Preface to the Pamphlet, May Days in Kharkov
Published in January 1901 in a pamphlet issued by Iskra. Published according to the text of the pamphlet.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 4, pages 357-365.
The present pamphlet contains a description of the celebrated May Day demonstrations in Kharkov in 1900; it was drawn up by the Kharkov Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party on the basis of descriptions sent in by the workers themselves. It was sent to us as a newspaper report, but we consider it necessary to publish it as a separate pamphlet because of its size, as well as because in this way it will be possible to secure wider distribution. In another six months, the Russian workers will celebrate the First of May of the first year of the new century, and it is time we set to work organising the celebrations in as large a number of centres as possible, and on a scale as imposing as possible. They must be imposing, not only in the numbers of participants, but in the organised character and the class-consciousness the participants will display, in their determination to launch a resolute struggle for the political liberation of the Russian people and, consequently, for a free opportunity for the class development of the proletariat and its open struggle for socialism. It is time to prepare for the forthcoming May Day celebrations, and one of the most important preparation measures must consist in learning what the Social-Democratic movement in Russia has already achieved, in examining the short comings of our movement in general and of the May Day movement in particular, in devising means to eliminate these shortcomings and achieve better results.
May Day in Kharkov showed what a great political demonstration a working-class festival can become and what we lack to make these celebrations a really great all-Russian manifestation of the class-conscious proletariat. What made the May Day celebrations in Kharkov an event of outstanding importance? The large-scale participation of the workers in the strike, the huge mass meetings in the streets, the unfurling of red flags, the presentation of demands put forth in proclamations and the revolutionary character of these demands: the eight-hour day and political liberty. The legend that the Russian workers have not yet matured for the political struggle, that their principal concern should be the purely economic struggle, which they should only little by little and very slowly supplement with partial political agitation for partial political reforms and not for the struggle against the entire political system of Russia—that legend has been totally refuted by the Kharkov May Day celebrations. But here we want to draw attention to another aspect of the matter. Although the May Day celebrations in Kharkov have once more demonstrated the political capacities of the Russian workers, they have, at the same time, revealed what we lack for the full development of these capacities.
The Kharkov Social-Democrats tried to prepare for the May Day celebrations by distributing pamphlets and leaflets in advance, and the workers drew up a plan for the general demonstration and for the speeches to be delivered in Konnaya Square. Why did the plan not succeed? The Kharkov comrades say because the “general staff” of the class-conscious socialist workers did not distribute its forces evenly, there having been many in one factory, and in another few; and, further, because the workers’ plan “was known to the authorities,” who, of course, took all steps to split the workers. The conclusion to be drawn is obvious: we lack organisation. The masses of the workers were roused and ready to follow the socialist leaders; but the “general staff” failed to organise a strong nucleus able to distribute properly all the available forces of class-conscious workers and so ensure the necessary secrecy that the drawn-up plans of action should remain unknown, not only to the authorities, but to all individuals outside the organisation. This organisation must be a revolutionary organisation. It must be composed of men and women who clearly understand the tasks of the Social-Democratic working-class movement and who have resolved to engage in a determined struggle against the present political system. It must combine within itself the socialist knowledge and revolutionary experience acquired from many decades of activity by the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia with the knowledge of working-class life and conditions and the ability to agitate among the masses and lead them which is characteristic of the advanced workers. It should be our primary concern not to set up an artificial partition between the intellectual and the worker, not to form a “purely workers’" organisation, but to strive, above all, to achieve the above-stated combination. We permit ourselves in this connection to quote the following words of G. Plekhanov:
“A necessary condition for this activity [agitation] is the consolidation of the already existing revolutionary forces. Propaganda in the study circles can be conducted by men and women who have no mutual contact whatever with one another and who do not even suspect one another’s existence; it goes without saying that the lack of organisation always affects propaganda, too, but it does not make it impossible. However, in a period of great social turmoil, when the political atmosphere is charged with electricity, when now here and now there, from the most varied and unforeseen causes, outbreaks occur with increasing frequency, heralding the approaching revolutionary storm—in a word, when it is necessary either to agitate or remain in the rear, at such a time only organised revolutionary forces can seriously influence the progress of events. The individual then becomes powerless; the revolutionary cause can then be carried forward only on the shoulders of units of a higher order—by revolutionary organisations” (G. Plekhanov, The Tasks of the Socialists in the Fight Against the Famine, p. 83).
Precisely such a period is approaching in the history of the Russian working-class movement, a period of turmoil and of outbreaks precipitated by the most varied causes, and if we do not wish to remain “in the rear,” we must direct all our efforts towards establishing an all-Russian organisation capable of guiding all the separate outbreaks and ensuring in this way that the approaching storm (to which the Kharkov worker also refers at the end of the pamphlet) is not an elemental outburst, but a conscious movement of the proletariat standing at the head of the entire people in revolt against the autocratic government.
In addition to manifesting the insufficient unity and preparedness of our revolutionary organisations, the Kharkov May Day celebrations also furnish another and no less important practical indication. “The May Day festival and demonstration,” we read in the pamphlet, “were unexpectedly interconnected with various practical demands presented without relevant preparation and, consequently, in general doomed to failure.” Let us take, for example, the demands put forward by the railway-workshop employees. Of the fourteen demands, eleven have to do with minor improvements, which can quite easily be achieved even under the present political system—wage increases, reduction of hours, removal of abuses. Included among these demands, as though identical with them, are the following three: 4) introduction of an eight-hour day, 7) guarantee against victimisation of workers after the May First events, and 10) establishment of a joint committee of workers and employers for settling disputes between the two parties. The first of these demands (point 4) is a general demand advanced by the world proletariat; the fact that this demand was put forward seems to indicate that the advanced workers of Kharkov realise their solidarity with the world socialist working-class movement. But precisely for this reason it should not have been included among minor demands like better treatment by foremen, or a ten per cent increase in wages. Demands for wage increases and better treatment can (and should) be presented by the workers to their employers in each separate trade; these are trade demands, put forward by separate categories of workers. The demand for an eight-hour day, however, is the demand of the whole proletariat, presented, not to individual employers, but to the state authorities as the representative of the entire present-day social and political system, to the capitalist class as a whole, the owners of all the means of production. The demand for an eight-hour day has assumed special significance. It is a declaration of solidarity with the international socialist movement. We need to make the workers understand this difference, so that they do not reduce the demand for the eight-hour day to the level of demands like free railway tickets, or the dismissal of a watchman. Throughout the year the workers, first in one place and then in another, continuously present a variety of partial demands to their employers and fight for their achievement. In assisting the workers in this struggle, socialists must always explain its connection with the proletarian struggle for emancipation in all countries. And the First of May must be the day on which the workers solemnly declare that they realise this connection and resolutely join in the struggle.
Let us take the tenth demand which calls for the establishment of a committee for the settlement of disputes. Such a committee composed of representatives of the workers and the employers could, of course, be very useful, but only if the elections were absolutely free and the elected representatives enjoyed complete independence. What purpose would such a committee serve, if the workers, who wage a struggle against the election of creatures of the management or who strongly attack the management and expose its tyranny, end by being discharged? Such workers would not only be discharged, they would be arrested. Consequently, for such a committee to be of service to the workers, the delegates must, first, be absolutely independent of the factory management; this can be achieved only when there are free labour unions embracing many factories, unions that have their own resources and are prepared to protect their delegates. Such a committee can be useful only if many factories, if possible all the factories in the given trade, are organised. Secondly, it is necessary to secure guarantees of the inviolability of the person of the workers, i.e., that they will not be arrested arbitrarily by the police or the gendarmerie. This demand to guarantee the workers against victimisation was put forward (point 7). But from whom can the workers demand guarantees of the inviolability of the person and freedom of association (which, as we have seen, is a necessary condition for the success of the committees)? Only from the state authorities, because the absence of a guarantee of inviolability of the person and freedom of association is due to the fundamental laws of the Russian state. Mere than that, it is due to the very form of government in Russia. The form of government in Russia is that of an absolute monarchy. The tsar is an autocrat, he alone decrees the laws and appoints all the higher officials without any participation of the people, without participation of the people’s representatives. Under such a state system there can be no inviolability of the person; citizens’ associations, and particularly working-class associations, cannot be free. For that reason, it is senseless to demand guarantees of the inviolability of the person (and freedom of association) from an autocratic government; for such a demand is synonymous with demanding political rights for the people, and an autocratic government is termed autocratic precisely because it implies negation of political rights for the people. It will be possible to obtain a guarantee of the inviolability of the person (and freedom of association) only when representatives of the people take part in legislation and in the entire administration of the state. So long as a body of people’s representatives does not exist, the autocratic government, upon making certain petty concessions to the workers, will always take away with one hand what it gives with the other. The May Day celebrations in Kharkov were another vivid proof that this is so—the governor con ceded to the demands of the working masses and released those who had been arrested, but within a day or two, on orders’ from St. Petersburg, scores of workers were again rounded up. The gubernia and factory officials “guarantee” immunity to delegates, while the gendarmes seize them and fling them into prison in solitary confinement or banish them from the city! Of what use are such guarantees to the people?
Hence, the workers must demand from the tsar the con vocation of an assembly of the representatives of the people, the convocation of a Zemsky Sobor. The manifesto distributed in Kharkov on the eve of the First of May this year raised this demand, and we have seen that a section of the advanced workers fully appreciated its significance. We must make sure that all advanced workers understand clearly the necessity for this demand and spread it, not only among the masses of the workers, but among all strata of the people who come into contact with the workers and who eagerly desire to know what the socialists and the “urban” workers are fighting for. This year when a factory inspector asked a group of workers precisely what they wanted, only one voice shouted, “A constitution!”; and this voice sounded so isolated that the correspondent reported somewhat mockingly: “One proletarian blurted out....” Another correspondent put it, “Under the circumstances,” this reply was “semi-comical” (see Labour Movement in Kharkov, Report of the Kharkov Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, published by Rabocheye Dyelo, Geneva, September 1900, p. 14). As a matter of fact, there was nothing comical in the reply at all. What may have seemed comical was the incongruity between the demand of this lone voice for a change in the whole state system and the demands for a half-hour reduction in the working day and for payment of wages during working hours. There is, however, an indubitable connection between these demands and the demand for a constitution; and if we can get the masses to understand this connection (and we undoubtedly will), then the cry “A constitution!” will not be an isolated one, but will come from the throats of thousands and hundreds of thousands, when it will no longer be comical, but menacing. It is related that a certain person driving through the streets of Kharkov during the May Day celebrations asked the cabby what the workers wanted, and he replied: “They want an eight-hour day and their own newspaper.” That cabby understood that the workers were no longer satisfied with mere doles, but that they wanted to be free men, that they wanted to be able to express their needs freely and openly and to fight for them. But that reply did not yet reveal the consciousness that the workers are fighting for the liberty of the whole people and for their right to take part in the administration of the state. When the demand that the tsar convene an assembly of people’s representatives is repeated with full consciousness and indomitable determination by the working masses in all industrial cities and factory districts in Russia; when the workers have reached the stage at which the entire urban population, and all the rural people who come into the towns, understand what the socialists want and what the workers are fighting for, then the great day of the people’s liberation from police tyranny will not be far off!