V. I.   Lenin

The Drafting of 183 Students Into the Army[1]

Written: Written in in January 1901
Published: Published in February 1901 in Iskra, No. 2. Published according to the Iskra text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 4, pages 414-419.
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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The newspapers of January 11 published the official announcement of the Ministry of Education on the drafting into the army of 183 students of Kiev University as a punishment for “riotous assembly.” The Provisional Regulations of July 29, 1899—this menace to the student world and to society—are being put into execution less than eighteen months after their promulgation, and the government seems to hasten to justify itself for applying a measure of unexampled severity by publishing a ponderous indictment in which the misdeeds of the students are painted in the blackest possible colours.

Each misdeed is more ghastly than the preceding one! In the summer a general students’ congress was convened in Odessa to discuss a plan to organise all Russian students for the purpose of giving expression to protests against various aspects of academic, public, and political life. As a punishment for these criminal political designs all the student delegates were arrested and deprived of their documents. But the unrest does not subside—it grows and persists in breaking out in many higher educational institutions. The students desire to discuss and conduct their common affairs freely and independently. Their authorities—with the soulless formalism for which Russian officials have always been noted—retaliate with petty vexations, rouse the discontent of the students to the highest   pitch, and automatically stimulate the thoughts of the youths who have not yet become submerged in the morass of bourgeois stagnation to protest against the whole system of police and official tyranny.

The Kiev students demand the dismissal of a professor who took the place of a colleague that had left. The administration resists, provokes students to “assemblies and demonstrations” and—yields. The students call a meeting to discuss what could make possible so horrendous a case—two “white linings”[2] (according to reports) raped a young girl. The administration sentences the “ringleaders” to solitary confinement in the students’ detention cell. These refuse to submit. They are expelled. A crowd of students demonstratively accompany the expelled students to the railway station. A new meeting is called; the students remain until evening and refuse to disperse so long as the rector does not show up. The Vice-Governor and Chief of Gendarmerie arrive on the scene at the head of a detachment of troops, who surround the University and occupy the main hall. The rector is called. The students demand—a constitution, perhaps? No. They demand that the punishment of solitary confinement should not be carried out and that the expelled students should be reinstated. The participants at the meeting have their names taken and are allowed to go home.

Ponder over this astonishing lack of proportion between the modesty and innocuousness of the demands put forward by the students and the panicky dismay of the government, which behaves as if the axe were already being laid to the props of its power. Nothing gives our “omnipotent” government away so much as this display of consternation. By this it proves more convincingly than does any “criminal manifesto” to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear that it realises the complete instability of its position, and that it relies only on the bayonet and the knout to save it from the indignation of the people. Decades of experience have taught the government that it is surrounded by inflammable material and that a mere spark, a mere protest against the students’ detention cell, may start a conflagration. This being the case, it is clear that the punishment had to be an exemplary one: Draft hundreds of students into the army! “Put   the drill sergeant in place of Voltaire!”[3]—the formula has not become obsolete; on the contrary, the twentieth century is destined to see its real application.

This new punitive measure, new in its attempt to revive that which has long gone out of fashion, provokes many thoughts and comparisons. Some three generations ago, in the reign of Nicholas I, drafting into the army was a natural punishment entirely in keeping with the whole system of Russian serf-owning society. Young nobles were sent to the army and compelled to serve as private soldiers, losing the privileges of their estate until they earned officer’s rank. Peasants were also drafted into the army, and it meant a long term of penal servitude, where “Green Street”[4] with its inhuman torment awaited them. It is now more than a quarter of a century since “universal” military service was introduced, which at the time was acclaimed as a great democratic reform. Real universal military service that is not merely on paper is undoubtedly a democratic reform; by abolishing the social-estate system it would make all citizens equal. But if such were the case, could drafting into the army be employed as a punishment? When the government converts military service into a form of punishment, does it not thereby prove that we are much nearer to the old recruiting system than to universal military service? The Provisional Regulations of 1899 tear off the pharisaical mask and expose the real Asiatic nature even of those of our institutions which most resemble European institutions. In reality,we have not and never had universal military service, because the privileges enjoyed by birth and wealth create innumerable exceptions. In reality, we have not and never had anything resembling equality of citizens in military service. On the contrary, the barracks are completely saturated with the spirit of most revolting absence of rights. The soldier from the working class or the peasantry is completely defenceless; his human dignity is trodden underfoot, he is robbed, he is beaten, beaten, and again beaten—such is his constant fare. Those with influential connections and money enjoy privileges and exemptions. It is not surprising, therefore, that drafting into this school of tyranny and violence can be a punishment, even a very severe punishment, amounting almost to deprivation of rights.   The government thinks it will teach the “rebels” discipline in this school. But is it not mistaken in its calculations? Will not this school of Russian military service become the military school of the revolution? Not all the students, of course, possess the stamina to go through the whole coarse of training in this school. Some will break down under the heavy burden, fall in combat with the military authorities; others—the feeble and flabby—will be cowed into submission by the barracks. But there will be those whom it will harden, whose outlook will be broadened, who will be compelled to ponder and profoundly sense their aspirations towards liberty. They will experience the whole weight of tyranny and oppression on their own backs when their human dignity will be at the mercy of a drill sergeant who very frequently takes deliberate delight in tormenting the “educated.” They will see with their own eyes what the position of the common people is, their hearts will be rent by the scenes of tyranny and violence they will be compelled to witness every day, and they will understand that the injustices and petty tyrannies from which the students suffer are mere drops in the ocean of oppression the people are forced to suffer. Those who will understand this will, on leaving military service, take a Hannibal’s vow[5] to fight with the vanguard of the people for the emancipation of the entire people from despotism.

The humiliating character of this new punishment is no less outrageous than its cruelty. In declaring the students who protested against lawlessness to be mere rowdies—even as it declared the exiled striking workers to be persons of depraved demeanour—the government has thrown down a challenge to all who still possess a sense of decency. Read the government communication. It bristles with such words as disorder, brawling, outrage, shamelessness, licence. On the one hand, it speaks of criminal political aims and the desire for political protest; and on the other, it slanders the students as mere rowdies who must he disciplined. This is a slap in the face of Russian public opinion, whose sympathy for the students is very well known to the government. The only appropriate reply the students can make is to carry out the threat of the Kiev students, to organise a determined general student strike in all higher educational   institutions in support of the demand for the repeal of the Provisional Regulations of July 29, 1899.

But it is not the students alone who must reply to the government. Through the government’s own conduct the incident has become something much greater than a mere student affair. The government turns to public opinion as though to boast of the severity of the punishment it inflicts, as though to mock at all aspirations towards liberty. All conscious elements among all strata of the people must take up this challenge, if they do not desire to fall to the level of dumb slaves bearing their insults in silence. At the head of these conscious elements stand the advanced workers and the Social-Democratic organisations inseparably linked with them. The working class constantly suffers immeasurably greater injuries and insults from the police lawlessness with which the students have now come into such sharp conflict. The working class has already begun the struggle for its emancipation. It must remember that this great struggle imposes great obligations upon it, that it cannot emancipate itself without emancipating the whole people from despotism, that it is its duty first and foremost to respond to every political protest and render every support to that protest. The best representatives of our educated classes have proved—and sealed the proof with the blood of thousands of revolutionaries tortured to death by the government—their ability and readiness to shake from their feet the dust of bourgeois society and join the ranks of the socialists. The worker who can look on indifferently while the government sends troops against the student youth is unworthy of the name of socialist. The students came to the assistance of the workers—the workers must come to the aid of the students. The government wishes to deceive the people when it declares that an attempt at political protest is mere brawling. The workers must publicly declare and explain to the broad masses that this is a lie; that the real hotbed of violence, outrage, and licence is the autocratic Russian Government, the tyranny of the police and the officials.

The manner in which this protest is to be organised must be decided by the local Social-Democratic organisations and workers’ groups. The most practical forms of protest   are the distribution, scattering, and posting up of leaflets, and the organisation of meetings to which as far as possible all classes of society should be invited. It would be desirable, however, where strong and well-established organisations exist, to attempt a broader and more open protest by means of a public demonstration. The demonstration organised last December 1, outside the premises of the newspaper Yuzhny Krai[6] in Kharkov, may serve as a good example of such a protest. The jubilee of that filthy sheet, which baits everything that aspires to light and freedom and glorifies every bestiality of our government, was being celebrated at the time. The large crowd assembled in front of Yuzhny Krai, solemnly tore up copies of the paper, tied them to the tails of horses, wrapped them round dogs, threw stones and stink-bombs containing sulphuretted hydrogen at the windows, and shouted: “Down with the corrupt press!” Such celebrations are well deserved, not only by the corrupt newspapers, but by all our government offices. If they but rarely celebrate anniversaries of official benevolence, they constantly deserve the celebration of the people’s retribution. Every manifestation of governmental tyranny and violence is a legitimate motive for such a demonstration. The people must not let the government’s announcement of its punishment of the students go unanswered!


[1] We were going to press when the official announcement was published. —Lenin

[2] White linings”—the name given in tsarist Russia to monarchist-minded students from aristocratic and bourgeois circles who conducted a struggle against the democratic section of the students, supporters of the revolutionary movement. The name derived from the white silk linings of their uniforms.

[3] The words of Colonel Skalozub, a character in A. S. Griboyedov’s comedy Wit Works Woe.

[4] Green Street”—a form of corporal punishment employed in the army of feudal Russia. The condemned man was tied to a rifle and made to run the gauntlet between two ranks of soldiers who beat him with sticks or green switches. This form of punishment was particularly widespread under Tsar Nicholas I (1825-55).

[5] Hannibal’s vow—unwavering determination to fight to the end. The Carthagenian general, Hannibal, made a vow not to cease the struggle against Rome until his dying day.

[6] Yuzhny Krai (Southern Region)—a daily newspaper dealing with social, literary, and political problems founded in Kharkov in 1880. The paper, published and edited by A. A. Yuzefovich, an extreme reactionary, upheld conservative, royalist views.

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