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(en) France, UCL AL #317 - Culture, Read: Smith, "Red Petrograd." (ca, de, it, fr, pt)[machine translation]

Date Wed, 30 Jun 2021 09:11:18 +0300

Published in 1983, this book is not an editorial novelty ! It is nonetheless worth a detour, especially this year, when we are celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the Kronstadt revolt. So we go back to Russia, just after the February revolution. And we dive right into the heart of the factories, as close as possible to the workers. ---- Stephen Smith can surprise by his approach: it is not a question of trying to establish who did what, and how, to seize power. It is the story of a Revolution, of the facts which created the conditions for its blossoming, but above all of the women and men, who physically lived it, and made it.
A daily disaster
The book, pleasant and easy to read, first of all invites us on a journey to the heart of the working class of the Petrograd of 1917. The author offers us a multitude of data on unhealthy living conditions, infant mortality, accidents at work, appalling housing, poverty income ... All this close to palaces, museums, theaters. A world of powerful contradictions, in a small space, with a growing population and an ever-increasing stream of these workers, rejected from the poor countryside.

In its second part, the work examines the daily reality of workers. The capital of Russia is full of factories: metallurgy, textiles, chemicals ... The Tsarist factory is directly under state control, with a powerful banking capitalism. It is 1% of the population who owns all the wealth of the soil and the subsoil, of transport, of the industrial fabric that the Petersburg people need to live.

The capitalist class of St. Petersburg is characterized by strong ties to the Tsarist state and foreign capital. But in Petrograd, the capitalists, less linked to an autocratic feudal system than their counterparts in Donbass or the Urals, will decide to work for the development of Western social relations.

In front of them, a working class with important social divisions between worker-peasants (60%) and worker-proletarians, older, more qualified. Remember, the working class is heterogeneous, and very hierarchical in its composition. In addition, in the company, "the violent exercise of power by the bosses inside the factory reflected the violent exercise of power outside".

Getting beaten up by despotic foremen, petty supervisors was common among employees, and respect for human dignity was a rising demand among workers. Just before February 1917, warning signs pointed to changes within factories such as the appearance of premiums, insurance funds in the event of industrial accidents, or even health funds. In terms of protest, the years 1915-1916 saw the number of strikes increase significantly.

Factory committees, precursors of unions
From the end of February 1917, a new regime was introduced in the companies. At first, the workers chased the execrated bosses and executives (in carts!). Factory committees came into being very quickly, but they were only apparently spontaneous. They had their origins in "long traditions within the Russian working class of electing delegates to represent them".

Executive committees, bringing together workers, engineers, technicians and sometimes even members of the old management, appeared to revive and supervise production. The author studies in detail the structure and functions of these factory committees, whose functioning is very similar to that of the unions! However, these do not yet exist; their emergence is studied in the rest of the book.

Stephen Smith ends by reflecting on the gaps between theory and practice of workers 'control, recalling in passing that before 1917, "the Bolshevik party had no opinion on workers' control. The factory committees launched the slogan of workers' control almost independently of the Bolshevik party."

Petrograd rouge is a book to read and reread, to nourish your reflection on this period and to get rid of sometimes false ideas about the actors and actresses of revolutionary movements who, most often, remain in the shadow of revolutionary potentates of all kinds. .

Dominique Sureau (UCL Angers)

l Stephen A. Smith, Red Petrograd. The Revolution in the Factories (1917-1918), Les Nuits Rouges, reprint April 2017, 450 pages, 17 euros. Historical Polar

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