Gapon, Georgy Apollonovich

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(18701906), Russian Orthodox priest led a peaceful demonstration of workers to the Winter Palace on Bloody Sunday, 1905; the event began the 1905 revolution.

Father Georgy Apollonovich Gapon was a Ukrainian priest who became involved with missionary activity among the homeless in St. Petersburg, where he was a student at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. His work attracted the attention of police authorities, and when Sergei Zubatov began organizing workers in police-sponsored labor groups, Gapon was brought to his attention. Zubatov's efforts in Moscow ran into the opposition of industrialists who objected to police interference in business matters. In St. Petersburg Zubatov tried to tone down police involvement by recruiting clergy to provide direction to his workers. Gapon was reluctant to become involved, sensing opposition to Zubatov among the officials and the distrust of workers, but he began attending meetings and established contacts with the more influential workers. He also argued with Zubatov that workers should be allowed to decide for themselves what was good for them.

During the summer of 1903, Zubatov was dismissed and given twenty-four hours to leave the city. In this manner Gapon inherited an organization created and patronized by the police. On the surface Gapon seemed to justify the trust of the authorities. A clubroom was opened where meetings began with prayers and the national anthem. Portraits of the tsars hung on the wall. Ostensibly there were no reasons for the authorities to be concerned about the Assembly, as the organization was named, but beneath the surface, Gapon's ambitious plans began to unfold. Gathering a small group of the more active workers, he unveiled to them his "secret program," which advocated the winning of labor concessions through the strength of organized labor. His advocacy of trade unionism met with the enthusiastic support of the conferees, and he gained loyal supporters who would provide the leadership of the Assembly.

During the turbulent year of 1904, the Assembly grew rapidly. By the end of the year it had opened eleven branches. However, its rapid growth was causing concern among the factory owners, who feared the growing militancy of the workers and resented police interference on their behalf. Shortly before Christmas, four workers, all active members of the Assembly, were fired at the giant Putilov Works. Rumors spread that all members of the Assembly would be fired. When Gapon and police authorities tried to intercede, they were told that labor organizations were illegal and that the Assembly had no right to speak for its members. Faced with a question of survival, Gapon called a large meeting of his followers, at which it was decided to strike the Putilov Worksa desperate measure, since strikes were illegal.

The strike began on January 16, and by January 17 the entire working force in the capital had joined the strike. Branches turned into perpetual gatherings and rallies of workers. At one of the meetings, Gapon threw out an idea of a peaceful mass demonstration to present a workers' petition to the tsar himself. The idea caught on like fire. Gapon began preparing the petition. It essentially contained the more specific demands of his secret program and a vague compilation of the most popular demands of the opposition groups. Copies of the petition, "Most Humble and Loyal Address to be presented to the Tsar at 2 P.M. on the Winter Palace Square," were sent to various officials.

Meanwhile the march was prohibited, and reinforcements were brought to St. Petersburg. Police tried to arrest Gapon, but he could not be found. By then the workers were too agitated to abandon their hope to see the tsar; moreover, they did not think soldiers would fire on a peaceful procession that in some places was presented as a religious procession. But the soldiers opened fire in several locations, resulting in more than 130 casualties. These events, known as Bloody Sunday, began the revolution of 1905.

Gapon called for a revolution, then escaped abroad. Becoming disillusioned with the revolutionary parties, he attempted to reconcile with the post-1905 regime of Sergei Witte. Upon his return to St. Petersburg, he tried to revive his organization but was killed by a terrorist squad acting on the orders of the notorious double agent, Evno Azef. To explain Gapon's murder, the perpetrators concocted a story of a workers' trial and execution.

See also: bloody sunday; revolution of 1905; russian orthodox church; zubatov, sergei vasilievich


Ascher, Abraham. (1988). "Gapon and Bloody Sunday." Revolution of 1905, vol. 1. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Gapon, Georgy A. (1905). The Story of My Life. London: Chapman & Hall.

Sablinsky, Walter. (1976). The Road to Bloody Sunday: Father Gapon and the St. Petersburg Massacre of 1905. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Walter Sablinsky