The January Strike
For most people the events of January 1905 in St. Petersburg struck suddenly and without warning. The Assembly of Russian Workers remained unknown to most residents of the city, and even revolutionaries, who generally knew about it, for the most part misjudged it, failing to grasp the political significance of its widespread popularity among workers until the January strike overtook them. Official Petersburg viewed it as a harmless set of tearooms and social clubs, and oppositionist Petersburg as a repellent and dangerous experiment in police unionism. Practically no one outside Gapon's inner circle realized the Assembly's potential for mass political mobilization, and even some intimates had scoffed at the priest's grandiose plans.
Not surprisingly, therefore, many contemporaries and historians have regarded working-class activity in January (and to some degree throughout 1905) as "spontaneous." This characterization is, of course, partly accurate if taken to describe activity that was relatively autonomous, self-initiated, and without external prompting. But the term has also been used to describe activity thought to be undertaken out of transient enthusiasms and misguided motives rather than as a result of a conscious and consistent political outlook. Social Democratic and, later, Soviet authors in particular have too often simplistically contrasted the "spontaneity" of most workers with the "consciousness" of the party and its Marxist viewpoint. This has led to a neglect of the historical and dialectical development of working-class politics. "Conscious" views are contrasted with "unconscious" ones, as if people cannot behave in a revolutionary manner unless they possess the "correct" understanding of the situation, as if motives and out-