Southern Union of Russian Workers

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Southern Union of Russian Workers


(Iuzhnoros-siiskii Soiuz Rabochikh), the first revolutionary workers’ political organization in Russia. The union was founded in Odessa in 1875, a major contributing factor being the city’s rapid development as a commercial and industrial center and port with a heavy concentration of workers from various parts of Russia.

Russian revolutionary literature came to Odessa from abroad. From 1872 to 1874 various groups were engaged in propaganda activities among workers’ self-education circles; these groups—namely, Odessa’s Chaikovskii circle (headed by F. V. Volkhov-skii), the circle of the brothers Zhebunev, and I. M. Koval’skii’s circle—prepared the ground for the founding of the Southern Union of Russian Workers.

In early 1875, under the leadership of E. O. Zaslavskii, the workers’ circles at several plants (including the Bellino-Fenderich and Goulier-Blanchard plants) established a savings and loan fund—later called the Fraternal Fund of Odessa Workers—which formed the nucleus of the union. At a meeting held in July 1875, the fund’s members formally established the union and adopted its name and charter. The charter (written by Zaslavskii, who was influenced by the charter of the First International) declared that the workers could win recognition of their rights “only by means of a violent revolution that will abolish all privileges and advantages and make labor the basis of individual and social well-being.”

The union’s goals were propagation of the idea of the workers’ liberation from the yoke of capital and their unification for the struggle against the economic and political system. What sharply distinguished the union’s charter from the other Populist programs of the first half of the 1870’s was its formulation of the need for political struggle. In the words of V. I. Lenin, Russia’s first workers’ organizations “demanded political rights for the people, they wanted to wage a struggle for those rights, but at that time the Russian socialists mistakenly considered the political struggle a deviation from socialism” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 4, p. 245). The charter of the Southern Union of Russian Workers failed to express a clear notion of the class struggle of the proletariat, and on the whole it did not extend beyond the Populist world view.

The union established contacts with workers in Rostov and Kishinev. The Odessa section of the union was made up of six groups, consisting of workers from the Bellino-Fenderich and Blanchard plants, typesetters, goldsmiths, and workers from the railroad shops and from the Slobodka-Romanovka district. The union had up to 60 members; around them were grouped 150 to 200 workers sympathetic to their cause. The most active members, such as F. I. Kravchenko, N. B. Naddachin, S. S. Naumov, M. P. Skveri, I. O. Rybitskii, and M. Ia. Liakhovich, engaged in propaganda work, encouraged the workers to read illegal publications, recruited new members into the union, and helped organize two strikes. Responding to the struggle of the Slavic peoples in the Balkans, members of the union raised money for the Hercegovinian rebels; they established contacts with emigres and received illegal publications from London.

As a result of betrayal, the union was broken up in late 1875-early 1876, and 15 members were brought to trial. They were tried by the Special Session of the Senate on May 23–27, 1877, this being the first case of a political trial of revolutionary workers. Zaslavskii, Rybitskii, and Kravchenko were sentenced to hard labor, and the others to various terms of imprisonment and exile.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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