A. Badayev

The Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma


Chapter X
The Dockyards

Strike at the Baltic Dockyard – Visit to the Minister for the Navy – The Struggle of the Obukhov Workers – Interpellation Concerning the Obukhov Works – Explosion at the Mine Manufacturing Works – Demonstration at the Funeral – Fine for Attending the Funeral – The Duma on my Fine

The Baltic naval dockyards were under the control of the Minister for the Navy. Working conditions there were as intolerable as in the other War Office factories. The ordinary workers earned twelve to eighteen kopeks an hour, overtime was customary and normally meant that working-hours were doubled. The workshops were extremely unhealthy, damp, draughty, smoky, and in winter very cold. Men had to work in awkward, cramped positions. Seven or eight years there were often enough to make a man a complete wreck.

As in all war establishments, where the managers wore officers’ uniforms, the workers were persecuted with exceptional ferocity. The management was intimately connected with the police and every manager and foreman was also a political police agent. Espionage was fostered and denunciation encouraged, and on obtaining the necessary information the management immediately handed the “sedition-mongers” over to the police.

Despite these conditions, the workers did not lag behind the rest of the proletariat. Throughout the spring and summer of 1913, disputes were frequent at the dockyards, leading to strikes of the whole undertaking or embracing only some of the departments and shops.

During a dispute which broke out in May in one of the shops affecting ten workers, who refused to work overtime, three delegates were chosen to negotiate with the management. While the negotiations were being conducted, the chief of the dockyards sent for the police, who arrested the delegates. The same night. May 20, after their homes had been searched, the ten workers were also arrested. In reply to this, 2,000 workers of another shop came out and added to their economic demands the demand for the release of those arrested. The same day, the strikers sent representatives to the Duma fraction to inform them of what had happened and ask them to intercede on behalf of the men who had been victimised. Another member of the fraction and myself sent a wire to the Minister for the Navy requesting an interview.

During my membership of the Duma, in common with the rest of our fraction, I had frequently to call on various Ministers. Generally we had to visit the Minister for the Interior, who controlled the police and consequently dealt with cases of arrests, expulsions, etc.

We were perfectly well aware that we would obtain no tangible results from these visits. Why then did we go? We considered that, as in the case of speeches delivered in the Duma, the visits had a certain agitational importance. When the workers were informed that their deputy, a worker like themselves, had demanded to be received by the tsarist minister, and that the latter was bound to negotiate with him, they had more heart for the struggle. The information, published in Pravda, that the workers’ deputy had presented this or that demand drew fresh strata of workers into the fight. After each of my visits to a minister, new workers appeared at my apartment, workers who had hitherto had nothing to do with the Party or with the trade unions, but who now made demands, brought material for interpellations and thereby were drawn into the ranks of the organised workers. The advanced detachments of the workers were thus reinforced by fresh recruits.

Admiral Grigorovich, the Minister for the Navy, was away at the time that we applied, so we received a reply from Admiral Bubnov, his assistant, who agreed to see us the following morning. After relating all that had taken place at the works, we proposed to Bubnov that he should now give serious attention to the abuses practised by the dockyard management.

The assistant minister at first made the usual excuses: that he knew nothing of the affair, that the head of the dockyards had not informed him in his report that workers were dismissed for refusing to work overtime, or that wages had been reduced, etc. When the conversation passed on to the question of arrests, however, Bubnov forgot these denials and it became clear that the head of the dockyards acted in accordance with instructions received from higher authorities. True, Bubnov protested that his orders to the head of the dockyards did not contain a request to the police to arrest the workers. As if the police could have understood in any other way the request addressed to them for help as against the strikers!

As the result of our protests, Bubnov had to promise that he would send a special official to investigate conditions at the Baltic dockyards. This promise was merely a subterfuge. The next day, instead of an investigation, a notice, emanating from the assistant minister, was posted at the works, announcing the closing down of the workshops concerned and mass dismissals of the workers.

Our visit to the assistant minister, however, had some effect. The next day, by orders “from above,” the police released the arrested men. But the strike did not end; on the contrary other departments joined in, including the carpenters and painters. These workers presented demands for higher wages and better conditions, and characteristically enough, also the demand to be treated civilly. The workers were protesting against the barrack-like regime which was then prevalent in military and naval establishments. Over 3,000 men were on strike on this occasion.

In a month’s time, at the end of June, another strike broke out at the Baltic dockyards. The immediate cause was bad treatment of the workers and the systematic rate-cutting enforced by one of the managers, Polikarpov. The workers chased him out of the workshop, which was thereupo closed down. The workers, in their turn, declared a strike and put forward a number of demands. In order to break the spirit of the workers, the aid of the police was obtained, as during the first strike. More than ten workers,, whom the management suspected of being leaders and organisers, were arrested. The strikers immediately informed me, and once again I called on Grigorovich, the Minister for the Navy, to speak, on behalf of the prisoners.

Admiral Grigorovich was one of those tsarist ministers who posed as liberals and who attempted to keep on “good terms” with the Duma members. Their liberalism, however, was a sham. Their object was merely to avoid irritating the public by too glaring reactionary measures, but in reality they followed the same Black Hundred policy as the pogrom-makers, Maklakov, Shcheglovitov and others. Grigorovich’s “reasonable” attitude was so much to the liking of the Octobrist majority that later, when the Octobrists were playing at opposition, Rodzyanko proposed Grigorovich as Premier of a responsible cabinet.

Fully aware that our conversation would be broadcast among the masses, Grigorovich played the part of a friend of the people. He told me: “I have worked my way up from the bottom of the ladder and have been through the hard school of work since I started as a simple clerk.”

He even said that at one time he had addressed meetings of workers from a soap-box and preached radical ideas, etc. Hence he regarded himself as an expert on labour questions and he discussed the conditions and needs of the workers at length. I was, of course, under no misapprehension as to whom I was talking to, and fully understood his purpose in giving expression to these sentiments of love for the workers. As soon as possible I turned the conversation on to the business with which we were concerned and stated the workers’ demands with regard to the men detained and the arbitrary methods of the authorities.

Grigorovich’s “liberalism” at once vanished into thin air; I could get no definite answer, and finally he called in his assistant, Bubnov, and asked him to start the investigation. We knew what Bubnov meant by investigation from the example he had given us during the previous strike, when he was responsible for many further dismissals and the complete whitewashing of the management. Bubnov began to assure us that now everything was going well at the dockyards: earnings were high, no one was forced to work overtime, in fact the workers had no grievances at all. And with regard to the men arrested, no anxiety need be felt, since if they were innocent, they would be released.

When I pointed out that the picture of prosperity painted by the assistant minister was far removed from reality, that the working conditions and the managerial measures were continually provoking the workers, Grigorovich once more promised to investigate, to look into, to find out, etc.

Knowing the value of ministerial promises and in order that the workers should understand what to expect from tsarist ministers, I printed in Pravda a detailed account of this conversation, pointing out how false the promises and assurances were. My account of the visit to the Minister was, in effect, an appeal to the Baltic workers to continue their struggle and not to place any hope in the authorities.

Soon afterwards I had further negotiations with the Minister for the Navy in connection with the strike at the Obukhov works, which were also controlled by the Navy Department. The strike, which commenced at the end of July and involved the 8,000 men employed there, was caused by the intolerable working conditions. The workshops were full of noxious gases, but ventilation appliances were not installed in spite of repeated requests from the workers. All the men worked a twelve-hour day with no break for dinner, and wages were from twenty to forty rubles a month – less than the legal minimum.

The strike lasted over two months and, when it was over, about a hundred workers were black-listed and not reinstated. In the course of the strike thirty men were arrested and fourteen deported from St. Petersburg and forbidden to reside in fifty-two cities in the Empire. But this did not satisfy the police; a trial was staged of a number of Obukhov workers; they were accused of bringing about a strike “in undertakings where a strike endangered national interests.”

When the first men were arrested I applied to Bubnov for an interview, but apparently afraid that I would obtain new material for agitation, he did not answer my telegram.

The Obukhov workers were tried after the strike was ended on November 6, 1913. On the day of the trial over 100,000 St. Petersburg workers came out on a one-day strike and at all factories and mills meetings were held and resolutions of protest passed. More than a hundred such resolutions were received by our fraction and the Pravda, but they were so sharply worded that the Pravda could not print them even in extracts. This political strike met with enthusiastic and unanimous response. Caused by the desire to defend the few rights which the workers enjoyed under the existing regime, it was in fact not a defensive measure but a new attack on the government.

A week after the trial the Obukhov workers came out again; this time the strike was the result of new rules introduced by the management. Under the new rules it was impossible for even the most careful worker to avoid incurring a fine every day; overtime was compulsory and was paid at the ordinary rate instead of at time-and-a-half, and on pay-day the workers were systematically cheated.

The management assumed a most provocative attitude towards the workers. No meetings were allowed, not even those provided for in the rules, and it was announced that criminal prosecutions would be started against certain grades of workers if they stopped work. The entire district was flooded with police.

As the Obukhov workers considered that it was impossible to enter into negotiations with their immediate chiefs, they decided to send a delegation to the Minister for the Navy in order to acquaint him personally with the conditions at the dockyards and to state their demands. Once again at the request of the workers I went to Grigorovich and described the conditions of the Obukhov workers.

This time Grigorovich did not even pretend to be liberal or a friend of the people. He stated that he could neither receive a delegation from the workers nor authorise a meeting to elect one, “Whatever their needs,” he said, “the workers can only submit them to the chief of the dockyards.”

The autumn session of the Duma was about to open, and the Obukhov workers requested us to introduce an urgent interpellation on the conditions of the workers at the dockyards and on the actions of the management. The interpellation was introduced on November 15, but it did not appear on the agenda until ten days later.

In the debate that followed the Right produced their big guns; their chief spokesman was Markov, the outstanding leader of pogroms, never tired of appealing for hangings and shootings. The prison regime set up by the tsarist government was too mild for him. Representing in the Duma the most reactionary wing of landowners, who had still fresh in their memory the burning and looting of their estates in 1905, Markov demanded extreme measures against all symptoms not only of a revolutionary, but even of a liberal bourgeois movement. Naturally he had a fierce hatred of the working class, which he regarded as the most dangerous enemy of the existing regime.

Markov’s speech was directed against the strike movement and the Social-Democratic party which was leading it. He began with a personal attack on me, taking up my last words about the challenge which the Social-Democratic fraction, in the name of the entire proletariat, hurled at the Black Hundred majority in the Duma.

“Mr. Badayev,” said Markov, “you are a young man; a challenge is only made when a fight is intended. But you are not fighting yet. A challenge to the Ministry must not be confused with common sense and common sense ought to be your principal guide.”

Markov wound up his speech with a question addressed to the government. He wanted to know whether the government considered that it was sufficiently energetic in its struggle against the revolutionary movement:

“Are you, gentlemen, really doing your duty of protecting the Russian people against miscreants and enemies who act from without but who penetrate into the country with the aid of persons guilty of high treason? I declare that our fatherland is in danger.”

His speech was full of threatening words and gestures directed at the Social-Democratic fraction. Turning to the benches of the left, he put up his hands as if holding a rifle aimed at them and said: “You are attacking us, but we will have a shot at you first!”

The interpellation was passed by the Duma, but this did not mean that the workers gained anything. Everything at the works remained as before; the Minister for the Navy did not make the slightest concession.

The conditions of the Obukhov workers were not exceptional. The most ruthless exploitation and intolerable conditions prevailed at other works, especially at those working for the army and navy departments. Every moment the lives of the workers were threatened by an explosion or catastrophe. Formerly, under the heavy heel of reaction, fatal accidents passed quietly, almost unnoticed; now however the funeral of every worker who died as the result of an accident was the occasion of a huge revolutionary demonstration.

Crowds of workers followed the coffins of workers whom they did not know personally, singing the revolutionary funeral march beginning: “You fell, victims” and bearing wreaths with revolutionary legends written on red ribbon. The cemetery was transformed into a meeting place for thousands. In conditions of illegal work, when workers’ meetings were prohibited, when it was only possible to assemble secretly in the woods or in small apartments, demonstrations at funerals assumed a revolutionary importance. Party organisations appealed to the workers to come in thousands, speakers were appointed in preparation, leaflets were distributed, etc.

The police also made extensive preparations; strong detachments accompanied all funeral processions and both mounted and foot police were active at the cemetery. They rushed across the graves, destroyed wreaths, refused to allow even relatives of the deceased to approach the grave, prevented speeches, seized anyone who attempted to speak, and dispersed the people after making a number of arrests.

I have already recalled the conditions under which the funeral of the victims of the Okhta explosion took place. I shall tell now of a funeral demonstration during which I incurred special police persecution, and which roused the workers and was the subject of a debate in the Duma.

Early in September 1913, two workers were killed in an explosion at the St. Petersburg mine manufacturing works (formerly the Parviainen works). The twenty-pound cover of a machine was blown clean through the roof of the building, two workers were killed on the spot and the whole workshop spattered with their blood. The explosion was the result of carelessness on the part of the management, as the machine had not been tested.

On September 9, thousands of workers downed tools to be present at the funeral. Men from the mine works and also men from the Putilov, Aivaz and other factories followed the coffin. From the beginning the police obstructed the procession. First they demanded the removal of red ribbons from the wreaths; later, on the Liteyni bridge, they insisted that the coffin and wreaths should be placed on the hearse.

In answer to my question why the coffin could not be carried by hand, the police representative replied that such were his instructions from higher authorities. The procession was diverted from the main streets along Voskresenskaya and Znamenskaya. In Ligovka, taking advantage of the fact that there were fewer policemen, the workers again carried the coffin on their shoulders up to the Mitrofanvevskoye cemetery, singing the revolutionary funeral march “You fell, victims.”

Near the cemetery, more police appeared and the red ribbons which had been re-attached to the wreaths were again torn off. During the burial service, many more workers arrived; they had left the factories at the dinner interval. The crowd of about 5,000 was in fighting spirits and the singing of the revolutionary funeral song was interrupted by appeals to fight. Knowing I was to speak, they surrounded the grave in a solid ring so as to give me time to begin before the police could reach me. The forces of law and order were fully armed and only waited the word from the inspectors to make use of their whips.

When the coffins had been lowered into the grave, I mounted a bench and began my speech:

“Comrades! Bloodthirsty capitalists, in their striving for larger profits, are prepared to sacrifice the lives of the workers. You see the reward which the workers receive for their hard and painful toil. The working class will only obtain improvements in its conditions when it takes the matter into its own hands ...”

But no sooner had I uttered these words than policemen began lo shout:

“Hold him, don’t let him speak.”

The police inspector ordered:

“Mounted police, whips ready!”

The mounted police rode down, trying to disperse the crowd. A free fight developed near the grave. Several policemen pulled me down from the bench and an inspector ran up, seized me by the arm and told me that I was arrested. I showed him my deputy’s card.

“You are free, but 1 shall not allow you to speak. I am instructed to allow no speeches.”

In the meantime the crowd, thinking that I was arrested, had become very agitated and surrounded the inspector, uttering threats against the police. I again mounted the bench to continue my interrupted speech and called on the workers to keep quiet and avoid causing fresh casualties. The mounted police, flourishing their whips, pressed the crowd back from the grave to the cemetery gates, and it was only by a mere chance that fresh blood was not spilt.

After the funeral, the police drew up a protocol accusing me of disobeying the orders of the authorities. Three months later, the St. Petersburg city governor, Drachevsky, issued an order fining me 200 rubles for “interfering with the actions of the police.” When an official called on me and demanded payment, I flatly refused. The city governor’s order was quite illegal as the law concerning the Duma prescribed that deputies were liable to no punishments or fines except by sentence of a court and then only with the consent of the Duma itself.

I informed the workers through Pravda of this new attempt to encroach on the rights of deputies and many protest strikes were declared. Action was first taken at the mine manufacturing works where the explosion had taken place. A one-day strike was agreed on and at a meeting a resolution was carried protesting against my being fined for speaking at the funeral of their fellow workers. The Langesippen works, employing 1,000 men, followed suit, and the movement quickly spread to other factories.

After two weeks, when it evidently became clear to him that I did not intend to pay the fine, the city governor issued an order substituting six weeks’ detention for the fine. He also gave orders that I was to be arrested during the next Duma recess. When this became known it led to renewed unrest among the workers.

Then the chairman of the Duma, which had as yet done nothing to protect the “immunity of deputies,” thought fit to interfere. Rodzyanko, however, insisted that I should take the initiative, i.e. that I should apply to him requesting protection. In this way he could excuse himself to the Black Hundreds, saying that he was not defending an enemy of the government, but merely passing on to the correct authorities a statement received from a deputy. When he saw that I did not intend to present such a statement, he tried to achieve his purpose in a roundabout way. He sent one of his subordinates who, in the name of the chairman of the Duma, expressed sympathy with me. Rodzyanko thought that in reply I would apply for protection. Without showing that I understood the object of this visit, I stated: “I am legally entitled to protection as a deputy. Let them try to arrest me.”

In view of the fact that this affair of my fine was assuming the character of a public scandal, Rodzyanko sent a letter to Maklakov, the Minister for the Interior, and received a reply stating that I would only be arrested after the expiry of my Duma immunity.

Although the attack on our “six” had been warded off for the moment, the fraction decided none the less to make this attempt the basis for an interpellation. On the one hand, the case illustrated the reactionary offensive and therefore served as agitational material; on the other hand, the more widely the persecution of workers’ deputies became known, the stronger became the ties which bound the fraction to the masses.

Our interpellation ended with the following words:

Being of the opinion that the city governor of St. Petersburg acted unlawfully in imposing a fine on a member of the State Duma, the Social-Democratic fraction invites the Duma to address the following question to the Minister for the Interior on the basis of Article 33 of the regulations governing the Duma: (1) Whether he is aware of the order issued by the St. Petersburg city governor; (2) If so, what steps he proposes to take with regard to this unlawful order and to protect deputies of the State Duma from such actions of administrative bodies in the future. We request that this interpellation be regarded as urgent.

This interpellation had been signed also by certain deputies belonging to the Cadets and Progressives, but when the debate was about to take place after the Christmas recess, twenty-three “liberal” deputies withdrew their signatures. Thus the interpellation was frustrated at the very moment when it should have been read out in tiie Duma. This alone characterises with sufficient clarity the attitude of the Cadets towards the workers” deputies.

We collected further signatures as required by law and again introduced the interpellation a week later. Petrovsky spoke on behalf of our fraction.

“In spite of persecution and police brutality,” said Petrovsky, “the workers’ deputies will stand by the workers, always and everywhere. Neither the police nor the Black Hundred majority in the Duma will be able to prevent the working class from hearing the voices of their deputies.

“The city governor was afraid to carry out his own unlawful order; his fear was well founded, for the St. Petersburg workers would have replied with a general strike.”

Buryanov, who had now left the Mensheviks, also spoke in favour of urgency. He dealt with the flagrant violation of the immunity of deputies which, he said, had to be checked if the Duma was to retain any self-respect.

But the Duma made no attempt to check the aggression of the tsarist police. Only the workers’ deputies were concerned about the case and the Duma Black Hundreds heartily endorsed the persecutions. The interpellation was defeated by an overwhelming majority. The government received in advance the approval of the Duma for any repressive measures it might wish to take against the workers’ deputies.

Last updated on 14.9.2011