Nikolai Bukharin

The Tasks of the Russian Communist Party

Source: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 8, January 1926, No. 1, pp. 18-31
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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[The subject discussed here by Comrade Bukharin in the course of a recent speech to the Moscow Communist Party Conference is the main subject being dealt with by the present Congress of the Russian Communist Party. His statement gives a clear picture, in contradistinction to the garbled reports in the Press in this country, of the problems of Socialist construction with which the Party is now faced, but it should be remembered that as far as the subject dealt with is still a matter for controversy his view is that of the Moscow organisation alone.]

I wish to deal here with the present position, with the question of those dangers and difficulties which threaten us both within the Party and outside.

Everything considered, during the past year the Party under the guidance of the Central Committee, the proletariat under the guidance of the Party, and the whole country under the guidance of the proletariat, can congratulate themselves on tremendous successes. Two years ago none of us would have dared to predict that we would so quickly restore industry to the pre-war level, do almost the same for agriculture, receive so many recognitions from capitalist States and so considerably extend our foreign trade operations. Nevertheless, in dealing with the present position we must dwell on our failures as well as on our successes.

First of all, I consider it my bounden duty to dwell upon our failure in the sphere of grain collection operations, for it is a failure which has immediately reacted on our export and import operations, which, in its turn, has affected our general production programme, and already evoked a great reaction in our industry.

You know, comrades, what has been recently happening. Our economic organisations of the State Planning Commission were counting on a very considerable harvest; we were expecting the peasantry to have big surplus stocks to put on the market. It was on the basis of these calculations that we formulated our export programme, and on the basis of the latter we estimated the amount we could allot to imports of machinery, general commodities, raw material for our industries, and so on.

Proceeding from these estimates we then framed our programme of production, which aimed at developing the whole organisation of our industry as widely as possible. And from this programme again we estimated various items of our budget, such as the amounts to be allotted for the various needs of socialist construction, from the Red Army to the schools, to housing schemes and economic organisation in the true sense of the word.

We all believed that we were faced with vast possibilities for the development of industry; and our estimates were all based on definite figures and calculations with regard to imports and exports and stocks of grain.

To a large extent these estimates have not been realised. As you know, there are various reasons for this: errors in calculation; a wet autumn which spoilt part of the harvest and delayed threshing operations; the lack of a common programme of action among our different grain collecting centres, which led to their all starting together to get in their grain within a very short period, the terrific demand thus created suddenly driving up prices and awakening hopes among the peasants of higher prices still. As a result of all these causes our stock of grain has not come up to our expectations in quality or in quantity, nor has it been collected with the speed upon which we had relied.

But before we could actually tell the total surplus available for export, we had already committed ourselves to various arrangements for imports. As a result, our imports were greater than our exports; a whole series of purchases abroad were made prematurely, creating unfavourable conditions for the preservation of our trade balance. We had to pay too much while our debtors had to pay only very little, and hence arose the new danger of a depreciation of our currency. This danger still threatens us, though we believe that we shall overcome it.

The same miscalculations have also forced us to limit our programme of imports. In other words, we must bring in fewer machines, less raw cotton from abroad, although our factories had calculated on getting all that we had originally estimated for and had based their own immediate estimates on these calculations, making all their other arrangements accordingly. In a large number of our industries the means that should have been employed as working capital has been expended on other important tasks. Some of this working capital has been spent on making foundations for our houses, on improvements in our factory buildings, &c. And after all this had been interrupted, after we had been obliged to cut down our programme of importation in order to keep within limits which would insure the stability of our rouble, and with it a more or less normal development for the whole economic life of the country, there still arose a further question—how was the programme of production to be cut down? In various places we have had to limit the development of industry. In several places there have already been, it is said, irregularities in the payment of wages—delays of two or three days. We believe that we shall be able in the main to overcome this disorganisation, but obviously our position is by no means of the kind which conduces to loud patriotic cheering; it is not the position of which before we were fondly dreaming. We are, in fact, hardly in a position to cheer at all.

Economic Reconstruction and Private capital

This, comrades, is in my opinion the chief danger for our whole country. It is characteristic that many of our comrades who are fond of talking about dangers never mention this, the fundamental danger, at all. They are making a mistake! Even the danger of the peasant profiteer, or the dangers arising from private capitalism, should not be approached by a general chatter about profiteers, they should be regarded in the light of the mutual reactions which are at this very moment developing, they should be considered in their relation to the actual conditions, to the position as a whole.

But how do these particular conditions arise? They are arising owing to the stagnation in our grain collecting operations, and further, because our industries have not provided a large enough stock of commodities. It is in virtue of these circumstances that the peasant profiteer (kulak) and the private capitalist trader have been enabled to set to work with exceptional impetus. The kulak takes advantage of our grain operations to appear in the market as a purchaser who is aiming at an alliance with the private trader, and who, on the basis of the present comparatively bad economic position, is still “earning his bread,” though in this particular case not “by the sweat of his brow.” That is how things stand.

On no account, therefore, must we carelessly ignore these dangers of the peasant-profiteer and the private capitalist. We must admit that although on the whole our State industries, our co-operative system and our co-operative trade are making progress, although they are systematically crowding out the private trader and encircling the peasant profiteer, nevertheless it is also true that, at the present time, in some places, especially where grain stocks and raw materials are concerned, the peasant profiteer and the private capitalist have broken through our front. This does not mean that they have driven us back along the whole length of our front (taking it altogether it is we who are driving them back). But in some places they have driven us back. This has been due in the first place to those miscalculations about which I have already spoken.

Internal Industry and the World Market

If we are to discuss the dangers threatening our country—and we have already discussed them ten thousand times—we may say that they are of two kinds, international and internal. The internal dangers are bound up with the international dangers.

The international dangers are the most important. At the present time we are engaging in an increasing number of operations in the world market, and consequently we are to a certain extent playing a part in the world economic system. To a certain extent our programme of production depends on how much we import from other countries and how much we export to other countries. Now suppose that a financial and economic blockade is started, that any three States resolve to export nothing to Russia. We should then have to reorganise our whole economic plan. Does not our greatest difficulty lie here? Our growth depends upon our connections with the outer world, but those very connections make us in some respects more vulnerable. How are we to avoid this danger? We must avoid it by making sure that, whatever happens, our economic system and our country do not become too dependent economically on foreign markets, so long as these markets are controlled by bourgeoisie and capitalism.

Our most important internal difficulty arises from the fact that alongside of the growth of socialist elements in our industry, co-operatives, &c., there is also a growth of private capital and of rich peasants, that is to say, of elements who wage a desperate struggle for the control of the middle peasantry.

People talk of the “kulak” danger as if it only meant that the peasant profiteer wanted to succeed in profiteering, and nothing more. But that is not the problem at all. The kulaks are dangerous because they are fighting us for the middle peasantry, and above all because, if conditions are unfavourable to us, they can detach some of the middle peasantry from us. If our first object is to link up the middle peasantry with ourselves, then we have got to consider the kulak from this point of view. And if the kulak forms an alliance into the bargain with the private capitalist, who sells goloshes when our co-operatives and our government shops have no goloshes to sell, then he strengthens his position very greatly. Arm-in-arm with the kulak the private trader will be able to frighten away from us a considerable section of the middle peasantry. Once this has been achieved, the workers’ and peasants’ bloc is also undermined. That is the essence of the danger. If, in addition, the kulak and the private capitalist get a helping hand from various “bureaucratic” elements in the towns (owing to the fact that elements of this sort, by no means communistically inclined, are growing up), then their common front is strengthened still further.

We have got to realise all this; no new principle is involved, but the danger is there and it must be discussed; the whole problem must be analysed intelligently and not treated in general phrases, it must be analysed in its relation to those economic difficulties with which we are at present contending.

The question must not be formulated as if it were possible that there could grow up one socialism of the town and another of the country. It is absolutely clear that there can be no independent separate socialism of the countryside, and that the peasants cannot build up any independent socialism. What must be emphasised is that the peasants, whether they will or no, can take part in the building up of socialism through the co-operatives, for this whole machinery is guided by the socialist industry of the towns and by the working class. If the town working class are linked in this way with the co-operatives, through their banks, transport and other enterprises, trusts, syndicates and so on, and thus carry the co-operatives with them, then there is possible an economic development of the middle peasantry along non-capitalist lines.

This does not mean that the capitalist path will at once be discarded. Nothing of the kind! There will be a struggle. There will be peasant profiteers, there will be agricultural labourers, and there will be a furious struggle between the profiteers on the one hand and the middle peasants and the poor peasants on the other. But alongside of this, and in spite of it, if we pursue a correct policy, if we are skilful in waging a socialist struggle against the hostile strata, there will be an ever-growing proportion of the middle peasantry who will follow the path that we are striving for.

There are many comrades who do not understand these anticipations. They believe that a development of the village on non-capitalist lines is utterly impossible, they believe that the building up of socialism through the co-operatives under the guidance of industry is practically impossible. On the basis of the above analysis, however, it is necessary to affirm that if we separate socialism from State industry, if we separate the co-operatives and their socialist development from State industry, then there is absolutely nothing left of the plan which Lenin bequeathed to us for our guidance.

The Problem of Classes

I wish now to go on to an analysis of the dangers which arise from what has been said before me. When we come to state the problem of the classes and class leadership, we find that it can be quite naturally formulated as follows:—At the present moment all sections of society and all social groups are stirring into life—the kulaks, the middle and the poor peasants, the proletariat and the “Nepmen.” We have to deal with an awakening of this whole diversified mass which makes up the population of our country. And what does this mean? Does it mean that they were all dead, and have now been brought to life by sprinkling with holy water? Certainly not. They were not dead—but in general one may say that the growth of economic life has played the part of the holy water, causing an increase in the activity of all social groups.

How does our Party react to this process? It replies with the watchword of “more awakening.” As the means of stimulating our party organisation it gave out the slogan of “awakening” in the trade unions, village soviets, Communist League of Youth, in the internal democracy of the Party. It is true that sundry elements are also awakening, whose activity is not particularly desirable in our country. What must be done in these circumstances? If we believe it necessary to awaken the village soviets, to uplift the peasantry and increase its activity, &c.—what are we to do next? Can we then simply say that we are here to increase general activity, and nothing more? That would be saying that we were agreeing to the loss of the proletarian leadership. If the village soviets become more active, then it is necessary for the town soviets to become still more active.

The problem of leadership consists beyond doubt in the closing up of the ranks of the working class, as the leading force in our society—to stimulate it and endow it with new energy. That is as clear as daylight. And our Party, which is the leader of the whole working class, must now declare that the task of welding together the working class is one of the fundamental tasks of our time, a task which arises out of the present situation. Whoever does not understand this task, understands absolutely nothing.

Changes within the Working Class

We must undertake this task in the light of concrete realities. What is there new about the working class? We are always talking about the working class, but is it always the same and unchanging? There is a new thing about the working class, and that consists in the fact that we are now in a period in which there is an important regrouping in the composition of the working class. The working class is growing, our social basis is growing, because town industries are growing. And what does the growth of the working class mean? Every Communist young pioneer now knows that we are suffering from a lack of qualified labour; that, since we have brought industry up to the pre-war standard, a notable proportion of the old workers have come into industry. The growth of the working class means also that new sections are entering that class. That raises all sorts of new thoughts, and our Party must perceive the difficulties, which arise from this. To those who say that we do not see difficulties, and take altogether too rosy a view, we answer, “That is not true,” We see the kulak as well as any other, but do you see those difficulties which confront us in our very citadel, the working class? No, you do not see them. These difficulties consist in the fact that new sections of the population, the proletarianised peasants, arc coming into our ranks, becoming, for the first time, members of the working class. (I speak only in general terms. There are other elements which are coming into the working class, but the peasantry is the chief source of our working class, and its members bring with them a peasant ideology.)

The new workers in industry constitute a notable percentage. I said that we shall apparently, in the near future, experience a slight economic disturbance, but on the whole I am convinced that we shall, in the next few years, grow very rapidly and develop our industry. That means that enormous untrained masses of the working class will become factory workers. Thus the task before the Party resolves itself into that of educating these new sections of the working class. What does education mean? It means a correct attitude of mind on the part of the working class.

Hitherto we have had to deal with workers who have had years of civil war behind them, who overthrew Tsarism and the Kerensky regime, who fought at the front, suffered hunger—and knew why they suffered. We were concerned with a working class with a tremendous experience, such as no other proletariat in the world has had. But now new sections are coming to us, and they have not had this experience. Therein is the kernel of the question of welding the ranks of the working class. I declare that our Party cannot educate these sections, if the influence that is foremost among them is not that of the Party, but of the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie. That, more than all, would endanger the union of the workers and peasants, and the whole work of socialist construction. This danger, along with all the other dangers, must be seen and declared. I therefore ask, dare we be such optimists as to say, “We have finished with the Social-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks. They will never rise again”? I do not share this rosy view. I believe that if we follow a wrong policy, the Mensheviks will again obtain a certain basis in the working class. I do not know where these new Mensheviks will come from. Perhaps they will be the old Mensheviks, perhaps they will come from that portion of our Party which has separated from us (those who have been expelled), or from somewhere else—naturally not from heaven, but from our sinful earth, and from various social strata.

Is there a basis for them? Naturally there is. It exists in our poverty, comparatively low wages (low, not in comparison with before the war, but in comparison with newly developed necessities), in our disorganisation, wretchedness, over-population on the land, and in our terrible backwardness. We must ask the question: If we had to carry on a great war, to defend our achievements against an enemy, would these new sections march immediately, weapons in hand, full of enthusiasm for the defence of what we have won? I say that remains a big question, for these have not that experience on which our working class relies. Our old worker can starve, and endure unheard-of martyrdom for the socialist cause, because he has been through all stages of the fight. He knew what he set out to do, with whom and for what he has fought, and who was his enemy. These new sections know nothing, or very little. A clear and firm attitude of mind is needed here, but what do we see? We see already a number of very bad signs, particularly among the Communist youth. What means this growing rowdyism, this falling away from discipline? It all means the penetration of petty bourgeois ideas among the young workers. That is the influence of the new sections. All this must be cleared away. To that end, complete clearness of ideas is needed and a correct attitude of mind on the part of the workers as a whole, including the new sections. What does this question of the attitude of mind mean? It is the question of getting our socialist development into perspective. The old workers know that we are engaged in building up socialism. They do not share the scepticism of many comrades who think that we cannot build up socialism in one country alone. They know that formerly the masters, the factory-owners, spat upon them, treated them on the public tramcars like cattle, but that now they are masters of the situation. They feel that in their own being. But these new sections do not feel it, and there a change is needed.

What is, after all, this perspective, which is now clearly set forth as the path of socialist construction in our country. Lenin has told us. It is the welding, the forging of the link between state industry and the co-operatives, and that between the co-operatives and the mass of the peasantry. Regarded from the social aspect, this is a linking of the working class with the mass of the peasantry, that is, in the main, with the middle peasantry.

What is the path which Lenin has shown us? How do we conceive our socialist development? I think we should put it to ourselves thus: We know that the middle peasantry is the fundamental mass, the principal stratum of the population on the land. The industry of the middle peasant constitutes the chief part of the peasant industry. He is therefore the central figure, he constitutes the majority of the land population. The fact that he is the central figure is not an “act of God.” It is conditioned by our Revolution. When many comrades produce passages from Lenin, written 30 years ago, and say, there were so many poor peasants, so many middle peasants, and so on, and then say that this still applies, they are forgetting that small detail, the Revolution. Our Revolution was, in its first half, by its very nature, a land revolution. It meant the smashing of the landowners and kulaks, and the giving over of their lands to the peasants, and a great uproar over the question of the enjoyment of the profits of the land. That is the meaning of the first phase of our Revolution, the building up of the great part played by the middle peasant. Those who fix their eyes on what was 30 years ago, are overlooking the Revolution. Of such people Lenin said that they were not “old Bolsheviks,” but “old fatheads.”

The middle peasant has undoubtedly become the central figure of our land system. Lenin well understood that it was an absolute travesty of reality to omit from an analysis of social relations that great agrarian revolution the like of which, in its scope, in the number of estates broken up, in the amount of land which was given over to the peasants, the world had never before seen. To leave this “detail” out of account is to understand nothing at all.

Lenin gave us the most complete statement of the way to Socialism. He said it consisted in uniting our socialist State industry with the industry of the middle peasants. The organisation which carries out this process, the bridge which joins State industry with the middle peasants’ industry is the co-operatives. Formerly, we tried to drive the peasants into Communism, with the iron broom of forced requisitions and the system of war Communism. The new economic policy is, however, according to Lenin’s definition, a policy which unites the social interests of Socialist construction with private economic interests. The meaning of the new economic policy is that, instead of driving the peasant forcibly into Communism, he is led by his own private capitalistic interests, gradually, and unnoticed by himself, to Communism.

What part is the co-operative system to play? A very simple one. The co-operatives help the peasant to organise to greater advantage the marketing of his products and to buy more advantageously the materials for his industry, and also to get credit—that is, according to our plan. From this it follows (given a correct co-operative policy) that it becomes more advantageous for the peasant to organise in the co-operatives than to remain outside. He will also put his savings in a suitable bank, if a correct policy is pursued. All these institutions (the co-operatives, credit societies, import and export co-operatives, &c.) are bound up with our economic organisations, and our economic organisations are supported by our banking system, which in turn rests upon our State industries, and thus upon the power of our proletarian State. Thus it follows that our proletarian ship of State, that is, our State industries, will tow behind it the co-operatives, as a barge which is heavier than itself, and this barge will draw along behind it, by a million tow-lines, the mighty burden of the whole peasantry. For, with the development of productive power, our State industries will grow and grow, will assume more and more the leading place in our whole economic life, and so we shall gradually absorb and remodel the whole peasant economy.

All that, however, does not mean that this process will unfold itself smoothly and peacefully. Many think, when one speaks as I have spoken, that everything will go smoothly and peacefully, without any struggle. A big mistake! This process will cause a mighty struggle in almost every cell and nucleus. What does following a correct co-operative policy mean? It means, for instance, to take a correct line at co-operative elections. In the leadership of these organisations themselves the class struggle between the kulaks and the middle peasants will be fought out. There will naturally be class struggle. In the leadership of the co-operatives themselves kulak elements can be found. It may happen that a whole series of co-operatives may fall into the hands of kulaks. Here and there this struggle will perhaps quite unreasonably be brought to a head. The course will be pursued by a painful process of struggle. Without struggle it cannot be fulfilled. But we rely upon holding such commanding positions as will put certain trump cards into our hands, and from that comes our absolute certainty that by this way we shall conquer.

State Industry

This is the fundamental thing in the plan of future development to Socialism: State industry and co-operative organisation. Every one of us makes mistakes, and we shall certainly make them in the future. We do not hope that each one of our leaders will make no mistakes. Without Lenin, mistakes are inevitable in each one of us. That is an immutable law of our development. But, comrades, that which is now held to be true by many comrades, is more than a single mistake, for, if we take up a wrong attitude on the question of State industry and the co-operatives, what remains of the Leninist plan? Next to nothing remains. We may make mistakes in individual questions, but when we falsely represent the questions of State industry, the cooperatives, the proletariat and the middle peasants, what is left of the Leninist plan? Indeed, almost nothing. Therefore I say that, regardless of our mistakes, we must affirm that the point of view which I have criticised is a wrong one. Its error consists in this: according to our opinion, State industry is socialist industry. From the point of view of many comrades (many are very heated) it is state-capitalistic industry. For this they produce a variety of decisive reasons. I would like to ask anyone in the world to produce the passage in which Lenin has spoken of our State industry as capitalistic. It is true that Lenin spoke of State capitalism. Lenin argued against the left wing Communists, and against me, when the left wing Communists were inclined to deny the possibility of using the term “State capitalism.” But that is quite another question, which is not now under discussion. We are now considering the question, how Lenin conceived State industry. I declare that there is no passage in which Lenin would have said that our State industry might have been State capitalistic. In comparatively old works, as in his pamphlet on “Taxes in Kind,” he indicates five different types of our economy: patriarchal economy, petty-bourgeois economy, simple trading economy, private-capitalistic economy, such as exists here, State capitalistic elements in economy, which also exist here, and socialistic elements, which we also have.

What did Lenin understand by socialistic elements? In his pamphlet he speaks also of State capitalism. Where are the socialistic elements which he mentions? Perhaps in the books of certain honoured comrades? The books of these honoured comrades may be the embodiment of 100 per cent. Leninism, but they do not deal with the types of our economy. They present a product of economic development, and, in part, of the ideological zeal of these comrades, but they by no means represent the economic structure of our country. As I have said, if they will take Lenin’s pamphlet and ask what Lenin understood by the socialistic elements in our economy, the answer is clear, viz., that among these at least one may understand our State industry. Or was our old leader bragging? He did not like bragging. And who, then, is setting out to revise Leninism? Is it not those who deny the socialistic character of State industry? I believe it is just these.

Here I must raise another question. If the working class does not regard industry as its own, but as State capitalism, if it regards the factory management as a hostile force, and the building up of industry as a matter outside its concerns, and feels itself to be exploited, what is to happen? Shall we then be in a position, let us say, to carry on a campaign for higher production? “What the devil!” the workers would say, “are we to drudge for the capitalists? Only fools would do that.” How could we draw workers into the process of building up industry “What!” they would say, “shall we help the capitalist and build up the system? Only opportunists would do that.” If we say our industry is State capitalism, we shall completely disarm the working class. We dare not then speak of raising productive capacity, because that is the affair of the exploiters and not of the workers. To what end then shall we get larger and larger numbers to take part in our production conferences, if the workers are exploited, and when all that has nothing to do with them? Let the exploiter look after that! If we put the matter in this light, not only shall we be threatened with the danger of estrangement from the masses, but we shall not be in a position to build up our industries. That is as clear as daylight.

Not a Retreat, but an Advance!

With this question is bound up another, which is taken by many theoreticians as an occasion for differences of opinion. Many comrades think that, in past years, we have always been in retreat—that our Party is “red,” certainly, but that it is like a lobster, red when cooked, and always going backwards. They think that we prize even that “redness.” Although our class emerged, as we used to say, from the cauldron of the workshops, and in consequence was proud of its “redness”—of which now only bullocks are afraid—they would have the whole working class admit that we never did anything but retreat. But I tell you the new economic policy is by no means a continuous retreat, and that its development, and the development of the working class, is in no sense a retreat.

On the contrary, we can declare that we are going forward on the basis of the new economic policy, for when our State industry grows while private industry is forced back, is not that the advance of the proletariat? When private capitalist trade is forced back by large-scale State trade, is not that also an advance of the proletariat? Is it not true that among us the form of the class struggle finds its expression in the struggle of different economic forms, and that it is therefore a class victory for the working class when the State industry advances at the expense of private industry? If, however, one doubts that our State industry is an element of Socialism, then there can be no talk of advance, and the success of our State industry would not signify progress in socialist construction. And since, also, commodity exchange is developing and the kulak is not being suppressed by force, it would mean indeed a general retreat. The one thing goes with the other. In reality, however, we are developing exchange but at the same time strengthening the socialist elements in our economy, i.e., as a whole we are going forward.