N.I. Bukharin and E. Preobrazhensky: The ABC of Communism


Introduction - Our Programme

§1. What is a programme?

Every party pursues definite aims, whether it be a party of landowners or capitalists, on the one hand, or a party of workers or peasants, on the other. Every party must have definite aims, for otherwise it is not a party. If it be a party representing the interests of landowners, it will pursue the aims of landowners; it will endeavour to tighten the grasp of the owners upon the soil; to hold the peasants in bondage; to secure a high price for the produce of the landowners' estates; to hire labour cheaply; to rackrent the farms. If it be a party of capitalists and factory owners, it will likewise have its own aims: to procure cheap labour, to keep the workers well in hand, to find customers to to toil harder - but, above all, so to arrange matters that the workers will have no tendency to allow their thoughts to turn towards ideas of a new social order; let the workers think that there always have been masters and always will be masters. Such are the aims of the factory owners. It is self-evident that the workers and peasants will have utterly different aims from these, seeing that their interests are utterly different from those of the capitalists and landowners. People used to say: `What is wholesome for a Russian is death to a German.' It would, in fact, be more accurate to say: `What is wholesome for a worker is death to a landowner or capitalist.' That is to say, the worker has certain things to do, the capitalist other things, and the landowner yet others. Not every landowner, however, thinks out logically what is the best way of getting the last farthing out of the peasants; many landowners are drunk most of the time, and do not even trouble to consider their bailiff's reports. The same thing happens in the case of the peasants and of the workers. There are some who say : 'Oh, well, we shall get along somehow; why bother? We shall go on living as our fathers have always lived.' Such persons never achieve anything, and do not even understand their own interests. On the other hand, those who realize how they can best defend their own interests, organize themselves into a party. Of course the class as a whole does not enter the party, which is composed of the best and most energetic members of the class; thus those who enter the party lead the rest. To the Workers' Party (the Party of Communist Bolsheviks) adhere the best of the workers and poorer peasants; to the Party of Landowners and Capitalists (Cadets, the Party of Popular Freedom) adhere the most energetic among the landowners, the capitalists, and their hangers-on lawyers, professors, military officers, etc. Consequently, every party is composed of the most intelligent elements in the class to which it corresponds. For. this reason a landowner or capitalist who is a member of an organized party will combat the peasants and workers far more successfully than if he were not in such an organization. In like manner an organized worker will be better able than an unorganized worker to strive against the capitalists and landowners; for the organized worker has well pondered the aims and interests of the working class, knows how these interests are to be pursued, and has learned the shortest road.

ALL THE AIMS WHICH A PARTY REPRESENTING THE INTERESTS OF ITS CLASS VIGOROUSLY PURSUES, CONSTITUTE THE PARTY PROGRAMME. Thus in the programme is specified that for which any particular class has to strive. In the programme of the Communist Party is specified that for which the workers and the poorer peasants have to strive. The programme is for every party a matter of supreme importance. From the programme we can always learn what interests the party represents.

§2. What was our previous programme?

Our present programme was adopted by the Eighth Party Congress at the end of March 1919. Prior to this we had not a precise programme, written on paper. We had nothing but the old programme elaborated at the Second Party Congress in the year 1903. When this old programme was compiled, the bolsheviks and the mensheviks constituted a single party, and they had a common programme. At that date the organization of the working class was only just beginning. There were very few factories and workshops. Disputes were actually still going on as to whether a working class would ever come into existence in Russia. The 'narodniks' (the fathers of the present social revolutionaries) considered that the working class was not destined to develop in Russia, that in our country there would be no extensive growth of factories and workshops. The Marxists - the social democrats, subsequently to divide into bolsheviks and mensheviks - supposed, on the other hand, that in Russia, as elsewhere, the working class would continue to grow and would constitute the main strength of the revolution. Time proved that the views of the narodniks were wrong and that those of the social democrats were right. But at the date when the programme of the social democrats was elaborated by the Second Party Congress (both Lenin and Plekhanov participating in the work), the strength of the Russian working class was extremely small. That is why no one then imagined that it would be possible to undertake the direct overthrow of the bourgeoisie. At that time the best policy seemed: to break the neck of tsardom; to win freedom of association for the workers and peasants in conjunction with all others; to establish the eight-hour day; and to reduce the power of the landowners. No one then dreamed that it would be possible to realize the rule of the workers once and for all, or immediately to dispossess the bourgeoisie of its factories and workshops. Such was our old programme of the year 1903.

§3. Why was it necessary to draw up a new programme?

A considerable period intervened between 1903 and the revolution Of 1917, and during this time circumstances altered profoundly. In Russia, large-scale industry advanced with giant strides, and concomitantly there occurred a great increase in the numbers of the working class. As early as the revolution of 1905, the workers showed their strength. By the time of the second revolution (1917) it had become plain that the victory of the revolution could only be achieved through the victory of the working class. But in 1917 the working class could not be satisfied with that which might have contented it in 1905. The workers had now so fully matured that it was inevitable they should demand the seizure of the factories and workshops, the overthrow of the capitalists, and the establishment of workingclass rule. That is to say, since the formulation of the first programme there had occurred in Russia a fundamental change in internal conditions. Yet more important is it that in like manner there had taken place a change in external conditions. In the year 1905, 'peace and quiet' prevailed throughout Europe. In the year 1917, no intelligent person could fail to see that the world war was leading up to the world revolution. In 1905, the Russian revolution was followed by nothing more than a slight movement among the Austrian workers, and by revolutions in the more backward countries of the east - Persia, Turkey, and China. The Russian revolution of 1917 is being followed by revolutions in the west as well as in the east, by revolutions in which the working class raises its banner on behalf of the overthrow of capitalism. Both at home and abroad, therefore, conditions are very different from those of the year 1903. It would be absurd for the party of the working class to have one and the same programme in 1903 and in 1917-19, seeing that now the circumstances are utterly different. When the mensheviks find fault with us on the ground that we have 'repudiated' our old programme, and that in so doing we have repudiated the teaching of Marx, we reply that the essence of Marx's teaching is to construct programmes, not out of the inner consciousness, but out of life itself. If life had undergone grea changes, the programme cannot be left as it was. In winter we have to wear thick overcoats. In the heat of summer only a madman wears a thick overcoat. It is just the same in politics. Marx himself taught us that we should always study the existing conditions of life and act accordingly. This does not mean that we should change our convictions as a fine lady changes her gloves. The primary aim of the working class is the realization of the communist order. This aim is a permanent aim. It is, however, selfevident that, according as the working class stands far from or close to its goal, it will put forward different demands. Under tsarist rule workingclass organizations were driven underground and the workers' party was persecuted as if its members had been criminals. Now, the working class is in power, and its party is the ruling party. Obviously no intelligent person could advocate exactly the same programme for the year 1903 and for the present time.

Thus, the changes in the internal conditions of Russian life and the changes in international circumstances have necessitated changes in our programme.

§4. The meaning of our programme?

Our new (Moscow) programme is the first programme drawn up by the party of the working class since it attained to power some time ago. It is therefore necessary for our party to turn to account all the experience which the working class has gained in administering and upbuilding the new life. This is important, not only for ourselves, not only for the Russian workers and poorer peasants, but also for our foreign comrades. For from our successes and failures, from our mistakes and oversights, experience will be gained, not by ourselves alone, but by the whole international proletariat. This is why our programme contains, not merely what our party wishes to accomplish, but also that which it has to some extent accomplished. Every member of our party must be familiar with the programme in all its details. It constitutes the most important guide to the activities of every group and of every individual member of the party. For no one can be a member of the party unless he has accepted the programme, unless he regards the programme as sound. And no one can regard it as sound without knowing it. There are of course many persons who have never glanced at the programme, but who thrust themselves into the communist ranks and swear by communism, simply in the hope of snatching up some unconsidered trifle or of feathering their nest. We have no use for such members, who can do us nothing but harm. Without knowledge of the programme no one can be a genuine communist bolshevik. Every intelligent Russian worker and poor peasant ought to become acquainted with the programme of our party. Every non-Russian proletarian ought to study it, that he may profit by the experience of the Russian revolution.

§5. The scientific character of our programme programme

We have already said that it is wrong to manufacture a programme out of our own heads, and that our programme should be taken from life. Before the time of Marx, those who represented working-class interests were apt to draw fancy pictures of a future paradise, without troubling to ask themselves whether this paradise could ever be reached, and without seeing the right road for the workers and peasants to follow. Marx taught us another way. He examined the evil, unjust, barbaric social order which still prevails throughout the world, and studied its structure. Precisely after the manner in which we might study a machine, or, let us say, a clock, did Marx study the structure of capitalist society, in which factory owners and landowners rule, while workers and peasants are oppressed. Let us suppose we have noticed that two of the wheels of our clock are badly fitted, and that at each revolution they interfere more and more with one another's movements. Then we can foresee that the clock will break down and stop. What Marx studied was not a clock, but capitalist society; he examined it thoroughly, examined life under the dominion of capital. As the outcome of his researches, Marx recognized very clearly that capitalism is digging its own grave, that the machine will break down, and that the cause of the break-down will be the inevitable uprising of the workers, who will refashion the whole world to suit themselves.

Marx's chief instruction to all his followers was that they should study life as it actually is. Thus only can a practical programme be drawn up. It is self-evident, therefore, why our programme begins with a description of the capitalist régime.

The capitalist régime has now been overthrown in Russia. What Marx prophesied is being fulfilled under our very eyes. The old order is collapsing. The crowns are falling from the heads of kings and emperors. Everywhere the workers are advancing towards revolution, and towards the establishment of soviet rule: In order fully to understand how all this has come about, it is necessary to be thoroughly well acquainted with the nature of the capitalist system. Then we shall realize that its breakdown was inevitable. Once we grasp that there will be no return of the old system and that the victory of the workers is assured, we shall have full strength and confidence as we carry on the struggle on behalf of the new social order of the workers.


1. Reports of the April Conference, 1917. 2. Materials for the Revision of the Party Programme. 3. Bukharin, and Smimoff, articles in 'Spartakus' Nos. 4-9. 4. Lenin, article in 'Prosveshchenie' Nos. 1 and 2, 1917. 5. Reports of the eighth Congress.

Concerning the scientific character of the Marxist programme, consult the literature of scientific socialism: Golubkov, Utopian and Scientific Socialism; Engels, Development of Socialism from Utopia to Science; Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto.

For the study of the general aspects of the programme consult Bukharin, The Programme of the Communist Bolsheviks.

Of the above-mentioned literature, only Bukharin's pamphlet and part of Golubkoff's pamphlet are written in a popular style. The other works are for comparatively advanced students.