The Political Strike and the Street Fighting in Moscow
|Written||4 October 1905|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 9, pages 347-355.
The revolutionary events in Moscow have been the first flashes of lightning in a thunderstorm and they have lit up a new field of battle. The promulgation of the State Duma Act and the conclusion of peace have marked the beginning of a new period in the history of the Russian revolution. Already weary of the workers’ persistent struggle and disturbed by the spectre of “uninterrupted revolution”, the liberal bourgeoisie has heaved a sigh of relief and joyously caught at the sop thrown to it. All along the line a struggle has begun against the idea of a boycott, and liberalism has turned openly towards the right. Unfortunately, even among the Social-Democrats (in the new-Iskra camp) there are unstable people who are prepared on certain terms to support these bourgeois traitors to the revolution, and to take the State Duma “seriously”. The events in Moscow, it may be hoped, will put the sceptics to shame, and will help the doubters to make a proper appraisal of the state of affairs on the new field of battle. Anaemic intellectuals’ dreams of the possibility of popular elections under the autocracy, as well as illusions harboured by dull-witted liberals regarding the State Duma’s crucial importance, vanished into thin air at the very first major revolutionary action by the proletariat.
Our information on the Moscow events is as yet (October 12, N. S.) very meagre. It is confined to brief and often contradictory reports in foreign newspapers, and to censor screened accounts of the beginning of the movement, published in the legal press. One thing is certain: in its initial stage the Moscow workers’ struggle proceeded along lines that have become customary during the past revolutionary year. The working-class movement has left its imprint on the entire Russian revolution. Starting with sporadic strikes it rapidly developed into mass strikes, on the one hand, and into street demonstrations, on the other. In 1905 the political strike has become an established form of the movement, developing before our eyes into insurrection. Whereas it took the entire working-class movement of Russia ten years to reach its present (and of course far from final) stage, the movement in certain parts of the country has progressed in a few days from a mere strike to a tremendous revolutionary outbreak.
The compositors’ strike in Moscow, we are informed, was started by politically backward workers. But the movement immediately slipped out of their control, and became a broad trade union movement. Workers of other trades joined in. Street demonstrations by workers, inevitable if only for the purpose of letting uninformed fellow-workers learn of the strike, turned into political demonstrations, with revolutionary songs and speeches. Long suppressed bitterness against the vile farce of “popular” elections to the State Duma came to the surface. The mass strike developed into a mass mobilisation of fighters for genuine liberty. The radical students appeared on the scene, who in Moscow passed a resolution absolutely analogous to that of the St. Petersburg students. In the language of free citizens, not of cringing officials, this resolution very properly branded the State Duma as brazen mockery of the people, and called for a struggle for a republic, for the convocation of a genuinely popular and genuinely constituent assembly by a revolutionary provisional government. The proletariat and progressive sections of the revolutionary democrats began street fighting against the tsarist army and police.
This is how the movement developed in Moscow. On Saturday, September24 (October 7), the compositors were no longer alone—the tobacco factories and electric trains were also at a standstill, and a bakers’ strike had begun. In the evening big demonstrations were held, attended, besides workers and students, by very many “outsiders” (revolutionary workers and radical students no longer regarded each other as outsiders at open actions by the people). The Cossacks and gendarmes did their utmost to disperse the demonstrators, who kept reassembling. The crowd offered resistance to the police and the Cossacks; revolver shots were fired and many policemen were wounded.
On Sunday, September 25 (October 8), events at once took a formidable turn. At 11 a. m. workers began to assemble in the streets, with the crowd singing the Marseillaise. Revolutionary mass meetings were held, and printing-shops whose staff refused to strike were wrecked. Bakeries and gunsmiths’ shops were attacked, for the workers needed bread to live and arms to fight for freedom (just as the French revolutionary song has it). It was only after stub born resistance that the Cossacks managed to disperse the demonstrators. There was a regular battle in Tverskaya Street, near the Governor General’s house. In front of the Filippov bakery a crowd of bakers’ apprentices assembled. As the management of the bakery subsequently declared, they were going out peacefully into the street, after stopping work in solidarity with the other strikers. A Cossack detachment attacked the crowd, who made their way into a house, climbed on to the roof and into the garrets, and showered the soldiers with stones. There began a regular siege of the house, with the troops firing on the workers. All communication was cut. Two companies of grenadiers made a flank movement, penetrated into the house from the rear, and captured the enemy’s stronghold. One hundred and ninety-two apprentices were arrested, of whom eight were injured; two workers were killed. There were injured among the police and the troops, a captain of gendarmes sustaining fatal injuries.
Naturally, this information is extremely incomplete. According to private telegrams, quoted in some foreign newspapers, the brutality of the Cossacks and soldiers knew no bounds. The Filippov bakery management has protested against the unprovoked outrages perpetrated by the troops. A reputable Belgian newspaper has published a report that janitors were busy cleaning the streets of traces of blood. This minor detail—it says—testifies to the seriousness of the struggle more than lengthy reports can. On the basis of information from private sources that has found its way into the press, Vorwärts has stated that in Tverskaya Street 10,000 strikers clashed with an infantry battalion, which fired several volleys. The ambulance service had its hands full. It is estimated that no less than 50 people were killed and as many as 600 injured. The arrested are reported to have been taken to army barracks, where they were mercilessly and brutally manhandled, being made to run the gauntlet. It is further reported that during the street fighting the officers distinguished themselves by their inhuman brutality, even towards women (a St. Petersburg cable from the special correspondent of the conservative bourgeois Temps, dated October 10 [September 27]).
Information on the events of the subsequent days is more and more scanty. The workers’ wrath mounted frightfully, the movement gathering momentum. The government took all measures to ban or slash all reports. Foreign newspapers have openly written of the contradiction between the reassuring news from the official agencies (which at one time were believed) and the news transmitted to St. Petersburg by telephone. Gaston Leroux wired to the Paris Matin that the censorship was performing prodigies by way of preventing the spread of news that might be in the least alarming. Monday, September 26 (October 9), he wrote, was one of the most sanguinary days in the history of Russia. There was fighting in all the main streets and even near the Governor General’s residence. The demonstrators unfurled a red flag. Many were killed or injured.
The reports in other papers are contradictory. Only one thing is certain—the strike is spreading and has been joined by most workers employed at the big factories, and even in the light industries. The railwaymen too have stopped work. The strike is becoming general. (Tuesday, October 10 [September 271, and Wednesday.)
The situation is extremely grave. The movement is spreading to St. Petersburg: the workers of the San-Galli Works have already downed tools.
This is as far as our information goes to date. Any complete appraisal of the Moscow events on the strength of such information is, of course, out of the question. One still cannot say whether these events are a full-scale rehearsal for a decisive proletarian onslaught on the autocracy, or whether they are actually the beginning of this onslaught; whether they are only an extension of the “usual” methods of struggle described above to a new area of Central Russia, or whether they are destined to mark the beginning of a higher form of struggle and of a more decisive uprising.
To all appearances, the answer to these questions will be forthcoming in the near future. One thing is certain: before our very eyes, the insurrection is spreading, the struggle is becoming ever more widespread, and its forms ever more acute. All over Russia the proletariat is pressing onward with heroic efforts, indicating now here, now there, in what direction the armed uprising can and, undoubtedly, will develop. True, even the present form of struggle, already created by the movement of the working masses, is dealing very telling blows at tsarism. The civil war has assumed the form of desperately stubborn and universal guerilla warfare. The working class is giving the enemy no respite, disrupting industrial life, constantly bringing the entire machinery of local government to a standstill, creating a state of alarm all over the country, and is mobilising ever new forces for the struggle. No state is able to hold out for long against such an onslaught, least of all the utterly corrupt tsarist government, from which its supporters are falling away one by one. And if the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie finds the struggle at times too persistent, if it is terrified by the civil war and by the alarming state of uncertainty which has gripped the country, the continuation of this state of affairs and the prolongation of the struggle is a matter of the utmost necessity to the revolutionary proletariat. If, among ideologists of the bourgeoisie, people are beginning to appear who are set on smothering the revolutionary conflagration with their sermons on peaceful and law-abiding progress, and are concerned with blunting the political crisis instead of making it more acute, the class-conscious proletariat, which has never doubted the treacherous nature of the bourgeois bye of freedom, will march straight ahead, rousing the peasantry to follow it, and causing disaffection in the tsar’s army. The workers’ persistent struggle, the constant strikes and demonstrations, the partial uprisings—all these, so to say, test battles and clashes are inexorably drawing the army into political life and consequently into the sphere of revolutionary problems. Experience in the struggle enlightens more rapidly and more profoundly than years of propaganda under other circumstances. The foreign war is over, but the government is obviously afraid of the return home of war prisoners and of the army in Manchuria. Reports of the revolutionary temper of the latter are coming in thick and fast. The proposed agricultural colonies in Siberia for officers and men of the army in Manchuria cannot but increase the unrest, even if these plans remain on paper. Mobilisation has not ceased, though peace has been concluded. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the army is needed wholly and exclusively against the revolution. Under such circumstances, we revolutionaries do not in the least object to the mobilisation; we are even prepared to welcome it. In delaying the denouement by involving ever more army units in the struggle, and in getting more and more troops used to civil war, the government is not doing away with the source of all crises, but, on the contrary, is extending the field for them. It is winning some respite at the price of the inevitable extension of the field of battle and of rendering the struggle more acute. It is stirring to action the most backward people, the most ignorant, the most cowed, and the politically inert—and the struggle will enlighten, rouse, and enliven these people. The longer the present state of civil war lasts, the more inevitably will large numbers of neutrals and a nucleus of champions of revolution be drawn from the ranks of the army of counter-revolution.
The entire course of the Russian revolution during the last few months shows that the stage now reached is not, and cannot be, the peak stage. The movement is still on the upgrade, as it has been ever since January 9. It was then that for the first time we saw a movement that amazed the world with the unanimity and solidarity of the huge masses of workers who had risen to advance political demands. This movement was still quite devoid of revolutionary consciousness, and helpless as regards arms and military preparedness. Poland and the Caucasus have provided an example of struggle on a higher plane; there the proletariat has partly begun to fight with weapons, and hostilities have assumed a protracted form. The Odessa uprising was marked by a new and important factor needed for victory—part of the forces went over to the side of the people. It is true that this did not bring immediate success; the difficult task of “co-ordinating operations of land and sea forces” (a most difficult task even for a regular army) had not yet been accomplished. But the problem was posed, and by all tokens the Odessa events will not remain an isolated incident. The Moscow strike shows us the spread of the struggle to a “genuinely Russian” region, whose reliability had so long delighted the hearts of the reactionaries. The revolutionary action that has started in this region is of enormous significance even if only for the fact that proletarian masses here, who are receiving their baptism of fire, have been most inert and at the same time are concentrated in a relatively small area in numbers unequalled in any other part of Russia. The movement started in St. Petersburg, spread through all the marginal regions of Russia, and mobilised Riga, Poland, Odessa, and the Caucasus; the conflagration has now spread to the very heart of Russia.
The disgraceful farce of the State Duma appears all the more contemptible in comparison with this genuinely revolutionary action by a class ready for battle and truly progressive. The union of the proletariat and revolutionary democracy, which we have spoken of on more than one occasion, is becoming a fact. The radical students, who both in St. Petersburg and in Moscow adopted the slogans of revolutionary Social-Democracy, are the vanguard of all the democratic forces. Loathing the baseness of the “Constitutional Democratic” reformists who have accepted the State Duma, these forces gravitate towards a real and decisive struggle against the accursed enemy of the Russian people rather than towards a policy of bargaining with the autocracy.
Look at the liberal professors, rectors, vice-rectors, and the entire company of Trubetskois, Manuilovs, and their like. These people are the finest representatives of liberalism and the Constitutional-Democratic Party, the most enlightened, the best educated, the most disinterested, the least affected by the direct pressure and the influence of the money-bag. And how do these best people behave? What use did they make of the first authority they obtained, authority they were invested with by election, their authority over the universities? They are already afraid of the revolution, they fear the aggravation and the extension of the movement, they are already trying to extinguish the fire and bring about tranquillity, thereby earning well-merited insults in the form of praise from the Princes Meshchersky.
And they were well punished, these philistines of bourgeois science. They closed Moscow University, fearing a shambles on its premises. They merely succeeded in precipitating incomparably greater slaughter in the streets. They wanted to extinguish revolution in the University, but they only kindled it in the streets. They got into a quandary, along with the Trepovs and the Romanovs, whom they now hasten to persuade that freedom of assembly is needed: If you shut the University—you open the way for street fighting. If you open the University—you provide a platform for revolutionary mass meetings which will train new and even more determined champions of liberty.
How infinitely instructive is the instance of these liberal professors for an appraisal of our State Duma! Is it not clear now, from the experience of the universities, that the liberals and the Constitutional-Democrats will tremble for the “fate of the Duma” just as much as these miserable knights of cheap-jack science tremble for the “fate of the universities”? Is it not now clear that the liberals and the Constitutional-Democrats cannot use the Duma in any other way save the purpose of still more extensive and still more evil-smelling preaching of peaceful and law-abiding progress? Is it not clear now how ridiculous are the hopes of transforming the Duma into a revolutionary assembly? Is it not clear that there is only one method of “influencing”—not specifically the Duma or specifically the universities but the whole of the old autocratic regime—the method of the Moscow workers, the method of insurrection by the people? It is this alone that will not merely force the Manuilovs in the universities to ask for freedom of assembly, and the Petrunkeviches in the Duma to ask for liberty for the people, but will win genuine liberty for the people.
The Moscow events have shown the real alignment of social forces: the liberals scampered from the government to the radicals, urging the latter to desist from the revolutionary struggle. The radicals fought in the ranks of the proletariat. Let us not forget this lesson: it also bears directly on the State Duma.
Let the Petrunkeviches and the other Constitutional-Democrats play at parliamentarianism in autocratic Russia—the workers will wage a revolutionary struggle for genuine sovereignty of the people.
Irrespective of how the insurrectionary outbreak in Moscow ends, the revolutionary movement will in any case emerge even stronger than before, will spread to a wider area, and gather new forces. Let us even assume that the tsarist troops are now celebrating a complete victory in Moscow—a few more such victories and the utter collapse of tsardom will become a fact. This will then be the actual, genuine collapse of the entire heritage of serf-ownership, autocracy, and obscurantism—not the flabby, craven, and hypocritical patching up of tattered rags, with which the liberal bourgeois are trying to delude themselves and others. Let us even assume that tomorrow’s post will bring us the sad news that the insurrectionary outbreak has been crushed once again. We shall then exclaim: once again—hail insurrection!
- Vorwärts—central organ of German Social-Democracy, was published from 1876 onwards, under the editorship of Wilhelm Liebknecht and others. In its columns Frederick Engels waged a struggle against all manifestations of opportunism. From the middle nineties, after the death of Engels, the paper began systematic publication of writings by the opportunists dominant in German Social-Democracy and the Second International.