Maurice Brinton

The Bolsheviks and
Workers' Control

The State and Counter-Revolution

Published: As pamphlet by Solidarity, London 1970
Transcribed: by Jonas Holmgren
Proofed: by Zdravko Saveski


January 6

Dissolution of Constituent Assembly. The detachment which dispersed the Assembly was led by an anarchist Kronstadt sailor, Zheleznyakov, now commandant of the Tauride Palace Guard. He unseated the Chairman of the Assembly, Victor Chernov, with the blunt announcement: "The guard is tired".[1]

January 7-14

First All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions held in Petrograd.

Two main themes were to dominate the Congress. What were to be the relations between the Factory Committees and the unions? And what were to be the relations between the trade unions and the new Russian state? Few delegates, at this stage, sensed the close relationship between these two questions. Still fewer perceived how a simultaneous resolution of the first question in favour of the unions and of the second in favour of the new "workers' state" would soon emasculate the Committees and in fact irrevocably undermine the proletarian nature of the regime.

The arguments at this Congress reflected matters of deep significance and will be referred to in some detail. In the balance lay the future of the Russian working class for many decades to come.

According to Lozovsky (a Bolshevik trade unionist), "the Factory Committees were so much the owners and masters that three months after the Revolution they were to a significant degree independent of the general controlling organs".[2] Maisky, then still a Menshevik, said that in his experience "it was not just some of the proletariat but most of the proletariat, especially in Petrograd, who looked upon workers' control as if it were actually the emergence of the kingdom (tsarstvo) of socialism". He lamented that among the workers "the very idea of socialism is embodied in the concept of workers' control".[3] Another Menshevik delegate deplored the fact that "an anarchist wave in the shape of Factory Committees and workers' control was sweeping over our Russian labour movement".[4] D. B. Ryazanov,[1*] a recent convert to Bolshevism, agreed with the Mensheviks on this point and urged the Factory Committees "to commit suicide by becoming an integral element of the trade-union structure".[5]

The few anarcho-syndicalist delegates to the Congress "fought a desperate battle to preserve the autonomy of the Committees...Maximov[2*] claimed that he and his fellow anarcho-syndicalists were 'better Marxists' than either the Mensheviks or the Bolsheviks - a declaration which caused a great stir in the hall".[6] He was alluding no doubt to Marx's statement that the liberation of the working class had to be brought about by the workers themselves.[3*]

Maximov urged the delegates to remember "that the Factory Committees, organizations introduced directly by life itself in the course of the Revolution, were the closest of all to the working class, much closer than the trade unions".[7] The function of the Committees was no longer to protect and improve the conditions of the workers. They had to seek a predominant position in industry and in the economy. "As the offspring of the Revolution the Committees would create a new production on a new basis".[8] The unions "which corresponded to the old economic relations of Tsarist times had lived out their time and couldn't take on this task".[9] Maximov anticipated "a great conflict between state power in the centre and the organizations composed exclusively of workers which are found in the localities":[10]

"The aim of the proletariat was to co-ordinate all activity, all local interest, to create a centre but not a centre of decrees and ordinances but a centre of regulation, of guidance - and only through such a centre to organize the industrial life of the country."[11]

Speaking on behalf of the Factory Committees a rank-and-file worker, Belusov, made a scathing attack on the Party leaders. They continually criticized the Committees "for not acting according to rules and regulations" but then failed to produce any coherent plan of their own. They just talked:

"All this will freeze local work. Are we to stand still locally, wait and do nothing? Only then will we make no mistakes. Only those who do nothing make no mistakes."

Real workers' control was the solution to Russia's economic disintegration. "The only way out remaining to the workers is to take the factories into their own hands and manage them".[12]

Excitement in the Congress reached a climax when Bill Shatov[4*] characterized the trade unions as "living corpses" and urged the working class "to organize in the localities and create a free, new Russia, without a God, without a Tsar, and without a boss in the trade union". When Ryazanov protested Shatov's vilification of the unions, Maximov rose to his comrade's defence, dismissing Ryazanov's objections as those of a white-handed intellectual who had never worked, never sweated, never felt life. Another anarcho-syndicalist delegate, Laptev by name, reminded the gathering that the revolution had been made "not only by the intellectuals, but by the masses"; therefore it was imperative for Russia to "listen to the voice of the working masses, the voice from below".[13]

The anarcho-syndicalist resolution calling for "real workers' control, not state workers' control", and urging "that the organization of production, transport and distribution be immediately transferred to the hands of the toiling people themselves and not to the state or some civil service machine made up of one kind or other of class enemy" was defeated. (The main strength of the anarcho-syndicalists was among the miners of the Debaltzev district in the Don Basin, among the portworkers and cement workers of Ekaterinodar and Novorossiysk and among the Moscow railway workers. At the Congress they had 25 delegates (on the basis of one delegate per 3,000-3,500 members).[14]

The new government would have none of all this talk about extending the power of the Committees. It clearly recognized in the unions a "more stable" and "less anarchic" force (i.e. a force more amenable to control from above) in which it could provisionally vest administrative functions in industry. The Bolsheviks therefore urged "the trade-union organizations, as class organizations of the proletariat constructed according to the industrial principle, to take upon themselves the main task of organizing production and of restoring the weakened productive forces of the country".[15] (At a later stage the Bolsheviks were to fight tooth and nail to divest the unions of these very functions and place them firmly in the hands of Party nominees. In fact the Party demands of January 1918 were again and again to be thrown back in the face of the Bolshevik leaders during the next three years. This will be dealt with further on.)

The Congress, with its overwhelming Bolshevik majority, voted to transform the Factory Committees into union organs.[16] The Menshevik and Social Revolutionary delegates voted with the Bolsheviks for a resolution proclaiming that "the centralization of workers' control was the task of the trade unions".[17] "Workers' control" was defined as "the instrument by which the universal economic plan must be put into effect locally".[18] "It implied the definite idea of standardization in the sphere of production".[19] It was too bad if the workers read more into the term than this. "Just because the workers misunderstand and falsely interpret workers' control is no reason to repudiate it".[20] What the Party meant by workers' control was spelt out in some detail. It meant, inter alia, that

"it was not within the competence of the lower organs of workers' control to be entrusted with financial control function...this should rest with the highest organs of control, with the general apparatus of management, with the Supreme Council of National Economy. In the sphere of finance everything must be left to the higher organs of workers' control.[21]

For workers' control to be of maximum use to the proletariat it was absolutely necessary to refrain from atomizing it. Workers of individual enterprises should not be left the right to make final decisions on questions touching upon the existence of the enterprise."[22]

A lot of re-education was needed and this was to be entrusted to the "economic control commissions" of the unions. They were to inculcate into the ranks of the workers the Bolshevik conception of workers' control:

"The trade unions must go over each decree of the Factory Committees in the sphere of control, explain through their delegates at the factories and shops that control over production does not mean the transfer of the enterprise into the hands of the workers of a given enterprise, that it does not equal the socialization of production and exchange."[23]

Once the Committees had been "devoured" the unions were to be the intermediate agency through which workers' control was gradually to be converted into state control.

These were not abstract discussions. Underlying the controversies, what was at stake was the whole concept of socialism: workers' power or the power of the Party acting on behalf of the working class. "If workers succeeded in maintaining their ownership of the factories they had seized, if they ran these factories for themselves, if they considered the revolution to be at an end, if they considered socialism to have been established - then there would have been no need for the revolutionary leadership of the Bolsheviks."[24]

The bitterness with which the issue of the Factory Committees was discussed highlights another point:

"Although the Bolsheviks were in a majority at the first All-Russian Conference of Factory Committees - and although as representatives of the Factory Committees they could force resolutions through this Conference they could not enforce resolutions against the opposition of the Factory Committees themselves...The Factory Committees accepted Bolshevik leadership only so long as divergences in goals were not brought to the test".[25]

The First Trade Union Congress also witnessed a heated controversy on the question of the relation of the trade unions to the state. The Mensheviks claiming that the Revolution could only usher in a bourgeois-democratic republic, insisted on the autonomy of the unions in relation to the new Russian state. As Maisky put it: "If capitalism remains intact, the tasks with which trade unions are confronted under capitalism remain unaltered".[26] Others too felt that capitalism would reassert itself and that the unions should do nothing that would impair their power. Martov put a more sophisticated viewpoint. "In this historic situation", he said

"this government cannot represent the working class alone. It cannot but be a de facto administration connected with a heterogeneous mass of toiling people, with proletarian and non-proletarian elements alike. It cannot therefore conduct its economic policy along the lines of consistently and clearly expressed working class interests".[27]

The trade unions could. Therefore the trade unions should retain a certain independence in relation to the new state. It is interesting that in his 1921 controversy with Trotsky - when incidentally it was far too late - Lenin was to use much the same kind of argument. He was to stress the need for the workers to defend themselves against "their own" state, defined as not just a "workers' state, but a workers' and peasants' state" and more over one with "bureaucratic deformations".

The Bolshevik viewpoint, supported by Lenin and Trotsky and voiced by Zinoviev, was that the trade unions should be subordinated to the government, although not assimilated with it. Trade-union neutrality was officially labelled a "bourgeois" idea, an anomaly in a workers' state.[28] The resolution adopted by the Congress clearly expressed these dominant ideas:

"The trade unions ought to shoulder the main burden of organizing production and of rehabilitating the country's shattered economic forces. Their most urgent tasks consist in their energetic participation in all central bodies called upon to regulate output, in the organization of workers' control [sic!], in the registration and distribution of the labour force, in the organization of exchange between town and the struggle against sabotage and in enforcing the general obligation to work..."

"As they develop the trade unions should, in the process of the present socialist revolution, become organs of socialist power, and as such they should work in co-ordination with and subordination to other bodies in order to carry into effect the new principles...The Congress is convinced that in consequence of the foreshadowed process, the trade unions will inevitably become transformed into organs of the socialist state. Participation in the trade unions will for all people employed in any industry be their duty vis-à-vis the State".

The Bolsheviks did not unanimously accept Lenin's views on these questions. While Tomsky, their main spokesman on trade-union affairs, pointed out that "sectional interests of groups of workers had to be subordinated to the interests of the entire class"[29] - which like so many Bolsheviks he wrongly identified with the hegemony of the Bolshevik Party - Ryazanov argued that

"as long as the social revolution begun here has not merged with the social revolution of Europe and of the whole world...the Russian proletariat...must be on its guard and must not renounce a single one of its must maintain its trade union organization".[30]

According to Zinoviev, the "independence' of the trade unions under a workers' government could mean nothing except the right to support 'saboteurs' ". Despite this Tsyperovich, a prominent Bolshevik trade unionist, proposed that the Congress ratify the right of unions to continue to resort to strike action in defence of their members. A resolution to this effect was however defeated.[31]

As might be expected the dominant attitude of the dominant Party (both in relation to the Factory Committees and in relation to the unions) was to play an important role in the subsequent development of events. It was to prove as much an "objective fact of history" as the "devastation" and the "atomization of the working class" caused by the (subsequent) Civil War. It could, in fact, be argued that Bolshevik attitudes to the Factory Committees (and the dashing of the great hopes that these Committees represented for hundreds of thousands of workers) were to engender or reinforce working-class apathy and cynicism, and contribute to absenteeism and to the seeking of private solutions to what were social problems, all of which the Bolsheviks were so loudly to decry. It is above all essential to stress that the Bolshevik policy in relation to the Committees and to the unions which we have documented in some detail was being put forward twelve months before the murder of Karl Liebknecht and of Rosa Luxemburg - i.e. before the irrevocable failure of the German Revolution, an event usually taken as "justifying" many of the measures taken by the Russian rulers.

January 15-21

First All-Russian Congress of Textile Workers held in Moscow. Bolsheviks in a majority. The Congress declared that "workers' control is only a transitional step to the planned organization of production and distribution".[32] The union adopted new statutes proclaiming that "the lowest cell of the union is the Factory Committee whose obligation consists of putting into effect, in a given enterprise, all the decrees of the union".[33] Even the big stick was waved. Addressing the Congress, Lozovsky stated that "if the local patriotism of individual factories conflicts with the interests of the whole proletariat, we unconditionally state that we will not hesitate before any measures [my emphasis, MB] for the suppression of tendencies harmful to the toilers".[34] The Party, in other words, can impose its concept of the interests of the working class, even against the workers themselves.

January 23-31

Third All-Russian Congress of Soviets.


Bolshevik decree nationalizing the land.

March 3

Signature of Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty.

Decree issued by Vesenka defining the functions of technical management in industry. Each administrative centre was to appoint to every enterprise under its care a commissioner (who would be the government representative and supervisor) and two directors (one technical and the other administrative). The technical director could only be overruled by the government commissioner or by the "Central Direction" of the industry. (In other words only the "administrative director" was under some kind of control from below.)

The decree laid down the principle that "in nationalized enterprises workers' control is exercised by submitting all declarations and decisions of the Factory or Shop Committee, or of the control commission, to the Economic Administrative Council for approval". "Not more than half the members of the Administrative Council should be workers or employees".[35]

During the early months of 1918 the Vesenka had begun to build, from the top, its "unified administration" of particular industries. The pattern was informative. During 1915 and 1916 the Tsarist government had set up central bodies (sometimes called "committees" and sometimes "centres") governing the activities of industries producing commodities directly or indirectly necessary for the war. By 1917 these central bodies (generally composed of representatives of the industry concerned and exercising regulatory functions of a rather undefined character) had spread over almost the whole field of industrial production. During the first half of 1918 Vesenka gradually took over these bodies (or what was left of them) and converted them - under the name of glavki (chief committees) or tsentry (centres) into administrative organs subject to the direction and control of Vesenka. The "chief committee" for the leather industry (Glavkozh) was set up in January 1918. This was quickly followed by chief paper and sugar committees, and by soap and tea "centres". These, together with Tsentrotekstil, were all in existence by March 1918. They

"could scarcely have come into being except on foundations already laid before the revolution or without the collaboration of the managerial and technical staffs...A certain tacit community of interests could be detected between the government and the more sensible and moderate of the industrialists in bringing about a return to some kind of orderly production."[36]

This raised a question of considerable theoretical interest. Marxists have usually argued that revolutionaries could not simply seize the political institutions of bourgeois society (parliament, etc.) and use them for different purposes (i.e. for the introduction of socialism). They have always claimed that new political institutions (Soviets) would have to be created to express the reality of workers' power. But they have usually remained discreetly silent on the question of whether revolutionaries could "capture" the institutions of bourgeois economic power and use them to their own ends - or whether these too would have first to be smashed, and later replaced with a new kind of institution, representing a fundamental change in the relations of production. The Bolsheviks in 1918 clearly opted for the first course. Even within their own ranks this choice was to give rise to foreboding that all energies would now be directed to the "reinforcement and development of productive capacity, to organic construction, involving a refusal to continue the break up of capitalist productive relations and even a partial restoration of them".[37]

March 6-8

Seventh Party Congress.

Heated deliberations during this very short Congress centred on the signing of the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty.

March 14-18

Fourth All-Russian Congress of Soviets.


"Left" Communists (Osinsky, Bukharin, Lomov, Smirnov) ousted from leading positions in Supreme Economic Council - partly because of their attitude to Brest-Litovsk - and replaced by "moderates" like Milyutin and Rykov.[38] Immediate steps taken to shore-up managerial authority, restore labour discipline and apply wage incentives under the supervision of the trade union organizations. The whole episode was a clear demonstration that "lefts" in top administrative positions are no substitute for rank-and-file control at the point of production.

March 26

Isvestiya of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee publishes Decree (issued by the Council of Peoples Commissars) on the "centralization of railway management". This decree, which ended workers' control on the railways was "an absolutely necessary prerequisite for the improvement of the conditions of the transport system".[39] It stressed the urgency of "iron labour discipline" and "individual management" on the railways and granted "dictatorial" powers to the Commissariat of Ways of Communication. Clause 6 proclaimed the need for selected individuals to act as "administrative technical executives" in every local, district or regional railway centre. These individuals were to be "responsible to the People's Commissars of Ways of Communication". They were to be "the embodiment of the whole of the dictatorial power of the proletariat in the given railway centre".[40]

March 30

Trotsky, appointed Commissar of Military Affairs after Brest-Litovsk, had rapidly been reorganizing the Red Army. The death penalty for disobedience under fire had been restored. So, more gradually, had saluting, special forms of address, separate living quarters and other privileges for officers.[5*] Democratic forms of organization, including the election of officers, had been quickly dispensed with. "The elective basis", Trotsky wrote, "is politically pointless and technically inexpedient and has already been set aside by decree".[41] N. V. Krylenko, one of the Co-Commissars of Military Affairs appointed after the October Revolution, had resigned in disgust from the Defence Establishment as a result of these measures.[42]

April 3

The Central Council of Trade Unions issued its first detailed pronouncement on the function of the trade unions in relation to "labour discipline" and "incentives".

The trade unions should "apply all their efforts to raise the productivity of labour and consistently to create in factories and workshops the indispensable foundations of labour discipline". Every union should establish a commission "to fix norms of productivity for every trade and category of workers". The use of piece rates "to raise the productivity of labour" was conceded. It was claimed that "bonuses for increased productivity above the established norm may within certain limits be a useful measure for raising productivity without exhausting the worker". Finally if "individual groups of workers" refused to submit to union discipline, they could in the last resort be expelled from the union "with all the consequences that flow there-from".[43]

April 11-12

Armed detachments of Cheka raid 26 anarchist centres in Moscow. Fighting breaks out between Cheka agents and Black Guardsmen in Donskoi Monastery. Forty anarchists killed or wounded, over 500 taken prisoner.

April 20

The issue of workers' control was now being widely discussed within the Party. Petrograd District Committee publishes first issue of Kommunist (a "left" Communist theoretical journal edited by Bukharin, Radek and Osinsky, later to be joined by Smirnov). This issue contained the editors' "Theses on the Present Situation". The paper denounced "a labour policy designed to implant discipline among the workers under the flag of 'self-discipline', the introduction of labour service for workers, piece rates, and the lengthening of the working day". It proclaimed that "the introduction of labour discipline in connection with the restoration of capitalist management of industry cannot really increase the productivity of labour". It would

"diminish the class initiative, activity and organization of the proletariat. It threatens to enslave the working class. It will arouse discontent among the backward elements as well as among the vanguard of the proletariat. In order to introduce this system in the face of the hatred prevailing at present among the proletariat against the 'capitalist saboteurs' the Communist Party would have to rely on the petty-bourgeoisie, as against the workers".

It would "ruin itself as the party of the proletariat".

The first issue of the new paper also contained a serious warning by Radek: "If the Russian Revolution were overthrown by violence on the part of the bourgeois counter-revolution it would rise again like a phoenix; if however it lost its socialist character and thereby disappointed the working masses, the blow would have ten times more terrible consequences for the future of the Russian and the international revolution".[44] The same issue warned of "bureaucratic centralization, the rule of various commissars, the loss of independence for local Soviets and in practice the rejection of the type of state-commune administered from below".[45] "It was all very well", Bukharin pointed out, "to say as Lenin had [in State and Revolution] that each cook should learn to manage the State. But what happened when each cook had a commissar appointed to order him about?"

The second issue of the paper contained some prophetic comments by Osinsky:

"We stand for the construction of the proletarian society by the class creativity of the workers themselves, not by the ukases of the captains of industry...if the proletariat itself does not know how to create the necessary prerequisites for the socialist organization of labour no one can do this for it and no one can compel it to do this. The stick, if raised against the workers, will find itself in the hands of a social force which is either under the influence of another social class or is in the hands of the soviet power; but the soviet power will then be forced to seek support against the proletariat from another class (e.g. the peasantry) and by this it will destroy itself as the dictatorship of the proletariat. Socialism and socialist organization will be set up by the proletariat itself, or they will not be set up at all: something else will be set up - state capitalism."[46]

Lenin reacted very sharply. The usual vituperation followed. The views of the "left" Communists were "a disgrace", "a complete renunciation of Communism in practice", "a desertion to the camp of the petty bourgeoisie".[47] The left were being "provoked by the Isuvs [Mensheviks] and other Judases of capitalism". A campaign was whipped up in Petrograd which compelled Kommunist to transfer publication to Moscow, where the paper reappeared first under the auspices of the Moscow Regional Organization of the Party, later as the "unofficial" mouthpiece of a group of comrades. After the appearance of the first issue of the paper a hastily convened Petrograd Party Conference produced a majority for Lenin and "demanded that the adherents of Kommunist cease their separate organizational existence".[48] So much for alleged factional 1918 (i.e. long before the Tenth Congress officially prohibited factions - in 1921)!

During the following months the Leninists succeeded in extending their organizational control into areas which had originally backed the "lefts". By the end of May the predominantly proletarian Party organization in the Ural region, led by Preobrazhensky, and the Moscow Regional Bureau of the Party had been won back by the supporters of the Party leadership. The fourth and final issue of Kommunist (May 1918) had to be published as a private factional paper. The settlement of these important issues, profoundly affecting the whole working class, had not been

"by discussion, persuasion or compromise, but by a high-pressure campaign in the Party organizations, backed by a barrage of violent invective in the Party press and in the pronouncements of the Party leaders. Lenin's polemics set the tone and his organizational lieutenants brought the membership into line".[49]

Many in the traditional revolutionary movement will be thoroughly familiar with these methods!

April 28

Lenin's article on "The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government" published in Isvestiya of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee. "Measures and decrees" were called for "to raise labour discipline" which was "the condition of economic revival". (Among the measures suggested were the introduction of a card system for registering the productivity of each worker, the introduction of factory regulations in every enterprise, the establishment of rate-of-output bureaux for the purpose of fixing the output of each worker and payment of bonuses for increased productivity.) If Lenin ever sensed the potentially harmful aspects of these proposals he certainly never mentioned it. No great imagination was needed, however, to see in the pen-pushers (recording the "productivity of each worker") and in the clerks (manning the "rate-of-output bureaux") the as yet amorphous elements of a new bureaucracy. Lenin went even further. He wrote:

"We must raise the question of piecework and apply and test it in practice...we must raise the question of applying much of what is scientific and progressive in the Taylor system[50]...the Soviet Republic must at all costs adopt all that is valuable in the achievements of science and technology in this field...we must organize in Russia the study and teaching of the Taylor system."

Only "the conscious representatives of petty-bourgeois laxity" could see in the recent decree on the management of the railways, "which granted individual leaders dictatorial powers", some kind of "departure from the collegium principle, from democracy and from other principles of soviet government":

"The irrefutable experience of history has shown that the dictatorship of individual persons was very often the vehicle, the channel of the dictatorship of the revolutionary classes.

Large-scale machine industry - which is the material productive source and foundation of socialism - calls for absolute and strict unity of will...How can strict unity of will be ensured? By thousands subordinating their will to the will of one.

Unquestioning submission [emphasis in original] to a single will is absolutely necessary for the success of labour processes that are based on large-scale machine the Revolution demands, in the interests of socialism, that the masses unquestioningly obey the single will [emphasis in original] of the leaders of the labour process".[51]

The demand for "unquestioning" obedience has, throughout history, been voiced by countless reactionaries, who have sought moreover to impose such obedience on those over whom they exerted authority. A highly critical (and self-critical) attitude is, on the other hand, the hallmark of the real revolutionary.


Burevestnik, Anarkhia, Golos Truda and other leading anarchist periodicals closed down.

Preobrazhensky, writing in Kommunist warns: "The Party will soon have to decide to what degree the dictatorship of individuals will be extended from the railroads and other branches of the economy to the Party itself".[52]

May 5

Publication of Left-Wing Childishness and Petty-Bourgeois Mentality. After denouncing Kommunist's views as "a riot of phrase-mongering", "the flaunting of high-sounding phrases", etc., etc., etc., Lenin attempted to answer some of the points made by the "left" Communists. According to Lenin "state capitalism" wasn't a danger. It was, on the contrary, something to be aimed for:

"If we introduced state capitalism in approximately six months' time we would achieve a great success and a sure guarantee that within a year socialism will have gained a permanently firm hold and will have become invincible in our country.

Economically, state capitalism is immeasurably superior to the present system of economy...the soviet power has nothing terrible to fear from it, for the soviet state is a state in which the power of the workers and the poor is assured [because a "Workers' Party" held political power]."

The "sum total of the necessary conditions for socialism" were "large-scale capitalist technique based on the last word of modern science...inconceivable without planned state organization which subjects tens of millions of people to the strictest observance of a single standard in production and distribution" and "proletarian state power". (It is important to note that the power of the working class in production isn't mentioned as one of the "necessary conditions for socialism".) Lenin continues by pointing out that in 1918 the "two unconnected halves of socialism existed side by side like two future chickens in a single shell of international imperialism". In 1918 Germany and Russia were the embodiments, respectively of the "economic, productive and social economic conditions for socialism on the one hand, and of the political conditions on the other". The task of the Bolsheviks was "to study the state capitalism of the Germans, to spare no effort at copying if. They shouldn't "shrink from adopting dictatorial methods to hasten the copying of it". As originally published[53] Lenin's text then contained the interesting phrase: "Our task is to hasten this even more than Peter hastened the adoption of westernism by barbarian Russia, not shrinking from the use of barbarous methods to fight barbarism". This was perhaps the only admiring reference to any Tsar, in any of Lenin's writings. In quoting this passage three years later Lenin omitted the reference to Peter the Great.[54]

"One and the same road", Lenin continued, led from the petty-bourgeois capitalism that prevailed in Russia in 1918 to large-scale capitalism and to socialism, through one and the same intermediary station called "national accounting and control of production and distribution". Fighting against state capitalism, in April 1918, was (according to Lenin) "beating the air".[55] The allegation that the Soviet Republic was threatened with "evolution in the direction of state capitalism" would "provoke nothing but Homeric laughter". If a merchant told him that there had been an improvement on some railways, "such praise seems to me a thousand times more valuable than twenty Communist resolutions".[56] When reading passages such as the above, it is difficult to understand how some comrades can simultaneously claim to be "Leninists" and claim that the Russian society is a form of state capitalism to be deplored. Some, however, manage to do just this.

It is crystal clear from the above (and from other passages written at the time) that the "proletarian" nature of the regime was seen by nearly all the Bolshevik leaders as hinging on the proletarian nature of the Party that had taken state power. None of them saw the proletarian nature of the Russian regime as primarily and crucially dependent on the exercise of workers' power at the point of production (i.e. on workers' management of production). It should have been obvious to them, as Marxists, that if the working class did not hold economic power, its "political" power would at best be insecure and would in fact soon degenerate. The Bolshevik leaders saw the capitalist organization of production as something which, in itself, was socially neutral. It could be used indifferently for bad purposes (as when the bourgeoisie used it with the aim of private accumulation) or good ones (as when the "workers' state" used it "for the benefit of the many"). Lenin put this quite bluntly. "Socialism", he said, "is nothing but state-capitalist monopoly made to benefit the whole people".[57] What was wrong with capitalist methods of production, in Lenin's eyes, was that they had in the past served the bourgeoisie. They were now going to be used by the Workers' State and would thereby become "one of the conditions of socialism". It all depended on who held state power.[58] The argument that Russia was a workers' state because of the nationalization of the means of production was only put forward by 1936! He was trying to reconcile his view that "the Soviet Union had to be defended" with his view that "the Bolshevik Party was no longer a workers' party".

May 24 -June 4

First All-Russian Congress of Regional Economic Councils held in Moscow. This "economic Parliament" was attended by rather more than a hundred voting delegates (and 150 non-voting delegates) drawn from Vesenka, its glavki and centres, from regional and local Sovnarkhozy, and from the trade unions.

The Congress was presided over by Rykov - a man of "unimpeachable record and colourless opinions"[59] Lenin opened the proceedings with a plea for "labour discipline" and a long explanation for the need to employ the highly paid spetsy (specialists).

Osinsky stood uncompromisingly for the democratization of industry. He led an attack on "piece rates" and "Taylorism". He was supported by Smirnov and a number of provincial delegates. The "opposition" urged the recognition and completion of the de facto nationalization of industry which the Factory Committees were bringing about and called for the establishment of an overall national economic authority based on and representing the organs of workers' control.[60] They called for "a workers' administration...not only from above but from below" as the indispensable economic base for the new regime. Lomov, in a plea for a massive extension of workers' control, warned that

"bureaucratic centralization...was strangling the forces of the country. The masses are being cut off from living, creative power in all branches of our economy".

He reminded the Congress that Lenin's phrase about "learning from the capitalists" had been coined in the 1890s by the quasi-Marxist (and present bourgeois) Struve.[61] There then took place one of those episodes which can highlight a whole discussion and epitomize the various viewpoints. A sub-committee of the Congress passed a resolution that two-thirds of the representatives on the management boards of industrial enterprises should be elected from among the workers.[62] Lenin was furious at this "stupid decision". Under his guidance a Plenary Session of the Congress "corrected" the resolution and decreed that no more than one-third of the managerial personnel of industrial enterprises should be elected. The management committees were to be integrated into the previously outlined complex hierarchical structure which vested veto rights in the Supreme Economic Council (Vesenka) set up in December 1917.[63]

The Congress formally endorsed a resolution from the Trade Union Central Council asserting the principle of "a definite, fixed rate of productivity in return for a guaranteed wage". It accepted the institution of piecework and of bonuses. A "climate of opinion rather than a settled policy was in the course of formation".[64]

May 25

Clashes between government forces and troops of the Czech Legion in the Urals. Anti-Bolshevik uprisings throughout Siberia and South-Eastern Russia. Beginning of large-scale civil war and beginning of Allied intervention. (Those who wish to incriminate the Civil War for anti-proletarian Bolshevik practices can do so from now on.)

June 28

Council of Peoples' Commissars, after an all-night sitting, issues Decree on General Nationalization involving all industrial enterprises with a capital of over one million rubles. The aims of the decree were "a decisive struggle against disorganization in production and supply".

The sectors affected, whose assets were now declared the property of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic, were the mining, metallurgical, textile, electrical, timber, tobacco, resin, glass and pottery, leather and cement industries, all steam-driven mills, local utilities and private railways, together with a few other minor industries. The task of "organizing the administration of nationalized enterprises" was entrusted "as a matter of urgency" to Vesenka and its sections. But until Vesenka issued specific instructions regarding individual enterprises covered by the decree "such enterprises would be regarded as leased rent-free to their former owners, who would continue to finance them and to draw revenue from them".[65]

The legal transfer of individual enterprises to the state was easily transacted. The assumption of managerial functions by appointees was to take a little longer but this process was also to be completed within a few months. Both steps had been accelerated under the threat of foreign intervention. The change in the property relations had been deep-going. In this sense a profound revolution had taken place. "As the Revolution had unleashed Civil War, so Civil War was to intensify the Revolution".[66] But as far as any fundamental changes in the relations of production were concerned, the Revolution was already spent. The period of "War Communism" - now starting - was to see the working class lose what little power it had enjoyed in production, during the last few weeks of 1917 and the first few weeks of 1918.

July 4-10

Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets.

Throughout the first half of 1918 the issue of "nationalization" had been the subject of bitter controversy between the "left" Communists and the Leninists. Lenin had been opposed to the total nationalization of the means of production, immediately after October. This was not because of any wish to do a political deal with the bourgeoisie but because of his underestimation of the technological and administrative maturity of the proletariat, a maturity that would have been put to an immediate test had all major industry been formally nationalized. The result had been an extremely complex situation in which some industries had been nationalized "from above", (i.e. by decree of the Central Government), others "from below" (i.e. where workers had taken over enterprises abandoned by their former owners), while in yet other places the former owners were still in charge of their factories - although restricted in their freedom of action or authority by the encroachment of the Factory Committees. Kritzman, one of the ablest theoreticians of "left" Communism, had criticized this state of affairs from an early date. He had referred to the "Workers' Control" decree of November 14, 1917, as "half-measures, therefore unrealizable":

"As a slogan workers' control implied the growing but as yet insufficient power of the proletariat. It was the implied expression of a weakness, still to be overcome, of the working-class movement. Employers would not be inclined to run their businesses with the sole aim of teaching the workers how to manage them. Conversely the workers felt only hatred for the capitalists and saw no reason why they should voluntarily remain exploited".[67]

Osinsky, another "left" Communist, stressed another aspect. "The fate of the workers' control slogan", he wrote,

"is most interesting. Born of the wish to unmask the opponent, it failed when it sought to convert itself into a system. Where, despite everything it fulfilled itself, its content altered completely from what we had originally envisaged. It took the form of a decentralized dictatorship, of the subordination of capitalists, taken individually, to various working-class organizations acting independently of one another...Workers' Control had originally been aimed at subordinating the owners of the means of production...But this co-existence soon became intolerable. The state of dual power between managers and workers soon led to the collapse of the enterprise. Or it rapidly became transformed into the total power of the workers, without the least authorization of the central powers."[68]

Much "left" Communist writing at this time stressed the theme that early nationalization of the means of production would have avoided many of these ambiguities. Total expropriation of the capitalists would have allowed one to proceed immediately from "workers' control" to "workers' management" through the medium of some central organism regulating the whole of the socialized economy. It is interesting that Lozovsky, although at the time strongly opposed to the viewpoint of the "left" Communists (because he felt that the Revolution had only been a "bourgeois-democratic" revolution), was later to write: "It was soon to be proved that in the era of social revolution, a constitutional monarchy in each enterprise [i.e. the previous boss, but only exercising limited power (MB)] was impossible and that the former owner - however complex the structure of a modern enterprise - was a superfluous cog".[69] A split occurred a little later among the "left" Communists. Radek reached an agreement with the Leninists. He was prepared to accept "one-man management" in principle (not too hard a task for a non-proletarian?) because it was now to be applied in the context of the extensive nationalization decrees of June 1918. In Radek's opinion these decrees would help ensure the "proletarian basis of the regime". Bukharin too broke with Osinsky and rejoined the fold. Osinsky and his supporters however proceeded to form a new oppositional tendency: the "democratic centralists" (so-called because of their opposition to the "bureaucratic centralism" of the Party leadership). They continued to agitate for workers' management of production. Their ideas, and those of the original group of "left" Communists were to play an important role in the development, two years later, of the Workers' Opposition.

With the Civil War and "War Communism" the issues appeared, for a while, to become blurred. There was little production for any one to control:

"The issues of 1918 however were only postponed. They could not be forgotten thanks to the left communists' work of criticism. As soon as the military respite permitted, left-wing oppositionists were ready to raise again the fundamental question of the social nature of the Soviet regime".[70]


High point of Volga offensive by the Whites.

The Civil War immensely accelerated the process of economic centralization. As a knowledge of previous Bolshevik practice might have led one to expect, this was to prove an extremely bureaucratic form of centralization. The whole Russian economy was "reorganized" on a semi-military basis. The Civil War tended to transform all major industry into a supply organization for the Red Army. This made industrial policy a matter of military strategy. It is worth pointing out, at this stage, that we doubt if there is any intrinsic merit in decentralization, as some anarchists maintain. The Paris Commune, a Congress of Soviets (or a shop stewards' committee or strike committee to take modern analogies) are all highly centralized yet fairly democratic. Feudalism on the other hand was both decentralized and highly bureaucratic. The key question is whether the "centralized" apparatus is controlled from below (by elected and revocable delegates) or whether it separates itself from those on whose behalf it is allegedly acting.

This period witnessed a considerable fall in production, due to a complex variety of factors which have been well described elsewhere.[71] The trouble was often blamed by Party spokesmen on the influence of heretical "anarcho-syndicalist" ideas. Mistakes had certainly been made, but what had been the growing pains of a new movement were now being attributed to the inherent vices of any attempt by the workers to dominate production. "Workers' control over industry carried out by the Factory and Plant Committees", wrote one government spokesman, "has shown what can be expected if the plans of the anarchists are realized".[72] Attempts at control from below were now being systematically suppressed. Proletarian partisans of the individual Factory Committees tried to resist but their resistance was easily overcome.[73] Bitterness and despair developed among sections of the proletariat (and by no means "backward" sections). Such factors must also be taken into account - but seldom are - in discussing the fall of production, and the widespread resort to "antisocial activities" so characteristic of the years of "War Communism".

August 25-September 1

First All-Russian Conference of Anarcho-Syndicalists meets in Moscow. The industrial resolution accused the government of

"betraying the working class with its suppression of workers' control in favour of such capitalist devices as one-man management, labour discipline and the employment of 'bourgeois' engineers and technicians. By forsaking the Factory Committees - the beloved child of the great workers' revolution - for those 'dead organizations', the trade unions, and by substituting decrees and red tape for industrial democracy, the Bolshevik leadership was creating a monster of 'state capitalism', a bureaucratic Behemoth, which it ludicrously called socialism".[74]

Volny Golos Truda (The Free Voice of Labour) was established as the successor to Golos Truda (closed down in May 1918). The new paper was itself closed down after its fourth issue (September 16, 1918). This had contained an interesting article by "M. Sergven" (?Maximov) called "Paths of Revolution". The article

"made a remarkable departure from the usual condemnation of the Bolsheviks as 'Betrayers of the Working Class'. Lenin and his followers were not necessarily cold-blooded cynics who, with Machiavellian cunning, had mapped out the new class structure in advance to satisfy their personal lust for power. Quite possibly they were motivated by a genuine concern for human suffering...But the division of society into administrators and workers followed inexorably from the centralization of authority. It could not be otherwise. Once the functions of management and labour had become separated (the former assigned to a minority of 'experts' and the latter to the untutored masses) all possibility of dignity or equality were destroyed."[75]

In the same issue Maximov slammed the "Manilovs"[76] in the anarchist camp as

"romantic visionaries who pined for pastoral Utopias, oblivious of the complex forces at work in the modern world. It was time to stop dreaming of the Golden Age. It was time to organize and act".

For these principled yet realistic views Maximov and the anarcho-syndicalists were to be viciously attacked as "anarcho-bureaucratic Judases by other tendencies in the anarchist movement".[77]


A government decree fixes the composition of the Vesenka to thirty members nominated by the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions, twenty nominated by the Regional Councils of National Economy (Sovnarkhozy) and ten nominated by the All-Russian Central Executive of the Soviets (V.Ts.I.K.). Current Vesenka business was to be entrusted to a Presidium of nine other members, of whom the President and his Deputy were nominated by the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom) and the others by the V.Ts.I.K. The Presidium was officially supposed to implement the policies decided at the monthly meetings of all 69 of the Vesenka's members. But it soon came to undertake more and more of the work. After the autumn of 1918 full meetings of the Vesenka were no longer held. It had become a department of state.[78]

In other words within a year of the capture of state power by the Bolsheviks, the relations of production (shaken for a while at the height of the mass movement) had reverted to the classical authoritarian pattern seen in all class societies. The workers as workers had been divested of any meaningful decisional authority in the matters that concerned them most.

September 28

The Bolshevik trade-union leader Tomsky declares at the First All-Russian Congress of Communist Railwaymen that "it was the task of the Communists firstly to create well-knit trade unions in their own industries, secondly to take possession of these organizations by tenacious work, thirdly to stand at the head of these organizations, fourthly to expel all non-proletarian organizations and fifthly to take the union under our own Communist influence".[79]


Government Decree reiterates the ruling that no body other than Vesenka "in its capacity as the central organ regulating and organizing the whole production of the Republic" has the right to sequester industrial enterprises.[80] The need to publish such a decree suggests that local Soviets, or perhaps even local Sovnarkhozy were doing just that.

November 6-9

Sixth All-Russian Congress of Soviets.

November 25 - December 1

Second All-Russian Conference of Anarcho-Syndicalists meets in Moscow.


A new decree abolished the regional Sovnarkhozy and recognized the provincial Sovnarkhozy as "executive organs of Vesenka". The local Sovnarkhozy were to become "economic sections" of the executive committees of the corresponding local Soviets. The glavki were to have their own subordinate organs at provincial headquarters. "This clearly represented a further step towards the centralized control of every branch of industry all over the country by its glavk or centre in Moscow, under the supreme authority of Vesenka".[81]

Second All-Russian Congress of Regional Economic Councils.

Molotov analyzed the membership of twenty most important glavki and "centres". Of 400 persons concerned, over 10 per cent were former employers or employers' representatives, 9 per cent technicians, 38 per cent officials from various departments (including Vesenka)...and the remaining 43 per cent workers or representatives of workers' organizations, including trade unions. The management of production was predominantly in the hands of persons "having no relation to the proletarian elements in industry". The glavki had to be regarded as "organs in no way corresponding to the proletarian dictatorship". Those who directed policy were "employers' representatives, technicians and specialists".[82] "It was indisputable that the Soviet bureaucrat of these early years was as a rule a former member of the bourgeois intelligentsia or official class, and brought with him many of the traditions of the old Russian bureaucracy".[83]


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Table of Contents



[1*] D. B. Ryazanov, a Marxist scholar best known as the historiographer of the International Workingmen's Association (the First International), later became the founder of the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow and published a biography of Marx and Engels.

[2*] Gregori Petrovich Maximov, born in 1893. Graduated as an agronomist in Petrograd in 1915. Joined the revolutionary movement while still a student. In 1918 joined the Red Army. When the Bolsheviks used the Army for police work and for disarming the workers he refused to obey orders and was sentenced to death. The solidarity of the steelworkers' union saved his life.

Edited anarcho-syndicalist papers Golos Truda (Voice of Labour) and Novy Golos Truda (New Voice of Labour). Arrested March 8, 1921, during the Kronstadt uprising. Released later that year following a hunger strike, but only after the intervention of European delegates attending Congress of Red Trade Union International. Sought exile abroad.

In Berlin edited Rabotchi Put (Labour's Path), paper of Russian syndicalists in exile. Later went to Paris and finally settled in Chicago. Died 1950. Author of various works on anarchism and on the Bolshevik terror (The Guillotine at Work, 1940).

[3*] It is interesting that as great a "Marxist" as Rosa Luxemburg was to proclaim at the founding Congress of the German Communist Party (January 1919) that the trade unions were destined to disappear, being replaced by Councils of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies and by Factory Committees (Bericht über die Verhandlung des Gründungparteitages der KPD (1919), pp. 16, 80).

[4*] Vladimir Shatov, born in Russia, emigrated to Canada and USA. In 1914 secretly reprinted 100,000 copies of Margaret Sanger's notorious birth-control pamphlet, Family Limitation. Worked as machinist longshoreman and printer. Joined IWW. Later helped produce Golos Truda, weekly anarcho-syndicalist organ of the Union of Russian Workers of the United States and Canada. Returned to Petrograd in July 1917 and "replanted Golos Truda in the Russian capital". Later became member of Petrograd Military Revolutionary Committee and an officer of the 10th Red Army. In 1919 he played important role in defence of Petrograd against Yudenich. In 1920 became Minister of Transport in the Far Eastern Soviet Republic. Disappeared during the 1936-38 purges.

[5*] For years Trotskyist literature has denounced these reactionary facets of the Red Army as examples of what happened to it "under Stalinism". They were in fact first challenged by Smirnov at the Eighth Party Congress, in March 1919.



[1] Avrich, op. cit., p. 156. (Several secondary references given.)

[2] Pervy vserossiiski s'yezd professionalnykh soyuzov, 7-14 yanvarya 1918 g (First All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions, 7-14 January, 1918) (Moscow, 1918), p. 193. (Henceforth referred to as the First Trade Union Congress.)

[3] Ibid., p. 212.

[4] Ibid., p. 48.

[5] First Trade Union Congress, p. 235.

[6] Avrich, op. cit., p. 168.

[7] First Trade Union Congress, p. 85.

[8] Ibid., p. 239.

[9] Ibid., p. 215.

[10] Ibid., p. 85.

[11] Ibid., p. 85.

[12] Ibid., p. 221.

[13] Avrich, op. cit., pp. 168-9.

[14] Maximov, op. cit., pp. 12-13.

[15] Quoted (in German) by A. S. Shlyapnikov, Die Russischen Gewerkshaften (The Russian Trade Unions) (Leipzig. 1920).

[16] First Trade Union Congress, p. 374.

[17] Ibid., pp. 369-70.

[18] Ibid., p. 369.

[19] Ibid., p. 192.

[20] Ibid., p. 230.

[21] Ibid., p. 195.

[22] Ibid., p. 369.

[23] Adopted Resolution (ibid., p. 370).

[24] Kaplan, op. cit., p. 128.

[25] Ibid., p. 181.

[26] First Trade Union Congress, p. 11.

[27] Ibid., p. 80.

[28] Ibid., p. 364.

[29] Ibid., preface.

[30] Ibid., p. 27.

[31] Ibid., p. 367.

[32] Vsesoyuzny s'yezd professionalnykh soyuzov tekstilshchikov i fabrichnykh komitetov (Moscow, 1918), p. 8.

[33] Ibid., p. 5.

[34] Ibid., p. 30.

[35] Sbornik dekretov i postanovlenii po narodnomu, khozyaistvu (1918), pp. 311-15.

[36] Carr, op. cit., II, pp. 86-7.

[37] Ibid., II, p. 95.

[38] Ibid., II, p. 91.

[39] Lenin, Selected Works, VII, Explanatory Notes, p. 505.

[40] Ibid.

[41] L. Trotsky, "Work, Discipline, Order", Sochineniya, XVII, pp. 171-2.

[42] N V. Krylenko, Autobiography in Ency. Dict., XLI-1, Appendix, p. 246.

[43] Narodnoye Khozyaisto, no. 2, 1918, p. 38.

[44] K. Radek, "Posle pyatimesyatsev" (After Five Months), Kommunist, no. 1 (April 1918), pp. 3-4.

[45] "Tesisy o tekushchem moment" (Theses on the Current Situation), Kommunist, no. 1, p. 8.

[46] Osinsky, "O stroitelstve sotsialisma" (On the Building of Socialism), Kommunist, no. 2 (April 1918), p. 5. It was already obvious to some, in 1918, in which direction Leninist economic policy was leading. Those who, today, claim to be both "Leninists" and "state capitalists", please note!

[47] V. I. Lenin, "Left-Wing Childishness and Petty-Bourgeois Mentality", Selected Works, VII, p. 374.

[48] V. Sorin, "Partiya i oppozitsiya" (The Party and the Opposition), I, Fraktsiya levykh kommunistov (The Fraction of Left Communists) (Moscow, 1925), pp. 21-2.

[49] Daniels, op. cit., p. 87.

[50] Before the Revolution Lenin had denounced Taylorism as "the enslavement of man by the machine" (Sochineniya, XVII, pp. 247-8).

[51] Lenin, Selected Works, VII, pp. 332-3, 340-42.

[52] Kommunist, no. 4.

[53] Lenin, Sochineniya, XXII, pp. 516-17.

[54] Ibid., XXVI, p. 326.

[55] Lenin, Selected Works, VII, pp. 360-66.

[56] Carr, op. cit., II, p. 100.

[57] V. I. Lenin, The Threatening Catastrophe and How to Fight It.

[58] For a fuller analysis of this concept of means and ends - and of what it led to - see Paul Cardan, From Bolshevism to the Bureaucracy (Solidarity Pamphlet 24).

[59] Carr, op. cit., II, p. 101, n. 4.

[60] Osinsky, in Trudy pervogo vserossiiskogo s'yezda sovetov narodnogo khozyaistva (Proceedings of the First All-Russian Congress of Economic Councils) (Moscow, 1918), pp. 61-4.

[61] Ibid., p. 75.

[62] Ibid., p. 65.

[63] Polozheniye ob upravlenii natsionalizirovannymi predpriyatiyami (Regulations for the Administration of Nationalized Enterprises), ibid., pp. 477-8.

[64] Carr, op. cit., 11, pp. 119-20.

[65] Ibid., II, p. 105.

[66] Daniels, op. cit., p. 92.

[67] I. Larine and L. Kritzman, Wirtschaftsleben und Wirtschaftlicher Aufbau in Soviet Russland, 1917-1920 (Hamburg, 1921), p. 163.

[68] N. Osinsky, O stroitelstve sotsialisma (The Building of Socialism) (Moscow, 1918), p. 35 et seq.

[69] A Lozovsky, The Trade Unions in Soviet Russia (Moscow: All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions, 1920), p. 654.

[70] Daniels, op. cit., p. 91.

[71] See for instance I. Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed (Oxford University Press, 1959), pp. 1-14.

[72] I. I. Stepanov-Skortsov, op. cit., p. 24.

[73] M.. Dobb, Soviet Economic Development since 1917 (New York, 1948), pp. 89-90.

[74] Avrich. op. cit., p. 191.

[75] Ibid., pp. 192-3.

[76] Manilov was a day-dreaming landowner in Gogol's Dead Souls.

[77] Avrich, op. cit., pp. 196-7.

[78] Carr, op. cit., II, p. 180.

[79] Vsemssiiskaya konferentsiya zheleznodorozhnikov komunistov (First All-Russian Conference of Communist Railwaymen) (Moscow, 1919), p. 72.

[80] Sbornik dekretov i postanovlenii po narodnomu khozyaistvu (1920), ii, 83.

[81] Carr, op. cit., II, p. 183.

[82] Trudy vtorogo vserossiiskogo s'yezda sovetov narodnogo khosyaistva (Second All-Russian Congress of Regional Economic Councils) (n.d.), p. 213.

[83] Carr, op. cit., II, p. 190.


Last updated on: 6.14.2009