Vladimir Lenin was the leader of the Russian Revolution in 1905. However, before there was a revolution, he, as well as other leaders in his party, had to decide who should start the revolution. The workers or peasants were chosen. According to Marxism, the workers of the world should unite. Of course, there was a problem-Russia in the late 1800s and early 1900s had very few workers. Instead, Russia had an agrarian economy. Therefore, the original approach to starting a revolution was to get the peasants involved. Unfortunately for the revolutionaries, the peasants did not want to get involved and usually had the revolutionaries thrown in jail.
The revolution attempt was failing. In the section entitled “The Spontaneity of the Masses and the Consciousness of the Social-Democrats” in Lenin’s What is to be Done?, he begins to argue that even though the workers are a small population, they should be the ones to start the revolution since they, “…marked the awakening antagonisms between workers and employers; but the workers, were not, and could not be, conscious of the irreconcilable antagonism of the interests to the whole of the modern political and social system, i.e., theirs was not yet Social Democratic consciousness” (What is to be Done, Section Two). Basically, Lenin was stating that the workers have not yet realized that they fit with the Social Democratic viewpoint, but with a little encouragement, they would be the ones to start a revolution. He specifically cites the St. Petersburg industrial war of 1896 as the first sign of the worker’s discontent and a sign that they are very close to his and his fellow revolutionaries viewpoints.
What was the St. Petersburg industrial war of 1896? On May 16 and 17, 1896 the textile mills in the city were closed for the coronation of Nicolas II. However, the workers were not paid for the two days the mills were closed. The first strike began on May 23 when workers of the Russian Cotton Mill demanded payment for the two days holiday. On the 27th of May, workers from the Ekateringof Textile Mill and the Koenig Factory joined, followed by workers at the Mitrofan’ev Textile Mill on May 28th. The workers now had more demands, including a shorter work day. By the beginning of June, the strikes had led to a de facto siege on the capital city, headed by the League of Struggle. At the end of the first week of June, 18 textile factories were on strike and official reposts stated that over 15,000 workers were participants on the strike. However, due to over 1,000 arrests by mid-june the strike had weakened significantly.
Although there was no short term effects to the strikes in the summer of 1896, the long term effects led to the 1905 revolution. Lenin saw these strikes as the beginning of the uprising of the workers. Although the strikes were, according to Lenin, a union struggle, the underlying cause lined up with the Social Democratic views. In Lenin’s mind, the St. Petersburg industrial war of 1896 was the start of something bigger, something that could change the face of Russia forever.