V. I.   Lenin

A Valuable Admission

Published: Iskra, No. 6, July 1901. Published according to the Iskra text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1961, Moscow, Volume 5, pages 81-88.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala and D. Walters
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2003). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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Labour unrest has once again been the subject of intense and widespread comment. The governing circles are alarmed, in all earnestness alarmed. This is evident from the fact that it was deemed necessary to “punish”, by suspension for a week, even Novoye Vremya,[1] that arch-loyal newspaper ever fawning on the authorities, for an article published in issue No. 9051 of May 11, entitled “Apropos of the Labour Unrest”. Of course, the penalty was not inflicted because of the contents of the article, which was replete with the warmest appreciation of the government and the sincerest concern for its interests. What was considered dangerous was the very discussion of events that were “disturbing society”, the mere reference to their extensiveness and their importance. Below we give extracts from the secret circular (also dated May 11)[2] directing that press articles dealing with the disorders in the factories and with the workers’ attitude towards the employers be published only by permission of the Department of Police, which proves better than all arguments that the government itself is inclined to regard the labour unrest as a matter of state importance. The article in Novoye Vremya is of particular interest precisely for the reason that it outlines a complete state programme, which in effect amounts to allaying the discontent by a few petty and in part fictitious doles to which are attached pompous sign boards about protective policy, cordiality, etc., and which provide pretexts for increasing surveillance by government officials. But this programme, which is not a new one, embodies, one may say, the “acme” of wisdom of modern statesmen, not only in Russia, but also in the West. In a   society based on private property and the enslavement of millions of propertyless toilers by a handful of rich people, the government cannot be anything but the loyal friend and ally of the exploiters and the most reliable guardian of their power. In our times, guns, bayonets, and whips are not a sufficiently reliable guardian; it is necessary to convince the exploited that the government stands above classes, that it does not serve the interests of the aristocracy and the bourgeiosie, but those of justice, that it is concerned with protecting the weak and the poor against the rich and the powerful, etc. Napoleon III in France and Bismarck and Wilhelm II in Germany exerted no little effort to play up to the workers in this way. But in Europe, where there is a more or less free press, a representative government, electoral campaigns, and well-established political parties, all these hypocritical tricks were quickly exposed. In Asia, however, which includes Russia, where the masses of the people are so wretched and ignorant, and where there are such strong prejudices fostering faith in Our Father the Tsar, tricks of this kind are quite successful. One of the very characteristic signs that the European spirit is beginning to penetrate into Russia is the failure with which this policy has met in the last ten or twenty years. Over and over again it was tried, but each time, within a few years after the enactment of some “protective” (allegedly protective) labour law, there was a reversion to the old state of affairs—the number of discontented workers increased, ferment grew, unrest gained in scope—again the “protective” policy was announced with a blare of trumpets, again pompous phrases could be heard about heartfelt solicitude for the workers; another law was passed providing a penny’s worth of benefit and a pound’s worth of empty and lying words for the workers, and in a few years’ time the whole business was repeated. The government was as frantic as a squirrel in a cage, and went to any lengths, in one form or another, to stop up the gaps with sops and shreds; but the discontent broke out in ever newer places with increasing vigour.

Let us recall the outstanding points in the history of “labour legislation” in Russia. Towards the end of the seventies there were big strikes in St. Petersburg, and the socialists tried to take advantage of the situation to intensify   their agitation. Alexander III included factory legislation in his so-called “popular” (but in fact aristocratic-police) policy. In 1882 the Factory Inspectorate was introduced and at first its reports were even published. The government, of course, was not pleased with these reports and ceased their publication. The factory inspection laws proved to be merely a stopgap. Then came the years 1884-85; the industrial crisis gave rise to a powerful movement among the workers, and there were a number of turbulent strikes in the central district (the Morozov cotton-mill strike[3] being particularly noteworthy). Again the “protective” policy was brought to the fore, this time advocated with particular zeal by Katkov in Moskovskiye Vedomosti.[4] Katkov fumed and raged over the fact that the Morozov strikers were tried by a jury, and he described the hundred and one questions submitted by the court for the jury’s decision as “a hundred-and-one gun salute in honour of the appearance of the labour question in Russia”; but, at the same time, he demanded that the “state” come to the defence of the workers and prohibit the monstrous system of fines that had ultimately aroused the Morozov cotton weavers to revolt. The law of 1886 was passed; it greatly widened the powers of the Factory Inspectorate and prohibited the imposition of arbitrary fines to benefit the employers. Ten years passed, and again there was an outbreak of labour unrest. The strikes of 1895, particularly the great strike of 1896,[5] caused the government to tremble with fear (especially on account of the fact that the Social-Democrats were by then regularly marching shoulder to shoulder with the workers); with unprecedented celerity, it passed the “protective” law (June 2,1897) for a shorter working day. During the discussion of the projected law in committee the officials of the Ministry of the Interior, including the director of the Department of Police, declared loudly that the factory workers must come to regard the government as their constant protector and their just and merciful patron (see the pamphlet The Secret Documents on the Law of June 2, 1897[6]). Although passed, the protective law is being cur tailed and rendered ineffective on the sly through circulars issued by the selfsame government. Another industrial crisis sets in. The workers for the hundredth time are   convinced that the “protection” of the police government cannot substantially alleviate their conditions, or give them liberty to look after themselves; again unrest and street fighting, again the government is anxious, again we hear police speeches about “state protection”, this time proclaimed in Novoye Vremya. Gentlemen! Will you never tire of scooping up water with a sieve?

No, the government, of course, will never tire of repeating its attempts to intimidate the irreconcilable workers and decoy the weaker, the more foolish, and more cowardly, by means of a dole. Nor will we ever tire of exposing the real meaning of these attempts and of exposing “statesmen” who-but yesterday ordered soldiers to shoot down the workers and today are shouting about protection; who but yesterday talked about their justice and their patronage of the workers and today are seizing the best of the workers and intellectuals, one after another, and leaving them to the mercy of the police without trial. Therefore we consider it necessary to dwell on the “state programme” of Novoye Vremya in good time before some new “protective” law is promulgated. Moreover, the admissions made in this connection by a publication so “authoritative” in the sphere of home politics as Novoye Vremya are worthy of attention.

Novoye Vremya is compelled to admit that the “regrettable manifestations in the sphere of the labour question” are not accidental. Of course, the socialists, too, are responsible (the newspaper avoids mentioning the awful word “socialist”, preferring such vague terms as “pernicious pseudo-doctrines” and the “propaganda of anti-state and anti-social ideas”); but ... but why are the socialists so successful among the workers? Novoye Vremya, of course, does not miss an opportunity to hurl abuse at the workers: they are so “undeveloped and ignorant” that they willingly listen to the pernicious propaganda of the socialists, so harmful to the welfare of the police. Consequently, the socialists and the workers are to blame, and the gendarmes have long been waging a desperate war against the guilty, filling the prisons and places of exile. But to no avail. Apparently, there is something in the conditions of the factory workers which “engenders and fosters discontent with their present conditions” and thus “favours the success” of socialism.   "The severe toil of the factory workers in extremely unfavourable conditions of life provides them with a bare subsistence for as long as they are able to work, and in every emergency when they are without work for any length of time, they find themselves in desperate straits, as, for example, the workers in the Baku oil fields described recently in the newspapers.” Government supporters, thus, are compelled to admit that the success of socialism is due to the really bad conditions of the workers. But the admission is made in such a vague and evasive form, and with such reservations, that it is clear that people of this sort cannot possibly have the slightest intention of touching the “sacred property” of the capitalists which oppresses the workers. “Unfortunately,” writes Novoye Vremya, “we know too little about the actual state of affairs in regard to the labour question in Russia.” Yes, unfortunately indeed! And “we” know little, precisely because we permit the police government to keep the whole press in slavery, to gag every one who honestly attempts to expose the- scandalous state of affairs in our country. But “we” do try to turn the working man’s hatred riot against the Asiatic government but against the non-Russians. Novoye Vremya broadly hints at the “non Russian factory managers”, and calls them “coarse and greedy”. Such a bait is likely to trap only the most ignorant a-nd undeveloped workers, those who believe that all their misfortunes come from the “Germans” or the “Jews” and who do not know that the German and the Jewish workers unite to fight their German and Jewish exploiters. But even the workers who do not know this have learned from thousands of examples that the Russian capitalists are the “greediest” and most unceremonious of all capitalists, and that the Russian police and the Russian Government are the “coarsest” of all.

Of interest, too, are Novoye Vremya’s regrets that the workers are no longer so ignorant and submissive as is the peasantry. The paper bewails the fact that the workers “are abandoning their rural nests”, that the “factory districts become the gathering centres of mixed masses”, that the “villagers are abandoning their villages with their modest [that is the heart of the matter I, but independent, social and economic interests and relationships”. Indeed, they   have something to bewail. “The villagers” are tied to their nests, and out of fear of losing them, dare not submit demands ·to their landlord, to threaten him with strikes, etc. The villagers do not know conditions in other places and are interested only in the affairs of their own hamlet (the supporters of the government call this the “independent interests” of the villager; knowing his place, not poking his nose into politics—what can please the authorities more?); but in this hamlet, the local leech, the landlord or the kulak, knows every single individual; the peasants have all inherited from their fathers and grandfathers the servile lesson of submission, and there is no one there to awaken consciousness in them. In the factory, however, the people are “mixed”, are not tied to their nests (it is all the same to them where they work), they have seen and ]earned things, and are hold and full of interest in every thing that is going on in the world.

Notwithstanding this deplorable transformation of the humble muzhik into a class-conscious worker, our police wiseacres still hope to delude the working masses with phrases about “the state’s protection of the workers’ welfare”. Novoye Vremya fortifies this hope with the following out worn argument: “Capitalism, proud and all-powerful in the West, is still an infant in our country, it can walk only in leading strings, and these are provided by the government. Now, only a humble peasant will believe this old song about the omnipotence of the authorities! The worker, however, sees all too often that the capitalists keep the police, the church, and the military and civil officials in leading strings”. And so, continues Novoye Vremya, the government “must insist” upon an improvement in the workers’ conditions, i.e., it must demand this improvement of the employers. Simple, is it not? Issue an order, and, presto, the thing is done. But it is easy to talk; in point of fact, the orders of the authorities, even the most “modest”, such as the establishment of hospitals at the factories, have been ignored by the capitalists for whole decades. Moreover, the government would not dare to order the capitalists to do anything that would seriously affect the “sacred” right of private property. Furthermore, the government wants no serious improvement in the conditions of the workers, because in   thousands of instances it is an employer itself and under-pays and oppresses the workers in the Obukhov Works and in hundreds of other places, as well as tens of thousands of postal and railway employees, etc., etc. Novoye Vremya, realising that no one would take the orders of our government seriously, tries to bolster up its position with lofty historical examples. This should be done, it says in regard to the improvement in the conditions of the workers, “in the same way as half a century ago, when the government took the peasant question in hand, when it was guided by the wise conviction that it would be better, through reforms from above, to avert the presentation of demands for such reforms from below and not to wail for such an eventuation”.

Now, this is really a valuable admission. Before the emancipation of the peasants, the tsar indicated to the nobility the possibility of a popular rebellion, saying that it would be better to emancipate from above than to wait until they began to emancipate themselves from below. And now this cringing newspaper admits that the mood of the workers fills it with a fear no less than did the mood of the peasants “on the eve of freedom”. “Better from above than from below”! The autocracy’s newspaper lackeys are profoundly mistaken if they think there is a “similarity” between the demands for reforms today and those of that time. The peasants demanded the abolition of serfdom, having nothing against the tsar’s rule and believing in the tsar. The workers today are revolting first and foremost against the government; they realise that their lack of rights under the police autocracy binds them hand and foot in their struggle against the capitalists and for that reason they demand liberation from governmental tyranny and governmental outrage. The workers are also in a state of unrest “on the eve of freedom”, but this will be the liberation of the whole people, which is wresting political freedom from the despots.

*     *

Do you know what great reform is proposed in order to hush the discontent of the workers and to demonstrate to them the “state’s protection”? If persistent rumour is to be believed, a struggle is going on between the Ministry of   Finance and the Ministry of the Interior. The latter demands that the Factory Inspectorate be placed under its control; for then, it argues, the factory inspectors will be less likely to indulge the capitalists and will show more regard for the interests of the workers and in this way avert unrest. Let the workers prepare for this new act of the tsar’s grace; the factory inspectors will don different uniforms and they will be placed on the staff of another ministry (in all probability with a rise in salary), the very ministry, indeed (especially the Department of Police), which for such a long time past has been demonstrating its love and solicitude for the workers.


[1] Novoye Vremya (New Times)—a St. Petersburg newspaper published from 1868 to October 1917. At first moderately liberal, it be came after 1876 the organ of the most reactionary circles of the nobility and the state bureaucracy. The paper conducted a struggle, not only against the revolutionary, but also against the bourgeois-liberal, movement. From 1905 onwards it became an organ of the Black Hundreds.

[2] The circular referred to was sent out by the Central Press Board to all newspaper and magazine editors after Novoye Vremya published the article “Apropos of the Labour Unrest”. The circular was reproduced in Iskra, No. 6 (July 1901) in the article “St. Petersburg” (section “From Our Social Life”).

[3] The strike movement of 1885 involved many textile enterprises in Vladimir, Moscow, Tver, and other gubernias of the industrial centre of Russia. The January strike of the workers at the Nikolskoye Mill, near Orekhovo-Zuyevo, belonging to Morozov, was the biggest and had the greatest significance. The principal demands of the strikers were the reduction of fines, the introduction of a regular hiring system, etc. The strike was led by the advanced workers P. Moiseyenko, L. Ivanov, and V. Volkov. The Morozov strike, in which over 8,000 workers took part, was crushed by tsarist troops and over 600 workers were arrested. Under pressure of the strike movement of 1885-86, the tsarist government was forced to issue a law on fines (the Law of June 3, 1886), according to which fine-moneys were to be used for the needs of the workers and were not to go into the employer’s pocket.

[4] Moskovskiye Vedomosti (Moscow Recorder)—a newspaper founded in 1756; beginning with the 1860s, it expressed the views of the most reactionary monarchist elements among the landlords and the clergy; from 1905 onwards, it was one of the chief organs of the Black Hundreds. It continued publication until the October Revolution of 1917.

[5] Lenin refers to mass strikes of St. Petersburg workers, mainly in the textile industry, in 1895 and, particularly, 1896. The 1896 strike began on the Kalinkin Cotton-Spinning Mill on May 23. The immediate cause of the strike was the employers’ refusal to pay the   workers in full for holidays on the occasion of the coronation of Nicholas II. The strike spread rapidly to all the main cotton-spinning and weaving mills of St. Petersburg, and then to large machine-building plants, a rubber factory, a paper factory, and a sugar refinery. For the first time the proletariat of the capital launched a struggle against its exploiters on a broad front. Over 30,000 workers went on strike. The strike was conducted under the leadership of the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, which issued leaflets and manifestos calling on the workers to stand solid and steadfast in defence of their rights; the League published and distributed the strikers’ main demands, which included the ten-and-a-half-hour working day, increased rates of pay, and payment of wages on time.

The report of the strike produced a tremendous impression abroad. The Berlin Vorwarts (Forward) and the Vienna Arbeiter Zeitung (Workers’ Gazette) carried accounts of the strike. An address from English workers, signed by the leaders of all socialist and trade-union organisations, was translated into Russian and distributed by the League of Struggle among the St. Petersburg workers. At a meeting of London trade unions a report on the strike by Vera Zasulich and a speech by Eleanor Marx-Aveling were greeted with great enthusiasm and the audience took up a collection to aid the strikers; similar collections were taken up in other trade unions. Collections for the St. Petersburg strikers were organised in Ger many, Austria, and Poland. The London Congress of the Second International, which took place in July 1896, cheered Plekhanov’s report of the 1896 strike and adopted a special resolution greeting the Russian workers who were “struggling against one of the last bastions of European reaction”.

The St. Petersburg strikes gave an impetus to the working-class movement in Moscow and other Russian cities; they forced the government to speed up the review of the factory laws and to issue the Law of June 2 (14), 1897 limiting the working day at all factories and mills to eleven and a half hours. The strikes, as Lenin subsequently wrote, “ushered in an era of steady advance in the working-class movement, that most powerful factor in the whole of our revolution” (see present edition, Vol. 13, “Preface to the Collection Twelve Years”).

[6] The pamphlet The Secret Documents on the Law of June 2, 1897 was published in Geneva in 1898 by the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad.

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