Louis N Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Oct 18 11:32:07 MDT 1995


The forms taken by the historic events of January 9 could not, of
course, have been foreseen by anyone. The priest whom history had so
unexpectedly placed for a few days at the head of the working masses
imposed the imprint of his personality, his views and his priestly status
on the events. The real content of these events was concealed from
many eyes by their form. But the inner significance of January 9 goes
far beyond the symbolism of the procession to the Winter Palace.
Gapon's priestly robe was only a prop in that drama, the protagonist
was the proletariat. The proletariat began with a strike, united itself,
advanced political demands, came out into the streets, drew to itself
the enthusiastic sympathy of the entire population, clashed with the
troops and set off the Russian revolution [of 1905]. Gapon did not
create the revolutionary energy of the workers of St. Petersburg; he
merely released it, to his own surprise. The son of a priest, and then a
seminarian and student at the Aeligious Academy, this agitator, so
obviously encouraged by the police, suddenly found himself at the
head of a crowd of a hundred thousand men and women. the political
situation, his priestly robe, the elemental excitement of the masses
which, as yet, had little political consciousness, and the fabulously
rapid course of events turned Gapon into a "leader".

A spinner of fantasies on a psychological subsoil of adventurism, a
southerner of sanguine temperament with a touch of the confidence
man about him, a total ignoramus in social matters, Gapon was as
little able to guide events as he was able to foresee them. Events
completely overtook him.

The liberals persisted for a long time in the belief that the entire secret
of the events of January 9 lay in Gapon's personality. It contrasted him
with the social democrats as though he were a political leader who
knew the secret of controlling the masses and they a doctrinaire sect.
In doing so they forgot that January 9 would have not taken place if
Gapon had not encountered several thousand politically conscious
workers who had been through the school of socialism. These men
immediately formed an iron ring around him, a ring from which he
could not have broken loose even if he had wanted to. But he made no
attempt to break loose. Hypnotized by his own success, he let himself
be carried by the waves.

But although, on the very next day after Bloody Sunday, we ascribed to
Gapon a wholly subordinate political role, we all undoubtedly
overestimated his personality. With his halo of holy anger, with a
pastor's curses on his lips, he seemed from afar almost to be a Biblical
figure. It seemed as thought powerful revolutionary passions had been
awakened in the breast of this young priest employed at a Petersburg
transit prison. And what happened? When the lights burned low,
Gapon was seen by everyone to be the utter political and moral
nonentity he really was. His posturing before socialist Europe, his
pathetic "revolutionary" writings from abroad, both crude and naive,
his return to Russia, his conspiratorial relations with the government,
the pieces of silver dealt out by Count Witte, Capon's pretentious and
absurd interviews with representatives of the conservative press, and
finally, the wretched betrayal which caused his end--all these finally
destroyed any illusions concerning the Gapon of January 9.

We cannot help recalling the shrewd words of Viktor Adler, the leader
of the Austrian social democrats, who, on reading the first telegram
which announced Gapon's departure from Russia, said: "A pity...It
would have been better for his name in history if he had disappeared
from the scene as mysteriously as he had come upon it. We would have
been left with a beautiful romantic legend about the priest who opened
the floodgates of the Russian revolution. There are men, " Adler with
the subtle irony so characteristic of him, "whom the role of martyrs
suits better than that of party comrades."

(From Leon Trotsky's "1905")

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