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V. I. Lenin
Iskra, No. 5, June 1901
Published according to
the Iskra text
From V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, 4th English Edition,
Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1961
Vol. 5, pp. 25-30.
Translated by Joe Fineberg and by George Hanna
Edited by Victor Jerome
Prepared © for the Internet by David J. Romagnolo, firstname.lastname@example.org (February 1998)
It seems that we are now passing through a period in which our working-class movement is once more about to engage with irresistible force in the sharp conflicts that terrify the government and the propertied classes and bring joy and encouragement to socialists. Yes, we rejoice in these conflicts and are encouraged by them, notwithstanding the tremendous number of victims claimed by military reprisals, because the working class is proving by its resistance that it is not reconciled to its position, that it refuses to remain in slavery or to submit meekly to violence and tyranny. Even with the most peaceful course of events, the present system always and inevitably exacts countless sacrifices from the working class. Thousands and tens of thousands of men and women, who toil all their lives to create wealth for others, perish from starvation and constant malnutrition, die prematurely from diseases caused by horrible working conditions, by wretched housing and overwork. He is a hundred times a hero who prefers to die fighting in open struggle against the defenders and protectors of this infamous system rather than die the lingering death of a crushed, broken-down, and submissive nag. We do not by any means want to imply that scuffling with the police is the best form of struggle. On the contrary, we have always told the workers that it is in their interests to carry on the struggle in a more calm and restrained manner, and to try to make use of all discontent for support to the organised struggle of the revolutionary party. But the principal source that sustains revolutionary Social-Democracy is the spirit of protest among the working class which, in view of the violence and oppression surrounding the workers, is bound to manifest itself from time to time in the form
of desperate outbursts. These outbursts arouse to conscious life the widest sections of the workers, oppressed by poverty and ignorance, and stimulate in them a noble hatred for the oppressors and enemies of liberty. That is why the news of massacres such as that which took place at the Obukhov Works on May 7, makes us exclaim: "The workers' revolt has been suppressed; long live the revolt of the workers!"
There was a time, and not very long ago at that, when workers' revolts were a rare exception, called forth only by some special circumstances. Now things have changed. A few years ago industry was flourishing, trade was brisk, and the demand for workers was great. Nevertheless, the workers organised a number of strikes to improve their working conditions; they realised that they must not let the moment slip by, that they must take advantage of the time when the employers were making particularly high profits and it would be easier to win concessions from them. The boom, however, has given way to a crisis. The manufacturers cannot sell their goods, profits have declined, bankruptcies have increased, factories are cutting production, and workers are being discharged and turned into the streets in masses without a crust of bread. The workers now have to fight desperately, not to improve their conditions, but to maintain the old standards and to reduce the losses the employers impose on them. And so the working-class movement develops in depth and extent: at first, struggle in exceptional and isolated cases; then, unceasing and stubborn battles during industrial prosperity and the trade boom; finally, similar unceasing and stubborn struggle in the period of crisis. We may now say that the working-class movement has become a permanent feature of our life and that it will grow whatever the conditions.
The change-over from boom to crisis will not only teach our workers that united struggle is a permanent necessity, it will also destroy the harmful illusions that began to take shape at the time of industrial prosperity. By means of strikes, the workers were able in some places to force concessions from the employers with comparative ease, and this "economic" struggle assumed an exaggerated significance; it was forgotten that trade unions and strikes can, at best, only win slightly better terms for the sale of labour-power as a commodity. Trade unions and strikes cannot help in
times of crisis when there is no demand for this "commodity", they cannot change the conditions which convert labour-power into a commodity and which doom the masses of working people to dire need and unemployment. To change these conditions, a revolutionary struggle against the whole existing social and political system is necessary; the industrial crisis will convince very many workers of the justice of this statement. <"p27">
Let us return to the massacre of May 7. We give below available information on the May strikes and manifestations of unrest among the St. Petersburg workers. We shall also examine the police report of the massacre. Lately we have learned to understand the significance of government (and police) reports of strikes, demonstrations, and clashes with the troops; we have gathered sufficient material to judge the reliability of these reports -- the smoke of police false hoods may sometimes give a clue to the fire of popular indignation.
"On May 7," says the of ficial report, "about two hundred workers employed in various departments of the Obukhov Steel Works in the village of Alexandrovskoye on the Schlusselburg Highway stopped work after the dinner break, and in the course of their interview with Lieutenant Colonel Ivanov, assistant to the director of the works, put forward a number of groundless demands."
If the workers stopped work without giving two weeks' notice (assuming the stoppage was not due to lawless acts all too frequently committed by the employers), even according to Russian law (which of late has been systematically enlarged and sharpened against the workers), they have merely committed a common offence for which they are liable to prosecution in a magistrate's court. But the Russian Government is making itself more and more ridiculous by its severity. On the one hand, laws are passed designating new crimes (e.g., wilful refusal to work or participation in a mob that damages property or resists armed force), penalties for striking are increased, etc., while on the other, the physical and political possibility of applying these laws and imposing corresponding penalties is disappearing. It is physically impossible to prosecute thousands and tens of thousands of men for refusing to work, for striking, or for
"mobs". It is politically impossible to try each case of this sort, for no matter how the judges are selected and no matter how publicity is emasculated, there still remains at least the shadow of a trial, naturally a "trial" of the government and not of the workers. Thus, criminal laws passed for the definite purpose of facilitating the government's political struggle against the proletariat (and at the same time of concealing the political character of the struggle by "state" arguments about "public order", etc.) are steadily forced into the background by direct political struggle and open street clashes. "Justice" throws off the mask of majesty and impartiality, and takes to flight, leaving the field to the police, the gendarmes, and the Cossacks, who are greeted with stones.
Let us take the government's reference to the "demands" of the workers. From a legal standpoint stoppage of work is a misdemeanour, irrespective of the workers' demands. But the government has lost its chance of basing itself on the law it recently issued, and it tries to justify its reprisals carried out with "the means at its disposal" by declaring the workers' demands to be without basis. Who were the judges in this affair? Lieutenant-Colonel Ivanov, assistant to the director of the works, the very authority against whom the workers were complaining! It is not surprising, therefore, that the workers reply to such explanations by the powers that be with a hail of stones.
And so, when the workers poured into the street and held up horse trams a real battle began. Apparently the workers fought with all their might, for, although armed only with stones, they managed twice to beat off the attacks by police, gendarmes, mounted guards, and the armed factory guard.* It is true, if police reports are to be believed, "several shots" were fired from the crowd, but no one was injured by them. Stones, however, fell "like hail ", and the workers not only
* Note this! The government communication states that "the armed factory guard" "were already standing by in the factory yard", whereas the gendarmes, mounted guards, and the city police were called out later. Since when, and why, was an armed guard maintained in readiness in the factory yard? Since the First of May? Did they expect a workers' demonstration? That we do not know; but it is clear that the government is deliberately concealing facts that would explain the mounting discontent and indignation of the workers.
put up a stubborn resistance, they displayed resourcefulness and ability in adapting themselves immediately to the situation and in selecting the best form of struggle. They occupied the neighbouring courtyards and from over the fences poured a hail of stones on-the tsar's bashi-bazouks, so that even after three volleys had been fired, killing one man (only one?) and wounding eight (?) (one of whom died the following day), even after this, although the crowd had fled, the fight still continued and some companies of the Omsk Infantry Regiment had to be called out to "clear the workers out of the neighbouring courtyards".
The government emerged victorious, but such victories will bring nearer its ultimate defeat. Every clash with the people will increase the number of indignant workers who are ready to fight, and will bring into the foreground more experienced, better armed, and bolder leaders. We have already discussed the plan of action these leaders should follow. We have repeatedly pointed to the imperative necessity for a sound revolutionary organisation. But in connection with the events of May 7, we must not lose sight of the following:
Much has been said recently about the impossibility and the hopelessness of street fighting against modern troops. Particularly insistent on this have been the wise "Critics" who have dragged out the old lumber of bourgeois science in the guise of new, impartial, scientific conclusions,<"p29"> and have distorted Engels' words that refer, with reservations, only to a temporary tactic of the German Social-Democrats. But we see from the example of even this one clash how absurd these arguments are. Street fighting is possible; it is not the position of the fighters, but the position of the government that is hopeless if it has to deal with larger numbers than those employed in a single factory. In the May 7 fighting the workers had nothing but stones, and, of course, the mere prohibition of the city mayor will not prevent them from securing other weapons next time. The workers were unprepared and numbered only three and a half thousand; nevertheless, they repelled the attack of several hundred mounted guards, gendarmes, city police,<"p29a"> and infantry. Did the police find it easy to storm the one house, No. 63, Schlusselburg Highway? Ask yourselves -- will it be easy to
"clear the workers " out of whole blocks, not merely out of one or two courtyards, in the St. Petersburg working-class districts? When the time of decisive battle comes,<"p30"> will it not be necessary to "clear " the houses and courtyards of the capital, not only of workers, but of all who have not forgotten the infamous massacre of March 4, who have not become reconciled to the police government, but are only terrified by it and not yet confident of their own strength?
Comrades! Do your best to collect the names of those killed and wounded on May 7. Let all workers in the capital honour their memory and prepare for a new and decisive struggle against the police government for the people's liberty!
<"en8"> Lenin refers to a contribution to Iskra, No. 5 (June 1901), entitled "The First of May in Russia", which was published in the section "Chronicle of the Working-Class Movement and Letters from Factories". [p.27]
<"en9"> Lenin refers to Frederick Engels' Introduction to Karl Marx's work The Class Struggles ln France, 1848 to 1850 ; the 1895 edition of the Introduction was distorted by the German Social-Democrats and construed by them to mean a rejection of armed uprising and barricade fighting.
The full text of the Introduction was first published according to Engels' manuscript in the U.S.S.R. (see Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow, 1958, pp. 118-38). [p.29]
<"en10"> Lenin refers here to the clash between the police and the striking workers of the Maxwell factory in St. Petersburg in December 1898. For several hours the police (200 on foot and 100 mounted police), who had arrived to arrest the "ringleaders" of the strike could not penetrate into the workers' barracks. The workers, who had barricaded themselves, fought against the police with logs, with bottles, and with boiling water which they poured on the police. [p.29]
<"en11"> Lenin refers here to the brutality of the tsarist police and Cossacks in dispersing a demonstration in Kazan Square, St. Petersburg, on March 4 (17), 1901. Thousands of students and workers took part in this protest demonstration against the drafting of students into the army. The tsarist government used armed force to disperse the demonstration. The demonstrators were brutally beaten, several were killed and many crippled. A detailed report of the event was given in Iskra, No. 3, in April 1901. [p.30]