Leon Trotsky



The November Strike

* * *

The October ministry was feeling its way from danger to danger, amidst a thousand underwater reefs. Where to? It did not know itself.

On October 26 and 27 a mutiny flared up in Kronstadt, at a distance of three gunshots from Petersburg. The politically conscious among the soldiers tried to restrain the mass, but a spontaneous fury broke out. Having proved unable to halt the movement, the best elements in the army placed themselves at its head. But they did not succeed in preventing some hooligan pogroms, provoked by the authorities. The major role in this was played by the gangs of the well-known miracle worker Ioann of Kronstadt, who carried with them the most ignorant of the sailors. Martial law was declared in Kronstadt on October 28, and the unfortunate mutiny was crushed. The best of the soldiers and sailors were threatened with execution.

On the day the Kronstadt fortress was captured, the government issued a strong warning to the country by placing the whole of Poland under martial law; this was the first large bone which, on the eleventh day of its existence, the manifesto ministry threw to the Peterhof camarilla. Count Witte assumed entire responsibility for this step; in a government communiqué he lied about the Poles having made an “insolent” (!) attempt at secession, and warned them against entering upon a dangerous path, “not for the first time.” The very next day, so as not to find himself Trepov’s prisoner, he was obliged to sound the retreat; he admitted that the government was not so much taking into account actual events as anticipating the possible consequences of their development, given the “excessive impressionability of the Poles.” Thus martial law was, in a sense, the constitution’s tribute to the political temperament of the Polish people.

A number of districts of Chernigov, Saratov, and Tambov provinces, where agrarian unrest had broken out, were placed under martial law on October 29. It appeared that the Tambov muzhiks, too, suffered from “excessive impressionability.”

The teeth of liberal society began to rattle with fear. For all the contemptuous grimaces the liberals had made at Witte, they nevertheless in their heart of hearts firmly believed in him. But now Durnovo had stepped out confidently from behind Witte’s back; and Durnovo was just intelligent enough to adapt Cavour’s aphorism – “the state of siege is the method of government of fools” – into a theory for his own guidance.

The workers’ revolutionary instinct told them that to allow the counterrevolution to get away with this open attack was to encourage its insolence. On October 29 and 30 and November mass meetings, held at most of the Petersburg industrial plants, called for drastic protest measures by the Soviet.

At a crowded and tumultuous meeting on November 1, after heated discussion, an overwhelming majority of the Soviet’s members adopted the following decision:

The government continues to march on corpses. It is court martialing the valiant soldiers and sailors of Kronstadt who rose to the defense of their rights and the people’s freedom. It has thrown the noose of martial law around the neck of oppressed Poland.

The Soviet of Workers’ Deputies calls upon the revolutionary proletariat of Petersburg to manifest its fraternal solidarity with the revolutionary soldiers of Kronstadt and the revolutionary workers of Poland by means of a political general strike, which has already shown its formidable power, and by means of mass protest meetings.

Tomorrow, November 2, at 12:00 noon, the workers of Petersburg will stop work under the following slogans: Down with courts martial! Down with the death penalty! Down with martial law in Poland and throughout Russia!

The success of the appeal surpassed all expectations. Despite the fact that barely two weeks had passed since the cessation of the October strike which had required so much sacrifice, the workers of Petersburg stopped work with extraordinary unanimity. All large plants and factories represented on the Soviet were on strike before 12:00 noon on the second. Many medium-sized and small industrial undertakings which had not hitherto participated in political struggle now joined the strike, elected deputies and sent them to the Soviet. The regional committee of the Petersburg railway center adopted the Soviet’s decision and all railways with the exception of the Finland railway ceased to operate. The absolute number of working-class strikers involved in the November strike exceeded not only that of the January strike but also that of the October strike. The postal and telegraph services, horse-cab drivers, the horse-tramway and the majority of shop assistants did not strike. Among the newspapers, only the Government Herald, the Petersburg City Governor’s Gazette and Izvestia were published, the first two under the protection of troops, the third under that of workers’ armed detachments.

Count Witte was taken completely unawares. Two weeks previously he had thought that since power was in his hands, all he had to do was to lead, encourage, restrain, threaten, administer. The November strike, the proletariat’s indignant protest against the government’s hypocrisy, knocked the great statesman sideways. Nothing is so characteristic of his total failure to understand the meaning of revolutionary events, his childish confusion in the face of them, and at the same time his self-opinionated conceit than the telegram with which he hoped to pacify the proletariat. Here is the text in full:

Brother workers, go back to work, abandon sedition, think of your wives and children. Do not heed bad advice. The Tsar has instructed us to pay special attention to the workers’ problems. For this purpose His Imperial Majesty has set up a Ministry of Trade and Industry, which is to establish just relations between workers and employers. Give us time and everything possible will be done for you. Listen to the advice of a man who is well disposed towards you and wishes you well. Count Witte.

This shameless telegram, where cowardly hatred, concealing a knife in its pocket, attempted to posture as friendly condescension, was received and made public at the Soviet’s meeting on November 3, and provoked a storm of indignation. Immediately, with fervent singlemindedness, the reply proposed by us was adopted and was published in Izvestia on the next day. Here is its text:

The Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, having taken note of Count Witte’s telegram to his “brother-workers,” wishes first of all to express its extreme surprise at the Tsar’s favorite’s extraordinary familiarity in permitting himself to address the workers of Petersburg as his “brothers.” There exists no family kinship whatsoever between the proletarians and Count Witte.

On the substance of the matter, the Soviet declares:

1. Count Witte calls upon us to think of our wives and children. In reply, the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies calls upon all workers to count how many widows and orphans have been added to the ranks of the working class since the day Count Witte assumed state power.

2. Count Witte draws attention to the Tsar’s gracious attention to the working people. The Soviet of Workers’ Deputies reminds the Petersburg proletariat of Bloody Sunday, January 9.

3. Count Witte asks for “time” and promises to do “everything possible” for the workers. The Soviet of Workers’ Deputies knows that Witte has already found time to hand Poland over to the military hangmen, and the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies does not doubt that Count Witte will do everything possible to strangle the revolutionary proletariat.

4. Count Witte calls himself a man who is well-disposed towards us and wishes us well. The Soviet of Workers’ Deputies declares that it has no need of favors from the Tsar’s favorites. It demands a people’s government on the basis of universal, equal, direct, and secret franchise.

Well-informed persons reported that when the Count received this reply from his striking “brothers” he suffered an attack of asphyxia.

On November 5 the Petersburg telegraph agency reported: “In view of the rumors being spread in the provinces (!) about the use of courts-martial and the execution of other ranks who took part in the Kronstadt disorders, we are authorized to state that all such rumors are premature (?) and unfounded. . . . Participants in the Kronstadt events have not been and will not be judged by court-martial.” This categorical statement meant nothing other than the government’s capitulation in the face of the strike. The puerile reference to “rumors in the provinces” at a time when the protesting proletariat of Petersburg had brought the capital’s commercial and industrial life to a temporary halt could not, of course, disguise this fact. On the Polish question the government began to make concessions even earlier by declaring its intention to lift martial law in the provinces of the Kingdom of Poland as soon as the “excitement” there “died down.” [1]

On the evening of November 5 the Executive Committee, considering that the supreme psychological moment had come, submitted to the Soviet a resolution to end the strike. As a description of the political situation at that moment we quote the speech made by the Executive Committee’s rapporteur:

A government telegram stating that the Kronstadt sailors are not to be judged by court-martial but by a military district court has just been made public.

This telegram is nothing but a demonstration of the weakness of the Tsarist government, nothing but a demonstration of our strength. Once more we can congratulate the Petersburg proletariat on a tremendous moral victory. But let us say straight out: even if this government telegram had not appeared, we should still have had to call upon the workers of Petersburg to stop the strike. To day’s news shows that the political manifestation all over Russia is on the wane. Our strike, real as it is, is in the nature of a demonstration. Only from this viewpoint can we judge its success or failure. Our direct and immediate aim was to show the awakening army that the working class is on its side, that it will stand up for the army. Have we not achieved this aim? Have we not brought every honest soldier’s heart over to our side? Who can deny it? And if that is so, can anyone assert that we have achieved nothing? Can the ending of the strike be viewed as our defeat? Have we not demonstrated to the whole of Russia that only a few days after the ending of the great October struggle, before the workers had had time to wash away their blood and heal their wounds, the discipline of the masses proved to be so great that at a single word from the Soviet they struck again as one man.

Look! this time the strike has been joined even by the most backward factories which had never been on strike before, and their deputies are sitting here in the Soviet with us. Leading elements in the army have organized protest meetings and in that way have taken part in our manifestation. Is that not victory? Is that not a brilliant success? Comrades, we have done all that we had to do. Once more the European stock exchange has saluted our strength. The Soviet’s decision to call for a strike was immediately reflected in a considerable drop of our exchange rate abroad. Thus every one of our actions, whether it was our reply to Count Witte or to the government as a whole, struck a decisive blow at absolutism.

Certain comrades are demanding that the strike should continue until the Kronstadt sailors have been placed under trial by jury and martial law in Poland has been lifted. In other words, until the fall of the present government, for Tsarism will move all its forces against our strike, comrades, we have got to face that fact. If we consider that the purpose of our action is the overthrow of the autocracy, then, of course, we have not attained that aim. From that point of view we should have concealed our indignation and refrained from making a demonstration of protest. But our tactics, comrades, arc not at all based on that model. Our actions are a series of consecutive battles. Their purpose is to disorganize the enemy and to win new friends. And whose sympathy is more precious to us than the army’s? Understand this: in discussing whether or not we should continue the strike, we are in substance discussing whether to retain the demonstrative nature of the strike or to turn it into a decisive struggle, that is, to continue it to the point of total victory or defeat. We are not afraid of battles or defeats. Our defeats are but steps to our victory. But for each battle we seek the most favorable conditions. The events are working for us and there is no advantage for us in forcing their progress. I ask you: to whose advantage is it to put off the decisive clash, ours or the government’s? Ours, comrades! For tomorrow we shall be stronger than we are today, and the day after tomorrow stronger than tomorrow.

Do not forget, comrades, that the conditions under which we can hold meetings of thousands of people, organize the broad masses of the proletariat and address the entire population through our revolutionary press were created for us only recently. We must make the utmost use of these conditions for the widest possible agitation and organization among the ranks of the proletariat. We must extend the period of preparation of the masses for decisive action, extend it out as much as we can, perhaps by a month or two, in order then to act as an army which is as united and organized as absolutely possible. Of course the government would prefer to shoot us to pieces now, when we are less prepared for the final battle.

Some comrades have the following doubt today, as they did on the day when the funeral demonstration was canceled: by beating a retreat today, shall we be able to arouse the masses at another moment? Will the masses not go back to sleep? My reply is: do you really think that the present regime can create the conditions for the masses to sleep peacefully? Do we really need to worry that there will be no future events to rouse them again? Believe me, there will be all too many such events – Tsarism will take care of that. Do not forget, too, that the electoral campaign, which must bring the entire revolutionary proletariat to its feet, lies ahead of us. And who knows whether this electoral campaign will not end by blowing the existing regime sky-high? Let us keep cool, let us not anticipate events. Let us have more trust in the revolutionary proletariat. Did it go to sleep after January 9? After Shidlovsky’s commission? After the Black Sea events? No, the revolutionary tide is steadily rising, and the moment when it breaks and drowns the whole autocratic regime is not far off.

A decisive and merciless struggle lies ahead. Let us call off the strike now, let us be satisfied with its tremendous moral victory. Let us exert every effort to create and consolidate the thing we need more than anything else: organization, organization and organization. We need only look around us to see that every day is bringing us new conquests in that field.

The railway employees and postal and telegraph officials are organizing. With the steel of their rails and the wires of their telegraph, they will bind into a single whole all the revolutionary centers of our country. They will enable us to bring the whole of Russia to her feet within twenty-four hours when the time comes. We must prepare for that moment and carry discipline and organization to their highest point. Comrades, to work!

We must immediately proceed to organize and arm the workers for battle. You must form “fighting tens” with elected leaders at every plant, “hundreds” with other leaders and a commander over the “hundreds.” You must develop discipline in these cells to such a high point that at any given moment the entire plant will march forward at the first call. Remember that at the moment of decision we can count only on ourselves. The liberal bourgeoisie is already beginning to treat us with distrust and hostility. The democratic intelligentsia is vacillating. The Union of Unions, which joined us so readily during the first strike, is far less sympathetic to the second. One of their members told me the other day: “You are turning the public against you with your strikes. Do you really expect to win without help?” I reminded him of a moment in the French Revolution when the Convention decreed that “the French nation will not sign any treaty with the enemy on its territory.” One of the members of the Convention called Out: “Have you then concluded a treaty with victory?” The answer was: “No, we have concluded a treaty with death.”

Comrades, when the liberal bourgeoisie, as though proud of its treachery, asks us: “Do you expect to fight alone, without our help? Have you then concluded a treaty with victory?” we shall hurl into its face the answer: “No, we have concluded a treaty with death.”

The Soviet by an overwhelming majority of votes adopted the decision to call off the strike on Monday, November 7, at 12:00 noon. Printed posters of the Soviet’s decision were distributed in the plants and factories and posted in the city. On the appointed day, at the appointed hour, the strike ended with the same unity with which it had begun. It had lasted 120 hours, three times less long than martial law in Poland.

The significance of the November strike did not, of course, lie in the fact that it removed the noose from the necks of a few dozen sailors – what do a few lives matter in a revolution that devours tens of thousands? Nor did it lie in the fact that it forced the government hastily to abandon martial law in Poland – what does another month of emergency rule matter in the history of that long-suffering country? The November strike was a cry of warning addressed to the country at large. Who knows if a savage bacchanalia of reaction would not have set in throughout the country if the experiment in Poland had been successful, if the proletariat had not demonstrated that it was “alive and fit and ready to give blow for blow?” [2]

In a revolution where complete solidarity among the many races of the population made a glorious contrast to the events in Austria in 1848, the Petersburg proletariat, in the name of the revolution itself, could not and dared not hand over its Polish brothers without protest into the impatient hands of the reaction. And, concerned though it was about its own future, it could not and dared not pass the Kronstadt rising in silence. The November strike was a cry of solidarity hurled by the proletariat over the heads of the government and the bourgeois op position to the prisoners in the barracks. And the cry did not remain unheard.

Reporting on the November strike, the correspondent of the London Times quoted a guards colonel who made the following remark: “Unfortunately it cannot be denied that the intervention of the workers on behalf of the Kronstadt mutineers had a regrettable moral influence on our soldiers.” It is in this “regrettable moral influence” that the main significance of the November strike must be sought. With a single blow it stirred the consciousness of many circles within the army and, in a matter of a few days, gave rise to a number of political meetings in the barracks of the Petersburg garrison. Not only individual soldiers but also soldiers’ delegates began to show up in the Executive Committee and even at meetings of the Soviet itself, making speeches, demanding support; revolutionary liaison among the troops was reinforced; proclamations were widely read.

During those days the agitation within the ranks of the army reached even its aristocratic leadership. During the November strike the author had occasion to participate as a “workers’ speaker” at a military gathering which was unique of its kind. It is worthwhile to tell the story here.

Armed with an invitation from Baroness X. [3] I arrived at 9:00 p.m. at one of the wealthiest houses in Petersburg. The doorman, looking like a man who has made up his mind to be surprised at nothing in those days, took my overcoat and hung it up in the middle of a long row of officers’ greatcoats. A foot man stood waiting for me to give him my visiting card. Alas, what kind of a visiting card can an “illegal person” have? To help him out of his difficulty, I handed him the hostess’ invitation card. A student, followed by a radical university lecturer and, finally, by the Baroness herself, came out into the hall. Evidently they had expected the “workers’ speaker” to have been a more formidable person. I gave my name. They cordially asked me to enter. Lifting aside the door-curtain, I saw a company of sixty or seventy persons. On one side of the aisle, thirty or forty officers, including some elegant guardsmen, were seated on rows of chairs; on the other side were ladies. In the front corner there was a group of black-coated journalists and radical lawyers. An old gentleman I had not seen before, seated behind a small table, acted as chairman. At his side I saw Rodichey, the future “tribune” of the Kadets. He was speaking about the establishment of martial law in Poland, and about what ought to be the attitude to the Polish question of the liberal public and of the thinking elements of the army; the speech was dull and limp, the thoughts expressed were short and limp, and the applause at the end was limp too.

After him spoke Peter Struve, yesterday’s “exile of Stuttgart,” who owed his return to Russia to the October strike and had used the opportunity thus offered in order immediately to occupy a position on the extreme right flank of zemstvo liberalism and, from that position, to unleash a violent campaign against the social-democrats. A hopelessly poor speaker, stammering and gasping, he tried to prove that the army should stand on the ground of the manifesto of October 17 and defend it against attacks both from the right and from the left. This conservative piece of poisonous wisdom sounded particularly odd on the lips of a former social-democrat. As I listened to his speech I recalled that seven years previously this man had written: “The further to the east of Europe, the weaker, more cowardly and more low becomes the bourgeoisie,” after which he had himself crossed over to the camp of the liberal bourgeoisie on the crutches of German revisionism to prove the truth of his historical generalization by his own example.

After Struve, the radical journalist Prokopovich spoke about the Kronstadt rising; then there was a professor who had fallen into disgrace, and who was hesitating whether to choose liberalism or social democracy and in the meantime talked about everything and nothing; then a well-known lawyer (Sokolov), who invited the officers not to oppose political agitation in the barracks. The speeches became more and more resolute, the atmosphere more heated, the applause more energetic. When my turn came, I pointed out that the workers were unarmed, that, together with them, liberty was unarmed too, that the keys to the nation’s arsenals were in the officers’ hands, and that at the decisive moment those keys must be handed over to the people, to whom they belonged by right. It was the first, and probably the last time in my life that I had to address an audience of such a kind.

The “regrettable moral influence” of the proletariat on the soldiers led the government to institute a number of repressive measures. Arrests were made in one of the guards regiments; a number of sailors were transferred under escort from Petersburg to Kronstadt. From all sides soldiers were asking the Soviet what they should do. To these inquiries we answered with a proclamation which became known as the Manifesto to the Soldiers. Here is its text:

The Soviet of Workers’ Deputies replies to the soldiers:

Brother soldiers of the army and navy!

You often turn to us, the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, for advice and support. When soldiers of Preobrazhensky regiment were arrested, you turned to us for help. When students of the army electro-technical school were arrested, you turned to us for support. When naval crews were being sent under escort from Petersburg to Kronstadt, they sought our protection.

Many regiments are sending deputies to us.

Brother soldiers, you are right. You have no other protection but the working people. Unless the workers stand up for you, there is no salvation for you. The accursed barracks will strangle you.

The workers are always on the side of honest soldiers. In Kronstadt and Sevastopol workers fought and died together with sailors. The government set up a court-martial to judge sailors and soldiers in Kronstadt, and immediately the workers of Petersburg went on strike everywhere.

They are willing to go hungry, but not willing to look on in silence while soldiers are ill-treated.

We, the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, tell you in the name of all Petersburg workers:

Your troubles are our troubles, your needs our needs, your struggle our struggle. Our victory will be your victory. We are bound by the same chains. Only the united efforts of the people and the army will break those chains.

How to free the men of Preobrazhensky regiment? How to save the men of Kronstadt and Sevastopol?

For this it is necessary to clear the country of the Tsar’s prisons and courts-martial. We shall not free the men of Preobrazhensky regiment nor save the men of Kronstadt and Sevastopol by a single blow. With a united, mighty thrust we must sweep arbitrary rule and absolutism from the face of our motherland.

Who can perform this great deed?

Only the working people together with their brothers in the armed forces.

Brother soldiers! Awake! Arise! Come over to us! Honest and courageous soldiers, form your unions!

Wake the slumberers! Help the stragglers! Come to agreement with the workers! Establish links with the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies!

Forward, for truth, for the people, for freedom, for our wives and children!

The Soviet of Workers’ Deputies holds out to you its fraternal hand.

This manifesto was adopted and published during the last days of the Soviet’s existence.



1. Martial law was lifted by ukase on November 12.

2. A textual quote from a resolution of the Soviet. (Author)

3. She can now be named: Uexkull von Hildebrandt.

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Last updated on: 27.11.2006