Query on Father Gapon, Re: Red Ken outrage

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Sat May 13 13:00:35 MDT 2000

Leon Trotsky, "1905":

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. 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 Religious 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 Capon 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, Capon was as little able to guide
events as he was 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 Capon'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 not have taken place if Capon 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
though 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, Capon was seen by every one 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 Capon 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 Capon'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 added with the subtle irony so
characteristic of him, "whom the role of martyrs suits better than that of
party comrades."

Louis Proyect
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