Arthur Cassini on the 1905 Revolution

[Extracted from "Revolution in Russia: Bloody Sunday and the Constitution" in The Great Events by Famous Historians, vol. 20 (n.p.: The National Alumni, 1914), pp. 137-143]

In the beginning of 19o4, 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 Workshops, 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 anti-governmental 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 instill 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 anti- governmental 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 anti-governmental 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 the 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 so 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 Ladoga 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 the general welfare."


[1] That 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.