Karl Radek


Is the Russian Revolution
a Bourgeois Revolution?

(16 December 1921)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 1 No. 17, 16 December 1921, pp. 137–138.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2019). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.


In April 1918, in a speech by comrade Lenin, the Soviet government attempted to define our next tasks and to point out the way which we now designate as “The new economic policy”. It attempted to conclude agreements with the capitalists and to transform private capitalism into capitalism controlled by the proletarian state. Comrade Lenin said that we must learn from the trust kings how to reconstruct our industries. At the same time the Soviet government had to act in just the opposite manner in the country, where the prerequisites for Socialism were not present. In order to obtain grain it had to arm the workers and the village poor, and to form village committees against rent-profiteering. Capitalism which had been destroyed by the war had not left us sufficient means for the exchange of manufactured articles for grain. The Soviet government was not yet sufficiently fortified, and was in control of too weak a machine to be able to get grain by means of the tax in kind. The peasants, who had thrown off the yoke of the large landowners, the Czar and the bourgeoisie with the aid of the workers, wanted no restrictions set upon their freedom. They desired a free stateless life, with no obligations to the workers’ and peasants’ government. The grain producers were willing to exchange their grain only for the greatest possible part of those goods which were still in the country; this would have injured the state, the working-class and the poor villagers.

But the third class, the bourgeoisie did not want to hear of limitations either. It refused to accept the compromise with the Soviet government, as offered by Lenin in 1918. With the aid of the world bourgeoisie, it had begun the fight for life against Soviet Russia. During the summer of 1918 the united Russian bourgeoisie declared at one time to Lithuania, another time to Poland, a third time to Esthonia, then to the Ukraine and Germany respectively, that thanks to the protection of German imperialism it was not compelled to accept the compromise, with the Soviet government. After the Czecho-Slovak uprising, particularly after the Allies had defeated Germany, the Russian bourgeoisie, basing its hopes upon aid from the Allies, started the most bitter struggle against the Soviet government. It refused to lease its enterprises because it hoped to retain them as its property. In order to make it possible, therefore, to carry out the new economic policy, it was necessary to knock the bourgeoisie down not only in law but in fact. It had to be knocked on the head in a two years’ war.

We had to prove to the bourgeoisie and to world capital that the Russian industries belonged to the proletarian state and not the bourgeoisie. We had to do this before we could make use of the bourgeoisie in the further development of production. The war inevitably brought about a complete nationalization. This nationalization was brought about not only by the necessity of destroying the ruling class and ending its political power, which was based upon economic power; we had to nationalize for other reasons also. We had to nationalize because it would otherwise have been impossible to carry on the war begun by the bourgeoisie. Our unlimited centralization was nothing more than the stripping of the whole country in order to obtain all the industrial products necessary for carrying on war. As comrade Lenin rightly states in his pamphlet on the tax in kind, the military measures led to military Communism in the cities, and to requisitioning in the country, that, is to grain-plundering for the support of the army and the cities, was there any other possibility of getting a sufficient amount of metal and of grain which we needed for the war? We could not possibly have left our limited stores of manufactured goods to the discretion of the speculators. And how could we possibly have left grain to be taken care of by the tax in kind, when we lacked the necessary government apparatus for computing this tax correctly? The grain stores of Central Russia (until 1919 Siberia and the Ukraine did not belong to us) were so small that it was not possible to obtain any surplus whatever; moreover the peasants could receive nothing in return for this surplus on the free market, if there was any, because all the manufactured goods were confiscated.

Outside of the political, strategic and economic necessity, for the policy of war Communism, there was another social-psychological factor. If even at the beginning of the revolution the victor-class could not leave the material sources in the hands of their enemy and thus enable the bourgeoisie to lead a life of luxury in a legal manner, how then could the proletariat have possibly done this at a time when Russia was one big battlefield, when the workers and peasants had to undergo so much suffering in order to be victorious in their fight against the bourgeoisie? Was it possible, at a time when the hungry and freezing women workers were sewing coats for the army day and night and under poor light, to permit beautifully lit and rich displays in the stores to mock the suffering fighters by showing them how well the bourgeoisie lived and enjoyed life? This was impossible! The Soviet government had to institute the Spartan manner of living, because it was the only one which corresponded to the gray soldier coat of Soviet Russia.

War Communism was a contradiction to the structure of Russia and its economic relations. War Communism was a contradiction as far as the land was concerned; in the cities, however, the possibility of success was not altogether excluded. If the world revolution had come as early as 1919, before the disarming of the European working-class took place, or even in 1920, during our advance towards Warsaw, the reconstruction of the Russian large industries as a whole on the basis of state ownership and according to our economic plans would not have been historically impossible. The Soviet government could then have thought of retaining the large industries as a whole in its own hands, because it could have received the necessary machines from the European workers. Even in case the world revolution had not been victorious on a European scale, even if we had only conquered Poland and then stood armed at the gates of Germany, it would not have been altogether impossible to force the bourgeoisie to accept a compromise with us after we would have gotten the means of production from the world bourgeoisie for our state industries in European Russia, in return for concessions in the bordering regions of Russia – Siberia. Caucasus and Turkestan – and for the right to develop production in these distant regions on the basis of concessions.

What would then have been the social relations in Russia under such circumstances? All the industries and means of transportation would have been in the hands of the workers. The land would have been in the hands of the peasants. The reconstructed industries would have made it possible for the proletariat to relinquish the requisitions in the country, and to receive grain partly through the tax in kind and partly by exchanging goods with the state industries. This would have been no Communism, but it would have been the most significant step in the transition towards Socialism; it would have led the way towards great progress in electrification, and towards creating the necessary conditions for the advance of the peasantry towards a higher collectivistic system of production.

In this we did not succeed. The long drawn-out civil war has weakened us economically. Now that it is at an end, we cannot proceed in industrial production although our compromise with the world bourgeoisie is advantageous to us. The uncertainty of our foreign relations gave the bourgeoisie the opportunity of getting greater concessions from us and of starting the negotiations for concessions under conditions which were less favorable to us. We must therefore first permit the restoration of the small and middle sized industries on the basis of lease. This will of course restore a part of the Russian bourgeoisie. We are compelled to grant concessions under less favorable conditions. We must grant concessions in Central Russia; we must permit foreign capital to start those factories running which are already there, instead of developing those productive sources which have net yet been used. Our present task is to retain the main industrial undertakings in the hands of the workers’ government. We are consciously preparing ourselves for co-operating with the bourgeoisie; this is undoubtedly dangerous to the existence of the Soviet government, because the latter loses the monopoly on industrial production as against the peasantry.

Does not this signify the decisive victory of Capitalism? May we not then speak of our revolution as having lost its revolutionary character? Were all our efforts and the whole three years’ struggle a futile sacrifice?

We shall begin with this last question. The whole course of development has shown that the bourgeoisie would not have had to become our lessees, if we had not beaten them on the economic field, if we had not expropriated them, because they were owners of the means of production. If we had not beaten them there would be no talk of concessions. But if as we have said, our economic policy of 1920 was necessary for our victory, it was also a necessary condition for our new economic policy.

How has our new economic policy affected class relations? In the country, our policy of requisitioning could only have been a transition policy. Even in case the world proletariat had been victorious we would have relinquished it. On the industrial field our present concessions are only temporary transition concessions; by this we certainly do not mean that at the end of a year we shall again confiscate the newly accumulated goods. Our economic policy is based upon a longer period of time, but it is a transition policy nevertheless. Our goal remains the same – the industries in the hands of the workers’ government. But just at present the government industries constitute only a part of the total industries; they only form a narrow foundation for the proletarian government. What does that mean? It means that we have retreated; that we are holding those positions only which are necessary to maintain the power of the workers and peasants.

Does that signify that the revolution is a non-Socialist one? No! It only signifies that the victorious working-class is not able to carry out its program completely, not even that program which in Russia, a petty-bourgeois country, seems theoretically possible. But the class which must retreat because of the great resistance of the other classes, in our case because of the resistance of world capitalism which is not yet overthrown, does not cease to be the victorious class, the ruling class. When the Czarist regime, which was a government of large landowners, was compelled to make concessions to capitalism, so that the bourgeoisie became the ruling economic class, Czarism itself did not cease to exist and the large landowning class did not cease to be the ruling political class; neither did Russia cease to be a country of half-serfdom. Should the bourgeoisie of Europe attempt to hinder the revolution by submitting to state capitalism and even to workers’ control, it will not cease to be the ruling class. We now come to the last question. It is not a question of the character of our revolution. The revolution was consummated by the working-class and will go down in the annals of history as a Socialist revolution, even though the Russian working class may temporarily be defeated. We are rather speaking of the outcome, the result of the revolution.

Will the Bolsheviki retain their power under the conditions of the partial restoration of capitalism and the production of goods by the peasants? Our enemies point out that economic relations determine the political ones, and that economic concessions like the ones we grant to the bourgeoisie, must lead to political concessions.

This so-called Marxian ABC has nothing in common with Marxism, because it is abstract and considers neither time nor space. Should world capitalism constantly gain power in the course of many years, and the revolution constantly weaken, then the working-class must in the long run be defeated. But when a large landowning class in Russia made economic concessions to the bourgeoisie, it nevertheless continued in power for quite a long time. It is true that the economic concessions were followed by political concessions and finally by the capitulation of the large landowning class. But the reason for this lies in the fact that the large landowning class was the end of a decaying branch of development; it was a dying class. From this point of view the bourgeoisie is the historically deteriorating, dying class. That is why the working-class of Russia can refuse to make political concessions to the bourgeoisie; since it is justified in hoping that its power will grow on a national and international scale more quickly than will the power of the Russian bourgeoisie.

The history of the Russian revolution establishes the fact that it was the first Socialist and the first proletarian revolution. It is a proletarian revolution in a petty bourgeois country. For this reason it will distinguish itself from the proletarian revolutions in countries like England and America by the fact that after a long struggle followed by the seizure of power the working-class of these countries will be able to carry out their programs much more quickly than we have been. Ours is a proletarian revolution, which under unfavorable inner and outer conditions, advances like every other revolution. But it is a proletarian, a Socialist revolution; the tradition of October is the program of the world revolution.

October is not the anniversary of the Comedy of Errors in which, as the Mensheviki claim, the working class unconsciously became the tool of another class. It is the anniversary of the beginning of the great international proletarian revolution. Even now when we are fighting in our defensive positions, we count the sacrifices of our struggle and can say with absolute conviction and ease, “We followed the right road in October and the victory is ours”.

Last updated on 5 May 2018

Last updated on 5 May 2018