Manifesto of the Workers' Group of the Russian Communist Party 1923

11. New economic and political policy put simply

And whatever "right-thinking" people say, it is firstly the active working class and secondly the peasantry (and not the communist officials, even the best and the brightest) who are able to implement this policy.

The New Economic Policy determined by the state of productive forces of our country hides within it dangers for the proletariat. We must not only show that the revolution stands up to a practical examination on the level of the economy and that socialist economic forms are in fact better than capitalist ones, but we must also affirm our socialist position without engendering an oligarchic caste which keeps economic and political power above all due to a fear of the whole working class. To prevent the risk of the degeneration of the New Economic Policy into a new policy for exploitation of the proletariat, it is necessary to lead the proletariat to the accomplishment of the great tasks in front of it by a consistent realisation of the principles of proletarian democracy, which will give the working class the means to defend the conquests of the October revolution against all dangers wherever they come from. The internal regime of the party and the relationship of the party with the proletariat must be radically changed in this sense.

The greatest peril linked to the New Economic Policy resides in the fact that the conditions of life of a very large number of leading cadres have begun to change rapidly. When such a situation arrives at a point where the members of the administration of certain trusts, for example the Sugar Trust, receive a monthly salary of 200 gold roubles, get a free or modestly priced fine apartment, have a car for their travelling and have other possibilities for the necessities of life at low prices, whereas the workers, although communist, beyond the modest food rations accorded to them by the state receive only 4 to 5 roubles a month on average (and from this they must also pay rent and electricity), it is really quite obvious that there is now a profound difference in the mode of life of one and the other. If this state of things doesn't change very quickly but exercises its influence ten or twenty years hence, the economic condition of the one and the other will determine their consciousness and they will collide from two opposing camps. We must understand that even if the - often renewed - leading posts are occupied by persons of very low social origins, they occupy a position which is in no way proletarian. They form a very slender social layer. Influenced by their economic condition they consider themselves the only ones appropriate for certain reserved tasks, the only ones capable of transforming the economy of the country, of satisfying the demands of the dictatorship of the proletariat, of the factory councils, of workers' delegates, with the help of the verse: "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil".

In reality, they consider these demands as expressions of the influence of petty-bourgeois elements, of counter-revolutionary forces. Thus, here, without any doubt, a danger threatens the conquests of the proletariat and it comes from a side where one would least expect it. For us the danger is that proletarian power degenerates into the hegemony of a powerful group deciding to take political and economic power into its own hands, naturally under the pretence of very noble intentions "in the interests of the proletariat, of the world revolution and other very high ideals". Yes, the danger of an oligarchic degeneration really exists.

But in countries where petty-bourgeois production has a decisive influence, where economic policy helps to accelerate and strengthen the most individualistic views of the petty-bourgeois landowner, we must exert constant pressure on the foundations of the petty bourgeois element. And who will do this? Will it be the same officials, these saviours of distressed humanity? Even if they have all the wisdom of Solomon - or Lenin - they will still not be able to do it. Only the working class is capable of this, led by the party that lives its life, suffers its sufferings, its maladies, a party that is not afraid of the active participation of the proletariat in the life of the country.

It is harmful and counter-revolutionary to tell fables to the proletariat to lull its consciousness. But what are we told? "Stay silent, attend demonstrations when you are invited, sing the Internationale when necessary, the rest will be done without you by brave boys, almost workers like you, but who are smarter than you and know everything about communism, so stay quiet and soon you will enter the socialist kingdom". This, we are told, is revolutionary socialism pure and simple. It is they who defend the idea that brilliant individuals, full of dynamism and armed with diverse talents, from all classes of society (and this seems to be the case) can take this grey mass (the working class) to a high and perfect kingdom, where there will be neither disease nor punishments, nor sighing, but life everlasting. This is exactly the style of the Socialist-Revolutionary "holy fathers". We need to replace existing practice with a new practice based on autonomous working class activity and not on intimidation by the party.

In 1917, we needed a developed democracy and in 1918, 1919 and 1920, it was necessary to cut out all the apparatus leaders and replace them with the autocratic power of officials appointed from above who decreed all; in 1922, faced with very different tasks than before, it is beyond doubt that we need other forms of organisation and working methods. In the factories and plants (domestic) we must organise councils of workers' deputies to serve as the main nuclei of state power; we must put into practice the point of the RCP programme that says: "The Soviet state brings together the state apparatus and the masses and an element in this is the fact that the production unit (factory, plant) becomes the main nucleus of the state instead of the district" (cf. the RCP program, policy division, item 5). It is these main nuclei of state power in the factories and plants that must be restored in councils of workers' deputies, which will take the place of our wise comrades who are currently leading the economy and the country.

Perhaps some attentive readers will accuse us of factionalism (article 102 of the Criminal Code), of undermining the sacred foundations of proletarian power. There is nothing to say to such readers.

But others say: "Show us a country where workers enjoy the same rights and freedoms as in Russia". That said, they think they deserve the Order of the Red Flag for crushing a faction, without pain and bloodshed at that. To these, we can say something. Show us then, dear friends, a country where power belongs to the working class? Such a country does not exist, so the question is absurd. The problem is not to be more liberal, more democratic than an imperialist power (which would be no great merit); the problem is to solve the tasks facing the only country in the world that made the coup of October, to prevent the NEP (New Economic Policy) from becoming an "NEP" (New Exploitation of the Proletariat), so that in ten years the proletariat, fooled again, is not forced to resume its perhaps bloody struggle to overthrow the oligarchy and ensure its major conquests. The proletariat can ensure this by directly participating in solving these tasks, establishing a workers' democracy, putting into practice one of the main points of the RCP programme that says: "bourgeois democracy restricts itself to formally declaring rights and political freedoms", namely freedom of association, press, equality for all citizens. But in reality, administrative practice and especially the economic enslavement of the workers does not allow them to fully enjoy these rights and freedoms.

Instead of formally proclaiming them, proletarian democracy puts them into practice, above all for classes of people formerly oppressed by capitalism, i.e. the proletariat and peasantry. For this, the soviet power expropriated the premises, printing works, paper depots of the bourgeoisie, and put them at the disposal of workers and their organisations.

The task of the RCP (Bolshevik) is to enable the broad masses of working people to enjoy democratic rights and freedoms on a more and more developed material basis (cf. the RCP programme, policy division, item 3).

It would have been absurd and counter-revolutionary to claim the achievement of these programmatic theses in 1918, 1919 or 1920; but it is even more absurd and counter-revolutionary to pronounce against their realisation in 1922.

If we want to improve the position of soviet Russia in the world, or restore our industry, or expand the material basis of our socialist revolution by mechanising agriculture, or face the dangerous effects of a New Economic Policy, inevitably it comes back to the working class which alone is capable of doing everything. The less it is strong, the stronger it must organise itself and the good boys who occupy the offices cannot resolve such grand tasks.

Unfortunately the majority of the leaders of the RCP doesn't think in the same way. To all questions of workers' democracy, Lenin, in a speech made to the Ninth All-Russian Congress of Soviets, responded thus: "To every union which poses, in general, the question of whether the unions should participate in production I would say: stop such chattering (applause), rather answer practically and tell me (if you occupy a responsible post, if you have the authority, if you are a militant of the communist party or a union): have you organised production well, in how many years, how many people do you have under you, a thousand, tens of thousands? Give me a list of those to whom you have confided an economic work that you have brought to a conclusion, instead of you attacking twenty things at once and not finishing any of them because of lack of time. Among us, with our soviet morals, we don't always conclude things well, one talks of success over a number of years; we are afraid of learning in comparison with the merchant who pockets a 100% profit and more, you prefer to write a fine resolution on raw materials and are proud of the title of communist party or union representative of the proletariat. I ask your pardon. What do you call the proletariat? It is the class that works in industry. But where is this great industry? What is this proletariat then? What is your industry? Why is it paralysed? Because there are no longer any raw materials. Have you been able to procure any of them? No. You write an enactment resolution to collect them, and you are in the soup; and the people will say that that is absurd; thus you resemble the geese who, in antiquity, saved Rome", and who, to continue the speech of Lenin (according to the moral of the well known fable of Krylov) must be guided to market with a big stick in order to be sold.

Suppose that the point of view of the former Workers' Opposition on the role and tasks of trade unions is wrong. That this view expresses not the position of the working class in power, but that of a professional ministry. These comrades want to take back the management of the economy by snatching it from the hands of soviet officials without involving the working class in that management through proletarian democracy and the organisation of councils of workers' deputies intended as the main nuclei of state power. They simply call for the proletarianisation of these bureaucratic nests. And they are wrong.

We cannot share Lenin's words about proletarian democracy and the participation of the proletariat in the popular economy. The greatest discovery made by comrade Lenin is that we no longer have a proletariat. We rejoice with you, comrade Lenin! You are thus the leader of a proletariat which doesn't even exist! You are the leader of the government of a proletarian dictatorship without a proletariat! You are the leader of the communist party but not of the proletariat!

Contrary to comrade Lenin, his colleague on the central committee and the political bureau, Kamenev, has quite another opinion. He sees the proletariat everywhere. He said: "1) The balance sheet of the conquest of October is that the organised working class as a whole has at its disposal the immense riches of all domestic industry, transport, timber, mining, let alone political power. 2) Socialised industry is the principal possession of the proletariat", etc. etc. One can cite many other examples. Kamenev sees the proletariat in the functionaries who, since Moscow, have set themselves up through bureaucratic channels and he himself is, according to his own opinion, much more proletarian than no matter what worker. When talking about the proletariat, he doesn't say: "THEM", but "WE, the proletariat..." Too many proletarians of the Kamenev type participate in the management of the popular economy; that's why he comes on like a proletarian with strange speeches about proletarian democracy and the participation of the proletariat in economic management! "Please" says Kamenev, "what are you talking about? Are we not the proletariat, a proletariat organised as a compact unity, as a class?"

Comrade Lenin considers all discussion on the participation of the proletariat in the management of the popular economy as useless chatter because there is no proletariat; Kamenev is of the same opinion, but because the proletariat "as a compact unity, as a class" already governs the country and the economy since all the bureaucrats are considered by him as proletarians. They, naturally, are in agreement and, already on some points, they particularly understand each other well because since the October revolution Kamenev has entered into a contract not to take a position against comrade Lenin and not to contradict him. They agree on the fact that the proletariat exists - naturally not only the one seen by Kamenev - but also on the fact that it's low level of preparation, its material condition, its political ignorance dictates "that the geese are kept far away from the economy with a big stick". And in reality that is what has happened.

Comrade Lenin has here applied the fable in a rather improper fashion. The geese of Krylov cried that their ancestors saved Rome (their ancestors, comrade Lenin) whereas the working class doesn't talk of its ancestors but of itself, because it (the working class, comrade Lenin) has accomplished the social revolution and from this fact it wants to control the country and the economy itself. But comrade Lenin has taken the working class for Krylov's geese and waving his stick, he says to it: "Leave your ancestors in peace! You, on the other hand, what have you done?" What can the proletariat respond to comrade Lenin?

You can calmly threaten us with a stick, we will however say loud and clear that the coherent and unhesitating realisation of proletarian democracy is today a necessity that the Russian proletarian class feels to its very marrow; because it is a force. Come what may, but the devil will not always be at the door of the poor worker.