Nikolai Bukharin

Programme of the World Revolution

Chapter VII
Freedom for the Working Class and the Poorest Elements of the Peasantry;
Restrictions for the Bourgeoisie

(Freedom of Speech, Press, Unions, Meetings, etc., in the Soviet Republic)

Since we have a dictatorship of workers and peasants whose aim is to crush the bourgeoisie completely and to put down any attempt of reviving the bourgeois government, it is plain that there can be no question of freedom, in the wide sense of the word, for the bourgeoisie, just as there can be no question of allowing the bourgeoisie the right of franchise, nor of transforming the Soviet Government into a republican bourgeois parliament.

The party of the Communists (bolsheviks) are overwhelmed on all sides by shouts of indignation and even threats: “You stop newspapers, you make arrests, you prohibit meetings, you suppress the freedom of speech and of press, you revive despotism, you are violators and murderers,” and much more to the same effect. It is this question of “freedom” in the Soviet Republic that should be thoroughly discussed in detail.

First of all, let us take an example. When the revolution broke out in March of last year (1917), Tzarist ministers were arrested (Sturmer, Protoppopoff and others). Did anyone protest? No! And yet these arrests, just as any other arrests, were an infringement of personal freedom. Why was this infringement universally approved of? And why do we still at the present moment: “Yes, that was the right thing to do”? Simply because it was the arrest of dangerous counter-revolutionaries. And in a revolution, more than at any other time, we should remember the eleventh Commandment: “Be on the look out!” If you are not, if you set all the enemies of the people free, if you do not keep them under control, there will be nothing left to remember the revolution by!

Another example. When Sturmer and Goremikin were being arrested, the Black Hundred press was closed. This was a deliberate infringement of the freedom of the press. Was it justifiable? Most certainly! And no reasonable being will dispute that this was just what should have been done. And why? Again, because at a time of revolution, when there is a life and death struggle going on, the enemy should be deprived of his weapons. And the press is such a weapon.

Prior to the October revolution, several Black Hundred societies (“The Two-Headed Eagle” and a few others) were closed down at Kiev. This was an infringement of the freedom of association. But it was the right thing to do, .because the revolution cannot permit the free organisation of unions against the revolution.

When Komiloff was advancing on Petrograd, a number of generals struck, refusing to obey the orders of the Provincial Government. They declared they would support Korniloff to the last. Was it possible to sanction such freedom of generals’ strikes? Surely for such strikes these Black Hundred generals should have been subjected to the severest punishment.

What docs ail this mean? We see now that infringement of freedom is necessary with regard to the opponents of the revolution. At a time of revolution we cannot allow freedom for the enemies of the people and of the revolution. That is a surely clear, irrefutable conclusion.

After March and before October neither the mensheviks nor the right socialist revolutionaries, nor the bourgeoisie, once raised their voices against the usurpation of power by violence in March, or against the suppression of freedom (of the Black Hundred press), or speech (Black Hundred), etc. They never once raised their voices against all this, because it was carried out by the bourgeoisie, Goutchkoff, Miliukoff, Rodzinko, and Tereschenko, and their loyal servants Kerensky and Tzeretelli, who had usurped power in March.

By October things had changed. In October the worker’s rose against the bourgeoisie who had trodden upon their necks in March. In October the peasants supported the workers. It clearly follows that the bourgeoisie grew to hate the workers’ revolution, and in its mad hatred behaved no better than the landowners.

All the large property owners united against the working class and the poorest peasantry. They gathered around the so-called party of the people’s freedom (in reality the party of the people’s treason) against the people. And it is easy enough to understand that when the people succeed in getting the upper hand over their enemies the latter in their impotent fury cry, “usurpers,” “violators,” and so on.

The following is now clear to the workers and peasants. The party of the Communists not only allows no freedom (such as liberty of the press, speech, meetings, unions, etc.) for the bourgeois enemies of the people, but goes still further and demands of the government to be always ready to close the bourgeois press, to break up gatherings of the enemies of the people, to forbid their lying and libelling, and sowing panic; the party must mercilessly suppress all attempts of the bourgeoisie to return to power. And this is what is meant by dictatorship of the proletariat.

When there is a question of the press, we first ask which press – the bourgeois or the workers’ press; when there is a question of gatherings, we ask what gatherings – workers’ or counter-revolutionary; when a question arises of strikes, the first question for us is whether it is a strike of the workers against the capitalists, or a sabotage instigated by the bourgeoisie or the bourgeois intellectuals against the proletariat. He who makes no distinction between these two things is groping in the dark. The press, meetings, unions, etc., are weapons of the class struggle. And in a revolutionary epoch they are the weapons of civil war, together with munition stores, machine guns, powder and bombs. The great question is: which class is using them as a weapon against the other. The workers’ revolution cannot possibly grant freedom for the organisation of such risings as those of Korniloff, Dutoff, or Miliukoff against the working masses. Neither can it allow full freedom of organisation, of speech, press, and of meetings of the counter-revolutionary bands who are stubbornly carrying on their own policy, and only lying in wait for a chance of throwing themselves upon the workers and peasants.

As we have already seen, the right wing socialist revolutionaries and mensheviks, in declaring their motto to be “the Constituent Assembly,” are only anxious for votes for the bourgeoisie. And just in the same way when they violently abuse destruction of freedom they are anxious for the freedom of the bourgeoisie. The bourgeois press, bourgeois leaders, the counter-revolutionary bourgeois organisations are not to touched – this is the real position of these gentlemen.

But, they will say, you yourselves used to close both menshevik and socialist revolutionary newspapers; the party of the Communists has more than once encroached on the liberty of worthy individuals, who in their time (in the reign of the Tzar) suffered imprisonment. How can we justify that? This question may be answered by another: when Gotz, the right wing socialist revolutionary, organised a rising of junkers and officers against the soldiers and the workers – what were we to do? Pat him on the head for it? When Roudneff, the right wing socialist revolutionary, together with Colonel Riabtzeff, in October armed the Moscow White Guards, consisting of the sons of the bourgeoisie, houseowners, and other gentry (the gilded youths), and in union with the officers and junkers tried to suppress by machine guns and drown in blood the October rising of workers and soldiers – what could we do? Decorate them with medals for their feats? When the nienshevik organ Forward (which ought really to be named Backward) and the socialist revolutionist Labour lied to the Moscow workers at the critical moment of the struggle, that Kerensky had taken Petrograd (which they did to break up the unanimity of the workers), were we expected to praise them for these provocatory tricks?

What follows from all this? It follows that when the socialist traitors and socialist traitors’ organs begin to serve the bourgeoisie too fervently, or when they cease to differ in their line of action from the Black Hundred cadet organisers of pogroms – then they should and must be treated in the same way as their beloved teachers and benefactors. At the present moment there are many such, who, although having fought against the Tzar and landowners, now cry at the top of their voices when the workers seize the wealth of the bourgeoisie. For what they have done in the past we render them our thanks. But if at the present moment they do not in any way differ from the Black Hundred horde, then they can hardly expect us to encourage them.

But whilst the bourgeoisie and all the other enemies of the proletariat and poorest peasantry require a bridle to restrain them, the proletariat and peasantry, on the other hand, need complete freedom of speech, of association, and of the press, etc., not only in word, but in fact. Never, under any government, was there such a number of workers’ and peasants’ organisations as there are now in the Soviet Government. Never did any government support such a vast number of -workers’ and peasants’ organisations as does the Soviet Government. This is because the Soviet Government is the government of workers and peasants themselves, and it is no wonder therefore that such a government supports all other working class organisations as far as it lies in its power. We repeat, the Communists carry all this freedom into effect instead of merely proclaiming it before the world. Here is a little example: the freedom of the workers’ press. Under the pressure of the working class even the bourgeoisie might agree to a greater or smaller amount of freedom for the workers’ press. But the workers have no means; all the printing works are in the hands of the capitalists. Paper is in the hands of the capitalists, who have bought up everything. The workers have the right to a free press, but they are unable to make use of it. We, Communists, on the other hand, approach the owners of printing works and of paper works, and we say to them: “the proletarian government is about to confiscate your works and declare them to be the property of the workers’ and peasants’ government, and to place them at the disposal of the workers”; let them now put their right to a free press into execution. Of course the capitalists will set up a howl at such proceedings, but it is the only way to attain real freedom of the workers’ press.

Another question may be put to us: why did the bolsheviks never before speak of the complete destruction of the freedom of the bourgeois press? Why were they formerly on the side of a bourgeois democratic republic ? Why did they themselves side with the Constituent Assembly without ever expressing themselves in favour of depriving the bourgeoisie of the franchise? In a word, why have they changed their attitude now in connection with this question?

The reason is very simple. The working class at that time was not yet powerful enough to storm the bourgeois fortress. It needed time to prepare, to gather strength, to enlighten the masses, to organise.

It lacked, for instance, a press of its own uninfluenced by the capitalist class. But it could not come to the capitalists and their government and demand: “close your newspapers, Messrs. Capitalists, and start newspapers for us workers.” They would be laughed at; it would be ridiculous to put such demands to capitalists. It would be equivalent to expecting the latter to cut their hands off with their own knife. Such demands are only made when a position is being taken by storm. Previously there was no such time. And that is why the working class (and our party) said: “Long live freedom of the press (the whole press, the bourgeois press included)!” Or take another instance. It is evident that employers’ associations, such as throw workers on the street, keep black lists, etc. These are very harmful to the working class. But the working class could not demand the suppression of employers’ associations and full liberty for labour unions. To do this it was necessary first to destroy the capitalist government, and the workers were not strong enough to do that . That is why at that time our party demanded the freedom of association (not only workmen’s), but unions in general.

Now times have changed. There is no question now of a lengthy preparation for the battle; we are now living in the period after the storm, in the period after the first great victory over the bourgeoisie. Now there is only one other problem before the working class: to finally and irretrievably break up the resistance of the bourgeoisie.

That is why the working class, acting in the name of the liberation of the whole of humanity from the atrocities and terrors of capitalism, must carry out this task to a definite end and with unswerving firmness. No indulgence for the bourgeoisie and no leniency – but complete liberty and the possibility of realising this liberty, to the working class and poorest peasants.

Last updated on 7.8.2008