Nikolai Bukharin

The Twelfth Congress of the Russian Communist Party

Source: The Communist International, 1923, No. 25, pp. 10-17 (3,737 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

The bourgeoisie of Europe, and particularly the White Emigrants from Russia, looked forward to our Party Congress with joyous expectations. For this time the Conference assembled without its central motive, driving and binding force. But our adversaries were over hasty in counting on the disorganisation of the party. The wish was father to the thought, especially with those who are ill-acquainted with our organisation, the motley life of Soviet Russia and the variety of its economic aspects and social types and consequent numerous antagonisms. But such anticipations of a dissolution were doomed to disappointment. Despite all the ingenious speeches of foreign and White journalists, and despite all their illusory internal conflicts that they conjured the fact stands, that our Party Conference proved the unity of the party organisation to be stronger than ever.


A few words about the social atmosphere in which the Party Conference was held. An enumeration of the fundamental facts of the “moment” would be given us as follows:—

(I) The International Consolidation of Soviet Russia.
This much is apparent, not only that we already have a whole series of recognitions, some de jure and some de facto, but better still from the rapid growth of our economic relations abroad. Our commerce with the outer world is on the increase. Our commercial balance is rapidly losing its marked inclination to the debit side. Two years ago we had to start our foreign trade by ordering locomotives and boots for our workers. Now we export corn. From the first to the last quarter of 1922 the proportion of exports to imports rose from 2.1 per cent. to over 65 per cent. The rivalry amongst concession-hunters is growing keener. Let the imperialists of Great Britain and the vassals of French bourgeoisie rave as they will, they must inevitably be drawn into real economic intercourse; but if they try stabbing our proletarian country with their bayonets in the back, they will meet with the very stoutest resistance.

(2) Progress in Administration.
This second fundamental fact is proved in the gradual progress of our agriculture and the growth of our light industries. Our heavy industries are still working under great disadvantages, but they will be restored as the market expands. The towns are springing to new life, and a turn of the tide of emigration from the villages is bringing the skilled workmen and technicians back again into the towns. There is no doubt that commercial activity is very much on the increase. Of course, this is largely facilitated by the circulation that is going on outside the ring of State industry (such as handicrafts, private capital, etc.). But the general mobilisation of products and material “surpluses” is attributable to the increasing vigour of the State administration.

(3) The Raising of the Wages.
On the background of the general revival of 1922 and the beginning of 1923 we have the uninterrupted rise in wages of workmen engaged in State industries, transport, Soviet administration, etc. It can now be asserted that the metal workers of Petrograd and Moscow live better than those of Central Europe.

(4) The Non-Party Workers and the R.C.P.
With the improvement in the position of the working class during this period a tremendous increase of confidence is observable in the Russian Communist Party. This found especially clear expression during the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the party, when even in the remotest hamlets, non-party workmen fraternised with the Communists and presented banners to our party organisations. A fervent stream of sympathy towards the R.C.P. spread over the whole of the country.

(5) The Attraction of the Workers to the Party.
The proportion of proletarians in the party has of late been steadily rising; and thus the danger immanent to every workers’ revolution—of the proletarian advance guard running to seed is steadily decreasing.

(6) The Supply of Economic and Administrative Organisers.
During the period of military Communism the principal forces of the country were concentrated on the solution of military problems. The stern school of war brought out a type of military organiser, commander and Commissary. The advent of the New Economic Policy found us at first without a sufficient staff of business organisers. However, at length we can assert, we have such staff at the disposal of our party, and in a year or two we shall reap the first harvest of our Red Specialists, who will have passed through the highest tests.

(7) Peace at Home Under the Rule of the Proletariat.
In general on the territory of Soviet Russia a new social equilibrium has already been discovered. The bourgoisie can no longer wage a civil war against the dictatorship of the proletariat, but it dreams of outpacing us in the race for commerce and industry. The skilled bourgeois intelligentsia has shifted its ground and now relies on our becoming “more reasonable,” the democratic sections of the unskilled intelligentsia (such as the teachers) has set itself to the honest service of the proletariat and is submitting to its ideology. The anti-Soviet groups are fast disappearing. The Russian S.R.s. convened a conference, decided to leave their party, and anathematised the S.R. Party. In Georgia (the citadel of Menshevism) there is a mass desertion from the Menshevist ranks. Lastly, the Church (the most obdurate foe of the dictatorship of the working class) has also shifted its ground and at the All-Russian Synod condemned Patriarch Tikhon, divested him of his office—just when the bourgeois Press is raging over the persecution of the clergy. Thus we have a new social equilibrium, a dictatorship of the proletariat very much fortified, a revival of social life and strengthening of the international position of Soviet Russia.


The main pillars of the new order are twofold; first, the alliance of the proletariat and the peasantry, under the leadership of the former; and secondly, the centralising and organising power of our Party which sets the tone for the whole of the social life. The question of the relations of the proletariat and its party to the peasantry is perennial, and in this respect there is an old tradition in our party, the fruit of experience and experiment of the whole of the revolution. However, both before the conference and in the course of it, Comrade Larin flung gibes at the Central Committee for their too strong inclination in favour of our peasants. This dispute was settled by a resolution moved by the Dental Committee of the party and carried unanimously.

What is the basic political import of this controversy which goes far beyond the bounds of even a Russian setting of the problem?

Social Democracy in Western Europe did remarkably little to carry on work amongst the peasantry in any revolutionary sense. By its very nature it was incapable of carrying on such work. Our Russian Menshevism quite properly termed the peasantry a petty bourgeoisie and yet never attempted to win over this peasantry to the revolution but preferred to support the non-revolutionary or even counter-revolutionary Liberal bourgeoisie. On the other hand the Bolshevik cry was always for a bloc of the proletariat and the revolutionary part of the peasantry.

What caused this difference in attitude? How far was it bound up with the general views of these groups?

A party calling itself a workers’ party can adopt one of two points of view.

First, one essentially opportunist, although superficially proletarian—that a Workers’ Party is what it calls itself; its task is to obtain as much as possible of the general revenue for the benefit of the proletariat. But no more. Anything above and beyond this is an expression of too strong an inclination away from the proletariat.

Thus stated, this point of view is the opinion of Craft Unionists and their opportunist thinkers. For the argument here advanced amounts in substance to this: To secure the highest possible wages within the framework of the bourgeois State. This does not involve the least notion of a revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeoisie.

Secondly, the revolutionary point of view proceeds from the necessity of a mass attack upon the positions of the bourgeoisie. But it is very difficult for the proletariat to win the battle unsupported, and in most countries this is impossible. Therefore, the first task of the proletarian revolutionary is to secure the hegemony of the proletariat over the peasantry, which to a certain extent is the heavy infantry of the proletarian revolution. To attain such a leadership the very closest regard must be paid to the interests of the poorest peasantry, and sometimes too to the wealthier. These “Concessions” are revolutionary and the opposition to them is opportunism in the worst sense.

Anyone who fails to understand this revolutionary strategy at best courts defeat, and, at the worst, will become a compromiser with the bourgeoisie.

Our party in 1917 took the revolutionary peasant tide at its flood and achieved power. To do this, however, it had to proceed to such a step as the breaking up of most of the large private estates. This, to the scribes and Pharisees, was a crime; but as every Marxist knows, large properties are easiest socialised. But the scribes and Pharisees do not understand, or pretend not to understand, that to socialise at all one must have power in one’s own hands. In a modified form comrades who imperfectly understand Bolshevist tactics, are guilty of repeating the same error in a slightly different form even after the power has been seized and held.

The workers dare not assume a Craft Union attitude, when they are in power, especially in a country with a preponderating peasant population, and where even the development of industry reposes in the first instance on the capacity of the peasant market. Should the working class adopt this point of view, it will inevitably forfeit the confidence of the peasant masses, and thereby sap the foundations of its power. Further, it thereby renders impossible the development of State industry, and acts like a miser who, for the sake of a farthing to-day, will let slip the opportunity of a socialistic accumulation, which, if slow, is sure.

The White Emigrés have very good reason to pay very close attention to the proposals of our party for the solutions of the peasant problem. They hoped we would blunder, and dazzled by the dictatorship over industry, would lose sense of historical proportions and destroy our bloc with the peasantry. They know that such an alliance is a conditio sine qua non of proletarian dictatorship. But we have quite enough experience of history not to afford this delight to our adversaries. We understand it is not the Nepman but the working class which must lead the peasant masses. That is why our Party Congress was so unanimous in settling this question and in determining on a series of measures designed to extend peasant farming. Such were the adoption of the monetary form of taxation, the unification of all the various taxes into a single agricultural tax, the adaptation of taxes to actual circumstances; fixing the periods of payment; the improvement of the staff of assessors and collectors; the export of corn as a measure to render products of European industry useful in agriculture more accessible; raising the price of corn, etc.

The second great controversy was the matter of the relations between the party and the administration of State, and especially the economic organs of the State.

This question is by no means merely one of technical organisation, but of paramount social political importance.

What is the greatest danger that faces our country, and will more or less face every proletarian revolution? It is the risk of internal disintegration. This danger has its roots in the development of the working class both under a capitalist regime and in the course of the proletarian revolution; it is its specific law. Under capitalism the proletariat must inevitably be an economically and culturally oppressed class, whereas the bourgeoisie, even under feudalism, were superior to the feudal landowners, and were never an exploited class. Hence the proletariat cannot under capitalism put forward a staff of technical experts of its own, and has to employ outsiders as specialists of all sorts and classes. When a new social equilibrium is established with the proletariat on top, the influx of these social layers, who psychologically are still closely bound up with the “old world,” becomes very serious. They fill up the pores of the State administration and as they represent a skilled and cultured class, there is the risk that they may gradually refashion the whole fabric of the State according to their own pattern, blending more and more with the bourgeois and economic forms which have still survived, in the general system of economic relations.

The only remedy is the gradual training of a staff absolutely devoted to the proletarian revolution and correspondingly trained in its ideology.

What more definite shape may this degeneration take? First and foremost, it might take the shape of the breaking off of the leading party of the working class from the apparatus of the State—i.e., the State apparatus may become differentiated from the Communist Party by departing from Communist policy therefore, by a situation being created in which the proletarian party takes up the position of a society for agitation and propaganda, while real power is concentrated in the hands of non-proletarian and non-Communistic elements. This would be the realisation of our enemies’ motto; “Soviets without Communists,” and would signify the final “liquidation” of proletarian domination.

It was for that reason therefore that the Central Committee strongly attacked the programme put forward prior to the Congress, suggesting, amongst other things, the abolition of the Communist monopoly of responsible posts and the promotion of non-party intellectuals even to elective posts.

This trend appeared in a much more delicate form in the attitude of Comrades Osinski and Krassin.

Krassin’s attitude was one of scepticism towards the lending political role of the party. Comrade Krassin demanded a regrouping in our principal offices in the direction of the “business men,” even if it meant the sacrifice of political consistency and experience. Krassin considered that what was needed was not so much the “political cement” (Krassin’s own expression) as the revival of our industry.

The incorrectness of this position is manifest. In fact, our immediate duty is not the “revival of industry” in general but the construction of a Socialist industry. Or, in other words, the revival of industry must proceed within the frame of a hard and fast political control. It is impossible and inadmissible at this point to separate economics from politics. The “political cement” is of first-class importance.

Comrade Osinski showed the same tendency but in a different direction, on the lines of hypertrophied division of labour between the organs of the party and the departments of State. Obviously, party organisations must not have their fingers in every detail of administration. But, as we are living in a transitional period we must always have in view the danger of a transition to a capitalistic line of development. Therefore, far from weakening the effective part played by our party, we must strengthen it. At the conference the views of Comrades Krassin and Osinski found no support, and a resolution was adopted unanimously insisting on an increasing control over the apparatus of State, for which purpose the members of the party must be systematically instructed in business-management and State administration.

Closely connected with these questions was the problem of organisation. Before forming an opinion on this matter, the party and State organisations must be considered in their relations to each other.

So far, one of the evils which we have not yet overcome in our Slate apparatus is the bureaucracy, a feature particularly emphasised by Lenin in some of his last articles. There can be no idea of breaking up this vast machine which had arisen on the basis of great cultural backwardness. It must be systematically repaired and simplified, whilst the civil service must be, from a political point of view, improved. The raising of the political status, the economic and administrative and technical equipment and qualifications of State officials brings to the front the question of combining the functions of the supreme organ of the party, “the Central Control Committee” and the supreme control organ of the State, “The Workers’ and Peasants'” Inspectorate.

It was decided to reform the Inspectorate by reducing its apparatus by forming its nucleus of a group of workmen and party comrades, possessed of considerable experience both of the party and State administration, approximate its work to that of the Central Control Committee, establish a link between the two institutions by having a joint directorate; induce institutions to co-operate which deal with scientific organisation of labour. Selection of workers for the various departments of State is another such duty; another is the inspection of Departments with a view to efficiency, the purging of them; the rational demarcation of functions; and also, amongst other things, give special examinations for the commissioning of prominent workers abroad, etc.

On purely party lines there are two principal, measures to be mentioned. One is the increase of the members of the Central Committee to forty, and to increase the proletarian composition of the party by making entry into the party easier for workmen and more difficult for non-workmen.

The same desire for rationalising the departments as far as may be practicable (subject to constant empiric tests) lay at the base of the resolutions carried with regard to industry. The two points we have already mentioned, viz., the correlation of industry and agriculture, and that between the party and the administrative organs, are auxiliaries to these resolutions. Within these limits the inner questions of the organisation of industry revolve.

In this respect the conference dealt with and passed resolutions on the following:

First and foremost, a practicable schematisation of work.
The improvement of the methods of bookkeeping and accountancy in business
enterprises; the concentration of production. The improvement of the trading apparatus.
Greater freedom to “manoeuvre” for the Trusts of the combines in relation to the centre,
and for separate factories in their relation to the Trusts.
The reduction of the unproductive “overhead charges.”
The regulation of the financing of industries.
The training of new business administrative units.
And, lastly, a proper policy of Socialistic protectionism, together with the complete
retention of the monopoly of foreign trade.

Somewhat apart from these matters was the question of the new administrative division of the Union of Soviet Republics, in connection with the economic division of the country. In this matter the Congress decided to test some new forms of uniting areas in two districts, and to extend the experiment should it prove successful.

Lastly, the Congress had to decide the most important national question.

Our party had long since made up its mind that any cut-and-dried settlement of this question, even by the finest intellects of radical Marxism (such as Rosa Luxemburg) must fall to pieces on contact with actualities. In this matter the party stands firm on ground discovered by the genius of Lenin, who has always combined the faculties of the deepest generalisation and the most exclusive attention to empirical realities, to the pettiest detail.

For us the national question is most significant, both in internal administration and for international considerations. On the territory of the Union of Republics there live an immense number of nationalities, and the preponderating element in them all is the peasant. Hence, the question of “linking up” with these classes, which under the Tzardom were under a double tyranny and which are still somewhat mistrustful of anything originating in Moscow, is of no little importance. On the other hand, these nationalities as a mass are a kind of bridge to the oppressed peoples of the East, that immense potential reservoir of international revolution.

Therefore, our policy towards them is largely defined by the position of affairs in the East, which is groaning under the heel of foreign imperialism. It is only people confirmedly myopic who will not see the whole vast gravity of the problem of nationalities. The basic problem is this: In what manner can the Russian proletariat, or its directive centre, gain the full confidence of the national and primarily the peasant sections?

The true answer must be: First find foremost, by ruthlessly combating any survivals or resurrections of the Great Russian Chauvinism. This is the only way of solving the problem. Manifestly there will be endless difficulties, mainly out of the lack of a native staff of workers to administer these border lands. Hence this problem can only be solved in the course of years. But our basic line of action must be stated.

At the Congress various shades of opinion were expressed; for the question is complicated by the complex inter-relations of these nationalities with one another (e.g., the Armenians and Georgians). But in general, all these shades were combined in the resolution of the Central Committee which was unanimously accepted.


The Congress once again demonstrated the complete unity within the party. The general improvement at home shows that this unity will grow, whatever dangers may supervene. These dangers the party foresees, anticipates, speaks of them freely, and can therefore take precautions betimes.

The country is entering a new period of slow development. The extraordinary historical experiment is already yielding some positive fruits Already we present our questions in quite a different manner than we did when we were in our swaddling clothes. Now things are judged, not “generally speaking,” but in detail and practical limits. Quite new angles of vision are now familiar to us. A marvellous and vast experience has been accumulated, which will be a basic capital for all the Communist Parties who still have to go the painful road to proletarian revolution. The increased strength of Soviet Russia will be the best propaganda for revolution in other countries. But that is why we are always in the position of a country against which all the cannon of Imperialist States are ranged. And this is why the international proletariat must, as in duty bound, guard and hold its first fortress, its first gigantic laboratory, in which the future of humanity is being worked out.