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The innovations that took place in Europe and America in the eighteenth century led to industrial revolutions. The developments, which were characterized by intense changes in socioeconomic and political areas of the societies, occurred in agriculture and industry. An example is the emergence of urban industrial economies that eventually spread to other regions of the world.

The profound changes replaced work carried out in homes (cottage industry) with power-operated machines in factories. This change was what was referred to as the workers’ industrial revolution. The transformation altered the way people lived and worked. This paper looks at the Russian working class movement as part of the notable occurrences that took place in the Russian history.

Evolution of Early Workers’ Organizations

In most parts of the world, the majority of the people were farmers who lived in rural villages. The industrial revolution was preceded by feudalism in Europe. Feudalism was characterized by nobles who controlled the land that was tilled by peasants. Agricultural produce from the land was essentially for domestic use. Activities such as pottery, iron working and weaving among others were regarded as home economies, which were carried out together with agriculture.

However, in 1100, there was the emergence of merchant guilds. These guilds were workers’ organizations that attempted to protect businesses, markets and workers as well as to regulate the prices of commodities. The associations covered numerous occupations that ranged from carpentry to weaving and masonry. Individuals who owned shops and tools were considered the masters of particular guilds.

These masters employed unskilled people and trained them to become masters through apprenticeship. During the apprenticeship period, an apprentice did not receive any payment. Apprentices who successfully completed this stage graduated to become journeymen and continued to work under their masters. However, at that point, they received some form of compensation for their efforts. The journeymen eventually graduated to become masters after submitting masterpieces to their masters for approval. Those who succeeded were allowed to set up their shops.

During the medieval period, Europe was characterized by the emergence of the middle class, which comprised bankers, artisans and merchants. Their livelihood ceased to rely upon land production. Later on, due to the changes in the industrial revolution, the middle class expanded to include clerks, managers and teachers as well as owners of factories, railroads and mines (Mathias 49). The wealth of the middle class continued to increase with the growth of industrialization.

The working class, on the other hand, also increased in number but could not access the luxury enjoyed by the middle class. The working conditions deteriorated, and managers assigned them more work that was carried out during the day (Koval’chenko 88). Members of the working class spent ten to fourteen hours a day toiling in rooms filled with dust and lint. The rooms were unventilated, which exposed them to diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis thereby leading to the death of many workers.

Individuals who worked in the mines were not spared the poor working conditions. They inhaled coal dust in addition to being injured by heavy machinery. Their wages were low and could not meet their needs, which made their lives difficult. The wages earned by men was twofold that earned by women. Children, on the other hand, earned less than what was paid to women. Therefore, the entire families of the working class were required to work to make a living (Goldman 180).

The growth and expansion of industrialization witnessed a continued decline in the conditions of the workers, which led to the emergence of working class organizations. The organizations included political parties, cooperative societies, trade unions, labor unions, and other organizations that promoted cultural and leisure activities.

These organizations began to agitate for the welfare of the workers. As much as the Russian government tried to address workers’ pleas, the working conditions continued to deteriorate thereby prompting them to form labor groups that campaigned for their welfare in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Performance of Industries in Russia

In 1871, the textile industry produced about 54.8 percent of broadcloth and wool. It also recorded about 96.3 percent production of cotton thread and yarn (Gregory and Sailors 861). The increased rates of production were attributed to the introduction of machines and the factory systems. In addition, industries dealing with metalwork registered an 86.3 percent increase in their output. Production in the sugar industry also increased.

Other industries that performed well shifted to the use of machines in the late 1870s to 1880s. Nevertheless, labor-intensive work continued to stand out in furnishing and tanning industries. The period between 1860 and 1870 witnessed the construction of more than twenty thousand kilometers of railroad that formed the railroad network (Metzer 529). Another outstanding characteristic in the course of the industrial revolution in Russia was the advancement of several industries that dealt with the building of machines (Zasulich 13).

The Russian Working Class and Reforms

There were countless agitations by workers for reforms in Russia during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Russian workers believed that their lives could not change unless they assumed the control of the resources passed from the ruling elite to the masses. Alexander II initiated reorganizations in the 1860s with the intention of accelerating alterations in the Russian financial system.

These reforms aimed at emancipating the serfs from the control of the harsh landowners who mistreated them. He believed that the serfs would be able to access work elsewhere (mobile labor force) in other industries where they were needed. The freedom was also meant to expose the peasants to farming methods that were more efficient and productive (Gregory and Sailors 838).

In Russia, the domination of servitude was characterized by the presence of stable employment. However, the group could not be referred as the proletariat since most of the workers were not free (Zasulich 12). When serfdom was abolished, those permanent employees were transformed into proletarians.

Following the peasant transformation in the year 1861, the working class increased at a very alarming rate. The proletarian group incorporated small-scale farmers who had inadequate land as well as employees working in the manufacturing sector during the serfdom era.

The process of peasant transformation continued until the late 1880s when the proletariat class was completely formed. The industrial workers, who were an emerging class, formed the majority of the permanent wageworkers. Between the late 1880s and early 1890s, there was a tremendous increase in the number of stable wage laborers in European Russia.

However, the number was higher in areas that had more developed industries. For example, St. Petersburg had about 89.2 percent of permanent wageworkers, whereas Moscow had approximately 80.2 percent.

The period 1861 witnessed the emergence of a peasant class, the proto-capitalists known as the Kulak. The Kulak grew in power and wealth to the extent of owning the means of production such as livestock and machinery. They hired peasants as laborers and even owned tracts of land. However, the Alexander reforms began to exclude peasants from the control of the Kulaks. Initially, the Kulaks derived excess profits from the peasants’ labor by selling farm products at exorbitant prices while paying meager wages to the peasants.

The much-anticipated reforms by the peasants were not forthcoming. In addition, the Russian government did not derive economic development from the new reforms. Therefore, in the 1870s, the government started to invest in infrastructural programs such as construction of the railway.

The construction of the Trans-Siberian railway began under Sergei Witte, who was a mathematician mandated by the government to oversee the construction and planning of the railway (Metzer 530). The railway made enormous contributions to the transport sector by opening up the remote areas of Russia and facilitating the construction of more industries. The railway also provided access to more resources such as mines and dams. As a result, the industrial economy continued to progress rapidly unlike in the previous period.

However, the growth of industries and the economic transformation brought more harm than good to the landless peasants and the working class who flocked into the cities in search of employment. For example, from 1890 to1900, St. Petersburg recorded an enormous increase in population.

The main challenge at the time was the lack of employment. In the industrial units, the people were forced to work for lengthy periods doing boring and risky tasks. The increase in population in urban towns was not at par with the increase in housing facilities.

Most employers, therefore, decided to accommodate their workers in poorly constructed houses that were unhygienic and had poor heating. The conditions in the factories and homes of the laborers exposed them to revolutionary ideas that led to the formation of a social class movement.

Reasons for the Workers’ Revolt

Poverty was one of the main challenges that the peasants faced. By 1916, nearly three-quarters of the people in Russia were peasants who practiced agriculture in small villages.

In addition, they were required to pay a fraction of their profits to the government, which left most of them indebted to the authorities. Members of many families left their homes in search of better work opportunities in the factories. Attempts to control the peasants were widely rejected by most of the peasants who wished to have autonomy over their means of production.

By the 1890s, the Russian industrialization was largely characterized by an increase in ironworkers, factories and other aspects of an industrial society (Kahan 466). Many people, especially the peasants, moved into cities to look for greener pastures to improve the quality of their lives. In the early twentieth century, cities like Moscow were congested with people.

Life in these cities was characterized by poor housing, bad wages and inhumane treatment at the workplaces. The urban workforce, having retained land in the village, maintained links with the peasants. Therefore, new socialist movements developed due to the extensive oppression. The movements spread from one city to another and mobilized other workers to join them under socialism.

The Tsarist regime lacked true representative bodies that could agitate for the freedom of workers. There was limited freedom of expression and elected bodies such as the Duma were ignored by the Tsar (Hemenway 190). Newspapers and books were censored, and secret police suppressed any socialist movements by executing or sending their leaders to exile in Siberia (Hemenway, 191). Tsar’s regime was also tyrannical, which formed the basis of dissatisfaction that initiated the revolution.

Another cause of the revolt against the Russian government was the mistreatment of military officers. The Russian military recruited a large number of soldiers who were treated inhumanely. The level of mistreatment of the soldiers surpassed the maltreatment of the common citizens.

Therefore, the soldiers began to advocate dignity and better living conditions. For example, the professional class of officers tried to engage Tsar’s government to provide them with better housing without success. As the war took a new dimension, the army continued to languish in isolation and neglect from Duma itself. However, the influence of the Bolsheviks in 1917 seemed to offer these essential provisions to the military officers.

During the 1890s, there was a growing population of the peasants who formed part of the civil society. This group of people was educated and knowledgeable in politics. They took their children to schools and encouraged them to work for the community as opposed to the existing regime. The young enlightened generation began to politicize most of the events that took place in Russia. For example, the severe famine that occurred in the early 1890s was blamed purely on the ineffectiveness of Tsar’s government.

In addition, it was alleged that the rulers lacked knowledge about the welfare of the peasants because most of the peasants did not have contact with the working class. Therefore, they decided to call upon the unity of all workers and demanded that the Tsarist regime provides a solution to most of their problems. When he failed to meet their demands, many of them joined the socialist movement and turned against the government in 1917 (Fitz 64).

The State of Workers During and After World War One

Industries remained in a dormant state in the period between 1905 and 1917. The state of dormancy was an indicator of unpreparedness for the First World War by the Russian government. In addition, the Russians did not have efficient ammunitions and good means of transportation. Despite the unpreparedness, many workers were conscripted into the army directly from the factories. However, during the war, the workers left the battlefield and went back home to fight against the landowners to secure some wealth for themselves.

The Russian soldiers were demoralized due to the lack of proper ammunition. They were further disheartened by the loss of Poland in 1915, which acted as Russia’s industrial and transportation base (Butt 128). Furthermore, the abdication of Nicholas II following the 1917 revolution slowed down economic growth and industrialization.

In addition, the year 1917 witnessed an organized revolt from workers particularly women, wives and mothers who agitated for reforms in politics, food and fuel. Tsar decided to send the military and police to calm the rioters, but instead another sixty thousand Petrograd troops joined the demonstrators (Fitz 66).

Two opposing powers emerged immediately after the defeat of the Tsar regime. The provisional government, which was headed by Kerensky, consisted of the Duma leaders (Fitz 69). The Soviet committee, which was appointed by rebel fighters and employees, formed the other faction.

A new system of governance initiated new rules such as the liberation of political prisoners as well as the protection of the civilians. On the other hand, Leon Trotsky claimed to be a leader in the government. He even went as far as negotiating for social reforms with the German government on behalf of his country.

The Bolsheviks, who formed the majority of socialist movements, deposed the provisional government under the leadership of Vladimir or Lenin (Carr 75). However, the Bolsheviks were divided given that the radical group favored active revolutionaries while the conservative faction preferred socialist revolution.

Furthermore, the Mensheviks agitated for socialism. The Bolsheviks adopted the Marxist ideology through the organization of industrial workers who needed leadership for the revolt (Marx, 20). Immediately, Lenin called for an end to the war against Germany while agitating for better living conditions and distribution of land to the peasants (Carr 79). Eventually, Lenin obtained power and focused on the welfare of the peasants. Other changes included giving of factories to workers and nationalizing of banks (Catephones 30).

Workers during the Post-War Period

Russia’s post-civil war period was in a state of ‘war communism.’ The Bolsheviks tried to introduce measures to prevent the collapse of the economy (Fitz 66). These rules included privatization of consumer goods, abolition of money and introduction of the military to all production facilities. These rules led to a reduction in the number of Bolsheviks employed in industries. Consequently, the output of the industries reduced tremendously.

All these changes culminated with the famine of 1921 that saw the loss of more than five million lives. The dissatisfaction among metropolitan employees developed against the Bolshevik rule. Protests and strikes began in 1920 although they were short-lived because they were crushed by the government (Jonathan and Leonid 215).

Due to the growing agitation, another development plan was adopted by the Bolsheviks. It aimed at enriching peasants in order to increase taxes to the government. This agricultural recovery tactic proved successful due to an increase in the 1924 harvest. However, the peasants produced only what was enough for their consumption and their livestock, which created shortages in the cities.


The regime of Lenin was preceded by the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin as the USSR leader. His plan for 1927 was to improve the state of industrialization. In 1928, he began with acquiring grains from the Urals and Siberia (Carr 90).

By 1929, complete collectivization was already in place and farmers worked as peasants on collective farms owned by the state. Nevertheless, many farmers resisted Stalin’s plan by slaughtering their animals and destroying their agricultural produce. Stalin was angered by the move and retaliated by launching an attack against the peasants.

About 1.5 million peasants were forced out of their land, and their property was destroyed. Most of them were exiled into mediocre provinces found in the northeastern regions of the Soviet. They worked using poor farm tools and lacked government sponsorship. Therefore, they could not produce adequate food.

As a result, about five million lives were lost due to famine. While these events happened, the Bolsheviks reserves were full of grains, which were sold in other areas of the country. Some of it was amassed in preparation for war. From this period onwards, there was no more resistance against the Soviet government. Additionally, the government was forced to distribute land to the peasant families.

Works Cited

Butt, V.P. The Russian Civil War; Documents from the Soviet Archives. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1966. Print.

Carr, Edward Halett. The Russian Revolution from Lenin to Stalin, 1917-1929. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 1979. Print.

Catephones, George. An Introduction to Marxist Economics. Houndmills and London: The Macmillan Press Limited, 1989. Print.

Fitz, Patrick. The Russian Revolution 1917-1932. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982. Print.

Gregory, Paul and Joel Sailors. 1976. “Russian Monetary Policy and Industrialization, 1861-1913,” Journal of Economic History 36.4(1976): 836-851. Print.

Goldman, W. Women, the State and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 1917-1936. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Print.

Hemenway, Elizabeth Jones. “Nicholas in Hell: Rewriting the Tsarist Narrative in the Revolutionary Skazki of 1917.” The Russian Review 60.2.( 2001): 185-204. Print.

Jonathan Dally and Leonid Trofimov. Russia in War and Revolution, 1914-1922. Cambridge: Hackett Publishing, 2009. Print.

Kahan, Arcadius. “Government Policies and the Industrialisation of Russia,” Journal of Economic History 27.4.(1967): 460-477. Print.

Koval’chenko, I. D. “Zavershenie promyshlennogo perevorota: Formirovanie proletariata i burzhuazii.” Ocherki istorii SSSR, 1861–1904. Eds. S S Dmitriev and Valeriĭ Ivanovich Bovykin. Moscow: Gos. uchebno-pedagog. izd-vo, 1960. 86–90. Print.

Metzer, Jacob. “Railroad Development and Market Integration: The Case of Tsarist Russia.” Journal of Economic History 34.3(1974): 529-550. Print.

Marx, Karl. Wage Labour and Capital. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1952. Print.

Mathias Peter. The First Industrial Nation: An Economic History of Britain, 1700-1914. 2nd ed.1983. New York: Routledge. Print.

Zasulich, Vera. “The Working Class Movement in Russia.” Justice 1st May 1897:12-13. Print.

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