Tag Archives: Nicholas II

Bloody Sunday

Causes and course of the Bloody Sunday massacre in St Petersburg

On the 22nd January 1905, the Bloody Sunday massacre took place in the Russian capital Saint Petersburg. Soldiers of the Imperial Guard fired on protesters led by the Orthodox Priest Father Georgy Gapon as they marched towards the Winter Palace where they planned to present a petition to Tsar Nicholas II.

By 1905 there was growing discontent amongst the urban working class. Father Gapon had established the “Assembly of the Russian Factory and Mill Workers of the City of St. Petersburg” to promote workers’ rights in 1903, but after four Assembly members from the Putilov ironworks were sacked from their jobs in December 1904, workers across the city went on strike. Capitalising on the situation Father Gapon drafted a petition to the Tsar calling for improved working conditions and various other reforms that received 150,000 signatures.

On the morning of the 22nd January workers marched with the petition to the Winter Palace, alongside religious icons and pictures of the Tsar. Gapon had already notified the authorities of the petition and the march, and in response approximately 10,000 troops from the Imperial Guard were placed around the palace. However, why they began firing on the peaceful march is unclear. Even the number killed or injured is uncertain with estimates ranging from the government’s official figure of 96 dead to revolutionary claims of more than 4,000.

The Tsar was not in the palace at the time, and did not give an order for the troops to fire, but was widely blamed for the massacre. In response strikes and protests spread around the country, and eventually developed into the 1905 Revolution.

Mutiny on the battleship Potemkin

Russian mutiny on the battleship Potemkin

The crew of the Russian battleship Potemkin mutinied on the 27th June 1905, an uprising that was immortalized in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 silent film.

Potemkin entered service in early 1905 after her gun turrets were fitted, and therefore did not take part in the disastrous Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. Instead, by the end of June she was off the coast of Ukraine completing maneuvers. It was here that rotten meat allegedly containing maggots was brought on board to feed the crew. Dissatisfied with the ship’s doctor’s opinion that it was fit for human consumption, the crew complained to the captain.

The ship’s second in command, Commander Giliarovsky, confronted the sailor’s delegation and killed spokesman Grigory Vakulenchuk. This triggered the mutiny, in which seven of the ship’s eighteen officers including Giliarovsky and the Captain were killed. The crew chose quartermaster Afanasi Matushenko to take control.

Having hoisted the red flag, the Potemkin set sail for Odessa where a general strike was underway. Here they brought the body of the revolutionary spokesman Vakulenchuk ashore and laid it on the Odessa Steps, where it acted as a focal point for locals to show their support for the sailors. However, by the evening the authorities received orders from the Tsar to take firm action. Estimates say that up to 2,000 civilians were killed.

The Potemkin left Odessa the next day and sailed for Constanța in Romania. The ship was surrendered to the Romanian authorities in return for the sailors receiving safe passage. Potemkin was handed back to the Russian navy, and was renamed Panteleimon.

First Russian Duma

The origins of the First Russian Empire’s State Duma

The Russian Empire’s State Duma met for the first time at the Taurida Palace in St. Petersburg on 27th April 1906.

The Duma was to form the lower house of a new legislative assembly. It was proposed by Sergei Witte, the Chairman of the Russian Council of Ministers, in response to the wave of violence that culminated in the Russian Revolution of 1905. Tsar Nicholas II formally declared the creation of the Duma when he issued the October Manifesto later that year.

Elections for the Duma took place in March 1906 and permitted men over the age of 25 to vote. Having been boycotted by a number of parties on the left, the election resulted in a centre-left parliament of which the moderate Constitutional Democrats held the most seats.

Witte, the architect of the October Manifesto, was forced to resign on 22 April and the following day the Tsar issued the Russian Constitution of 1906, otherwise known as the Fundamental Laws. Under the terms, the authority of the Duma was severely restricted while the Tsar was given the title ‘supreme autocrat’. He had the power to dismiss the Duma and call elections, while Article 87 permitted him to impose laws as emergency legislation.

Despite possessing such limited powers, the Duma adopted a broadly anti-autocratic agenda and pushed for further reforms after the liberal deputy Professor Sergey Muromtsev was elected as the Duma’s President. Their calls for increased liberties were ignored by the government. The first two bills sent to the Duma for approval were for the construction of a greenhouse a new laundry.

Just 72 days after it convened, the Tsar dissolved the assembly on 21 July. He appointed the more repressive Peter Stolypin to the position of Prime Minister the same day.