Sergei Eisenstein’s Strike (1925): Movie Analysis and Historical Background

Strike (1925), also known as Stachka / Стачка in Russian, was Sergei Eisenstein‘s debut feature-length film. Strike follows the events surrounding an unsuccessful labor strike in 1903 Russia. The film shows that the legendary director had already formulated many of the principles that would accompany him for the rest of his career. While it isn’t as perfected as some of his later works, it is nonetheless compelling, poetic, and just as beautiful.

Strike is worth seeing for reasons besides historical curiosity. It is a notable example of the Soviet Montage Movement’s groundbreaking techniques and creative vision. Eisenstein, a philosopher of cinema, did not invent montage, but he did investigate the broader dimensions of its possibilities in a way that no one else had done before. Eisenstein’s work is much more than just state-sponsored propaganda. It is a stunning work of art realized through a deftly structured narrative because it’s a film that demonstrates mastery of cinema’s distinct visual language.

Analysis of Strike (1925) (Spoilers ahead)

Three common threads run through this silent film. It depicts the pre-revolutionary history, collective narration, and collision montage.

A screengrab from Strike 1925
A screengrab from Strike 1925

Strike begins during the dying days of the Tsarist era, just prior to the Bolshevik-led revolution and the foundation of a Communist Russia. As the title suggests, the film is about a group of insurgent laborers organizing a big strike at a large industry. It depicts the strikers’ tensions, sufferings, and finally, the tragedy at the hands of the ruling class and the Russian government’s strong arm.

Strike, like Eisenstein’s other films, delivers a narrative through collective experience rather than an individual experience. This method emphasizes proletariat principles of organization and fighting for the common good. Rather than following a single protagonist through a series of events, Strike gives us a convoluted mosaic of all aspects involved in the motive behind the strike, and the violence that ensues. Strike is enormous and frenetic, yet it never becomes chaotic. It depicts the proletarian campaign in remarkable detail throughout the course of its six episodes.

A screengrab from the film
A screengrab from the film

Given that 80 percent of Russians were illiterate at the time, Eisenstein’s attempt to express political messages through a completely visual language makes sense. Strike gently introduces the audience to the filmmaker’s hallmark use of collective storytelling and collision montage. In the first episode of the film, Eisenstein quite directly establishes his use of montage as a visual metaphor. He achieves that by displaying a shot of an animal, immediately followed by the corresponding striker. As a result, Eisenstein sets up his viewers for the payoff of this technique at the end of the film. The army’s massacre of the laborers is juxtaposed with gruesome visuals of cattle slaughter. The meaning is obvious and shocking in its impact, conveyed clearly through cinematic depiction.

Historical Background behind The Strike

Strike (1925) is based on a huge political strike that took place in Transcaucasia and Ukraine in July and August 1903, involving up to 200,000 workers. On July 1, 1903, the general strike began as a strike by Baku workers. The Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP)’s lskra committees spearheaded the initiative. The committees distributed pamphlets and worked out economic and political demands with workers’ representatives. The nationwide strike was mostly political in nature.

The struggle was waged under the slogan “Down with autocracy! Long live the democratic republic!”. Among other things, the strikers demanded an eight-hour workweek and greater wages. Metalworkers were at the forefront of the strikes. Demonstrations, mass rallies, and meetings were held in conjunction. The national strike aided in the unification and political education of southern Russia’s working masses. It bolstered ties between RSDLP committees in different cities, by removing Zubatovshchina (police-supervised trade unionism) from the labor movement’s path. It also contributed to the growth of solidarity among workers, and played a great role in the intensification of the revolutionary crisis in the country.

The Conclusion

Unlike many other debuts, Strike doesn’t show us a talented rookie filmmaker establishing his footing before his later masterpieces. Rather, Eisenstein is a confident director who understands what he needs to contribute to the still-emerging medium. Strike is mandatory watching for someone genuinely curious about cinema’s development, history, prospective aesthetic, and political power.

Swaham Mohanty

I am just another socially awkward human-being, trying my hands on writing.

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