THE BEGINNING OF WORKER DISTURBANCE IN PETROGRAD
In the end of February, 1921, serious worker unrest began in Petrograd. The fuel crisis, railroad crisis and food crisis had reached an extreme. The situation was so difficult that the Soviet press itself, taking all matters into account, did not consider it necessary to hide the truth. Preparing its readers for the worst, it directly declared to the populace, "the Constituent Assembly will not save the country, nor even God, and not free trade alone."
It was plainly visible that it was not possible to continue thus, and that radical change was necessary. However, the Bolsheviks, while recognizing the inescapable nature of the situation, at the same time did not wish to make any concessions.
At this time, the situation was becoming worse. Many factories and plants were closed, and the idled workers gathered at meetings. The atmosphere, clearly hostile to Soviet power, poured out in speeches, and in resolutions passed by the meetings. At many factories, political resolutions were moved, demanding the introduction of democracy. Before long the demand for introduction of "free trade," which had been one of the main slogans at the beginning of the Petrograd movement, had dropped to second position.
The intransigent, pitiless and cynical authorities, unable to put right the economic life of the country, called for the political rebuff of the working mass.
Worker organizations demanded a fundamental change of power, some by way of freely elected soviets, and others by immediate convocation of the Constituent Assembly.
"The matter here is not one of separate hitches and breakdowns, but of a large and general flaw in our state mechanism, which won't be set right with darning and patches, but must be truly fixed," says a resolution of the Petrograd Committee of Social-Democrat Mensheviks.
The Socialist Revolutionaries and Social-Democrat Mensheviks suffered harsh persecution.
On February 22nd, meetings occurred in all the factories. On the 24th, the Trubochny, Laferme, Patronny and Baltic Factories went on strike. On February 25th, the Bolsheviks formed a Defense Committee in Petrograd, under the presidency of Zinoviev. Its purpose was the struggle with the new movement.
Before long, worker ferment had developed into open disorder. Part of the Petrograd garrison declared that it would not suppress the workers, and was disarmed. In the session of the Petrograd Soviet of February 26th, Lashevich, a prominent Communist and member of the Defense Committee and the Revolutionary War Council of the Soviet Republic, gave a report on the situation. He declared that the Trubochny Factory on Vasili Island had stepped forward as the vanguard of open action against Soviet power, and that the workers of the factory had passed a resolution pointedly opposed to Soviet power. In accordance with the decree of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, the factory was closed.
On the morning of February 24th, when a reregistration of the workers was undertaken at the Trubochny Factory, approximately 200-300 workers set off for the Laferme Factory, and from there for the Kabelny and Baltic Factories, to take the workers out on strike. A crowd of 2000-2500 workers gathered on Vasili Island. Officer cadets were sent, and clashes occurred between the troops and the unarmed crowd. Worker meetings were dispersed by troop units.
On February 25th, the ferment spread through the entire city. Workers from Vasili Island set out for the Admiralty workshops and Galernaia Gavan, and took workers from the factories. Crowds of workers gathered everywhere, and were dispersed by troops. The atmosphere was tense, and it was possible to expect momentous actions. A significant portion of the garrison was caught up in the ferment.
At the same meeting of the Petrograd Soviet, Kuzmin, Commissar of the Baltic Fleet, reported on worrisome signs in the mood of the warship crews.
The conduct of authority pushed the workers to ever more openly political actions. "Fundamental change of the entire policy of authority is necessary, and first of all, the workers and peasants must have freedom. They don't want to live by petty Bolshevik edicts; they want to decide their own fate. Comrades, support revolutionary order. Demand persistently, and in an organized fashion: Freedom for all arrested socialists and non-party workers; the repeal of martial law; freedom of speech, press and assembly for all laborers; free elections to factory committees, trade unions and soviets. Call meetings, move resolutions, send delegates to the authorities, and achieve the realization of your demands," reads a workers' proclamation from February 27th.
The Bolsheviks answered these resolutions and proclamations with arrests, and by crushing worker organizations.
On the 28th, a proclamation of the working socialists of the Nevsky region was posted. It finishes with the words, "We know who is afraid of the Constituent Assembly. It is those who will not be able to steal, but instead will be brought to answer before the people's representatives for fraud, theft and all criminality. Down with the hated Communists! Down with Soviet power! Long live the All-National Constituent Assembly."
At that time, Petrograd was already flooded with select Communist units, brought in from the provinces and fronts. The workers' movement in Petrograd was suppressed with utmost cruelty, and before long, had been crushed.