The Workers Opposition by Alexandra Kollontai 1921
In a basic yet brief outline, we have already explained what it is that causes the crisis in our Party. Now we shall make clear what are the most important points of the controversy between the leaders of our Party and the Workers’ Opposition.
There are two such points: firstly, the part to be played by, and the problems confronting, the trade unions during the reconstruction period of the national economy, coupled with the organisation of production on a Communist basis, and secondly, the question of self-activity of the masses. This question is linked with that of bureaucracy in the Party and the Soviets.
Let us answer both questions in turn. The period of ‘making theses’ in our Party has already ended. Before us we find six different platforms, six Party tendencies. Such a variety and such minute variations of shades in its tendencies our Party has never been seen before. Party thought has never been so rich in formulae on one and the same question. It is, therefore, obvious that the question is a basic one, and very important.
And such it is. The whole controversy boils down to one basic question : Who shall build the Communist economy, and how shall it be built? This is, moreover, the essence of our programme; this is its heart. This question is just as important as the question of seizure of political power by the proletariat. Only the Bubnoff group of so-called political centralists is so nearsighted as to under-estimate its importance and to say “The question concerning trade unions at the present moment has no importance whatsoever, and presents no theoretical difficulties.”
It is, however, quite natural that the question seriously agitates the Party. The question is really in what direction shall we turn the wheel of history; shall we turn it back or move it forward? It is also natural that there is not a single Communist in the Party who would remain non-committal during the discussion of this question. As a result, we have six different groups. If we begin, however, carefully to analyse all the theses of these most minutely divergent groups, we find that on the basic question – who shall build the Communist economy and organise production on a new basis – there are only two points of view. One is that which is expressed and formulated in the statement of principles of the Workers’ Opposition. The other is the viewpoint that unites all the rest of the groups differing only in shades, but identical in substance. What does the statement of the Workers’ Opposition stand for, and how does the latter understand the part that is to be played by the trade unions, or, to be more exact, the industrial unions, at the present moment?
“We believe that the question of reconstruction and development of the productive forces of our country can be solved only if the entire system of control over the people’s economy is changed” (from Shliapnikoff’s report, December 30). Take notice comrades: only if the entire system of control if changed. What does this mean? ‘The basis of the controversy’, the report continues, ‘revolves around the question: by what means during this period of transformation can our Communist Party carry out its economic policy – shall it be by means of the workers organised into their class union, or – over their heads – by bureaucratic means, through canonised functionaries of the State.’ The basis of the controversy is, therefore, this: shall we achieve Communism through the workers or over their heads, by the hands of Soviet officials? And let us, comrades, ponder whether it is possible to attain and build a Communist economy by the hands and creative abilities of the scions of the other class, who are imbued with their routine of the past. If we begin to think as Marxists, as men of science, we shall answer categorically and explicitly: ‘No !’
The root of the controversy and the cause of the crisis lies in the supposition that ‘practical men’, technicians, specialists, and managers of capitalist production can suddenly release themselves from the bonds of their traditional conceptions of ways and means of handling labour (which have been deeply ingrained into their very flesh through the years of their service to Capital) and acquire the ability to create new forms of production of labour organisation, and of incentives to work. To suppose that this is possible is to forget the incontestable truth that a system of production cannot be changed by a few individual geniuses, but through the requirements of a class.
Just imagine for a moment that during the transitory period from the feudal system (founded on slave labour) to the system of capitalist production (with its allegedly free hired labour in the industries), the bourgeois class, lacking at the time the necessary experience in the organisation of capitalist production, had invited all the clever, shrewd experienced managers of the feudal estates who had been accustomed to deal with servile chattel slaves, and entrusted to them the task of organising production on a new capitalist basis. What would happen? Would these specialists in their own sphere, depending on the whip to increase productivity of labour, succeed in handling a ‘free’, though hungry, proletarian, who had released himself from the curse of involuntary labour and had become a soldier or a day labourer? Would not these experts wholly destroy the newly-born and developing capitalist production? Individual overseers of the chattel slaves, individual former landlords and their managers, were able to adapt themselves to the new form of production; but it was not from their ranks that the real creators and builders of the bourgeois capitalist economy were recruited.
Class instinct whispered to the first owners of the capitalist establishments that it was better to go slowly and use common sense in place of experience in the search for new ways and means to establish relations between capital and labour? than to borrow the antiquated useless methods of exploitation of labour from the old, outlawed system. Class instinct quite correctly told the first capitalists during the first period of capitalist development that in place of the whip of the overseer they must apply another incentive – rivalry, personal ambition of workers facing unemployment and misery. And the capitalists, having grasped this new incentive to labour, were wise enough to use it in order to promote the development of the bourgeois capitalist forms of production by increasing the productivity of ‘free’ hired labour to a high degree of intensity. Five centuries ago, the bourgeoisie acted also in a cautious way, carefully listening to the dictates of their class instincts. They relied more on their common sense than on the experience of the skilled specialists in the sphere of organised production on the old feudal estates. The bourgeoisie was perfectly right, as history has shown us.
We possess a great weapon that can help us to find the shortest road to the victory of the working class: diminish suffering along the way, and bring about the new system of production – Communism – more quickly. This weapon is the materialistic conception of history. However, instead of using it, widening our experience and correcting our researches in conformity with history, we are ready to throw this weapon aside and follow the encumbered, circuitous road of blind experiments.
Whatever our economic distress happens to be, we are not justified in feeling such an extreme degree of despair. It is only the capitalist governments, standing with their backs to the wall that need feel despair. After exhausting all the creative impulses of capitalist production, they find no solution to their problems. As far as toiling Russia is concerned, there is no room for despair: Since the October revolution, unprecedented opportunities of economic creation have opened new, unheard-of forms of production, with an immense increase in the productivity of labour.
It is only necessary not to borrow from the past, but, on the contrary, to give complete freedom to the creative powers of the future. This is what the Workers’ Opposition is doing. Who can be the builder and creator of Communist economy? that class – and not the individual geniuses of the past – which is organically bound with newly-developing, painfully-born forms of production of a more productive and perfect system of economy. Which organ can formulate and solve the problems in the sphere of organising the new economy and its production – the pure class industrial unions, or the heterogeneous Soviet economic establishments? The Workers’ Opposition considers that it can be done only by the former, that is, by the workers’ collective, and not by the functional, bureaucratic, socially-heterogeneous collective with a strong admixture of the old capitalist elements, whose mind is cloned with the refuse of capitalistic routine. “The workers’ unions must be drawn from the present position of passive assistance to the economic institutions into active participation in the management of the entire economic structure” (from ‘Theses of the Workers’ Opposition’). To seek, find and create new and more perfect forms of economy, to find new incentives to the productivity of labour – all this can be done only by the workers’ collectives that are closely bound with the new farms of production. Only these collectives from their everyday experience, are capable of drawing certain conclusions. At first glance, these conclusions appear to be only of practical importance, and yet exceedingly valuable theoretical conclusions may be drawn from them concerning the handling of new labour power in a workers’ state where misery, poverty, unemployment and competition on the labour market cease to be incentives to work. To find a stimulus, an incentive to work – this is the greatest task of the working class standing on the threshold of Communism. None other, however, but the working class itself in the form of its class collectives, is able to solve this great problem. The solution to this problem, as proposed by the industrial unions, consists in giving complete freedom to the workers as regards experimenting, class training, adjusting and discovering new forms of production, as well as expressing and developing their creative abilities – that is, to that class which can alone be the creator of Communism.
This is how the Workers’ Opposition sees the solution to this difficult problem, from which follows the most essential point of their theses: “organisation of control over the social economy is a prerogative of the All-Russian Congress of Producers, who are united in the trade and industrial unions which elect the central body directing the whole economic life of the republic” (‘Theses of the Workers’ Opposition ’). This demand would ensure freedom for the manifestation of creative class abilities, not restricted and crippled by the bureaucratic machine which is saturated with the spirit of routine of the bourgeois capitalist system of production and control. The Workers’ Opposition relies on the creative powers of its own class: the workers. The rest of our programme follows from this premise.
But right at this point there begin the differences between the Workers’ Opposition and the line that is followed by the Party leaders. Distrust towards the working class (not in the sphere of politics, but in the sphere of economic creative abilities) is the whole essence of the theses signed by our Party leaders. They do not believe that by the rough hands of workers, untrained technically, can be created those foundations of the economic forms which, in the course of time, shall develop into a harmonious system of Communist production.
To all of them – Lenin, Trotsky, Zinovieff, and Bukharin – it seems that production is touch a delicate thing that it is impossible to get along without the assistance of ‘directors’. First of all we shall ‘bring up’ the workers, ‘teach them’, and only when they have grown up shall we remove from them all the teachers of the Supreme Council of Natural Economy and let the industrial unions take control over production. It is, after all, significant that all the theses written by the Party leaders coincide in one essential feature: for the present, we shall not give control over production to the trade unions; for the present we shall wait. It is doubtless true that Trotsky, Lenin, Zinovieff, and Bukharin differ in their reasons as to why the workers should not be entrusted with running the industries just at present. But they unanimously agree that just at the present time, the management of the production must be carried on over the workers’ heads by means of a bureaucratic system inherited from the past. On this point all the leaders of our Party are in complete accord.
‘The centre of gravity in the work of the trade unions at the present moment’ – assert the Ten in their Theses – “must be shifted into the economic industrial sphere. The trade unions as class organisations of workers, built up in conformity with their industrial functions, must take on the major work if organisation of production.” (‘major work’ is a too indefinite term. It permits of various interpretations. And yet it would seem that the platform of the ‘Ten’ gives more leeway for the trade unions in running the industries than Trotsky’s centralistic. Further, the theses of the ‘Ten’ go on to explain what they mean by ‘major work’ of the unions. “The most energetic participation in the centres which regulate production and control, register and distribute labour power, organic exchange between cities and villages, fight against sabotage, and carry out decrees on different compulsory labour obligations, etc.” This is all. Nothing new. And nothing more than what the trade unions have already been doing. This cannot save our production nor help in the solution of the basic question – raising and developing the productive forces of our country. In order to make clear the fact that the programme of the ‘Ten’ does not give to the trade unions any of the directing functions, but assigns to them only an auxiliary role in the management of production, the authors say: “In a developed stage (not at present, but at a developed stage), the trade unions in their process of social transformation must become organs of a social authority. They must work as such, in subordination to other organisations, and carry out the new principles of organisation of economic life.’ By this they mean to say that the trade unions must work in subordination to the Supreme Council of National Economy and its branches.
What is the difference, then, with that and ‘joining by growth’ which was proposed by Trotsky? The difference is only one of method. The theses of the ‘Ten’ strongly emphasize the educational nature of the trade unions. In their formulation of problems for the trade unions (mainly in the sphere of organisation, industry and education), our Party leaders as clever politicians suddenly convert themselves into ‘teachers’.
This peculiar controversy is revolving not around the system of management in industry, but mainly around the system of bringing up the masses. In fact, when one begins to turn over the pages of the stenographic minutes and speeches made by our prominent leaders, one is astonished by the unexpected manifestation of their pedagogic proclivities. Every author of the theses proposes the most perfect system of bringing up the masses. But all these systems of ‘education’ lack provisions for freedom of experiment, for training and for the expression of creative abilities by those who are to be taught. In this respect also all our pedagogues are behind the times.
The trouble is that Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin and others see the functions of the trade unions not as the control over production or as the taking over of the industries, but merely as a school for bringing up the masses. During the discussion it seemed to some of our comrades that Trotsky stood for a gradual ‘absorption of the unions by the state’ – not all of a sudden, but gradually and that he wanted to reserve for them the right of ultimate control over production, as it is expressed in our programme. This point, it seemed at first, put Trotsky on a common ground with the Opposition at a time when the group represented by Lenin and Zinovieff, being opposed to the ‘absorption of the state’, saw the object of union activity and their problem as ‘training for Communism’. ‘Trade Unions’, thunder Trotsky and Zinovieff, ‘are necessary for the rough work’ (p. 22 of the report, Dec. 30). Trotsky himself, it would seem, understands the task somewhat differently. In his opinion, the most important work of the unions consists in organising production. In this he is perfectly right. He is also right when he says, ‘inasmuch as unions are schools of Communism, they are such schools not in carrying on general propaganda (for such activity would mean they were playing the part of clubs), not in mobilizing their members for military work or collecting the produce tax, but for the purpose of all-round education of their members on the basis of their participation in production’ (Trotsky’s report, Dec. 30). All this is true, but there is one grave omission: the unions are not only schools for Communism, but they are its creators as well.
Creativeness of the class is being lost sight of. Trotsky replaces it by the initiative of ‘the real organisers of production’, by Communists inside the unions (from Trotsky’s report, Dec. 30). What Communists? According to Trotsky, by the Communists appointed by the Party to responsible administrative positions in the unions (for reasons that quite often have nothing in common with considerations of industrial and economic problems of the unions). Trotsky is quite frank. He does not believe that the workers are ready to create Communism and through pain, suffering and blunder still seek to create new forms of production. He has expressed this frankly and openly. He has already carried out his system of ‘club education’ of the masses, of training them for the role of ‘master’ in the Central Administrative Body of Railways adopting all those methods of educating the masses which were practised by our traditional journeymen upon their apprentices. It is true that a beating on the head by a boot-stretcher does not make an apprentice a successful shopkeeper after he becomes a ‘journeyman’. And yet as long as the boss-teacher’s stick hangs over his head, he works and produces.
This, in Trotsky’s opinion, is the whole essence of shifting the central point ‘from politics to industrial problems’. To raise, even temporarily, productivity by every and all means is the whole crux of the task. The whole course of training in the trade unions must be, in Trotsky’s opinion, also directed towards this end.
Comrades Lenin and Zinovieff, however, disagree with him. They are ‘educators’ of the modern trend of thought’. It has been stated many a time that the trade unions are schools for Communism. What does that mean – ‘schools for Communism’?
If we take this definition seriously, it will mean that in schools for Communism, it is necessary first of all to teach and bring up, but not to command (this allusion to Trotsky’s views meets with applause). Further on, Zinovieff adds: the trade unions are performing a great task, both for the proletarian and the Communist cause. This is the basic part to be played by the trade unions. At present, however, we forget this, and think that we may handle the problem of trade unions too recklessly, too roughly, too severely.
It is necessary to remember that these organisations have their own particular tasks – these are not tasks of commanding, supervising or dictating, but tasks in which all may be reduced to one : drawing of the working masses into the channel of the organised proletarian movement. Thus, teacher Trotsky went too far in his system of bringing up the masses. But what does Comrade Zinovieff himself propose? To give, within the unions, the first lessons in Communism: to teach them (the masses) the basic facts about the proletarian movement. How? Through practical experience, through practical creation of the new forms of production? Just what the Opposition wants? Not at all. Zinovieff-Lenin’s group favours a system of bringing up through reading, giving moral precepts and good, well-chosen examples. We have 500,000 Communists (among whom, we regret to say, there are many ‘strangers’ – stragglers from the other world – to seven million workers.
According to Comrade Lenin, the Party has drawn to itself ‘the proletarian vanguard’. The best Communists, in co-operation with specialists from the Soviet economic institutions, are searching hard in their laboratories for the new forms of Communist production. These Communists, working at present under the care of ‘good teachers’ in the Supreme Council of National Economy or other centres, these Peters and Johns are the best pupils it is true. But the working masses in the trade unions must look to these exemplary Peters and Johns and learn something from them without touching with their own hands the rudder of control, for it is ‘too early as yet’. They have ‘not yet learned enough’.
In Lenin’s opinion the trade unions – that is, the working class organisations – are not the creators of the Communist forms of people’s economy, for they serve only as a connecting-link between the vanguard and the masses: ‘the trade unions in their everyday work persuade masses, masses of that class ...’ etc.
That is not Trotsky’s ‘club system’, not a mediaeval system of education. This is the Froebel-Pestalozzi’s German system founded on studying examples. Trade must do nothing vital in the industries. But they persuade the masses. They must keep the masses In touch with the vanguard, with the Party which (remember this!) does not organise production as a collective, but only creates Soviet economic institutions of a heterogeneous composition, whereto it appoints Communists. Which system is better? This is the question. Trotsky’s system, whatever it may lack in other respects, is clearer and therefore more real. On reading books and studying examples taken from downhearted Peters and Johns, one cannot advance education too far. This must be remembered, and remembered well.
Bukharin’s group occupies the middle ground. Or rather, it attempts to co-ordinate both systems of upbringing. We must notice, however, that it too fails to record the principle of independent creativeness of the unions in industry. In the opinion of Bukharin’s group, the trade unions play a double role (so it is proclaimed in their thesis). On the one hand it (obviously ‘the role’) takes on itself the function of a ‘school for Communism’. And, on the other hand, it takes on the functions of an intermediary between the Party and the masses (this is from Lenin’s group). It takes on, in other words, the role of a machine: injecting the wide proletarian masses into the active life (notice, comrades – ‘into the active life’ – but not into the creation of a new form of economy or into a search for new forms of production). Besides that they (obviously the unions) in ever increasing degree, must become the component part both of the economic machine and of the State authority. This is Trotsky’s ‘joining together’.
The controversy again revolves not around the trade union problems but around the methods of educating the masses by means of the unions. Trotsky stands, or rather stood, for a system which, with the help of that introduced among the railway workers, might hammer into the organised workers’ heads the wisdom of Communist reconstruction. By means of ‘appointees’, ‘shake-ups’, and all kinds of miraculous measures promulgated in conformity with ‘the shock system’, it would re-make the unions so that they might join the Soviet economic institutions by growth, and become obedient tools in realising economic plans worked out by the Supreme Council of National Economy, Zinovieff and Lenin are in no hurry to join up the trade unions to the Soviet economic machine. The unions, they say, shall remain unions. As regards production, it will be run and managed by men whom we choose. When the trade unions have brought up obedient and industrious Peters and Johns, we will ‘inject’ them into the Soviet Economic institutions. Thus the unions will gradually disappear, dissolve.
The creation of new forms of national economy they entrust to the Soviet bureaucratic institutions. As to the unions, they leave them the role of ‘schools’. Education, education and more education. Such is the Lenin-Zinovieff slogan. Bukharin, however, wanted ‘to bank’ on radicalism in the system of union education, and, of course, he fully merited the rebuke from Lenin together with the nickname of ‘simidicomist’. Bukharin and his group, while emphasizing the educational part to be played by the unions in the present political situation, stand for the most complete workers’ democracy inside the unions, for wide elective powers to the unions – not only for the elective principle generally applied, but for non-conditional election of delegates nominated by the unions. What a democracy! This smacked of the very Opposition itself, if it were not for one difference. The Workers Opposition sees in the unions the managers and creators of the Communist economy, whereas Bukharin, together with Lenin and Trotsky, leave to them only the role of ‘schools for Communism’ and no more. Why should Bukharin not play with the elective principle, when everybody knows that will do no good or bad to the system of running industry? For, as a matter of fact, the control of industry will still remain outside the unions, beyond their reach, in the hands of the Soviet institutions. Bukharin reminds us of those teachers who carry on education in conformity with the old system by means of ‘books’. ‘You must learn that far and no further’, while encouraging ‘self-activity’ of the pupils ... in organising dances, entertainments etc.
In this way, the two systems quite comfortably live together and square up with one another. But what the outcome of all this will be, and what duties will the pupils of these teachers of eclectics be able to perform – that is a different question. If Comrade Lunacharsky were to disapprove at all the educational meetings of ‘eclectic heresy’ like this, the position of the People’s Commissariat on Education would be precarious indeed.
However, there is no need to underestimate the educational methods of our leading comrades in regard to the trade unions. They all, Trotsky included, realise that in the matter of education, ‘self-activity’ of the masses is not the least factor. Therefore, they are in search of such a plan where trade unions, without any harm to the prevailing bureaucratic system of running the industry, may develop their initiative and their economic creative powers. The least harmful sphere where the masses could manifest their self-activity as well as their ‘participation in active life’ (according to Bukharin) is the sphere of betterment of the workers’ lot. The Workers’ Opposition pays a great deal of attention to this question, and yet it knows that the basic sphere of class creation is the creation of new industrial economic forms, of which the ‘betterment of the workers’ lot is only a part.
In Trotsky and Zinovieff’s opinion, all production must be initiated and adjusted by the Soviet institutions, while the trade unions are advised to perform a rather restricted, though useful, work of improving the lot of the workers. Comrade Zinovieff, for instance, sees in distribution of clothing the ‘economic role’ of the unions, and explains: ‘there is no more important problem than that of economy; to repair one bathhouse in Petrograd at present is ten times more important than delivering five good lectures’.
What is this? A naive, mistaken view? Or a conscious substitution of organising creative tasks in the sphere of production and development of creative abilities, by restricted tasks of home economics, household duties, etc.? In somewhat different language, the same thought is expressed by Trotsky. He very generously proposes to the trade unions to develop the greatest initiative possible in the economic field.
But where shall this initiative express itself in ‘putting glass’ in the shop window or filling up a pool in front of the factory (from Trotsky’s speech at the Miners’ Congress)? Comrade Trotsky, take pity on us! For this is merely the sphere of house-running. If you intend to reduce the creativeness of the unions to such a degree, then the unions will become not schools for Communism, but places where they train people to become janitors. It is true that Comrade Trotsky attempts to widen the scope of the ‘self-activity of the masses’ by letting them participate not in an independent improvement of the workers’ lot, on the job (only the ‘insane’ Workers’ Opposition goes that far), but by taking lessons from the Supreme Council of the National Economy on this subject.
Whenever a question concerning workers is to be decided, as for instance about distribution of food or labour power, it is necessary that the trade unions should know exactly, not in general outline as mere citizens, but know thoroughly the whole current work that is being done by the Supreme Council of National Economy (speech of Dec. 30). The teachers from the Supreme Council of National Economy not only force the trade unions ‘to carry out’ plans, but they also ‘explain to their pupils their decrees’. This is already a step forward in comparison with the system that functions at present on the railways. To every thinking worker, it is clear, however, that putting in glass, useful as it may be, has nothing in common with running industry, productive forces and their development do not find expression in this work. The really important question still is: how to develop the productive forces. How to build such a state of economy by squaring the new life with production, and how to eliminate unproductive labour as much as possible. A Party may bring up a Red soldier, a political worker or an executive worker to carry out the projects already laid out. But it cannot develop a creator of Communist economy, for only a union offers an opportunity for developing the creative abilities along new lines.
Moreover, this is not the task of the Party. The Party task is to create the conditions – that is, give freedom to the working masses united by common economic industrial aims – so that workers can become worker-creators, find new impulses for work, work out a new system to utilise labour power, and discover how to distribute workers in order to reconstruct society, and thus to create a new economic order of things founded on a Communist basis. Only workers can generate in their minds new methods of organising labour as well as running industry.
This is a simple marxist truth, and yet at present the leaders of our Party do not share it with us. Why? Because they place more reliance on the bureaucratic technicians, descendants of the past, than on the healthy elemental class-creativeness of the working masses. In every other sphere we may hesitate as to who is to be in control – whether the workers’ collective or the bureaucratic specialists, be it in the matter of education, development of science, organisation of the Army, care of Public Health. But there is one place, that of the economy, where the question as to who shall have control is very simple and clear for everyone who has not forgotten history. It is well known to every marxist that the reconstruction of industry and the development of the creative forms of a country depend on two factors: on the development of technique and on the efficient organisation of labour by means of increasing productivity and finding new incentives to work. This has been true during every period of transformation from a lower stage of economic development to a higher one throughout the history of human existence.
In a workers’ republic the development of the productive forces by means of technique plays a secondary role in comparison with the second factor, that of the efficient organisation of labour, and the creation of a new system of economy. Even if Soviet Russia succeeds in carrying out completely its project of general electrification, without introducing any essential change in the system of control and organisation of the people’s economy and production, it would only catch up with the advanced capitalist countries in the matter of development. Yet, in the efficient utilization of labour power and building up a new system of production, Russian labour finds itself in exceptionally favourable circumstances. These give her the opportunity to leave far behind all bourgeois capitalist countries in the question of developing the productive forces. Unemployment as an incentive to labour in socialist Russia has been done away with. New possibilities are open for a working class that had been freed from the yoke of capital, to have its own creative say in finding new incentives to labour and the creation of new forms of production which will have had no precedent in all of human history.
Who can, however, develop the necessary creativeness and keenness in this sphere? Is it the bureaucratic elements, the heads of the Soviet institutions or the industrial unions, whose members in their experience of regrouping workers in the shop come across creative, useful, practical methods that can be applied in the process of re-organising the entire system of the people’s economy? The Workers’ Opposition asserts that administration of the people’s economy is the trade unions’ job and, therefore, that the Opposition is more marxist in thought than the theoretically trained leaders.
The Workers’ Opposition is not so ignorant as wholly to underestimate the great value of technical progress or the usefulness of technically trained men. It does not, therefore, think that after electing its own body of control over industry it may safely dismiss the Supreme Council of National Economy, the central industrial committees, economic centres, etc. Not at all. The Workers’ Opposition thinks that it must assert its own control over these technically valuable administrative centres, give them theoretical tasks, and use their services as the capitalists did when they hired the technicians in order to carry out their own schemes. Specialists can do valuable work in developing the industries, they can make the workers’ manual labour easier; they are necessary, indispensable, just as science is indispensable to every rising and developing class. But the bourgeois specialists, even when Communist labels are pasted on them, are powerless physically and too weak mentally to develop the productive forces in a non-capitalist state; to find new methods of labour organisation and to develop new incentives for intensification of labour. In this, the last word belongs to the working class – to the industrial unions. When the rising bourgeois class, having reached the threshold leading from mediaeval to modern times, entered into the economic battle with the decaying class of feudal lords, it did not possess any technical advantages over the latter.
The trader – the first capitalist – was compelled to buy goods from that craftsman or journeyman who by means of hand files, knife, and primitive spindles was producing goods’ both for his ‘master’ (the landlord) and for the outside trader, with whom he entered into a ‘free’ trade agreement. Feudal economy having reached a culminating point in its organisation, ceased to give any surplus, and there began a decrease in the growth of productive forces. Humanity stood face to face with the alternatives of either economic decay or of finding new incentives for labour of creating, consequently, a new economic system which would increase productivity, widen the scope of production, and open new possibilities for the development of productive forces.
Who could have found and evolved the new methods in the sphere of industrial reorganisation? None but those class representatives who had not been bound by the routine of the past, who understood that the spindle and cutter in the hands of a chattel slave produce incomparably less than in the hands of supposedly free hired workers, behind whose back stands the incentive of economic necessity.
Thus the rising class, having found where the basic incentive to labour lay, built on at a complex system great in its own way: the system of capitalist production. The technicians only come to the aid of capitalists much later. The basis was the new system of labour organisation, and the new relations that were established between capital and labour.
The same is true at present. No specialist or technician imbued with the routine of the capitalist system of production can ever introduce any new creative motive and vitalising innovation into the yields of labour organisation, in creating and adjusting a Communist economy. Here the function belongs to the workers’ collectives. The great service of the Workers’ Opposition is that it brought up this question of supreme importance frankly and openly before the Party.
Comrade Lenin considers that we can put through a Communist plan on the economic field by means of the Party. Is it so? First of all, let us consider how the Party functions. According to Comrade Lenin, “it attracts to itself the vanguard of workers” ; then it scatters them over various Soviet institutions (only a part of the vanguard gets back into the trade unions, where the Communist members, however, are deprived of an opportunity of directing and building up the people’s economy). These well-trained, faithful, and perhaps very talented Communist-economists disintegrate and decay in the general economic institutions. In such an atmosphere, the influence of these comrades is weakened, marred, or entirely lost. Quite a different thing with the trade unions. There, the class atmosphere is thicker, the composition more homogeneous, the tasks that the collective is faced with more closely bound with the immediate life and labour needs of the producers themselves, of the members of factory and shop committees, of the factory management and the unions’ centres. Creativeness and the search for new forms of production, for new incentives to labour, in order to increase productivity, may be generated only in the bosom if this natural class collective. Only the vanguard of the class can create revolution, but only the whole class can develop through its everyday experience the practical work of the basic class collectives.
Whoever does not believe in the basic spirit of a class collective – and this collective is most fully represented by the trade unions – must put a cross over the Communist reconstruction of society. Neither Krestinsky or Preobrajensky, Lenin or Trotsky can infallibly push to the forefront by means of their Party machine those workers able to find and point out new approaches to the new system of production. Such workers can be pushed to the front only by life-experience itself, from the ranks of those who actually produce and organise production at the same time. This consideration, which should be very simple and clear to every practical man, is lost sight of by our Party leaders: it is impossible to decree Communism. It can be treated only in the process of practical research, through mistakes, perhaps, but only by the creative powers of the working class itself.
The cardinal point of the controversy that is taking place between the Party leaders and the Workers’ Opposition is this: to whom will our Party entrust the building of the Communist economy – to the Supreme Council of National Economy with all its bureaucratic branches? Or to the industrial unions? Comrade Trotsky wants ‘to join’ the trade unions to the Supreme Council of People’s Economy, so that, with the assistance of the latter, it might be possible to swallow up the former. Comrades Lenin and Zinovieff, on the other hand, wanted to ‘bring up’ the masses to such a level of Communist understanding that they could be painlessly absorbed into the same Soviet institutions. Bukharin and the rest of the factions express essentially the same view. Variations exist only in the way they put it ; the essence is the same. Only the Workers’ Opposition expresses something entirely different, defends the proletarian class viewpoint in the very process of creation and realization of its tasks.
The administrative economic body in the workers’ republic during the present transitory period must be ‘a body directly elected by the producers themselves. All the other administrative economic Soviet institutions should serve only as executive centres of the economic policy of the all-important economic body of the workers’ republic. All else is goose-stepping, that shows distrust towards the creative abilities of the workers, distrust which is not compatible with the professed ideals of our Party, whose very strength depends on the perennial creative spirit of the proletariat.
There will be nothing surprising if at the approaching Party congress, the sponsors of the different economic reforms, with the single exception of the Workers’ Opposition, will come to a common understanding through mutual compromise and concessions, since there is no essential controversy among them.
The Workers’ Opposition alone will not and must not compromise. This does not, however, mean that it is aiming at a split’. Not at all. Its task is entirely different. Even in the event of defeat at the Congress, it must remain in the Party, and step by step stubbornly defend its point of view, save the Party, clarify its class lines.
Once more in brief : what is it that the Workers’ Opposition wants?
(1) To form a body from the workers – producers themselves – for administering the people’s economy.
(2) For this purpose, (i.e. for the transformation of the unions from the role of passive assistance to the economic bodies, to that of active participation and manifestation of their creative initiative) the Workers’ Opposition proposes a series of preliminary measures aimed at an orderly and gradual realisation of this aim.
(3) Transferring of the administrative functions of industry into the hands of the union does not take place until the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the trade unions has found the said unions to be able and sufficiently prepared for the task.
(4) All appointments to the administrative economic positions shall be made with consent of the union. All candidates nominated by the union to be non-removable. All responsible officials appointed by the unions are responsible to it and may be recalled by it.
(5) In order to carry out all these proposals, it is necessary to strengthen the rank and file nucleus in the unions, and to prepare factory and shop committees for running the industries.
(6) By means of concentrating in one body the entire administration of the public economy (without the existing dualism of the Supreme Council of National Economy and the All-Russian Executive Committee of the trade unions) there must be created a singleness of will which will make it easy to carry out the plan and put ‘to life the Communist system of production. Is this syndicalism? Is not this, on the contrary, the same as what is stated in our Party programme, and are not the elements of principles signed by the rest of the comrades deviating from it?