2. The Russian Revolution

Submitted by libcom on October 28, 2005

Anti-Parliamentary Communism -- The movement for workers councils in Britain, 1917-45

by Mark Shipway


For better or worse the events of the Russian revolution and its aftermath influenced virtually all the areas of anti-parliamentary communist thought discussed in Chapters 1-4 of this account. Particular aspects of the revolution's impact-such as the way in which perceptions of the soviets' role during and after the revolution changed the WSF's view of Parliament as an instrument of social change -- are mainly dealt with in Chapters 1, 3 and 4. This chapter concentrates on the anti-parliamentary communists' interpretation of the revolution itself, their theoretical and practical responses to it, and their assessment of the changes which took place in Russia after 1917.


During 1917 two demands dominated the WSF's propaganda: extension of the suffrage to every adult woman and man, and an end to the war. Because of these emphases in its own politics the WSF welcomed the February Revolution in Russia. The tyrannical Russian monarchy had been overthrown, clearing the way for government by a constituent assembly elected on the basis of universal suffrage. Moreover, since the overthrow of the Tsar had been motivated by war-weariness and a desire for peace on the part of the Russian workers and peasants, it seemed logical to conclude that these same workers and peasants would proceed to elect a government pledged to end Russia's involvement in the war. If this happened the other belligerent countries would surely be quick to follow Russia's example.

The WSF's views were not shared by Guy Aldred and his comrades. Aldred conceded that the new Russian government might be 'more enlightened' than its predecessor and that a republic might be 'saner' than a monarchy, but if the experience of parliamentary democracy in Britain was anything to go by the establishment of a similar system in Russia gave little cause for celebration. 'We know that tomorrow, the apostle of socialism will be jailed again in Russia, for sedition and what not. And so "we do not celebrate the Russian revolution". We prefer to work for Socialism, for the only possible social revolution, that of the world's working-class against the world's ruling-class.' [1] Aldred and his comrades also differed from the WSF in their views about how to end the war. While the WSF regarded peace as something for the people to demand and for governments to negotiate, anti-parliamentarians such as Rose Witcop advocated direct action by the working class. 'The suggestion of telling the Government what we want points to the incapacity . . . to grip the spirit of the Russian people. In Russia they did not reason with or explain to the Czar . . . they just gave the Government to understand by downing their bayonets!'. In addition to the view implied by this remark -- that mutiny among the armed forces would be one way of bringing the war to an end -- Witcop also called for 'industrial action' and 'no bargaining with Governments'. [2]

Despite their contrasting responses to the February Revolution, writers in the Spur and the Dreadnought agreed that the struggle in Russia was unlikely to come to a halt at whatever had been achieved in February.

In October 1917 Glasgow Anarchist Group member Freda Cohen reported widespread dissatisfaction in the ranks of the Russian army and 'some rumour of the peasants seizing the land'. To all close observers of events it was obvious that the struggle going on in Russia was 'not, as it seemed at the beginning, simply a political or anti-Czarist one'. According to Cohen 'the struggle going on there in broad daylight, just reflects the self-same struggle that has been, and is going on underground, all over the world'. By this Cohen meant the class struggle between the capitalists and the working class, and she predicted that the Russian workers would not be content with 'settling down in the old work-a-day world with no other gain than a new set of masters and newly forged chains'. [3] Sylvia Pankhurst had hinted at a similar prognosis a few months earlier when she had asked rhetorically: 'Is it not plain that still the Russian Revolution is continuing: still the struggle is going on: still the hold of the capitalists is upon the country and only in part is it overthrown?' [4]

Following the February Revolution the Dreadnought had drawn attention to the situation of dual power which existed between the Provisional Government appointed by the Duma and the 'Council of Labour Deputies' responsible to workers and soldiers. [5] At the end of June 1917 it reported that the 'Council of Workers' And Soldiers' Deputies' was now capable of overthrowing the Provisional Government should it wish to do so. Discussing the various Russian political parties' attitudes towards this situation the Dreadnought explained that while the Mensheviks were disinclined to support any seizure of power by the workers' and soldiers' councils,

The Maximalists and Leninites, on the other hand, desire to cut adrift from the capitalist parties altogether, and to establish a Socialist system of organisation and industry in Russia, before Russian capitalism, which is as yet in its infancy, gains power and becomes more difficult than at present to overthrow. We deeply sympathise with this view. [6]

Thereafter the Dreadnought continued to note the growing strength of the Bolsheviks and to express its agreement with their aims. In August, for example, mass desertions from the army and rapidly-falling living standards in Petrograd were said to be winning support for 'the position adopted at the outset by Lenin ....namely, that Free Russia must refuse to continue fighting in a capitalist War'. The Dreadnought added that Lenin's view was 'a position which we ourselves have advocated from the first. [7]

At the end of September the Dreadnought reported with 'great satisfaction' that 'the Socialists who are variously called Bolsheviks, Maximalists and Leninites have secured a majority on the Council of Workers' and Soldiers' Delegates'. For the benefit of its readers the report outlined the main points of the Bolshevik programme:

The Maximalists are the International Socialists who recognise that this is a capitalist War and demand an immediate peace, and who desire to establish in Russia not a semi-Democratic Government and the capitalist system such as we have in England, but a Socialist State. They desire Socialism, not in some far away future, but in the immediate present. The Maximalists desire that the CWSD [Council of Workers' and Soldiers' Delegates] shall become the Government of Russia until the Elections for the Constituent Assembly have taken place. [8]

Finally, when it heard that the Bolsheviks had seized power in the October Revolution the Dreadnought announced its wholehearted Support for this turn of events: 'the latest revolt of the Russian Revolution, the revolt with which the name of Lenin is associated, has been brought about in order that the workers of Russia may no longer be disinherited and oppressed. This revolt is the happening which definitely makes the Russian Revolution of the twentieth century the first of its kind'. The seizure of power was described as a 'Socialist Revolution' with 'aims and ideals' which were 'incompatible with those of capitalism'. [9]

The Spur's immediate reaction echoed this assessment of the October Revolution's nature and historic significance. An article signed by 'Narodnik' drew comparisons with the French Revolution of 1789; like its historic predecessor, the October Revolution was 'a social revolution in the fullest meaning of the word: a radical changing of all the economic, political and social arrangements; a grand attempt to reconstruct the whole structure of society, upon an entirely new foundation'. [10]


While the Spur group regarded the October Revolution as a herald of the social revolution of the world's working class against the world's ruling class to which Guy Aldred had referred after the February Revolution, the WSF welcomed it more as a blow struck for world peace, and responded by demanding the conclusion of a peace to end the world war and by campaigning against Allied military intervention in Russia.

In contrast to the Bolsheviks revolutionary defeatist wartime slogan of 'turn the imperialist war into civil war', the peace appeals issued by the new Bolshevik government called for a 'just, democratic peace' based on no annexations, no indemnities, and the right of nations to self-determination. This policy, which 'contained an element of calculated appeal to American opinion and to such radical opinion in other countries as might be sympathetic to it', [11] immediately struck a sympathetic chord with the WSF. Sylvia Pankhurst had already suggested in August 1917 that the WSF should make a new banner bearing the slogan 'Negotiate For Peace On The Russian Terms: No Annexations: No Indemnities', [12] and after the October Revolution Pankhurst's articles in the Workers' Dread,iought frequently linked the call for peace on these terms with the fact that these were also the Bolsheviks' demands. In December 1917, for example, Pankhurst stated: 'We take our stand on the Russian declaration: "No annexations, no indemnities, the right of the peoples to decide their own destiny".' [13]

When peace negotiations between Russia and Germany opened at Brest-Litovsk towards the end of 1917, the WSF argued that other belligerent governments should follow Russia's example -- 'The Russian Socialist Government is showing us the way to obtain a just Peace' -- and urged the British labour movement to give 'strong backing for the Russian negotiators at Brest-Litovsk'. [14] While the talks were in progress Sylvia Pankhurst pointed out that 'whilst some capitalist sections would endeavour to cajole the Russian Socialists [such as the German government, which had agreed to negotiate], others would coerce them'. [15] Opposition to such coercers' -- governments which sought to overthrow the Bolshevik regime by military intervention and aid to the Bolsheviks' internal enemies -- became the predominant element in the WSF's response to the Russian revolution after Russia's withdrawal from the war in March 1918. Harry Pollitt recalled that his 'main sphere of activity at this time was with the Workers' Socialist Federation, doing propaganda for Russia. Sylvia Pankhurst was, of course, the leading spirit in the Federation . . . I covered the greater part of London with her group. We held meetings on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings, afternoons and evenings'. Even 20 years later, by which time he had become a high-ranking member of the CPGB, Pollitt's experience of working with the WSF in the anti-interventionist 'Hands Off Russia' campaign forced him to admit that the WSF had been 'made up of the most self-sacrificing and hard-working comrades it has been my fortune to come in contact with'. [16] This gives a revealing insight into the importance which the WSF attached to opposing intervention, and the amount of time and effort which it put into the campaign. Opposition to intervention was also a persistent theme of Sylvia Pankhurst's articles about international affairs in the Workers' Dreadnought until the threat of intervention finally came to an end in the autumn of 1920.

The WSF's campaign against intervention was aimed at three targets. One of these was the British government. In March 1918 Sylvia Pankhurst wrote of the 'urgent need that the Governments of all Europe should feel the pressure of the workers in their respective countries to prevent the crushing of Socialism in Russia'. [17] At its 1918 Annual Conference the WSF called on the British government to bestow legal recognition on its Russian counterpart and to initiate peace negotiations on the Bolshevik terms of no annexations, no indemnities and the right of nations to decide their own destinies. [18]

Secondly, the WSF's campaign was intended to influence the organised labour movement in Britain. A Dreadnought editorial addressed to delegates attending the January 1918 Labour Party conference urged the labour movement to 'bring every means at its disposal to support the Russian Socialist Government, the first working class Government that the world has ever seen'. [19] This meant protesting against foreign intervention in Russia.

Thirdly, the WSF's campaign was aimed at rank and file workers. At the end of 1919 the WSF demanded recognition of the Russian government, withdrawal of aid to its internal enemies and an end to intervention, and called for the organisation of a rank and file conference to make these demands and to censure the leaders of the Labour Party, TUC and Triple Alliance for their failure to organise militant opposition to intervention. [20] In July 1918 the WSF participated in the formation of a People's Russian Information Bureau which was intended to increase British workers' awareness of developments in Russia and so arouse them from their role as 'passive spectators' and 'inarticulate tools in the great struggle between the old regime of capitalism and the uprising workers of the world'. [21] The WSF believed that workers in the Allied countries held 'the key to the situation', since 'the International Capitalist war against the Workers' Soviet Republics cannot be carried on a day without the assistance of Allied workers'. Accordingly, in July 1918 the WSF called for a 'Workers' Blockade Of The Counter-Revolution', by means of an international general strike which would force the 'International Capitalists' to make peace with the 'Soviet Republics'. [22]

In the main, therefore, the WSF's efforts were directed towards encouraging workers in Britain to act as a pressure group to try to influence the British government's policies in favour of the interests of the Russian government. Only occasionally did the Dreadnought hint at a different approach to the survival of the Bolshevik regime. In April 1919 Sylvia Pankhurst argued that the 'most effectual way' to end 'the war against the Soviets of Russia' would be to 'set up the Soviets in Britain'. [23] Similarly, on May Day 1920 she wrote that there would be no peace with the Russian regime, nor with any other 'Communist republic' which might be established, 'whilst capitalism rules the powerful nations of the world'. [24] These comments suggested that the fate of the Russian revolution depended on the overthrow of capitalism elsewhere in the world -- that the best way to defend the Bolshevik regime would be to attack the capitalist regimes. As will become apparent later, however, the infrequency with which the WSF put forward such a line of argument is particularly significant in view of the Dreadnought group's subsequent reappraisal of the events of this period.


The amount of time and energy which the WSF put into the 'Hands Off Russia' campaign invites an examination of what the WSF thought it would be protecting when it called for defence of Soviet Russia.

Several of the comments quoted already from the Workers Dreadnought referred to the 'socialist' or 'working class' government in Russia, and to Russia as a 'soviet' or 'workers' republic. The WSF believed that the October Revolution had given the Russian working class control of state power. This belief was based on the view that the soviets or workers' councils were in charge of post-revolutionary Russian society. Since the soviets were exclusively working-class organisations, and Russia was being ruled by the soviets, this meant that the working class was now exercising its own power over society as a whole.

The Dreadnought's accounts of the changes taking place in Russia after the revolution were frequently published under the headline 'Socialism In The Making', implying that the Russian working class was presiding over a society in which socialism was being built. The ideas which the anti-parliamentarians put forward during 1919-21 concerning this notion of a 'transitional period' provide one of the most striking examples of how the Russian revolution and its aftermath made an impact on the views of the anti-parliamentary communists in Britain.

In August 1921 Sylvia Pankhurst wrote: 'Frankly, we do not believe that society will reorganise itself without the use of force on both sides, because the present system is maintained by force.' [25] In its attempts to seize and maintain power the working class would encounter violent resistance from the ruling class. The revolutionary period would be akin to 'civil war'. [26] The Dreadnought group repeatedly argued that for the duration of this period of revolutionary civil war the working class would have to exercise a dictatorship over the rest of society through its soviets. [27] This was a view shared by Guy Aldred and his comrades. In 1920 Aldred wrote of the need for a transitional period during which the workers must protect the revolution and organise to crush the counter-revolution. Every action of the working-class during that period must be organised, must be power-action, and consequently dictatorial.' [28] When the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' became a contentious issue amongst anarchists who interpreted anarchy literally as the abolition of all authority, Aldred insisted that 'there can be no efficient pursuit of working class emancipation without the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship'. [29] He was, moreover, quite prepared to defend the implication of this view -- that anarchists who did not support the dictatorship were in effect counter-revolutionaries: 'those Anarchists who oppose the dictatorship of the proletariat as a transitional measure are getting dangerously near assisting the cause of the reactionaries, though their motives may be the highest. As a believer in the class struggle, I do not share their infatuation for abstract liberty at the expense of real social liberty.' [30]

Supporters of the proletarian dictatorship saw it as a temporary expedient: 'The dictatorship in so far as it is genuine and defensible, is the suppression by Workers' Soviets of capitalism and the attempt to re-establish it. This should be a temporary state of war.' [31] The dictatorship would be necessary until the counter-revolution had been quelled and the expropriated ruling class had 'settled down to accept the new order'. [32] With the disappearance of social classes, the dictatorship - initially the political expression of working-class power over the rest of society - would gradually wither away: 'As the counter-revolution weakens, the Soviet Republic will lose its political character and assume purely useful administrative functions'. [33]

Pending the achievement of a completely classless society, however, the working class would have to adopt a series of transitional measures. As long as the state of civil war continued the workers would have to disarm the ex-ruling class and create their own 'Red Army'. [34] Anyone attempting to reintroduce economic exploitation or refusing to undertake socially useful work would be deprived of political rights: 'No person may vote, or be elected to the Soviets who refuses to work for the community, who employs others for private gain, engages in private trading, or lives on accumulated wealth. In the Soviet community such persons will soon cease to exist.' [35] This system would be enforced in part through the administration of 'revolutionary justice' by judges elected by and answerable to the soviets. [36]

During the transitional period work would be compulsory for everyone. Sylvia Pankhurst suggested that 'in the early stages before the hatred of work born of present conditions has disappeared, the community might decide that an adult person should show either a certificate of employment from his workshop or a certificate from his doctor when applying for supplies from the common storehouse'. [37] In other words the compulsion to work would come from material necessity, since only those people who had first made a contribution to production would be allowed to satisfy their needs from the communal storehouses.

Sylvia Pankhurst was explicit that during the transitional period a wages system would still exist: 'after long experience of Capitalism . . . it would be difficult to abolish the wage system altogether, without first passing through the stage of equal wages'. [38] No indication was given of how long this 'stage' or 'era' might have to last, nor was there any suggestion as to how the step from the equal wages system to a wageless society might be effected. Equal wages would be accompanied by free provision of staple necessities and 'equal rationing of scarce commodities' until the application of technology began to produce wealth in abundant quantities. [39]

Workers' labour power was not the only commodity which would be subject to buying and selling during the transitional period. The CP(BSTI)'s programme assumed that all exchange transactions should be under the exclusive control of the state: 'For the period in which money and trading shall continue, local and national Soviet banks will be set up and shall be the only banks.' [40]

Practically all the features of the anti-parliamentarians' description of the transitional period were also features of early post-revolutionary Russia. During 1918-20 a civil war raged as the White forces and foreign powers tried to overthrow the newly-established Bolshevik regime. The Red Army was created to defend the state against this onslaught. During the same period the economic system known as War Communism came into being. Work became, in effect, compulsory for all: 'On every wall . . ."He who does not work, neither shall he eat", was blazoned abroad.' [41] Staple necessities were provided free and scarce commodities strictly rationed: 'At its lowest, in the first quarter of 1921, only 6.8 per cent of "wages" were paid in money, the rest being issued free in the form of goods and services.' [42] Efforts were made to reduce wage differentials with the aim of achieving equality of wages. The State Bank and all private banks were seized, nationalised and amalgamated into the People's Bank of the Russian Republic. State finance came under the control of the Supreme Council of National Economy. Attempts were made to bring all trade under state control: there was 'a resolute attempt to suppress free trade in essentials. Private trade in a wide range of consumers' goods was forbidden.' [43]

Thus the anti-parliamentary communists in Britain used the specific experience of post-revolutionary Russia as a model for all future communist revolutions. This reveals a great deal about the anti-parliamentarians' view of the Russian revolution and the society which emerged afterwards. They would not have generalised from the Russian example in such a manner had they not believed that the October Revolution had been a working-class, communist revolution, and that Russian society after 1917 was in the midst of a transition towards a communist society.


While such an assessment sums up the anti-parliamentarians' view of Russia during the first three years after the revolution, a very different point of view emerged thereafter. Until 1921 the anti-parliamentarians believed that although the Russian workers had not yet achieved their final goal they were still progressing in the right direction. What characterised the Dreadnought's analysis from the end of 1921 onwards, however, was the identification of a reversal in the direction of events - in fact, a 'reversion to capitalism'. [44]

An early intimation of this view appeared in the Dreadnought in September 1921, when Sylvia Pankhurst referred to 'the drift to the Right in Soviet Russia, which has permitted the re-introduction of many features of Capitalism'. Pankhurst also noted 'strong differences of opinion amongst Russian Communists and throughout the Communist International as to how far such retrogression can be tolerated'. In the same issue of the Dreadnought A. Ironie drew attention to the recent re-establishment of payment for basic necessities, restoration of rents, and reinstatement of property to expropriated owners. Ironie argued that the Bolsheviks could not 'justify their claims to being the means of transition towards common-ownership whilst the decrees quoted above witness a retrogression in the opposite direction'. [45]

These two articles marked the beginning of the Dreadnought group's thoroughgoing reassessment of the society which had emerged in Russia.

Whereas in August 1918 the Dreadnought had reported that the revolution had established a system of collective workers' control of industry, [46] in January 1922 Sylvia Pankhurst argued that 'in Russia, as a matter of fact . . . there is an antagonism between the workers and those who are administering industry'. A 'theoretically correct Soviet community' where 'the workers, through their Soviets, which are indistinguishable from them, should administer' had 'not been achieved'. [47]

During the earliest days of the revolution the Dreadnought had also applauded the expropriation of large landowners and the redistribution of land amongst the peasantry. In May 1922, however, Pankhurst cited 'the fact that the land of Russia is privately worked by the peasants' as evidence that socialism did not exist in Russia. [48]

The Dreadnought's belief that the Russian working class exercised a dictatorship over society through its soviets was also called into question. In July 1923 Sylvia Pankhurst wrote that 'the term "dictatorship of the proletariat" has been used to justify the dictatorship of a party clique of officials over their own party members and over the people at large'. [49]

One of Pankhurst's last articles in the Dreadnought on the subject of Russia and the Bolsheviks made a wholly unfavourable assessment of the party she had once admired for its apparent determination to establish socialism 'in the immediate present', and of the country previously taken as a model for the post-revolutionary society. The Bolsheviks, Pankhurst wrote,

pose now as the prophets of centralised efficiency, trustification, State control, and the discipline of the proletariat in the interests of increased production . . . the Russian workers remain wage slaves, and very poor ones, working, not from free will, but under compulson of economic need, and kept in their subordinate position by . . . State coercion. [50]

As we have seen, the Dreadnought group's ideas about the Post-revolutionary transition to communism were modelled on the period when the policy of War Communism was in operation in Russia. In February 1921, however, War Communism was abandoned in favour of the New Economic Policy (NEP). This was regarded by the Dreadnought group as the decisive turning-point in the fortunes of the revolution. Between March and August 1921 private trade was legalised and an agricultural tax in kind introduced (allowing peasants to sell their surplus produce for profit); small-scale nationalisation was revoked; leasing of enterprises to private individuals began; and payment of wages in cash, charges for services, and the operation of trade and industry on an explicitly commercial basis, were all instituted. Thus in September 1921, when Pankhurst first referred to Russia's 'reversion to capitalism', she supported her argument by pointing to the 're-introduction of many features of Capitalism, such as school fees, rent, and charges for light, fuel, trains, trams and so on'. The 'retrogressive' changes noted by A. Ironie were also introduced under the NEP. [51] The Dreadnought group's belief in the direct links between the abandonment of War Communism, the introduction of the NEP, and the 'revival of capitalism' was made explicit in December 1921, when Sylvia Pankhurst referred to 'Russia's "new economic policy" of reversion to capitalism'. [52]

The following two years witnessed a series of events which the Dreadnought group interpreted as confirming its view that the introduction of the NEP had set Russia on course for a return to capitalism. The first such event occurred in December 1921, when the Executive Committee of the Communist International adopted the United Front tactic. The Dreadnought group regarded this as complementary to the NEP: the latter made concessions to capitalism within Russia, the former advocated co-operation with capitalist parties outside Russia. In Pankhurst's opinion, the adoption of the tactic proved that 'the Russian Soviet Government and those under its influence have abandoned the struggle for the International Proletarian Revolution and are devoting their attention to the capitalist development of Soviet Russia'. [53]

Shortly after denouncing the United Front the Dreadnought reported that the Russian government had invited people with technical qualifications to emigrate to Russia to exploit coal and iron concessions in the Kuznets Basin area. Sylvia Pankhurst saw that the 'Kuzbas' scheme would regenerate capitalist social relations between owners of capital and wage labourers, and asked: 'What is to become of the Russian workers' dream of controlling their own industrv through their industrial soviets? . . . for the natives of Kuzbas, it seems that another Revolution will be needed to free them from the proposed yoke.' [54]

Russia's participation at the Genoa conference in April 1922 -- convened after a meeting of Allied industrialists had agreed that Europe's economic recovery depended on 'large-scale investment in Soviet Russia' and 'the exploitation of Russian resources' [55] -- was regarded as further proof of the Bolsheviks' willingness to place Russian workers 'under the yoke of the foreign capitalist', and that 'the principles of Communism in Russia' were 'being surrendered'. [56]

Another apparent indication of the Bolshevik regime's surrender to capitalism was pointed out in 1923, when the German Communist Party was attempting to organise insurrections in various regions of Germany. Trotsky was reported as having ruled out Russian intervention in Germany even if events reached the point of civil war and revolution, since the Russian government was more interested in maintaining the confidence of the foreign capitalists who had invested in Russia: 'Leon Trotzki and his colleagues are prepared to put their trade with international capitalists and the agreements they have made with capitalist firms, before Communism, before the proletarian revolution and the pledge they have made to the German comrades to come to their aid in the hour of need.' [57]

The events outlined above were regarded by the Dreadnought group as symptoms of Russia's 'reversion to capitalism'. When it came to suggesting causes the group put forward an explanation which can be separated into five inter-related parts.

First, the group adhered to the view that all societies had to pass through certain stages of historical development. The Bolsheviks' attempt to establish socialism in a basically feudal society had been 'in defiance of the theory that Russia must pass through capitalism before it can reach Communism'. The Bolsheviks had 'made themselves the slaves of that theory' [58] because they had found it impossible to leap straight from feudalism to communism and consequently had been forced to take on the task of initiating the era of capitalism themselves. The theory of stages of development was bound up with the anti-parliamentary communists' view of communism as a society of free access to wealth. If capitalism had not fulfilled its historic role of developing the forces of production to the point where production of wealth in abundance became possible, one of communism's essential preconditions would be lacking and any attempt to establish a communist society would founder. Thus 'the state of Russia's economic development and the material conditions with which she is faced' had 'rendered inevitable the failure of the Soviet Government to maintain a fighting lead in the world revolutionary struggle'. [59]

Secondly, the Dreadnought group regarded the Russian peasantry as an anti-communist force: 'In Russia the ideal of the land worker was to produce for himself on his own holding and to sell his own products, not to work in co-operation with others.' Socialism would find 'its most congenial soil in a society based on mutual aid and mutual dependence', not in a country where an individualistic peasantry overwhelmingly outnumbered any other class. [60] In 1917 Sylvia Pankhurst had welcomed the redistribution of land among the peasants; later, she criticised the Bolsheviks for having done exactly what she herself had once recommended: 'Instead of urging the peasants, and leading the peasants, to seize the land and cut it up for individual ownership, the right course was to have endeavoured to induce them to seize the land for common ownership, its products being applied to common use.' The Bolsheviks' support for individual rather than common ownership -- an attempt to 'save time by refraining from bringing the land workers to a state of communism' -- had led 'directly and inevitably to reaction'. [61]

A third part of the explanation for the 'reversion to capitalism' concerned working-class control of production. The Dreadnought argued that 'until the workers are organised industrially on Soviet lines, and are able to hold their own and control industry, a successful Soviet Communist revolution cannot be carried through, nor can Communism exist without that necessary condition'. [62] This necessary condition had not been fulfilled in Russia; 'though the Soviets were supposed to have taken power, the Soviet structure had yet to be created and made to function'. [63] To support this view the Dreadnought quoted the Bolshevik Kamenev's report to the seventh All-Russian Congress of Soviets in 1920: 'Even where Soviets existed, their general assemblies were often rare, and when held, frequently only listened to a few speeches and dispersed without transacting any real business'. [64] Such evidence led the Dreadnought to abandon its view that Russian industry was controlled by the workers through their own industrial soviets: 'Administration has been largely by Government departments, working often without the active, ready co-operation, sometimes even with the hostility of groups of workers who ought to have been taking a responsible share in administration. To this cause must largely be attributed Soviet Russia's defeat on the economic front.' [65]

This reference to administration by government departments, as opposed to by the workers themselves, leads to the fourth part of the Dreadnought's explanation. In one of the first Dreadnought articles questioning the authenticity of Russia's claims to communism, A. Ironie had written: 'The realisation of Communism, i.e., not Communist Partyism, but the common-ownership and use of the means of production, and the common enjoyment of the products, still remains a problem to be solved by the creative genius of the people freely organising themselves; or not at all.' [66] Ironie's counter-position of the party and the self-organised working class implied that the interests of the Bolsheviks and those of the Russian workers had conflicted. Only the conscious participation of the whole working class would assure the success of the communist revolution; Ironie's remarks suggested that this essential precondition had been lacking in Russia. Any attempt to establish communism by a small group acting on behalf of the working class would result only in the dictatorial rule of a minority -- not communism, but Communist-Partyism.

The final part of the explanation put forward by the anti-parliamentary communists focused on the failure of working-class revolution elsewhere in Europe, and the Russian regime's consequent isolation. Sylvia Pankhurst argued that other countries' 'failure to become Communist' held back 'the progress of Russian Communism'. [67] There was a limit to the advances the revolution could make, surrounded by a hostile capitalist world. Ultimately, the Bolsheviks' fate would depend on whether or not the revolution could be extended beyond Russia's boundaries. The introduction of the NEP -- seen as inaugurating the 'reversion to capitalism' -- was attributed to 'the pressure of encircling capitalism and the [revolutionary] backwardness of the Western democracies'. [68] Russia's isolation could be overcome either through the world revolution or through succumbing to the pressure of encircling capitalism and compromising with the capitalist powers. In the Dreadnought group's opinion the Bolsheviks had concluded that the first of these options was no longer viable; consequently, the second option had been forced upon them. In November 1922 Sylvia Pankhurst wrote in an Open Letter to Lenin: 'It seems that you have lost faith in the possibility of securing the emancipation of the workers and the establishment of world Communism in our time. You have preferred to retain office under Capitalism than to stand by Communism and fall with it if need be.' [69] The symptoms of the 'reversion to capitalism' -- outlined earlier -- were all taken as evidence of the Bolsheviks' determination to retain state power, even at the cost of Russia's reintegration into the world capitalist economy and the abandonment of communism. While the Dreadnought group argued that the failure of revolutions elsewhere in Europe had forced the Bolsheviks to break their isolation by negotiating with capitalist governments, other anti-parliamentary communists pointed out that the converse was also true: these same negotiations acted as a brake on the emergence of revolution outside Russia. At the Third Congress of the Communist International in 1921 the Communist Workers' Party of Germany (KAPD) delegate Sachs observed that

agreements and treaties which contributed to Russia's economic progress also strengthened capitalism in the countries with which the treaties were concluded . . . Sachs referred to an interview given by Krasin to the Rote Fahne in which the British miners' strike was said to have interfered with the execution of the Anglo-Soviet Trade agreement. [70]

A similar observation had been made by Guy Aldred in 1920. When he learned of Lenin's support for Revolutionary Parliamentarism Aldred was strongly critical of this tactic, yet he realised why Lenin had been forced into making his 'Fatal Compromise': 'Circumstances are compelling [Lenin] to give up his dream of an immediate world revolution and to concentrate on conserving and protecting the Russian revolution.' [71] Such compromises would be 'inevitable until the world revolution makes an end of the present false position in which Lenin and his colleagues find themselves'. [72] Yet the reformist policies of the Communist International could also reinforce Russia's isolation. Lenin was counting on the support of parliamentary reformists in Western Europe to bring temporary protection to the Russian regime, but the regime in Russia could only be saved permanently by the world revolution. It was not the parliamentary reformists who would inaugurate this revolution, but the anti-parliamentary communists, on whom Lenin had now turned his back:

Desiring not to weaken the Russian revolution by declaring war on the political opportunists and parliamentarians, Lenin has succeeded in endangering that revolution by proclaiming war on the anti-parliamentarians and so on the world revolution itself. [73]

The reformist policies advocated by Lenin caused Aldred and his comrades to 'suspend' their support for the Communist International. Lenin had chosen to take whatever measures were necessary to defend the Bolshevik regime; the Spur group had chosen to continue to work for the world revolution. 'Lenin's task compels him to compromise with all the elect of bourgeois society whereas ours demands no compromise. And so we take different paths and are only on the most distant speaking terms'. [74]


When Aldred argued that the different priorities chosen by Lenin and the Spur group had forced them to part company, it was tantamount to arguing that the Bolshevik regime's interests no longer coincided with, or were perhaps even opposed to, those of the world revolution. There was the potential in Aldred's argument to conclude that since the Bolshevik-dominated Communist International was the instrument of the Russian regime's foreign policy, if the policies of the Communist International were counter-revolutionary it could only be because the Russian regime itself was also counterrevolutionary.

This was the argument put forward by some anti-parliamentary communist groups, such as the Communist Workers' Party of Germany (KAPD). Following its exclusion from the Communist International after the Third Congress in 1921, the KAPD initiated the formation of a new, Fourth International -- the Communist Workers' International, or KAI. The Manifesto of the KAI argued that 1917 had been a 'dual revolution': 'In the large towns it was a change from capitalism to Socialism; in the country districts the change from feudalism to capitalism, in the large towns, the proletarian revolution came to pass; in the country the bourgeois revolution.' Initially, the incompatible objectives of the communist working class and the capitalist peasantry had been submerged in an alliance against their common enemy, the feudal aristocracy, but once this ruling class had been overthrown and the counter-revolution suppressed the 'absolute, insurmountable contradictions -- class contradictions' --between the working class and the peasants burst forth. The Bolsheviks capitulated to peasant demands in 1921 when they brought in the New Economic Policy, which introduced 'capitalist production for profit for the whole of agricultural Russia'. Production for profit in industry soon followed. As with every other nation state, Russia's foreign policy was shaped by its dominant domestic interests. Since the NEP had turned Russia into a 'peasant-capitalist' state, 'the desires and interests of the peasants in their capacity as capitalist owners of private property' were now 'directing the course of the Soviet Government in foreign policy'. And since 'The Third Congress of the Third International has definitely and indissolubly linked the fate of the Third International to present Soviet Russia', the policies of the International were now being dictated by the interests of a capitalist state. [75]

The starting-point of the KAPD's critique -- its opposition to policies adopted by the Communist International -- was shared by Guy Aldred. But unlike the German left communists, Aldred did not explain the objectively counter-revolutionary nature of the Communist International's policies by reference to the counter-revolutionary character of the Russian regime. There were two main reasons for this. First, Aldred and his comrades maintained a distinction between the policies pursued internationally by the Bolsheviks, through their control of the Communist International, and the policies they pursued domestically through their control of the Russian government. The former may have been counter-revolutionary, but in Aldred's opinion this did not necessarily imply that the same could be said of the latter. Compared to the KAPD and the Dreadnought group, in fact, Aldred and his comrades were remarkably uncritical of the Russian regime. In November 1923, for example, in an article headlined 'Hail Soviet Russia!!', Aldred wrote: 'To the Communist International we send our greetings and declare that there can be no united front with parliamentary labourism and reformism . . . The Communist International must be Anti-Parliamentarian in action and stand for the unity of the revolutionary left.' In other words, Aldred's differences with the Third International were essentially tactical disagreements over Revolutionary Parliamentarism and the United Front. Although the International had adopted certain mistaken policies, it remained at heart a sound revolutionary organisation. In the same article, Aldred's criticisms of the International were strictly separated from his remarks about the Russian regime itself, for which he had nothing but praise: 'This month Soviet Russia celebrates her sixth birthday. We send our revolutionary greetings to our comrades, the Russian Workers and Peasants, who have triumphed over all forces of counter-revolution and pestilence, and made Russia the beacon light of socialist struggle and the Soviet principle the rallying point of the world's toilers.' [76]