J. V. Stalin

The Forthcoming General Strike

August 27, 1909

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 Baku workers are going through hard times. The offensive which the oil owners launched in the spring of last year is still continuing. The gains which the workers won in the past are being taken away from them to the very last. And the workers "have to" keep silent, to bear it "without end."

Wages are being reduced by direct cuts or by the withdrawal of rent allowances, bonuses, etc. The working day is being lengthened, since the three-shift system is being replaced by the two-shift system, and overtime and gang work are becoming practically obligatory. The so-called "reduction of staffs" is continuing as before. Workers, and particularly class-conscious workers, are discharged on trifling pretexts, and often without any pretext at all. "Black-listing" is being applied in the most ruthless manner. The "permanent" worker system is being replaced by the "casual" docket system, under which workers can always be deprived of their livelihood on trifling pretexts. The "system" of fines and beating-up is in full swing. The oil field and works commissions are no longer recognised. The workmen's compensation law is evaded in the most flagrant manner. Medical assistance has been reduced to a minimum.

The "hard-labour law," as the ten-kopek hospital levy is called, continues to operate. Hygiene and sanitation are neglected. Education is in a wretched state. The people's halls have been closed. No evening classes are being conducted. No lectures are being delivered. There are only dismissals without end! The lengths to which the oil owners go in their arrogance is seen from the fact that to avoid paying rent allowances many of the big firms, like the Caspian Company, for example, directly prohibit "their" workers from marrying without the management's permission. And the oil kings do all this with impunity. Conscious of their strength, and seeing the success of their cunningly devised offensive tactics, they continue to torment the workers.

But the success of the oil owners' offensive is not at all accidental; it is wholly determined by many favourable external conditions. First of all, there is the general lull in Russia, the counter-revolutionary situation, which provides a favourable atmosphere for the capitalist offensive. Needless to say, under other circumstances, the oil owners would have been obliged to curb their appetites. Then there is the purely flunkey obsequiousness of the local authorities, headed by the pogromist Mar-tynov, who are ready to do anything to please the oil owners—recall, for example, the "Mirzoyev case." Further, the poor state of organisation of the workers due, to a large extent, to the constant flux among the oil workers. Everybody understands how important the oil workers are in the struggle against the oil owners, but it is they who are most closely connected with the rural districts and are least "fit" for an organised struggle. Lastly, there is the system of split wages (which consist, among other things, of bonuses, and of rent, travel, bath, and other allowances), which facilitates cuts. It needs no proof that direct wage cuts are not so easy to carry through as are disguised, partial cuts in the shape of the gradual withdrawal of bonuses and of rent, travel and other allowances, where the illusion is created that the "actual" wage is left untouched.

Naturally, all this, together with the growing experience and organisation of the oil owners, greatly facilitates the capitalist offensive in the kingdom of oil.

When this furious offensive of the oil kings will cease, whether there will be a limit to their arrogance, depends upon whether they meet with the powerful and organised resistance of the workers.

So far only one thing is clear, namely, that the oil owners want to smash the workers "completely," to knock the fighting spirit out of them "once and for all," to convert "their" workers into obedient slaves "at all costs." They pursued this aim as far back as the spring of last year when, after preventing the conference, they tried to provoke the workers into an unorganised general strike in order to be able to crush them at one stroke. This is the aim they are pursuing now by maliciously and systematically attacking the workers, and often provoking them to spontaneous actions.

So far the workers are silent, dumbly bearing the blows of the oil owners, while anger accumulates in their breasts. But in view of the fact that, on the one hand, the arrogance of the oil owners is steadily growing, that they are depriving the workers of their last crumbs, reducing the workers to pauperism, tormenting them and provoking them to spontaneous outbreaks, and that, on the other hand, the patience of the workers is steadily running out, giving place to sullen, constantly increasing discontent against the oil owners—in view of all this, we may confidently assert that an outburst of anger on the part of the oil workers is quite inevitable in the near future. One of two things: either the workers will indeed be patient "without end" and sink to the level of slavishly obedient Chinese coolies—or they will rise up against the oil owners and clear the road to a better life. The steadily rising anger of the masses shows that the workers will inevitably take the second path, the path of fighting the oil owners.

The situation in the oil industry is such that it fully permits not only of a defensive struggle by the workers, not only the retention of the old positions, but also the passing to the offensive and the winning of new positions, further increases in wages, further reductions of the working day, etc.

Indeed, since the oil owners' profits are fabulously high at the present time compared with the profits of other employers in Russia and in Europe; since the oil market is not shrinking but, on the contrary, is expanding and spreading to new regions (Bulgaria, for example); since the gushers are steadily increasing in number, and since oil prices are not dropping but, on the contrary, show a tendency to rise—is it not clear that it is quite possible for the workers to break the chains of slavish patience, throw off the yoke of shameful silence, hoist the flag of a counter-offensive against the oil owners and win from them new and better conditions of labour? . . .

But while remembering all this, we must not forget that the forthcoming general strike will be the most serious, prolonged and stubborn strike that has ever taken place in Baku. It must be borne in mind that in previous strikes we were favoured by 1) the general upsurge in Russia, 2) the relative "neutrality" of the local authorities as a consequence of this, and 3) the inexperience and lack of organisation of the oil owners, who lost their heads as soon as a strike broke out. But not one of these three conditions exists now. The general upsurge has given way to a general lull, which encourages the oil owners. The relative "neutrality" of the local authorities has given way to their complete readiness to resort to every means of "pacification." The inexperience and lack of organisation of the oil owners has given way to their organisation. More than that, the oil owners have become so skilled at fighting that they themselves are provoking the workers to go on strike. They are even not averse to provoking them to go out on a general strike, so long as it is an unorganised one, which would enable them to "crush" the workers "at one stroke."

All this goes to show that the workers have before them a stern and difficult struggle against organised enemies. A fight is inevitable. Victory is possible in spite of numerous unfavourable conditions. All that is necessary is that the workers' struggle should not be spontaneous and sporadic, but organised, systematic and conscious.

Only on this condition can victory be expected.

We cannot tell just when the general strike will begin—in any case it will not begin when it suits the oil owners. So far we know only one thing, namely, that we must at once initiate persevering preparatory work for a general strike and devote to it all our mental capacities, our energy and our courage.

Strengthen our solidarity, our organisation—such is the slogan of our preparatory work.

Hence, we must set to work at once to rally the masses of the workers around Social-Democracy, around the unions. First of all, we must put an end to the split in the organisation, we must unite the two groups in one body. We must also put an end to the split in the unions and unite them in one strong union. We must revive the oil field and works commissions, imbue them with the spirit of socialism, link them with the masses, and through them link ourselves with the entire army of oil industry workers. We must proceed to draw up common demands that can unite the workers in one powerful army. We must constantly intervene in all the conflicts between the workers and the oil owners and thereby in fact rally the workers around Social-Democracy. In short, we must prepare tirelessly, to the utmost, in order worthily to meet the difficult but glorious forthcoming general strike.

We call for united efforts in the work of preparing for a general economic strike.


Bakinsky Proletary, No. 7 August 27, 1909