June 27, 2020

Letters from the Caucasus

J. V. Stalin
December 20, 1909

"Legal Possibilities"

The fact that our organisation has coped with the crisis with relative ease, that it never suspended its activities and always responded to all the questions of the day in one way or another, is due to a large extent to the "legal possibilities" it enjoys, which continue to exist to this day. The "legal possibilities," in their turn, owe their existence, of course, to the special conditions prevailing in the oil industry, to the special role the latter plays in the national economy, but that is not the point just now. . . . Of the "legal possibilities" in Baku, of special interest are the oil field and works commissions. These commissions are elected by all the workers of a given firm without exception, irrespective of nationality and political convictions. Their function is to negotiate on behalf of the workers with the firm's management on questions affecting the oil fields and works. They are not yet legal organisations in the direct sense of the term, but indirectly, and actually, they are fully legal, for they exist on the basis of the "December agreement," the whole of which is published in the workers' "pay books" that have been issued with the permission of the authorities. The importance of the oil field and works commissions for our organisation is clear; they enable our organisation to exercise organised influence upon the entire mass of the oil workers; all that is necessary is that the commissions should uphold the decisions of our organisation before the masses. True, the importance of the commissions is not so great now, for the oil owners no longer reckon with them, but the workers do "reckon" with them, and that is the most important for us. . . .

In addition to the commissions there are also the unions, actually two unions: that of the "oil industry workers" (about 900 members) and that of the "mechanical workers" (about 300 members). The union for "oil extraction" can be ignored, as its importance is extremely small. We shall not speak of the unions of other crafts which have no direct connection with the oil industry, or of the illegal seamen's union (about 200 members), which is under the influence of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, although this union is important for the oil industry. Of the two unions mentioned, the first (under Bolshevik influence) is especially popular among the workers. It is organised on the principle of industrial unionism and unites the workers of all categories of labour in the oil industry (extraction, boring, mechanical, refining, general labour). This type of organisation is dictated by the conditions of the struggle, which make inexpedient strikes of mechanics, for example, independently of the oil producers, etc. This the workers realised * and they began to desert en masse the union of "mechanical workers." The point is that this union (under Menshevik influence) is organised as a craft union, rejects the principle of industrial unionism and instead of one general union proposes three separate unions (mechanics, oil workers, and refiners). The craft union principle, however, was rejected by Baku practice long ago. This, incidentally, explains the steady decline of the "mechanical workers'" union. The leaders of the union themselves admit this by accepting as members workers other than mechanics, thereby violating their own principle. Had it not been for the false pride of the above-mentioned leaders, the union of "mechanical workers," after openly admitting its mistake, would long ago have merged with the union of the "oil industry workers."

Incidentally, about merging. "Negotiations" for merging the unions have been going on for two years already, but so far they have been fruitless because: 1) the Menshevik leaders are deliberately hindering the merger for fear that they will be submerged by the Bolshevik majority; 2) the groups under whose influence the unions are functioning have so far not yet united. And besides, with whom shall we unite? The 80 to 100 "members" that perhaps the Mensheviks have are themselves not yet united. At all events, during the past eight months we have not seen a single leaflet or heard a single pronouncement from the Menshevik "leading body," in spite of the fact that during this period the oil districts have witnessed important campaigns such as the general strike, the Zemstvo, the temperance, and other campaigns. The Menshevik organisation is practically non-existent, liquidated. To put it plainly, there is nobody to unite with. And this state of affairs naturally hinders the merging of the unions. . . .

Both unions are non-party; but this does not prevent them from maintaining the closest connection with the Party organisation.

The influence of the unions upon the masses is considerable, especially that of the union of the "oil industry workers," and this automatically facilitates the task of uniting the most active elements around our organisation.

Of the other "legal possibilities," those worthy of attention are the clubs (under Social-Democratic influence) and the "Trud" consumers' co-operative society (under Socialist-Revolutionary and Social-Democratic influence), both being centres where the most active elements of the Baku proletariat are concentrated. Concerning their attitude towards the organisation, especially the attitude of the "Znanie-Sila" club, which operates in all the oil districts (the "Nauka" club operates only in the town), the same may be said as about the unions. . . .

The past two weeks were taken up with the temperance campaign, which called for the activity of nearly all the legal organisations. The stand taken by the Baku Committee on this question is expressed in its resolution. In the latter, drunkenness is regarded as an inevitable evil under capitalism, which can be abolished only with the fall of capitalism and the triumph of socialism. By reducing the workers and peasants to the condition of rightless slaves and robbing them of the opportunity to satisfy their cultural requirements, the existing autocratic-feudal regime helps to spread drunkenness among the toiling population to the utmost degree. This is apart from the fact that representatives of the "authorities" deliberately encourage drunkenness as a source of revenue for the Treasury. In view of all this, the Baku Committee maintains that neither the sermons preached by the "liberals," who convene congresses to combat drunkenness and organise "temperance societies," nor the exhortations of priests can diminish, let alone abolish, drunkenness, which is engendered by the inequalities in society, and intensified by the autocratic regime. All that is possible and necessary within the framework of the capitalist system is a struggle with the object not of abolishing drunkenness, but of reducing it to a minimum. But for such a struggle to be successful it is first of all necessary to overthrow the tsarist regime and to win a democratic republic, which will create the possibility for the free development of the class struggle and for the organisation of the proletariat in town and country, for raising its cultural level and for widely training its forces for the great struggle for socialism. The Baku Committee regards the forthcoming congress to combat drunkenness as a means of agitating for the democratic and socialist demands of the Russian proletariat, and instructs our delegate to combat the opportunist delegates at the congress who obscure the class tasks of the proletariat. . . .

December 20, 1909