V. I.   Lenin

Economic and Political Strikes

Published: Published in Nevskaya Zvezda No. 10, May 31, 1912. Signed: Iv. Petrov. Published according to the newspaper text verified with the text in the symposium Marxism and Liquidationism, Part II, St. Petersburg, 1914.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1975], Moscow, Volume 18, pages 83-90.
Translated: Stepan Apresyan
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). 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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Ever since 1905 the official strike statistics kept by the Ministry of Commerce arid Industry have subdivided strikes into economic and political. This subdivision was necessitated by reality, which has evolved distinctive forms of the strike movement. The combination of economic and political strike is one of the main features of these forms. And now that there is a revival of the strike movement, it is in the interest of a scientific analysis, of an intelligent attitude to events, that the workers should look closely into this distinctive feature of the strike movement in Russia.

To begin with, we shall cite several basic figures taken from the government strike statistics. For three years, 1905–07, the strike movement in Russia kept at a height unprecedented in the world. Government statistics cover only factories, so that mining, railways, building and numerous other branches of wage-labour are left out. But even in factories alone, the number of strikers was 2,863,000, or a little less than 3 million, in 1905, 1,108,000 in 1906, and 740,000 in 1907. In the fifteen years from 1894 to 1908, during which strike statistics began to be systematically studied in Europe, the greatest number of strikers for one year—660,000—was registered in America.

Consequently, the Russian workers were the first in the world to develop the strike struggle on the mass scale that we witnessed in 1905–07. Now it is the British workers who have lent a new great impetus to the strike movement with regard to economic strikes. The Russian workers owe their leading role, not to greater strength, better organisation or higher development compared with the workers in Western Europe, but to the fact that so far Europe has not   gone through great national crises with the proletarian masses taking an independent part in them. When such crises do set in, mass strikes in Europe will be even more powerful than they were in Russia in 1905.

What was the ratio of economic to political strikes in that period? Government statistics give the following answer:

Number of strikers (thousands)
  1905 1906 1907
Economic strikes 1,439 458 200
Political strikes 1,424 650 540
Total . . . . 2,863 1,108 740

This shows the close and inseparable connection between the two kinds of strike. When the movement was at its highest (1905), the economic basis of the struggle was the broadest; in that year the political strike rested on the firm and solid basis of economic strikes. The number of economic strikers was greater than that of political strikers.

We see that as the movement declined, in 1906 and 1907, the economic basis contracted: the number of economic strikers dropped to 0.4 of the total number of strikers in 1906 and to 0.3 in 1907. Consequently, the economic and the political strike support each other, each being a source of strength for the other. Unless these forms of strike are closely interlinked, a really wide mass movement—more over, a movement of national significance—is impossible. When the movement is in its early stage, the economic strike often has the effect of awakening and stirring up the backward, of making the movement a general one, of raising it to a higher plane.

In the first quarter of 1905, for instance, economic strikes noticeably predominated over political strikes, the number of strikers being 604,000 in the former case and only 206,000 in the latter. In the last quarter of 1905, however, the ratio was reversed: 430,000 workers took part in economic strikes, and 847,000 in political strikes. This means that in the early stage of the movement many workers put the economic struggle first, while at the height of the movement it was the   other way round. But all the time there was a connection between the economic and the political strike. Without such a connection, we repeat, it is impossible to have a really great movement, one that achieves great aims.

In a political strike, the working class comes forward as the advanced class of the whole people. In such cases, the proletariat plays not merely the role of one of the classes of bourgeois society, but the role of guide, vanguard, leader. The political ideas manifested in the movement involve the whole people, i.e., they concern the basic, most profound conditions of the political life of the whole country. This character of the political strike, as has been noted by all scientific investigators of the period 1905–07, brought into the movement all the classes, and particularly, of course, the widest, most numerous and most democratic sections of the population, the peasantry, and so forth.

On the other hand, the mass of the working people will never agree to conceive of a general “progress” of the country without economic demands, without an immediate and direct improvement in their condition. The masses are drawn into the movement, participate vigorously in it, value it highly and display heroism, self-sacrifice, perseverance and devotion to the great cause only if it makes for improving the economic condition of those who work. Nor can it be otherwise, for the living conditions of the workers in “ordinary” times are incredibly hard. As it strives to improve its living conditions, the working class also progresses morally, intellectually and politically, becomes more capable of achieving its great emancipatory aims.

The strike statistics published by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry fully bear out this tremendous significance of the economic struggle of the workers in the period of a general revival. The stronger the onslaught of the workers, the greater their achievements in improving their standard of living. The “sympathy of society” and better conditions of life are both results of a high degree of development of the struggle. Whereas the liberals (and the liquidators) tell the workers: “You are strong when you have the sympathy of ‘society’”, the Marxist tells the workers something different, namely: “You have the sympathy of ‘society’ when you are strong.” What we mean by society in this case is all   the various democratic sections of the population, the petty bourgeoisie, the peasants, and the intellectuals, who are in close touch with the life of the workers, office employees, etc.

The strike movement was strongest in 1905. And what was the result? We see that in that year the workers achieved the greatest improvements in their condition. Government statistics show that in 1905 only 29 out of every 100 strikers stopped their fight without having gained anything, i.e., were completely defeated. In the previous ten years (1895–1904), as many as 52 strikers out of 100 stopped fighting without having gained anything! It follows that the large scale of the struggle contributed immensely to its success, almost doubling it.

When the movement began to decline, the success of the struggle began to diminish accordingly. In 1906, 33 strikers out of 100 stopped fighting without having gained anything, or having been defeated, to be exact; in 1907 the figure was 58, and in 1908, as high as 69 out of 100!!

Thus the scientific statistical data over a number of years fully confirm the personal experience and observations of every class-conscious worker as regards the necessity of combining the economic and the political strike, and the inevitability of this combination in a really broad movement of the whole people.

The present strike wave likewise fully confirms this conclusion. In 1911 the number of strikers was double that in 1910 (100,000 against 50,000), but even so their number was extremely small; purely economic strikes remained a relatively “narrow” cause, they did not assume national significance. On the other hand, today it is obvious to one and all that the strike movement following the well-known events of last April had precisely this significance.[1]

It is therefore highly important to rebuff from the outset the attempts of the liberals and liberal labour politicians (liquidators) to distort the character of the movement. Mr. Severyanin, a liberal, contributed to Russkiye Vedomosti[2] an article against “admixing” economic or “any other [aha!] demands” to the May Day strike, and the Cadet Rech sympathetically reprinted in the main passages of the article.

More often than not,” writes the liberal gentleman, “it is unreasonable to link such strikes with May Day.... Indeed, it would be   rather strange to do so: we are celebrating the international workers’ holiday, and we use the occasion to demand a ten per cent rise for calico of such-and-such grades.” (Rech No. 132.)

What is quite clear to the workers seems “strange” to the liberal. Only the defenders of the bourgeoisie and its excessive profits can sneer at the demand for a “rise”. But the workers know that it is the widespread character of the demand for a rise, it is the comprehensive character of a strike, that has the greatest power to attract a multitude of new participants, to ensure the strength of the onslaught and the sympathy of society, and to guarantee both the success of the workers and the national significance of their movement. That is why it is necessary to fight with determination against the liberal distortion preached by Mr. Severyanin, Russkiye Vedomosti and Rech, and to warn the workers in every way against this kind of sorry advisers.

Mr. V. Yezhov, a liquidator, writing in the very first issue of the liquidationist Nevsky Golos,[3] offers a similar purely liberal distortion, although he approaches the question from a somewhat different angle. He dwells in particular on the strikes provoked by the May Day fines. Correctly pointing out that the workers are not sufficiently organised, the author draws from his correct statement conclusions that are quite wrong and most harmful to the workers. Mr. Yezhov sees a lack of organisation in the fact that while in one factory the workers struck merely in protest, in another they added economic demands, etc. Actually, however, this variety of forms of strike does not in itself indicate any lack of organisation at all; it is ridiculous to imagine that organisation necessarily means uniformity! Lack of organisation is not at all to be found where Mr. Yezhov looks for it.

But his conclusion is still worse:

Owing to this [i.e., owing to the variety of the strikes and to the different forms of the combination of economics and politics], the principle involved in the protest (after all, it was not over a few kopeks that the strike was called) became obscured in a considerable number of cases, being complicated by economic demands....”

This is a truly outrageous, thoroughly false and thoroughly liberal argument! To think that the demand “for a few kopeks” is capable of “obscuring” the principle involved in the   protest means sinking to the level of a Cadet. On the contrary, Mr. Yezhov, the demand for “a few kopeks” deserves full recognition and not a sneer! On the contrary, Mr. Yezhov, that demand, far from “obscuring” “the principle involved in the protest”, emphasises it! Firstly, the question of a higher standard of living is also a question of principle, and a most important one; secondly, whoever protests, not against one, but against two, three, etc., manifestations of Oppression, does not thereby weaken his protest but strengthens it.

Every worker will indignantly reject Mr. Yezhov’s outrageous liberal distortion of the matter.

In the case of Mr. Yezhov, it is by no means a slip of the pen. He goes on to say even more outrageous things:

Their own experience should have suggested to the workers that it was inadvisable to complicate their protest by economic demands, just as it is inadvisable to complicate an ordinary strike by a demand involving a principle.”

This is untrue, a thousand times untrue! The Nevsky Golos has disgraced itself by printing such stuff. What Mr. Yezhov thinks inadvisable is perfectly advisable. Both each worker’s own experience and the experience of a very large number of Russian workers in the recent past testify to the reverse of what Mr. Yezhov preaches.

Only liberals can object to “complicating” even the most “ordinary” strike by “demands involving principles”. That is the first point. Secondly, our liquidator is sorely mistaken in measuring the present movement with the yard stick of an “ordinary” strike.

And Mr. Yezhov is wasting his time in trying to cover up his liberal contraband with someone else’s flag, in confusing the question of combining the economic and the political strike with the question of preparations for the one or the other! Of course, it is most desirable to make preparations and to be prepared, and to do this as thoroughly, concertedly, unitedly, intelligently and firmly as possible. That is beyond dispute. But, contrary to what Mr. Yezhov says, it is necessary to make preparations precisely for a combination of the two kinds of strike.

A period of economic strikes is ahead of us,” writes Mr. Yezhov. “It would be an irreparable mistake to allow them to become intertwined   with political actions of the workers. Such combination would have a harmful effect on both the economic and the political struggle of the workers.”

One could hardly go to greater lengths! These words show in the clearest possible way that the liquidator has sunk to the level of an ordinary liberal. Every sentence contains an error! We must convert every sentence into its direct opposite to get at the truth!

It is not true that a period of economic strikes is ahead of us. Quite the reverse. What we have ahead of us is a period of something more than just economic strikes. We are facing a period of political strikes. The facts, Mr. Yezhov, are stronger than your liberal distortions; and if you could look at the statistical cards dealing with strikes, which are filed in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, you would see that even these government statistics fully refute you.

It is not true that “intertwining” would be a mistake. Quite the reverse. It would be an irreparable mistake if the workers failed to understand the great singularity, the great significance, the great necessity, and the great fundamental importance of precisely such “intertwining”. Fortunately, however, the workers understand this perfectly, and they brush aside with contempt the preaching of liberal labour politicians.

Lastly, it is not true that such intertwining “would have a harmful effect” on both forms. Quite the reverse. It benefits both. It strengthens both.

Mr. Yezhov lectures some “hotheads” whom he seems to have discovered. Listen to this:

It is necessary to give organisational form to the sentiments of the workers....” This is gospel truth! “It is necessary to increase propaganda for trade unions, to recruit new members for them....”

Quite true, but—but, Mr. Yezhov, it is impermissible to reduce “organisational form” to the trade unions alone! Remember this, Mr. Liquidator!

This is all the more necessary since there are many hotheads among the workers nowadays who are carried away by the mass movement and speak at meetings against unions, alleging them to be useless and unnecessary.”

This is a liberal slur on the workers. It is not “against unions” that the workers—who have been, and always will be, a thorn in the side of the liquidators—have been coming out. No, the Workers have been coming out against the attempt to reduce the organisational form to “trade unions alone, an attempt which is so evident from Mr. Yezhov’s preceding sentence.

The workers have been coming out, not “against unions but against the liberal distortion of the nature of the struggle they are waging, a distortion which pervades the whole of Mr. Yezhov’s article.

The Russian workers have become sufficiently mature politically to realise the great significance of their movement for the whole people. They are sufficiently mature to see how very false and paltry liberal labour policy is and they will always brush it aside with contempt.


[1] See Note 1.

[2] Russkiye Vedomosti (Russian Recorder)—a newspaper published in Moscow from 1863 onwards by moderately liberal intellectuals. Between the 1880s and 1890s contributors to it included writers of the democratic camp—V. G. Korolenko, M. Y. Saltykov-Shchedrin, 0. I. Uspensky and others—and it also published articles by liberal Narodniks. In 1905 it became an organ of the Right wing of the Cadet Party. Lenin pointed out that the newspaper “provided a unique combination of Right Cadetism and Narodnik overtones” (see present edition, Vol. 19, p. 135). In 1918 it was closed down along with other counter-revolutionary newspapers.

[3] Nevsky Golos (Neva Voice)—a legal newspaper of the Menshevik liquidators, published in St. Petersburg from May to August 1912.

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