The Petersburg Soviet wages a splendid campaign – well organized, politically perfect and victorious – in defense of the freedom of the press. Its faithful comrade in this struggle was a young but united political and trades organization, the Union of Print-Workers.
“Freedom of the press,” said a working-class speaker at a large meeting of the Union preceding the October strike, “is necessary to us not only as a political right. It is an economic claim. Literature freed from the clamp of censorship will extend the printers’ trade and other related branches of the industry.” From that moment on, the print-workers opened a systematic campaign against censorship restrictions. Even earlier, throughout 1905, illegal literature had been printed in legal print shops; but this was done clandestinely, on a small scale and with the greatest caution. From October on, the mass of rank-and-file typesetters were drawn into the work of publishing illegal literature. Conspiratorial methods within the print shops disappeared almost entirely. The workers' pressure on the publishers increased at the same time. The typesetters insisted on newspapers being published in disregard of the conditions of censorship, threatening otherwise to withhold their services. A meeting of representatives of periodical publications took place on October 13. At this meeting, the reptiles from Novoye Vremya sat side by side with extreme radicals. And this Noah’s Ark of the Petersburg press decided “not to address any claim for freedom of the press to the government, but to institute such freedom without preliminary permission.” The resolution breathes civic courage! Luckily the general strike helped the publishers by making it unnecessary for their valor to be put to the test; and, afterwards, the “constitution” came to their aid. The Golgotha of political martyrdom happily receded before the more tempting prospect of agreement with the new ministry.
The manifesto of October 17 was silent on the freedom of the press. Count Witte explained to liberal deputations, however, that this silence was a sign of consent and that the proclaimed freedom of speech extended also to the press. But, the Premier added, censorship proved as impotent as he himself. Its fate was decided, not the publishers, but by the workers.
The Soviet stated on October 19,
The Tsar’s manifesto proclaims “freedom” of speech in Russia, yet the Central Directorate of Affairs of the Press still exists, the censor’s blue pencil is still in force ... Freedom of the press still has to be won by the workers. The Soviet of Deputies resolves that only those newspapers may be published whose editors ignore the censorship committee, refuse to submit their issues for censorship, and generally act in the same way as the Soviet in publishing its newspaper. For this reason typesetters and other workers of the press will work only after editors have declared their readiness to put the freedom of the press into practice. Until that time newspaper workers will remain on strike, and the Soviet of Deputies will take all necessary measures to pay the comrades on strike all wages due to them. Newspapers which fail to accept the present resolution will be confiscated from their sellers, and any workers who do nor accept the decision of the Soviet of Deputies will be boycotted.
This resolution, extended a few days later to all journals, brochures, and books, became the new press law. The typesetters’ strike, together with the general strike, continued until October 21. The Union of Print-Workers resolved not to interrupt the strike even in order to print the constitutional manifesto, and this decision was strictly observed. The manifesto appeared only in the Government Gazette, which was printed by soldiers; apart from that, only the reactionary Svet (Light) issued the Tsar’s underground proclamation of October 17 without the knowledge of its own typesetters. Svet was to pay a heavy price for this action: its print shop was wrecked by factory workers.
Is it possible that only nine months had passed since the January pilgrimage to the Winter Palace? Was it only the previous winter that these same people had entreated the Tsar to grant them freedom of the press? No, our old calendar lies! The revolution has its own system of chronology, where months are decades and years are whole centuries.
Among twenty thousand workers, the Tsar’s manifesto could not find a single loyal printer to print it. But social-democratic proclamations containing reports of the manifesto and commenting upon it were disseminated in enormous numbers as early as October 18 and the second issue of the Soviet’s own Izvestia, published on the same day, was distributed at every street corner.
After the strike, all the newspapers announced that henceforth they would be published without censorship. Most of them, however, failed to breathe a single word about the real initiator of their decision. Only Novoye Vremya, through the pen of its Stolypin – brother of the future Premier – timidly expressed its indignation: we were quite prepared to make this sacrifice on the altar of a free press, but they came to us, they demanded from us, they forced us – and poisoned our pleasure in our own selflessness. Apart from this, there was only a certain Bashmakov, editor of the reactionary Narodny Golos (People’s Voice) and of a French-language diplomatic paper, Journal de St. Petersbourg, who failed to show the liberals’ general readiness to grin and bear it; he obtained permission from the ministry not to submit proofs of finished copies of his newspapers for censorship, and published the following indignant statement in Narodny Golos:
“Committing an infringement of the law under duress,” wrote this knight of police legality, “despite my firm conviction that a law, even if it is a bad law, must be observed until the legal authorities have repealed it, I am publishing this issue against my will without consulting the censorship, although I have no right to do so. I protest with all my heart against the moral coercion practiced against me and declare that I intend to observe the law as soon as the slightest physical possibility for doing so exists, as I would consider it a dishonor to have my name counted among the strikers at the present turbulent time. Aleksandr Bashmakov.”
This statement perfectly characterizes the real correlation of forces between official legality and revolutionary law as it established itself during this period. In the interests of justice we feel we should add that Mr. Bashmakov’s action compares very favorably with the behavior of the semi-Octobrist Slovo which officially applied for, and obtained, the Soviet’s written instructions not to submit its issues to the censorship. Such people needed the new master’s permission before they dared to flout the authority of the old regime.
The Union of Print-Workers was on its guard the whole time. Today it puts a stop to a publisher’s attempt to circumvent the Soviet’s resolution by getting in touch with the idle censorship office. Tomorrow it cuts short a scheme to use an idle printing machine to publish a pogrom proclamation. Cases of this kind become more and more frequent. The struggle with pogrom literature began with the confiscation of an order for 100,000 copies of a proclamation signed by “a group of workers” and calling for a rising against the “new Tsars,” i.e., the social-democrats. The original draft of this pogrom proclamation carried the signatures of Count Orlov-Davydov and Countess Musin-Pushkin. The typesetters asked the Soviet for directives; the Executive Committee replied: stop the presses, destroy the stereotypes, confiscate any finished copies. And the Executive Committee published the original proclamation of the nobly-born hooligans, accompanied by its own comments, in the social-democrats’ paper.
The general principle adopted both by the Executive Committee and by the Union of Print-Workers was to allow the printing of texts which did not contain direct appeals to violence and pogroms. Thanks to the united efforts of the type setters, all purely pogrom literature was excluded from the private print shops, so that appeals to violate were now printed only in the department of police and the directorate of the gendarmerie, with the doors and shutters tightly closed, on hand-operated presses previously confiscated from the revolutionaries.
Generally speaking, the reactionary press appeared without any let or hindrance. During the first few days, it is true, there were a small number of exceptions. We know of one attempt by typesetters to publish their comments on a reactionary article and of several protests against crude anti-revolutionary statements. In Moscow, some typesetters refused to publish the program of the Octobrist group which came into being at that time.
“There’s freedom of the press for you!” Guchkov, the future head of the Union of October 17, complained at a rural congress. “Why, it’s the old regime, only the other way around. All that’s left for us is to use the methods used under the old regime: send materials for printing abroad or start an underground print shop.”
It goes without saying that the indignation of the pharisees of capitalist freedom knew no bounds. They considered themselves right because they held that the typesetter is not responsible for the text he sets up. But at that exceptional time political passions had reached such a pitch that a worker, even while at work, never for a moment lost the sense of his revolutionary responsibility. Typesetters in certain reactionary publishing houses even went so far as to give up their jobs, thus voluntarily condemning themselves to penury. Of course they were in no sense infringing the freedom of the press by refusing to set reactionary or liberal slanders against their own class. At the worst, they were violating their own contracts.
But capital is so deeply saturated with the brutal metaphysic of “free employment,” which compels workers to do the most disgusting kinds of work (building prisons and warships, forging leg-irons, printing sheets of bourgeois lies) that it never tires of branding a morally motivated refusal to perform such work as a physical violation, either of the “freedom of labor,” or of the “freedom of the press.”
October 22 saw the first appearance of Russian newspapers freed from an age-long bondage. Amidst the swarm of old and new bourgeois newspapers for whom the possibility of saying whatever they wanted was not a blessing but a curse, because at that great time they had nothing to say; because their vocabulary did not include the words with which they might have, or should have, addressed the new reader; because the collapse of censorship had left inviolate their inner censor, their cautious habit of always looking over their shoulder at authority; amidst this brotherhood, who now dressed their political inarticulateness in the toga of superior statesmanship, now adorned it with the cap and bells of marketplace radicalism, the clear and virile voice of the socialist press immediately stood out.
“Our newspaper is the organ of the revolutionary proletariat,” the social-democratic Nachalo declared. “With its selfless struggle, the Russian proletariat has opened to us the freedom of the word. We dedicate our free word to the service of the Russian proletariat.” We, the Russian journalists of socialism, who for many years had led, like moles, the life of the revolution’s underground, knew the value of open skies, fresh air and the free word. We, who had served our apprenticeships in the dark night of the reaction, when harsh winds blew and owls hooted. We, small in numbers, weak, scattered, lacking experience, almost boys, against the terrible apocalyptic beast. We, armed only with our boundless faith in the gospel of international socialism, against the powerful enemy clad from head to foot in the armor of international militarism. Hiding in the nooks and crannies of “legal” society, we had declared war on the autocracy, a struggle for life or death. What was our weapon? The word. If anyone were to calculate the number of hours of prison and exile our party paid for each revolutionary word, the figures would be horrifying – a gruesome statistic of vital energy and life’s blood!
On the long road strewn with traps and pitfalls, there stand between the illegal writer and the illegal reader a number of illegal intermediaries: the typesetter, the carrier, the distributor. What a chain of effort and danger! One false step and the work of all is lost. How many printing presses were confiscated before they were able to commence work! How much literature was burned in the courtyards of gendarmerie offices before it was able to reach the reader! How much work wasted, how many forces paralyzed, how many existences ruined!
Our pathetic clandestine hectographs, our homemade clandestine hand-presses were what we pitted against the rotary presses of lying officialdom and licensed liberalism. Was it not like fighting Krupp’s guns with a Stone-Age ax? They had laughed at us. And now, in the October days, the Stone-Age ax had won. The revolutionary word was out in the open, astonished and intoxicated by its own power.
The revolutionary press met with colossal success. Two large social-democratic newspapers were published in Petersburg, each of them with more than 50,000 subscribers from the first days of their existence, as well as a cheaper paper whose circulation rose to 100,000 within two or three weeks. The social-revolutionaries’ paper also had a large circulation. At the same time the provinces, which had created their own socialist press within a short time, were also crying out for the capital’s revolutionary publications in large and constantly increasing numbers.
Conditions for the press, like all other political conditions, varied between one part of the country and another. Everything depended on whether the reaction or the revolution felt itself to be the stronger in a particular place. In the capital, censorship virtually ceased to exist. In the provinces it maintained itself, but, influenced by the tone of the capital’s newspapers, it let the reins hang very loose. The struggle of the police against the revolutionary press lacked any unifying idea. Orders for the confiscation of individual publications were issued, but no one seriously tried to implement them. Issues of social-democratic papers supposed to have been confiscated were sold openly not only in the working-class districts but also in Nevsky Prospect. The provinces devoured the capital’s press like manna from heaven. Long queues of newspaper buyers waited at railway stations for the arrival of postal trains. Vendors were practically torn to pieces. People would open a fresh issue of Russkaya Gazeta and start reading the main articles out loud. The railway station would become filled to capacity and transformed into a tumultuous auditorium. This happened for two days, three days, and then became part of the system.
But sometimes the total passivity of the police was replaced by unbridled violence. Gendarmerie N.C.O.’s would confiscate the “seditious” Petersburg press before it had time to leave the railway wagons, and destroy it on the spot. The satirical magazines provided a special target for the frenzy of the police. The campaign against them was led by Durnovo, the Home Minister, who later proposed the re-establishment of preliminary censorship of press drawings. He had good cause to dislike them: invoking the authoritative description once made by Alexander III, the cartoonists never failed to depict the Home Minister’s stupid head as attached to the body of a pig. But Durnovo was not the only one to hate the satirical magazines; all the Tsar’s aides-de-camp, gentlemen in waiting, chamberlains, equerries, and the rest, were united with him in a passion of vindictive rage.
And this gang finally succeeded in tampering with the press law by which the ministry had decided “immediately, prior to legislative sanction by the State Duma, to put into effect the freedom of the press.” In other words, they effectively succeeded in curtailing that freedom of the press which, thanks to the Petersburg proletariat, had already been won. The provisional rules of November 24, which put the press back into the hands of the administration, made punishable offenses of any incitement to strike or demonstrate, insults to the armed forces, the dissemination of false information concerning the government’s activities, and, finally, the dissemination of false rumors in general. In Russia, “provisional rules” of every kind are usually the most long-lasting form of legislation. This is proving true of the provisional rules governing the press. Issued pending the convening of the State Duma, they were subjected to a general boycott and, like the whole of Witte’s ministry, remained suspended in mid-air. But the triumph of the counter revolution in December cleared the ground for their enforcement. The “provisional rules” came into force and were accompanied by a new clause penalizing the “glorification of crimes” on the one hand and, on the other hand, granting discretionary powers to provincial and town governors. These vicious “rules” have survived the first Duma, the second Duma, and will doubtless safely survive the third.
In connection with the history of the struggle for the freedom of the press it still remains for us to tell the story of how the Izvestia of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies was published. The history of the publication of these bulletins of the revolution forms an interesting page in the chapter on the Russian proletariat’s struggle for the freedom of speech.
The first issue, published before the “constitution,” was small both in size and in the number of copies printed. It was printed clandestinely, for money, in a private print shop. The second issue was printed on October 18.  A group of volunteers went to the printing works of the radical Syn Otechestva (Son of the Fatherland), which a little later passed into the hands of the socialist revolutionaries. The management hesitated. The situation was still confused and no one could tell what the consequences of printing a revolutionary publication might be.
“Now if you were to arrest us,” hazards someone from the management.
“You are under arrest,” is the reply.
“By force of arms,” adds another volunteer, pulling a revolver out of his pocket.
“You’re under arrest! All under arrest!”
“Everybody in, nobody out!”
“Where’s your telephone? Take the telephone!”
Work begins. New people keep arriving – journalists, type setters. The typesetters are invited to go to the workshops and get down to work, the journalists are asked to write news items. The place is a hive of activity.
The Obshchestvennaya Polza (The Public Weal) print shop is occupied. Entrances are locked. Sentries are posted.
The foreman comes into the stereotype workshop. The matrices are being knocked out, the furnace is being lit. Unfamiliar faces all around.
“Who are you? Who allowed you to do this?” the newcomer demands, getting excited, and trying to put out the furnace. He is told to keep off, otherwise they’ll lock him up in a closet.
“What’s going on here?”
He is told that the third issue of the Soviet’s Izvestia is being printed. “Why didn’t you say so to start with? I don’t mind ... I’m always ready ...” and the experienced craftsman gets down to work.
“How are you proposing to do the printing? The electricity supply is cut off,” says the manager who is under arrest.
“Which is your power station? We’ll get the current restored within half an hour.”
The manager names the power station, but is skeptical. He has been trying in vain for several days to get the current restored, if only to get some light in the private apartments; the power station, where the strikers are being replaced by seamen, is supplying current only to state institutions.
Exactly half an hour later the light comes on, the machines can start working. The management’s faces reflect a respectful surprise. A few moments later the worker sent to the power station returns with a note from the officer in charge. At the request of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies the electricity supply to Bolshaya Podyacheskaya, 39, has been restored for the Obshchestvennay a Polza print shop. A signature follows.
In harmony and even gaily, the “raiders” and the “arrested” together produce a large number of copies of the third issue.
In the end the police discover where Izvestia is being printed. They appear at the print shop, but too late: all copies have been taken away, the galleys have been removed. Not until the night of November 3-4 during the second strike did the police succeed in catching the Izvestia “flying squad” in action. This happened in the print shop of Nasha Zhizn (Our Life), where work was continuing for the second day running. Meeting with a refusal to unlock the doors, the police broke them open. Simanovsky writes: “Under the protection of a company of rifle men with rifles at the ready, the police broke into the print shop, revolvers in hand, but were themselves embarrassed by the peaceful picture of the print-workers calmly continuing their business despite the appearance of bayonets.”
“We are all here by order of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies,” the workers declared, “and we demand the withdrawal of the police, since otherwise we cannot be responsible for the safety of the equipment.”
While negotiations were going on with the police, and while the latter were gathering up the originals and proofs and sealing them to the tables and composing frames, the arrested workers wasted no time; they began at once to carry on agitational work among the soldiers and policemen, quietly reading the Soviet’s address to them and handing out copies of Izvestia. Then the typesetters had their names taken and were released, the doors of the print shop were sealed and a police guard was mounted. But the investigating authorities who arrived on the next day found nothing! The doors were locked, the seals unbroken, but neither composition nor proofs nor originals were to be seen. Everything had been transferred to the print shop of the Birzhevye Vedomosti (Stock-Exchange Gazette), where the sixth issue of Izvestia was being printed without hindrance.
The evening of November 6 saw the biggest action of this kind: the huge print-works of Novoye Vremya were taken over. On the day after, that influential reptile of a newspaper devoted two articles to the event, one of which was headed: How the official proletarian was paper is printed.
This is how the story appeared to the “victim”:
At about 6:00 p.m. three young men called at the print-works. The manager happened to come in at the same time. The callers were announced to him and he invited them into the print-works office.
“Send everybody out,” one of the three told the manager. “We have to speak to you alone.”
“There are three of you and I am alone,” said the manager; “I prefer to talk to you in front of witnesses.”
“We request you to ask everyone to wait in the next room, we have only a few words to say to you.”
The manager agreed. Then the callers told him that they had come by order of the Executive Committee and that they were instructed to seize the print-works of Novoye Vremya and print the seventh issue of Izvestia there.
“I can’t discuss this with you,” declared the manager. “The place isn’t mine; I must consult the owner.”
“You cannot leave the premises; ask the owner to come here if you need him,” replied the deputies.
“I can tell him over the telephone.”
“No, all you can do over the telephone is ask him to come here.”
The manager, accompanied by the deputies, went to the telephone and asked Suvorin (Jr.) to come around. Suvorin declined, saying that he was unwell, and sent Goldstein, a member of the editorial board, instead. Goldstein describes the further course of events fairly accurately except that he emphasizes a few points intended to show up his own civic courage:
When I came to the print-works the gas lighting was off and the street was almost entirely dark. Outside the print-works building and nearby I noticed several small groups of people; on the pavement outside the door there were eight or ten men. Inside the courtyard, directly by the gate, there were three or four more. A foreman met me and took me to the office. There I found the print-works manager and three young men unknown to me, evidently workers. When I entered they rose to their feet.
“What have you to say, gentlemen?” I asked.
Instead of a reply one of the young men handed me a paper with instructions from the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies to print the next issue of Izvestia at the Novoye Vremya print works. The order was written on a scrap of paper and rubber-stamped.
“The turn of your print-works has come,” one of the messengers said to me. “What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“We’ve printed our paper at Rus, Nasha Zhizn, Syn Otechestva and Birzhevye Vedomosti, and now we’re going to print it here. You must give us your word of honor, on behalf of Suvorin as well, that you won’t report us until we have finished our work.”
“I can’t answer for Suvorin and I don’t intend to give my own word of honor.”
“In that case we shan’t let you out of here.”
“I’ll force my way out, I warn you I’m armed.”
“We’re armed just as much as you,” said the deputies, pulling out their revolvers.
“Call the watchman and the foreman,” they told the manager.
He looked at me inquiringly. I shrugged my shoulders. They called in the watchman and asked him to take off his sheepskin. The foreman, too, was called into the office. We were all arrested. A minute later I could hear a crowd coming up the stairs. In the office door and in the anteroom there were people.
The takeover had taken place.
The three deputies went in and out, behaving in an extremely active manner.
“Do you mind if I ask you,” I said to one of the deputies, “which machine you propose to use?”
“The rotary machine.”
“And if you damage it?”
“We’ve got a first-class man to operate it.”
“What about paper?”
“We’ll take yours.
“But that’s plain robbery!”
“Can’t be helped ...”
In the end Mr. Goldstein gave in, promised to keep quiet and was allowed to go:
I went downstairs. The gateway was in total darkness. Directly by the gate, wearing the sheepskin taken from the watchman, a “proletarian” with a revolver was on duty. Another struck a match, a third put the key in the lock. The lock clicked, the gate opened and I went out.
The night passed quietly. The print-works manager, who had been told that he could go if he gave his word of honor not to say anything, refused to leave. The proletarians let him stay on. The work of composing proceeded rather slowly, and copy came in very gradually. The latest materials for printing had not yet come in. When the manager offered advice about speeding up the work, the answer was: “There’s no hurry, we’ve got plenty of time!” The make-up man and the proofreader, both very experienced men, did not turn up until 5:00 a.m.
Typesetting was finished by 6:00 a.m.. Then they started knocking out the matrix-molds and pouring off the stereotype. Because of the strike there was no gas to heat the furnaces for the stereotype. Two workers were sent off somewhere and the gas came on. All the shops were shut, but food was obtained without difficulty all through the night. The shops opened up for the proletarians. At 7:00 a.m. the printing of the official proletarian newspaper began. They used the rotary press and they worked efficiently. Printing continued until 11:00 a.m. The print shop was then cleared and bundles of the printed newspaper were carried away and carted off in cabs, a sufficient number of which had been assembled outside. The police learned about all this on the next day and seemed very surprised.
Only an hour after the work was finished, a large police detachment accompanied by a company of infantry, some cossacks and some uniformed janitors, burst into the premises of the Union of Print-Workers to confiscate the seventh issue of Izvestia. They met with the most energetic resistance. They were told that the available copies (only 153 out of the 35,000 printed) would not be handed over voluntarily. Workers in many print shops, hearing of the police invasion of their Union’s premises, stopped work which they had only just resumed after the November strike, to await further developments. The police suggested a compromise: those present would look away, the police would snatch the copies of Izvestia, and the official report would state that the confiscation had been carried out by force. But this compromise was indignantly rejected. The police did not venture to use force, and retreated in full battle order, having failed to seize a single copy of Izvestia.
After the takeover of the Novoye Vremya print-works, the city governor informed the police administration that all police officers in whose district a similar takeover took place in the future would be severely penalized. The Executive Committee replied by announcing that Izvestia, which appeared only during general strikes, would when necessary continue to be printed in the same way. And indeed, during the December strike, the second Soviet of Workers’ Deputies (after the arrest of the first) published four more issues of Izvestia.
The detailed report of the raid on its print-works published by Novoye Vremya had a very unexpected result. Revolutionaries in the provinces took advantage of the model thus provided, and the seizure of print-works for the publication of revolutionary literature thenceforth became widespread throughout Russia. However, the word “seizure” should only be used with considerable reservations. We are not thinking of the print-works of liberal newspapers, where the management wanted only one thing – to evade responsibility – and therefore expressed their full readiness to be arrested. But even in the most publicized episode involving Novoye Vremya the takeover would not have been possible without the passive or active sympathy of the entire personnel. Once the leader of the takeover proclaimed a “state of siege,” thus removing responsibility from the print-works personnel, the distinction between the besieged and the besiegers disappeared, the “arrested” typesetters were quite willing to set revolutionary manuscripts, the machine operator took his place at the press, and the manager encouraged both his own men and the others to work more quickly. Success was not assured by any carefully prepared takeover plan, and certainly not by physical force, but by that revolutionary atmosphere of unity without which none of the Soviet’s activities would have been conceivable.
At first glance it may be difficult to understand why the Soviet chose the risky method of night raids for publishing its paper. The social-democratic press was appearing quite openly at this time. Its tone differed little from that of Izvestia. It published the Soviet’s decisions and reported its meetings in full. True, Izvestia appeared almost exclusively during periods of general strike, when the rest of the press was silent. But would it not have been possible for the Soviet to exempt the legal social-democratic papers from the strike, thus relieving itself of the necessity to raid the print-works of the bourgeois press? Yet it did not do this. Why?
If the question is put in isolation, it cannot be answered. But everything becomes clear if we see the Soviet as a whole, in its origins and in all its tactics, as the organized embodiment of the supreme rights of the revolution at its moment of extreme tension, when it cannot and does not wish to adapt itself to the enemy, when it marches straight ahead, heroically extending its territory and sweeping all obstacles from its path. During general strikes, when all life came to a standstill, the old regime considered it a point of honor to continue printing its Government Gazette without interruption, and it did so under the protection of its troops. To this the Soviet opposed its armed workers’ detachments, which ensured the publication of the revolution’s own newspaper.
1. All subsequent episodes, as related by us, are based on notes published by Comrade Simanovsky, chief organizer of the Soviet’s “flying print shop” under the title How We Published the Soviet’s Izvestia. (Author)
Last updated on: 13.11.2006