‘Singing revolutionary songs, the workers set off down the street’

Violent unrest in St Petersburg

The Winter Palace in St Petersburg. The city was the scene of violent clashes between workers and police shortly before the outbreak of the first World War.

The Winter Palace in St Petersburg. The city was the scene of violent clashes between workers and police shortly before the outbreak of the first World War.

Thu, Jul 17, 2014, 01:00

As Russia braced itself for war in July 1914, Saint Petersburg was gripped by a wave of violent unrest that was brutally suppressed by police.

– Isabel Gorst

Day of Bloody Clashes

Official announcement

Yesterday ... about 60,000 employees were on strike at manufacturing and print plants for the whole day. Most of them took to the streets singing revolutionary songs and urging other workers to join them on the way. Police quickly dispersed the demonstrators...

The workers behaved particularly aggressively in the Narva area where they waved red flags and threw cobblestones. Nine policemen were seriously injured, including two officers ... Police had to fire revolver shots to restore order.

The unrest was sparked by false rumours published in various tabloids that some workers had been injured by police at the Putilov [metal working] plant on the evening of [July 16th] ... there was a massive strike and a series of violent clashes between workers and police....The workers bombarded police with stones and police opened fire from revolvers.

Some history

Three days ago workers in Saint Petersburg began agitating for a one-day strike to protest action by the authorities against strikers in Baku [Azerbaijan]\. As a result they decided to halt work and stage a protest in Saint Petersburg on Friday [July 17th]plant had already held a meeting the evening before to discuss the events in Baku. About 20,000 very agitated workers attended that gathering.

The factory management called the police who asked the workers to leave the premises.

Singing revolutionary songs, the workers set off down the street where they were soon met by a detachment of mounted and foot police.

When asked to disperse some of the workers began throwing stones.

The police were outnumbered by the huge, highly animated crowd, so the officer gave the command for his men to draw their swords. The workers fled.

In some places there were violent clashes between workers and police. Three workers and two city policemen were injured.

On the evening of [July 17th] reports appeared in some newsletters, including worker publications, that several people had been killed and more than fifty injured during clashes at the Putilov factory.

The workers were convinced these reports were true and began agitating for a strike to protest police action...

The Beginning of the Events

The first sign of the strike came at the Aivaz and Lesnom factories...

At 4 o’clock in the morning when the night shift ended workers at these plants took to the streets singing revolutionary songs. They were soon stopped by a police detachment. On seeing the police the workers ran away.

Around 8 o’clock in the morning the second shift at the [two] factories declared a strike.

At the same time other factories, print works and even workshops all over the city went on strike.

According to preliminary calculations about 60,000 Saint Petersburg workers were on strike yesterday.

At Moscow Zastav

Two of the biggest clashes occurred at the Moscow Zastav [gate] in the Narva region.

Workers at the “Siemens and Galsk” factory held a meeting and decided to go and get people at other plants to join the strike.

They succeeded without much difficulty in recruiting workers at the train carriage plant which is now on strike and moved on to the Skorokhod factory. Here the gates were firmly barred so they couldn’t get in.

The workers began rioting and, after smashing some windows, broke down the factory gates.

At this point a police detachment arrived under the command of VV Karpinsks, the assistant to the prefect. The workers retreated from the Skorokhod plant and split into two groups.

One group set off down Tsvetochnoye street and another towards Zabalkansk Prospect. The workers chanted revolutionary songs and waved red flags.

On Zabalkansk Prospect they were stopped by a detachment of police led by Karpinsk. When asked to disperse the workers began throwing cobblestones. After warning the workers to back off, the police gave orders to attack. One demonstrator was seriously injured and immediately sent to hospital.

Peterburgsky Listok

July 18th, 1914