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The end of the nineteenth century in Europe was marked by an industrial crisis. It soon spread to Russia. During the period of the crisis (1900-03) about 3,000 large and small enterprises were closed down and over 100,000 workers thrown on the streets. The wages of the workers that remained employed were sharply reduced. The insignificant concessions previously wrung from the capitalists as the result of stubborn economic strikes were now withdrawn.

Industrial crisis and unemployment did not halt or weaken the working-class movement. On the contrary, the workers' struggle assumed an increasingly revolutionary character. From economic strikes, the workers passed to political strikes, and finally to demonstrations, put forward political demands for democratic liberties, and raised the slogan, "Down with the tsarist autocracy!"

A May Day strike at the Obukhov munitions plant in St. Petersburg in 1901 resulted in a bloody encounter between the workers and troops. The only weapons the workers could oppose to the armed forces of the tsar were stones and lumps of iron. The stubborn resistance of the workers was broken. This was followed by savage reprisals: about 800 workers were arrested, and many were cast into prison or condemned to penal servitude and exile. But the heroic "Obukhov defence" made a profound impression on the workers of Russia and called forth a wave of sympathy among them.

In March 1902 big strikes and a demonstration of workers took place in Batum, organized by the Batum Social-Democratic Committee. The Batum demonstration stirred up the workers and peasants of Transcaucasia.

In 1902 a big strike broke out in Rostov-on-Don as well. The first to come out were the railwaymen, who were soon joined by the workers of many factories. The strike agitated all the workers. As many as 30,000 would gather at meetings held outside the city limits on several successive days. At these meetings Social-Democratic proclamations were read aloud and speakers addressed the workers. The police and the Cossacks were powerless to disperse these meetings, attended as they were by many thousands. When several workers were killed by the police, a huge procession of working people attended their funeral on the following day. Only by summoning troops from surrounding cities was the tsarist government able to suppress the strike. The struggle of the Rostov workers was led by the Don Committee of the R.S.D.L.P.

The strikes that broke out in 1903 were of even larger dimensions. Mass political strikes took place that year in the south, sweeping Transcaucasia (Baku, Tiflis, Batum) and the large cities of the Ukraine (Odessa, Kiev, Ekaterinoslav). The strikes became increasingly stubborn and better organized. Unlike earlier actions of the working class, the political struggle of the workers was nearly everywhere directed by the Social-Democratic committees.

The working class of Russia was rising to wage a revolutionary struggle against the tsarist regime.

The working-class movement influenced the peasantry. In the spring and summer of 1902 a peasant movement broke out in the Ukraine (Poltava and Kharkov provinces) and in the Volga region. The peasants set fire to landlords' mansions, seized their land, and killed the detested zemsky nachalniks (rural prefects) and landlords. Troops were sent to quell the rebellious peasants. Peasants were shot down, hundreds were arrested, and their leaders and organizers were flung into prison, but the revolutionary peasant movement continued to grow.

The revolutionary actions of the workers and peasants indicated that revolution was maturing and drawing near in Russia.

Under the influence of the revolutionary struggle of the workers the opposition movement of the students against the government assumed greater intensity. In retaliation for the student demonstrations and strikes, the government shut down the universities, flung hundreds of students into prison, and finally conceived the idea of sending recalcitrant students into the army as common soldiers. In response, the students of all the universities organized a general strike in the winter of 1901-02. About thirty thousand students were involved in this strike.

The revolutionary movement of the workers and peasants, and especially the reprisals against the students, induced also the liberal bourgeois and the liberal landlords who sat on what was known as the Zem-stvos to bestir themselves and to raise their voices in "protest" against the "excesses" of the tsarist government in repressing their student sons.

The Zemstvo liberals had their stronghold in the Zemstvo boards. These were local government bodies which had charge of purely local affairs affecting the rural population (building of roads, hospitals and schools). The liberal landlords played a fairly prominent part on the Zem-stvo boards. They were closely associated with the liberal bourgeois, in fact were almost merged with them, for they themselves were beginning to abandon methods based on survivals of serfdom for capitalist methods of farming on their estates, as being more profitable. Of course, both these groups of liberals supported the tsarist government; but they were opposed to the "excesses" of tsardom, fearing that these "excesses" would only intensify the revolutionary movement. While they feared the "excesses" of tsardom, they feared revolution even more. In protesting against these "excesses," the liberals pursued two aims: first, to "bring the tsar to his senses," and secondly, by donning a mask of "profound dissatisfaction" with tsardom, to gain the confidence of the people, and to get them, or part of them, to break away from the revolution, and thus undermine its strength.

Of course, the Zemstvo liberal movement offered no menace whatever to the existence of tsardom; nevertheless, it served to show that all was not well with the "eternal" pillars of tsardom.

In 1902 the Zemstvo liberal movement led to the formation of the bourgeois "Liberation" group, the nucleus of the future principal party of the bourgeoisie in Russia—the Constitutional-Democratic Party.

Perceiving that the movement of the workers and peasants was sweeping the country in a formidable torrent, the tsarist government did everything it could to stem the revolutionary tide. Armed force was used with increasing frequency to suppress the workers' strikes and demonstrations; the bullet and the knout became the government's usual reply to the actions of the workers and peasants; prisons and places of exile were filled to overflowing.

While tightening up the measures of repression, the tsarist government tried at the same time to resort to other, non-repressive and more "flexible," measures to divert the workers from the revolutionary movement. Attempts were made to create bogus workers' organizations under the aegis of the gendarmes and police. They were dubbed organizations of "police socialism" or Zubatov organizations (after the name of a colonel of gendarmerie, Zubatov, who was the founder of these police-controlled workers' organizations). Through its agents the Okhrana tried to get the workers to believe that the tsarist government was itself prepared to assist them in securing the satisfaction of their economic demands. "Why engage in politics, why make a revolution, when the tsar himself is on the side of the workers?"—Zubatov agents would insinuate to the workers. Zubatov organizations were formed in several cities. On the model of these organizations and with the same purposes in view, an organization known as the Assembly of Russian Factory Workers of St. Petersburg was formed in 1904 by a priest by the name of Gapon.

But the attempt of the tsarist Okhrana to gain control over the working-class movement failed. The tsarist government proved unable by such measures to cope with the growing working-class movement. The rising revolutionary movement of the working class swept these police-controlled organizations from its path.

2. Lenin’s Plan for the Building of a Marxist Party. Opportunism of the “Economists.” Iskra’s Fight for Lenin’s Plan. Lenin’s Book What Is To Be Done?Ideological Foundations of the Marxist Party
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