Well on its way to losing a war against Japan in the Far East, czarist Russia is wracked with internal discontent that finally explodes into violence in St. Petersburg in what will become known as the Bloody Sunday Massacre.
Under the weak-willed Romanov Czar Nicholas II, who ascended to the throne in 1894, Russia had become more corrupt and oppressive than ever before. Plagued by the fear that his line would not continue—his only son, Alexis, suffered from hemophilia—Nicholas fell under the influence of such unsavory characters as Grigory Rasputin, the so-called mad monk. Russia’s imperialist interests in Manchuria at the turn of the century brought on the Russo-Japanese War, which began in February 1904. Meanwhile, revolutionary leaders, most notably the exiled Vladimir Lenin, were gathering forces of socialist rebellion aimed at toppling the czar.
To drum up support for the unpopular war against Japan, the Russian government allowed a conference of the zemstvos, or the regional governments instituted by Nicholas’s grandfather Alexander II, in St. Petersburg in November 1904. The demands for reform made at this congress went unmet and more radical socialist and workers’ groups decided to take a different tack.
On January 22, 1905, a group of workers led by the radical priest Georgy Apollonovich Gapon marched to the czar’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg to make their demands. Imperial forces opened fire on the demonstrators, killing and wounding hundreds. Strikes and riots broke out throughout the country in outraged response to the massacre, to which Nicholas responded by promising the formation of a series of representative assemblies, or Dumas, to work toward reform.
Internal tension in Russia continued to build over the next decade, however, as the regime proved unwilling to truly change its repressive ways and radical socialist groups, including Lenin’s Bolsheviks, became stronger, drawing ever closer to their revolutionary goals. The situation would finally come to a head more than 10 years later as Russia’s resources were stretched to the breaking point by the demands of World War I.