The Bolsheviks in the tsarist Duma

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   The Bolsheviks in the tsarist Duma

The Shooting of Putilov Workers – At the Works

Chapter XIX

The Shooting of Putilov Workers – At the Works – Interview with Junkovsky – “The Union of the Russian People” asks for Blood – Barricades in St. Petersburg

From the beginning of July, the strike movement at St. Petersburg factories and works grew rapidly. On July 1, the workers of the Langesippen, Lessner, Ericson, Siemens-Schuckert, Aivaz and other factories left work. Before leaving the factories, meetings were held and resolutions of protest passed against the persecution of the Baku workers. “Comrades of Baku,” declared the St. Petersburg workers, “we are with you, and your victory will be our victory.” At several other establishments the workers did not declare a strike, but left work an hour earlier and arranged meetings and collections for the Baku workers.

Twelve thousand persons attended the meeting arranged by the Putilov workers in the factory yard. But as soon as the first speaker said said two words, cries of “police” were heard and the meeting was broken up before any resolution could be passed. Two days later, the Putilov workers again assembled for a meeting in connection with the Baku events and this meeting gave rise to incidents which marked a turning-point in the July movement in St. Petersburg.

The Putilov workers left work two hours before the end of the working-day and about 12,000 workers attended the meeting. Two speakers described the conditions of the Baku workers and called on the workers to contribute in aid of the strikers and to declare a one-day protest strike.

At the close of the meeting the workers approached the gates and demanded that they be opened. But when they were opened, it was not to let the workers out but to allow the mounted and foot police in. Then the gates were again closed and the police, who had been concealed near the factory, called upon the crowd to disperse, although this was of course impossible with the gates closed. The workers protested and in reply the police fired a volley. With shouts of: “To the barricades,” the crowd rushed to one end of the yard and from thence threw stones at the police. The police fired a second round and then began to arrest one man after another, amidst the cries of the wounded.

According to the statement of the workers, two men were killed, about fifty wounded and more than a hundred taken to the police station. As soon as I was informed of the shooting, I went to the works. A crowd of workers told me of the shooting, the use of sabres and whips and of the arrests; but no one knew the precise number of casualties. As is usual on such occasions, the most varied rumours circulated through the crowd, but all were unanimous in their indignation at the action of the police.

I applied to the works management for definite information, but all those I spoke to were afraid to commit themselves and tried to avoid all conversation. The scared medical assistant at the hospital declared that he had seen nothing and that no killed or wounded had been brought in. After repeated questions to various workers, I finally succeeded in obtaining the facts.

From the works I went to the police station to inquire into the fate of those arrested. A dozen fully armed police officers crowded the pristav’s [1] room and listened with surprise to the insistence with which I demanded an immediate reply to a number of questions. I asked who had ordered the shooting of unarmed workers, how many had been killed and how many arrested, and on what charge.

The pristav replied that he was under no obligation to give explanations to strangers and that no one had the right to interfere with the actions of the police. When I showed him my deputy’s card he was rather at a loss, and rang up the city governor, who gave strict orders that no information should be given to me.

Then the police officers pushed me out of the station and refused to allow me to speak with the arrested workers. It was obvious that the workers had been cruelly beaten; many were lying on the floor too weak to stand or sit.

I went to the Pravda offices for my usual night’s work with my mind full of impressions of the incident, the suffering of the wounded, the overbearing attitude of the police and the panic and indignation among the workers. There I reported on all I had seen and we drew up a brief report for the paper. At the same time we informed the editors of the Liquidationist paper Den (The Day), who used the same press.

Next day Pravda appeared with a full account of the incidents and a short note explaining their significance. The material appeared in the space usually occupied by the leading article.

During the night I telephoned to the Ministry of the Interior and asked to be received on the question of the Putilov incident. Maklakov was out of town and his assistant, Junkovsky, sent me a message saying that he would see me the next morning at his home at 8 o’clock.

A few minutes after the appointed hour, I arrived at his home in Sergeyevskaya Street. “I am late,” I began, “because during the whole night I have had to deal with your raiders on Trudovaya Pravda.” This excuse at once made the general feel uncomfortable.

“Of course you have no time, you are always at the factories inciting the workers to strike. I am surprised that you were allowed to enter the Putilov works. You are a deputy of the State Duma, your business is to legislate – that is why you were elected – but instead you spend your time at the workshops, hatching plots, issuing leaflets and publishing a newspaper which incites its readers to criminal acts.”

He pointed to the latest number of Trudovaya Pravda which was lying on the table and went on:

“I have ordered a special commission for immediately prosecuting you and the newspaper.”

“It is not the first time I have been prosecuted under one or other of your laws,” I replied, “and I know you are able to do it, but I am here now for another purpose. Tell me what right the police had to fire on the Putilov workers; I shall report your answer to the workers at the other St. Petersburg factories and works.”

“No shots were fired there,” he rapped out, “ the police fired two rounds of blank cartridges.”

We both rose and stood facing each other across the table.

“We shall not allow the workers to stone the police,” he went on, “the police have rifles and sabres and in the future in similar circumstances they will shoot. That is why they are armed.”

“I did not expect any other answer from our Ministers,” I replied, “I shall inform the workers. You cannot prevent me going to the factories. A deputy elected by the workers will never confine himself to speeches in the Duma while the workers are being beaten up in your police stations.”

I abruptly put an end to the interview and left the chief of the tsar’s firing-squads.

An account of my interview with Junkovsky was published in Pravda; the number was confiscated. But in its next issue, Pravda again printed it; we were determined that the workers should know that the shots fired at the Putilov works were not accidental but part of the repressive measures that the tsarist government were bent on putting into execution.

The news of the shooting at the Putilov works made a tremendous impression on the St. Petersburg workers. Their indignation was as great as that caused by the news of the Lena shootings. The secret police, who put everything down to “criminal agitation,” reported that “the publication of articles in the workers’ press on the shooting of Putilov workers has made an impression on the masses which is exceptional in its intensity and effects.”

The police endeavoured to localise the conflagration. All copies of Pravda containing news of the shootings were confiscated although no legal order had been issued. This occurred not only in the streets; searches were made at the homes of all news-vendors who lived in the Narva district. The police took every copy of Pravda that they could lay their hands on.

The Black Hundreds scented the danger and called on the police to do their duty to the tsar and the fatherland and stamp out all signs of the revolutionary movement. The organ of the “Union of the Russian People,” the Russkoye Znamya, hysterically called for blood in an article entitled Badayev to the Gallows.

On the day after the shootings, strikes broke out all over St. Petersburg; no less than 70,000 left work. The workers of the Winkler Works declared in their resolution:

“On hearing the news of this new blood-bath, we determined not to start work but to reply by a strike. Our indignation is beyond words and we are resolved not to tolerate this sort of thing any longer ...”

The next day, Pravda was full of such resolutions and the streets were crowded with demonstrators. The strikers marched round to the other factories calling on their comrades to join the movement and the demonstrations grew like snowballs.

The demonstrations in the Moscow district of St. Petersburg were particularly stormy; all the works and factories were closed and the workers came out on the streets. All inns and government vodka stores were closed at the demand of the workers and all shops had to shut down because the assistants left their work to join the demonstrators. About midday, an enormous crowd marched towards the Putilov works singing revolutionary songs, a red flag being carried before the crowd.

At the Putilov railway siding the crowd was met by the police, who fired several volleys; the demonstrators did not disperse, but replied with stones. After a struggle lasting some fifteen minutes the police were put to flight, as they had fired their last cartridges. Four workers were wounded and taken to hospital. Another clash occurred in the Vyborg district. A big demonstration headed by the Aivaz workers was marching along the Sampsonievsky Prospect towards the centre of the city when the police attempted to bar their route. Shots were fired and stones thrown, but fortunately no one was injured and the crowd was forced back into the side streets. Smaller encounters with the police took place throughout the day in all quarters of the city.

Late in the evening of the same day, the St. Petersburg Committee of the Party discussed the further plan of action. Our task was to solidify the independent action of the workers and to transform it into a powerful, organised movement. We decided to continue the mass strike for another three days and to organise new demonstrations, first on the Vyborg side. A big demonstration was fixed for July 7, the day when Poincaré, the President of the French Republic, was due to arrive in St. Petersburg.

Formerly we had issued appeals to support the Baku strikers; now the principal motive of the movement was the protest against the shooting of workers in St. Petersburg. In order to establish a general plan of action we arranged a meeting of delegates from the factories, near the Porokhovye station outside the city. A password was given to the delegates and guides were appointed to conduct anyone using it through the forest to the meeting place.

On July 5, the demonstrations and clashes with the police were repeated, but no shots were fired although the police made free use of their sabres and whips. As July 6 was a Sunday no big demonstrations were held, but preparations were made in the working-class districts for the mass action which had been fixed for the following day.

On the morning of July 7 the city looked as it had done during 1905. With very few exceptions, factories and works were closed and about 130,000 workers were on strike. The workers poured into the streets and the police patrols were totally unable to control them; they could only manage to prevent any demonstration on the Nevsky Prospect. In order to avoid any “scandal” in the presence of the French President, huge police forces were concentrated there to prevent the workers reaching the centre of the city. The movement was not confined to mere demonstration. The normal traffic was interrupted; tramcars were stopped and passengers forced to alight, and the controls were removed. Workers filled the cars and prevented them from moving. Later in the day the men at one of the tramway depots joined the strikers.

The workers again closed all the government vodka shops and beer-houses, in some cases smashing bottles and pouring away the beer. Even the bourgeois papers subsequently referred to the absolute sobriety that prevailed in those days in the working-class districts. Taught by the experience of the preceding days, the police did not venture to use firearms, but attacked scattered iworkers had lost all fear of the police; they put up a vigorous fight against the police brutality, and many hand-to-hand fights took place.

The same evening the city governor and the Minister of the Interior had an urgent consultation on the events of the day and decided to take strong measures. The next morning the city governor issued a proclamation warning the population of the consequences of these disorders and reproducing, in effect, the famous order issued by Trepov in 1905: “Spare no cartridges.”

In spite of this there were no signs of slackening and the movement continued to grow during the following days until July 12. The number of strikers increased to 150,000, and on July 9 barricades were seen in the streets of St. Petersburg. Tramcars, barrels, poles, etc., served as material for the construction of barricades which were built mainly in the Vyborg district. All traffic was interrupted and in many areas the workers had complete control of the streets.

The July movement of 1914 was interrupted by the declaration of the war. Although the strikes had stopped two days before war was declared on July 17 (old style) the patriotic demonstrations had already started and the task of the police was easier. At the same time, the manufacturers who had declared lock-outs were now prepared to make concessions in expectation of war orders and profits.

It is quite possible that in any case the July demonstrations would not have led to the decisive point of the revolutionary struggle, but that moment could not have been long delayed. It would have arrived with the next turn in the revolutionary tide, which would have quickly followed the ebb after July. But that moment was postponed by the war for almost two-and-half years. Although separated by the war years, July 1914 and February 1917 are directly linked together in the general development of the revolutionary movement.
1. Police officer in charge of a ward. – Ed.