MARXIST INTERNET ARCHIVE | History of CP Bolshevik

H I S T O R Y

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C O M M U N I S T   P A R T Y

O F  T H E

S O V I E T  U N I O N

(B O L S H E V I K S)

 

2.
 
 
WORKERS' POLITICAL STRIKES AND DEMONSTRATIONS. GROWTH OF THE REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENT AMONG THE PEASANTS. REVOLT ON THE BATTLESHIP "POTEMKIN"

    After January 9 the revolutionary struggle of the workers grew more acute and assumed a political character. The workers began to pass from economic strikes and sympathy strikes to political strikes, to demonstrations, and in places to armed resistance to the tsarist troops. Particularly stubborn and well organized were the strikes in the big cities such as St. Petersburg, Moscow, Warsaw, Riga and Baku, where large numbers of workers were concentrated. The metal workers marched in the front ranks of the fighting proletariat. By their strikes, the vanguard of the workers stirred up the less class-conscious sections and roused the whole working class to the struggle. The influence of the Social-Democrats grew rapidly.

    The May Day demonstrations in a number of towns were marked by clashes with police and troops. In Warsaw, the demonstration was fired upon and several hundred persons were killed or wounded. At the call of the Polish Social-Democrats the workers replied to the shooting in Warsaw by a general protest strike. Strikes and demonstrations did not cease throughout the month of May. In that month over 200,000 workers went on strike throughout Russia. General strikes broke out in Baku, Lodz and Ivanovo-Voznesensk. More and more frequently the strikers and demonstrators clashed with the tsarist troops. Such clashes took place in a number of cities -- Odessa, Warsaw, Riga, Lodz and others.

    Particularly acute was the struggle in Lodz, a large Polish industrial centre. The workers erected scores of barricades in the streets of Lodz and for three days (June 22-24, 1905) battled in the streets against the tsarist troops. Here armed action merged with a general strike. Lenin regarded these battles as the first armed action of the workers in Russia.

    The outstanding strike that summer was that of the workers of Ivanovo-Voznesensk. It lasted for about two and a half months, from the end of May to the beginning of August 1905. About 70,000 workers, among them many women, took part in the strike. It was led by the Bolshevik Northern Committee. Thousands of workers gathered almost daily outside the city on the banks of the River Talka. At these meetings they discussed their needs. The workers' meetings were addressed by Bolsheviks. In order to crush the strike, the tsarist authorities ordered the troops to disperse the workers and to fire upon them. Several scores of workers were killed and several hundred wounded. A state of emergency was proclaimed in the city. But the workers remained firm and would not return to work. They and their families starved, but would not surrender. It was only extreme exhaustion that in the end compelled them to return to work. The strike steeled the workers. It was an example of the courage, staunchness, endurance and solidarity of the working class. It was a real political education for the workers of Ivanovo-Voznesensk.

    During the strike the workers of Ivanovo-Voznesensk set up a Council of Representatives, which was actually one of the first Soviets of Workers' Deputies in Russia.

    The workers' political strikes stirred up the whole country.

    Following the town, the countryside began to rise. In the spring, peasant unrest broke out. The peasants marched in great crowds against the landlords, raided their estates, sugar refineries and distilleries, and set fire to their palaces and manors. In a number of places the peasants seized the land, resorted to wholesale cutting down of forests, and demanded that the landed estates be turned over to the people. They seized the landlords' stores of grain and other products and divided them among the starving. The landlords fled in panic to the towns. The tsarist government dispatched soldiers and Cossacks to crush the peasants' revolts. The troops fired on the peasants, arrested the "ringleaders" and flogged and tortured them. But the peasants would not cease their struggle.

    The peasant movement spread ever wider in the central parts of Russia, the Volga region, and in Transcaucasia, especially in Georgia.

    The Social-Democrats penetrated deeper into the countryside. The Central Committee of the Party issued an appeal to the peasants entitled: "To You, Peasants, We Address Our Word!" The Social-Democratic committees in the Tver, Saratov, Poltava, Chernigov, Ekaterinoslav, Tiflis and many other provinces issued appeals to the peasants. In the villages, the Social-Democrats would arrange meetings, organize circles among the peasants, and set up peasant committees. In the summer of 1905 strikes of agricultural labourers, organized by Social-Democrats, occurred in many places.

    But this was only the beginning of the peasant struggle. The peasant movement affected only 85 uyezds (districts), or roughly one-seventh of the total number of uyezds in the European part of tsarist Russia.

    The movement of the workers and peasants and the series of reverses suffered by the Russian troops in the Russo-Japanese War had its influence on the armed forces. This bulwark of tsardom began to totter.

    In June 1905 a revolt broke out on the Potemkin, a battleship of the Black Sea Fleet. The battleship was at that time stationed near Odessa, where a general strike of the workers was in progress. The insurgent sailors wreaked vengeance on their more detested officers and brought the vessel to Odessa. The battleship Potemkin had gone over to the side of the revolution.

    Lenin attributed immense importance to this revolt. He considered it necessary for the Bolsheviks to assume the leadership of this movement and to link it up with the movement of the workers, peasants and the local garrisons.

    The tsar dispatched several warships against the Potemkin, but the sailors of these vessels refused to fire on their insurgent comrades. For several days the red ensign of revolution waved from the mast of the battleship Potemkin. But at that time, in 1905, the Bolshevik Party was not the only party leading the movement, as was the case later, in 1917. There were quite a number of Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries and Anarchists on board the Potemkin. Consequently, although individual Social-Democrats took part in the revolt, it lacked proper and sufficiently experienced leadership. At decisive moments part of the sailors wavered. The other vessels of the Black Sea Fleet did not join the revolt of the Potemkin. Having run short of coal and provisions, the revolutionary battleship was compelled to make for the Rumanian shore and there surrender to the authorities.

    The revolt of the sailors on the battleship Potemkin ended in defeat. The sailors who subsequently fell into the hands of the tsarist government were committed for trial. Some were executed and others condemned to exile and penal servitude. But the revolt in itself was an event of the utmost importance. The Potemkin revolt was the first instance of mass revolutionary action in the army and navy, the first occasion on which a large unit of the armed forces of the tsar sided with the revolution. This revolt made the idea of the army and navy joining forces with the working class, the people, more comprehensible to and nearer to the heart of the workers and peasants, and especially of the soldiers and sailors themselves.

    The workers' recourse to mass political strikes and demonstrations, the growth of the peasant movement, the armed clashes between the people and the police and troops, and, finally, the revolt in the Black Sea Fleet, all went to show that conditions were ripening for an armed uprising of the people. This stirred the liberal bourgeoisie into action. Fearing the revolution, and at the same time frightening the tsar with the spectre of revolution, it sought to come to terms with the tsar against the revolution; it demanded slight reforms "for the people" so as to "pacify" the people, to split the forces of the revolution and thus avert the "horrors of revolution." "Better part with some of our land than part with our heads," said the liberal landlords. The liberal bourgeoisie was preparing to share power with the tsar. "The proletariat is fighting; the bourgeoisie is stealing towards power," Lenin wrote in those days in reference to the tactics of the working class and the tactics of the liberal bourgeoisie.

    The tsarist government continued to suppress the workers and peasants with brutal ferocity. But it could not help seeing that it would never cope with the revolution by repressive measures alone. Therefore, without abandoning measures of repression, it resorted to a policy of manoeuvring. On the one hand, with the help of its agents-provocateurs, it incited the peoples of Russia against each other, engineering Jewish pogroms and mutual massacres of Armenians and Tatars. On the other hand, it promised to convene a "representative institution" in the shape of a Zemsky Sobor or a State Duma, and instructed the Minister Bulygin to draw up a project for such a Duma, stipulating, however, that it was to have no legislative powers. All these measures were adopted in order to split the forces of revolution and to sever from it the moderate sections of the people.

    The Bolsheviks declared a boycott of the Bulygin Duma with the aim of frustrating this travesty of popular representation.

    The Mensheviks, on the other hand, decided not to sabotage the Duma and considered it necessary to take part in it.