An American editorial on Bloody Sunday (1905)

On January 23rd 1905, the New York Times responded angrily to news of the Bloody Sunday shootings in St Petersburg:


Troops slay women and children with men.

Writing, on Saturday, of the coming events which were casting ominous shadows before them we remarked that it was superfluous to look beyond the morrow, for the morrow would suffice, in all probability. to throw some light upon the question of the future evolution of Russia.

Little, however, did we think what was destined to happen in St. Petersburg yesterday. That the Tsar would refuse to receive the petition of the strikers, or pledge himself to grant any of their demands, was a foregone conclusion; that the approaches to the Winter Palace would be barred by the troops was practically certain; that collisions would occur between the multitude and the military was likely enough and that blood would be shed.

But we do not suppose that the most pessimistic of prophets or the most sensational of scribes seriously believed that a general massacre of the people would be ordered and carried out. and that, so far as is known without the slightest provocation on the part of the victims. We need not enlarge upon the awful scenes which were enacted, and which, according to the latest telegrams, are still being enacted in the capital of Russia. It is enough to say that the victims were numbered by thousands — 2,000 killed and 5,000 wounded seems to be the most generally accepted total — and that these consisted of men, women, and children — even babes in arms.

The troops (doubtless carefully selected) did their butcher’s work, for the most part, without reluctance at first: and, when once the blood gets into men’s eyes, appetite grows with what it feeds on so that obedience seems to have developed into alacrity. The scene was admirably adapted for the bloody drama. St. Petersburg is a city of vast spaces and of wide, straight streets — an ideal city for huge crowds to gather in – and also for large bodies of troops to work their will upon them. The Cossacks can charge down the broad thoroughfares, or the guns can sweep them, with perfect ease…

That being so, St. Petersburg is the easiest city in the world to suppress a popular rising in; there are no narrow, tortuous streets in which every separate house is a fortress, in which resistance can be obstinate and prolonged. St. Petersburg can never be a city of barricades. albeit they say that the strikers are endeavouring to erect them. No: now that the crucial question of the obedience of the troops to orders has been answered in the affirmative, there can scarcely be any doubt as to the triumph of authority —’for the time being. The victory has. virtually, been won: the cause of reform in Russia has been, for the moment, drowned in the blood of the reformers.

It remains, however, to be seen whether the defeat of reform may not be only the prelude to the victory of revolution. Who is the victorious general? To whom does autocracy owe its sanguinary triumph? To the Grand Duke Vladimir, uncle of the Tsar, who was charged with the responsibility for dealing with the people of the capital yesterday. He has long been known as an austere man, with no sympathy for the people or their wants, and a convinced believer in the policy of main force in all its brutal simplicity.

The Grand Duke has not belied his reputation: he has won for himself in a single day, a place in history, a notable niche in the temple of eternal infamy. Like all the rest of the House of Romanov (save one stripling who took, they say, his harem with him to Manchuria and was ordered home in disgrace) the Grand Duke Vladimir has deemed discretion the better part of valour. Unlike the Japanese Imperial House — which has sent seven of its members, we believe, to fight on land or sea for their country the Romanov have stayed at home, to mismanage the campaign in which the common herd have fought and died.

And now the crown and coping-stone of completeness have been set upon a record which, inglorious before, has now become infamous. And what shall we say of their Chief, of the Head of a great military monarchy, the “Gospodar Imperator” himself? Where was the Tsar yesterday? His children had come to seek him — him, the Father of his people — to tell him their wrongs and to crave his paternal help. They believed in their Tsar, did these simple folk; they believed him to be a good, kindly man. with a wife and babes of his own. They thought, in their simplicity, that, if they could only pierce the cordon of officialdom, and speak to their Father face to face, they would not speak in vain.

They were mistaken – woefully, terribly mistaken. The Tsar was — where was he? Nobody seems to know for certain. Most probably he was not in his capital at all, but at his palace of Tsarskoe Selo, having given the supreme command to the one man who he must have known, would make short work of petitions and petitioners.

For days past it has been the care of the authorities to conceal the whereabouts of the Tsar, to announce that he was in one palace when, in fact, he was in another. At all events, no one knows where the unhappy Sovereign was, or what he was doing, while his uncle was butchering his helpless people. It is the self-effacement of Nicholas II that is the most shameful feature of the most shameful day in the history of Russia.

On such a day, if ever, it was the duty of the Russian Autocrat to prove himself a man and a Monarch – every inch a King. Nicholas II has not done that, and by his failure he has dealt a more serious blow to the principle of Tsardom than all the revolutionaries in Russia have yet dealt it. For by his conduct yesterday, the Tsar has destroyed forever the popular conception of himself as the Father of his people. Never again will he be regarded as the fount of justice and mercy, the righteous Sovereign, perhaps misled by evil counsellors, but longing to do the right thing, if he only knew where the right lay. What will be the outcome of the day of blood which St. Petersburg has just gone through there is no man may dare to say. But this at least is certain, that among the dying people there died a great idea — the people’s idea of their Tsar. That sacred image has been broken by the fire of Vladimir’s savage soldiery. The Tsar has shattered his own icon.”