J.R. Johnson

Part II of a Series on Stalinism

Russia No Workers’ State

(8 April 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 14, 8 April 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Workers Party has taken the position that Stalinist Russia is a bureaucratic-collectivist state, a new type of social order never seen before, created by the isolated character of the October Revolution and its failure to extend into the rest of the world.

The Workers Party denounces above all the conception that Russia is any kind of a workers’ state.

For the Workers Party, a workers’ state must be a state in which the workers rule. The governmental form of workers’ rule is the workers’ council or soviet. That is its distinctive mark, the guarantee of workers’ democracy, and it is worth description.

In capitalist democracy, elections take place on the basis of an individual looked upon as a person. Capitalist or worker, farmer or horse-thief, each individual, whatever his vocation, has one vote. All those who live in one geographical area form a unit, e.g., the Bronx, Queens, New York State.

What Is Soviet Government?

The genuine soviet form of government is entirely different. Elections take place on the basis of the individual’s type of labor. Workers in individual factories elect workers’ representatives. Farmers elect farmers’ representatives. White collar workers elect representatives on the basis of their particular organization of work. In theory, therefore, with all of heavy industry in the hands of the state, there is a genuine equality of individuals in so far as election rights are concerned. A large factory, for example, will have the largest number of representatives. In such elections, therefore, the weight of labor is overwhelming. And it is just that which Lenin and Trotsky and the early Bolsheviks looked upon as decisive and new in the Russian constitution.

We must understand that no one invented the soviet form of government. It arose and could only arise in the period of large-scale capitalist production. In 1871, when the workers of Paris established the famous Commune, their elections were held in the traditional parliamentary manner. But in 1905, when the workers of Russia revolted against Czarism, they were anxious to find a means of mobilizing themselves against the Czarist bureaucracy and the Czarist police. They wanted an organization of their own to discuss their problems and plan defense and attack.

How to do that? They could not prepare electoral lists and organize any elaborate procedure.

The situation was too urgent. They used the fact that they worked in factories. They elected delegates from each plant. Those plants that were small joined forces to elect one delegate, and thus the soviets were born.

Soviet Constitution

In 1917, the workers acted again in the same way; the peasants followed them and the soldiers did likewise. By October 1917, a network of soviets covered Russia, representing the great masses of the people as they have never before been represented. Lenin, seeing this amazing example of workers’ initiative and resourcefulness, said that there was no need to invent any kind of new constitution. The constitution of the workers’ state would be merely the legalization and formalization of the spontaneous form discovered by the workers themselves.

That was the soviet constitution. Workers in the United States today can judge whether their interests would be better represented in that type of state than in the present Congress in Washington. Such was and is the theory of the workers’ state and a workers’ constitution.

Stalin Abolishes Soviets

In 1935, Stalin abolished the soviet constitution. Today in Russia they vote on the old individual basis of universal suffrage. The bureaucracy had by now solidly established its power. It could no longer stand election of soviets by workers themselves, nor any free elections.

Was this of any importance to the American workers? In one very important sense it was. Up to 1935, the Communist International, despite many peculiar shifts and changes in policy, had maintained in principle at least two fundamental doctrines:

  1. It refused to support any country, however democratic, in an imperialist war.
  2. It opposed all candidates, such as Roosevelt, for bourgeois Parliaments, however “progressive.” Organized labor should, in principle, give no support to capitalist candidates.

In 1935, the soviet constitution was abolished.

In 1935, the Communist International began its campaign in France, Britain and the United States for the support of the “democratic” imperialists in the coming war.

In 1936, the Communist Party of the U.S. supported Roosevelt for President. The reactionary step of abolishing the soviet constitution in Russia was merely the preliminary to the most open abandonment of revolutionary principles by the Communist International abroad. That is Stalinism. To grasp that and to hold on to it is the key to half the politics in the world today.

Last updated on 19 January 2019