A Revolution Takes Shape

I: The Changes Begin

IT may seem strange, on reflection, that Bloody Sunday is probably the best-known event in 1905. It was very far from being a revolutionary high point. This came in October-December 1905. But Bloody Sunday posed problems with which people were still coming to grips 12 months later and more. Was it still possible to come to some sort of understanding with Tsarism, or was a revolutionary overthrow the only alternative? Could the liberals play a positive role? What should the workers do, and how should they relate to the peasants and to the soldiers and sailors? In the days and weeks which followed 9 January, questions like these began to be considered by large numbers of workers who would never have dreamed of discussing such things before.

Ia: Coming Out of Shock[1]

These extracts are taken from reminiscences by S Somov, a leading Menshevik in St Petersburg, written a couple of years after the events they describe. A reliable witness, his grassroots knowledge and experience repay a critical reading. He begins with some general points about the city and the state of the Social Democrats there.

MY notes will only touch on Social Democratic activity in Petersburg, but, as far as I know, things differed little in other places in Russia from what happened in Petersburg, with the exception of the borderlands, and therefore I have the right to consider conditions in Petersburg as quite typical and characteristic of the whole of Russia.

Social Democratic organisation in Petersburg was unusually weak at that time. The struggle between the Bolshevik and Menshevik factions had reached its climax throughout Russia, and was paralysing even the small amount of work that was being done. At the head of the Social Democratic organisation in Petersburg was the local committee, which was primarily made up of members of the intelligentsia and students in local institutions of higher education. Petersburg was divided into six districts: Town, Petersburg Side, Vasilievsky Island, Vyborg, Neva and Narva (which included the Moscow Gate), each of which had, or at least should have had, its own district organisation.

Somov goes on to describe how a variety of elements became dissatisfied with the ineffective leadership provided by the Petersburg committee, which was aligned with the Bolsheviks. These elements came together to form a pro-Menshevik central group. It took over most of the organisation in the city, which nevertheless remained in an ‘extremely pitiful’ state. Somov himself, who was appointed Neva district organiser, only heard about Gapon’s organisation by chance after it had become a mass movement. He recounts how difficult it was to persuade many of the Social Democratic workers in his district, especially those from the Obukhov plant — the key local workplace — that they should go on the march to the Winter Palace. His impression was that his district had the lowest turnout on the march, though he adds that politically-conscious workers generally tended to stay away. He takes up the story again late on the day of the Bloody Sunday massacre.[2]

That same evening, I set off with a heavy heart for the meeting of the central Social Democratic group where, as well as the members of the group, many other Social Democratic Party workers were present from all the districts. The aim of the meeting was to bring together reports on the events of the day and to make decisions about further activity. It turned out that the same thing had happened everywhere: in all the districts, people who were unarmed and not putting up any kind of opposition had been fired upon. Only on Vasilievsky Island had a half-hearted attempt been made to build barricades.[3]But strangely enough, the overall tone of the meeting turned out to contradict the individual mood of each of us. The tone of the meeting was extremely cheerful, the majority of those taking part in it expressing unshakeable confidence that now the workers would at last bid farewell to their old illusions, and that open activity by the workers under truly revolutionary slogans would begin at once on the very next day. According to reports from various districts, the workers were in an extremely agitated and militant mood, thirsting for revenge for the loss of life and the shattering of their illusions. So it was decided to call them out again on the next day and continue the revolution which had begun. A number of newly-arrived comrades were sent to districts where they could help older party workers who were tired out. I spoke at length about the Neva district, all the more so as everything about it applied to a greater or lesser extent to the whole of Petersburg.

In the morning, one of the new comrades and I set off beyond the Neva Gate. The very appearance of the streets in the suburb provided the first refutation of our view that the workers could now be in only one state of mind — a revolutionary one — and have only one wish — to go into struggle to avenge the murder of their comrades and the desecration of their hopes. Time and again on our way we came across big posters — Trepov’s declaration[4]— which were silently being read by groups of workers. Now and then, one of Trepov’s orators, obviously ‘disguised’, would be standing by the poster commenting on it. To be fair to the police: they had not organised things badly in just one night. In any way they could, they had had to invent a victim at whom the workers’ fury could be directed, they had to find a guilty party for their disillusionment — and the police took care of this in the most paternal way. Speakers ‘in disguise’ tried to convince the workers that students led by the disguised student Gapon were responsible for everything. They had lured the workers away from what was their own business, led them up to the firing line and then gone into hiding, profiting by the money collected from the workers and supposedly for the workers. I personally had to listen to one such ‘orator’ in front of Trepov’s declaration making a speech in which he told in detail about the numerous mutilated bodies of slaughtered workers he had seen. Bringing the indignation of the workers to a climax with his story, he added that they were all bodies of ‘Russian people’ and that not one student or ‘democratist’ was there. On 9 January, every one of them had gone into hiding. Confused, the workers in the first days took this bait very easily. The attempts of the Gaponist leaders and of our agitators to fight against these ‘explanations’ had no success. The same speeches which had previously fired the enthusiasm of the workers were now listened to by them sullenly and with gloomy disbelief. On top of this, the mass of the workers, strong when united, were fragmented. Gapon’s branch halls were nearly all closed, and the workers were unable to gather and work out together the terrible riddle posed for them by the day of 9 January. The other comrade and I went first of all to Gapon’s Neva branch hall which had somehow escaped closure so far. We succeeded in collecting a small crowd, began a meeting and tried in a short speech to draw the lessons of the previous day. But at the first sharp word of criticism of existing political conditions, a voice rang out from the crowd: ‘You’re dragging us into the abyss! You should be strung up!’ Although these cries were not supported by the crowd, the general mood was so listless and dismayed that after several vain attempts to rouse it, we had to close down the meeting. After that, the police shut this last branch hall of Gapon’s too, and Gapon’s movement, as something organised and independent, left the scene.

Two or three days later, our Neva organisation was asked by some of Gapon’s followers to go to see them on some conspiratorial matter. Another comrade and I went as requested, and we found the most prominent of Gapon’s local followers who remained at liberty. They told us that they were now convinced that our views were right, that previously they could only work ‘in Gapon’s way’, that is, only making demands that were easily understood and within reach and keeping quiet about anything further away and political, but now, after everything that had happened, the only thing to do was to work along our lines. We might have been pleased with this success had it not immediately come out that they had some peculiar ideas about our views. They told us they were convinced that the mass of the workers were extremely sluggish, stupid and politically ignorant, that they were incapable of fighting for themselves, and that if we waited for them to develop, long years would pass without anything changing. It was therefore up to the most conscious, most self-sacrificing workers to take the cause of the struggle for workers’ interests into their own hands. This small group of workers should first of all go out with bombs and revolvers on the following Sunday to avenge their comrades, and to achieve through terror by a conscious minority what the entire mass of workers had been unable to do. To our question about whether they had many followers, they replied that all of Gapon’s most politically-conscious adherents were inclined to such views. Of course, we tried to give them a better understanding of our opinions and to deflect them from their hopeless enterprise, but they left us, apparently rather disappointed by our cold and unsympathetic attitude to their contempt for the masses and to the peculiar theory of acting in their place. I was to meet roughly similar tendencies shortly afterwards among Gapon’s followers in the Putilov Works beyond the Neva Gate, where I was assigned after the January events by the central group, and where I was to take an active part in the later phases of the workers’ movement of that stormy year.

The next extract describes what Somov felt was the turning-point when a critical mass of workers in St Petersburg made the crucial break with Tsarism.[5]

The horrors of 9 January sent the Petersburg proletariat into state of shock for some days, during which the police did everything they could to confuse the workers and direct their disappointment to the wrong destination, bypassing the main culprits whose mockery of popular faith they had just endured. The strike was slowly dying down. But as had often happened before with our powers-that-be, they showed an excess of zeal this time as well. Thus, Trepov took on the role of benefactor of the Petersburg workers, even deciding to fulfil their most cherished dream: to be allowed into the Tsar’s presence. The famous deputation to the Tsar was improvised. Trepov sent messengers to all the factory and plant managements with orders to search out the most appropriate and loyal workers and give them a new task — to go to the palace. Sometimes, the police themselves chose as deputies workers who were well-known to them through having provided them with regular ‘services’. It is difficult to imagine the indignation of the workers when they found out from newspapers and notices that ‘they’ had sent a deputation to the Tsar. In some plants, they sharply condemned the owners and directors for agreeing without the workers’ knowledge to send a deputation in their name. At the Rechkin plant beyond the Moscow Gate, the workers even went on strike in protest. In many factories, they demanded an explanation from the ‘deputies’, having guaranteed in advance their ‘personal inviolability’. And when the details of the audience became known, recounted for the most part by ignorant and dull-witted deputies, the workers’ indignation was combined with contemptuous laughter. Really, for the political development of the Petersburg proletariat, on top of horror and repulsion at the powers-that-be, contempt for them was an urgent necessity at that time as well, and Trepov had taken care of this in his paternal way. The incident with the deputies was a turning-point in the workers’ state of mind. 

According to one of these deputies, a ‘stern-looking general’ had prepared him and the other deputy from his factory for the audience by saying: ‘Well, gentlemen, you are now going to have the happiness of a talk with the Tsar. Just be silent when he talks to you and keep bowing.’ This was the first time the Tsar had spent any time in the company of workers. Without looking at them, he read out a prepared speech. He said that the workers had been deceived into going on strike when they should have been doing their bit for the war effort against Japan. It had been necessary to sacrifice the lives of innocent people. ‘I believe in the honourable feelings of the working people’, he said, ‘and intheir unshakeable devotion to me and therefore I forgive them their guilt.’ Tsar Nicholas II believed the event had been a great success, but a number of the 34 deputies were unable to show themselves at work afterwards on account of general hostility, jeering and being spat at by other workers. Many workers refused a share of the 50 000 rubles the Tsar had granted to those who had suffered as a result of the massacre on the grounds that it was blood money.[6]

Little by little, dismay began to pass off, and the urge to fight grew once more. The means of struggle and protest remained as before, the one already used in the January days. A broad strike movement began, uninterrupted but unsystematic. The most frequent demand of the workers was for an eight-hour working day, but every factory and plant mounted a struggle for its own special needs, and sometimes went on strike without making any demands at all. None of the attempts by Social Democrats to put the movement in order and unite it had any success. They only succeeded in bringing in political demands, in giving the economic struggle of the workers a political character — and the longer it went on, the easier this became. In the more backward plants and factories, this did not come easily even after 9 January. But to all intents and purposes, the workers led the struggle with the entire regime throughout this time. With their chaotic, unrelenting struggle, they shook the whole structure, and not only disorganised economic life, but also created a state of uncertainty and instability in the entire life of the country.

Somov’s attitude to the strike movement here is rather grudging and offhand. Compare it with Trotsky’s much more upbeat picture:

… the most profound and significant effect of the January massacre was upon the Russian proletariat… The proletarian masses were stirred to the very core of their being… For almost two months, without any plan, in many cases without advancing any claims, stopping and starting, obedient only to the instinct of solidarity, the strike ruled the land… The railway personnel act as the detonators of the strike; the railway lines are the channels along which the strike epidemic spreads… The strike does not occur because the economic struggle has found expression in certain well-defined demands; on the contrary, the demands are chosen and formulated because there has to be a strike.[7]

Even according to the official figures, more workers and more workplaces went on strike in the first three months of 1905 than in the whole of the previous 10 years.[8]Trotsky focused on the explosion of strikes as a clear demonstration of the change in the consciousness of the mass of the workers, a change that greatly narrowed the gap between them and the socialist minority. Compared to this, the question — obviously prominent in Somov’s mind — of whether any political organisation was ‘in charge’ at this point was petty, not to say irrelevant. Like Lenin on Bloody Sunday, Trotsky focused on fundamental issues of workers’ consciousness, not on superficialities. Clearly, Trotsky was not against socialists arguing that strikes should have political demands. However, Somov gives the impression that this was what madethe strikes political. By contrast, the picture Trotsky gives is one in which the wave of economic strikes expresses a deep alienation from the entire Tsarist order, including the regime in the workplace. Somov also displays a preoccupation with the more conservative workers as they were, rather with than how they could be drawn into struggle by more militant, more revolutionary workers and thus begin their own process of change. This went against the whole flow of events at this time, and it was to become a hallmark of Menshevism.

Somov’s formalistic view of politics is also evident in his overestimation of the importance of the commission set up under the chairmanship of Senator Shidlovsky. At the same time, he does refer to the fact that different groups of workers had different attitudes towards it. This is a key time of change among a mass of workers previously regarded as innately passive and conservative, which they had been — until now. Now, many of them were in the process of abandoning an essential feature of conservatism in Tsarist Russia: the principle that everything had to come from above, that the lowly should never join together to do anything for themselves. On this count alone, the strike wave represented something much more important and much more ‘political’ than Somov was prepared to recognise. What the Shidlovsky Commission does is to give us a glimpse of where a lot of these workers were in terms of their outlook and state of mind as they begin to leave Bloody Sunday behind.[9]

The central moment of struggle in this period, which immediately followed the January days, was the campaign around the Shidlovsky Commission, which was the only time that Social Democracy succeeded not just in intervening in full force in it, but also in having a decisive influence on the entire course of the campaign. The commission itself, whose remit was to clarify the reasons for the workers’ discontent and to work out measures for removing it, evoked different reactions from different parts of the Petersburg proletariat. The workers in the metallurgical plants saw the commission from the start as a clumsy trick to divert the workers’ attention from the most important issues on to petty workplace matters. They did not expect practical results from this commission, any more than from any of the other commissions which were working at that time in all government departments for the good of the Russian people. The backward workers in many Petersburg factories had a different attitude. They never tired of discussing which demands they should put to the commission and what sort of petitions they should submit to it. They really believed that in the shape of the commission an institution had been created to which they could send their envoys with an account of their needs. In general, the Shidlovsky Commission evoked a tremendously lively reaction in working-class circles. Everywhere, at that time, in homes, at work, in pubs, on the street, workers had lively discussions about issues to do with it, willingly attended mass meetings, went to small gatherings, visited legal assemblies of different organisations, and raised persistent questions about their tactics in the commission. On the basis of the keen interest evokedby the commission, the local Social Democratic group succeeded in developing intensive agitational activity and in enlarging the size of its organisation.

The establishment of the Shidlovsky Commission was a tacit acknowledgement by the authorities that the January days and the strikes which followed were not simply the work of troublemakers. The commission included not only representatives of management and government, but also representatives indirectly elected by the workers. Each group of 500 workers in a workplace, more or less, was allowed to elect one of their number as an elector. The electors then voted for 50 representatives to the commission. It looks like roughly 60 per cent of the electors were either members or sympathisers of the Social Democrats. As soon as they met, the electors made a number of demands including the uncensored publication of all the commission’s records, the release of workers imprisoned since 1 January, and personal immunity for workers ‘freely discussing their needs’ (a dramatic increase in real civil rights). The Tsar then disbanded the commission on Shidlovsky’s advice. Up to 60 000 workers went on strike in protest, and the government launched a new wave of arrests. Workers were excluded from a follow-up commission under Kokovtsov, the finance minister, which only involved state bureaucrats and industrialists, and produced no results. In the long term, the commission may have helped to give the Petersburg workers a taste for independent, democratic decision-making: the Petersburg soviet was also to be based on one deputy per 500 workers on the Shidlovsky model. In the short term, the end of the commission meant the end of any real attempt to provide reforms which might weaken the urge to strike. By April, the government was even forced to withdraw the notorious circular of 1897 from the Ministry of Internal Affairs on the punishment of strikers, which had become unworkable.[10]

Here Somov gives us a glimpse of the way the Putilov plant, a key workplace in the city, moved to the left.[11]

Until the January days, the Putilov plant with its 13 000 workers was one of the most backward metallurgical plants in Petersburg. Before that time, the number of workers who had been to a Social Democratic circle had never been more than about 50. These were… very young people: two or three about 25 years old, and all the rest 17 to 20. By contrast with the Social Democrats, Gapon’s movement took its cadres from the late-middle-aged workers, and at its head was the old labour aristocracy of the plant, relatively well-paid and sometimes firmly established in their own little houses attached to the plant. I remember being pleasantly amazed when I first went to a meeting of Gapon’s leading workers in a pub and saw before me mature, independent people with a clearly-defined way of looking at people and events.[12]They were in a very militant mood. Like their comrades beyond the Neva Gate, they were filled with disappointment at the mass of the workers and at the main, if not the only, way they could see of putting pressure for concessions on the plant and the management, namely, industrial terror. This determination on the part of the most influential workers and the terrible sacrifices borne by the workers of this plant on 9 January, combined with the extremely dishonest attitude to the workers on the part of the management headed by Smirnov, the director, kept the plant in a constant state of discontent, ready to go on strike at any moment. And if in their numerous strikes the workers only made political demands incidentally, it was clear nevertheless that their struggle would not stop until the whole regime had gone with all the restrictions it put on the free development of the class struggle. Almost immediately after the January events, shop representatives were elected in the plant. They conducted regular negotiations with the management, and won considerable concessions from them. But the mass of the workers in the plant were by means of strikes constantly pressuring their representatives to make new demands. Normal production could not be established throughout 1905.

When the elections for the Shidlovsky Commission were announced, the immediate question for the Putilov workers was whether to elect new deputies, or to authorise the old representatives of the plant workforce for the commission. Mass meetings were held on this issue. It was also discussed in the Social Democratic circles, which had grown tremendously. It was decided to go for new elections in view of the presence of certain undesirable elements among the previous plant deputies and for agitational reasons as well. To this end, it was suggested that a large mass meeting be called, and elections be held under the slogan of convening a constituent assembly, which brought all the workers’ demands together.[13]For their part, the plant management took all the measures it could to prevent both the meeting and the new elections from taking place at all. They did not make essential practical preparations for the elections, and they were late in putting up notices about the elections, and the latter did, in fact, take place with a considerable number of abstentions. The police for their part took all the measures they could to prevent outside elements from getting into the plant. Three agitators were arrested at the gates of the plant, and because of this the large meeting could not take place. However, the author of these lines did succeed in getting into the plant and in being present at the elections in three workshops. For the most part, the workshop elections took place under considerable Social Democratic influence, and the majority of the candidates nominated by them were elected. Although there were hardly any big speeches anywhere, Social Democrat workers campaigned strongly for well-known candidates and a clear platform. For the working-class membership of the Social Democratic circles, it was normal that out of all the candidates and the elected deputies only one was an actual member of the party, and that we had even had to campaign for some of them without their knowledge. We only got to know some of those elected just before the elections in order to put them through a preliminary ‘test’ of their ‘consciousness’. As a result of their low standing in the plant, our organised workers had no hope of getting in.

Ib: A Woman’s Life[14]

Many Russian workers reacted to Bloody Sunday with some hesitation and debate before beginning to take action for themselves, in the way Somov describes. But there were others who responded far more quickly and decisively. One of them was Lukerya Bogdanova, a woman textile-worker in St Petersburg.

Bloody Sunday stirred Russian society to its depths. Never too far from the depths were the working women of Russia. In his illuminating and meticulously-researched history of the Goujon or Guzhon (later Hammer and Sickle) metallurgical factory in Moscow, Kevin Murphy describes conditions for the women in the factory like this:

The handful of unskilled women workers earned low wages and suffered abuse in the traditionally male-dominated metal industry. Conditions in the shop were ‘particularly difficult for teenage girls’ as heavy conditions ‘messed up their hair, tore dresses, and forced many to leave the factory.’ A 1905 Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (RSDWP) leaflet claimed that the bolt shop timekeeper repeatedly ‘raped women and girls working in this shop’. Most had been driven to the factory by economic necessity, their entry made possible by family ties. For example, after EI Voronina’s husband lost both legs in an accident in the steel foundry, Guzhon [the owner — PG] agreed to hire her to work in the bolt shop, where some 50 women were employed in the early years of the century. All female workers earned either eighth or ninth category (of 10) rates — slightly less than half that of a skilled metal-worker. By 1909, women also started working in the rolled metal shop, where they had to undergo an initiation ritual that involved having male workers expose themselves while the entire shop laughed.[15]

It is unlikely that women in the textile industry were in a better position, despite the fact that they formed a much larger proportion of the workforce than in the metal industries.

Although working men clearly collaborated in the oppression of women, the example of Voronina and her husband shows how little they benefited from it. It is also worth remembering that working men and women were always in danger of sinking to lower depths not far below them, though here too there was a difference in degradation between the sexes:

The Khitrovka market [in Moscow — PG] was notorious. Here the most dangerous criminals gathered, here murderers plied their craft, men traded their last shirt for a gulp of vodka, and 11-year-old girls were sold outright for 50 rubles or rented for half a ruble a night. Here child beggars were hired out to work, sometimes with dead babies wrapped in rags to whet public sympathy. Nursing babies were rented to female beggars for 25 kopecks a day and three-year-olds at 10 kopecks. At the age of five — if they survived — the children went out to beg for themselves. Mothers of the infants — usually prostitutes who were selling their bodies for the benefit of their ‘cats’, or pimps — sold their children at auction to professional beggars, who often were horribly mutilated men and women with pus-oozing sores and stumps of legs and arms. Ten-year-old prostitutes, graduating from street begging, were no rarity. One night Gilyarovsky [a journalist who specialised in Khitrovka stories — PG] watched a drunken 13-year-old girl with short-cut brown hair, a child’s face, and red swollen eyes. She was too drunk to sit upright. Only blurred sounds issued from her small mouth. Her cat, a dandy in a fine Russian jacket, sold her for a ruble to a brawny man who picked her up and carried her out into the night on his shoulder. The women of Khitrovka were called tyetki (frumps). It took three to six months to turn a young girl into a tetok. The fate of all was the same — death in prison, in a hospital, or on the dirty floor of one of the traktiri (taverns).[16]

This kind of existence was a world away from romanticised notions of Tsarism which have made a come-back since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But this was the world in which ordinary people clung on to their faith in an ordered universe, and in which Bloody Sunday propelled a whole generation of Lukerya Bogdanovas straight from the Tsar and the Orthodox Church to atheism and revolution.


N 1905, I worked in the Maxwell mill where there were about 2500 workers altogether, the majority of them women. The situation of the women workers was extremely hard. There was hardly any provision for safety at work. Nor was there any for mothers and children. For mothers who were breast feeding, a dirty room used as a passageway was assigned where they could take their babies twice a day. They were only given 15 minutes for feeding. The foremen’s attitude to women workers was very crude. They often pushed them and threw spanners at them. If a pregnant woman went to the foreman’s office to ask for permission to go home as she was going into labour, the foreman would treat such women crudely and insolently.[17]

I began to be active in the revolutionary movement after the strike by male and female workers at our factory at the end of 1904.

I was at a meeting at the beginning of January 1905 organised by Gapon in Nikolai Street. I remember it being said there that the workers’ demands weren’t reaching the Tsar, that he didn’t know anything about the strikes in the factories and plants, and that everyone should assemble with icons and all go to the Winter Palace. Anna Gavrilovna Boldyreva, who worked at our mill until 1905, was also at this meeting. In 1905, she was already having to work illegally.[18]

We all tried to get the workers, men and women, to go to the palace on 9 January. We even told them to bring their children with them so that there would be more people. We believed that only the Tsar could ease our situation.

The columns of workers were already on their way to the palace at nine o’clock in the morning on Sunday, 9 January. When we got to the Nikolai Station they wouldn’t let us go any further, and here there was the sound of firing. There was such a crush that you couldn’t run anywhere. Mounted police began forcing people apart, many workers fell under the hooves of their horses, some of them were crushed.

I’ve got no memory at all of how I and other women workers found ourselves under Liteiny Bridge where we hid and stayed until three o’clock in the morning. At home they already thought I’d been killed. I was very agitated when I got back, but was off to work before seven. The workers were in a very stormy mood. They were asking the foreman for time off to look for their relatives. When some of them found the bodies of their relatives, they were told to come for them next day. But next day the dead weren’t there any more. They had been taken away in order that they should not be given to the working men and women.

After 9 January, I stopped believing in God and the Tsar.

Soon after, I started to take part in the work of the underground circles,[19]and I started to go to underground meetings… We used to go to a worker’s home on Palev Street to decide issues about strikes and our role in them. There we got leaflets which we kept at home overnight and took to work in the morning.

I had to do this activity behind my husband’s back. He was very strict, and he often beat me for taking part in the revolutionary struggle. But, of course, I didn’t take any notice of him, and I continued with the work.

At the end of 1905, my husband died and I had to take my boy away to the country. By this time, I was being watched at the factory. Once, a manager got hold of me by the scruff of the neck, shook me and said: ‘You’re the one that’s behind it all, now we’re going to give you the sack.’ I didn’t spend that night at home, I was sure they were soon going to arrest me. I was advised to leave the mill and go into domestic service with people who had to go away to Japan. I started work with them and went away with them. I lived in Japan for two years. My boss also turned out to be a revolutionary who was working underground.

When we came back from Japan, I found out that I was on the books of the secret police as a revolutionary.

A policeman used to come round every morning as if he was courting me, but I felt that that wasn’t what he was coming for, he needed evidence of my guilt, but he never succeeded in getting it.

I went back to the mill at the end of 1907, and have worked there to this day.

Ic: Catching Up[20]

The waves of struggle swept out from great centres like St Petersburg across the provinces and borderlands of the Russian empire. The general strike in protest against the Bloody Sunday massacre fragmented into a mass of smaller stoppages. This was not a retreat from political to economic struggle. It was, as Rosa Luxemburg put it, ‘a change of front’.[21]The Tsar was definitely not going to help the workers, so the workers were going to have to stand up for themselves. Workers who had never even dreamed of cheeking the foreman now walked out at the drop of a hat. Rosa Luxemburg argued that the strike against the massacre:

… for the first time awoke feeling and class-consciousness in millions upon millions as if by an electric shock. And this awakening of class feeling expressed itself forthwith in the circumstances that the proletarian mass, counted by millions, quite suddenly and sharply came to realise how intolerable was that social and economic existence which they had patiently endured for decades in the chains of capitalism. Thereupon there began a spontaneous general shaking of and tugging at these chains… Here the eight-hour day was fought for, there piece-work was resisted, here were brutal foremen ‘driven off’ in a sack on a handcart, at another place infamous systems of fines were fought against, everywhere better wages were striven for and here and there the abolition of homework. Backward degraded occupations in large towns, small provincial towns which had hitherto dreamed in an idyllic sleep, the village with its legacy from feudalism — all these, suddenly awakened by the January lightning, bethought themselves of their rights and now sought feverishly to make up for their previous neglect.[22]

The people had had ideas about the Tsar, and the Tsar had destroyed those ideas. Now other ideas were circulating, whirling about in the currents and eddies of the strikes, colliding with passers-by, lighting up their imaginations.

However, it took time for the strike movement to spread. The struggle rose and fell at different times in different places. As a result, the far-flung industrial towns of Russia became strung out like horses in a race. The writer of the next extract, a young worker fresh from the countryside, does not seem to have noticed that Baku, a booming oil port on the Caspian Sea, had a militant past, or that there had been two big strikes there in recent months. In December 1904, 50 000 factory and refinery workers had won a nine-hour day and a pay rise (on paper anyway) after a strike in which they had also demanded a constituent assembly and civil rights. The January strike against the Bloody Sunday massacre had involved large numbers of workers.[23]But Zvezdov wasn’t ‘political’. Until one day, that is. Even then, it took him a while to find out about Bloody Sunday… 

THE pre-revolutionary years in the countryside with which my first memories are linked were years of ferment and discontent among the broad peasant masses. The unsuccessful war with Japan and the excessive burdens which rained down on the countryside, oppression at the hands of the landowner and the rich peasant, the arbitrariness of autocratic power — all this made for a tense situation. The peasantry, which had not rid itself of the old patriarchal traditions, lived on vague hopes and expectations without committing itself to open struggle. A variety of rumours, strongly supported by agents of the autocracy, spread around the countryside and joined to form a heavy fog. There were stories about godless students going into Kazan Cathedral with their caps on and papirossi[24]in their teeth. And the dull mentality of the countryside was too sluggish to understand the great struggle between the working class and the bourgeoisie which was unfolding with every day and getting closer to open conflict.

It was from this situation that I first got to a city — to Baku, where I went to work as an apprentice for AM Karyakin, the manager of the shop and warehouse of Kuznetsov, ‘the crockery king’. I quite quickly became friends with Artyom Khalatov (later a well-known food magnate), whose family lived together with Karyakin. A second friendship with a student who was lodging with Karyakin undoubtedly played a decisive role in my life. We did not get to know each other in the normal way. In his room I found an illegal book which tore the Tsar, the landowners and the priests to pieces. Although I found it hard to understand what it was saying, I got so carried away that I did not notice the student coming in. We both took fright. I felt that it was somehow wrong for me to read this book, especially without the owner’s permission. My first thought was to make off, but my confusion obviously reassured the student and a conversation started up between us.

‘So then, did you understand it?’

‘Yes, probably there was a lot I didn’t understand’, I admitted, ‘but it was so good at tearing the Tsar, the landowners and the priests to pieces.’

‘So what do you think, is it right or not?’

‘That I don’t know, but in the countryside my father told me that the students were for the landowners and against the Tsar, and above all against God, even going into church with their caps on.’

The student burst out laughing and began to explain in detail to me that they were against the Tsar and the landowners. They only defended the poor people and the peasants. From that day our discussions began. We disposed of the family as our first course. By this time, something had become clear to me: I had set out on a revolutionary path.

A group of gymnasiumstudents moved into the lower floor of our house in March 1905. We got on well. The gymnasiumstudents turned out to be Social Democrats and set about my education. From them I found out about the Ninth of January and I realised that the Tsar who shot the people at point-blank range and the landowners who robbed the peasants blind were one gang. I found out that there were socialists who were fighting for land and freedom, brotherhood and equality.

I joined their circle in April 1905, and a month later I was taking part in my first clandestine May Day meeting.

II: The Longest Strike

Ivanovo-Voznesensk, a textile town known as the ‘Russian Manchester’, was the scene of a great strike which lasted for two whole months, from mid-May to mid-July 1905. Abraham Ascher comments: ‘Never before had workers demonstrated such a high degree of solidarity and determination in waging a strike… Outside the Kingdom of Poland, it was the longest and most disciplined strike between January and October.’[25]

He also draws attention to its demands about women, who formed a crucial part of the workforce:

For the most part, the strikers called for the kinds of concessions that were being sought by labourers throughout the Empire: an eight-hour day, an increased minimum wage, full pay during illness, limitations on the imposition of fines, better sanitary conditions in the factories, and so on. But a few demands were novel: that pregnant workers be granted two weeks of paid leave before delivery and four weeks afterward, and that day nurseries be established in the factories. Mothers of infants were to be given half an hour off every three hours to feed their children.[26]

Another outstanding feature of the struggle was the election by the strikers of an Assembly of 151 deputies to negotiate on their behalf. The Assembly became quite controversial in the 1920s. Some Soviet writers, including Pokrovsky, claimed that this was the first real soviet, beating the St Petersburg soviet by some five months.[27]According to Ascher, the Assembly was never referred to as a soviet until many years later. However, in 1923 after what he described as a ‘painstaking investigation’, Dmitry Sverchkov said he had to admit that the term ‘soviet’ had been used at Ivanovo. What Sverchkov maintained was that there was a fundamental difference between the Ivanovo soviet and the Petersburg soviet. The Ivanovo soviet never aspired to be anything more than a strike committee. The Petersburg soviet not only exercised power, but ‘posed the question’ of transferring the entire power of the state into the hands of the working class.[28]This debate was clearly related to the campaign in the Soviet leadership against Trotsky, who had led the Petersburg soviet in 1905.

Whatever the ins and outs were about the name, the prevailing mentality among the strikers, so well captured by Pokrovsky in the extract below, simply does not fit the picture of a soviet pushing back the boundaries of the Tsarist state. Nor does the actual course of the strike, which went on to the defensive after less than three weeks. This is not to say that the strike and the Assembly were not important, but that their importance was not directly concerned with the question of power. The Ivanovo strike was a practical test of the outlook that many workers had evolved after Bloody Sunday. It did not shake their new-found confidence in their own strength. This is shown in the letter below by Nozdrin, one of the strikers, and more generally in the figures Pokrovsky gives about improvements won in pay and conditions. But it was one of the signs that individual strikes, however large, were no longer enough to push things forward in terms of economic concessions, let alone political ones, because the state could always concentrate superior forces against them. The workers were learning through their own experience of struggle once again.

IIa: A Struggle of its Time[29]

AFTER 9 January, it seemed more obvious than ever that every strike in Russia was a reflection of the politicalstruggle, a protest of the workers against the autocracy. As a demonstration of acute class antagonism, every strike was, of course, a political fact, as Zhelyabov had already pointed out.[30]But that is what it was objectively, independently of the consciousness of the workers themselves, and hardly any of the workers noticed this objective aspect in the days of Zhelyabov. It was quite different, of course, in 1905, but even so halfof the strikes in that year still had only economicdemands: 1 439 000 workers went on strike for economic demands, 1 434 000 for political demands.

This does not mean at all that the economic movement of 1905 was not revolutionary. We will now see that economic strikes very soon confronted the demand for an eight-hour working day, a revolutionary demand not only in Russia in 1905, but also in Western Europe. But what it does mean is that the Bolshevik view of the revolution as a struggle for power, a struggle which would necessarily lead to the replacement of the autocracy by a revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, was still not shared by the general run of workers. Even those masses of workers who took part in the movement still did not concentrate all their blows on the autocracy. They fought both against the Tsar and against the employer, and against the employer even more than against the Tsar, for very few strikes had political demands alone, while practically every political strike had economic demands as well. The state of mind of the rearmost ranks of the workers — even those who were foremost among them and who went on strike with special determination and self-sacrifice — is best described by one of the leaders of the biggest strike in the summer of 1905, the famous strike of the Ivanovo-Voznesensk textile-workers, which involved more than 50 000 workers and lasted for two months, from May to June. In terms of length, this was the greatest strike yet seen in Russia.

But this is what that comrade has to say about it:

In the early days of the strike, there were not only no courageous and resolute calls to armed struggle, but there was a marked tendency to be very cautious about raising the crucial issues of the revolution. This was prompted by the consideration that the state of mind of the greater part of the strikers — of the most backward elements — was hostile to all such matters. This was obvious from the loud reaction by the majority at the meetings when comrades tried to bring them up. There was shouting all round: ‘That’s enough! We don’t need to know about that. We want peaceful struggle, not revolution. This is an economic strike.’ And so on.

Once, F Kukshin (‘Gogol’)[31]ended a short speech from the stand with the cry: ‘Down with the autocracy!’ The crowd followed this with such loud agitation and protests that one of the comrades from the intelligentsia had no little difficulty in calming it. After this event, it became particularly clear to us that we needed to do more groundwork among the strikers and accordingly to educate them politically, and that our approach to this education would have to be very shrewd and careful. This education happened regularly at the daily general assemblies of strikers, and the Talka[32]became in the true sense ‘a university for the political education of the striking workers’, which, with intensive effort, fulfilled its function with great success.

At the same time, the Ivanovo-Voznesensk strike undoubtedly had its place as a political strike: it demanded freedom of expression, association and assembly, the inviolability of the individual and the home, and even the convocation of a constituent assembly on the basis of universal, direct, etc, suffrage.[33]Is it surprising that workers should nevertheless resent the cry ‘Down with the Autocracy’ when we remember that the workers took Gapon’s petition with all these demands in it to the Tsar himself? The state of mind left behind by the Petersburg proletariat in January 1905 was only being very slowly left behind in Russia as a whole. Two and a half months later, in the opinion of the same comrade, the Ivanovo-Voznesensk workers too ‘had become completely unrecognisable’, but the same educational work still remained to be done with others.

One of the signs that the Ivanovo-Voznesensk workers were far from being among the ‘hindmost’ was the class constitution they gave themselves. The striking workers elected deputies to negotiate with the owners and the authorities as a matter of course — that was the usual procedure. But each factory would usually have its own deputies and carry on separate negotiations. The owners and the factory inspectorate wanted the workers to do this here too. ‘I am prepared to talk to “my” workers’, each owner declared, ‘the others are not my business!’ But the Ivanovo-Voznesensk workers saw right through this favourite bourgeois manoeuvre to break up the strike. They elected representatives — about 100 of them — from the entire mass of the strikers, and they demanded that all negotiations be carried on with everyone there, class with class. And the workers kept to this so unflinchingly that even when one of the industrialists gave in and offered very favourable terms to ‘his’ workers for a return to work, this individual surrender was rejected straight away.

Such was the origin of the first soviet of workers’ deputiesin Russia between 13 (26) and 15 (28) May 1905, old style.[34]For the first time, the workers stepped forward as ‘a class for themselves’, now completely independent of the influence of any ‘democrats’ whatsoever, such as had been exercised over Gapon’s leadership.[35]And it was fully in accord with this that the first soviet of workers’ deputies adopted the purely class demand for an eight-hour working dayunanimously.

Needless to say, this demand was not restricted to Ivanovo-Voznesensk — it became usual in the strikes of 1905. What was much more interesting was that in a whole series of cases, the raging torrent of strikes of that year swept the employers into concessions on this point — the workers were winning the implementationof this demand. In the course of the spring, the summer and the beginning of the autumn, the eight-hour day was won by sugar refinery workers in the Kiev region, printers in Samara, the tool shop of the Military Medical Preparations plant and the Cartridge Factory in Petersburg, the engineering department of the State Stationery Office, a number of furniture factories and oil-mills, Tiflis[36]tram workers, miners in the Far East and drill workers in the Baku oilfields. True, in some cases matters went no further than a promiseby the owners of the enterprise to introduce the eight-hour day, but this concession ‘in principle’ was in itself a great success for the proletariat. The range of workers who won almostan eight-hour day — days of 8½ and nine hours — was even bigger: an 8½-hour day was won by a section of textile-workers (the Morozov factories) and dockers in the port of Petersburg, a nine-hour day was won by workers in the railway workshops, the majority of the industrial workers of Warsaw and Berdyansk and by printers in Minsk. Finally, a 10-hour day was won by the majority of industrial workers and by bakery workers in Moscow.

If one remembers how the establishment of the 10-hour day in British industry in the 1840s was greeted by all as a success for the working class, we will get the measure of the achievement of the Russian working class on this issue in 1905. As ever, the employers were more pliable on this issue and much more stubborn on the issue of pay. Nevertheless, the workers won quite crucial concessions here too. In April, bakery workers in Moscow won a 50 per cent increase in rates (this strike has been mentioned in passing in connection with the ‘revolt of the cultural societies’).[37]The Ivanovo-Voznesensk strike described here was considered unsuccessful, and in reality its results did not justify the colossal energy the workers put into it. Even so, they won a pay rise of between 15 and 20 per cent. In addition, one of the factories agreed to the introduction of a ‘factory constitution’: the hiring and firing of workers was referred to a committee made up of an equal number of representatives from management and from the workers. The earnings of male and female textile-workers in the Shuya area generally rose by about 10 per cent.[38]Average monthly earnings in the Prokhorov Mill in Moscow rose from 14 rubles (May 1904) to 16 rubles 80 kopeks (March 1905), 17 rubles 73 kopeks (August 1905) and 19 rubles 54 kopeks (November 1905). But the most skilled groups of workers naturally won most of all. In the Putilov plant, foundry workers’ pay rose from 1 ruble 57 kopeks (a day) to 1 ruble 84 kopeks, engineering workers’ pay rose from 1 ruble 97 kopeks to 2 rubles 25 kopeks, pay in the boilermakers’ shop rose from 1 ruble 43 kopeks to 1 ruble 76 kopeks, pay in the cannon foundry rose from 2 rubles 20 kopeks to 2 rubles 52 kopeks, and pay in the tool shop rose from 2 rubles 46 kopeks to 2 rubles 99 kopeks. At 17.7 per cent, the latter was the highest increase in wage rates. In the engineering shop, it was only 14.2 per cent, etc. But rates rose everywhere and this happened along with the reduction of the working day to 10 hours.

IIb: A Striker’s Letter[39]

Dear Fyodor Alekseyevich!

Many thanks for sending the 50 and 28 rubles, which went into the assistance fund for strikers in need. It should be said that the fund serves some other purposes as well. You ask to be informed about our events, which are of tremendous general interest to everyone at the moment, but which for those involved mean a great and complicated task to which eight weeks on strike have brought us, and things stand like this: after a mass meeting at the Talka[40]on 21 June, the workers decided to go round the factories and demand payment for the time of the strike. Each factory formed themselves up into a separate group, set off with revolutionary songs for their factory yard, and on arrival presented their demands in a demonstratively threatening manner.

The factory managers replied: ‘The owners are not here, they have left Ivanovo, and we for our own part consider it impossible to make a decision about anything on our own.’ Then the workers demanded from them the addresses to which the owners had left and money for telegrams. And on the very same day telegrams were sent with roughly the following content: ‘A crowd of workers stands in the factory yard, awaits your immediate arrival and demands payment for the time of the strike.’

So the workers set off once more with revolutionary songs for the Talka, and there they made up their minds to go just as demonstratively to the factories for a reply on the next day, which they did in spite of the fact that a notice with the governor’s signature had been pasted up all over town on which it was stated: that the workers are conducting themselves in an impertinent way during negotiations with the factory managements, furthermore such conduct would be followed by measures of suppression, etc. On 22 June, the replies were received: ‘Can’t come to Ivanovo, won’t pay for strike.’ After these replies, we once more made up our minds at the Talka to assemble here on the morrow, that is, 23 June, in the biggest possible number and go to the master of the province [the governor — PG] at the square to ask for bread or work. And we did go to the square. Cossacks surrounded us from all sides, only one way out was open, through Melnik Street, and there the pavement was covered with ranks of infantry.[41]The air was sultry and suffocating. The presence of troops and in such array agonisingly oppressed the mood of those present, who even without this had aged and turned grey during the strike. A box was brought as a platform. Dunayev took the platform.[42]He appealed to the crowd: ‘Who brought you here?’ The crowd replied: ‘We came by ourselves.’ ‘Why have you come?’ ‘To demand bread or work, to declare peace or carry on the war.’ Then Dunayev outlined the general situation after 43 days on strike, and demanded that the governor come to the square and explain why the owners had gone off, leaving the workers without bread and work. The crowd decided not to leave the square until the governor had given an explanation, and so as not to be weighed down by the wait for His Excellency, it decided to wait for him sitting down. The crowd sat and at the same time began to break the roadway up with their hands.[43]Out on to the square came the governor, who was told that the crowd was in such an embittered mood that the deputies found it hard to lead it, that in view of this they were giving up all their authority and would not answer for the consequences; but they had come too far to drop everything now, they demanded once more that the owners should begin negotiations with all of them,[44]and that they should give them an immediate answer. The governor and the senior factory inspector consented to communicate with the owners by telegram, and to present the reply tomorrow at the Talka. The deputies would have liked to send the crowd to their homes and go on their own from the square to the place of their gatherings, but the crowd would not let them do so, went and accompanied them, as if fearing that they would be ignored. Crossing the Prikaz bridge, two red flags and one black flag had been unfurled at the beginning of Sokov Street, revolutionary songs rang out in three places at once. And in this way we reached the Talka without pursuit. There we had speeches once more with flags flying, and among other things this was said: ‘You see that black flag, one of the women workers embroidered it on 3 June. Today we have 23 June, the twentieth day since the deaths. We won’t celebrate the funeral rites, I’m taking off my hat and I’m asking you to follow my example. I couldn’t find a better way to honour the memory of the dead.’ A reply was brought by a factory inspector on 24 June, but only from one owner, who announced that he had not had time to communicate with the rest and a joint reply would definitely be with us that evening, which we deputies decided we would wait for on our own. The crowd drifted off after the speeches, which drew attention to the obstinacy of our owners and to the impossibility of the deputies getting anywhere with them. The deputies waited for the reply, and while they were waiting havoc started in Yamy. They got their reply alright.

Only some of the manufacturers, with the exclusion of Shchapov and Gryaznov, signed the reply. It stated: ‘The published concessions of 14 June effective only until 18 June will be given to the workers. There will be no pay for the strike. We find it impossible to enter into direct negotiations with all the deputies. We will not return to Ivanovo until the workers start work and until there is an adequate number of troops in the town.’ The deputies’ assembly resolved: to refer the contents of the owners’ joint telegram to the next day’s general assembly [which was open to all the workers — PG], to lay down their authority and to leave the crowd to its own devices. By lunchtime on 25 June, it became known that during the night some dachas[45]had been burned down, there had been a number of cases of arson in town, many merchants’ houses had had their windows broken, 42 shops had been destroyed, shopkeepers had reported losses amounting to 30 000 rubles to the police, 180 people had been arrested, and there were many injured. And all the same we assembled once more at the Talka, and the resolution of the deputies’ assembly of 24 June was carried out. On the 26th we assembled once more at the Talka, where it became known at the deputies’ assembly that Shchapov and Gryaznov, who had not signed the joint telegram, had contrary to the others made more substantial concessions, especially the following: reduction of the working day by one hour, reduction in pre-holiday working time, a significant increase in wages, especially for workers, and a number of other concessions.[46]Here, as I mentioned above, is the very nub of the complicated and difficult task of the strike, to which we have come through eight weeks. On the one hand, the Shchapov and Gryaznov workers do now have a basis for going to work, but on the other hand their going to work would be an insult to their comrades. On top of this, many of the Gryaznov workers have gone elsewhere, and workers from other factories will be expected to replace them, which would be an even bigger insult to their comrades. This question was put to the general assembly, which did not agree to a partial return to work and decided to continue the strike. Besides, a question comes up because apart from manufacturing plants we also have four mechanical engineering plants which are not able to give concessions to the workers in the present economic situation. The plant managers are themselves in the service of capitalists. They don’t have any reserves of capital, and the prices of their products have dropped… It is a difficult situation, and on 26 June it was difficult to foresee how all this could be resolved. At the deputies’ assembly on 27 June, it came out that there was only 180 rubles in the assistance fund, while the number of those in need kept on rising. On top of that, Cossacks with lashes drove those in need away from the Consumers’ Association… The massive arrests for the destruction of the shops, the arrest of some of the deputies on the 26th, all this changed matters instantly, and with tears in their eyes the general assembly, with the exception of the engineering workers, decided to start work on 1 July: but to start work not defeated, not broken, but in order to escape from hunger, to gather new strength, and to mount a new, unwavering and more desperate resistance. Our morale has not been broken. The owners did not consider it possible to negotiate with all the deputies, and we will go into work peacefully; but will they meet us peacefully? And walking between the looms, glancing at the steam engines, they will always be thinking of one thing — what if it doesn’t work out?[47]We will never forget that our demands were not dictated to us by someone by chance, but were written in our sweat, in our heart’s blood, in the fluid of our nerves. So on 1 July we will gather at the Talka and from the Talka we will set off for the factories. Kindest regards to AA.

See you soon

A Nozdrin


IIc: Dunayev[48]

As Nozdrin suggests in his letter, Dunayev played an important role in the Ivanovo strike. But he is also quite representative of a whole generation of Russian revolutionaries. The 1905 revolution was the formative experience for this generation and they emerged as its leaders. They kept faith with it during the difficult years which followed, played a crucial role in the revolutions of 1917 and all too often perished during the Civil War. This brief biography is a drastically shortened version of the original. The photograph that goes with it shows Dunayev as an extremely thin young man with intense eyes and possibly just the hint of a smile.

DUNAYEV was born in 1877 into peasant family in the countryside not far from Ivanovo-Voznesensk. Mother died soon after birth. Brought up by harsh, alcoholic father. Left home at eight after father tried to drown him (he was only prevented by a chance caller). Went on the road, then supported himself by becoming a shepherd. Taught himself to read at 15, never very confident about writing. Went to work in a textile mill in Ivanovo at 17 in 1894 or 1895, just as first strike wave hit the city. Took part in 1897 mass strike and joined illegal workers’ organisation in 1898. Arrested, spent best part of next three years under police supervision and in various prisons, including in St Petersburg, where a year’s solitary confinement in bad air affected his weak chest. Returned to Ivanovo in 1902. Became very popular as leader and speaker in May-June strike in 1905, but had to sleep in woods or the cemetery and wear disguises for fear of arrest. By the time of Dunayev’s speech in the town square, the local police chief had offered 1000 rubles to the man who could bring him in. The speech was probably more pointed and fiery than is reported here. In the years following the strike, Dunayev became more or less a full-time worker for the RSDWP, though he also did some work as an electrician. He rarely stayed in one place for long and spent some years in prison and exile. He eventually settled down for a while in Nizhni-Novgorod, his wife’s home town. He actively opposed the First World War from the start, which not even all Bolsheviks did, was arrested in late 1916 and sent into infantry but escaped back to Nizhni-Novgorod, where he remained at large until the revolution of February 1917. On 1 March, Dunayev led the arrest of the governor and a mass demonstration to the local barracks and prison to free political prisoners. He was elected to the town soviet and duma, where he was a member of a four-strong Bolshevik group. Dunayev became a leading figure in the fight against hunger in the town and in the drive to nationalise and municipalise property and production before and after October Revolution. He caught typhus early in 1919 on a return journey from Moscow. ‘His organism, worn out by many years of deprivation and overwork, could not hold out, and he died in Nizhni-Novgorod on 14 March 1919.’[49]

III: Stopping the War

IIIa: Working-Girl Power[50]

AFTER the shooting of the workers by the Tsar on 9 January, the entire mass of the workers were as if reborn. Even those who had never been interested in anything began discussing what had happened and reasoning it out. None of the events and turmoil we had lived through passed the women workers by. They too were caught up in the unrest. What really stirred them up was the fact that it had happened before their eyes, since they had been in the procession to the Tsar side-by-side with their male comrades.

Without making much of the fact that the working woman almost always took part in minor conflicts with management in the factories and plants, after 9 January their activism tripled. I observed scenes like this on the street. After 9 January, a state of siege was declared in Petersburg, and soldiers’ pickets were posted around the city, especially in the industrial districts. And it was here that women, working women, very often had a typical kind of confrontation with the soldiers. As they came out of the factory, they would fall on the soldiers with bitter, sarcastic jibes, saying, hey girls, they’re guarding our factory gate, they can’t cope with the Japanese in Manchuria, so they turn up here to show how brave they are on their unarmed working brother.

Sometimes these nasty jibes drove the soldiers to snatch up their weapons, but then the jibes came even more thick and fast. Many people, girls especially, would say: ‘Look at you, you want to shoot us down like crows, and we couldn’t fly away either.’ The soldiers would give as good as they got as well, but many were rather ashamed of themselves and would turn away from the women. I often saw scenes like this at the weaving mill at Guk on Goloday Island.[51]And I think that all these quips, jibes and reproaches prompted more than one soldier to ponder on what role he was fulfilling in relation to the workers.

It would happen like this. A mass of women workers come out of the factory, and some girl suddenly ups and throws a bundle of leaflets into the middle of the soldiers’ picket and then disappears into the crowd. I observed this at the Laferm tobacco factory on Vasilievsky Island.

IIIb: Stopping the War in Siberia[52]




CHITA (Trans-Baikalia), Saturday

A strike broke out here early this morning among the men employed in the railway workshops. Their chief demand is that the war shall be stopped — Reuter.

ST PETERSBURG, Saturday (4.0pm)

The railway men at Irkutsk stopped work, and marched to the residence of the Governor of the Yenisei province, which they found surrounded by soldiers. Eventually, the Governor received the men, and promised to reply to their demands. The stoppage of work at Irkutsk threatens to paralyse the army in Manchuria by interrupting supplies — Laffan.

There is little need to dwell upon the grave intelligence conveyed in the above telegram, but it certainly bears out the previous reports, more or less denied from Russia, that a state of unrest and agitation prevailed upon the great Russian railroad to the Far East, which had already found open expression at Irkutsk, Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk, and other places, and might at any time result in an open rupture between the authorities and the workmen. Chita is the principal town of the Trans-Baikalia province, and stands on the river of the same name. It is 504 miles east of Lake Baikal and 826 miles from Harbin. It has a population in normal times of about 12 000, and its history dates from 1825, when it became one of the chief centres to which political prisoners were despatched from Russia. The town itself presents no features of interest — except its prisons — but possesses considerable workshops belonging to the railway. It is now known that the Siberian railway has not been working well, especially during the past few months. Trouble has repeatedly occurred with the permanent way, which, originally laid in very indifferent fashion, has not been able to stand the strain of the continuous and heavy traffic to which it has been subjected during the war. The rolling stock and locomotives have been overworked, and it has not been possible to effect properly the repairs which are always necessary if accidents and breaksdown [sic] are to be avoided. If to these obstacles there is to be added a great agitation among the workmen on the line, the position of General Kuropatkin’s army, already perilous enough, will be compromised beyond redemption. As it is he can barely feed his huge army, and has, so to speak, been living for months from hand to mouth. No great supplies have been accumulated at the Manchurian depôts, such as Harbin, and a strike on the railway, if continued for only a few weeks, would probably bring his forces to the verge of starvation.

IIIc: An Anti-War Leaflet[53]

The Rozhdestvensky[54]fleet has been utterly destroyed. Almost all the vessels have perished, almost all the crews have been killed, wounded or captured. The admirals have been wounded and taken prisoner. The naval squadron, which was sent by the Tsarist government to take revenge on Japan for its numerous defeats, is no more. The Russian fleet does not exist. It is not the Japanese who have destroyed it. No, the Tsarist government was its undoing. It banished honest and capable people from the naval ministry, as it does everywhere, and gave up our navy as spoil to embezzlers of noble birth, putting at their head the august patron of embezzlers of public funds, the Grand Duke Alexei.[55]

After the battle off the island of Tsushima,[56]the Russian fleet no longer exists. The Tsarist battleships perished ingloriously, and carried with them to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean thousands of our brothers who had fallen victim to the crimes of Tsarism. Rozhdestvensky’s fleet went to certain death. The sailors and officers knew what was to be their fate and did not believe in victory. They had sailed through foreign waters for long months, which seemed to them like years, and their souls were filled with despair and horror.

Only the piratical ruthlessness of Admiral Rozhdestvensky, who, it is said, hanged dozens of complaining sailors from the masts en route, only barbaric discipline could have forced these unhappy captives of the Tsarist government to take their vessels into Japanese waters, which now are the great tomb of the wretched fleet.

The Russian fleet, bought at such a high cost, is no more. Every mast of it, every bolt is the blood and sweat of the working people. Every battleship is many years’ work by peasant families. All gone, all sunk in the depths of the sea: the unfortunate men and the useless wealth created by their hands.

The very first days of the war showed that the Tsarist army and the Tsarist navy were powerless in the face of the Japanese army and the Japanese navy. But that did not stop the murderers who govern us. They said: the Russian people are four times more numerous than the Japanese people, against one Japanese soldier we will put four Russian soldiers, we will send to the slaughter army after army, fleet after fleet, but we will be victorious. They deceived the people. They have not taken the war to victory, but they have taken our motherland to ruination.

Where are our brothers, our sons, our fathers, whom they tore from their families and packed off for 10 000 verst[57]to obtain land and glory for the Tsarist government?

They do not exist, they have perished — of wounds, of hunger and of disease, perished in another country far away. Russian people, where are the fortresses, where are the battleships and cannon you made with your own hands? The fortresses are demolished, the cannon are in the hands of the enemy, the battleships lie at the bottom of the ocean.

The murderers who govern us have in 18 months squandered and utterly destroyed what it took this unhappy country years to create. They promised the people new land and new riches, and they brought destitution and death. They promised the country glory, and they gave it shame. Let that shame fall on their criminal heads! Let them be cursed by the curse of the entire nation!

Even before this unparalleled war, we Social Democrats said: neither workers nor peasants need war! The people as a whole have no need of war! It is needed by the government gang, which dreams of seizing new lands, and wants to extinguish with the people’s blood the flame of the people’s anger.

But now the Tsarist government can no longer think of victory or conquest. But it does not dare to end the war because it fears the people, which will call its butchers to account. ‘We will drag the war out for decades’, said one of the highest bureaucrats after the destruction of the fleet, ‘but we will not give up. We will not give up until one people has wiped out the other.’ (See The Son of the Fatherland[58]of 19 May.) And now, after the destruction of the fleet, the government will drag out the war with all its might and not stop short of another battle, in which Linevich’s army will inevitably perish at Harbin, as Kuropatkin’s army perished at Mukden.[59]Inevitable destruction threatens the forces in Manchuria, whose last energy and last hope has been destroyed by crushing defeats. Three hundred thousand soldiers, all as one man, will fall at Harbin. Was it not for this that Linevich replaced Kuropatkin — in order not to retreat any further?

This is what the gang of governing scoundrels has brought the country to!

The Pacific Fleet has perished, Port Arthur has perished, the army at Mukden has perished, the Baltic Fleet perished at Tsushima Island. Now the destruction of the second army at Harbin is at hand. The governing gang will not stop before this new crime.

Only the people can stop the gangster’s raised hand, only Russia’s citizens can avert another bloody battle. Let the shades of the brothers who have perished call all citizens to a determined protest, let the Harbin regiments, which are still alive but already doomed to destruction, appear before our conscience!

Comrade workers and all you citizens of Russia! We must do everything we can to prevent another slaughter. In the name of our unhappy army, in the name of a ravaged and tormented people, in the name of the honour and well-being of our motherland, we must force the Tsarist government to stop the war immediately.

Down with the shameful slaughter! — Let this cry ring out from every heart!

Let it spread through the factories and workshops as a call of revolutionary wrath.

Down with the shameful slaughter! Let this call, raised by politically-conscious workers on the very first day of the war, find firm support among all workers, among all honest citizens.

Down with the culprit of the shameful slaughter — the Tsarist government!

Down with the bloody butchers!

We demand peace and freedom!

The Petersburg Group of the RSDWP[60]

May 1905

IIId: The Potemkin Mutiny[61]

Along with the massacre on Bloody Sunday, the mutiny on the Battleship Potemkin is one of the two most famous events of the 1905 revolution. The Potemkin was not just any ship. It was the biggest, newest and most powerful addition to the Black Sea Fleet. Her guns outranged those of all her sister ships. The mutiny was not successful. But the fact that a mutiny could occur on such a ship, that the crew could run the ship themselves through an elected committee with open sessions, that Social Democrats played a leading role, that the mutineers made revolutionary demands and tried to link up with the workers’ struggle in the port city of Odessa — all this helped to tilt the psychological balance of forces against the authorities. The movement which had begun with downtrodden textile-workers in the mid-1890s had penetrated one of the foundations of power. At the height of the mutiny, the Tsar confided to his diary that the mutineers would have to be punished ‘cruelly’. On the battleship St George, which briefly consorted with the Potemkin but surrendered to the authorities, four of the sailors were shot, two were hanged, and several dozen were condemned to hard labour. About 5000 of what were thought to be the least reliable men in the Black Sea Fleet were sent on extended leave. The Potemkin men put themselves out of reach, as we shall see. But when Afanasy Matyushenko, the main leader of the mutiny, returned to Russia two years later, he was hanged in spite of a general amnesty. At the time of the revolution itself, however, harshness could do little to stem the tide. A few months after the Potemkin mutiny, soldiers and sailors were openly participating in the revolutionary movement, and there were mutinies at Kronstadt, Sevastopol and elsewhere.[62]

There were many points of contact between the workers’ movement and other movements in 1905 — the peasants’ movement, the movement in the armed forces, the movement of the non-Russian nationalities. The link between workers and sailors was particularly close:

A modern warship with a great amount of machinery of all kinds is very like a factory (all its enormous guns, for example, are operated by machines). An industrial worker will find his way round it and get to grips with it far sooner than a peasant who has never worked on a machine in his life. Besides, the navy never has to be employed against ‘the internal enemy’. So ‘political reliability’ seemed much less vital in the sailor than in the soldier, who could easily imagine a situation in which he would be shooting strikers or demonstrators. For all these reasons, the military authorities preferred to send workers into the navy and peasants into the army. The result was that Nicholas II’s navy was the most proletarian part of his armed forces.[63]

The 26-year-old Matyushenko, for example, came from a working-class family and had been a Social Democrat since 1903 (he was also Ukrainian, like Kovalenko, the writer of the extracts which follow). A ‘dynamic person who quickly became the guiding spirit of the mutiny… he had taken the initiative in shooting the commander’ when the mutiny broke out.[64]It was at least partly due to Matyushenko that the red battleship spent so much of its time trying to help the workers’ movement in Odessa as well as attempting to win over crews on other ships in the fleet.

There seems to be a curious consensus of opposites about the mutiny between historians of the right and left. In brief, the mutiny was at best a glorious mistake, unexpectedly precipitated by a typical piece of arrogant cruelty. The mutineers made one mistake after another, and displayed little tactical ability or leadership potential.[65]Kovalenko’s first-hand account supplies a much-needed corrective to these rather contemptuous views of the sailors at the heart of the rising. It is the account of an officer who voluntarily sided with the mutiny as soon as he was given the choice. Although he came to play an important role, the fact that he could also be sidelined to the extent of not knowing about crucial developments until afterwards, especially in the early hours of the mutiny, shows how far the normal relations of rank had been overturned.

Kovalenko argues against accepting the idea that ‘it all began with a piece of maggoty meat which the ship’s doctor on board the battleship Potemkin declared was fit to eat’.[66]Given the generally good conditions of the sailors, he implies that this incident on its own would not have had such a dramatic effect had revolution generally not been in the air. He makes it clear that the crew and their committee had to face a difficult situation which demanded that they intervene on the side of the workers in Odessa at a time when they themselves were under threat from a powerful naval squadron. He also discusses at some length the internal divisions among the sailors, the differences in attitude, the strengths and weaknesses, the effects on morale of victories and reverses. This is a much more realistic picture, much less of a caricature, than the better-known versions cited above. It also shows that, despite important differences, the sailors’ movement had much in common with that of the workers, which was also characterised by change and differentiation, divisions and unity in action, ups and downs of mood and morale. However, mutineers generally have much less time than strikers in which to develop, and the stakes they play for are usually higher. Military leaders like Napoleon or Rommel with years of training and experience are not normally sneered at on account of their ultimate failure. The sailors on the Potemkin had to decide their entire future in just 11 days with no preparation to speak of at all. They deserve respect.

The Potemkin mutiny had little to do with stopping the war in a direct sense. Peace moves were already under way by the time it began.[67]Even the Tsar could no longer resist the combined pressure of revolution and military collapse. True, the mutiny was, as Pokrovsky said, ‘one more reminder that the war had to be ended’. But he immediately added that this ‘had been quite clear ever since Tsushima’,[68]the final, crushing naval defeat inflicted by the Japanese a fortnightbefore the mutiny broke out (see the brief chronology of the war below). 

However, there was no Chinese wall between opposition to the war and the struggle against the Tsarist regime. Tsarism was entirely responsible for the war, in the course of which it revealed itself in all its arrogance, stupidity, unlimited egoism, unthinking cruelty and disregard for human life. The rise of the mass revolutionary movement meant that there was a sense of a concrete alternative not only to the war but also to the regime which produced such wars. The ultimate form of that alternative was summed up in the slogan of a democratically-elected constituent assembly. The form it took at the time was increasingly that of elected committees such as the one which led the mass strike in Ivanovo-Voznesensk and the mutiny on the Potemkin. This was democracy as ordinary people experienced it to the extent that it actually existed on the ground. It was understandable that they should identify it in a broad way with parliamentary government which Russia had yet to experience. But in its rank-and-file working-class roots and its tendency to intrude on and dictate to the established power, it was strikingly socialist.

Kovalenko was doing his national service as a mechanical engineering officer on the Potemkin when the mutiny began to take shape among the ship’s 750 sailors on 13 June 1905. The sailors were refusing to eat borscht (a kind of stew based on beetroot and meat) as the meat it was made with had been crawling with flies or maggots. Smirnov, the senior doctor on board, flew into a rage, insisted that the meat was perfectly fit for human consumption once it had been washed with a salt solution, and accused the crew of playing up.[69]The situation rapidly worsened on the following day. ‘Without any immediate plans to stage a mutiny’, Ascher quite rightly continues, ‘the sailors on the Potemkin were provoked to take dramatic action by the mindless conduct of several senior officers.’[70]Such conduct included the executive officer, Commander Gilyarovsky, fatally shooting Vakulenchuk, the sailors’ spokesman, in a fit of rage. The sailors then ran to the rifles, armed themselves and killed seven officers, including the commander, the doctor and the ship’s captain, Gulikov. However, some of these shootings were mistakes according to Kovalenko rather than murders, as reported by Orlando Figes.[71]Knowing little as yet about the nature of the mutiny, Kovalenko and two other officers jumped overboard, in the course of which one of them was shot by mistake. Kovalenko and his companion were rescued by the mutineers, who were greatly upset by the ordeal they had been put through. The ship got under way towards Odessa. This surprised Kovalenko and his fellow officer who, not knowing that the mutiny had a political element, had expected that the crew would probably make for the safety of a foreign port.[72]

At this point, we take up the story in Kovalenko’s own words.

IN fairness, it must be acknowledged that the sailor’s life was not a bad one at all, at least in terms of material conditions. The crew’s everyday food was of good quality on the whole. I, like many other officers,… often ate the sailors’ borscht with pleasure… The sailors were not weighed down by overwork: the normal working day did not exceed eight hours. The officers’ attitude to the crew gradually acquired a tone which not only did not allow them to resort to corporal punishment, but also made them keep within the bounds of what was understood to be proper… 

And in spite of all this, it had been impossible recently not to notice that a definite discontent and agitation among the sailors had been mounting with every day. It had been impossible not to pick up a suppressed hostility in their attitude to their superiors, especially the higher ones.

This phenomenon will not appear in the least surprising if one takes into account the exceptional state of mind which had become almost universal at that time among the entire mass of the diverse nations of Russia. Discontent with the contemporary order of things, hatred for the existing system and its official and unofficial representatives, a readiness given any cause to embark on a desperate struggle with the enemies of the liberation which was so much desired — here are the main, more or less conscious, elements of this state of mind. Given the degree of tension which the latter had reached at that time, it could not but affect the morale of the armed forces in general and the sailors in particular, who are much more mature than soldiers. The wall which the government had been erecting with such care with the object of isolating the army and the navy from any influence of actual life — and in the solidity of which it had until so recently believed unconditionally — was no longer impenetrable. Unruly life made one breach in it after another, rushing with irresistible force through these holes, now in inconspicuous trickles, now in veritable streams, bursting out with life in this realm of age-old numbness and awakening in the soldiers and sailors an awareness which the high command tried to deaden by means of an entire system of all manner of ceremonies, reprimands, etc.

The ‘other ranks’ had already recognised their intimate link with the people, living and suffering together with them in spirit. Just like the people, they too were discontented, they too were restless, they too were bitter.

And could it have been otherwise?

Could a sailor or a soldier be contented with being well fed if he could not rid himself of the idea that at the very same time his family might be going without bread? Could he go to sleep in his bunk at night without anxiety when he was not sure that the morning might not bring him the dreadful news of the death on the street of his brother or his father? Could he do his work in a calm and orderly way when every time he so much as reaches for his weapon the idea comes into his head willy-nilly that at any moment he could be sent with that same weapon to slaughter his brothers in spirit and even in the flesh? Could he sustain even a fraction of his sympathy and respect for the officers when he saw them with very little exception as the still loyal servants of a moribund system so hated by the people as a whole, when he could not be sure that any day now one of them would not lead him against the people?

One only has to put oneself mentally in the place of a sailor or a soldier for a moment to answer all these questions without difficulty…

Naturally, in such circumstances even an unimportant issue in itself was going to become more than a simple misunderstanding, if not an actual clash between these diverse elements [the officers and the crew — PG]. It was, therefore, no wonder that the incident with the meat acquired on 14 June such overwhelming importance in the eyes of both sides, and appeared as the spark which ignited the mutiny on the battleship.

On the second day, Matyushenko brings news that Vakulenchuk’s body has been taken on shore, where it is being visited by great numbers of people, and that the crew had elected a committee to run the ship. An attempt by gendarmes to board the ship is repulsed. Then workers come out from the city on a steamer bringing greetings, coal and the news of what had been happening on shore.

Practically all the factories and plants in Odessa had been on strike almost continuously for one and a half months. This had become a general strike the day before. The occasion for this had been a bloody clash with police and Cossacks on a street demonstration on 13 June. Now there were continual clashes between workers on the one hand and police and Cossacks on the other, and the workers nearly always resorted to building barricades. As a result of prolonged strike action, terrible poverty prevailed among the workers, and they had reached an extreme of desperation. The Potemkin had thus appeared at the most critical moment.

‘This “free” battleship was sent to us by heaven itself!’, said many of the workers on the steamer.

Little by little the conversation began to touch on more general issues. Right there and then what were obviously the most politically-conscious workers became genuine orators. They began to talk about the unbearably hard position of the proletariat and the peasantry in Russia, about the prevailing system which was hated by all the working masses, about the necessity of finally winning freedom and the right to humane conditions of life for the people as a whole. They talked a lot, with passion and conviction. Never before had I come across such fervour, such an uncommon raising of the spirits, and I could not help admiring these strong, determined and sincere people.

When everything was ready, they began to load the coal. The work went at full pelt: the workers and sailors ran cheerfully up and down with heavy sacks of coal as with toys, as if this were not work but fun.

After about two hours, the coal was loaded and the steamer with the workers on board began to move away from the side of the ship.

Once more, friendly cries were to be heard from both sides, once more there came a thunderous ‘hurrah’ which did not die away until the steamer receded into the distance.

The Potemkin had already taken over two smaller vessels, and was now joined by a third, the Buoy, which delivered supplies to lighthouses around the Black Sea. On the night of 15 June, the sights and sounds of mounting conflict come from Odessa — the noise of crowds and of shooting, then fires, then more shooting. To Kovalenko’s surprise, the sailors know no more about this than he does. He and several other officers, who have been under moderate guard since the beginning of the mutiny, throw their lot in with the mutineers, though in at least one case this is on an ambiguous basis. This brings them face to face for the first time with the ship’s committee (or commission, as it was called by the sailors themselves), which is meeting in the admiral’s quarters. It is made up of 20 sailors and three civilians. Two of the latter, ‘Kirill’ (who wrote about the mutiny a few months later in Trotsky’s paper Nachalo[The Beginning]) and a student named Feldman, were to stay with the battleship to the end. It was clearly not safe even two years later, when Kovalenko wrote his account, to give any more details about them. The violence in the city worsens after nightfall, as Kovalenko finds out early the following morning.

There [on deck — PG] I already found visitors from the shore who brought news of the terrible night before. Their accounts painted the following picture of the previous day’s events in Odessa. As evening fell, so-called tramps began to gather at the harbour. Some shady characters soon appeared among them and began to call for a pogrom.[73]Given the basic proclivity for destruction in the hearts of these dregs of society and given the agitated mood which possessed the entire population of Odessa, it was no work at all for those leaders to stir up that crowd. In answer to their call, the mass of tramps first of all threw themselves at the state alcohol shops, looted the vodka and got completely drunk. After that, a real orgy began: the greedy, drunken mob smashed, stole and burned everything that fell into their hands. Some of them shed their rags right there on the street and put on stolen clothing. Barrels and boxes of groceries and bakery products were smashed in the road and their contents were greedily devoured by the crowd. Empty bottles flew over their heads and smashed against the walls of buildings. In vain the workers begged the tramps to stop this senseless riot. In vain they then tried to stop it by force: the brutalised mass, it seemed, had lost its reason and no longer knew any limits. Finally, troops arrived. Volleys rang out. Dozens fell wounded or dead. Maddened by fear, some threw themselves straight into the flames and burned to death. The air was filled with desperate groaning and wild cries. This orgy of madness and horror did not stop for the entire night, and only with daybreak did the crowd begin to disperse little by little.

Hundreds fell victim to the soldiers’ bullets and the flames.[74]

Today the city was utterly crushed. The senseless pogrom had disorganised the revolutionary milieu, and had demoralised the troops. Odessa had been put under martial law. New companies of soldiers were still continuing to arrive. Bloody clashes were already taking place on the streets. A massacre of workers by the police was expected today.

So the situation was getting more and more serious. Decisive action was needed. Kirill and I and some other members of the committee went to the wardroom to have a talk.

From them I learned that on the previous day workers had suggested that a force be landed from the battleship to take possession of the city together with the armed workers. This possibility had arisen, as they said, because yesterday there were still not many troops, besides which one could count on part of them as allies. But the sailors had not accepted the suggestion on the basis that putting 200 sailors ashore, let alone 500, as the workers had suggested, would have weakened the battleship at a time when at any moment we could expect the appearance of the squadron with which we might have to engage in battle. True, there was hope that at least some of its vessels would come over to us. But either way it seemed vital to the Potemkin’s crew to find out what the squadron’s attitude was before beginning any decisive action on shore. For my part, I found all these considerations to be well-founded. However, on this day it was impossible not to undertake something in view of the seriousness of the workers’ position on shore. But before deciding the issue, we needed to assemble the whole crew in order to raise their spirits as some uncertainty was noticeable among them. The konduktora[75]and that part of the crew which followed their lead had managed to poison the weaker souls with doubt and fear for their own lives.

While my conversation with my comrades was going on, Kaliuzhnov[76]sat nearby and listened intently. When they left to set about assembling the crew, he came up and started to speak to me with a very worried expression:

Alexander Mikhailovich, I see that I have made a crucial mistake by staying on the battleship. Listening to your conversation with the sailors has convinced me that yesterday I understood the crew’s intentions quite wrongly. You were obviously closely acquainted with everything you have just been talking about, whereas it was quite foreign to me and I absolutely cannot find in myself any preparedness or resoluteness to act at one with all of you. I beg you to use your influence on the committee to have me put ashore.

For a moment, I was filled with anger against him. Why on earth had he not weighed up the step he had taken beforehand? Why had he not got the whole situation clear in his own mind beforehand? But looking at his anguished face, seeing his honest embarrassment I could not help feeling pity for this basically good if youthfully naive lad. Besides, I partly reproached myself as well for not having explained to him at the time the full meaning of his decision on the previous day to stay on the battleship. I promised him that I would do everything I could to get his request carried out… 

The ship’s committee decides to put the issue of intervening in the struggle in Odessa to a mass meeting of the crew.

The crew soon filled the whole foredeck. Some clambered onto the turret of the 21-inch gun. They all had serious, intent faces. Their eyes were expectantly fastened on the committee. When everyone was assembled, Kirill, who was to speak first, climbed onto the tow-rope bollard. The murmur of voices died down and Kirill began his speech. Having described the unbearable conditions in which the enslaved people lived in Russia, he painted a vivid picture of the heroic struggle on which the mass of the people had everywhere embarked. In conclusion, he called on the sailors to join together with the entire people in the struggle against their first enemy, the government, and to support the uprising in Odessa with the battleship’s armed might. After Kirill, Feldman also spoke very passionately, after Feldman me, then someone else from the committee, finally Matyushenko, who concluded his speech in more or less these words:

There are a hundred of us conscious revolutionaries on the battleship. We have all decided to stand firm at the side of the risen people and, if necessary, to lay down our lives in the fateful struggle. We call on you as brothers to join us in this sacred cause. But if you do not want to heed our call, if you really want to go to Sevastopol to give yourself up to the officers, as was heard from some of you today, we do not want to live to see such shame. We’ll stand to attention, you take your rifles and shoot us, then you can go to them. They will meet you with music and celebration, lavish honours on you and smother you with gratitude for betraying the sacred cause of the people’s freedom! Make your choice: to the struggle with us, or to Sevastopol without us!

‘We won’t go to Sevastopol!’, thundered the crowd. ‘We’ll live or die together!’

‘In that case’, Matyushenko went on, ‘we will open fire on the troops and avenge the murder of our brother workers! Agreed?’

‘Agreed’, was the unanimous reply. After that, 20 sailors, including Matyushenko, were sent to the city for the funeral of Vakulenchuk.

It was decided to establish the location of the troops in the city before opening fire. This was the final point of the meeting. The sailors, roused and obviously moved by what they had heard, went off in groups, talking excitedly.

H               H               H

In this way, we succeeded on the whole in lifting the crew’s spirits and uniting it. Nevertheless, my first direct observation of it did not favour an optimistic view of its readiness for revolutionary action.

Obviously, the formidable Potemkin was not moved by a uniform revolutionary spirit, as in my elation I had been ready to think yesterday, but by a highly complex collective psychology.

At a time when one section of the crew, full of the noblest aspirations, was ready for any amount of self-sacrifice, another section thought only about how to escape with its life, while some were ready to come out in opposition to the conscious section at the first opportunity. However, thinking it out sensibly, I decided that things could not be other than they were, and that it would be naive to expect complete consciousness and unshakeable single-mindedness from these 700 men whom fate had placed on this battleship by chance, many of whom still did not even know each other. The instinctively revolutionary state of mind which clearly prevailed was quite enough. A great deal could be done given favourable circumstances and capable leadership on the part of the conscious section of the crew. On the whole, the ratio amongst the different tendencies among the battleship’s crew appeared to me to be the following: about 150 had a determined cast of mind and were prepared to keep on to the end; among them there were, moreover, about 50 who were completely conscious and more or less mature; about 70, led by the konduktoraand, most probably, by ensign Alexeyev, were overtly hostile to revolutionary aims. Although the remaining section of the crew, as I have already said, was in a generally revolutionary mood, it had, so to speak, no education at all in this area. For this reason, it was a highly unstable element, capable when influenced by well-spoken words or when briefly inspired by the impact of success, but more likely to be affected to an even greater extent by a fall in spirits and a loss of self-confidence as a result of failure. Thus, the expedient use of the battleship as a revolutionary fighting unit seemed to the conscious leadership of the mutiny, and to the committee in particular, to be possible only if cheerfulness and a spirit of unity could be successfully maintained in at least the majority of the crew.

H               H               H

Meanwhile, communication with the city was severed: a line of soldiers posted on the quay let none of the inhabitants through to the waterside and allowed not one launch to put out into the roadstead. Nor were we brought any provisions, of which we already felt very short, in spite of the promise given yesterday by city representatives to supply us with everything necessary in the shortest possible time. Obviously, the military authorities now in charge in Odessa had prevented this. All of which was even more confirmation of the need to act decisively.

With a great deal of effort we succeeded in obtaining some information at five o’clock in the afternoon. Among other things, we received the news that the military council headed by the officer in command of the troops, General Kokhanovsky, was in session in the municipal theatre at that moment.

The main troop concentration was also around the theatre. The idea of bombarding the theatre inevitably arose. The opinions of all the committee members coincided on this. It was decided to fire three blanks as a warning to the peaceful inhabitants, and then, after waiting for a while, to open fire with live ammunition on the theatre from the six-inch guns. Battle stations was sounded and the gunners loaded the guns. The three blanks boomed out one after another. Half an hour later, preparations were made for live firing. I stood facing an open gun port located on one side of the loaded guns without allowing my eyes to stray from the theatre. The signal to open fire rang out, the gun crashed. The shell hurtled with a rumbling noise towards the city. I fastened my eyes on the theatre. But it stood unharmed as before, towering majestically over the surrounding city. The projectile had obviously gone past it. Again, the signal. Again, the firing. Again, the projectile missed.

For me, these misses were no surprise since I knew that not once had there been any gunnery practice on the Potemkin up to that time, while in order to hit the target with completely new guns the gunners had to find their range in advance. Nevertheless, it was impossible not to get annoyed at this failure, all the more so as the projectiles which had gone past the theatre could have caused harm to peaceful inhabitants, to no good purpose. This event disheartened everyone so much that it was decided to stop firing until we had succeeded in obtaining a detailed plan of the city and found out the exact location of the military establishments and of the troops. The firing was broken off, and the gunners unloaded the guns. A deputation was sent to the officer in command of the troops with a written message from the Potemkin’s crew which said that if the shooting of workers in the street was not stopped, the firmest measures would be taken by the crew. Notification of this was also sent to the city’s representatives. After the steam launch had been sent for the 12 comrades who had gone to Vakulenchuk’s funeral, everything on the battleship quietened down to wait for them.

The launch returned at about nine o’clock in the evening, but of the 12 comrades there were only nine. The other three, as we learned from those who came back, had gone missing somewhere on shore.

The committee met at once in the wardroom, where first of all Matyushenko told us about Vakulenchuk’s funeral and about the adventures of the 12 sailors sent to the city.

‘It has never before happened to me to see such a solemn scene as was presented by the funeral of our dear comrade’, he began his account, ‘such an abundance of genuine tears shed over the body of this sailor unknown until now!’

When we disembarked from the launch, there was a mass of people on the shore around Vakulenchuk’s body just as yesterday. Just at that moment, several men raised a stretcher with the body on it and the funeral cortège accompanied by a crowd many thousands strong started off into the city in the direction of the cemetery. More and more crowds joined us on the road. People were to be seen on the balconies, at the windows and even on the roofs of the buildings. Cries came from all round: ‘Glory to the departed! Down with tyrants! Long live the Potemkin!’ So it was for the entire time it took to go through the city and reach the cemetery. After the funeral, we all got into horse-drawn cabs and came back to the port. But on the road we were stopped by a company of soldiers who barred our way. We were in a hurry and set off on foot. But as soon as we were on the same level as the soldiers, they opened fire on us at a given signal. We were unarmed, so we could do nothing but run for it. I kept behind the others and saw that no-one was killed although my trousers were ripped by bullets. I think that the soldiers deliberately avoided hitting us. However, when we arrived at the pier, it turned out that there were only nine of us. Where the other three got to, I have no idea.

Such treachery by the authorities finally roused everyone to anger. After all, the sailors went to accompany the body without weapons solely because they had been promised immunity by the commander of the port! As regards the shells which had been fired, those who returned from the shore knew only that they had passed over the theatre and had fallen at the edge of the city. They had not heard of any further consequences.

Not long after this, the sailors learn that a squadron of the Black Sea Fleet is not far away and they go out to meet it in the hope that revolutionaries on other ships will prevent a confrontation and possibly even spread the mutiny. A first encounter passes off without incident, but then the squadron returns with reinforcements.

From time to time, I ran out to the gun deck from where it was possible to see the sea into the far distance through a slit in a gun port. Every moment brought us closer to the squadron. Now it was so close that you could make out individual vessels. The battleships Rostislav and Sinope had rejoined the squadron. The vessels were all coming in our direction, formed up in two columns: the battleships were in front, then came the minelayer, with the minesweepers at the rear. The Potemkin, accompanied by the minelayer which kept right alongside all the time, made directly for the middle of the first column. Soon you could make out that, like the Potemkin, the vessels of the squadron were cleared for action with davits lowered and guns showing at the sides. But when the squadron had closed to a distance of about 100 sazhen[77]with the Potemkin… a movement began among the sailors on the Twelve Apostles and the Sinope. They ran up out of the hatchways in crowds and soon the decks of these battleships were covered with sailors. But now we were already abreast of the squadron. The Potemkin was cutting right through the middle of it, so that the battleships Sinope, St George, Twelve Apostles and three minesweepers were going past it to starboard, while the battleships Rostislav and Three Prelates, the minelayer Kazarsky and three other minesweepers were to port. The Potemkin slowly trained its guns on the vessels going past. Rostislav and Three Prelates replied in kind in bleak silence, while on the decks of the other three battleships the crews thronged in evident confusion. Suddenly on the upper deck of the Potemkin there rang out: ‘Long live liberty! Hurrah!’, and in answer to this exclamation a mighty ‘Hurrah’ of friendship crashed out from the three battleships like thunder from the heavens.

It is difficult to describe the effect this had on our battleship. Everyone went out of his mind with elation and delight. Forgetting that the guns of the other two battleships were trained on us, many sailors left their posts and, dashing at the exit hatches with shouts of ‘hurrah’, made for the upper deck. I threw myself at the gangway and stretching my arms wide blocked the way.

The crowd pressed forward and was ready to carry me off upwards with it. Straining every nerve, I shouted at the top of my voice: ‘Comrades! Stop!’

Those nearest to me drew back and checked the crowd.

‘We will have enough time to respond to the welcome which came to us from the three battleships’, I continued. ‘But as long as the guns of a single one of the vessels are trained on us, we must be ready to return fire.’

Then, raising my voice even more, I ordered: ‘Gunners to their guns, everyone to his place at the double!’

The crowd ran to their stations and they were back at their places in an instant.

But the hurrahs did not die down, and they rolled from deck to deck until the ships were some distance apart.

After a few minutes, the squadron was off Odessa while we found ourselves out at sea. The admiral’s vessel signalled the Potemkin: ‘Squadron is at anchor.’ We answered: ‘Officers to leave their vessels and go ashore.’ No reply followed. Then our battleship came about and steered back towards the city. Seeing this manoeuvre, the squadron began to put out to sea. The Potemkin again made for the centre of it. Coming abreast, we went through the formation once more between the battleships Sinope and Rostislav. Once more, a hurrah roared out from the three battleships. The Three Prelates and the Rostislav proceeded as before in full battle order.

We separated and the squadron went off towards the horizon. Now our crew stayed at their places, but all those who were in a position to see the squadron kept their eyes glued to it. When it was at some distance from us, the St George began to fall behind and finally came to a stop. The squadron had made for the open sea at full steam, and it was already hidden below the horizon. Meanwhile, the St George by means of semaphore[78]requested us in the name of its crew to send a deputation across from the Potemkin to explain what was the matter. Part of the guard was at once equipped and went off on the minesweeper together with Matyushenko and Kirill. This is how the comrades who went described the scene which greeted the arrival of the deputation:

The moment we got up to the deck of the St George we were surrounded by a dense throng of sailors who interrupted each other to question us about what had happened on the Potemkin. Matyushenko made a speech to them. Recounting everything in the order that it happened on 14 June, he declared that the Potemkin was now the first people’s ship which had decided to stand with a people risen in struggle against the government, and he asked the crew of the St George to join the Potemkin with their battleship. A hurrah thundered out in answer to his speech. Then Kirill turned to the officers who were crowded together on the bridge with their commander Captain (First Class) Guzevich at their head. He told them that from this moment on the St George had passed into the hands of the people, and they, as servants of the old order, had nothing more to do on it and for this reason they would be conveyed from the battleship at once. After this the guard was summoned and ordered to arrest the officers who were required to give up their weapons there and then. Suddenly a shot rang out and the body of one of the officers fell overboard from the bridge. It was Lieutenant Grigorkov who had killed himself with a shot from his revolver. The others resigned themselves to their fate and were arrested. They were instantly put into the long boat and dispatched on board the Potemkin with an armed escort. All the konduktorawere let go and one of them — the senior boatswain — was elected as crew commander.

I was on deck when the officers of the St George were brought to our side. They sat, pale and dismayed, surrounded by armed sailors. At the back next to the helmsman sat Matyushenko with a revolver in his hand.

The newly-elected crew commander of the crew of the St George pays a brief visit to the Potemkin, where he and his ‘greasy red face’ make an unfavourable impression — on Kovalenko, at any rate. Otherwise, as might be expected, things seem to be going better than ever.

Meanwhile, the addition to us of a second battleship had an appropriate effect both on the authorities and on the population of Odessa. The captain of the port approached the side of the ship on a steam launch and asked what we wanted. Our reply to him was: ‘We demand the disarming of the troops by their commander who should hand their weapons over to the people so that they can in this way form a national guard to protect their rights. The people are giving us coal, fresh water and provisions.’ The captain left and after him the captains of private cargo steamers began to arrive, asking for permission to leave the harbour. All of them were given permission.

In the evening in the admiral’s quarters, which was where the session of the committee was to be held, a mass of sailors gathered as they thought that today’s session would be especially interesting. This session was attended by a deputation from the crew of the St George.

The atmosphere was unusually lively. This was the moment when the crew’s spirits rose to their highest point, when belief in their own strength and in the possibility of a happy outcome to the struggle they had begun inspired everyone to no matter what decisive action. Our imaginations opened up in front of us the most glowing prospects, and the day when the people themselves would dictate new laws to a new government seem so near to us!

Although the movement now seemed to have passed a crucial point, this was actually as far as it got. The konduktoraon the St George had gone along with the mutiny in order to re-establish control at the first possible opportunity. After some vacillation and uncertainty, the St George deserted its sister ship. It was a decisive blow, and morale on board the Potemkin was never to recover.

It was clear that given such a state of affairs and such a drop in the crew’s spirits, there was no point thinking about not only undertaking anything decisive as regards Odessa or the St George, but even trying to obtain everything we needed in the city. At this point voices began to be raised in favour of making for Romania. What some of the more conscious sailors had in mind there was to provide ourselves with coal, fresh water and provisions and think about a further plan of action while at liberty. The mass of the sailors looked on a foreign port as a sanctuary. All of them instantly jumped at the idea, and a minute later the crowd was roaring: ‘Let’s go to Romania! To Romania! There’s nothing else for us to do if the St George has betrayed us!’

There was nothing else but to resign ourselves and weigh anchor. In vain some of the members of the committee tried to argue in favour of not hurrying to carry out this plan. The majority did not want to listen to anything at all. Voices were to be heard: ‘If the St George has betrayed us like this, what on earth can we expect from the squadron if it comes back? We have to go to Romania!’

We weighed anchor, took the torpedo-boat in tow, signalled the Buoy to follow the battleship and got under way. En route it was decided to set a course for Constantza.

Our hearts were terribly heavy. It was indescribably painful that the St George, which had united with us, which yesterday had brought us so much hope and joy, had become in the end the reason for our retreat from Odessa, which might have passed into the hands of the risen people not only if the St George had acted at one with us, but even if it had gone off together with the squadron the moment it left the Potemkin. Without labouring under the hope that the squadron was going to join them, the crew of our battleship would at the same time have ceased to fear it after it had gone away from us twice with nothing to show and would thus have turned all their attention to Odessa. But now a battleship whose guns could be turned against the mutineers was in the hands of the military authorities. Thus this ill-starred day was the critical day for the Potemkin’s entire revolutionary campaign. The crew was not only low in spirits, but had also been demoralised for the most part by the example of the St George.

Now dark forces raised their heads among us, and now we would have to reckon with them and their pernicious influence to the end.

The crew of the Potemkin eventually surrendered their ship to the authorities in the Romanian port of Constantza in return for safe refuge. The Romanians then handed the Potemkin over to the Russians who removed the very name of the battleship from their records and re-christened it the Panteleimon. According to Ascher, the ship got into ‘serious disrepair because of neglect and vandalism during the 11-day exploit’. However, if Sidney Harcave, who was certainly no fan of the mutineers, got his facts right, the condition of the ship may have been due to the fact that the crew scuttled the ship in Constantza harbour by opening the seacocks before escaping inland.[79]

IIIe: The Russo-Japanese War: A Brief Chronology[80]

10 February 1904: Declaration of war. The war delays and even reverses the beginnings of recovery from a prolonged slump. A growth in government orders stimulates some industries such as railway construction, arms, shipbuilding, metallurgy and mining. But the Trans-Siberian Railway’s decision to transport nothing but military goods and the call-up of 1.2 million reservists depresses other parts of the economy. In a number of regions, the substantial decline in industrial production hurts the rural economy as well. Poland and the north-west are particularly badly hit. By the autumn of 1904, many industries in and around Warsaw have dismissed up to 30 per cent of their workers, and wages have fallen by up to 50 per cent. The scale of need becomes so great that local government can no longer meet its charitable obligations to the families of Russians drafted into the armed forces.

1 May 1904: Battle of the Yalu. Russian army defeated.

14 May 1904: Port Arthur, Russia’s main base, cut off from outside world.

3 September 1904: Battle of Liaoyang. Defeated Russian army withdraws from its camp in perfect order, but abandons immense supplies to the Japanese. Decisive turn against the war by Russian public opinion.

21 October 1904: Battle of the Shaho. Russian offensive fails.

22 October 1904: Dogger Bank incident. Baltic Fleet en route to Korea under Admiral Rozhdestvensky mistakes British trawlers in North Sea for Japanese torpedo boats. Russian ships open fire, not only killing and injuring trawlermen, sinking one trawler and damaging several others, but also hitting each other, killing and wounding Russian sailors.

2 January 1905: Port Arthur surrenders after prolonged siege.

16 February–19 March 1905: Battle of Mukden. Russian army’s worst defeat for 100 years. A key factor, as in previous battles, is the poor showing of the officers, many of whom, according to the Swedish military attaché, fled headlong until they got to safety ‘and then immediately proceeded to get drunk’. Reports from the battlefield of soldiers shooting officers who point their revolvers at retreating units in an effort to drive them back into the fray. Linevich replaces Kuropatkin as commander-in-chief.

27-28 May 1905: Naval battle of Tsushima (also known as the Battle of the Sea of Japan). A Russian naval disaster is obvious within 45 minutes of the battle commencing. After sailing half-way round the world, the Baltic Fleet is destroyed. A wounded Admiral Rozhdestvensky surrenders without resistance. Admiral Nebogatov surrenders the following day, partly under threat of being thrown overboard by his crew.

31 July 1905: Russian island of Sakhalin surrenders.

29 August 1905: Peace of Portsmouth (New Hampshire) signed by Sergei Witte for the Russian side. Russia gets off unexpectedly lightly as Japan’s creditors (Britain and the USA) do not want her to achieve financial independence. A delighted Tsar Nicholas II makes Witte a count.

IV: Afterword


HIS chapter has provided a few glimpses of two or three early episodes in the epic drama of 1905. But even a few glimpses make some important points clear.

The huge rise in the level of open, mass struggle was not a matter of instant, automatic reactions. Of course, feelings ran very high. But workers still had children to feed, rents to pay, families to support. The big waves of strikes did not start on the day after Bloody Sunday. Workers in St Petersburg took time to make their minds up about what had happened and what they should do. Even workers who quickly became revolutionaries, such as Lukerya Bogdanova and Zvezdov, began by having discussions and going to meetings. If Lieutenant Kovalenko is a credible witness, even the Potemkin mutiny did not simply happen on the spur of the moment. It was not among the general run of workers or revolutionaries but in Gapon’s inner circle that the reaction was instant and extreme.[81]

The coming of mass activism clearly increased the volume of argument and discussion among workers. Would Zvezdov or the school students he encountered in Baku have been so ready to talk about socialist ideas if the political atmosphere had not already been charged with the electricity of change? At the same time as there was unity in action, one writer after another depicts vital differences of opinion between socialist militants at one pole and anti-political moderates at the other: between metal-workers and textile-workers over the Shidlovsky Commission in St Petersburg, between socialists and the majority of strikers in Ivanovo about the extent to which the strike should be political, between revolutionaries on the Potemkin who wanted to spread the mutiny and link up with the Odessa workers and the ‘unstable element’ among the crew which hankered for the safety of a foreign port.

The socialist minority had to learn in the struggle how to relate to the majority in the movement of which they both formed part. The majority had to learn in practice that individual struggles, however large and powerful, were not enough. It was frustrating for socialists to see such a tremendous movement being so fragmented, rising and falling in different places at different times. Tsarism may have been backward and inefficient, but it had a centralised state which could concentrate superior forces on such trouble spots as Ivanovo and Odessa (they were to be followed in August by a violent confrontation in Baku).[82]Sometimes it used regular armed forces, sometimes it used the irregular ‘Black Hundreds’ — racist bands loyal to the Tsar, strongly supported by the police and the authorities.[83]

One way of gauging the result of these confrontations is in terms of prices and wages. According to Pokrovsky, the upper limit of the pay rises workers were winning was about 20 per cent. This was pretty dramatic compared, for example, to the pay cut of up to 25 per cent experienced by even the best-paid workers the year before. At the same time, retail prices were now rising by between 25 and 30 per cent.[84]Another gauge is workers’ readiness to go on strike. After record highs in the first three months of the year, the level of strikes fell by about 75 per cent between July and September according to the official figures (see Appendix). Moscow, which had remained quiet since the beginning of the year, was a particularly sore point with revolutionary socialists. On the one hand, the outcome of the revolution depended to a large extent on what happened in the city, wrote Vasiliev (‘Yuzhin’), a leading local Bolshevik. On the other, ‘to stir up the badly-organised and badly-informed Moscow workers seemed a tremendously difficult matter’.[85]

A further sign of the times was a certain recovery of nerve by the Tsar and his ministers. The notoriously reactionary Trepov had been put in charge of the entire police system at the end of May and was tightening up control. Early in August, the Tsar issued the ‘Bulygin Constitution’, so called after the minister responsible for drafting it. Most of non-European Russia and most of Poland was excluded from voting, as were almost all workers everywhere. St Petersburg was allowed 7000 voters out of a population of nearly 1.5 million. In a complicated and illogical set of procedures, the voters were to choose electors to select representatives to sit in a State Duma, an assembly with purely consultative status which the Tsar and his highest officials could ignore at any time.[86]At the end of August, the disastrous war with Japan officially came to an end at last. The royal family had been too afraid of the revolution to leave their own palace for most of the year. On 4 September, a relieved Tsar Nicholas took his family off on the royal yacht for a relaxing two-week Baltic cruise ‘with what remained of the Russian fleet’.[87]

The Bulygin Constitution sharpened the political debate. The liberals, who had undergone some radicalisation after Bloody Sunday, now shifted back to the right, and, despite various criticisms, generally agreed to take part in the Duma elections.[88]The Bolsheviks denounced them for betraying the revolution. They adopted the tactic of an ‘active boycott’ of the Duma, which meant using the elections to increase the agitation and preparation for an uprising. The Mensheviks in general wobbled around between the Bolsheviks and the liberals. In St Petersburg, a stronghold of the left Mensheviks associated with Trotsky, the Menshevik group opposed the Duma on similar lines to the Bolsheviks.[89]The problem for the Bolsheviks and the left Mensheviks was not theoretical but practical. According to Pokrovsky (who joined the Bolsheviks in Moscow around this time), the Bolsheviks were already pushing for a general strike. He claimed that the Moscow organisation spent a considerable amount of time and resources in the summer on such a campaign, but to no effect. ‘Without any exaggeration’, Pokrovsky concluded, ‘not one of the revolutionary organisations thought just one month in advance that we were on the eve of a huge new wave in the workers’ movement which would rise far higher than at any time since 9 January.’[90]

Appearances, then, were deceiving. In an insightful passage, Abraham Ascher sums up the underlying significance of the first eight months of 1905, when the undoubted militancy of the workers was too fragmented and disorganised for them to appear in a clear way as the leading force in the revolution:

By engaging in strikes and by creating labour organisations, workers acquired a sense of their own power, of which they had been only remotely conscious before 1905. Even though they did not win many of the battles, they discovered that they were far from impotent. For this reason, the labour unrest from January to August 1905 must be considered one of the more critical developments of the revolution.[91]

This new-found and hard-won confidence and maturity had its political expressions too, though these can be easy to miss.

In June 1905, a St Petersburg organisation, The Society for Active Struggle Against the Revolution, headed by a well-known Black Hundred personality called Dezobri, called a widely-advertised public meeting in the city hall to discuss the needs of the workers. Despite a unanimous boycott by all the left-wing parties, over 1000 workers turned up. As soon as Dezobri opened the meeting and began his introductory speech, the workers forced him to hold an election for a chairman. However, there were no well-known figures from any of the left parties for them to nominate. So they put up a radical lawyer called Nosar-Khrustaliev, who was known for helping victims of industrial accidents. Nosar was elected unanimously. His first act as chairman was to expel Dezobri and his associates to enthusiastic applause. The rest of the meeting was devoted to the struggle against the autocracy.

Partly because of this background, and partly because of deadlock between the three left-wing parties (the Bolsheviks, the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries), Nosar, who was an independent, was elected chairman at another meeting four months later. It was the second session of the St Petersburg soviet of workers’ deputies, and Russia was in the grip of the first general strike in history.[92]

Pete Glatter


[1].      Source: S Somov, ‘Iz istorii sotsialdemokraticheskogo dvizheniia v Peterburge v 1905 godu. (Lichnye vospominaniia)’ [‘From the History of the Social Democratic Movement in Petersburg in 1905. (Personal Reminiscences)’], Byloe.Zhurnal posviashchennyi istorii osvo­boditel’nogo dvizheniia[The Past: A Journal Devoted to the History of the Liberation Movement],Petersburg, no 4/16 (Second year), April 1907, pp22, 41-43.

[2].      Somov, op cit, pp23-26, 40-41. Four of the six district organisations probably broke away from the Bolshevik committee to form the Menshevik group. The Bolshevik committee itself admitted that its work was badly organised. It is probable that the activity of both factions declined during 1904 due to the party split and frequent police arrests. Although the Mensheviks were almost certainly stronger in the city than the Bolsheviks, many of the local cells had members of both factions in them throughout 1904 and 1905. See David Lane, The Roots of Russian Communism: A Social and Historical Study of Russian Social-Democracy 1898-1907(Martin Robertson, London, 1975), pp68-72.

[3].      Somov plays down this attempt to mount some kind of organised resistance on Bloody Sunday (as we will see, he tends to exaggerate the importance of conservatism among the workers, and he ignores the lead that can be given by those in the forefront of the struggle). Historians who incline to the right do this in general: the mob may be outraged and violent, but it is impotent unless someone tells it what to do. Stalinised historians, on the other hand, exaggerated these clashes and endowed them with a spurious aura of Bolshevism in order to reinforce the myth of the super-party. What such incidents really showed was that a minority reacted by wanting to give battle against the tide of majority demoralisation, even when faced with overwhelming force. Lenin, who was immediately ‘struck by the combination of naive patriarchal faith in the Tsar and the fierce armed street fighting’ on Bloody Sunday, caught these cross-currents brilliantly. See Sidney Harcave, The Russian Revolution of 1905(Collier, London, 1970), pp92-93; VI Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 8 (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1962), p111; MN Pokrovskii, Izbrannye proizvedeniia. Kniga 3: Russkaia istoriia v samom szhatom ocherke(Mysl’, Moscow, 1967), pp364-66 [MN Pokrovsky,Brief History of Russia(Martin Lawrence, London, 1933), Volume 2, pp119-20]; Harrison E Salisbury, Black Night, White Snow: Russia’s Revolutions 1905-1917(Cassell, London, 1978),p123.

[4].      Probably the declaration of martial law in St Petersburg by General Trepov, who had just been appointed governor-general with special powers to restore order in the capital. Trepov, whose repressive measures in the city were personally approved by the Tsar, had been chief of police in Moscow for the past nine years. By this time, he had come to symbolise the arbitrariness and rigidity of Tsarism. He was also one of the empire’s leading anti-Semites. His new position, along with his appointment in May 1905 as Assistant Minister of Internal Affairs, made him Russia’s top policeman. Trepov’s reputation can be judged from the furore around an attempt to assassinate him in 1878. A young woman, Vera Zasulich (later a leading Social Democrat) shot and wounded him as a reprisal after he had a young student prisoner flogged for refusing to take his hat off in the general’s presence. At her trial, the jury were so shocked by revelations of police abuses and so moved by the defendant herself that they acquitted her. The police then tried to seize her outside the court, but a sympathetic crowd helped her escape. See, for example Abraham Ascher, The Revolution of 1905: Russia in Disarray(Stanford University Press, Stanford CA, 1988), pp104-06; Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Armed: Trotsky 1879-1921(Oxford University Press, London, 1970), p4; Orlando Figes, A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924(Pimlico, London, 1997), pp137-38; Harcave, op cit, pp118-19; Salisbury, op cit, p102.

[5].      Source: Somov, ‘Iz istorii sotsialdemokraticheskogo dvizheniia v Peterburgev 1905 godu’, op cit, pp43-44.

[6].      See Ascher, op cit, p97;Harcave, op cit, pp121-22; Pokrovskii, op cit, pp366-67 [Pokrovsky, op cit, pp120-21]; Salisbury, op cit, pp132-33.

[7].      Leon Trotsky, 1905(Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1973), pp98-99.

[8].      See Chapter 5: Patterns of Conflict.

[9].      Source: Somov, ‘Iz istorii sotsialdemokraticheskogo dvizheniia v Peterburge v 1905 godu’, op cit, pp44-45.

[10].    Ascher, op cit, pp98, 119-23; Harcave, op cit, pp122-23, 133; Pokrovskii, op cit, pp367-68 [Pokrovsky, op cit, p122] (Pokrovsky presents the entire episode as a successful Bolshevik operation; in fact, the weak, sectarian organisation in the city would prefer to have maintained its initial boycott); Trotsky, 1905, op cit, p123. For details of the 1897 circular, see Chapter 1, Part III: Repression, a: The Police Move In On Industrial Unrest.

[11].    Source: Somov, ‘Iz istorii sotsialdemokraticheskogo dvizheniia v Peterburgev 1905 godu’, op cit, pp46-47.

[12].    Details of the skill structure in the Goujon factory may cast some light on Somov’s preoccupation with the age and standing of workers in the Putilov plant: ‘Twenty-five skill categories ranged from the most skilled metal-workers, lathe operators, smelters and rolling mill operators to apprentices and unskilled labourers. A skilled worker earned more than twice the wage of an unskilled worker, a disparity that was usually tied to experience and therefore age.’ (Murphy, op cit, p12)

[13].    The left in Tsarist Russia generally provided the keenest support for the demand for a democratically-elected constituent assembly which would draft a constitution for some form of parliamentary government. But many of the details were up for debate. The two Social Democratic factions, the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, had no differences to speak of on this issue as such in 1905. It was one of the key demands both of them made with a view to replacing the semi-feudal Tsarist order by a bourgeois (that is, capitalist) democracy. They agreed that the latter was the best possible environment in which to carry on the struggle for socialism. What they disagreed about was the role of the liberal bourgeoisie. The Mensheviks believed that bourgeois democrats should lead the way to bourgeois democracy. The Bolsheviks believed that the entire bourgeoisie was too embedded in Tsarism to do so. Their alternative was a ‘bourgeois’ revolution which was led by workers in the towns and backed up by peasants in the countryside. However, power would have to be surrendered to the bourgeoisie at some point. As a result of the experience of the 1905 revolution, Trotsky concluded that workers could hold on to power if the revolution spread to one or two advanced capitalist countries (the theory of permanent revolution). In 1917, the Bolsheviks accepted this perspective and dispersed the actual constituent assembly, which only they had had the political courage to convene. See, for example, Marcel Liebman, Leninism under Lenin(Merlin Press, London, 1975), pp63-83, 232-38; Trotsky, 1905, op cit, pp314-33.

[14].    Source: Luker’ia Bogdanova, ‘Iz perezhitogo’ [‘From My Past’], in P Kudelli (ed), Rabotnitsa v 1905 goduv Peterburge[The Woman Worker in 1905 in Petersburg] (Priboi, Leningrad, 1926), pp57-59.

[15].    Kevin Murphy, Revolution and Counterrevolution(Berg, London, 2005), p13. Murphy notes that women already working in the rolled-metal shop are said to have participated in the laughter of the initiation ritual.

[16].    Salisbury, op cit, pp98-99.

[17].    ‘Foremen at the large mills were the captains and colonels of the industrial army, commanding battalions of unskilled or semi-skilled men, women and children, organised into huge departments (otdeleniia).’ (Gerald D Surh, 1905 in St Petersburg: Labor, Society and Revolution (Stanford University Press, Stanford CA, 1989), p70) Surh goes on to argue that mass production had made far less inroads in the metal industry, hence in the organisation of metal factories.

[18].    Anna Gavrilovna Boldyreva-Egorovna, born 1869, a known and respected revolutionary militant at the Maxwell mill. The daughter of a soldier, she married into the lower-middle-class but left her husband, and despite having three children ‘she did not exclusively devote herself to child care as often happens with many mothers’. An active revolutionary at the age of 22, she was arrested the following year, and was not allowed back to St Petersburg for another seven years (‘Tovarishch AG Egorova-Boldyreva’, in Kudelli, op cit, pp71-72).

[19].    The word ‘circle’ denoted a local unit of organisation.

[20].    Source: A Zvezdov, Riadovoi podpol’shchik v revoliutsii 1905 g[A Rank-And-File Clandestine Worker in the 1905 Revolution] (Vsesoiuznoe obshchestvo politicheskikh katorzhan i ssyl’no-poselentsev, Moscow, 1925 [The All-Union Association of Political Convicts [that is, those who had served a hard-labour sentence in a place of exile] and Deportees [that is, who had been ordered by a court to settle in a remote area after completing a prison sentence]]), pp3-4.

[21].    Rosa Luxemburg, The Mass Strike(Bookmarks, London, 2005), p34.

[22].    Ibid, p33.

[23].    See above, Chapter 1, Part VI: From Demonstrations to General Strikes; Ascher, op cit, p92; Harcave, op cit, pp64-65. For background on Baku in 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.

[24].    Russian cigarettes with a hollow cardboard filter.

[25].    Ascher, op cit, pp145, 150.

[26].    Ibid, p146.

[27].    See, for example, N Podvoiskii (Podvoisky), ‘Pervyi Sovet rabochikh deputatov. (Ivanovo-Voznesensk, 12-go maia–17-go iiulia 1905g)’ [‘The First Soviet of Workers’ Deputies (Ivanovo-Voznesensk, 12 May–17 July 1905)’], Istoriko-revoliutsionnyi biulleten’. Ezhemesiachnyi sbornik. Izdanie obshchestva byvshikh politicheskikh katorzhan i ssyl’no-poselentsev i istoricheskoi sektsii ‘Doma Pechati’, Moskva [The Historico-Revolutionary Bulletin. A Monthly Anthology. A Publication of the Society of Former Political Convicts and Deportees and the Historical Section of ‘The House of Printing’, Moscow], nos 2-3, January 1922, pp18-21. For a profile of Podvoisky, see Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, Volume 2 (Sphere, London, 1967), p43.

[28].    Ascher, op cit, p145; Dmitrii Sverchkov, Na zare revoliutsii[At the Dawn of the Revolution] (Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo/Kommissiia po istorii oktiabrskoi revoliutsii i rossiiskoi kommunisticheskoi partii [b-kov] [State Publishing House/Commission on the History of the October Revolution and the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks)], Leningrad, 1924), pp8-9.

[29].    Source: MN Pokrovskii, Izbrannye proizvedeniia, op cit, pp398–402 [MN Pokrovsky, Brief History of Russia, Volume 2 (Martin Lawrence, London, 1933)].

[30].    Andrei Ivanovich Zhelyabov was a leader of Narodnaya Volya, the People’s Will or the People’s Freedom, a revolutionary populist organisation which concentrated on assassinating high government figures such as Tsar Alexander II. He was executed, see SV Utechin, Concise Encyclopaedia of Russia(Dent, London, 1961), p369.

[31].    Names in inverted commas are party names used in underground work to conceal activists’ identities from the police.

[32].    The strikers held frequent mass meetings on the bank of the river Talka, just outside the town.

[33].    The argument that suffrage should be universal, direct, equal and secret (this was often called the ‘four-tail’ formula) was well-known in Russia, where the few elections which were officially allowed obeyed few if any of these rules.

[34].    At that time, Russia was still using the Julian calendar, which was 13 days behind the Western Gregorian calendar.

[35].    Pokrovsky is here referring to evidence that Gapon got his ideas from liberals (Pokrovskii, op cit, pp359-62 [Pokrovsky, op cit, pp114-16]). However, it may well be that things were not so clear-cut. See, for example, Ascher, op cit, pp80-81.

[36].    Now Tbilisi, capital of Georgia.

[37].    Pokrovsky is here referring to his account of the intensification and radicalisation of liberal activity after Bloody Sunday, in which he notes that workers increasingly participated in these intelligentsia events. He adds that at the same time as the last meeting of the Moscow Educational Society, a conference of the striking Moscow bakers — ‘no less passionate and more interesting’ — was going on in the corridor outside (Pokrovskii, op cit, p370 [Pokrovsky, op cit, p125]).

[38].    This was the area that included Ivanovo-Voznesensk.

[39].    Source: OA Varentsova et al (eds), 1905-iy god vIvanovo-Voznesenskom raione[The Year 1905 in Ivanovo-Voznesensk] (Osnova, Ivanovo-Voznesensk, 1925), pp333-35. AE Nozdrin, the writer of the letter, is described in the source as ‘the chairman of the first Soviet of workers’ deputies at the Talka’, which could mean that he chaired of the daily mass meetings or general assemblies, as they were known. The letter was written just before the end of the strike and was addressed to FA Kondratiev, ‘who worked in the Ivanovo-Voznesensk organisation during 1891-96’ (Varentsova, op cit, footnote, p333).

[40].    The venue for mass strike meetings, see note 32 above.

[41].    According to a later account, a 30-strong detachment of workers’ militia, armed with revolvers, which had been guarding the demonstration, immediately redeployed behind the Cossacks (Varentsova, op cit, p220). Perhaps Nozdrin did not want to mention such details in a letter which might fall into the wrong hands.

[42].    For a brief biography of Dunayev, see below Part IIc.

[43].    Cobblestones were relatively easy to prise up, and could come in useful in this sort of crisis.

[44].    This was a key demand of the strike, see Pokrovskii above.

[45].    A dacha can be anything from a very small cottage to a country house not far from the town where the owner lives.

[46].    It was usual for workers to be let off early on the day before an official holiday so that they would have time to prepare for the celebrations. It is difficult to know from the Russian whether the pay demand involved a bigger increase for workers than for other employees, or a bigger increase for male workers than for female workers.

[47].    This was a well-known phrase, from a story by Anton Chekhov, which more than one translator has struggled to render in English. See, for example, Ronald Wilks’s ‘There could be trouble’ in The Kiss and Other Stories(Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1983), pp122-23, and Ronald Hingley’s ‘But what of the repercussions?’ in The Russian Master and Other Stories(Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1990), p115. The story, ‘The Man in the Case’, centres on a schoolteacher who is reduced to a state of neurotic and oppressive anxiety by any behaviour of which someone in authority might possibly disapprove. The phrase is his signature tune, so to speak, and would probably be best expressed in modern English by a reference to things going pear-shaped. I am very grateful to Irina Lester for pointing out the Chekhov connection.

[48].    Source: A Ryabinin, ‘Yevlampy Alexandrovich Dunayev (“Alexander”) in Varentsova, 1905-iy god vIvanovo-Voznesenskom raione,op cit, pp218-23.

[49].    Ibid, p223.


[50].    Source: V Karelina, ‘Rabotnitsy posle 9-go ianvaria’ [‘Women Workers after 9 January’], in P Kudelli (ed), Rabotnitsa v 1905 goduv Peterburge[The Woman Worker in 1905 in Petersburg] (Priboi, Leningrad, 1926), pp63-64.

[51].    St Petersburg stands on a number of islands as well as on the mainland. Goloday Island, now known as Decembrist Island (Ostrov Dekabristov), is divided from Vasilievsky Island by the small River Smolenka.

[52].    Source: British Library, Russo-Japanese War: Press cuttings (Shelfmark 1856.c.10), 27 February 1905. Unfortunately, there is no indication as to which British newspapers these cuttings are from, and all the efforts of myself and British Library staff, to whom I am very grateful, have so far been in vain.

[53].    Source: Lev Trotskii [Trotsky], ‘Doloi pozornuiu boiniu’ [‘Down with the Shameful Slaughter!’] [leaflet], in Sochineniia, t 2, ch 1, Nasha pervaia revoliutsiia[Collected Works, Volume 2, part 1, Our First Revolution] (Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo[State Publishing House], Leningrad, 1926), pp251-54.

[54].    ZP Rozhdestvensky was the commander of the Baltic Fleet at the disastrous Battle of Tsushima. See below, IIIe: The Russo-Japanese War: A Brief Chronology, 27-28 May 1905.

[55].    Grand Duke Alexei, the Tsar’s cousin, was part of the pro-war clique at court and in government whose members had a stake in Korean timber concessions. See, for example, Ascher, op cit, pp44-45; Figes, op cit, p168; Sverchkov, op cit, pp74-75. See also Princess Julia Cantacuzene (Terence Emmons, ed), Revolutionary Days(Donnelly and Sons, Chicago, 1999), pp95-96. I am very grateful to Mike Haynes for showing me how widely known this discreditable story was.

[56].    See note 54.

[57].    Roughly 10 600 kilometres or 6600 miles.

[58].    A Socialist Revolutionary newspaper.

[59].    See below IIIe: The Russo-Japanese War: A Brief Chronology, 16 February–19 March.

[60].    That is, the Petersburg Mensheviks.

[61].    Source: A Kovalenko, ‘Odinnadtsat’ dnei na bronenostse “Kniaz” Potemkin Tavricheskii’ [‘Eleven Days on the Battleship Potemkin’], Byloe.Zhurnal posviashchennyi istorii osvoboditel’nogo dvizheniia [The Past. A journal devoted to the history of the liberation movement],Petersburg, no 1/13 (second year), January 1907, pp100-02, 106; no 2/14 (second year), February 1907, pp125-26, 129-32, 138-40; no 3/15 (second year), March 1907, pp46-47, 56-57.

[62].    Ascher, op cit, pp174, 269-73; Harcave, op cit, pp157-58, 220-22; Pokrovskii, op cit, p387-88 [Pokrovsky, op cit, pp141-42]; Trotsky, 1905, op cit, pp214-24.

[63].    Pokrovskii, op cit, p381 [Pokrovsky, op cit, p135].

[64].    Ascher, op cit, p171.

[65].    See, for example: Ascher, op cit, p173; Harcave, op cit, pp156-57; Pokrovskii, op cit, pp383-85 [Pokrovsky, op cit, pp137-39].

[66].    Figes, op cit, p184.

[67].    Ascher, op cit, p182.

[68].    Pokrovskii, op cit, p388 [Pokrovsky, op cit, p142].

[69].    Kovalenko, op cit, no 1/13, p89.

[70].    Ascher, op cit, p170.

[71].    Figes, op cit; Kovalenko, op cit, p98.

[72].    Kovalenko, op cit, pp93-95.

[73].    A pogrom was a massacre which was mainly directed against Jews, but also against socialists, students and anyone else who might be accused of disloyalty to the Tsar. Often used as a deliberate instrument of counter-revolutionary policy, pogroms were frequently stirred up by the police and carried out by drunken mobs. In an account of pogroms in October 1905 entitled ‘The Tsar’s Men At Work’, Trotsky quotes a police official as saying: ‘It is possible to arrange any kind of pogrom, involving 10 people if you like, or ten thousand if you like.’ (Trotsky, 1905, op cit, pp148-49) See also Chapter 3: The Decisive Days.

[74].    This version seems rather restrained. According to another version, which normally errs on the side of kindness towards the authorities, the pogrom lasted for over four hours, and the soldiers then fired indiscriminately into the crowd, which was hemmed in on all sides, for several more hours. Two thousand people were killed, and 3000 seriously injured according to ‘credible accounts’ (Ascher, op cit, p172).

[75].    A konduktor(plural: konduktora) was a special type of non-commissioned officer who had qualified for specialist duties in signals, mine-laying, with torpedoes, as boatswain, etc. Warrant officer was the nearest English equivalent. The konduktorawere professionals who were close to the ordinary sailors and had a vested interest in maintaining the existing order. I am very grateful to Brian Pearce for his efforts in uncovering this point, and, on a completely separate basis, to staff at the Admiralty Library (who found the title of the British source which follows rather amusing — ‘Got that wrong, didn’t he?’). For further details, see Fred T Jane, The Imperial Russian Navy: Its Past, Present and Future(Thacker, London, 1899), p468; Voennyi entsiklopedicheskii slovar’(Ministerstvo oborony SSSR, Moscow, 1983), p351.

[76].    Kaliuzhnov was one of the workers who had come on board the day before and had decided to stay.

[77].    Russian fathoms, here 183 metres.

[78].    A special kind of signalling by means of flags or lamps with the assistance of which it is possible to communicate over long distances [note in original — PG].

[79].    Ascher op cit, p173; Harcave, op cit, p157.

[80].    Sources: Ascher, The Revolution of 1905, op cit, pp50-53, 182-83; British Library, Russo-Japanese War: Press cuttings (Shelfmark 1856.c.10), 29 August 1905; Pokrovskii, Izbrannye proizvedeniia, op cit, pp338-44, 372-73, 376-78 [Pokrovsky, Brief History of RussiaVolume 2, op cit, pp94-100, 127-28, 130-33].

[81].    For a summary critique of the tendency among even ‘social historians’ to reduce the role of working-class consciousness to a reflex action, see Mike Haynes, ‘Social History and the Russian Revolution’, in John Rees (ed), Essays on Historical Materialism(Bookmarks, London, 1998), pp60-61.

[82].    Pokrovskii, op cit, pp404-05 [Pokrovsky, op cit, pp157-58].

[83].    See, for example, Platon Lebedev, ‘Krasnye dni v Nizhnem-Novgorode’ [‘Red Days in Nizhnii-Novgorod’], Byloe [The Past], no 5/17 (second year), May 1907, pp126-28.

[84].    Pokrovskii, op cit, p405 [Pokrovsky, op cit, p158].

[85].    M Vasil’ev (Iuzhin), ‘Iz vospominanii o moskovskom vosstanii 1905 g’ [‘From Reminiscences of the Moscow Uprising of 1905’], Proletarskaia revoliutsiia, no 5, 1922, p185.

[86].    Ascher, op cit, pp104-05, 177-80; Harcave, op cit, pp161-62, 168-69.

[87].    Rob Humphreys and Dan Richardson, St Petersburg: The Rough Guide (Rough Guides, London, 1993), p306; Harrison E Salisbury, Black Night, White Snow: Russia’s Revolutions 1905-1917(Cassell, London, 1978), p150.

[88].    Ascher, op cit, pp180-82.

[89].    Pete Glatter, 1905: The Great Dress Rehearsal (Socialist Workers Party, London, 1985), p21.

[90].    Pokrovskii, op cit, pp402-03 [Pokrovsky, op cit, pp155-56].

[91].    Ascher, op cit, p151.

[92].    Sverchkov, op cit, pp135-36. According to the same source, Nosar had persuaded a worker named Khrustaliev, who had been elected to the Shidlovsky Commission, to give up his place to him. Nosar occupied the place but used Khrustaliev’s name and went on doing so in the St Petersburg soviet. He had no definite political beliefs and had tried to recruit workers to liberalism before stating in the soviet that he was a Social Democrat (ibid, p112).