V. I.   Lenin

To the Tsarist Government[1]

Written: Written in prison in autumn 1896
Published: Mimeographed in November 1896. Published according to the text of the leaflet.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, ..., Moscow, Volume 2, pages 122-128.
Translated: Translated: George Hanna
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2001). 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.

This year, 1896, the Russian Government has already made two announcements to the public on the workers’ struggle against the factory owners. In other countries such announcements are no rarity–there they do not hide what is going on in the country, and the press freely publishes items about strikes. In Russia, however, the government fears more than the plague publicity for factory practices and incidents. It banned the publication of strike news in the press, it forbade factory inspectors to publish their reports, and it even put a stop to the hearing of strike cases in the ordinary courts open to the public; in a word, it took all measures to make a strict secret of all that was going on in the factories and among the workers. And of a sudden, all the devices of the police burst like soap bubbles, and the government itself was compelled to speak out openly of the fact that the workers were engaged in a struggle against the factory owners. What caused this change? In 1895 workers’ strikes were particularly numerous. Yes, that is quite true, but strikes also took place previous to this, yet the government succeeded in preventing the secret becoming known, and the mass of the workers as a whole were kept in the dark about the strikes. The present strikes are much bigger than the previous ones and are concentrated in one area. Yes, that is quite true, but strikes as big as these also took place previously, in 1885-86, for example, in Moscow and Vladimir gubernias. Yet the government held out and refused to say a word about the workers’ struggle against the employers. What, then, has made it talk this time? The fact is that this time the socialists   have assisted the workers, have helped them to explain their case, to spread the news about it everywhere, both among the workers and among the public, to formulate the workers’ demands exactly, to show everybody how dishonest the government is, and what brute violence it employs. When the government saw that it was becoming quite ridiculous to keep silent, since the strikes were common knowledge, it also fell into line behind the rest. The socialist leaflets called the government to account, and the government appeared and gave its account.

Let us see what sort of an account it was.

At first the government tried to avoid doing so openly and publicly. One of the ministers, Minister of Finance Witte, sent out a circular to the factory inspectors, in which he called the workers and the socialists “the worst enemies of public order,” advised the factory inspectors to try to scare the workers, to assure them that the government would forbid the employers to make concessions, to tell them of the employers’ good motives and noble intentions, of how concerned the employers are about the workers and their needs, and of how full the employers are of “good sentiments.” Of the strikes themselves the government said nothing, it said not one word about the cause of the strikes, about the facts of abominable oppression and violation of the law by the employers, and about the aims of the workers; in a word, it simply misrepresented all the strikes that took place in the summer and autumn of 1895, tried to get away with hackneyed stock phrases about violent and “illegal” actions by the workers, although the workers committed no violence. It was only the police who resorted to violence. The minister wanted to keep the circular a secret, but the very officials to whom he entrusted it failed to keep the secret, and so the circular made the rounds of the public. Then it was printed by the socialists. Whereupon the government, seeing that as usual it had been made a fool of with its “open secrets,” had it published in the press. That, as we have already stated, was the government’s answer to the summer and autumn strikes of 1895. In the spring of 1896, however, strikes broke out again, on a much bigger scale.[2] The rumours about them were supplemented by socialist leaflets. At first the government maintained   a cowardly silence, waiting to see how the matter would end, and then, when the workers’ revolt had died down, it belatedly made public its bureaucratic wisdom, as it would a delayed police protocol. On this occasion it had to speak out openly, and what is more, to do so collectively. Its announcement appeared in issue No. 158 of Pravitelstvenny Vestnik.[3] On this occasion it could not misrepresent the workers’ strikes as previously. It had to tell the full story, to give the facts of the employers’ oppressive measures and make known the workers’ demands; it had to admit that the workers had behaved “decently.” Thus the workers taught the government to give up lying in the vile manner of the police; when they rose up en masse, when they employed leaflets to make their case public, they compelled it to admit the truth. That was a great success. The workers will now know what is their only means of getting a public statement of their needs, of letting the workers throughout Russia know of their struggle. The workers will know now that the government’s lies are only refuted by the united struggle of the workers themselves to secure their rights and by their class-consciousness. When the ministers had spoken about the events they started inventing excuses, they proceeded to assert in their statement that the strikes were only caused by “the peculiarities of cotton-spinning and thread production.” Indeed! And not by the peculiarities of the whole of Russian production, not by the peculiarities of the Russian political system, which permits the police to hound and to seize peaceful workers who are defending themselves against oppression? Why, then, good ministers, did the workers snatch up, read and ask for more leaflets which did not deal with cotton and threads at all, but with the rightless position of Russian citizens and the arbitrary and brutal conduct of a government which fawns on the capitalists. No, this new excuse is perhaps worse, viler than the one with which Finance Minister Witte tried to settle matters in his circular by placing all the blame on “agitators.” Minister Witte argues about the strike just like any police official who has had his palm greased by the factory owners: agitators came, runs the explanation, and a strike broke out. Now, when all the ministers saw a strike of 30,000 workers, they began to think, and finally came to the conclusion that strikes do not break out because socialist agitators come on the scene, but that socialist agitators come on the scene because strikes break out, because the workers’ struggle breaks out against the capitalists. The ministers now assert that the socialists subsequently “joined” the strikes. That is a good lesson for Finance Minister Witte. Be careful, Mr. Witte, learn the lesson well! Learn to get clear in advance about the cause of the strike, learn to examine the workers’ demands and not the reports of your police rats, whom you yourself have not a bit of faith in. The ministers tell the public that it was only “ill-intentioned persons” who tried to give the strikes a “criminally political character,” or as they say in one passage, a “social character” (the ministers wanted to say a socialist character, but, whether from ignorance or from bureaucratic cowardice, said social, the result being an absurdity: socialist means that which supports the workers in the struggle against capital, whereas social simply means public. How can a strike be given a social character? Why, it’s just the same as giving ministers ministerial rank!). That is amusing! The socialists give strikes a political character! Why, before any socialists did, the government itself took all possible measures to give the strikes a political character.Did it not set about seizing peaceful workers, just as though they were criminals? Did it not arrest and deport them? Did it not send spies and provocateurs all over? Did it not arrest all who fell into its hands? Did it not promise to help the factory owners in order that they might not yield? Did it not persecute workers for simply collecting money in aid of the strikers? The government itself was ahead of everybody else in explaining to the workers that the war they were waging against the factory owners must inevitably be a war against the government. All that the socialists had to do was to confirm this and publish it in leaflet form. That is all. The Russian Government, however, had already had an extensive experience in the art of dissembling, and the ministers tried to keep silent about the methods by which our government “gave the strikes a political character”; it told the public the dates of the socialists’ leaflets. But why did it not tell the dates of the orders issued by the City Governor and other bashi-bazouks for the arrest of peaceful workers, putting the troops under   arms, the dispatch of spies and provocateurs? They gave details to the public about the number of leaflets issued by the socialists; why did they give no details about the number of workers and socialists seized, about the number of ruined families, the number deported or imprisoned without trial? Why? Because even the Russian ministers, devoid as they are of all shame, are wary of telling the public about such bandit exploits. Peaceful workers who stood up for their rights and defended themselves against the factory owners’ tyranny had the entire strength of the state power, with police and troops, gendarmes and public prosecutors, hurled against them; workers who held out on their own coppers and those of their comrades, the British, Polish, German and Austrian workers–had aimed against them the entire strength of the state treasury, which promised assistance to the poor factory owners.

The workers were not united. They were unable to arrange collections, to enlist the help of other cities and other workers, they were hounded everywhere, they had to yield to the entire strength of state authority. The ministerial gentlemen are rejoicing that the government has achieved victory.

A fine victory! The entire strength of the government, the entire wealth of the capitalists–against thirty thousand peaceful, penniless workers! The ministers would be wiser if they waited before boasting of such a victory; their boasting really reminds one very much of that of the policeman, who brags about having got away from the strike unhurt.

The “incitements” of the socialists were ineffective, triumphantly declares the government to soothe the capitalists. Why, is our reply to this, no incitements could have created one-hundredth part of the impression created on all St. Petersburg, all Russian workers by the government’s conduct in this affair! The workers saw through the government’s policy of keeping silent about the workers’ strikes and of misrepresenting them. The workers saw how their united struggle forced the abandonment of hypocritical police lies. They saw whose interests were safeguarded by the government, which promised assistance to the factory owners. They understood who was their real foe when they, who were   not violating law and order, had the troops and police sent against them, just as though they were the country’s enemies. However much ministers may talk of the struggle being a failure, the workers see how the factory owners everywhere have quietened down, and know that the government is already calling the factory inspectors together to discuss what concessions should be made to the workers, for it sees that concessions are necessary. The strikes of 1895-86 have not been in vain. They have been of tremendous service to the Russian workers, they have shown them how to wage the struggle for their interests. They have taught them to understand the political situation and the political needs of the working class.

November 1896.

The League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class.[4]



[1] Lenin wrote the leaflet “To the Tsarist Government” in prison at a date previous to November 25 (December 7), 1896. It was mimeographed by the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class.

The leaflet was a reply to S. Y. Witte’s circular addressed to factory inspectors, and to the report of the 1896 summer strikes in St. Petersburg published on Jul 19 (31), 1896, in issue No. 158 of Pravitelstvenny Vestnik (Government Herald).




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