Bloody Sunday

views updated May 21 2018

Bloody Sunday

Russia 1905


By the end of 1904, the Russian economy was strained by the country's involvement in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) and from social disruptions persisting since the late nineteenth century. In January 1905 the head of one of the legal (government-recognized) trade unions, Georgy ("Georgii") Apollonovich Gapon, led a peaceful demonstration to the home of Emperor Nicholas II, the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, hoping to present him with a petition on behalf of the country's workers. Soldiers fired upon the procession; hundreds of people were killed and many more injured. The massacre of innocent men, women, and children outside the palace by imperial security guards was eventually called Bloody Sunday; it was the event that ignited the Russian Revolution of 1905.


  • 1885: Indian National Congress is founded. In the years that follow, the party will take the helm of India's independence movement.
  • 1890: U.S. Congress passes the Sherman Antitrust Act, which in the years that follow will be used to break up large monopolies.
  • 1895: Brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière show the world's first motion picture—Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory—at a café in Paris.
  • 1898: United States defeats Spain in the three-month Spanish-American War. As a result, Cuba gains it independence, and the United States purchases Puerto Rico and the Philippines from Spain for $20 million.
  • 1901: U.S. President William McKinley is assassinated by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt becomes president.
  • 1903: Russia's Social Democratic Party splits into two factions: the moderate Mensheviks and the hard-line Bolsheviks. Despite their names, which in Russian mean "minority" and "majority," respectively, Mensheviks actually outnumber Bolsheviks.
  • 1904: The Russo-Japanese War begins. It will last into 1905 and results in a resounding Japanese victory. In Russia, the war is followed by the Revolution of 1905, which marks the beginning of the end of czarist rule; mean-while, Japan is poised to become the first major non-western power of modern times.
  • 1905: Albert Einstein presents his special theory of relativity.
  • 1905: In the industrial Ruhr region in Germany, 200,000 miners go on strike.
  • 1909: Founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) by W. E. B. Du Bois and a number of other prominent black and white intellectuals in New York City.
  • 1914: On the Western Front, the first battles of the Marne and Ypres establish a line that will more or less hold for the next four years. Exuberance is still high on both sides, but will dissipate as thousands of German, French, and British soldiers sacrifice their lives in battles over a few miles of barbed wire and mud. The Eastern Front is a different story: a German victory over Russia at Tannenberg in August sets the stage for a war in which Russia will enjoy little success, and will eventually descend into chaos that paves the way for the 1917 revolutions.

Event and Its Context

The Bloody Sunday massacre in St. Petersburg is usually identified as the event that precipitated the Russian Revolution of 1905. Historians also cite a series of political events, beginning in 1895, and various labor tensions, which had been building for years, that contributed to the killing of these peaceful workers and their families.

Political History

In 1894 Japan entered into the Sino-Japanese War against China, which it won in 1895. From its victory, Japan gained control of Manchuria, including the valuable warm-water seaports of Port Arthur (today called Lüshun) and Dairen (today called Lüda). However, the Japanese lost Manchuria and the two ports when the French and Germans threatened to take military action against Japan if it kept the territory.

Angered by its loss, Japan took offense when Russia and China formed a joint banking enterprise in Manchuria. Japan became angrier still when China allowed Russia to construct a secondary route for the Trans-Siberian Railway through Mukden, in Manchuria, to Vladivostok (off the coast of the Sea of Japan in Russia) in exchange for a Russian pledge of military aid in the event that China was attacked again by Japan. Japan became even more alienated in 1898 when China gave Russia the Liaoyang Peninsula (along the northeastern coast of China and bordering North Korea) and formal rights to the ports of Dairen and Port Arthur (near the southwestern tip of the peninsula).

Beginning in 1904, Japan fought Russia for control of the two disputed Manchurian ports. Russia was not prepared for the war in that its army was not fully mobile due to long delays in completing the Trans-Siberian Railway. Because of these inefficiencies, Russia was soon losing important battles to Japan.

By the end of 1904, Russia was losing the war; Nicholas II was losing support; new political groups, such as the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, were making advances toward more radicalism and liberalism, respectively; and discontent continued to escalate, especially among the lower classes. The Bolsheviks (meaning "majority"), the more radical of the two sections of socialists (Social Democratic Labor Party), were led by Vladimir Lenin and eventually called the Communist Party. The Mensheviks (meaning "minority"), the more conservative section, was led by Julius Martov.

Labor History

The number of Russian industrial workers had dramatically increased from 493,000 in 1866 to 1,405,000 in 1896. Between 1865 and 1890 the number of factory workers grew by 65 percent and the number of miners by 106 percent for a combined 75 percent increase in Russian industrial workers. Many workers had migrated to large cities from depressed rural areas to find better jobs. These new workers, unfamiliar with the working environment of factories, felt isolated in their new surroundings. Agitators who demanded immediate changes to the political and economic systems, even at the cost of violence, easily swayed these workers. Contributing to these problems was the plight of employers contending with the early stages of industrial development. Drastic expansion of equipment, processes, and the number of workers often left them unable to effectively communicate with their workers, a classic complaint in rapidly industrializing regions.

Disputes between employers and employees often resulted. Strikes became a regular part of Russian work life near the end of the nineteenth century. It was exceedingly difficult for the government to control these disputes because of the enormous size of the country; Russia spread across Europe and Asia, contained about 125 million people, and suffered from poor communications, bad roads, and few railroads. In 1894 some 17,000 workers went on strike, typically demanding shorter work hours and higher pay. Even though unions led most of these strikes, few were well organized. The strikes in 1897 and 1898 occurred mostly in the largest cities such as St. Petersburg and Moscow. A growing unrest among Russian workers was gaining momentum at the beginning of the twentieth century. At that time Russian industrial employees worked, on average, 11-hour week-days and 10-hour Saturdays. Conditions in the factories were extremely harsh, and little concern was shown for the heath and safety of workers. Attempts by workers to form trade unions were resisted by factory owners. Wages, even for the more skilled classes of workers, were dropping steadily, and the price of basic goods was rising; between October 1903 and October 1904 real wages declined between 20 percent and 25 percent. Housing conditions were also terrible, unemployment was increasing, and, worst of all, working people had no recourse for grievances. Employers could treat workers as they pleased and could usually depend on the support of the authorities and the police to enforce disciplinary actions.

Gapon and the Assembly Union

Paralleling the worker unrest, in 1903 a radical Orthodox priest by the name of Georgy ("Georgii") Apollonovich Gapon began a workers' organization called the Assembly of Russian Factory Workers of St. Petersburg (hereafter called the Assembly union). The Russian Okhrona (the secret police) considered the Assembly union a friendly social organization that positively influenced the working people. The union, originally based in a tea and reading room, attracted apolitical and antirevolutionary workers whose influence in the workplace was small.

This situation changed in 1904 when V. K. Plehve, the minister of the interior who had helped Gapon create the union, was assassinated as a result of his repression of revolutionary and liberal ideas and practices within Russia. Workers, seeing that social reform was more possible now, turned to Gapon's movement, which soon began to resemble an independent, reform-minded labor union. Its membership in that year dramatically increased to over 9,000.

A major event of worker discontent was the oil workers' strike in Baku (located on the western coast of the Caspian Sea) in December 1904. It was the first large-scale strike in Russia that did not begin spontaneously but was deliberately organized. It caused unrest in other industrial centers and contributed to the labor movement in St. Petersburg. At that time the Gapon meetings attracted an enormous number of workers, many of whom made dramatic and inspiring speeches about how workers should no longer stand for the abuses they endured in the workplace. The peaceful movement Gapon had created a short time before was turning into a revolutionary mass movement, whether he liked it or not.

On 3 January 1905 at the Putilov Iron Works plant, a simple firing of four Assembly union workers caused Gapon to call for immediate industrial action. In the next few days over 110,000 workers from numerous factories in St. Petersburg went on strike in a major revolt. Both branches of the social democracy movement—the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks—supported the strike. Both groups continued to initiate strikes and help bring additional organizations into the labor movement.

The Gapon Petition

In an attempt to resolve the situation, Gapon decided to make a personal appeal to Nicholas II. He apparently believed the czar would correct the evils inflicted on the workers if they were brought directly to his attention. Gapon drew up a petition outlining the workers' sufferings and demands, calling for an eight-hour workday; the freedom to organize trade unions; better working conditions, free medical aid, and higher wages for workers; elections for a constituent assembly by universal, equal, and secret suffrage; freedom of speech, press, association, and religion; and ending the war against Japan. Over 150,000 people signed the petition, and Gapon believed Nicholas would accept.

Bloody Sunday

All of these occurrences led to what would eventually be called Bloody Sunday. On 9 January 1905 (according to the Julian calendar used by Russia at that time, which corresponds with 22 January 1905 on the Gregorian calendar) hundreds of thousands of workers, led by Gapon and accompanied by their wives, children, and parents, walked to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, the residence of Russian emperor Nicholas II, to demand more food and better pay and working conditions. The protesters carried religious icons and gonfalons (banners), pictures of Nicholas to show their peaceful intent, and the signed petition. As they marched toward the Winter Palace, they chanted "God save the Czar." At the entrance to the palace they were met by the czar's secret police and the Russian Imperial Guard.

Nicholas was absent at the time; his uncle, Grand Duke Vladimir, commander of the Imperial Guard, gave the order to fire on the crowd. Many hundreds of the demonstrators were killed or wounded (with first newspaper reports placing the numbers in the thousands). A Bolshevik historian later wrote that the approximate number of wounded was 450 to 800 and the number of killed 150 to 200.

Most Russians saw Bloody Sunday as a horrendous event. As news of the massacre spread, a general protest ensued as workers stopped working, businessmen would not open their businesses, and soldiers refused to follow orders. Russia literally could not operate, as the people lost faith in their government and withheld support for Nicholas. A wave of mass political strikes and demonstrations spread across Russia under the slogan "Down with the autocracy!" Bloody Sunday marked the beginning of the Revolution of 1905, which eventually brought about drastic changes in the Russian government.

In 1906 Nicholas attempted to pacify protesters by introducing Russia's first elected legislative assembly, the State Duma. Mass opinion, however, had been radicalized by the massacre and resulting violence. Socialist parties, workers, and peasants continued to protest the imperial regime, which was eventually overthrown in the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Key Players

Gapon, Georgy Apollonovich (1870-1906): Gapon, a radical Russian Orthodox priest and former prison chaplain, began organizing workers' clubs, called the Assembly of Russian Factory Workers of the City of St. Petersburg, in 1903 under the patronage of the imperial police and the Orthodox Church. In January 1905 he, along with workers and their families, marched to the Winter Palace in the hope that the czar would come to their aid. Many unarmed workers and members of their families were shot; Gapon was wounded. After the massacre, Gapon left Russia, then returned illegally less than a year later and resumed contact with the tsarist secret police. He was assigned to help dismantle the workers organizations he had helped build. Gapon was murdered by the secret police in March 1906.

Nicholas II (1868-1918): Czar Nicholas II was the last czar of Russia and the last of the Romanov dynasty. The son of Czar Alexander III, he began his reign by marrying Alexandra, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England. In 1894 Nicholas became czar on his father's death and employed the same autocratic rule his father had. During his reign Russia experienced a period of great industrialization and land reform. However, Nicholas was considered a weak and superstitious man who strongly disliked intellectuals and politicians. He was forced to abdicate in 1917 and was murdered, together with his family, by the Bolsheviks the following year.

See also: Russian Revolutions.



Bonnell, Victoria E. Roots of Rebellion: Workers' Politics and Organizations in St. Petersburg and Moscow, 1900-1914. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

Pospielovsky, Dimitry. Russian Police Trade Unionism: Experiment or Provocation? London: Weidenfield and Nicolson and London School of Economics and Political Science, 1971.

Schwarz, Solomon M. The Russian Revolution of 1905. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1967.


"History: Revolutionary Times." [cited 7February 2003]. <>

Rempel, Gerhard. "The Revolution of 1905." Western New England College [cited 7 February 2003]. <>

"Russian Revolution 1905." [cited 7 February2003]. <>

"The Twentieth Century, Year After Year: 1905." Radio Voice of Russia [cited 7 February 2003]. <>

—William Arthur Atkins

Bloody Sunday

views updated May 29 2018

Bloody Sunday

Bloody Sunday occurred on 30 January 1972 in Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland, when an illegal march of up to 20,000 civil-rights demonstrators protesting against the British policy of internment was fired on by the British army. A section of the crowd had been stoning soldiers, and the army maintained that shots had been fired at them from the republican Bogside area of the city and that petrol bombers were among the crowd of demonstrators. The consequences of the army's actions were thirteen dead and an injury that would later prove to be fatal. Republicans claimed that their personnel had stood down on that day because they believed that the army wanted to draw them into a full-scale battle. It was not until 1992 that John Major, then prime minister of Great Britain, acknowledged in a letter to the local MP, John Hume, that the victims should be regarded as innocent of any allegation that they had been shot while handling firearms or explosives. It was a tacit acceptance that the original public inquiry under Chief Justice Lord Widgery was flawed in that it was rushed and did not consider all the available evidence. New evidence, including new eyewitness accounts, medical evidence, and new interpretations of ballistics material, as well as a detailed Irish government assessment of the new material and of Lord Widgery's findings in light of all the material available, prompted another inquiry. In a parliamentary statement on 29 January 1998, Prime Minister Tony Blair announced another tribunal to investigate the events of Bloody Sunday, to be chaired by Lord Saville. The novelty of this inquiry was that the government was at least prepared to look at the uncongenial possibility that the killings were unlawful.

There is clear evidence that relations between the local Catholic community and the security forces deteriorated throughout 1971. One particular incident had been the army's killing of two local youths in a Bogside riot in July: an unofficial inquiry chaired by Lord Gifford found that both youths were unarmed. By November the semiweekly local nationalist newspaper, the Derry Journal, recorded incidents such as applause in court after riot charges had been dismissed; strikes and traffic disruption following a wave of protests by teachers, dockers, and factory workers after army raids in the area; the condemnation of army tactics by tenants' associations after soldiers had killed a mother of six children and 4,000 people had attended her funeral; a meeting of 500 business and professional people to support a campaign of passive resistance; and the army detention of John Hume after he had refused to be searched. The army's own records show that following the two July killings, the Catholic community had "instantly turned from benevolent support to community alienation." The situation was compounded in August with the introduction of internment, so that "all combined to lead to a situation in which the security forces were faced by an entirely hostile Catholic community." By the end of the year the chief of the general staff was warning that whereas the Irish Republican Army (IRA) "were under pressure and becoming disorganised, in Londonderry the situation was different. The IRA could still count on the active support of the Roman Catholic population, and a major military operation here could have widespread political consequences." By early January 1972 the general officer commander admitted, "I am coming to the conclusion that the minimum force necessary to achieve a restoration of law and order is to shoot selected ringleaders among the DYH [Derry Young Hooligans], after clear warnings have been issued." On the weekend before Bloody Sunday a protest was held outside an internment camp. It led to a clash between paratroopers and protestors—a clash described by one commentator as "the brutal act of an arrogant military." It served as a mild rehearsal for Bloody Sunday.

The impact of Bloody Sunday was immense. It led to a huge resurgence in violence: In the three years before Bloody Sunday, about 250 people had been killed in the violence, whereas 470 died in the ensuing eleven months. It acted as an enormous recruiting device for the IRA. It pitted official Ireland against the British government. The Irish government recalled its ambassador in London, and the British embassy in Dublin was burned to the ground. The attendance of the Catholic primate of all Ireland, a bishop, 200 priests, five Irish government ministers, and nine mayors from the Republic at the victims' funerals made clear the sense of outrage throughout nationalist Ireland. The international pressure on the British government was such that within two months the Stormont regime was suspended and direct rule from London imposed. The unseemly haste of the Widgery report—published within eleven weeks of the day—did not prevent the coroner at the inquests from describing the deaths as "sheer, unadulterated murder" in August 1973.

The coroner's remarks encapsulated a raging sense of injustice among the nationalist community, as demonstrated by the unremitting campaign conducted by the victims' relatives and by John Hume to have the case reopened. It was "compelling new evidence" that led Tony Blair to announce a new inquiry on the twenty-sixth anniversary. It met for the first time in Derry in April 1998 and was chaired by Lord Saville of Newdigate with the assistance of two other Commonwealth judges. The first phase of the tribunal ended in September 2002 after more than 500 civilian witnesses and experts had been cross-examined in Derry. The second phase moved to London for the examination of 250 soldiers and some senior British politicians before it moved back to Derry, where it completed its public fact-finding on 13 February 2004. The Saville Report was scheduled to be published in 2005. Time will tell whether the Saville tribunal will be an instrument of justice.

SEE ALSO Irish Republican Army (IRA); Northern Ireland: History since 1920


McClean, Raymond. The Road to Bloody Sunday. 1997.

McKittrick, David, et al. Lost Lives: The Stories of the Men, Women, and Children Who Died as a Result of the Northern Ireland Troubles. 1999.

Mullan, Don, ed. Eyewitness Bloody Sunday. 3d edition, 2002.

Paul Arthur

Bloody Sunday

views updated May 18 2018


On January 22, 1905, a peaceful demonstration of workers in St. Petersburg was dispersed by troops with considerable loss of life. The event triggered the 1905 Revolution.

The demonstration was organized by the Assembly of Russian Factory and Mill Workers of St. Petersburg, a labor organization patronized initially by police authorities and led by an Orthodox priest, Father Georgy Gapon. When four members of the Assembly were fired from the giant Putilov Works just before Christmas, the Assembly felt its very existence threatened and decided to resort to the desperate means of an illegal strike. The Putilov Works was struck on the January 16, but by January 20 the entire city of St. Petersburg was paralyzed by the strike. All eleven branches of the Assembly became perpetual meeting places for the strikers. There was much discussion about the workers presenting a petition to Nicholas II, outlining their grievances. At a meeting with some of his lieutenants, Gapon asked if they should not take their petition directly to the tsar himself. The idea was enthusiastically supported and spread like wildfire. When the petition was finished, copies of "The Most Humble and Loyal Address" were sent to important ministers and the tsar. The address was to be delivered at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Winter Palace Square.

Before the fateful day, the branches of the Assembly held continuous meetings; the petition was read, and workers cried, fell on their knees, and swore to die for their cause. Wound up by the oratory, they were determined to reach the Palace Square. The Minister of the Interior, not realizing the seriousness of the situation, assured Nicholas II that matters were under control and that he was completely confident a show of force would be sufficient to stop the demonstration.

Each branch made its own arrangement to arrive at the Square by 2 p.m. Members of the farthest branch departed in the early morning hours. The largest procession came from the main branch at the Putilov Works, and was led by Gapon. Efforts were made to give it a religious appearance: Religious paraphernalia, icons, and portraits of tsars were carried at the head of the procession. Shortly after eleven o'clock the immense crowd began to move, singing prayers and the national anthem just as church bells were announcing the end of services. The crowd moved along the main thoroughfare toward the Narva Triumphal Arch, where the road across the river was blocked by troops. The commander tried to disperse the crowd with cavalry; then the bugle sounded a warning, followed by a warning volley over the crowd. This seemed only to encourage workers; they closed ranks and, singing louder, began to run at the troops. Soldiers lowered their rifles and began shooting at the crowd. Most of the casualties that day occurred during this procession. Similar events unfolded in several other locations. In some areas the crowds were dispersed without the use of firearms; in others, workers were allowed to pass on their own. On one bridge the officer said he could not let them cross but did not stop workers from crossing on the ice below the bridge.

Despite the shootings, many workers reached the Square, where the Guards barred their way. In the crowd were many survivors of earlier shootings; many were wounded, but all anxiously awaited the appointed hour. The hour came and nothing happened. As the demonstrators were becoming unruly, the commander of the Guards decided to disperse them. A volley was fired near Alexander Garden. The crowd was pushed onto Nevsky Prospect, where some officials in uniforms and policemen were attacked. Troops tried to clear the area, and more shots were fired.

In Russia and abroad, there was universal revulsion at the shooting of peaceful demonstrators. The authorities themselves were shocked; nobody had wanted what happened. The press reported thousands killed, but the official count eventually listed 130 killed, including a policeman. Bloody Sunday, as it became known, began the Revolution of 1905.

See also: gapon, georgy apollonovich; revolution of 1905


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

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

Walter Sablinsky

Bloody Sunday

views updated May 21 2018

Bloody Sunday ★★★ 2001 (R)

Docudrama covers the January 30, 1972 civil rights march through Derry, Northern Ireland to protest the policy of British internment without trial. Although the majority of the marchers are Catholic, they are led by the area's Protestant MP Ivan Cooper (Nesbitt), who believes the situation can be handled peacefully. Maj. Gen. Robert Ford (Piggott-Smith) reiterates that the British Army has banned all such marches and that participants are subject to arrest. As the march splinters into factions, the Army fires on the crowd—27 civilians are wounded and 14 died. The recreation of the event by director Green-grass is stunning at the very least. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was eulogized in a song by U2. 110m/C VHS, DVD . IR GB James Nesbitt, Tim Pigott-Smith, Nicholas Farrell, Gerard McSorley, Kathy Kiera Clarke, Allan Gildea, Gerard Crossan, Mary Moulds, Carmel McCallion, De-clan Duddy, Simon Mann; D: Paul Greengrass; W: Paul Greengrass; C: Ivan Strasburg; M: Dominic Muldowney. Berlin Intl. Film Fest. '02: Film.

‘Bloody Sunday’

views updated May 23 2018

Bloody Sunday’, 1887, 1920. The encounter on 13 November 1887 in Trafalgar Square between radicals and Irish and police, supported by troops, attempting to enforce a ban, left two demonstrators killed, though no shots were fired. A small incident by most standards, it shocked Victorian England. ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Dublin on 21 November 1920 saw a different scale of savagery. Fourteen British officers were murdered in their homes or hotels by the Irish Republican Army, and in the afternoon Black and Tan troops opened fire on a Gaelic football crowd at Croke Park, killing twelve.

J. A. Cannon