Karl Radek

In Soviet Russia

The New Economic Policy and
the Dictatorship of the Proletariat

(18 August 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 70, 18 August 1922, pp. 528–529.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2020). 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.

The Conference of the C.P.R. which met a few days ago will, without doubt, devote a great part of its time to the report of Comrade Zinoviev, dealing with, “the new methods of organization employed by the forces and elements hostile to Soviet Russia”. This long title is but a roundabout way of defining the attitude of the proletarian dictatorship towards the political effects of the new economic policy today, – the most important problem before the C.P.R.

The Mensheviki of all shades (from Martov and Dan to Paul Levi) stoutly maintained that, once the economic structure at home and the situation abroad had compelled the Soviet Power to grant the bourgeoisie economic concessions, political concessions, would, according to all the rules of Marxism, follow in due course. The S.R.’s demand as a matter of course that the Constituent Assembly be convened. The Mensheviki are somewhat more modest; for the time being they do not mention the Assembly but would be satisfied with freedom of movement for the so-called labor parties, meaning the Mensheviki and the S.R’s, in order to enable these “democratic parties” to prepare the road for the advent of a democratic regime, meaning the dictatorship of capitalism. When taking the first step towards the new economic policy, the Communist Party of Russia told these intellectual “diehards” in so many words: my dears, things will never get that far. Existence determines consciousness and economics determine politics. But there are a number of intermediary links between existence and consciousness. The economic basis creates for itself a superstructure corresponding to it. There is no saying, however, when it will do so. In many countries the economic basis of capitalism existed underneath a feudalist superstructure. And even if the new economic policy in Russia were to bring forth a purely capitalist economic basis, that does not mean that this basis would within a short time produce a bourgeois political superstructure. It merely follows that a struggle will ensue between the capitalist economic basis upon which the bourgeoisie rests, and the political regime of the working class. The outcome of this struggle depends on the development of the international political situation within the next few decades. The question is whether the bourgeoisie will prove victorious in Europe (and thus help the Russian bourgeoisie to attain a victory also) or whether the proletariat will gain the upper hand and thus assist the Russian working-class to build up its economy on a Socialist basis.

The question could be formulated in this way, even if the new economic policy would be merely a restoration of capitalism. But it is not! The free trade inaugurated by the new economic policy will facilitate the development of Russian agriculture, the basis of all industrial evolution In the large scale industry the new economic policy does not restore the principle of private ownership of the means of production; it merely leases these means, and only in certain branches of industry. The most important branches of industry must remain in the hands of the proletarian state. From this it follows again, that the economic basis of Socialism is being strengthened simultaneously with the restoration of the bourgeoisie. This tends to heighten the prospects of the proletariat to maintain its power, even if the victory of the world proletariat fails to materialize soon. It is just this policy which will produce the preliminary conditions for the real establishment of Socialism in the future. It goes without saying that programmatical declarations of party conferences avail nothing in this struggle, which must be fought to the end by the Soviet Government an the one side, and both Russian and foreign capital on the other. Victory will be ours in this battle, if we understand to defend ourselves against the attempts of foreign capital to compel Soviet Russia to restore capitalism and extort from it a gigantic tribute. Victory, I say, will be ours, if we understand, not in words only, but in deeds as well, to adopt commercial methods; if we can successfully compete with private industry in the struggle for raw material. To repeat: the Marxian principle that politics are determined by economics, far from demanding that the C.P., having inaugurated the new economic policy should renounce the dictatorship of the proletariat, brings home the fact that that dictatorship with the C.P. at its helm must, as heretofore, remain a weapon in the struggle for Socialism.

During the period of intervention and open civil war, when the bourgeoisie bore arms against us, we were compelled not only to suppress it, but to crush it. In order to do this, we had to dismember it economically and destroy its whole economic apparatus, even if we could have used it for our own economic ends. Every store where a bourgeois could have received visitors or could have gotten into communication with his fellow-bourgeois over the telephone, would have provided a stronghold for plotting white guards of all shades and creeds. And although this danger is not yet quite past, it has been considerably minimized. In the period of civil war, and intervention, the whole country was a source of supply for the front; its condition determined the fate of our army. Counter-revolutionary conspiracies are possible (and dangerous) even today, but they could never inflict upon us irreparable losses. Today it is only a question of the bourgeoisie trying to use the economic position it has gained, for gradual political organizations. It follows that we must prevent the bourgeoisie from organizing its forces on the political field, in the same ratio as we give it some breath on the economic field. Under no circumstances, however, must we interfere with the process of economic reconstruction, although that process at times assumes capitalist forms. While in 1919, the struggle against the bourgeoisie and its agents was quite simple and could be carried on by the Tcheka, it now confronts us with very complicated tasks. The economic process in the country necessitates expert administration which the Communists alone are not capable of providing. For this reason, the publication of non-communist literature, if only dealing with economic matters, must be licensed. There can, however, be no doubt that in the course of development the bourgeoisie will try to concentrate all its ideological forces on that field and establish capitalist propaganda organs with 5 columns of bourgeois political propaganda to every column of abstract and scientific matter. This will be done not only by the Mensheviki in the trade unions, the S.R.’s and the Cadets in the cooperatives, but even by the dyed-in-the-wool Octobrists, in our trusts and other economic institutions. A perusal of the numerous non-Communist organs published lately is rather interesting. All of them carry the announcements of our trusts and of the government bank, thus bearing witness to the methods by which the bourgeois experts in our economic institutions attempt to give material assistance to the various ideological and political groups. Intelligence, quick perception and a sound sense of judgment constitute the necessary experience of the proletarians carrying on the struggle against all these new features. There should be no hasty interference, no wholesale prohibitions. That which is useful must be supported, and that which is harmful, eliminated. Apart from these tasks of the juridical executive or of the state political administration, the former Tcheka, we must launch a vigorous ideological campaign against the new concrete aspects of the bourgeois ideology. As we must compete with private capital in the economic field, we are compelled to compete with it in the ideological domain as well, and not merely rely on the possibility of prohibiting these features. That is just the point; we cannot prohibit everything.

It is to the credit of Comrade Zinoviev that he drew the attention of the Party to these problems which render fresh efforts essential. No time should be lost in concentrating large forces on the new ideological front and in training new intellectual forces for the forthcoming struggles. It will, no doubt, be difficult, and necessitate tremendous efforts, but it will be worth our while, tending as it does to steel the frame of the Party and harden its intellectual forces. The struggle must be fought on the offensive from the very beginning. Everything that has so far been done in this direction was to point out the danger and even retreat before it. We must organize our intellectual forces and provide scientific literature together with corresponding militant organs.

This ideological offensive is quite feasible, because even if we were compelled in Russia to call a temporary economic retreat (thus providing our antagonists with occasion to babble about the failure of Communism), the fact remains that, on an international scale, the bourgeoisie is nearing its complete economic and ideological collapse.

Last updated on 5 May 2020