J. V. Stalin

The Conference and the Workers

July 20, 1908

Source : Works, Vol. 2, 1907 - 1913
Publisher : Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1954
Transcription/Markup : Salil Sen for MIA, 2008
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2008). 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.

The conference campaign has been suspended. Negotiations between the parties have been interrupted.1 The old but eternally new conference has again been prevented from meeting. The Delegate Council, the organising committee, the drawing up of demands, reports to the masses, the broad union of the workers around their commissions, of the commissions around the trade unions and of the latter around Social-Democracy — all this has been interrupted and made a thing of the past. Forgotten also is the old hypocritical talk about "regulating production" by means of a conference, and about "ennobling the relations" between the workers and the employers. Mr. Junkovsky, that old clown from Tiflis, announces that the "show" is over. Mr. Kara-Murza, that dissipated flunkey of capital, applauds him. The curtain falls, and we get the old familiar picture: the oil owners and the workers are in their former positions, waiting for further storms, for new conflicts.

But there is something "incomprehensible" here. Only yesterday the oil owners were imploring the workers to agree to a conference with a view to putting an end to "the anarchy of partial strikes," to "come to terms" with them, while the authorities, in the person of the notorious Junkovsky, invited influential workers to meet them, arranged official negotiations with them, urged upon them the advantages of a collective agreement. But suddenly a sharp change took place— a conference was declared to be superfluous, a collective agreement harmful and "the anarchy of partial strikes" desirable!

What does it mean? How is this "queer" situation to be explained? Who is "to blame" for the prevention of the conference?

The workers are to blame, of course, answers Mr. Junkovsky: We had not yet started negotiations, but they already came out with a demand in the form of an ultimatum about the unions. Let the workers abandon their unions and then we shall have a conference. If they do not, we do not want a conference!

We agree, the oil owners respond in chorus. It is indeed the workers who are to blame. Let them abandon their unions. We do not want any unions!

They are quite right; indeed the workers are to blame, says the "mechanics' union," the union without workers, echoing the enemies of the workers. Why should not the workers abandon their unions? Would it not be better first to bargain a little after abandoning our demands, and then to talk about demands?

Yes, that's right, assents Promyslovy Vestnik, the newspaper without readers, backing the union without workers. Respectable workers first bargain and then talk about ultimatums; first they surrender their positions and then win them back again. The Baku workers lacked this respectability, they proved to be too disreputable, almost boycottists.

We knew it, we foresaw it all long ago, the Dashnaks and Socialist-Revolutionaries observe with profundity. Had the workers shouted boycott, had they completely abandoned the unions, and had they plunged into a strike without any preparation and rallying of some sort of broad masses, they would have understood that a conference was impossible without "land and freedom," and that "by struggle you will achieve your rights." 2 . . .

That is what the "friends" and the enemies of the Baku proletariat say.

Does the unsoundness of these accusations against the Baku proletariat need any proof? It is enough to bring the Dashnaks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries, who accuse the workers of being enamoured with the conference, face to face with the mechanics and oil owners who accuse these very same workers of boycotting the conference—it is enough to contrast these mutually exclusive views to see at once the utter absurdity and falsity of the above-mentioned accusations . . .

But in that case, who is really "to blame" for the prevention of the conference?

Let us briefly review the history of the conference. This is not the first time that the oil owners have invited the workers to a conference—this is the fourth conference we have seen (1905, 1906, 1907, 1908). On every occasion it was the oil owners who first called for a conference, and on every occasion the authorities helped them "to come to terms" with the workers, to conclude a collective agreement. The oil owners were pursuing their own objects: in return for minor concessions they wanted to guarantee themselves against strikes and ensure the uninterrupted bailing of oil. The authorities were still more interested in the maintenance of "peace and quiet" in the oil kingdom, quite apart from the fact that very many members of the government own shares in the big oil firms, that the taxes on the oil industry constitute one of the most important items of revenue in the state budget, that Baku crude oil feeds "home industry" and, consequently, the slightest hitch in the oil industry inevitably affects the state of industry in Russia.

But this is not all. Apart from everything already said above, peace in Baku is important for the government because the mass actions of the Baku proletariat—both the oil industry workers and the marine workers connected with them—have a contagious effect on the proletariat in other cities. Recall the facts. The first general strike in Baku in the spring of 1903 marked the beginning of the celebrated July strikes and demonstrations in the South-Russian towns. 3 The second general strike in November and December 1904 4 served as the signal for the glorious January and February actions all over Russia. In 1905, after quickly recovering from the Armenian-Tatar massacres, the Baku proletariat again rushed into battle, infecting with its enthusiasm "the whole Caucasus." Lastly, beginning with 1906, after the retreat of the revolution in Russia, Baku remains "irrepressible," to this day actually enjoys certain liberties, and every year celebrates proletarian May Day better than any other place in Russia, rousing feelings of noble envy in other towns. . . . After all this, it is not difficult to understand why the authorities tried not to incense the Baku workers, and on each occasion supported the oil owners in their attempts to confer with the workers, "to come to terms," to conclude a collective agreement.

On every occasion, however, we Bolsheviks answered with a boycott.


Because the oil owners wanted to confer and conclude an agreement not with the masses, and not in sight of the masses, but with a handful of individuals behind the backs of the masses. They know perfectly well that only in this way can the many thousands of oil industry workers be deceived.

What is the essence of our conference? Our conference means negotiations between the oil proletariat and the oil bourgeoisie regarding demands. If the negotiations are successful, the conference will end in a collective agreement for a certain period and binding on both parties. Speaking generally, we have no objection to a conference, because under certain conditions it can unite the workers into a single whole on the basis of common demands. But a conference can unite the workers only: 1) if the masses take a most active part in it, freely discuss their demands, control their representatives, etc; 2) if the masses have the opportunity to back their demands by a general strike if necessary. Can the workers actively confer, discuss demands, etc., without a certain amount of freedom to meet in the oil fields and at the works, without a Delegate Council that can meet freely, without the leadership of the unions? Of course not! Is it possible to back one's demands in the winter, when navigation is closed and shipment of oil ceases, when the employers can resist a general strike longer than in any other part of the year? Again no! And yet, all the conferences we have had up till now were called precisely in the winter, and were offered without freedom to discuss demands, without a free Delegate Council, and without the intervention of the unions; the masses of the workers and their organisations were carefully removed from the stage, the whole business was placed in the hands of a handful of Shendrikov-minded "individuals." It was like saying to the workers: gentlemen, elect your delegates and then disperse to your homes! A conference without the workers, a conference to deceive the workers—that is what we were offered during three years. Such conferences deserve only to be boycotted, and we Bolsheviks proclaimed a boycott of them. . . .

The workers did not at once understand all this and, therefore, in 1905, went to the first conference. But they were obliged to leave the conference, to disrupt it.

The workers were again mistaken, in 1906, in going to the second conference. But they were again obliged to abandon the conference, to disrupt it again.

All this shows that life itself censured and rectified the workers' mistakes, compelling the workers to take the path of boycotting backstage, fraudulent, Shendrikov type of conferences.

The Mensheviks who invited the workers to go to such conferences unconsciously helped the oil owners to deceive the workers. . . .

But in 1907 things took a different turn. The experience of the two conferences on the one hand, and the intensified agitation of the Bolsheviks on the other, had its effect. The workers met the proposal of the authorities and the oil owners to hold a conference (the third!) with an emphatic refusal.

This opened a new phase in the Baku labour movement. . . .

But does that mean that the workers were afraid of a conference? Of course not. Why should they, who had gone through tremendous strikes, be afraid of negotiations with the oil owners?

Does it mean that the workers ran away from a collective agreement? Of course not. Why should they, who had known the "December agreement," be afraid of a collective agreement?

By boycotting the conference in November 1907 the workers said, in effect, that they were sufficiently mature not to permit their enemies to fool them any longer with a backstage Shendrikov type of conference.

And so, when the authorities and the oil owners, haunted by the spectre of a boycott, asked us under what conditions we would agree to a conference, we answered: only on the condition that the masses of the workers and their unions take the widest possible part in the entire proceedings of the conference. Only when the workers are able 1) freely to discuss their demands, 2) freely to assemble a Delegate Council, 3) freely to utilise the services of their unions and 4) freely to choose the moment for opening the conference—only then will the workers agree to a conference. And the cornerstone of our demands was recognition of the unions. These points were called guarantees. Here, for the first time, was issued the celebrated formula : a conference with guarantees or no conference at all!

Were we thereby false to the tactics of boycotting the old Shendrikov type of conference without the workers? Not by one iota! The boycott of the old type of conference remained in full force—all we did was to proclaim a new type of conference, a conference with guarantees, and only such a conference!

Does the correctness of these tactics need proof? Does it need proof that only by means of these tactics would we be able to convert the conference from an instrument for deceiving the workers into an instrument for uniting them around the unions in one vast army numbering many thousands and capable of standing up for its demands?

Even the Mensheviks, the mechanics' union and Promyslovy Vestnik were unable to take a stand against this position and, following our example, they proclaimed the point about the unions to be an ultimatum We are in possession of documents showing that the Mensheviks refused to agree not only to a conference, but also to the election of delegates unless the point about the unions was conceded, and unless permits were issued to the unions. All this took place before the negotiations in the organising committee, before the Delegate Council, before the election of delegates. Now, of course, they can say that "ultimatums can be presented only at the end of negotiations," that "from the very beginning" they "fought against the presentation of demands in the form of an ultimatum" (see Promyslovy Vestnik, No. 21), but these are the usual and long-known "somersaults" of the spineless opportunists in the Menshevik camp, which prove once again the consistency of our tactics!

Even the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Dashnaks,who had anathemised "anything and everything connected with a conference," even they "bowed their heads" before our tactics and decided to take part in the preparatory work connected with the conference!

The workers understood that our position was correct, and the overwhelming majority of them voted for it. Of the 35,000 workers canvassed, only 8,000 voted for the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Dashnaks (a boycott under all circumstances), 8,000 voted for the Mensheviks (a conference under all circumstances), and 19,000 voted for our tactics, the tactics of a conference with guarantees.

Thus, the workers rejected the Menshevik tactics, the tactics of a conference without the workers, without guarantees. The workers also rejected the tactics of the Dashnaks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, the tactics of an imaginary boycott and an unorganised general strike. The workers declared for a conference with guarantees, for systematically utilising the entire proceedings of the conference with the object of organising a general strike.

Herein lies the secret of the prevention of the conference!

The oil owners, with one voice, declared for a conference without guarantees. In this way they approved of the Mensheviks' tactics. We assert that this is the best possible proof that the stand taken by the Mensheviks was wrong.

As, however, the workers rejected a conference without guarantees, the oil owners changed their tactics and . . . prevented the conference, boycotted it. In this way they expressed their solidarity with the tactics of the Dashnaks and Socialist-Revolutionaries. We assert that this is the best possible proof that the stand taken by the Dashnaks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries was unsound.

The tactics of the Baku proletariat proved to be the only correct tactics.

That is why the oil bourgeoisie is attacking these tactics with all its might. The oil bourgeoisie fully approves of the Menshevik proposal for a conference without guarantees, and in the last resort it clutches at the Dashnak-Socialist-Revolutionary proposal for a boycott; but it will not at any price make peace with the Baku proletariat, which has declared for a conference with guarantees!

This is understandable. Picture to yourself the following: certain points are conceded—the guarantees; the workers' demands are discussed on the widest possible scale; the Delegate Council becomes more and more firmly established among the masses; in the course of drawing up their demands the masses rally around their Council and through it around their unions; the masses, 50,000 strong, organised in a single army, present demands to the oil owners; the oil owners are obliged to surrender without a fight, or else reckon with the possibility of a thoroughly organised general strike, to take place at a time least convenient for them—is that profitable for the oil bourgeoisie? After this, how can the bourgeois pets on Neftyanoye Delo and Baku 5 help yapping and mewing? So—down with the conference, since it cannot be held without those cursed guarantees—say the oil owners, preventing the conference.

That is the cause of the prevention of the conference by the authorities and the oil owners.

That is what the history of the conference tells us.

But Promyslovy Vestnik, forgetting all this, goes on singing about the "tactlessness of the leaders," fatuously repeating and chewing the cud over the leading articles in Baku and Neftyanoye Delo! Even the Georgian newspaper of the Tiflis Mensheviks found it necessary to "raise its voice" and sing second to the Baku Cadets! 6 Miserable echoes!

But what should be our tactics in the new situation?

The oil owners have prevented the conference. They are provoking a general strike. Does that mean that we must immediately respond with a general strike? Of course not! Apart from the fact that the oil owners have already accumulated vast stocks of oil, that they have been long preparing to resist a general strike, we must not forget that we are not yet ready for such a serious struggle. For the time being we must resolutely give up the idea of a general economic strike.

The only expedient form of retreat in the present situation is strikes at individual firms. The Mensheviks who deny the expediency of such strikes almost on "principle" (see L. A. Rin's pamphlet 7, are profoundly mistaken. The experience of the strikes in the spring shows that, with the active intervention of the unions and of our organisation, strikes at individual firms may prove to be one of the surest means of uniting the proletariat. All the more firmly, therefore, should we grasp such means. We must not forget that our organisation will grow only to the extent that we actively intervene in all the affairs of the proletarian struggle.

Such is our immediate tactical task.

Having prevented the conference, the authorities now want to abolish completely the so-called "Baku liberties." Does that mean that we must go completely underground and leave the field free for the activities of the dark forces? Of course not! However fiercely the reaction may rage, no matter how much it may wreck our unions and organisations, it cannot abolish the oil field and works commissions without calling forth "anarchy and conflicts" at the works and in the oil fields. It is our duty to strengthen these commissions, to imbue them with the spirit of socialism and to unite them according to the respective firms. To achieve this our works and oil field Party units must systematically come out at the head of these commissions and, in their turn, unite on an inter-district basis through their representatives also according to the respective firms.

Such are our immediate organisational tasks.

By carrying out these immediate tasks, and thereby strengthening the unions and our organisation, we shall be able to weld into one the masses of the oil industry workers numbering many thousands for the forthcoming battles against oil capital.


Bakinsky Proletary, No. 5, July 20, 1908


1. The meeting of the organising committee which was responsible for the arrangements to convene the conference with the oil owners was held on May 13, 1908. Fourteen oil owners and 15 workers were present. On that same day the newspapers published an announcement that representatives of trade unions would not be permitted to go on the committee. The workers' delegation that appeared at the meeting refused to allow the proceedings to start unless representatives of the trade unions took part. Using this refusal as a pretext, chairman of the committee Junkovsky (a member of the Caucasian Viceroy's Council) closed the meeting.

2. "Land and freedom," "By struggle you will achieve your rights"—the slogans of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party.

3. The general strike commenced on July 1, 1903, in Baku, on July 14 in Tiflis and on July 17 in Batum. The strike affected the whole of Transcaucasia and spread to South Russia (Odessa, Kiev, Yekaterinoslav and other places).

4. The Baku general strike began on December 13, 1904, with strikes at the oil fields of Rothschild's, Nobel's and Mirzoyev's in the Balakhany and Bibi-Eibat oil districts. From December 14 to 18 it spread to most of the enterprises in Baku. The strike was led by J. V. Stalin. The leaflets issued by the Baku Committee during the first days of the strike contained political slogans and also the following economic demands—an eighthour day, higher wages, abolition of fines, etc. During the strike numerous meetings of workers were held. The strike ended in a victory for the workers and the conclusion of a collective agreement between the workers and the oil owners, the first of its kind to be concluded in the history of the Russian labour movement. "This strike was like a clap of thunder heralding a great revolutionary storm" (see History of the C.P.S.U.(B.), Short Course, Moscow 1952, p. 94). The importance of the December strike in Baku is dealt with in detail in the present volume. See "The December Strike and the December Agreement," pp. 174-78.

5. Baku — a bourgeois newspaper published with brief interruptions from 1902 to 1918. The newspaper expressed the interests mainly of the Armenian oil and commercial bourgeoisie.

6. This refers to an article entitled "The Workers' Commission in Baku" published in No. 4 of the Georgian Menshevik newspaper Khomli of July 17, 1908.

7. L. A. Rin's (Y. Larin's) pamphlet "The Conference With the Oil Owners" was published by the mechanics' union in 1907.