Some historians view the events of Bloody Sunday 1905 as one of the key events which led to the Russian Revolution of 1917, during which Nicholas II was dethroned. The event took place on 22 January 1905 (O.S. 9 January).
The serfs had been emancipated by Tsar Alexander II in 1861, and they became a new working class, which had previously not existed in Russia’s traditional society. They were unskilled and received a low wage. While under serfdom, they had little contact with the landowner, but in this new setting, they were often subject to abuse from their employer. This inevitably led to strikes in Russia. According to Russian law, strikes were considered to be criminal acts of conspiracy, and the authorities often intervened with harsh punishment. The year 1870 saw the first major industrial strike and led to even more strikes.
Father Georgy Gapon was quite concerned about the conditions this new working class were working under. He headed the Assembly of the Russian Factory and Mill Workers of the City of St. Petersburg, which wanted to defend workers’ rights and was patronized by the secret police. It ultimately came to serve as a type of union.
In December of 1904, four workers were fired for their membership of the Assembly, and their entire workforce went on strike when the plant manager refused to rehire them. Sympathy strikes eventually totalled 150,000 workers from 382 factories. By 21 January (O.S. 8 January) St. Petersburg was without electricity. In the evening of 19 January (O.S. 6 January), the decision was made to present a petition to the Tsar, which was to be drafted by Father Gapon. Demands included: improved working conditions, fairer wages and a reduction to eight working hours. Father Gapon sent a copy of the petition to the Minister of the Interior, and he also wrote of his intent to lead a procession to the Winter Palace the next Sunday.
Nicholas departed from the Winter Palace on 21 January (O.S. 8 January) to Tsarskoye Selo as troops were deployed around the Winter Palace. The crowds began to gather before dawn on 22 January (O.S. 9 January) at several points in the city and proceeded to the Winter Palace while singing hymns and patriotic songs. The troops had been ordered to stop the crowds before they reached the square in front of the Palace, but some joined in, some ordered them to disperse, and others ordered their men to fire into the crowd.
Between 10 and 11 am, the first shootings took place. Father Gapon and his group were fired upon near the Narva Gate. Several were killed or injured. Several groups, mostly unaware of the violence elsewhere in the city, were on the Nevsky Prospekt, where they were met by around 2,300 soldiers. After a warning, several rounds were fired into the now panicking crowd.