May Day in the Red Square 1945
Vladimir I. Lenin
Collection of diverse writings, leaf-lets and quotations
selected by the Comintern (SH) on occasion of the 140th Birthday of Lenin - ( 22nd April, 1870 )
copy - with thanks to marxists.org
First Published: April 19, 1896 as a leaflet printed by the Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class
Transcription & HTML Markup: Charles Farrell
Online Version: marxists.org 2000
Let us look carefully into the conditions of our life; let us observe that environment wherein we pass our days. What do we see? We work hard; we create unlimited wealth, gold and rich fabrics, brocade and velvet; we dig iron and coal from the bowels of the earth; we build machines, ships, castles, railways. All the wealth of the world is created by our hands, is obtained by our sweat and blood. And what reward do we receive for our hard labor? In justice we should live in fine houses, wear good clothing, and in any case not want for our daily bread. But we all know very well that our wages scarcely suffice for a bare existence. Our bosses lower the wage-rates, force us to work over-time, unjustly fine us. In a word, they oppress us in every way, and, in case of dissatisfaction on our part, they promptly discharge us. We time and time again discover that those to whom we turn for protection are friends and lackeys of our bosses. We, the workers are kept in ignorance, education is denied us, that we may not learn to struggle to improve our conditions. They hold us in bondage, discharge us on the slightest pretext, arrest and exile anyone offering resistance to oppression, forbid us to struggle. Ignorance and bondage — these are the means by which the capitalists and the Government, always at their service, keep us in subjection.
What means do we have to improve our conditions, to raise our wages, to shorten our working day, to protect ourselves from abuse, to read intelligent and useful books Everybody is against us -- the bosses (since the worse off we are, the better they live), and all their lackeys, all those who live off the bounty of the capitalists and who, at their bidding, keep us in ignorance and bandage. We can look to no one for aid; we can rely only upon ourselves. Our strength lies in union; our salvation in united, stubborn, and energetic resistance to our exploiters. They have long understood wherein lay our strength, and have attempted in all manner of ways to keep us divided, and not to let us understand that we workers have interests in common. They cut wages, not everybody’s at once, but one at a time. They put foremen over us, they introduce piece work; and, laughing up their sleeves at how we workers toil at our work, lower our wages little by little. But it’s a long lane that has no turning. There is a limit to endurance. During the past year the Russian workers have shown their bosses that slavish submission can be transformed into the staunch courage of men who will not submit to the insolence of capitalists greedy for unpaid labor.
In various towns strikes have broken out; in Yaroslavl, Taikovo, Ivanovo-Voznesensk, Belostok, Vilna, Minsk, Kiev, Moscow and other towns. The majority of the strikes ended successfully for the workers, but even unsuccessful strikes are only apparently unsuccessful. In reality they frighten the bosses terribly, cause them great losses, and force them to grant concessions for fear of a new strike. The factory inspectors also begin to get busy and notice the beams in the capitalists’ eyes. They are blind until their eyes are opened by the workers calling a strike. When in fact do the factory inspectors notice mismanagement in the factories of such influential personages as Mr. Tornton or the stockholders of the Putilov factory.
In St. Petersburg, too, we have made trouble for the bosses. The strike of the weavers at Tornton’s factory, of the cigarette workers at the Laferm and Lebedev factories, of the workers at the shoe factory, the agitation among the workers at the Kenig and Varonin factories, and among the dock workers, and finally the recent disturbances in Sestroretsk have proven that we have ceased to be submissive martyrs, and have taken up the struggle. As is well known, the workers from many factories and shops have organized the "Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class," with the aim of exposing all abuses, of eradicating mismanagement, of fighting against the insolent oppressions of our conscienceless exploiters, and of achieving full liberation from their power. The "Union" distributes leaflets, at the sight of which the bosses and their faithful lackeys tremble in their boots. It is not the leaflets themselves which frighten them, but the possibility of our united resistance, of an exhibition of our mighty power, which we have shown them more than once. We workers of St. Petersburg, members of the "Union" invite the rest of our fellow workers to join our "Union" and to further the great cause of uniting the workers for a struggle for their own interests. It is high time for us Russian workers to break the chains with which the capitalists and the Government have bound us in order to keep us in subjection. It is high time for us to join the struggle of our brothers, the workers in other lands, to stand with them under a common flag upon which is inscribed: Workers of the World, Unite!
In France, Great Britain, Germany, and other countries, where the workers have already united in strong unions and have won many rights, they have established the 19th of April (the First of May abroad) [Before the October Revolution the Russian calendar was 13 days behind the West-European] as a general Labor holiday.
Forsaking the stuffy factories, they march in solid ranks, with bands and banners along the main streets of the towns; showing the bosses the whole might of their growing power, they gather in numerous large meetings, where speeches are delivered recounting the victories over the bosses in the preceding year, and indicating the plans for struggle in the future. Through fear of a strike, not a single factory owner fines the workers for absence from work on this day. On this day the workers also remind the bosses of their chief demand: the eight-hour working day — 8 hours work, 8 hours sleep, and 8 hours rest. This is what the workers of other countries are now demanding. There was a time, and not so long ago, when they, like we now, did not have the right to make known their needs. They, too, were crushed by want and lacked unity just as we now. But they, by stubborn struggle and heavy sacrifices, have won for themselves the right to discuss together the problems of the workers’ cause. We send our best wishes to our brothers in other lands that their struggle should quickly lead them to the desired victory, to the time when there shall be neither masters nor slaves, neither workers nor capitalists, but all alike will work and all alike enjoy life.
Comrades! If we will energetically and wholeheartedly strive to unite, the time will not be far distant when we, having joined our forces in solid ranks, will be able openly to unite in this common struggle of the workers of all lands, without distinction of race or creed, against the capitalists of the whole world. And our sinewy arm will be lifted on high and the infamous chains of bondage will fall asunder. The workers of Russia will arise, and the capitalists and the Government, which always zealously serves and aids the capitalists, will be stricken with terror!
April 19, 1896.
Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class
Collective Works, Volume 2, pp. 108 – 109, Moscow, 1972
Written in prison in 1895 – 96
A 5. The fight against the domination of the capitalist class is now being waged by the workers of all European countries and also by the workers of America and Australia. Working-class organisation and solidarity is not confined to one country or one nationality: the workers’ parties of different countries proclaim aloud the complete identity (solidarity) of interests and aims of the workers of the whole world. They come together at joint congresses, put forward common demands to the capitalist class of all countries, have established an international holiday of the entire organised proletariat striving for emancipation (May Day), thus welding the working class of all nationalities and of all countries into one great workers’ army. The unity of the workers of all countries is a necessity arising out of the fact that the capitalist class, which rules over the workers, does not limit its rule to one country. Commercial ties between the different countries are becoming closer and more extensive; capital constantly passes from one country to another. The banks, those huge depositories that gather capital together and distribute it on loan to capitalists, begin as national institutions and then become international, gather capital from all countries, and distribute it among the capitalists of Europe and America. Enormous joint-stock companies are now being organised to set up capitalist enterprises not in one country, but in several at once; international associations of capitalists make their appearance. Capitalist domination is international. That is why the workers’ struggle in all countries for their emancipation is only successful if the workers fight jointly against international capital. That is why the Russian worker’s comrade in the fight against the capitalist class is the German worker, the Polish worker, and the French worker, just as his enemy is the Russian, the Polish, and the French capitalists. Thus, in the recent period foreign capitalists have been very eagerly transferring their capital to Russia, where they are building branch factories and founding companies for running new enterprises They are flinging themselves greedily on this young country in which the government is more favourable and obsequious to capital than anywhere else, in which they find workers who are less organised and less capable of fighting back than in the West, and in which the workers’ standard of living, and hence their wages, are much lower, so that the foreign capitalists are able to draw enormous profits, on a scale unparalleled in their own countries. International capital has already stretched out its hand to Russia. The Russian workers are stretching out their hands to the international labour movement.
Written early in November 1900
Published in January 1901 in a pamphlet issued by Iskra.
Collective Works, Volume 4 , pp. 357 - 365
Moscow , 1972
The present pamphlet contains a description of the celebrated May Day demonstrations in Kharkov in 1900; it was drawn up by the Kharkov Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party on the basis of descriptions sent in by the workers themselves. It was sent to us as a newspaper report, but we consider it necessary to publish it as a separate pamphlet because of its size, as well as because in this way it will be possible to secure wider distribution. In another six months, the Russian workers will celebrate the First of May of the first year of the new century, and it is time we set to work organising the celebrations in as large a number of centres as possible, and on a scale as imposing as possible. They must be imposing, not only in the numbers of participants, but in the organised character and the class-consciousness the participants will display, in their determination to launch a resolute struggle for the political liberation of the Russian people and, consequently, for a free opportunity for the class development of the proletariat and its open struggle for socialism. It is time to prepare for the forthcoming May Day celebrations, and one of the most important preparation measures must consist in learning what the Social-Democratic movement in Russia has already achieved, in examining the short comings of our movement in general and of the May Day movement in particular, in devising means to eliminate these shortcomings and achieve better results.
May Day in Kharkov showed what a great political demonstration a working-class festival can become and what we lack to make these celebrations a really great all-Russian manifestation of the class-conscious proletariat. What made the May Day celebrations in Kharkov an event of outstanding importance? The large-scale participation of the workers in the strike, the huge mass meetings in the streets, the unfurling of red flags, the presentation of demands put forth in proclamations and the revolutionary character of these demands: the eight-hour day and political liberty. The legend that the Russian workers have not yet matured for the political struggle, that their principal concern should be the purely economic struggle, which they should only little by little and very slowly supplement with partial political agitation for partial political reforms and not for the struggle against the entire political system of Russia—that legend has been totally refuted by the Kharkov May Day celebrations. But here we want to draw attention to another aspect of the matter. Although the May Day celebrations in Kharkov have once more demonstrated the political capacities of the Russian workers, they have, at the same time, revealed what we lack for the full development of these capacities.
The Kharkov Social-Democrats tried to prepare for the May Day celebrations by distributing pamphlets and leaflets in advance, and the workers drew up a plan for the general demonstration and for the speeches to be delivered in Konnaya Square. Why did the plan not succeed? The Kharkov comrades say because the “general staff” of the class-conscious socialist workers did not distribute its forces evenly, there having been many in one factory, and in another few; and, further, because the workers’ plan “was known to the authorities,” who, of course, took all steps to split the workers. The conclusion to be drawn is obvious: we lack organisation. The masses of the workers were roused and ready to follow the socialist leaders; but the “general staff” failed to organise a strong nucleus able to distribute properly all the available forces of class-conscious workers and so ensure the necessary secrecy that the drawn-up plans of action should remain unknown, not only to the authorities, but to all individuals outside the organisation. This organisation must be a revolutionary organisation. It must be composed of men and women who clearly understand the tasks of the Social-Democratic working-class movement and who have resolved to engage in a determined struggle against the present political system. It must combine within itself the socialist knowledge and revolutionary experience acquired from many decades of activity by the Russian revolutionary intelligentsia with the knowledge of working-class life and conditions and the ability to agitate among the masses and lead them which is characteristic of the advanced workers. It should be our primary concern not to set up an artificial partition between the intellectual and the worker, not to form a “purely workers’" organisation, but to strive, above all, to achieve the above-stated combination. We permit ourselves in this connection to quote the following words of G. Plekhanov:
“A necessary condition for this activity [agitation] is the consolidation of the already existing revolutionary forces. Propaganda in the study circles can be conducted by men and women who have no mutual contact whatever with one another and who do not even suspect one another’s existence; it goes without saying that the lack of organisation always affects propaganda, too, but it does not make it impossible. However, in a period of great social turmoil, when the political atmosphere is charged with electricity, when now here and now there, from the most varied and unforeseen causes, outbreaks occur with increasing frequency, heralding the approaching revolutionary storm—in a word, when it is necessary either to agitate or remain in the rear, at such a time only organised revolutionary forces can seriously influence the progress of events. The individual then becomes powerless; the revolutionary cause can then be carried forward only on the shoulders of units of a higher order—by revolutionary organisations” (G. Plekhanov, The Tasks of the Socialists in the Fight Against the Famine, p. 83).
Precisely such a period is approaching in the history of the Russian working-class movement, a period of turmoil and of outbreaks precipitated by the most varied causes, and if we do not wish to remain “in the rear,” we must direct all our efforts towards establishing an all-Russian organisation capable of guiding all the separate outbreaks and ensuring in this way that the approaching storm (to which the Kharkov worker also refers at the end of the pamphlet) is not an elemental outburst, but a conscious movement of the proletariat standing at the head of the entire people in revolt against the autocratic government.
In addition to manifesting the insufficient unity and preparedness of our revolutionary organisations, the Kharkov May Day celebrations also furnish another and no less important practical indication. “The May Day festival and demonstration,” we read in the pamphlet, “were unexpectedly interconnected with various practical demands presented without relevant preparation and, consequently, in general doomed to failure.” Let us take, for example, the demands put forward by the railway-workshop employees. Of the fourteen demands, eleven have to do with minor improvements, which can quite easily be achieved even under the present political system—wage increases, reduction of hours, removal of abuses. Included among these demands, as though identical with them, are the following three: 4) introduction of an eight-hour day, 7) guarantee against victimisation of workers after the May First events, and 10) establishment of a joint committee of workers and employers for settling disputes between the two parties. The first of these demands (point 4) is a general demand advanced by the world proletariat; the fact that this demand was put forward seems to indicate that the advanced workers of Kharkov realise their solidarity with the world socialist working-class movement. But precisely for this reason it should not have been included among minor demands like better treatment by foremen, or a ten per cent increase in wages. Demands for wage increases and better treatment can (and should) be presented by the workers to their employers in each separate trade; these are trade demands, put forward by separate categories of workers. The demand for an eight-hour day, however, is the demand of the whole proletariat, presented, not to individual employers, but to the state authorities as the representative of the entire present-day social and political system, to the capitalist class as a whole, the owners of all the means of production. The demand for an eight-hour day has assumed special significance. It is a declaration of solidarity with the international socialist movement. We need to make the workers understand this difference, so that they do not reduce the demand for the eight-hour day to the level of demands like free railway tickets, or the dismissal of a watchman. Throughout the year the workers, first in one place and then in another, continuously present a variety of partial demands to their employers and fight for their achievement. In assisting the workers in this struggle, socialists must always explain its connection with the proletarian struggle for emancipation in all countries. And the First of May must be the day on which the workers solemnly declare that they realise this connection and resolutely join in the struggle.
Let us take the tenth demand which calls for the establishment of a committee for the settlement of disputes. Such a committee composed of representatives of the workers and the employers could, of course, be very useful, but only if the elections were absolutely free and the elected representatives enjoyed complete independence. What purpose would such a committee serve, if the workers, who wage a struggle against the election of creatures of the management or who strongly attack the management and expose its tyranny, end by being discharged? Such workers would not only be discharged, they would be arrested. Consequently, for such a committee to be of service to the workers, the delegates must, first, be absolutely independent of the factory management; this can be achieved only when there are free labour unions embracing many factories, unions that have their own resources and are prepared to protect their delegates. Such a committee can be useful only if many factories, if possible all the factories in the given trade, are organised. Secondly, it is necessary to secure guarantees of the inviolability of the person of the workers, i.e., that they will not be arrested arbitrarily by the police or the gendarmerie. This demand to guarantee the workers against victimisation was put forward (point 7). But from whom can the workers demand guarantees of the inviolability of the person and freedom of association (which, as we have seen, is a necessary condition for the success of the committees)? Only from the state authorities, because the absence of a guarantee of inviolability of the person and freedom of association is due to the fundamental laws of the Russian state. Mere than that, it is due to the very form of government in Russia. The form of government in Russia is that of an absolute monarchy. The tsar is an autocrat, he alone decrees the laws and appoints all the higher officials without any participation of the people, without participation of the people’s representatives. Under such a state system there can be no inviolability of the person; citizens’ associations, and particularly working-class associations, cannot be free. For that reason, it is senseless to demand guarantees of the inviolability of the person (and freedom of association) from an autocratic government; for such a demand is synonymous with demanding political rights for the people, and an autocratic government is termed autocratic precisely because it implies negation of political rights for the people. It will be possible to obtain a guarantee of the inviolability of the person (and freedom of association) only when representatives of the people take part in legislation and in the entire administration of the state. So long as a body of people’s representatives does not exist, the autocratic government, upon making certain petty concessions to the workers, will always take away with one hand what it gives with the other. The May Day celebrations in Kharkov were another vivid proof that this is so—the governor con ceded to the demands of the working masses and released those who had been arrested, but within a day or two, on orders’ from St. Petersburg, scores of workers were again rounded up. The gubernia and factory officials “guarantee” immunity to delegates, while the gendarmes seize them and fling them into prison in solitary confinement or banish them from the city! Of what use are such guarantees to the people?
Hence, the workers must demand from the tsar the con vocation of an assembly of the representatives of the people, the convocation of a Zemsky Sobor. The manifesto distributed in Kharkov on the eve of the First of May this year raised this demand, and we have seen that a section of the advanced workers fully appreciated its significance. We must make sure that all advanced workers understand clearly the necessity for this demand and spread it, not only among the masses of the workers, but among all strata of the people who come into contact with the workers and who eagerly desire to know what the socialists and the “urban” workers are fighting for. This year when a factory inspector asked a group of workers precisely what they wanted, only one voice shouted, “A constitution!”; and this voice sounded so isolated that the correspondent reported somewhat mockingly: “One proletarian blurted out....” Another correspondent put it, “Under the circumstances,” this reply was “semi-comical” (see Labour Movement in Kharkov, Report of the Kharkov Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, published by Rabocheye Dyelo, Geneva, September 1900, p. 14). As a matter of fact, there was nothing comical in the reply at all. What may have seemed comical was the incongruity between the demand of this lone voice for a change in the whole state system and the demands for a half-hour reduction in the working day and for payment of wages during working hours. There is, however, an indubitable connection between these demands and the demand for a constitution; and if we can get the masses to understand this connection (and we undoubtedly will), then the cry “A constitution!” will not be an isolated one, but will come from the throats of thousands and hundreds of thousands, when it will no longer be comical, but menacing. It is related that a certain person driving through the streets of Kharkov during the May Day celebrations asked the cabby what the workers wanted, and he replied: “They want an eight-hour day and their own newspaper.” That cabby understood that the workers were no longer satisfied with mere doles, but that they wanted to be free men, that they wanted to be able to express their needs freely and openly and to fight for them. But that reply did not yet reveal the consciousness that the workers are fighting for the liberty of the whole people and for their right to take part in the administration of the state. When the demand that the tsar convene an assembly of people’s representatives is repeated with full consciousness and indomitable determination by the working masses in all industrial cities and factory districts in Russia; when the workers have reached the stage at which the entire urban population, and all the rural people who come into the towns, understand what the socialists want and what the workers are fighting for, then the great day of the people’s liberation from police tyranny will not be far off!
Written in April 1902
First published in 1923
Collective Works, Volume 6, p. 166
Moscow , 1974
Demonstrations and manifestations unite, and should unite, not only the workers (moreover, to say “unites” through manifestations is insufficient, since we also want to unite organisationally, directly and for all time, and not only for one particular occasion). "...Thereby developing in them....” This is either inaccurate—class-consciousness cannot be developed by manifestations alone—or superfluous (it has already been said that it is one of the best means).
It would be useful to add something about the need to organise manifestations, about their preparation, conduct, etc.
In general, the absence in the programme of any reference to the necessity of devoting great attention to the matter of revolutionary organisation, in particular to setting up an all-Russian, militant organisation, is a great deficiency. Once reference is made to agitation, propaganda, strikes, and the like, it is quite inexcusable to say nothing about revolutionary organisation.
§ 10. It should have been added that in our country May Day must also become a demonstration against the autocracy, a demand for political liberty. Pointing to the international significance of the holiday is not enough. It must also be linked up with the struggle for the most vital national political demands.
Written in April 1904
in April 1904 as a leaflet published with alterations
Collective works, Volume 7, pp. 197 – 200
May Day is coming, the day when the workers of all lands celebrate Their awakening to a class- conscious life, their solidarity in the struggle against all coercion and oppression of man by man, the struggle to free the toiling millions from hunger, poverty, and humiliation. Two worlds stand facing each other in this great struggle: the world of capital and the world of labour, the world of exploitation and slavery and the world of brotherhood and freedom.
On one side stand the handful of rich blood-suckers. They have seized the factories and mills, the tools and machinery, have turned millions of acres of land and mountains of money into their private property. They have made the government and the army their servants, faithful watchdogs of the wealth they have amassed.
On the other side stand the millions of the disinherited. They are forced to beg the moneybags for permission to work for them. By their labour they create all wealth; yet all their lives long they have to struggle for a crust of bread, beg for work as for charity, sap their strength and health by back-breaking toil, and starve in hovels in the villages or in the cellars and garrets of the big cities.
But now these disinherited toilers have declared war on the moneybags and exploiters. The workers of all lands are fighting to free labour from wage slavery, from poverty and want. They are fighting for a system of society where the wealth created by the common labour will go to benefit, not a handful of rich men, but all those who work. They want to make the land and the factories, mills, and machines the common property of all toilers. They want to do away with the division into rich and poor, want the fruits of labour to go to the labourers themselves, and all the achievements of the human mind, all improvements in ways of working, to improve the lot of the man who works, and not serve as a means of oppressing him.
The great struggle of labour against capital has cost the workers of all countries immense sacrifices. They have shed rivers of blood in behalf of their right to a better life and real freedom. Those who fight for the workers’ cause are subjected by the governments to untold persecution. But in spite of all persecution the solidarity of the workers of the world is growing and gaining in strength. The workers are uniting more and more closely in socialist parties, the supporters of those parties are mounting into millions and are advancing steadily, step by step, towards complete victory over the class of capitalist exploiters.
The Russian proletariat, too, has awakened to a new life. It too has joined this great struggle. Gone are the days when our worker slaved submissively, seeing no escape from his state of bondage, no glimmer of light in his bitter life. Socialism has shown him the way out, and thousands upon thousands of fighters have thronged to the red banner, as to a guiding star. Strikes have shown the workers the power of unity, have taught them to fight back, have shown how formidable to capital organised labour can be. The workers have seen that it is off their labour that the capitalists and the government live and get fat. The workers have been fired with the spirit of united struggle, with the aspiration for freedom and for socialism. The workers have realised what a dark and evil force tbe tsarist autocracy is. The work ers need freedom for their struggle, but the tsarist govern ment binds them hand and foot. The workers need freedom of assembly, freedom to organise, freedom for newspapers and books, but the tsarist government crushes, with knout, prison and bayonet, every striving for freedom. The cry “Down with the autocracy!” has swept through the length and breadth of Russia, it has been sounded more and more often in the streets, at great mass meetings of the workers. Last summer tens of thousands of workers throughout the South of Russia rose up to fight for a better life, for freedom from police tyranny. The bourgeoisie and government trem bled at the sight of the formidable army of workers, which at one stroke brought to a standstill the entire industrial life of huge cities. Dozens of fighters for the workers’ cause fell beneath the bullets of the troops that tsarism sent against the internal enemy.
But there is no force that can vanquish this internal enemy, for the ruling classes and the government only live by its labour. There is no force on earth that could break the millions of workers, who are growing more and more class- conscious, more and more united and organised. Every defeat the workers sustain brings new fighters into the ranks, it awakens broader masses to new life and makes them prepare for fresh struggles.
And the events Russia is now passing through are such that this awakening of the worker masses is bound to be even more rapid and widespread, and we must strain every nerve to unite the ranks of the proletariat and prepare it for even more determined struggle. The war is making even the most backward sections of the proletariat take an interest in polit ical affairs and problems. The war is showing up ever more clearly and vividly the utter rottenness of the autocratic order, the utter criminality of the police and court gang that is ruling Russia. Our people are perishing from want and starvation at home—yet they have been dragged into a ruinous and senseless war for alien territories lying thou sands of miles away and inhabited by foreign races. Our people are ground down in political slavery—yet they have been dragged into a war for the enslavement of other peoples. Our people demand a change of political order at home— but it is sought to divert their attention by the thunder of guns at the other end of the world. But the tsarist govern ment has gone too far in its gamble, in its criminal squan dering of the nation’s wealth and young manhood, sent to die on the shores of the Pacific. Every war puts a strain on the people, and the difficult war against cultured and free Japan is a frightful strain upon Russia. And this strain comes at a time when the structure of police despotism has already begun to totter under the blows of the awakening proletariat. The war is laying bare all the weak spots of the government, the war is tearing off all false disguises, the war is revealing all the inner rottenness; the war is making the preposterousness of the tsarist autocracy obvious to all and is showing everyone the death-agony of the old Russia, the Russia where the people are disfranchised, ignorant and cowed, the Russia that is still in serf bondage to the police government.
The old Russia is dying. A free Russia is coming to take its place. The dark forces that guarded the tsarist autocracy are going under. But only the class-conscious and organised proletariat can deal them their death-blow. Only the class- conscious and organised proletariat can win real, not sham, freedom for the people. Only the class-conscious and organised proletariat can thwart every attempt to deceive the people, to curtail their rights, to make them a mere tool in the hands of the bourgeoisie.
Comrade workers! Let us then prepare with redoubled energy for the decisive battle that is at hand! Let the ranks of the Social-Democrat proletarians close ever firmer! Let their word spread ever farther afield! Let campaigning for the workers’ demands be carried on ever more boldly! Let the celebration of May Day win thousands of new fight ers to our cause and swell our forces in the great struggle for the freedom of all the people, for the liberation of all who toil from the yoke of capital!
Long live the eight-hour day!
Long live international revolutionary Social-Democracy!
Down with the criminal and plundering tsarist autocracy!
Written prior to April 12 (25), 1905
(first published in 1931)
Collective Works, Volume 8, pp. 346 – 347
Moscow , 1974
1. “Springtime” of words and vileness of deeds.
The Bulygin fraud.
The war and the collapse of the government system.
Ruin, famine, cholera....
St. Petersburg, Riga, Warsaw, etc. J a n u a r y 9.
Baku and the sinister anti-Jewish movement.
The revolutionary strike and the revolutionary movement of January
and later. Revolution! 8. Peasant movement. Its suppression and its aims.
The Constituent Assembly and the provisional revolutionary government.
The struggle for the republic and all democratic liberties.
The proletarian struggle for the republic and for socialism.
The revolutionary Russian proletariat at the head of the world revolutionary proletariat.
First of May generally.
It has come to such a pass. 1-4.
Revolutionary movement. 5 and 7.
Government incitements. 6.
Peasant movement. 8.
Aims of the struggle. 9-11.
A. Beginning of the revolution 1-6.
B. Struggle of the workers and peasants 7-8.
C. Aims of the struggle 9-11.
D. World-wide historical significance of the Russian revolution 12.
RUSSIAN SOCIAL-DEMOCRATIC LABOUR PARTY
Written prior to April 12 (25), 1905
published 1905 (leaflet)
Collective Works, Volume 8, pp. 348 – 351
Moscow , 1974
[ The First of May was written by Lenin in Geneva and is sued as a leaflet over the signature of the Bureau of Committees of the Majority and the Editorial Board of Vperyod. The leaflet was reprinted by a number of local Social-Democratic committees. ]
The great holiday of the workers of all the world is coming. On the First of May they celebrate their awakening to light and knowledge, their association in one fraternal union for the struggle against all oppression, against all tyranny, against all exploitation, for a socialist system of society. All who work, who feed the rich and the nobility by their labour, who spend their lives in back breaking toil for scanty wages, who never enjoy the fruits of their own labour, who live like beasts of burden amidst the luxury and splendour of our civilisation—all stretch out their hands to fight for the emancipation and happiness of the workers. Down with enmity between workers of different nationalities or different creeds! This enmity can only benefit the plunderers and tyrants, who live by the ignorance and disunion of the proletariat. Jews and Christians, Armenians and Tatars, Poles and Russians, Finns and Swedes, Letts and Germans—all, all of them march together under the one common banner of socialism. All workers are brothers, and their solid union is the only guarantee of the well-being and happiness of all working and oppressed mankind. On the First of May this union of the workers of all countries, international Social-Democracy, reviews its forces and gathers its strength for a further unremitting and unswerving struggle for freedom, equality, and fraternity.
Comrades! We stand now in Russia on the eve of great events. We are engaged in the last desperate fight with the autocratic tsarist government, we must carry this fight on to its victorious end. See what calamities this government of brutes and tyrants, of venal courtiers and hangers on of capital, has brought upon the entire Russian people! The tsarist government has plunged the Russian people into an insane war against Japan. Hundreds of thousands of young lives have been torn away from the people to perish in the Far East. Words cannot describe all the calamities that this war brings upon us. And what is the war for? For Manchuria, which our predatory tsarist government has seized from China! Russian blood is being shed and our country ruined for the sake of foreign territory. Life is becoming harder and harder for the workers and peasants; the capitalists and officials keep tightening the noose round their necks, while the tsarist government is sending the people out to plunder foreign territory. Bungling tsarist generals and venal officials have led to the destruction of the Russian. fleet, squandered hundreds and thousands of millions of the nation’s wealth, and lost entire armies, but the war still goes on, claiming further sacrifices. The people are being ruined, industry and trade are coming to a standstill, and famine and cholera are imminent; but the autocratic government in its blind madness follows the old path; it is ready to ruin Russia if only it can save a handful of brutes and tyrants; it is launching another war besides the one with Japan—war against the entire Russian people.
Never before has Russia experienced such an awakening from her slumber, from her oppression and enslavement, as she is experiencing today. All classes of society are stirring, from the workers and peasants to the landlords and capitalists, and voices of protest have been raised everywhere, in St. Petersburg and the Caucasus, in Poland and Siberia. Everywhere the people demand an end to the war; they demand the establishment of a free people’s rule, the convocation of deputies of all citizens without exception in a Constituent Assembly to institute a people’s government and save the nation from the abyss into which the tsarist government is pushing it. Workers of St. Petersburg, about two hundred thousand strong, went to the tsar on Sunday, the Ninth of January, with the priest Georgi Gapon in order to submit these demands of the people. The tsar received the workers as enemies. He shot down thousands of unarmed workers in the streets of St. Petersburg. The struggle is now on all over Russia. Workers are on strike, demanding freedom and a better life. Blood is being spilt in Riga and in Poland, on the Volga and in the South. Everywhere the peasants are rising. The struggle for freedom is becoming the struggle of the entire people.
The tsarist government has gone mad. It wants to borrow money to carry on the war, but no one will trust it with a loan any longer. It promises to convene representatives of the people, but actually everything remains unchanged; the persecutions do not cease, the lawlessness of the officials proceeds as before; there are no free public meetings, no freely circulated people’s newspapers; the prisons in which fighters for the working-class cause are languishing have not been thrown open. The tsarist government is trying to set one people against another. It has brought about a massacre in Baku by maligning the Armenians among the Tatars; now it is preparing a fresh massacre aimed at the Jews by fanning hatred against them among the ignorant people.
Comrades workers! We will tolerate no longer such outrageous treatment of the Russian people. We will rise to defend freedom, we will strike back at all who try to deflect the wrath of the people from the real enemy. We will rise up in arms to overthrow the tsarist government and win freedom for the entire people. To arms, workers and peasants! Hold secret meetings, form fighting squads, get whatever weapons you can, send trusted men to consult with the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party! Let this year’s First of May be for us the celebration of the people’s uprising, let us prepare for it and await the signal for the decisive attack on the tyrant. Down with the tsarist government! We will overthrow it and set up a provisional revolutionary government to convene a Constituent Assembly of the people. Let people’s deputies be elected by universal, direct, and equal vote, through secret ballot. Let all fighters for freedom be released from prison or brought back from exile. Let public meetings be held openly and people’s newspapers be printed without surveillance by the accursed officials. Let all the people arm, let a rifle be given to every worker, so that the people themselves, not a handful of plunderers, may decide their own destiny. Let free peasants’ committees be set up in the countryside to overthrow the serf-owning landlord power, to free the people from the hateful oppression of the officials, to restore to the peasants the land that has been taken away from them.
This is what the Social-Democrats want, this is,what they call upon you to fight for, arms in hand: for complete freedom, for the democratic republic, for the eight-hour day, for peasants’ committees. Prepare then for the great battle, comrades workers, stop work in the factories and mills on the First of May, or take up arms according to the advice of the committees of the Social-Democratic Labour Party. The hour of the insurrection has not yet struck, but it is not far off now. The workers of the world are now looking with bated breath to the heroic Russian proletariat which has offered incalculable sacrifices to the cause of freedom. The St. Petersburg workers proclaimed on the famed Ninth of January: Freedom or death! Workers of all Russia, we will repeat that great battle-cry, we will not shrink from any sacrifices: through the uprising we will win freedom; through freedom, socialism!
Long live the First of May, long live international revolutionary Social-Democracy!
Long live the freedom of the workers and peasants, long live the democratic republic! Down with the tsarist autocracy!
Bureau of Committees of the Majority Editorial Board of “Vperyod”
Published: Sotsial-Demokrat No. 27, June 17 (4), 1912.
Collective Works, Volume 18, pp. 110 - 115
Elsewhere in this issue, the reader will find the full text of a leaflet printed and circulated by the St. Petersburg workers before the May Day action that will from now on be famous. That leaflet is very much worth dwelling on, for it is a most important document in the history of the working-class movement in Russia and in the history of our Party.
The leaflet reflects a certain state of disorganisation of the Social-Democratic Party in the capital, for the appeal is signed, not by the St. Petersburg Committee, but by individual Social-Democratic groups and even a group of worker Socialist-Revolutionaries. In most parts of Russia, the state of our Party is such that its directing committees and centres are constantly being arrested, and constantly re establish themselves thanks to the existence of all kinds of factory, trade union, sub-district and district Social-Democratic groups—the very same “nuclei” that have always roused the hatred of the liberals and liquidators. In the latest issue of the magazine published by those gentlemen (Nasha Zarya, 1912, No. 4), the reader can see again and again how Mr. V. Levitsky, writing with impotent rage and vomiting abuse, hisses against the “rebirth of the Party through an artificial revival of politically dead nuclei”.
What makes the leaflet under review all the more typical and noteworthy is the fact that, owing to the arrest of the St. Petersburg Committee, it was the nuclei that had to appear on the scene, nuclei deprived by the will of the police of the “directing centre” so hateful to the liquidators. Owing to this fact, which every revolutionary will find sad, the independent life of the nuclei came into the open. The nuclei had in all haste to rally their forces, establish contacts, and restore the “underground” in the face of fierce persecution by the police, who positively raged before May Day. The groups, representatives, etc., whose names appear under the leaflet, all constitute that very underground that is hateful to the liberals and the liquidators. While the same liquidationist leader, Mr. Levitsky, speaking on behalf of Nasha Zarya and Zhivoye Dyelo, of course assailed, foaming at the mouth, the “cult of the underground” (see p. 33 of the above-mentioned issue), we had, in the shape of the St. Petersburg leaflet, a precise and complete document revealing to us the existence of that underground, its vitality, the content of its work, and its significance.
The St. Petersburg Committee has been wiped out through the arrests, so now we shall see just what the underground nuclei are like in themselves, what they are doing or can do, what ideas they have actually made their own or evolved in their midst, and not merely borrowed from the supreme Party body, what ideas really enjoy the workers’ sympathy.
The leaflet shows what the nuclei are doing: they are carrying on the work of the St. Petersburg Committee, which for the time being is shattered (to the delight of all the diverse enemies of the underground). They continue preparing for May Day. They hastily re-establish the contacts between different underground Social-Democratic groups. They en list worker Socialist-Revolutionaries too, for they are well aware of the importance of uniting the proletariat round a living revolutionary cause. They rally these different Social-Democratic groups, and even a “group of worker Socialist-Revolutionaries”, round specific slogans of the struggle. And this is when the real character of the movement, the real sentiment of the proletariat, the real strength of the R.S.D.L.P. and of its January All-Russia Conference, stands out.
As a result of the arrests, there happens to be no hierarchic body able to decree the advancing of particular slogans. Hence the proletarian masses, the worker Social-Democrats and even some of the Socialist-Revolutionaries can be united only by slogans that are really indisputable for the masses, only by slogans that derive their strength not from a “decree from above” (as demagogues and liquidators put it), but from the conviction of the revolutionary workers themselves.
And what do we find?
We find that, after the St. Petersburg Committee had been shattered, at a time when its immediate restoration was impossible, and when one group of workers influenced another group solely by ideological, and not by organisational, means, the slogans adopted were those of the All-Russia Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. which was convened in January 1912 and which evokes a positively mad, savage hatred on the part of the liberals, the liquidators, Lieber, Trotsky and Co.!
“Let our slogans be,” the St. Petersburg workers wrote in their leaflet, “a constituent assembly, an eight-hour working day, the confiscation of the landed estates.” And further on the leaflet launches the call: “Down with the tsarist government! Down with the autocratic Constitution of June 3! Long live the democratic republic! Long live socialism!”
We see from this instructive document that all the slogans put forward by the Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. have been adopted by the St. Petersburg proletariat and have set their seal on the first steps of the new Russian revolution. All kinds of slanderers and detractors of the January Conference may carry on their dirty business as much as they like. The revolutionary proletariat of St. Petersburg has answered them. The work started long before the last Conference by revolutionary Social-Democrats, calling on the proletariat to assume the role of leader of the people’s revolution, has borne fruit despite all police persecution, despite the reckless pre-May Day arrests and hounding of revolutionaries, despite the torrent of lies and abuse from the liberal and liquidationist press.
Hundreds of thousands of St. Petersburg proletarians, followed by workers throughout Russia, resorted to strikes and street demonstrations not as one of the separate classes of bourgeois society, not with “their own” merely economic slogans, but as the leader raising aloft the banner of the revolution for the whole people, on behalf of the whole people, and with the aim of awakening and drawing into the struggle all the classes who need freedom and are capable of striving for it.
The revolutionary movement of the proletariat in Russia has risen to a higher level. Whereas in 1905 it began with mass strikes and Gaponiads, in 1912, despite the fact that the police has smashed our Party organisations, the movement is beginning with mass strikes and the raising of the republican banner! The separate “nuclei” and disconnected “groups” of workers did their duty under the most difficult and trying conditions. The proletariat set up its own “May Day committees” and went into action with a revolutionary platform worthy of the class which is destined to free man kind from wage slavery.
The May Day movement also shows what meaning some words about “unity” have and how the workers unite in reality. Rubanovich, a spokesman for the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, writes in Budushcheye, Burtsev’s Paris newspaper, that “we must point out the following note worthy feature of this May Day action: at the preparatory meetings, St. Petersburg workers refused to recognise the division existing among the various socialist groups; ... the prevailing tendency was towards agreement”. The leaflet we have reprinted clearly shows what fact prompted such an inference. The fact is that the Social-Democratic nuclei, which had lost their guiding centre, re-established contact with all the various groups by winning over workers regardless of the views they held and advocating to them all their Party slogans. And precisely because these Party slogans are correct, because they are in keeping with the proletariat’s revolutionary tasks and comprise the tasks of a revolution of the whole people, they were accepted by all workers.
Unity materialised because the January Conference of the R.S.D.L.P. gave up the idle game of bringing about agreement among small groups abroad, gave up the idle wooing of the liquidators of the revolutionary party, and put forward clear and precise fighting slogans at the right time. The proletariat’s unity for revolutionary action was achieved not by compromising between the proletarian (Social-Democratic) and the non-proletarian (Socialist Revolutionary) parties, not by seeking agreement with the liquidators who have broken away from the Social- Democratic Party, but by rallying the workers of Russian Social-Democratic organisations and by these workers making a correct appraisal of the tasks of the moment.
A good lesson for those who, succumbing to the idle chatter of the liberals of the Bund and the Trotskys from Vienna, are still capable of believing in “unity”—with the liquidators. The vaunted “Organising Commission” of Lieber, Trotsky and the liquidators cried out from the house-tops about “unity”, but in fact it could not, and did not, supply a single slogan actually uniting the revolutionary struggle of the workers. The liquidators supplied their own, non-revolutionary slogans, slogans of a liberal labour policy, but the movement disregarded them. That is what lies at the bottom of the Trotskyist fables about “unity”!
Swearing and vowing that he was “unifying”, and cursing the Conference as hard as he could, Trotsky assured good souls in Vienna on April 23 (May 6) that “the struggle for freedom of association is the basis” (!!) of the Lena events and of their repercussions, that “this demand is, and will be, the central [!!] issue of the revolutionary mobilisation of the proletariat”. Scarcely a week had passed when these pitiful phrases of the yes-man of the liquidators were swept away like so much dust—by the “representatives of all the organised workers of St. Petersburg”, “the Social-Democratic Obyedineniye group”, “the central Social-Democratic city group”, “the group of worker Socialist-Revolutionaries”, “the group of worker Social-Democrats” and “the representatives of May Day committees”.
The Social-Democratic proletariat of St. Petersburg has realised that a new revolutionary struggle must be started, not for the sake of one right, even though it should be the most essential, the most important for the working class, but for the sake of the freedom of the whole people.
The Social-Democratic proletariat of St. Petersburg has realised that it must generalise its demands, and not break them up into parts, that the republic includes freedom of association, and not vice versa, that it is necessary to strike at the centre, to attack the source of evil, to destroy the whole system, the whole regime, of the Russia of the tsar and the Black Hundreds.
The Social-Democratic proletariat of St. Petersburg has realised that it is ridiculous and absurd to claim freedom of association from Nicholas Romanov, from the Black-Hundred Duma, that it is ridiculous and absurd to presume that Russia’s present political system, our “autocratic Constitution of June 3”, is compatible with freedom of association, that in a country where there is a general and indiscriminate lack of rights, where arbitrary rule and provocation by the authorities reign supreme, and where there is no “freedom” even for simply helping tens of millions of starving people—it is only liberal chatterers and liberal labour politicians that can put freedom of association as “the central issue of revolutionary mobilisation”.
The Social-Democratic proletariat of St. Petersburg has realised that and unfurled the republican banner, demanding an eight-hour day and confiscation of the landed estates as the only guarantee of the truly democratic character of the revolution.
Collective Works, Volume 18, page 243 and page 244
Moscow , 1973
The strikes in April and May showed in point of fact that the proletariat had risen in a revolutionary strike. The combination of the economic and political strike, revolutionary meetings, and the slogan of a republic advanced by the St. Petersburg workers on May Day—all these facts were conclusive proof of the beginning of a revolutionary upswing. (volume 8, p. 243 )
The revolutionary onslaught which has begun calls for revolutionary slogans. Down with the monarchy! Long live the democratic republic, the eight-hour working day, and the confiscation of all landed estates! (Volume 18, p. 244 )
Published: Sotsial-Demokrat No. 31, June 15 (28), 1913.
Collective Works, Volume 19, pp. 218 – 227
A year has passed since the Lena events and the first, decisive upsurgence in the revolutionary working-class movement since the June Third coup. The tsar’s Black Hundreds and the landowners, the mob of officials and the bourgeoisie have celebrated the 300th anniversary of plunder, Tatar incursions, and the disgracing of Russia by the Romanovs. The Fourth Duma has convened and begun its “work”, though it has no faith in that work and has quite lost its former counter-revolutionary vigour. Confusion and tedium have beset liberal society, which is listlessly making appeals for reforms while admitting the impracticability of anything even approximating reform.
And now comes a May Day action by Russia’s working class, who first held a rehearsal in Riga, then went into resolute action in St. Petersburg on May 1. (0.S.); this action has rent the dun and dreary atmosphere like a thunderbolt. The tasks of the approaching revolution have come to the fore again in all their grandeur, and the forces of the advanced class leading it stand out in bold relief before hundreds of old revolutionaries, whom persecution by hang men and desertion by friends have not defeated or broken, and before millions of people of the new generation of democrats and socialists.
Weeks before May Day, the government appeared to have lost its wits, while the gentlemen who own factories behaved as if they had never had any wits at all. The arrests and searches seemed to have turned all the workers’ districts in the capital upside down. The provinces did not lag behind the centre. The harassed factory owners called conferences and adopted contradictory slogans, now threatening the workers with punishment and lock-outs, now making concessions in advance and consenting to stop work, now inciting the government to commit atrocities, now reproaching the government and calling on it to include May Day in the number of official holidays.
But even though the gendarmes showed the utmost zeal, even though they “purged” the industrial suburbs, even though they made arrests right and left according to their latest “lists of suspects”, it was no use. The workers laughed at the impotent rage of the tsar’s gang and the capitalist class and derided the governor’s menacing and pitiful “announcements”; they wrote satirical verses and circulated them by hand or passed them on by word of mouth; they produced, as if from nowhere fresh batches of small, poorly printed “leaflets”, short and plain, but very instructive, calling for strikes and demonstrations, and reminding the people of the old, uncurtailed, revolutionary slogans of the Social-Democrats, who in 1905 led the first onslaught of the masses against the autocracy and against monarchy.
A hundred thousand on strike on May Day, said the government press the next day. Bourgeois newspapers, using the first telegraphed information, reported a hundred and twenty-five thousand (Kievskaya Mysl). A correspondent of the central organ of the German Social-Democrats wired from St. Petersburg that it was a hundred and fifty thousand. And the day after the whole bourgeois press quoted a figure of 200,000–220,000. Actually the number of strikers reached 250,000!
But, apart from the number of May Day strikers, much more impressive—and much more significant—were the revolutionary street demonstrations held by the workers. Everywhere in and around the capital crowds of workers singing revolutionary songs, calling loudly for revolution and carrying red flags fought for several hours against police and security forces frantically mobilised by the government. And those workers made the keenest of the tsar s henchmen feel that the struggle was in earnest, that the police were not faced with a handful of individuals engaged in a trivial Slavophil affair, that it was actually the masses of the capital’s working class who had risen.
This was a really brilliant, open demonstration of the proletariat’s revolutionary aspirations, of its revolutionary forces steeled and reinforced by new generations, of revolutionary appeals to the people and the peoples of Russia. Last year the government and the manufacturers were able to take comfort from the fact that the Lena explosion could not have been foreseen, that they could not have made immediate preparations to combat its consequences; this time, however, the monarchy had displayed acute foresight, there had been ample time for preparation and the “measures” taken were most “vigorous”; the result was that the tsarist monarchy revealed its complete impotence when faced with a revolutionary awakening of the proletarian masses.
Indeed, one year of strike struggle since Lena has shown, despite the pitiful outcries of the liberals and their yes-men against the “craze for striking”, against “syndicalist” strikes, against combining economic with political strikes and vice versa—this year has shown what a great and irreplaceable weapon for agitation among the masses, for rousing them, for drawing them into the struggle the Social-Democratic proletariat had forged for itself in the revolutionary epoch. The revolutionary mass-scale strike allowed the enemy neither rest nor respite. It also hit the enemy’s purse, and in full view of the whole world it trampled into the mud the political prestige of the allegedly “strong” tsarist government. It enabled more and more sections of the workers to regain at least a small part of what had been achieved in 1905 and drew fresh sections of the working people, even the most backward, into the struggle. It did not exhaust the capacity of the workers, it was frequently demonstrative action of short duration, and at the same time it paved the way for further, still more impressive and more revolutionary open action by the masses in the shape of street demonstrations.
During the last year, no country in the world has seen so many people on strike for political ends as Russia, or such perseverance, such variety, such vigour in strikes. This circumstance alone shows to the full the pettiness, the contemptible stupidity of those liberal and liquidationist sages who tried to “adjust” the tactics of the Russian workers in 1912–13, using the yardstick of “European” constitutional periods, periods that were mainly devoted to the preparatory work of bringing socialist education and enlightenment, to the masses.
The colossal superiority of the Russian strikes over those in the European countries, the most advanced countries, demonstrates, not the special qualities or special abilities of Russia’s workers, but the special conditions in present-day Russia, the existence of a revolutionary situation, the growth of a directly revolutionary crisis. When the moment of a similar growth of revolution approaches in Europe (there it will be a socialist and not a bourgeois-democratic revolution, as in our country), the proletariat of the most developed capitalist countries will launch far more vigorous revolutionary strikes, demonstrations, and armed struggle against the defenders of wage-slavery.
This year’s May Day strike, like the series of strikes in Russia during the last eighteen months, was revolutionary in character as distinguished not only from the usual economic strikes but from demonstration strikes and from political strikes demanding constitutional reforms, like, for instance, the last Belgian strike.Those who are in bond age to a liberal world outlook and no longer able to consider things from the revolutionary standpoint, cannot possibly understand this distinctive character of the Russian strikes, a character that is due entirely to the revolutionary state of Russia. The epoch of counter-revolution and of free play for renegade sentiment has left behind it too many people of this kind even among those who would like to be called Social-Democrats.
Russia is experiencing a revolutionary situation because the oppression of the vast majority of the population—not only of the proletariat but of nine-tenths of the small producers, particularly the peasants—has intensified to the maximum, and this intensified oppression, starvation, poverty, lack of rights, humiliation of the people is, further more, glaringly inconsistent with the state of Russia’s productive forces, inconsistent with the level of the class consciousness and the demands of the masses roused by the year 1905, and inconsistent with the state of affairs in all neighbouring not only European but Asian—countries.
But that is not all. Oppression alone, no matter how great, does not always give rise to a revolutionary situation in a country. In most cases it is not enough for revolution that the lower classes should not want to live in the old way. It is also necessary that the upper classes should be unable to rule and govern in the old way. This is what we see in Russia today. A political crisis is maturing before our very eyes. The bourgeoisie has done everything in its power to back counter-revolution and ensure “peaceful development” on this counter-revolutionary basis. The bourgeoisie gave hangmen and feudal lords as much money as they wanted, the bourgeoisie reviled the revolution and renounced it, the bourgeoisie licked the boots of Purishkevich and the knout of Markov the Second and became their lackey, the bourgeoisie evolved theories based on “European” arguments, theories that revile the Revolution of 1905 as an “intellectualist” revolution and describe it as wicked, criminal, treasonous, and so on and so forth.
And yet, despite all this sacrificing of its purse, its honour and its conscience, the bourgeoisie—from the Cadets to the Octobrists—itself admits that the autocracy and land owners were unable to ensure “peaceful development”, were unable to provide the basic conditions for “law” and “order”, without which a capitalist country cannot, in the twentieth century, live side by side with Germany and the new China.
A nation-wide political crisis is in evidence in Russia, a crisis which affects the very foundation of the state system and not just parts of it, which affects the foundation of the edifice and not an outbuilding, not merely one of its storeys. No matter how many glib phrases our liberals and liquidators trot out to the effect that “we have, thank God, a constitution” and that political reforms are on the order of the day (only very limited people do not see the close connection between these two propositions), no matter how much of this reformist verbiage is poured out, the fact remains that not a single liquidator or liberal can point to any reformist way out of the situation.
The condition of the mass of the population in Russia, the aggravation of their position owing to the new agrarian policy (to which the feudal landowners had to snatch at as their last means of salvation), the international situation, and the nature of the general political crisis that has taken shape in our country—such is the sum-total of the objective conditions making Russia’s situation a revolutionary one because of the impossibility of carrying out the tasks of a bourgeois revolution by following the present course and by the means available to the government and the exploiting classes.
Such is the social, economic, and political situation, such is the class relationship in Russia that has given rise to a specific type of strike impossible in modern Europe, from which all sorts of renegades would like to borrow the example, not of yesterday’s bourgeois revolutions (through which shine gleams of tomorrow’s proletarian revolution), but of today’s “constitutional” situation. Neither the oppression of the lower classes nor a crisis among the upper classes can cause a revolution; they can only cause the decay of a country, unless that country has a revolutionary class capable of transforming the passive state of oppression into an active state of revolt and insurrection.
The role of a truly advanced class, a class really able to rouse the masses to revolution, really capable of saving Russia from decay, is played by the industrial proletariat. This is the task it fulfils by means of its revolutionary strikes. These strikes, which the liberals hate and the liquidators cannot understand, are (as the February resolution of the R.S.D.L.P. puts it) “one of the most effective means of overcoming the apathy, despair, and disunion of the agricultural proletariat and the peasantry, ... and drawing them into the most concerted, simultaneous, and extensive revolutionary actions”.
The working class draws into revolutionary action the masses of the working and exploited people, who are deprived of basic rights and driven to despair. The working class teaches them revolutionary struggle, trains them for revolutionary action, and explains to them where to find the way out and how to attain salvation. The working class teaches them, not merely by words, but by deeds, by example, and the example is provided not by the adventures of solitary heroes but by mass revolutionary action combining political and economic demands.
How plain, how clear, how close these thoughts are to every honest worker who grasps even the rudiments of the theory of socialism and democracy! And how alien they are to those traitors to socialism and betrayers of democracy from among the intelligentsia, who revile or deride the “underground” in liquidationist newspapers, assuring naive simpletons that they are “also Social-Democrats”.
The May Day action of the proletariat of St. Petersburg, supported by that of the proletariat of all Russia, clearly showed once again to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear the great historic importance of the revolutionary underground in present-day Russia. The only R.S.D.L.P. Party organisation in St. Petersburg, the St. Petersburg Committee, compelled even the bourgeois press, before the May Day action as well as on the eve of January 9, and on the eve of the Tercentenary of the Romanovs as well as on April 4, to note that St. Petersburg Committee leaflets had appeared again and again in the factories.
Those leaflets cost colossal sacrifices. Sometimes they are quite unattractive in appearance. Some of them, the appeals for demonstration on April 4, for instance, merely announce the hour and place of the demonstration, in six lines evidently set in secret and with extreme haste in different printing shops and in different types. We have people (“also Social-Democrats”) who, when alluding to these conditions of “underground” work, snigger maliciously or curl a contemptuous lip and ask: “If the entire Party were limited to the underground, how many members would it have? Two or three hundred?” [See No. 95 (181) of Luch, a renegade organ, in its editorial defence of Mr. Sedov, who has the sad courage to be an outspoken liquidator. This issue of Luch appeared five days before the May Day action, i.e., at the very time the underground was preparing the leaflets!]
Messrs. Dan, Potresov and Co., who make these disgraceful statements, must know that there were thousands of proletarians in the Party ranks as early as 1903, and 150 thousand in 1907, that even now thousands and tens of thousands of workers print and circulate underground leaflets, as members of underground R.S.D.L.P. cells. But the liquidationist gentlemen know that they are protected by Stolypin “legality” from a legal refutation of their foul lies and their “grimaces”, which are fouler still, at the expense of the underground.
See to what extent these despicable people have lost touch with the mass working-class movement and with revolutionary work in general! Use even their own yardstick, deliberately falsified to suit the liberals. You may assume for a moment that “two or three hundred” workers in St. Petersburg took part in printing and distributing those underground leaflets.
What is the result? “Two or three hundred” workers, the flower of the St. Petersburg proletariat, people who not only call themselves Social-Democrats but work as Social-Democrats, people who are esteemed and appreciated for it by the entire working class of Russia, people who do not prate about a “broad party” but make up in actual fact the only underground Social-Democratic Party existing in Russia, these people print and circulate underground leaflets. The Luch liquidators (protected by Stolypin censors) laugh contemptuously at the “two or three hundred”, the “underground” and its “exaggerated” importance, etc.
And suddenly, a miracle occurs! In accordance with a decision drawn up by half a dozen members of the Executive Commission of the St. Petersburg Committee—a leaflet printed and circulated by “two or three hundred”—two hundred and fifty thousand people rise as one man in St. Petersburg.
The leaflets and the revolutionary speeches by workers at meetings and demonstrations do not speak of an “open working-class party”, “freedom of association” or reforms of that kind, with the phantoms of which the liberals are fooling the people. They speak of revolution as the only way out. They speak of the republic as the only slogan which, in contrast to liberal lies about reforms, indicates the change needed to ensure freedom, indicates the forces capable of rising consciously to defend it.
The two million inhabitants of St. Petersburg see and hear these appeals for revolution which go to the hearts of all toiling and oppressed sections of the people. All St. Petersburg sees from a real, mass-scale example what is the real way out and what is lying liberal talk about reforms. Thousands of workers’ contacts—and hundreds of bourgeois news papers, which are compelled to report the St. Petersburg mass action at least in snatches—spread throughout Russia the news of the stubborn strike campaign of the capital’s proletariat. Both the mass of the peasantry and the peasants serving in the army hear this news of strikes, of the revolutionary demands of the workers, of their struggle for a republic and for the confiscation of the landed estates for the benefit of the peasants. Slowly but surely, the revolutionary strikes are stirring, rousing, enlightening, and organising the masses of the people for revolution.
The “two or three hundred” “underground people” express the interests and needs of millions and tens of millions, they tell them the truth about their hopeless position, open their eyes to the necessity of revolutionary struggle, imbue them with faith in it, provide them with the correct slogans, and win these masses away from the influence of the high-sounding and thoroughly spurious, reformist slogans of the bourgeoisie. And “two or three” dozen liquidators from among the intelligentsia, using money collected abroad and among liberal merchants to fool unenlightened workers, are carrying the slogans of that bourgeoisie into the workers’ midst.
The May Day strike, like all the revolutionary strikes of 1912–13, has made clear the three political camps into which present-day Russia is divided. The camp of hangmen and feudal lords, of monarchy and the secret police. It has done its utmost in the way of atrocities and is already impotent against the masses of the workers. The camp of the bourgeoisie, all of whom, from the Cadets to the Octobrists, are shouting and moaning, calling for reforms and making fools of themselves by thinking that reforms are possible in Russia. The camp of the revolution, the only camp expressing the interests of the oppressed masses.
All the ideological work, all the political work in this camp is carried out by underground Social-Democrats alone, by those who know how to use every legal opportunity in the spirit of Social-Democracy and who are inseparably hound up with the advanced class, the proletariat. No one can tell beforehand whether this advanced class will succeed in leading the masses all the way to a victorious revolution. But this class is fulfilling its duty—leading the masses to that solution—despite all the vacillations and betrayals on the part of the liberals and those who are “also Social-Democrats”. All the living and vital elements of Russian socialism and Russian democracy are being educated solely by the example of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, and under its guidance.
This year’s May Day action has shown to the whole world that the Russian proletariat is steadfastly following its revolutionary course, apart from which there is no salvation for a Russia that is suffocating and decaying alive.
The Eighteenth of June
Pravda No. 86, July 3 (June 20), 1917.
Collective Works, Volume 25, pp. 110 – 112
Moscow , 1974
In one way or another, June 18 [ of 1917 – remarked by the Comintern (SH) ] will go down as a turning-point in the history of the Russian revolution.
The mutual position of the classes, their correlation in the struggle against each other, their strength, particularly in comparison with the strength of the parties, were all revealed so distinctly, so strikingly, so impressively by last Sunday’s demonstration that, whatever the course and pace of further development, the gain in political awareness and clarity has been tremendous.
The demonstration in a few hours scattered to the winds, like a handful of dust, the empty talk about Bolshevik conspirators and showed with the utmost clarity that the vanguard of the working people of Russia, the industrial proletariat of the capital, and the overwhelming majority of the troops support slogans that our Party has always advocated.
The measured step of the battalions of workers and soldiers. Nearly half a million demonstrators. A concerted onslaught. Unity around the slogans, among which overwhelmingly predominated: “All power to the Soviets”, “Down with the ten capitalist Ministers”, “Neither a separate peace treaty with the Germans nor secret treaties with the Anglo-French capitalists”, etc. No one who saw the demonstration has any doubt left about the victory of these slogans among the organised vanguard of Russia’s workers and soldiers.
The demonstration of June 18 was a demonstration of the strength and policy of the revolutionary proletariat, which is showing the direction for the revolution and indicating the way out of the impasse. This is the tremendous historical significance of last Sunday’s demonstration, and its essential difference from the demonstrations during the funeral of the victims of the revolution and on May Day. Then it was a universal tribute to the revolution’s first victory and to its heroes. The people looked back over the first stage of the road to freedom, which they had passed very rapidly and very successfully. May Day was a holiday of hopes and aspirations linked with the history of the world labour movement and with its ideal of peace and socialism.
Neither of the two demonstrations was intended to point the direction for the revolution’s further development, nor could it do so. Neither demonstration put before the people, or raised in the name of the people, specific, definite and urgent questions as to how and in what direction the revolution should proceed.
In this sense, June 18 was the first political demonstration of action, an explanation of how the various classes act, how they want to and will act, in order to further the revolution—an explanation not given in a book or newspaper, but on the streets, not through leaders, but through the people.
The bourgeoisie kept out of the way. They refused to participate in that peaceful demonstration of a dear majority of the people, in which there was freedom of party slogans, and the chief aim of which was to protest against counter revolution. That is natural. The bourgeoisie are the counter-revolution. They hide from the people. They organise real counter-revolutionary conspiracies against the people. The parties now ruling Russia, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, clearly showed themselves on that historic day, June 18, as waverers. Their slogans spoke of wavering, and it was obvious to all that the supporters of their slogans were in a minority. By their slogans and wavering they advised the people to remain where they were, to leave everything unchanged for the time being. And the people felt, and they themselves felt, that that was impossible.
Enough of wavering, said the vanguard of the proletariat, the vanguard of Russia’s workers and soldiers. Enough of wavering. The policy of trust in the capitalists, in their government, in their vain attempts at reform, in their war, in their policy of an offensive, is a hopeless policy. Its collapse is imminent. Its collapse is inevitable. And that collapse will also be the collapse of the ruling parties, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks. Economic disruption is coming nearer. There is no escaping it except by the revolutionary measures of the revolutionary class which has taken power.
Let the people break with the policy of trust in the capitalists. Let them put their trust in the revolutionary class—the proletariat. The source of power lies in it and only in it, It alone is the pledge that the interests of the majority will be served, the interests of the working and exploited people, who, though held down by war an capital, are capable of defeating war and capital!
A crisis of unprecedented scale has descended upon Russia and the whole of humanity. The only way out is to put trust in the most organised and advanced contingent of the working and exploited people, and support its policy.
We do not know whether the people will grasp this lesson soon or how they will put it into effect. But we do know for certain that apart from this lesson there is no way out of the impasse, that possible waverings or brutalities on the part of the counter-revolutionaries will lead nowhere.
There is no way out unless the masses put complete confidence in their leader, the proletariat.
Published in „Izvestia , No. 93, May 3, 1919
Collective Works, Volume 29, pp. 328 – 329
Moscow , 1974
Lenin’s appearance among the demonstrators was greeted with a lengthy ovation. After greeting the Moscow and world proletariat, Lenin compared the May Day celebrations of the previous year with the present celebrations. In the course of the year, he said, the political situation had changed considerably in favour of Soviet power. On May the First the year before they had been threatened by German imperialism, it had been routed and dispersed.
The conditions under which the proletarian festival was being celebrated had changed in other countries as well. The workers in all countries were taking the path of struggle against imperialism. The emancipated working class was triumphantly celebrating its festival freely and openly not only in Soviet Russia, but also in Soviet Hungary, and ill Soviet Bavaria.
“And we can say with certainty,” continued Lenin, “that not only in Red Moscow, in Red Petrograd and in Budapest, but in all large proletarian centres, the workers, who have come out into the streets today riot merely to take the air but to demonstrate their strength, are talking about the significance of Soviet power and of the early triumph of the proletariat.”
Going on to deal with the threats of Anglo-French imperialism, Lenin said that considering that Anglo-French imperialists had been compelled to retire from the battle-field in the Ukraine, where small units of insurgents were operating, they would certainly be unable to resist the united forces of Soviet Russia, Hungary and Bavaria. Their withdrawal from Odessa and the Crimea had shown that the British and French soldiers did not wish to fight against Soviet Russia, and this was the pledge of Soviet victory.
Lenin then read a telegram he had received from Comrade Kamenev to the effect that Sevastopol had been entirely cleared of French forces.
“Thus, today,” he said, “the Red Flag of the proletariat, which is celebrating its day of liberation from the imperialist gangs, is flying over liberated Sevastopol.” (Lengthy ovation. Shouts of “Hurrah” repeated for a long time.)
Dealing with the Kolchak danger, Lenin said that the latest reports from the front gave them grounds to believe that victory over Koichak was quite near. Tens and hundreds of thousands of men were being sent to the front, and these would completely destroy Koichak’s gangs.
In conclusion, Lenin expressed his confidence in the final victory of Soviet power all over the world and exclaimed:
“Long live the world Soviet republic!
Long live communism!”
on May Day
Pervomaisky Subbotnik [ „May Day – Subbotnik“ ] , May 2, 1920
Collective Works, Volume 31, pp. 123 – 125
Moscow , 1974
The distance indicated in the above title has been covered in a single year. This is an enormous distance. Although all our subbotniks are still weak, and each subbotnik reveals a host of defects in arrangement, organisation and discipline, the main thing has been done. A heavy and ponderous mass has been shifted, and that is the essence of the matter.
We are not deceiving ourselves in the least about the little that has yet been done and about the infinite amount of work that has yet to be done; however, only malicious enemies of the working people, only malicious supporters of the bourgeoisie, can treat the May 1 subbotnik with disdain; only the most contemptible people, who have irrevocably sold themselves to the capitalists, can condemn the utilisation of the great First of May festival for a mass-scale attempt to introduce communist labour.
This is the very first time since the overthrow of the tsars, the landowners and tho capitalists that the ground is being cleared for the actual building of socialism, for the development of new social links, a new discipline of work in common and a new national (and later an international) system of economy of world-historic importance. This is a matter of transforming the very habits of the people, habits which, for a long time to come, have been defiled and debased by the accursed private ownership of the means of production, and also by the entire atmosphere of bickering, distrust, enmity, disunity and mutual intrigue that is inevitably generated—and constantly regenerated—by petty individual economy, the economy of private owners in conditions of “free” exchange among them. For hundreds of years, freedom of trade and of exchange has been to millions of people the supreme gospel of economic wisdom, the most deep-rooted habit of hundreds and hundreds of millions of people. This freedom is just as utterly false, serving to mask capitalist deception, coercion and exploitation, as are the other “freedoms” proclaimed and implemented by the bourgeoisie, such as the “freedom to work” (actually the freedom to starve), and so on.
In the main we have broken irrevocably with this “freedom” of the property-owner to be a property-owner, with this “freedom” of capital to exploit labour, and we shall finish the job. We are combating its remnants ruthlessly, with all our might.
Down with the old social links, the old economic relationships, the old “freedom” of labour (subordinated to capital), the old laws, the old habits!
Let us build a new society!
We were not daunted by defeats during the great revolutionary war against tsarism, against the bourgeoisie, against the omnipotent imperialist world powers.
We shall not be daunted by the gigantic difficulties and by the errors that are inevitable at the outset of a most difficult task; the transformation of all labour habits and customs requires decades. We solemnly and firmly promise one another that we shall make every sacrifice, that we shall hold out and win in this most arduous struggle—the struggle against the force of habit—that we shall work indefatigably for years and decades. We shall work to do away with the accursed maxim: “Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost”, the habit of looking upon work merely as a duty, and of considering rightful only that work which is paid for at certain rates. We shall work to inculcate in people's minds, turn into a habit, and bring into the day-by-day life of the masses, the rule: “All for each and each for all”; the rule: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”; we shall work for the gradual but steady introduction of communist discipline and communist labour.
We have shifted a huge mountain, a huge mass of conservatism, ignorance, stubborn adherence to the habits of “freedom of trade” and of the “free” buying and selling of human labour-power like any other commodity. We have begun to undermine and destroy the most deep-rooted prejudices, the firmest, age-long and ingrained habits. In a single year our subbotniks have made an immense stride forward. They are still infinitely weak, but that will not daunt us. We have seen our “infinitely weak” Soviet state, before our very eyes, gaining strength and becoming a mighty world force, as a result of our own efforts. We shall work for years and decades practising subbotniks, developing them, spreading them, improving them and converting them into a habit. We shall achieve the victory of communist labour.
[ The first communist subbotnik was held on April 12, 1919, by railwaymen of the Sortirovochnaya marshalling yards of the Moscow-Kazan Railway. Subbotniks were soon being held at many other enterprises in various cities. The experience of the first communist subbotniks was summed up by V. I. Lenin in A Great Beginning (Heroism of the Workers of the Rear. “Communist Subbotniks” ).
An all-Russia subbotnik was held on May 1, 1920, with over 425,000 people in Moscow alone participating, including V. I. Lenin, who, together with Kremlin army cadets, worked on clearing away building rubble on the territory of the Kremlin.
Lenin's article “From the First Subbotnik on the Moscow-Kazan Railway to the All-Russia May Day Subbotnik” was brought out on May 2, 1920, in a specially published handbill Pervomaisky Subbotnik, which was drawn up, set and printed during the May Day subbotnik by the staff of the newspapers Pravda, Izvestia, Ekonomicheskaya Zhizn, Bednota, the ROSTA Telegraph Agency, and by workers at the printing-house of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee.—Editor.]
Pravda No. 94, May 4, 1920
Collective Works, Volume 31, p. 126
Moscow , 1974
(Comrade Lenin mounts the platform to unanimous applause from the audience.)
this was once the site of the monument to a tsar. Today we are laying the foundation stone of a monument to the glory of liberated labour. The capitalists used to speak of the freedom of labour, while the workers and the peasants were obliged to sell them their labour and, in consequence, were free to die of starvation. We call that kind of labour wage slavery. We know that it is no easy matter to organise free labour in the proper way and to work in the conditions of the difficult times we are living through. Today's subbotnik is the first step along that road, but if we carry on in the same way we shall create a kind of labour that is genuinely free.
(Prolonged and unanimous applause.)
Collective Works, Volume 31, p. 189
Moscow , 1971
V. I. Lenin delivered a short but impressive speech on the significance of Karl Marx as a socialist leader.
“The working people were enslaved, despite political liberties. Now they are moving towards the workers’ revolution, which will create a socialist society without landowners and capitalists. To Russia has fallen the great honour and joy of helping to establish this socialist society and a world Soviet Republic. Today, on this international festival of labour, when we wish to prove to everybody that we shall succeed in coping with the task of organising a socialist society of the working people, we honour the memory of Karl Marx. And I am confident that the laying of this monument to our great teacher will serve as a call impelling us to give all our attention to the need for working hard and long to create a society in which there will be no room for exploitation.”