In January 1905, steelworkers in St Petersburg, led by Georgy Gapon, drafted a petition demanding improved conditions and some political reforms. The ‘Bloody Sunday‘ petition sparked shootings of several hundred workers outside the Winter Palace:
“We, workers and inhabitants of the city of St. Petersburg, members of various sosloviia (estates of the realm), our wives, children, and helpless old parents, have come to you, Sovereign, to seek justice and protection. We are impoverished and oppressed, we are burdened with work, and insulted. We are treated not like humans [but] like slaves who must suffer a bitter fate and keep silent. And we have suffered, but we only get pushed deeper and deeper into a gulf of misery, ignorance, and lack of rights.
Despotism and arbitrariness are suffocating us, we are gasping for breath. Sovereign, we have no strength left. We have reached the limit of our patience. We have come to that terrible moment when it is better to die than to continue unbearable sufferings. And so we left our work and declared to our employers that we will not return to work until they meet our demands.
We do not ask much; we only want that without which life is hard labour and eternal suffering. Our first request was that our employers discuss our needs together with us. But they refused to do this; they denied us the right to speak about our needs, on the grounds that the law does not provide us with such a right. Also unlawful were our other requests: to reduce the working day to eight hours; for them to set wages together with us and by agreement with us; to examine our disputes with lower-level factory administrators; to increase the wages of unskilled workers and women to one ruble per day; to abolish overtime work; to provide medical care attentively and without insult; to build shops so that it is possible to work there and not face death from the awful drafts, rain and snow.
Our employers and the factory administrators considered all this to be illegal: every one of our requests was a crime, and our desire to improve our condition was slanderous insolence.
Sovereign, there are thousands of us here; outwardly we are human beings, but in reality, neither we nor the Russian people as a whole are provided with any human rights, even the right to speak, to think, to assemble, to discuss our needs, or to take measure to improve our conditions. They have enslaved us and they did so under the protection of your officials, with their aid and with their cooperation. They imprison and send into exile any one of us who has the courage to speak on behalf of the interests of the working class and of the people. They punish us for a good heart and a responsive spirit as if for a crime. To pity a down-trodden and tormented person with no rights is to commit a grave crime.
The entire working people and the peasants are subjected to the proizvol (arbitrariness) of a bureaucratic administration composed of embezzlers of public funds and thieves who not only have not concern at all for the interests of the Russian people but who harm those interests. The bureaucratic administration has reduced the country to complete destitution, drawn it into a shameful war, and brings Russia ever further towards ruin. We, the workers and the people, have no voice in the expenditure of the enormous sums that are collected from us. We do not even know where the money collected from the impoverished people goes. The people are deprived of any possibility of expressing its wishes and demands, or of participating in the establishment of taxes and in their expenditure. Workers are deprived of the possibility of organising into unions to defend their interests.
Sovereign! Does all this accord with the law of God, by Whose grace you reign? And is it possible to live under such laws? Would it not be better if we, the toiling people of all Russia, died? Let the capitalists – exploiters of the working class – and the bureaucrats – embezzlers of public funds and the pillagers of the Russian people – live and enjoy themselves.
Sovereign, this is what we face and this is the reason that we have gathered before the walls of your palace. Here we seek our last salvation. Do not refuse to come to the aid of your people; lead it out of the grave of poverty, ignorance, and lack of rights; grant it the opportunity to determine its own destiny, and deliver it from them the unbearable yoke of the bureaucrats. Tear down the wall that separates you from your people and let it rule the country together with you. You have been placed [on the throne] for the happiness of the people; the bureaucrats, however, snatch this happiness out of our hands, and it never reaches us; we get only grief and humiliation.
Sovereign, examine our requests attentively and without any anger; they incline not to evil, but to the good, both for us and for you. Ours is not the voice of insolence but of the realisation that we must get out of a situation that is unbearable for everyone. Russia is too big, her needs are to diverse and many, for her to be ruled only by bureaucrats. We need popular representation; it is necessary for the people to help itself and to administer itself. After all, only the people know its real needs… Let the capitalist be there, and the worker, and the bureaucrat, and the priest, and the doctor and the teacher. Let everyone, whoever they are, elect their representatives. Let everyone be free and equal in his voting rights, and to that end order that elections to the Constituent Assembly be conducted under universal, secret and equal suffrage…
The following are necessary:
I. Measures against the ignorance of the Russian people and against its lack of rights
1. Immediate freedom and return home for all those who have suffered for their political and religious convictions, for strike activity, and for peasant disorders.
2. Immediate proclamation of the freedom and inviolability of the person, of freedom of speech and of the press, of freedom of assembly, and of freedom of conscience in matters of religion.
3. Universal and compulsory public education at state expense.
4. Accountability of government ministers to the people and a guarantee of lawful administration.
5. Equality of all before the law without exception.
6. Separation of church and state
II. Measures against the poverty of the people
1. Abolition of indirect taxes and their replacement by a direct, progressive income tax.
2. Abolition of redemption payments, cheap credit, and the gradual transfer of land to the people.
3. Naval Ministry contracts should be filled in Russia, not abroad.
4. Termination of the war according to the will of the people.
II. Measures against the oppression of labour by capital
1. Abolition of the office of factory inspector.
2. Establishment in factories and plants of permanent commissions elected by the workers, which jointly with the administration are to investigate all complaints coming from individual workers. A worker cannot be fired except by a resolution of this commission.
3. Freedom for producer-consumer cooperatives and workers’ trade unions, at once.
4. An eight-hour working day and regulation of overtime work.
5. Freedom for labour to struggle with capital, at once.
6. Wage regulation, at once.
7. Guaranteed participation of representatives of the working classes in drafting a law on state insurance for workers, at once.
These, Sovereign, are our main needs, about which we have come to you… Give the order, swear to meet these needs, and you will make Russia both happy and glorious, and your name will be fixed in our hearts and the hearts of our posterity for all time. But if you do not give the order, if you do not respond to our prayer, then we shall die here, on this square, in front of your palace. We have nowhere else to go and no reason to. There are only two roads for us, one to freedom and happiness, the other to the grave. Let our lives be sacrificed for suffering Russia. We do not regret that sacrifice, we embrace it eagerly.”
Georgii Gapon, priest
Ivan Vasimov, worker