Bloody Sunday caused grave consequences for the Tsarist autocracy governing Imperial Russia: the events in St. Petersburg provoked public outrage and a series of massive strikes that spread quickly to the industrial centres of the Russian Empire. The massacre on Bloody Sunday is considered to be the start of the active phase of the Revolution of 1905. In addition to beginning the 1905 Revolution, historians such as Lionel Kochan in his book Russia in Revolution 1890–1918 view the events of Bloody Sunday to be one of the key events which led to the Russian Revolution of 1917.
After the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 by Tsar Alexander II of Russia, there emerged a new peasant working class in Russia’s industrializing cities. Prior to emancipation no working class could be established because serfs working in the cities to supplement their incomes retained their ties to the land and their masters. Although the working conditions in the cities were horrific, they were only employed for short periods of time and returned to their village when their work was complete or it was time to resume agricultural work.
The emancipation of the serfs resulted in the establishment of a permanent working class in urban areas, which created a strain on traditional Russian society. Peasants “were confronted by unfamiliar social relationships, a frustrating regime of factory discipline, and the distressing conditions of urban life.” This new group of peasant workers made up the majority of workers in urban areas. Generally unskilled, these peasants received low wages, were employed in unsafe working environments, and worked up to fifteen hours a day. Although some workers still had a paternalistic relationship with their employer, factory employers were more present and active than the noble landowners that previously had ownership of the serfs. Under serfdom, peasants had little, if any, contact with their landowner. In the new urban setting, however, factory employers often used their absolute authority in abusive and arbitrary manners. Their abuse of power, made evident by the long working hours, low wages, and lack of safety precautions, led to strikes in Russia.
“The Russian term for strike, stachka, was derived from an old colloquial term, stakat’sia- to conspire for a criminal act.” As such, Russian laws viewed strikes as criminal acts of conspiracy and potential catalysts for rebellion. The governmental response to strikes, however, supported the efforts of the workers and promoted strikes as an effective tool that could be used by the workers to help improve their working conditions. Tsarist authorities usually intervened with harsh punishment, especially for the leaders and spokesmen of the strike, but often the complaints of the strikers were reviewed and seen as justified and the employers were required to correct the abuses about which the strikers protested.
These corrections did not address a grossly unbalanced system that clearly favored the employers. This caused the continuation of strikes and the first major industrial strike in Russia, which occurred in the year 1870 in St. Petersburg. This new phenomenon was a catalyst to many more strikes in Russia, which increased until they reached a peak between 1884 and 1885 when 4,000 workers went on strike at Morozov's cotton mill. This large strike prompted officials to consider regulations that would restrain the abuses of employers and ensure safety in the work place. A new law was passed in 1886 that required employers to specify working conditions in their factories in writing. This included the treatment of the workers, the workers' hours, and the safety precautions that were taken by the employer. This new law also created factory inspectors who were charged with preserving industrial peace. Despite these changes, strike activity again reached high proportions during the 1890s, resulting in the restriction of the workday to eleven and a half hours in 1897.