N. Ossinsky’s Critique of State Capitalism in Russia

This is our third translation from Kommunist No 1 the journal of the “left Communists” which appeared briefly in the spring of 1918 to register the concerns of its supporters about certain developments in the Russian revolution which they saw as dangerous to its future.

Submitted by Internationali… on September 8, 2017


This is our third translation from Kommunist No 1 the journal of the “left Communists” which appeared briefly in the spring of 1918 to register the concerns of its supporters about certain developments in the Russian revolution which they saw as dangerous to its future. The previous two documents (both by Karl Radek) plus our introduction to the journal Kommunist can be found on our website and in our journal Revolutionary Perspectives 09. (See: An Epitaph for the October Revolution?, Radek on the International Situation in Spring 1918)

Valerian Obolensky (1887-1938) is more famous under his revolutionary name of Nikolai Ossinsky (or Osinsky). He participated in the 1905 Revolution and joined the Bolsheviks. He was imprisoned by the Tsarist regime in 1910 but was on the streets of Moscow to take part in the 1917 Revolution. In December that year he became the first Chair of the Supreme Economic Council (Vesenkha) which also included Bukharin, Lomov and Vladimir Smirnov. All of them were future participants in the Kommunist project. Vesenkha was set up “apparently at the behest of the factory committee leadership” [R.V Daniels The Conscience of the Revolution p.84] to coordinate the socialisation of the economy that was already underway from the bottom up by the various factory committees which had emerged in the course of 1917. At this point in time Lenin enthusiastically endorsed the Left Communists’ approach. The day before Vesenkha was set up Lenin wrote “There was not and could not be a definite plan for the organisation of economic life. Nobody could provide one. But it could be done from below, by the masses, through their experience. Instructions would, of course, be given and ways indicated but it was necessary to begin simultaneously from above and from below.” [Collected Works (Moscow 1964) Volume 26 pp.365-6]

This was no one off. From the start of the October Revolution right through the winter of 1917-18 Lenin constantly hammered on the theme that:

“Creative activity at the grassroots is the basic factor of the new public life. Let the workers’ control at their factories. Let them supply the villages with manufactures in exchange for grain… Socialism cannot be decreed from above. Its spirit rejects the mechanical bureaucratic approach: living creative socialism is the product of the masses themselves.” [op. cit. p. 288]

At the Seventh Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) in March 1918 he was still arguing that

“… socialism cannot be implemented by a minority, by the Party. It can be implemented by tens of millions when they have learned to do it for themselves.” [Collected Works Volume 27 p. 135]

However, by this time there was a growing mismatch between socialist intentions and the need for economic survival in the face of the horrendous economic situation which the Soviet power had inherited from the Provisional Government. It is this that is the target of Ossinsky’s articles in Kommunist.

Basically he sticks to the position that the Bolsheviks appeared agreed on at the start of the revolution: that socialism cannot be decreed from above, not even by a working class party, but must be the product of the initiative of the working class itself. And indeed the initiative for the socialisation of industry came initially from the workers themselves who took over their factories in many places (often after the employer fled) and demanded it be “nationalised” (i.e. that the Soviet power took on responsibility for keeping production going).

The consequences of workers’ management of the factories were not always positive through a combination of ignorance and lack of experience. In the cruel situation in which the new Soviet regime found itself getting production up was essential to overcome a dire economic crisis. This brought the majority of Bolsheviks to take an instrumentalist and productionist approach to the issue. The “productive forces” had to be developed but these were seen (as was common throughout a Social Democratic movement dominated by the ideas of those like Kautsky who saw the productive forces primarily in technological terms) as being all about machines and not about people.

Ossinsky opposed all this. He argued that the only road to socialism had to be based on worker initiative, however long that took. And if the working class could not achieve socialism on its own initiative then it clearly wasn’t ready for it. One thing was certain; bringing in capitalist management techniques would not be temporary but permanent, as workers would never learn to run things themselves. Management would dominate workers, not the other way round.

Ossinsky also criticised the direction of economic policy as leading to “state capitalism”. This gives him the honour of using the term first to describe the direction of policy of the new society. However, two points need to be made about this. The first is that he can quite clearly see that “nationalisation” is not socialism but is perfectly compatible with a capitalist regime (here he was repeating Engels from the 1880s). However the state capitalism he was criticising in 1918 was more specific. It was one where the state and private enterprise would enter into a profit-sharing partnership. This was proposed but did not actually take place as footnote 11 makes clear. By the time the article came to be published the Bolshevik majority had decided to proceed without the assistance of the old capitalists. Lenin never claimed that they were seriously building socialism in an isolated Russia. At the most the Bolsheviks were carrying out a holding operation until the world revolution arrived. However its failure condemned the Bolsheviks to create a new form of state capitalism, a bureaucratic command economy which did not do away with the capital-wage labour relationship and which tragically, in time, came to sully the very name of socialism itself.

Perhaps Ossinsky’s biggest mistake in this document was his identification of the social retreat on the production front with the backward step on the international front represented by the signing of the Treaty of Brest Litovsk. It is entirely understandable that he did this since the Left Communists had first come together to oppose signing the Treaty. However they had already lost that particular battle and within two months Bukharin and Radek would be confessing the error of their position on the Treaty. By associating his penetrating analysis of the social direction of the Revolution with opposition to the Treaty, Ossinsky undermined the strength of his own argument and gave an easier target for the majority to exploit. Lenin could now lump his criticism with the other “revolutionary phrasemongers” and ridicule his fears.

In a savage and, at times, deliberately misleading, polemic Lenin concluded that

“Only the development of state capitalism, only the painstaking establishment of accounting and control, only the strictest organisation and labour discipline will lead us to socialism. Without this there is no socialism.” [Speech to the All-Russia CEC, Moscow, April 29 1918 (but not published until 1920) in Collected Works Volume 27 p.297]

There is much more to be said on this identification of state capitalism as a step on the road to socialism. It is a view held by many so-called socialists (Trotskyists and Stalinists etc) today but the experience of the Russian revolution has taught us that state capitalism was not only not a step on the road to socialism but its very opposite for the reasons Ossinsky gives here. By undermining the initiative of the masses and replacing the old bourgeoisie with a new class of “commissars” the essential basis of the mode of production could not be changed. Capital and wage labour still confronted each other even if that capital was now in the hands of the state.

History has now vindicated Ossinsky on this issue but in April 1918 the Left Communists were a small minority lacking deep roots in the working class. Had the workers’ revolution been extended to the more advanced parts of Europe in the years that followed (and thus given it a springboard for a world revolution) the policy might have been reversed, but the imperialist invasions and support for the Whites from 1918-20 transformed the agenda into one of military and economic survival. Productionism gradually replaced the social experiment of workers’ control and the Bolshevik military victory by 1921 could not disguise the fact that capitalist relations still prevailed albeit in a new and unprecedented form.

The Construction of Socialism

(from Kommunist No 1 April 1918)


"The new orientation" is currently being carried out by the majority of our party. We are not talking about foreign policy, but about domestic policy, in particular economic policy.

This orientation, the author of which is Comrade Lenin, consists in the following. Approximately until the end of January 1918 we experienced a period of acute civil war, the period of collapse of the old political and economic order and the forces that defended it. Today this period is over. It is time to actively begin the "organic construction" 1 of a new society. On the one hand, we must build socialism. On the other, we must establish the order that everyone wants and end confusion, disorganisation, and disorder. By assuming that we hold power, that our enemies are defeated, we must not be afraid to use the forces who were once our enemies. We must make the intelligentsia work instead of carrying out sabotage. They sell themselves in the service of capital. We have to buy them too. Within the intelligentsia we especially need the organisers of production, the "captains of industry" who organised the economy for capital. Like the commanders of the Tsarist army that we must solicit to help us organise the Red Army, we must ask the leaders of the trusts to organise socialism, by paying them whatever the price.

"Learning and organising socialism through the organisers of trusts" is one of the slogans of Comrade Lenin, another being: "put an end to disorder". From top to bottom, within the structures that govern the different branches of the economy, disorder, idleness and flight thrive on this rotten ground. "Do not steal, do not be lazy, make strict account of everything ", these simple petty-bourgeois recommendations must become our main slogans. 2 We must teach everyone, employees, workers, civil servants, not only to consume, but also to work. For this we need self-discipline and tribunals, to strengthen the power of the Commissars elected by the soviets which must work and not make speeches. There is a need to intensify work through the introduction of piece-rate payments and bonuses in the factories, the railways, and so on. Perhaps it is necessary to introduce Taylor's American system 3 , which links piece work payments and payment by the hour: you pay not only according to the quantity of products, but also according to the speed of their manufacture.

The supporters of the "new orientation" claim that all of this represents the construction of socialism, that this new vision of political tasks depends only on the fact that a new period within the country has begun and that it is an organic period. Yet all these new trends correspond to the conclusion of the peace, a retreat in the face of international capital which the annexationist peace in fact was, in the domestic concessions made to foreign imperialism resulting from it. Indeed war is waged not just to seize territories, but also to subjugate them to the tentacles of capital. The annexationist peace was concluded by the imperialists to make use of the economy of the defeated country. And even in the head of Comrade Lenin, the new organic "socialist" period requires new relations with foreign capital from which he wishes to obtain money, engineers, weapons, military instructors, and even military support. It is the same with the formation of a so-called "Red" Army, but with the close – too close and dangerous – collaboration of Tsarist officers and generals.


And then, we will be asked, in your opinion, isn’t the critical period of the overthrow of bourgeois society now over? Do you deny the need to actively build and put in order our "Socialist" homeland? We do not deny either. But for us the end of this acute period has another meaning entirely. And we think we need another construction, another kind of order to that advocated by the majority of our party.

The intense period in which the military forces of the bourgeoisie (White Guards, Kaledin’s forces, etc. 4 ) have been crushed is over; as is the sabotage by the bourgeoisie, and by the intelligentsia. In addition, the acute period of the destruction of the bourgeois state and economic order, old justice, zemstvos 5 and municipalities, banks, the capitalist economy and landowners, etc is complete. But the period of acute class antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is not over; it cannot end like this. After having overcome the bourgeoisie, the workers cannot conclude peace with it; they must eliminate it completely as a class; after having broken the armed forces and class bases of the bourgeoisie, we cannot co-operate with what is left of its organised forces maintaining the remains of bourgeois social relations; we cannot make a pact with the bourgeoisie as a class.

We must use the knowledge and experience of the former mercenaries of the bourgeoisie, its organisers, its technical specialists, its scholars, etc. (the bourgeoisie itself and the capitalists have little of such knowledge). But we have to use them in our way by breaking their organised class ties, their relationships with the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois order. We have to get them to work in new social relationships, as workers of the whole society under the power of the workers and peasants; we have to dissolve them into the ranks of the latter. And our concrete work as well as the "organic construction" of socialism must be carried out in another way. The organisers of the trusts cannot and will never build socialism. It can be realised only by the creativity of the proletariat itself, through its gigantic efforts and with the technical assistance of the intelligentsia.

One should not even think of peaceful work in bodies led by the petty bourgeois. Above all, it is impossible because of the external situation, of the all-out and powerful offensive of imperialism. If what we are building is socialism, this structure will inevitably be linked to the struggle, to resisting the ambitions of foreign imperialism. And even this construction, such as it is, simply cannot come about via the detailed and mechanical petty-bourgeois directives imposed by just anyone. The former servants of capital cannot simply move the workers like lifeless puppets; the working masses must develop their own initiatives and activities. During this construction process the workers must organise and develop their strength. Socialism will thus have a firm foundation and it will not be possible to eliminate it if the new economy is implemented by the proletariat, if it subject to it as master, if mastering and organising it is taken on by the workers themselves.

We are not talking about a passive activity carried out under the direction of capitalism’s former servants and the establishment of "socialism" by them as in the trusts, but a voluntary construction of socialism by the workers with the technical assistance of the intelligentsia and a struggle of the proletariat for socialism against enemies both at home and abroad (sometimes defensive sometimes offensive, this will depend on the situation) – that is our position.


First of all, we would like to make some general comments on the organisation of production, especially in capitalist society.

One of the most characteristic features which stands out from the activity of capital in production, is the fact that all the elements, all the aspects, of the process of production acquire some value here which, by uniting, increases and forms capital which produces surplus value.

This concerns, in the first place, the labour power that is purchased as a commodity entering into capital and consumption; its exploitation creates new surplus value, while the initial value, that of the means of production (machines, materials, etc.) is retained, and ‘transferred'’ into the goods produced. This is characteristic of the labour force which is the source of the alleged economic superiority of capitalism, its power ("Kommando des Kapitals", Marx 6 ).

In the capitalist factory, the worker does not so much use the means of production to manufacture products as the means of production, converted into capital, exploits and drains the worker by extracting surplus value. This is why, in a large factory, the agents of capital, those who embody its eyes and ears (directors, engineers, workshop foremen, etc.), organise not just the technical process of production, but also work as a "concrete" activity producing use value, and utilising labour power, the extortion of "abstract" labour from workers, an expenditure of energy that creates exchange value. This latter aspect is essential. And in this sense, for them, the free man has no will of his own. He is only a particular commodity, a living thing, a source of exchange value, of golden juice. Yes, this commodity is sold for money, it must no longer "speak". And this is why the main task of all engineers, technicians, and supervisors is to make the best use of this commodity and, as much as possible, draw its precious juice from it. That is why their power over the labour force must be unlimited.

The management of a large plant is always centralised, concentrated in one place, due to the fact that such technical concentration is necessary for capitalism; moreover, it is dictatorialbecause that is what the production of surplus value requires.

There is another aspect linked to it but is the main aim of capitalist production. For the capitalist, it is important to use a purchased commodity: the labour force. It is also important to have a hold over the possessor of this commodity. The worker possesses it, and even the door to it and it rules the market. That is why the capitalist tries to create a situation where, in ensuring capitalist domination and the unlimited right to exploit, he maintains the worker as a living thing and enslaves him, as the owner of the commodity and of the labor-power, to extract the most golden juice from him to give to the capitalist. According to Marx, this is ensured by the transformation of the wage, that is to say the value of the workforce, into the value of labour. The worker is not paid by being hired for a certain time, for example, a month or two weeks. He is paid by the hour, by piecework, he gets bonuses, and so on.

The proletarian – as a person who has no capital and who is not interested in producing surplus-value (because it exhausts him and it is not for his profit) – conceives production and its work especially from a social point of view. As a conscious member of the class of industrial workers, he sees the factory as a social production which produces use values and which, one day, will eventually be useful to society. Thus he considers work as the social function of the production of goods. He has the weakness to consider himself a human being and member of society. Even as a holder of the commodity, he is not at all interested in this labour power which prematurely wears him out.

But such a position cannot suit the capitalist: for him it is important to break up the workers, to reduce them to a commodity which would sell its labour power for a penny. This reinforces the power of capital and makes it easier to extract surplus-value from workers. This is why the authoritarian and hierarchical management system of the capitalist enterprise is closely linked with piece work, bonuses, "profit-sharing" and, finally, a synthesis of all these processes, with the "Taylor system" (which is above all that of forced labour).


Let’s look now at how the comrades of the majority of the party want to "build socialism". They offer a form of organisation of production which can be described thus: one organises, for example, the industry building coaches and trains 7 ; and for this purpose all the factories which produce coaches and trains are declared state-owned. We thus form an enterprise, a state trust. From the outside this factory has the appearance of a limited company whose shares (or their majority) belong to the State. But to "buy" the participation of "captains of industry" and trust managers, either we have to sell them some shares, or this limited liability company issues bonds for which a defined interest rate is paid once (as opposed to shares where the dividends are variable and dependent on the annual profit). It is with these obligations that one buys the capitalist organisers. We should note in this connection that we not only buy the capitalists, but we are thus buying again the nationalised factories. This is not the cancellation, liquidation of the old capital stock, but their repurchase by bonds in place of the shares. The co-owners of the company, the shareholders, have become its creditors.

If they are reimbursed for all or part of their capital, is another question. In any case, they will receive at least part of their capital; moreover, they will benefit by exchanging shares for bonds or – “bribes”.

How will such a trust be managed? It will surely be fairly centralised. It will be concentrated in the hands of a nucleus which will consist of representatives of the State, of messieurs "the captains of industry" (who will also represent the creditors, bondholders), and representatives of the trade unions. Any initiative on the organisation and management of the undertaking shall be the responsibility of the "organisers of trusts"; because we do not seek to educate them, into becoming workers, but will learn from them. Naturally in each factory the management will be centralised and authoritarian with regard to the rank and file. The centre will appoint the directors from whom, will perhaps arise the controller-commissars, the "archangels", as Comrade Krylenko 8 puts it. Their power will not be controlled by the factory workers: at best, the workers' committees will have the right to complain about them to a higher authority. We will no longer need to develop workers' control; everything can be controlled from the centre because it will be made up of representatives of the workers 'and peasants' authorities and professional managers. It is true that we can learn from these gentlemen the capitalists; it does not matter since the students will be able to control their masters.

In this case, the organisation of industrial work is also edifying. Its enough just to react and "resolve conflicts"! But first of all, to work! The centre will deal with the organisation of production; the ordinary worker must not forget that it is primarily labour power (himself) which has to be used in the most intensive manner. The workers have not yet demonstrated their social maturity, they have not yet given assurance about production, nor married their emancipation from capitalism to an increase in labour productivity: This is why they must not be allowed to manage production and forced to work through material stimulation: paid by piece work and, probably, with the introduction of Taylorism. Since there are no more capitalists, there is no danger. In addition, it is necessary to make propaganda amongst them for self-discipline, professional tribunals, performance standards, etc. It is necessary to pull the strings from above and incite the workers below to submit to their direction; and we ourselves, must submit too. All this is not dangerous: the working class has the power and the organisers of the trusts will be no more than masters and instructors.


Is it true that there is no danger? And what will or might happen in the course of such a "construction of socialism"? We think that it is a very dangerous road that has little to do with socialism.

First, if one considers the construction of socialism as nationalisation of enterprises, it must be seen that nationalisation as such, that is, the transfer of enterprises to state property, does not mean socialism at all. In Prussia the railways are in the hands of the State, but nobody asserts that this was a transitional step towards socialism.

For nationalisation to have such a meaning and to become socialisation, it requires above all, the organisation of the economy of nationalised enterprises on the basis of socialism, that is, that capitalist control is eliminated and that, in the organisation of the enterprise there is no opportunity for it to regain control. Secondly, social power must be in the hands of those who possess the means of production, that power must be proletarian. How are these conditions faring?

The second condition already exists. So far we have the dictatorship of the proletariat and the poorest peasantry. Is this definite? If this question means: "Is there a threat of a restoration of the power of the conciliatory faction of the intelligentsia and the constitutional democratic bourgeoisie?” – the answer is no. But if we mean that there might be a tendency towards degeneration of the semi-proletarian dictatorship and its transformation into the political domination of the semi-proletarian, half-petty bourgeois mass, the answer is yes. Such a danger exists. As can be seen in the "Theses on the Current Situation" published in this issue 9 , the economic and international consequences of peace create a tendency of this kind and can be overcome only by a resolute class policy for the coherent construction of true socialism. In the course of such a construction, the working class, which is currently suffering from some blows, must organise and strengthen itself. If it does not, if it is pulled in another direction the degeneration of the dominant political power in Russia, Soviet power, will be inevitable. This is why, to a large extent, to answer the question: “Can we exercise power through nationalisation as a step towards socialism?”, it will be necessary to see how production is organised, will it be based on socialism and will it organise and push the proletariat onto a socialist path?

We have a responsibility to examine the form of production that is proposed by the majority of the party. Its external, legal framework is nationalisation. We have already said that, in itself, this is not socialism. In addition, the form of a public limited company which is proposed to be given to state trusts is purely the fruit of financial capital and state capitalism. The public limited company is the most appropriate form used by financial capital to unite the banks with industry.

Here this form may be an accidental circumstance (although in our view, this is not the case). But it is not an accident that “a bribe” in the form of a bond issue, will be granted to the organisers of the trusts 10 . A good personal remuneration would have been enough if we had hired them as simple instructor-organisers. But the fact is that we appointed them as representatives of a class, and a “bribe” (specifically, the repayment) is given to them all. Thus, on the one hand, a concession is made to this class which reinforces its social power, and on the other, it consolidates the link between these instructors and their class, the bourgeoisie. They not only play the role of employees of the Soviet Republic, but also act as representatives of financial capital. In addition they often take part in the future trusts as official bondholders. And since these bondholders are international bankers who already hold the shares of factories and that they will do business, with the endorsement of Mr. Mechtcherski 11 and company ("the organisers of trusts"), it is obvious that there is a real link, a "blood" link with foreign financial capital. This is why the system of compulsory borrowing and limited liability is not a coincidence: for the "organisers of trusts" this system is a necessary part of the transaction that links them to foreign capital and may become the bridge through which the latter can get back into "socialised" industry. From this point of view there is already danger that our "masters" are not helping us to build socialism, but surreptitiously create real capitalist trusts to carry out their class activities.

But, for the moment, this remains superficial and concerns only the relations with the "outside" capitalist world. However, the shifts in this direction are extremely dangerous, especially today where the tentacles of foreign bankers and the bayonets of imperialist coalitions (which they direct) surround us, to the extent that any connection with them can very quickly turn into submission. It is this external aspect which is the most important, alongside the maintenance of the dictatorship and the guiding power of the proletariat and not that of the capitalists in the internal organisation of production.

What is the situation? It is very sad. We propose to the masses of proletarians to consider themselves solely as workers in the professional and technical sense of the word. First and foremost, worry only about work. Take on board petty-bourgeois commands; these are now your main slogans. Don’t worry about the enterprise or its activity. These gentlemen, the organisers of production will "teach" you. Everything will be decided by the centre. Your social task will be reduced to the participation in the elections of leaders who will defend your interests, and passively agreeing to the introduction of "discipline at work" and keeping order in the workplace. Here, of course, it is obvious that even the centralisation of management has its autocratic character. The directors sent to the factories have total power and the right to demand complete obedience: this will be how discipline and order are carried out (see the decree on the running of the railways).

Will the workers' leaders participate in the management of companies alongside the businessmen? Will the capitalists succeed in ensuring the proletariat has a real power of command over production? We doubt it, especially if the proletariat as a class is transformed into a passive element, the object and not subject of the organisation of work for production. Labour leaders can only draw their strength from their direct link with the active masses. Thus, this workers’ bureaucracy will play the role of passive pupil of these gentlemen representatives of capital, and it will be the most adept in the "business" commandments of Smiles 12 . We are creating here the surest way to get capital back (especially since there is strong external pressure) in its old place.

Finally, we must take a third point on board. To encourage the zeal of the workers at work, piecework and time and motion studies (calculating how long a task should take, the Taylor system) are introduced. We have already spoken of the influence of this form of wage on the unity of the class and on the consciousness of the workers. These forms were invented by the capitalists to break proletarian solidarity. They create competition and division among the workers. They lead to the domination of personal, selfish interests over common class interests. They transform workers into small traders of their own labour power. They are the best way to plant petty-bourgeois psychology and influence in the working masses and also to simply transform the most experienced workers into smallholders. They force increased attention on vocational work in the workshops at the expense of social tasks. The worker tries to "receive" a maximum per day and no longer has either the time or the interest to think about anything else. Considering the fatigue and the general overwork of the current workers, it must be said that all these capitalist temptations will enormously increase the passivity of the class, the inaction of the Russian proletariat. And all this, on the one hand at a time of a resolute offensive by world imperialism and, on the other, on the eve of the decisive battle for which we must always be ready!

We are not talking about the influence of all this on the situation of the unemployed and on the relations between the employed proletarians and the unemployed. The prospects are everywhere sad: the differentiation within the proletariat, the appearance of a working class aristocracy indifferent to politics, alongside those who are unlucky and jealous and finally a general passivity. Under such conditions, the participation of capitalists in the organisation of production promises nothing good.


In general, what then are we promised? Suppose that the workers approve the new system (although the introduction of former butchers and saboteurs in the factories under Soviet power is unlikely). Above all, it promises the reinforcement of the capitalist positions. The end of the "acute period" of the destruction of the bourgeois order will mean at bottom the beginning of concessions to the remnants of the defeated bourgeoisie. If it does not strengthen the positions of the Russian bourgeoisie, at least it will be an opening for international capital. Currently German imperialism is undoubtedly concerned with the search for such an outcome and uses hundreds of officials and "experts" for this purpose. Let us face up to what we can expect. Once we start down this road, which uses the passivity of the working class and which is developed by the “organic work” of the right-wing Bolshevik type, foreign capital will go far and begin to restore more and more its power and its leadership.

The form of organisation of state enterprises (the formation of trusts, borrowing, bureaucratic centralisation, the form of stock and shares) facilitates the intrusion of foreign financial capital, whether of the German "brute", or of the "kind" American. The absolute power of management, half in the hands of notorious businessmen, will evolve towards the power of capital. And, in short, the whole system (considering the other circumstances consistent with such a political line) may become a step towards the emergence in Russia of state capitalism from the rotten terrain of the tsarist autocracy and now born on a land freed from serfdom, if the decadent tendency of the Russian revolution prevails (leaving aside the prospect of international revolution).

The Russian proletariat must choose another way, through which it will strengthen its active class strength, its ability to resist foreign plunderers, and its influence on the development and success of the international revolution which will be a great and final deliverance from the yoke of capital. It is the way to build true socialism through the efforts of the proletariat itself, without the tutelage of the capitalist masters. We will discuss this in a future article. 13 N.Ossinski

  • 1 The expression “organic construction” appears to be attributed to Lenin by Ossinsky but the term does not seem to appear in any of the documents written by Lenin at this period (covered by Volumes 26 and 27 of his Collected Works). We can only assume that Ossinsky was using the term to contrast it with his own “dialectical construction of socialism”. He was trying to underline the contrast between those who were obsessed with organisation and discipline to boost socialism with his own view that socialism can only be built through the initiative of the masses, even if this takes longer, and is more problematic. For a theoretical discussion of this distinction in the works of Luxemburg and Lenin see George Lukacs History and Class Consciousness Chapter 7 which can be found at marxists.org .
  • 2 All these slogans as well as the programme on which they are based are to be found in the theses of Comrade Lenin who promised to publish them quickly after the 4 April meeting between members of the Central Committee and the Left Communist group. Why have these theses not yet been published? [footnote from the original document].
    They would be published in the pamphlet “The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government”, appearing for the first time in Pravda No. 83 on 28 April 1918. They can be found in Lenin’s Collected Works (Moscow 1964) pp.235-277.
  • 3 The American system of Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915) chief engineer at the Midvale Iron Works sought to raise productivity of workers through a scientific organisation of labour by studying the time taken for every operation and developing standardisation of work as well as introducing piece work.
  • 4 Alexei Maximovich Kaledin (1861-1918). A Cossack general, who never accepted the overthrow of the Tsar, and followed Kornilov in 1917. Elected Ataman of the Don Cossacks after October he was defeated by the Bolsheviks under Antonov-Ovseenko in February 1918 and committed suicide.
  • 5 Elected by local gentry as a form of local and provincial government. They were set up after the emancipation of serfs in 1864 by Alexander II.
  • 6 See Karl Marx Capital Volume 1 (Penguin Classics 1990) p. 439
  • 7“Competent” people know that these example are not made up by us but are based on schemes discussed in the relevant institutions. More recently (after this article had already been written) these plans, in their original form, have now been deferred. The slogan of learning socialism from the organisers of the trust has now also “withered”. But this changes nothing as we are examining an entire political tendency in its clearest expressions. These schemes can still be revived. The speech of the “communist” Goukovsky (People’s Commissar for Finance and a former Menshevik) prove that in the realm of financial politics the ideas of Samuel Smiles (see footnote 12 – trans.) continue to rule. [footnote from the original document].
  • 8 Nikolai Vasilyevich Krylenko (1885-1938), old Bolshevik from 1904 on and very close to Lenin. He was army commander from November 1917 to January 1918. On 10 February he received the telegram from Trotsky announcing the ceasefire and the beginning of peace negotiations and began to demobilise. The next day however he received information from Lenin that peace negotiations had broken down. On 19 February he ordered the troops to resist a new German offensive. By the 24 February, seeing the difficult situation on all fronts, he demanded that peace be signed no matter what the conditions were. Deputy Commissar for Justice and assistant Prosecutor General in the trials of the 1920s he became People’s Commissar for Justice in 1931 but left the post of Prosecutor General to Vyshinsky after 1932. Accused of treason he was imprisoned and shot in 1938.
  • 9 Theses on the Current Situation. In English at libcom.org
  • 10 The same is true of the transfer to the bankers of part of the shares and other instruments of this kind [footnote from the original document].
  • 11 Prince V. Mechtchersky, iron and steel magnate owned the leading factories for building locomotives and wagons. Representing an important group of capitalists in the machine and metallurgy industries in March 1918 he proposed to the Soviet government to set up a new trust. The group would hold half the shares of the metallurgy trust and the state the other half. The group would be responsible for management in the name of the trust. On the basis of a narrow majority the government decided to negotiate but on 14 April finally rejected the proposal in favour of the complete nationalisation of industry. The Government suspected that German capitalists were behind Mechtchersky’s proposal.
  • 12 Samuel Smiles (1818-1904). A former Chartist he became the ideologue of Victorian individualism. His Self-Help sold a quarter of a million copies in his lifetime.
  • 13 The second part of this document, which we will be translating shortly, appeared in Kommunist No 2.



6 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Craftwork on September 8, 2017

This text was translated 3 years ago, and is available here - http://libcom.org/library/construction-socialism-nikolai-osinsky-valerian-v-obolensky

Red Marriott

6 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Red Marriott on September 8, 2017

Today's date of posting is already at top right of article - having it at bottom makes it look like Ossinksy wrote it in 2017.


6 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by rooieravotr on September 9, 2017

Yes, that struck me as a bit odd as well..


6 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Cleishbotham on September 9, 2017


Wish we had known that as we are hoping to translate all of Kommunist and a bit of a help would be much appreciated. It is the same document but what I don't get is that the last paragraph is very different and makes no reference to the second part which was published in Kommunist No 2. Our version is translated from the French translation (the entire Kommunist is published by Smolny Press). Do you know of any others translated? I know that the Theses of the Left Communists has appeared on libcom (plus the original by Ticktin's journal "Critique" which we got in 1974 and is also in the ICC's pamphlet on the Russian communist left) but despite searching cannot find any others in English. We don't want to reinvent the wheel so if someone has translated the second part it would be useful to know as we are already working on it.

Alias Recluse

6 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Alias Recluse on September 11, 2017


The translation uploaded three years ago includes the second part. It was translated from a Spanish translation.



6 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Cleishbotham on September 11, 2017

Thanks Alias. I just read it again and don't know how I missed it! It means we can stick with translating Kommunist No 1. I'll put a reference to the full version on our site to point folks towards it.