The Communist Left in Russia: Manifesto of the Workers’ Group of the Russian Communist Party (Part 2)

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We published the first part of the Manifesto in the last issue of the International Review. To recall, the Workers’ Group of the Russian Communist Party, which produced this Manifesto, formed part of what is called the communist left, constituted by the left currents that appeared in response to the opportunist degeneration of the parties of the Third International and of soviet power in Russia.

The following two chapters of this document published below form a sharpened critique of the opportunist united front policy and the workers’ government slogan. Placing this critique in its historical context, the Manifesto should be read as an attempt to understand the implications of the change in historical period; the new period had rendered null and void all policies of alliance with fractions of the bourgeoisie since from now on these were all equally reactionary. Similarly, any alliance with organisations like social democracy, which had already proved its treason, could only lead to a weakening of the proletariat. Further, the Manifesto is perfectly clear on the fact that, in the new period, the struggle for reforms is no longer on the agenda. However, the speed with which these considerable historical changes had taken place did not permit even the clearest revolutionaries to gain the perspective necessary to profoundly understand all the precise implications. This was also the case with the Workers’ Group, which did not make a distinction between the struggle for reforms and the defensive economic struggle of the proletariat faced with the permanent encroachments of capital. While not refusing to participate in the latter, out of solidarity, it considered that only the seizure of power was able to liberate the proletariat from its chains, without taking into account the fact that the political and economic struggle form a whole.

Finally, faced with the restrictions on freedom of speech imposed on the proletariat, even after the end of the civil war, the Manifesto responds very firmly and lucidly when addressing itself to the leaders: “How can you solve the great task of the organisation of the social economy without the proletariat?


The socialist united front

Before examining the essential content of this question, it is necessary to remind ourselves of the conditions in which the theses of comrade Zinoviev on the united front were debated and accepted in Russia. From the 19th to the 21st of December 1921, the 12th Conference of the RCP (Bolshevik) took place, during which the question of the united front was posed. Up until then nothing on this subject had been written in the press or discussed in the meetings of the party. However, at the conference, comrade Zinoviev unleashed some crude attacks and the conference was so surprised that it immediately gave way and approved the theses with raised hands. We recall these circumstances not to offend anyone but to first of all draw attention to the facts that: 1) the tactic of the united front was discussed in a very hasty fashion, almost “militarily”; 2) in Russia it was carried out in a quite particular fashion.

The RCP (Bolshevik) was the promoter of this tactic within the Comintern (CI).[1] It convinced foreign comrades that we Russian revolutionaries had succeeded precisely thanks to this tactic of the united front and that it had been built up in Russia on the basis of the experience of the whole pre-revolutionary epoch and particularly from the experience of the struggle of the Bolsheviks against the Mensheviks.

Comrades coming from different countries simply knew the fact that the Russian proletariat had won, and they wanted to do the same to their bourgeoisies. Now they were persuaded that the Russian proletariat had conquered thanks to the tactic of the united front. They could do no other since they did not know the history of the Russian revolution. Once comrade Lenin had very severely condemned those who trusted in simple words, but he didn’t really want anyone to take him up on these particular words.

What lesson can we thus draw from the experience of the Russian revolution?

In one epoch the Bolsheviks supported a progressive movement against autocracy:

a) social-democrats must support the bourgeoisie in so far as it is revolutionary or even merely oppositional in its struggle against Tsardom;

b) therefore, social-democrats must welcome the awakening of political consciousness in the Russian bourgeoisie; but, on the other hand, they are obliged to unmask before the proletariat the limited and inadequate character of the bourgeois liberation movement, wherever this limitedness and inadequacy shows itself (Resolution of the IInd Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, ‘Attitude to the liberals’, August 1903).

The resolution of the IIIrd Congress, held in April 1905, reproduced these two points in recommending to comrades:

1) to explain to workers the counter-revolutionary and anti-proletarian nature of the bourgeois democratic current, regardless of its nuances, from the moderate liberals represented by the vast layers of large landowners and manufacturers to the most radical current known as the “Emancipation Union” and the varied groups of the liberal professions;

2) to fight vigorously against any attempt on the part of bourgeois democracy to recuperate the workers’ movement and to speak in the name of the proletariat and its various groups. Since 1898 social democracy had been favourable to a “united front” (as they say now) with the bourgeoisie. But this united front had three phases:

1) in 1901, social democracy supported all “progressive movements” opposed to the existing regime;

2) in 1903, it recognised the need to go beyond the “limits of the movement of the bourgeoisie”;

3) in 1905, in April, it took concrete steps “in strongly advising comrades to denounce the counter-revolutionary and anti-proletarian nature of the bourgeois democratic current, of all shades”, and to energetically combat its influence on the proletariat.

But whatever the forms of support to the bourgeoisie, it is without doubt that during a certain period, before 1905, the Bolsheviks formed a united front with the bourgeoisie.

And what are we to think of a “revolutionary” who, based on the Russian experience, would propose a united front with the bourgeoisie today?

In September 1905, the Conference convoked specially to debate the question of the “Boulyguine Duma” defined the attitude of the latter towards the bourgeoisie in the following way: “By this illusion of a representation of the people, the autocracy aspires to attach a large part of the bourgeoisie that has grown weary of the labour movement and desires order; in assuring its interest and support, the autocracy intends to crush the revolutionary movement of the proletariat and the peasantry.”

The resolution the Bolsheviks proposed to the RSDLP Unification Congress (April 1906) revealed the secret of the Bolsheviks’ change of policy, from its previous support for the bourgeoisie to a struggle against it: “As for the class of large capitalists and landowners, one can see their very swift passage from opposition to an arrangement with the autocracy to together crush the revolution”. As “the main task of the working class at the current time of the democratic revolution is the completion of this revolution”, it should form a “united front” with parties who also want this. For this reason, the Bolsheviks renounced any agreement with the parties to the right of the Cadets and signed pacts with the parties to their left, the Social-Revolutionaries (SRs), Popular Socialists (NS) and the Trudoviks, therefore building “a socialist united front” in the struggle for the consistent advance of the democratic revolution.

Was the Bolsheviks’ tactic right at this time? We do not believe that among active combatants of the October revolution there are people disputing the correctness of this tactic. We therefore see that from 1906 to 1917 inclusive, the Bolsheviks advocated “a socialist united front” in the struggle for the consistent advance of the democratic revolution achieved by the formation of a Provisional Revolutionary Government which convened a Constituent Assembly.

No one ever considered, nor could consider, this revolution as proletarian or socialist; all well understood that it was bourgeois-democratic. Nevertheless, the Bolsheviks proposed and themselves followed the tactic of a “socialist united front” by uniting in practice with the SRs, the Mensheviks, the Populists and Trudoviks.

What was the tactic of the Bolsheviks when the question posed was whether we should struggle for the democratic revolution or for the socialist revolution? Did the struggle for the power of the soviets also perhaps demand the “socialist united front”?

Revolutionary marxists still consider the party of the Social-Revolutionaries to be a “bourgeois democratic fraction” with “ambiguous socialist phraseology”; which has been confirmed in large measure by its activity throughout the revolution and up to the present. As a bourgeois democratic fraction, this party cannot take on the practical task of a struggle for the socialist revolution, for socialism; but it tries, using an “ambiguous socialist” terminology, to hold back this struggle at any price. If this is so (and it is so) the tactic which must lead the insurgent proletariat to victory cannot be that of the socialist united front, but that of bloody combat, without circumspection, against the bourgeois fractions and their confusing socialist terminology. Only this combat can bring victory and it must be done in this way. The Russian proletariat has won, not by allying itself with the Social Revolutionaries, with the Populists and the Mensheviks, but by struggling against them. 

It’s true that toward October, the Bolsheviks succeeded in splitting the SRs[2] and the Mensheviks[3] by releasing the worker masses from the captivity of their obfuscating socialist terminology, and were able to take advantage of these splits, but that can hardly be regarded as a united front with bourgeois fractions.

What does the Russian experience teach us?

1) In certain historical moments, a united front with the bourgeoisie should be formed in countries where the country or the situation is more or less similar to that which existed in Russia before 1905.

2) In countries where the situation is somewhat similar to that in Russia between 1906 and 1917, it is necessary to abandon the tactic of a united front with the bourgeoisie and follow the tactic of a “socialist united front”.

In countries where there is a direct struggle for proletarian power, it is necessary to abandon the tactic of the “socialist united front” and warn the proletariat that “the bourgeois fractions with ambiguous socialist phraseology” – at the present time all parties of the Second International – will at the crucial moment march arms in hand for the defence of the capitalist system.

It is necessary, for the unification of all the revolutionary elements which have the aim of overthrowing world capitalist exploitation, that they align with the German Communist Workers’ Party (KAPD), the Dutch Communist Workers’ Party and other parties that adhere to the 4th International.[4] All the authentic proletarian revolutionary elements must detach themselves from the forces that imprison them: the parties of the Second International, the Two-and-a-half International [5] and their “ambiguous socialist phraseology”. The victory of the world revolution is impossible without a principled rupture and a relentless struggle against the bourgeois caricatures of socialism. The opportunists and social-chauvinists, as servants of the bourgeoisie, and consequently direct enemies of the proletarian class, become, more especially today, linked to the capitalists, to the armed oppressors in their own country and abroad (Cf. programme of the RCP Bolshevik). This is the truth about the tactic of the socialist united front which, as backed up by the theses of the Executive of the CI, is supposed to be based on the experience of the Russian revolution, whereas, in reality, it is an opportunist tactic. Such a tactic of collaboration with the declared enemies of the working class who carry out armed oppression against the revolutionary proletariat in their own and other countries is in open contradiction to the experience of the Russian revolution. In order to remain under the banner of the social revolution, we must make a “united front” against the bourgeoisie and its socialist servants.

As above, the tactic of the “socialist united front” retains its revolutionary value in the countries where the proletariat struggles against autocracy, supported by the bourgeoisie and for the bourgeois democratic revolution.

And where the proletariat still fights autocracy which is also opposed by the bourgeoisie, it should follow the “united front” tactic with the bourgeoisie.

When the Comintern requires the communist parties of all countries to follow at all costs the tactic of the socialist united front, it is a dogmatic requirement which interferes with the resolution of practical tasks in accordance with the conditions of each country and undoubtedly harms the whole revolutionary movement of the proletariat.

Regarding the theses of the Executive of the Communist International

The theses, which were published in Pravda, clearly show that the “theoreticians” understood the idea of a “socialist united front” to be an expression of just two words: “united front”. Everyone knows how “popular” in Russia in 1917 were the social traitors of every country and in particular Scheidemann, Noske and co. The Bolsheviks, the rank and file elements of the party who had little experience, shouted at every corner: “You perfidious traitors of the working class, we will hang you from the telegraph poles. You bear the responsibility for the international bloodbath in which you have drowned the workers of every country. You have assassinated Rosa Luxemburg and Liebknecht. The streets of Berlin, thanks to your violent action, ran red with the blood of the workers who rose up against exploitation and capitalist oppression. You were the authors of the peace of Versailles, you have inflicted countless wounds on the international proletarian movement because you have betrayed it every time.”

We should also add that it wasn’t decided to propose to the communist workers the “socialist united front”, that's to say a united front with Noske, Scheidemann, Vandervelde, Branting and co. Such a united front must be disguised in one way or another and that is how it went. The theses are not simply entitled “the socialist united front”, but “theses on the united front of the proletariat and on the attitude vis-à-vis the workers belonging to the Second, and the Two-and-a-half Internationals and that of Amsterdam, similarly towards workers adhering to the anarchist and syndicalist organisations”. Why such a mouthful? You see comrade Zinoviev himself, who not long ago was inviting us to collaborate in the burial of the Second International, now invites us to a wedding feast with it. That's the reason for the long title. In reality it talks of agreement not with the workers but with the parties of the Second International and the Two-and-a-half International. Every worker knows, even if he has never been abroad, that the parties are represented by their central committee, on which sit the likes of Vandervelde, Branting, Scheidemann, Noske and co. Thus it is with them that agreement has to be established. Who is going to Berlin for the conference of the three Internationals? To whom has the Communist International given its heartfelt trust? The Wels’s, Vandervelde's, etc...

But have we tried to get an agreement with the KAPD, given that comrade Zinoviev agrees that the most precious proletarian elements are found there? No. And yet the KAPD fights in order to organise the conquest of power by the proletariat. 

It is true that in his theses comrade Zinoviev affirms that the aim wasn’t a fusion of the Communist International with the Second International: towards the latter, he reminds us of the necessity for organisational autonomy: “absolute autonomy and total independence to explain its positions for each communist party which concludes this or that agreement with the parties of the Second International and Two-and-a-half International”. Communists impose self-discipline in action but they must conserve the right and possibility – not only before and after but if necessary also during the action – of pronouncing on the politics of workers’ organisations without exception. In supporting the slogan of “maximum unity of all workers’ organisations in all practical action against the capitalist front, the communists cannot renounce defending their positions” (see the theses of the Comintern CC for the conference of the RCP in 1921).

Prior to 1906, in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, there were two fractions that had as much autonomy as provided for in the theses of the Comintern cited above.

Discipline in negotiations, and autonomy of judgment in the internal life of the party, are formally recognised by the statutes of the RCP (Bolshevik). One must do what the majority has decided and you can only exercise the right of criticism. Do what you are commanded, but if you’re really too outraged and convinced that one is involved in harming the world revolution, you can, before, during and after the action freely express your rage. This is tantamount to renouncing autonomous actions (rather like Vandervelde signing the Treaty of Versailles and compromising himself).

In these same theses, the Executive proposes the slogan of workers’ government which must be substituted for the dictatorship of the proletariat. What exactly is a workers’ government? It is a government made up of a central committee boiled down from the party; the ideal realisation of these theses occurs in Germany where President Ebert is a socialist and where governments are formed with his approval. Even if this formula is not accepted, communists must back with their votes the socialist prime ministers and presidents such as Branting in Sweden and Ebert in Germany.

Here is how we show our critical autonomy: the chairman of the Comintern, comrade Zinoviev, meets up with the CC of the Social Democratic Party and on seeing Ebert, Noske, Scheidemann, he raises his fists, shouting: “Turncoats, traitors of the working class!” They smile kindly and bow down before him. “You've murdered Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, leaders of the German proletariat, we’ll hang you from the gibbet!” They smile at him even more kindly and bow down even lower.

Comrade Zinoviev offers them the united front and proposes to form a workers’ government with communist participation. Thus he exchanges the gallows for the ministerial armchair. Noske, Ebert, Scheidemann and co. will go to the workers’ assemblies and say that the CI has given them an amnesty and offered them ministerial posts in place of the gibbet. The condition is however, that the communists authorise a minister. [...].[6] They will say to the whole working class that the communists have recognised the possibility of realising socialism only by uniting with them and not against them. And they will add: Take a look at these people! They would have hung and buried us before; now they have come to us. So good, we forgive them because they have of course forgiven us. A mutual amnesty.

The Communist International has given the Second International a proof of its political sincerity and it has received a proof of political poverty. What's the origin of this change in reality? How is it that comrade Zinoviev offers to Ebert, to Scheidemann and to Noske ministerial armchairs instead of the gallows? Not so long ago they sang the funeral oration of the Second International and now they give it the kiss of life. Why does he now sing its praises? Do we really see its resurrection and do we really lay claim to it?

Zinoviev’s theses effectively respond to such a question: “the world economic crisis is becoming sharper, unemployment is growing, capital is going onto the offensive and is manoeuvring adroitly, the condition of the working class is compromised”. Thus a class war is inevitable and from this it flows that the working class is moving more to the left. Reformist illusions are being destroyed. The greater workers’ base is now beginning to appreciate the courage of the communist avant-garde... and from this fact... a united front with Scheidemann must be constituted. Diabolical! The conclusion is not coherent with the premise.

We wouldn't be objective if we didn’t relate some still more fundamental considerations that comrade Zinoviev puts forward in his theses in order to defend the united front. Comrade Zinoviev makes a marvelous discovery: “We know that the working class struggles for unity. And how does it achieve that other than through a united front with Scheidemann?” Every conscious worker who is not foreign to the interests of his class and of the world revolution can ask: does the working class begin to struggle for unity just at the moment when the necessity of the “united front” is affirmed? Whoever has lived among the workers since the class has entered the field of political struggle, knows the doubts which assail every worker: why do the Mensheviks, the Social Revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks, the Trudoviks (populists) fight among themselves? All desire the good of the people. So for what motives are they fighting each other? Every worker has doubts, but what conclusion must we draw from it? The working class must organise itself as an independent class and oppose all the others. Our petty-bourgeois prejudices must be overcome! Such was the truth and such it remains today.

In every capitalist country where a situation favourable to the socialist revolution presents itself, we must prepare the working class for the armed struggle against the international Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries. In this case, certainly, the experiences of the Russian revolution will have to be taken into consideration. The world working class must get into its head the idea that the socialists of the Second and the Two-and-a-half Internationals are and will be at the forefront of the counter-revolution. The propaganda for the united front with the social traitors of all nuances tends to the belief that they are also definitively fighting the bourgeoisie, for socialism and not the contrary. But only open, courageous propaganda, in favour of the civil war and the conquest of political power by the working class can interest the proletariat in the revolution.

The time when the working class could ameliorate its own material and juridical condition through strikes and parliament is definitively passed. This must be said openly. The struggle for the most immediate objectives is a struggle for power. We must show through our propaganda that, although on numerous occasions we have incited strikes, we haven’t really been able to ameliorate the condition of the workers, but you, workers, you have not yet gone beyond the old reformist illusion and are undertaking a struggle which weakens you. We can of course be in solidarity with you during strikes, but we will always come back to saying that these movements will not liberate you from slavery, from exploitation and the pangs of unabated need. The only way which will lead you to victory is the taking of power by your own calloused hands.

But this isn’t all. Comrade Zinoviev has decided to solidly justify the united front tactic: we were accustomed to understanding the notion of “the era of the social revolution” as being identical with the present moment, which means that the social revolution is on the agenda; but in practice it has been shown that “the era of the social revolution is a revolutionary process in the long term”. Zinoviev advises putting our feet on the ground and attracting the working masses. But we already attracted the masses by uniting ourselves in different ways with the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries (SRs) from 1903 until 1917 and, as we have seen, we ended up by triumphing; that is why, he argues, to overcome Ebert, Scheidemann and Cie, we must not fight them, but unite with them.

We will not discuss whether the era of the social revolution is a long term process or not, and if it is, how much time it will take, because it would resemble a monks’ dispute on the sex of angels or a discussion aimed at finding out how many hairs you need to lose to be bald. We want to define the concept of “the era of the social revolution”. What is it? It is firstly the state of the material productive forces which begin to be incompatible with the form of property. Are there the necessary material conditions for the social revolution to be inevitable? Yes. Is something missing? Subjective, personal conditions are missing: the working class of the developed capitalist countries must still realise the need for this revolution, not in the distant future, but today, tomorrow. And for this, what must be done by the advanced workers, the avant-garde which has already realised this? Sound the tocsin, call for the battle by propaganda in favour of civil war using all kinds of things, (lockouts, strikes, the imminence of war, the lowering of living standards) and by preparing, by organising the working class for an immediate struggle.

Can one say that the Russian proletariat triumphed because it was united with the Mensheviks and the SRs? This is nonsense. The Russian proletariat defeated the bourgeoisie and landowners through its fierce fight against the Mensheviks and SRs.

In one of his speeches on the need for a united front tactic, comrade Trotsky said that we have triumphed, but must analyse how we are beaten. He argues that we marched in a united front with the Mensheviks and SRs because we ourselves, the Mensheviks and SRs sat in the same councils. If the united front tactic consists of sitting in the same institution, then the head of forced labour and the convicts are also in a united front: both are in prison.

Our communist parties sit in parliaments – does that mean we can say they are in a united front with all the deputies? Comrades Trotsky and Zinoviev should tell the communists of the entire world that the Bolsheviks had reason not to participate in the “pre-parliament” summoned by the Social Revolutionary Kerensky in August 1917, or the Provisional Government led by the socialists (which was a useful lesson), instead of saying rather dubious things about a so-called united front of the Bolsheviks, the Mensheviks and the SRs.

We have already mentioned the era where the Bolsheviks had a united front with the bourgeoisie. But when was this? Prior to 1905. Yes, the Bolsheviks advocated the united front with all the socialists – but when? Before 1917. And in 1917, when they were fighting for working class power, the Bolsheviks joined forces with all revolutionary elements, from the left SRs to the anarchists of all varieties, to fight arms in hand the Mensheviks and SRs who, themselves, were in a united front with so-called “democracy”, that is with the bourgeoisie and the landowners. In 1917, the Russian proletariat put itself at the forefront of “the era of the social revolution", in which the proletariat of the advanced capitalist countries had already been living. And in which the victorious tactic of the Russian proletariat in 1917 should be used, taking account of the lessons of the ensuing years: fierce resistance on the part of the bourgeoisie, SRs and Mensheviks faced with the Russian working class which had taken power. It will be this tactic which unites the working class of the developed capitalist countries, since this class is in the process of “getting rid of reformist illusions”; it will not be the united front with the Second International and Two-and-a-half International which will bring victory, but the war against them. This is the slogan of the future world social revolution.

The question of the united front in countries where the proletariat has power (workers' democracy)

All the countries where the socialist assault has already taken place, where the proletariat is the ruling class, require a different approach each time. Note that one cannot develop a valid tactic for all stages of the revolutionary process in each different country, nor a policy for all countries at the same stage of the revolutionary process.

If we remember our own history (without going too far back), the history of our struggle, it will be seen that in fighting our enemies, we have used many different processes.

In 1906 and the following years, it was the “three pillars”: the 8-hour working day, land requisition and the democratic republic. These three pillars included freedom of speech and the press, freedom of association, strikes and unions, etc.

In February 1917? “Down with the autocracy, long live the Constituent Assembly!” This was the cry of the Bolsheviks.

However, in April-May, everything moves in another direction: there is freedom of association, of press and speech, but land is not requisitioned, workers are not in power. They then launch the slogan “All power to the soviets!”

At this time, any attempt by the bourgeoisie to shut our mouth was met by fierce resistance: “long live freedom of speech, press, association, strikes, unions, conscience! Seize the land! Workers’ control of production! Peace! Bread! Freedom! Long live the civil war!”

But then October and victory. Power to the working class. The old mechanism of state oppression is completely destroyed, the new mechanism of emancipation is structured in councils of workers’, soldiers’ deputies, etc.

At this time must the proletariat proclaim the slogan of freedom of the press, of speech, of association, of coalition? Could it allow these gentlemen, from monarchists to Mensheviks and SRs, to advocate civil war? More than that, could it, as a ruling class, grant freedom of speech and press to someone in this milieu who would advocate civil war? No and again no!

Any organised propaganda for civil war against the proletarian power would be a counter-revolutionary act in favour of the exploiters, the oppressors. The more “socialist” this propaganda was, the more harm it could have done. And for this reason, it was necessary to proceed with “the most severe, pitiless elimination of these propagandists of the same proletarian family”.

So there is the proletariat, capable of suppressing the resistance of the exploiters, of organising itself as the only power in the country, of building a national authority recognised even by all the capitalist governments. A new task is imposed on it: to organise the country's economy and create as many material goods as possible. And this task is as immense as the conquest of power and the suppression of the resistance of the exploiters. More than that, the conquest of power and suppression of the exploiters are not goals in themselves, but the means to socialism, to greater well-being and freedom than under capitalism, under the domination and oppression of one class by another.

To resolve this problem of the form of organisation and the means of action used to abolish the former oppressors, new approaches are needed.

In view of our scarce resources, in view of the horrible devastation caused by imperialist and civil wars, the task is imposed on us of creating material goods to demonstrate in practice to the working class and allied groups among the population the attractive force of this socialist society created by the proletariat. To show that it is good not only because there are no longer bourgeois, police and other parasites, but also because the proletariat has become master and is free, certain that all value, all goods, each blow of the hammer serves to improve life: the lives of the poor, the oppressed and the humiliated under capitalism. To show that this is not the kingdom of hunger, but one of abundance never seen anywhere else. This is a task that remains to be done by the Russian proletariat, a task that surpasses those preceding.

Yes, it surpasses these because the first two tasks, the conquest of power and the eradication of the resistance of the oppressors (taking into account the intense hatred of the proletariat and the peasantry towards the landowners and bourgeois), are certainly great, but less important than the third goal. And today all workers might ask: why was all this done? Should it do so much? Should it pay with so much blood? Should it undergo suffering without end? What will solve this problem? Who will be the architect of our fortune? What organisation will do it?

There are no supreme saviours,

Neither God, nor Caesar, nor tribune.

Producers, let us save ourselves!

Decree the common salvation!

To resolve this issue, we need an organisation that represents the unified will of the whole proletariat. We need the councils of workers’ deputies as well as industrial organisations in all enterprises taken over from the bourgeoisie (nationalised) which must spread their influence to the immense layers of fellow travellers.

But what at present are our councils? Do they resemble even a tiny bit the councils of workers’ deputies, i.e. “nuclei of state power in the plants and factories”? Do they resemble the councils of the proletariat which express its unified will to conquer? They have been emptied of their meaning, of an industrial base.

The long civil war that mobilised the attention of the proletariat towards the goals of destruction, of resistance to the oppressors, has postponed, erased all the other tasks and – without the proletariat noticing it – changed its organisation, the councils. The councils of workers’ deputies in the factories are dead. Long live the councils of workers’ deputies!

And is it not the same thing with the proletarian democracy in general? Do we need a similar attitude to the freedom of speech and press for the proletariat as at the time of the fierce civil war, of the revolt of the slave drivers? Is the proletariat, which took power, which was able to defend itself against a thousand terrible enemies, not to be allowed to express its thoughts now, on organising itself to overcome immense difficulties in production, on directing this production and the whole country?

The bourgeois are reduced to silence, certainly, but who will dare dispute the right of free speech for a proletarian who has defended his power without sparing his blood?

What is this freedom of speech and press for us, is it a god, a fetish?

We make for ourselves no idol

Neither on the earth, nor in the sky,

And we prostrate ourselves before no one.

For us, there is no real democracy, no absolute freedom as a fetish or idol, and even no real proletarian democracy.

Democracy was not and never will be a fetish for the counter-revolution, the bourgeoisie, the landowners, the priests, the SRs, and the Mensheviks of all countries of the world. For them, it is only a means to achieve their class goals.

Before 1917, freedom of speech and press for all citizens was our programmatic demand. In 1917, we conquered these freedoms and used them for propaganda and the organisation of the proletariat and its fellow travellers, including the intellectuals and the peasants. After organising a force capable of defeating the bourgeoisie, we, the proletarians, went to war and took power. In order to prevent the bourgeoisie from using freedom of speech and press to conduct the civil war against us, we denied freedom of speech and press not only to enemy classes, but also to a part of the proletariat and its fellow travellers – until the moment when the resistance of the bourgeoisie was broken in Russia.

But with the support of the majority of workers, we have ended the resistance of the bourgeoisie; can we now allow ourselves to talk amongst ourselves, the proletarians?

Freedom of speech and press before 1917, is one thing, in 1917 another, in 1918-20 a third and in 1921-22 a fourth type of attitude by our party towards this question is needed.

But can enemies of soviet power use these freedoms to overthrow it?

Perhaps these freedoms would be useful and necessary in Germany, France, England, etc., if these countries were in the same phase of the revolutionary process, because there is a large working class and there is no huge peasantry. But here, this small proletariat which has survived wars and economic disaster is worn, hungry, cold, bled white and exhausted; is it hard to push it over the edge, to the road leading to overthrow the soviet power? In addition to the proletariat, there is also in Russia a large part of the peasantry that is far from opulence, which barely lives. What guarantees are there that freedom of speech will not be used to form a counter-revolutionary force with this peasantry? No, when we have fed the worker a little, given something to the peasant, then we will see it, but now there is no way. This is more or less the reasoning of right-minded communists.

Allow us to pose a question: how can you solve the great task of the organisation of the social economy without the proletariat? Or else do you want to solve it with a proletariat which says yes and amen each time that its Good Shepherds want it to? Do you have any need of it?

“You worker and you peasant, remain calm, don’t protest, don’t reason because we have some brave types, who are also workers and peasants to whom we have confided power and who use it in a way that you wouldn’t credit; do all this and you will suddenly enter the socialist paradise”. To talk in this way signifies faith in individuals, in heroes, not in the class, because this grey mass with its mediocre ideas (at least the leaders think so) is nothing more than a material with which our heroes, the communist functionaries, will construct the communist paradise. We don't believe in heroes and appeal to all proletarians not to do so either. The liberation of the workers will only be the task of the workers themselves.

Yes, we proletarians, we are exhausted, hungry, cold and we are weary. But the problems we have in front of us, no class, no group of people can solve for us. We must do it ourselves. If you can show us that the tasks which await us can be accomplished by an Intelligence, even if it is a communist Intelligence, then we would agree to confide our proletarian destiny to you. But no-one can demonstrate that. For this reason it is not at all correct to maintain that the proletariat is tired and that it has no need of knowing or deciding anything.

If the situation in Russia is different in the years 1918-20, our attitude on this question must also be different.

When you, right minded communist comrades, you want to smash the face of the bourgeoisie, that’s fine, but the problem, is that you raise your hand to the bourgeoisie and it is us, the proletarians, who have broken ribs and a mouth full of blood.

In Russia, the communist working class does not exist. There simply exists a working class in which we can find Bolsheviks, anarchists, Social Revolutionaries and others (who don’t belong to these parties but draw from their orientations). How should one relate to it? With the bourgeois “Cadets” (constitutional democrats), professors, lawyers, doctors, no negotiation; for them one remedy: the stick. But it's quite another thing with the working class. We must not intimidate it, but influence it and guide it intellectually. For that no violence, but the clarification of our line of march, of our law.

Yes, the law is the law, but not for everyone. At the last party conference, in the discussion on the struggle against bourgeois ideology, it appeared that in Moscow and Petrograd there were 180 bourgeois publishing houses and it was intended, according to the declarations of Zinoviev, that we would combat this not with repressive measures but 90% through our openly ideological influence. But how do they want to “influence” us? Zinoviev knows how he is trying to influence some of us. If only we had less than a tenth of the freedom enjoyed by the bourgeoisie!

What do you think, comrade workers? It is not bad at all, is it not? Therefore, from 1906 to 1917 was one tactic, in 1917 before October another, from October 1917 until late 1920 a third and, since the beginning of 1921 a fourth. […]


(To be continued)


Part 1

Part 3


[1]. Editor’s note: Comintern, Russian name of the Third or Communist International.

[2]. Editor’s note: the Left Social Revolutionaries (“Left SRs”), favourable to the soviets, separated themselves from the Social Revolutionary Party in September 1917.

[3]. At the Congress of the Soviets on 25th October 1917, 110 Menshevik delegates, a minority (out of 673), left the room at the moment of the ratification of the October revolution, denouncing it as a “Bolshevik coup d’etat.

[4]. Editor’s note: that is, the KAI (Communist Workers’ International), 1922-24, founded on the initiative of the KAPD, and not to be confused with the Trotskyist Fourth International.

[5]. Editor’s note: the International Union of Socialist parties was nicknamed the Two-and-a-half International, “because it situated itself between the Second and the Third”. See the critique made of this regroupment in Alfred Rosmer’s Lenin’s Moscow (Pluto Press, 1971), in the chapter ‘The delegates of the Third International in Berlin’.


[6]. Editors’ note: Here as elsewhere in the text the symbols […] indicate that a short passage that we have not been able to translate has been deleted.




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