In Switzerland (July 12, 1912)
|Written||12 July 1912|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1975, Moscow, Volume 18, pages 160-162.
The local socialists call Switzerland a “republic of lackeys”. This petty-bourgeois country, in which inn-keeping has long been a major industry, has depended too much on wealthy parasites squandering millions on summer travel in the mountains. A small proprietor toadying to rich tourists—such, until recently, was the most widespread type of Swiss bourgeois.
Things are changing now. A large-scale industry is developing in Switzerland. The use of waterfalls and mountain rivers as direct sources of electric power is playing a big part in this. The power of falling water, which replaces coal in industry, is often called “white coal”.
The industrialisation of Switzerland, i.e., the development there of a large-scale industry, has put an end to the former stagnation in the working-class movement. The struggle between capital and labour is assuming a more acute character. The drowsy, philistine spirit which often in the past pervaded some of the Swiss workers’ associations is disappearing to give way to the fighting mood of a class-conscious and organised proletariat that is aware of its strength.
The Swiss workers entertain no illusions about the fact that theirs is a bourgeois republic upholding the same kind of wage slavery as exists in all the capitalist countries with out exception. At the same time, however, they have learned very well to use the freedom of their republican institutions to enlighten and organise the wide mass of the workers.
The fruits of their work were clearly revealed during the general strike in Zurich on July 12 (June 29, old style).
This is how it came about. The painters and fitters in Zurich had been on strike, for several weeks, demanding higher wages and shorter hours. The enraged employers decided to break the resistance of the strikers. The government of the bourgeois republic, eager to serve the capitalists, came to their aid, and began to deport foreign strikers! (There are many foreign workers, particularly Italians, who go to Switzerland to work.) But the use of brute force did not help. The workers held their ground as one man.
Then the capitalists resorted to the following method. In Hamburg, Germany, there is a firm, owned by Ludwig Koch, which specialises in supplying strike-breakers. The Zurich capitalists—patriots and republicans, don’t laugh!—had that firm send in strike-breakers, who they knew included all sorts of criminals convicted in Germany for pandering, brawling, etc. The capitalists supplied this riff-raff or gang of convicts (lumpenproletarians) with pistols. The brazen band of strike-breakers filled the taverns in the workers’ district and there engaged in unheard-of hooliganism. When a group of workers gathered together to eject the hooligans, one of the latter shot down a worker who was on strike.
The workers’ patience was exhausted. They beat up the murderer. It was decided to make an interpellation in the Zurich City Council on the hooligans’ outrages. And when the city authorities, in defence of the capitalists, prohibited strike picketing, the workers resolved to protest by a one-day general strike.
All the trade unions declared unanimously for the strike. The printers were the only sad exception. They declared against the strike, and the meeting of 425 representatives of all the Zurich workers’ organisations replied to the printers’ decision with a stentorian cry of “Shame!” The strike was decided on, even though the leaders of political organisations were against it (the same old spirit of the philistine, opportunist Swiss leaders!).
Knowing that the capitalists and the management would try to wreck the peaceful strike, the workers acted according to the wise maxim, “In war as in war.” In war-time one does not tell the enemy when an attack will take place. The workers purposely declared on Thursday that the strike would take place on Tuesday or Wednesday, whereas in reality they had fixed it for Friday. The capitalists and the management were taken by surprise.
The strike was a signal success. Thirty thousand leaflets in German and Italian were circulated early in the morning. Some 2,000 strikers occupied the tram depots. Every thing stopped. Life in the city came to a standstill. Friday is a market day in Zurich, but the city seemed dead. The consumption of spirits (all alcoholic drinks) was prohibited by the strike committee, and the workers strictly obeyed this decision.
An imposing mass demonstration took place at 2 p.m. When the speeches were over, the workers dispersed peace fully, and without singing.
The government and the capitalists, who had hoped to provoke the workers to violence, saw their failure and are now beside themselves with rage. Not only strike picketing, but also open-air meetings and demonstrations have been prohibited by special decree throughout the Zurich Canton. The police occupied the People’s House in Zurich and arrest ed a number of the workers’ leaders. The capitalists announced a three-day lock-out by way of avenging themselves for the strike.
The workers are keeping calm; they scrupulously observe the boycott of spirits and wine, saying among themselves: “Why shouldn’t a working man rest three days a year, since the rich rest all the year round?”