The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Russian Revolution:
Workers Respond to the Bosses’ Acts of Sabotage

Jun 5, 2017

This article is from the May 26, 2017 edition of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

Three months after the revolution of February 1917, the continuation of the war and the preparation of a new offensive cause serious shortages in the cities and accelerate the deterioration of the economy. Hoping to break the fighting spirit of the workers, the industrialists take to sabotaging production and to closing their factories over the slightest pretext.

However, this has the opposite effect: in each factory, in each industrial center, the bosses’ acts of sabotage provoke the intervention of the workers. In fact, they impose their control over production. Becoming aware of the hesitations on the part of the leaders of the Soviets, they come to agree with the Bolsheviks. In The History of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky analyzes this power struggle:

“The bourgeoisie as a whole was entering upon a policy of economic defeatism. Temporary losses and deficits due to economic paralysis were in their eyes the overhead expenses of a struggle with the revolution which threatened the foundations of ‘culture.’ At the same time the virtuous press was accusing the workers from day to day of maliciously sabotaging industry, stealing raw materials, unnecessarily burning up fuel in order to produce stoppages. The falsity of these accusations exceeded all bounds…

“The Council of the United Industries [an organization of the bosses] recommended to its members to close up the enterprises one at a time, seeking out a respectable pretext. This plan of a creeping lockout was carried systematically .... Having prepared the political setting, the industrialists passed from words to deeds. In the course of March and April, 129 small plants involving 9,000 workers were shut down; in May, 108 with a like number of workers; in June, 125 plants with 38,000 workers were shut down; in July, 206 plants threw out on the streets 48,000 workers. The lockout developed in a geometric progression.”

Faced with this catastrophe and with the pressure of the workers, the Executive Committee of the Soviets begged the government to take upon itself, “the task of a planned organization of the national industry and labor.” This caused Lenin to remark: “The program is excellent. Both the control and the governmentalizing of the trusts, also the struggle with speculation, and liability for labor…. It is necessary to recognize this program of ‘frightful’ Bolshevism, for no other program and no other way out of the actually threatening terrible collapse can be found.” Trotsky adds: “However, the whole question was: Who was to carry out this excellent program? Would it be the Coalition? The answer was given immediately. The day after the adoption by the Executive Committee of the economic program, the Minister of Trade and Industry, Konovalov, resigned and slammed the door behind him ....

“The strikes were especially stormy among the more backward and exploited groups of workers. Laundry workers, dyers, coopers, trade and industrial clerks, structural workers, bronze workers, unskilled workers, shoemakers, paper-box makers, sausage makers, furniture workers, were striking, layer after layer, throughout the month of June.... To the advanced workers, it was becoming more and more clear that individual economic strikes in the conditions of war, breakdown and inflation could not bring a serious improvement, that there must be some change in the very foundations. The lockout not only made the workers favorable to the demand for the control of industry, but even pushed them toward the thought of the necessity of taking the factories into the hands of the state. This inference seemed the more natural in that the majority of private factories were working for the war, and that alongside them were state enterprises of the same type ....

“The growth of strikes, and of the class struggle in general, almost automatically raised the influence of the Bolsheviks. In all cases where it was a question of life-interests, the workers became convinced that the Bolsheviks had no ulterior motives, that they were concealing nothing, and that you could rely on them. In the hours of conflict, all the workers tended toward the Bolsheviks, the non-party workers, the Social Revolutionaries, the Mensheviks .... At a conference of the factory and shop committees of Petrograd and its environs at the beginning of June, the Bolshevik resolution won 335 out of 421 votes.”