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Lena Goldfields Massacre


The Lena Goldfields Massacre of April 4, 1912, shook Russian society and rekindled the revolutionary and workers' movements after the post1905 repression. The shooting occurred during a strike at the gold fields on the upper branches of the Lena River to the northeast of Lake Baikal. The Lena Goldfields Company, owned by prominent Russian and British investors, had recently established a monopoly of the region's mines, which produced most of Russia's gold. Individuals of the highest government rank held managerial positions in the company. The fact that Russia's currency was on the gold standard further enhanced the company's significance. Especially after the joint shocks of the RussoJapanese War and the Revolution of 1905, the ruble's health in association with renewed economic expansion vitally concerned the imperial government. When the strike broke out during late February 1912 in protest of generally poor conditions, the government and company officials in St. Petersburg naturally wished to limit the strike. These hopes were frustrated by a group of employees and workers, political exiles with past socialist and strike experience, who provided careful advice to the strikers. Consequently, the workers avoided overstepping the boundaries of legal strike activity. Company officials refused to meet the main strike demands, including a shorter workday and higher pay. Workers, whose patience had been tried by repeated company violations of the work contract and existing labor laws, as confirmed by the chief mining inspector and the governor of Irkutsk province, refused to end the strike without real concessions.

Working closely with company officials, the government sent a company of soldiers to join the small contingent already on duty near the mines and finally, after all negotiations failed, decided to break the fiveweek impasse by arresting the strike leaders. This illadvised action carried out on April 3 only strengthened the workers' resolve. On April 4, a large crowd of unarmed miners headed for the administration building to petition for the release of the leaders. Alarmed by the sudden appearance of four thousand workers, police and army officers ordered the soldiers to open fire. Roughly five hundred workers were shot, about half mortally. Subsequently, the official government investigative commission under Senator Sergei Manukhin blamed the company and high government officials both for the conditions that underlay the strike and for the shooting.

The shooting unleashed a firestorm of protest against the government and the company, including in the press and in the State Duma. Especially damaging were accusations of collusion between state and company officials aimed at using force to end the peaceful strike. Even groups normally supportive of the government levied a barrage of criticism. On a scale not seen since 1905, strikes broke out all over Russia and did not cease until the out-break of World War I. The revolutionary parties also swung into action with leaflets and demonstrations. The oppositionist movement found its cause inadvertently aided when Minister of the Interior Nikolai Makarov asserted to the State Duma about the shooting: "Thus it has always been and thus it will always be." This phrase, which caused an additional firestorm of protest, seemed to symbolize the government's stance toward laboring Russia. Spurred by the shooting and the government's attitude, revolutionary activities again plagued the tsarist regime, now permanently stamped as perpetrator of the Lena Goldfields Massacre.

See also: october revolution; revolution of 1905; workers


Melancon, Michael. (1993). "The Ninth Circle: The Lena Goldfield Workers and the Massacre of 4 April 1912." Slavic Review 53(3):766-795.

Melancon, Michael. (2002). "Unexpected Consensus: Russian Society and the Lena Massacre, April 1912." Revolutionary Russia 15(2):1-52.

Michael Melancon

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