Lenin’s view of ‘Bloody Sunday’ (1905)

Writing in exile, Lenin offers his views on the 1905 Revolution and the shootings on Bloody Sunday, January 1905:

“Revolt or revolution? This is the question that European journalists and reporters have been asking themselves in connection with the events in St. Petersburg, which they are reporting to the whole world and attempting to evaluate. Are they rebels or insurgents, the tens of thousands of proletarians against whom the tsarist army successfully took the field? And the foreign papers, though sooner in a position to view the events with “detachment”, with the impartiality of chroniclers, find it difficult to answer the question. They are constantly getting their terms mixed…

People who witness the beginning of great and momentous events, who can obtain only very incomplete, inexact, and third-hand information of what is taking place, will not, of course, hazard a definite opinion until a better moment comes. The bourgeois papers, which continue as of old to speak of revolt, rioting, and disturbances, cannot help seeing the truly national – no, international – significance of these events.

Yet it is this significance which invests events with the character of revolution. And those who have been writing of the last days of the rioting find themselves involuntarily referring to them as the first days of the revolution. A turning point in Russia’s history has been reached. This is not denied even by the most hidebound of European conservatives, however enthusiastic and sentimental they may wax over the mighty, unrestricted power of the all-Russian autocracy.

Peace between the autocracy and the people is unthinkable. Revolution is not only in the mouths of a few fearless souls, not only of “nihilists” — as Europe persists in calling the Russian revolutionaries — but of every person capable of taking any interest in world politics… The Russian working-class movement has risen to a higher level in the last few days. It is developing before our very eyes into a national uprising…”

[On the Tsar and ‘Bloody Sunday’]

“The government generally… wanted to provoke bloody reprisals under conditions most favourable to itself… The government thus had its hands free to play a winning game. The demonstration, so they reckoned, would be made up of the most peaceful, least organised, and most backward workers; it would be child’s play for our soldiery to handle them, and the proletariat would be taught a wholesome lesson; an excellent excuse would be furnished for shooting down anybody and everybody in the streets; at Court the victory of the reactionary parties over the liberals would be complete; the harshest repressions would follow…

In reviewing the events of Bloody Sunday one is struck by the combination of naïve patriarchal faith in the tsar and the fierce armed street fighting against the tsarist rule. The first day of the Russian revolution brought the old Russia and the new face to face with startling force and showed the death agony of the peasants’ age-old faith in “Our Father the Tsar”, and the birth of a revolutionary people, the urban proletariat. No wonder the European bourgeois newspapers say that Russia of January 10th is no longer the Russia of January 8th.

Here, in Russia, a priest found himself at the head of the movement; one day he appealed for a march with a peaceful petition to the tsar himself, and the next day he issued a call for revolution. “Comrades, Russian workers!” Father Georgi Gapon wrote, after that bloody day, in a letter read at a meeting of liberals. “We no longer have a tsar. Today a river of blood divides him from the Russian people. It is time for the Russian workers to begin the struggle for the people’s freedom without him. For today I give you my blessing. Tomorrow I shall be with you. Today I am busy working for our cause.”

This is not Father Georgi Gapon speaking. This is the voice of those thousands upon thousands, of those millions upon millions of Russian workers and peasants who until now could believe naively and blindly in the Tsar Father and seek alleviation of their unbearable lot from Our Father the Tsar “himself”, who put the blame for all the atrocities and outrages, the tyranny and plunder, only on the officials that were deceiving the tsar.

Reports as to the number of killed or wounded differ. Naturally, there can be no question of an exact count, and a visual estimate is very difficult. The government’s report giving 96 killed and 330 wounded is obviously false, and no one believes it. According to the latest press reports, journalists handed the Minister of the Interior a list of 4,600 killed or wounded, as compiled by reporters. Of course, even this figure cannot be complete, since it would be impossible even in the day-time (let alone at night) to count all the killed and wounded in the various clashes.

The victory of the autocracy over the unarmed people took a toll no smaller than did the big battles in Manchuria. No wonder the St. Petersburg workers, according to the reports of foreign correspondents, cried out to the officers that they were more successful at fighting the Russian people than they were the Japanese.”