1912: The Lena Massacre or Lena Execution takes place. Gold miners working in northeast Siberia near the Lena River went on strike. The gold fields were owned by Lena Goldfields, a company registered and traded in London, Paris, and St. Petersburg. Most of the shares were owned by Russian businessmen and managed by Russian investors with a substantial portion (about 20%) own by British interests. The gold mines produced large profits for the shareholders but the working conditions were harsh in the extreme. Miners worked fifteen to sixteen hours a day and for every 1,000 miners, there were over 700 accidents. The men were paid low wages and much of that money went to pay fines. Portions of their pay was in the form of coupons used to purchase food and essentials from the company store.
The miners had been dissatisfied for quite some time, but the immediate cause of the strike came when the company store sold the starving miners rotten meat. On March 13, they spontaneously walked out. On March 17 they issued a list of demands: 8-hour workdays, a 30% rise in wages, cessations of fines, and improvement of food delivery. Nothing was done to relieve the horrific conditions. While the original walkout was at only one mine, it soon expanded and over 6,000 workers throughout the region walked off the job. The tsarist government sent troops in to do something.
All the members of the strike committee were arrested. On this day, the workers demanded the release of their leaders and by afternoon about 2,500 of them marched towards the Nadezhdinsky goldfield to deliver a complaint to the prosecutor’s office regarding the arbitrariness of the authorities. The soldiers who had been sent in were blocking the way and under orders of Captain Treshchenkov, they began shooting into the crowd. The local newspaper, Zvezda, reported 270 dead and 250 wounded in the massacre.
News spread and outraged workers around Russia began to strike and protest. The miners were offered a new and unsatisfactory contract. Over 300,000 people participated in strikes and protests through the rest of April with over 700 strikes held. There were 1,000 strikes held on May 1 in the St. Petersburg area alone. These uprising continued through August 25 when the last of the miners withdrew from the mines and moved elsewhere. Over 9,000 miners and their families abandoned the region. Lenin argued that the miners were the spark that lit the fire of the revolutionary spirit in Russia.
The Lena shots broke the ice of silence, and the river of popular resentment is flowing again. The ice has broken. It has started! – Joseph Stalin
So it was. So it will be. – Minister Maklokov dismissing the massacre
The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. – Steven Biko
We draw our strength from the very despair in which we have been forced to live. We shall endure. – Cesar Chavez