Capitalism or communism for Russia? - Sylvia Pankhurst

Sylvia Pankhurst discusses how the implementation of the New Economic Policy had merely intensified, rather than abolished, capitalism in early 1920s Russia.

The appeal which we publish on our front page from the Workers' Group of Russia, reveals the struggle still continuing there between the opposing ideals of capitalism and communism. Capitalism is still in the ascendant. In Russia, the cue of its protagonists is no longer to sing the praises of private enterprise and the right of every man to do as he likes with his own. They pose now as the prophets of centralised efficiency, trustification, State control, and the discipline of the proletariat in the interests of increased production.

The Communist advocates of the New Economic Policy (NEP) of intensified capitalism explain their lapse from principle by the plea that Russia must be developed by capitalism before she will be fitted for Communism. They hope to keep the teeth and claws of capitalism to reasonable proportions.

The non-Communist manipulators of the NEP are working in an element which habit has made appear to them the only natural and possible state of affairs. They are growing in power and numbers and will passionately adhere to their own post- revolutionary acquisitions. To the dominant class it is always easier to maintain things as they are and proceed by the old methods than to forge new ones.

The result is that the Russian workers remain wage slaves, and very poor ones, working, not from free will, but under compulsion of economic need, and kept in their subordinate position by a State coercion which is more pronounced than in the countries where the workers have not recently shown their capacity to rebel with effect.

In spite of the NEP and the advocates of State capitalisation and trustification, however, the urge towards free and complete Communism is not dead in Russia as is evidenced by the existence of the Workers' Group and other Left Wing bodies.

The Left Wing bodies, both consciously and doubtless also unconsciously to a certain extent, are forces working towards the disintegration of capitalism and all its methods. They are working towards the creation of a new system in which instead of society being maintained under the control of a centralised directorate imposing its will by economic compulsion and backed by force of arms, social needs will be met by self-motivating units co-operating for mutual ends.

Those who, professing the Communist faith, yet fail to recognise this part which the Left Wing bodies are destined to play in the evolutionary process are apt to regard with regret the very existence of a Left Wing movement. In Russia such superficial observers complain that Left-Wing activities will arouse discontent with present conditions, and so, perhaps, hinder the growth of production and cause various troubles by upsetting the disciplined acceptance by the workers of the directing authorities.

In the same manner the educationalists who have sought to awaken the pupils' own initiative and to institute self government and pupils' organisation of the curriculum in the schools, have been met with objections that order has been replaced by chaos and that the ratio of knowledge acquired by the pupils has been grievously reduced.

The educational pioneers have persevered in spite of discouragement and have been able to produce schools in which the pupils are able to maintain a more fruitful and harmonious order than that which the old schools imposed from above. They have been able to demonstrate by results that the knowledge which they have stimulated their pupils to acquire for themselves becomes a permanent possession and part of the personality.

So it will be with the ideals of those who are working for the complete emancipation of the race from economic subjection and the authoritarianism that accompanies it.

Many Communists outside Russia object to the searchlight of fact being turned upon Soviet Russia by their fellow Communists. They desire to have it appear that everything is perfect there. They imagine it to be bad propaganda to admit frankly the failures and shortcomings in the land of revolution and to criticise the methods and expedients resorted to by those who have secured the power. Their objections are short sighted, for after all, what we desire to vindicate and to achieve is Communism itself and not the policy or position of any party.

If we pretend that the present regime in Russia is Communism, is actually the sort of life towards which we are striving, those who observe its shortcomings will naturally tell us that our ideal is a very faulty one.

First published in Workers' Dreadnought, 31 May 1924. Taken from the Antagonism website.