The Communist Left in Russia: Manifesto of the Workers’ Group of the Russian Communist Party (Part 1)

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The Communist Left in Russia The Manifesto of the Workers' Group of the Russian Communist Party

We are publishing below the Manifesto of the Workers' Group of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik), often called, from the name of one of its most visible leaders, the "Miasnikov Group" (see note 1 at end of article). This group formed part of what is called the Communist Left,[1] on the same basis as other groups in Russia itself and in other parts of the world, particularly in Europe. The different expressions of this current found their origin in the reaction to the opportunist degeneration of the parties of the Third International and of soviet power in Russia. They represented a proletarian response in the form of left currents, like those that had existed previously faced with the development of opportunism in the Second International.

Our introduction

In Russia itself, from 1918, left fractions appeared within the Bolshevik Party,[2] expressions of different disagreements with its politics.[3] This is in itself proof of the proletarian character of Bolshevism. Because it was a living expression of the working class, the only class that can make a radical and continuous critique of its own practice, the Bolshevik Party perpetually generated revolutionary fractions out of its own body. At every step in its degeneration voices were raised inside the party in protest, groupings were formed inside the party, or split from it, to denounce the betrayals of Bolshevism's original programme. Only when the party had been buried by its Stalinist gravediggers did these fractions no longer spring from it. The Russian left communists were all Bolsheviks; it was they who defended a continuity with the Bolshevism of the heroic years of the revolution, while those who slandered, persecuted and exterminated them, no matter how exalted their names, were the ones who were breaking with the essence of Bolshevism.

Lenin's withdrawal from political life was one of the factors which precipitated an open crisis in the Bolshevik Party. On the one hand, the bureaucratic faction consolidated its grip on the party, initially in the form of the "triumvirate" formed by Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev, an unstable bloc whose main cement was the will to isolate Trotsky. The latter, meanwhile, although with considerable hesitation, was compelled to move towards an overtly oppositional stance within the party.

At the same time, the Bolshevik regime was faced with new difficulties on the economic and social front. In the summer of 1923, the first clear crisis of the "market economy" installed by the NEP menaced the equilibrium of the whole economy. Just as the NEP had been introduced to counter the excessive state centralisation of war communism, which had resulted in the crisis of 1921, so now it became evident that the liberalisation of the economy had exposed Russia to some of the more classic difficulties of capitalist production. These economic difficulties, and above all the government's response to them - a policy of wage and job-cuts, like in any "normal" capitalist state - in turn aggravated the condition of the working class, which was already at the limits of impoverishment. By August-September 1923 a rash of spontaneous strikes had begun to spread through the main industrial centres.

The triumvirate, which was above all interested in preserving the status quo, had begun to see the NEP as the royal road to socialism in Russia; this view was theorised especially by Bukharin, who had moved from the extreme left to the right wing of the party, and who preceded Stalin in working out a theory of socialism in one country, albeit "at a snail's pace" thanks to the development of a "socialist" market economy. Trotsky on the other hand had already begun to call for more state centralisation and planning in response to the country's economic difficulties. But the first definite statement of opposition from within the leading circles of the party was the Platform of the 46, submitted to the Politburo in October 1923. The 46 was made up both of those who were close to Trotsky, such as Piatakov and Preobrazhinsky, and elements of the Democratic Centralism group like Sapranov, V Smirnov and Ossinski. It is not insignificant that Trotsky's signature was not on the document: the fear of being considered part of a faction (factions having been banned in 1921) certainly played a part in this. Nevertheless, his open letter to the Central Committee, published in Pravda in December 1923, and his pamphlet The New Course, expressed very similar concerns, and definitively placed him in the opposition's ranks.

The Platform of the 46 was initially a response to the economic problems facing the regime. It took up the cudgels for greater state planning against the pragmatism of the dominant apparatus and its tendency to elevate the NEP into an immutable principle. This was to be a constant theme of the left opposition around Trotsky - and as we shall see, not one of its strengths. More important was the urgent warning it issued about the stifling of the party's internal life.[4]

At the same time, the Platform distanced itself from what it referred to as "morbid" opposition groups, even if it saw the latter as expressions of the crisis within the party. This was undoubtedly a reference to currents like the Workers' Group around Miasnikov and Bogdanov's Workers' Truth which had emerged around the same time. Shortly afterwards, Trotsky took a similar view:  a rejection of their analyses as too extreme, while at the same time seeing them as manifestations of the unhealthy state of the party. Trotsky was also unwilling to collaborate in the methods of repression aimed at eliminating these groups.

In fact, these groups can by no means be dismissed as "morbid" phenomena. It is true that the Workers' Truth group expressed a certain trend towards defeatism and even Menshevism: as with most of the currents within the German and Dutch left, its insights into the rise of state capitalism in Russia were weakened by a tendency to put into question the October revolution itself, seeing it as a more or less progressive bourgeois revolution.[5]

This is not the case at all with the Workers' Group of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik), led by long-standing worker-Bolsheviks like Miasnikov, Kuznetsov and Moiseev. The group first came to prominence by distributing its Manifesto in April-May 1923, just after to the 13th Congress of the Bolshevik party.  An examination of this text confirms the seriousness of the group, its political depth and perceptiveness.

The text is not devoid of weaknesses. In particular, it is drawn towards the "theory of the offensive", which failed to see the retreat in the international revolution and the consequent necessity for a defensive struggle by the working class; this was the reverse of the coin to the analysis of the Communist International, which saw the retreat in 1921 but which drew largely opportunist conclusions from it. By the same token, the Manifesto adopts the erroneous view that in the epoch of the proletarian revolution, struggles for higher wages no longer have any positive role.

Despite this, the strengths of the document far outweigh its weaknesses:

  • its resolute internationalism. In contrast to Kollontai's Workers' Opposition group, there is not a trace of Russian localism in its analysis. The whole introductory part of the Manifesto deals with the international situation, clearly locating the difficulties of the Russian revolution in the delay of the world revolution, and insisting that the only salvation for the former lies in the revival of the latter:  "The Russian worker has learned to see himself as a soldier in the world army of the international proletariat and to see his class organisations as the regiments of this army. Every time the disquieting question of the destiny of the October revolution is raised, he turns his gaze beyond the frontiers of Russia, to where the conditions for revolution are ripe, but where the revolution does not come";
  • its searing critique of the opportunist policy of the United Front and the slogan of the Workers' Government; the priority accorded to this question is a further confirmation of the group's internationalism, since this was above all a critique of the politics of the Communist International. Nor was the group's position tainted with sectarianism:  it affirmed the need for revolutionary unity between the different communist organisations (such as the KPD and the KAPD in Germany), but completely rejected the CI's call for a bloc with the social democratic traitors, its spurious new argument that the Russian revolution had succeeded precisely though the Bolsheviks' clever use of the United Front tactic:  "...the tactic that will lead the insurgent proletariat to victory is not that of the United Front, but the bloody, uncompromising fight against these bourgeois fractions with their confused socialist terminology. Only this combat can lead to victory:  the Russian proletariat won not by allying with the Socialist Revolutionaries, the populists and the Mensheviks, but by struggling against them. It is necessary to abandon the tactic of the United Front and warn the proletariat that these bourgeois fractions - in today's period, the parties of the Second International - will at the decisive moment take up arms for the defence of the capitalist system";
  • its interpretation of the dangers facing the Soviet state - the threat of "the replacement of the proletarian dictatorship by a capitalist oligarchy". The Manifesto charts the rise of a bureaucratic elite and the political disenfranchisement of the working class, and demands the restoration of the factory committees and above all of the soviets to take over the direction of the economy and the state.[6] For the Workers' Group, the revival of workers' democracy was the only means to counter the rise of the bureaucracy, and it explicitly rejected Lenin's idea that the way forward lay through a shake out of the Workers' Inspection, since this was merely an attempt to control the bureaucracy through bureaucratic means;
  • its profound sense of responsibility. In contrast to the critical notes appended by the KAPD when it published the Manifesto in Germany (Berlin 1924), and which expressed the German left's premature pronunciation of the death of the Russian revolution and the Communist International, the Workers' Group is very cautious about proclaiming the definite triumph of the counter-revolution in Russia or the final death of the International. During the "Curzon crisis" of 1923, when it seemed that Britain might declare war on Russia, the members of the Workers' Group committed themselves to defending the Soviet republic in event of war; and above all, there is not the least hint of any repudiation of the October revolution and of the Bolshevik experience.  In fact, the group's stated attitude to its own role corresponds very closely to the notion of the left fraction as later elaborated by the Italian left in exile. It recognised the necessity to organise itself independently and even clandestinely, but both the group's title (Workers' Group of the Russian Communist Party - Bolshevik), and the content of its Manifesto, demonstrate that it saw itself being in full continuity with the programme and statutes of the Bolshevik Party. It therefore appealed to all healthy elements within the party, both in the leadership and in the different opposition groupings like the Workers' Truth, the Workers' Opposition, and the Democratic Centralists, to regroup and wage a determined struggle for the regeneration of the party and the revolution. And in many ways this was a far more realistic policy than the hope of the "46" that the factional regime in the party would be abolished "in the first instance" by the dominant faction itself. 

In sum, there was nothing morbid in the project of the Workers' Group, and neither was this a mere sect with no influence in the class. Estimates put its membership in Moscow at 200 or so, and it was thoroughly consistent in its advocacy of taking the side of the proletariat in its struggle against the bureaucracy. It thus sought to make an active political intervention in the wildcat strikes of summer-autumn 1923. Indeed it was for this very reason, coupled with the growing political influence of the group within the ranks of the party, that the apparatus unleashed the full force of repression against it. As he had predicted, there was even an attempt to shoot Miasnikov "while trying to escape". Miasnikov survived and though imprisoned and then forced into exile, continued his revolutionary activity abroad for two decades. The group in Russia was more or less crippled by mass arrests, although it is clear from The Russian Enigma, Ante Ciliga's precious account of the opposition groups in prison in the late 20s, that it by no means disappeared completely and continued to influence the "extreme left" of the opposition movement. Nonetheless, this initial repression was a truly ominous moment: it was the first time that an avowedly communist group had suffered direct state violence under the Bolshevik regime.


Manifesto of the Workers' Group of the Russian Communist Party

By way of a preface

Every conscious worker, who cannot remain indifferent to the suffering and torment of his class nor to the titanic struggle that it is undertaking, has certainly reflected more than once on the destiny of our revolution at all stages of its development. Each one understands that his fate is very closely linked to that of the movement of the world proletariat.

We still read in the old Social-Democratic programme that "the development of commerce created a close link between the countries of the civilised world" and that "the movement of the proletariat must become international, and that it has already become such".

The Russian worker has learned to see himself as a soldier in the world army of the international proletariat and to see his class organisations as the regiments of this army. Every time the disquieting question of the destiny of the October revolution is raised, he turns his gaze beyond the frontiers of Russia, to where the conditions for revolution are ripe, but where the revolution does not come.

But the proletarian must not complain, nor lower his head because the revolution doesn't present itself at a given moment. On the contrary, he must pose the question: what is it necessary to do in order for the revolution to happen?

When the Russian worker looks at his own country, he sees a working class which has accomplished the socialist revolution, taken on the hardest trials of the NEP (New Economic Policy), while in front of him stand the increasingly well fed heroes of the NEP.  Comparing their situation to his, he asks himself with disquiet: where are we going exactly?

Then come the bitterest thoughts. The worker has shouldered the entire weight of imperialist and civil war; he is feted in the Russian newspapers as a hero who has spilt his blood in this struggle. But he leads a miserable bread and water existence. On the other hand, those who eat their fill on the torment and misery of others, of those workers who have laid down their arms, live in luxury and magnificence. Where are we going then, and what will come of it? Is it really possible that the "New Economic Policy" is being transformed into the New Exploitation of the Proletariat? What is to be done to avoid this danger?

When these questions are posed on the spot to the worker, he automatically looks backward so as to establish a link between past and present, to understand how we have arrived at such a situation. However bitter and instructive these experiences, the worker finds his bearings in the inextricable network of historic events which have unfolded in front of his eyes.

We want to help him, as far as our forces permit, to understand the facts and if possible show him the road to victory. We don't pretend to be magicians or prophets whose words are sacred or infallible; on the contrary we want all we say submitted to the sharpest criticisms and necessary corrections.

To the communist comrades of every country!

The present state of the productive forces in the advanced countries and particularly in those where capitalism is highly developed gives the proletarian movement of these countries the character of a struggle for the communist revolution, for power to be held by calloused hands, for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Either humanity will be involved in unceasing bourgeois and national wars, engulfed in barbarism and drowning in its own blood; or the proletariat will accomplish its historic mission: to conquer power and to put an end once and for all to the exploitation of man by man, to war between classes, peoples, nations; to plant the flag of peace, of labour and of fraternity.

The armaments race, the precipitous reinforcement of the aerial fleets of Britain, France, America, Japan, etc., threaten us with war of a severity unknown up to now and in which millions of men will perish; the wealth of the towns, factories, enterprises, all that the workers have created through exhausting work, will be destroyed.

It is the task of the proletariat to overthrow its own bourgeoisie. The more quickly that it does so in each country, the more quickly the world proletariat will realise its historic mission.

In order to finish with exploitation, oppression and wars, the proletariat must not struggle for an increase in wages or a reduction in its hours of work. This was necessary in the past, but today it must struggle for power.

The bourgeoisie and oppressors of all types and hues are very satisfied with the Socialists of all countries, precisely because they divert the proletariat away from its essential task which is the struggle against the bourgeoisie and against its regime of exploitation: they continually propose petty demands without showing the least resistance to subjection and violence. In this way, they become, at a certain moment, the sole saviours of the bourgeoisie faced with the proletarian revolution. The great mass of workers gives a distrustful reception to what its oppressors directly propose to it; but if the same thing is presented to it as conforming to their interests and clothed in socialist phrases, then the working class, confused by this language, is confident in the traitors and wastes its force in a useless combat. The bourgeoisie thus hasn't, and never will have, better advocates than the Socialists.

The communist avant-garde must before everything expel from the heads of its class comrades all crass bourgeois ideology and conquer the consciousness of the proletariat in order to lead it to a victorious struggle. But to burn off all this bourgeois debris, it must be with them, the proletarians, sharing all their troubles and labour. When these proletarians, who until now have followed the accomplices of the bourgeoisie, begin to struggle, to go on strike, it should not stand outside blaming them scornfully - it must, on the contrary, stay with them in their struggle, explaining relentlessly that this struggle only serves the bourgeoisie. Similarly, to say a word of truth, one is sometimes forced to stand on a pile of shit (to stand for elections) even when it means soiling honest revolutionary shoes.

Certainly, everything depends on the balance of forces in each country. And in some situations it may not be necessary to stand for elections, or to participate in strikes, but to go into battle directly. One cannot put all countries in the same bag. One must naturally look at all ways to conquer the sympathy of the proletariat; but not at the price of concessions, forgetfulness or renouncing fundamental solutions. All this must be rejected because a mere concern for immediate success leads us to abandon the real solutions, prevents us from guiding the masses, so that instead of trying to lead them, we end up copying them; not winning them over, but being towed by them.

One must never wait for others, remain immobile, because the revolution will not break out simultaneously in every country. One must not excuse one's own indecision by invoking the immaturity of the proletarian movement and still less adopt the following language:  "We are ready for the revolution and even quite strong; but the others are not ready yet; and if we overthrow our own bourgeoisie without the others doing the same, what will happen then?"

Let's suppose that the German proletariat chases out the bourgeoisie and all those who serve it. What will happen? The bourgeoisie and the social traitors will flee far from proletarian anger, turn towards France and Belgium and will entreat Poincaré and co. to settle accounts with the German proletariat. They will go as far as promising France to respect the Treaty of Versailles, perhaps offering them the Rhineland and the Ruhr to boot. That's to say that they will act as the Russian bourgeoisie and its Social Democratic allies did and will do again. Naturally Poincaré will rejoice in such good business:  saving Germany from its proletariat and saving, at the same time, Soviet Russia for the thieves of the entire world. Unfortunately for Poincaré and co., as soon as the workers and peasants who compose the army understand that it is a question of helping the German bourgeoisie and its allies against the German proletariat, then they will turn their arms against their own masters, against Poincaré himself. The latter, in order to save his own skin and that of the French bourgeoisie, will recall his troops, abandon the poor German bourgeoisie with its Socialist allies to their fate, and do so even if the German proletariat tear up the Treaty of Versailles. Poincaré, chased from the Rhine and the Ruhr, will proclaim a peace without annexation or indemnity on the principle of self-determination of the peoples. It will not be difficult for Poincaré to come to an understanding with Cuno and the fascists; but a Germany run by workers' councils will break their backs.  When you have force at your disposal, you have to use it and not go round in circles.

Another danger threatens the German revolution; it is the dispersal of its forces. In the interests of the proletarian world revolution, the whole revolutionary proletariat must unite its efforts. If the victory of the proletariat is unthinkable without a decisive rupture and merciless combat against the enemies of the working class, the social traitors of the Second International who militarily repress the proletarian revolutionary movement in their - so-called free - country, this same victory is unthinkable without the joining of all the forces which have the aim of the communist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. That is why we, the Workers' Group of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) whom we count, organisationally and ideologically, among the parties adhering to the 3rd International, look towards honest revolutionary communist proletarians by appealing to them to unite their forces for the last and decisive battle. We address ourselves to all the parties of the 3rd International as to those of the 4th Communist Workers' International,[7] as well as particular organisations which do not belong to any of these Internationals but who pursue our common aim in order to appeal to them to constitute a united front for the combat and victory.

The initial phase has drawn to a close. The Russian proletariat, by basing itself on the rules of the communist and proletarian revolutionary art, has brought down the bourgeoisie and its lackeys of every type and nuance (socialist-revolutionaries, Mensheviks, etc.) who defended it with so much zeal. And, although much weaker than the German proletariat, it has, as we see, repelled all the attacks that the world bourgeoisie led against it, attacks incited by the bourgeoisie, landlords and Socialists of Russia.

It is now incumbent on the proletariat of the West to act, to bring together its own forces and begin the struggle for power. It would evidently be dangerous to close one's eyes to the dangers from within which threaten Soviet Russia, the October revolution and the world revolution. At this time the Soviet Union is going through its most difficult moments: it faces so many deficiencies, and of such a gravity, that they could become fatal for the Russian proletariat and the entire world proletariat. These deficiencies derive from the weaknesses of the Russian working class and those of the world workers' movement. The Russian proletariat is not yet up to opposing the tendencies which, on one side lead to the bureaucratic degeneration of the NEP and, on the other, put in great danger, as much from the inside as from the outside, the conquests of the Russian proletarian revolution.

The proletariat of the entire world is directly and immediately interested in the conquests of the October revolution being defended against all threats. The existence of a country like Russia as the base of the world communist revolution already signifies a guarantee of victory, and as a consequence the avant-garde of the international proletarian army - the communists of every country - must firmly express the still largely mute opinion of the proletariat on the deficiencies and the harm suffered by Soviet Russia and its army of communist proletarians, the RCP (Bolshevik).

The Workers' Group of the RCP (B), which is the best informed of the Russian situation, means to start this work.

We are not of the opinion that we, communist proletarians, cannot talk about our faults because there are in the world social traitors and scoundrels who, as we've seen, could use what we say against Soviet Russia and communism. All these fears are without foundation. Whether our enemies are open or hidden doesn't matter at all:  they remain artisans of calamity who cannot live without being harmful to us, the proletarians and communists who want to liberate ourselves from the capitalist yoke. What will follow from this? Must we because of that keep our troubles and faults quiet, not discuss them nor take measures to eradicate them? What will occur if we let ourselves be terrorised by the social traitors and if we keep quiet? In this case things could go so far that there would no longer be the conquests of the October revolution as we remember it. This would be of great use to the social traitors and a mortal blow for the international proletarian communist movement. It is precisely in the interest of the world proletarian revolution and of the working class that we, the Workers' Group of the RCP (Bolshevik), are beginning, without trembling in front of the opinion of the social traitors, to pose the decisive question for the international and proletarian movement in its totality. We have already observed that its faults can be explained by the weaknesses of the international and Russian movement. The best help that the proletariat of other countries can give to the Russian proletariat is a revolution in their own country, or at least in one or two of the advanced countries. Even if at the present time forces are not sufficient to realise such an aim, they would, in any case, be up to helping the Russian working class to conserve the positions conquered by the October revolution, up to the point when the proletariat of other countries rise up and vanquish the enemy.

The Russian working class, weakened by the imperialist world war, the civil war and the famine, is not powerful. But, in front of the dangers which threaten it at present, it can prepare to struggle precisely because it has already gone through these dangers. It will make every effort possible to surmount them and it will succeed thanks to the help of the proletariat of other countries.

The Workers' Group of the RCP (Bolshevik) has sounded the alarm and its appeal finds a great echo in all of Soviet Russia. All those in the RCP who think along proletarian and honest lines are coming together and beginning to struggle. We will certainly succeed in awakening in the heads of all the conscious proletarians a preoccupation about the fate which awaits the conquests of the October revolution. The struggle is difficult; we are constrained to a clandestine activity:  we are operating in illegality. Our Manifesto cannot be published in Russia:  we have copied and distributed it illegally. The comrades who are suspected of belonging to our group are excluded from the party and the unions and are arrested, deported, liquidated.

At the Twelfth Conference of the RCP (Bolshevik), comrade Zinoviev announced, with the approval of the party and the Soviet bureaucrats, a new formula for stifling any criticism from the working class by saying:  "all criticism against the leadership of the RCP whether from the right or the left, is Menshevism" (Cf. his speech at the Twelfth Conference). That means that if the fundamental lines of the leadership do not appear correct to whatever communist worker and, in his proletarian simplicity, he begins to criticise them, he will be excluded from the party and the unions and handed over to the GPU (Cheka). The centre of the RCP doesn't want any criticism because it considers itself as infallible as the Roman Pope. Our concerns, the concerns of Russian workers about the destiny of the conquests of the October revolution - all that is declared counter-revolutionary. We, the Workers' Group of the RCP (Bolshevik), declare, in front of the entire world proletariat, that the Soviet Union is one of the greatest conquests of the international proletarian movement. It is precisely because of that that we raise the alarm, because the power of the soviets, the power of the proletariat, the victory of October of the Russian working class, is threatened with being transformed into a capitalist oligarchy. We declare that we will prevent with all our might the attempt to overturn the power of the soviets. We will do so even if, in the name of the power of the soviets, they arrest us and send us to prison. If the leading group of the RCP declares that our concerns about the October revolution are illegal and counter-revolutionary, you can, revolutionary proletarians of every country, and above all those of you who adhere to the 3rd International, express your decisive opinion on the basis of your knowledge of our Manifesto. Comrades, all the proletarians of Russia who are worried about these dangers which threaten the great October revolution look to you. At your meetings we want you to discuss our Manifesto and insist that your delegates to the 5th Congress of the 3rd International raise the question of fractions inside the parties and of the policy of the RCP towards the soviets. Comrades, discuss our Manifesto and make resolutions. Understand, comrades, that in this way you will help the exhausted and martyred working class of Russia to save the conquests of the October revolution.  Our October revolution is a part of the world revolution.

To work comrades!

Long live the conquests of the October revolution of the Russian proletariat!

Long live the world revolution!

* * *

Editor's note: The first two parts of the Manifesto are entitled "The character of the proletariat's class struggle" and "Dialectic of the class struggle"We have decided not to publish these here (although they are of course included in our book) insofar as they recall the vision of history and the role of the class struggle as set out by Marx, notably in the Communist Manifesto of 1848. It seems to us preferable to go directly to the part of the document which sets out the analysis elaborated by the Workers' Group of the historic period confronted by the world proletariat at that moment.

* * *

Sauls and Pauls in the Russian revolution

Any conscious worker who has learned the lessons of the revolution, saw for himself how different classes are "miraculously" transformed from Saul into Paul, from propagandists of peace into propagandists of civil war and vice versa. If one remembers the events of the last 15-20 years, they quite clearly show these transformations.

Look at the bourgeoisie, the landowners, the priests, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks. Who among the priests and landowners advocated civil war before 1917? None of them. Even better, all those who advocated universal peace and the state of grace, they threw people in jail, had them shot and hanged for daring to make such propaganda. And after October? Who championed and advocated civil war with such passion? These same faithful children of Christianity:  priests, landowners, and officers.

And was the bourgeoisie, represented by the Constitutional Democrats, not formerly the partisan of the civil war against the autocracy? Remember the revolt at Vyborg. Didn't Miluikov, from the high tribune of the Provisional Government, say:  "We take up the red flag in our hands, and it will only be taken away from us when it is prised from our corpses"? True, he also pronounced very different words before the State Duma:  "This red rag that hurts all our eyes". But we can say with certainty that prior to 1905, the bourgeoisie was favourable to the civil war. And in 1917, under the Provisional Government which proclaimed with so much virulence "peace, peace, union between all the classes of society: this is the salvation of the nation!"? It was they, the bourgeoisie, the Cadets. But after October? Who continues today to scream like a fanatic:  "down with the soviets, down with Bolsheviks, war, civil war: this is the salvation of the nation!"? It is these same good masters and "revolutionary" snivellers, who now have the air of tigers.

And the Socialist-Revolutionaries? Did they not in their time assassinate Plehve, the Grand Duke Serge Alexandrovich, Bogdanovich and other pillars of the old regime? And did these violent revolutionaries not call for unity and civil peace in 1917, under the same Provisional Government? Yes, they called for it, and how! And after October? Did they remain lovers of peace? No!  They turned once again into men of violence...but r-r-reactionaries this time, and fired on Lenin. They advocate civil war.

And the Mensheviks? They were supporters of armed insurrection before 1908, of an 8 hour working day, of the requisition of landed properties, of a democratic republic and, from 1908 to 1917, joined in a sort of "class collaboration" for the freedom to organise and for legal forms of struggle against the autocracy. They were not opposed to the overthrow of the latter, but certainly not during the war, because they are patriots, even "internationalists"; before October 1917, they advocated civil peace and after October, civil war, just like the monarchists, the Cadets and the Socialist-Revolutionaries.

Is this phenomenon limited to us, the Russians? No. Before the overthrow of feudalism, the English, French, German bourgeoisies, etc, advocated and led civil war. After feudalism fell into dust and the bourgeoisie had seized power, it became the advocate for civil peace, especially with the emergence of a new contender for power, the working class, which fought it tooth and nail.

Look now where the bourgeoisie is favourable to civil war. Nowhere! Everywhere, except in Soviet Russia, it promotes peace and love. And what will its attitude be when the proletariat has taken power? Will it remain the advocate of civil peace? Will it call for unity and peace? No, it will turn into a violent propagandist for civil war and will wage this war to the limit, to the end.

And we Russian proletarians, are we an exception to this rule?

Not at all.

If you take the same year 1917, did our councils of workers' deputies become organs of civil war? Yes. Moreover, they took power. Did they want the bourgeoisie, the landowners, priests and other persons hostile to the councils to revolt against them? No. Did they want the bourgeoisie and all its big and small allies to submit without resistance? Yes, they wanted that. The proletariat was therefore for civil war before taking power, and against after its victory, for civil peace.

It's true that in all these transformations, there is plenty of historic inertia. Even in the epoch where everyone (from monarchists to Mensheviks, including the Socialist-Revolutionaries) was leading the civil war against Soviet power, this was under the slogan of "civil peace". In reality the proletariat wanted peace, but had to call again for war. Even in 1921, or in one of the circulars of the Central Committee of the RCP, one can glimpse this incomprehension of the situation:  the slogan of civil war was considered even in 1921 as an indicator of a strong revolutionary spirit. But one can see this only as an historic case which does not shake at all our point of view.

If currently in Russia, in consolidating proletarian power conquered by the revolution of October, we advocate civil peace, all honest proletarian elements must however have to unite firmly under the slogan of civil war, bloody and violent, against the world bourgeoisie.

The working class actually sees with what hysteria the exploiting layers of the population in the bourgeois countries calls for civil and universal peace, a state of grace.

We must therefore understand now that if, tomorrow, the proletariat of these bourgeois countries takes power, all today's pacifists, from the landowners to the II and II½ Internationals, will lead the civil war against the proletariat.

With all the force and energy we are capable of, we must call the proletariat of all nations to civil war, bloody and ruthless; we will sow the wind, because we want the storm. But with even more force we will make propaganda for civil and universal peace, for a state of grace, everywhere where the proletariat has triumphed and taken power.

As for the landowners, Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries of all countries, they will advocate civil peace in every country where capitalist oppression reigns, and even more cruel and bloody civil war everywhere that the proletariat has taken power.

The principal tasks for today

The development of the productive forces in all countries has reached a phase in which capitalism is itself a factor of destruction of these same forces. World War and the events that ensued, the peace of Versailles, the question of reparations, Genoa, the Hague, Lausanne, Paris and finally the occupation of the Ruhr by France, in addition to massive unemployment and the never ending wave of strikes, explicitly show that the last hour of capitalist exploitation has already arrived and the expropriators must themselves be expropriated.

The historical mission of the proletariat is to save humanity from the barbarism it has been plunged into by capitalism. And it is impossible to accomplish this by struggling for pennies, for the 8-hour working day, for the partial concessions that capitalism can grant. No, the proletariat must organise itself firmly with the aim of a decisive struggle for power.

In such a time, all propaganda in favour of strikes to improve the material conditions of the proletariat in the advanced capitalist countries is a malicious propaganda that keeps the proletariat in illusions, in the hope of a real improvement in its standard of living in capitalist society.

Advanced workers must take part in strikes and, if circumstances permit, direct them. They must propose practical demands where the proletarian mass still hopes to be able to improve its conditions by following this path; such an attitude will increase their influence within the proletariat. But they should state firmly that this is not a path to salvation, to improving conditions of life of the working class. If it is possible to organise the proletariat with a view to the decisive struggle by supporting all its conflicts with capital, this should not be rejected. It is better to get to the head of this movement and propose demands that are bold and categorical, practical and understandable to the proletariat, while explaining to it that if it does not take power, it will not be able to change its conditions of existence. Thus, for the proletariat, each strike, each conflict will be a lesson that will prove the necessity for the conquest of political power and the expropriation of the expropriators

Here the communists from all countries must adopt the same attitude as towards parliaments - they do not go there to make a positive work for legislation, but with a view to make propaganda, to work towards the destruction of these parliaments by the organised proletariat

Similarly, where there is the need to strike for a penny, for an hour, we must participate, but not to maintain hope of a real improvement in the workers' economic conditions. Instead, we must dispel these illusions, use each conflict to organise the forces of the proletariat while preparing its consciousness for the final struggle. Once, the demand for an 8 hour working day was revolutionary, now it has ceased to be in all countries where the social revolution is on the agenda.

We now turn to the issue of the united front.

* * *

The rest of the Manifesto, which will be published in future issues of the International Review, comprises the following chapter headings:

  • the socialist united front;
  • the question of the united front in countries where the proletariat is in power (workers' democracy);
  • the national question;
  • the New Economic Policy (NEP);
  • the NEP and the countryside;
  • the NEP and politics;
  • the NEP and the management of industry.

Note at the end of the document

1. Gabriel Miasnikov, a worker from the Urals, had leapt to prominence in the Bolshevik Party in 1921 when, immediately after the crucial Tenth Congress, he had called for "freedom of the press from monarchists to anarchists inclusive" (quoted in Carr, The Interregnum). Despite Lenin's attempts to dissuade him from this agitation, he refused to climb down and was expelled from the party in early 1922.  In March 1923 he joined with other militants to found the Workers' Group of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik), and they published their Manifesto, which was distributed at the Twelfth Congress of the RCP. The group began to do illegal work amongst party and non-party workers, and seems to have had an important presence in the strike wave of summer 1923, calling for mass demonstrations and trying to politicize an essentially defensive class movement. Their activities in these strikes were enough to convince the GPU that they were a real threat; a wave of arrests of their leading militants dealt a severe blow to the group.  Nevertheless they carried on their underground work, if on a reduced scale, until the beginning of the 1930. Miasnikov's subsequent history is as follows: from 1923 to 1927 he spent most of his time in prison or exile for underground activities. Escaping from Russia in 1927 he fled to Persia and Turkey (where he was also imprisoned), eventually settling in France in 1930. During this period he was still trying to organize his group in Russia.  At the end of the war, he petitioned Stalin to permit him to return to the USSR.  From the day when he returned to his country, there was no further news of him. And with reason! After a secret judgement by a military tribunal, he was shot in a Moscow prison on 16 November 1945.


[1]. Read our article "The Communist Left and the continuity of marxism"

[2]. The ICC has already published in English and in Russian a pamphlet, The Russian Communist Left, dedicated to the study of the different expressions of the communist left in Russia. A version is also under preparation in French. The English version included the Manifesto of the Workers' Group but, since its publication, a new more complete version of this Manifesto has been unearthed in Russia. It is this latest version (originally in French) that we publish today and which will be incorporated into the future French edition.

[3]. Read our article "The Communist Left in Russia" in the International Review n°s. 8 and 9, also included in the book on the Russian left.

[4]. "Members of the party who are dissatisfied with this or that decision of the central committee, who have this or that doubt on their minds, who privately note this or that error, irregularity or disorder, are afraid to speak about it at party meetings, and are even afraid to talk about it in conversation...Nowadays it is not the party, not its broad masses, who promote and choose members of the provincial committees and of the central committee of the RCP.  On the contrary the secretarial hierarchy of the party to an ever greater extent recruits the membership of conferences and congresses which are becoming to an ever greater extent the executive assemblies of this hierarchy...The position which has been created is explained by the fact that the regime is the dictatorship of a faction inside the party...The factional regime must be abolished, and this must be done in the first instance by those who have created it; it must be replaced by a regime of comradely unity and internal party democracy."

[5]. Read the article "The Communist Left in Russia" in the International Review n°s. 8 and 9, already cited.

[6]. However, the Manifesto seems also to defend the position that the unions must become the organs of the centralisation of economic direction - the old position of the Workers' Opposition that Miasnikov had criticised in 1921.

[7]. This is the KAI (Communist Workers' International, 1921-22), founded on the initiative of the KAPD, not to be confused with the Trotskyist IVth International.


Heritage of the Communist Left: 

Development of proletarian consciousness and organisation: