The Road to Bloody Sunday

I: Editor’s Introduction

THERE are many differences between Russia before 1905 and anywhere in the world today. But there is one similarity: there was no mass revolutionary socialist tradition then, and there is no mass revolutionary socialist tradition now. The 1905 revolution changed all that for the Russians. In other words, the revolution came first, then people became committed to the idea of revolution. It might sound back to front, but that is the way it usually happens. And the 10 years before 1905 prepared the way.

The Russian workers of 1905 were not natural rebels or revolutionaries. Industrialisation had sucked millions of them from the countryside into the towns. But Russia remained backward compared to the other leading powers of the day.[1]The new urban working class remained a minority of the population.[2]For most of the half-century before 1905, it was a silent minority, just another downtrodden group to add to all the others in the Russian empire, subject to horrific hours, arbitrary deductions and fines, the additional exploitation of factory shops, revolting sanitary conditions, very little safety provision and no sick pay. ‘The factory owner was an absolute ruler who was unhampered by any laws, and he used them as he saw fit.’ The workers, who ‘owed him unquestioning obedience’, were described as being ‘gaunt people for the most part, with weakly-developed chests, their faces bloodless, their eyes nervously darting about…’.[3]

A socialist worker called Nemchinov later recalled coming from his country home to Moscow as a 16-year-old apprentice metal-worker in 1881. Including two hours of meal breaks, he and his mates slaved from 6am to 8pm — at the earliest (‘the master was always trying to stretch out the time’). They slept a maximum of seven hours, so exhausted that they didn’t notice the lice and bedbugs. He described their temperament as ‘wild’, to the point of organising a mass street fight, which the police only stopped and investigated because it had happened in the centre of the city: ‘On the outskirts, fighting went on undisturbed.’ In 1887, Nemchinov got a much improved position in a railway workshop, where the management made concessions as a result of pressure from the workers, and where he joined a revolutionary group. The railway police nearly caught him collecting for two popular young skilled workers who had been arrested, but he got away with it after another worker gave him the idea of claiming that the money was for the church (even collections for workers off sick were forbidden, on paper at least).[4]

By this time, Russia had acquired the kind of hybrid appearance which later became typical of developing countries and for which Trotsky coined the phrase ‘combined development’.[5]Tsarism industrialised in order to compete with other industrialised powers (Britain, France, Germany, etc) which were much more advanced, especially on the military side. This resulted in an extremely unevenform of development. Most Russians were peasants who were trapped in primitive forms of agriculture in order to generate export revenue to finance industrial development from which they did not benefit. There were no less than three rural famines between 1891 and 1901.[6]A few islands of highly advanced industry appeared, but they were surrounded by an ocean of backwardness. The bulk of industrial production was concentrated in a few centres such as St Petersburg, Moscow, Vladimir, the iron and steel-producing areas of the south, and the mining and metallurgy region in the Urals.[7]When the dust from the first round of industrialisation had settled, Russia had gained a small though crucially important industrial sector, much of which was highly advanced for the time. But the backward agricultural sector remained overwhelming.[8]

The attitudes of the Tsar and his officials remained backward too. On 5 December 1895, Count Sergei Witte, the Minister of Finance, issued secret circular No 24252/5264 to his corps of factory inspectors. ‘Fortunately’, it ran, ‘a working class in the sense and with the significance that it has in the West does not exist in Russia, and consequently there is no labour question, and neither the one nor the other can or will have the conditions for their birth here, if alongside the practical solicitude of the industrialist for the well-being of the workers, you on your side make every effort to establish a sense of lawfulness and moral duty among the workers.’[9]Witte was the key figure behind industrialisation. He was one of the most forward-thinking of the Tsar’s top servants — too forward-thinking for many people in government circles, including the Tsar himself. The fact that Witte could spout such gobbledegook gives an idea of how out of touch even he was.

Especially considering that Russia was on the verge of its first real strike wave.

Pete Glatter

II: Strikes: The First Wave[10]

The St Petersburg textile-workers’ strike of 1896, which appears as the climax of this extract, had a tremendous effect. The official view that the working class did not exist was replaced by a kind of fear, as of an unpredictable wild beast which had to be placated now and then, but basically needed to be caged and subdued. The strike broke out because the employers refused to pay for a compulsory holiday at the time of the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II. However, the main demand of the strikers quickly became one for shorter hours, that is, a 10½-hour day. A law granting an 11½-hour day was passed almost at once. Although the employers exploited a provision in respect of overtime to get around the law, the workers had left their first mark on the Tsarist regime, and strikes continued to mount.[11]The key role played in the strike by socialists (then known as Social Democrats) was as interesting for workers as it was shocking for the authorities. Lenin, who had been heavily involved in the build-up to the strike, had been arrested at the end of 1895, together with a number of his comrades.[12]As we shall see, the repressive measures which followed the strike were intended not just to prevent workers organising, but to identify and remove socialist workers from the factories.

AT the beginning of the 1890s, there was a marked intensification of the strike movement in the Kingdom of Poland.[13]Special resistance funds appeared here as early as 1890 and quickly gained members in almost all the factories in Warsaw. From Warsaw, the resistance funds spread to Łódż and other towns, and also took in artisans who worked on their own. Propaganda appeared in favour of celebrating 1 May — the international workers’ festival. A whole series of strikes ended in May 1892 with a stormy outburst in Łódż. The strikers, who were demanding the reduction of the working day and a pay rise, set off around the factories singing and calling for a general strike. Neither police nor troops could cope with the vast crowds of striking workers in Łódż, where they numbered up to 100 000. People who had been arrested were freed, and the authorities and the factory owners fled the city, which passed for some time into the hands of the strikers. Gurko[14]telegraphed from Warsaw: ‘Shoot and spare no bullets.’ On the workers’ side 108 were killed, on the other 50 soldiers were killed or seriously wounded…

After a whole series of strikes in individual factories and plants in the course of 1894-95, a mass strike broke out in St Petersburg in 1896 involving almost all the weaving and spinning mills. It lasted from 24 May to 17 June, and during the June days over 30 000 weavers were on strike at the same time. First at the Nevsky cotton mill and then everywhere else, the strikers made the demand for a shorter working day, from seven in the morning to seven in the evening with a meal break of 1½ hours, that is, 10½ hours instead of the previous 12 to 13 hours, and for an end to the cleaning of machines during the meal break. Complaints were also raised about rough treatment by foremen and about bribe-taking and extortion by charge-hands. In a government report printed in The Government Herald, no 158, there appeared for the first time an indication of the existence and activity of political organisations which had just been formed. It was stated here that 25 different anonymous leaflets had appeared under the names of the Union of Struggle for the Liberation of the Working Class, the Workers Union and the Moscow Workers Union:

It can be claimed with assurance that the fabricators of these leaflets were trying to use the strikes which were already under way with the aim of giving them a social character[15]and to lead the strikers in this sense. In appealing to the workers, the agitators had reiterated in earlier leaflets those demands which had already been announced by the workers. They had pointed to the aims which were being pursued by Western European workers. They had sought to win persistence in strike action, even promising help with money which would supposedly come from the German workers and dispensing advice about prudent behaviour which the workers had actually been maintaining before the appearance of the leaflets, since the very start of the strike. But later on the leaflets were filled with subversive incitement against capitalists, government institutions and state power. Not limiting themselves to workers, the writers of the leaflets appealed to society at large to join the Russian Social Democracy…

III: Repression

The new militancy of the 1890s inspired Russian socialists to move on from organising small propaganda circles to ‘agitation’ — trying to get relatively large numbers of workers to strike for immediate improvements. Some socialists went even further. They argued that workers would have to go through an entire period or stage of immediate ‘economic’ struggles before embarking on a stage of political struggle against the Tsarist state. To them, the attempt to raise political ideas and demands or to unify the local Social Democratic groups into a party was irrelevant. However, ‘economism’, as these ideas were known, ignored the state at its peril. The new militancy inspired action, but it also inspired repression, as these extracts show. It was difficult for militant workers, let alone socialists, to be ‘non-political’ when the state was busy trying to suppress the economic struggle. Perhaps that was one reason why ‘economism’ was already at its last gasp when Lenin’s famous pamphlet from 1902 What Is To Be Done?, which put the argument for a party adapted to Russian circumstances, dealt it a death blow. At the end of the second extract (the one from Pazhitnov), I have included an extra passage even though it takes us a few years ahead of our story because it gives a good idea of the weight of repression on the movement.

IIIa: The Police Move In On Industrial Unrest[16]

THE famous circular of 12 August 1897, no 7587, issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs without advance notice to the Finance Ministry, lays down that the police are to establish the strictest supervision over factories, plants, workshops and working-class areas — the working-class environment — bringing to light the reasons for unrest and removing as far as possible the grounds for discontent in those cases where the workers have a basis for complaining about the oppression or injustice of the industrialists or the factory management.

Point III lays down that special attention be paid to the appearance of people from the intelligentsia[17]among the workers, while in the case of the beginning of a stoppage or strike, point V lays down that measures be taken through officials of the relevant inspectorate or an appropriate authority for the immediate examination of the reasons for the strike and for a peaceable agreement of the two sides; if such an agreement does not result, then to set the briefest possible time within which the strikers are to start work again or be dismissed, and on the expiry of this time urgently to remove all non-resident workers who have stopped work within the legal period of hire to their place of birth or registration, those overstaying to be deported.[18]

I present the circular itself from the Ministry of Internal Affairs to the provincial governors, 12 August 1897:

In May of last year, the workers of the St Petersburg cotton-spinning, cotton-weaving and thread mills stopped work, presenting demands to the mill owners for the raising of pay and the reduction of the working day. In the autumn of the same year, a series of strikes sprang up in Moscow and in a number of places in the central industrial region, while there was a resumption, albeit on a smaller scale, of strikes in St Petersburg which displayed the distinguishing features of all these strikes: the declaration by the workers of exactly the same precisely-formulated demands, the unanimous stubbornness with which they stood up for their claims, and the preservation by the strikers of public order and peace.

Investigations carried out into these strikes have revealed that while the initial stoppages arose in the factories in which the workers were in the worst economic conditions, the further spreading of the movement and the discipline of the strikers were mainly due to the activity of secret revolutionary associations naming themselves ‘The Union of Struggle for the Liberation of the Working Class’ and ‘The Workers Union’. An investigation directed towards clarifying the composition and type of activity of the aforesaid criminal associations has established that the majority of the members of these ‘unions’ belong to the student youth of both sexes in higher and specialist academic institutions, and that the associations themselves are organised in separate groups on a decentralised basis. The central groups of the associations are mainly in charge of collecting dues and the production of appeals and other publications intended for agitational purposes. Other members of the associations, individually or in groups, try to make contacts among the workers, and, getting close to the more developed workers, use them as go-betweens to organise workers’ circles. Each workers’ circle comes under one or more persons from the intelligentsia who teach the workers from pamphlets specially produced for this about the latest politico-economic and socialist theories, and generally develop their listeners in an anti-government direction. Teaching in the factory Sunday schools and further study after that at home with the most receptive pupils serve as the most widespread means of getting close to the workers and of choosing the people best suited for agitational purposes. The leader from the intelligentsia obtains via go-betweens with the workers’ circles essential information about the general mood of the workers and the grounds for discontent in this or that factory, and composes on the basis of this data an appeal to the factory in question issued by the central group and then distributed in the factory by the same workers.

Being attributed by agitators exclusively to the strikes which have taken place, measures taken by the governmental authorities for the improvement of the workers’ lives and a number of concessions made by the industrialists to workers’ demands have reinforced the belief among the workers as to the expediency of strikes, and have evoked among the youth an intensified aspiration to take part in the workers’ movement. If the associations in the capital are a representative case, secret circles of the intelligentsia youth have been formed under various names in many large towns and major industrial centres, and have adopted for themselves the programme of activity of the aforesaid ‘unions’.

Since the spring of this year, the activity of these revolutionary groups has developed in various places in the Empire, and strikes in factories, plants and even workshops have become commonplace occurrences in many towns with a more or less significant working-class population. Especially noteworthy in this regard is the recent formation among the workers of so-called ‘fighting squads’, that is, groups of the most revolutionary workers who by means of threats and coercion force the less determined workers to unite in strikes or prevent those wanting to work from doing so, while also subjecting to all kinds of violence, including murder, workers who influence their comrades to stop striking or who are suspected of revealing the chief ringleaders of the strikes to the police or the factory management.

Ozerov does not summarise the fourth practical point which the circular put to the governors, probably because it is so short, and he reproduces it in full:

  1. 4. To prohibit unconditionally any kind of workers’ meeting, to expose the instigators of these assemblages,[19]and to put the latter under arrest if the meeting has the purpose of agreeing on a stoppage or strike.

IIIb: Coping with Repression[20]

IN the following years, the issue led to the removal of a number of cases connected with labour disorders from general jurisdiction and their transfer to the military court.

At the same time, the industrialists made extensive use of the right they had been given to have their own police. Not counting recent years,[21]since 1880 a total of 572 police appointments have been made from private funds in factories, plants and businesses. Under the law of 1 February 1899, another 160 police superintendents were appointed, together with 2320 policemen in factories and plants with 200 or more workers.[22]The allocation of quarters for them was the responsibility of the factory owners.

In this way, guardianship[23]went hand-in-hand with repression: care was needed to maintain belief in the solicitude of the authorities, so as to make the workers’ own self-activity unnecessary for them; strong measures were needed so as to suppress discontented elements. Both these means were together directed at the prevention of a labour movement here as being incompatible with the basis of the existing state order, that is, with the autocracy…

… little by little social propaganda wovenests for itself in the country’s industrial areas. In 1898, there took place the firstcongress of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party (RSDWP), representing the Union of Struggle for the Liberation of the Working Class, the General Jewish Workers Union in Lithuania and Poland (the Bund) and ‘The Union of Russian Social-Democrats’ abroad…

True, the very first central committee, which was elected at the congress, was arrested and the proposed unification of local organisations could not be carried out, right up to 1903. They did not, of course, have the strength to stop the movement of repression. Under what threats did the workers’ movement develop, how many victims were torn out of its ranks — of this the figures below give a faint idea. In 10 years, from 1894 to 1903, by imperial command 1441 people were exiled to Siberia, 1250 people were exiled to other distant provinces, 4661 people were placed under police supervision, 1739 confined in prison, 1755 taken into custody, and 81 foreigners permanently deported.

It should be added that this does not include cases decided by the so-called secret police regime, that is, by the personal authority of the Minister of Internal Affairs, or the endless number of people sent back to their place of origin, arrested, fined, etc, by governor-generals, provincial governors, city governors, etc. In the more important cases, strikers were brought to trial… As a general conclusion, it would be no exaggeration to say that from 1900 to 1904, that is, in only four years, more than 20 000 people were prosecuted for ‘illegal’ activity. A good half of them belonged to Social Democracy, according to information from separate investigations carried out in the central prisons. Moreover, the intelligentsia were invariably outnumbered by workers in the general mass of ‘victims’…

IV: A Clandestine Cock-Up[24]

It was one thing to argue for a Social Democratic party and another actually to build one. Dmitry Sverchkov came into the socialist movement as a teenage gymnasiumstudent inspired by the daring — and dangerous — demonstrations of students which were spreading across Russia at the time and beginning to attract workers (a gymnasiumwas a secondary school which prepared students from more privileged backgrounds for university). He was particularly moved by a demonstration at the Kazan Cathedral in his home town of St Petersburg on 4 March 1901, which, he says, ‘was suppressed by mounted police, gendarmes and Cossacks with a brutality unheard-of at that time’.[25]Male and female students were beaten unconscious. Several hundred people were arrested, and a forestry student whom Sverchkov knew was killed. He plunged enthusiastically into underground activity, determined to do his bit to overthrow a regime he now hated. Every activist knows about the little organisational detail that can trip you up at the wrong moment. The extra precautions that have to be taken in the underground mean that there are many more such details lying around. And one was just waiting for young Dmitry Sverchkov…

AS usual, I was devoting all the time I had free from confinement in boarding school to ‘The Union for the Liberation of the Working Class’. My godmother in this respect was the medical attendant Lydia Barkhatova… From her I first heard officially about my acceptance into the organisation. She used to deliver Iskra(The Spark)[26]to me, she gave me some workers’ addresses which I entered in code in a notebook I had, and suggested that I conduct propaganda. How many unforgettable evenings I have spent in tiny rooms surrounded by 10 workers with whom I talked in the dim lamplight about the fate of world, about struggle, about the aims and methods of the revolution… I came to them, not as a teacher, but as a participant in discussionready to share with them what I knew myself and to learn from them what was still not clear to me. How many avid hands reached out for the copies of IskraI had brought with me, to read them through with me and discuss what they had read. Unfortunately, the majority of the articles in it were written in language that was too scientific and literary, and in certain places it was necessary to repeat them in one’s own words in order to make them understandable…

Lydia Barkhatova was highly thought of and respected by everybody, and the first thing they did was to ask me about her and send her their best wishes. The thin cigarette-paper sheets of Iskrawere read until they were full of holes. When an issue had fallen apart, each scrap was prized.

The first time Lydia Barkhatova asked me to deliver a bundle of the first issue of Iskrain a working-class area, a rather curious thing happened to me. We had to fix a place she could bring it to… Among the comrades in the gymnasiumthere was one whose family situation allowed me to do this with his agreement, which I had already secured. His father, a doctor, had his own venereal disease clinic which many people attended. The doorman would therefore suspect nothing. Moreover, the doctor himself was, as far as I remember, a total reactionary. I gave Lydia the details of his address, surgery hours and the day, and said that she would have to go up to the second floor, ring and ask not for the doctor, whose forename, patronymic and surname were on the doorplate, but to switch the forename and the patronymic so she would be shown to his son with whom I would be waiting for her, and who was sympathetic.[27]

Everything was agreed and we parted. I had already been at this comrade’s place dozens of times. On the appointed day, I arrived an hour before the time agreed as I was worried about being late. How horrified I was when I saw on the doctor’s brass doorplate not the forename and patronymic in full but only two letters… I could not understand how I had not seen this before, and how I could have made such a mistake! My imagination painted the picture: Lydia would arrive, ring, the door would be opened to her, she would not know — because of me — who to ask for, and would be taken to a Black Hundred VD doctor![28]

Alarmed, I told the comrade about my mistake, and we decided to keep a constant watch on the outside of the door, hiding when anyone came or went, with the aim of catching Lydia on the stairs. We had to spend two long hours in this state until I saw a small figure coming up, grabbed the package from her hands and, bidding her a quick goodbye, went back with him into the flat.

I organised the delivery of literature better after that.

V: Battle at the Obukhov[29]

This extract tells the story of the strike at the Obukhov plant in St Petersburg in 1901. The going had got tougher since the St Petersburg textile-workers’ strike of 1896.

Inspired by the St Petersburg strikes of 1896, the number of strikers in the textile industry more than doubled in the following year. As this textile wave began to ebb, militancy in the metal industry[30]continued to rise. The year of 1899 was the first in which more metal-workers went on strike than textile-workers, and this trend strengthened in 1901, even though it was a time of crisis in the metal industry.[31]MN Pokrovsky, a major historian of the period who never quite lost his Bolshevik roots, summarises the difference between these two key groups of workers:

While the average annual earnings of a textile-worker in 1900 amounted to 170 rubles, the average wage of a metal-worker equalled 341 rubles, twice as much. While the working day for the textile-workers up until the law of 1897 varied between 12 and 14 hours, for the metal-workers even at that time it was never longer than 11, often coming down to as low as 10.[32]

Textiles was Russia’s biggest industry, and employed a large proportion of women. It was here that the worst horrors of industrialisation were concentrated — ‘workers (children of six, pregnant women of 15, tubercular fathers of 17) living in lice-ridden, heatless wooden barracks, flogged to work, shot down by the Czar’s Cossacks if they ventured a complaint, brutalised, left to die on a pallet of straw or a bundle of dirty rags when all the strength was drained from their bodies’.[33]The strikes of 1896-97 had been something in the nature of a ‘revolt of the lower paid’. At the same time, the majority of textile-workers (concentrated in Moscow and nearby Ivanovo-Voznesensk, ‘the Russian Manchester’) would often put up with low pay as they tended to retain an interest in the land and production of their home village.[34]Metal-workers were more skilled, more literate, more definitely urban working-class.

Pokrovsky argued that the rise of militancy among metal-workers at this time was crucial to an understanding of the class struggle in the build-up to the 1905 revolution:

What did the appearance on the scene of the army of metal-workers mean? Firstly, that the movement had gained… the best-paid layer of the Russian working class… What was now at stake was not the sectional interests of any one group of workers, however large, but the sufferings of the entire working class, sufferings experienced by even the best-off representatives of that class. The ground had been prepared for a movement of the class as a whole, which could not possibly remain ‘economic’ because the class struggle is always a political struggle, a struggle for power.[35]

The Obukhov strike was a key transitional moment in this development. It was the Russian worker’s Alamo.

This extract also gives us an insight into the kind of pamphlet Russian socialists used to spread their message. The author, identified only as ‘AB’, may have been Alexander Bogdanov (1873-1928). Bogdanov was a doctor by trade, but was also an extremely gifted writer in a number of fields, including science fiction. He became a leading Bolshevik in St Petersburg in 1905. Here, however, he was responsible for serious political weaknesses in the organisation, especially its sectarian attitude to the St Petersburg soviet. He was ultimately expelled from the party in 1909 at Lenin’s instigation.[36]


THE Obukhov is a state plant, a ‘Tsar’s plant’, and comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Marine. There are upwards of some 6000 or 7000 workers in the plant. I will not dwell on the regular practices of this plant, the ways the workers are swindled and mocked, as they do not differ from those in private plants. I will say more than that. The individuality of the worker is crushed even more in a state plant as the management is in the hands of the Tsar’s servants — generals, colonels, officers. Instead of the factory inspectorate, which is supposed to be responsible for defending the workers’ interests, here an officer of the gendarmes is appointed exclusively to watch over the interests of the state. How difficult it is to take on the state, let alone the Tsar — of that the Obukhov workers have been convinced by many years’ bitter experience. How many mutilations there have been during the entire time the plant has existed, and how little satisfaction the crippled workers have got! An investigation into the state’s doings can only be set in motion by the state itself. The case will drag out for two or three years, and the result is that the state refuses the victim, laying the whole blame for the mutilation on the worker. Who has the right to appeal to a just court over that of the state? No-one, as it is above the law and can observe it as much as it pleases. This state of affairs takes away from the worker any desire to defend his rights. The injured worker strikes a bargain with the plant management, and receives a one-off payment of between 10 and 15 rubles for a mutilation which has disabled him. All the same, it is better than fighting the case for two years and getting nothing as a result. No matter what dirty trick is played on him, the worker must keep silent for fear of the Tsarist bureaucrats in full-dress uniform. Just utter a squeak of protest and they will let loose an armed military detachment which, as has subsequently turned out, is always in readiness for the service of the Tsar’s plant. As you can see, the Tsar’s plants have no small advantages, and this turns the state worker into a creature without rights, a slave.

Let us now turn to the immediate causes which provoked the subsequent storm. As is well known, the working day was reduced by the law of 2 June 1897. The law was the result of the stormy workers’ strikes which involved several tens of thousands of Petersburg weavers. But in this law there was a little snag. Overtime was not entirely done away with, but was permitted in a number of cases where it was essential for production. Some time later, there followed another decree which broadened the legal use of overtime work. In a word, the government for some reasonbegan to put more and more emphasis on overtime. It was in the state plants that this came to be used most, and on a bigger scale than ever. The vast majority of workers, including the Obukhov workers, were only too pleased by this circumstance. Have pity on them! Overtime gave them the opportunity to earn nearly twice as much as before. True, an insignificant minority of the workers understood the government’s cunning. Intellectuals who had contact with the workers understood it as well. But for a long time the majority remained deaf to the warnings of these more politically-conscious elements. But little by little, the overtime rates fell. Imperceptibly, over some six months or so they went down by 20 or 30 per cent. Meanwhile, lots of orders were coming in to the plant, and work was in full swing.[37]The workers marvelled. There were isolated instances of protest, but the protesters were instantly removed from the plant and replaced by new recruits. Thanks to the industrial crisis, the queue of unemployed at the gates of the plant kept getting longer. You did not have to be a professor to be struck by the relationship between overtime and falling rates on the one hand, and the unbelievable number of the unemployed on the other. Little by little, a simple thought began to penetrate the workers’ consciousness. If only they were all together and if the workers in the other plants did not agree to do overtime, then in view of the abundance of orders the government would have to introduce a night shift and would be forced to turn to the unemployed standing at the gates. Once there were fewer unemployed, the plant management would not be able to lower the rates so easily. Nor, if there was a protest by the workers, would they be able to replace them so easily with others!

Another two years went by, and the lowering of the rates reached horrific proportions. The workers began to avoid overtime work. In view of this, last summer a plant decree came out under which all workers, with rare exceptions, were obliged to do overtime not less than three times a week. Immediately after this decree, a considerable number of conscious workers began to agitate in the plant, striving to win over the workers for a strike. Although this agitation had considerable success, protest action nevertheless did not follow. Another year went past. The rates fell by two, three, four times. For 17 hours of work without a break, the workers were now earning the same wage as they had for 12 hours before the law of 2 June and the establishment of overtime. In this way, we see that, at the very same moment when it issued the law under pressure from workers’ unrest to shorten the working day, the government started pondering the question of how it could set that law at naught. It found the means of doing so very quickly — the name of it was overtime work, which appeared in essence as a skillfully-disguised government trick to lengthen the working day.

The First of May approached. The mood was not good… Besides, the industrial crisis had unfolded in its full horror. Workers were being thrown onto the street by the hundred, and the leading workers in the Obukhov plant feared that the majority would not come out behind them in this terrible time. Although there were some meetings, there was no worked-out, definite common plan for the celebration. For the moment, the decision was to wait. Meanwhile, between 1000 and 1500 people stayed away from work on 1 May. Two days later, Colonel Ivanov, the assistant director, gradually began to sack those who had stayed away on May Day a few at a time. This reprisal upset everybody. In the plant, the ferment intensified. There was meeting after meeting — in the woods, in the meadows, in lodgings. Members of the intelligentsia were also present at some of them. The meetings were extremely passionate, the mood heightened. It was decided to organise a strike, put forward demands, and not to agree to start work until they were granted in full. It must be pointed out that a strike had been decided on in principle even before 1 May. It had been decided to postpone it in order to work out a plan which would ensure the success of the action. Such a plan was worked out. This was its basis: only the conscious elements and only those among them who could be completely relied on not to give it away were to know about what had been resolved.It was, of course, decided not to give out any leaflets to the workers until it had started. The leaflets were hectographed[38]and given to some of the leaders of the movement the day before the strike. Now the most important thing: little by little, on the morning of 7 May, the 200 or 250 workers who were in on the secret were to move out of their workshops and without being noticed all gather together at 11am at a particular place in the plant. Here it was intended that the leaflets should be given out. Then the whole crowd of them with the leaflets in their hands were to move on to the most revolutionary workshops and get them to come out. It would not be difficult for a crowd which had grown in this way to some 800 or 900 people to get the whole plant out, even if many of their workmates had to be ‘smoked out’ from under the machines. Such was the plan, and it was brilliantly executed. True, the venture did not come off as easily as intended. For instance, they reckoned to rouse the plant in one and a half hours, whereas in actual fact it needed two. There were moments when some of the militants gave up hope — when it seemed impossible to rouse the grey mass. But these difficulties underlined even more the importance that a politically-conscious, more or less organised minority can have, even if it is a tiny minority, in a huge plant. To the horror of the unsuspecting plant management and all the guardians of the law in Aleksandrovskoye Selo,[39]the Obukhov plant, which had been fast asleep for many years, rose as one man and a mighty lava-stream of working people poured out on to the street. Where had the usual meekness of the workers gone? One worker was actually prodding Colonel Ivanov on the nose on account of his failure to accept an application about an injury. Another was loudly counting out the Colonel’s transgressions on his fingers. A third was saying that there was a place for the Colonel on the bench for the accused. Suddenly, such a menacing ‘Out!’ burst forth that Colonel Ivanov, the Tsar’s servant all covered with the Tsar’s medals, had to make off and seek safety with his coachman in the stable.

Meanwhile, the police had gathered at the nearby corners. The policemen did not now venture to use any force against the workers, of course, as they realised their insignificance in the face of the army of workers. One of the policemen made his mark, however, a certain Kostyushko-Valyuzhnich, who from force of habit and a desire to curry favour ordered the workers to disperse. At that moment, he and his order seemed ludicrous not only to the workers but also to his police comrades. Kostyushko met with unanimous laughter. He drew his sabre in a rage. But a young worker ran up to him, snatched away the sabre and cut his face with it, then broke it in pieces there and then and threw them away. At the same time, someone in the angry crowd threw a stone at him and knocked out two of his teeth. So the toothless Kostyushko beat an ignominious retreat from the field of battle, leaving his broken sabre behind for the edification of the rest of the police swine. The latter, thanks to the lesson given, were as quiet as mice after that.[40]

Major-General Vlasev, the plant director, had been informed about what had happened by telephone earlier on, immediately after Ivanov’s ignominious flight. Vlasev had been on leave since 1 May and was in the city at the time. It must be pointed out that the director enjoyed great respect among the workers. They believed him to be a man who, though weak, was good-natured and responsive. When Vlasev arrived he was surrounded by workers who set about explaining the reasons for their discontent. They said they had always had respect, indeed even love, for him personally, but bad people like Ivanov had taken him over, putting things to him in a totally distorted way and controlling him as they liked. His personal qualities had helped to preserve him from protest for a long time. It had seemed to them that they could sort things out by peaceful means, but bitter experience had convinced them that they must not depend on anybody’s good will. So they had decided to replace peace by war, requests by demands. They were getting a hearing now, they were being talked to, but what used to happen in the past?! They still believed him to be a decent person, and urgently requested him not to let the troops come as they were afraid lest the workers’ anger would lead to a bloody clash.

Vlasev was visibly moved by the workers’ attitude to him. He thanked them for keeping the peace and promised to do everything possible to ensure that the police would not provoke them further and troops would not be sent. As far as their demands were concerned, in view of their seriousness (celebration of 1 May, an eight-hour working day, etc), he could not grant them personally but would have to consult with the Ministry of Marine as the Obukhov plant was under its jurisdiction. So he went off to the heads of the government in the city, to the ministers!…

Two hours after his departure, the barbarians arrived at the gallop in the shape of Cossacks, mounted gendarmes and police — about 150 of them in all — with Polibin, the police chief, in command. They encountered no resistance on any part of their route. But in Aleksandrovskoye Selo a dense crowd forced them to slow down and stop kicking up so much dust, while at the plant itself a solid wall of workers stopped them completely. The military command tried to orderthe workers to disperse, but this order was met with universal laughter and biting jokes at the expense of the colonel and the Cossacks. Recalling how the cavalry had crushed the boy and girl students at the Kazan Cathedral, Polibin ordered them to dash at the crowd using their whips. But here the cavalry did not produce the expected panic. They were showered with a hail of stones. The mounted Cossacks and police were forced to fall back ignominiously. Meanwhile, the workers began to go from the defensive to the offensive. Step by step the troops, gendarmes and police gave ground before the irresistible onslaught of the workers. Eventually, the latter pressed the former right up against the plant and they could go no further. Meanwhile, the police station telephone worked tirelessly and kept ceaselessly summoning fresh reinforcements from the city. The city did not keep them waiting long, of course, and police from practically all the city stations concentrated in the village. Finally, a fresh military detachment numbering 200 arrived by 6pm. The workers held their dominant offensive position — the victor’s position — right up until the arrival of this detachment. Even now, the Tsar’s servants — 600 in number — would hardly have been able to get the better of the workers if Colonel Polibin had not ordered them to fire. The shots were fired without any kind of warning — that is beyond a shadow of a doubt. Besides, they not only fired up and down the street, but also through the windows of houses. It is impossible to establish accurately the number of dead and injured in view of the fact that they were immediately picked up and taken away to the city by steamboat. All that is known for sure is that three were killed on the spot, and not less than 20 were badly injured. Only afterwards did it gradually come to light that this person had a broken bone, that person had lost blood, another person had been hit in the stomach by a bullet, that in such-and-such a house a bullet had torn away the lip of a three year-old girl, a boy had been shot through the forehead, that such-and-such a mother was close to madness, etc. The shooting forced the workers to scatter. But the battle had only just begun. Not 15 minutes had passed before an entire hail of stones, sand, firewood and all kinds of industrial tools unexpectedly rained down on the troops from all sides. The point was that the workers had not put down their weapons when they left the street. They immediately barricaded the card factory’s two huge outbuildings. The plant’s enormous yard which adjoined these buildings was also barricaded, as was the whole of the plant’s narrow street. The Tsar’s servants, who had been exultant, were flabbergasted by this surprise move. They forced the doors of the outbuildings and clambered along dim corridors, but were soon flying out of there like arrows, beaten and bloody. They were firing but hitting tables, chests of drawers, beds and so on instead of people.

Cossacks and gendarmes who had been battered out of the ranks were continually hobbling in the direction of the police station with broken heads and blood on their faces. Companies of soldiers ran up and down the main street and other streets at the double with drums beating, trying to strike fear into women, young people and grown-up workers who were in their homes and had not taken part in the fighting. Quite often, the barbarians with naked sabres attacked a defenceless woman who was not guilty of anything or a senile old man walking down the street and beat them until they were half-dead. But, quite often, it also happened that a pair of mounted gendarmes or Cossacks would find themselves in a crowd of workers or near some ambush and got what they deserved.In the distance, shots rang out at the plant from time to time. The militants who were fighting under cover of the barricades had no thought of surrender and rained piles of stones on their enemies. Drumbeats, shots, heaps of sand and stones, feverish activity behind barricaded trenches, dead and injured… The air smelled of revolution.

But the fighters on the barricades were in no state to withstand the onset of an armed enemy for long. The workers of Aleksandrovskoye Selo and the women workers of the card factory (about 2000 in all) had stopped work by this time and were fraternally helping their Obukhov comrades. Even so, in the hand-to-hand barricade fighting the workers’ empty hands were no match for the hands of the Tsar’s bashibazouk[41]armed with sabre, whip and rifle butt.

If the crowd of 20 000 which was standing by the factory had had firearms, the Tsarist government would have had to send a 20 000-strong force to do battle with it. If all the workers fighting on the barricades had had a thousand daggers and sabres, it would have needed 5000 soldiers, not 600, to take the barricades. But in their ignorance, the vast majority of the workers counted on someone’s good will — either the plant director’s or Minister Sipyagin’s[42]or the Tsar’s… But if only they had not kept inside the shell of their factory interests they could have foreseen this dismal surprise. If only they had taken some more interest in the happenings in the life around them, then they would have seen that the threads which connected this distant life outside the factory with them were innumerable… They would have known that what was happening at the Obukhov had happened two months earlier — on 4 March — at the Kazan Cathedral, that the police and the Cossacks had beaten the students until they were half-dead, students who were guilty only of feeling suffocated in our musty, death-like atmosphere and of wanting some freedom.[43]They would have known further that Internal Affairs Minister Sipyagin had issued a circular on 12 March to the Police Department about the Kazan massacre. To the minister, the sickening outrages which had taken place were not enough. He issued a severe reprimand to the police for not acting with sufficient vigour. He ordered them to commit excesses in future without restraint. He advised the provincial and town governors not to stand on ceremony with the mob and not to waste time using weapons other than firearms. The workers would also have known the main cause that had prompted him to issue this circular. Sinister rumours were abroad in the city that the factory workers were rising up, while in Moscow and Kharkov the people had already shown themselves.[44]And in his circular the minister referred mainly to the workers. The Obukhov workers would have found out about the minister who acted with the knowledge of the Tsar. About the Tsar himself they would have found out from the newspapers that: ‘His Majesty the Emperor issued a severe reprimand to Prince Vyazemsky, a member of the State Council, for his intervention in the action of the police on 4 March.’ It was well known that Vyazemsky happened to be in the Kazan Cathedral on 4 March and seeing the repulsive carnage took the students’ part. For some days rumours went around the city that Vyazemsky had gone to the Tsar to complain about the excesses of the police, but the Tsar would not receive him. Many workers somehow would not believe this — surely not the Tsar himself? But the reprimand cited above which soon appeared in The Government Heralddispelled all doubts, and it became clear to everyone from where everything started. So I repeat: if only the workers had not thought that all and everything consisted for them in the struggle with the industrialists and had understood that they had important interests outside the factory as well, then they would have understood that their misfortune was not all concentrated in the local policeman, the police officer or the Cossacks, but in the highest level of government — in the Tsar and his lickspittles. Knowing this, they would not have been taken by surprise, and in the interval between the beginning of the strike and the arrival of the troops they would have prepared for the encounter with the Tsar’s bashibazouks and would not have wasted precious time taking the roadway to bits[45]at the momentthe troops arrived. Be that as it may, the workers even without being prepared put up a magnificent fight on the barricades. True, after long efforts the government forces celebrated victory. But the government itself was far from celebrating. In any case, this was far from being a cheerful victory for the government. It showed the strength of the workers’ resistance, and at the same time suggested willy-nilly that a few more victories like this and the victors might turn into the defeated. Further events would show that even now the government was far from conducting itself like a victor.


Evening came. In Aleksandrovskoye Selo everything seemed to die down. Only the patrols darting here and there on the main street were a reminder of the events of the day. But if anyone had taken it into his head to glance into the more distant corners and back streets and into the buildings where the workers lived, he would have seen a totally different picture. There, many small groups of people were excitedly discussing the topic of the day. Curses poured from the workers’ mouths. These curses were aimed not only at the heads of those who had carried out their orders, but also at the main culprits of the event. The politically-conscious workers did not have to say much — they were understood even without words. The vast majority demanded vengeance — they wanted to demolish the police station and the shop.[46]It cost the more conscious section a lot of work to hold their comrades back from such acts. At last they succeeded in persuading them to spare their strength for the moment, and to save their suppressed anger and hatred for another time.

On the following day, everybody was at once struck one way or another by the total absence from the streets not only of gendarmes and Cossacks, but even of the usual police. It was obvious to all that orders had come from on high not to irritate the workers. The latter gathered in groups on the streets completely freely, and discussed the state of affairs. At midday on the next day, a printed appeal from the director to the workers appeared. To start with he announced that he was taking charge of the plant in person immediately by order of the ministry.[47]Further, he expressed deep regret at the unfortunate events. Then he requested the workers to assemble at the plant in a few days’ time to elect their representatives(two from each workshop) who should put their demandsto him. He assured the workers on his word of honour that the elections could be held entirely freely and openly, and that neither now nor later would the plant management or any other authority touch any of the workers or their representatives (deputies) — that they would, in a word, have immunity. In conclusion, he requestedthe workers to start work. Not a word was said about Ivanov in this announcement, as if he did not exist. It was extremely typical that the notice was not only pasted up around the area, but was also hand-delivered to the plant workers in all the streets and taken to them in their homes. On the Saturday, about 6000 workers went to the plant and set about voting. This was atruly popularassembly on a grand scale. Truly popular because this right to assemble was not givento the workers but had been wonby them through struggle, and the absence of any kind of pressure from above was thanks to this. The workers removed all the foremen and charge-hands from the workshops. They also removed all those they suspected of spying, and they did not allow the police to be present. Once all these undesirable elements had been removed, they got down to the vote, which was accompanied by the most extensive agitation. On this important day, no work was done at all. The whole of it was devoted to voting and drawing up demands. When it came to the elections, there was no thought of being guided by the director’s instructions — two from each workshop. Instead, going by their own opinion, they elected one, two or three from the workshop according to the number of workers in it. The elections themselves lasted a good three hours, and 26 representatives were elected. Then they began to draw up the demands. At this point, an enormous difference was plainly visible between the more conscious workers who had participated in various circles and organisations and those, unfortunately in the majority, who had never pondered more or less seriously on their situation, never searched for a way of getting out of that situation. While the former put forward clear, thought-out, quite definite demands, the latter (that is, the majority) constantly got themselves into a muddle. Although they endlessly complained about their fate, they were nevertheless unable to understand the main, fundamental reasons for their misfortunes, and lost themselves in trivia (in demands for boiling water, etc).[48]It does not follow from this, of course, that the serious demands which were drawn up were onlythe demands of the organised minority. Not at all. When the more conscious workers suggested demanding an eight-hour working day, they explained about all the positive results which flowed from the establishment of such a day. Then the mass of unorganised workers also united behind this demand with a will. When the conscious workers demanded that 1 May be inserted into the table of public holidays and in so doing pointed out the great unifying significance of this international workers’ holiday, then a significant section of the unorganised majority also began to understand that the workers would really need to win this kind of workers’ holiday.

In this way, the workers threw out inappropriate and petty demands with the help of their politically-developed comrades, and everybody’s wishes were incorporated in 13 points. Unfortunately, I do not have the list of these demands to hand, but I well remember the main ones. Here they are:

  1. The insertion of 1 May celebration into the table of public holidays.
  2. The establishment of an eight-hour working day.
  3. The legalisation of annual elections of worker-representatives in the plant along the lines of this year’s elections.
  4. The return of all our comrades arrested by the police and put in various prisons, and the return of our comrades who were sacked on 1 May.
  5. The removal of assistant director Ivanov; the removal of some of the foremen and charge-hands.
  6. A better attitude towards the workers.
  7. A 25 per cent rise in the daily pay of the unskilled labourers.
  8. An increase in wage rates.
  9. The abolition of overtime work.
  • Permanent maintenance for widows and orphans of those killed.

The elected representatives went off to a clearing, and there — once they had made themselves comfortable under the open sky — they got down to discussing these demands and working out a detailed justification of them. Needless to say, the elections were a subject of conversation not only in Aleksandrovskoye Selo, but also far beyond its boundaries. And no wonder.

On the Monday, the workers went to work and the representatives went to see Vlasev. The meeting lasted a long time, so long that when the lunchtime whistle went at 12 o’clock the workers fell to worrying about the fate of their delegates. They stood in a thick wall at the gates of the plant and demanded their representatives. The latter had to show themselves to their electors and reassure them about the outcome of the negotiations. Only after this did the workers quietly disperse. The negotiations came to an end at last, and the representatives came out with a resolution to the huge crowd of their people who had been waiting in the yard of the plant. Ten demands had been accepted unconditionally. As far as the celebration of 1 May was concerned, Vlasev explained that in the last few days he had been authorised by the Ministry to permit all those who wishedto celebrate it to do so, so that in future any worker who did not appear for work on 1 May could be neither fined nor sacked. However, he on his own didnot have the right to insert this day into the table of public holidays, but he would consult with the ministry. He was also not authorised by the ministry to introduce an eight-hour day. He could on his own authority shorten the working day by half an hour or an hour and that was all. But since the workers’ representatives insisted on this demand, the director promised to take it to the Council of Ministers. All the remaining demands were met. The ministry even authorised him to meet a demand (if such should be presented) for compulsory insurance of the workers by the plant. Vlasev assured the representatives that he had had no idea about the outrageous treatment which had been going on in the plant, and that he had heard about it for the first time from them. He promised that he would go so far as to remove at once any foreman or charge-hand who took the liberty of behaving coarsely to the workers in future. In a word, it was almost total victory. The Obukhov workers could see for themselves that workers were aforce. Although fate was later to deal them some harsh blows, nevertheless this victory and this conviction will never, I am sure, be blotted out of their memory and will constantly rouse them to struggle anew.

The Obukhov workers enjoyed the fruits of their heroic victory for nearly two months. It was intriguing to start a conversation during this time with ‘grey’ people who had recently left their village, and with the old men, who, according to the picturesque expression of the workers themselves, had had to be ‘smoked out from under the machines’. ‘Life has become free and easy.’ ‘We didn’t feel that we were people at all before.’ ‘Thanks to the young for standing up for the working man.’ ‘We feared the bosses and the police like fire, fools that we were.’ ‘Before, we truthfully used to think that Assistant Director or Colonel must mean a great lord and master, but now we can see for ourselves that it simply means a swine.’ ‘If you want something, you have to fight for it.’ You could hear these and similar replies at every step. Authority of all kinds had lost a tremendous amount of its grandeur in the eyes of even the most ordinary worker who had acquired instead an uncompromising hatred for all the powers-that-be.

But unexpectedly for everyone, Ivanov appeared in the midst of this heightened consciousness and occupied his former post in the plant. After that, a notice appeared in the workshops announcing that only workers over 25 who had done at least five years in the plant could be elected as deputies. In addition, they would have to depend totally on the foremen’s say-so. The indignant work­ers stopped work on 7 July. They found themselves having a tiresome wait and wondered how this government ploy would end. In the only way that might have been expected from the shameless, uncontrolled Tsarist autocracy, it ended like this. One morning the residents of Aleksandrovskoye Selo found out that in the dead of night 250 workers had been seized and almost in the same white night sent to thecity and placed in various prisons. The same thing happened on the following two nights as well, so that in a few days about 800 people had been seized, including, of course, all the workers’ representatives. Government policy had become completely clear in all its dirty nakedness. For two months it had spied, identified all the dangerous elements and then seized them, ridding itself in this way of sedition. It was no trouble to have to lie and dissemble for two months as long as the purpose had been achieved. The plant director put out a notice this time too, but one of a completely different nature, in keeping with the new orders above. ‘Since’, he wrote, ‘the workers have not kept their word’, he considered all earlier promises and concessions to be, as it were, non-existent, ‘anyone who did not wish to work under the old conditions would be dismissed immediately’ (and would just as immediately be deported to their place of origin by Klegels[49]in order to avoid disturbance, we ourselves would add). The workers read this notice and did not understand anything. Who had not kept his word? Where? When? But since a large section of the organised workers had been seized, after the director’s threat the workers at the plant resumed work. The government had won. It had started with force. But as force on its own was insufficient, it had ended with force and fraud.

IV — Editor’s Summary

Although many of those who had been arrested were released as promised, 37 remained in prison and went to trial on trumped-up charges. The trials were held behind closed doors, and the court sentenced two workers to hard labour sentences of five and six years. Another 27 workers — including many minors and two 18-year-old girls — were sentenced to between two and five years in prison or in penal battalions. Only eight were acquitted. 


So ended the Obukhov story. What then did it show the workers? Above all, it showed that our autocratic government has already become unsteady on its feet. What other explanation can there indeed be for the fact that almost all the Obukhov workers’ demands were granted at first and that they enjoyed their victory for nearly two months if not the vacillation of the government? What other explanation can there be for the fact that no one dared to stand in the way of the Obukhov workersorganising their free electoral assembly in May? Why did the government not send troops against the Semyanikov workers, 6000 of whom went on strike a few days after the Obukhov workers? Why did it not launch anything against sections of workers from the Pal factory and Aleksandrovskoye Selo steel works who became agitated at the same time and noisily walked out? Why, finally, did the police and the gendarmerie go about ‘more quietly than water and shorter than grass’ after the memorable Obukhov battle, while all the troops went under cover and the management did not reward policemen who were victims of the battle? All of this was because the Obukhov workers had dealt out a rebuff — and such a rebuff as the government had not expected. It was also because — thanks to the heroic defence of the Obukhov workers — other big factories and plants became agitated as well, especially after the Petersburg Union of Struggle produced leaflets which called upon all Petersburg workersto struggle by mounting protests against Sipyagin’s circular. The government initially lost its head. It saw that the urban worker was not the all-enduring country peasant, that force against the worker was a double-edged weapon which could also hit the aggressor.

Editor’s Summary

This was why the government turned to a new tactic. It had initially reacted to the new militancy of the 1890s by the persecution and victimisation of workers and revolutionary members of the intelligentsia. The weavers’ strikes of 1896-97 had already showed that this wasn’t working. Sending troops against strikes simply increased workers’ anger which led to more strikes against which troops had to be sent. This had political consequences: ‘Through persecution, the government got the workers to pass from purely economic demands on the industrialists to political demands — freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of consciousness, the inviolability of the individual, etc.’ It was the Obukhov strike that finally convinced the government to abandon repression as its main policy here in favour of supplying a leadership for the workers itself. The emphasis was now to be on the defence of workers’ interests — but purely in terms of their individual workplace and on condition of their absolute loyalty to the Tsar.[50]There would, for example, be no question of any action or even discussion about May Day, which had played such an important role in the Obukhov struggle.

VI: From Demonstrations to General Strikes[51]

The Obukhov strike of 1901 fed into a widespread and growing discontent with the Tsarist regime. In an official report on the state of labour during the year of the strike, Prince Svyatopolk-Mirsky, then the Assistant Minister of Internal Affairs and head of the political police, wrote:

In the last two or three years, the good-natured Russian lad has developed into a special kind of semi-literate intellectual who considers it his duty to reject religion and the family, to scorn the law, to disobey and mock the authorities. Fortunately, there are not yet many such youths in the factories, but this insignificant handful terrorises the entire inert mass of workers into following its lead.[52]

Workers began to play an increasingly prominent role in a much broader movement. Working-class militancy itself became much more political and openly anti-government. The extract below describes how a movement which began with student demonstrations climaxed in a series of city-wide general strikes. At the same time, the focus of the movement shifted from St Petersburg, the northern capital, to the south of the empire — now Ukraine, southern Russia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Ironically, this was partly due to the policy of deporting troublemakers to the provinces. Most of the cities affected were centres of what was then an ultra-modern iron and steel industry, while Baku, then as now, was a booming oil port.

HAVING grown out of the soil of day-to-day interests and clashes between labour and capital, strikes continued, of course, to have an economic character. But given the great intensity of the strike movement in this period and the growth of the workers’ class consciousness, the absence of what is known as ‘political liberty’ was so keenly felt by those who took part in strikes that a wide horizon opened up for political agitation. Indeed, once a more or less significant number of workers were involved in a work stoppage or in disorders, and these had spread over a wide region, they immediately took on an ‘anti-government character’. In addition, so-called demonstrations were a special form of the expression of political demands. And here and there, the influence of political organisations, that is, Social Democracy above all, appeared with special force. The greatest part of its strength probably went on this.

The first demonstration was organised by students in March 1901 in Petersburg, and took place in the name of demands for academic freedom. But Social Democratic committees very soon became the main organisers, while the Social Democratic intelligentsia and politically-conscious workers became the main participants.

From 1901 to 1903 there were a number of demonstrations in every major centre, such as Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa, Tiflis, Baku, Kiev, Nizhny-Novgorod, Yekaterinoslav, Kharkov, Rostov-on-Don, Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk, Riga, Kishinev[53]and a series of other cities. Thirty of them were organised over the same period in the Bund’s[54]area alone: 14 demonstrations in synagogues and theatres and six political strikes. On top of this, 10 demonstrations and 19 strikes were organised on the occasion of 1 May. Meetings were counted in the hundreds, with tens of thousands taking part in them.

The red flag with demands for political liberty and sometimes for the eight-hour working day came to be the usual emblem of the demonstrators, accompanied by the singing of revolutionary songs.

Despite the victims, for a time demonstrations became a passion for masses of people. All organisations made haste to take protest against the autocracy out on to the streets. These demonstrations were a very important tool of agitation, taking the movement out of the underground and bringing broad masses of the population into contact with it. The general strikes which swept the south of Russia in 1903 had even greater significance in this regard. Uniting politics with economics, they constituted something much more important than a simple strike or demonstration: in them that power, that excitement and intensity of feeling which heralded the approaching revolution was already to be felt…

The first proper general strike broke out in Baku — and this notwithstanding the fact that there the composition of the working class was distinguished by being mixed in the extreme. Here in the offices and among the workers in the oil-fields one could encounter — apart from Russians — Armenians, Persians, Tatars,[55]Swedes, Poles, Jews and others numbering about 25 nationalities! International capital brought them all together here in order to turn the fountains of dirty, stinking oil into piles of gold which poured into the chests of such ‘oil kings’ as Nobel and Rothschild.[56]

A series of small strikes began in Baku as early as the spring of 1903, the greater part of them ending successfully. This, of course, raised the temper of the whole working population. A street demonstration on 27 April organised by politically-conscious workers infused the uplifted mood of the proletariat with arevolutionary spirit. In a word, the atmosphere was extremely stormy when a strike broke out in the Khatisov workshops after the owner avoided paying a promised wage rise. Khatisov then made an agreement with other factory owners regarding the fulfilment of orders which had been given to him. When the workers in the other factories found out about this, they went on strike in solidarity with the Khatisov strikers. After 2 July, the movement spread like wildfire. Crowds of workers went from plant to plant, and work stopped everywhere. From the fifth of the month, the workers were the complete masters of the industrial life of the Baku region. Any work which they wanted to stop came to a halt, and the only work which continued was what they allowed to continue. Plants, workshops, print-works, trams — all came to a stop. The electric light was put off for two nights. Goods traffic was stopped, and so was even the water supply in Balakhany.[57]In all, up to 45 000 people went on strike. Life stood still, but only in order to revive in a new form, never seen before. There began to be great meetings under the open sky. The right to assembly and freedom of speech were won by force and were brought about ‘without prior arrangement’. What in the past could not be organised in even the most pitiful form was now accomplished on a grand scale. Mass meetings of strikers took place daily on the outskirts of the city. About 3000 people usually gathered, but sometimes the number of participants and spectators reached 20 000 and more. Every day leaflets came out in the Russian, Georgian, Armenian and Tatar languages. Large crowds of workers stayed on the streets reading leaflets and listening to speakers under the noses of the police.

When the mood of the workers went down and fewer people came to the meetings, organising gatherings became more difficult. The workers were driven to the factories with whips and forced to work guarded by soldiers. There were even soldiers on the horse-drawn trams, forward by the driver and at the rear with the conductor. Industrial life was fully restored only on 20 July. Strikers were arrested in droves and deported by the thousand to their place of origin.

In that same month of July, general strikes took place in Tiflis, Batumi, Odessa, Yekaterinoslav, Kiev, Nikolayev[58]and other cities. Everywhere, the same scenes repeated themselves. In such larger centres as, for example, Odessa and Kiev, even bigger meetings were organised than in Baku. There were many speakers, frequently from among the most organised workers. Processions around town with red flags and revolutionary songs were repeatedly organised. Clashes with police and troops also happened repeatedly. Cossacks and soldiers beat the workers mercilessly with whips and rifle-butts, the workers defended themselves with sticks and stones, and nevertheless they succeeded a number of times in freeing those arrested during the demonstrations.

Mention must also be made of those methods of struggle which are hardly to be seen in Western countries. Both in Kiev and in Odessa, workers lay down on the rails in dense ranks near the engine sheds in order to stop railway traffic. The local authorities really could not cope with this. Only on an order from Petersburg (from Plehve)[59]to send an express train under military guard and, if necessary, over dead bodies— driving away the crowd with whips and rifle-butts — was it possible to get a few trains out through the gates.

The strike wave which swept the south of Russia in July 1903 caught up in its current not less than 200 000 people, and it was a prologue, as it were, to the revolutionary year of 1905. Both by its grandiose scale and by all its circumstances, the general strike proved to be a mighty instrument for raising the class consciousness of the proletariat. In leaflets which were produced by Social Democratic organisations in tens of thousands, identical demands were formulated almost everywhere: an eight-hour working day, a pay rise of between 20 and 70 per cent and the establishment of a minimum wage, the abolition of fines and searches, polite treatment and a range of other demands for the improvement of working conditions. Leaflets of a purely political nature were also produced: the convocation of an all-Russia popular assembly, the right to strike, freedom of association and assembly, of speech, of the press, of conscience and of the inviolability of the person.

How quickly the workers’ movement developed, at the same time changing its form and nature, can be seen from the example of Tiflis, according to the information in a report by the governor to the viceroy of the region… The first strike in Tiflis, in the words of the report, took place in August 1899 in the Adelkhanov tannery. Ending in victory, it was, says the governor, enormously important for all the workers of Tiflis as it revealed to them a means of struggle with the employers.

In July and August 1900, seven strikes broke out almost simultaneously. Everywhere the workers put forward quite definite demands, and everywhere these demands were granted. 

These strikes were the first in Tiflis and, so far as is known, in the Caucasus, to be accompanied by the issuing of printed leaflets ‘To comrades’, which explained the significance and role of strikes in general, and invited the workers to be firm and persistent in the struggle with the employers. There were no obvious signs on these leaflets as to their authors’ membership of an anti-government party and no anti-government actions were urged by these leaflets. The success of the strikes of 1900 was not long in showing itself in the following year, which was marked by a whole series of more or less organised strikes. In the majority of cases, the strikers’ demands — a one-hour reduction in working time, a pay rise and an improvement in the state of industrial premises — were granted. Nearly all the strikes of 1901 were accompanied by the issuing of leaflets, this time in the name of various anti-government associations with political roles being urged upon the workers. The same year was marked by the first revolutionary demonstration of workers not only in the city of Tiflis, but also in the whole Caucasus and Transcaucasus.[60]True, it was not very big in terms of the number of participants, nevertheless it certainly was a political demonstration accompanied not only by the hoisting of red flags but also by cries of: ‘Long live political liberty!’

From this time on, according to the governor’s testimony, strikes began to turn into revolutionary disorders. Under the influence of ‘politically unreliable’ workers and members of the intelligentsia who had been deported from other places, the mass in Tiflis was divided into separate groups, each under its own leader, who called on the workers to be guided by the motto ‘one for all and all for one’. The consequence of this, in the governor’s opinion, was that the labour movement, in the strict sense of this word, had ceased to exist in Tiflis, but instead a ‘revolutionary movement’ had appeared among the workers. If a factory owner should sack a worker, the whole factory would stop work, and this came to be regarded not just as a service but as an obligation. If a worker died, the whole factory would undertake to be present and accompany the body to the cemetery. If a worker was deported, all his workmates — no matter what their relations with him had been — would feel obliged to arrange a send-off for him. This transformation had gone so far in 1902, the report went on, that during the whole series of workers’ disorders in the current year there was not one demand, with the exception of the eight-hour working day, which could be identified merely as a workers’ demand. Workers from all possible types of factories and plants would stop work at an agreed time, and would leave the workplaces with whistling and noise and without making any kind of application to the owners. They would collect on the streets, get into a fight with the police and janitors,[61]and scatter leaflets which were definitely anti-government, often to such a point that troops would have to be called…

Finally, the general strike broke out in July 1903. Thus, in three to four years, masses of workers of different nationalities, who had up to this time obediently borne their lot, woke up and raised the voice of protest. Social Democracy carried on the struggle on two fronts. Starting with economic demands, the workers soon came up against ‘politics’, and not only mastered them but gave them a revolutionary form. What happened in Tiflis took place in almost all the major centres of industrial life in the south.

VII: The Liberal Warmongers[62]

The origins of 1905 lie in 1904 in terms of consciousness as well as chronology. Yet 1904 at first sight seemed a far from promising year for revolution. Strikes were falling to a 10-year low.[63]The peasant movement was declining from its high point in 1902 when 10 000 soldiers and Cossacks had been sent to repress 150 000 peasants in the provinces of Poltava and Kharkov.[64]This downturn in struggle coincided with the outbreak of war between Russia and Japan and was accentuated by it.

The Russo-Japanese war was a typical imperialist conflict. The combatants had competing interests in the Far East, and the fighting took place not on their own soil but in Korea and Manchuria, which was under nominal Chinese control. The war also formed part of the lead-up to the First World War, with Germany (and to some extent France) urging Russia on, while Japan received military aid from Britain and financial support from the USA. In Russia, the war sparked an outburst of official racism against the Japanese, who were commonly referred to as monkeys. As the historian MN Pokrovsky pointed out, this represented an extension of state racism against the ‘national enemy’ at home — notably, though not exclusively, the Jews.[65]

At the time, the only half-way oppositional force in Russian politics that was allowed to function with any degree of openness was liberalism. This was a movement of the professional and educated middle classes — the petit-bourgeois intelligentsia along with a section of the land-owning aristocracy. Their base was in the town councils or dumas and in the rural district councils or zemstvos, which were elected on a highly-restricted franchise and had very limited powers.[66]But many liberals greeted the war with an outburst of patriotic enthusiasm, as Trotsky describes in this extract. Many of them also turned against it once it proved to be a military disaster for Russia. However, they continued to fawn on the Tsar’s high officials, as Trotsky points out, when the hated reactionary Plehve was replaced as Minister of Internal Affairs by the more moderate Svyatopolk-Mirsky.

The entire Russian opposition was extremely split and fragmented, including the liberals themselves. All socialist organisations were illegal, and they had to work in difficult underground conditions. This did not weaken the tendency to fragmentation. The Socialist Revolutionaries, or SRs, had a common commitment, in theory at least, to Russian populism, that is to say, to the idea that the peasantry would be the main agent of socialism. But they were so divided between terrorists, moderate populists, Marxist-populists and anarchists, with many other shades in between, that they were unable to come together and found a unified party until the 1905 revolution was practically over.[67]The Social Democrats believed that only the working class could bring socialism. They had had a unified party, in name at least, since 1898, but they had unexpectedly split at their first real congress in 1903 into two warring factions, the ‘hard’ Bolsheviks led by Lenin and the more moderate Mensheviks, who attracted Plekhanov, the grand old man of the party, and Trotsky, its young star. After much wavering and hesitation, Lenin, a supreme organiser, spent most of 1904 doggedly overcoming resistance to the split among his own supporters at the cost of paying hardly any attention to external events such as the war.[68]

A key difference between the two Social Democratic factions was in respect of the liberals. The Mensheviks were enthusiastic about opening a dialogue with them, and wished to do nothing that might put them off. The Bolsheviks saw the liberals as unreliable allies at best, and traitors to the struggle against Tsarism at worst. This extract comes from a pamphlet which Trotsky submitted to the Menshevik publishers at the end of 1904. According to Isaac Deutscher, Trotsky’s most eminent biographer: ‘The latter were reluctant to bring it out, delayed publication, and, according to Trotsky, intended to suppress it.’ The pamphlet, Deutscher goes on, ‘contained so sweeping and devastating a diatribe against the liberals that it could not but arouse misgivings in men who had begun to see their chance in joint socialist–liberal action against the Tsar. The crux of Trotsky’s argument was that the liberals, more afraid of revolution than of the Tsar, were incapable of such action.[69]

On this major issue — although he was as yet unwilling to recognise it — Trotsky already had much more in common with the Bolsheviks than with the Mensheviks.

LET us cast an eye over the last three months. Distinguished members of the rural councils (zemstvos) gathered in Petersburg, organised a conference which was neither open nor concealed, and worked out constitutional demands. The intelligentsia organised a series of banquets. Members of district courts sat next to returned exiles, members of the intelligentsia with red carnations in their buttonholes alternated with actual state councillors, professors of public law sat side by side with workers who were under police surveillance. Merchants in the Moscow city council (duma) expressed their solidarity with the constitutional programme of the zemstvo conference, Moscow stockbrokers expressed their solidarity with the merchants in the duma. Barristers organised a street demonstration, political exiles agitated against exile in the newspapers, people under surveillance agitated against spies. A naval officer opened a journalisticcampaign against the whole Naval Department, and when he was imprisoned a legal association collected money to present him with an officer’s dagger.

The improbable became real, the impossible probable.

The legal press gave accounts of the banquets, printed resolutions, reported on demonstrations, referred to ‘the well-known Russian saying’,[70]and abused generals and ministers — primarily, however, those who had retired or died. Journalists fulminated, recalled the past, sighed, hoped, warned each other against unnecessary hopes, did not know how to live, tried to rid themselves of servile language, could not find the words, met with warnings, sincerely strove to be radical, wanted to call for something but did not know for what, spoke many sarcastic words but hastily, for on the following day they were uncertain and they hid the feeling of uncertainty behind sharp phrases. All were confused and each wanted to make the rest think that the confusion affected all of them with the sole exception of him…

The war was the immediate cause of the present situation. It drastically speeded up the natural process of destruction of the autocracy, dragging sluggish social groups as if with pincers on to the plane of political life, and driving forward the formation of political parties with all its might. In order not to lose all perspective, we must move away a little from the period of ‘spring’[71]disturbances — back to the beginning of the war, and survey if only briefly the politics of different parties in this time of twofold warfare. The war was given to society as a fact — it remained to make use of it.

The party of Tsarist reaction did all that it could in this direction. Taking advantage of the encouraging circumstance that absolutism, utterly compromised as the representative of the interests of the nation’s cultural growth, found in the war the opportunity to develop what seemed both to itself and to others to be its strongest side, the reactionary press adopted an aggressive tone and placed on the order of the day slogans in which the autocracy, the nation, the army and Russia were all united in the common interest of immediate victory. ‘The nation recognises its unity in nothing so much as in its army’, Novoye Vremya[72]kept saying, and it keeps on saying it. ‘The army holds the international honour of the nation in its hands. A defeat for the army is a defeat for the nation.’ In this way, the task of the reaction was clear: to turn the war into a national enterprise, to unite ‘society’ and ‘the people’ around the autocracy as the guardian of the honour and might of Russia, to create around the autocracy an atmosphere of devotion and patriotic enthusiasm. So the reaction pursued this aim, as it was able to do and as it knew how to do. It strove to kindle feelings of patriotic and moral indignation, mercilessly exploiting the so-called treacherous attack of the Japanese on our fleet. It portrayed the enemy as being perfidious, cowardly, mean, worthless and inhuman. It played on the fact that the enemy was yellowish and that he was a heathen. It strove in this way to call forth a surge of patriotic pride and hatred and disgust for the enemy.

Events did not justify its predictions. The ill-starred Pacific fleet suffered disaster after disaster. The reactionary press justified the failures, putting them down to chance causes and promising revenge on land. Then began a series of engagements on dry land, a series of monstrous losses, a series of retreats by the invincible Kuropatkin,[73]the hero of so many caricatures in the European press. The reactionary press made attempts to wound popular pride with the very facts of the defeats and to awaken a thirst for bloody vengeance. In the initial period of the war, the reaction organised patriotic manifestations of students and city riff-raff and covered the entire country with cheap popular prints in which the superiority of the Russian army over the Japanese was portrayed in the most glaring colours such as were only at the disposal of patriotic artists. In the name of patriotism and philanthropy, the reaction appealed for support for the government Red Cross when the number of wounded began to grow. In the name of patriotism and state interests, it tried to get society to make donations to the navy when the superiority of the Japanese fleet became obvious.

In a word, the reaction did everything it could and knew how to do in order to use the war in the interests of Tsarism, that is, in its own interests.

How then in this critical time did the official opposition act, that opposition in whose hands were the organs of local government — the zemstvos and the dumas — and the liberal press?

Let us say at once: shamefully.

The zemstvos not only obediently bore those chores and expenditures connected with the war which were imposed on them by law; no, more than that, they voluntarily came to the aid of the autocracy with their own organisation for aiding the wounded. This is a crime which still goes on today, a crime against which no one in the liberal milieu has raised a voice in protest. ‘If patriotic feeling moves you to take an active part in the calamities of war, go and feed the poor sinners suffering from cold, heal the sick and wounded’, taught Mr Struve,[74]sacrificing the last remnants of oppositional sense and political dignity not to ‘patriotic feeling’ but to patriotic hypocrisy. At the very moment when the reaction had created the bloody mirage of a cause common to the whole people, is it not clear that any honest oppositional party would have had to recoil from this shameful cause as from a plague infection! At the very moment when the government Red Cross, which gave refuge in its ranks to all bureaucrats caught stealing anywhere, was withering from lack of funds, when the government was struggling in the grip of financial need, the zemstvo appeared and, using its oppositional authority and the people’s money, took upon itself a good portion of the expenses of the military adventure. Did it help the wounded? Yes, it helped the wounded, but by doing so it removed part of the financial burden from the government, eased its further conduct of the war and hence the further production of wounded men.

But this consideration does not exhaust the question. For the task consists of the overthrow once and for all of that order in which the senseless slaughter and mutilation of tens of thousands of people depends on the political excitement of a bureaucratic gang. The war has sharpened this task, presenting Tsarism in the full outrageousness of its internal and foreign policy — senseless, rapacious, clumsy, wasteful and bloody. The reaction strove to draw the whole people morally and materially into the maelstrom of the military adventure, quite appropriately, from the point of view of its own interests. Where yesterday a struggle was still going on between groups and classes, reaction and liberalism, the authorities and the people, government and opposition, strikes and repression — there, according to the scheme of the reaction, the reign of national patriotic unity had to be established at once.

The more sharply and energetically, the more courageously and mercilessly should the opposition have revealed the abyss between Tsarism and the nation, the more resolutely should it have tried to come to grips in this abyss with the real enemy of the nation, Tsarism. Instead, the liberal zemstvos with their secret ‘oppositional’ idea — to take into their hands a part of the war economy and make the government dependent on them! — harnessed themselves to the jingling war chariot, picked up the corpses and tried to erase the bloody trail. However, it was not just a matter of donations to the medical organisation. Now, according to statements on the war by the zemstvos and dumas which are forever complaining about their lack of funds, they have suddenly made a ridiculous swing to donating money for the needs of the war and to strengthen the navy. The Kharkov zemstvo has even wrung an entire million from its budget and placed it at the direct disposal of the Tsar.

But this too is still not all! The zemstvos and dumas have not limited themselves to helping with the drudge work for the shameful slaughter by taking part of its expenses on themselves, that is to say, loading these on to the people in their own name. They are not content with tacit political connivance with Tsarism and tacit bail for it — no, they have publicly announced their moral solidarity with the perpetrators of these supremely evil deeds. In a whole series of loyal addresses, all the zemstvos and dumas have, one after another without exception, prostrated themselves at the feet of ‘the supreme leader’, who has just stamped on the Tver zemstvo[75]and has been preparing to stamp on a number of others, have expressed their indignation at the perfidious enemy, have prayerfully sworn their devotion to the throne and pledged to sacrifice life and property — they knew that they would not have to! — for the honour and might of the Tsar and of Russia. Behind the zemstvos and dumas followed a shameful line of professorial bodies…

The Russian people will not forget that at a difficult moment the liberals did only one thing: they tried to buy for themselves the trust of the people’s enemy with the people’s money.

From the very start of the war, the liberal opposition did everything to spoil the situation. But the revolutionary logic of events did not allow delays. The Port Arthur fleet was smashed, Admiral Makarov perished, the war spread on to dry land — Yalu, Kinchow, Tashichiao, Vafangao, Liaoyang, Sha-ho — all these are different names for one and the same disgrace for the autocracy. The Japanese army defeated Russian absolutism not only on the waters and fields of East Asia, but also on the European stock exchange and in Petersburg. The position of the Tsarist government was becoming more difficult than ever. Demoralisation in the governmental ranks made consistency and firmness in internal policy impossible. Vacillation and attempts at agreement and conciliation became unavoidable. The death of Plehve created a favourable basis for a change of course. The place of Plehve was occupied by Prince Svyatopolk-Mirsky. He saw as his task reconciliation with the liberal opposition, and he began this conciliation by expressing his trust in the population of Russia. This was insolent and stupid. Was the main question whether the minister trusted the population? Was it not the other way round? Should the minister not depend on the trust of the population?

The opposition should have made Prince Svyatopolk understand this simple circumstance. Instead of this, it began to manufacture addresses, telegrams and articles of gratitude and rapture. In the name of a population of 150 million, it thanked the autocracy for declaring that it ‘trusted’ a people which did not trust it. A wave of hope, expectation and gratitude ran through the liberal press… In this way, the opposition maintained the internal confusion and turned a stupid political phrase into the protracted political condition of a disturbed country.

Once more it is necessary to draw the conclusion. An opposition which could not have been in a more favourable position than when it was needed and its favour was being sought, an opposition which to only one sound of governmental trust responded with trust on its part has deprived itself of the right to trust of any kind on the part of the people.

It has at the same time deprived itself of the right to respect on the part of the enemy. The government in the person of Svyatopolk promised to give the zemstvos the opportunity to meet legally and did not do so. The zemstvos did not protest and met illegally. They took every measure to keep their conference secret from the people. In other words, they did everything to deprive their own conference of political significance…[76]

VIII: The Rise of Father Gapon[77]

Police trade unionism along the lines envisaged by Zubatov foundered in the mass strike movement of 1903. It turned out that rank-and-file workers were capable of taking over even an organisation controlled by the political police. The crucial moment came when one of the police labour organisations became involved in the Odessa general strike of 1903. Police trade unionism was supposed to keep the workers away from political opposition to Tsarism, not lead them into it. Zubatov himself was unceremoniously sacked and kicked out of St Petersburg by Plehve, the notoriously reactionary Minister of Internal Affairs, but not before Zubatov had persuaded a priest, Father Gapon, to take charge of a similar venture in St Petersburg. Plehve later had second thoughts about this continuation of Zubatovism. Before he could do anything about it, however, he was blown to bits on the orders of Yevno Azef, his own top anti-terrorist agent (Plehve was a rabid anti-Semite who was almost certainly responsible for the Kishinev pogrom in 1903; Azef was a Jew). The removal of these two key officials gave Gapon rather more room for manoeuvre than was usual for someone in his position, as Zubatov was later to observe, not without a hint of bitterness and envy.[78]

Plehve sanctioned the legal existence of Gapon’s organisation — ‘The Assembly of Russian Factory and Plant Workers of the City of St Petersburg’ — in February 1904. No doubt he particularly approved of the statutes which limited the assembly’s membership to Orthodox Christians who could prove their Russian ancestry.[79]There seem to be three main reasons — apart from the ones you will find in this extract — why the assembly began to become a popular mass organisation some six months later.

One was that the real wages of even the better-off, more skilled workers in the city fell by up to 25 per cent during 1904, while jobs were hard to find.[80]Another is that the ordinary individual’s lack of any real rights was a matter of painful daily experience. Tsarism was not just about the concentration of power at the very top of society. It was also about the absolute power within their particular sphere of every person in any position of authority all the way down the line. Gapon himself described how it was impossible to get a job without bribing the gateman or the police, ‘who are the confederates of the foremen and share their bribes’. If you had a job, there were constant humiliations like the daily strip-searches — including of young girls — by male overseers. Gapon concluded:

What increases the bitterness of the men is their complete lack of any rights, personal or public. Everyone in the factory representing the masters, from the director down to the lowest foreman or overseer, may dismiss any workman when he likes, and there is no appeal. Every person in a superior position has a power of limitless oppression. It is the state of outlawry thus produced which explains the large increase of hooliganism in Russian towns in late years.[81]

The third reason was that the entire political atmosphere was changing. The disastrous war with Japan revealed the full incompetence of the authorities and their casual attitude to conditions, equipment and loss of life in the armed forces. It sapped their credibility. When Plehve was assassinated in July, people in St Petersburg joked about it quite openly.[82]The liberal ‘spring’ may have been much less significant in terms of concrete concessions than the liberals themselves — and the Mensheviks — may have thought. Nevertheless, the fact that the authorities had entered into any kind of dialogue with anyone else at all was an unheard-of break with tradition. Talking to the liberals was a sign of weakness that was visible far beyond the limits of polite society. It would be wrong to imagine that the mass of the workers in St Petersburg were consciously moving to the left while all this was going on. But it would also be wrong to assume that they were unaffected by it. There was a tremendous difference between the Obukhov walk-out of 1901, which had to be planned with the utmost secrecy, in which a small minority of revolutionary militants had to lead by example, and the St Petersburg strike of January 1905, when everything was out in the open and mass meetings were the order of the day.[83]A socialist who was well attuned to the first type of struggle might well find it hard to adjust to the second.

This extract is taken from an early party history by VI Nevsky. It is very different from the ritual formulas of Stalinist historians. Nevsky is an important reminder of a time when two key ‘isms’ on the revolutionary left — Bolshevism and criticism — were highly compatible. He accepts that the Bolsheviks had to put their main effort into the factional struggle against the Mensheviks after the party split in 1903. But he points to the high cost once the workers’ movement revived in 1904 in the unexpected shape of a legal organisation led by a priest with police connections. The Bolsheviks, like the Mensheviks, were slow to react to the new movement, hardly noticing it to begin with, and failing to intervene when they did notice it. With a few exceptions,[84]they remained shut up in their underground mentality while Gapon and his associates were building a mass movement, especially among women, as Nevsky is at pains to point out. This is a real Bolshevism, warts and all. It bears no resemblance to the infallible fellowship of Stalinist myth. Nor has it anything in common with the almost satanic conspiracy so often portrayed by right-wing historians.[85]This is a Bolshevik party which could be right in principle, and still make all kinds of tactical mistakes. And this is a Bolshevik history in which the ‘most important thing’ was that ‘the darkest and most backward layers of workers’ could be a creative force.

AS often happens with the greatest events in the world, the January days of 1905 in Petersburg began with the most ordinary incident in one of the capital’s industrial plants — the Putilov. In December 1904, the plant management dismissed a number of workers who were members of ‘The Assembly of Russian Factory and Plant Workers of the City of St Petersburg’, set up earlier in 1904. The sacked worker Sergunin and three of his workmates (Ukolov, Subbotin and Fedorov), who were also threatened with dismissal, appealed to the Narva branch of the assembly to defend them. The Narva branch took up its comrades’ request with zeal, and less than a month after this occurrence, despite the thousands of unemployed there were during that difficult time, revolution broke out.

What then did this ‘Assembly of Russian Factory and Plant Workers of the City of St Petersburg’ look like, and who organised it? The priest Gapon is usually named as the organiser and leader of this assembly, as well as the leader of the mass of the workers in January 1905. This, however, was far from being the case… The point is that among the group of people with whom Gapon surrounded himself, among whom there were without any shadow of doubt definite secret police agents, there also existed a group of honest workers dedicated to the business of revolution, they were the centre from which came the organisational drive, and where, in particular, everything was done to unite the mass of workers.

Such people as AE Karelin and especially VM Karelina[86]were indisputably numbered among those outstanding and honest workers. This general staff, as Gapon and the workers themselves called it, very often met in Gapon’s flat, and here, imperceptibly to the man himself, Gapon accepted as his own ideas and decisions the workers presented him with. Blame can be put on these workers for something which could not have been hidden from them — Gapon’s connection with the police. They knew about this connection, and, knowing about it, they went on not only working with him but doing so as Gapon could not have done without them on his own. Gapon was playing a double game. He served the Department,[87]carrying out its intentions, while before the workers he developed a plan for an all-Russia organisation which would expand and become firmly established, and would at the appropriate moment wring concessions from the government by its pressure on the Tsar. The workers, the ‘general staff’, the centre played a double game as well. Using the fact that Gapon’s connections allowed them to broaden their scope, they shut their eyes to his connections with the police. Among their own kind, they not only thought but said and, above all, did everything they could to promote the creation of a vast legal workers’ organisation.

The Social Democrats understood this essence of Gapon’s organisation, exposed it, did not let their workers go into it, but also did not give it much importance. Meanwhile the organisation grew and its influence among the masses increased literally with each day. This happened for many reasons: 1) the illegal Social Democratic organisation was very weak; 2) the workers’ movement had long outgrown the narrow framework of illegal organisation, was bursting out, was demanding new legal mass organisations as well as illegal ones; 3) the organisers of Gapon’s local branches were themselves workers; 4) the cultural and educational activities which Gaponists like Karelina and her friends took upon themselves attracted a mass of non-party workers; 5) finally, the priest’s cassock was, so to speak, a magnetic force drawing the darkest,[88]most backward mass to the Assembly.

How weak our illegal organisation was at the beginning of 1905 can be judged from the evidence of contemporary Mensheviks and Bolsheviks alike, our illegal workers of that time in Petersburg. The entire Social Democratic organisation in Petersburg (of both Bolsheviks and Mensheviks) even after 9 January 1905 comprised only between 800 and 1000 members, and that was after the shooting on the square[89]had not only killed faith in the Tsar, but had also shaken faith in Gapon. Of course, the strength of an organisation is not to be measured simply by the number of members. The influence of our ideas in the working-class milieu was enormous. But the fact remains that on the eve of 9 January our organisation was terribly weak, while Gapon’s organisation numbered more than 4000 people. By December 1904, 11 branches of the assembly were functioning… Our party organisation, containing highly developed and tested socialist workers, suffocating in the narrow framework of illegal cells and quite rightly putting workers on their guard against Gapon’s organisation, was spending all its strength and resources on the factional struggle. Meanwhile, the ‘general staff’, that is to say, Gapon’s organisational centre, was legally attracting thousands of workers from the very heart of the proletariat.

The police, who had been accustomed to arresting revolutionaries with the help of Gapon’s association, were powerless to halt the movement now that thousands were flocking to it. The most important thing was that the darkest and most backward layers of workers were the moving force in the branches. In this way, the logic of dialectics converted a police enterprise into its opposite. The masses themselves revolutionised the assembly. Now, in December, Gapon, like his ‘general staff’, was in the hands of the masses, an obedient servant to their wishes. The fact that women took part in the branches on the biggest possible scale — something that did not happen in our party organisation — was of tremendous importance. The participation of women also gave a kind of grandeur to every event, painted it a vivid colour, gave it a dramatic and awe-inspiring quality. When a wife, a daughter, a mother went out on to the street, when she led her children to the square, could even the darkest and most backward working man remain unmoved? The women’s contribution to the organisation was exclusively due to VM Karelina, that striking and remarkable figure in the Russian revolutionary movement. Her integrity and devotion to the workers’ cause was beyond doubt, and her tremendous work for the solidarity of women workers before 9 January compels forgiveness for the sin of being soft on Gapon, the notorious servant of the police.

It is usually supposed both according to accounts by Gapon and by participants in the events that the idea of presenting a petition to the Tsar entered Gapon’s head as early as March 1904. There is no need to challenge this. But this was not the reason for the emergence of the idea of presenting a petition to the Tsar. The idea of going to the Tsar arose among the mass of the workers themselves… Beseeching, humbly requesting, as it was expressed in the old days… petitioning, as it’s come to be called these days — the original, primordial, ancient, tried and tested Russian method of resolving conflict: nothing to be done without authority’s approval. When we turn to the primary sources, we find this same ancient, homespun method in the events of 9 January. As a matter of fact, there is evidence that the word ‘petition’ was in use long before 1905… The important thing is that the idea of a petition matured for a long time among the widest masses of workers. Gapon with his general staff only summarised the demands… and brought the result to the mass movement. There is nothing surprising about the fact that Gapon took up the idea of leading the workers to the Winter Palace. Whatever his motives were — ambition, the aspiration to stand at the top of the government ladder — the one important thing is that this idea of going to the Tsar was not born suddenly but gradually matured in the heads of Gapon, the general staff and all the masses alike. It only acquired a definite, concrete shape during the very last days in January.

Nothing confirms these considerations better than the actual course of events. The sacked workers appealed for help to the Narva branch of the assembly. The branch decided to support its aggrieved comrades. The holidays prevented events developing immediately. Only after Christmas, on 27 December, at a meeting of representatives from all the branches was the dispute put out for a decision by the entire Petersburg proletariat. Here, at this meeting, the decision was taken to obtain the dismissal of Tetyavkin, the foreman responsible for the sacking of the workers, and to send a deputation to Smirnov, the director of the factory, to Chizhov, the factory inspector, and to Fullon, the city governor. Here too, the vague aspirations and ideas about a petition which were fermenting in the heads of the masses, the ‘general staff’ and Gapon himself now took on a more concrete form. An appeal to the authorities with a petition was proposed to the meeting. Although this idea did not receive unanimous support, it had now been launched among the masses. The further course of events only helped to strengthen the idea among the masses. On the next day, 28 December 1904, deputations were with the city governor and the factory inspector. On 29 December, one was with Smirnov, the director of the Putilov factory. These deputations failed to deliver any positive results. On 30 December, an announcement from Smirnov stated that he was not bound by the resolution of the assembly, which had no right under the regulations to intervene in the business of the plant. So much the more clearly were the workers shown the full hopelessness of the usual methods of influencing the authorities. On 2 January, after a report on the three deputations to those in charge, a meeting of the Narva branch resolved to stop the Putilov plant on 3 January. It was crystal clear that all Petersburg would be on strike within a few short days. On 8 January, 456 workplaces and 111 000 workers were on strike, according to the official figures. If the small workplaces which do not figure in the calculations of the factory inspectorate are taken into account, the number of strikers was even larger.

The agitational activity of the branches grew simultaneously with the growth of the strike. The districts were seething, and the branches were turning into organisational centres from which came the movement’s momentum. It was not just the idea of the petition which had been let loose among the masses but its actual text. This was read, discussed, approved and added to by the masses themselves. Who the author of this text was is of absolutely no importance at all. Gapon drew it up. The revolutionary parties undoubtedly took part in the discussions. But the crux was that the discussion of the petition in many thousands of open workers’ meetings, the participation of the masses in this discussion and the revolutionary creativity of the masses themselves cleansed the petition in the sacred fire of this creativity from the police pollution of its origin, made an act of individual creativity into an act of collective, mass, revolutionary creativity of the working people.[90]

So it always is when some concern, even if it has arisen in the quiet of the study, becomes a cause for the masses. They, those masses, take that small concern out of the quiet study or the bureaucrat’s dusty office to the noisy judgement of the street and of struggle, and there on the street they decide by force the question of the vitality and justice of their demands.

IX: Two Views of Bloody Sunday

IXa: With Gapon on Bloody Sunday[91]

There were a number of reasons against including this extract. Rutenberg’s account of his experiences on Bloody Sunday has not been treated as reliable by later writers and historians.[92]Rutenberg’s exact position in the revolutionary movement at this time seems unclear, though he definitely joined the Socialist Revolutionaries at some point.[93]There is general agreement that he played an important role in the killing of Gapon by the Socialist Revolutionaries in 1906, although their accounts of this, and of Rutenberg’s role in it, vary considerably.[94]Rutenberg’s view of Gapon’s (and his own) relations with the workers is clearly coloured by preconceived notions about leaders and led which sharply contrast with Nevsky’s understanding that the rank and file of the movement were the critical force.[95]

And yet, in spite of everything, this remains an extraordinarily vivid eye-witness description. The mass of desperate but superstitious, forelock-tugging workers whom Rutenberg depicts seem like a different breed from the ‘conscious, developed’ minority to which he and so many other contemporaries also refer during this period. In reality, the outlook of many if not most workers probably fell somewhere between the two. They understood that there was a risk involved in going to the Winter Palace and appealing to the Tsar for help.[96]The illusion was that the risk was acceptable. It was this illusion and not simply blind faith in the Tsar which the guns of Bloody Sunday were to destroy. No sizeable group of common people would ever appeal to the Tsar again. Demands on the Tsar, yes. Throwing yourself on the Tsar’s mercy, no. This does not alter the fact that the massacre came as a tremendous shock. Rutenberg conveys this sense of shock as it took shape on Bloody Sunday itself. It was a sad, painful, agonising shock which sprang the mental padlocks keeping a great mass of workers out of the struggle, and blew open the door to revolution.

 I MET Gapon on 5 January. It was the evening when Gapon delivered his famous speech at the Narva branch of ‘The Assembly of Russian Factory and Plant Workers’, after his taking the trouble to go round various figures in positions of power had proved fruitless.

‘Comrades. We went to Smirnov[97]and we didn’t get anything. We went to the board and we didn’t get anything. To the city governor — nothing there either. To the ministers — nothing there either. So, comrades, let’s go to the Tsar himself’, said Gapon to the workers.

‘Let’s go’, replied the crowd of many thousands, carried away by the simple logic of their ‘champion’, their ‘Father’.

‘And if need be, we’ll lay down our lives, but we’ll get what’s ours’, Gapon continued.

‘Lay down our lives… get what’s ours…’

By this time, everyone in the city was talking about Gapon… The workers’ meetings set about reading and collecting signatures for the petition to the Tsar. The number of workers who were turning up to hear the petition was so great that they had to be let into the meeting hall a few thousand at a time. At the Neva Gate, Gapon had to go out under the open sky, climb up on a water butt and read out the petition by the light of a lantern. In the vague, mysterious outline of the cassock fluttering above the crowd, in each sound of the hoarse, worn-out voice, in every word of the demands read out from the petition to the fascinated sea of people around him, it seemed that the end was coming, that deliverance from the monstrous torment of centuries was approaching. Gapon himself, carried away by his fervour, cast a spell on them with his tongue, expressed their desires, lit them with beauty. Everyone reached out towards him. From his first word, they were ready for suffering, for death, for anything.

After reading out each point of the petition, he would ask: ‘Do you need this, comrades?’

A long groan would break out in answer to him: ‘We do… we must have it…’

Under the obvious influence of the organisation, the workers from the first days of the strike would not let ‘students’ or ‘members of the intelligentsia’ approach them. They rejected any and all of their ‘little papers’ and speeches. In some of the branches, those suspected of being members of the intelligentsia or leafleteers were instantly expelled and often beaten up. The instigators were detectives, who came to the meetings in large numbers. They carried along with them the grey crowd of workers who were on their guard, in a highly nervous state, fearing an unexpected dirty trick, a blow from behind, the downfall of the last of their hopes. Only the intervention of the conscious, developed section of the workers prevented senseless bloodletting, the diversion of accumulated revolutionary force to the most desirable direction for the government — to a pogrom of the intelligentsia. My position as a member of the intelligentsia was exceptional. Many of those at the workers’ meetings beyond the Narva Gate knew me and got on well with me personally…

On 8 January, live ammunition was distributed to the troops. They occupied all the dangerous points for the government in Petersburg. They cut the centre of the city off from the outskirts.

I was able to see Gapon only on the morning of the 9th. I found him among some workers, pale, dismayed. ‘Have you got a practical plan of some kind, Father?’ None, it turned out. ‘The troops are going to shoot, you know.’

‘No, I don’t think they will’, Gapon replied in a dismayed tone, his voice cracking.

I took out a map of Petersburg which was in my pocket and had been marked in preparation beforehand. I suggested what was in my opinion the most suitable route for the procession. If the troops did fire, we should barricade the streets, take weapons from the nearby gun shops and force our way through to the Winter Palace no matter what. This was accepted. We went to the nearby chapel and took church banners and crosses. Gapon calmed down a little and recovered. Many people had already gathered in the assembly’s courtyard. I was looked to for orders…

Before getting under way, those who had gathered had to be warned what they were going to. They had to be warned about disorder in case something unexpected happened. Gapon was so weak and hoarse that he could not say anything. I warned the workers in his name that the soldiers might fire at them and not let them through to the palace. Did they want to go all the same? They answered that they were going to go and force their way through to Winter Palace Square no matter what. I explained which streets we were going by and what to do in case of shooting. I gave the addresses of nearby gun shops. When the last ‘s bogom[98]had rung out, people zealously crossed themselves. The crowd moved. It bustled itself together on the little bridge. It huddled together again to squeeze through the gates. Then it poured out on to the broad highway.

My warnings about the possibility of shooting and about weapons drew the crowd’s attention, but did not trouble it, did not get through to its inner depths: ‘Can you go to God armed? Can you go to the Tsar with evil thoughts?’

‘Save, O Lord, Thy people and bless what is Thine…’, cut through the clear, freezing air, the last cry of hope and faith from tens of thousands of hearts worn out with suffering. ‘Victory to our Orthodox Emperor Nikolai Aleksandrovich…’, with fanatical certainty the incantation rang out which must remove all evil and open the way to a better and thus necessary future. When at a bend in the road they saw infantry drawn up at the Narva Gates they began to sing even louder, went forward even more steadfastly, even more confidently. The banner bearers in front were troubled and wanted to turn into a side street. But the mood and command of the crowd calmed them. They went forward and the whole procession came behind them. A cavalry detachment with drawn sabres unexpectedly appeared coming at full speed from the Narva Gates, cutting into the crowd and carrying on through for its entire length.

The crowd faltered.

‘Forward, comrades, freedom or death!’, wheezed Gapon, with what remained of his voice and strength.

The crowd closed up and moved forward. The cavalry again forced its way through it from the rear and tore back to the Narva Gates. The people, armed with church banners and portraits of the Tsar, found themselves face to face with the Tsar’s soldiers who had the advantage of rapid-firing rifles. From the soldiers’ side came a harsh, muffled crackle which rolled up and down the line from one end to the other. From the side of the people came the groans of the dying and curses. The front ranks fell, the rear ones ran. The soldiers fired three times. Three times they began and fired for a long time. Three times they stopped. And each time they began to fire, those who had not managed to run away in time threw themselves to the ground to get some cover from the bullets. And each time they stopped firing, those who could run got up and ran away. But the soldiers’ bullets caught them up and mowed them down. After the third time, no-one got up, no-one ran. The soldiers did not fire any more.

A few minutes after the last volley, I raised my head which I had pressed to the ground. In front of me, on both sides of the Narva Gates, stood two stiff, grey ranks of soldiers; to their left, an officer. On this side of the Tarakanovsky Bridge, church banners, crosses, portraits of the Tsar and the bodies of those who had carried them lay on the bloodstained snow. There were bodies to my right and left. Around them, scarlet patches, large and small, on the white snow. Next to me, curled up, lay Gapon. I nudged him. His head poked out from under his big priest’s fur coat…

‘Are you alive, Father?’


‘Let’s go!’

‘Yes, let’s go!’

We began to crawl across the road towards the nearby gates.[99]

IXb: Bloody Sunday across St Petersburg[100]

This is a more general view of Bloody Sunday than Rutenberg’s, which is limited to one of the feeder marches. Sverchkov was close to the Winter Palace and its square, the central point at which at least five marches from the different parts of the city were supposed to converge in order to present the petition to the Tsar. He was therefore in a good position to hear about the massacres, which began in the morning, as survivors made their way to the centre. As well as getting a general picture of events himself as or shortly after they actually happened, he clearly goes beyond his own immediate experience to give us a brief overview of the day.

THE fateful Sunday arrived. I left home in the morning with my wife and went up Nevsky Prospekt to the Aleksandrovsky Garden.[101]It was a sunny day with a light frost. A sense of animation was already making itself felt in the streets, and there was a growing atmosphere of tense expectation. Winter Palace Square was occupied by troops. No-one was allowed through. Small groups of people were standing about in the Aleksandrovsky Garden. Workers in groups and as individuals began to appear in constantly increasing numbers. They were dressed in their Sunday best. Making for the Aleksandrovsky Garden via the Nevsky and Admiralty Street, they came up against military patrols which would not let them through to the square. They had come to a halt and were waiting. Mounted patrols of gendarmes and Cossacks soon appeared and pushed those who had gathered back towards Gorokhov Street, where ranks of police were drawn up as well. However, attempts to disperse the crowd did not get anywhere. It moved across to somewhere else, then filtered back to the Aleksandrovsky Garden. A large number of people soon collected by the garden. Everybody was waiting for something. The mood was peaceable. The police were regarded good-naturedly… People were peacefully talking to each other. They were laughing and joking. I was near Gorokhov Street when the words of a boy coming from somewhere crawled into my consciousness and lodged in my brain with excruciating pain: ‘They’re shooting at the Narva Gates! They’ve been slaughtering people! Oh, oh, oh!!!’

People fell on him from all sides: ‘Get out of here, you fool, I’ll teach you to disturb people!’

The dumbfounded boy muttered: ‘I didn’t mean anything, mister… Only, I saw it myself…’

A kind of huge weight lay on our consciousness. In front of us on Winter Palace Square, a bugler began to sound his bugle. Wanting to see what was happening, the public moved in that direction, more crowded together than ever.

‘They’ve found the time to organise parades!’, said someone.

The street children rushed to the trees in the Aleksandrovsky Garden and quickly climbed to the very tops to look at the troop manoeuvres. Suddenly a volley crashed out ahead of us, tearing the stillness of the clear air to shreds. Behind it came a second. Then a third. No-one realised what it was. Only when the crowd saw the rows of the dead and the wounded groaning did it draw back and start to run away in horror into the side streets. The third volley was aimed at the children who had climbed up the trees in the Aleksandrovsky Garden. Many of them fell like stones and were left lying in the snow, unnaturally contorted. Cossacks rushed at the fleeing crowd.

At the Narva Gate, the troops barred the way to workers who had Gapon at their head. The workers at the front were carrying portraits of the Tsar and church banners. After a fruitless request to disperse which hardly anyone heard, several volleys were fired at the crowd. Workers who had been walking near Gapon covered him with their bodies and threw him over some kind of fence. From there, he stole off to friends who gave him a disguise and a haircut. The same kind of slaughter took place at the Nevsky Gate, behind the Moscow Gate, on the Vyborg side and at the Troitsky Bridge. Everywhere there was shooting, everywhere the Cossacks hunted the fleeing and hacked at them. On Vasilievsky Island, they hacked a student to pieces who had come forward and asked the troops not to shoot at the people. There towards evening some telegraph poles were brought down, the street was enmeshed in wire right across. The workers were trying to build barricades.

The soldiers became brutalised. They shot and stabbed anyone who happened to be on the street. The body of afive year-old childwith bayonet woundswas brought by a family to the Obukhov hospital.[102]The Semenovsky regiment particularly distinguished itself. Colonels Min and Riman (later promoted to generals) took the lead in dealing out the punishment. The battered people went to the furthest extreme of despair. ‘Oprichniki![103]they shouted at the troops and the Cossacks: ‘Butchers! Murderers!’ Volleys followed in answer. According to information assembled by a special commission set up later (including leading members of the legal profession in Petersburg), 1216 dead and more than 5000 wounded were brought to the hospitals of Petersburg on 9 January. How many bodies escaped the hospitals, being brought to local police stations to be taken away at night and buried in the first available hole, nobody knows.


[1].      For the growing gap between Russia and its competitors, see Michael Haynes and Rumy Husan, ‘Whether by Visible or Invisible Hand: The Intractable Problem of Russian and East European Catch-Up’,Competition and Change, Volume 6, no 3, 2002, pp269-87.

[2].      According to the 1897 census, the total population of the empire was 128 924 289. According to the official figures for 1896, there were 1 742 181 factory workers, the core of the industrial working class (KK Arsen’ev (ed), Entsiklopedicheskii slovar’ Rossii (Brokgauz & Efron, St Petersburg, 1898), pp76, 280). 

[3].      KA Pazhitnov, Rabochee dvizhenie v Rossii[The Labour Movement in Russia] (Novyi mir, St Petersburg, 1906), pp17-18, 43-44.

[4].      EI Nemchinov, ‘Vospominaniia starogo rabochego’ [‘Memoirs of an Old Worker’], in SI Mitskevich(ed),Na zare rabochego dvizheniia v Moskve. Vospominaniia uchastnikov moskovskogo rabochego soiuza (1893-95 gg) i dokumenty[At the Dawn of the Labour Movement in Moscow: Memories of Participants in the Moscow Labour Union (1893-95) and Documents] (Izdat vsesoiuznogo obshchestva politkatorzhan i ssyl’no-poselentsev, Moscow, 1932) [The All-Union Society of Former Political Convicts (that is, sentenced to penal servitude or hard labour in a place of exile) and Deportees (that is, ex-convicts under court order to settle in a remote area after completing a prison sentence)], pp156-60.

[5].      See, for example, Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution(Sphere, London, 1967), Volume 1, pp23, 27.

[6].      See, for example, Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924(Pimlico, London, 1997), pp157-62; Hans Rogger, Russia in the Age of Modernisation and Revolution, 1881-1917(Longman, London, 1983), pp36, 63-64, 75, 141.

[7].      VI Lenin, The Development of Capitalism in Russia(Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977), pp611-15; Alec Nove, An Economic History of the USSR(Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1986), pp11, 16-19; Rogger, op cit, pp64, 79, 100.

[8].      Leon Trotsky, 1905(Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1973), pp37-41. Trotsky’s figures from the 1897 census show that 18 653 000 people (60.8 per cent of the active population) worked in agriculture and related occupations, while only 12 040 000 (39.2 per cent of the active population) worked in and around industry.

[9].      I Kh Ozerov, Politika po rabochemu voprosu v Rossii za poslednie gody. (Po neizdannym dokumentam)[Labour Question Policy in Russia During Recent Years (According to Unpublished Documents)] (ID Sytin, Moscow, 1906), pp24-25.

[10].    Source: KA Pazhitnov, Rabochee dvizhenie v Rossii, op cit, pp46-49.

[11].    MN Pokrovskii, Izbrannye proizvedeniia. Kniga 3: Russkaia istoriia v samom szhatom ocherke(Mysl’, Moscow, 1967), pp279-81 This was a republication of the work’s fourth edition, originally published in 1930. It appeared in an English translation as MN Pokrovsky, Brief History of Russia, Volume 2 (Martin Lawrence, London, 1933, cited here from pp38-40). This is a new translation. According to official figures, which greatly underestimated the size of the strike movement but gave an idea of the pattern of strikes, the number of strikers practically doubled between 1896 and 1899 before falling back to around the 1896 level for a couple of years — see VE Varzar, Statisticheskie svedeniia o stachkax rabochikh na fabrikakh i zavodakh za desiatiletie 1895-1904 goda[Statistical Information about Workers’ Strikes in Factories and Plants in the Decade 1895-1904] (Ministerstvo torgovli i promyshlennosti — otdel promyshlennosti(Ministry of Trade and Industry — Department of Industry), St Petersburg, 1905), Prilozhenie[Appendix], p17.

[12].    Tony Cliff, Lenin, Volume One: Building the Party(Pluto Press, London, 1975), pp52-59 (Cliff states that this was the first strike in Russia to involve more than one plant but does not give a source); Nadezhda Krupskaya, Memories of Lenin(Panther, London, 1970), pp19-27.

[13].    This refers to the large part of Poland acquired by Russia after the defeat of Napoleon.

[14].    Iosif Gurko, Warsaw Governor-General, 1883-1894, pursued a policy of systematic Russification in the Kingdom of Poland (or ‘Vistulaland’ as the Russian bureaucracy designated it in 1874). The Polish language was eliminated from all levels of state administration and the legal system. Even non-state bodies, such as the Catholic Church, had to conduct their internal business in Russian. See, for example, Robert E Blobaum, Rewolucja: Russian Poland, 1904-1907(Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1995).

[15].    The phrase ‘a social character’ implies subversion of the existing social and political order.

[16].    Source: I Kh Ozerov, Politika po rabochemu voprosu v Rossii za poslednie gody,op cit, pp29-31.

[17].    The term ‘intelligentsia’ originated in Russia and can apply to a wide range of people, including workers. A short definition for this period is ‘that part of educated society which held radical left-wing views’, see SV Utechin, Concise Encyclopaedia of Russia(Dent, London, 1961), p235.

[18].    That is, to a remote place of exile or detention, for example, Siberia.

[19].    The Russian word can also mean ‘mob’.

[20].    Source: KA Pazhitnov, Rabochee dvizhenie v Rossii, op cit, pp40-41, 52-53.

[21].    That is, excluding the period of the 1905 revolution — PG.

[22].    Pazhitnov is here referring to three different types of police giving a total industrial police force of 3052 before the beginning of the 1905 revolution — PG.

[23].    See the patriarchal view of industrial relations expressed in Count Witte’s secret circular of 1895 quoted in the Introduction to this chapter.

[24].    Source: Dmitrii Sverchkov, Na zarerevoliutsii[At the Dawn of the Revolution] (Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo/Kommissiia po istorii oktiabrskoi revoliutsii i rossiiskoi kommunisticheskoi partii [b-kov], Leningrad, 1925) [State Publishing House/Commission for the History of the October Revolution and of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks)], pp37-39.

[25].    Sverchkov, op cit, p35.

[26].    The paper of the newly-formed Russian Social Democratic Workers Party.

[27].    A Russian’s middle name — the patronymic — is derived from the forename of the father. So Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin had a father whose first name was Nikolay.

[28].    The Black Hundreds was the common name for monarchist, racist organisations. Unlike most organisations with a political aspect, the Black Hundreds were not only permitted but received official encouragement and support. Tsar Nicholas II himself patronised the main Black Hundred organisation, ‘The Union of the Russian People’ — see, for example, Harrison E Salisbury, Black Night, White Snow: Russia’s Revolutions 1905-1917(Cassell, London, 1978), p171.

[29].    Source: AB, Obukhovskaia oborona[The Defence of the Obukhov Plant] (Zagranichnaia Liga Russkoi Revoliutsionnoi Sotsial’demokratii[The League of Russian Revolutionary Social Democrats Abroad], Geneva, 1902), pp3-20, 23-24.

[30].    In Britain, this would probably be described as metals and engineering.

[31].    Varzar, op cit, p17.

[32].    Pokrovskii, op cit, p290 [Pokrovsky, op cit, p48].

[33].    Salisbury, op cit, p7.

[34].    Pokrovskii, op cit, p286 [Pokrovsky, op cit, p44].

[35].    Pokrovskii, op cit, p290 [Pokrovsky, op cit, p48].

[36].    Cliff, op cit, pp163, 285-87; Utechin, op cit, pp67-68. Although this pamphlet was reproduced in full after the 1917 revolution in an anthology commemorating the strike, this contained no clue as to the identity of ‘AB’. See F Kudelli (ed), Obukhovskaia oborona v 1901 godu(Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo, Moscow, 1926), p8.

[37].    In spite of the industrial crisis, the Obukhov plant received a considerable number of orders [note in original].

[38].    An old form of copying.

[39].    The location of the Obukhov plant.

[40].    The Russian expression used here is ‘quieter than water, shorter than grass’.

[41].    Bashibazouks were irregular Turkish soldiers notorious for their brutality. The original Turkish means ‘wildheads’, beserkers.

[42].    Minister of Internal Affairs 1899-1902. Trotsky quoted a general’s opinion of Sipyagin — ‘He’s only a cavalry NCO and a blockhead at that.’ — and commented: ‘This description is so correct that we can overlook its rather mannered rough-and-ready soldier’s tone.’ See Trotsky, 1905, op cit, p74.

[43].    See above, Extract VI: A Clandestine Cock-Up.

[44].    See below, Extract VIII: From Demonstrations to General Strikes.

[45].    In order to use the cobbles as weapons and projectiles.

[46].    Possibly a factory shop which charged exorbitant prices.

[47].    He had been on holiday since 1 May, and Ivanov had been running the plant [note in original].

[48].    The boiling water would almost certainly have been to make tea with.

[49].    General Nicholas Klegels (also spelled Kleigels) was Prefect of St Petersburg at the time of the Obukhov strike in 1901, and was promoted to Governor-General of Kiev (now the capital of Ukraine) early in 1904. Klegels is described by a rather conservative historian as one of the prominent targets of the growing hatred against Tsarism on account of the severity with which he administered ‘reactionary and anti-Semitic policies’. See Sidney Harcave, The Russian Revolution of 1905(Collier-Macmillan, London, 1970), p45.

[50].    This tactic was to become known as ‘police trade unionism’, ‘police socialism’, or Zubatovism after Sergei Zubatov, the officer of the political police who invented it. The idea was that the political police should set up legal workers’ organisations which would have trade-union-type functions as well as educational and cultural activities. Zubatov was prepared to support economic demands and even strikes, as long as the workers remained kept out of politics and remained loyal to the Tsar. The movement led by Zubatov’s ‘successor’, Father Gapon, will feature in later extracts as it led directly to the 1905 revolution. The standard work on Zubatov in English is Jeremiah Schneiderman, Sergei Zubatov and Revolutionary Marxism: The Struggle for the Working Class in Tsarist Russia(Cornell University Press, Ithaca NY, 1976). See below Extract VIII: The Rise of Father Gapon. 

[51].    Source: Pazhitnov, op cit, pp61-68.

[52].    Quoted in Ozerov, op cit, p131.

[53].    Odessa, Kiev (the capital) and Kharkov are now in Ukraine; Tiflis, now known as Tbilisi, is the capital of Georgia; Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan; Riga is the capital of Latvia; Kishinev is the capital of Moldova.

[54].    The usual abbreviation for the General Jewish Workers Union of Russia, Poland and Lithuania. The Bund left the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party in 1903 after the party conference voted against recognising it as the sole organisation representing Jewish workers and as having autonomy within the party. All 12 of those who moved and seconded this vote were Jews. See, for example, AL Patkin, The Origins of the Russian-Jewish Labour Movement(FW Cheshire, Melbourne, 1947), p189.

[55].    At this time, Russians usually referred to Azerbaijanis as Tatars. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge Brian Pearce’s generous and valuable contribution on such specialist points, as well as on translation and in correcting textual errors.

[56].    For background on this period, see Ronald G Suny, The Baku Commune 1917-1918: Class and Nation in the Russian Revolution(Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1972), pp28-47.

[57].    Balakhany was the name of an oil-field.

[58].    Batumi is in Georgia, Nikolayev is in Ukraine.

[59].    Then Minister of the Interior.

[60].    These would probably be referred to today as the North and South Caucasus.

[61].    Many urban workers in the Russian empire lived in blocks of flats or tenements which had janitors or caretakers who served the political police as informers or stooges (as with concierges in France). See, for example, Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Armed: Trotsky 1879-1921(Oxford University Press, London, 1970), pp123-24.

[62].    Source: Lev Trotskii [Leon Trotsky], ‘Voina i liberal’naia oppozitsiia’ [‘The War and the Liberal Opposition’] [extracts from an article written in late 1904 for the pamphlet Before 9 January, which was published after Bloody Sunday], in Sochineniia, Volume 2, part 1, Nasha pervaia revoliutsiia[Collected Works, Volume 2, part 1, Our First Revolution] (Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo, Leningrad, 1926), pp3-7, 9-10.

[63].    Varzar, op cit, p39; Trotsky commented prophetically on this downturn elsewhere in the pamphlet from which this extract is taken. ‘Like every terrible misfortune’, he began, ‘war, with its train of fury — the crisis of unemployment, of mobilisation, of hunger and of death — at first provokes depression and despair, not conscious protest.’ At the same time: ‘In the depths of society… a molecular process has been taking place of the accumulation of indignation, bitterness and revolutionary energy, unnoticed but irreversible, like the flow of time.’ (Trotskii, ‘Proletariat i revoliutsiia’ [‘The Proletariat and the Revolution’], Sochineniia, Volume 2, part 1, op cit, pp48-49) 

[64].    Pokrovskii, op cit, p300 [Pokrovsky, op cit, p57].

[65].    VA Fedorov (ed),Istoriia Rossii XIX —nachala XXv(Prospekt, Moscow, 2004), pp371-72; Boris Kagarlitskii,Periferiinaia imperiia: Rossiia i mirosistema(Ul’tra Kul’tura,Moscow, 2003), p378; Pokrovskii, op cit, pp319-44 [Pokrovsky, op cit, pp76-100]; Sverchkov, op cit, pp74-75, 79; ‘A Remarkable Protest from the Church’, 9 January 1905, British Library Russo-Japanese War: Press cuttings (Shelf-mark 1856.c.10).

[66].    The zemstvo law of 1864 reserved 42.2 per cent of the seats for the land-owning gentry, while the peasants who formed the overwhelming majority of the population were restricted to 38.5 per cent (the rest went to merchants and the clergy, who functioned under state control). In 1890, the gentry’s share was increased to 55.2 per cent, while the peasant deputies were appointed by the governor. In a similar move two years later, property qualifications sharply reduced the electorate for the city dumas: a typical case was St Petersburg, where the electorate was cut from 21 000 to 8000 out of a total population of well over a million. City budgets were up to five times lower than in France, Germany and Austria, while up to one half of their income had to be spent on police subsidies and billeting troops (Abraham Ascher, The Revolution of 1905: Russia in Disarray(Stanford University Press, Stanford CA, 1988), p32; Rogger, op cit, pp59-62).

[67].    Ascher, op cit, pp58-59, 63-64; MI Leonov, Partiia sotsialistov-revoliutsionerov v 1905-1907 gg(Rosspen, Moscow, 1997), pp26-38, 226-48.

[68].    Cliff, op cit, pp105-11, 118-22, 127-31, 137-39.

[69].    Deutscher, op cit, p108.

[70].    That is how the cry ‘Down with the autocracy!’ appeared in the legal press in those days [footnote in the text].

[71].    The name given to the period which is the main focus of this article, when liberal hopes were at their height just before the beginning of the 1905 revolution.

[72].    The lengthy endnote here in Trotsky’s Collected Worksbegins by describing Novoye vremya(New Times) as ‘a Petersburg daily paper published since 1876 by AS Suvorin. The paper took up an extremely conservative position from the first day of its existence. Being in essence semi-official, Novoye vremyainvariably campaigned in its pages against revolutionary democracy, the working class and the radical intelligentsia. The persecution of ‘inorodtsy’ [literally ‘those of other origin’, that is, the non-Russians who were the majority of the population in the empire] and anti-Semitism ran like a red thread through all the leading articles in the paper. An organ of the top bureaucracy, Novoye vremyawas not particularly distinguished by its stability, and usually altered its course in connection with changes of personnel in the ministry.’ The great writer Anton Chekhov was very close to Suvorin and only broke with him temporarily over his and his paper’s anti-Semitism. How reactionary Suvorin was may be gauged from Chekhov’s own outlook which was hardly radical, and is summarised here by one of his leading biographers: ‘Chekhov’s fondness for Jews was rather like his fondness for women: even though, to his mind, no Jew could ever fully enter into Russian life, and no woman ever equal a male genius, he vigorously defended their rights to equal opportunities.’ (Donald Rayfield, Anton Chekhov: A Life(Harper Collins, London, 1997), p448)

[73].    General Aleksei Nikolayevich Kuropatkin (1848-1925) was commander-in-chief of the Russian forces in Manchuria at the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War.

[74].    Pyotr Berngardovich Struve (1870-1944) abandoned Marxism to become a leading liberal soon after drafting the first manifesto of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party in 1898. 

[75].    One of the leading figures in the Tver zemstvo was II Petrunkevich, a prominent liberal and future leader of the Constitutional Democratic or Kadet Party, which was to be the main conservative party in the revolutions of 1917. At the beginning of 1904, the zemstvo on his initiative requested a greater role in the preparation of legislation affecting the province. The government, backed by Tsar Nicholas II, dissolved the zemstvo, denouncing it for ‘activities which did not correspond to the requirements of state order’ [summary of the relevant endnote in the text]. 

[76].    See the beginning of this article.

[77].    Source: VI Nevskii, Istoriia RKP(b)[The History of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks)] (Priboi, Leningrad, 1926), pp251, 253-57.

[78].    LG Praisman, Terroristy i revoliutsionery, okhraniki i provokatory[Terrorists and Revolutionaries, Secret Policemen and Provocateurs] (Rosspen [Rossiiskaia politicheskaia entsiklopediia— Russian Political Encyclopaedia], Moscow, 2001), pp67-75; Schneiderman, Sergei Zubatov and Revolutionary Marxism, op cit, p356.

[79].    Walter Sablinsky, The Road to Bloody Sunday: Father Gapon and the St Petersburg Massacre of 1905(Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ, 1976), pp329-30.

[80].    Pokrovskii, op cit, p354 [Pokrovsky, op cit, p109].

[81].    FG Gapon, The Story of My Life(Chapman and Hall, London, 1905), pp141-42.

[82].    Sverchkov, op cit, pp72, 79-80.

[83].    See above, Extract V: Battle at the Obukhov.

[84].    The exceptions included Lenin, see, for example, Marcel Liebman, Leninism Under Lenin(Merlin Press, London, 1975), pp90-92. They also included an anonymous Bolshevik worker who got an enthusiastic reception in Assembly meetings by presenting socialist arguments as if they had originated from Gapon himself. See Sverchkov, op cit, p90.

[85].    A classic Cold War statement of this was: ‘This is the story of how a group of determined men seized power for themselves in Russia in 1917, and kept others from sharing it.’ (Leonard Schapiro, The Origin of Communist Autocracy(London, 1955), p v)

[86].    Karelin’s wife.

[87].    The Police Department.

[88].    The most accurate rendering here would be the now little-used word ‘benighted’, which combines darkness with ignorance.

[89].    The best-known of the Bloody Sunday massacres, which took place on Winter Palace Square.

[90].    The main demands in the final text of the petition concerned the introduction of democratic rights and a parliamentary system of government (without the abolition of the monarchy), ‘measures to eliminate the poverty of the people’ (which included an end to the war with Japan), and ‘measures to eliminate the tyranny of capital over labour’.

[91].    Source: PM Rutenberg, Ubiistvo Gapona[The Murder of Gapon] (Byloe [The Past], Leningrad, 1925), pp5-12. This was a reprint in booklet form from the journal Byloe, nos 11-12, July-August 1909.

[92].    Rutenberg is not cited as a source on Bloody Sunday by Abraham Ascher in his The Revolution of 1905 (op cit), Orlando Figes in his A People’s Tragedy(op cit), or Leonov in his Partiia sotsialistov-revoliutsionerov(op cit). Harrison Salisbury, who quotes Rutenberg in his highly readable and well-researched Black Night, White Snow(op cit, p122), does not keep to Rutenberg’s story.

[93].    Salisbury, op cit; Ascher, op cit, p99.

[94].    Ascher, op cit, p100; Salisbury, op cit, p148; Sverchkov, op cit, pp91-92.

[95].    See above, Extract VIII, The Rise of Father Gapon.

[96].    See, for example, Ascher, op cit, p84; Salisbury, op cit, p108.

[97].    The director of the Putilov plant which was then on strike [note in original text].

[98].    An invocation to God for luck.

[99].    According to Figes, Gapon got up when the firing stopped and stared around him in disbelief. Both he and Ascher quote Gapon as saying ‘There is no God any longer. There is no Tsar.’ (Ascher, op cit, p91; Figes, op cit, pp176-77)

[100].  Source: Sverchkov, Na zare revoliutsii, op cit, pp100-02.

[101].  Nevsky Prospekt is the long main street of St Petersburg, running roughly north-west to the Aleksandrovsky Garden, which is to the west of the Winter Palace and its square.

[102].  Emphasis in the original.

[103].  The oprichnikiconstituted a select corps, 6000 strong at its height, whose function was to deal out the actual terror under Ivan the Terrible in the late sixteenth century. They wore a black uniform with the badge of a dog’s head and a broom, symbolising their dog-like devotion to the Tsar and their duty to sweep away treason. Their atrocities reached their peak when they sacked — and devastated — the town of Novgorod, slaughtering more than 60 000 people. See Lionel Kochan, The Making of Modern Russia(Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1979), pp54-55.