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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: August 2018

9 - Revolutionizing Minds: The Scorched Middle Ground (1905)

Summary

EARLY IN 1905 THE SOCIALIST PARTIES of Europe fixated on events in Russia. The strike in St. Petersburg in mid-January, led by the prison priest Georgi Gapon, unexpectedly unified forces for reform from the salon to the stable. As Vorwärts reported on the fateful Sunday of 22 January, 96,000 workers at 174 concerns in and around the capital had struck in support of the workers’ rights movement that had its impetus in the dismissal of 4 workers from the Putilov Iron Works for belonging to a workers’ association founded by Gapon the previous year. On the fifteenth the dismissed workers’ comrades unsuccessfully demanded their reinstatement. The next day Gapon led a delegation of 84 workers presenting much broader demands, including an eight-hour workday, a minimum wage, double pay for overtime, improved sanitation, and election of a workers’ council to help set wages and determine grounds for dismissal. On 17 and 18 January workers struck to impress the urgency of their grievances.

What had begun as an economic issue, Eisner noted with evident satisfaction, had escalated to a political action. Vorwärts reported that workers planned a demonstration march to the Winter Palace, where they would present their grievances in the form of a petition to the tsar. Bourgeois intellectuals had met Saturday evening to urge Nicholas to accept the document. Ominously, he called for three regiments of cavalry and a division of infantry to reinforce the garrison of 50,000 troops and four regiments of artillery. Ignorant yet of what was already unfolding on Bloody Sunday, the Vorwärts public read the correspondent's speculation that bloodshed seemed inevitable.

The next issue appeared on Tuesday, 24 January, with horrifying details of the massacre in St. Petersburg. History records that the peaceful demonstration “was dispersed by troops with a cynical brutality unusual even for Russia.” Commanded by Prince Boris Vasilchikov, the military formed a cordon on the square before the Winter Palace. The correspondent for the Berliner Tageblatt wired that shortly before noon a procession of at least 15,000 workers crossed the square, singing a hymn and bearing crosses and portraits of the tsar. At their head was Gapon, who advanced to hand the petition to an officer. Rebuffed, Gapon returned to the ranks of the workers, who moved forward toward the cordon. They were met with a withering fusillade that felled 600 in an instant.