Introducing the Year 1905: Centennial of Struggle

Against the Current, No. 114, January/February 2005

The Editors

THE YEAR 1905 stands out as the onset of an era of explosive anticapitalist struggle—all the more so 100 years later, when we feel stranded in a neoliberal ice age. Looking back at the events of that year helps give some perspective on how rapidly consciousness and levels of struggle can change.

During the year 2005, Against the Current will present a retrospective on the events of 1905 and their enduring relevance.  The most famous of these was the First Russian Revolution, which has gained preeminent historical status as it foreshadowed 1917, the first proletarian socialist revolution.

The emergence of Workers’ Councils (soviets); the Mass Strike in Russia and Rosa Luxemburg’s famous interpretation of its meaning; the tendency of the “bourgeois democratic” struggle to merge with socialist goals, the dynamic sometimes called Permanent Revolution; all these features of the 1905 Revolution remain worthy of new exploration and will be discussed in coming issues.

But 1905 was not only about Russia.  It was a year when a strike of super-exploited laborers in Guyana rapidly took on qualities of a popular insurrection, until suppressed by a British expeditionary naval force.  Nigel Westmaas, in this issue of ATC, reviews the record of this too-little-known Caribbean upheaval.

In the United States, 1905 saw the publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, a brilliant novel and all too realist depiction of conditions in the slaughterhouse industry of Chicago.  A centenary edition of this classic that changed meatpacking is being published this year; an excerpt from the new Introduction, by ATC advisory editor Christopher Phelps, will appear in our next issue (ATC 115).  June, 1905 witnessed the founding of the leading indigenous American revolutionary industrial union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or “wobblies”).  We have several features in preparation to discuss the IWW’s contributions.

Like every other development in labor’s centuries-long struggle for emancipation, the Guyana strike, the Russian Revolution and the IWW all had their unique qualities and contradictions.  But their lessons and inspiration are an indelible part of the legacy of struggle passed to new generations.  It was not only in Guyana but internationally that, as Nigel Westmaas concludes, “1905 was not in vain.”
—The Editors

ATC 114, January-February 2005