The Left Communists' Theses on the Current Situation (Russia, 1918)

The Left Communists' Theses on the Current Situation (Russia, 1918)

Published by the academic journal Critique, Glasgow, in 1977, this text has long been unavailable in print and apparently never before freely available online. A very important document of the Russian Revolution, showing the divisions within the Bolshevik Party in their early days in power.

Such debates on strategy were soon to be suppressed in the name of 'party discipline'; not only in the Party, but within the larger society. Soon the only place where dissidents had the freedom to criticise and debate the nature of the new ruling regime would be in Soviet jails and Gulag prison camps. The Introduction is from the 1977 Critique pamphlet. One possible criticism of this intro (and to some degree the Theses also) is the tendency for all strategic questions of how to advance the revolution to be reduced to political questions of party rule from above. The warnings of the Left Communists – that the policies being pursued would soon lead to total degeneration of all revolutionary achievements, were – even as they wrote – in the process of being proved true.

Theses of the Left Communists
INTRODUCTION (Critique 1977)

The document which appears below in translation is the manifesto of the Left Communists, published in the first number of the Moscow produced journal Kommunist on 20 April 1918. This translation is the first full English translation ever to be published.

The manifesto was a prophetic document, for many of the ideas contained in it foreshadowed the programmes of later left opposition groups in the Soviet Union. Indeed, several of the personalities associated with the Left Communist position were later destined to appear in these groups. It is therefore highly significant that the factor which precipitated the formation of the group was the conclusion of the Brest-Litovsk peace. This appeared to some as the Bolshevik Party's first break with the principles of revolutionary Marxism, with its commitment to world revolution. The arguments in favour of accepting the German peace terms were, of course, weighty and sounded realistic in contrast to the opposing point of view, which was open to the charge of revolutionary romanticism. Yet, in the view of the Left Communists, from the acceptance of these terms there flowed the inescapable consequences of a socialist revolution in isolation: degeneration and bureaucratisation. The very act of making peace, moreover, would in itself lessen the chances of a revolution in the West.

The debate on whether to make peace with the advancing Germans went through a series of stages. At first, in January, the majority was in favour of revolutionary war. Trotsky occupied an intermediate position of 'neither peace nor war', but when his temporising proved fruitless in the face of the German army, he accepted the truce. He argued at the meeting of the Central Committee noted below that if the Party were united they could and should conduct a revolutionary war. Since they were not "he could not take the responsibility of voting for war".1 Lenin, however, argued consistently that the Party had no choice but to accept the peace.

The decision to sign the peace was carried in the Central Committee on 23 February 1918. There were seven in favour (Lenin, Zinoviev, Sverdlov, Stalin, Sokolnikov, Smilga and Stasova) and four against (Bukharin, Lomov, Bubnov and Uritsky) while Trotsky, Joffe, Krestinsky and Dzerzhinsky abstained. On the following day the resolution was passed by the Central Soviet Executive (V TslK) by 112 votes to 84 with 24 abstentions. The treaty was subsequently ratified by the VII Party Congress (6-8 March 1918) and by the IV Congress of Soviets (14-16 March 1918). The Congress of Soviets of which the manifesto speaks was attended by 1172 delegates with the right of vote, the resolution being carried by 784 votes against 261 with 115 abstentions.

It was following their defeat on the Brest-Litovsk issue that the Left within the Party (which included Bukharin, Osinsky (Obolensky), Radek, Bubnov, Kosior, Kollontai, Kuibyshev, Pokrovsky, Preobrazhensky, Pyatakov, Sapronov, Safarov, Uritsky, Kritsman, Smirnov, Unshlikht, Yaroslavsky, Inessa Arrnand, Bela Kun, and Skvortsov-Stepanov) put forward the theses reprinted below. They were discussed with Lenin and other Party leaders at a meeting on 4 April 1918. Lenin promised to present a set of counter theses. His reply to the Left Communists, however, took the form of more lengthy articles such as The Current Tasks of Soviet Power and On 'Left Infantilism' and the Petty Bourgeois Spirit which castigated the views set out in the manifesto of the Left.

In January 1918 three of the most important Party organisations supported the Left. They were the Moscow, Petrograd and Ural district committees. The journal Kommunist was produced as the local Party committee's organ in Petrograd from 5 March to 19 March under the editorship of Bukharin, Radek and Uritsky. Eleven issues appeared in all.2 From 20 April to 15 May four more issues of Kommunist were published; this time the journal was published in Moscow, with V. Smirnov and Osinsky on the editorial board in place of Uritsky. The original debate which had begun in January on the question of war or peace now became a debate around the question of whether it was correct to employ one-man management, the Taylor system of industrial control, the use of bourgeois experts and hierarchical discipline. Thus Preobrazhensky stated in reply to those who supported the ending of workers' control on the railways:

"The Party apparently will soon have to decide the question, to what degree the dictatorship of individuals will be extended from the railways and other branches of the economy to the Russian Communist Party."3

Although the Left Communists lost control of the Petrograd and Moscow Party committees the debate continued. At the Moscow area Party Conference of May 15 1918, Lenin had accepted the charge that Russia was moving to state capitalism, arguing that it was production discipline that was necessary in order to undertake the transition to socialism. This was in answer to the Left who were arguing for more extensive nationalisation. Radek and Osinsky explicitly called for general nationalisation at the first Congress of the Economic Councils held in May-June 1918.

Some members of the Central Committee who supported the Left Communists (Bukharin, Lomov, Uritsky) refused to take their positions in spite of a Party debate endorsing a motion which refused to accept their withdrawal. Others – like Preobrazhensky – were not re-elected to their former positions, while still others left the Party. Not only were no sanctions employed against Left Communists, but, in general, they continued to occupy leading state positions. Thus, for example, Osinsky was the first chairman of the Supreme Economic Council where he did not hesitate to express his views.

Some of the distortions of the views of both sides have become notorious. Lenin and Trotsky, who took essentially the same view after the Seventh Party Congress, continued to stress the united nature of the world revolution, arguing not in terms of the needs of Russia, but on the necessity of securing the proletarian base for further advances when the other parts of the world were ready. Indeed in his attack on the Left Communists on May 15 1918, Lenin argued that the Western proletariat now had the possibility of understanding the nature of the Bolsheviks and pointed out the agitational importance of this.4 In other words the argument was tactical. As E. H. Carr suggests, the differences between Lenin and Trotsky were concerned with questions of emphasis.

"The popular picture of Trotsky, the advocate of world revolution, clashing with Lenin, the champion of national security or socialism in one country, is so distorted to be almost entirely false .... In the Brest-Litovsk controversy, though Trotsky was the most eloquent and ingenious advocate of world revolution, he was also the champion of the policy of playing off one group of capitalists against the other; he was at the opposite pole to those who stood on the ground of pure revolutionary principle unsullied by compromise or expediency... On the other hand, Lenin, while insisting on the needs of national defence, was so far from abandoning world revolution that he constantly stressed it as the supreme goal of his policy."5

There are also those who see some kind of anarchist significance in the protest of the Left in 1918; in the view of these critics, the Left Communists were arguing towards decentralised workers' control on a factory to factory basis. However, Osinsky, who also took part in future oppositions, makes quite clear in his work on the economy written in 1918 that the Bolshevik Party correctly counterposed class control of the factories to individualistic workers' control.6 If we take a modern analogy, the Left Communists were much more comparable to the left in the late Chilean popular front than to a semi-anarchist grouping. Neither were in any way opposed to the use of state power in the construction of socialism, but both were afraid that their leaders were proceeding too slowly, and that the compromises needed to maintain power could only weaken the regime.

The essential point is that every important Bolshevik realised that bureaucratic or bourgeois degeneration was inevitable in the absence of the world revolution, but Lenin and Trotsky thought that the international proletariat would rise in time to reverse the degenerative process. The Left Communists were not so sanguine; they wanted to maintain the momentum of the revolutionary process at home and abroad.

The significance of the Left Communists and their actions lies in a number of different directions. In the first place, it shows the wide differences possible at the time in the Bolshevik Party without any sanction. Secondly, the personnel and the ideas of the Left Communists formed the basis for the opposition groups which followed. Thirdly, and most importantly, there is the question of what lessons can be learnt for the present; whether, after all, (with the benefit of the knowledge of the total degeneration of the USSR, as the Left Communists warned), it can be said that the Left Communists were perhaps correct.


The 'Left' Communists' Theses on the Current Situation (1918)

Translated by lain Fraser.

From the editors of Kommunist. Every comrade who closely follows party life will know that there arose at the beginning of this year serious differences in the party's ranks on the question of concluding peace with Germany.

These differences were discussed twice by the Central Committee along with the responsible party workers: the first time on the 20th (7th) of January and the second, on the 3rd of February (21st of January) of 1918. At these sessions there appeared two basic tendencies, one of which, the 'right', advocated the speedy conclusion of peace on the terms then being offered, without taking the matter as far as breaking off negotiations; and the other, the 'left', called for rejection of these terms and the waging of a revolutionary war. An intermediate tendency was against the signing of an annexationist peace, and also against the continuance of the war.

As is generally known, it was at first this intermediate position which prevailed. After the beginning of the German attack – the reply to the tactic of stopping the war without signing the peace treaty – the question was again placed on the agenda in the Central Committee and a decision was eventually taken that peace must be concluded. As a result the minority, which insisted on the acceptance of war against German imperialism, left the CC, and subsequently comrades adhering to this tendency gave up responsible posts in the organs of Soviet power.

A final solution to these differences in their original form was given by the party congress held at the beginning of March and the congress of Soviets which took place in the middle of March. The party congress, by a majority of 28 to 12 with 4 abstentions, approved the tactics of the Central Committee majority and recognised the confirmation of the peace as inevitable. The congress of Soviets ratified the peace by a considerable majority.

The group of left Bolsheviks which published the paper Kommunist in Petersburg, the minority group at the party congress, however, felt it wrong not to speak at all at the congress of Soviets. At this congress a resolution was tabled in the name of 58 delegates and 10 members of the Ts.I.K., in which the left communists declared that they were unable to vote for the ratification of the peace since they considered it extremely harmful to the cause of the Russian revolution and the international proletariat. In deference to party discipline, however, they would not vote against, but abstained from voting.

After the ratification of peace it seemed, on the one hand, that the differences in the party lost their raison d'etre, since the ratification of the peace, the one debatable point, had become an accomplished and irrefutable fact. But on the other hand the conclusion of peace laid a basis for the appearance of new differences. The conclusion of peace could not be a simple legal act; it was an event which fundamentally changed the whole political and economic position. In the arguments around the conclusion of peace, two different viewpoints on the tasks of the Russian proletariat, two evaluations of the current political situation, have become manifest. The conclusion of peace has itself set the Russian revolution at a crossroads. The party majority has begun to follow one political path, while the party minority – the left, proletarian-communist wing – is following another.

It is still difficult to say how the two paths will further diverge. It is possible that the differences will be worked out in the course of comradely discussion. It is also possible that they will become still deeper. In any case, the left-wing does not consider it necessary or useful to conceal them. With this in mind, the Moscovv district office of the RCP, which sides with the left-wing of the party, has opened the pages of its journal which is now being issued to discussion of these differences. The theses printed below represent the views of the editorial board on the current political situation and the tasks of the Russian working class. (These theses were read and discussed at the joint session of the group of left communists and leading comrades from the party centre, on 4th April, 1918.)

1. The conclusion of an annexationist peace with Germany closed the preceding period of the Russian revolution and opens a new stage in it. In consequence of the contradiction between German imperialism and the Russian workers' and peasants' revolution, revolutionary international dernands were counterposed to the annexationist designs of the imperialists. This counterposition by itself produced a sharpening of the class struggle in Austria and Germany, temporarily blunted when German imperialism took decisive action against the Soviet Republic. The German attack, the German ultimatum and the annexationist peace were all forms and weapons of this onslaught.

2. At the beginning of March the proletarian and peasant revolution was faced with the choice: accept or decline battle. A decisive majority of worker, soldier and peasant organisations took the latter course. Representatives of various elements made up this majority. There were first the weary and declasse soldier masses. Second, there were some workers of Russia's Northern industrial region, where separation from southern sources of raw materials such as coal and iron had combined with general agricultural disruption to produce starvation, an increased decline in industry, unemployment and disruption of the normal course of productive work. This had led to the undermining of the proletariat's class character (the weakening of its class consciousness and unity) or at any rate to a reduction in its militancy as a class. Finally, there were represented peasants of the northern and central industrial region, exhausted by the war, the bad harvest, supply difficulties and the disruption of urban industry. The workers and peasants of the economically more active and better fed regions of the south, the south-west and the Urals, however, were in the majority of cases in favour of accepting battle, but they did not prevail. To preserve the industrial north which had been hitherto in the centre of the revolution, peace was concluded at the expense of separating the industrial north from the grain-producing and industrial south.

3. It would be ridiculous to preach, like the left SRs, a 'non-acceptance in principle' of this peace. The conclusion of this peace, as the victory of the backward and exhausted sections of the workers and peasants, is an objective fact which creates a new objective situation, a new set of circumstances for economic activity, a new combination of class forces. The separation of 'Great Russia' from the Western Ukraine, the threatened isolation from the Yekaterinoslav and Donets regions, the evacuation of Petersburg – these are objective facts of economic life. The concessions of an economic character which the foreign imperialists will demand on the basis of the peace treaty concluded at Brest Litovsk may also have a strong effect on the economic circumstances. Finally, the consolidation among the masses of a passive 'peace psychology' is an objective fact of the political situation.

But though taking account of the situation produced by the Brest peace, the proletarian communists cannot base themselves solely on those facts, cannot adopt the level of consciousness of a backward, passive, inactive portion of one of the sections of the Russian proletariat or peasantry. They determine their tasks on the basis of the interests of the workers of Russia as a whole, linking up these tasks with the growing international revolutionary movement. The basic direction of their political line is not the preservation at all costs of the conquests made by the workers and peasants on the present disjointed territory of the Soviet republic, for this situation in practice means sacrificing these conquests on the backward territory of Russia and the petty-bourgeois transformation of the present Soviet state. Their line is the development and strengthening of the whole of Russia as a fighting unit of the international workers' revolution against international imperialism.

4. The conclusion by the Soviet republic of an annexationist peace with Germany has without doubt temporarily weakened the forces of international revolution and strengthened international imperialism. But the basic forces of international revolution still grow and will beat themselves a path through the obstacles facing them, making use of some results of the conclusion of peace as factors for strengthening the revolutionary movement.

The conclusion of peace has for the present weakened the imperialists' drive towards an international, re-division of territory. From their point of view, Russia has been thrown back as a centre for world revolution. Fear of its influence no longer so strongly pushes the warring imperialists into each other's arms. It (Russia) is also defeated as a military unit. Hence the possibility has opened up for the German imperialists to throw all their forces towards the West and to fight for complete victory over the imperialists of the Entente powers. The latter in turn must, in view of the impending partition of Russia and the danger of defeat which threatens them, exert all their efforts to resist and to guarantee themselves counter-annexations in the Far East and inTurkey. To strengthen these conquests, they must strive to prevail in a decisive theatre of the war. Accordingly, the conclusion of peace has already led to a sharpening of the rivalry between the imperialist powers.

5. The conclusion of an annexationist peace at the present moment has undoubtedly sharply restrained the development of the psychological pre-conditions for international revolution which were ripening towards the spring of 1918. But it has not been able to hold back, and has partly promoted, the development of the material contradictions which constitute the principal basis of a revolutionary outbreak. The revolution's delay in coming out into the open will no doubt cause it to take on stronger and more violent forms.

The increase in the struggle between alliances of imperialists is draining to the dregs the disrupted economic resources of the warring powers; it is leading both to a new destruction of 'human material' and to precipitous general economic decline. The sharpening of the material contradictions on the basis of the food and agricultural crisis in the Central Powers (especially in Austria) cannot be greatly restrained by the seizure of the Ukraine, since during the most critical phase – spring 1918 – German capital will be unable to extract from there the necessary resources of food and goods. The Ukraine is being seized at the moment when the grain requisitions are being finished (these were in any case unsuccessful), at the height of the Civil War, and at the lime when the factories and mines are deprived of the necessary labour force, coke, timber, fuel, etc., and the railways of coal and rolling stock. At the same time, the German annexationist policy on the eastern front is giving rise to a number of national conflicts both in the German 'immediate rear' (Poland, the Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia), in the heart of the Austrian national bloc (Galicia, Bohemia), and also within the alliance of the Central Powers itself.

On the other hand, it must be noted that the conclusion of peace has a negative effect on the spiritual and psychological development of the international revolution. The influence of the Russian revolution on the international workers' movement is weakened by its capitulation to international imperialism (the ending of revolutionary propaganda at the front, the rejection of the policy of unmasking international imperialism, the possibly 'moderate' course of internal policy in Russia). Nor can the Soviet state's attempts at diplomatic manoeuvring inspire the international proletariat, since they demonstrate not the strength but the weakness of the revolution. The very fact of concluding an annexationist peace strengthens the defencist tendencies in the backward sections of the international proletariat. In Germany the imperialists are able to point to this peace, and promise the workers peace and bread as a result of imperialist victories. They intimidate them with the example of the Russian defeat and 'collapse'. In France and Britain they urge on their workers against the German proletariat which has 'betrayed' the Russian revolution. In America defencist agitation is developing and it flagrantly makes use of the slogan of defence of the Russian revolution from the German seizure.

But at the same time, the spreading of the world-wide carnage is destroying the hopes for peace which seized the working masses in autumn 1917. The extremely clear exposure of the annexationist policy of the ruling classes and their social agents at the time the peace was concluded discloses the underlying tendencies of defencisrn and civil peace. It is preparing the collapse of the last inhibitions that restrain the working masses from action.

The most critical moment in the development of the contradictions brought about by the whole imperialist system and the imperialist war is at hand. During this spring and summer the collapse of the imperialist system must begin, a victory for German imperialism in the current phase of the war can only postpone that collapse and increase its intensity when it occurs.

6. The calculations of the German imperialists in concluding peace with the Soviet republic amount to the following. Firstly, it seemed advantageous to postpone the annexation of northern Russia, the direct overthrow of Soviet power and the immediate takeover of the economy of northern Russia: this was largely due to the difficulty of organising the economy and supplies in the north and to the absence of powerful bourgeois agents who could support the occupying power (e.g. the Ukrainian Central Rada). Secondly, it was important to subjugate and exploit for the needs of the German capitalist econonomly the grain-producing and industrial south. Thirdly, by cutting off the north from the South and thereby creating a natural economic decline in the north, by exploiting control over the sources of raw materials and grain which feed the north, and by exerting military pressure at the captured strategic points in the north and in the new partial annexations, German imperialism was in fact calculating on subjecting the north to the tentacles of German finance capital, destroying the social conquests of the workers' revolution and thus internally, from the centre, undermining Soviet power. The degree of severity, the concealed or open character of the attack by German imperialism on the Soviet republic will depend on various circumstances: on the position in the theatre of war, on the internal situation within the Central Powers, on the decisiveness of the resistance put up both by the Soviet state and by the revolutionary classes in both the south and the occupied north-west of Russia.

7. In addition to the attack from German imperialism, the Soviet republic is threatened with attack from the Entente coalition. The plans of German imperialism in the immediate future will be directed at subjecting the economy of northern Russia to the internal influence of German finance capital by extortions from the Soviet republic, by attempts to emasculate its revolutionary content, but not by its direct overthrow. The plans of Anglo-French and Japanese imperialism will be directed at semi-occupation, semi-restoration of a bourgeois-conciliationist order in separate areas of the Far East, at the subjection of these areas to the control of Entente capital through their Russian petty bourgeois agents (the defencists and Kadets). The latest note from the 'Allies' on the question of the cancelled debts shows, by the way, that Anglo-French capital too is inclined to try to subject the Soviet republic (like Germany) to its internal control. Finally, American capital's efforts amount to subjecting the Soviet republic to the influence of American capital through the Soviet power, and not like Germany by playing for its exhaustion. American capital is reckoning in this case on ensuring for itself a healthy peasant market cleansed from serfdom, at the setting up in Russia of heavy industry united in trusts and at counterposing the industrial and farming bourgeois democracy it envisages in Russia to the rivals of the United States – Germany and Japan. Overall, the situation of the Soviet republic is now such that, being under threat of direct attack from imperialism on all sides, it cannot as yet carry on a policy of general open attack, but can and must be prepared for it at any moment, carrying out for the time being a policy of systematic resistance and active opposition to the importunities of the imperialists of all countries and shades.

8. The economic situation and the class groupings in Russia after the conclusion of peace have changed. The situation created will give a basis for two opposite tendencies (the weakening and the growth of revolutionary forces), the first of which is directly strengthened by the conclusion of the peace and may prevail for the immediate future.

The partial liquidation of the Petersburg region completes its rapid decline, which was apparent as early as spring 1917 and was a consequence of the economic 'artificiality' of Petersburg industry in a period of war and interrupted sea communications. The peace was intended to save the 'red' capital, but it saved only the territory of Petersburg, and killed it as a revolutionary force. The disruption of production, unemployment, the declassing of the proletariat and the reduction of its class militancy increased. Petersburg lost its significance as the main economic and revolutionary centre.

The conclusion of the annexationist peace undermines, though to a lesser extent, the other progressive industrial region – the Moscow area, where the working class will likewise be weakened by the interruption in supplies of metal, coal, grain and the consequent unemployment and declassing.

The conclusion of an annexationist peace also has a negative effect on the economic situation and the political activity (militancy) of the tired and hungry poor peasantry of the northern and central industrial provinces. The disruption of urban industry, the cessation of supplies of grain from the south, and the ending of migration for work to southern Russia will create impoverishment and declassing. On the other hand, the proletarianisation of the peasantry will partly arouse revolutionary impulses and hatred of the German occupiers.

The poor and 'labourer' peasantry of the agricultural provinces, occupied with the division of the land and not having had opportunities in the period of decay of the bourgeois structure, and decline in the productive forces of all countries, to organise a strong private agricultural economy will continue to support Soviet power.

The Urals mining and factory region, linked with the Priural'e, Western Siberia and their industrial centres, forms a comparatively sound economic region, strongly permeated, it is true, by petty bourgeois strata and also subject to the effects of the general economic disruption. Among the workers and poor peasants of these parts the workers' and peasants' revolution and Soviet power will also find support.

The proletariat of the south, which has borne the whole brunt of the defeat of the bourgeois uprising in the south and which is now showing most decisive resistance to German occupation, must, despite destruction and exhaustion, thanks precisely to their class education in the fire of the civil war, preserve considerable class combativeness. Together with the Ukrainian poor peasantry, which is threatened with the return of the landlords and with German and Haidamak banditry, it constitutes a constant support for an uprising against the imperialist occupiers and their Ukrainian bourgeois henchmen.

The poor peasantry of the non-black-earth north-west of Russia, as a result of the still more destructive effect of the German requisitions on its economy, will also provide, and is already doing so, forces for struggle with the occupiers and the landowners who are being re-installed.A positive factor is the complete demobilisation of the old army, which has returned millions of people to productive work, which serves to strengthen the economy in the countryside, further the revolutionary process in the countryside and put an end to the putrefying environment of inactive military units. We are only now beginning to feel the favourable effect of the de facto termination of the imperialist war (since October 1917) and of the demobilisation of industry which cornmenced simultaneously.

9. In these circumstances, despite the temporary weakening of the forces of revolution and despite the grave international situation of the Soviet republic, within the boundaries of the present Soviet state there is no serious support for an uprising either by the monarchists or the conciliationist parties.

The landowner economy and the political power of the landowning class have been broken; the bourgeoisie has been defeated, there is no strong peasantry (a new stratum of agrarian petty-bourgeoisie has not yet had time to form, and the old stratum is leaving the structure under pressure from the village poor). The support for the monarchy has been eliminated from the structure. On the other hand, the urban petty bourgeoisie and the bourgeois intelligentsia have also been rendered powerless. There is no basis for a revival of the power of the conciliationist parties, the Mensheviks and SRs, which in any case could be only a transitional stage prior to the restoration of the dictatorship of the proletariat and poor peasantry, and not to the restoration of bourgeois order. Nor is there any basis for the permanent restoration of the capitalist and landowner economy in the regions occupied by the Germans.

On the contrary, there is a basis for the strengthening and growth of the dictatorship of the proletariat and poor peasants and for the socialist transformation of society begun by them. In addition to the factors mentioned earlier, which strengthen this positive tendency in the development of the revolution, the following circumstances are still crucial. Above all, the initial process of smashing the bourgeois conciliationist state order, the old relations of production and the material class power of the bourgeoisie and its allies is almost completed. Further, the class education of the proletariat in the course of the civil war gives it a great measure of class cohesion, energy and consciousness. Likewise, the real conquests made have strengthened the proletariat's revolutionary forces and energy in resisting the enemy's threat to these conquests. The energetic organisation of production on socialist principles, on the one hand, must strengthen the economic base of the proletariat as a revolutionary force, and, on the other hand, be for it a new school of organisation and activity. Finally, the preservation of the link with the international and all-Russian proletarian movement also increases the class activity of the proletariat and preserves it from demoralisation and exhaustion. But as a result of the immediate, direct consequences of the peace, the reduction in class activity and the increased declassing of the proletariat in the main revolutionary centres, as a result of the increased class rapprochement between the proletariat and the poor peasants (who after the signing of peace under pressure of their demands and influence must become a bulwark of Soviet power), there arises the strong possibility of a tendency towards deviation on the part of the majority of the communist party and the Soviet power led by it into the channel of petty bourgeois politics of a new type.

In the event that such a tendency should materialise, the working class will cease to be the leader and guide of the socialist revolution inspiring the poor peasantry to destroy the rule of finance capital and the landowners. It will become a force which is dissipated in the ranks of the semi-proletarian petty bourgeois masses, which see as their task not proletarian struggle in alliance with the Western European proletariat for the overthrow of the imperialist system, but the defence of the petty proprietor fatherland from the pressure of imperialism. This aim is also attainable through compromise with the latter. In the event of a rejection of active proletarian politics, the conquests of the workers' and peasants' revolution will start to coagulate into a system of state capitalism and petty bourgeois economic relations. 'The defence of the socialist fatherland' will then prove in actual fact to be defence of a petty bourgeois motherland subject to the influence of international capital.

10. The party of the proletariat is faced with a choice between two paths. One is the path of preserving and strengthening the part of the Soviet state which has been left whole, which is at present from the economic viewpoint considering the partial nature of the revolutionary process only a transitional organisation to socialism (in view of incomplete nationalisation of the banks, a capitalist form of financing enterprises, the rule in the countryside of small scale economy and petty property, and the efforts of the peasants to solve the land question by dividing up the land). But from the political viewpoint this path may, under cover of the dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the poor peasants, transform itself into an instrument of the political rule of the semi-proletarian petty-bourgeois masses and prove to be only a transitional stage to the complete rule of finance capital.

This path – in words – may be justified by the effort to save at all costs the revolutionary forces of Soviet power, even if only in 'Great Russia', for international revolution. In this case all efforts will be directed towards strengthening the development of productive forces towards 'organic construction', while rejecting the continued smashing of capitalist relations of production and even furthering their partial restoration.

11. The possible economic and political programme which suggests itself in the event of the consistent following of this course, some parts of which may be put forward by the right wing of the party, and partly also by the party majority, is as follows.

In foreign policy the aggressive tactics of unmasking imperialism will be replaced by diplomatic manoeuvring on the part of the Russian state among the imperialist powers. The Soviet republic will not only conclude trade agreements with them, but may also forge organic links both economic and political, making use of their military and political support (agreements on aid by military instructors, possibly the contracting of debts with admission of internal control in the country, agreements on making joint political initiatives, etc.).

An economic policy to correspond with such a course must be developed in the direction of agreements with the capitalist wheeler-dealers, both 'native' and the international ones which stand behind their backs, and with the representatives of the 'big' strata in the countryside ('co-operators'). Denationalisation of the banks, even in a concealed form, is logically connected with such agreements. It may be carried out through the formation of special (semi-private, semi-state) banks for individual branches of industry (the statutes of the flour-milling bank have already been approved), through preservation of extraterritoriality of the so-called 'co-operative' banks, and through a transition to a system of central public accounting and the strengthening of capitalist credit in state and semi-state form.

In place of a transition from partial nationalisations to general socialisation of big industry, agreements with 'captains of industry' must lead to the formation of large trusts led by them and embracing the basic branches of industry, which may with external help take the form of state enterprises. Such a system of organisation of production gives a social base for evolution in the direction of state capitalism and is a transitional stage in it.

A policy of directing enterprises on the principle of wide participation of capitalists and semi-bureaucratic centralisation naturally goes with a labour policy directed at the establishment among the workers of discipline disguised as 'self-discipline', the introduction of labour responsibility for the workers (a project of this nature has been put forward by the right Bolsheviks), piece-work, lengthening of the working day, etc.

The form of state control of enterprises must develop in the direction of bureaucratic centralisation, of rule by various commissars, of deprivation of independence from local Soviets and of rejection in practice of the type of 'Commune state' ruled from below. Numerous facts show that a definite tendency in this direction is already taking shape (decree on the control of the railways, Latsis's articles, etc.).

In the field of military policy there must appear, and can in fact be noted already, a deviation towards the re-establishment of nationwide (including the bourgeoisie) military service (Trotsky's and Podvoisky's appeal). With the setting up of army cadres for whose training and leadership officers are necessary, the task of creating a proletarian officer corps through broad and planned organisation of appropriate schools and courses is being lost from sight. In this way in practice the old officer corps and command structure of the tsarist generals is being reconstituted.

Under cover of agitation 'for the defence of the socialist fatherland', these conditions mean the introduction of propaganda for a petty bourgeois motherland and for national war against German imperialists.

12. The path described above, taken as a whole, and equally the tendencies to deviation along this path, are dangerous in the extreme for the cause of the Russian and international proletariat. This path strengthens the separation, begun by the Brest peace, of the 'great Russian' Soviet republic from the all-Russian and international revolutionary movement, linking it to the framework of a nation state with a transitional economic and a petty bourgeois political order.

In foreign policy – with the inevitable weakness both of Soviet diplomacy and of Soviet influence in the arena of international imperialist struggle – it subjects the Soviet republic to imperialist links, separating it from links with the revolutionary proletariat of all countries. It weakens still more the international revolutionary significance of Soviet power and the Russian revolution.

Inside the country it will strengthen the economic and political influence of the Russian and international bourgeoisie, and consequently also the forces of counter-revolution and intelligentsia groups sabotaging Soviet power. With the world decline of productive forces concessions to the bourgeoisie cannot create a rapid growth in the national economy in a capitalist mode. At the same time they will remove the possibility of attaining the most economic and planned use of the remaining means of production, conceivable only with the most decisive socialisation.

The introduction of labour discipline in connection with the restoration of capitalist leadership in production cannot essentially increase the productivity of labour, but it will lower the class autonomy, activity and degree of organisation of the proletariat. It threatens the enslavement of the working class, and arouses the dissatisfaction both of the backward sections and of the vanguard of the proletariat. To carry this system through with the sharp class hatred prevailing in the working class against the 'capitalists and saboteurs', the communist party would have to draw its support from the petty bourgeoisie against the workers and thereby put an end to itself as the party of the proletariat.

Bureaucratic centralisation of the Soviet republic and backroom deals with bourgeois and petty bourgeois wheeler-dealers can also only promote the decline in the class activity and consciousness of the proletariat and the estrangement of the workers from the party.

Attempts at restoring general military conscription, insofar as they are not doomed to failure, would in essence lead to the arming and organisation of petty bourgeois and bourgeois counter-revolutionary forces, This is still clearer with regard to the restoration of the old officer corps and the returning of tsarist generals to command power, insofar as their use is not accompanied by the most energetic efforts at creating proletarian cadres of a revolutionary officer corps and the establishment of vigilant control over the tsarist command corps in the transitional period. 'Nationwide' (and not class) armed forces headed by the old generals cannot be penetrated by a revolutionary class spirit, and will inevitably degenerate into a declassed soldiery and cannot constitute a support for armed intervention of the Russian proletariat in the international revolution.

The political line set forth above may strengthen in Russia the influence of external and internal counter-revolutionary forces, destroy the revolutionary capacity of the working class and, by cutting the Russian revolution off from the international one, have pernicious effects on the interests of both.

13. Proletarian communists consider a different political course essential. Not a course of conserving a Soviet oasis in the north of Russia by means of concessions which transform it into a petty bourgeois state. Not a transition to `organic internal work' under the conviction that the 'acute period' of the civil war is over.

The acute period of the civil war is over only in the sense that the necessity is at present absent for the overwhelming application of the sharpest physical methods of revolutionary violence. Once the bourgeoisie is smashed and no longer capable of open fighting, 'military' methods are largely inappropriate. But the sharpness of the class contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie cannot diminish; as before, the proletariat's attitude towards the bourgeoisie is total negation, its annihilation as a class. The termination of the crucial period of the civil war cannot mean the possibility of a deal with the remaining forces of the bourgeoisie, and the 'organic construction' of socialism, which is without doubt the pressing task of the moment, can be accomplished only by the efforts of the whole proletariat with the participation of qualified technical experts and administrators, but not by any kind of collaboration with the 'qualified elements' as such.

The Russian workers' revolution cannot 'save itself' by leaving the path of international revolution, constantly avoiding battle and retreating before the onslaught of international capital, by making concessions to 'native capital'.

From this point of view three things are necessary: decisive class internationalist policy, combining international revolutionary propaganda by word and deed, and strengthening of the organic links with international socialism (and not with the international bourgeoisie); decisive resistance to all interference by imperialists in the internal affairs of the Soviet republic; refusal of political and military agreements which make the Soviet republic a tool of imperialist camps.

In international economic policy only trade agreements, loans and the supply of technical forces are permissible – without the subjection of Russian capital to the leadership and control of foreign finance capital.

It is necessary to complete the nationalisation of the banks, both in the extensive sense (socialisation of the remaining immune 'co-operative' banks) and in the intensive sense (organisation of central social accounting and destruction of the capitalist form of financing). Nationalisation of the banks must be combined with socialisation of industrial production and complete removal of capitalist and feudal survivals in the relations of production which hinder its planned, broad organisation. Control of enterprises must be handed over to mixed bodies of workers and technical personnel, under the control and leadership of local economic councils. All economic life must be subjected to the organised influence of these councils, elected by the workers without the participation of the 'qualified elements', but with the participation of the unions of technical and service personnel in the enterprises.

(The following points are necessary:)

Not capitulation to the bourgeoisie and its petty-bourgeois intellectual stooges, but defeat of the bourgeoisie and the final smashing of sabotage.

The final liquidation of the counter-revolutionary press and the counter-revolutionary bourgeois organisations.

The introduction of labour conscription for qualified specialists and intellectuals, the organisation of consumer communes, the limitation of consumption by the prosperous classes and the confiscation of their surplus property.

The organisation in the countryside of an attack by the poor peasants on the rich, the development of large scale socialised agriculture and support for forms of working the land by the poor peasants which are transitional to socialised agriculture.

The selection of certain strongpoints, certain healthy centres of organisation of production in certain places (e.g. the Urals, Western Siberia, etc.) and the direction to them of technical, food and financial resources on a large scale (for a rapid rise in productivity) – and not according to hunger rations as has been done hitherto.

Not the introduction of piece-work and the lengthening of the working day, which in circumstances of rising unemployment are senseless, but the introduction by local economic councils and trade unions of standards of manufacture and shortening of the working day with increase in the number of shifts and broad organisation of productive social labour.

The granting of broad independence to local Soviets and not the checking of their activities by commissars sent by the central power. Soviet power and the party of the proletariat must seek support in the class autonomy of the broad masses, to the development of which all efforts must be directed.

In the matter of the organisation of the armed forces the following things are necessary: the creation of a cadre of instructors and commanders of rapidly mobilizable units from among the workers of the evacuated regions, who remain without productive occupation; the use of tsarist officers to train these instructors, the creation of a proletarian and revolutionary, and not intellectual and bourgeois reserve officer corps; the training in military matters of workers and poor peasants only, the organisation of real control over the tsarist generals and the preparation of a higher command staff from among the party comrades who already have military experience, but are as yet without theoretical training.

14. In their practical attitude to the civil war the proletarian communists are against the actual breaking of the peace by organising partisan sallies on those parts of the front where peace is being observed. This would mean a disorganised action by a minority of workers in the absence of mass support. But they are for all forms of preparation for and support of uprisings in the rear in the occupied territories, for the most energetic struggle in the places where military action is continuing, for the formation by party organisations of partisan units to be sent to the fighting lines.

15. The proletarian communists define their attitude to the Bolshevik party as the position of the left-wing of the party and vanguard of the Russian proletariat, maintaining full unity with the party insofar as the policy of the majority does not cause an unbridgeable split in the ranks of the proletariat itself. They define their attitude to the Soviet power as a position of universal support for that power in the event of necessity – by means of participation in it, insofar as the ratification of the peace has removed from the agenda the question of responsibility for that decision and has created a new objective position. This participation is possible only on the basis of a definite political programme, which would prevent the deviation of the Soviet power and the party majority onto the fateful path of petty bourgeois politics. In the event of such a deviation the left-wing of the party will have to take the position of an active and responsible proletarian opposition.

Kommunist, No. 1, 20 April, 1918. Translated from Lenin, Suchineniya, (3rd edition), vol XXII, pp. 561-571.
  • 1. Lenin, Sochineniya (Works), 3rd edition; vol. 22, p.608. The history of Trotsky's position is extensively treated in Deutscher's biography of Trotsky; The Prophet Armed: Trotsky 1879-1921 (London, O.U.P., 1954) Ch. XI. For further material in English see: E. H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-1923 vol. 3, (London, Macmillan, 1953) Chs. 21 and 22; and, R. V. Daniels, The Conscience of the Revolution, (New York, Harvard, 1960) Ch. 3.
  • 2. Lenin, Soch. 3rd ed.; vol. 22, pp.610-612.
  • 3. Quoted by Daniels, op. cit., p.84 from Kommunist No. 4, May 1918.
  • 4. Lenin, Soch. 3rd ed.; vol. 23, p.17.
  • 5. Carr, op cit., pp. 64-66.
  • 6. N. Osinsky, Stroitelstvo Sotsializma (The Construction of Socialism), (Moscow 1918) p.p. 35-36

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Red Marriott
Aug 28 2016 21:57


  • The conclusion by the Soviet republic of an annexationist peace with Germany has without doubt temporarily weakened the forces of international revolution and strengthened international imperialism.


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