Tony Cliff

Lenin 1

Chapter 18
The Rising Revolutionary Wave

Economic Prosperity

IN 1909, an economic boom followed the slump. Almost every industry recovered from the severe crisis of 1907-08. The next few years saw a continuous growth of production, as illustrated in the table below, which gives the output of main branches of Russian industry (in million puds). [1] [1*]




Pig iron




Iron and steel



Roofing iron


















Cotton consumption



The revolutionary movement also revived. Among the popular masses, the first to stir were the students.



Student unrest

In the autumn of 1910, student demonstrations took place in connection with the deaths of the former liberal president of the first Duma, Muromtsev, and of Leo Tolstoy. They also occurred in response to the brutal mistreatment of political prisoners in the Zerentui jail in Trans-Baikal. Meetings were held in universities, resolutions of protest passed, and attempts made to organise demonstrations in the streets. A general strike of students broke out at the beginning of 1911 in protest against the repressive measures taken by the government, and spread throughout Russia. Lenin welcomed the student awakening enthusiastically. He criticised in no uncertain terms a letter from a group of Social Democratic students who tried to belittle the importance of the movement because it was not related to any workers’ mass action. The students’ letter said, “We envisage student action only as one coordinated with general political action, and in no case apart from it. The elements capable of uniting the students are lacking. In view of this we are against academic action.” [2] Lenin commented sharply:

Such an argument is radically wrong. The revolutionary slogan to work towards coordinated political action of the students and the proletariat, etc. – here ceases to be a live guidance for many-sided militant agitation on a broadening basis and becomes a lifeless dogma, mechanically applied to different stages of different forms of the movement. It is not sufficient merely to proclaim political co-ordinated action, repeating the “last words,” in lessons of the revolution. One must be able to agitate for political action, making use of all possibilities, all conditions and, first and foremost, all mass conflicts between advanced elements, whatever they are, and the autocracy.

Conditions are possible when academic movement lowers the level of a political movement, or divides it, or distracts from it – and in that case Social Democratic students’ groups would of course be bound to concentrate their agitation against such a movement. But anyone can see that the objective political conditions at the present time are different. The academic movement is expressing the beginning of a movement among the new “generation” of students, who have more or less become accustomed to a narrow measure of autonomy; and this movement is beginning when other forms of mass struggle are lacking at the present time, when a lull has set in. [3]

The students were more easily stirred to action than the workers, who suffered so severely during the period of reaction. But the student revival was the manifestation of a much deeper and wider awakening of the popular masses.



Workers awake

The year 1911 saw the workers gradually moving over to the offensive. In 1908, the number of strikers had been tiny – 60,000; in 1910, it was even lower – 46,623; in 1911, it rose to 105,110. The conference of Bolsheviks in January 1912 stated,

The onset of a political revival is to be noted among broad democratic circles, chiefly among the proletariat. The workers’ strikes of 1910-11 the beginning of demonstrations and proletarian meetings, the start of a movement among urban bourgeois democrats (the student strikes), etc., all these are signs of the growing revolutionary feelings of the masses against the 3 June regime. [4]

The movement received a tremendous impetus from the terrible massacre of gold miners in Lena on 4 April 1912. 6,000 miners were on strike in the Lena gold fields, which were situated in a region of taiga forests almost 2,000 kilometres from the Siberian railway. An officer of the gendarmerie ordered the unarmed crowd to be fired on, and 500 people were either killed or wounded. The Social Democratic Duma group attacked the government over the shooting and received an insolent reply from the Tsar’s minister of the interior, A.A. Makarov: “So it was, and so it will be!”

It is interesting to note that the demonstrations following the Lena massacre raised the slogan of a democratic republic from the outset, reflecting a much higher level of consciousness among the masses than had existed at the beginning of the 1905 Revolution, which started with a naïve petition to the Tsar. In April 1912 the Russian workers started where they had left off at the height of the revolution some seven years before.

News of the bloody drama in the Lena gold fields aroused the anger of the working class. Street demonstrations, meetings, and protests took place all over the country. As many as 300,000 workers took part in protest strikes. These merged with the May Day strike, in which 400,000 workers took part [5], and other political strikes followed.

Before the delegates from the workers’ curia of St. Petersburg gubernia could hold their congress to elect electors to the fourth Duma in December 1912, the Tsarist government declared the election of 21 of them null and void. In reply to the government move, workers in a number of St. Petersburg factories called a political strike. As many as 100,000 workers were involved.

On 11 November workers in Riga organised a protest demonstration against the death sentence passed on a group of sailors on the battleship Ioann Zlatoust by a court martial in Sebastopol, and also against the torture of political prisoners in the Algachinsky and Kutomarsky prisons. More than 15,000 workers marched through the streets of Riga singing revolutionary songs. The next day, a number of large factories in the city began a political strike. In Moscow, too, workers in a number of factories went on strike on 8 November against the Sebastopol executions.

When, in November 1913, six workers from the Obukhov works in Petersburg were arrested for contravening the law banning strikes in “socially necessary factories”, protest meetings were held in every factory in Petersburg. One hundred thousand workers went on strike in solidarity with the accused, and there was a violent demonstration in front of the court building demanding the workers’ right to organise. Under the pressure of these events, the court gave the accused workers only light sentences. Even so, an appeal was lodged, and on 20 May 1914, when the appeal was heard, there was yet another protest strike in the capital, in which more than 100,000 workers took part. [6] Again on 15 November, the day the Duma opened, some 180,000 workers went on strike.

Lenin could justifiably write in his article The Development of Revolutionary Strikes and Street Demonstrations (Sotsial-Demokrat, January 12, 1913),

we are witnessing revolutionary mass strikes, the beginning of a revolutionary upsurge ... In no country of the world would it be possible, unless there were a revolutionary social situation, to rouse hundreds of thousands of workers to political action for the most varied reasons several times a year ... The beginning of the revolutionary upswing is incomparably higher today than it was before the first revolution. Consequently, the coming second revolution even now reveals a much greater store of revolutionary energy in the proletariat ... The Russian workers’ revolutionary strike in 1912 was national in the fullest sense of the term. [7]

The revolutionary political strikes continued up to the outbreak of the First World War. We can list a few of the high-water marks in St. Petersburg. On January 9, 1913, the anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” about 80,000 workers downed tools. On 4 April 1913 – the anniversary of the Lena massacre – a one-day strike took place in which more than 85,000 participated. A few weeks later, on May Day, some 250,000 workers came out on strike. On 1-3 July, 62,000 struck in protest against the persecution of the working-class press, the continual confiscation of newspapers, etc. In the first half of 1914, the number of workers participating in strikes was 1,425,000, of which 1,059,000 were in political strikes. This almost reached the figure for the whole of 1905, when the number of workers participating in political strikes was 1,843,000. The movement was pushing toward revolution, but the outbreak of the war sharply interrupted the rising tide.



Bolsheviks Take Advantage of the Parliamentary Situation

During the years 1912-14 the Bolsheviks took maximum advantage of the Tsarist Duma. Against the Otzovists and Ultimatists, Lenin made it clear that the work of Bolsheviks in the Duma must be integrated with and subordinated to the work of revolutionaries outside the Tsarist institution. They must

establish teamwork in this field ... so that every Social Democratic deputy may really feel that he has the party behind him, that the party is deeply concerned over his mistakes and tries to straighten out his path – so that every party worker may take part in the general Duma work of the party, learning from the practical Marxist criticism of its steps, feeling it his duty to assist it, and striving to gear the special work of the group to the whole propaganda and agitation activity of the party. [8]

Again he said,

We must and shall work hard and persistently to bring the party and the Duma group closer together, to improve the group itself.

With us in Russia the party’s struggle with the Duma group to correct the latter’s errors is only just beginning. We have not yet had a single party conference telling the group firmly and clearly that it must correct its tactics in such-and-such definitely specified respects. We have not as yet a central organ appearing regularly, following every step of the group on behalf of the whole party and giving it direction. Our local organisations have done still very, very little in that field of work – agitation among the masses on the subject of every speech of a Social Democrat in the Duma, explaining every mistake in this or that speech. [9]

In order to fight “parliamentary cretinism” and to make it clear that the Duma had to be used as a platform for propaganda in the outside world and for nothing else, Lenin formulated a very clear set of rules for the behaviour of Bolshevik Duma deputies.

For Bills introduced by the Social Democratic group in the Duma to fulfil their purpose, the following conditions are necessary.

1. Bills must set out in the clearest and most definite form the individual demands of the Social Democrats included in the minimum program of our party or necessarily following from this program;

2. Bills must never be burdened with an abundance of legal subtleties; they must give the main grounds for the proposed laws, but not elaborately worded texts of laws with all details;

3. Bills should not excessively isolate various spheres of social reform and democratic changes, as might appear essential from a narrowly legal administrative or “purely parliamentary” standpoint. On the contrary, pursuing the aim of Social Democratic propaganda and agitation, Bills should give the working class the most definite idea possible of the necessary connection between factory (and social in general) reforms and the democratic political changes without which all “reforms” of the Stolypin autocracy are inevitably destined to undergo a “Zubatovist” distortion and be reduced to a dead letter. As a matter of course this indication of the connection between economic reforms and politics must be achieved not by including in all bills the demands of consistent democracy in their entirety, but by bringing to the fore the democratic and specially proletarian-democratic institutions corresponding to each individual reform, and the impossibility of realising such institutions without radical political changes must be emphasised in the explanatory note to the bill. [10]

Lenin rejected the reformists’ idea that the parliamentary group should have a controlling position in the party. He held that it had to be subordinated to the party as a whole, and had to play a role subsidiary to that of the masses fighting in the factories and the streets.

The parliamentary group is not a general staff (if I may be allowed to use a “military” simile) ... but rather a unit of trumpeters in one case, or a reconnaissance unit in another, or an organisation of some other auxiliary “arm”. [11]

... the Bolsheviks regard direct struggle of the masses ... as the highest form of the movement, and parliamentary activity without the direct action of the masses as the lowest form of the movement. [12]

It is impossible to recognise the revolutionary struggle of the masses and put up with the purely legal, purely reformist activity of socialists in parliaments ... It is essential to say clearly and publicly that Social Democrats in parliaments must use their position not only to make parliamentary speeches, but also to give all-round extra-parliamentary assistance to the illegal organisation and revolutionary struggle of the workers, and that the masses themselves must, through their illegal organisation, check up on such activity by their leaders. [13]

The party’s control over its Duma deputies was so strict that, even when the leadership of the Bolshevik group in the Duma fell into the hands of the police agent Roman Malinovsky, the party benefited from his activities in the Duma far more than the police. Lenin wrote many of the deputies’ speeches. On receiving his text from Lenin, Malinovsky delivered it to the director of the police department. The latter attempted at first to introduce changes into the text, but the party control of the deputies was so stringent that Malinovsky could not make the changes. Even when he skipped a paragraph or so, claiming this to be an accident due to confusion in the Duma, the original text written by Lenin was printed in full in the party daily, Pravda. Malinovsky proved himself an extremely useful Bolshevik agitator!

A.Y. Badaev, the Bolshevik Duma deputy from St. Petersburg, formerly an engineer, testified to the extent to which the work of the Bolshevik group in the Duma was closely linked with the work of the editorial board of Pravda, and of the Bolsheviks in the factories.

Pravda and the fraction worked hand in hand and only with the aid of the paper was the fraction able to carry out the tasks assigned to it by the party and the revolutionary movement. We used the Duma rostrum to speak to the masses over the heads of the parliamentarians of various shades. But this was only rendered possible by the existence of our workers’ press ... Had there been no workers’ Bolshevik paper, our speeches would not have been known outside the walls of the Taurida Palace.

This was not the only assistance which we received from Pravda. At the editorial offices we met delegates from the St. Petersburg factories and works, discussed various questions and obtained information from them. In short, Pravda was a centre around which revolutionary workers could gather and which provided the support for the work of the fraction in the Duma. [14]

The Bolshevik Duma deputies were deeply involved in helping the workers’ struggle. Thus between the end of October 1913 and June 6, 1914, they raised donations of 12,819 roubles (of which 12,063 roubles came from 1,295 workers’ groups) for the relief of comrades in prison or in exile, for aid to strikers in various factories, and for other needs of the working-class movement. [15]

In the 1912 elections to the fourth Duma, the Bolsheviks performed well, getting six deputies elected (the Mensheviks had seven). All the Bolshevik deputies were elected in the workers’ curias, whereas most of the Mensheviks came from middle-class constituencies. In the seven gubernias that returned Menshevik deputies, there were altogether 136,000 industrial workers, while in the six that returned Bolshevik deputies there were 1,144,000. In other words, the Menshevik deputies could claim 11.8% of the workers’ electors, and the Bolsheviks 88.2%. [16]

All the Bolshevik deputies came from the shop floor – four metalworkers and two textile workers. Malinovsky, Badaev, Petrovsky, and Muranov were the metalworkers, Shagov and Samoylov the textile workers. They were elected from the biggest industrial areas: Badaev for St. Petersburg, Malinovsky for Moscow, Petrovsky for Yekaternioslav, Muranov for Kharkov, Shagov for Kostroma gubernia, and Samoylov for Vladimir gubernia.



Raising the Bolshevik Banner

The electoral procedure imposed by the Tsarist authorities facilitated prolonged active election work by the masses. In order to separate the workers from the peasants, the election law, as we have seen, provided for the establishment of workers’ curias, i.e., for the separate election of workers’ deputies. The campaign in a workers’ curia proceeded through several stages: election of representatives in factories and workshops, election of electoral colleges, and finally the election of deputies.

When stating their reasons for participating in the elections, neither the candidates nor the delegates electing them concealed the revolutionary programme for which they stood. Thus, for instance, the electoral college of Petersburg in the October 1912 elections issued the following statement:

The demands of the Russian people advanced by the movement of 1905 remain unrealised.

Not only are the workers deprived of the right to strike – there is no guarantee that they will not be discharged for doing so; not only have they no right to organise unions and meetings – there is no guarantee that they will not be arrested for doing so; they have not even the right to elect to the Duma, for they will be “disqualified” or exiled if they do, as the workers from the Putilov works and the Nevsky shipyards were “disqualified” a few days ago.

All this is quite apart from the starving tens of millions of peasants, who are left at the mercy of the landlords and the rural police chiefs.

All this points to the necessity of realising the demands of 1905. The state of economic life in Russia, the signs already appearing of the approaching industrial crisis and the growing pauperisation of broad strata of the peasantry make the necessity of realising the objects of 1905 more urgent than ever.

We think, therefore, that Russia is on the eve of mass movements, perhaps more profound than those of 1905. This is testified by the Lena events, by the strikes in protest against the “disqualifications”, etc.

As was the case in 1905, the Russian proletariat, the most advanced class of Russian society, will again act as the vanguard of the movement.

The only allies it can have are the long-suffering peasantry, who are vitally interested in the emancipation of Russia from feudalism.

A fight on two fronts – against a feudal order and the liberal bourgeoisie which is seeking a union with the old powers – such is the form the next actions of the people must assume. The Duma tribune is, under the present conditions, one of the best means for enlightening and organising the broad masses of the proletariat.

It is for this very purpose that we are sending our deputy into the Duma, and we charge him and the whole Social Democratic fraction of the fourth Duma to make widely known our demands from the Duma tribune, and not to play at legislation in the state Duma ...

We want to hear the voices of the members of the Social Democratic fraction ring out loudly from the Duma tribune proclaiming the final goal of the proletariat, proclaiming the full and uncurtailed demands of 1905, proclaiming the Russian working class as the leader of the popular movement and denouncing the liberal bourgeoisie as the betrayer of the “people’s freedom”.

We call upon the Social Democratic fraction of the fourth Duma, in its work on the basis of the above slogans, to act in unity and with its ranks closed.

Let it gather its strength from constant contact with the broad masses.

Let it march shoulder to shoulder with the political organisation of the working class of Russia. [17]



Mass Activity in the Elections

The election campaign was by no means a tame affair. On the contrary, strikes and mass demonstrations played a central role. Badaev describes the campaign in the following words,

The atmosphere in which the elections were held and the hasty “disqualification” of the delegates from half of the factories and mills aroused the indignation of the St. Petersburg workers. The government had gone too far. The workers answered with a powerful movement of protest.

Putilov factory was the first to act. On the day of the elections, October 5, instead of returning to their benches after dinner, the workers assembled in the workshops and declared a strike. The whole factory came out – nearly 14,000 workers. At 3 p.m. several thousand workers left the factory and marched towards the Narvsky gate singing revolutionary songs, but they were dispersed by the police. The movement spread to the Nevsky shipyards, where 6,500 organised a meeting and a political demonstration. They were joined by the workers of the Pale and Maxwell mills, the Alexeyev works, etc. On the following day the workers of the Erickson, Lessner, Heisler, Vulcan, Duflon, Phoenix, Cheshire, Lebedev, and other factories struck.

The strike quickly spread all over St. Petersburg. The strike was not restricted to those factories at which the election of delegates had been annulled, but many others were also involved. Meetings and demonstrations were organised. Several factories linked their protests against the persecution of trade unions with those against the nullification of the elections. The strike was completely political; no economic demands whatever were formulated. Within ten days more than 70,000 were involved in the movement.

The strike movement continued to grow until the government was convinced that it could not deprive the workers of their right to vote and was forced to announce that new primary elections would be held in the works affected. Many factories and mills which had not participated before in the election of delegates were included in the new list. In consequence the elections of electors had to be annulled and new elections held after additional delegates had been elected. This was a great victory for the working class and particularly for the St. Petersburg proletariat, which had shown such revolutionary class-consciousness.

The supplementary elections of delegates from more than 20 undertakings were fixed for Sunday, 14 October. Pravda and our party organisation carried on as strong a propaganda campaign as they had during the first elections. The movement of protest against the workers being deprived of their electoral rights continued while the elections were going on, and the meetings at the factories and mills revealed a growth of revolutionary sentiment and a heightened interest in the election campaign.

The speeches of Bolshevik deputies and their notices of motions were also accompanied time and again by mass action. Indeed this was the main aim of their speeches and interpellations.

The aim of our interpellations was to demonstrate and expose the real nature of the existing regime.

[The] demonstration arranged by the Social Democratic fraction inside the Black Hundred Duma was supported and strengthened by the action of the St. Petersburg workers who declared a one-day strike on the same day. While we were speaking from the Duma rostrum about the latest example of Tsarist oppression, the workers deserted the factories and works and, at hastily summoned meetings, carried resolutions of protest ...

The strike did not end on December 14. The next morning other factories and works joined in, while those already out did not return. Factory after factory came out and in all the strike movement lasted for over a week. It is difficult to form a reliable estimate of the number of workers who participated, but it was certainly not fewer than 60,000, i.e., the number employed in the largest works in St. Petersburg. In addition, however, a number of small undertakings were involved: printing shops, repair shops, etc. This formidable protest strike of the St. Petersburg proletariat demonstrated the full solidarity of the masses with their deputies ... The members of the Social Democratic fraction, the workers’ deputies, were in the thick of the fight. We were in constant communication with the strikers, helped to formulate their demands, handed over the funds collected, negotiated with various governmental authorities, etc. [18]

The workers’ struggle for improvement in their material conditions, against persecution of the workers’ press by the police, against Tsarist war preparations – such issues in different combinations were central to the propaganda and organisational work of the Bolshevik Duma deputies.

In March 1914, a number of events took place in St. Petersburg which called forth a remarkably strong outburst of the workers’ movement. A number of political strikes broke out in St. Petersburg early in that month. The workers protested by one-day strikes against the persecution of the workers’ press, the systematic rejection of our fraction’s interpellations by the Duma, the persecution and suppression of trade unions and educational associations, etc. The movement spread all over the city and many works were involved. The workers also protested against a secret conference arranged by Rodzyanko, the Duma president, for the purpose of increasing armaments ... When we denounced this fresh expenditure of the people’s money on armaments we were supported by a strike of 30,000 workers.

Throughout March the movement continued to grow and it received a fresh impetus on the anniversary of the shooting of the Lena workers ... In view of the impending anniversary, we decided to introduce a new interpellation ...

All party organisations were preparing for the anniversary demonstration and conducting propaganda at all factories and works. A proclamation was issued by the St. Petersburg Committee calling upon the workers to demonstrate in the street in support of the interpellation, and workers from a number of factories decided to proceed in a body to the state Duma.

The demonstration was fixed for 13 March and the strike began in the Vyborg district. At the Novy Aivaz works the night shift left off at 3 a.m. and in the morning they were joined by the other workers. The strike quickly spread through the city and over 60,000 men participated in the movement, 40,000 of whom were metalworkers. [19]

The Bolshevik Duma fraction also acted as a natural coordinating centre for all party work, not excluding illegal work.

Workers would call on me to ask all sorts of questions, especially on pay-days when money in aid of strikers was brought. Each worker who came with a contribution asked many questions. I had to arrange to supply passports and secret hiding-places for those who became “illegal,” help to find work for those victimised during strikes, petition ministers on behalf of those arrested, organise aid for exiles, etc. Where there were signs that a strike was flagging, it was necessary to take steps to instill vigor into the strikers, to lend the aid required and to print and send leaflets. Moreover, I was constantly consulted on personal matters. [20]

Finally Badaev could say, “There was not a single factory or workshop, down to the smallest, with which I was not connected in some way or other.” [21]



Bolsheviks Implant Themselves in the Trade Unions

The trade union movement in Tsarist Russia was very weak indeed. Embryo unions appeared in the 1890s in the form of “labour committees” and “strike committees,” as well as a range of mutual aid groups. Strike committees (often called “strike funds”) were actually the main type of labour organisation after the strikes of 1895-97. They were not only concerned with the occasional organisation of a strike, and with helping the strikers, but also aimed at building a permanent organisation within industry. Several attempts were made to create a central body so as to unite all existing workers’ organisations in a given locality or industry, but this aim was not achieved until the revolutionary period of 1905. [2*]

Even at the time of the 1905 Revolution, only a tiny proportion of all industrial workers in Russia – some 7 per cent, or 245,555 in absolute figures – belonged to trade unions. [23] The unions that existed were tiny. Out of a total of about 600 unions, 349 had less than 100 members each; 108 had a membership in the range 100-300; the number of trade unions with more than 2,000 members was only 22. [24] During the period of reaction, 1908-09, they ceased to exist altogether. In later years, they picked up, but only to a limited extent. Nationwide trade unions did not exist at all. The few local unions that there were had a total membership of scarcely more than 20,000-30,000 throughout the country. [25]

However limited the opportunities for trade union activities, the Bolsheviks did their best to use them, and on the whole, especially in St. Petersburg, they exerted more influence in the unions than their rivals, the Mensheviks and SRs. On 21 April 1913, elections to the executive of the St. Petersburg Metal Workers’ Union took place. Ten of the 14 members elected were from the Pravda list, that is, were Bolshevik supporters. On 22 August 1913, a re-election took place for the executive of the same union. The meeting at which the election was held was attended by about 3,000 metalworkers. The Bolshevik list was adopted by an overwhelming majority, only some 150 casting their votes for the list sponsored by the Mensheviks.

In June 1914, Lenin could report that of 18 trade unions in St. Petersburg, the Bolsheviks controlled 14, the Mensheviks three, and in one union both parties had an equal number of supporters. Of the 13 unions in Moscow, 10 were Pravdist and three indefinite, although they were close to the Pravdists. There was not a single Liquidationist or Narodnik union in Moscow. [26]



Social Insurance

A legal institution that, though limited in scope, played a unique role in the labour movement at the time was the health insurance organisation. In fact it played a more important part in building up the network of workers supporting Bolshevism than the trade unions.

The purpose that the Tsarist authorities hoped would be served by the introduction of social insurance was very different from the actual consequences. To prevent the revolutionaries increasing their influence among the mass of the workers, the authorities decided to improve the workers’ lot by labour legislation in the field of social insurance. “The better the workers are safeguarded financially, the less will the mass of the working population be influenced by revolutionary propaganda,” wrote S.P. Beletsky, the vice president of the department of the police. [27] In a confidential circular, the minister of the interior, N.A. Maklakov, argued the point as follows:

Labour legislation with us is quite a new phenomenon without historical precedent, and the working classes are very much under the influence of revolutionary parties who exploit them in their own interests. But the working classes have realised from previous experience that the main burden of strikes falls on their own shoulders, and have ceased to believe in revolutionary slogans. The present moment is therefore very opportune for withholding the working masses from revolutionary activity by introducing insurance legislation ... But on the other hand the Insurance Act will put large sums of money at the disposal of the insured ... and it is therefore very important that at the outset practical work should be so organised that the influence of the revolutionary party will be paralysed. [28]

On 23 June 1912, the Duma passed two laws on insurance, providing for payment to workers in case of accident or illness. These acts were a step forward compared to the existing act of 1903, but were still very unsatisfactory. Their chief defect was that they applied only to limited numbers of workers. All those employed in home industry or in enterprises with less than 20 people, all agricultural and building workers, all workers in Siberia and Turkestan, invalids, the old and the unemployed, were excluded from benefit. Only about 20 per cent of all industrial workers were in fact covered by the acts. Workers were not allowed direct responsibility in running the affairs of the insurance fund, but were offered instead the privilege of nominating candidates.

The Bolsheviks made it their task to explain the exact terms of the legislation, so that workers could get the maximum benefit from it. They also aimed to develop activity to extend its application and increase the workers’ representation on the insurance body. During 1912, medical funds began to be set up in St. Petersburg factories to handle the distribution of benefits to the sick. These organisations were established in single factories employing not less than 200 workers. Smaller factories were grouped together around one medical fund. In practice, each fund catered for between 700 and 1,000 people. They were financed by workers’ contributions (1-3 per cent of the wage) and by a grant from the employer equal to two-thirds of the total workers’ contribution. They were run by management boards, partly elected by the workers and partly appointed by the employers. For every five members elected, four were appointed. Thus the workers had a fair degree of autonomy, although the employers could influence the elected members with the threat of dismissal, upon which membership of the fund instantly ceased. Pravda, the Bolshevik daily, concentrated its attack and exposure on the restrictions present in the management of the funds and called for total control by the workers, an end to financial contributions by the workers, and the shifting of the whole cost onto the employers.

The Social Democratic Duma deputies took up the attack on the management of the funds in December 1912. To extend the campaign, the St. Petersburg Committee of the Bolsheviks issued a leaflet calling for a one-day strike in support of the deputies. This was the strike movement described above, which began on 14 December and continued for a week, with about 60,000 workers participating.

The other field of Bolshevik agitation was by active participation in the fund, using it to conduct propaganda far beyond the narrow limits of the insurance question. As Pravda of 3 November 1912, declared: “The factory insurance funds will after all become workers’ cells. Their membership will embrace many thousands of workers. They must extend into a network throughout Russia.” [29]

After running a series of articles on the funds, Pravda devoted a regular section to insurance under the heading Workers’ Insurance: Questions and Answers. The Bolsheviks urged workers to call meetings to discuss questions relating to insurance, and to keep the Duma deputies informed of all developments inside factories. As interest in the insurance campaign spread, the Bolshevik demands became quite specific: a central town fund, administration of the funds entirely by the workers, and transference of medical aid to the funds.

At the January 1912 conference of the Bolsheviks, Lenin proposed a resolution on the government bill, which made it clear what kind of Insurance Act the party wanted.

(a) it should provide for the workers in all cases of incapacity (accidents, illness, old age, permanent disablement; extra provisions for working women during pregnancy and childbirth; benefits for widows and orphans upon the death of the bread-winner) or in the case of loss of earnings due to unemployment; (b) insurance must include all wage-earners and their families; (c) all insured persons should receive compensations equal to their full earnings, and all expenditure on insurance must be borne by the employers and the state; (d) all forms of insurance should be handled by uniform insurance organisations of the territorial type and based on the principle of full management by the insured persons themselves. [30]

He argued that the Bolsheviks should fight for an Insurance Act without for a moment forgetting that the final aim was the complete victory of the revolution:

The conference most earnestly warns the workers against all attempts to curtail or completely distort Social Democratic agitation by confining it to what is legally permissible in the present period of the domination of the counterrevolution; on the other hand, the conference emphasises that the main point of this agitation should be to explain to the proletarian masses that no real improvement in the workers’ conditions is possible unless there is a new victorious revolution. [31]

The Bolsheviks should take advantage of every opportunity to campaign openly on the issue of social insurance.

Should the Duma bill become law in spite of the protest of the class-conscious proletariat, the conference summons the comrades to make use of the new organisational forms which it provides (workers’ sick benefit societies) to carry on energetic propaganda for Social Democratic ideas in these organisational units and thus turn the new law, devised as a means of putting new chains and a new yoke upon the proletariat, into a means of developing its class consciousness, strengthening its organisation and intensifying its struggle for full political liberty and for socialism. [32]

To support the insurance campaign, the Bolsheviks launched a weekly paper in October 1913, called Voprosy Strakhovaniya (Problems of Insurance), which reached a circulation of some 15,000. Lenin wrote quite often for this journal. Instead of Maklakov, the minister of the interior, being able to use the social insurance to stabilise the Tsarist regime, Lenin skilfully turned it into a means for mobilising hundreds of thousands of workers against the regime. Strikes and demonstrations were organised on the issue. A network of supporters of Bolshevism was formed around the funds.

In March 1914 elections were held in St. Petersburg for representatives of the workers’ sick insurance societies of the All-Russian Insurance Board and the Metropolitan Board. To the first body the workers elected 5 members and 10 deputy members; to the second 2 members and 4 deputy members. In both cases the list of candidates put forward by the Bolsheviks was elected in its entirety. In the latter elections the ballot figures announced by the chairman were: Pravda supporters [Bolsheviks] 37, Mensheviks 7, Narodniks 4, unspecified 5. [33]

Lenin’s genius in immediately grasping the value of even the smallest issue, if it made it possible to arouse a large number of workers and unite them as an independent class, was shown very clearly in the work of the Bolsheviks on the funds. This became particularly evident after the outbreak of the war, when the Bolshevik Duma group was exiled to Siberia, the legal daily paper of the party was closed, and the insurance institutions became the only legal opening for the Bolsheviks. The story takes us beyond the scope of the present volume, but it is necessary in order to demonstrate the importance of Lenin’s skill in this respect.

In its first issue, Voprosy Strakhovaniya explained the central theme of its policy as follows: “The introduction of sickness funds opens a legal and even an obligatory field of activity.” [34] After the outbreak of war, it published a statement that was practically in open defiance of the war.

The high cost of living is well known to all; we all know about it, we have all heard about it. But we have not heard about any increase in pay for the workers, of any improvements in the working conditions which could lighten the burden of high prices. [35]

In May 1916, the paper published an article by Lenin called German and non-German Chauvinism, which, while openly and very sharply attacking German chauvinism, ended by saying that there was no qualitative difference between Prussian and Russian chauvinism. “Chauvinism remains true to itself, whatever its national brand.” [36]

Voprosy Strakhovaniya was a particularly useful weapon for the Bolsheviks during the campaign preceding the elections to the War Industry Committees set up in the middle of 1915. These committees were intended to involve workers in boosting production. As opponents of the war, the Bolsheviks called for a boycott of the committees, while the Mensheviks supported participation. Voprosy Strakhovaniya published what amounted to an open denunciation of the War Industry Committees:

Only in an atmosphere of political and civil freedom, when the danger of arbitrary rule has disappeared, when the possibility of a free All-Russian union of the proletariat will exist – only then can the working class give its authoritative opinion on questions of the defence of the country. [37]

During the war, the funds attracted a massive movement, surpassing even Lenin’s wildest dreams. By February 1916, 2 million workers were members of the funds. [38] The Bolsheviks’ influence among these workers was immense. In the elections to the Insurance Board in January 1916, out of 70 representatives, 39 voted for the Voprosy Strakhovaniya list, i.e., were supporting the Bolsheviks. [39]

The okhrana was very conscious of the situation, and a report of one of its agents in September 1916 declared, “Old party members have begun to make up the membership of the management of the Sickness Funds – elected by the worker members – and therefore the funds have received a definite political colouring.” [40] Clearly Lenin, rather than Maklakov, was right about the role that these bodies were to play!

The Bolsheviks’ treatment of social insurance sets an example for all revolutionaries, whose aspirations for the future emancipation of mankind must be accompanied by continuing attempts to participate in the smallest struggles, knowing that

... any movement of the proletariat, however small, however modest it may be at the start, however slight its occasion, inevitably threatens to outgrow its immediate aims and to develop into a force irreconcilable to the entire old order and destructive of it.

The movement of the proletariat, by reason of the essential peculiarities of the position of this class under capitalism, has a marked tendency to develop into a desperate all-out struggle, a struggle for complete victory over all the dark forces of exploitation and oppression. [41]




1*. A pud = 16.38 kilos.

2*. In Russian Poland and Latvia, attempts to build permanent organisations out of strike committees were much further advanced, and by 1900, some 20-40 per cent of the Jewish working population were unionised. The Bund, created in 1897, was largely supported by the strike committees and based its activities on them. [22]



1. P.I. Lyashchenko, History of the National Economy of Russia, New York 1949, p.688.

2. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.15, pp.214-5.

3. ibid., pp.215-6.

4. ibid., vol.7, p.467.

5. ibid., vol.18, p.105.

6. T. Dan, in Martow, Geschichte der russischen Sozialdemokratie, op. cit., pp.268-9.

7. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.18, pp.471-2.

8. ibid., vol.15, pp.352-3.

9. ibid., pp.298-9.

10. ibid., vol.16, pp.111-2.

11. ibid., vol.15, p.294.

12. ibid., vol.16, p.32.

13. ibid., vol.36, p.384.

14. A. Badaev, The Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma, London 1933, p.179.

15. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.20, pp.541-2.

16. ibid., vol.19, p.462.

17. Badaev, op. cit., pp.21-2.

18. ibid., pp.53-6.

19. ibid., pp.135-6.

20. ibid., p.86.

21. ibid.

22. S.P. Turin, From Peter the Great to Lenin, London 1935, p.53.

23. V. Grinevich, Professionalhoe dvizhenie rabochikh v Rossii, St. Petersburg 1908, p.285.

24. ibid.

25. S.M. Schwarz, Labor in the Soviet Union, New York 1952, p.338.

26. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.20, p.387.

27. M. Korfut, The 1912 Insurance Act, Krasnaia letopis, no.1(25), 1928, p.139.

28. ibid., p.163.

29. S. Milligan, The Petrograd Bolsheviks and Social Insurance, 1914-17, Soviet Studies, January 1969.

30. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.17, p.476.

31. ibid., p.478.

32. ibid., pp.478-9.

33. ibid., vol.20, p.234.

34. Voprosy strakhovaniia, 26 October 1913; Milligan, op. cit.

35. ibid., 20 March 1913; ibid.

36. ibid., 31 May 1916; Lenin, Collected Works, vol.22, p.184.

37. ibid., 31 August 1915; Milligan, op. cit.

38. ibid., 16 February 1916; ibid.

39. ibid.

40. M.G. Fleer, Peterburgskii komitet bolshevikov v gody voiny, 1914-1917, Leningrad 1927, p.69.

41. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.8, p.426.


Last updated on 10.12.2003