May Day Action by the Revolutionary Proletariat
V. I. Lenin
A year has passed since the Lena events and the first, decisive upsurgence in the revolutionary working-class movement since the June Third coup. The tsar's Black Hundreds and the landowners, the mob of officials and the bourgeoisie have celebrated the 300th anniversary of plunder, Tatar incursions, and the disgracing of Russia by the Romanovs. The Fourth Duma has convened and begun its "work", though it has no faith in that work and has quite lost its former counter-revolutionary vigour. Confusion and tedium have beset liberal society, which is listlessly making appeals for reforms while admitting the impracticability of anything even approximating reform.
And now comes a May Day action by Russia's working class, who first held a rehearsal in Riga, then went into resolute action in St. Petersburg on May 1. (0.S.); this action has rent the dun and dreary atmosphere like a thunderbolt. The tasks of the approaching revolution have come to the fore again in all their grandeur, and the forces of the advanced class leading it stand out in bold relief before hundreds of old revolutionaries, whom persecution by hang men and desertion by friends have not defeated or broken, and before millions of people of the new generation of democrats and socialists.
Weeks before May Day, the government appeared to have lost its wits, while the gentlemen who own factories behaved as if they had never had any wits at all. The arrests and searches seemed to have turned all the workers' districts in the capital upside down. The provinces did not lag behind the centre. The harassed factory owners called conferences and adopted contradictory slogans, now threatening the workers with punishment and lock-outs, now making concessions in advance and consenting to stop work, now inciting the government to commit atrocities, now reproaching the government and calling on it to include May Day in the number of official holidays.
But even though the gendarmes showed the utmost zeal, even though they "purged" the industrial suburbs, even though they made arrests right and left according to their latest "lists of suspects", it was no use. The workers laughed at the impotent rage of the tsar's gang and the capitalist class and derided the governor's menacing and pitiful "announcements"; they wrote satirical verses and circulated them by hand or passed them on by word of mouth; they produced, as if from nowhere fresh batches of small, poorly printed "leaflets", short and plain, but very instructive, calling for strikes and demonstrations, and reminding the people of the old, uncurtailed, revolutionary slogans of the Social-Democrats, who in 1905 led the first onslaught of the masses against the autocracy and against monarchy.
A hundred thousand on strike on May Day, said the government press the next day. Bourgeois newspapers, using the first telegraphed information, reported a hundred and twenty-five thousand (Kievskaya Mysl). A correspondent of the central organ of the German Social-Democrats wired from St. Petersburg that it was a hundred and fifty thousand. And the day after the whole bourgeois press quoted a figure of 200,000–220,000. Actually the number of strikers reached 250,000!
But, apart from the number of May Day strikers, much more impressive—and much more significant—were the revolutionary street demonstrations held by the workers. Everywhere in and around the capital crowds of workers singing revolutionary songs, calling loudly for revolution and carrying red flags fought for several hours against police and security forces frantically mobilised by the government. And those workers made the keenest of the tsar s henchmen feel that the struggle was in earnest, that the police were not faced with a handful of individuals engaged in a trivial Slavophil affair, that it was actually the masses of the capital's working class who had risen.
This was a really brilliant, open demonstration of the proletariat's revolutionary aspirations, of its revolutionary forces steeled and reinforced by new generations, of revolutionary appeals to the people and the peoples of Russia. Last year the government and the manufacturers were able to take comfort from the fact that the Lena explosion could not have been foreseen, that they could not have made immediate preparations to combat its consequences; this time, however, the monarchy had displayed acute foresight, there had been ample time for preparation and the "measures" taken were most "vigorous"; the result was that the tsarist monarchy revealed its complete impotence when faced with a revolutionary awakening of the proletarian masses.
Indeed, one year of strike struggle since Lena has shown, despite the pitiful outcries of the liberals and their yes-men against the "craze for striking", against "syndicalist" strikes, against combining economic with political strikes and vice versa—this year has shown what a great and irreplaceable weapon for agitation among the masses, for rousing them, for drawing them into the struggle the Social-Democratic proletariat had forged for itself in the revolutionary epoch. The revolutionary mass-scale strike allowed the enemy neither rest nor respite. It also hit the enemy's purse, and in full view of the whole world it trampled into the mud the political prestige of the allegedly "strong" tsarist government. It enabled more and more sections of the workers to regain at least a small part of what had been achieved in 1905 and drew fresh sections of the working people, even the most backward, into the struggle. It did not exhaust the capacity of the workers, it was frequently demonstrative action of short duration, and at the same time it paved the way for further, still more impressive and more revolutionary open action by the masses in the shape of street demonstrations.
During the last year, no country in the world has seen so many people on strike for political ends as Russia, or such perseverance, such variety, such vigour in strikes. This circumstance alone shows to the full the pettiness, the contemptible stupidity of those liberal and liquidationist sages who tried to "adjust" the tactics of the Russian workers in 1912–13, using the yardstick of "European" constitutional periods, periods that were mainly devoted to the preparatory work of bringing socialist education and enlightenment, to the masses.
The colossal superiority of the Russian strikes over those in the European countries, the most advanced countries, demonstrates, not the special qualities or special abilities of Russia's workers, but the special conditions in present-day Russia, the existence of a revolutionary situation, the growth of a directly revolutionary crisis. When the moment of a similar growth of revolution approaches in Europe (there it will be a socialist and not a bourgeois-democratic revolution, as in our country), the proletariat of the most developed capitalist countries will launch far more vigorous revolutionary strikes, demonstrations, and armed struggle against the defenders of wage-slavery.
This year's May Day strike, like the series of strikes in Russia during the last eighteen months, was revolutionary in character as distinguished not only from the usual economic strikes but from demonstration strikes and from political strikes demanding constitutional reforms, like, for instance, the last Belgian strike. Those who are in bond age to a liberal world outlook and no longer able to consider things from the revolutionary standpoint, cannot possibly understand this distinctive character of the Russian strikes, a character that is due entirely to the revolutionary state of Russia. The epoch of counter-revolution and of free play for renegade sentiment has left behind it too many people of this kind even among those who would like to be called Social-Democrats.
Russia is experiencing a revolutionary situation because the oppression of the vast majority of the population—not only of the proletariat but of nine-tenths of the small producers, particularly the peasants—has intensified to the maximum, and this intensified oppression, starvation, poverty, lack of rights, humiliation of the people is, further more, glaringly inconsistent with the state of Russia's productive forces, inconsistent with the level of the class consciousness and the demands of the masses roused by the year 1905, and inconsistent with the state of affairs in all neighbouring not only European but Asian—countries.
But that is not all. Oppression alone, no matter how great, does not always give rise to a revolutionary situation in a country. In most cases it is not enough for revolution that the lower classes should not want to live in the old way. It is also necessary that the upper classes should be unable to rule and govern in the old way. This is what we see in Russia today. A political crisis is maturing before our very eyes. The bourgeoisie has done everything in its power to back counter-revolution and ensure "peaceful development" on this counter-revolutionary basis. The bourgeoisie gave hangmen and feudal lords as much money as they wanted, the bourgeoisie reviled the revolution and renounced it, the bourgeoisie licked the boots of Purishkevich and the knout of Markov the Second and became their lackey, the bourgeoisie evolved theories based on "European" arguments, theories that revile the Revolution of 1905 as an "intellectualist" revolution and describe it as wicked, criminal, treasonous, and so on and so forth.
And yet, despite all this sacrificing of its purse, its honour and its conscience, the bourgeoisie—from the Cadets to the Octobrists—itself admits that the autocracy and land owners were unable to ensure "peaceful development", were unable to provide the basic conditions for "law" and "order", without which a capitalist country cannot, in the twentieth century, live side by side with Germany and the new China.
A nation-wide political crisis is in evidence in Russia, a crisis which affects the very foundation of the state system and not just parts of it, which affects the foundation of the edifice and not an outbuilding, not merely one of its storeys. No matter how many glib phrases our liberals and liquidators trot out to the effect that "we have, thank God, a constitution" and that political reforms are on the order of the day (only very limited people do not see the close connection between these two propositions), no matter how much of this reformist verbiage is poured out, the fact remains that not a single liquidator or liberal can point to any reformist way out of the situation.
The condition of the mass of the population in Russia, the aggravation of their position owing to the new agrarian policy (to which the feudal landowners had to snatch at as their last means of salvation), the international situation, and the nature of the general political crisis that has taken shape in our country—such is the sum-total of the objective conditions making Russia's situation a revolutionary one because of the impossibility of carrying out the tasks of a bourgeois revolution by following the present course and by the means available to the government and the exploiting classes.
Such is the social, economic, and political situation, such is the class relationship in Russia that has given rise to a specific type of strike impossible in modern Europe, from which all sorts of renegades would like to borrow the example, not of yesterday's bourgeois revolutions (through which shine gleams of tomorrow's proletarian revolution), but of today's "constitutional" situation. Neither the oppression of the lower classes nor a crisis among the upper classes can cause a revolution; they can only cause the decay of a country, unless that country has a revolutionary class capable of transforming the passive state of oppression into an active state of revolt and insurrection.
The role of a truly advanced class, a class really able to rouse the masses to revolution, really capable of saving Russia from decay, is played by the industrial proletariat. This is the task it fulfils by means of its revolutionary strikes. These strikes, which the liberals hate and the liquidators cannot understand, are (as the February resolution of the R.S.D.L.P. puts it) "one of the most effective means of overcoming the apathy, despair, and disunion of the agricultural proletariat and the peasantry, ... and drawing them into the most concerted, simultaneous, and extensive revolutionary actions".
The working class draws into revolutionary action the masses of the working and exploited people, who are deprived of basic rights and driven to despair. The working class teaches them revolutionary struggle, trains them for revolutionary action, and explains to them where to find the way out and how to attain salvation. The working class teaches them, not merely by words, but by deeds, by example, and the example is provided not by the adventures of solitary heroes but by mass revolutionary action combining political and economic demands.
How plain, how clear, how close these thoughts are to every honest worker who grasps even the rudiments of the theory of socialism and democracy! And how alien they are to those traitors to socialism and betrayers of democracy from among the intelligentsia, who revile or deride the "underground" in liquidationist newspapers, assuring naive simpletons that they are "also Social-Democrats".
The May Day action of the proletariat of St. Petersburg, supported by that of the proletariat of all Russia, clearly showed once again to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear the great historic importance of the revolutionary underground in present-day Russia. The only R.S.D.L.P. Party organisation in St. Petersburg, the St. Petersburg Committee, compelled even the bourgeois press, before the May Day action as well as on the eve of January 9, and on the eve of the Tercentenary of the Romanovs as well as on April 4, to note that St. Petersburg Committee leaflets had appeared again and again in the factories.
Those leaflets cost colossal sacrifices. Sometimes they are quite unattractive in appearance. Some of them, the appeals for demonstration on April 4, for instance, merely announce the hour and place of the demonstration, in six lines evidently set in secret and with extreme haste in different printing shops and in different types. We have people ("also Social-Democrats") who, when alluding to these conditions of "underground" work, snigger maliciously or curl a contemptuous lip and ask: "If the entire Party were limited to the underground, how many members would it have? Two or three hundred?" [See No. 95 (181) of Luch, a renegade organ, in its editorial defence of Mr. Sedov, who has the sad courage to be an outspoken liquidator. This issue of Luch appeared five days before the May Day action, i.e., at the very time the underground was preparing the leaflets!]
Messrs. Dan, Potresov and Co., who make these disgraceful statements, must know that there were thousands of proletarians in the Party ranks as early as 1903, and 150 thousand in 1907, that even now thousands and tens of thousands of workers print and circulate underground leaflets, as members of underground R.S.D.L.P. cells. But the liquidationist gentlemen know that they are protected by Stolypin "legality" from a legal refutation of their foul lies and their "grimaces", which are fouler still, at the expense of the underground.
See to what extent these despicable people have lost touch with the mass working-class movement and with revolutionary work in general! Use even their own yardstick, deliberately falsified to suit the liberals. You may assume for a moment that "two or three hundred" workers in St. Petersburg took part in printing and distributing those underground leaflets.
What is the result? "Two or three hundred" workers, the flower of the St. Petersburg proletariat, people who not only call themselves Social-Democrats but work as Social-Democrats, people who are esteemed and appreciated for it by the entire working class of Russia, people who do not prate about a "broad party" but make up in actual fact the only underground Social-Democratic Party existing in Russia, these people print and circulate underground leaflets. The Luch liquidators (protected by Stolypin censors) laugh contemptuously at the "two or three hundred", the "underground" and its "exaggerated" importance, etc.
And suddenly, a miracle occurs! In accordance with a decision drawn up by half a dozen members of the Executive Commission of the St. Petersburg Committee—a leaflet printed and circulated by "two or three hundred"—two hundred and fifty thousand people rise as one man in St. Petersburg.
The leaflets and the revolutionary speeches by workers at meetings and demonstrations do not speak of an "open working-class party", "freedom of association" or reforms of that kind, with the phantoms of which the liberals are fooling the people. They speak of revolution as the only way out. They speak of the republic as the only slogan which, in contrast to liberal lies about reforms, indicates the change needed to ensure freedom, indicates the forces capable of rising consciously to defend it.
The two million inhabitants of St. Petersburg see and hear these appeals for revolution which go to the hearts of all toiling and oppressed sections of the people. All St. Petersburg sees from a real, mass-scale example what is the real way out and what is lying liberal talk about reforms. Thousands of workers' contacts—and hundreds of bourgeois news papers, which are compelled to report the St. Petersburg mass action at least in snatches—spread throughout Russia the news of the stubborn strike campaign of the capital's proletariat. Both the mass of the peasantry and the peasants serving in the army hear this news of strikes, of the revolutionary demands of the workers, of their struggle for a republic and for the confiscation of the landed estates for the benefit of the peasants. Slowly but surely, the revolutionary strikes are stirring, rousing, enlightening, and organising the masses of the people for revolution.
The "two or three hundred" "underground people" express the interests and needs of millions and tens of millions, they tell them the truth about their hopeless position, open their eyes to the necessity of revolutionary struggle, imbue them with faith in it, provide them with the correct slogans, and win these masses away from the influence of the high-sounding and thoroughly spurious, reformist slogans of the bourgeoisie. And "two or three" dozen liquidators from among the intelligentsia, using money collected abroad and among liberal merchants to fool unenlightened workers, are carrying the slogans of that bourgeoisie into the workers' midst.
The May Day strike, like all the revolutionary strikes of 1912–13, has made clear the three political camps into which present-day Russia is divided. The camp of hangmen and feudal lords, of monarchy and the secret police. It has done its utmost in the way of atrocities and is already impotent against the masses of the workers. The camp of the bourgeoisie, all of whom, from the Cadets to the Octobrists, are shouting and moaning, calling for reforms and making fools of themselves by thinking that reforms are possible in Russia. The camp of the revolution, the only camp expressing the interests of the oppressed masses.
All the ideological work, all the political work in this camp is carried out by underground Social-Democrats alone, by those who know how to use every legal opportunity in the spirit of Social-Democracy and who are inseparably hound up with the advanced class, the proletariat. No one can tell beforehand whether this advanced class will succeed in leading the masses all the way to a victorious revolution. But this class is fulfilling its duty—leading the masses to that solution—despite all the vacillations and betrayals on the part of the liberals and those who are "also Social-Democrats". All the living and vital elements of Russian socialism and Russian democracy are being educated solely by the example of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, and under its guidance.
This year's May Day action has shown to the whole world that the Russian proletariat is steadfastly following its revolutionary course, apart from which there is no salvation for a Russia that is suffocating and decaying alive.
See present edition, Vol. 18, p. 457.—Ed.
This refers to the Slavophil demonstrations organised by reactionary nationalist elements in St. Petersburg on March 17, 18 and 24 (March 30 and 31 and April 6), 1913 on the occasion of the Serbo Bulgarian victories over the Turks during the first Balkan War. The reactionaries tried to use the national liberation struggle of the Balkan peoples in the interests of the expansionist, Great-Power politics of Russian tsarism in the Near East.
The strike referred to here took place in Belgium from April 14 to April 24 (N. S.), 1913. It was a general strike of the Belgian proletariat demanding a constitutional reform—the introduction of universal suffrage. Of the more than one million Belgian workers, between 400,000 and 500,000 took part in the strike. The development of the strike was regularly reported in Pravda, and lists of Russian workers' contributions in aid of the strike were also printed.
April 4, 1913 was the first anniversary of the shooting of workers in the Lena Goldfields; it was marked by a one–day strike of St. Petersburg workers in which over 85,000 people participated.
Published: Sotsial-Demokrat No. 31, June 15 (28), 1913.|
Published according to the Sotsial-Demokrat text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 218-227.
Translated: The Late George Hanna
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