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The Growth of Unrest

The Revolutionary Masses

The shooting of the peaceful demonstrators caused horror and dismay all over the country. But already by the evening of that fateful day, 9 January, first barricades had been erected in St Petersburg  and skirmishes of workers with the government troops and the police took place. At midnight Father Gapon wrote a new proclamation, this time addressed to the workers, in which he denounced the Tsar as a traitor to the people, released the soldiers from their oath of allegiance to Nicholas II and called the people to the barricades, permitting them, by the authority of the church, the use of dynamite and bombs. Gapon then went into hiding abroad where he liaised with the leaders of the Russian socialist emigration, including Plekhanov and Lenin. He wrote several more inflammatory proclamations which reached Russia through various channels and widely circulated there. 

Long Live the Heroes of the Battleship Potemkin! Soviet poster

Despite this, Gapon failed to establish himself as a popular leader. Many workers became disappointed in him after the tragic denouement of the protest march and  the mysterious disappearance of its chief organizer. Rumors spread that Gapon was an agent in the pay of the police. The branches of his ‘Assembly’ in the capital were shut down, and the leadership of the unrest now passed firmly into the hands of the revolutionaries, Social-Democrats in particular, who had warned of the danger and futility of Gapon’s plan to present the petition. The idea of negotiating with the regime was now totally discarded in favor of the slogan of an armed insurrection.                 

The popular outrage over the shooting of 9 January and the anger at the government’s continued procrastination over long-overdue reform sent waves of unrest across the whole empire. Hundreds of thousands of workers, students and members of democratically-minded intelligentsia took to the streets to participate in mass rallies and demonstrations. In the first three months of 1905 alone over eight hundred thousand workers took part in strikers, with over 40 percent of them downing their tools in political protest. They were joined by about forty thousand Russian university students who decided to boycott their classes for the rest of the academic year. The discontent spread to liberal circles, urban middle-class and the peasantry. Even Russian factory-owners began to articulate guarded political demands.

The major industrial cities and regions provided the focal points of the unrest. Strikes and demonstrations continued throughout the spring and summer of 1905. Some of the biggest actions of protest were the 72-day long strike of textile workers in the town of Ivanovo-Voznesensk, east of Moscow; the general strike of Polish workers in Lodz; the general strike at the Black Sea port of Odessa accompanied by the mutiny of sailors on the battleship Potemkin. Because workers’ trade-unions were still weak and inexperienced, the leadership of the strike movement was provided by the so-called ‘left bloc’ of the two main revolutionary parties of Social-Democrats and Socialist-Revolutionaries, as well as non-party worker activists.

Sympathy with the striking workers was wide-spread and was felt by many sections of the population and, in particular, by democratically- and liberally-minded members of the intelligentsia and university students. Universities opened their doors to the protesters making their buildings available for public meetings and anti-government rallies. Some factory-owners continued to pay wages to the striking workers, realizing that they fought in the interests of the entire nation.

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The Revolution of 1905-7

 

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