"So you think the revolution is coming? It’s coming!" Novoya Vremya, 5 May 1905

"Here it is!" Novoya Vremya, 5 May 1905


The fact that perfectly free popular gatherings were taking place within the walls of universities while Trepov’s unlimited terror reigned in the streets was one of the most astonishing political paradoxes of the autumn months of 1905. A certain General Glazov, old and ignorant, who for no known reason found himself holding the post of Minister of Education, created – much to his own surprise – these islands of freedom of speech. The liberal professors protested that the universities are for study and the street has no place in the academics. Prince Sergey Trubetskoy died with this truth upon his lips. But for several weeks the doors of the universities remained wide open. “The people” filled the corridors, lecture rooms and halls. Workers went directly from the factory to the university. The authorities were confounded. They could crush, arrest, trample and shoot workers while they remained in the streets or in their homes. But as soon as the worker crossed the threshold of the university he promptly became inviolable. The authorities were thus given an object lesson in the advantages of constitutional law over the law of autocracy.

The first free popular meetings took place on September 30 in the universities of Petersburg and Kiev. The official telegraph agency, horrified by the audience which gathered in the assembly hall of Vladimir University, reported that apart from students. The crowd consisted of “a multitude of extraneous persons of both sexes, secondary school pupils, adolescents from the town’s private schools, workers and a miscellaneous rag, tag, and bob tail.”

The revolutionary word had escaped from underground and was filling the university halls, lecture rooms, corridors and quadrangles. The masses were greedily taking in the slogans of revolution, so beautiful in their simplicity. The unorganized, accidental crowd which seemed like “a miscellaneous rag, tag, and bobtail” to the fools of the bureaucracy and the hacks of the reactionary press showed a moral discipline and a political sensibility which amazed even bourgeois journalists.

A columnist wrote in Rus:

Do you know what astonished me most of all at a university meeting? The extraordinary, exemplary order. Soon after I arrived, an interval was announced in the assembly hall, and I went for a stroll down the corridor. A university corridor is rather like a street. All the lecture rooms off the corridor were full of people, and independent sectional meetings were taking place inside them. The corridor itself was filled to overflowing; crowds were moving back and forth. Some people sat on the window sills, on benches, on top of cupboards. They smoked; they talked in low voices. One might have thought that one was attending a reception, only a rather more serious one than these affairs usually are. And yet this was the people – the real, genuine people, with hands coarsened by hard manual work, with that earth-colored complexion which people get from spending days in unhealthy, airless premises. And all of them had shining eves set deeply in their orbits ... For these undersized, thin, badly nourished people who had come here from the factory or the plant, from the workshop where steel is smelted or iron is cast, where the heat and smoke are stifling, the university is like a temple, lofty, spacious, dazzlingly white. And every word spoken here has the ring of a prayer ... The freshly awakened desire for knowledge absorbs any and every theory like a sponge.

No, this inspired crowd did not absorb any and every theory. Had those reactionary windbags who claim that no solidarity exists between the extremist parties and the masses attempted to address this crowd – but no, they did not dare. They sat tight in their holes-in-the-ground and waited for a breathing space in which they might renew their slanderous attacks on the past. But not only they – even the politicians and spokesmen of liberalism failed to address this vast, forever changing audience. Here the spokesmen of revolution reigned supreme. Here the social democrats forged indissoluble, vital political bonds to unite innumerable people. Here they translated the great social passions of the masses into the language of formulated revolutionary slogans. The crowd which left the university was no longer the crowd that had entered it ... Meetings took place every day. The mood of the workers mounted higher and higher, but the party issued no appeal. A popular action was expected to take place considerably later – coinciding with the anniversary of January 9 and the convening of the State Duma, due on January 10. The railwaymen’s union threatened to refuse to allow the deputies of Bulygin’s duma to enter Petersburg. But events developed more rapidly than anyone had foreseen.

The typesetters at Sytin’s print-works in Moscow struck on September 19. They demanded a shorter working day and a higher piecework rate per 1,000 letters set, not excluding punctuation marks. This small event set off nothing more nor less than the all-Russian political strike – the strike which started over punctuation marks and ended by felling absolutism.

The police department plaintively reported that an association called the Union of Moscow Typographers and Lithographers, banned by the government, had taken advantage of the strike at Sytin’s. By the evening of September 24, fifty printing works were on strike. A program of claims was drawn up on the twenty-fifth at a meeting permitted by the city governor. This program was interpreted by the city governor as an “arbitrary action of the Soviet of print shop deputies,” and in the name of the personal “independence” of workers menaced by such “arbitrary” proletarian action, this police satrap tried to put down the print-workers’ strike with his clumsy fist.

But the strike which had arisen over punctuation marks had already had time to spread to other branches. The Moscow bakers struck, and struck so solidly that two companies of the First Don Cossack Regiment, with the heroic courage characteristic of that particular arm of the Tsar’s forces, were obliged to take Filippov’s bakery by storm. On October 1 telegraphic messages were received from Moscow stating that the strikes at factories and plants were beginning to die down. But they were only drawing breath.


On October 2 the Petersburg typesetters decided to demonstrate their solidarity with their Moscow comrades by means of a three-day strike. Moscow telegraphed that industrial plants in the city were “continuing the strike.” There were no street incidents; heavy rain acted as the surest ally of law and order.

The railways, which were to play such a tremendous part in the October struggle, issued a first warning. On September 30 ferment began in the workshops of the Moscow-Kursk and Moscow-Kazan railways. These two railways were prepared to open the campaign on October 1. They were held back by the railwaymen’s union. Basing itself on the experience of the February, April, and July strikes of various individual lines, the union was preparing a general railway strike to coincide with the convening of the State Duma; for the present it was against partial action. But the ferment continued unabated. On September 20, an official conference of railwaymen’s deputies had opened to discuss the question of pension funds. This conference spontaneously extended its terms of reference and, applauded by the railway world as a whole, transformed itself into an independent trade union and political congress. Greetings to the congress arrived from all sides. The ferment increased. The idea of an immediate general strike of the railways began to gain hold in the Moscow area.

On October 3 we received a telephone message from Moscow to the effect that the strikes in the factories and plants were gradually diminishing. On the Moscow-Brest Railway, where the workshops were on strike, there was a noticeable movement in favor of resumption of work.

The strike had not yet made up its mind. It was still pondering and hesitating.

A meeting of workers’ deputies from the printing, engineering, cabinet-making, tobacco, and other trades adopted a decision to form a general council (Soviet) of all Moscow workers.

During the next few days everything seemed to point to conciliation. The strike in Riga came to an end. On October 4 and 5 work was resumed in many of the Moscow printing works. The newspapers appeared once more. A day later the Saratov editions appeared after a week’s interruption; nothing seemed to indicate the events that were to come.

At a university meeting in Petersburg on the fifth a resolution was adopted calling for the termination of “sympathy” strikes by a given date. The Petersburg typesetters returned to work after their three-day solidarity strike. On the same day the city governor of Petersburg was already announcing complete order on the Schlisselburg highway and full resumption of work. On the seventh, half the workers of the Neva shipbuilding plant resumed work. All plants beyond the Nevsky gate were working, with the exception of the Obukhov plant which had proclaimed a political strike until October 10.

Everyday life seemed about to return – revolutionary everyday life, of course. It looked as if the strike had made a few disorganized attempts, had abandoned them, and had departed. But that was only how it looked.


In reality the strike was preparing to go into action at full tilt. It meant to do its work in the briefest possible time – and immediately tackled the railways.

Influenced by the tension prevailing on all lines, particularly those centered on Moscow, the central office of the railwaymen’s union decided to declare a general strike. In so doing it had in mind only a trial mobilization of its fighting forces everywhere; the battle itself was still planned for January.

The decisive day was October 7. “The heart spasms have begun,” wrote Novoye Vremya; the Moscow railways were dying, one after the other. Moscow was becoming isolated from the country. Anxious telegrams raced one another along the telegraph wires: Nizhny Novgorod, Arzamas, Kashira, Ryazan, Venev, all complained that the railways were failing.

On October 7 the Moscow-Kazan Railway entered the strike. The Romodanov branch struck at Nizhny. On the next day the strike spread to the Moscow-Yaroslav, Moscow-Nizhegorod and Moskow-Kursk lines. Other central points, however, did not respond at once.

On October 8, at a meeting of employees of the Petersburg Railway center, it was decided to proceed actively with the organization of an all-Russian railwaymen’s union (which had first been proposed at the April congress in Moscow) in order subsequently to submit an ultimatum to the government and to support its claims by a strike of the entire railway network. Yet here too the strike was deferred to the indefinite future.

The Moscow-Kiev-Voronezh, Moscow-Brest, and other lines struck on October 9. The strike took control of the situation and, feeling the ground firm under its feet, overturned all moderate, procrastinating decisions which were hostile to it.

On October 9, at an extraordinary meeting of the Petersburg delegates’ congress of railway personnel, the slogans of the railway strike were formulated and immediately disseminated by telegraph to all lines. They were the following: eight-hour day, civil liberties, amnesty, Constituent Assembly.

The strike began confidently to take over the country. It finally bade farewell to indecision. The self-confidence of its participants grew together with their number. Revolutionary class claims were advanced ahead of the economic claims of separate trades. Having broken out of its local and trade boundaries, the strike began to feel that it was a revolution – and so acquired unprecedented daring.

The strike rushed forward along the rails and stopped all movement in its wake. It announced its coming over the wires of the railway telegraph. “Strike!” was the order of the day in every corner of the land. On October 9 the newspapers informed all Russia that a certain electrician named Bednov had been arrested with proclamations on the Kazan Railway. They still hoped to stop the strike by confiscating a bundle of proclamations. Fools! The strike swept ahead.

It followed a grandiose plan – that of halting industrial and commercial life in the country at large – and in following this plan it did not overlook a single detail. Where the telegraph refused to serve it, it cut the wires or overturned the telegraph poles. It halted railway engines and let off their steam. It brought the electric power stations to a standstill, and where this was difficult it damaged electric cables and plunged railway stations into darkness. Where it met stubborn resistance, it did not hesitate to disrupt lines, break signals, overturn engines, put obstacles across lines or place railway carriages across bridges. It penetrated into lift systems and stopped the hoisting winches. It halted goods trains wherever it found them, while passenger trains were usually run to the nearest junction or to the place of destination.

Only for its own purposes did the strike allow itself to break the vow of immobility. When it needed news bulletins of the revolution it opened a printing works; it used the telegraph to send out strike instructions; it let trains carrying strikers’ delegates pass.

Nothing else was exempt: the strike closed down industrial plants, chemists’ and grocers’ shops, courts of law, everything.

From time to time its attention wearied and its vigilance slackened, now here, now there. Sometimes a reckless train would break through the strike barrier: then the strike would set off in pursuit of it. The guilty train, like a criminal on the run, raced through dark and empty stations, unannounced by the telegraph, leaving a wake of fear and uncertainty behind it. But in the end the strike would catch up with the train, stop the engine, immobilize the driver, let off the steam.

It used every possible means. It appealed, convinced, implored; it begged on its knees – that is what a woman orator did at the Kursky Station in Moscow – it threatened, terrorized, threw stones, finally fired off its Brownings. It wanted to achieve its aim at whatever cost. It staked too much: the blood of fathers, the bread of children, the reputation of its own strength. An entire class obeyed it; and when a negligible fraction of that class, corrupted by the very forces it was fighting, stood in its path, it is scarcely surprising that the strike roughly kicked the obstacle aside.


The country’s motor nerves were dying. The economic body was growing numb. Smolensk, Kirsanov, Tula, Lukoyanov complained helplessly of complete immobility on the railways. On the tenth almost all lines centered on Moscow fell idle, including the Nikolayev Railway as far as Tver – and Moscow was utterly lost in the center of a boundless plain. The Savelovsk Railway, the last of those centered on Moscow, struck on the sixteenth.

On the evening of the tenth, striking railway employees met in the hall of Moscow University and resolved to continue the strike until all their claims were satisfied.

From the center, the railway strike spread to the periphery. The Ryazan-Ural line struck on the eighth, the Bryansk line of the Polessky Railway and the Smolensk-Dankov line on the ninth, the Kursk-Kharkov-Sevastopol and Yekaterininsk railways and all those centered on Kharkov on the tenth. Prices of foodstuffs began to rise rapidly everywhere. By the eleventh, Moscow was complaining of a milk shortage.

On that day the railway strike spread still further. Traffic on the Samara-Zlatoust Railway began to come to a halt. The Orel center was immobilized. The largest stations of the South-West railways – Kazatin, Birzula and Odessa – as well as Kremenchug on the Kharkov-Nikolayev Railway joined the strike. Only three trains reached Saratov throughout the day, and those trains carried no passengers other than the strikers’ elected deputies. The telegraph reported that these delegates’ trains were met with enthusiasm everywhere.

The railway strike spread inexorably, involving more and more lines, more and more trains. On October 11, the governor-general of Kurland issued an urgent decree making the cessation of work on the railway punishable by three months’ imprisonment. The answer to the challenge came immediately. By the twelfth no trains were running between Moscow and Kreizburg; the line was on strike; the Vindava train did not arrive.

Traffic came to a halt on all branches of the Vistula region on the night of October 11-12. In the morning, trains for Petersburg failed to leave Warsaw. On the same day – the twelfth – the strike encircled Petersburg itself. Revolutionary instinct prompted it to adopt the correct tactics: first it aroused the workers in all the provinces; then it bombarded Petersburg with thousands of frightened telegrams, thereby creating the “psychological moment”; it terrorized the central authorities; and only then arrived personally on the scene to deliver the coup de grace. On the morning of the twelfth the cessation of work on all railways which centered on Petersburg was adopted with complete unanimity. Only the Finland line still operated, awaiting the revolutionary mobilization of the whole of Finland; this line did not stop until four days later, the sixteenth. On October 3 the strike reached Revel, Libava, Riga, and Brest. Work ceased at Perm station. Traffic was halted on a part of the Tashkent Railway. On the fourteenth, the Brest center, the Trans-Caucasian Railway and the Ashkhabad and Novaya Bukhara stations on the Central Asian Railway struck in their turn. On the same day the strike spread to the Siberian railways; starting at Chita and Irkutsk and moving from the east westwards, it reached Chelyabinsk and Kurgan by the seventeenth. Baku Station struck on the fifteenth and Odessa on the seventeenth.

For a time, this paralysis of the motor nerves was accompanied by a paralysis of the sensory nerves: on the eleventh telegraphic communications were interrupted in Kharkov, on the thirteenth in Chelyabinsk and Irkutsk, on the fourteenth in Moscow and on the fifteenth in Petersburg.

Because of the railway strike, the postal system was forced almost entirely to refuse inter-city correspondence.

A horse-drawn troika with an old-fashioned forged shaft-bow was seen on the old Moscow highway.

Not only all the Russian and Polish railways, but also the Vladikavkaz, Trans-Caucasian and Siberian railways were at a standstill. The entire army of the railways – three-quarters of a million men – was on strike.


The bread, commodities, meat, vegetables, fish and other markets began to issue worried communiques. Prices of foodstuffs, especially meat, rose rapidly. The money exchange trembled. Revolution had always been its mortal enemy. Now that they were face to face with one another, the exchange began to behave like a thing possessed. It rushed to the telegraph, but the telegraph maintained a hostile silence. The post office, too, refused to serve. The exchange knocked on the door of the State Bank, but was told that the Bank could not guarantee transfers at a fixed date. Shares of railway and industrial enterprises left their perches like a flock of frightened birds, and flew off – only not upwards, but downwards. Panic, accompanied by the gnashing of teeth, reigned in the shadowy world of stock-exchange speculation. Money circulation was obstructed, payments from the provinces to the two capitals ceased to come in. Firms operating on a cash basis stopped their payments. The number of protested bills began to increase rapidly. All the issuers of checks and bills of exchange, all the guarantors, the payers and the payees began to fret and fuss and demand the changing of laws created for their use, be cause it – the strike, the revolution – had infringed upon all the laws of economic exchange.

But the strike was not content with the railways. It aimed at becoming universal.

Having let the steam out of the engines and put out the station lights, it joins the crowds of railway workers on their way to town. It halts trains, stops the horses of hackney carriages and obliges the passengers to dismount, closes down shops, restaurants, cafés and taverns, and confidently approaches the factory gates. Inside, they are already waiting. The alarm whistle starts, work stops, the crowd in the street swells. The strike marches forward, now carrying a red banner. The banner proclaims that it wants a Constituent Assembly and a republic, that it is fighting for socialism. It passes the editorial offices of a reactionary newspaper. It glances back with hatred at that infected ideological source and, if a stone happens to be handy, it hurls it at a window. The liberal press, which thinks that it is serving the people, sends a deputation to the strike, promising to work for “conciliation” and begging for mercy. Its pleas are left unheeded. The type cases are closed, the compositors come out into the street. Offices and banks are closed down. The strike rules over everything.

On the tenth of October a general political strike was proclaimed in Moscow, Kharkov and Revel; on the eleventh, in Sniolensk, Kozlov, Yekaterinoslav and Lodz; on the twelfth, in Kursk, Byelgorod, Samara, Saratov and Poltava; on the thirteenth, in Petersburg, Orsha, Minsk, Kremenchug and Simferopol; on the fourteenth, in Gomel, Kalish, Rostov-on-Don, Tiflis and Irkutsk; on the fifteenth, in Vilna, Odessa and Batum; on the sixteenth in Orenburg; on the seventeenth in Yuriev, Vitebsk and Tomsk. Riga, Libava, Warsaw, Plotsk, Byelostock, Kovna, Dvinsk, Pskov, Poltava, Nikolayev, Mariupol, Kazan, Chenstokhovo, Zlatoust and others also struck. Industrial life, and in many places also commercial life, collapsed everywhere. Schools and universities closed down. “Unions” of the intelligentsia joined the strike of the proletariat. In many places juries refused to sit, lawyers to plead, doctors to attend patients. Justices of the peace closed down their courts.


The strike organized colossal meetings. The tension of the masses and the dismay of the authorities grew simultaneously, each feeding the other. The streets and squares were filled with mounted and foot patrols. The cossacks provoked the strike to offer resistance; they charged crowds, slashing with whips, striking with sabers, shooting from behind corners without warning.

Then the strike showed, wherever it could, that it was not a merely temporary interruption of work, a passive protest made with folded arms. It defended itself and, in its defense, passed to the offensive.

In a number of towns in the south it erected barricades, seized gun shops, armed itself and offered a heroic if not victorious resistance.

In Kharkov on October 10, after a meeting, the crowd seized a gun shop. On the eleventh, barricades were erected by workers and students near the university. Telegraph poles were torn down and laid across the streets; iron gates, shutters, grilles, packing cases, planks, and logs were piled on top, and the lot was bound together with telegraph wire. Some barricades were built on stone foundations. Heavy slabs dug up from the pavements were piled on top of logs. By 1:00 p.m. ten barricades had been built according to this simple but noble architecture. Windows and passages in the university were also barricaded. The university area was declared to be in a state of siege, and command of the area was entrusted to a certain, no doubt valiant, Lieutenant-General Mau. However, the governor accepted a compromise solution and honorable conditions for surrender were worked out, the liberal bourgeoisie acting as mediator. A militia was organized and enthusiastically welcomed by the citizens. The militia restored order. Petersburg then demanded that this order be crushed by force. The militia was dispersed almost as soon as it had come into being, and the town was once more in the power of thugs on horseback and on foot.

In Yekaterinoslav on October 11, after cossacks had treacherously fired on a peaceful crowd, barricades first appeared in the streets. They were six in number. The largest stood on Bryansky Square. Carts, rails, poles, dozens of small objects – all the things which, as Victor Hugo put it, the revolution can find to hurl at the head of the old order – were used in building it. The skeleton of the barricade was covered with a thick layer of earth, ditches were dug on either side, and wire obstacles were erected in front of the ditches. From morning, several hundred people were present on each barricade. The first attack of the armed forces was unsuccessful; only at 3:30 p.m. did the soldiers seize the first barricade. During the attack, two bombs were thrown, one after the other, from the housetops; among the soldiers there were dead and wounded. By evening, the troops had taken all the barricades. On the twelfth, the peace of the graveyard reigned in the town. The army was cleaning its rifles while the revolution buried its dead.

October 16 was the day of the barricades in Odessa. From morning, tramway carriages were overturned on Preobrazhenskaya and Richelieu streets, shop signs were taken down, trees were felled and street benches were gathered into a pile. Four barricades surrounded by barbed-wire obstacles were set across the entire width of the streets. They were taken by the soldiers after a fight, and were pulled down with the help of janitors.

Street clashes between strikers and soldiers and attempts to erect barricades occurred in many other towns. But by and large the October days remained a political strike, a revolutionary exercise, a simultaneous review of all the revolution’s fighting forces, but not an armed rising.


And yet absolutism gave in. The tremendous tension gripping the entire country, the confused reports arriving in vast numbers from the provinces, the total uncertainty as to what the next day had in store – all created unbelievable panic in the government’s ranks. There was no full and unconditional confidence in the army; soldiers were seen at meetings; officers who spoke at meetings claimed that a third of the army was “with the people.” Furthermore, the railway strike created unsurmountable obstacles to military pacification measures. And, finally, there was the European stock exchange. It understood that it was dealing with revolution, and declared that it was not prepared to tolerate such a state of affairs any longer. It demanded order and constitutional guarantees.

Absolutism, in its utter confusion, began to make concessions. A manifesto was issued on October 17. Count Witte became Prime Minister – thanks (let him deny this if he can) to the victory of the revolutionary strike, or, more precisely, thanks to the incompleteness of that victory. During the night of October 17-18 people marched in the streets with red banners, called for an amnesty, sang “Eternal Memory“ at the sites of the January massacres and shouted “Anathema!“ outside Pobedonostsev's house and the offices of the New Times. On the morning of the eighteenth came the first killings that were to take place during the constitutional era.

The enemy had not been stifled. He retreated only temporarily before the unexpected onslaught. The October strike showed that the revolution was now capable of bringing the whole of urban Russia simultaneously to its feet. This was a tremendous step forward, and the reactionary ruling clique showed a proper appreciation of this fact when it responded to the October trial of strength by, on the one hand, issuing the manifesto of October 17 and, on the other hand, by mobilizing all its fighting cadres in the cause of the Black Terror.


Ten years ago [1] Plekhanov said at the London socialist congress that the Russian revolutionary movement would triumph as a workers’ movement or not at all.

On January 7, 1905, Struve wrote: “There is no such thing as a revolutionary people in Russia.”

On October 17 the autocratic government put its signature to the first serious victory of the revolution – and that victory was won by the proletariat. Plekhanov had been right: the revolutionary movement triumphed as a workers’ movement.

True, the October strike took place not only with the material help of the bourgeoisie, but also with its direct support in the form of a strike by the liberal professions. But that does not alter the situation. A strike of engineers, lawyers, and doctors could not have any independent significance, and it increased the political significance of the workers' strike only to a very small extent. What it did do was to underline the unquestionable and unlimited hegemony of the proletariat in revolutionary struggle. The liberal professions, which after January 9 had adopted the principal democratic slogans of the Petersburg workers, in October adopted the actual method of struggle typical of the proletariat: the strike. The students, the most revolutionary wing of the intelligentsia, had long since begun to carry the strike from the factories to the universities – accompanied by solemn protests by the entire body of liberal university professors. The further growth of the revolutionary hegemony of the proletariat spread the strike to the law courts, the chemists’ shops, the rural administration offices and the town dumas.

The October strike was a demonstration of the proletariat’s hegemony in the bourgeois revolution and, at the same time, of the hegemony of the towns in an agricultural country.

The old power of the land, deified by the Narodnik movement, gave place to the despotism of the capitalist town.

The town became master of the situation. It concentrated colossal wealth within itself, it attached the villages to itself by the iron bond of rails; along these rails it gathered into its entrails the finest forces of initiative and creative power in all spheres of life; both materially and spiritually, it put the entire country in its thrall. In vain the reactionaries would calculate the small percentage of the urban population, comforting themselves with the thought that Russia was still an agricultural country. The political role of the modern town cannot be measured by the number of its inhabitants any more than its economic role can be. The retreat of reaction in the face of the towns on strike – the countryside remaining silent all the while – is the best proof of the dictatorship of the towns.

The October days showed that in revolution the hegemony belongs to the towns and, in the towns, to the proletariat. But at the same time they revealed that the consciously revolutionary towns were cut off from the spontaneously aroused countryside.

The October days posed, in practice and on a colossal scale, the question: On whose side is the army? They showed that the destiny of Russian freedom depended on the answer to that question.

The October days of revolution led to the October orgy of reaction. The black forces took advantage of a moment of revolutionary ebb for launching a bloody attack. This attack owed its success to the fact that the revolutionary strike, having laid down the hammer, had not yet taken up the sword. The October days showed the revolution with a terrible logic that it needed arms.

To organize the countryside and bind it to itself; to establish close links with the army; to arm itself: those were the great and simple conclusions which the October struggle and the October victory dictated to the proletariat.

It is on these conclusions that the revolution rests.

* * *

In our essay Before January 9, written during the period of the liberal “spring,” we attempted to map out the course of the future development of revolutionary relations. In doing this we put the greatest emphasis on the mass political strike as the inevitable method of the Russian revolution. Certain people – who, one should add, are estimable in every respect – accused us of trying to provide a recipe for revolution. These critics explained to us that the strike, being a specific method of proletarian class struggle, would not play the role we were “forcing upon it” under the conditions of a national bourgeois revolution. Events as they have turned out in defiance of many a profound thinker’s clichés have long ago relieved me of the necessity of replying to these estimable critics. [2] The general strike in Petersburg, on the basis of which the drama of January 9 took place, occurred while the above-mentioned essay was not yet printed: evidently our “recipe” was a simple plagiarism from actual revolutionary development.

In February 1905, at the time of the chaotic disconnected strikes provoked directly by Bloody Sunday in Petersburg, we wrote:

After January 9 the revolution knows no stopping. It is no longer satisfied with the hidden underground work of continually arousing new strata of the population; it is now making an overt and urgent roll call of its fighting companies, its regiments, battalions and divisions. The proletariat is the main force of its army; and that is why the revolution has made the strike its means of carrying out this roll call.

Trade after trade, factory after factory, town after town are stopping work. The railway personnel act as the detonators of the strike; the railway lines are the channels along which the strike epidemic spreads. Economic claims are advanced and are satisfied, wholly or in part, almost at once. But neither the beginning of the strike nor its end is fully determined by the nature of the claims made or by the form in which they are met. The strike does not occur because the economic struggle has found expression in certain well-defined demands; on the contrary, the demands are chosen and formulated because there has to be a strike. The workers have to reveal to themselves, to the proletariat in other parts of the country, finally to the nation at large, their accumulated strength, their class responsiveness, their fighting readiness. Everything has to be submitted to a universal revolutionary appraisal. The strikers themselves and those who support them, those who fear them and those who hate them, all realize or dimly sense that this furious strike which leaps from place to place, then takes off again and rushes forward like a whirlwind – that this strike is not merely itself, that it is obedient to the will of the revolution which has sent it down upon the land.

We were not mistaken. The great October strike grew on the soil prepared by the nine months’ strike campaign.

For the liberals with their incurably superficial view, the October strike was as unexpected as the ninth of January had been. These events did not enter their preconceived schema of history; they cut into it like a wedge. But after-the-fact liberal thought accepted these events. More than that: before the October strike, liberalism placed its trust in zemstvo congresses and contemptuously ignored the idea of a general strike; after October 17 the same liberalism, as represented by its left wing placed its entire trust in the victorious strike and rejected all other forms of revolutionary struggle.

“This peaceful strike,” Mr. Prokopovich wrote in Pravo, “this strike which involved a far smaller number of victims than the January movement, and which culminated in profound governmental change, was a revolution that radically altered the state structure of Russia.

“History,” he continues, “in depriving the proletariat of one of the means of struggle for people’s rights – the street rising and the barricades – gave it a still more powerful means, the political general strike.” [3]

The foregoing quotations show the great importance we attached to the mass political strike as an inevitable method of the Russian revolution, at a time when the radical Prokopoviches were still placing their trust in the zemstvo opposition. But we are quite unable to admit that the general strike canceled or replaced the earlier methods of revolution. It merely modified and supplemented them. And likewise, however highly we assess the significance of the October strike, we are quite unable to admit that it “radically altered the state structure of Russia.” On the contrary: all subsequent political developments can only be explained by the fact that the October strike left the state structure unchanged. More than that, the strike could not have achieved profound governmental change. Qua political strike it completed its mission by putting the opponents face to face.

The railway and telegraph strike indisputably introduced extreme disorganization into the mechanism of government, and this disorganization became greater as the strike continued. But a prolonged strike causes disintegration of economic and social life as a whole and inevitably weakens the workers themselves. In the end the strike could not but come to an end. But as soon as the first engine began to steam and the first Morse apparatus began to click again, the state power (which was still in being) was able to replace all the broken levers and, generally speaking, to renew the worn-out parts of the old state machinery.

In struggle it is extremely important to weaken the enemy. That is what a strike does. At the same time a strike brings the army of the revolution to its feet. But neither the one nor the other, in itself, creates a state revolution.

The power still has to be snatched from the hands of the old rulers and handed over to the revolution. That is the fundamental task. A general strike only creates the necessary preconditions; it is quite inadequate for achieving the task itself.

The old state power rests on its material forces and, above all, on the army. The army stands in the way of real, as opposed to paper, revolution. At a certain moment in revolution the crucial question becomes: on which side are the soldiers – their sympathies and their bayonets?

That is not a question you can answer with the help of a questionnaire. Many useful and appropriate comments can be made concerning the width and straightness of streets in modern towns, the characteristics of modern weapons, etc., etc., but none of these technical considerations can supersede the question of the revolutionary takeover of state power. The inertia of the army must be overcome. The revolution achieves this by pitting the army against the popular masses. A general strike creates favorable conditions for such conflict. It is a harsh method, but history offers no other.


1. Written in 1905 - (Author)

2. The persons meant here are Menshevik writers such as Martov, Dan, et al.

3. Pravo, 1905, No.41.