The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



one of the attempts of the tsarist authorities to divert the workers of Russia from the revolutionary struggle at the beginning of the 20th century through the creation of false workers’ organizations and the kindling of monarchical, chauvinistic, and religious prejudices among the workers. G. A. Gapon was the initiator and leader of this variety of the progovernment labor movement.

As a priest in one of the working-class quarters Gapon had become well-known for his sermons and projects which, composed in the spirit of Christian socialism, had called for the organizing of charitable assistance. With the permission and support of the Okhranka (tsarist secret police) he initiated the organization Assembly of Russian Factory Workers of St. Petersburg, whose charter was approved on Feb. 15, 1904. Financed by the police, with whom their ties were carefully masked, the first tearoom-clubs were set up. They became centers for the district branches of the assembly. Gapon sought to impart a cultural and educational character to the activity of the organization. Libraries containing an appropriate selection of literature were established, and lectures and discussions were organized. By these means Gapon tried to win round the workers to a spirit of devotion to the tsar and the Orthodox Church and to incite them against the revolutionaries. He propagated ideas based on the belief in peace among social classes. Utilizing the workers’ political backwardness, as well as their craving for unification and knowledge, he achieved a certain degree of success: by 1905 the assembly had 11 branches in St. Petersburg, with over 10,000 factory workers as recruits. Gapon proposed to extend his organization throughout Russia, but to this the authorities would not agree. The followers of Gapon were unable to control the surging revolutionary mood of the masses. They were compelled to pretend to share this mood. At meetings vital economic and political questions were discussed with increasing frequency. In the end, the legal Gapon organizations contributed to the workers’ unification and political awakening. When the general strike broke out in St. Petersburg at the beginning of January 1905, the branches of the assembly became centers for the movement. At Gapon’s initiative a petition was drawn up and a procession of workers to the tsar was organized. Included in the petition were political and economic demands, such as the summoning of a constituent assembly, introduction of the eight-hour work-day, and granting of democratic freedoms. Here the influence of the Social Democratic minimum program evidenced itself. The workers’ demands could have been achieved only by revolutionary means. Of this the Bolsheviks had warned. But the workers still believed in the tsar and decided to seek “justice and protection” from him. The peaceful demonstration of Jan. 9, 1905, which initiated the Revolution of 1905-07 in Russia, was fired upon by the troops. The workers received a bloody lesson. The Gapon branches were shut down.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.