gave rise to revolution by questioning the autocracy and legitimacy of the Tsar. Previously, he had been seen as the champion of the people, responding to them whenever they appealed to him. Following the massacre, the social contract between him and his people was broken and his position and right to rule were delegitimized.
- bloody sunday
- russian empire
- nicholas ii
- emancipation of the serfs
- russian revolution