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


This pamphlet has two aims. It seeks to contribute new factual material to the current discussion on "workers' control". And it attempts a new kind of analysis of the fate of the Russian Revolution. The two objectives, as will be shown, are inter-related.

"Workers' control" is again being talked about. Nationalization (whether of the Western or Eastern variety) and the rule of the "Party of the working class" (whether of the Eastern or Western variety) have manifestly failed. They have not satisfied the hopes and expectations of ordinary people - or given them any real say in determining the conditions under which they live. This has created new interest in the subject of "workers' control" and in ideas which, in a different context, were common currency at the beginning of the century.

Today people as different as Young Liberals and Labour "lefts", tired trade union officials and "Trotskyists" of one kind or another - not to mention anarcho-syndicalists and "libertarian Marxists" - all talk about "workers' control". This suggests one of two things. Either these people have common objectives - which seems unlikely - or the words serve to mask as much as they convey. We hope to dispel some of the confusion by recalling how, at a critical stage of history, the advocates of different conceptions of "workers' control" confronted one another and by showing who won, why they won, and what the consequences were to be.

This return to the historical roots of the controversy is not motivated by an addiction to archivism or by a partiality for the esoteric. The revolutionary movement in Britain - unlike that in several European countries - has never been much concerned with theory, preferring on the whole an empirical, "suck-it-and-see" kind of approach. This may at times have helped it avoid becoming bogged down in the swamps of metaphysical speculation but the overhead costs - in terms of clarity and consistency - have been heavy. Without a clear understanding of objectives and of the forces (including ideological forces) impeding advance - in short without a sense of history - the revolutionary struggle tends to become "all movement and no direction". Without clear perspectives, revolutionaries tend to fall into traps - or be diverted into blind alleys - which, with a little knowledge of their own past, they could easily have avoided.

The confusion about workers' control (at least in Britain) is partly terminological. In the British movement (and to a lesser extent in the English language) a clear-cut distinction is seldom made between "control" and "management", functions which may occasionally overlap but are usually quite distinct. In French, Spanish or Russian political literature two separate terms (contrôle and gestion, control and gerencia, kontrolia and upravleniye) refer respectively to partial or total domination of the producers over the productive process. A moment's reflection will make it obvious why one must make this distinction.

Two possible situations come to mind. In one the working class (the collective producer) takes all the fundamental decisions. It does so directly, through organisms of its own choice with which it identifies itself completely or which it feels it can totally dominate (Factory Committees, Workers' Councils, etc.). These bodies, composed of elected and revocable delegates probably federate on a regional and national basis. They decide (allowing the maximum possible autonomy for local units) what to produce, how to produce it, at what cost to produce it, at whose cost to produce it. The other possible situation is one in which these fundamental decisions are taken "elsewhere", "from the outside", i.e. by the State, by the Party, or by some other organism without deep and direct roots in the productive process itself. The "separation of the producers from the means of production" (the basis of all class society) is maintained. The oppressive effects of this type of arrangement soon manifest themselves. This happens whatever the revolutionary good intentions of the agency in question, and whatever provisions it may (or may not) make for policy decisions to be submitted from time to time for ratification or amendment.

There are words to describe these two states of affairs. To manage is to initiate the decisions oneself, as a sovereign person or collectivity, in full knowledge of all the relevant facts. To control is to supervise, inspect or check decisions initiated by others. "Control" implies a limitation of sovereignty or, at best, a state of duality of power, wherein some people determine the objectives while others see that the appropriate means are used to achieve them. Historically, controversies about workers' control have tended to break out precisely in such conditions of economic dual power.

Like all forms of dual power, economic dual power is essentially unstable. It will evolve into a consolidation of bureaucratic power (with the working class exerting less and less of the control). Or it will evolve into workers' management, with the working class taking over all managerial functions. Since 1961, when Solidarity started advocating "workers' management of production", others have begun to call for "workers' direct control", "workers' full control", etc. - so many tacit admissions of the inadequacy (or at least ambiguity) of previous formulations.

It would be a short-sighted view to see in all this a question of linguistic purism, a terminological or doctrinal quibble. We have to pay a ransom to both the past and the present. We have not appeared on the political scene from nowhere. We are part of a revolutionary libertarian tradition for whom these concepts had deep significance. And we are not living in a political vacuum. We are living in a specific historical context, in which a constant struggle is taking place. In this struggle the conflicting interests of different social strata (bourgeoisie, bureaucracy and proletariat) are expressed in different types of demands, more or less clearly formulated. Different ideas about control and management figure prominently in these controversies. Unlike Humpty Dumpty we cannot make words mean exactly what we choose.

The revolutionary movement itself moreover is one of the forces on this social arena. Whether we like it or not - and whether it fully appreciates it or not - most of the revolutionary movement is impregnated with the ethos, traditions and organizational conceptions of Bolshevism. And in the history of the Russian Revolution - particularly between 1917 and 1921 - the issue of "workers' control" versus "workers' management" loomed large. "From 1917 to 1921 the issue of industrial administration was the most sensitive indicator of the clash of principles about the shaping of the new social order...It was the most continuous and provocative focus of actual conflict between the communist factions".[1] And, it should be stressed, between the Bolsheviks and other tendencies in the revolutionary movement. Thousands of revolutionaries were to be killed and hundreds of thousands incarcerated, fighting it out.

Most of those now entering the revolutionary movement will be unfamiliar with these controversies. A virtue should not however be made of this state of affairs. Clarification is essential, but here new problems arise. The methodological poverty, ahistoricism (at times even anti-intellectualism) among so many of those revolutionaries who do have some knowledge as to what actually happened is a first tragic obstacle. And it is one of the ironies of the present situation that those others (the residual legatees of Bolshevism) who talk loudest about the "need for theory" and the "need to study history" should be those with the most to hide (should their own historical antecedents really be unearthed) and with the most to lose (should a coherent alternative emerge to challenge their ossified beliefs).

Some of the confusion about "workers' control" is neither terminological nor due to ignorance concerning past controversies. It is deliberate. Today, for instance, one finds some hardened, old-time Leninists or Trotskyists (in the Socialist Labour League, International Marxist Group or in the "leadership" of International Socialism for instance) advocating "workers' control" without batting an eyelid. Seeking to capitalize on the confusion now rampant in the movement, these people talk of "workers' control" as if (a) they meant by these words what the politically unsophisticated might think they mean (i.e. that working people should themselves decide about the fundamental matters relating to production) and (b) as if they - and the Leninist doctrine to which they claim to adhere - had always supported demands of this kind, or as if Leninism had always seen in workers' control the universally valid foundation of a new social order, rather than just a slogan to be used for manipulatory purposes in specific and very limited historical contexts.[2]

The question of self-management is not esoteric. Its discussion - in the sharpest possible terms - is not sectarian. Self-management is what the revolution of our time is all about. This in itself would justify a pamphlet such as the present one. A study of this period (Russia, 1917-1921) has, however, deeper implications. It could provide the basis for a new kind of analysis of the fate of the Russian Revolution, a task to which we will now briefly turn.


The Russian Revolution

To propose a new way of looking at what happened in Russia in 1917 (and after) is synonymous with an invitation to be misunderstood. If moreover the questions asked and the methodology suggested happen to differ from those in current use the proposal almost becomes a guarantee. As we have had occasion to mention before misrepresentation is a way of life on the traditional left, for whom nothing is quite as painful as a new idea.

Over the last fifty years all the existing organizations of the left have elaborated a whole mythology (and even a whole anti-mythology) about the Russian Revolution. The parliamentary fetishists of Social Democracy see "the failure of Bolshevism" in its "anti-democratic practices". The original sin, for them, was the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly. The self-styled "Communist" movement (Stalinists, Trotskyists, Maoists, etc.) talks with filial pride of the "glorious, socialist, October Revolution". They seek to vaunt and popularize its original achievements while differing in their appreciations of what happened subsequently, when it happened, why it happened and to whom it happened. For various anarchists the fact that the State or "political power" was not immediately "abolished" is the ultimate proof and yardstick that nothing of fundamental significance really occurred.[3] The SPGB (Socialist Party of Great Britain) draw much the same conclusion, although they attribute it to the fact that the wages system was not abolished, the majority of the Russian population not having had the benefit of hearing the SPGB viewpoint (as put by spokesmen duly sanctioned by their Executive Committee) and not having then sought to win a Parliamentary majority in the existing Russian institutions.

On all sides people seek to use the Russian Revolution with a view to integrating it into their own propaganda - only retaining of it those aspects which happen to conform with their own particular analysis of history, or their own particular prescriptions for the present. Whatever was new, whatever seemed to contradict established theories or break out of established categories, has been systematically "forgotten", minimized, distorted, denied.

Any attempt to re-evaluate the crucial experience of 1917-1921 is bound to evoke opposition. The first to react will be the "apparatchiks" who for years have been protecting "revolutionary" organizations (and "revolutionary" ideology) from the dual threats of subversion and renewal. Opposition will also be found however in the minds of many honest militants, seeking the road to genuinely revolutionary politics. One isn't dealing here with a simple psychological resistance but with a much deeper phenomenon which cannot be explained away by reference to the reactionary role and influence of various "leaderships". If the average militant has difficulty in understanding the full significance of some of the problems raised in the early stages of the Russian Revolution, it is because these problems are amongst the most important and difficult (if not the most important and difficult) ever to have confronted the working class. The working class made a revolution that went beyond a mere change in the political personnel at the top. It was able to expropriate the former owners of the means of production (thereby profoundly altering the existing property relations). But to what extent was it able to go beyond even this? To what extent was it able - or prepared - to revolutionize the relations of production? Was it willing to destroy the authority structure which the relations of production embody and perpetuate in all class societies? To what extent was it prepared itself to manage production (and thereby the whole of society), or to what extent was it inclined to delegate this task to others? And to what extent was the dominant ideology to triumph, compelling the working class to substitute for its avowed enemies a Party that claimed to speak "on its behalf"?

To answer these questions is a major task beset with pitfalls. One of the dangers confronting anyone seeking dispassionately to analyze the "heroic period of the Russian Revolution" is the danger of "retrospective identification" with this or that tendency or individual then active on the political scene (Osinsky, Kollontai, Maximov, Makhno or Myasnikov, for instance). This is a pointless political pastime. It leads rapidly to a state of mind where instead of seeking to understand the broad course of events (which is a relevant preoccupation) revolutionaries find themselves asking such questions as "what should have been done at this or that moment?"; "was this or that action premature?"; "who was right at this or that Congress?"; etc. We hope to have avoided this snare. When, for instance, we study the struggle of the Workers' Opposition against the leadership of the Party (in 1920 and 1921) it is not for us a question of "taking sides". It is a question of understanding what the forces in conflict really represented. What, for instance, were the motives (and the ideological and other limitations) of those who appeared to be challenging the drift to bureaucratization in every aspect of social life?

Another danger (or another form of the same danger) threatens those venturing into this field for the first time, while still befuddled by the official mythology. It is the danger of becoming entangled in the very legend one is seeking to destroy. Those, for instance, seeking to "demolish" Stalin (or Trotsky, or Lenin) may successfully achieve their immediate objective. But they may "succeed" at the expense of not seeing, sensing or recording the most fundamental new features of this period: the autonomous action of the working class seeking totally to alter the conditions of its existence. We hope to have avoided this trap. If we have quoted at some length the statements of prominent individuals it is only insofar as they epitomize the ideologies which, at a given point in history, guided the actions and thoughts of men. Throughout the account, moreover, we have felt that the only way seriously to deal with what the Bolsheviks said or did was to explain the social role of their utterances and actions.

We must now state our own methodological premises. We hold that the "relations of production" - the relations which individuals or groups enter into with one another in the process of producing wealth - are the essential foundations of any society. A certain pattern of relations of production is the common denominator of all class societies. This pattern is one in which the producer does not dominate the means of production but on the contrary both is "separated from them" and from the products of his own labour. In all class societies the producer is in a position of subordination to those who manage the productive process. Workers' management of production - implying as it does the total domination of the producer over the productive process - is not for us a marginal matter. It is the core of our politics. It is the only means whereby authoritarian (order-giving, order-taking) relations in production can be transcended and a free, communist or anarchist, society introduced.

We also hold that the means of production may change hands (passing for instance from private hands into those of a bureaucracy, collectively owning them) without this revolutionizing the relations of production. Under such circumstances - and whatever the formal status of property - the society is still a class society for production is still managed by an agency other than the producers themselves. Property relations, in other words, do not necessarily reflect the relations of production. They may serve to mask them - and in fact they often have.[4]

This much of the analysis is fairly widely accepted. What has not been hitherto attempted is to relate the history of the Russian Revolution to this overall conceptual framework. Here we can only indicate the broad lines of such an approach.[5] Seen in this light the Russian Revolution represents an unsuccessful attempt by the Russian working class to break out of relations of production that were proving increasingly oppressive. The massive upsurge of 1917 proved strong enough to smash the political supremacy of the bourgeoisie (by shattering the economic base on which it was founded: the private ownership of the means of production). It altered the existing system of property relations. But it did not prove strong enough (despite heroic attempts in this direction) to alter the authoritarian relations of production characteristic of all class societies. Sections of the working class (those most active in the Factory Committee Movement) certainly attempted to influence the Revolution in this direction. But their attempt failed. It is worth analyzing the causes of this failure - and seeing how new masters came to replace the old ones.

What were the forces pitted against those seeking a total transformation of the conditions of industrial life? First, of course, there was the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie had everything to lose in such a total social upheaval. Confronted with workers' management, it stood to lose not only its ownership of the means of production but also the possibility of privileged positions vested in expertise and in the exercise of decisional authority. No wonder the bourgeois breathed a sigh of relief when they saw that the leaders of the Revolution would "go no further than nationalization" and were keen to leave intact the order-giver/order-taker relationship in industry and elsewhere. True, large sections of the bourgeoisie fought desperately to regain their lost property. The Civil War was a protracted and bloody affair. But thousands of those who, through custom and culture, were more or less closely attached to the expropriated bourgeoisie were very soon offered the opportunity to re-enter the "revolutionary stronghold" - by the back door as it were - and to resume their role as managers of the labour process in the "Workers' State". They seized this unexpected opportunity eagerly. In droves they either joined the Party - or decided to co-operate with it, cynically welcoming every utterance by Lenin or Trotsky in favour of "labour discipline" or "one-man management". Many were soon to be appointed (from above) to leading positions in the economy. Merging with the new political-administrative "elite", of which the Party itself formed the nucleus, the more "enlightened" and technologically skilled sections of the "expropriated class" soon resumed dominant positions in the relations of production.

Secondly, the Factory Committee Movement had to cope with openly hostile tendencies on the "left", such as the Mensheviks. The Mensheviks repeatedly stressed that as the Revolution could only be of bourgeois-democratic type there could be no future in attempts by the workers to manage production. All such endeavours were denounced as "anarchist" and "utopian". In places the Mensheviks proved a serious obstacle to the Factory Committee Movement, but the opposition was anticipated, principled and consistent.

Thirdly - and far more difficult to see through - was the attitude of the Bolsheviks. Between March and October the Bolsheviks supported the growth of the Factory Committees, only to turn viciously against them in the last few weeks of 1917, seeking to incorporate them into the new union structure, the better to emasculate them. This process, which is fully described in the pamphlet, was to play an important role in preventing the rapidly growing challenge to capitalist relations of production from coming to a head. Instead the Bolsheviks canalized the energies released between March and October into a successful onslaught against the political power of the bourgeoisie (and against the property relations on which that power was based). At this level the Revolution was "successful". But the Bolsheviks were also "successful" in restoring "law and order" in industry - a law and order that reconsolidated the authoritarian relations in production, which for a brief period had been seriously shaken.

Why did the Party act in this manner? To answer this question would require a much fuller analysis of the Bolshevik Party and of its relation to the Russian working class than we can here attempt. Again one would have to steer clear both of mythology ("the great Bolshevik Party", "the weapon forged by Lenin", "the spearhead of the Revolution", etc.) and of anti-mythology ("the Party as the embodiment of totalitarianism, militarism, bureaucracy", etc.), seeking constantly to understand rather than to rant or rave. At the superficial level both the Party's ideology and its practice were firmly rooted in the specific historical circumstances of Tsarist Russia, in the first decade of this century. Illegality and persecution partly explain (although they do not justify) the Party's organizational structure and its conception of its relationship to the class.[6] What is more difficult to understand is the naivety of the Bolshevik leaders who don't seem to have appreciated the effects that this type of organization and this type of relationship to the class would inevitably have on the subsequent history of the Party.

Writing of the early history of the Party no lesser an exponent of Bolshevik orthodoxy than Trotsky was to state:

"The habits a political machine were already forming in the underground. The young revolutionary bureaucrat was already emerging as a type. The conditions of conspiracy, true enough, offered rather meagre scope for such formalities of democracy as elections, accountability and control. Yet undoubtedly the Committee men narrowed these limitations considerably more than necessity demanded. They were far more intransigent and severe with the revolutionary working men than with themselves, preferring to domineer even on occasions that called imperatively for lending an attentive ear to the voice of the masses. Krupskaya notes that, just as in the Bolshevik committees, so at the Congress itself, there were almost no working men. The intellectuals predominated. 'The Committee man', writes Krupskaya, 'was usually quite a self-confident a rule he did not recognize any internal party democracy...did not want any innovations...did not desire and did not know how to adapt himself to rapidly changing conditions' ".[7]

What all this was to lead to was first hinted at in 1905. Soviets had appeared in many places.

"The Petersburgh Committee of the Bolsheviks was frightened at first by such an innovation as a non-partisan representation of the embattled masses. It could find nothing better to do than to present the Soviet with an ultimatum: immediately adopt a Social-Democratic programme or disband. The Petersburgh Soviet as a whole, including the contingent of Bolshevik working men as well, ignored this ultimatum without batting an eyelid".[8]

Broué, one of the more sophisticated apologists of Bolshevism, was to write that "those in the Bolshevik Party who were the most favourable to the Soviets only saw in them, in the best of cases, auxiliaries for the Party...only belatedly did the Party discover the role it could play in the Soviets, and the interest that the Soviets presented for increasing the Party's influence with a view to leading the masses".[9] The problem is put here in a nutshell. The Bolshevik cadres saw their role as the leadership of the revolution. Any movement not initiated by them or independent of their control could only evoke their suspicion.[10] It has often been said that the Bolsheviks were "surprised" by the creation of the Soviets: this euphemism should not mislead us. The reaction of the Bolsheviks was of far deeper significance than mere "surprise" - it reflected a whole concept of revolutionary struggle, a whole concept of the relationship between workers and revolutionaries. The action of the Russian masses themselves, as far back as 1905, was already to condemn these attitudes as outdated.

This separation between the Bolsheviks and the masses was to be revealed repeatedly during 1917. It was first witnessed during the February Revolution, again at the time of the April Theses, and later still at the time of the July days.[11] It has repeatedly been admitted that the Party made "mistakes" both in 1905 and in 1917. But this "explanation" explains nothing. What one should be asking is what made these mistakes possible? And one can answer only if one understands the type of work undertaken by the Party cadres, from the creation of the Party right up to the time of the Revolution. The Party leaders (from those on the Central Committee down to those in charge of local groups) had been placed, through the combined effects of the conditions of the struggle against Tsarism and of their own organizational conceptions, in a situation which allowed them only tenuous links with the real workers' movement. "A worker-agitator", wrote Lenin,

"who shows any talent and is at all promising should not work in the factory. We must see to it that he lives on Party support...and goes over to an underground status".[12]

No wonder the few Bolshevik cadres of working-class origin soon lost real contacts with the class.

The Bolshevik Party was torn by a contradiction which helps explain its attitude before and after 1917. Its strength lay in the advanced workers who supported it. There is no doubt that this support was at times widespread and genuine. But these workers could not control the Party. The leadership was firmly in the hands of professional revolutionaries. In a sense this was inevitable. A clandestine press and the dissemination of propaganda could only be kept going regularly by militants constantly on the move and at times compelled to seek refuge overseas. A worker could only become a Bolshevik cadre on condition he ceased work and placed himself at the disposal of the Party, which would then send him on special missions, to this or that town. The apparatus of the Party was in the hands of revolutionary specialists. The contradiction was that the real living forces that provided the strength of the Party could not control it. As an institution, the Party totally eluded control by the Russian working class. The problems encountered by the Russian Revolution after 1917 did not bring about this contradiction, they only served to exacerbate it. The attitude of the Party in 1917 and after are products of its history. This is what rendered so futile most of the attempts made within the Party by various oppositions between 1918 and 1921. They failed to perceive that a given ideological premise (the preordained hegemony of the Party) led necessarily to certain conclusions in practice.

But even this is probably not taking the analysis far enough. At an even deeper level the very conception of this kind of organization and this kind of relationship to the mass movement reflect the unrecognized influence of bourgeois ideology, even on the minds of those who were relentlessly seeking to overthrow bourgeois society. The concept that society must necessarily be divided into "leaders" and "led", the notion that there are some born to rule while others cannot really develop beyond a certain stage have from time immemorial been the tacit assumptions of every ruling class in history. For even the Bolsheviks to accept them shows how correct Marx was when he proclaimed that "the ruling ideas of each epoch are the ideas of its ruling class". Confronted with an "efficient", tightly-knit organization of this kind, built on ideas of this kind, it is scarcely surprising that the emerging Factory Committees were unable to carry the Revolution to completion.

The final difficulty confronting the Committees was inherent in the Committee Movement itself. Although certain individuals showed extraordinary lucidity, and although the Committee Movement represents the highest manifestation of the class struggle achieved in 1917, the movement as a whole was unable to understand what was happening to it and to offer any serious resistance. It did not succeed in generalizing its experience and the record it left is, unfortunately, very fragmentary. Unable to proclaim its own objectives (workers' self-management) in clear and positive terms, it was inevitable that others would step into the vacuum. With the bourgeoisie in full disintegration, and the working class as yet insufficiently strong or conscious to impose its own solutions to the problems tearing society apart, the triumphs of Bolshevism and of the bureaucracy were both inevitable.

An analysis of the Russian Revolution shows that in allowing a specific group, separate from the workers themselves, to take over the function of managing production, the working class loses all possibility of even controlling the means of producing wealth. The separation of productive labour from the means of production results in an exploiting society. Moreover, when institutions such as the Soviets could no longer be influenced by ordinary workers, the regime could no longer be called a soviet regime. By no stretch of the imagination could it still be taken to reflect the interests of the working class. The basic question: who manages production after the overthrow of the bourgeoisie? should therefore now become the centre of any serious discussion about socialism. Today the old equation (liquidation of the bourgeoisie = workers' state) popularized by countless Leninists, Stalinists and Trotskyists is just not good enough.

In 1917 the Russian workers created organs (Factory Committees and Soviets) that might have ensured the management of society by the workers themselves. But the Soviets passed into the hands of Bolshevik functionaries. A state apparatus, separate from the masses, was rapidly reconstituted. The Russian workers did not succeed in creating new institutions through which they would have managed both industry and social life. This task was therefore taken over by someone else, by a group whose specific task it became. The bureaucracy organized the work process in a country of whose political institutions it was also master.

All this necessitates a serious re-evaluation of several basic concepts. "Workers' power" cannot be identified or equated with the power of the Party - as it repeatedly was by the Bolsheviks. In the words of Rosa Luxemburg, workers' power must be implemented

"by the class, not by a minority, managing things in the name of the class. It must emanate from the active involvement of the masses, remain under their direct influence, be submitted to control by the entire population, result from the increasing political awareness of the people".

As for the concept of "taking power" it cannot mean a semi-military putsch, carried out by a minority, as it obviously does for so many who still seem to be living in the Petrograd of 1917. Nor can it only mean the defence - however necessary - of what the working class has won against attempts by the bourgeoisie to win it back. What "taking power" really implies is that the vast majority of the working class at last realizes its ability to manage both production and society - and organizes to this end.

This text is in no sense an economic history of Russia between 1917 and 1921. It is, at best, a selective industrial chronology. In most instances the facts speak for themselves. In a few places, we have taken the opportunity of describing our own views, particularly when we felt that all the protagonists in the great historical debates were wrong, or trapped in a system of ideas that prevented them from appreciating the real significance of what was happening. Events such as the stages of the Civil War are only mentioned in order to place various controversies in context - and to nail once and for all the allegation that many of the measures described were taken "as a result of the Civil War".

It will probably be objected that, throughout the narrative, greater stress has been placed on various struggles within the Party than on the actions of the millions who, for one reason or another, never joined the Party or who, from the beginning, saw through what it was endeavouring to do. The "charge" is true but the shortcoming almost unavoidable. The aspirations of thousands of people, their doubts, their hesitations, their hopes, their sacrifices, their desire to transform the conditions of their daily life and their struggles to do so are undoubtedly as much a moulding force of history as the resolutions of Party Congresses or the speeches of Party leaders. Yet an activity that has neither rules nor statutes, neither tribunes nor troubadours, belongs almost by definition to what history suppresses. An awareness of the problem, however acute, will not generate the missing material. And an essay such as this is largely a question of documentation. The masses make history, they do not write it. And those who do write it are nearly always more concerned with ancestor worship and retrospective justification that with a balanced presentation of the facts.

Other charges will also be made. The quotations from Lenin and Trotsky will not be denied but it will be stated that they are "selective" and that "other things, too" were said. Again, we plead "guilty". But we would stress that there are hagiographers enough in the trade whose "objectivity" (like Deutscher's for instance) is but a cloak for sophisticated apologetics. There is moreover another reason for unearthing this material. Fifty years after the Revolution - and long after its "isolation" has been broken - the bureaucratic system in Russia clearly bears little resemblance to the model of the Paris Commune (elected and revocable delegates, none receiving more than a working man's wage, etc., etc.). In fact Russia's social structure has scarcely any anticipation in the whole corpus of Marxist theory. It therefore seems more relevant to quote those statements of the Bolshevik leaders of 1917 which helped determine Russia's evolution rather than those other statements which, like the May Day speeches of Labour leaders, were forever to remain in the realm of rhetoric.


Next: 1917
Table of Contents



[1] R. V. Daniels, The Conscience of the Revolution (Harvard University Press, 1960), p. 81.

[2] Not all Trotskyist tendencies practice this kind of deception. Some are unambiguously reactionary. For instance K. Coates and A. Topham state "it seems sensible for us to speak of 'workers' control' to indicate the aggressive encroachment of Trade Unions [sic!] on management powers, in a capitalist framework, and of 'workers' self-management' to indicate attempts to administer a socialized economy democratically" (Industrial Democracy in Great Britain (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1968, p. 363). Trotsky himself was just as straightforward. Although not making of workers' control a function to be exercised by the unions he distinguished clearly enough between "control" and "management". "For us the slogan of control is tied up with the period of dual power in production which corresponds to the transition from the bourgeois regime to the proletarian...In the language of all mankind by control is understood surveillance and checking by one institution over the work of another. Control may be very active, authoritative and all embracing. But it still remains control. The very idea of this slogan is an outgrowth of the transitional regime in industry, when the capitalist and his administrators can no longer take a step without the consent of the workers, but on the other hand, when the workers have not as yet...acquired the technique of management, nor yet created the organs essential for this" (L. Trotsky, What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat, 1932).

[3] An example of such an over simplified analysis of the fate of the revolution can be found in Voline, Nineteen-Seventeen (London: Freedom Press, 1954). "The Bolshevik Party, once in control, installed itself as absolute master. It was quickly corrupted. It organized itself as a privileged caste. And later it flattened and subjected the working class in order to exploit it, under new forms, in its own interests".

[4] For a full discussion of this concept - and of all its implications - see P. Chaulieu, "Les rapports de production en Russie", Socialisme ou Barbarie, no. 2 (May-June 1949). Although the concept may surprise many "Marxists" it is of interest that Engels had clearly perceived it. In his letter to Schmidt (October 27, 1890) he wrote: "In a modern state, law must not only correspond to the general economic condition and be its expression, but must also be an internally coherent expression which does not, owing to inner contradictions, reduce itself to nought. And in order to achieve this, the faithful reflection of economic conditions suffers increasingly...The reflection of economic relations as legal principles is necessarily...a topsy-turvy one..." (Marx-Engels, Selected Correspondence (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, n.d.) pp. 504-5).

[5] That such an analysis might be possible was suggested in an excellent short pamphlet: J. Barrot, Notes pour une analyse de la Révolution Russe (Paris: Librairie "La Vieille Taupe", n.d.).

[6] Both explicitly outlined in the theory (cf. Lenin, What Is To Be Done? and One Step Forwards, Two Steps Back) and in the practice of Bolshevism, between 1901 and 1917.

[7] L Trotsky, Stalin (London, 1947), p. 61. The Congress referred to is the Third Party Congress (April 25 - May 10, 1905).

[8] Ibid., pp. 64-65.

[9] P. Broué, Histoire du Parti Bolshevik (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1963), p. 35.

[10] The same attitude was to be found within the Party itself. As Trotsky himself was to say, this time approvingly: "The statutes should express the leadership's organized distrust of the members, a distrust manifesting itself in vigilant control from above over the Party" (I. Deutscher, The Prophet Armed (Oxford University Press, 1954), p. 76.

[11] No, we are not saying that the military overthrow of the Provisional Government was possible in July. We are merely stressing how out of touch the Party was with what the masses really wanted.

[12] Lenin, Sochineniya (Works), IV, p. 441.


Last updated on: 6.14.2009