V. I.   Lenin

Forms of the Working-Class Movement[1]


Published: Put Pravdy No. 54, April 4, 1914. Published according to the text in Put Pravda.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 20, pages 209-212.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Joe Fineberg
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.README

Lockouts, i. e., the mass discharge of workers by common agreement among employers, is as necessary and inevitable a phenomenon in capitalist society as strikes are. Capital, which throws the whole of its crushing weight upon the ruined small producers and the proletariat, constantly threatens to force the conditions of the workers down to starvation level and condemn them to death from starvation. And in all countries there have been cases, even whole periods in the life of nations, when the failure of the workers to fight back has led to their being reduced to incredible poverty and all the horrors of starvation.

The workers’ resistance springs from their very conditions of life—the sale of labour-power. Only as a result of this resistance, despite the tremendous sacrifices the workers have to make in the struggle, are they able to maintain anything like a tolerable standard of living. But capital is becoming more and more concentrated, manufacturers’ associations are growing, the number of destitute and unemployed people is increasing, and so also is want among the proletariat; consequently, it is becoming harder than ever to fight for a decent standard of living. The cost of living, which has been rising rapidly in recent years, often nullifies all the workers’ efforts.

By drawing larger and larger masses of the proletariat into the organised struggle, the workers’ organisations, and first and foremost the trade unions, make the workers’ resistance more planned and systematic. With the existence of mass trade unions of different types, strikes become more stubborn: they occur less often, but each conflict is of bigger dimensions.

Lockouts are caused by a sharpening of the struggle, and in their turn, sharpen that struggle. Rallying in the struggle and developing its class-consciousness, its organisation and experience in that struggle, the proletariat becomes more and more firmly convinced that the complete economic reconstruction of capitalist society is essential.

Marxist tactics consist in combining the different forms of struggle, in the skilful transition from one form to another, in steadily enhancing the consciousness of the masses and extending the area of their collective actions, each of which, taken separately, may be aggressive or defensive, and all of which, taken together, lead to a more intense and decisive conflict.

Russia lacks the fundamental conditions for such a development of the struggle as we see in the West-European countries, namely, a struggle waged through the medium of firmly established and systematically developing trade unions.

Unlike Europe, which has enjoyed political freedom for a long time, the strike movement in Russia in 1912–14 extended beyond the narrow trade union limits. The liberals denied this, while the liberal-labour politicians (liquidators) failed to understand it, or shut their eyes to it. But the fact compelled them to admit it. In Milyukov’s Duma speech during the interpellation on the Lena events, this forced, belated, half-hearted, platonic (i.e., accompanied, not by effective assistance, but only by sighs) admission of the general significance of the working-class movement was quite definite. By their liberal talk about the “strike craze” and their opposition to combining economic and other motives in the strike movement (we would remind our readers that Messrs. Yezhov and Co. began to talk in this fashion in 1912!) the liquidators aroused the legitimate disgust of the workers. That is why the workers firmly and deliberately had the liquidators “removed from office” in the working-class movement.

The Marxists’ attitude towards the strike movement caused no wavering or dissatisfaction among the workers. Moreover, the significance of lockouts was formally and officially appraised by the organised Marxists as far back   as February 1913[2] (true, in an arena which the liquidators, those slaves of the liberals, do not see). Already in February 1913 the formal decision of the Marxists definitely and clearly spoke of lockouts and the necessity of taking them into account in our tactics. How are they to be taken into account? By going more carefully into the expediency of any given action, by changing the form of struggle, substituting (it was precisely substitution that was proposed!) one form for another, the general tendency being to rise to higher forms. The class-conscious workers are well acquainted with certain concrete cases when the movement rose to higher forms which were historically subjected to repeated test, and which are “unintelligible” and “alien” only to the liquidators.

On March 21, immediately after the lockout was declared, the Pravdists issued their clear-cut slogan: Do not let the employers choose for us the time and form of action; do not go on strike now! The labour unions and the organised Marxists knew and saw that this slogan was their own, drawn up by that same majority of the advanced proletariat which had secured the election of its representatives to the Insurance Board,[3] and which is guiding all the activities of the St. Petersburg workers in the face of the disruptive and liberal outcries of the liquidators.

The slogan of March 21—do not go on strike now—was the slogan of the workers, who knew that they would be able to substitute one form for another, that they were striving and would continue to strive—through the constantly changing forms of the movement—for a general rise to a higher level.

The workers knew that the disrupters of the working-class movement—the liquidators and the Narodniks—would try to disrupt the workers’ cause in this case, too, and they were prepared in advance to offer resistance.

On March 26, both the liquidator and Narodnik groups of disrupters and violators of the will of the majority of the class-conscious workers of St. Petersburg and of Russia, published in their newspapers the bourgeois banalities that are common to these camps. The Narodniks (to the delight of the liquidators) chattered about “thoughtlessness” (the class-conscious workers have long been aware that nobody   is so thoughtless as the Narodniks), while the liquidators delivered liberal speeches (already analysed and condemned in Put Pravdy No. 47) and urged that instead of strikes the workers should resort to ... no, not the corresponding higher forms, but to ... petitions and “resolutions”!

Brushing aside this shameful liberal advice of the liquidators, and brushing aside the thoughtless chatter of the Narodniks, the advanced workers firmly proceeded along their own road.

The old decision, which called, in certain cases of lockouts, for strikes to be superseded by certain higher forms of struggle corresponding to them, was well known to the workers and correctly applied by them.

The employers failed to achieve the provocative purpose of their lockout. The workers did not accept battle on the ground chosen by their enemies; in due time, the workers applied the decision of the organised Marxists and, with greater energy and more demonstratively, conscious of the importance of their movement, continue to march along the old road.


[1] The article “Forms of the Working-Class Movement (The Lockout and Marxist Tactics)” was written in connection with the lockout declared by St. Petersburg factory owners on March 20 (April 2), 1914.

In March 1914 mass cases of poisoning occurred among the women employed at the Treugolnik Mills in St. Petersburg, evoking general indignation and strikes of protest on the part of the workers in the capital. The St. Petersburg factory owners retorted by a lockout, as many as 70,000 workers being thrown out in a single day. The aim was to provoke the workers to a mass strike, the better to be able to make short work of the labour movement. But, led by the Bolsheviks, the workers refused to be provoked. In view of the lockout, the declaration of a mass strike was considered inadvisable, and Pravda called the workers to other forms of struggle, such as mass meetings at the factories and revolutionary demonstrations in the streets. The St. Petersburg Committee of the R. S. D. L. P. issued a leaflet calling upon the workers to take part in a demonstration to be held on April 4, 1914, the second anniversary of the Lena shootings.

On the appointed day the newspaper Put Pravdy came out with an editorial by Lenin—“Forms of the Working-Class Movement”. This article, in a form adapted to the conditions of the   existing censorship, urged the workers to carry out the decisions of the Cracow meeting of the C. C. of the R. S. D. L. P. held jointly with Party workers, which mentioned the need to discover “new forms of struggle against lockouts” and to replace political strikes “by revolutionary meetings and revolutionary street demonstrations”. Lenin laid special emphasis on the importance of revolutionary demonstrations as a time-tested form of struggle.

The workers responded to the Party’s appeal with a powerful revolutionary demonstration, which was reported by all the bourgeois newspapers. Reporting the demonstration, the liquidationist Severnaya Rabochaya Gazeta made no mention of the leaflets distributed by the St. Petersburg Committee, and even attacked Lenin’s article “Forms of the Working-Class Movement”. At a time when the workers were engaged in a sharp struggle against the capitalists, the liquidators called upon the workers to “calm down” and attacked the Bolsheviks for organising the revolutionary demonstration. Lenin called the liquidators’ behaviour monstrous and described their attitude to the Fourth of April demonstration as = a = typical instance of wrecking illegal work. In the report of the C.C. of the R. S. D. L. P. to the Brussels Conference, Lenin devoted a good deal of space to exposing the activities of the liquidators. (See pp. 495–535 of this volume.)

[2] The reference is to the Conference of the C. C. of the R. S. D. L. P. with Party workers, called, for reasons of secrecy, the “February” meeting. It was held in Cracow on December 26, 1912-January 1, 1913 (January 8–14, 1913), and was attended by Lenin, N. K. Krupskaya, the Bolshevik deputies to the Fourth Duma A. Y. Badayev, G. I. Petrovsky, N. R. Shagov, and others. The illegal Party organisations of St. Petersburg, the Moscow region, the South, the Urals and the Caucasus were represented at the meeting. In the chair was Lenin, who made reports on the subjects “The Revolutionary Upswing, Strikes and the Tasks of the Party”, “The Attitude to the Liquidators and Unity” (the texts of these reports are missing), drafted and edited all the resolutions, and wrote the “Report” of the meeting by the C. C. of the R. S. D. L. P.

The Conference adopted decisions on the most important issues of the working-class movement, namely: the tasks of the Party in connection with the new revolutionary upswing and the growing strike movement, the building-up of the illegal organisation, the work of the Social-Democratic group in the Duma, the insurance campaign, the Party press, the national Social-Democratic organisations, the struggle against liquidationism, and the unity of the proletarian party.

The Conference’s decisions played an important part in strengthening the Party and its unity, in extending and consolidating the Party’s contacts with the masses, and evolving new forms of Party work adapted to the rising wave of the working-class movement.

[3] See Note 40.

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