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The Militant, 25 April 1942

Lenin’s 1896 May Day Manifesto

From The Militant, Vol. 6 No. 17, 25 April 1942, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The significance of May First as a day of international working-class struggle is shown by the great stress which Lenin put upon its militant observance.

One of Lenin’s earliest appeals to the Russian workers is the May Day manifesto which he wrote in 1896 for the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working-class. This was written in prison, from which it was smuggled by Lenin’s comrades, mimeographed and distributed to workers of forty factories in St. Petersburg, now Leningrad.

B. Gorew-Goldman, a participant in this early May Day struggle, wrote of it in his Out of the Party Past:

“In preparing and distributing this leaflet we felt that we were accomplishing a great revolutionary act. A month and a half later there developed the great strike of the spinners and weavers that began and grew precisely under the influence of the May Day leaflet and only waited for the occasion to go forward in more active form ... The strike began precisely in those places where accidentally our leaflets had been particularly well distributed.”

Out of those strike struggles inspired in part, by Lenin’s May Day leaflet grew those greater battles culminating in the 1905 Revolution, which was the forerunner of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

The following is the text of Lenin’s historic manifesto:


Let us consider our position very carefully – let us examine the conditions in which we spend our lives. What do we see? We work long and hard. We produce endless wealth, gold and apparel, satins and silk. From the depths of the earth we extract iron and coal. We build machines, we outfit ships, we construct railroads. All the wealth of the world is the product of our hands, of our sweat and blood. And what kind of wages do we get for this forced labor? If things were as they should be, we would be living in fine houses, we would wear good clothes, and would never have to suffer any need. But we know well enough that our wages never suffice for our living. Our bosses push down wages, force us to work overtime, place unjust fines upon us – in a word oppress us in every way. And then when we give voice to our dissatisfaction, we are thrown into prison without further ado.

We have convinced ourselves only too often that all those to whom we turn for help are the servants and the friends of the bosses. They keep us workers in darkness, they keep us ignorant so that we shall not dare to fight for an improvement of our conditions. They keep us in slavery, they arrest and imprison every one who shows any signs of resistance against the oppressors – we are forbidden to struggle. Ignorance and slavery – these are the means through which the capitalists and the government that serves them oppress us.

Rely Only Upon Ourselves

How can we then improve our conditions, raise our wages, shorten the working day, protect ourselves from insults, win for ourselves the opportunity of reading good books? Everybody is against us – and the better off these gentlemen are, the worse off we are! We can expect nothing from them, we can rely only upon ourselves. Our strength lies in our unity, our method is the united stubborn resistance against the bosses. Our masters realize of course in what our strength lies and they try in every way to divide us and to hide the identity of interests of all workers.

But it’s a long road that has no turning – and even the best of patience comes to an end. In the past few years the Russian workers have shown their masters that the. cowardice of slaves has changed into the courageous stubbornness of men, who refuse to submit to the greed of the capitalists. A whole series of strikes has swept through various Russian cities. Most of these strikes ended successfully, especially in that they threw the bosses into terror and forced them into concessions. They showed that we were no longer cowardly paupers but that we had taken up the struggle.

Workers of All Countries, Unite!

As is well known the workers of many shops and factories have organized the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working-class with the aim of exposing and removing all abuses, of struggling against the shameful oppressions and swindles of our conscienceless exploiters. The League distributes leaflets at the sight of which the hearts of the bosses and their servants, the police, tremble. They are not frightened by these leaflets – they are terrified at the possibility of our united resistance, the sign of our great power that we have already manifested more than once. We, Petersburg workers, members of the League, call upon all the rest of our comrades to join the League and cooperate in the great task of unifying the working class in the struggle for their interests. It’s time that we Russian workers smashed the chains that the bosses and the government have placed upon us. It is time that we joined our fellow workers of other lands in the struggle – under a common flag bearing the words: “Workers of all countries, unite!”

In France, England, Germany and other lands where the workers have already closed their ranks and won important rights, the First of May is a general holiday of ail labor.

The workers leave the dark factories and parade the main streets in well-ordered lines with flags and music. They show their masters their power grown strong and join in numerous crowded assemblies to listen to speeches in which the victories achieved over the bosses are recounted and the plans for future struggles are developed.

Because they are afraid of strikes, no individual boss dare fine or punish the workers who are absent from work on this day. On this day the workers also fling their chief demand into the teeth of the bosses: “For the Eight Hour Day.”

A Society Without Masters or Slaves

In other countries the workers are already proclaiming this. There was a time – and not so long ago – when they also didn’t have the right we are deprived of now, the right to give voice to our needs, when they were in such slavery as we are in now. But through relentless struggle and heavy sacrifice they have won the right to take up collectively the affairs of labor. Let us wish our brothers that their struggle soon lead to the desired goal, to a society in which there will be no masters and no slaves, no capitalists and no wage workers, but all will work together and all will enjoy the good things of life together.

Comrades, if we fight unitedly and together, then the time is not far off when we too will be in a position openly to join the common struggle of the workers of all lands, without distinction of race or creed, against the capitalists of the whole world. Our strong arm will rise and the chains of slavery will fall. The toilers of Russia will arise and terror will strike the hearts of the capitalists and of all other enemies of the working class.


Petersburg, May 1, 1898

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