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


Chapter Introduction: The Conditions of Communist Activity in Russia

41 The international situation of Russia

As we have previously noted, the necessity for the communist revolution arises above all from the circumstance that Russia has become intimately connected with the system of world economy. Our country is now merely a part of the world economy. If the question arises, in what way Russia can advance to the communist system in spite of the backward condition of the country, the answer will mainly be given by pointing to the international significance of the revolution. The proletarian revolution must today be a world revolution. On world lines only can it develop. Central and Western Europe will inevitably pass under the dictatorship of the proletariat, and in this way to communism. How, then, could Russia remain a capitalist country if Germany, France, and England were to pass under the proletarian dictatorship? It is plain that Russia must become involved in the movement to socialism. Her backward ness, the comparatively undeveloped state of her industry, and so on, would all be overcome if Russia were to form part of an international, or even merely a European, soviet republic, and thus to be associated with more advanced lands. It is true that Europe will be terribly exhausted and weakened after the devastation of the war and after the revolution. But a vigorous and highly developed proletariat will be able in the course of a few years to re-establish the industrial system on a firm footing, and even backward Russia will be able to do the same. Russia possesses great natural resources in the form of timber, coal, mineral oil, iron, etc.; she has vast corn lands; with proper organization and under peace conditions, all could be turned to proper account. For our part, we could help our western comrades with Russian raw materials. Provided that the whole of Europe were to be under the authority of the proletariat, there would be such a development of production as would provide amply for all needs. Since, however, the proletariat will inevitably rise to power everywhere, it is obvious that the mission of the Russian working class is to do its utmost on behalf of the transformation to communism. It is for this reason, as we have learned in Part One, that our party has made the prompt establishment of communism its definite aim.

42 Large-scale industry in Russia

Russian manufacturing industry, however, though a small affair in comparison with Russian agriculture, had been organ ized in accordance with the methods of large-scale capitalist production. In Part One we pointed out that in the most important branches of capitalist production in Russia there were enterprises employing ten thousand workers and upwards. From 1907 onwards, the centralization of Russian industry made rapid progress, and production passed under the control of a network of syndicates and trusts. When the war began, the bourgeoisie started the organization of State capitalism. This confirms our view that Russian industry can be organized and administered as a unified whole, even though the process may offer difficulties. It is interesting to note that the right social revolutionaries and the mensheviks, who are never weary of proclaiming that socialism is absolutely impossible in Russia, have always advocated the State regulation and control of industry. But they only believed in the necessity for this when all authority was in the hands of the bourgeoisie, when the 'regulating' and 'controlling' power was to be that of the capitalist State. In other words, the mensheviks and the essers, despite their protestations of patriotism, were in favour of State capitalism on the Prussian model. But it is perfectly plain that we cannot believe State capitalism to be possible unless we also believe in the possibility of the socialist organization of economic life. The only difference between the two systems lies in this, that in one case industry is organized by the bourgeois State, and that in the other case it is organized by the proletarian State. If industrial production in Russia were so backward that there could be no possibility of its being organized by the proletarian State, then there could be no possibility of organizing it upon State capitalist foundations either. In a country where large-scale industry does not exist, and where production is carried on by quantities of small masters, it will be impossible to organize industry even upon State capitalist lines. We know perfectly well that the centralization of industry only becomes possible when the centralization of capital has advanced to a certain stage. Now Russian capitalism had already reached this stage of centralization. Even the opponents of communism recognized this by the very fact that they considered it possible for the bourgeois State to 'regulate industry'. The backwardness of Russian economic life did not consist in the absence of great factories, for there were plenty; it consisted in the fact that manufacturing industry taken as a whole was of small extent when compared with agriculture. The logical inference is that, despite all difficulties, the Russian proletariat must organize industry in a proletarian fashion, and must maintain its grip of industry until help comes from the west. As far as Russian agriculture is concerned, we must establish a number of focal points where comrades carry on cooperative production. When, however, Russian manufacturing industry is able to join forces with the productive industry of the west, then the joint organization of production will speedily enable us to draw the petty producers and the peasants into a general and immense cooperative organization. If, for instance, there existed one great European system of production organized by the working class, then vast quantities of the products of urban industry could be supplied to the rural districts. But town industry will have to furnish these products to the countryside in an organized manner. No longer, as of old, would a hundred thousand petty traders, middlemen, and speculators, cater for the needs of the rural districts. These needs would be satisfied from State warehouses. Manifestly, the peasants, too, would have in return to hand over their grain in an organized manner. By degrees the country districts would become accustomed to social production. A stage farther on, and rural life would be that of a great cooperative family. A vigorous and well-organized industrial system would ultimately lead to a communal life in the villages as well. With the aid of such a system, it would be possible to come to the help of the peasant, who would realize that life on the new plan was a great deal better.

But to reach this goal is difficult. Many years must pass before the necessary changes can be effected and before life can run smoothly along the new lines. Why it is difficult will be explained below.

43 The disastrous legacy of imperialist war

Until the world revolution is victorious, Russia must act alone. Now the Russian working class received a disastrous heritage when it conquered power in the year 1917. The whole country was disorganized and impoverished.

The war had sapped all the country's strength. More than half the factories had been compelled to devote themselves to war work, and had squandered materials in the work of destruction. In the year 1915, out of the eleven and a half milliards of the 'national income', six milliards were spent upon the war. At the very beginning of the revolution, the terrible consequences of the war became apparent. The output of engineering works had fallen by 40 per cent, and that of textile works by 20 per cent; a great reduction was quickly apparent in the supply of coal, iron, and steel. Between I March and 1 August (old style), 1917, 568 enterprises were closed down, and more than 100,000 proletarians were thrown out of work. The national debt reached unprecedented figures. Month by month, day by day, the condition of the country became more desperate.

It is plain that the proletariat, when it rose to power in November 1917, was faced by a task of unexampled difficulty, by the task of constructing a socialist economy in an utterly disorganized land. The disastrous heritage grew yet more disastrous at the close of the old imperialist war. The mere demobilization of our army involved enormous expenditure. The transport system had already been shattered and disrupted by the war; demobilization was the finishing stroke, and the railway system broke down almost completely. Thus transport came practically to an end as well as production.

This is absolutely no argument against the workers' revolution. Had the bourgeoisie remained in power, it would have continued to wage the great imperialist war, would have continued to pay vast sums as interest to the French and to the British, and would have thrown all the burden - this is the chief thing to remember - upon the shoulders of the workers and peasants. Our poverty and exhaustion would more than ever have incited the proletariat to undertake the rebuilding of the old world upon new foundations; with even more economy and with a yet more careful system of organization would it have been necessary to utilize our old resources; and it would have been necessary to transfer as much of the cost as possible to the bourgeoisie, would have been necessary to protect the working class with whatever powers and by whatever means were at the disposal of the proletarian authority. But this necessary work was thrust upon the revolutionary proletariat under conditions of almost incredible difficulty. The workers had to clear up the mess which the imperialist lords had made.

44 The civil war and the struggle with international imperialism

The bourgeoisie continued to do everything in its power to hinder the working class from organizing production, and to prevent the upbuilding of a workers' society. Immediately after the victory of the proletariat, the bourgeoisie instituted a widespread policy of sabotage. All those who had been high officials, all the managing engineers, teachers, and bank clerks, all those who had been masters, did everything they could to hinder work. Plot followed upon plot; one counter-revolutionary rising succeeded another. The Russian bourgeoisie entered into alliances with the Czechoslovaks, the Entente, the Germans, the Poles, etc.; an attempt was made to crush the Russian proletariat by never-ending fights. The proletariat had to create a huge army, one able to repel the onslaughts of the armies sent by the landlords and capitalists of all lands. The imperialists of the whole world hurled their forces against the Russian proletariat.

This war is for the proletariat a holy war, a war of deliverance, but none the less it involves terrible costs. The remnants of productive industry had to be devoted to the service of the Red Army; thousands of the best organizers among the workers were called to the front. Furthermore, almost at the very outset, the bourgeoisie was able to secure a strong grip of certain regions peculiarly important to the economic life of the country. The military leaders of the Don Cossacks succeeded in depriving the working class of the Donetz coal basin. The British seized the Baku oil-fields. The corn lands of Ukraine, Siberia, and part of Transvolgia, were in the hands of the counterrevolution. The working class, therefore, had not merely to stand to arms and to meet the onslaught of innumerable foes; it was compelled in addition to carry on its proletarian economy in default of some of the most important means of production - in default of fuel and raw materials.

These considerations show us what a martyr's road the workers had to tread. Their first task was to overthrow their enemies. Not until this had been done could they begin to upbuild the new life properly.

In its struggle with the working class, the bourgeoisie likewise availed itself of all the means that could effect the economic overthrow of the Russian proletariat. The capitalists encircled Russia on all sides; the land was rigidly blockaded for years; in their retreats the Whites burned and destroyed everything. For example, Admiral Kolchak burned ten million pounds of grain, destroyed a good half of the Volga fleet, and so on. The resistance of the bourgeoisie, its frantic struggles, the aid given to it by world-wide imperialism - these constituted the second great obstacle in the path of the working class.

45 The petty-bourgeois character of Russia, the lack of extensive organizatory experience on the part of the proletariat, etc.

We have already seen that production in Russia was sufficiently centralized for the question to arise whether it could be nationalized under proletarian control, whether it could be transferred to the ownership of the workers' State, and whether its organization on new foundations could be undertaken. But in comparison with the whole economic life of the country, manufacturing industry was still very weak. By far the greater part of the population of Russia is not urban but rural. At the census of 1897, the town population comprised 76,000,000 and the country population comprised 101,000,000 (this includes Siberia, etc., but excludes Finland). In 7973, according to Oganovsky's estimate, the urban population of Russia was, in round figures, 30,000,000 and the rural population 140,000,000. At that date, therefore, the urban population was a little less than 78 per cent of the whole. Moreover, of the town dwellers, by no means all belong to the proletariat. The urban population includes the commercial class, the manufacturers, the petty bourgeoisie, and the professional classes. In all, these strata number millions. It is true, of course, that in the country districts we find exworkmen, semi-proletarians, and the poor peasants. These elements support the workers. But they are less class-conscious than the urban workers, and are not so well organized.

The enormous majority of the population of Russia consists of petty owners. Although they groan under the yoke of the capitalists and the landlords, they are so much accustomed to their system of separate, proprietary, individual economy, that it is very difficult to win them over to the idea of the common cause, to induce them to participate in the upbuilding of a cooperative commonwealth. Ingrained in the mind of every petty proprietor is the notion of grasping something that shall be entirely his own and shall have been taken away from another, the notion of working only for his own account. This is why there will be great difficulties in installing communism in Russia, even if the other difficulties be left out of account.

Our weakness is also reflected in the working class. Generally speaking, the Russian workers are revolutionary minded; they have a fighting spirit. But we find among them backward elements, persons unaccustomed to organization. Not all the workers axe like those of Petrograd. Many of them are backward and ignorant; such persons are quite unused to work in a team. There are a great many workers who are newcomers into the town. Most of these have the peasant mentality, and solidarize themselves with the peasantry.

These deficiencies of the working class disappear in proportion as the workers are compelled to struggle for their own cause. It is, however, obvious that the backwardness of a certain proportion is a hindrance to the realization of our task. But, of course, it does not render realization impossible.


Report of the eighth Party Congress, and especially the speeches of Lenin and Bukharin on the programme; also Lenin's speech, The Chief Task of our Times. - Concerning the economic position of Russia, consult the following: Tsyperovich, Syndicates and Trusts in Russia; Milyutin, The Economic Organization of Soviet Russia; Osinsky, The Upbuilding of Socialism (the first chapter of this work contains convincing evidence that the devastation caused by the war had rendered socialism inevitable).