The Development of Revolutionary Strikes and Street Demonstrations
|Written||12 January 1913|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1975, Moscow, Volume 18, pages 471-477.
It has long since been pointed out, and recognised by all, that the year 1912 was an outstanding landmark in the development of the strike movement. But not all have realised and taken proper account of it.
Let us take the data on political strikes in the first eleven months of the year. The result is as follows:
|1905 . . . . . . . . . . .||1,052,000|
|1906 . . . . . . . . . . .||642,000|
|1907 . . . . . . . . . . .||540,000|
|. . . . . .||. . . .|
|1912 . . . . . . . . . . .||about 900,000|
The number of political strikers in the first nine months was 700,000, according to the most conservative estimates. Strikes in connection with clearing up the matter of the delegates in St. Petersburg involved up to 50,000 persons; the strike in protest against the Sevastopol executions and the strike on November 15, the day when the Duma opened, involved 188,000 persons, according to the Moscow Manufacturers’ Society. These data are for the period before November 20. Obviously, 900,000 is a minimum figure. Even subtracting 100,000 that are hardly comparable with 1905–07 (factories outside the province of the factory inspectorate), we get 800,000.
In any case, the movement definitely surpassed that in 1906 and 1907, and fell but slightly short of that in 1905!
What does this mean?
The national scale of the movement at present is, of course, much smaller than in 1905. Consequently, the beginning of the revolutionary upswing is incomparably higher today than it was before the first revolution. Consequently, the coming second revolution even now reveals a much greater store of revolutionary energy in the proletariat. The proletariat has grown in numbers—by a minimum of 20 per cent. Its concentration has increased. The purely proletarian mainstay of the movement has become stronger due to accelerated dissociation from the land. The size of the proletarian and semi-proletarian population in “domestic” industry, handicrafts and agriculture has grown to an enormous extent defying calculation.
Lastly, there has been an increase in the political consciousness, experience and determination of the foremost democratic class. This is admitted by all, but not all can bring themselves to think out all the implications. Not all can bring themselves to face the truth and admit that we are witnessing revolutionary mass strikes, the beginning of a revolutionary upsurge.
This is indicated first and foremost by the fundamental and most objective fact, one least of all permitting of subjective interpretation, namely, the scope of the movement. In no country of the world would it be possible, unless there were a revolutionary social situation, to rouse hundreds of thousands of workers to political action for the most varied reasons several times a year. But in our country this rise is taking place spontaneously, because tens of millions of the semi-proletarian and peasant population are passing on, if one can use this expression, to their vanguard a sentiment of concentrated indignation, which is surging up and overflowing.
The Russian workers’ revolutionary strike in 1912 was national in the fullest sense of the term. For what should be understood by a national movement is not at all one with which—in the conditions of a bourgeois-democratic revolution—the whole bourgeoisie, or at least the liberal bourgeoisie, is in agreement. Only opportunists hold that view. On the contrary, a national movement is one which expresses the objective needs of the whole country, and aims its heaviest blows at the central forces of the enemy opposing the country’s development. A national movement is one which has the sympathy of the vast majority of the population.
Such precisely is the workers’ political movement this year, a movement which has the sympathy of all working and exploited people, of all democrats, however weak, downtrodden, disunited and helpless they may be. The more definite demarcation between liberalism and democracy (achieved not without a struggle against those who aspired to “wrest the Duma from the hands of the reactionaries”) is a tremendous advantage of the new movement, If the revolution is to succeed, it must know as exactly as possible with whom it can go into battle, which of its allies is unreliable and who is its real enemy.
That is why the direct actions of the liberals (Cadets) against the new revolution are so very significant. And that is why the slogan of a republic, which clears the minds of all democrats willing to fight from the monarchist (as well as “constitutional”) illusions which sapped so much the strength of the onslaught in 1905, is of the most exceptional importance (by comparison with Europe) in Russia just now. Of historic importance in the process of growth of the new revolution in Russia are two factors: firstly, the April and May strikes during which the St. Petersburg workers—in spite of the arrest of their leading organisation, the St. Petersburg Committee—put forward the slogan of a republic, an eight-hour working day, and confiscation of the landed estates. Secondly, the November strikes and demonstrations (see letters from Riga and Moscow the same thing happened in St. Petersburg, hut the arrests swept away our correspondents). The slogans of those demonstrations were not only “Down with the death penalty! Down with war!”, but also “Long live the revolutionary working class and the revolutionary army!”
In the streets of St. Petersburg, Riga and Moscow, the proletariat held out its hand to those foremost fighters of the muzhik armed forces who had risen heroically against the monarchy.
The liberal bourgeoisie is against a new revolution, against revolutionary mass strikes. But the liberals are by no means opposed to political strikes in general, that is, if these are only evidence of a “revival” and support merely the liberal slogan of constitutional reform. And objectively, irrespective of their “good” intentions, our liquidators are mere servants of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie; they marked both historic moments of the upswing by “pronouncements” against revolutionary strikes!! In Nevsky Golos No. 1, on May 20, 1912, the unforgettable and incomparable V. Yezhov rebelled against “complicating” economic strikes by political strikes and vice versa, against their “harmful lumping together” (cf. Sotsial-Demokrat No. 27, p. 4)
In November 1912 the liquidationist Luch, too, was up in arms against strikes. Afterwards it tried to put inattentive people “on a false scent” by referring to the fact that the Social-Democratic group, too, was against the November 15 strike. But anyone who looks at all into the meaning of the event will easily see through Luch’s trickery.
Yes, both the Social-Democratic group and the St. Petersburg Committee found the November 15 strike inopportune. They sounded a warning against that particular strike on that particular day. It was the duty of the working-class press to report this. And Luch and Pravda did.
But Luch did something besides.
After the event of November 15 (when the most zealous in striking was the very same Vyborg District which until then had been most of all linked with the Mensheviks), and after the movement had grown to the dimensions of a demonstration, the sagacious Luch carried articles (an editorial and, following the editorial of November 17, a feuilleton on November 21) crying out against the “dangerous frittering away of forces”, declaring that “if strikes are used frequently, people will stop sympathising with them”, advancing the slogan “Let us seek a different path” and “Nothing is to be gained by outbreaks” (!?!), and howling against “playing at strikes”.
That is the kind of “philosophy”, advocated by you liquidator gentlemen, and long familiar to the St. Petersburg workers, both from Nevsky Golos and from speeches by members of your “initiating group”, that has gained you the legitimate hatred and contempt of the St. Petersburg workers. A particular strike may be unfortunate or take place at an unfortunate moment. But only liberals and counter-revolutionaries are free to describe as “playing at strikes” one of the world’s greatest movements, which brought into action almost a million proletarians!
Frequent strikes are apt to exhaust the workers. It may well he, therefore, that we shall have to call for shorter strikes and for demonstrations that have been better prepared. But the event of November 15 was remarkable precisely as a new step forward in the demonstration movement!
Instead of honestly admitting your mistake (for you were plainly mistaken as to the significance of November 15), you liquidators began to talk, like the most brazen liberals, about the “political illiteracy” of the revolutionary appeal, you who are repeating the ABC of liberal politics!
Let the workers judge the worth of the liquidators’ smooth-spoken talk about their “unity” with the Party when it happens that, at the time of the rise and development of revolutionary strikes and demonstrations, the liquidators launch a struggle against them, using the legal press to revile illegal appeals!!
However, there is a more profound reason for the liquidators’ campaign against strikes. The liquidators are slaves of the liberals. And the liberals have really begun to feel ill at ease because of the stubborn character of revolutionary strikes. The “Progressist” factory owner has begun to grumble and even to rage. The Milyukovs now fear lest their “bloc” with Rodzyanko should be disturbed.
Liquidationist policy serves to subject the workers to the liberals. Marxist policy raises the workers to the role of leaders of the peasantry. One cannot speak of this legally, liquidator gentlemen, but one must think of it and tell about it to those who want to be revolutionary Social-Democrats.
In free, constitutional Europe, political strikes for the time being (so long as the socialist revolution has not yet begun) serve the struggle for individual reforms. In slave, Asiatic, tsarist Russia, which is drawing near her next bourgeois-democratic revolution, political strikes are the only serious means of stirring up the peasantry and the better part of the peasant army, of shaking them up and rousing them to a revolutionary struggle! The time is past—fortunately for Russia—when there was no one to “go among the people” but heroic solitary Narodniks. The time is passing when solitary terrorists could speak of “rousing” the people by terrorism. Russia has left those sad times behind. In 1905 the revolutionary proletariat found for itself a different way “to go among the people”, and a different means of drawing the masses into the movement.
That means is revolutionary strikes, stubborn strikes shifting from place to place, from one part of the country to another, recurrent strikes, strikes which rouse the back ward to a new life of struggle for economic improvements, strikes which brand and lash every salient act of violence or tyranny, every crime of tsarism, strike-demonstrations which unfurl the red banner in the streets of the capital cities and bring revolutionary speeches and revolutionary slogans to the crowd, to the mass of the people.
Such strikes cannot be called forth artificially, but neither can they be stopped once they have begun to involve hundreds and hundreds of thousands.
Let the liberal, who is moved by being given a seat beside Rodzyanko “himself”, tell the workers: “Brothers, no more outbreaks, seek a different path, take up the peaceful trade union movement, prepare yourselves earnestly for an open European party, don’t incite the muzhik to rebel lion, don’t waste your energy on strikes or ‘we’ shall stop sympathising with you!”
The workers will know how to assess such talk, and will see through it even in the garb of the “near-Marxist” expressions of any of the Luch writers.
The workers will concentrate on deliberately supporting, strengthening, developing and consolidating the spontaneously growing revolutionary strike to prepare the peas ants and the armed forces for a rising. If strikes exhaust the workers, they should be carried out intermittently, enabling some of the forces to rest while the forces that are rested or “fresh” are roused to take up the struggle. Shorter strikes should be called. Occasionally strikes should be replaced by demonstrations. But the important thing is that strikes, meetings and demonstrations should take place continuously, that the whole peasantry and the armed forces should know of the workers’ stubborn fight, and that the countryside—even the most out-of-the-way corners of it—should see that there is unrest in the towns, that “their” people have risen in revolt, that they are waging a life-and-death struggle, that they are fighting for a better life, for higher pay, for an end to the outrages and tyranny of the authorities, for the transfer of the landed estates to the peasants, for the overthrow of the tsar’s landlord monarchy, for a republic. It is essential that the smouldering resentment and subdued murmurings of the countryside should, along with the indignation in the barracks, find a centre of attraction in the workers’ revolutionary strikes. We must work on this indefatigably, and we shall live to see the day when the proletariat, jointly with the peasantry and the armed forces, brings down the landlords and overthrows the tsarist monarchy by a people’s uprising.
P.S. Luch is making progress: after the unsophisticated V. A. (No. 56) comes the diplomatic F. D. (No. 65). But for all his “diplomacy”, the meaning of F.D.’s statements is the same—he is against revolutionary strikes! We are faced with an out-and-out liberal to whom it never occurs that strikes awaken the peasants and lead them to insurrection, that strikes develop revolutionary agitation among the masses and awaken the armed forces, and that it is necessary to pass from strikes (insofar as they are exhausting) to street demonstrations, etch
F.D.’s. vulgar liberal phrases about the “struggle for the right to organise” as the “immediate task”—a constitutional reform “on the order of the day” under Treshchenko!—is the sole cover for Luch’s fight against revolutionary strikes. It is not enough, liquidator gentlemen!
- Before the delegates from the worker curia of St. Petersburg Gubernia held their congress (October 5 , 1912) to elect electors to the Fourth Duma, the government gave a so-called clarification on twenty-one of the forty-four factories that had taken part in the elections, saying that the election of delegates at those factories had been found null and void. In reply to this government move, the workers in a number of St. Petersburg factories called a political strike. The strike, which soon spread to every district of St. Petersburg, was accompanied by mass meetings and demonstrations.
- This refers to reports from Riga and Moscow about workers’ strikes and demonstrations, published in Sotsial-Demokrat No. 30, on January 12 (25), 1913. On November 11 (24), 1912, the Riga workers organised a protest demonstration against the death sentences on a group of sailors of the battleship Ioann Zlatoust passed by a court martial in Sevastopol, against the torturing of political prisoners, and against the war that had begun in the Balkans. Over 1,500 workers marched through the streets of Riga singing revolutionary songs and carrying red flags. They were received sympathetically by the population. On November 12 (25) many large factories in the city began a political strike. On November 8 (21) the workers in a number of Moscow factories went on strike in protest against the Sevastopol executions. There was also a demonstration but the police boon dispersed it.
- See pp. 116–17 of this volume.—Ed.
- V. A.—V. M. Abrosimov, a Menshevik liquidator, subsequently exposed as an agent prococateur.
F. D.—F. I. Dan, leader of the Menshevik liquidators.