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



Collapse of Whites in Siberia. Blockade lifted by Great Britain, France and Italy.

Decree issued by Sovnarkom laid down general regulations for universal labour service "to supply industry, agriculture, transport and other branches of the national economy with labour power on the basis of a general economic plan". Anyone could be called up on a single occasion or periodically for various forms of work (agriculture, building, road-making, food or fuel supplies, snow clearance, carting and "measures to deal with the consequences of public calamities"). In an amazing aside the document stated that there was even cause to "regret the destruction of the old police apparatus which had known how to register citizens, not only in towns but also in the country".[1]

January 12

Meeting of All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions.

At the gathering of the Bolshevik fraction Lenin and Trotsky together urge acceptance of the militarization of labour. Only two of sixty or more Bolshevik trade-union leaders support them. "Never before had Trotsky or Lenin met with so striking a rebuff".[2]

January 10-21

Third Congress of Economic Councils.

In a speech to the Congress Lenin declares:

"the collegial principle [collective management]...represents something rudimentary, necessary for the first stage, when it is necessary to build anew...The transition to practical work is connected with individual authority. This is the system which more than any other assures the best utilization of human resources."[3]

Despite this exhortation, opposition to Lenin and Trotsky's views was steadily gaining ground. The Congress adopted a resolution in favour of collective management of production.


Regional Party Conferences in Moscow and Kharkov come out against "one-man management". So did the Bolshevik faction of the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions (ARCCTU) at its meetings in January and March.[4] Tomsky, a well-known trade-union leader and a member of the ARCCTU presented "Theses" ("On the Tasks of the Trade Unions") which were accepted despite their implicit criticism of Lenin's and Trotsky's views.

Tomsky's theses claimed that

"the fundamental principle guiding the work of various bodies leading and administering the economy remains the principle now in existence: collective management. This must be applied from the Presidium of the Vesenka right down to the management of the factories. Collective management alone can guarantee the participation of the broad non-Party masses, through the medium of the unions."

The matter was still seen however as one of expediency rather than basic principle. "The trade unions", Tomsky claimed, "are the most competent and interested organizations in the matter of restoring the country's production and its correct functioning".[5]

The adoption of Tomsky's theses by a substantial majority marked the high-point of opposition, within the Party, to Lenin's views. Resolutions however were unlikely to resolve the differences. Both sides realized this. A more serious threat to the Party leadership came from the efforts of Party dissidents in industry to establish an independent centre, from which to control the Party organizations in the trade unions. Friction had developed between the Party and trade union authorities over assignments of Party members to trade union work. The Party fraction in the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions, dominated by "lefts"

"was claiming direct authority over the Party members in the various industrial unions. Shortly before the Ninth Congress the Party fraction in the ARCCTU passed a resolution which would confirm this claim, by making all Party fractions in the unions directly subordinate to the Party fraction in the ARCCTU, rather than to the geographical organizations of the Party. This literally would have created a Party within the Party, a semi-autonomous body embracing a substantial proportion of the Party's membership...The mere existence of such an inner sub-party would be contrary to centralist principles, to say nothing of the prospect of its domination by leftist opponents of Lenin's leadership...It was inevitable that the unionists' demand for autonomy within the Party would be rejected and when the resolution was submitted to the Orgbureau this is precisely what happened".[6]

The whole episode had interesting repercussions. Confronted with a conflict between democracy and centralism, the "democratic centralists" proved that on this issue - as on so many others - centralist considerations were paramount. They proposed a resolution, passed by the Moscow organization of the Party, to the effect that "Party discipline in every case takes precedence over trade union discipline".[7] On the other hand the Southern Bureau of the ARCCTU passed a resolution on autonomy for Party trade unionists similar to that drawn up by the parent organization - and got it passed by the Fourth Ukrainian Party Conference.


Second All-Russian Congress of Food Industry Workers (under syndicalist influence) meets in Moscow. Censures Bolshevik regime for inaugurating "unlimited and uncontrolled dominion over the proletariat and peasantry, frightful centralism carried to the point of absurdity...destroying in the country all that is alive, spontaneous and free". "The so-called dictatorship of the proletariat is in reality the dictatorship over the proletariat by the Party and even by individual persons".[8]

March 29-April 4

Ninth Party Congress.

The Civil War had by now almost been won. The people were yearning to taste, at last, the fruits of their revolution. But the Congress foreshadowed the continuation and extension into peacetime of some of the methods of War Communism (conscription of manpower, compulsory direction of labour, strict rationing of consumer goods, payment of wages in kind, requisition of agricultural produce from the peasants - in the place of taxation). The most controversial issues discussed were the "militarization of labour" and "one-man management" of industry. The proposals put to the Congress may be taken as representing the views of Lenin and Trotsky concerning the period of industrial reconstruction.

On the question of direction of labour, Trotsky's views were heavily influenced by his experiences as Commissar for War. Battalions awaiting demobilization had been used on a wide scale for forestry and other work. According to Deutscher "it was only a step from the employment of armed forces as labour battalions to the organization of civilian labour into military units".[9] "The working class", Trotsky announced to the Congress:

"cannot be left wandering all over Russia. They must be thrown here and there, appointed, commanded, just like soldiers.

Compulsion of labour will reach the highest degree of intensity during the transition from capitalism to socialism.

Deserters from labour ought to be formed into punitive battalions or put into concentration camps."

He advocated "incentive wages for efficient workers", "socialist emulation" and spoke of the "need to adopt the progressive essence of Taylorism".[10] In relation to industrial management Lenin and Trotsky's main preoccupations were with "economic efficiency". Like the bourgeoisie (both before and after them) they identified "efficiency" with individual management. They realized however that this would be a bitter pill for the workers to swallow. They had to tread carefully.

"Individual management", the official resolution delicately proclaimed,

"does not in any degree limit or infringe upon the rights of the working class or the 'rights' of the trade unions, because the class can exercise its rule in one form or another, as technical expediency may dictate. It is the ruling class at large [again identified with the Party (MB)] which in every case 'appoints' persons for managerial and administrative jobs."[11]

Their caution was justified. The workers had not forgotten how at the First Trade Union Congress (January 1918) a resolution had proclaimed that "it was the task of workers' control to put an end to autocracy in the economic field just as an end had been put to it in the political field".[12]

Various patterns of industrial management were soon outlined.[13] In drawing these up it is doubtful whether Lenin and Trotsky were encumbered by any doctrinal considerations such as those of Kritzman, the theoretician of "left" Communism, who had defined collective management as "the specific, distinctive mark of the proletariat...distinguishing it from all other social classes...the most democratic principle of organization".[14] Insofar as he had any principled view on the matter Trotsky was to declare that collective management was a "Menshevik idea".

At the Ninth Congress Lenin and Trotsky were opposed most vehemently by the Democratic Centralists (Osinsky, Sapronov, Preobrazhensky). Smirnov, obviously ahead of his time, enquired why if one-man management was such a good idea it wasn't being practised in the Sovnarkom (Council of People's Commissars). Lutovinov, the metalworkers' leader, who was to play an important role in the development of the Workers' Opposition later that year, asserted that

"the responsible head of each branch of industry can only be the production union. And of industry as a whole it can only be the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions - it cannot be otherwise".[15]

Shlyapnikov called explicitly for a three-way "separation of powers" between Party, Soviets and the trade unions.[16] Speaking for the Democratic Centralists, Osinsky endorsed Shlyapnikov's idea. He observed a "clash of several cultures" (the "military-soviet" culture, the "civil-soviet" culture and the trade-union movement which had "created its own sphere of culture"). It was improper to apply to all of the cultures certain particular methods (such as militarization) which were appropriate to only one of them.[17] This was a clear case of being caught in a trap of one's own making.

On the question of "one-man management" the Democratic Centralists also had a position which was beside the real point. A resolution, which they had voted through the earlier Moscow Provincial Party Conference, minimized the matter:

"The question of the collegial system [collective management] and individual authority is not a question of principle, but a practical one. It must be decided in each case according to the circumstances".[18]

While correctly grasping that collective management had of itself no implicit virtues they failed to recognize that the real problem was that of the relation between management (individual or collective) and those it managed. The real problem was from whom the "one" or the "several" managers would derive their authority.

Lenin was not prepared for any concessions on the matter of trade-union autonomy: "The Russian Communist Party can in no case agree that political leadership alone should belong to the Party and economic leadership to the trade unions".[19] Krestinsky had denounced Lutovinov's ideas as "syndicalist contraband".[20] At Lenin's instigation the Congress called on the unions "to explain to the broad circles of the working class that industrial reconstruction can only be achieved by a transition to the maximum curtailment of collective administration and by the gradual introduction of individual management in units directly engaged in production".[21] One-man management was to apply to all institutions from State Trusts to individual factories. "The elective principle must now be replaced by the principle of selection".[22] Collective management was "utopian", "impractical" and "injurious".[23] The Congress also called for a struggle "against the ignorant conceit of...demagogic elements...who think that the working class can solve its problems without having recourse to bourgeois specialists in the most responsible posts":

"There could be no place in the ranks of the Party of scientific socialism for those demagogic elements which play upon this sort of prejudice among the backward sections of the workers".[24]

The Ninth Congress specifically decreed that "no trade-union group should directly intervene in industrial management" and that "Factory Committees should devote themselves to the questions of labour discipline, of propaganda and of education of the workers".[25] To avoid any recurrence of "independent" tendencies among the leaders of the trade unions those well-known proletarians Bukharin and Radek were moved on to the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions to represent the Party leadership and keep a watchful eye on the ARCCTU's proceedings.[26] All this of course was in flagrant contradiction with the spirit of the decisions taken a year earlier, at the Eighth Party Congress, and in particular to the famous Point 5 of the Economic Section of the 1919 Party Programme. It illustrates quite clearly how vulnerable the working class was to become, once it had been forced to relinquish its real power, the power it had once held in production, in exchange for a shadowy substitute - political power represented by the power of "its" Party. The policy advocated by Lenin was vigorously to be followed. In late 1920, of 2,051 important enterprises for which data were available, 1,783 were already under "one-man management".[27]

The Ninth Party Congress also saw changes relating to the internal Party regime. The Congress had opened to a storm of protests concerning this matter. Local Party Committees (at least democratic in form) were being made subservient to bureaucratically constituted local "political departments":

"With the institution of such bodies all political activity in the plant, industry, organization or locality under their jurisdiction was placed under rigid control from above...This innovation...taken from the Army...was designed to transmit propaganda downward rather than opinion upward".[28]

Verbal concessions were again made - amid repeated pleas for unity. Both at the Congress and later in the year:

"the dissidents made the mistake of concentrating on attempts to rearrange top political institutions, to reshuffle the forms of political control or to introduce new blood into the leadership - while leaving the real sources of power relatively unaffected...Organization, they naively believed, was the most effective weapon against bureaucracy".[29]

The Ninth Congress finally gave the Orgbureau (set up a year earlier and composed of five members of the Central Committee) the right to carry out transfers and postings of Party members without reference to the Politbureau. As had happened before - and was to happen again repeatedly - retrogressive changes in industrial policy went hand in hand with retrogressive changes in internal Party structure.


Trotsky given Commissariat of Transport as well as his Defence post. "The Politbureau...offered to back him to the hilt in any action he might take, no matter how severe".[30] Those who peddle the myth of an alleged Leninist opposition to Trotsky's methods at this stage, please note.

April 6-15

Third All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions.

Trotsky declared that "the militarization of the indispensable basic method for the organization of our labour forces":

"Is it true that compulsory labour is always unproductive?...This is the most wretched and miserable liberal prejudice: chattel slavery too was productive.

Compulsory slave labour...was in its time a progressive phenomenon.

Labour...obligatory for the whole country, compulsory for every worker, is the basis of socialism."

"Wages...must not be viewed from the angle of securing the personal existence of the individual worker" but should "measure the conscientiousness, and efficiency of the work of every labourer".[31] Trotsky stressed that coercion, regimentation and militarization of labour were no mere emergency measures. The workers' state normally had the right to coerce any citizen to perform any work, at any time of its choosing.[32] With a vengeance, Trotsky's philosophy of labour came to underline Stalin's practical labour policy in the thirties.

At this Congress Lenin publicly boasted that he had stood for one-man management from the beginning. He claimed that in 1918 he "pointed out the necessity of recognizing the dictatorial authority of single individuals for the purpose of carrying out the Soviet idea"[33] and claimed that at that stage "there were no disputes in connection with the question [of one-man management]". This last assertion is obviously untrue - even if one's terms of reference are restricted to the ranks of the Party. The files of Kommunist are there to prove the point!


By the middle of 1920 there had been little if any change in the harsh reality of Russian working class life. Years of war, of civil war and of wars of intervention, coupled with devastation, sabotage, drought, famine and the low initial level of the productive forces, made material improvement difficult. But even the vision had now become blurred. In the "Soviet" Russia of 1920 the industrial workers were "subjected again to managerial authority, labour discipline, wage incentives, scientific management - to the familiar forms of capitalist industrial organization with the same bourgeois managers, qualified only by the State's holding the title to the property.[34]

A "white" professor who reached Omsk in the autumn of 1919 from Moscow reported that

"at the head of many of the centres and glavki sit former employers and responsible officials and managers of business. The unprepared visitor to the centres who is personally acquainted with the former commercial and industrial world would be surprised to see the former owners of big leather factories sitting in Clavkozh, big manufacturers in the Central textile organizations, etc."[35]

Under the circumstances it is scarcely surprising that the spurious unity achieved at the Ninth Congress a few months earlier did not last. Throughout the summer and autumn differences of opinion on such issues as bureaucracy within the Party, the relations of the trade unions to the State and even the class nature of the State itself were to take on a very sharp form. Opposition groups appeared at almost every level. In the latter part of the year (after the conclusion of the Russo-Polish war) repressed discontent broke into the open. In the autumn Lenin's authority was to be challenged more seriously than at any time since the "left" Communist movement of early 1918.


Publication of Trotsky's classic Terrorism and Communism (just before the Second Congress of the Communist International). This work gives Trotsky's views on the "socialist" organization of labour in their most finished, lucid and unambiguous form:

"The organization of labour is in its essence the organization of the new society: every historical form of society is in its foundation a form of organization of labour.[36]

The creation of a socialist society means the organization of the workers on new foundations, their adaptation to those foundations and their labour re-education, with the one unchanging end of the increase in the productivity of labour.[37]

Wages, in the form of both money and goods, must be brought into the closest possible touch with the productivity of individual labour. Under capitalism the system of piecework and of grading, the application of the Taylor system, etc., have as their object to increase the exploitation of the workers by the squeezing out of surplus value. Under socialist production, piecework, bonuses, etc., have as their problem to increase the volume of the social product...those workers who do more for the general interest than others receive the right to a greater quantity of the social product than the lazy, the careless and the disorganizers.[38]

The very principle of compulsory labour is for the Communist quite unquestionable...the only solution to economic difficulties that is correct from the point of view both of principle and of practice is to treat the population of the whole country as the reservoir of the necessary labour power - an almost inexhaustible reservoir - and to introduce strict order into the work of its registration, mobilization and utilization.[39]

The introduction of compulsory labour service is unthinkable without the application, to a greater or lesser degree, of the methods of militarization of labour.[40]

The unions should discipline the workers and teach them to place the interests of production above their own needs and demands.

The young Workers' State requires trade unions not for a struggle for better conditions of labour - that is the task of the social and state organizations as a whole - but to organize the working class for the ends of production.[41]

It would be a most crying error to confuse the question as to the supremacy of the proletariat with the question of boards of workers at the head of factories. The dictatorship of the proletariat is expressed in the abolition of private property in the means of production, in the supremacy over the whole soviet mechanism of the collective will of the workers [a euphemism for the Party (MB)] and not at all in the form in which individual economic enterprises are administered.[42]

I consider that if the Civil War had not plundered our economic organs of all that was strongest, most independent, most endowed with initiative, we should undoubtedly have entered the path of one-man management in the sphere of economic administration much sooner and much less painfully".[43]


Due to the Civil War - and to other factors less often mentioned such as the attitude of the railway workers to the "new" regime - the Russian railways had virtually ceased to function. Trotsky, Commissar for Transport, was granted wide emergency powers to try out his theories of "militarization of labour". He started by placing the railwaymen and the personnel of the repair workshops under martial law. When the railwaymen's trade union objected, he summarily ousted its leaders and, with the full support and endorsement of the Party leadership

"appointed others willing to do his bidding. He repeated the procedure in other unions of transport workers".[44]

Early September

Setting up of Tsektran (Central Administrative Body of Railways). Very much Trotsky's brainchild, it was brought into being as a result of a compulsory fusion of the Commissariat of Transport, of the railway unions and of the Party organs ("political departments") in this field. The entire railroad and water transport systems were to fall within Tsektran's compass. Trotsky was appointed its head. He ruled the Tsektran along strictly military and bureaucratic lines. "The Politbureau backed him to the hilt, as it had promised".[45] The railways were got going again. But the cost to the image of the Party was incalculable. Those who wonder why, at a later stage, Trotsky was unable to mobilize mass support for his struggle, within the apparatus, against the "Stalinist" bureaucracy should meditate on such facts.

September 22-25

Ninth Party Conference.

Zinoviev gave the official report on behalf of the Central Committee. Sapronov presented a minority report on behalf of the "Democratic Centralists" who were well represented. Lutovinov spoke for the recently constituted Workers' Opposition. He called for the immediate institution of the widest measures of proletarian democracy, the total rejection of the system whereby appointments from above were made to nominally elected positions, and the purging of the Party of careerist elements who were now joining in droves. He also asked that the Central Committee refrain from its constant and exaggerated interventions in the life of the trade unions and of the Soviets.

The leadership had to retreat. Zinoviev evaded answering the main complaints. A resolution was passed stressing the need for "full equality within the Party" and denouncing "the domination of rank-and-file members by privileged bureaucrats". The resolution instructed the Central Committee to proceed by means of "recommendations" rather than by appointments from above and to abstain from "disciplinary transfers on political grounds".[46]

Despite these verbal concessions the leadership, through their spokesman Zinoviev, succeeded in getting the September Conference to accept the setting up of Central and Regional Control Commissions. These were to play an important role in the further bureaucratization of the Party - when the early incumbents (Dzerzhinsky, Preobrazhensky and Muranov) had been replaced by Stalin's henchmen.


Signature of Peace Treaty with Poland.

November 2-6

Fifth All-Russian Trade Union Conference.

Trotsky points out that the parallelism between unions and administrative organs, responsible for the prevailing confusion, had to be eliminated. This could only be done by the conversion of trade (professionalny) unions into production (proizvodstvenny) unions. If the leadership of the unions objected, they would have to be "shaken up" as the leaders of the railway unions had been. The "winged word" (Lenin) had been uttered!

November 14

General Wrangel evacuates the Crimea. End of Civil War.


Moscow Provincial Party Conference.

Opposition groups within Party shown to be growing rapidly. The recently formed Workers' Opposition, the Democratic Centralists and the Ignatov group (a local Moscow faction closely allied to the Workers' Opposition and later to merge with it) had secured 124 delegates to this Conference against 154 for supporters of the Central Committee.[47]

November 8-9

Meeting of Plenum of Central Committee.

Trotsky submits a "preliminary draft of theses" entitled "The Trade Unions and Their Future Role", later published on December 25 - in slightly altered form - as a pamphlet, The Role and Tasks of the Trade Unions: "It was necessary immediately to proceed to reorganize the trade unions, i.e. to select the leading personnel" (Thesis 5). Dizzy with success, Trotsky again threatened to "shake up" various trade unions as he had "shaken up those of the transport workers".[48] What was needed was "to replace irresponsible agitators [sic!] by production-minded trade unionists".[49] Trotsky's theses were put to the vote and defeated by the narrow margin of eight votes to seven. Lenin then "bluntly dissociated himself from Trotsky and persuaded the Central Committee to do likewise".[50] An alternative resolution proposed by Lenin was then passed by ten votes to four. It called for "reform of the Tsektran", advocated "sound forms of the militarization of labour"[51] and proclaimed that "the Party ought to educate and support...a new type of trade unionist, the energetic and imaginative economic organizer who will approach economic issues not from the angle of distribution and consumption but from that of expanding production".[52] The latter was clearly the dominant viewpoint. Trotsky's "error" had been that he had carried it out to its logical conclusion. But the Party needed a sacrificial goat. The Plenum was "to forbid Trotsky to speak in public on the relationship between the trade unions and the State".[53]

December 2

Trotsky, in a speech to the enlarged Plenum of Tsektran declared that

"a competent, hierarchically organized civil service had its merits. Russia suffered not from the excess but from the lack of an efficient bureaucracy.[54]

The militarization of the trade unions and the militarization of transport required an internal, ideological militarization".[55]

Stalin was later to describe Trotsky as "the patriarch of the bureaucrats".[56] When the Central Committee again rebuffed him:

"Trotsky fretfully reminded Lenin and the other members of how often they had privately urged act ruthlessly and disregard considerations of democracy. It was disloyal of pretend in public that they defended the democratic principle against him".[57]

December 7

At a Plenum of the Central Committee Bukharin had produced a resolution on "industrial democracy". The terms were to infuriate Lenin. They were "a verbal twist", "a tricky phrase", "confusing", "a squib":

"Industry is always necessary. Democracy is not always necessary. The term 'industrial democracy' gives rise to a number of utterly false ideas.[58]

It might be understood to repudiate dictatorship and individual management.[59]

Without bonuses in kind and disciplinary courts it was just empty talk".[60]

The strongest opposition to Trotsky's schemes for the "militarization of labour" came from that section of the Party with the deepest roots in the trade unions. Some of these Party members had not only dominated the Trade Union Council up to this time but "were also the direct beneficiaries of the doctrine of autonomous trade union responsibility".[61] In other words they were already, in part, trade union bureaucrats. It was partly from these elements that the Workers' Opposition was to develop.

By now, however, the leading politico-economic apparatus was quite different from the one we saw emerging in 1918. In just over two years the Party apparatus had gained undisputed political control of the State (through the bureaucratized Soviets). It had also gained almost complete control of the economic apparatus (through trade-union officials and appointed industrial managers). The various groups had acquired the competence and experience necessary to become a social category with a specific function: to manage Russia. Their fusion was inevitable.

December 22-29

The Eighth All-Russian Congress of Soviets was held in Moscow. It provided an opportunity for a public airing of the diverging viewpoints on the trade union question which had developed within the Party and which could now no longer be contained within its ranks. The degree of opposition which had developed to official Party policy can be gauged by the contents of Zinoviev's speech:

"We will establish more intimate contacts with the working masses. We will hold meetings in the barracks, in the camps and in the factories. The working masses will then...understand that it is no joke when we proclaim that a new era is about to start, that as soon as we can breathe freely again we will transfer our political meetings into the factories...We are asked what we mean by workers' and peasants' democracy. I answer: nothing more and nothing less than what we meant by it in 1917. We must re-establish the principle of election in the workers' and peasants' democracy...If we have deprived ourselves of the most elementary democratic rights for workers and peasants, it is time we put an end to this state of affairs".[62]

Zinoviev's concern for democracy did not carry much weight, being factionally motivated (it was part of a campaign to discredit Trotsky). At that time public orators in search of laughs could usually get them by carefully chosen quotations from Zinoviev on the subject of democratic rights.[63]

December 30

Joint meeting of the Party fraction to the Eighth Congress of Soviets, of Party members on the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions, and of Party members in various other organizations, held in the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, to discuss the "trade union question". All the main protagonists were on hand to state their respective cases. The various viewpoints, as stated at the meeting (or outlined in articles written at the time or within the next few weeks) can be summarized as follows.[64]

Trotsky and particularly Bukharin later amended their original proposals in order to constitute a bloc at the Congress.

For Lenin the trade unions were "reservoirs of state power". They were to provide a broad social basis "for the proletarian dictatorship exercised by the Party", a base that was badly needed in view of the predominantly peasant nature of the country. The unions were to be the "link" or "transmission belt" between the Party and the mass of non-Party workers. The unions could not be autonomous. They could not play an independent role either in the initiation or in the implementation of policy. They had to be strongly influenced by Party thinking and would undertake the political education of the masses along lines determined by the Party. In this way they would become "schools of Communism" for their seven million members.[1*] The Party was to be the teacher: "The Russian Communist Party, in the person of its Central and Regional organizations, unconditionally guides as before the whole ideological side of the work of the trade unions".[65]

Lenin stressed that the unions could not be instruments of the State. Trotsky's assumption that the unions need no longer defend the workers because the State was now a workers' state was wrong: "Our state is such that the entire organized proletariat must defend itself: we [sic] must use these workers' organizations for the defence of the workers from their state and for the defence of our state by the workers". (The words in italics are often omitted when this famous passage is quoted.)

According to Lenin, militarization was not to be regarded as a permanent feature of socialist labour policy. Persuasion had to be used as well as coercion. While it was normal [sic!] for the state to appoint officials from above (a long, long way had been travelled since the statements recorded under the heading of May 20, 1917) it would be inexpedient for the trade unions to do the same. The unions could make recommendations for administrative-economic jobs and should co-operate in planning. They should inspect, through specialized departments, the work of the economic administration.

Wage-rate fixing was to be transferred to the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions. In relation to wages the extreme egalitarianism of the Workers' Opposition had to be fought. Wages policy was to be designed so as to "discipline labour and increase its productivity".[66] Party members had

"chattered enough about principles in the Smolny. Now, after three years, they had decrees on all points of the production problem.[67]

The decisions on the militarization of labour, etc., were incontrovertible and there is no need whatsoever to withdraw my words of ridicule concerning references to democracy made by those who challenged these decisions...we shall extend democracy in the workers' organizations but not make a fetish of it..."[68]

Trotsky reiterated his belief that "the transformation of the trade unions into production unions...formed the greatest task of our epoch":

"The unions ought permanently to assess their membership from the angle of production and should always possess a full and precise characterization of the productive value of any worker".

The leading bodies of the trade unions and of the economic administration should have between one-third and one-half of their members in common in order to put an end to the antagonism between them. Bourgeois technicians and administrators who had become full members of a union were to be entitled to hold managerial posts, without supervision by commissars. After a real minimum wage had been secured for all workers there should be "shock competition" (udarnichestvo) between workers in production.

Bukharin's views had been evolving rapidly. What he now advocated was an attempt to build a bridge between the official views of the Party and those of the Workers' Opposition. There had to be "workers' democracy in production". The "governmentalizing of the unions" had to go hand in hand with the "unionizing of the state".

"The logical and historical termination [of this process] will not be the engulfment of the unions by the proletarian state, but the disappearance of both categories - of the unions as well as of the state - and the creation of a third: the communistically organized society".[69]

Lenin was to seize upon Bukharin's platform as "a full break with Communism and a transition to a position of syndicalism":[70]

"It destroyed the need for the Party. If the trade unions, nine-tenths of whose members are non-Party workers, appoint the managers of industry, what is the use of the Party?"[71]

"So we have grown up", he added ominously, "from small differences to syndicalism, signifying a complete break with Communism and an unavoidable split in the Party".[72] Other attacks by Lenin on Bukharin's views are to be found in his famous article censuring Trotsky.[73]

The views of the Workers' Opposition were put to the Moscow meeting by Shlyapnikov, a metalworker (and were later to be developed more fully by Kollontai and others). Explicitly or implicitly these views postulated the domination of the trade unions over the state.

The Workers' Opposition referred of course to Point 5 of the 1919 Programme and charged the leadership of the Party with violating its pledges towards the trade unions...the leadership of the Party and of Government bodies had in the last two years systematically narrowed the scope of trade union work and reduced almost to nil the influence of the working class...The Party and the economic authorities, having been swamped by bourgeois technicians and other non-proletarian elements displayed outward hostility to the unions...The remedy was the concentration of industrial management in the hands of the trade unions.

The transition should take place from below up: "At the factory level, the Factory Committees should regain their erstwhile dominant position". (The Bolshevik trade unionists had taken a long time to come round to this viewpoint!) The Opposition proposed more trade union representation in various controlling bodies. Not a single person was to be appointed to any administrative-economic post without the agreement of the trade unions. Officials recommended by the trade unions were to remain accountable for their conduct to the unions, who should also have the right to recall them from their posts at any time. The programme culminated in the demand that an "All-Russian Producers' Congress" be convened to elect the central management of the entire national economy. National Congresses of separate unions were similarly to elect managements for the various branches of the economy. Local and regional managements should be formed by local trade union conferences, while the management of single factories was to belong to the Factory Committees, which were to remain part of the trade union organization..."In this way", Shlyapnikov asserted, "there is created the unity of will which is essential in the organization of the economy, and also a real possibility for the influence of the initiative of the broad working masses on the organization and development of our economy".[74] Last but not least the Workers' Opposition proposed a radical revision of the wages policy in an extremely egalitarian spirit: money wages were to be progressively replaced by rewards in kind. Within the Party, it was clearly on the shoulders of the Workers' Opposition that, at this late stage, fell the task of endeavouring to maintain the revolutionary ideals of State and Revolution, with respect to the autonomous and democratic involvement of the masses in the functions of economic decision taking.


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[1*] According to figures given by Zinoviev at the Tenth Party Congress, union membership was 1.5 million in July 1917, 2.6 million in January 1918, 3.5 million in 1919, 4.3 million in 1920 and 7 million in 1921.



[1] Sobraniye Uzakonenii, 1920, no. 8, Art. 49. Also Treti vserossiiski s'yezd professionalnykh soyuzoz (Third All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions) (1920), I, Plenumi, pp. 50-51. (Henceforth referred to as Third Trade Union Congress).

[2] Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, op. cit., p. 493.

[3] V. I. Lenin, "Speech to Third Congress of Economic Councils", Sochineniya, XXV, p. 17.

[4] Carr, op. cit., II, p. 193.

[5] Tomsky, "Zadachi prosoyuzov" (The Tasks of the Trade Unions), Ninth Party Congress, Appendix 13, p. 534.

[6] Daniels, op. cit., p. 126.

[7] Theses of the Moscow Provincial Committee of the RCP, Ninth Party Congress, Appendix 15, p. 542.

[8] Vmesto programmy: rezolyutsii I i II vserossiiskikh konferentsii anarkho-sindikalistov (Berlin, 1922), p. 28.

[9] Deutscher, Soviet Trade Unions, op. cit., p. 36.

[10] L. Trotsky, Sochineniya (Works), XV, p. 126.

[11] Ninth Party Congress, p. 128.

[12] First Trade Union Congress, pp. 269-72.

[13] Deutscher, Soviet Trade Unions, op. cit., p. 35

[14] L. Kritzman, Geroicheski period russkoi revolyutsii (The Heroic Period of the Russian Revolution) (Moscow and Leningrad, 1926), p. 83.

[15] Ninth Party Congress, pp. 254-5.

[16] Ibid., p. 564, n. 32.

[17] Ibid., pp. 123-4.

[18] Ibid., p. 571, n. 75.

[19] "To the organizations of the R.C.P.(b) On the Question of the Agenda of the Party Congress", ibid., Appendix 2, p. 474.

[20] Pravda, March 12, 1920.

[21] Po voprosu o professionalnykh soyuzokh i ikh organizatsii (On the Question of the Trade Unions and Their Organization), Ninth Party Congress, Resolutions, I, p. 493.

[22] "The Trade Unions and their Tasks" (Lenin's Theses), Ninth Party Congress, Appendix 12, p. 532.

[23] Ninth Party Congress, pp. 26, 28.

[24] Ibid.

[25] At the Eleventh Congress in 1922, Lenin was to say: "It is absolutely essential that all the authority in the factories should be concentrated in the hands of management...Under these circumstances any direct intervention by the trade unions in the management of enterprises must be regarded as positively harmful and impermissible" (Resolutions I, pp. 607, 610-612).

[26] V. I. Lenin, Ninth Party Congress, p. 96.

[27] Kritzman, op. cit., p. 83.

[28] Daniels, op. cit., p. 114.

[29] Ibid., pp. 115,117.

[30] Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, op. cit., p. 498.

[31] Treti vserossiiski s'yezd professionalnykh soyuzov: stenograficheski otchet (Third All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions: Stenographic Report) (Moscow, 1920), pp. 87-97. (Henceforth referred to as Third Trade Union Congress.)

[32] Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, op. cit., pp. 500-07.

[33] Trade Unions in Soviet Russia (Labour Research Department and ILP Information Committee, November 1920) (British Museum Reading Room: press mark 0824-bb-41).

[34] Daniels, op. cit., p. 107.

[35] C. K. Gins, Sibir, Soyuzniki, Kolchak (Peking, 1921), II, p. 429.

[36] L. Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1961), p. 133.

[37] Ibid., p. 146.

[38] Ibid., p. 149.

[39] Ibid., p. 135.

[40] Ibid., p. 137

[41] Ibid., p. 143.

[42] Ibid., p. 162.

[43] Ibid., pp. 162-3.

[44] Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, op. cit., pp. 501-2.

[45] Ibid., p. 502.

[46] Isvestiya of the Central Committee, October 12, 1920.

[47] Tenth Party Congress, p. 829, n. 2.

[48] Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, op. cit., pp. 502-3.

[49] Deutscher, Soviet Trade Unions, op. cit., p. 41.

[50] Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, op. cit., pp. 502-3.

[51] Lenin, Selected Works, IX, p. 30.

[52] G. Zinoviev, Sochineniya (Moscow, 1924-6), VI, pp. 599-600.

[53] Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, op. cit., pp. 502-3. This sanction was to be lifted by the Central Committee, at its meeting of December 24, which also decided that the whole matter ought now to be openly discussed.

[54] Ibid., p. 503.

[55] Trotsky, Sochineniya, XV, pp. 422-3.

[56] J. Stalin, Sochineniya, VI, p. 29.

[57] Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, op. cit., p. 503.

[58] Lenin, Selected Works, IX, p. 12.

[59] Ibid., p. 53.

[60] Ibid., p. 26.

[61] Daniels, op. cit., p. 125.

[62] Vosmoi vserossiiski s'yezd sovetov: stenograficheski otchet (Eighth All-Russian Congress of Soviets: Stenographic Report) (Moscow, 1921), p. 324.

[63] L Schapiro, The Origin of the Communist Autocracy (New York: Praeger, 1965), p. 271.

[64] These summaries are based on Deutscher's detailed accounts in Soviet Trade Unions, op. cit., pp. 42-52. In the course of the pre-Congress discussion a great number of factions and groups emerged, each with its own views and "thesis" on the trade unions. The differences between some of these groups were very subtle indeed, and nearly all groups referred to so many common principles that sometimes the object of the debate seemed almost unreal. Only three motions were finally presented to the Congress: Lenin's (The Platform of the Ten), the Trotsky-Bukharin motion and the proposals of the Workers' Opposition. Deutscher points out that "a comparison between these motions tends up to a point to obscure rather than throw into relief the issue with which the Congress tried to come to grips because, for tactical reasons, the authors of every motion incorporated passages from their opponents' motions and thereby blurred the real differences".

[65] "O roli i zadachakh profsoyuzov" (On the Role and Tasks of Trade Unions), Tenth Party Congress, Resolutions, I, pp. 536-542 ff.

[66] Deutscher, Soviet Trade Unions, op. cit., p. 51.

[67] Lenin, Selected Works, IX, p. 6.

[68] Ibid., p. 76

[69] Bukharin, "O zadachakh i strukture profsoyuzov" (On the Tasks and Structure of the Trade Unions), Tenth Party Congress, Appendix 16, p. 802.

[70] Lenin, Selected Works, IX, p. 35.

[71] Ibid., p. 36.

[72] V. I. Lenin, "Krisis partii" (The Crisis in the Party), Pravda, January 21, 1921.

[73] V. I. Lenin, "Once Again on the Trade Unions, the Present Situation and the Mistakes of Comrades Trotsky and Bukharin", Selected Works, IX, pp. 40-80.

[74] Shlyapnikov, "Organizatsiya narodnogo khozyaistva i zadachi soyuzov" (The Organization of the Economy and the Tasks of the Unions), Tenth Party Congress, speech of December 30, 1920, Appendix 2, pp. 789-93.


Last updated on: 6.14.2009