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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