On March 5, 1770, a unit of British soldiers opened fire on a group of protesting Americans in Boston, Massachusetts. This onslaught resulted in the immediate deaths of three persons and two later died from their mortally inflicted wounds. This incident, known as the Boston Massacre, served as a galvanizing event for the Patriots’ cause during the fight for American independence and gave the revolutionary cause the fire it needed to come alive in full force.
Similar to the American Boston Massacre, Bloody Sunday occurred in Russia on January 9, 1905 in which Freeze tells us that, “well over a hundred were [killed] and many more were wounded” (252). Leading up to this atrocity, an Orthodox priest named Georgii Gapon had mobilized thousands of workers, many of whom were unbeknownst to him ex-Marxists, to create his “Assembly of Russian Factory Workers” that were marching on the Winter Palace to demand improvements to higher wages, shorter working hours, and a transition to a liberal political program that included a constitution and free elections with universal manhood suffrage. Tsar Nicholas did not appear at the palace to receive the petition, and to further public opinion against him, he authorized military units to open fire on the advancing marchers whose ranks were filled with women and children.
The common theme over the course of the Revolution of 1905 was that the imperial government’s actions were too little, too late. The revolution found its members largely drawn from the peasant and working classes because they were the two sectors of society that had been continually manipulated and abused by those in positions of power. In September of 1905, a nation-wide general strike took place that originated in Moscow and found its central nervous system grow around the railway line from Moscow to St. Petersburg (for a discussion on railways in the revolution, you can read my last blogpost here). This Moscow strike led to similar events throughout the country in big manufacturing cities, and thus provided the avenue for working Russians to enter the revolution. On the other hand, September was also important for the peasants because of, “the absence of government troops–off fighting the Japanese on Russia’s eastern frontiers until the war ended in August, then slowly returning to central Russia on the politically inflamed railways–and the example of unpunished worker defiance that facilitated the appearance of peasant unrest” (Freeze, 253-254). When the peasants heard about the successful strike of the urbanite workers, they were inspired to believe that they could achieve a similar victory and win concessions from the government to improve the quality of their lives.
Finally, on October 17, Tsar Nicholas issued a manifesto containing a promise to create an elected legislative body as well as civil and religious liberties and the right to organize unions and political parties. However, this document still favored the elitist class and was largely unfulfilling to workers and peasants alike. I cannot help but think that if meaningful, sincere reforms had been introduced in Russia when the signs of discontent were running rampant throughout the providing classes, that Russia’s economy would have fully developed into a prosperous, capitalist system and thousands of lives could have been saved that were lost in the name of revolution.
This post earned a “red star” award from the editorial team.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 1997. Print.
3 thoughts on “The Road to Revolution is Paved with Massacres”
I thought you comparison of the Boston Massacre and the events of Bloody Sunday added depth to the existing literature around the 1905 revolution.
This is excellent! Your comparison to the American Revolution, attention to the imperial government’s inaction, and the elitist-favoring October Manifesto were all interesting points. However, I especially liked how you linked last week’s topic of industrialization via railroads to the transport of revolutionary ideas between Moscow and St. Petersburg during 1905.
Max, great post! I definitely agree with you regarding the fact that the theme of the revolution was”too little, too late.” It was really great that you linked the Boston Massacre to Bloody Sunday. Thank you for providing that parallel! I wonder how the people within Russia at the time could have influenced sincere reforms, that you mentioned at the end of your post, with such a seemingly stubborn government at the time!