Version Two, Communism and its Tactics by Sylvia Pankhurst
C. Zinoviev, at the Second Congress of the Third International in Moscow, introduced a Thesis, declaring that no attempt should be made to form Soviets prior to the outbreak of the revolutionary crisis. It was argued that, as such bodies would be powerless, or nearly so, their formation might bring the conception of the Soviets into proletarian contempt. The Thesis was adopted by the Congress, without discussion, and thereby became an axiom of the Third International.
This decision was of far-reaching significance: it meant that the Third International would no longer support the formation of Workshop Councils; and the building of an organisation upon the foundation of the Workshop Councils, taking in all workers in all industries with the revolutionary purpose of taking over and managing industry. At its inception the Third International had made much of the British Shop Stewards’ Movement, of wartime growth, believing it, on the strength of Government and Press denunciations, to be a genuinely revolutionary force. Now that the Third International had set its face against pre-revolutionary Soviets, it sought to damp down Workshop Council Movements in all countries. This was a logical part of the changed policy of the Third International, which has veered round from the attempt to create new industrial revolutionary organisations, to acceptance of the existing craft unions.
The question as to whether the mere borrowed term, Soviet, shall be reserved for use in the actual crisis of revolution is of small importance, though if not used previously it would probably miss being adopted as the slogan of the revolution.
The question of postponing the creation of the actual organisation till the hour of revolutionary crisis is, on the other hand, a fundamental one.
The idea expressed and insisted upon in the thesis of Zinoviev was that the Soviet must be a great mass movement, coming together in the electrical excitement of the crisis; the correctness of its structure; its actual Sovietness (to coin an adjective) being considered of secondary importance. A progressive growth, gradually branching out till the hour of crisis; a strong and well-tried organisation is not contemplated by the thesis. The need for a carefully conceived structure is ignored. Not organisation, but only propaganda for the Soviets is recommended.
Russia’s dual Revolution was an affair of spontaneous outbursts, with no adequate organisation behind it. The Trade Unions, always a feeble growth, were crushed by the Czardom at the outbreak of the Great War of 1914. The Revolutionary political parties could call for a revolution; but they could not carry it through; that was accomplished by the action of the revolutionary elements in the Army and Navy, in the workshops, on the railways, and on the land. That these revolutionaries at the point of production were mainly unorganised was a disability, not an advantage. In Russia the government, first of the Czar, then of Kerensky, crumbled readily under the popular assault. The disability arising from the disorganised state of the workers was not felt in its full weightiness until after the Soviet Government had been established. Then it was realised that, though the Soviets were supposed to have taken power, the Soviet structure had yet to be created and made to function. The structure is still incomplete: it has functioned hardly at all. Administration has largely been by Government departments, working often without the active, ready co-operation, sometimes even with the hostility of groups of workers who ought to have been taking a responsible share in administration. To this cause must largely be attributed Soviet Russia’s defeat on the economic front.