3 November 2008, 15:13


By Tatiana Ilyasova The First Russian revolution was triggered by the events that developed in the capital of the empire, St. Petersburg, on January 9, 1905. However, its major developments took place in Moscow.

By Tatiana Ilyasova

The First Russian revolution was triggered by the events that developed in the capital of the empire, St. Petersburg, on January 9, 1905. However, its major developments took place in Moscow.

On January 9, 1905, 140 thousand workers marched toward the Winter Palace, the Tsar’s residence in St. Petersburg, to hand their petition to the ruler. Signed by 150,000 people, the petition said: "Your Majesty, we have come to seek the truth and protection. We are impoverished. We are oppressed and overworked. We are treated as slaves. Our patience is exhausted."

However the petition was not handed to the Tsar. He was not in town. The police and troops faced the demonstrators instead of him. They opened fire. More than one thousand people were killed and about five thousand wounded.

The reprisal shook the entire nation. Outraged, the workers of Moscow went on strike. In January 140 plants and factories, whose number of workers surpassed 50,000 people were on strike. The employees of trade, centers, government workers and Moscow University students joined them.

Professional revolutionaries stepped in. On February 4, 1905, Ivan Kalyayev of the Party of Socialist Revolutionaries threw a bomb at the vehicle carrying Moscow's governor-general, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich Romanov, the Tsar's favorite uncle. The slain Grand Duke had been one of the most influential figures in the royal entourage. Ivan Kalyayev was brought to trial and hanged.

A month later his comrades broke into a bank in the heart of Moscow. Brandishing bombs, they disarmed the guards, stole a large sum of money and disappeared. It took them 15 minutes to carry out the operation. In the three years of the revolution the Socialist Revolutionaries carried out 233 terrorist acts, killing or injuring 242 people.

Unlike the Socialist Revolutionaries, the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party rejected terrorism, preferring a different way. It was steadily engaged in preparations for an armed uprising aimed at overthrowing tsarism.

By the autumn of 1905 the revolutionary movement in Russia was on the rise. Moscow was the center of revolutionary activity.

The workers of publishing houses went on strike on September 19. Bakers, carpenters, workers from tobacco and other factories joined them a week later. The movement of trams stopped. Mass rallies were staged in many parts of the city. The Moscow Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party called for a general political strike. The strike began on October 7. It was launched by the local Social-Democrats under the following slogans: "Long Live National Uprising!" "Down with Tsarist Government!"

So quiet and unruffled until recently, Moscow was swept by enormous rallies and demonstrations. Finally the strike spread throughout the empire. Even the Tsar's Manifesto could not quell it. Issued on October 17, the Manifesto proclaimed freedom of speech, rallies and unions, and announced the summoning of the State Duma, which was the first step toward democracy.

Those who were against the uprising lost no time either. In the month that followed the Manifesto a wave of anti-revolutionary terrorism swept Russia — more than 4000 people were killed. In Moscow a prominent Bolshevik, Nickolai Bauman, fell victim to the anti-revolutionary terror.

His funeral turned into a huge demonstration. The procession went on for 9 hours. The police did not dare to interfere. That day, October 20, became a kind of a review of revolutionary forces on the eve of that year's main events. The Bolsheviks turned the Moscow Council of Workers' Deputies into the headquarters of the armed upheaval that shook Moscow in December.

At midday on December 7 Moscow went on strike once again. Its plants, factories, publishing houses and transport stood still. Government institutions and shops were closed. Only one newspaper — The News of the Moscow Council of Workers' Deputies — was printed. In its first two days the strike went on peacefully. The troops neither supported the protesters, nor harassed them. The situation changed on December 9.

That day about 150 representatives of Moscow’s workers' squads gathered at the building of Fidler's technical school. The workers called it their "war ministry", because it was the place they held their conferences at and organized military training for members of workers' squads. Such squads numbered about 10,000 men.

On December 9 Fidler's school was surrounded, by troops and artillery. Here's what a contemporary, industrialist and member of the Moscow City Duma Nikolai Vishnyakov wrote about it in his diary.

"The police surrounded the building, while the troops targeted their guns. They demanded that the inmates-surrender, but shots sounded from the windows in reply. Then the order was give to open gun fire. Soon the besieged waved a white flag. An officer with few troops went to the building's door, but a bomb was thrown from there. Several men were killed. Then the guns were fired again… "

Government troops outnumbered the besieged. Only a few fighters managed to escape. Most of the workers -118 men — were, arrested; 15 were wounded and 3 killed.

In answer to the interference of government troops the revolutionary workers began to build barricades in Moscow streets. The first such barricades emerged in the city center. The uprising was gaining momentum. About one thousand barricades were built in Moscow in a single day. They were built in three lines, dividing the center from the suburbs. The distance between them ranged from 50 to 100 paces. In erecting the barricades the rebels used all they could. Here's a testimony by eye-witnesses:

“A group of workers unhinged heavy cast iron gates; others detached signboards or rolled barrels in. All that formed a heap which cut the street. In the meantime, snow continued to fall. Workers, students, women added water to it, and winter did the rest of the job: it froze the barricade, making it firmer."

And here's another excerpt from the diary of industrialist Vishnyakov:

"The 11th of December. Thank God, another day is beginning. Let the Governor-General do away with the rebels, who have beleaguered the whole of Russia.

Gunfire is heard since 8 in the morning. Shots were also fired at about noon. There are no newspapers… The bakers are in the third day of their strike. There is no white bread, only brown… At 4 p.m. I went for a walk in the hope of finding an open bakery. People were rushing about in the dusk. The dry sounds of shots came incessantly from far away…”

Moscow' streets were impassable. Deployed in the center of the city, the troops found themselves cut from their barracks. In the areas lying far from the center workers' squads seized power almost without resistance. However, in central districts they had to fight with the police and troops. The rebels resorted to guerrilla tactics: they acted in small groups, hiding in neighboring houses and courtyards.

The rebels turned Presnya — one of the central districts which now houses Russia's government — into a veritable fortress. All police posts were eliminated there. Almost all police stations were closed. The revolutionary order was maintained by the local Council of Workers’ Deputies and by the headquarters of workers' squads. At the headquarters there was a strict distribution of duties: certain groups were in charge of arms supplies, finances, medical matters, justice. The headquarters made bakers bake bread for Presnya and tradesmen continue to sell goods. All local wine shops, bars and taverns were shut down.

The military wing of the Moscow Committee of the Social-Democratic Workers' Party explained in its leaflets addressed to participants in the uprising:

"Comrades, our top-priority task is to hand power in the city over to the people. In the section we have seized we'll establish an elected government and introduce the 8-hour work day. We shall prove that under our government the rights and freedoms of everyone will be protected better than they are now."

Fierce fighting broke out in different parts of the city. December 11 saw particularly many casualties: chapels belonging to the police force were overflowing with dead bodies and more corpses had to be placed in firemen's barns.

Here's how the liberal-minded magazine Pravo described developments in Moscow:

"The cannonade never stops. The roar of guns, the noise of machineguns, the whistling of bullets never cease. Hundreds and maybe thousands of people have been killed, but there is no end to the fighting. At the moment the revolutionaries have more people under rifle and on the barricades than they had four days ago."

In his cables dispatched to St. Petersburg Moscow’s Governor-General begged for only one thing: "Send more troops!"

December 15 saw the arrival of the Semyonovsky Guards Regiment from St. Petersburg. The Ladozhsky Regiment arrived from a suburb of Warsaw the next day. Government troops launched an offensive. Now the balance of forces was too uneven: the revolutionaries with their homemade bombs and revolvers against elite troops. Soon the fighting went on only in Presnya — the area standing on the River Presnya known for its good fresh water. Populated largely by the working people, Presnya became the last bulwark of the revolutionaries. Workers' squads retreated there from other parts of Moscow.

On December 17 Presnya began to be shelled. Heavy guns made four volleys a minute, and Presnya's largely wooden buildings went on fire. Nevertheless the workers resisted for two more days.

Realizing that the uprising was about to be defeated, the Moscow Committee of the Social-Democratic Workers' Party issued the following leaflet:

"Back to work, comrades!"

On December 19 the commander of Presnya's fighting unit Litvin-Sedoy issued his last order:

"We are ending our struggle… We are alone in this world. All the people are looking at us — some with horror, others with deep sympathy. Blood, violence and death will follow in our footsteps. But it does not matter. The working class will win. "

And here's another excerpt from the diary of industrialist Vishnyakov:

"The 19th of December… The first quiet day… The strikers got what they deserved in Presnya; they were shot without mercy. I think that the darkest era of the latest demonstrations did not amass so much violence…"

During the uprising in Moscow about 600 people were killed and 1500 wounded.

During the uprising the Moscow City Duma considered the possibility of paying the wages. Mayor Nikolai Guchkov said:

"Since it is hard to determine who of the workers went on strike consciously and who under pressure of threats, the wages should be paid to everyone without deductions."

In December of 1905 armed uprising took place in 30 more cities in Russia. The revolution went on till the middle of 1907. However its highest point was the December 1905 uprising in Moscow. The experience of armed struggle in 1905 will undoubtedly play a great role in the 1917 revolutions.

Moscow today keeps memory of the 1905 events. Many of its streets bear the names of active participants in the uprising. There are subway stations called The 1905 Street and Barrikadnaya Monuments to the revolutionary workers also serve as a reminder of those developments. There are six of them in the area of Presnya alone. There is a museum called Krasnaya (Red) Presnya with a unique diorama picturing "Heroic Presnya in 1905." The review includes tapes in five European languages. All this is located in the area, where barricades were erected not only in 1905, and in 1917, but also in August of 1991 and in October of 1993.

Presnya has an odd destiny: it was the epicenter of political developments at the beginning and at the end of the 20th century. History is alive there.

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