The St. Petersburg Strike
V. I. Lenin
The strike that began at the Putiloy Works on January 3 is developing into one of the most imposing manifestations of the working-class movement. Our information so far is limited to reports in the foreign newspapers and the legal Russian press. But even these sources leave no doubt that the strike has already become a political event of tremendous importance.
The strike started quite spontaneously. It was one of the clashes between labour and capital that are ever recurring. This time the impetus was the dismissal of four workers by the factory management. The workers rose in a high spirit of solidarity and demanded their reinstatement. The movement gained rapidly. The legally functioning Russian Factory and Mill Workers' Society is taking part in it, and the strike is entering its next and higher phase.
This legal workers' society has been an object of special attention on the part of the Zubatovists. And now the Zubatov movement is outgrowing its bounds. Initiated by the police in the interests of the police, in the interests of supporting the autocracy and demoralising the political consciousness of the workers, this movement is turning against the autocracy and is becoming an outbreak of the proletarian, class struggle.
The Social-Democrats long ago predicted that such would be the inevitable outcome of the, Zubatov movement in our country. The legalisation of the working-class movement, they said, would definitely benefit us Social-Democrats. It would draw certain sections of the workers into the movement, especially the backward sections; it would help to rouse those who would not soon, perhaps ever, be roused by a socialist agitator. And once drawn into the movement and having acquired an interest in their own future, the workers would go further. The legal labour movement would only be a new and broader basis for the Social-Democratic labour movement.
Without a doubt, this is precisely what happened in St. Petersburg.
The movement owes its rapid expansion to two circumstances: first, the moment was propitious for an economic struggle (the government was in pressing need of the fulfilment of the orders placed by the War Ministry and the Admiralty); secondly, the constitutional movement among the social strata was expanding. Having begun the strike in defence of some dismissed comrades, the workers took the further step of presenting broad economic demands. They demanded an eight-hour day, a minimum wage (one ruble for men and seventy kopeks for women), the abolition of compulsory overtime work (and double pay for overtime), improvement of sanitary conditions and medical aid, etc. The strike began to develop into a general strike.
The foreign papers report under date of Saturday, January 8 (21, new style), that even according to official Russian information 174 mills, factories, and workshops involving 96,000 workers are on strike.
We are witnessing one of the great clashes between the developing proletarian class and its enemies, clashes that will leave their mark for many years to come.
But things did not stop at economic demands. The movement has begun to assume a political character. The local Social-Democrats have attempted (although, it seems, still very feebly) to participate in it. At huge mass meetings of the workers attended by several thousand people political demands have come to be discussed and resolutions in favour of political freedom have been put to the vote. The petition drawn up by the workers, it is reported, comprises three parts. The first sets forth demands of rights for the people; the second, measures to relieve the people's poverty; the third, measures against the oppression of labour by capital. The first part contains the following demands: inviolability of the person; freedom of speech, assembly, and conscience; compulsory schooling at the expense of the state; participation of elected representatives of the people in the legislature; equality of all before the law; a responsible Cabinet; abolition of the redemption payments; cheap credit; gradual sharing out of the state lands among the people; an income-tax. (If this report is true, it points to an extremely interesting interpretation of the Social-Democratic programme in the minds of the masses or their not very class-conscious leaders.) The correspondent of The Standard, an English newspaper, reports that three meetings took place on January 5 (18) (of which one was attended by 4,000 and an other by 2,000) and that the following political demands were endorsed: (1) the immediate convocation of a Constituent Assembly elected by a general vote; (2) an end to the war; (3) full amnesty for political exiles and prisoners; (4) freedom of the press and of conscience; (5) freedom of assembly and the right of association. The foreign press for January 8 (21) reports that preparations are under way for a demonstration to be held on Sunday, January 9 (22), outside the Winter Palace, at which a petition is to be presented "to the tsar himself". Freedom or death, declare the workers. Moscow and Libau are sending workers' delegates to St. Petersburg.
Such is the limited and still unconfirmed information to have reached us to date. Obviously the movement has not yet attained its zenith by far, and we must await further events before we can form a definite opinion of what is occurring. One is struck by the amazingly rapid shift of the movement from the purely economic to the political ground, by the tremendous solidarity and energy displayed by hundreds of thousands of proletarians—and all this, notwithstanding the fact that conscious Social-Democratic influence is lacking or is but slightly evident. The primitive character of the socialist views held by some of the leaders of the movement and the tenacity with which some elements of the working class cling to their naive faith in the tsar enhance rather than lessen the significance of the revolutionary instinct now asserting itself among the proletariat. The political protest of the leading oppressed class and its revolutionary energy break through all obstacles, both external, in the form of police bans, and internal, in the form of the ideological immaturity and backwardness of some of the leaders. The work of the Social-Democrats during the last ten years and the lessons of the working-class movement during this period have borne fruit; the ideas of socialism and of the political struggle are streaming through the broadest channels. The proletariat is proving in action that on the political scene in Russia there are not only two forces (autocracy and bourgeois society), as some in their faintness of heart have been ready to believe. It is showing us manifestly superior forms of mobilisation of the revolutionary class forces; this mobilisation, of course, is not to be classed with demonstrations of minor importance in this or that municipal council, but with mass movements, like the Rostov demonstration and the strikes of 1903 in the South. The mobilisation of the revolutionary forces of the proletariat in this new and higher form is bringing us with gigantic strides nearer to the moment when the proletariat will even more decisively and more consciously join battle with the autocracy.
Cf. N. Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, pp. 86-88. (See present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 454-56.—Ed.)—Lenin
Zubatov—colonel of the gendarmerie who tried to introduce a type of "police socialism". He set up pseudo-labour organisations under the patronage of the gendarmerie and the police in order to divert the workers from the revolutionary movement.
The petition of the St. Petersburg workers to the tsar was printed in leaflet form and reprinted in Vperyod, No. 4, January 31 (48), 1905.
Redemption payments—payments which the peasants had to make to the landlords for the allotments which they received under the Regulations of February 19, 1861, abolishing serfdom. The redemption payments were considerably in excess of the actual value of the allotments. In making them, the peasants, in actuality, were not only paying the landlords for the land which they had been using since time immemorial, but were paying for their emancipation as well.
Published: Vperyod, No. 3, January 24 (11), 1905. Published according to the test in Vperyod.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 90-93.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Isidor Lasker
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