V. I.   Lenin

The Draft of a New Law on Strikes

Published: Iskra, No. 24, September 1, 1902. Published according to the Iskra text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 6, pages 217-226.
Translated: ??? ???
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.
Other Formats:   TextREADME


We have come into possession of a new confidential document—the memorandum of the Ministry of Finance “On a revision of articles in the law which make strikes and breaches of contract of hire punishable, and on the desirability of instituting workers’ organisations for purposes of mutual aid.” In view of the length of this memorandum and the need to acquaint the broadest possible sections of the working class with it, we are publishing it as a separate pamphlet.[1] At present, however, we shall give a brief review of the contents of this interesting document and point out its importance.

The memorandum begins with a short survey of the his tory of our factory legislation, mentioning the Laws of June 3, 1886 and June 2, 1897,[2] and then proceeds to the question of the abolition of criminal liability for leaving employment and for striking. The Ministry of Finance is of the opinion that the threat of arrest or imprisonment for a worker’s leaving work without permission or for a number of workers downing tools by agreement among them selves, fails in its purpose. Experience has shown that this does not ensure the maintenance of public order; this threat merely embitters the workers, convincing them of the injustice of the law. The enforcement of these laws is very difficult “in view of the extreme burdensomeness of instituting hundreds and sometimes thousands of proceedings” if every worker who leaves his job is to be tried, and also in view of the fact that it is unprofitable for the factory owner to lose workers if the latter are imprisoned for going on strike. Making strikes a criminal offence leads to inordinately   zealous interference by the police, which does more harm than good, bringing the employers more difficulties and trouble than relief. The memorandum proposes the complete abolition of the individual worker’s liability for leaving a factory of his own accord, or for participating in peace able strikes (unattended by violence or breaches of public law and order, etc.). Following the example of legislation abroad, penalties should be imposed only for “violence, threats, or defamation [!] practised by any employer or worker against the person or property of a third person with the object of compelling the latter, despite his free and lawful intentions, to work or to abstain from working” on certain terms. In other words, instead of criminal liability for participation in strikes the proposal is to make it a crime to interfere with “persons desiring to work.”

As to the mutual aid societies, the Ministry of Finance complains of arbitrariness on the part of the administrative authorities (which, it claims, is particularly noticeable in Moscow where the Society of Mechanics[3] even claimed the right to “mediate” between workers and management), and demands legislative enactment of proper regulations for such societies and assistance in their organisation.

Thus, the general spirit of the new memorandum of the Ministry of Finance is undoubtedly liberal, and its main point is the proposal to abolish criminal liability for participation in strikes. We shall not analyse the contents of the entire “Bill” in detail here (it will be more convenient to do so after the memorandum has been published in full), but shall merely call the reader’s attention to the nature and significance of this liberalism. The proposal to give the workers a certain right to strike and to organise is nothing new, not only in our liberal publicist writings but even in projects coming from official government commissions. In the early sixties, the Stackelberg Commission, which revised factory and artisan regulations, proposed that factory courts elected from among the workers and the employers be set up and that some freedom of organisation be granted the workers. In the eighties the commission charged with drafting a new criminal code proposed the abolition of criminal liability for participation in strikes. However, the present draft of the Ministry of   Finance differs substantially from the earlier projects, and this difference will remain an extremely important sign of the times even if the proposed new draft is pigeon-holed like all others before it. This essential difference consists in the fact that the new draft rests on an incomparably sounder foundation; in it you sense, not only the voice of a few progressive theorists and ideologists of the bourgeoisie, but the voice of an entire section of practical industrialists. This is no longer the liberalism of “humane” government officials and professors alone; it is the home-bred, native liberalism of the Moscow merchants and manufacturers. Let me say frankly that this fact fills my heart with a lofty patriotic pride: the twopenny-halfpenny liberalism of the merchant means much more than the shilling liberalism of the government official. And what is most interesting in the memorandum is not the nauseating talk about freedom of contract and the interests of the state, but the practical considerations of the manufacturers, which break right through the traditional juridical arguments.

This is intolerable! We’re fed up! Keep out of it!—is what the Russian manufacturer is saying to the Russian police through the medium of the author of the ministerial memorandum. Just listen indeed to the following line of reasoning:

“To the police authorities, who find support in the vagueness and ambiguity of the existing law, every strike comes not as a natural economic phenomenon, but invariably as a breach of public law and order. If, however, a calmer attitude existed with regard to stoppages of work at factories, and strikes were not made synonymous with breaches of public order, it would be much easier to ascertain the true causes of such, to separate lawful and justifiable grounds from those that are unlawful and untenable and to take the necessary steps towards peaceful agreement between the two parties. Given a more normal state of affairs such as this, restrictive and repressive measures would be resorted to only when disorder was patently in evidence.” The police do not go into the reasons for a strike; they are concerned solely with cutting It short, to which end they resort to one of two methods: either they force the workers (by arrests, deportation, and other measures “up to and including   the use of armed force”) to return to work, or they prompt the employers to make concessions. “It cannot be said that either of these methods suits” Messrs. the Manufacturers: the former “embitters the workers,” the latter “confirms the workers in the extremely harmful belief that a strike is the surest way of getting what they want in every case.” “The history of strikes during the last decade affords many illustrations of the harm resulting from the efforts to suppress the resulting complications rapidly and at any cost. Hurriedly made arrests have at times so incensed workers who were completely calm until then that Cossacks .had to be brought into action, and after that of course any satisfaction even of the legitimate demands of the strikers was out of the question. On the other hand, cases of prompt satisfaction of the workers’ unlawful demands by means of pressure upon the manufacturers did not fail to evoke similar strikes in other industrial enterprises where it became necessary to resort to military force rather than to a system of concessions, which is sometimes entirely incomprehensible to the workers and strengthens their conviction that the authorities are unjust and despotic towards them...." That the police should ever satisfy even unlawful demands of the workers by means of pressure upon the manufacturers—that of course is a fancy of the Messrs. the Capitalists, who want to say that in some cases they themselves, after some bargaining with the strikers, would concede less than they have to concede under the pressure of the grim prospect of “breaches of state law and order." The memorandum has a dig at the Ministry of the Interior, which in its circular letter of August 12, 1897, “issued without agreement with the Ministry of Finance” (that is where the crux of the matter lies!), prescribes both arrest and deportation in every strike and demands that every case connected with strikes be dealt with as required by the emergency regulations. “The higher administrative authorities,” continues the memorandum, setting forth the complaints of the manufacturers, “go still further [than the law] and flatly regard all [italics in the original] cases of strikes as matters of state importance.... Actually, however, every strike (of course if not accompanied by violence) is a purely economic phenomenon, which is quite natural and in no way jeopardises   public law and order. In these cases law and order should be maintained in the same way as during popular festivities, celebrations, performances, and like occasions.”

This is the language of genuine Manchester Liberals, who proclaim that the struggle between capital and labour is a purely natural phenomenon, who with remarkable frankness put on a par “trade in commodities” and “trade in labour” (elsewhere in the memorandum), demand non interference by the state, and assign to this state the role of night (and day) watchman. And, what is of particular importance, the Russian manufacturers have been compelled to adopt this liberal standpoint by none other than our workers. The working-class movement has spread so greatly that strikes have really become “natural economic phenomena. The workers’ struggle has assumed such stubborn forms that interference by the police state, which prohibits all manifestations of this struggle, has really begun to prove harmful, not only to the workers (to whom it has, of course, never brought anything but harm), but even to the manufacturers themselves, on whose behalf this interference was practised. The workers actually deprived the police prohibitions of all force, but the police continued (and in an autocratic state could not but continue) to interfere and, feeling their impotence, kept going from side to side: from armed force to concessions, from savage reprisals to blandishments. The less effective police intervention proved, the more keenly did the manufacturers feel the arbitrariness of the police, the more inclined they were to believe that it did not pay them to support this arbitrariness. The conflict between a certain section of the big industrialists and the all-powerfull police became more and more intense, assuming particularly acute forms in Moscow, where the system of flirting with the workers had flourished most luxuriantly. The memorandum openly complains of the Moscow authorities, who were carrying on a dangerous game with workers’ conferences and the workers’ mutual aid society in the engineering industry. In order to decoy the workers it became necessary to grant the council of this society a certain right of mediation—and the manufacturers immediately began to kick. “At first this council,” the memorandum says at   their dictation, “applied to the Factory Inspectorate, but, seeing that the latter did not recognise its right to act as mediator, a role which it had assumed on its own, it began to turn to the Chief of Police, who not only accepts the tendered statements, but acts on them in due course, thus sanctioning the rights which the council has arrogated to itself.” The manufacturers are protesting against particular administrative decrees and demand the legislative enactment of a new system.

True, the manufacturers’ liberalism has not ventured so far beyond the extremely narrow limits of their specific interests; their hostility to police arbitrariness is limited to individual cases of police excesses which are not to their advantage, and is not levelled against the mainstays of bureaucratic despotism. But, by aggravating the class antagonisms in the capitalist countries, the economic development of Russia and of the whole world will foster the growth of this hostility, provide greater grounds for it, and intensify it. The proletariat’s strength lies precisely in the growth of its numbers and its solidarity as a result of the very process of economic development, while the interests of the big and petty bourgeoisie become more and more scattered and divided. To take into account this “natural” advantage of the proletariat, the Social-Democrats must closely watch all clashes of interests among the ruling classes, using these clashes, not only in order to gain practical advantages for one section or another of the working class, but also for the purpose of enlightening the en tire working class, for the purpose of deriving a useful lesson from each new social and political incident.

The practical advantage which the workers stand to gain from the revision of the law proposed by the liberal manufacturers is too obvious to be dwelt on at length. It is an undoubted concession to a growing force, an abandonment by the enemy of one of his positions, which the revolutionary proletariat has practically captured already and which the more far-seeing leaders of the hostile army no longer care to defend. Of course, this is no big concession: first of all, it is ridiculous even to think that real freedom, the right to strike, is possible without political liberty. The police still retain the right to make arrests   and to deport without trial, and will retain that right so long as the autocracy continues to exist. And the retention of this right means preservation of nine-tenths of the police interference, the outrages, and the high-handedness, which are beginning to disgust even the manufacturers. Secondly, even in the narrow sphere of factory legislation itself, the Ministry of Finance is taking a very timid step forward, copying the German Bill which the German workers have dubbed the “Hard Labour” Bill,[4] and preserving special penalties “for violence, threats, or defamation” In connection with the contract of hire, as if general penal laws covering these of fences did not exist! But the Russian workers will know how to utilise even this small concession so as to strengthen their positions, to intensify and extend their great struggle for the emancipation of working humanity from wage slavery.

As to the useful lesson taught us by the new memorandum, we must note primarily that the protest of the manufacturers against the medieval strike law affords us a small and particular example of the general incompatibility of interests between the developing bourgeoisie and moribund absolutism. This should give food for thought to those people who (like the Socialist-Revolutionaries) have hither to timidly shut their eyes to the elements of bourgeois opposition in Russia and who continue to reiterate as of old that the “interests” (in general!) of the Russian bourgeoisie are satisfied. It turns out that police arbitrariness clashes now with some, now with other interests of even those sections of the bourgeoisie that are most directly protected by the tsarist police and are threatened directly with material loss by any loosening of the fetters placed on the proletariat.

It turns out that a real revolutionary movement disorganises the government, not only directly by the fact that it enlightens, rouses, and unites the exploited masses, but also indirectly by the fact that it cuts the ground from under antiquated laws, destroys the faith in the autocracy even of those who would seem to be its confederates, increases “family squabbles” among these confederates, and replaces firmness and unity in the camp of the enemy by dissension and wavering. But in order to achieve such results one condition is required,which our Socialist-Revolutionaries have   never been able to grasp: it is necessary that the movement should be truly revolutionary, i.e., that it should rouse to a new life ever broader sections of the really revolutionary class, that it should actually refashion the spiritual and political make-up of this class, and through it, of all those who come in contact with it. If the Socialist-Revolutionaries grasped this truth, they would understand what practical harm is wrought by their ideological poverty and the unprin cipledness of their approach to the fundamental problems of socialism; they would understand that it is not the forces of the government but those of the revolution that are disorganised by people who preach that against the crowd the autocracy has its soldiers and against organisations— the police, whereas individual terrorists who remove ministers and governors are truly elusive.

The new “step” by the executive board of the manufacturers’ henchmen affords us still another useful lesson. This lesson is that we must be able to make practical use of any liberalism, even of the twopenny-halfpenny variety, and that at the same time we must be on our guard lest this liberalism corrupt the masses with its false presentation of questions. An example is Mr. Struve, an interview with whom we could put under the heading: “How the liberals want to teach the workers and how the workers should teach the liberals.” In No. 4 of Osvobozhdeniye, which has begun publication of the memorandum under analysis, Mr. Struve tells us, among other things, that the new draft is an expres sion of “statesmanship,” which, be says, will scarcely succeed in breaking through the wall of arbitrariness and sense lessness. No, Mr. Struve. It was not “statesmanship” that advanced the new strike Bill, but the manufacturers. This Bill has appeared, not because the state “recognised” the basic principles of civil law (the bourgeios “liberty and equality” of employers and workers), but because the abolition of criminal liability for participation in strikes has become ad vantageous to the manufacturers. The juridical formulations and wholly conclusive reasons now assigned by the Ministry of Finance “itself” (Osvobozhdeniye, No. 4, p. 50) existed long ago in Russian publications and even in the reports of government commissions, but it all remained buried in oblivion until the captains of industry raised their voices,   after the workers had shown them in practice how absurd the old laws were. We stress the decisive importance of the manufacturers’ advantages and interests not because we believe that this diminishes the importance of the govern ment schemes—on the contrary, we have already stated that this raises their importance in our eyes. But the proletariat must learn above all to look at things squarely and soberly in its struggle against the whole of the present-day system, to lay bare the real causes behing “lofty acts of state,” and to expose unremittingly the false and high sounding bombast about “statesmanship,” etc., to which the sly police officials give utterance deliberately, and the learned liberals short-sightedly.

Further, Mr. Struve advises the workers to be “restrained” in their agitation for the abolition of criminal liability for participation in strikes. “The more restrained it [this agitation] will be in form,” Mr. Struve preaches, “the greater its significance will be.” The workers should cordially thank this former socialist for such advice. This is the traditional Molchalin[5] wisdom of the liberals—to preach restraint at the very time when the government has just begun to waver (on some particular question). More restraint is needed so as not to hinder implementation of the incipient reform, so as not to raise apprehensions, and to make use of the propitious moment when the first step has already been taken (a memorandum has been drawn up!) and when some government department’s recognition of the necessity for reforms gives “irrefutable [?] proof both to the government and to society [!] of the justice and timeliness” (?) of these reforms. This is how Mr. Struve reasons with regard to the draft under discussion, and this is how the Russian liberals have always reasoned. However this is not bow the Social-Democrats reason. Just look, they say, even some manufac turers have already begun to understand that the European forms of the class struggle are better than Asiatic police tyr anny. Our stubborn fight has forced even the manufacturers to doubt the omnipotence of the myrmidons of the autocracy. Forward, then, more boldly! Spread more widely the glad tidings of irresolution in the enemy camp; take advantage of the slightest sign of wavering on the part of the enemy so as to increase your demands rather than “restrain” them in   the Molchalin manner. Against the debt the government owes to the people, they want to pay you one kopek in every hundred rubles. Use payment of this kopek in order to demand in louder and louder terms the whole sum, to completely discredit the government and prepare our forces to deliver a decisive blow at it.


[1] V. I. Lenin is referring to the pamphlet, The Autocracy and Strikes. The Memorandum of the Ministry of Finance on Permitting Strikes, published in 1902 in Geneva by the League of Russian Revolutionary Social-Democracy Abroad.

[2] The Law of June 3(15), 1886 (“Regulations on Supervision of the Enterprises of the Factory Industry and on Relations Between Factory Owners and Workers”) was passed under the influence of the working-class movement in the Moscow, Vladimir, and Yaroslavl gubernias and, in particular, the famous Morozov strike of 1885. The chief feature of the Law of June 3, 1886, was the certain restriction it placed on the arbitrary right of factory owners to exact fines from the workers (hence it became known as the “Law on Fines”). Lenin gave a detailed analysis and criticism of this law in the pamphlet, Explanation of the Law on Fines Imposed on Factory Workers (see present edition, Vol. 2, pp. 29-72).

The Law of June 2(14), 1897 (“On the Duration and Distribution of Working Hours in Enterprises of the Factory Industry”) introduced, for the first time in Russian history, legislative limitation of   the working day for part of the workers in large-scale industry. Like the Law of June 3, 1886, it was passed under the influence of the working-class movement in the nineties of the nineteenth century, particularly the mass strikes of the St. Petersburg workers in 1895-96. V. I. Lenin’s pamphlet, The New Factory Law, gives an analysis and criticism of the Law of June 2, 1897 (see present edition, Vol. 2, pp. 267-315).

[3] The Society of Mechanics (officially the Society for Mutual Aid of Workers Engaged in Mechanical Production) was formed in Moscow in May 1901 with the participation of the secret police. Its rules were confirmed by the Governor-General of Moscow on February 14, 1902. The formation of the Society was one of the attempts made to implant “police socialism,” Zubatovism (see Note 62), in order to divert the workers from the revolutionary struggle. The demagogic flirting of the police with the workers and, in particular, the attempts made by Zubatov agents, who controlled the Society of Mechanics, to assume the right to mediate in conflicts between employers and workers, evoked dissatisfaction among Moscow factory owners and protests from the Ministry of Finance, which reflected their interests. Under the impact of the growing working-class movement, the role of the Society, like that of other Zubatov organisations, dwindled away after 1903.

[4] The reference is to the so-called “Hard Labour” Bill (Zuchthaus vorlage) introduced in the German Reichstag in 1899 on the insistence of the employers and Emperor Wilhelm II. The Bill imposed from one to five years of prison or a fine of up to 1,000 marks on anyone who “by violence, threats, insults or a declaration of dishonesty” helped workers take part in unions and agreements, in cited them to strike or tried to oppose strike-breaking. Under pressure from the working-class movement, the “Hard Labour” Bill was turned down in the Reichstag on November 20, 1899, by the votes of the Left parties and the Centre party.

[5] Molchalin—a character in Griboyedov’s play, Wit Works Woe, a careerist and lickspittle.

Works Index   |   Volume 6 | Collected Works   |   L.I.A. Index
< backward   forward >