Two Articles from Kommunist (April 1918)

Two Articles from Kommunist (April 1918)

With the publication of these two articles we are completing our translation of the first issue of Kommunist, the journal of the “proletarian communists” or left communist faction of the Bolshevik Party in the Spring of 1918. We have already published articles by Radek, Bukharin and Ossinsky in our last three issues and all can be found on our website. Here we turn our attention to a final review by Bukharin, and an economic analysis of the state of the Russian Revolution in April 1918 by one of the least well-known of the Kommunist contributors.

Georgii Ippolitovich Oppokov (pictured above -1888–1938) took the nomme de guerre Afanasi Lomov (although in some sources he is referred to as Georgii Lomov). A member of the Bolshevik Party Central Committee and the Supreme Council of National Economy (Vesenkha), he also became Commissar for Justice in the Council of People’s Commissars (Sovnarkom). In the Central Committee he and Ossinski condemned the idea of a separate peace with Germany as a “peasant petty bourgeois peace” as early as January 1918. Like other Left Communists he voted against accepting the terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918. In the debates he was the only Left Communist who openly declared that the Revolution could still survive without Lenin. When the Treaty was finally signed he, along with Bukharin, Bubnov and Uritsky, resigned all his government and party posts.

Lenin, in A Serious Lesson and a Serious Responsibility, picked through the voting records of the leading Left Communists to demonstrate their inconsistency over the peace with Germany. The following passage highlights (in a rather tendentious way) Lomov’s role in the many votes that took place at this time.

"On February 17, 1918, when the question was put: who is in favour of a revolutionary war? – Bukharin and Lomov “refused to vote on the question as put”. None voted in favour. That is a fact!

On the question of whether to “refrain from resuming peace negotiations until the German attack becomes sufficiently (sic!) evident and its influence upon the German working-class movement becomes clear”, Bukharin, Lomov and Uritsky, of the present contributors to the “Left” paper, voted in favour.

On the question, “Should we conclude peace if a German offensive becomes a fact and a revolutionary upsurge fails to eventuate in Germany and Austria?” – Lomov, Bukharin and Uritsky abstained." [From marxists.org]

Later, in the 1920s, Lomov became for a time a member of the Left Opposition and like most prominent Bolshevik leaders of 1917 was arrested in June 1937 during the Great Purges. He was sentenced to death and shot on 30 December 1938. He was posthumously "rehabilitated" after the death of Stalin in 1956.

His “Economic Notes” are of interest in two important aspects. The first is his prescient statement that the second peace of Brest-Litovsk is the boundary between the offensive period and that of the gradual retreat of the revolutionary wave.

This was a basic position of the Left Communists but stated here with extraordinary boldness (which seems typical of the author). Lomov was right to recognise that the “heroic period” or “offensive” of the Revolution ended in March-April 1918. For him and other Left Communists the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was not buying the revolution a “perdyshka” or breathing space, but was likely to put the young Soviet republic under the domination of German imperialism. In the latter point they turned out to be wrong, but there is no question that March 1918 saw a turning point in the revolution. It coincided with Brest-Litovsk but was not a consequence of it.

Until March 1918 the Bolsheviks had based all their plans on the self-activity of the working classes but by March 1918 the economic disaster which the soviet republic had inherited from the Provisional Government was becoming overwhelming. Lomov points to this later in his article when he writes,

"We have no intention of denying the dilapidation of the economy. We know and do not hide the fact that in our industrial South, of all the metallurgical plants, there are only the Petrovsky soviet factories that work, while others are stopped or in the process of doing so; we know that coal mining plants in Russia are in a catastrophic situation; we do not deny all the disorder in the railways, etc."

Whilst the Bolshevik right wing wanted to undermine worker initiative, the Left wanted to carry on with it, which is why Lomov is so contemptuous of all the attempts to increase production by resorting to capitalist methods. The adoption of one-man management, bringing back some of the old managers etc, did not spell the end of the revolution but – coupled with a brutal civil war which drained the proletariat – set in motion a chain of circumstances which led to the workers’ revolt of 1920-1.

The other point of interest is to note that this Left Communist document was a document of its time. Until the Russian Revolution few saw that the nationalisation of production was not a step towards socialism. Nationalisation is rather one of the most blatant forms of state capitalism which does not do away with the capital-wage labour relationship. This was a lesson the working class learned after 1918 as a result of that Russian experience but in 1918 it was still equated with a step towards socialism.

The second document is Bukharin’s withering review of a book by a leading member of the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, who until this point were supporters of the October Revolution, and had joined the Council of People’s Commissars. In fact Vladimir Evgenievich Trutovsky, (1889-1937) was People’s Commissar for Local Government until he resigned along with the other SR Commissars in March 1918 as a protest against the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Bukharin’s comments are not really a review since he hardly tackles the main subject of Trutovsky’s work (the transition to socialism). Instead he targets Trutovsky’s poor knowledge of Marxism and his ill-judged remarks based on it. Like so many anti-Marxists down the years he seems to have been content to repeat erroneous platitudes. As such he is an easy target for Bukharin’s withering scorn.

This raises the question of why Bukharin bothered to review the book at all. Was it to fill the final pages of the issue of the magazine or was it to demonstrate that the Kommunist group, for all their shared rejection of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Left SRs, wanted to demonstrate that on essentials they were still loyal Marxist members of the Bolshevik Party? We can only guess. Like the surviving Left Communists, Trutovsky perished in Stalin’s Purges in the 1930s.

Economic Notes

In the history of the proletarian and peasant revolution in Russia, the second peace of Brest-Litovsk is the boundary between the offensive period and that of the gradual retreat of the revolutionary wave. After the conclusion of peace, many people did not understand that capitulation in the field of international legal relations leads to a change in all the tactics of the Russian revolution. It affects the politics first outside and then inside, but a whole series of immediate facts in the field of economic and financial policy is also evidence of this turning point.

The characteristic features of the period after Brest-Litovsk are, on the one hand rumours of the de-nationalisation of banks, associated with the new Commissar for Finance, Comrade Gukovsky1 (who has never been a strong supporter of nationalisation either of banks, or of production); on the other, a period of slowdown and even complete cessation of the nationalisation of the industry.2 If we were previously thinking of forming a united and centralised People’s Bank for the Soviet Republic, now, according to press reports which have not been refuted, there is a proposal to re-open all private banks in Petrograd, currently being used for other purposes if the truth were known, under the flag of the Soviet Republic. There is no longer even a trace of the old plans to centralise [financial] operations. In addition, a series of proposals to create special banks for wheat, textiles, etc. which will not have to be entirely Soviet are seriously being discussed in governmental circles. Alongside state capital, capital will have to be invested by the bourgeoisie, in accordance with which it must be distributed between the state and the bourgeoisie. These banks for wheat, textiles, etc. will basically have to fulfil all the functions of the old banks.

According to the proposal for the textile bank, the founding capital will come from 500 million [rubles] assigned by the Government and 500 million in shares issued by the bank; these shares must be held mainly by members of the workers and employees union, cooperatives and other organisations and individuals. The government guarantees a minimum return of 3% on the capital invested, and an “additional dividend” dependent on profits, etc. As one can see from this information, a new textile bank with its guaranteed income and its “additional dividends”, differs little from the old ones. If the authors [of this project] think they maintain their socialist innocence because part of the profits and “additional dividends” will be “mostly” distributed among the members of unions of workers and employees, in the same way as the project of the Statute already discussed at the Centrotextile3 meetings, it is a feeble consolation for a communist.

This is to say nothing about the creation of special banks for each branch of industry, with their complex operations (“receiving deposits, opening cheque accounts, discounting notes, granting short-term loans and commission”) which gradually reduce the functions of the Soviet Central Bank. And if this creation of bank branches goes ahead quickly, we will hardly even need the Soviet Bank at all. It is interesting that the proposal for a Wheat Bank is very close to the original “socialist” Wheat Bank of Kerensky. By the way, it is said that the Commissar for Finance, Comrade Gukovsky, approved this measure in principle.

In the field of our economic policy, nationalisation projects multiply in the Donetsk mining industry – either because the mines were abandoned by their old bosses or because there is fighting in this region occupied by the German Ukraine – or in the large railway trusts, the textile industry and metallurgy. According to the conditions [of the Brest-Litovsk Peace], Soviet Russia retains the rich coal mines near Taganrog.4

Furthermore, there is the question of creating these forms of organisation in industries other than trusts (e.g. in building of trains and rolling stock, industry in the Urals, etc.) at the head of which capitalist forces, all those powerful industrial swindlers, would find opportunities to participate. The public admission of this desire to rely on capitalist organisers comes from an accidental “interview” with comrades, Lunacharsky,5 Trotsky, etc. If during the period prior to Brest-Litovsk our economic policy had counted on proletarian initiative, it has changed since the conclusion of peace. Now we give the proletarians wise and firm slogans: “Do not be dissolute!”, “Don’t steal!”, “Be disciplined!”, etc. In fact, some readers will consider these formulas as having little relation to economic policy and more accurately resemble the famous bourgeois maxims of Samuel Smiles of the “be thrifty” type. But it’s a mistake. Taking on board the attitude of the capitalist organisers is a turning point. Certainly, during the first period, nobody denied the need to invite engineers, technical specialists and employees to work in companies nationalised by the workers’ and peasants’ government. The problem was how to invite them, and solve the question of how the government workers and peasants could make use of them, without giving them managerial functions.

Now the situation is changing. Instead of using them there is the danger that we are being used by them. In order to organise new trusts a leading role is given to former industrial sharks. The organisation based on the activity of the working class is being replaced by help from experienced capitalist leaders. It is no accident that the now defunct newspaper Nashe Slovo6 wrote enthusiastically about this "new course" and called on the entire conscious bourgeois intelligentsia to follow the Bolsheviks hoping that bourgeois science and experience will fundamentally transform the very essence of Bolshevik policy.

We have no intention of denying the dilapidation of the economy. We know and do not hide the fact that of all the metallurgical plants in our industrial South, only the Petrovsky soviet factories that work, while others are stopped or in the process of doing so; we know that coal mining plants in Russia are in a catastrophic situation; we do not deny all the disorder in the railways, etc. The question is to know where the exit from this impasse lies. Our point of view, our way, is the inexorable nationalisation of the banks, supported by a nationalisation of industry that must be just as inexorable.

The recruitment of technical staff and qualified employees must be managed by workers. In using their knowledge and experience, under no circumstances should the worker lose control and total mastery of production.

A. L. [Lomov]

Review: Trutovsky, The Transitional Period

Vladimir Trutovsky, The Transitional Period (between Capitalism and Socialism) Petrograd, “Revolutsionnyi sotsializm” (from the Central Committee of the Left SR party), 1918

The subject announced in the title of Comrade Trutovsky’s pamphlet is very interesting. But, unfortunately, we are forced to conclude that it is hard to write so much amazing nonsense at once as Comrade Trutovsky has done. Instead of looking seriously at all the issues dealt with in his pamphlet he decided to only dabble lightly in Marxism. Obviously, nothing but confusion comes out of it.

Comrade Trutovsky should not be offended by the fact that his attacks on Marxism will receive from us a severe but necessary response: ​​he asked for it. Let us follow the author in his reasoning.

On pages 8-9, he tries to “refute” Marxism by claiming that imperialism, by nature, has nothing to do with economics. Like a vulgar journalist, it’s the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church, and a thousand other things, which he considers to be imperialisms. For him, the only necessary criterion is “the desire to dominate”. In fact, his considerations greatly resemble the reasoning of a simple man who would say that the hen, the most ordinary hen, is fundamentally imperialist, since it feeds on wheat while dominating and growing at the expense of the unfortunate grain of wheat. And to crown all, comrade Trutovsky refers to universal thinking, science and even “socialism which, in some ways, cuts across imperialism”, because he wants “to reunite humanity in one community”. In the opinion of the author, there is here only one difference, it is the absence of constraint. But this is where Comrade Trutovsky is mistaken: in reality, socialism aims to dominate the world by the socialist revolution, that is to say, by violence. According to Trutovsky’s conception, socialism is “only one of the forms” of imperialism! And this is what is called “making a critique of Marxism”!

On page 10, the “economic” goals of imperialism are defined as “the domination of raw materials” and “the sale of goods at high prices”. Not a word about its main feature: the export of capital. The very essence of imperialist politics is absent. It’s shameful to ignore it! After such “definitions” of imperialism, Comrade Trutovsky criticises Marx’s teaching on profit; and he makes such huge mistakes that one can wonder if our honourable critic has ever read Marx, or even the “exegesis” of Marx made by Bach7 . . .

On page 10, he attributes to Marxists the following thesis:

"...commodities are sold according to their value; capitalist profit and (this “and” is really excellent!) the surplus value is created by the process of production and not by exchange; therefore, if the profit from the sale cannot be a source of capitalist enrichment, the only source of profit is the work of the worker who produces it; this is why the demand by the workers for the entire product of their labour will kill the capitalist order."

We have gladly quoted this fragment to show that the ignorance of this author knows no bounds. Marxists have “said” something else and often contrary to what Comrade Trutovsky attributes to them.

1) Commodities are never sold “according to their value” (do not you even know that?); 2) “capitalist profit and surplus value” is an expression that makes no sense because profit is a part of surplus value; 3) it is not the profit, but the surplus value that is made “in the production process” and it is realised in the process of circulation; 4) at a stage of development, during the exchange between many countries, the profit from sales can be based on “trickery and deception “(see Marx, Capital, Book III, p.307, I wrote about it in detail in my book Imperialism and World Economy8); 5) the source of capitalist profit is not just the work of the workers of a company (Trutovsky obviously does not know Volume III of Capital, and its teaching concerning the organic composition of capital in relation to the rate of profit); and finally 6) the demand for the “full product of labour” was always considered by Marx, Engels, and all Marxists as an idiocy (because even in socialist society contributions to public funds will exist), so they could not say that this claim would “kill the capitalist order”.

Trutovsky understands something about the super-profit of which Hilferding speaks, but he does not understand what this author says:

"Where does this profit come from? In the production process or in that of exchange? Certainly, in the process of exchange. Capitalist surplus value has many other sources than super-profit."

All this is blatantly stupid because the super-profit is, like any profit, a part of surplus value. Comrade Trutovsky! It’s a fact that the monopoly character of some companies, branches, or the monopoly structure of whole countries allocate, again and in another way global surplus value. Saying that “the profit of the capitalist is not made from one element, but two: the surplus value and the super-profit”, means that he is so ignorant that we are ashamed for him.

From all that we have said we must not draw the conclusion that the developed capitalist countries cannot exploit the backward countries. Marx and Engels already pointed this out. Moreover, they also claimed that in this case, conservatism among the workers could emerge (Engels on the monopoly position of England). But either comrade Trutovsky does not know this or. . . he hides it from his readers.

From the reasoning, outlined above, Trutovsky draws the following conclusion: “most of the work of revolutionary socialism” is expressed in “backward, fiercely exploited countries, where, for the first time under capitalism, its most intractable gravediggers reveal themselves: the despoiled and starving peasant labourers”. To put it another way, capitalism will not be overthrown by the workers of the advanced countries but by the peasants of the backward countries. This is the “new” gospel! It’s written on page 13 and those following. But on page 48 we discover that the socialist revolution is maturing in advanced countries.

"And this threat is more real in advanced countries where not only is there sufficient production . . . but also where the working class ... is psychologically ready for the advent of a new society."

This is Comrade Trutovsky’s idea of consistency …

His crass and terrifying ignorance can also be seen on page 66 where we read:

"Under socialism the workers will receive all the product of their labour(!) [...]in the transition period only part of the profit, surplus-value, is eliminated, but the percentage in relation to capital persists."

Until now it was thought that rent, profit, percentage, etc. were all parts of surplus-value. But ... now it’s the surplus value that’s a part of profit: “everything has changed”.

The sociological and “critical thinking” of the author are at about the same level as his economic knowledge! He finds that “according to Marxism”, socialist transformation is not possible in backward countries, “simmering in the pot of the factory”. Where is this written? Probably, Trutovsky knows? But, unfortunately, he does not say so. We ask him to betray his secret.

The author’s superficiality goes so far that in pages 20 and 21 he preaches about “Marxists” like Plekhanov “who have renounced Marxism”, but ... etc., yet alongside it, he writes: “They are faithful children of the Marxist church.” In the end, what are they? “Faithful children” or “renegades”?

His whole critique is to take up old “arguments” against historical laws. And its corollary in practice is the rejection of the “Blanquist conspiracy” tactics of the Bolsheviks. These are the same methods of the good old revisionist opportunists!

In this summary we could not confine ourselves to the author’s analysis of the transitional measures and the current situation (even here he is inconsistent to the point of stupidity, for example, when he declares that no external danger threatens us). Let’s just note one thing. According to the author, we are living in a social but not a socialist revolution (p.43 and 78). But these “considerations” are totally banal. Every revolution is social, Comrade Trutovsky. There is no such thing as a “purely political” revolution: it only exists in the minds of people. In reality, it is a socialist revolution that we are going through, that is to say the revolution that expropriates capital. Summa summarum: the example of Comrade Trutovsky serves all those who, stuffed with hatred for Marxism, do not bother reading Marx. Adventurous forays can be very harmful to the literary health of the critics.

Nikolai Bukharin

  • 1. Isidor Emmanuelovich Gukovsky (1871-1921), a son of a merchant, participated in a group of revolutionary workers in 1989. He became a Menshevik and imprisoned for inciting workers to strike. In 1904 he was sent as an agitator amongst the oil workers of Baku. Editorial secretary of the journal Novaya Zhizn, he continued a wandering life (Odessa, foreign exile) before being arrested on his return to Russia. He was acquitted in 1908. After October 1917 he became a Bolshevik and was appointed People’s Commissar for Finance by Lenin. He carried on his career as a leading functionary as a diplomat representing Russia in Estonia. He died of pneumonia in March 1921.
  • 2. These rumours became so strong that Gukovsky was forced to deny them at the All-Russian Congress of the Council of National Economy (Vesenkha) in May, 1918.
  • 3. “Central Committee for the Textile Industry”. It was one of the special state institutions known as “glavki” which were based on a similar organisation of the Tsarist regime.
  • 4. Port city of the Don region near Rostov situated on the Gulf of Taganrog in the Sea of Azov.
  • 5. Anatoly Vassilievich Lunacharsky (1875-1933), writer, literary critic, and militant from a very young age. First a Bolshevik then a Menshevik of the Inter-district Committee (Mezhraontsy), he rejoined the Bolsheviks with this group in July 1917. he was the first People’s Commissar for Education.
  • 6. “Our Word”
  • 7. Alexei Nikolayevich Bach (1857-1946) a famous Russian biochemist and academician. He studied Capital when still at school, and agitated amongst students, which led to his expulsion from the University of Kiev. He became an active member of People’s Will (Narodnaya Volya) after 1881. He carried out socialist propaganda and became a Socialist Revolutionary though he denied this in his 1926 autobiography. From 1883 Bach went underground to live in Kharkov, Yaroslavl, Kazan and Rostov. During that period, he wrote his famous revolutionary book Tsar Hunger, which played an important role in spreading the ideas of scientific socialism in Russia and is presumably what Bukharin is referring to here. He left Russia in 1885 to avoid arrest. He supported the October revolution and returned to Russia and broke with the SRs during the Civil War. He founded the Institute of Biochemistry in 1920 and devoted himself to scientific research in a career which won him many honours from the Stalinist regime.
  • 8. Imperialism and World Economy was written in 1915, and Lenin borrowed extensively from it for his shorter and more “popular outline” Imperialism – The Highest Stage of Capitalism written in the year following. There are several versions in English both in print and online. It can be found as a pdf online at thecharnelhouse.org

Comments

Nymphalis Antiopa
Oct 9 2018 03:41

Mythologizers:

Quote:
"Until March 1918 the Bolsheviks had based all their plans on the self-activity of the working classes..."

Then why did they start in November the previous year, to place the factory committees under the control of "Regional Councils of Workers' Control" whose composition was to be decided by the Party - as Maurice Brinton pointed out in 1970 ?