On the construction of socialism - Nikolai Osinsky (Valerian V. Obolensky)

On the construction of socialism - Nikolai Osinsky (Valerian V. Obolensky)

In this text first published in the journal of the Bolshevik left communists, The Communist, in April 1918, Osinsky attacks Lenin’s economic policies (which he attributes to Lenin’s erroneous support for the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty) from a “left” perspective that champions working class supremacy in the “organization of production” (in the economic councils, etc.), advocates a policy of rigorous nationalization and promotion of “heavy industry” (coal, steel, railroads), and concludes that economic reconstruction cannot be directed towards Russian “self-sufficiency”, but must be oriented towards the goal of the victory of the international proletarian revolution.

On the Construction of Socialism1 – Nikolai Osinsky (Valerian V. Obolensky)


Recently, the majority of our party has accepted a “new orientation” and new ways of looking at problems. We are not speaking of foreign policy, but of domestic policy, and especially economic policy.2

This new orientation, which can for the most part be attributed to comrade Lenin, can be summarized as follows. Until the end of January 1918 we endured a harsh period of civil war, an epoch of the abrupt downfall of forces and the political and economic orders that those forces defended. Now that that time is behind us, a time of concrete and positive labor has begun, the time of the “organic construction” of a new society. On the one hand, we have to build socialism. On the other hand, we must above all and first of all create the orderly conditions for which everyone is clamoring, and we must put an end to decomposition, indiscipline and corruption. Because we are now strong, since our enemies have been annihilated, we do not have to fear making use of the social forces that were previously opposed to us. We must therefore allow the “intelligentsia”, who previously sabotaged our efforts, to work for us. They worked for capital in exchange for money. And we shall buy them with money, and make them work for us. It is among the intelligentsia that we shall find those organizers of production, those “captains of industry” who organized the economy for capital, and those who played important roles in that organization. Just as we forced the Czarist generals to help us to build the Red Army, so we shall compel the organizers of the trusts to work for good pay and for the organization of socialism.

“To teach the organization of socialism to the organizers of the trusts”, that is comrade Lenin’s slogan. Another slogan of his is as follows: “Down with negligence”. In the organizations that are responsible for the operations of the various sectors of the economy, from top to bottom, the order of the day is negligence, idleness and theft, all of which flourish in our national soil. “Do not steal, do not be lazy, above all keep accurate accounts”, these simple petty bourgeois appeals must be our most important slogans.3 Everyone must be convinced (white collar employees, blue collar workers, office staff) that they must not just consume, but also work properly. For this, self-discipline and camaraderie is necessary, and the strengthening of the directive power of the commissars who have been elected by the soviets and, in a word, they should get busy, not just talking, but working. The intensity of labor must be augmented in the factories by way of the introduction of piecework wages and productivity bonuses, and the same policies must also apply to the railroads, etc. Maybe we will even have to adopt the American Taylor System,4 which combines hourly and piecework wages: one is paid not just for the quantity that one has produced, but also for producing it in the shortest possible time.

Those who are responsible for the “new organization” claim that all of these measures will quickly lead to the construction of socialism, and that their new conception of how to address the problems posed by the construction of socialism is only determined by the fact that the country has entered a new organic period. All of these new requirements entailed by this new organic period, however, have most surprisingly arisen at the very moment that the peace treaty was signed,5 upon the occasion of that retreat before world capital; they were accepted as a basic stipulation of the imposed peace, along with the ample concessions to foreign imperialism that are proclaimed in the treaty. The war was fought not only for the conquest of the country and its territory but also in order to economically bind its territories in the grip of the tentacles of capital. The imperialists entrust this mission to these peace-conquests in order to obtain the profits of the economy of the defeated country. Nonetheless, this new organic “socialist” period, according to comrade Lenin himself, concludes with the alliance, and the establishment of relations, with foreign capital, from which he wants to acquire money, engineers, weapons, military experts and maybe even troops. Now Russia is building its own “red army”, which, however, is intimately (too intimately and too dangerously) conceived in collaboration with Czarist officers and high-level military commanders.


We will be reproached (by Lenin): Have you not only just emerged from the difficult time of the annihilation of bourgeois society? Will you now resist the need to do the basic work of establishing order in our “socialist fatherland”?

We reject neither the one nor the other. But this is not what we mean when we say that the difficult period is over. For we are of the opinion that what is necessary is a very different “order” from the one that the majority of our party advocates.

The hard times when the armed forces of the bourgeoisie (the White Guards, the supporters of Kaledin6 and others) were crushed, has come to an end. So, too, has that other difficult time come to an end, that of the sabotage of the bourgeoisie and the intelligentsia. And so, too, has that difficult period when the bourgeois economic and state order (the old judiciary, the Zemstvos,7 and the cities, the banks, the capitalists) and the economy of the property owners, etc., were annihilated. But the period of acute class confrontation between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie has by no means come to an end: there is no way that it could have ended already. After their victory over the bourgeoisie, the workers cannot establish any kind of peace on that basis, but they must utterly liquidate the bourgeoisie as a class. After the destruction of the military forces of the opposition and of the strongholds of the bourgeois class, we cannot begin the task of moving forward with the shattered fragments of their organized forces and building our social relations on the remains of the bourgeois social status; we cannot sign any treaties with the bourgeoisie as a class. We must avail ourselves of the knowledge and experience of the former mercenaries of the bourgeoisie, of their organizers, technicians, scientists, and many others (the bourgeoisie, the capitalists, even, only possess a small part of this knowledge and experience). But we must use all of them in this way, after we have destroyed the totality of their organized force as a class, as well as their connection with the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois order.

We must allow them to work in a new order, in a new social context, as creators who work for the benefit of all of society; they will carry the membership card of the workers and the villagers and will be inscribed among their ranks.

We must also change our practical work and the “organic construction” of socialism. The organizers of the trusts are neither willing nor able to build socialism. This can only be achieved by means of the creative activity of the proletarian class itself, with the efforts of the masses, and it can only be built with the simultaneous technical assistance of the “intelligentsia”.

It is just as senseless to conceive of an organic and peaceful development according to the petty bourgeois model. Above all because the external situation will not permit such a development, now that imperialism is attacking us from all sides. As soon as we build socialism, this edifice will be indissolubly united with the struggle for the repulsion of the attacks of foreign imperialism. And this cannot be achieved simply with petty bourgeois appeals and the mechanical affiliation of outside elements. No, the former servants of capital would set the workers in motion as if they were dead puppets; instead, the masses of the workers themselves must develop their own initiative and activity to the highest degree. During the course of this building process the workers will develop their power and organize it. Only then will socialism be based on firm foundations and only then will we be able to prevent ourselves from being driven into a corner, when the new economy of the proletariat itself organizes and conceives of the proletariat itself as the owner, when the proletariat has faith in itself and when the organization of this economy is organized by the workers themselves. Our point of departure is not passive material labor, under the direction of the former servants of capital, nor is it the organization of “socialism” engendered by such passive labor, according to the organizational methods of the trust, but the active construction of socialism, undertaken by the workers under the technical collaboration of the intelligentsia, and the struggle of the proletariat for socialism and against enemies both foreign and domestic (depending on the circumstances, in the form of active defense or of attack).


Before continuing with our discussion we would like to offer a few general points of clarification about the organization of production, especially about the organization of production in capitalist society.

One of the characteristic signs that evince the intrusion of capital into the domain of production consists in the fact that all the elements, all the components of the production process, adopt the form of values, which all together form the framework and the capital that produces surplus value.

This applies, above all, to labor power, which is bought as a commodity, falls into the claws of capital, and then, as long as this labor power is exploited and used, it creates a new, increased value, which preserves the old value (the value of the means of production such as machines, materials, etc.) which is “transferred” to the produced commodity. From that moment on, this character of labor power constitutes the basis of the so-called economic primacy of capitalism, its most powerful force (the command of capital—Marx).

In a capitalist factory the worker serves less as a means of production of a product than a means by which the means of production can make use of the worker, in order to make him a tool, to suck his blood, while the capitalists obtain the surplus value. That is why, in capitalism, the agents of capital in a large factory devote themselves above all to organizing their eyes and ears (the foremen, engineers, department heads, etc.), they do not just organize the technical process of production, they do not organize labor only as “concrete” labor, producer of use values, but also the use of the labor power, the profit from the “abstract” labor, of a physiological expenditure of energy among the workers, which produces exchange value. The latter is the most important thing. And in this relation, as far as capitalism is concerned, there is not a single free man with his own will. For capitalism all that counts is a certain commodity that is purchased with money, a living thing, a source of exchange value, the goose that lays the golden eggs. Once this commodity (the worker) is sold for money, it has nothing more to “say”. That is why the main task of all these engineers, technicians, and snitches, consists in exploiting this human commodity in the most effective manner possible and squeezing to the utmost, for their own benefit, the goose that lays the golden eggs. To achieve this the general staff employed in the service of capitalism must have unlimited power over the labor power of the worker.

The management of a large factory complex is always centralized, emanating from a single point, and this is above all because of the technical concentration that capitalism has entailed; furthermore, it is always autocratic (samoderzavno) because it is directed towards the acquisition of surplus value.

An aspect of more general significance also accompanies this aspiration of capitalist production. For the capitalists, what is of importance is not just the total exploitation of the purchased commodity (labor power); it is equally important to possess the possessor of that commodity. The worker is a possessor of commodities, a possessor of commodities whose nature is such that he always takes his commodities wherever he goes (his labor power) and always has them at his disposal. That is why the capitalist seeks to arrange his relations in such a way that he can maintain command over his capital and continue to exercise the unlimited right of exploitation that reduces the worker to an instrumentum vocale, while simultaneously forcing the worker, as the owner of a commodity and a man who has control over his labor power, to serve increasingly as a goose that lays a progressively larger quantity of golden eggs for the capitalist to gather. He succeeds in doing so, to speak in the words of Marx, by way of the inversion in which the wage as the price of labor power became the wage as the price of labor. The worker does not receive his money for a certain length of time (a month, two weeks), he is paid hour after hour, minute by minute, they give him bonuses, etc.

As a man who does not possess any capital and is not interested in the production of surplus value (which is acquired at his expense, not for him), the proletariat considers production and his own labor, above all, from the social point of view. Insofar as the proletarian in question is a class-conscious member of his class, the class of the productive workers, he considers the factory as a social force of production, which produces use values and which must at any moment be made to serve society exclusively. He also views his labor as the social function of producing useful goods. He possesses the powerlessness of considering himself as a living man and as a member of society. And as a commodity owner he is by no means interested in bringing about a situation in which his labor power is consumed excessively and prematurely exhausted.

Such a proletarian consciousness, however, is absolutely unwelcome to the capitalist. For him it is important to divide the workers, to transform them into isolated owners of commodities, who sell their labor power at a low price and get pennies from it. This fortifies the unlimited power of capital and facilitates its exploitation of surplus value at the worker’s expense. This is why the autocratic and hierarchical system of management of capitalist business is so closely bound up with the system of piecework wages, bonuses, “profit sharing” and, finally, with the crowning synthesis of all these methods: the Taylor System (since the highest priority is a system of exploitation of someone else’s sweat).


Now we shall examine the way that the comrades of the party majority conceive of “building” socialism. For them the following form of organizing production stood out clearly as a model: applied to the industry that produces locomotives and rolling stock,8 for example. In order to implement their policy, all the industries that are connected with the manufacture of rolling stock and locomotives are to become state property. A single enterprise is formed, a state trust. From the outside, this enterprise gives the impression of a business corporation whose assets belong in their entirety (or at least in their majority) to the state. In order to “buy” the participation of the “captains of industry” and of the trust organizers of the project, the state gives them shares of the stocks or obligations, that is, the state uses public indebtedness for which the state pays a fixed percentage (unlike the stock shares that are paid changing rates in the form of dividends, which in turn are dependent on the total quantity of profit that is obtained annually). With these obligations the capitalist organizers are being bought right now. It can be observed, on the other hand, that not only are they bought with it, but the nationalized industries are also implicated in this procedure. Therefore, the latter does not lead to the annihilation and liquidation of the old anonymous capital, but rather this capital is transformed into obligations by means of this change. The stockholders become their creditors, their sources of credit, after having previously performed the role of co-owners of the assets of the company. Whether they are indemnified for all their capital or only for part of it, is another question. In any case, these stockholders obtain a share of the capital, and by way of this switch from capital shares to obligations, the organizers of the trusts can still fill their pockets for a little while longer, for then they will have earned the “money of corruption”.

How is the management of such a trust structured? First of all, there is not the slightest doubt that it will be an absolutely organized organization. It will be concentrated in a center, in a core, which will be composed of the representatives of the state, the “gentlemen captains of industry” (they are also the representatives of the creditors, of the holders of the state debt) and the representatives of the trade unions. Complete initiative in the organization and management of the enterprise will be in the hands of the “organizers of the trusts”: we do not want to teach them and let them perform their usual jobs, but we rather want to learn from them. Naturally, in each factory the management will be autocratic and centralist from top to bottom. The directors will be appointed through their contacts in the center, alongside of whom perhaps we will find the “archangels”, as comrade Krylenko calls them, the commissars of control, who will have the positions they deserve. Their power will not be limited by the interference of the workers in the factories in question: the workers committees will in the best cases have the right to complain to the center about the measures employed by the directors and the commissars of control. Controls over the workers in their organic forms are no longer necessary: control can be exercised from the center. There, the representatives of the proletarian and peasant forces as well as those of the highest echelons of the trade unions will have their places at the round table. They will allow themselves to be taught, certainly and above all, by the capitalist gentlemen; but this is not a serious problem, because the students can control their teachers.

It is also very important to inquire as to what kind of organization of industrial labor is being created here. From now on, no more assemblies and “conflict resolution”. Above all, work! No one will be concerned with the organization of production except the center; the ordinary worker, however, must think, above all, that he is nothing but labor power, which must be exploited, as intensively as possible. The workers have not passed the test of social maturity, they have not learned how to organize production, nor how to combine the sale of commodities without getting rid of the capitalists with a higher productivity of labor: and that is why they must be dispossessed of their management of production and forced to work with the help of material incentives: piecework wages and even the Taylor System must be introduced. If there are no capitalists there is no reason for concern. Furthermore, agitation must be carried out and encouraged among the workers in order to foment self-discipline, tribunals for the punishment of anti-social conduct must be introduced, production quotas enforced, etc. The reins must be controlled from the top down, and the workers, from the bottom up, must allow themselves to be led by those reins and even tie their bridle straps of their own free will. All of these prospects are immune from danger, since it is the working class that is in power and the organizers of the trusts are only going to teach those who are diligent students.


But is it really true that this policy (advocated by comrade Lenin) is not dangerous? What is currently taking place with this kind of “construction of socialism”, and what might happen in the future? We believe that this is a very dangerous road and this is not at all a shortcut to any kind of socialism.

Above all, in answer to those who think that the transition to socialism is a simple matter of nationalizing industry, it must be said that such nationalization considered in and of itself, as a transition of an industry to the status of state property, is still not any kind of socialism. In Prussia, the railroads in their totality have passed into the hands of the state, but no one thinks that this means that a measure of this kind signifies the transition towards socialism.

In order for nationalization to possess such a meaning for socialism, in order for it to become socialization, it is first of all necessary for the organization of the economy in the nationalized industries to be in accordance with socialist principles, that it puts an end to the power of the general staff of capital and sees to it that the building of a new structure does not offer any possibility whatsoever for the resurrection of the power of that general staff; secondly, it is necessary for the social power into the hands of which the ownership of the means of production passes, to be a proletarian power. But how can we maintain both of these assumptions or starting points?

As far as the second starting point goes, we have it right at hand. Up until now we have had a dictatorship of the proletariat and the poor peasants. Shall we maintain them in this position in the state? If the question were to be formulated in terms of the “threat posed to us by the danger that the gang of intelligentsia would reach some kind of agreement with the Kadet bourgeoisie9 so they could snatch power away from us”, then the answer would be negative. If, however, we ask whether the degenerative tendencies of the proletarian-semiproletarian dictatorship do not consist of a political legacy of the semiproletarian-petty bourgeois masses, then the question must be answered in the affirmative. Such a danger does indeed threaten us, as has been explained in the “Theses on the Present Moment”10 which are also printed in this issue: the economic and international consequences of the peace treaty evoked a tendency of this kind, and the danger will only be averted by means of a resolute class policy and the equally resolute construction of a pure socialism. The working class would thereby strengthen its social base, its foundations, which have now been dealt significant harm; in this way it will organize itself and increase its own strength. But if it does not follow our advice, if it allows itself to be led by the other faction (Lenin’s faction), then the degeneration of the ruling political power in Russia, as well as the power of the soviets, is inevitable. This is why the answer to the question of whether we will have a government (Vlast) in which nationalization would be a step towards socialism, will depend on how production is organized: whether socialist principles are employed in the organization of production and whether this organization of production will educate and organize the proletariat in a socialist way. We must therefore express our disagreement with the opinion concerning the form of organization of production proposed by the party majority. Its external, legal disguise is nationalization. We shall openly state that, in itself, this still does not imply any kind of socialism. The form of the business corporation, under which the state trust must be cloaked according to the proposals being discussed by the majority, is in its form an offspring of the epoch of finance capital and state capitalism. The corporation is the most adequate form for the merger of the banks and industry undertaken by finance capital.

In a certain sense, this form might even be a temporary expedient (although in our view it is not at all temporary). It is by no means a temporary expedient that the “money of corruption” should be given to the organizers of the trusts in the form of claims on the state debt.11 If this indebtedness were to be incurred as money paid to people who were experienced in such credit transactions or had experience as organizers and entrepreneurs, then the expenditure would take the form of lucrative personal compensation. The company shares, however, are purchased from a particular class and the money of corruption (more precisely, the price of rescue) is given to this class as a whole. This class is thus granted a concession that increases its social influence, on the one hand; on the other hand, the connection with those who are trained with its class, the bourgeoisie, is buttressed. They no longer appear solely as employees of the soviet republic, but also as representatives of finance capital. Almost ineluctably their activity as official representatives of the holders of the state debt is bound up with the trusts of the future. But since these holders of the state debt will actually be the foreign bankers who were already previously major shareholders in the Russian corporations, and with the assistance of whom the Meshcherskys12 and the other “organizers of the trusts” made their way to the top, it is clear that, taking all these facts into consideration, there must be the most intimate connection with foreign finance capital (especially with German finance capital). That is why the system of issuing state debt and the establishment of corporations is neither a temporary expedient nor a matter of chance. No: to the contrary, for the organizers of the trusts they are necessary elements of a business that is strictly linked with international capital, a small foothold from which a rejuvenated international capital will begin to make inroads into “socialized” industry. The danger already exists in Russia that our “teachers” will not help us to build socialism, but that, to the contrary, they will surreptitiously prepare us for a purely capitalist trust that will represent the interests of their own class.

But all of this is merely the outer shell of the connection with the capitalist “outside world”. It is in fact the case that progress in this direction is the order of the day, since the tentacles of the foreign bankers and the bayonets of the imperialist coalitions in the service of those bankers menace us from every direction, from the very moment that each and every connection with foreign capital can result in an especially dangerous concession-surrender. As we said, however, this is only an external aspect; the really important aspect of the problem is that, in the domestic organization of production, the dictatorship should remain in the hands of the general staff of the proletariat rather than that of the capitalists.

What kind of situation will arise from these presuppositions? A very harmful one. It will be recommended to the proletarian masses that they should above all become workers who are subject to their trades, technicians in the technocratic sense of this term. “Devote your attention first of all to your work, allow yourselves to be convinced by petty bourgeois imperatives”: this is what you will be recommended to do from now on. Do not concern yourselves with the control of your work or with the meaning of your activity. That is what the organizers of your industry are there for. Your social task will be reduced to participating in the elections to the institutions that will defend your interests and that will help maintain “labor discipline” and order in the workplaces, while the workers are to remain passive. It is therefore also clear that the autocratic character of managerial functions goes hand in hand with their centralization. The managers have full powers and every right to demand complete obedience. It is in this way that self-discipline and order are to be obtained (see the decree on the management of the railroads).

Will the minority fractions of the workers, who find themselves alongside the capitalist businessmen in the managerial positions of the trusts, be prepared to assure for the proletariat the real power of constituting the general staff in command over production? We seriously doubt that this will be the case, as the proletariat as a class has been reduced to a passive element, an object, rather than the subject of the organization of production and labor. The working class managerial staff can only be strong through its direct unity with the active masses. The working class bureaucracy, however, will only play the role of passive students of the gentlemen representatives of capital, and at most can aspire to be amenable to the “concrete” petitions of the Smiles type.13 Here, as well, there is a very effective foothold for finance capital to use in an attempt to recover its old positions (especially in its powerful pressure from foreign countries).

Finally, we must also mention a third such foothold. In order to accentuate the zeal of the workers for hard work, the time study is being introduced (a means by which to measure the possible output of the worker per hour, i.e., the Taylor System).14 We have already mentioned the impact of these forms of the payment of wages on the consciousness of the workers and their class unity. These wage forms were created by capital in order to destroy proletarian solidarity. They lead to competition and division within the working class. They lead to an overemphasis on personal and egotistical interests as opposed to general class interests. They transform the workers into petty shopkeepers who sell their labor power at a low price; they are the best means to introduce a petty bourgeois mentality and to spread this mentality among the working class masses; and, finally, they are the most effective way to transform the most alert and clever workers into mere petty entrepreneurs. These capitalist wage forms compel the workers to devote all their attention to their jobs, to their work in the factories, and distance them from any consideration of their social duties. The worker is obliged to “squeeze” as much as possible out of his day’s work; after working as many hours as possible doing piece-work he has neither the time nor the inclination to concern himself with the broader questions of social affairs. If one takes into consideration just how exhausting and draining the jobs of the workers are today, one must say that the introduction of all these capitalist incentives will result in a significant increase in the passivity and inactivity of the Russian proletariat as a class. This would very rapidly take effect because, on the one hand, world imperialism is putting all its pressure on us, and on the other hand because we are under pressure due to the fact that we are on the threshold of the decisive battle for which we have to be constantly prepared.

We do not even want to discuss how all of this will unfold: on the one hand, in consideration of the situation of the unemployed workers; and, on the other, taking into account the relations between the employed and unemployed workers. Wherever you look you behold a dismal panorama: the proletariat is not only divided, a part of it having broken away—the workers aristocracy on the terrain of politics, and the birds of ill omen who envy them—but it is also characterized by general passivity. Amidst such circumstances, the so-called services performed by the capitalists with respect to the organization of production promise to yield little that is good.


What are the putative benefits, in general, that are promised by this new policy? Let us assume that the workers accept it (although the introduction into the factories of the former managers, the old oppressors and saboteurs, under the control of the soviet power, is extremely unlikely). It will promise you, above all, the strengthening of the positions of the capitalists. The end of the “difficult period” of the destruction of the bourgeois order will basically mean the beginning of concessions to the battered remnants of the defeated bourgeoisie. And even if this does not strengthen the positions of the Russian bourgeoisie, it means surreptitiously opening back doors to international capital. German imperialism is currently openly attempting to open these doors, and for this purpose it has purchased hundreds of employees and “scientists”. We will immediately try to prevent the success of their efforts. If foreign capital manages to penetrate our country through these back doors, even only once, exploiting the passivity of the working class trained in “organic labor” according to the purely Bolshevik model, then the conditions will be ripe for it to form and to generalize its general staff of power and to make it increasingly more entrenched.

The form of organization of the state industries by way of their merger into a trust, issuing state debt, bureaucratic centralization, the disguise of the corporation … all these policies facilitate the infiltration of foreign finance capital, whether under the form of “bad” German capital or “good” American capital. The absolute power of the highest echelons of this general staff, fifty percent of whom are patent holders, will gradually be transformed into the power of the general staff of capital. If one takes into account the other circumstances entailed by such a political line, it will be understood that the whole system might undergo a stage leading to the resurrection of state capitalism in Russia, which was incapable of germinating in the putrefied soil of the Czarist autocracy (even if there was a strong tendency towards decomposition in the Russian Revolution, a topic concerning which we do not want to take sides), but which can now be revived in soil that has been disinfected by our contemporary form of servitude (to foreign capital).

The Russian proletariat must follow a different road, the road that reinforces its active power as a class, its ability to deliver powerful blows against the international thieves, and its impact on the development and success of the international revolution, the great and definitive liberation from the yoke of capital. This road is called building pure socialism with the forces of the proletariat itself, without the tutelage of capitalist teachers.

We shall discuss this road in a later article.

(Continued below)


We do not stand for the point of view of “construction of socialism under the direction of the organizers of the trusts”. We stand for the point of view of the construction of proletarian society by the class creativity of the workers themselves, not by ukase of “captains of industry”. How would we characterize the tasks and methods of this kind of construction?

First of all, a clarification is in order: the proletariat must create socialism. However, there is a major lack of technical knowledge and trained operatives for building a socialized economy, not just among the Russian proletariat, but also among the proletariat of Western Europe. The worker in capitalist society (and we come from that society) is a worker, a simple private soldier in the industrial army. The officers of this army are the engineers. Furthermore, the “great army of labor” distinctly calls to mind (to continue with our analogy with military organization) the military companies of engineers, sappers and bridge builders, and the special units of electricians, in which the officers are not just authorities who give orders, but also qualified specialists in their own fields of expertise. Without engineers and other trained specialists, large scale socialist industry cannot be organized. In a developed socialist society, the workers, while they do not all become engineers, are “middle rank technicians”. This will come later, however; at the present time, we still have to face the old society and its division of labor, as well as its swelling of the ranks of the skilled workers who now form a special, privileged group.

This is why we have to make this latter group work in such a way that the “general staff” of production is placed in the hands of the working class. The organization of production must guarantee the supremacy of the working class. The organization of labor must encourage the development of the class autonomy and activity of the proletariat. Every person who has anything to do with production must remain under the influence of the proletarian class and must be imbued with the atmosphere of the socialist economy.

The engineers must proceed from being servants of capital, people who exploited surplus value and members of the freemasonry of finance capital, to being engineers who work for the interest of all of society. This kind of engineer even exists in some parts of capitalist society. Currently, due to our underdevelopment, the perfect environment exists in Russia for this kind of existence. The engineers of the major state owned electric power plants, the engineers of the roads, canals, mines and manufacturing industries, are reminiscent of this type of engineer. The agronomist engineers of the Zemstovs are even closer to this type: they comprise an element that is very well suited to the organization of the socialist economy. A large proportion of them, if they were to be placed on the soil of the new social order, will rapidly break off their relations with the class mentality of the former rulers of production. For this reason (always to a minor degree) it can also be said of the engineers that the youngest generation, which has not yet become “men of order”, and is less accustomed to participating in profit, will be able to participate in the technical organization of the socialist economy, if it is inserted into the new social order and remains under the new bosses. And among the “greenhorns”, among the young engineers who up until now have been engaging in sabotage of the new order, we shall also find useful technicians and active organizers, who would not have been able to thrive under the rule of the capitalist hierarchy. The “intelligentsia” is beginning to renounce sabotage in the most resolute way. And it is renouncing sabotage not only in order to focus on reorganizing the new order. A new dimension is emerging in their ideology: as a social group, the “intelligentsia” is beginning to understand that the proletariat will have to pay it, in the foreseeable future, maybe even more than the bourgeoisie would have paid it. The new order is something that offers certain advantages for the intelligentsia. That is why the new order will offer all those who are qualified technicians further possibilities of development: the “differential rent of skill” was always a good way of making money for the “intelligentsia”. Creative thinking, as well as organizational capabilities, will understand that the doors are open to them, and this satisfies the professional needs of the “intelligentsia” as a production group.

The proletariat must buy the forces of the intelligentsia without itself coveting personal gain. It must do so as a sensible boss. In any case the wage has to be strictly personal, in the framework of the concept of specialized labor power, but it must never take the form of stocks and claims on state indebtedness handed over to the engineers in such a way as to constitute “dividends paid on profits”, with the subsequent creation of a semi-state, semi-capitalist trust. Otherwise, a foothold of access will have been established for state capitalism and—this is much more serious—it will make possible the material and psychological convergence of the “intelligentsia” with finance capital. To the contrary, the engineer during the transition to socialism must be a person who is active in the interests of society, and while he receives a high personal wage, he does not necessarily have a permanent claim to the latter because of the competition of any sufficiently trained colleague.

What about the general situation of the worker? What must this situation consist of? We are not interested here in the material aspect, due to the fact that after the October Revolution the proletariat attained a normal level of human existence (where this was not prevented by disorganization in the food supply system and the scarcity of commodities); this normal human existence will likewise be the case in the future. What interests us here is the influence and the role of the proletariat in the organization of production.

The working class as a whole must be the possessor of production. Naturally, the workers in any individual enterprise cannot be the owners of that enterprise. Concerning this latter thesis, there is absolute agreement on both the communist right as well as the left. We shall reserve discussion of the organization of the management of the enterprises15 until later. We shall begin by emphasizing, above all, that the organization of labor must under no circumstances transform the worker into a mere servant of the machine, a mechanical force, whose main task would consist more than ever before in producing. The socialist organization of labor places “concrete” labor, the conscious labor of creation, at the service of society in the production of useful goods. Not only must the worker be assured the opportunity to exercise all his “bourgeois-republican” rights and duties; he must also, and above all, be made into a expert with an elevated professional ethic, he must be given every opportunity to make progress in his mastery of the technical side of his job and he must therefore be obliged to increase the output of his mechanical and physical force, since these efforts are in the interest of socially productive labor and are not conditioned by the fear of overproduction and bloated inventories or the desire for individual gain.

Viewed from the standpoint of the social organization of labor, piecework wages and time studies seem to be profoundly inadequate. In opposition to these policies, it must be pointed out that the establishment of production quotas in connection with an hourly wage (a wage that assures a normal existence) is not only sufficient, but also affects the honor of the worker who labors in the service of society; and now every proletarian will be at the service of society. A carefully considered management of production that is adjusted to the powers of an average man is, for the worker, a question of professional honor and of his duty as a citizen. Work that is carried out in an orderly fashion, without shirking, without carelessness, is from now on also a question of honor. Anyone who does not submit in this sense to the quotas established by the organizations of the workers, is consciously or unconsciously committing sabotage against socialism, which must be punished by the workers tribunals with the utmost strictness. For men without a sense of camaraderie and for strikers there is no place among their worker colleagues.

We proceed from trust for the class instinct, to the active class initiative of the proletariat. It cannot be otherwise. If the proletariat itself does not know how to create the necessary prerequisites for the socialist organization of labor—no one can do this for it and no one can compel it to do this. The stick, if raised against the workers, will find itself in the hands of a social force which is either under the influence of another social class, or is in the hands of the soviet power; then the soviet power will be forced to seek support against the proletariat from another class (e.g., the peasantry), and by this it will destroy itself as the dictatorship of the proletariat. Socialism and socialist organization must be set up by the proletariat itself, or they will not be set up at all; something else will be set up—state capitalism.


The comrades who recently (in the pages of Izvestia CIK and Izvestia Moskovskago SRD16) have so passionately expressed their disagreement with the claim that there is a need for an increase in the “productivity of labor” have fallen prey to a very serious error, and have overlooked a very important circumstance.

The error of those who propose to raise the productivity of labor by way of the introduction of piecework wages, a longer working day and other such capitalist measures, consists in the fact that they confuse the productivity of labor with the intensity of labor. The productivity of labor, that is, its capacity to produce more or less output in a certain unit of time, depends on three principal factors: the tools and means of production that the worker uses; his skill; and, finally, the intensity of his labor. Piecework wages will above all increase the intensity of labor. A longer working day will increase not the productivity of labor, but that of the enterprise taken as a technical totality, and will reduce the intensity of labor (and for the same reason will increase the number of “jobless” or at least hinder their employment in the factories). To a barely significant degree, piecework wages might increase the skill level of the workers, which, above all, rises with more extensive professional experience on the part of the worker (profesional’noi Kul’turnostii), with a correct organization of production and with the elevation of social consciousness.

The most important point that the contributors to Izvestia have overlooked, however, is the fact that the most important preconditions for increasing the productivity of labor are the good condition of the tools and means of production, the correct operation of good machines that are treated with care and maintained with the right materials. All of these objective conditions have a direct influence on the factors of the productivity of labor, or, as Marx says, the operation of the machinery drags the worker along with it. The rapid and regular operation of the machines obliges that both the skill level as well as the intensity of labor must be increased, and that the labor process must be improved both quantitatively and qualitatively. For the capitalists, this is one of the ways they obtain surplus value.

And having reached this point, the following question occurs to us (which we are not by any means mentioning merely in an attempt to “justify whatever the workers do”): is the apparatus of production in good working order in Russia? Are our machines fully operational and capable of doing what they were made to do? Are they operated and maintained properly with regard to raw materials, fuel, lubricants, etc.? Is it not the lack of all these things, the deterioration and wear of the machines, the disorder in the apparatus of the factory, the constant interruptions of production due to shortages of raw materials and similar problems, one of the most important causes, or perhaps the most important cause, of declining production in industry and of labor in general?

We have to respond in the affirmative to all these questions. One need only take the most cursory glance in order to observe the superhuman efforts displayed by the works committees in the textile factories in their attempts to obtain cotton; in the metallurgical sector, metals and coal; in the mines, the timber industry and the gasoline refineries, in all the sectors and all industries producing means of subsistence; this is why the fundamental question of our time is the organization of production and of exchange within society.

All of these defects in the domain of the material prerequisites of production lead not only to a decline of productivity, but also to a reduction in the skill levels and intensity of labor of the workers. These circumstances put the worker in the tragic position of “not really working, but not allowed to not work, either”, and this goes a long way toward disorganizing the workers as a professional grouping, it accustoms them to a lazy pace of work, it puts them in a position where they are forced to work “short-time”, and this is all the more the case insofar as short-time is standard in many factories and for considerable periods of time. In these conditions, are these interruptions of the labor process and these leaves of absence that last one and a half or two months professionally advantageous to the worker? There are certainly grounds for doubting that they are advantageous.

It is necessary to organize production. It is necessary to organize exchange within society, to supervise it and to allocate it. The organization of production is the material basis of the organization of labor. Technical “being” determines professional consciousness. And even though subjective factors have an autonomous role in the determination of the productivity of labor, they are themselves determined above all by the objective reality (by the condition of the “dead” part of the productive forces). Moreover, these objective factors, this functioning of the dead part of the industrial process, conditions two-thirds or three-quarters of the productivity of labor.

If appeals to work harder and to exercise “self-discipline” are preached to the workers, as primary tasks, then this is harmful, because it entails the mechanization of the proletariat, a proletariat whose most important duty now, however, is to employ all its vital, social and organizational17 powers. Such appeals and preaching divert attention away from the most important issue, that is, the organization of the decisive factors of the productivity of labor.


But what evidence of this organization do we find today? Bureaucratic delaying tactics, decrees that say nothing, the proliferation of commissars with a full complement of extraordinary powers, profligacy without budgetary controls on the one hand, and unbridled greed and a system of formal deceit with regard to the concession of means. And what do we need? Vital and organizing constructive labor, directed and inspired by the proletariat and suffused with the refreshing spirit of socialism. This spirit is necessary in the provinces, in the factories (organization of the management of the enterprises) and in the central institutions (organization of the directive committees). We also need to simplify and regulate financing, and this can be accomplished by following two roads: one leads definitely towards the nationalization of the banks, and the other, equally clearly, leads towards the nationalization of industry. Finally, a working plan for the economy will be necessary, a plan that must be resolutely and consciously implemented in accordance with an established goal.

One of the most important tasks consists in the organization of a multiply articulated network of regulatory institutions; in ordinary language, a network of local soviets, above all of district soviets, which must be responsible for creating in their vicinities large networks of small organizations emanating from them as sections.

The supreme economic council was in the past the target of an implacable and consistent campaign of persecution on the part of a sector of party comrades, who, calling attention to the defective organization of these councils and their impotence, attacked this form of organization. And not so long ago, comrade Lacis, who considers himself a professor of “the general science of organization”, in the Izvestia CiK called for a curtailment of the rights of the supreme economic council, in order to restore to the various authorities their separate economic functions, which were previously subjected to an attempt to concentrate them in the supreme economic council.

Of course, there is no disputing the fact that, at the end of January, this supreme economic council was very badly organized, which was further exacerbated with the departure of some of its most important members. There were, furthermore, local causes of disorganization, and that was why the situation was particularly grievous at the time. But the main cause of its weakness consisted in the fact that the council is disconnected from the provinces, it lacks local institutions and, moreover, does not delegate its labor to the latter.

It was (and still is) a purely elitist professional clique: in it, the representatives of the various central committees of the All-Russian trade unions participate, that is, the trade union bureaucracy that had risen up from its former class position in the lower levels posts and the representatives of the authorities. But there is no representation of the local economic organizations, no internal organization, and there are no instructions of any kind to create them. And as a result of these shortcomings, the supreme economic council is left floating in the air, isolated from local forces and needs, and is therefore increasingly becoming a bureaucracy of cronies and insiders.

The district soviets are not like that at all. All that is needed is to give them some direction (which is essentially undertaken with the dispatch of an instructor from the center), and from that very moment the work begins in a team with a large network of local organizations, and also commencing at the same time to carry out vital and very concrete tasks. The soviet of the Kharkov district, which has in the meantime been destroyed by the German invasion, may serve as an example, in which, in one month, after the district congress devoted to education, collaborated with eighteen local soviets, and its work was carried out in a serious and correct way.

The organization of the Kharkov soviet could be a model for the creation of similar institutions, and we would therefore like to briefly describe it. Above all, the apparatus of the soviet embraces, after a certain modification, not only the special institutions and committees concerned with the regulation of the economy, but also all the “economic” authorities of a district. The district commissars in charge of the food supply, traffic, economic councils, finances and labor, are also necessarily the representatives of the corresponding section of the soviet. The dependent institutions of the latter comprise the technical apparatus of the sections. The representative responsible for the entire economy of the soviet is the district commissar for the economy, who also directs the “general” department of the soviet, that is, the department of planning and general policy.

In this way, all the institutions that regulate the economy are gathered at one point and full unity with regard to the organization of the economy is thus attained. We need not emphasize how important this is.

Besides the “general” section, among the sections that are also commissariats and among some that were simultaneously two other commissariats, there are also three sections with tasks in common: technical staff; statistics, finance and inspection; and legal affairs. A series of departments of production also belongs to the soviet: the department for coal, for iron mines, for salt, for chemicals, for metallurgy, etc. The composition of these departments is two-thirds skilled workers from each sector of production, and one-third engineers. These workers and employees are elected by the district congress of the trade unions and the works committee,18 and composed in their totality the plenum of the soviet. The presidents of the departments of production are elected by the plenum. The joint session of representatives from all the sections constitutes the Bureau of the soviet, which directs the entire economy of the district in a very direct way. This Bureau thus unifies all the commissars of the “economy” and all the leaders of the various sectors of production.

Thus, the soviets are obliged, and are actually incapable of doing anything else, to perform their tasks efficiently and to marshal a creative and general organizing force for the totality of the committees and groups of which it is composed. And this is the case because of the following: 1., they concentrate in their hands all the labor of building the economy; 2., they remain in contact with praxis in a direct way and act in accordance with local realities by way of the colleges of production and the workers of every trade and the engineers (who are in turn also members of the trade unions); 3., they are organized in conformance with the principles of pure “democratic centralism” and of collegial management, and not according to the principles of bureaucratic centralism (that is, centralism based in the trade unions, which elect the cells from the low-level, not the high-level organizations).

Soviets of this kind must create (and this is actually taking place now) a good organization of specialists: a statistical organization of the industries for the preparation of budgets with regard to costs, locations, and timing of their collaboration with the central institution, allocation of the products, technical organization of production, etc.

Only when such institutions are created in the important sectors of soviet Russia that still remain intact, only when these institutions are permitted to engage in their own initiatives, only when the supreme economic council is elected by the congresses of these institutions and the members of their plenums are elected by bodies composed of at least a two-thirds representation of local working class representatives, only then will the current infirmities of our directive institutions begin to disappear. Then the supreme economic council will no longer be floating in the air; it will be united with the local organizations, ceasing to be a closed-off clique. Then it will no longer become mired in petty details. Its task will consist in drafting general orientations, general production plans, proposals concerning costs and orders, and will be deprived of a great deal of its power to call the shots. Accordingly, the workers will begin to observe how order and organization make their appearance, how the decisions of the central institutions are reasonable. “Separatism” and “Syndicalism” will both disappear, since they thrive in an environment of the collapse of organizational networks and as a result of the bitter experience of so many petitions thrown in the waste basket in the high offices of the bureaucracy.

As a result, no more cushy jobs in a closed-off system of socialist regulation of the economy, and no more powers of distribution for certain independent (and therefore bureaucratic) “authorities”; instead, building the system from the bottom up and the delegation of tasks from the top down.

At this point we must emphasize that this whole system can only be implemented in a clear way if the banks and industry are aggressively nationalized. Only a policy conceived in these terms gives us the opportunity to: 1., rid ourselves of the organizational snarl of the workers control commissions, which do not offer any possibility at all to the organization of the direction of the industries from a local level nor do they serve in any way to prepare unitary budgets of costs and plans;19 2., free ourselves from dual methods of financing, which lead to confusion in the soviets; 3., move us further away from completely superfluous capitalist forms, forms of “disguise” that prevent fruitful work, and forms of the concession of loans by means of exchange, of the pledging of commodities, etc.; 4., to prevent the aforementioned duality and confusion by means of the registration of commodities, technical organization, etc.


The system of economic councils must take root in a correctly organized factory management. We just said that this presupposes total nationalization (or, more correctly, socialization) of production. All the major industries must be nationalized. All the small and medium-size enterprises, depending on the local relations and the opinion of the economic councils, must be either “assigned” to the major enterprises and managed by the corresponding government bodies or else all of them must be merged into larger units in order to assure correct management of production, production estimates, planning, distribution and control. In the latter case the profits of the enterprise are limited, strict controls are introduced by way of the trade unions and the economic councils, and the management can obtain credit only on the condition that all the commodities are offered as collateral.

The management of the socialized factories must be organized in accordance with the following principles: 1. The working class possesses the definitive majority in the management of every industry, definitive not in relation to the capitalists but with respect to the factory[?], and the same is true of the employees. 2. The workers of the factories cannot have a majority in the management of their own factory, since the owner of the industry is the working class as a whole. Therefore it follows that while two-thirds of the management must be composed of representatives of the working class, no more than one-half of those representatives, however, at the most, must be workers from the factory in question. The other half will be composed jointly of representatives of the district (or regional government) economic councils, soviets of workers deputies and the trade unions. 3. The technicians, and more generally the white collar employees of the factories, must not only collaborate in the management of the factories, but must also possess autonomy in their “executive” functions (which are separate from “legislative” and managerial functions) to a considerable degree. The technicians and commercial directors must be recognized by the enterprise directors and confirmed by the economic councils of the district, without whose approval an engineer or a bookkeeper cannot be dismissed. They are responsible for the management of the accounting services; the management of the factory can give them suggestions and generally guide their activity, but the direct authority over them is only possessed by the management of the industry and the district soviet; as both organizations of workers are responsible for them, they must support the workers and give them guidance. This must be carried out in such a manner that the engineers become accustomed to collaborate and that order should be introduced into the labor process, an order that is guaranteed, furthermore, with respect to any abuses on the part of the engineers and white collar staff. 4. The directives of the industry must possess enough autonomy, but despite this must be strictly subordinated to the economic council of the district, which approves the production plans and budgetary proposals drafted by the industry staff, and is also responsible for making sure that the management of the industrial facilities act in the framework of the correct plans.

Are commissars even necessary in the factories? Those comrades who are inclined in favor of “severe discipline” believe that a commissar is necessary and that without his approval no decision can be valid. But we do not believe this is necessary. The appointment of a special representative of the economic council of the district with the prerogatives of individual decision is possible during a certain period of time, but not necessary. It is only necessary in those factories where the working class is extremely backward. And even there, what is really necessary is an instructor, but not a president or a commissar. “The liberation of the worker is the worker’s own affair”, and if the proletariat is not in a condition to free itself and to establish its own order, no commissar can do this for it.


A few pages back we mentioned a criticism of this plan, a criticism directed against this plan’s basis in a complete nationalization of production. This criticism consists in claiming that from the financial point of view this plan is impossible due to a lack of means for its implementation.

But what means are involved here? Money (whether in the form of bank checks, money of account, cash in gold or in currency), in the monetary form of capital or material means of production and consumer goods that are necessary for the complete realization of the plan?

If we are talking about bank drafts, it must be said that after the October Revolution (and properly speaking, even before), almost all monetary settlements made by private industry (above all the workers’ pay) were made with the help of financing (loans, etc.) from the state bank, or with the help of advances from various state institutions. This is an established fact, acknowledged by all those who are familiar with such matters. With regard to this issue, nothing will change with the transfer of the industries to the hands of the state; the only thing that will change is that the obstacles that once hindered the circulation of social capital will disappear.

If it is capital in the form of gold that we are talking about, whose sum is always considerably larger than current account payments (since a large part of the capital destined for production and which arises from production assumes the form of account balances and does not take the form of gold or the motley vestments of checks drawn on various banks), then we must not forget that the state can introduce the system of current accounts and liquidation of accounts of the bookkeepers among its industries, and will thus be able to reimburse the credit of the capitalist banks. Today, as a result of the decomposition of bourgeois credit (after the nationalization of the banks), as well as the decline of the currency, almost all transactions are largely carried out on account. The possible administration of the nationalized economy will be truly amazing in its scale and will clearly be furthered through the operations of the state funds, if we assume that the payments on account for the means of production will continue. This means that with the creation of a central accounting office (on the basis of the already-existing capitalist banks), and with the organization of an apparatus for distribution that will return the excess of unsold commodities to the country and thus assure their sale,20 the scarcity of account money and bank checks from the printer will be attenuated, and nationalized industry will immediately begin to produce its capital in a monetary form itself.

If, finally, what we are talking about is material means of production and consumption goods, then it must be said that if these goods are scarce, they are also scarce for the capitalists, who cannot create them out of nothing. If we can import few machines and little raw material from foreign countries, this has nothing to do with the existence of the private economy. Furthermore, it is very important to ask whether, in the midst of a general decline of productivity (which is even affecting America), which naturally also affects the means of communication, it is possible to obtain all that is necessary from foreign countries to meet our needs. And if this were still possible, even taking into account everything we said above, then there would be no problem in obtaining what we need from the American capitalists, paying them, naturally, a good price.

Two questions may be posed with regard to all that we have just said. The first question is: we accept that capitalist credit is replaced by the introduction of financial instruments among the industries. Does this mean that we are going to learn how to organize them? Would it not be better to return to the practices of capitalist organization and denationalize the banks? To this, we respond: the task that we must perform is a daunting one; but it is our duty to fulfill the difficult tasks of socialist construction instead of making a rapid and convenient reversal towards capitalism. For the denationalization of the banks is a decisive step towards a return to capitalism, which would hand over to the bourgeoisie all the powers for production and all its power over the economy. Furthermore, as sabotage comes to an end, the banks are reorganized and liberated from all the operations oriented towards upholding the value of fictitious capital and the currency of fictitious values; the apparatus of the private banks constitutes a foundation upon which a total economic accountability can be built in a centralized manner.

The second objection that could be made is the following: all of this sounds very good, but the problem does not consist so much in the organization of an apparatus of production and social exchange, but in whether such a system will cover its own operating expenses. At the present time the state is in fact supporting all industry, including the private sector of industry. But if the state were to directly take all of industry into its own hands, then the help that it would have to give would be so much greater, because: 1., the workers will need higher wages in order to guarantee the status of its correct operation; 2., the “private initiative” of the entrepreneur, “private economic interest”, will come to an end; the interest that previously led it to at least balance income and expenses.

To this we must respond: first of all, it has not been at all demonstrated that the workers will have more needs in nationalized industry than in private industry; this would be more expected, to the contrary, in the private sector; secondly, it must be said that an increase in real wages is hardly likely, because the working class has already generally attained a normal level with regard to its economic situation; thirdly, we say that a higher level of organizational capacity in the working class, brought about by nationalization, is of much more interest than the mere increase of wages and living standards, and that in addition it would tend to increase the confidence of the proletariat in the socialist system and it its power as a class. The facts prove that the workers in the nationalized industries (especially the workers of the South) are patiently awaiting a chance to help compensate with their pay cuts, sacrificing their own material interests in favor of the security of their supremacy as a class, even when it causes them hardships with regard to subsistence. This confidence is still not totally exhausted, and it will continue to grow stronger by appealing to its class initiative and by nationalization.

As for the motivation behind the “private initiative of the entrepreneur”, what makes business opportunities leading to profit the leading motivating factor is the exploitation of the worker. The latter is the prey of the owners. Nationalization, which brings in its wake all the advantages of the socialist centralization of production, of supply and distribution, at the same time that it facilitates the beginning of a real organization of production and labor, must increase the productivity of labor and the industrial sectors, and successfully compensate for the managerial advantages of private enterprises.

For the expenses of a socialized industry to be covered by its income, the complete nationalization of the banks and the socialization of industry are not sufficient. It is equally necessary that the circulation of the capital-commodity should proceed directly and smoothly by means of the state, and that exchange should be carried out within society, above all the exchange between the state and the rural areas. Here we are faced with the great task of creating an adequate technical apparatus that will operate correctly, one that will be managed jointly by the local economic councils and the communal institutions responsible for buying and selling. In this managerial task up until now, only the most elementary steps have been taken.

The question of prices is of the utmost importance. If we accept the accounting system of socialized industry based on commodities or on money, meeting expenses will largely depend in this case on the acceptance of these prices, according to which the exchange will be conducted between the commodities of the city and the raw materials and cereals of the countryside. Here it is also necessary that the old relations of exchange between these commodities (which prevailed before the war) must be jettisoned. The fixed prices must be revised and systematized. In order to force the kulaks of the rural areas to put an end to their speculation in agricultural products, which they engage in to the detriment of the process of reproduction and the disproportion between industry and agriculture (which is itself a product of the war), a united struggle of the poor against the rich must be waged in the countryside and, even more importantly, the people must really be supplied with commodities in order to overcome this anomalous situation.


The claim that nationalized industry lacks means is true. There is a shortage of means of production in the material form, as is reflected part by the economic and financial crisis.

Between the production of raw materials and consumer goods, on the one hand, and the production of industrial goods, on the other hand, there is a serious imbalance, which is connected with a scarcity of production in general. As a result of the destruction of agriculture (based on the shortage of labor power, which had been drafted into the army, and also based on the lack of machinery, iron and nails, instead of which industry produced bullets, artillery and technical materiel for the war), the yield of the soil and of the surface of the state has diminished, and industrial crops have been replaced in part by cereal grains. The production of the raw material industry has also gone into decline for the same reasons. On the other hand, together with the scarcity of raw materials, instruments of labor and labor power, industry has cut back on its production, and as a result of the deterioration of the transportation network social reproduction as a whole has been impeded.

As a result, even after the end of the war and the early stages of the demobilization of industry and the army, not only has the supply of agricultural and industrial raw materials and provisions for the needs of industry declined, but the supply of commodities produced in the cities for the national market (even in the framework of the old exchange value) has not met the country’s normal needs for these indispensable commodities. The financial crisis of industry, we repeat, in part reflects these two problems, and the first of them is becoming truly acute. Industry is by no means proceeding down well-traveled paths: 1., because the prices for goods produced by the peasants have risen as a consequence of the reduction of their production, and 2., because the productivity of industry has declined, and has not yet returned to its pre-war level.

In order to overcome this legacy bequeathed to us by Nicholas and Kerensky, which is still being exacerbated by the sabotage of the intelligentsia, it is necessary, besides the previously mentioned organizational measures, to carry out a real utilization of the material means of production that the country possesses. An economic-technical working plan is necessary, and must be implemented rapidly and with determination. There are few reserves of means of production and consumer goods, and even fewer reserves of the goods that are necessary for the operation of machinery in the factories and in every kind of labor. That is why we must promote above all those sectors of production whose full saturation would rapidly increase the supply of the country with means of production. Expressed in general terms, we have to strengthen those sectors that produce means of production or that supply the raw materials which are necessary for those productive sectors, as well as those sectors whose products will contribute to the “extraction” from the countryside of products from the agrarian economy.

Above all, “heavy industry” must be promoted with every possible means, which produces the basic materials for the manufacture of machines and means of production. The coal, mining, iron and steel and construction industries (the production of cement and bricks) are among the most important ones. The industries that build machines, locomotives and rolling stock also require special attention of the most urgent kind. Abundant and generous supplies of materials are also needed by the industry that produces rails for the railroads, especially those that ship coal to where it is needed to smelt the metal ores and those that facilitate the transport of raw materials and cereals from the agrarian economy to the cities. Those industries that attend to the supply of the people with means of production (machines, metal, fertilizers) also deserve more financial support. All those sectors of industry that make possible the acquisition of products from the people also must be further developed, where large quantities of stocks and inventories earmarked for certain industrial sectors have accumulated awaiting shipment. And the various aspects of the agrarian economy must also be developed.

For the realization of all these proposals a working plan is necessary. Not abstract and idealist generalities about the “revitalization of the country”, or detailed reports from some bureau that would attempt to deplete all means and possibilities. To the contrary, what is needed is a working plan that would delineate the general contours of the situation, yet in a distinctly concrete manner, and this plan would address: 1., the possibilities of its implementation; 2., the issues that must be addressed; 3., the necessary spatio-temporal distribution of these means; and 4., the correct relation between their implementation among the various sectors of industry (if the means are lacking then these measures cannot be implemented at any particular time in disproportionately large quantities, which would lead to a situation in which part of them would not be used; furthermore, the fundamental task consists in the reestablishment of the proportionality between the diverse sectors of production).

Both the plan itself as well as its realization must be based on the principle that the most vigorous sectors of the economy must receive all the means they need in whatever quantities are required. This applies to both material and economic means. Up until now, the means that have been distributed were generally scarce means, and for every sector of the socialized economy the principle of underconsumption has prevailed, which has affected all the other sectors of the economy to an equal degree. We must radically break away from this principle in order to begin to distinguish between those sectors of production that are the highest priority sectors, and those sectors that are of secondary importance, and this distinction must be meticulously applied. Just as the worker in a city obtains a larger quantity of means of subsistence than the non-working inhabitant of that city, so, too, the most important sectors of production must be granted the highest priority with regard to distribution of means.

This will naturally lead to the further exacerbation of the “underconsumption” of the other sectors, and perhaps even to the decline of the “second-order” sectors. But this risk must be taken if the interests of the workers are to be guaranteed and their forces are to be used in accordance with a plan. At the present time approximately half of all the industrial capacity is largely idle. These industrial facilities would be more rationally organized with respect to a levelheaded and efficient plan, and the rations of subsistence goods would be more efficiently distributed directly to the unemployed workers, when the economy is not burdened with subsidizing industries that are largely useless and that draw on the production of other sectors of production. The rejuvenation and expansion of the strong sectors, as well as the reinforcement of their foundations, will increase the demand for labor power and help put an end to the harmful influence of the idle condition of many workers. Finally, the planned revitalization of the most important sectors will very rapidly involve all of industry and the whole working class in a new life.

For us, building socialism and socialist relations of production is inherently linked with the economic-technical construction, with the reconstruction, of our devastated industries. It would seem that this is the only way that socialism can be attained, for the socialist revolution issues from the destruction of the capitalist economy caused by the crisis of the imperialist war. And for that reason the task that we have set ourselves is doubly difficult. “Organic labor” is necessary. But this organic labor cannot and must not ever be informed by the shopkeeper’s mentality of the petty bourgeoisie. With the construction of industry we must ourselves create a new social order and cast aside the old one. While we are stabilizing the ground under the feet of the proletariat, we must always be prepared to mobilize our forces and shift them from the terrain of organic labor to the terrain of the armed struggle, in conformance with the concept of the international proletariat in revolt.

“Organic labor” cannot be any kind of labor that would lay claim to being self-sufficient. Under the current conditions this labor is, above all, a means for the consolidation of the Russian and international revolution. Only after the complete victory of the proletariat, on an international scale, will the primary task then be the material construction of life.

N. Osinsky

Translated in August 2014 from the Spanish translation published in:

Frits Kool and Erwin Oberländer, editors, Documentos de la revolución mundial. I. Democracía de trabajadores o dictadura de partido, translated into Spanish by Carlos Díaz, Zero-Zyx, Madrid, 1971, pp. 81-114. Originally published in German under the title, Arbeiterdemokratie oder Parteidiktatur, Walter-Verlag, Zurich, 1968.

  • 1. N. Osinsky, “O Stroitelstve sotsializma”, in Kommunist. Ezenedel’nyi zurnal ekonomiki, politiki i obsenstvennosti. Organ Moskovskago Oblastnogo Byuro RKP (bol’sevikov) [The Communist. Weekly Magazine for Economics, Politics and Social Questions. Organ of the Moscow District Office of the RCP(B)], Issue No. 1, April 20, 1918, pp. 5-11. This journal was a theoretical organ of the so-called communist left, which the latter had founded with the support of the Moscow District Committee, which it dominated, “in order to provide more resonance for its campaigns against Lenin’s domestic policies”. Its editors and principal contributors were Bukharin, Osinsky, Radek and Smirnov. In April and May of 1918, a total of four issues were published. See R. V. Daniels, The Conscience of the Revolution, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1969, p. 85.
  • 2. This polemic with Lenin was very embittered. What Osinsky is summarizing in this first section of his text is Lenin’s doctrine, that is, the internal strengthening of Russia and centralization, as well as the ad hoc peace treaty with Germany during the First World War in order to avoid having to face Hitlerian [sic] forces so soon after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Lenin maintained that it was better to sign a peace treaty with Germany, even if this meant refusing to attack German imperialism and surrendering to the latter, furthermore, territories in northwest Russia, because this humiliation was preferable to engaging in a new war and risking Russia’s revolutionary conquests of 1917. Osinsky opposed this position, and advocated a contrary policy (as is set forth in the following sections), that is, liberalization or internationalism. [Note of the Spanish Translator.]
  • 3. All these slogans and principles, as well as the program derived from them, were supposed to have been set forth in the theses of comrade Lenin that he promised to publish as soon as possible after a meeting held on April 4 between the leading members of the Central Committee and a group of left communists. Why have these theses not yet been published?
  • 4. The Taylor System: conceived by the American engineer F. W. Taylor (1856-1915) upon the basis of exact quantification of the time needed for each and every gesture required for each particular task in the workplace.
  • 5. Osinsky is referring to the peace treaty concluded with the Central Powers on March 3, 1918 in Brest-Litovsk, which the left communists opposed right up until the moment it was signed.
  • 6. The Ataman of the Don Cossacks, A. M. Kaledin (1861-1920), in January 1918, proclaimed the independent Republic of the Don, which, however, only lasted a couple of weeks.
  • 7. The Zemstvo was a kind of special local government characterized by autonomous and corporative administration which was introduced in Russia on January 1, 1864. See Victor Leontovitch, History of Liberalism in Russia, Frankfurt, 1957.
  • 8. We know “from good sources” that the examples we have offered are not just products of our imagination, but correspond to real projects that have been discussed in the responsible institutions. In the past (when this text was first written), the projects in question were shelved in their original form. And the resolution to place socialism under the management of the organizers of the trusts has also “withered on the vine” in order not to provoke opposition. But this does not change the situation. We shall analyze the total course of the policy in its most distinct manifestation. These projects might once again emerge at any moment. The declarations of the “communist” Gukovsky demonstrate that the ideas of Smiles are being followed extensively in the arena of financial policy and that they are predominant. (See Note 13, below.)
  • 9. The members of the “Constitutional Democratic” Party.
  • 10. “Tezisy o Tekuscem momente”, published in the same issue of The Communist as this article, pp. 4-9.
  • 11. This is indicated by the handing over of a part of the stocks to the leading bankers and other conditions of this kind.
  • 12. Meshchersky was a famous iron and steel magnate. In March 1918 he submitted a proposal to the Bolshevik government that he should form and control, along with other magnates, the trust of the industry of metal workers on a fifty-fifty basis. This proposal and its warm welcome by the government generated violent opposition among the left communists. See Edward Hallett Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-1923, Vol. II, London, 1952, pp. 88-89.
  • 13. Samuel Smiles (1812-1902), a Scottish journalist and financier.
  • 14. At the present time what really interests those responsible for this “new orientation” is the purely economic aspect of the Taylor System, rather than its positive and organizational aspects.
  • 15. We always use the word “pedpriyatie” (enterprise) to designate a unit of production (factory, industrial complex, mine, etc.). And we use this word because there is no Russian word that corresponds to the German word, “Betrieb”, which refers exclusively to a technical unit of production, and does not have the broader scope of the capitalist “enterprise”.
  • 16. “The Newspaper of the Central Executive Committee” and “The Newspaper of the Moscow Soviet of Workers Deputies”.
  • 17. It is of interest, in connection with this point, to note that wherever these vital powers break through the shell of the material and organizational disorder, the productivity of labor rises by itself, and “self-discipline” is achieved, without any decrees. At the Gartman industrial complex, in Lugansk, where the local economic council was rapidly and effectively organized, where the engineers collaborated with the workers, where the latter were taught to understand (after incredible efforts) the need for materials for productivity, the management of the labor process in this nationalized factory complex has achieved an output in March of thirteen locomotives, compared to the three locomotives per month that was the average for the previous autumn.
  • 18. It was later proposed to elect the congress plenum from the economic councils in each sector (naturally including the representatives of the trade unions).
  • 19. The control commissions are in the epoch of the absolute predominance of the working class a remnant that does not encourage the development of the personal and organizational initiative of the proletariat, but rather inhibits it. The only thing that will remain of our current control commissions will be the functions of inspection exercised over the control commissions. The workers of the factories must participate directly in the operations of these commissions (but they must not have the majority in the leading committees of the enterprises).
  • 20. In the Moscow district there are currently more than 700 million rubles worth of fabrics stored in warehouses awaiting shipment, which until now could not be distributed by the currently existing distribution networks.


armadillo gumbo
Aug 19 2014 13:16

This is a wonderful resource! I am grateful to you for posting it and for including all that information about its original publication in note 1. But what is its more recent source? Did you translate it from the original Russian? Has it been published in English? Then please tell me where and by whom. Many thanks!

Alias Recluse
Aug 20 2014 04:41

Translated in August 2014 from the Spanish translation published in:

Frits Kool and Erwin Oberländer, editors, Documentos de la revolución mundial. I. Democracía de trabajadores o dictadura de partido, Spanish translation by Carlos Díaz, Zero-Zyx, Madrid, 1971, pp. 81-114. Originally published in German under the title, Arbeiterdemokratie oder Parteidiktatur, Walter-Verlag, Zurich, 1968.