The Communist Left in Russia: Manifesto of the Workers’ Group of the Russian Communist Party (Part 3)

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We saw in the previous part of the Manifesto (published in International Review n°143) how it violently opposed any united front with the social democrats. In contrast, it called for a united front of all genuine revolutionary elements, among which it included the parties of the Third International as well as the Communist Workers’ Parties (KAPD in Germany). Faced with the national question that arose in the soviet republics, dealt with in the third part of this document, it advocated making a united front with the CPs of these republics which, according to the CI, “will have the same rights as the Bolshevik Party”.

However, the most important point discussed in this penultimate part of the Manifesto is that concerning the NEP.

The position of the Manifesto on this question is the following: “The NEP is the direct result of the situation of the productive forces in our country […] What capitalism did to smaller producers and landowners in agriculture and industry in the advanced capitalist countries (in England, the United States, Germany), the proletarian power must do in Russia.” In fact, this is not very different from Lenin’s view that the NEP was a form of state capitalism. In 1918, Lenin already argued that state capitalism constituted a step forward, a step towards socialism for the backward economy of Russia. In his speech at the Congress of the Bolshevik Party in 1922 he returned to this theme, stressing the fundamental difference between state capitalism under the direction of the reactionary bourgeoisie, and state capitalism administered by the proletarian state. The Manifesto sets out a series of suggestions for the “improvement” of the NEP, including independence from foreign capital.

Where the Manifesto diverges from Lenin and the official position of the Bolshevik Party is in stressing that: “The greatest peril linked to the New Economic Policy resides in the fact that the conditions of life of a very large number of leading cadres have begun to change rapidly.” It advocates measures for the regeneration of the soviet system: “In order to prevent the process of the degeneration of the New Economic Policy into a new policy of exploitation of the proletariat, it is necessary to lead the proletariat towards the accomplishment of the great tasks which are in front of it by a consistent realisation of the principles of proletarian democracy, which will give the working class the means to defend the conquests of the October revolution against all dangers wherever they come from. The internal regime of the party and the relationship of the party with the proletariat must be radically changed in this sense.”

The national question

The achievement of the united front tactic was especially difficult because of the national and cultural variety of peoples in the USSR.

The pernicious influence of the leading group of the RCP (B) is particularly revealed on the level of the national question. To any criticism and all protests: endless proscriptions (“systematic division of the workers’ party”); nominations which sometimes have an autocratic character (unpopular people who don’t have the confidence of local party comrades); orders given to the republics (to peoples who for decades and centuries have lived under the uninterrupted yoke of the Romanovs, personifying the domination of the Great Russian Nation), giving new vigour to chauvinist tendencies within the working masses, even penetrating into the national organisations of the Communist Party.

In these Russian republics the Russian revolution was indubitably accomplished by the local proletariat with the active support of the peasants. And if such and such national communist party developed an important and necessary work, this consisted primarily of supporting local organisations of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie and its local supporters. But once the revolution was accomplished, the praxis of the party, of the leading group of the RCP (B), inspired by defiance towards local demands, ignored local experiences and imposed on the national communist parties various controllers, often of different nationalities, which exasperates chauvinist tendencies and gives the impression to the working masses that these territories are submitting to a regime of occupation. The realisation of the principles of proletarian democracy, with the institution of local state organisations and the party, will eliminate the roots of differences between workers and peasants in all nationalities. To effect this “united front” in the republics which have accomplished the social revolution, to effect proletarian democracy, means the institution of a national organisation within the International with communist parties having the same rights as the RCP (B) and constituting a particular section of the International. But since all the socialist republics have certain common tasks and that the communist party on the whole develops a leading role, one must convoke - for discussion and decisions on the common problems of all the nationalities of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics - periodic general conferences of the party which elect, with a view to stable activity, an executive of the communist parties of the USSR. Such an organisational structure of the communist parties of the USSR can uproot, and without doubt will uproot, the distrust within the proletariat and it will moreover lend enormous importance to the agitation of the communist movement in every country.

The NEP (New Economic Policy)

The NEP is the direct result of the situation of the productive forces in our country. 

And really, suppose that our country is covered by a thick forest of factory chimneys, the land cultivated by tractors and not by ploughs, that wheat is harvested using reapers not a sickle, threshed with a threshing machine and not a sickle, winnowed by a winnowing machine, not a shovel; all these machines driven by a tractor - in these circumstances would we need a New Economic Policy? Not at all.

And imagine now that last year in Germany, France and England there was a social revolution, and that here in Russia the club and the plough have not been retired, replaced by Queen machine, but reign supreme. Just as they reign today (especially the plough), and the lack of animals requires a man to harness himself with his children, his wife following the plough. Would we then need a New Economic Policy? Yes.

And for what? For the same thing, to support a peasant family culture with its plough and, by this, to replace the plough with the tractor, and so change the material basis of a rural petty bourgeois economy in order to expand the economic base of the social revolution. 

What capitalism did to smaller producers and landowners in agriculture and industry in the advanced capitalist countries (in England, the United States, Germany), the proletarian power must do in Russia.

But how to accomplish this task? By ordering, shouting: “Hey you, petty bourgeois, disappear!”? You can make as many decrees as you like ordering a petty bourgeois element to disappear, the petty bourgeoisie still lives, like a fighting cock. And what would the pure proletarians do without it in a country like Russia? They would starve! Could we gather all the petty bourgeois elements into a collective commune? Impossible. So it will not be by decrees that we will fight the petty bourgeoisie, but by submitting it to the needs of a rational, mechanised, homogeneous economy. By the free struggle of economies based on the use of machines and new technical improvements against all other archaic modes of production that still dominate in a small artisanal economy. We cannot build communism with a plough.

But imagine that the socialist revolution took place in Germany or England. Would a New Economic Policy be possible at any time of the revolutionary process? 

It depends entirely on the importance and scale of petty bourgeois production. If its role in the life of the country is insignificant, we can dispense with the New Economic Policy and, by speeding up the legislative activity of the proletarian dictatorship, introduce new work methods. 

And where petty bourgeois production exerts a considerable influence on the economic life of the country, and the industry of the city and the countryside cannot do without it, the New Economic Policy will take place. The more large industries depend on small-scale production, the larger the scale of the NEP will be and its duration determined by the speed of the triumphant march of national socialist industry. 

In Russia, the New Economic Policy will last for a long time - not because anyone wants it to, but because one cannot do otherwise. Until our socialist industry ceases to depend on petty bourgeois production and property, there will be no question of suspending the NEP. 

The NEP and the countryside

The question of changing economic policy, of suspending the NEP, will be put on the agenda after the disappearance of petty bourgeois domination in agriculture. 

Currently, the strength and power of the socialist revolution are totally conditioned by the struggle for industrialisation, for the tractor over the plough. If the tractor tears the Russian land from the plough, socialism will win, but if the plough chases away the tractor, capitalism will win. The New Economic Policy will only disappear with the plough.

But before the sun rises, the dew can put out your eyes;[1] and for our eyes, and those of the socialist revolution, to stay healthy and safe, we must follow the right line towards the proletariat and the peasantry.

Our country is agrarian. We must not forget that the peasantry here is strongest and must be attracted to our side. We cannot abandon it to bourgeois ideology, because it would be the death of soviet Russia and paralyse the world revolution for a long time. The form of peasant organisation is a matter of life and death for the Russian and international revolution.

Russia entered the path of socialist revolution with 80% of its population still living on individual holdings. We pushed the peasant to expropriate the expropriators, to seize the land. But he did not understand this expropriation as the industrial worker understands it. His rural being determined his consciousness. Every peasant, with his individual holding, dreamed of increasing it. Landholdings did not have the same internal organisation as industrial enterprises in the cities, which is why it was necessary to "socialise the land” even though this was a regression, a decline of the productive forces, a step backwards. By expropriating more or less the expropriators, we could not think of immediately changing a mode of production with the existing productive forces, the peasant with his individual holding. We must never forget that the shape of the economy is entirely determined by the degree of development of productive forces, and our wooden plough cannot in any way be predisposed to the mode of socialist production.

There is no reason to believe that we can influence an owner by our communist propaganda and that he will then feel at home in a commune or a collective.

For three years, proletariat and bourgeoisie battled to win over the peasantry. Whoever gained ascendancy over the latter won the fight. We won because we were the strongest, most powerful. We must strengthen that power, but at the same time realise one thing: it will not be consolidated by the quality or quantity of speeches by our chatterboxes, but by the growth of the productive forces, by the triumph of the winnower over the shovel, the mower over the scythe, the combine harvester over the sickle, the tractor over the plough. In this way the socialised economy will triumph over petty bourgeois production and property.

Who can prove that the peasant is opposed to mowers, winnowers, reapers, binders and tractors? No one. No one can prove that the peasant will never adopt socialised forms of economy, but we know he will arrive on a tractor and not by yoking himself to the plough.

G.V. Plekhanov tells of a native African tribe that had it against the Europeans and considered abominable everything they did. The imitation of European manners, customs and ways of working was seen as a cardinal sin. But the same natives, who used stone axes, having seen the Europeans handle axes of steel, soon began to obtain the latter, despite chanting magic spells and hiding.

Certainly, for the peasant, all that the communists do and all that tastes of the commune is abominable. But we must force him to substitute the tractor for the plough, just like the natives substituted the steel axe for the stone. It is much easier for us to do this than for the Europeans in Africa.

If we want to develop the influence of the proletariat in the peasant milieu, we shouldn’t remind the cultivator too often that it's the working class that gave him the land, because he may well answer: “Thank you, my good man, and now, why are you here? To levy a tax in kind? This tax, you will have it, but don't say yesterday you did a lot of good things, tell us what good things you can do today. Otherwise, my colonel, fuck you!" 

All the counter-revolutionary parties, from the Mensheviks to the SRs and the monarchists included, based their pseudo-scientific theories of the inevitable coming of a bourgeois paradise on the thesis that in Russia capitalism has not yet exhausted all its potential, that there remains great potential for development and prosperity, that it will gradually embrace all agriculture by introducing industrial working methods. This is why, they concluded, if the Bolsheviks made a coup d’etat, if they took the power to build socialism without waiting for the necessary material conditions, they must either transform themselves into a true bourgeois democracy, or the forces developed inside would explode politically, overthrowing the communists resistant to economic laws and putting in place a coalition of Martov, Chernov, Miliukov, whose regime would give a free reign to the development of the country’s productive forces.

Of course, everyone knows that Russia is a country more backward than England, the United States, Germany, France etc. But everyone must understand: if the proletariat in this country was strong enough to take power, to expropriate the expropriators, remove the stubborn resistance of the oppressors supported by the bourgeoisie of the entire world, then this proletariat is certainly strong enough to supplant the anarchic capitalist mechanisation of agriculture through a consistent and planned mechanisation favourable to industry and the proletarian power, supported by the conscious aspirations of the peasants to see their work made easier.

Who says this is easy to do? No one. Especially after the immense devastation that the SRs, Mensheviks, bourgeoisie and landowners have created by triggering the civil war. It is hard to do but it will be done, even if the Mensheviks and SRs, allied with Cadets and the monarchists, will leave no stone unturned in pushing for the return of the bourgeoisie.

We need to ask this question in a practical setting. Not long ago, comrade Lenin wrote a letter to émigré American comrades thanking them for the technical assistance they had lent us in organising model sovkhozes and kolkhozes using American tractors for ploughing and harvesting. And Pravda published a report of the work of such a commune in Perm.

Like any communist, we are delighted that the proletarians of America come to our aid, where it is needed most. But our attention was involuntarily drawn to a fragment of this report saying that the tractors had been idle for a long time because: 1) gasoline had proved impure and 2) they had been obliged to import it from afar, with delays; 3) drivers in the village had taken a long time learning how to handle the tractors, 4) roads and especially bridges were not good for the tractors.

If the mechanisation of agriculture determines the fate of our revolution and is a matter of concern for the world proletariat, it should develop on a more solid foundation. Without renouncing aid of such a magnitude (that we grant our overseas comrades) or diminishing its importance, we have yet to think about the results it will enable us to obtain.

If the mechanisation of agriculture determines the fate of our revolution and is therefore not alien to the proletariat of the world, it must develop on a firmer basis. Without renouncing aid of this magnitude (which our overseas comrades have granted us) or diminishing its importance, we have yet to think about the results it will help us obtain.

First we need to draw attention to the fact that these tractors are not produced in our factories. Perhaps they don’t have to be produced in Russia, but if this assistance takes the scope, our agriculture will be linked to the industry of the United States.

Now we must ask what type of tractor, what engine is applicable to Russian conditions. 1) It must use oil as fuel and not be unreliable due to poor quality of gasoline; 2) it must be easy to use so that not only professional drivers know how to drive it and so we can easily train drivers as needed; 3) you must have strength levels: 100, 80, 60, 40, 30, 25, depending on the type of soil, to plough virgin or already cultivated land; 4) it must be a universal motor for ploughing, threshing, mowing, transportation of wheat; 5) it needs to be manufactured in Russian factories and not go in search of parts overseas; otherwise instead of an alliance of city and countryside, there will be an alliance of the countryside and foreign traders; 6) it must use a local fuel.

After the horrors of war and famine, our country promises to the machine in agriculture a triumph larger and more imminent than anywhere in the world. For now, even the simple wooden plough, the main tool of work in our countryside, is lacking, and where there are any, there are no animals to harness. Machines could do things impossible to imagine.

Our experts believe that blind imitation of the United States would be harmful to our economy; they also think that despite everything, mass production of engines essential to our agriculture is possible with our technical means. This task is even easier to solve as our steel industry is always complaining about lack of orders, with factories operating at half their capacity, and therefore at a loss; so give them orders.

Mass production of a simple universal agricultural machine, that trained mechanics could quickly drive, which would use oil and not be at the whim of poor quality gasoline, must be organised in the regions of Russia where it is easy to transport oil either by train or by boat. One could use oil motors in the south of Russia, Ukraine, central Russia, in the Volga and Kama regions; it would not work in Siberia because the transport of oil would be very expensive. The vast area of Siberia is a problem for our industry. But there are other types of fuel in Siberia, including wood; this is why steam engines could occupy an important place. If we succeed in solving the problem of wood distillation, of extracting wood spirit in Siberia, we could use wood engines. Which of the two engines will be the most cost-effective, technical specialists will decide based on practical results.

On 10 November 1920, Pravda, under the heading “Gigantic Enterprise” reported the news of the constitution of the “International Society of Aid for the Renaissance of Industry and Agriculture in the Urals”. Some very important state trusts and “International Workers’ Aid” control this society which already disposes of capital of two million gold roubles and is entering into business with the American firm “Keith” by acquiring a large number of tractors; a business evidently judged advantageous.

The participation of foreign capital is necessary, but in what domain? Here, we want to submit to everyone the following questions: if “International Workers’ Aid” can help us thanks to its relationship with the firm “Keith”, why can’t it, with any other firm, organise amongst ourselves, in Russia, the production of machines which are necessary for our agriculture? Wouldn’t it be preferable to use the two million gold roubles that the Society possesses in the production of tractors here, amongst us? Is it really necessary to give our gold to the firm “Keith” and to link to the latter the fate of our agricultural economy?

In a technical book, we read that to subject agricultural regions in occupied countries to their certain economic domination, German firms came with tractors, ploughed the land and then sold the machines to the farmers for a penny. It goes without saying that these firms thereafter asked a high price, but the tractors were sold already. This was conquest without losing a single drop of blood. 

The willingness of the Keith firm to help us and give us credit looks similar and we should be very careful. 

While it is relatively unlikely that the Keith firm can provide us with tractors adapted to Russian conditions, even poorly adapted tractors will be a guaranteed success given the deplorable conditions of our agriculture, because anything would succeed in such a situation. If the necessary production of engines adapted to Russian conditions is possible anyway, why do we need the Keith firm? Because, as far as we know, it is not definitive that we cannot organise production of the necessary machinery ourselves.

If the ideas and calculations of the Petrograd engineers are actually correct, the two million gold roubles awarded by this Society would be a much more solid investment for an economic recovery in the Urals than the Keith firm’s aid.

In any case, we must discuss this question seriously, because it has a significance that is not only economic but also political, not only for soviet Russia but also the world revolution. And we cannot solve it at a stroke. We need to know what we could do with this gold, and think: if the right people and the authorities decide it is not even worth a try and it is better to go directly overseas, so be it.

We're afraid of having “staircase wit”:[2] first we give the gold to Mr Keith, then we make our disapproval public, all the while boasting that we are not afraid to admit our mistakes.

If we mechanise agriculture in Russia, by producing the necessary machinery in our factories rather than purchasing them from the foreign Keith firm, city and countryside will be indissolubly linked by the growth of the productive forces, brought closer to one another; we will then need to consolidate this ideological reconciliation by organising “unions of a particular type” (after the RCP programme). These are the indispensable conditions for the peaceful abolition of capitalist relations, enlargement of the basis of the socialist revolution with the help of a new economic policy.[3]

Our socialist revolution will destroy petty bourgeois production and ownership not by declaring socialisation, municipalisation, nationalisation, but by a conscious and consistent struggle of modern methods of production at the expense of outdated, disadvantageous methods, by the progressive introduction of socialism. This is exactly the essence of the leap from capitalist necessity to socialist freedom.

New economic and political policy put simply

And whatever "right-thinking" people say, it is firstly the active working class and secondly the peasantry (and not the communist officials, even the best and the brightest) who are able to implement this policy.

The New Economic Policy determined by the state of productive forces of our country hides within it dangers for the proletariat. We must not only show that the revolution stands up to a practical examination on the level of the economy and that socialist economic forms are in fact better than capitalist ones, but we must also affirm our socialist position without engendering an oligarchic caste which keeps economic and political power above all due to a fear of the whole working class. To prevent the risk of the degeneration of the New Economic Policy into a new policy for exploitation of the proletariat, it is necessary to lead the proletariat to the accomplishment of the great tasks in front of it by a consistent realisation of the principles of proletarian democracy, which will give the working class the means to defend the conquests of the October revolution against all dangers wherever they come from. The internal regime of the party and the relationship of the party with the proletariat must be radically changed in this sense.

The greatest peril linked to the New Economic Policy resides in the fact that the conditions of life of a very large number of leading cadres have begun to change rapidly. When such a situation arrives at a point where the members of the administration of certain trusts, for example the Sugar Trust, receive a monthly salary of 200 gold roubles, get a free or modestly priced fine apartment, have a car for their travelling and have other possibilities for the necessities of life at low prices, whereas the workers, although communist, beyond the modest food rations accorded to them by the state receive only 4 to 5 roubles a month on average (and from this they must also pay rent and electricity), it is really quite obvious that there is now a profound difference in the mode of life of one and the other. If this state of things doesn’t change very quickly but exercises its influence ten or twenty years hence, the economic condition of the one and the other will determine their consciousness and they will collide from two opposing camps. We must understand that even if the - often renewed - leading posts are occupied by persons of very low social origins, they occupy a position which is in no way proletarian. They form a very slender social layer. Influenced by their economic condition they consider themselves the only ones appropriate for certain reserved tasks, the only ones capable of transforming the economy of the country, of satisfying the demands of the dictatorship of the proletariat, of the factory councils, of workers’ delegates, with the help of the verse: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”.

In reality, they consider these demands as expressions of the influence of petty-bourgeois elements, of counter-revolutionary forces. Thus, here, without any doubt, a danger threatens the conquests of the proletariat and it comes from a side where one would least expect it. For us the danger is that proletarian power degenerates into the hegemony of a powerful group deciding to take political and economic power into its own hands, naturally under the pretence of very noble intentions“in the interests of the proletariat, of the world revolution and other very high ideals”. Yes, the danger of an oligarchic degeneration really exists. 

But in countries where petty-bourgeois production has a decisive influence, where economic policy helps to accelerate and strengthen the most individualistic views of the petty-bourgeois landowner, we must exert constant pressure on the foundations of the petty bourgeois element. And who will do this? Will it be the same officials, these saviours of distressed humanity? Even if they have all the wisdom of Solomon - or Lenin - they will still not be able to do it. Only the working class is capable of this, led by the party that lives its life, suffers its sufferings, its maladies, a party that is not afraid of the active participation of the proletariat in the life of the country. 

It is harmful and counter-revolutionary to tell fables to the proletariat to lull its consciousness. But what are we told? “Stay silent, attend demonstrations when you are invited, sing the Internationale when necessary, the rest will be done without you by brave boys, almost workers like you, but who are smarter than you and know everything about communism, so stay quiet and soon you will enter the socialist kingdom”. This, we are told, is revolutionary socialism pure and simple. It is they who defend the idea that brilliant individuals, full of dynamism and armed with diverse talents, from all classes of society (and this seems to be the case) can take this grey mass (the working class) to a high and perfect kingdom, where there will be neither disease nor punishments, nor sighing, but life everlasting. This is exactly the style of the Socialist-Revolutionary “holy fathers”.

We need to replace existing practice with a new practice based on autonomous working class activity and not on intimidation by the party. 

In 1917, we needed a developed democracy and in 1918, 1919 and 1920, it was necessary to cut out all the apparatus leaders and replace them with the autocratic power of officials appointed from above who decreed all; in 1922, faced with very different tasks than before, it is beyond doubt that we need other forms of organisation and working methods. In the factories and plants (domestic) we must organise councils of workers’ deputies to serve as the main nuclei of state power; we must put into practice the point of the RCP programme that says: “The Soviet state brings together the state apparatus and the masses and an element in this is the fact that the production unit (factory, plant) becomes the main nucleus of the state instead of the district" (cf. the RCP program, policy division, item 5). It is these main nuclei of state power in the factories and plants that must be restored in councils of workers’ deputies, which will take the place of our wise comrades who are currently leading the economy and the country.

Perhaps some attentive readers will accuse us of factionalism (article 102 of the Criminal Code), of undermining the sacred foundations of proletarian power. There is nothing to say to such readers. 

But others say: “Show us a country where workers enjoy the same rights and freedoms as in Russia”. That said, they think they deserve the Order of the Red Flag for crushing a faction, without pain and bloodshed at that. To these, we can say something. Show us then, dear friends, a country where power belongs to the working class? Such a country does not exist, so the question is absurd. The problem is not to be more liberal, more democratic than an imperialist power (which would be no great merit); the problem is to solve the tasks facing the only country in the world that made the coup of October, to prevent the NEP (New Economic Policy) from becoming an “NEP” (New Exploitation of the Proletariat), so that in ten years the proletariat, fooled again, is not forced to resume its perhaps bloody struggle to overthrow the oligarchy and ensure its major conquests. The proletariat can ensure this by directly participating in solving these tasks, establishing a workers’ democracy, putting into practice one of the main points of the RCP programme that says: “bourgeois democracy restricts itself to formally declaring rights and political freedoms”, namely freedom of association, press, equality for all citizens. But in reality, administrative practice and especially the economic enslavement of the workers does not allow them to fully enjoy these rights and freedoms.

Instead of formally proclaiming them, proletarian democracy puts them into practice, above all for classes of people formerly oppressed by capitalism, i.e. the proletariat and peasantry. For this, the soviet power expropriated the premises, printing works, paper depots of the bourgeoisie, and put them at the disposal of workers and their organisations.

The task of the RCP (Bolshevik) is to enable the broad masses of working people to enjoy democratic rights and freedoms on a more and more developed material basis (cf. the RCP programme, policy division, item 3).

It would have been absurd and counter-revolutionary to claim the achievement of these programmatic theses in 1918, 1919 or 1920; but it is even more absurd and counter-revolutionary to pronounce against their realisation in 1922.

If we want to improve the position of soviet Russia in the world, or restore our industry, or expand the material basis of our socialist revolution by mechanising agriculture, or face the dangerous effects of a New Economic Policy, inevitably it comes back to the working class which alone is capable of doing everything. The less it is strong, the stronger it must organise itself

And the good boys who occupy the offices cannot resolve such grand tasks.

Unfortunately the majority of the leaders of the RCP doesn’t think in the same way. To all questions of workers’ democracy, Lenin, in a speech made to the Ninth All-Russian Congress of Soviets, responded thus: “To every union which poses, in general, the question of whether the unions should participate in production I would say: stop such chattering (applause), rather answer practically and tell me (if you occupy a responsible post, if you have the authority, if you are a militant of the communist party or a union): have you organised production well, in how many years, how many people do you have under you, a thousand, tens of thousands? Give me a list of those to whom you have confided an economic work that you have brought to a conclusion, instead of you attacking twenty things at once and not finishing any of them because of lack of time. Among us, with our soviet morals, we don’t always conclude things well, one talks of success over a number of years; we are afraid of learning in comparison with the merchant who pockets a 100% profit and more, you prefer to write a fine resolution on raw materials and are proud of the title of communist party or union representative of the proletariat. I ask your pardon. What do you call the proletariat? It is the class that works in industry. But where is this great industry? What is this proletariat then? What is your industry? Why is it paralysed? Because there are no longer any raw materials. Have you been able to procure any of them? No. You write an enactment resolution to collect them, and you are in the soup; and the people will say that that is absurd; thus you resemble the geese who, in antiquity, saved Rome”, and who, to continue the speech of Lenin (according to the moral of the well known fable of Krylov) must be guided to market with a big stick in order to be sold.

Suppose that the point of view of the former Workers’ Opposition on the role and tasks of trade unions is wrong. That this view expresses not the position of the working class in power, but that of a professional ministry. These comrades want to take back the management of the economy by snatching it from the hands of soviet officials without involving the working class in that management through proletarian democracy and the organisation of councils of workers’ deputies intended as the main nuclei of state power. They simply call for the proletarianisation of these bureaucratic nests. And they are wrong.

We cannot share Lenin’s words about proletarian democracy and the participation of the proletariat in the popular economy. The greatest discovery made by comrade Lenin is that we no longer have a proletariat. We rejoice with you, comrade Lenin! You are thus the leader of a proletariat which doesn’t even exist! You are the leader of the government of a proletarian dictatorship without a proletariat! You are the leader of the communist party but not of the proletariat!

Contrary to comrade Lenin, his colleague on the central committee and the political bureau, Kamenev, has quite another opinion. He sees the proletariat everywhere. He said: "1) The balance sheet of the conquest of October is that the organised working class as a whole has at its disposal the immense riches of all domestic industry, transport, timber, mining, let alone political power. 2) Socialised industry is the principal possession of the proletariat”,etc. etc. One can cite many other examples. Kamenevsees the proletariat in the functionaries who, since Moscow, have set themselves up through bureaucratic channels and he himself is, according to his own opinion, much more proletarian than no matter what worker. When talking about the proletariat, he doesn’t say: “THEM”, but “WE, the proletariat...” Too many proletarians of the Kamenev type participate in the management of the popular economy; that’s why he comes on like a proletarian with strange speeches about proletarian democracy and the participation of the proletariat in economic management! “Please” says Kamenev, “what are you talking about? Are we not the proletariat, a proletariat organised as a compact unity, as a class?

Comrade Lenin considers all discussion on the participation of the proletariat in the management of the popular economy as useless chatter because there is no proletariat; Kamenev is of the same opinion, but because the proletariat “as a compact unity, as a class” already governs the country and the economy since all the bureaucrats are considered by him as proletarians. They, naturally, are in agreement and, already on some points, they particularly understand each other well because since the October revolution Kamenev has entered into a contract not to take a position against comrade Lenin and not to contradict him. They agree on the fact that the proletariat exists - naturally not only the one seen by Kamenev - but also on the fact that its low level of preparation, its material condition, its political ignorance dictates “that the geese are kept far away from the economy with a big stick”. And in reality that is what has happened.

Comrade Lenin has here applied the fable in a rather improper fashion. The geese of Krylov cried that their ancestors saved Rome (their ancestors, comrade Lenin) whereas the working class doesn’t talk of its ancestors but of itself, because it (the working class, comrade Lenin) has accomplished the social revolution and from this fact it wants to control the country and the economy itself. But comrade Lenin has taken the working class for Krylov’s geese and waving his stick, he says to it: “Leave your ancestors in peace! You, on the other hand, what have you done?” What can the proletariat respond to comrade Lenin?

You can calmly threaten us with a stick, we will however say loud and clear that the coherent and unhesitating realisation of proletarian democracy is today a necessity that the Russian proletarian class feels to its very marrow; because it is a force. Come what may, but the devil will not always be at the door of the poor worker.

(To be continued)

Part 1

Part 2



[1]. Russian proverb

[2]. A French expression meaning to think of a clever riposte too late after a witty remark or insult has been made [ICC note].

[3]. It goes without saying that existing forms of organisation of the peasantry are historically inevitable in the transitional period [ICC note].




Heritage of the Communist Left: 

Development of proletarian consciousness and organisation: 



Working class history