Stachka (Strike) (1925)
Director: Sergei Eisentein.
Starring: Maksim Shtraukh (Police Spy), Grigori Aleksandrov (Factory Foreman), Mikhail Gomorov (Worker), I. Ivanov (Chief of Police), Ivan Klyukvin (Revolutionary), Aleksandr Antonov (Member of Strike Committee), Yudif Glizer (Queen of Thieves), Anatoli Kuznetsov, Vera Yanukova, Vladimir Uralsky, M. Mamin.
strike in Russian locomotive factory; directed by Sergei Eisenstein
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
"The strength of the working class is organization. Without organization of the masses, the proletariat is nothing. Organized, it is everything. Being organized means unity of action, the unity of practical activity." Lenin, 1907
Part One. All is Calm at the Factory.
The big, fat capitalist is laughing at the workers. In the halls of the offices people run around like ants after their nest has been disturbed. All is calm, but trouble is brewing. Some workers hurry to speak to the director (the heavy fellow smoking a cigar). They report to him and he lays down the law. The director calls his superior, the mill owner, carefully going through the hierarchy. The mill owner calls the police and the police call the secret police.
The head of the secret police tells his assistant: "Get me the files on the factory district." The assistant comes back with a huge pile of large folders. These folders hold the information of "private agents".
There is a list of agents who spy: the Monkey, the Quiet One, the Patriarch, the Fellow-Countryman, Zoya, Bulldog, the Fox, the Tailor, the Shepherd, the Owl and the Fly-by-Night. Some of the agents are called in. Preparations are made. The agents disguise themselves in various costumes. One fellow disguises himself as a blind man asking for alms. Another becomes a sidewalk ice cream vendor. And then there's the organ grinder with the dancing bear.
A group of activists at the factory meet and talk. One fellow says: "They've pushed us into a corner, so we've got to strike." Another group meets in bathing suits at the anchor of a ship. They see the spy known as the Owl and have to disperse immediately. Another group meets in the bathroom. "They're stirring up the people." "Circles with accordion accompaniment." These people meet in the open countryside.
There is a supervisor watching the men. Using a crane on a railway car, the men knock down the supervisor by hitting him with the huge iron wheel at the end of the crane's chain. The supervisor gets up and yells at the men: "You've become even more insolent, you scum."
Meanwhile, the Bolshevik underground prints out calls to strike.
The men are starting to take action. They place announcements everywhere in the factories.
Another fellow says: "Enough of patience. Let's go out on strike, Comrades, into the struggle."
Part Two: A Reason to Strike.
The micrometer (costing 25 rubles) is stolen. A worker named Yakov Strongen searches frantically for the micrometer. The punishment is a loss of three weeks pay. The fellow can't find the micrometer so he goes to the office to report the missing micrometer. The supervisor is suspicious saying: "We haven't had any thieves before!" The supervisor and another man in the office then start laughing at the worker reporting the loss. The worker threatens to punch out the two fellows, when the manager arrives. The manager calls the worker a thief. The worker is really furious. He goes back to his work station, sits down on a work table and throws his hat down on the ground.
Yakov Strongen, who was accused of being a thief, hangs himself in the factory. The other workers cut him down. The supervisor comings running over and shouting: "Break it up!" He starts pushing the men away. A man threatens to hit the supervisor, but the fool keeps acting like he's invulnerable. So the men grab the supervisor and rough him up. The shout goes out: "Stop work!" The workers start leaving the factory throwing their tools down on the ground. And now the child laborers come running. They are excited to be a part of the strike.
The workers tell a co-worker to blow the whistle but the big man tells them to go to hell. This starts a fight as two men try to take the man on. The big man tosses the men around, but two other guys join in. They eventually flip the reluctant co-worker head-first into a vat of cement. Now the workers blow the whistle.
Outside one workers shouts: "To the Old Foundry." The men at the Old Foundry resist the onslaught of the other workers. The striking boys, however, know how to get in. They climb up some side stairs. Now the locomotive operators leave their work. The men grab stones and start breaking every window in the Old Foundry. The women workers stream in to join with the male workers. The Old Foundry is taken!
Now someone shouts: "To the office, comrades!" Management runs to the telephones to call for help. Another worker shouts: "Don't open the gates! Let no one in or out!" The men, women and children gather into one big group and they listen to their emerging leaders. A speaker yells: "Ours is the power, if united to struggle against capital."
People run through the management office grabbing things. They put one of the top bosses in a wheel barrow and role him out for all to see. They take him over to the embankment of the river and roll him down the side and into the river. Now they grab the supervisor and send him rolling down the embankment and into the river water.
Part Three. The Plant Stood Stock-still.
The first days. Things are a lot quieter now. A little kid tells his dad to get out of bed and go to work, but dad isn't working today. Pigeons and crows start landing inside the silent factory buildings. There is a lot more family activity as everyone is home instead of at work.
The fat capitalist has wine with his meal. He gets many orders handed to him and gets upset because he can't fulfill the orders with the strike on. The comment is made: "Everything on which their thrones rest is made by the workers' hands." The capitalist nervously paces back and forth in his office.
Certain groups of workers form to write up their labor demands. They demand an eight hour work day; fair treatment by management; and a 30% increase in wages.
At the police station the men are polishing up their boots because they know they will see some action soon.
The factory stockholders get together. There are only four of them altogether, including the mill owner. One of them reads the demands, such as a six hour work day for minors. One of the fellows says: "This is impudence!" Policemen riding on horses start working their way down through the workers' housing areas. After the stock holders meeting the booze is brought out and consumed.
An outdoor meeting of some of the workers is taking place. Someone notices the police on horses are gathering at the top of the hill. The people start running. The police charge them. The people run out of the woods and into a field. Then one of their leaders tells them all to just sit down! While the fat cats smoke their cigars and drink their booze, the police on horseback keeping charging the people, but the horses won't run into the tightly packed crowd. They stop right where the outer edge of the circle of people begins. When the fat cats spill something, they use the list of worker demands to clean it up. And yet management will write: "The administration, having considered the workers' demands with the utmost care . . . "
Some of the workers gamble outdoors. This often leads to fights among the men. Late at night, the stockholders retire to their homes.
Part Four. The Strike Drags On.
"Notice. Food store closed for repairs." People soon become very hungry. Husbands and wives are at each others' throats. The tobacco pouches become empty. Now daddies are very short with their children. People are on the prowl. The Monkey follows two others, but almost gets beat up when the two guys catch him following them. The Owl also watches by day.
The administration rejects all the workers' demands. The Owl sees a worker taking down the management notice. He take photos of the man in the act. In the evening the Owl turns over the photos to the police. The head of security then gives the photo to agent Monkey. In the night the agent and one other agent grab the man who took down management's notice. The worker fights hard and gets away from the two men, but two policemen come to help the two agents. The worker is taken down to police headquarters where the police beat him and kick him when he's down. The head of security gets the man to become an agent (to escape six years of hard labor in prison and to get some money for being an agent).
The head of security has the coerced worker-agent look through various photos of workers in order to identify the men. The worker-agent identifies a man in one photo as a leader and a dangerous fellow.
The worker leaders meet to discuss matters. One of the first questions considered is: "Who is for continuing the strike?" Most of them are.
An arrest warrant is issued for the identified leader.
Part Five. The Provocation to Disaster.
In reference to two dead cats being hung up, the comment is that the Czar's policemen are not squeamish. A policeman goes to the "king" of the homeless thieves and conmen offering him a shady deal. The king goes and selects five unscrupulous people to help with the shady deal. He easily gets his people, because they are all unscrupulous.
Agent Monkey works in wholesale, while agent Owl works in retail. Monkey follow two suspicious men.
The War Council. The homeless men meet together in front of State liquor Store No. 135. They set the liquor store on fire. A procession of workers just passing by, when an explosion is heard. The workers go over to the liquor store to see what's up. The king and his boys start throwing things from the upper floors onto the crowd below. Meanwhile, the police are guarding the fire alarm to make sure no one pulls it and foils their plan. A woman, however, gets past the police and sounds the fire alarm.
One of the worker leaders shouts to his comrades: "They're trying to incite us! Don't be provoked." Meanwhile the provocateurs are getting high on drinking the liquor in the liquor store. The worker leader yells: "Provocateurs are here working with the police. Everybody go home, comrades." The people start going home. Some of the unscrupulous provocateurs start getting hurt by burning objects falling down on top of them.
Firemen arrive, but they turn their water hoses not on the fires but on the workers going home. A large group of workers reach a dead end in their attempts to escape. The firemen keep up with the water hosing. The people struggle for a way out and find one. The firemen start literally to flush out the leaders. They catch one of the leaders who is beat down by the water and then grabbed by the police.
Part Six. Liquidation.
"In the factory district a State Liquor Store was smashed, looted and burned by the strikers. The crowd was dispersed with water hoses. The situation in the district is tense. There is fear of further unrest. Troops have been sent to the district by order of the Governor."
The first strike. Troops are used to disperse some strikers. A child gets lose from his/her mother and winds up sitting under one of the horses. When the mother goes to retrieve her child, she is beaten by the soldier. She calls out to her comrades for help. The people end up attacking the troops. Some of the soldiers are pulled from their horses. Finally, the tables are turned and the people flee the troops. Someone shouts: "To the forge, comrades, to the sledge hammers." Now there are hundreds of people running from the troops. People are running around everywhere trying to get away from the troops.
A woman gets trapped in a dead end area and gets repeatedly lashed with a horse whip. The troops follow the strikers up to their apartments. A fellow falls from a third floor and is killed. A soldier throws a little girl down three stories to her death.
The police at headquarters have a big laugh about this. The captured workers' leader says: "You can't put them all in prison. Our boys will hold out." This just makes them laugh even harder. A policeman tells the worker-agent that they have already squashed the activity in his little home district, so why doesn't he come over to their side? They could do something for the worker. The worker gets angry and hits the policeman in the face. He then calls out: "Back to my cell!
Carnage. Workers are still running from the troops. A cow is killed and then it is opened up with a knife to bleed out. The defeat. There are hundreds of dead people on the ground.
"And like bloody unforgettable scars on the body of the proletariat lay the wounds of Lena, Talka, Zlataust, Yaro, Slavl, Tsaritsin and Kosteroma."
Eisenstein is very creative in the way he puts films together. Some of the scenes dealing with the ruthless capitalists are so verging on the ridiculous that laughter, or at least chuckling, is the result. He also uses to a certain extent that technique known as the big faces where he highlights the faces of certain people; faces that almost fill the full screen. There are no real stand-out stars in this production. The collective unit of the proletariat is emphasized rather than certain key proletarians. By not focusing on one or more families, the deaths of the workers don't mean as much to the viewer. They are just "workers" en masse and not a sympathetic character named Lena, Talka, Zlataust, Yaro, Slavl, Tsaritsin or Kosteroma. Without the chance for empathy, the film just can't have the same impact as a film that uses identifiable, sympathetic characters. You see hundreds of dead strikers, but you don't know any of them. In a certain sense, this strike could stand for most of the strikes during the period of the labor movements' fights for recognition and better working conditions. Many of the early strikes could be described in the general terms used in this Russian film.
The only names of people used in the film were the nicknames of the secret agents and they certainly weren't sympathetic characters. But Eisenstein probably had to follow this "communist" formula with the result being a less effective film.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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