Tony Cliff

Lenin 2

Chapter 12
Lenin and Workers’ Control

Just as Lenin gave a lead to the peasants and soldiers by calling on them to act, to act immediately, and to be self-reliant, so he was able to relate even more directly and intimately to the industrial workers in their struggle. Whereas the peasants were striving for land and peace, and the soldiers for peace and land, the proletariat was striving for workers’ control in industry and peace.

The complete collapse of discipline in the factories was both a condition and a result of the revolutionary situation. So the workers’ struggle to defend their wages and conditions inevitably escalated to the throwing out of hated factory owners and foremen, and the forcible keeping open of plants that the owners wished to close. Their struggle for workers’ control locked in with the victorious October Revolution.

The Rise of Factory Committees

During the February Revolution and the following few days, a feverish organization of factory committees took place all over Petrograd. Throughout the city, in diverse ways and under a variety of names, committees of workers were quickly set up. At the Thornton textile mills, a strike committee served as the nucleus of the factory committee elected on February 26, 1917, a day before the Petrograd Soviet was formed; the workers of the Treugolnik rubber factory and of the Petrograd pipe factory chose their committees while meeting to elect delegates to the soviet; in other enterprises the delegates to the city or district Soviets also served as factory-committee members, together with additional representatives from the various shops; in the vast Putilov metalworks, the Peterhoff District Soviet acted as factory committee until one could be organized.

The enthusiastic organization of factory committees spread quickly from the capital to the provinces. As early as February 28, a Moscow textile mill held simultaneous elections for a workers’ committee and for delegates to the Moscow Soviet, and during the next three days other committees were formed in the largest plants. By the end of March, factory committees had taken root in virtually every sizeable enterprise in Moscow and its suburbs. It was not very long before they existed in every industrial center of European Russia, from Minsk to Baku, from Kiev to Ekaterinburg, appearing first in the larger establishments, then, within a very short time, taking root in all but the very smallest. [1]

The first battle in which the factory committees were involved was the achievement of the eight-hour day. Of a hundred motions at factory workers’ meetings for the period March 3-28, 51 percent demanded an eight-hour day. [2]

On March 5, the Petrograd Soviet adopted a resolution by 1,170 to 30 calling on all workers to return to work. [3] The workers reacted in their own way. In Vyborg, they prepared a demonstration against the soviet decision. They decided that it was null and void as long as their demands for an eight-hour day, a pay raise, etc., had not been met. Strikes continued to paralyze about ten firms. On March 8, the Menshevik Rabochaia Gazeta appealed to the strikers, claiming that they were discrediting the soviet by not obeying it. On March 10, the Menshevik newspaper recalled the lessons of 1905: not to rush things, to get well organized before making any demands. On March 14, the Soviet Propaganda Commission launched a new appeal in Izvestiia, aimed this time at the streetcar workers and the transportation industry. “Don’t wait till Monday to go back to work,” implored the soviet. It promised to intervene if the heads of firms made no concessions. On March 21, in the workers’ section of the soviet, the Menshevik Bogdanov noted that the return to work was going badly and that it would probably continue to do so if working conditions did not improve. The soviet then undertook to negotiate with management in the capital. Casting caution to the wind, the latter accepted the eight-hour day, and the formation of factory committees and grievance committees. Identical agreements were reached at Saratov and in other provincial cities. [4]

However, the workers were not limiting their demands to the eight-hour day, higher wages, or better working conditions. On March 4, the workers of the Skorokhod shoe factory in Petrograd also demanded the recognition of their factory committee and the right to control the hiring and firing of labor. In the Petrograd radio-telegraph factory, a workers’ committee was organized expressly to “work out rules and norms of the internal life of the factory,” while other factory committees were elected mainly to adjust work rules or to supervise the activities of the administration. In short, the workers’ demands for better conditions of labor were accompanied by an equally pressing claim to a role in directing the operation of their enterprises. [5]

An incipient form of workers’ control arose overnight among the committees of strong factories, first of all in the state-owned armament plants.

It was in precisely these factories that the “workers’ council” experience after February was fullest. Supervisors, foremen, and floor managers were largely elected by the workers. This was partly due to the fact that the former management had seen itself as agents of the Tsarist government and therefore went to ground in February, but it was also partly because the highly skilled ordnance workers thought they could manage capitalist production, at shop-floor level at least, better than their bosses. [6]

The metal industry of Petrograd, devoted almost exclusively to the war effort, employed nearly 60 percent of the workers in the capital. The largest of its factories was operated by the Artillery and Naval Departments, and contained about a quarter of the Petrograd proletariat. Early in March, a group of fifteen workers’ representatives from factories of the Artillery and Navy Departments recognized the need for cooperation among the factory committees of all state establishments, and called for the introduction of workers’ control over production. [7] This meeting was the prelude to a conference on March 13, which included factory-committee representatives of the twelve largest metalworks under the Artillery Department, employing approximately one hundred thousand workers. The delegates to this earliest factory-committee conference – the forerunner of a series of city wide conferences in 1917 – demanded official recognition by the government of the workers’ committees and the eight-hour day, and called for workers’ control over the activities of management. [8]

At a conference of state factories on April 2, a resolution was passed to give the factory committees a voice in the hiring of management personnel and the right to examine the accounts and correspondence of the enterprises. To counteract the movement for workers’ control, the provisional government issued a decree on April 23 establishing factory committees. The aim of the decree was to divert workers into regular, safe channels of collaboration with management, in the solution of the economic problems facing the country during the war. The function of the factory committees was defined thus:

(a) representation of the workers to the administration of the enterprise on questions concerning relations between the employers and workers, as, for example, on salaries, working hours, rules of internal organization, etc.; (b) settlement of questions concerning internal relations among the workers of the enterprise; (c) representation of the workers in their relations with government and public institutions; (d) cultural and educational activity among the workers of the enterprise and other measures designed to improve their existence ...

Meetings called by the committee shall, as a general rule, be held outside of working hours. [9]

The statutes of the provisional government, inspired by the Menshevik and SR leaders of the Soviet, were intended to bring about close collaboration between labor and management. They certainly did not include even a mention of the committee’s right to assume managerial functions or control of the factory. [10]

Lenin was very quick to give vigorous support to the factory committees. Writing on May 17, he endorsed the slogan of “workers’ control,” declaring that “the workers must demand the immediate establishment of genuine control, to be exercized by the workers themselves.” [11]

To start with, unfortunately, the Bolsheviks had little influence in the factory committees. The Putilov armament factory, with thirty thousand workers, which throughout February had been seething with discontent and had staged several strikes and demonstrations, formed a “workers’ committee” on February 28. On March 2, however, this committee placed the administration of the factory in the hands of the Peterhoff District Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, in which only eight or nine of the thirty elected members were Bolsheviks. During the first half of April, the Putilov workers, who were threatened with dismissal owing to a shortage of fuel, formed a factory committee of twenty-two, of whom only four were Bolsheviks. [12]

However, the factory committees, the focus of the rising revolutionary forces, were closer to the rank and file than the Soviets and thus far to their left; as a result, they quickly came under the domination of the Bolshevik Party.

The First Conference of Petrograd Factory Committees, convened on May 30, was overwhelmingly influenced by the Bolsheviks. It was attended by 568 delegates from 236 factories employing 337,464 workers. Its agenda included reports on the state of industry in Petrograd, and discussions on the control and regulation of production, the supply of factories with required materials, and relations with the trade unions, cooperatives, and other workers’ organizations.

The Menshevik minister of labor, Skobolev, opened the debate with a plea for state control of industry. He declared: “We find ourselves in the bourgeois stage of revolution. The transfer of enterprises into the hands of the people will not at the present time assist the revolution.”

As the revolution was bourgeois, what was needed was the regulation of industry by the government in cooperation with the industrialists and the workers’ organizations. “The regulation and control of industry,” said Skobolev, “is not a matter for a particular class. It is a task for the state. Upon the individual class, especially the working class, lies the responsibility for helping the state in its organizational work.” [13]

The Menshevik Chervanin, in the name of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, elaborated further: “We can stop the growing catastrophe and restore economic life to normal only by planned interference of the state in economic life”; state regulation of the distribution of raw materials, fuel, and equipment to industry was necessary. Chervanin also called for state regulation of the distribution of consumer goods to the population, control over banking, and the compulsory formation of trusts in basic branches of industry. His resolution further demanded the fixing of prices, profits, and wages, and an increase in the taxation of the capitalists. [14]

In opposition to state control of industry, Zinoviev, for the Bolsheviks, moved a resolution on workers’ control drafted by Lenin. It called for the institution of control “by means of a series of carefully considered measures, introduced gradually but without delay, leading to the complete regulation of production and distribution of goods by the workers.” At least two-thirds of the votes in the organs of control would be reserved for the workers; commercial books were to be opened for inspection; a workers’ militia and universal labor duty were to be instituted; and the war was to be brought to a swift conclusion. Economic control, moreover, was linked with political power, for Zinoviev also called for the transfer of the state to the Soviets in order to assure the transfer of industrial control to the workers. The conference adopted Lenin’s resolution, slightly amended, by 297 votes to 21, with 44 abstentions. [15]

As time passed, the factory committees’ movement sharpened its conception of workers’ control. Thus the Second Conference of Factory Committees of Petrograd and its environs, which took place on August 7-12, spelled out clearly the meaning of workers’ control over production:

It was the duty of the factory committee to ... work out the rules of internal order – the organization of working time, wages, the hiring and firing and leave of workers and employees, etc. [16]

Factory committees should control the managers: they should have

control over the composition of the administration, and over the dismissal of the members of the administration who cannot guarantee normal relations with the workers, or who are incompetent for other reasons.

A note adds:

All members of the factory administration can enter into service only with the consent of the factory committee. [17]

The Employers’ Offensive

After the defeat of the Bolsheviks in the July Days (see chapter 14 below), the employers thought that an opportunity was offered to cut the factory committees down to size. The metallurgical section of the Moscow Society of Manufacturers distributed a circular forbidding payment of wages for time spent in factory-committee work. In Petrograd, the owner of a smelting shop boldly announced that “there can be no workers’ committee in the factory, and none will be recognized by the office,” a declaration clearly in defiance of the decree of April 23 on the formation of factory committees. But such outright attempts to undermine the committees were rare, even during the reaction following the July demonstrations. Instead, the owners concentrated on curbing workers’ control. They argued that the decree of April 23 had legalized the workers’ committees, but had not given them the right to exercize control over production or, for that matter, to organize militias. In mid-July, the Petrograd Society of Manufacturers branded as “illegal” both workers’ control and workers’ demands that their militia be paid by the employers. Similar opinions were voiced by business organizations in other cities, notably in Kharkov, where opposition to workers’ control was particularly intense. [18]

The newly formed All-Russian Central Society of Manufacturers resolved to issue “guiding instructions for the removal of factory-committee interference with the authority of the factory administration”; a Conference of Industrialists of Southern Russia maintained that the survival of industry was possible only if hiring and firing remained an exclusive right of the entrepreneur; and the Main Committee of United Industry forbade payment of wages to factory-committee members for time spent in committee work. Individual owners followed suit by withholding pay from committee members and by declining to provide space for committee meetings (in violation of the April 23 decree). [19]

The employers also undertook industrial sabotage – lockouts and factory closures. John Reed, who, as an American correspondent, had access to the most diverse circles, writes:

The secretary of the Petrograd branch of the Cadet Party told me that the breakdown of the country’s economic life was part of a campaign to discredit the revolution. An allied diplomat, whose name I promised not to mention, confirmed this from his own knowledge. I know of certain coalmines near Kharkov which were fired and flooded by their owners, of textile factories at Moscow whose engineers put the machinery out of order when they left, of railroad officials caught by the workers in the act of crippling locomotives. [20]

Output in the Putilov factory fell very steeply, as can be seen from the following table [21]:



June 1916


June 1917

Mild steel



Cast steel



Pig iron






Steel goods



By the second half of October, some ten thousand Putilov workers were laid off. [22]

In Petrograd as a whole, twenty-five thousand workers lost their jobs in the first fortnight of September. In the Moscow and neighbouring guberniias fifty factories employing fifty thousand men closed down. [23] In Krivoi Rog and the Donetz basin, conflicts over workers’ control and labor conditions, aggravated by a serious breakdown in transport and shortages of fuel, materials, and skilled workers, forced two hundred mines to cease operation by September.

The nation’s output of steel fell off drastically. [24] Of sixty-five blast furnaces in the south, from only thirty-four to forty-four were in use, and even these were not working at full pressure. Of 102 Martin furnaces, only fifty-five were in use in October 1917. The rail-rolling works were only producing at 55 percent of their capacity. [25] The textile industry also approached a state of collapse.

A well-known industrialist, P.P. Riabushinsky, addressing a congress of businessmen in Moscow on August 3, let slip a phrase about “the bony hand of hunger,” which “would grasp by the throat the members of the different committees and Soviets” and bring them to their senses. This phrase obtained wide circulation, and had an effect not unlike Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake!”

What answer to the employers’ offensive was proposed by the leaders favoring compromise? Their solution was class collaboration. This fitted in perfectly with their attitude to state control of industry and their support of the war effort.

Conciliation Between Classes

On August 22, Skobolev issued a circular that stated:

The right of hiring and firing of all ... employees and workers belongs to owners of these plants.

Coercive measures on the part of workers for purposes of dismissal or employment of certain persons are regarded as actions to be criminally punished.

He pointed out that, according to information reaching the Ministry of Labor, conferences and meetings were frequently held in many factories, mills, and mines during working hours, as a result of which work in the plants was disrupted. He notified the commissars and factory inspectors that, in accordance with the provisional government’s law of April 23,

conferences called by workers’ committees must take place after working hours ... It is the duty of every worker to devote his energies to intensive labor and not to lose one minute of working time ... The Minister of Labor points out that the administration of plants must not allow workers’ meetings during working hours which are detrimental to production in the plants. Moreover, the administration has the right to make deductions from pay for loss of working time. [26]

Skobolev’s two circulars, designed to curb the factory committees were issued on August 22 and 28, while General Kornilov was advancing on Petrograd! (See chapter 16 below.)

A few weeks later, the Special Council on Defense issued a circular stating:

The owner of a plant is always at the head of the factory, and workers have no right to interfere with the actions of plant administration. Far less do they have the right to change them. In hiring and firing of workers, the existing statutes on this matter must be strictly adhered to. [27]

The acting minister of trade and industry, V. Stepanov, went a step further when he declared:

[T]he use of the rights of strike and lockout should be suspended for the sake of the country’s good. The conflicts should be made subject to a thorough analysis and solved by conciliatory institutions especially organized for the purpose. [28]

A similar conciliatory mitigation of the class struggle was proposed by Izvestiia:

[T]he struggle between workers and employers under the circumstances of revolution and war cannot be conducted wholly in the same manner as under normal peacetime conditions.

The point is that the wartime situation and the revolution force both sides to exercize extreme caution in utilizing the sharper weapons of class struggle – strikes and lockouts.

These circumstances have made it necessary and possible to settle all disputes between employers and workers by means of negotiations and agreements, rather than by open conflict. Chambers of conciliation serve this purpose ... General problems must be resolved by an agreement reached between an association of employers and elected organs of the proletariat. Individual problems must be resolved by an agreement reached between the workers of the individual enterprises and their employers – And both sides must abide unquestioningly by decisions delivered by the chambers. [29]

Imagine: revolution – the most extreme form of the class struggle – is not compatible with strikes and lockouts! Chambers of conciliation to contain the revolution!

The Skobolev circulars and the Kornilov insurrection prompted the Petrograd factory committees to summon a third all-city conference on September 10. Apart from the appearance of a new minister of labor, the Menshevik Kolokolnikov, the more moderate socialists were without a significant voice at the one-day gathering. With great animosity, a Bolshevik speaker (Evdokimov) demanded the abrogation of the Skobolev circulars, condemned the decision of the Main Committee of United Industry to suspend wages of men engaged in factory-committee duties, and attacked Kolokolnikov for his negative policy on workers’ control. Kolokolnikov’s reply was virtually a carbon copy of his predecessor’s address to the First Petrograd Conference three months earlier. He declared that the present revolution was not socialist but democratic, and thus could not move forward from the capitalist mode of production to workers’ control. Control was required, Kolokolnikov admitted, but it had to be performed on a statewide scale by “public-state organs.” The hiring and firing of labor was a right of management, and could be controlled by the factory committees only if they became local trade-union organs. [30]

A Bolshevik resolution called for the nullification of Skobolev’s August circulars, the extension of factory-committee work, the rejection of the “fatal policy” of conciliation, and the removal from power of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie. [31] It was almost unanimously passed, with 198 votes for, 13 against, and 18 abstentions. [32]

The Increasing “Excesses” of Workers

The workers were increasingly blaming the employers for the economic catastrophe the country was facing. They accused the entrepreneurs of perpetuating a frightful war in order to reap huge profits, even though such short-sighted avarice foredoomed the industrial machine to eventual breakdown. The control commissions of factory committees in Serpukhov (in Moscow province) disclosed that some textile mills concealed the extent of their profits by keeping two sets of books. Workers’ committees elsewhere uncovered numerous cases in which owners were speculating in the meager supplies of fuel, raw materials, and equipment still available. Determined to weed out such instances of “sabotage,” the committees demanded the right to make inventories of all available stores of goods and materials and to inspect deliveries to and from the enterprises.

The lockouts and shutdowns often precipitated physical clashes between labor and management. Violence against administrative personnel took a curiously similar form in different parts of the country. Members of the factory committee of the Volga mill in Ivanovo-Voznesensk threw a sack over a mechanic and carted him away in a wheelbarrow. [33] The director of a car plant in Moscow and his assistant were also taken away in a wheelbarrow, while the management threatened to close the shop. [34] The workers in a Kharkov foundry seized their director, poured a bucket of heavy oil mixed with lead over his head, and carried the unfortunate man out of the plant amid shouts of “Hooray!” [35]

Industrialists were complaining more and more often that the situation in the factories had reached a point “exceedingly close to industrial anarchy.” [36]

A conference of factory committees in the metal plants of Kharkov decided on June 27 “to satisfy the demands of the workers with their own revolutionary power,” adding:

If the factory owners within the course of five days refuse to satisfy these demands, the directors are to be removed from the enterprises and are to be replaced by elected engineers.

When the management of the Helfferich-Sade factory, in the same city, wanted to close the plant in September because of a labor dispute, the factory committee decided that work should continue, under the direction of a special commission. And at the large locomotive factory in Kharkov more forceful measures were used. The harassed Kerensky received a telegram from the plant on September 20 to the effect that “the director and all the administrative personnel of the factory have been arrested by the workers. The local military and civil authorities are completely inactive.” How often that last sentence must have been used during 1917, when formal legality and the rights of private property were at a very great discount. [37]

In the Bokovo-Khrustalsk region of the Donetz coal basin, the manager of a mine belonging to the Russian Anthracite Company, engineer Pechuk, was beaten up at a session of the local Soviet of Workers’ Deputies, at the initiative and following the incitement of the president of the Soviet, Pereverzev. At the Mikhailov mine of Donchenko in the same region, the same Pereverzev arrested one of the owners, Iakovlev. There were widespread searches of the homes of mine employees in the Bokovo-Khrustalsk region, and the employers were terrorized and left the mines. From other regions of the Donetz basin came reports of increasing excesses, beating and robbing of the mine owners, all suggesting that the anarchical and riotous movement was spreading widely in the area. The local authorities were completely inactive. [38]

A list of workers’ “excesses,” compiled by a newspaper, indicated that the engineer, like the army officer or the landlord, sometimes received short shrift from mobs of enraged workers:

At the Lisva factory, the engineer Lepchukov was killed by a shot in the back. At the Sulinsk factory, at the demand of the workers, the managing director of the factory, engineer Gladkov, was arrested for refusing to increase wages by a hundred percent. In Makeevka, at the factory of the Russian Mining and Metallurgical Union Company, a worker in the foundry fired two shots at the chief of the foundry, a French citizen, the engineer Remy. At the factory of the Nikopol Mariupol Company, a mob of workers beat up the engineer Yasinsky and took him out on a wheelbarrow. At the Alexandrovsk factory of the Briansk Company in Ekaterinoslav province, the assistant director, Beneshevitch, the chief of the railroad department, Shkurenko, and some employees have been removed. At the factory of the Novorossisk Company in Yuzovka, the workers have cut off electrical lighting in the apartments of the senior employees and the factory management. [39]

By October, some form of workers’ control existed in the great majority of Russian enterprises. There were even sporadic instances of factory committees ejecting their employers and engineers and then endeavoring to run the plants themselves, sending delegations in search of fuel, raw materials, and financial aid from workers’ committees in other establishments. [40]

Lenin’s Policy

Basically Lenin’s line was very simple indeed. It fitted perfectly the objective conditions, the economic disintegration of Russia, and the subjective experiences of the industrial workers. It echoed workers’ feelings, and raised the instinctive urges of the workers to a generalized political level.

Decisive steps must be taken towards the overthrow of capitalism. They must be taken ably and gradually, relying only on the class-consciousness and organized activity of the overwhelming majority of the workers and poor peasants.

... cautious, gradual, well-considered, yet firm and direct steps towards socialism. [41]

What is necessary in Russia is not to invent “new reforms,” not to make “plans” for “comprehensive” changes. Nothing of the kind. This is how the situation is depicted – deliberately depicted in a false light – by the capitalists, the Potresovs, the Plekhanovs, who shout against “introducing socialism” and against the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” The situation in Russia in fact is such that the unprecedented burdens and hardships of the war, the unparalleled and very real danger of economic dislocation and famine have of themselves suggested the way out, have of themselves not only pointed out, but advanced reforms and other changes as absolutely necessary. These changes must be the grain monopoly, control over production and distribution, restriction of the issue of paper money, a fair exchange of grain for manufactured goods, etc. [42]

In a most systematic way, Lenin sums up his ideas on the way forward for the proletariat in the industrial field in his incisive pamphlet, The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It, written between September 10 and 14. He starts by describing the objective situation in Russia.

Unavoidable catastrophe is threatening Russia. The railways are incredibly disorganized and the disorganization is progressing. The railways will come to a standstill. The delivery of raw materials and coal to the factories will cease. The delivery of grain will cease. The capitalists are deliberately and unremittingly sabotaging (damaging, stopping, disrupting, hampering) production, hoping that an unparalleled catastrophe will mean the collapse of the republic and democracy, and of the Soviets and proletarian and peasant associations generally, thus facilitating the return to a monarchy and the restoration of the unlimited power of the bourgeoisie and the landowners.

The danger of a great catastrophe and of famine is imminent. [43]

Everybody says this. Everybody admits it. Everybody has decided it is so.

Yet nothing is being done.

Six months of revolution have elapsed. The catastrophe is even closer. Unemployment has assumed a mass scale. To think that there is a shortage of goods in the country, the country is perishing from a shortage of food and labor, although there is a sufficient quantity of grain and raw materials, and yet in such a country, at so critical a moment, there is mass unemployment! What better evidence is needed to show that after six months of revolution (which some call a great revolution, but which so far it would perhaps be fairer to call a rotten revolution), in a democratic republic, with an abundance of unions, organs, and institutions which proudly call themselves “revolutionary-democratic,” absolutely nothing of any importance has actually been done to avert catastrophe, to avert famine? We are nearing ruin with increasing speed. The war will not wait and is causing increasing dislocation in every sphere of national life. [44]

Control, supervision, and accounting are the prime requisites for combating catastrophe and famine. This is indisputable and universally recognized. And it is just what is not being done from fear of encroaching on the supremacy of the landowners and capitalists, on their immense, fantastic, and scandalous profits, profits derived from high prices and war contracts (and, directly or indirectly, nearly everybody is now “working” for the war), profits about which everybody knows and which everybody sees, and over which everybody is sighing and groaning. [45]

Control Measures Spelled Out

The “control measures are known to all and easy to take.” [46]

We shall see that all a government would have had to do, if its name of revolutionary-democratic government were not merely a joke, would have been to decree, in the very first week of its existence, the adoption of the principal measures of control, to provide for strict and severe punishment to be meted out to capitalists who fraudulently evaded control, and to call upon the population itself to exercise supervision over the capitalists and see to it that they scrupulously observed the regulations on control – and control would have been introduced in Russia long ago. These principal measures are:

1. Amalgamation of all banks into a single bank, and state control over its operations, or nationalization of the banks.

2. Nationalization of the syndicates, i.e., the largest, monopolistic capitalist associations (sugar, oil, coal, iron and steel, and other syndicates).

3. Abolition of commercial secrecy.

4. Compulsory syndication (i.e., compulsory amalgamation into associations) of industrialists, merchants, and employers generally.

5. Compulsory organization of the population into consumers societies, or encouragement of such organization, and the exercise of control over it. [47]

Nationalization of the banks:

Only by nationalizing the banks can the state put itself in a position to know where and how, whence and when, millions and billions of rubles flow. And only control over the banks, over the center, over the pivot and chief mechanism of capitalist circulation, would make it possible to organize real and not fictitious control over all economic life, of the production and distribution of staple goods, and organize that “regulation of economic life” which otherwise is inevitably doomed to remain a ministerial phrase designed to fool the common people. [48]

Nationalization of the syndicates:

The banks and the more important branches of industry and commerce have become inseparably merged. This means, on the one hand, that it is impossible to nationalize the banks alone, without proceeding to create a state monopoly of commercial and industrial syndicates (sugar, coal, iron, oil, etc.) and without nationalizing them. It means, on the other hand, that if carried out in earnest, the regulation of economic activity would demand the simultaneous nationalization of the banks and the syndicates. [49]

Abolition of commercial secrecy:

Unless commercial secrecy is abolished ... control over production and distribution will remain an empty promise ... This is the very key to all control. Here we have the most sensitive spot of capital, which is robbing the people and sabotaging production. [50]

We usually do not even notice how thoroughly we are permeated by anti-democratic habits and prejudices regarding the “sanctity” of bourgeois property. When an engineer or banker publishes the income and expenditure of a worker, information about his wages, and the productivity of his labor, this is regarded as absolutely legitimate and fair. Nobody thinks of seeing it as an intrusion into the “private life” of the worker, as “spying or informing” on the part of the engineer. Bourgeois society regards the labor and earnings of a wage-worker as its open book, any bourgeois being entitled to peer into it at any moment, and at any moment to expose the “luxurious living” of the worker, his supposed “laziness,” etc.

Well, and what about reserve control? What if the unions of employees, clerks, and domestic servants were invited by a democratic state to verify the income and expenditure of capitalists, to publish information on the subject and to assist the government in combating concealment of incomes?

What a furious howl against “spying” and “informing” would be raised by the bourgeoisie! [51]

Regulation of consumption:

At a time when the country is suffering untold calamities, a revolutionary-democratic policy would not confine itself to bread cards to combat the impending catastrophe but would add, firstly, the compulsory organization of the whole population in consumers’ societies, for otherwise control over consumption cannot be fully exercised; secondly, labor service for the rich, making them perform without pay, secretarial and similar duties for these consumers’ societies; thirdly, the equal distribution among the population of absolutely all consumer goods, so as really to distribute the burdens of the war equitably; fourthly, the organization of control in such a way as to have the poorer classes of the population exercise control over the consumption of the rich. [52]

In point of fact, the whole question of control boils down to who controls whom, i.e., which class is in control and which is being controlled ... We must resolutely and irrevocably, not fearing to break with the old, not fearing boldly to build the new, pass to control over the landowners and capitalists by the workers and peasants. [53] [1*]

The struggle against economic catastrophe must be waged jointly with the struggle against the war and the struggle for workers’ power.

The war has created such an immense crisis, has so strained the material and moral forces of the people, has dealt such blows at the entire modern social organization that humanity must now choose between perishing or entrusting its fate to the most revolutionary class for the swiftest and most radical transition to a superior mode of production. [55]

For Lenin, the battle for workers’ control of industry was part and parcel of the fight for workers’ power. “The systematic and effective implementation of all these measures is possible only if all the power in the state passes to the proletarians and semi-proletarians.” [56]

Again and again he repeats: “Control without power is an empty phrase.” [57] “All power to the Soviets” was the slogan of the Bolsheviks in the political sphere, while “workers’ control” was their slogan in the economic sphere.

For Lenin, the position was quite straightforward. In his own words describing the attitude of an enlightened Petrograd worker:

The whole world is divided into two camps: “us,” the working people, and “them,” the exploiters ... “We squeezed ‘them’ a bit; ‘they’ won’t dare to lord it over us as they did before. We’ll squeeze again – and chuck them out altogether,” that’s how the worker thinks and feels. [58]

The Rise in the Influence of Bolshevism

The influence of the Bolsheviks rose very unevenly. They first achieved domination in the factory committees of Petrograd. From these, their influence spread into the workers’ section of the soviet, and then to the soviet as a whole. At the same time, the influence of Bolshevism spread geographically, from Petrograd to the provinces.

At the First Conference of Factory Committees of Petrograd (May 31-June 5), as we have already pointed out, the Bolsheviks had an overwhelming influence; their main resolution was adopted by a large majority. Almost at the same time, at the Third Conference of Trade Unions assembled on June 20, the Bolsheviks accounted for 36.4 percent of the delegates. [59] At the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, which met on June 3, the Bolsheviks had 105 delegates out of a total of 777.

The unevenness between Petrograd and the provinces was also very great. At the Moscow Conference of Factory Committees, convened on July 23, the Bolsheviks were still a minority – they received 191 votes out of 682 for their policy. [60]

Because the Bolshevik influence was much greater among the industrial workers than in any other section of society, and because the factory committees were far closer to the rank and file than any other institution at the time, the Bolsheviks used the committees as a lever to influence other institutions – from the workers’ section of the Soviet to the Soviet as a whole and the trade unions.

On the eve of the October Revolution, Lenin was coming to the view that the factory committees, and not the Soviet, should serve as the instigators of insurrection. He told Ordzhonikidze:

We must swing over the center of gravity to the factory committees. The factory committees must become the organs of insurrection. We must change our slogan, and say instead of “All power to the Soviets,” “All power to the factory committees.” [61]

Even though it turned out that the Soviet did in fact play this role, the committees were of central importance to the victory of October.

Above all, for the Bolsheviks, the question of workers’ control of industry was inseparable from the question of a proletarian seizure of power. This was stated very clearly by Trotsky in his speech to the All-Russian Conference of Factory Committees of October 17-22, a conference which Trotsky himself described as “the most direct and indubitable representation of the proletariat in the whole country.” [62] [2*]

The proletariat must seize power. The army, the peasantry, and the navy all look to it with hope. And your organization, the factory committees, must become the champions of this idea. At the forthcoming Congress of Soviets, the questions of power, of peace, of land – all will be put point-blank. And when the Soviet gives the word, you in the localities must reply, “We are here!” Your reply must be a united “All power to the Soviets!” [63]

Lenin always considered the factory committees to be far more radical than the Soviets and to the left of the Bolshevik Party. They were the main citadel of the proletariat.

The workers’ movement that started after February, initially mainly by intensive organization accompanied by relatively fragmented conflicts on wages and hours, later developed into far more frequent and bitter strikes. The slogan of workers’ control became increasingly put into practice by evictions and even arrests of unpopular factory managers and foremen, and by forcibly keeping open plants that the owners tried to close. Eventually the workers’ industrial movement grew into the Bolshevik movement for proletarian political power.



1*. Lenin dealt disdainfully with the Mensheviks who promised to squeeze the capitalists dry but did not suggest workers’ control. He quoted Skobelev’s promise that he would “take the profits from the tills of the bankers,” to the extent of “one hundred percent,” and commented:

“Our party is much more moderate. Its resolution demands much less than this, namely, the mere establishment of control over the banks and the ‘gradual (just listen, the Bolsheviks are for gradualness!) introduction of a more just progressive tax on incomes and properties.’

“Our party is more moderate than Skobelev.

“Skobelev dispenses immoderate, nay, extravagant promises, without understanding the conditions required for their practical realization.

“That is the crux of the matter ...

“Less promises, Citizen Skobelev, and more practicalness. Less rhetoric and more understanding as to how to get down to business.

“And get down to business we can and should immediately, without a day’s delay, if we are to save the country from an inevitable and terrible catastrophe. But the whole thing is that the ... provisional government does not want to get down to business; and even if it wanted to, it could not, for it is fettered by a thousand chains which safeguard the interests of capital.” [54]

2*. Of the 167 delegates, 97 were Bolsheviks; there were 24 Socialist Revolutionaries (mostly left, who supported the Bolsheviks), 5 Maximalists, 1 Internationalist, and 21 non-party – all of these groups supporting the Bolsheviks; in opposition there were 13 Anarcho-syndicalists and 7 Mensheviks.




1. P. Avrich, Russian factory committees in 1917, Jahrbücher fur Geschichte Osteuropas, June 1963, pp.161-62.

2. Ferro, p.115.

3. Izvestiia, March 6; Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.709.

4. Ferro, p.181.

5. Avrich, p.163.

6. C. Goodey, Factory committees and the dictatorship of the poletariat 1918, Critique, no.3, 1974, p.30.

7. P.N. Amosov et al., Oktiabrskaia Revoliutsiia i Fazavkomy, Moscow 1927, vol.1, pp.27-28.

8. Avrich, p.164.

9. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, pp.719-20.

10. Amosov, vol.1, pp.22-24.

11. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.24, p.428.

12. M. Dewar, Labor Policy in the USSR, 1917-1928, London 1956, p.6.

13. Amosov, vol.1, p.83.

14. Amosov, vol.1, p.95.

15. Amosov, vol.1, p.108.

16. Amosov, vol.1, p.242.

17. Amosov, vol.1, p.243.

18. Avrich, pp.170-71.

19. Avrich, pp.175-76.

20. J. Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World, London 1961, p.7.

21. Zagorsky, p.191.

22. M. Mitelman, 1917 god na putilovskom zavoda, Leningrad 1939, p.141.

23. Meller and Pankratova, p.286.

24. Avrich, p.170.

25. Zagorsky, p.192.

26. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.722.

27. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.723.

28. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, p.675.

29. Browder and Kerensky, vol.2, pp.741-42.

30. Amosov, vol.2, pp.16-20.

31. Amosov, vol.2, pp.20-28.

32. Amosov, vol.2, pp.118-19.

33. Avrich, p.171.

34. Sidorov, vol.4, p.358.

35. Sidorov, vol.4, pp.339-40.

36. Meller and Pankratova, pp.126-27.

37. Chamberlin, vol.1, pp.269-70.

38. Meller and Pankratova, pp.229-30; Chamberlin, vol.1, p.270.

39. Chamberlin, vol.1, p.271.

40. Avrich, The Russian Anarchists, Princeton 1967, p.149.

41. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.24, pp.36-37.

42. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.25, p.371.

43. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.25, p.323.

44. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.25, pp.323-24.

45. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.25, p.324.

46. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.25, p.327.

47. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.25, pp.328-29.

48. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.25, p.331.

49. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.25, p.335.

50. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.25, p.338.

51. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.25, pp.355-56.

52. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.25, p.348.

53. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.25, p.342.

54. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.24, p.425.

55. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.25, pp.363-64.

56. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.24, p.515.

57. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.24, p.231.

58. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.26, p.120.

59. A. Abolin, The October Revolution and the Trade Unions, Moscow 1933, p.13.

60. Amosov, vol.1, p.271.

61. G.K. Ordzhonikidze, Izbrannie Stati i Rechi, 1911-1937, Moscow 1939, p.124.

62. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, p.935.

63. Amosov, vol.2, pp.158-60.


Last updated on 25.10.2007