By the turn of the 20th century, Tsar Nicholas II was beginning to see the limits of his autocratic rule. Not only was his military in the midst of an embarrassing defeat to the Japanese, but at home his own people were becoming increasingly displeased with Russia’s outdated government. There was a wide range of political “parties,” such as the Constitutional Democrats (Kadets) , the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party , and the Party of Socialist Revolutionaries (SR). Each of these parties had different ideas for how to achieve change and what kind of change they wanted to see. They debated over complex decisions, such as whether the revolution should be violent or peaceful and whether or not to establish a socialist government immediately or to implement a capitalist system.
But while these details were being hashed out, the ones who would bring revolution to Russia – the workers and peasants – were becoming more and more unhappy with their poor working conditions and lack of a political voice. When workers at a factory in Putilov were abruptly dismissed, it was these average Russians who would would gather and march on the Winter Palace. And it was these average Russians who would be shot by the palace guards in the event later known as Bloody Sunday, kicking off the Revolution of 1905.
Leading these average Russians was Father Georgii Gapon, a zealous Orthodox priest who headed the Assembly of Russian Factory Workers. Father Gapon is a key figure in the 1905 Revolution not because his political savviness or experience; He was significant because of his ability to connect the average Russian with the revolutionary movement. He was the same stratum as the workers and peasants, and even Lenin regarded him as an unconscious instrument of the revolution, like most of the Russian people.
Father Gapon was Every Russian. He marched on the Winter Palace not to overthrow the Tsar or to implement socialism or capitalism, but to secure more rights and freedom for the Russian people. He led the petitioners on Bloody Sunday because he, like the Russian people, had no other legitimate means to effect change. His own words written in his petition best sum up the intentions of Father Gapon and every Russian, saying:
“We workers, our children, our wives and our old, helpless parents have come, Lord, to seek truth and protection from you. We are impoverished and oppressed, unbearable work is imposed on us, we are despised and not recognized as human beings. We are treated as slaves, who must bear their fate and be silent. We have suffered terrible things, but we are pressed ever deeper into the abyss of poverty, ignorance and lack of rights.”