Vladimir Bazarov December 1917

What is needed for socialism?

Source: http://www.uea.ac.uk/his/webcours/russia/documents/chto-nuzhno.shtml;
First Published: Novaya zhizn', No. 190/184, 1/14 December 1917, p. 1;
Translated: for marxists.org in 2004 by Francis King;

Translator’s note: This article provides an example of the criticisms levelled at the Bolsheviks by other left-wing socialists in the initial period after their seizure of power. V Bazarov (nom de plume of V A Rudnev, 1874-1939) had been a Bolshevik from 1904 until early 1917, when he became involved in an attempt to regroup the anti-war Russian socialists and overcome their old factional divisions into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Novaya zhizn', a non-factional social-democratic daily newspaper founded in 1917 by the writer Maksim Gorky, was closely identified with this current in Russian Marxism. In other respects its political positions most closely resembled those of Yu O Martov’s faction of Menshevik-Internationalists. It is noteworthy that in this early period, one of the most common accusations against Lenin’s regime was that it represented some form of “anarchy”. This charge was rarely made later. - Dr Francis King.

This is the question posed by yesterday’s Pravda, although it was not posed in order to give a substantive answer. It was, rather, posed in order to denounce the present writer, whom Pravda’s semi-official publicist describes as “one of the most malicious socialist-eaters”.

In what does my “malicious socialist-eating” consist? In the fact that I keep “accusing the Bolsheviks of adventurism, utopianism and suchlike mortal sins”. I confess that among those mortal sins of which I accuse the Bolsheviks and will continue to accuse them, there are many worse crimes than “adventurism” and “utopianism”. I accuse them of abandoning completely the principles of social-democracy. I assert that the Bolshevik dictatorship contains not one atom of socialism, and its “state” forms are not only alien to socialism, but diametrically opposed to it, and can be characterised as a school for the political perversion of the proletariat.

Pravda tries to beat me with my own words. In a pamphlet published 11 years ago [V Bazarov, Anarchist Communism and Marxism, St Petersburg, 1906] I wrote: “Socialists do not need to wait until the moment when capitalist production itself concentrates all the enterprises of every sector under the direction of a single central administration...

“If it has sufficient social force at its disposal, it is always possible quickly to remove backward enterprises from any given sector and organise production using only the most advanced forms of existing technology”. If that is the case, then what, apart from betrayal of my own earlier views, can prevent me at present from believing in the capacity of the Council of People’s Commissars to “organise production”? What, apart from “socialist-eating”, can be holding me back from joining that small, but cosy band of writers which are heaping praise on the good deeds of the new authorities in dozens of official and semi-official papers? First and foremost, it is the fact that the new authorities show no sign of possessing that “social force” with which the positive, organisational work of socialism could be accomplished. The Bolsheviks are naively convinced that if they have a hundred divisions at their disposal, all manner of social miracles can be accomplished. Our five-week experience of their lamentable rule has shown perfectly clearly that a hundred divisions, led by a few dozen semi-literate “party workers” from underground circles is a completely inadequate force, not only for the socialist reorganisation of society, but even for the effective management of the most modest enterprise.

In the pamphlet cited by Pravda, there are many pages devoted to the question of whether and how the proletariat, in the process of its economic and political struggle, can change from being a class of rebels against the existing system into a class of organisers of the future system. At the time I certainly did not indicate all the necessary preconditions for this transformation. Eleven years ago, not all the tendencies of the most recent imperialist phase of capitalism had yet manifested themselves. Nor was there even a hint of the prospects for the proletariat opened up by state regulated capitalism, which only developed widely in the course of the present war. But even considering just those conditions for a successful socialist revolution which I mentioned very sketchily and one-sidedly in my old pamphlet, not one has been attained, nor can it be attained in Russia today.

Our industry has become grossly swollen as a result of military orders, and the overwhelming bulk of the workers in it consists of chance, transient elements, who are organically alien to proletarian class consciousness. All these people “on the books” are yesterday’s peasants, shopworkers or yard-keepers. Not only have they not matured to the level needed for socialist dictatorship, but they are not even ready for any kind of effective class struggle within the confines of capitalism. They feel themselves to be merely temporary guests in the factories. They have absolutely no interest in the future of Russian industry, and are completely indifferent to its prospects for further development or collapse. They are simply taking advantage of a favourable opportunity to grab as much money as they can, so that they do not return to their former occupations empty-handed. That is their entire programme, and they do not care about anything else. And these “petty-bourgeois in the proletariat” completely outnumber the genuine qualified proletarians. They are destroying the organisational work which the proletariat had built up with such difficulty, they are disorganising the trade unions, and they recognise no discipline. Today they might throw an engineer out of their factory in a wheelbarrow, tomorrow they might threaten the trade union leader with the same fate, and the day after - their own factory committee.

The Bolshevik dictatorship is the dictatorship of these anarchic, petty bourgeois sections of the working population and of divisions of soldiers of similar temperament. Both groups live, in essence, at the nation’s expense, one of them without any regular work, and the other working very irregularly manufacturing military supplies no longer needed by anybody.

Both groups are equally alien to creative socialism, the socialism of production, and are wholeheartedly devoted to the socialism of consumption, the socialism of “fair shares”.

The spirit of the Bolshevik dictatorship is necessarily a true reflection of the attitudes and hopes of those petty-bourgeois anarchic masses which form the actual basis for this new power. This petty-bourgeois ideology permeates all the Bolshevik measures taken to fight speculation, dictated by the naive conviction that inflation is caused by the bourgeoisie hoarding stocks. It should be obvious to anybody who has studied not only in a seminary, but even in a study circle of the most basic type that the reverse is true: speculation and hoarding are the consequence of underproduction and inflation.

The Bolsheviks’ “workers’ control” is surely also a genuine product of the same attitude. For all its empty chatter about control “at the state level”, in fact it amounts to the transfer of every factory into the hands of the workers employed therein.

And the famous SR-Bolshevik decree on the “socialisation of the land”? Is that not the complete victory of the same sort of petty-bourgeois fairness of general levelling of property ownership?

I am very far removed from those bourgeois and social-patriotic critics who accuse the Bolsheviks of having cast the country into an abyss of anarchy and disintegration. No, the anarchy and disintegration was brought about not by the Bolsheviks but by the war, that genuinely criminal policy carried on in wartime by all our governments, both monarchist and revolutionary. The Bolsheviks are not Titans, able to bend the popular masses to their will. They are merely so much foam, floating on the surface of the popular stream, only to burst the next minute. Their only fault consists in the fact that they, while considering themselves to be social-democrats, did not hesitate to dive in and ride the rapids of this essentially anarchist stream. This was their dual crime, both against their country, and against the workers’ movement. Against their country, because this phase of anarchist rebellion would be passed through much more easily if it were led not by Lenins and Trotskies, but by Bleikhmans[1] and Volins.[2] Against the workers’ movement because if the Bolsheviks had remained true to the socialist banner, with our united forces we would probably have managed to save the real, hereditary proletariat from anarchic disintegration, thereby protecting it from too heavy a rout in the coming period of counter-revolution.

So, in answer to the question posed in the title “What is needed for socialism” I would reply: “First and foremost it is necessary that the conscious workers of Russia realise that Bolshevism and socialism have nothing whatsoever in common”.


1. Iosif Solomonovich Bleikhman (1868-1921) anarchist-communist from 1904. Leader of the Petrograd Federation of Anarchist-Communists in 1917. Fought for Soviet power in October 1917, but soon fell out with the Bolsheviks.

2. Vsevolod Mikhailovich Volin (real surname Eikhenbaum, 1882-1945), in 1917 member of Petrograd Union for Anarcho-Syndicalist Propaganda. SR 1905 - 1911, thereafter anarchist-communist. Opposed Bolshevik assumption of power in October 1917. Thereafter associated with anarchist fighters of Nestor Makhno in Ukraine, ideologist and later historian of Makhno movement.