Karl Radek

Capitalist Slavery
Socialist Organisation of Labour


Karl Radek, Capitalist Slavery Versus Socialist Organisation of Labour, 1931.
Published: Centrisdat, Moscow, USSR, 1931.
Transcribed by Brian Reid.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.


When the leaders of the capitalist trusts, and the representatives of the capitalist parties existing on the money furnished by those trusts, when the mercenary bourgeois press is now raising a savage hue and cry about alleged slavery in the Soviet Union, – all this appears to be something extraordinary only to those who are not familiar with the history of Socialism. Of tremendous significance, of course, is the fact that just now the slogan of the campaign against “Soviet slavery” has been put forth with such vigor. By means of this slogan the wirepullers of world imperialism are trying to enlist the support of trade union workers, to impose the idea upon the minds of the backward masses of the workers that their wages, which have already reached a very low level, are further menaced by the competition of “Cheap” soviet exports “Relying upon unpaid labour”. By means of this campaign the Die-Hards are trying to win over to their side the leaders of the trade unions, thus making it easy for the “Labour” Government in England to join hands with the open enemies of the USSR; to compel it to join openly in the preparations for military intervention that are carried on by the most influential circles of French imperialism. If they succeed in forcing an open deal between France and England against the USSR, it will be possible to compel also other countries to take part in these preparations.

As regards the ideological weapon raised against the Soviet Union by such enemies of slavery like the notorious Joynson Hicks or the Bishop of Durham, this weapon is as old as the struggle of the ideologies of Capitalism against Socialism.

In the very early days of Socialist literature, before the present labour movement started, or when it made its first steps, the ideologists of Capitalism – exponents of vulgar economics like McCulloch, Say, Fauchere, Schults-Delisch, and the rest of them – tried to prove, firstly, that the world can develop only upon the principles of private initiative, and, secondly, that if Socialism were victorious, it would mean a sort of modernised slavery, and would turn the whole world into on huge barrack.

When the labour movement grew, when the working class compelled the bourgeoisie to grant it the franchise, and Labour members began to appear in parliament, – the bourgeois spokesmen began then, in parliament, to provoke discussions as to what the Future state would look like. And their chief argument again was the assertion that Socialism would mean a barrack regime, a regime of coercion and the recrudescence of slavery. In answer to such arguments, Jules Guesde, Bebel, and the others said: “What Socialism will be like, is yet to be seen. But Socialism has not yet come. Meanwhile, let us see what capitalist liberty looks like”. And, as against the gloomy pictures of the future Socialist “slavery”, they drew a picture of capitalist “liberty”, which is liberty in name, but in reality, the enslavement of millions of toilers.

To-day, after 13 years of proletarian revolution, we possess already sufficient experience which allows us to see the main trends of development in the organisation of labour under Socialism, and the main forms of this organisation, far more clearly than they could be seen by the founders of Socialism. Besides, a mere perusal of the “Communist Manifesto” will suffice to show how the genius of Marx, and Engels foresaw the trend of development in the organisation of labour under Socialism. Marx and Engels, outlining the transitional measures of the socialist revolution, indicated (as a general measure No 7) the “Increasing of the number of state owned factories and means of production, the cultivation and improvement of the land under a general plan.” And, in point No 8, they urged “Equal labouring duty for all, the establishment of industrial armies, particularly for agriculture”. Thus we find that the founders of modern Socialism were already the heralds of the “slavery” of which we are accused to-day by such champions of liberty as the representatives of British and French imperialism.

Thus, the USSR is carrying out the tasks that were outlined by the proletariat, through its best exponents, from the very beginning of its revolutionary movement. And the exponents of Capitalism, in the fight against the proletarian revolution that is carrying out the behests of its teachers, could find no other arguments than those used by capitalist advocates in the very early days of the socialist movement. Our present quarrel with the Joynson-Hickses and the Bishops of Durham will be settled by tremendous class fights. No one will convince the Bishop Durham and his employers; neither is it our intention to convince them by tracing the history of his quarrel in the course of a century. Nevertheless, the history of this quarrel will afford us the best means of approaching those wavering, backward elements of the labour movement, at whom the campaign of the bishops of Durham is mainly directed. The idea of Liberty has been polluted by Capitalism; it is outraged, day by day, by the facts of the ecomonic enslavement of the proletariat, of the sterisation of the bourgeois democracy in some countries, and of the sway of fascism in others; nevertheless, it is the last idea clutched by the bourgeoisie in the attempt to retain control over the wavering and backward elements of the working class. For the sake of these elements, it is important to trace this quarrel between Socialism and Capitalism, which is more than a century old, in the light of a thorough-going historical retrospect.


In his historic work, The condition of the working class in England, Engels wrote in 1844:

“Both legally and actually, the worker is the slave of the possessing class, the bourgeoisie; so much so that he is sold in the market like a commodity whose price is subject to rise and fall like that of any other commodity. If there is an increased demand for workers, their price goes up; if there is a decreased demand, the price goes down; if the demand has so decreased that a certain number of workers find no buyer of their labour-power, as ‘surplus stock’, then they have to lie in reserve, and thus earning no livelihood, they perish from starvation. For, to speak in terms of political economy, the money spent on their maintenance will not ‘reproduce itself’, will be money wasted, and no capitalist will thus invest his money. The whole difference from the old, avowed slavery, consists in that the modern worker is seemingly free; because he is not sold once and for all time, but by instalments, by the day, by the week, or by the year, and also because he is not sold by one owner to another, but is forced to sell himself; for, he is not the slave of one man, but of the whole possessing class. This means no substantial difference to him, and while this illusory liberty should afford him some amount of real liberty, there is, on the other hand, the further handicap in his present position that no one guarantees him the means of subsistence, and the bourgeoisie may any day deprive him of his employment and doom him to starvation, should it have no use for his labour nor for his existence.

On the other hand, to the bourgeoisie the present state of affairs is infinitely more advantageous than the old slavery. It may discharge its workpeople whenever it pleases, without losing thereby any capital investment for, generally, labour is now bought cheaper by the bourgeoisie than the cost of labour would be under the old slavery system, as it had been reassuringly calculated by Adam Smith”. (Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, quoted from Russian edition, 1928, pp.129-130).

This idea was further enlarged by Engels a few years later in his pamphlet, Principles of Communism, which constituted the first draft of the Communist Manifesto. He puts there the question, wherein do proletarians differ from slaves? And his answer is as follows:

“The slave is sold once and forever. The proletarian as to sell himself each day, and each hour. The slave is the property of his master, and already on account of the personal interest of the latter, enjoys an assured existence, however miserable. Each individual proletarian is, so to speak, the property of the whole bourgeois class. His labour is purchased only when required, and therefore, his existence is not assured. There is an assured existence only to the working class as a whole. The slave had no competition to contend with; the proletarian is subject to competition and price fluctuations. The slave is considered a thing, and not a member of bourgeois society. The proletarian is considered a person and a member of bourgeois society. The slave may live under better conditions than the proletarian, but the proletarian belongs to a society standing on a higher level of development, and is himself on a higher level than the slave. The slave may liberate himself by abolishing, among all the forms of private property, only that of slavery; whereas the proletarian can liberate himself only by abolishing private property in general”. (Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto, quoted from Russian edition, Moscow 1923, p.342).

We see that the comparison of the position of the working class under capitalism with that of the slaves, was not used by Engels as an agitational phrase. He studied both the analogy and the difference between these two forms of exploitation of the labour of others. Many years later Marx, in his chief scientific work in which every word was weighed, wrote the following on this subject: “Only the form in which surplus labour is squeezed out of the immediate producers – the workers – distinguishes the economic social formations; for instance, the society based on slavery from the society of hired labour”. (Das Kapital, German edition, 1921, Vol.1, p.169).

This appraisal of capitalist hired labour, which is distinguished only in form from that of slavery, does not constitute any peculiar feature of the Marxian doctrine. On the contrary, the whole of the socialist literature of all countries, prior to Marx and Engels, was based upon this appraisal. This idea, under various forms, is to be found not only in the works of all the socialist writers of England and France of the beginning of the 19th century, but even in the works of bourgeois writers like Carlyle, who, seeing all the horrors of the primitive accumulation of Capitalism, advanced this idea with great vigour in his book on Chartism, and in his magnificent work, Past and Present.

Of course, the people who exploit the working class do not recognise the correctness of this idea. In fact, while squeezing the labour out of the working class, they call themselves “patrons”. Yet, there cannot be even an attempt to disprove this analogy of Marx and Engels from the standpoint of Socialist theory, however opportunistic; because this would mean to deny the fact that the working class is an economically oppressed class, and if so, what need is there for Socialism, what need is there for the emancipation of the working class?


But, – will be the rejoinder of those who are socialists in name, but the servants of capitalism in practice, – scores of years have already elapsed since the time when Marx and Engels compared hired labour to slavery, and during those scores of years the development was not of those aspects in the condition of the working class which warranted Engels’ statement, in his Condition of the Working Class in England, that the modern wage-earner was worse off than the slave; there was rather the development – they will say – of those aspects of distinction from the state of slavery to which attention was drawn by Engels himself. For, even in his most popular pamphlets, Engels never departed from his principle of scientific fairness, and thus he stated that “the proletarian belongs to a society standing upon a higher level of development and is himself upon a higher level of development and is himself upon a higher level than the slave”; or that “the slave is considered a thing, not a member of the bourgeois society, whereas the proletarian is a person, a recognised member of the bourgeois society”.

This is the point that is invariably raised by the reformists. Thus, in 1914, upon the outbreak of the imperialist war, Ernst Heilmann, at that time the editor of a reformist newspaper in Chemnitz and one of the leading exponents of social-imperialism, now the chairman of the social-democratic group in the Prussian Landtag, printed a translation of the funeral oration of Pericles dedicated to the Athenian warriors who had fallen in the war against Sparta, a speech in which the leader of the slave-driving democracy lauded the dead, saying that although poor, they had sacrificed their lives for the fatherland as free citizens. I wrote then in a letter to Heilmann, to the provider of slaves for the modern slave-drivers: “The poor, but free Athenians died for the slave-driving democracy that had fed them at the expense of the slaves. What has that got to do with the proletarians dying for imperialism? Are they not themselves the slaves of capitalism? Not they are fed by the slave-drivers, but they are feeding the slave-driving capitalist bourgeois. You should rather recall a more appropriate example from the history of the Greek wars, when the Spartan slave-drivers, humiliated by defeat and unable to muster sufficient forces among their own class appealed to the slaves to go to war, promising them that if they would bravely fight for their masters, they should never come back as slaves. And when the Spartan slave-drivers, with the aid of their slaves, had regained their position on the battlefield, they exposed the slave warriors upon such sectors of the front from which they could never return alive. Thus the promise was kept: they did not come back as slaves”. In reply, I got a remarkable letter from Heilmann starting with the statement that the whole source of the controversy between us, the then revolutionary social-democrats, and them, the social-imperialists, consisted in that we considered the proletariat to be the slave of capitalism, while they did not.

The reformists cited two points supposed to prove that the proletariat was no longer in a state of slavery. 1) the growth of democracy and the extension of the political rights of the proletariat, and 2) that owing to the existence of the trade unions, owing to the political struggle of the proletariat, there was an improvement in the condition of the proletariat, wage increases, increased social insurance, and labour protection. After the war, the reformists added the growing participation of the proletariat in the management of industry, the introduction of the so-called “industrial democracy”.

Let us examine these proofs. It cannot be gain-said that the material condition of the proletariat, and primarily of the skilled workers, had risen during the period of the development of industrial capitalism and during the first years of the development of imperialism. There was a rise both in the quantity and quality of the food consumed by the factory workers in the advanced capitalist countries, particularly as regards the upper ranks of labour; there was an improvement in the housing conditions, and in cultural and educational opportunities. All this was effected at the price of despoiling the huge masses of natives in the colonies that were drawn into the capitalist cesspool. These processes were based upon the pauperised living conditions of large masses of workers who, even during that period of capitalist advance, never enjoyed a square meal, neither did they know of a cultured existence. Yet, despite the improvement in the conditions of the upper ranks of the working class, the share of the proletariat in the national income had decreased even in the more advanced capitalist countries.

Moreover, even that period of relative “prosperity” for limited groups of the working class came to an end already before the outbreak of the World War. Both in England and in the United States of America, the deterioration process of the condition of the working class had set in already before the war. As to the post-war period, it is a fact which cannot be challenged. It is admitted by bourgeois statisticians in America, in England, in Germany, and in Japan. At moments of highest “prosperity”; at moments of great achievement in the stabilisation of capitalism, the wages of the workers were only approaching the pre-war level, while there was an unheard of increase in the profits of the coal and iron kings, and of financial capital in general. Suffice it to mention the fact that all the capitalist countries are now setting aside huge portions of their budgets to the payment of interest on war loans, which means that the capitalists, without lifting a finger, are pocketing billions of money at the expense of the large masses of the people.

The reformist gentlemen triumphantly point to the statement made by Engels that when labour power, as a commodity, becomes unsalable and is laid up in stock, the worker has to die of starvation. Well, they say, is it so to-day? And they tell us about the existence of insurance against unemployment. Yes, in a number of countries the bourgeoisie was forced to introduce the system of unemployment insurance. Such is the case in countries where the proletariat forms a majority of the population, where the bourgeoisie is afraid lest the unemployed, suffering the pangs of hunger, join the Communist Party and throw off the yoke of capitalism. Only in countries like England and Germany, the bourgeoisie has paid a sort of ransom to the workers in the shape of paltry sums for the relief of the unemployed.

In those countries where the proletarian masses do not as yet reveal any revolutionary tendencies on a large scale, e.g. in America, or where the relative importance of the proletariat is lower than in England and in Germany, in view of the predominance of agriculture over industry, e.g. in France, in Italy, and in Poland, there is either no relief at all for unemployed workers or it amounts to a miserable pittance. Thus, in America where, according to bourgeois statistics, there are now over six million unemployed people, no relief whatsoever is given to the unemployed: while in France, in Italy, and in Poland, the amount of the relief is ridiculously inadequate. As to unemployment in Poland, there were quite shocking figures given out the other day in a speech by the social-fascist deputy Ciolkosz in the Polish Diet. He pointed out the fact that only one-fourth of the unemployed were getting relief, and that the relief was in the amount of half a dollar per month.

However, even in countries where the proletariat has won the benefits of State insurance against unemployment, e.g. in England and in Germany, the bourgeoisie has inaugurated a furious attack on this “luxury”. It asserts that it can no longer “maintain” the unemployed, that the insurance contributions are a heavy burden on accumulated capital and on the cost of production, thus diminishing the competitive ability of the manufacturers. The bourgeois press, all the bourgeois spokesman, including the most progressive amongst them, are screaming about the extravagant living of the proletariat, claiming that the few paltry shillings a week received, at best, by unemployed worker in the wealthiest capitalist countries (while he is not exempted from the payment of taxes and high housing rent, and has to buy everything on the market at high prices), that this constitutes an unheard of luxury which capitalism cannot afford. The proletarians of ancient society – says Marx – lived at the expense of that society, which relied on slave labour. Modern society lives at the expense of the hired labour of the proletarians. And this very society, which would not be able to live through a single day without exploiting the workers, turns around and says to the proletariat: “you will have to shift yourself, I can no longer afford to feed you”.

Therein lies the essence of the acute crisis through which world capitalism is now passing. It is losing the hope of bringing back the position which it occupied before the war. The industrialisation of the colonial countries, the rise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, – all this reduces the opportunities for imperialism to exploit the rest of the world that is capitalistically backward. Not only must the old privileges be withdrawn from the so-called aristocracy of labour, but even the already miserable wages of the masses of the workers in all countries have to be further cut down. The high rate of unemployment, which never fell below one million men in England during the whole of the post-war period, and which in America exceeded even the prewar rate, is an indication of the fact that huge masses of workers have become “superfluous” to capitalism. Even if the present crisis be settled, it cannot be followed by general prosperity, but rather by a protracted period of depression. Thirty million unemployed – this stupendous figure, which sends a thrill of horror through the minds of all the thoughtful capitalists, will perhaps for a time be diminished, but the unemployed army of many millions will remain, pressing down the scale in the labour market and causing even further deterioration of the condition of the proletariat.

The free labour market! Let the capitalist gentleman try to describe the modern labour market as a free market in which the worker is at liberty either to sell or to withhold his labour power. In the general commodity market we find that competition, although far from being destroyed, is nevertheless restricted by monopoly capitalism which dictates its prices through cartels and trusts, and which either extends or curtails production to suit its profit-hunting policy; the same we find in the labour market, which is equally under the control of monopoly capital. The very fact of the existence of cartels and trust leads to the result that the worker finds himself literally in the clutches of capitalism. The capitalist organisations have a system of black lists. The worker fighting for better conditions may find his name any day entered upon those black lists; he then loses all hope of securing a job in any big industrial establishment, which means he will have to eke out an existence by hawking small wares or by engaging in petty handcraft.

And what is the position of those workers who were lucky enough to find employment? All the capitalist countries are introducing the system of arbitration boards, which have the power to declare any strike illegal. It means that Labour, as a commodity, may not take advantage of the market situation to protect its own interests. Any attempt on the part of Labour to raise its price by withdrawing its commodity, labour power, from the market, may any day be declared to be a criminal action. In England, a “Labour” government enacts a law whereby the General Strike may be declared anti-constitutional. It means as much as to wrest from the hands of the Trade Unions their last weapon; for, the trustified and cartelised industrial interests can always forestall isolated strikes of the workers by declaring a general lockout, while the workers may not retaliate by declaring a general strike, as this would meet with legal repression on the part of the capitalist State.

At the time when Marx and Engels, vividly depicted the condition of the proletariat, accentuated its similarity with ancient slavery, Capitalism had only begun its course of development. How insignificant was the tying of the worker to the machine in the early part of the 19th century, in comparison with his being tied at present to the conveyor, which has indeed turned the worker into a mere cog in the wheels of machinery!

The pace of exploitation in the age of electric motors and conveyors, in comparison with the pace of the early part of the 19th century, is like the pace of the airplane compared, not to that of Stephenson’s engine, but to that of the peasant’s mare. Nowadays, a worker at the age of forty is already an old man, who is thrown out of the factory like a sucked orange.

And just because post-war Capitalism is abolishing the privileges that used to be enjoyed before the war by certain sections of Labour, while worsening the conditions of the proletariat in general; for this very reason, it is now giving up the democracy game. To be sure, the worker does not live outside of society, but within; or rather, society lives on his back. Yet, this society is just now engaged in wiping out all those democratic rights for which the workers have fought in the past. All national decisions of any consequence are now passed, not by parliament, but by secret conclaves of the ruling cliques, of the bankers and trust magnates. Such is the situation in all countries; while in those countries where Capitalism has sustained particularly severe shocks, the parliaments are either entirely destroyed, as in Italy where parliament has been replaced by an undisguised fascist dictatorship, or the rights of parliaments are reduced to nil, as is the case in Germany and in Poland.

As to industrial democracy, a subject on which the social-democratic gentry was fond of prattling, but a few years ago, it has now ceased to be even a topic of debate. They now say themselves that it is no longer a question of growing fact, but merely of staying alive; that all they have to strive for at present, is to retain at least the position which exists.

While Marx and Engels characterised the condition of the proletariat under capitalism as a form of exploitation that does not differ from slavery in substance, the condition of the proletariat in the period of moribund capitalism is daily becoming more and more identical with the condition of slaves. In the midst of untold wealth, millions upon millions of people are starving in the civilised capitalist countries, not to speak of the millions who literally die from hunger in the colonial countries ruined by capitalism. The worker is tied to the machine which allows him not a single moment for thoughtful reflection, for human sentiments. He comes back from the factory, completely worn out and incapable of anything else than to stagger into the “movie” or the public-house. He is not individually owned as a slave, but as a class, he is collectively enmeshed in the huge capitalist machine, which ruthlessly crushes him and breaks his bones at the least attempt of resistance. The capitalist State becomes not merely the organ of domination over the working class, but it becomes the organ of civil war; because the worker does not want to remain the slave of the capitalists.

The representatives of this moribund capitalism, the representatives of the slave-owning states, are now appealing for a campaign against alleged slavery in the USSR. We accept their challenge, and without concealing anything, we shall draw a picture of the basic lines of the development of the working class in the USSR, and of the socialistic organisation of labour. Let us see whether the capitalist press will have the pluck to give equal publicity to our reply as we are giving to their attacks on us.


Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is a book containing the best reflection of the social ideal of a bourgeoisie in its prime, confident of its youthful vigor. It is the story of a man who was thrown upon an uninhabited island and by all his own efforts created for himself a more or less cultured existence. The moral of the story is: rely upon your own efforts, and a way out will always be found; such was the philosophy of the young English bourgeoisie. Its exponents did not recognise the existence of society as such. To them society is an agglomeration of self-reliant individuals, whose actions depend solely upon their own individual qualities. Consequently, to bourgeois ideology there is nothing more outlandish than the principle on which our soviet constitution is based, the principle that every member of society shall be obliged to work.

Yet, a closer look at the life of the esteemed Mr. Crusoe on his uninhabited island will show that the bourgeois ideal of labour as a personal matter was fully contradictory to the realities even of the epoch when the great Defoe expressed this ideal in pictures which lured the imagination of mankind in the course of centuries. For, Robinson Crusoe landed upon the island fully dressed; from the shipwreck he had salvage tools, arms, and munitions; in a word, he started upon his career, equipped by society. Moreover, he subjugated unto himself another man named Friday, whom he taught not only scripture, but also to address “master” and to work for him. It was, in fact, a class society in which Friday, on his part, invested his ability of the savage to adapt himself to the circumstances, and also his acquaintance with habits of the animal life of the island. And as soon as Friday and his master had jointly organised their labour upon the island, they no longer considered it as the personal matter of each of them individually, but as their common concern.

It might be said that, since Robinson was more civilised than Friday, he became the master, i.e. the organiser of labour. From this the deduction is made by the master class that they are going to be the masters for ever and anon, as the “more civilised”, and that “therefore” they were simply appointed by history to be the masters. This illusion of the bourgeoisie has been gradually shattered by the 13 years of Revolution in Russia, and by the revolutionary struggle of the workers in other countries. In the first place, the bourgeoisie no longer directly superintends the process of production. This is done by hired engineers, directors, and technical managers, who do not own the works which they superintend. Secondly, not only has the bourgeoisie forfeited its monopoly of superior knowledge, but it has become a hindrance to the development of human knowledge. Suffice it to mention the simple fact that, had the dialectical method been applied to natural science in a deliberate manner for the last 20-30 years, our modern technique would have reached a far higher level than it has actually attained. But the bourgeoisie was afraid to admit dialectic materialism into its schools, because it teaches the inevitable doom of the bourgeoisie. Natural science and technics are passing through a profound crisis which is only the expression of the fact that the bourgeoisie has generally become an element that obstructs the development of the forces of production.

At all events, whatever view one may have as to the claim of the world bourgeoisie to the exclusive right to control the organisation of human labour, the fact remains, and it is this: the plain example of a society composed of two men – Robinson and Friday – conclusively shows that even in such a small society, labour cannot be a personal matter, for upon it depends the very life of the society. Since social life exists – and it has been in existence upon our planet much longer than the life of individuals – the question of labour organisation constitutes a social question. Whether in the primitive commune, or in a feudal society, or in a society based on slavery, or in a capitalist society, the great majority of the members of the society have to work. In the primitive community they had worked voluntarily, obedient to laws which expressed the common interests; everybody had worked, except the aged, the children, and the sick. In class societies, not everybody works. The ruling class shirks work, compelling other people to work for them, while they govern the exploited masses. But to the majority of the population, labour is always a social duty. The slave, the peasant serf, or the worker refusing to bow to this necessity, would quickly be brought back to reason by the ruling class. That the labour of the slaves, or of the peasant serfs was not free labour, is now admitted by the bourgeoisie. Yet, it was argued by the ideologists of slavery and serfdom, respectively, that the slave was quite happy and contended with his lot. When the day came for the abolition of slavery in America, it was argued by the slave-owners, in a whole number of theoretical volumes, that the lot of the slave was tenfold better than that of the worker under capitalism. And there is no need to dwell here at any length upon the fact that there is no difference whatever between the present attempts of bourgeois apologists to represent capitalist exploitation of the proletariat as free labour, and the attempts of the slave-owners to represent the slave as happy and contented with his grinding toil. That the capitalist system of hired labour is but another form of slavery, is already realised even by the slaves themselves. Thus, an Englishman, Mr. Tucker, who lived 18 years in Uganda, narrates in his book the statement made by an African native who had returned from England: “The English are the same slaves as ourselves. They are compelled to work by hunger; and we, by our masters”. (Tucker, Eighteen Years in Uganda, London, 1908).

Socialism has always considered labour as the foundation for the existence of society. Socialism always set before itself the task, not only to emancipate the industrious society from the landlord and capitalist elements which had seized the means of production and used them for the exploitation of the labour of others, but it was also the socialist aim to replace the chaotic organisation of labour as it exists under capitalism, by an organisation which shall suit the needs of society. When, under capitalism, there were gold mines discovered in California, or in South Africa, or in Siberia, the capitalists started a scramble for the possession of those mines. There was a chaotic rush of gold seekers from all countries, of adventurers who came there, not because the development of the gold mines was necessary to society, but simply because they wanted to get rich quickly. When new branches of industry arise, they attract labour power by offering higher wages, withdrawing labour power from other branches of industry, regardless of whether or not, they are socially more necessary. Socialism, having for its aim the nationalisation of industry, and the collectivisation of agriculture, i.e. the handing over to society of the means of production, was bound also to take up the aim of the organisation of labour; for, obviously, the successful operation of the forces of production owned by society, and the planning of production, presupposes systematic planning in the allocation of labour power, and systematic planning as regards its mobilisation and training.

It is for this very reason that our Constitution so clearly and definitely announces the principle of the duty of every citizen to do useful work. When the champions of moribund capitalism yell: “Aha! they confess!”, we reply: and where you, gentlemen, at least during these 13 years of Revolution, while we were advocating our ideas so clearly and outspokenly, by word and deed, that even Mr. Joynson Hicks should have learned them. Had that gentleman, formerly the House Secretary of England, perused even the most popular pamphlets issued by the Communist Party of Great Britain, instead of hunting for Soviet mysteries in locked safes, he would have learned long ago that we do consider labour to be obligatory for every member of society, and that if the English Communists will be called upon to organise English society upon new foundations, they will also have to see to it that even such a drone, like Joynson Hicks, shall be taught to perform some socially-useful labour.

If the SDF did show signs of sectarianism, it would be easily explained by the English conditions, which retarded the rise of a broad Labour movement, thereby forcing a sectarian character on the work of the Federation, which was limited to small groups, and calling forth sectarian views in some of its members. In general, if signs of sectarianism do appear in a Socialist Party, these are only the products of the absence of a broad Labour movement in the country. There is no antagonism – here broad Labour movement, there Marxist sect – but where a “broad” Labour Party is possible, there a consistent Marxian mass-party can arise. And we think we are not mistaken in prophesying that the Social-Democratic Party of England is progressing towards a healthy development, if it continues its energetic, consistent, Social-Democratic policy, without letting itself in for the policy of alliances.


Socialism in general, and modern Communism in particular, have always advocated obligatory labour for every member of society. The capitalists, and their henchmen, shouted that we wanted to introduce compulsory labour. With them it was not merely a propagandist trick calculated to conjure up a picture of Communism in the shape of a huge barrack. Many of them sincerely believed it to be so. In 1919 I happened to converse, in a German prison, with the late Walter Rathenau, one of the wisest representatives of the German bourgeoisie, about the outlook for the economic development under Soviets. I read then to him an article by Lenin, entitled The Great Start, which I had received via Scandinavia. Rathenau, listening to a translation of that article (I had translated it for the German workers), shook his head dubiously. “You have never done any physical work”, he said to me. “I am an engineer, I have gone through the mill having been employed as a worker before I was placed in control of the General Electrical Company. No one, unless compelled by hunger or by cruel coercion, will go down to work in the mine, to crawl on his stomach and to brave the dangers which surrounded him there. If you will really eliminate the old capitalists, you will be constrained to handle the workers with no kid gloves on, that is, you will have to create a whole hierarchy of officials to spur the workers. There is no such thing as voluntary labour. There are but very few people capable of such sacrifice.”

Capitalism has placed upon the backs of the working class the whole burden of labour and has deprived it of all the joys of life; now the capitalist cannot imagine labour in any other way than under brutal compulsion. Lenin’s words to the effect that “the Communist organisation of social labour is supported, and such support will be bound to grow in steady progression, by the free and class-conscious discipline of the workers themselves, who have overthrown the yoke of the both the landlords and the capitalists”; the assertion by Lenin is a book under seven seals to the representatives of the capitalist class.

The slave-owners took the same view of slave labour that the capitalists are taking today of “free” capitalist labour, which is, that no one will work unless driven by hunger. The greatest philosopher of the slave-driving world, Aristotle, wrote that “the trades are akin to slavery; a man of honour, a man of social standing, a good citizen, should learn no trade; for he will cease then to be a gentleman, and the slaves will cease to be slaves”. Even the management of slaves was considered by Aristotle to be an unworthy pursuit for a freeman: “It contains in itself nothing beautiful, and nothing to excite respect. Gentlemen who can dispense with such worries, shift them on to their managers. For themselves they choose the pursuit of politics and philosophy”.

But it suffices to discard for a moment the eyeglasses of slavedriving ideology and ask oneself the question how, in a poverty-stricken country with a scarcity of housing, footwear, clothing, iron, coal, electric power, meat, etc. – how in such a country will grown up people fail to realise the necessity of coal getting, iron ore mining, steel smelting, and the construction of railways, so that they might begin to enjoy a decent human existence? To put this question is to answer it in the sense that not only do the capitalists slander the working class, but also that, owing to their psychology engendered by the exploitation of the labour of others, they are simply unable to comprehend the world that is being born here, in the Soviet Union.

Lenin did not indulge in Utopian dreams. He did not presume for one moment that all the members of society, freed from capitalism, would be equally willing to labour. “This new discipline”, be wrote in the aforesaid article dealing with the “great start” of the workers of the Kasan Railway who had organised the first “Subbotnik”, “does not fall down from the skies, neither is it born of good wishes. It grows out of the material conditions of big capitalistic production. It is the outcome of these conditions, without which it cannot be carried on. And the promoter of these material conditions is a definite historical class, created by organisation, soundly welded together, trained, enlightened, and graduated by the school of big capitalism. That class is the proletariat”. The proletariat, created under the old capitalist society, discards the corrupt notion inculcated by capitalism that labour was a personal matter, a mere means of earning wages. Having taken power, the proletariat realises that the question of labour organisation is the question which decides the maintenance of this power and the creation of the new order of society. And the class-conscious worker, after the same manner in which he had led the peasant through the Civil War, now made the “great historic start” for the creation of the new, voluntary labour discipline. Our worker has achieved miracles along this path. Not only has he succeeded in kindling the enthusiasm of young workers who hailed from proletarian families, the young proletarians vying with their elders for the best organisation of labour; but he is also daily increasing his lead of the masses of new workers of peasant stock that are newly coming from the rural districts.

As regards the first question, we consider the method of uniting-policy, “collecting-policy,” to be unsuitable, and to be dangerous to the Social-Democracy; as regards the second, we believe that whoever lets himself be taken captive by illusions on this point is riding, not the storm-wind, but the clouds, from which he might easily fall down into the current of a feeble opportunism.

A prominent American bourgeois publicist, Prof. Villard who paid a visit to Russia, has told the readers of The Nation; about a conversation he had with American engineers working in Stalingrad. The latter had told him “that peasants who came but yesterday from the village (I regret that I have to quote from memory, but I fully vouch for substantial accuracy – K.R.) had already ceased to consider their labour merely as a means for earning wages”. The American engineers were not certain whether this was Nationalism or Socialism, “but the fact was there, that the peasant of yesterday had begun to consider his labour as working for society, and not for himself only”.

It is not our desire, even for one moment, to embellish the reality. I should find this difficult; for, our newspapers are full of reports about idling and scamping, about lack of discipline, about specialists hankering for big salaries, etc. – all this is reported in order that we might cure these evils which threaten to check the speed of our industrial progress. Yet, can anyone who has only visited some of our factories, not at formal meetings, but at actual work, having conversed even with the most backward of our factory workers, – can he deny the fact that in each factory there is a solid nucleus of workers – reaching in some places as much as thirty per cent – who consider it a matter of personal honour to raise the productivity of labour to the utmost limits, and who are militating day by day for labour discipline and of increased productivity? These labour enthusiasts, these real pioneers of Socialism, can hardly be claimed to represent already the majority of our working class. But their presence, their example, are already producing a telling effect in the struggle against the morality of personal greed. The latter still persists among the backward workers, among the majority of those coming from rural districts, where the old tradition is that of “each one for himself”; but the old morality already feels the superiority of the new, and it dares not oppose it openly. It can only act on the sly, sabotaging the initiative of knights of the new Socialist morality in which the supreme law is to serve the whole class, to serve the cause of building Socialism.

Where the working class is erecting new, huge Socialistic factory premises, we find that along with the rise of the foundations and walls of the new premises, there are also springing up new workers, and their new morality. I should like to refer here to the story told by Comrade Koltsov (a prominent Soviet journalist. – Translator’s Note), how the mass of the workers on the Dnieprostroy took quick action to repair a bursting dam; how, as soon as the alarm was given, the whole mass of the workers rushed to the spot to save their own enterprise – Dnieprostroy, ere the local Party Committee and the local authorities had time to meet and decide as to what was to be done. Along with industrialisation, there grows up a new type of proletarians who have never been in the employ of private capital, who come to the factory at the call of society, which builds the factory. The interests of this factory become their very own. May the Kautskys (who try to misrepresent our “shock brigade” movement of millions of workers as mere showmanship, as the result of coercion) advise the capitalists to organise “shock brigades” and “socialist rivalry” movements. Mr. Kautsky wants to save Capitalism, he is working his hardest to further this aim; why should he not start a furious agitation for increased productivity in the factories to save Capitalism? Surely, the capitalists would subscribe millions of money for such a purpose. But Mr. Kautsky fully realises that nothing would come of it. The European worker increases his productivity only under pressure of the conveyer, under pressure of the menace to be thrown out of the factory. Voluntarily, he is not going to exert himself for the sake of saving Capitalism.

This is the reality observed day by day by ideologists of Capitalism and their henchmen, and for this very reason they cannot help thinking that obligatory labour must lead in practice to compulsory labour.

They pick out isolated cases where we have compulsory labour in this country, in order to make out a case as though our entire system of labour was based on compulsion. We never concealed the fact that we apply the method of compulsion to representatives of the class which has been overthrown. Thus, we eliminate the Kulaks as a class, upon the basis of the thorough collectivisation of the peasant farms. It is a fact which we never concealed, and which we consider to be a great gain to our country. But it is not at all our aim to cause the physical extermination of the exploiting classes.

Having conquered the power of State, we allow the tsarist ministers and the manufacturers to live; still less do we now desire the physical extermination of the fairly large stratum of Kulaks. Shall we confine the latter to prison cells? This is the kind of humanitarianism desired by the representatives of the European bourgeoisie. Even if it were possible to put thousands of people behind iron bars, the Socialist Government would not resort to such measures without absolute necessity. Our task is not the physical destruction of the Kulaks and of the representatives of the exploiting classes, but to compel them, under proper conditions, to take up a life of toil. Of course, before they have been drawn into this life of toil, before they have given up their dreams of restoration, we cannot allow them free motion, we cannot allow the possibility to go into our factories and collective farms and wreck our work from within. We place them upon remote sectors of the front, where they have to earn their livelihood by hard toil. Comrade Bergavinov has told us already, in his speech at the Congress of Soviets of the North, that out there, in the North, there are more voluntary workers employed from the ranks of the poor and middle peasants than from the ranks of the dispossessed Kulaks. The English engineers Stuart, a timber specialist representing important British firms, has testified in the Manchester Guardian that the conditions of our timber workers are not any worse than in Canada. And when the capitalist press (on account of the presence in the North of an insignificant percentage of deported Kulaks working there, who are paid union wages, and whose production is not at all for export trade) is trying to misrepresent our export trade as based on slave labour, it is a pure fabrication for which the timber speculaters of Finland and Sweden pay good money to gentlemen on the bourgeois press, and one should presume the labour of the latter to be not compulsory, but voluntary.

The Proletariat does not refrain from using compulsion even in regard to the more backward section of its own class, to those who are too slow in getting rid of the old habits of personal greed inherited from Capitalism. Comradeship courts, verdicts by general meetings of workers appealing to proletarian public opinion, – all these are means of compulsion which we do not repudiate for a single moment. We should be mighty glad if the overthrow of Capitalism in our country had done away at once with the capitalist greed morality and its attitude towards labour. Unfortunately, mass habits do persist, frequently lingering on for a long period after the disappearance of their original cause. The working class, building the new, better society, not for itself but for the whole of the people, for the great masses of the peasantry whose lot in the past was nothing except grinding toil, has the right to use this compulsion: because the working class uses this compulsion not in the interest of the minority, but in the interest of the general majority of the people, of which it is the vanguard.


The capitalist gentlemen, in raising a hue and cry about alleged compulsory labour in the USSR, and about the competition supposed to be menaced to European workers by cheap labour, are fully contradicting the whole of bourgeois economic science. Already in the 18th century the father of capitalist economics, Adam Smith, demonstrated the unprofitableness of slave labour. He pointed out that this backward form of labour, which excludes the application of modern technique, is so uneconomic that all slave labour societies invariably end in bankruptcy when coming into collision with hired labour and its competition. This was subsequently endorsed by all the English economists who studied the history of slavery, like Keyrns, Olmstead, Neighbour, and Ingram. All of us have been raised on the political economy of John Stuart Mill as regards this attitude towards slave labour. And suddenly, behold the employment of slave labour in USSR along with modern machinery! What can be the result? If it be slave labour, then it is incompatible with the use of modern machinery that needs affectionate care on the part of the working class, and skillful handling. No competition to Capitalism can come from slave labour.

In all probability, the wirepullers of the anti-Soviet campaign know quite well that all their fables are fabricated for the purpose of gulling the backward masses of the workers. In reality, they fear the competition of Soviet industry, and of Soviet agriculture, and consequently, their own economic bankruptcy as the result of the reduction of production costs in USSR owing to the triumph of the new technique, owing to the increased productivity of labour in our country. There can be no doubt whatever that the Socialist organisation of labour will yield a great reduction in the cost of production. Nevertheless, out of sheer human kindness, we must say to the capitalist gentlemen: Do not lose your heads, Sirs! Socialism wants to eat, to be clothed, to live not in hovels, and it increases the productivity of labour, it organizes its planned economy, not in order to boast its exports, to flood the markets with cheap products. Socialism will so increase the prosperity of the masses that it will afford only to export surplus goods in order to obtain from the capitalist world, if it will still be in existence, those commodities which it does not produce. For instance, Socialism likes chocolate, but cocoa beans do not grow in this country, and we shall be willing to sell you our rubber, the production of which we are taking up, in order to get your chocolate. During the transition period, when we particularly need imported machinery, we have to force our exports. Yet, export is not the governing principle of our economic development, but the governing consumption of commodities by the masses. This growth of consumption will be so tremendous that the development of our industrialisation will not decrease, but rather increase the purchasing capacity of the Soviet Union. Were it merely a question of consolidating the relations between the capitalist and the socialist sector of world economy, the two systems might yet for a long time live side by side, without pouncing upon each other.

The capitalist world will not perish on account of our competition. It will perish on account of the contradictions by which it is torn, and above all, of the contradictions as between the growing technique, the growing possibilities of production, and the position of which the proletariat is doomed by Capitalism. The industry of the capitalist world has now become socialised, from the point of view of production. The steel, oil, electricity, and chemical Trusts, which mobilise whole armies of workers, which subjugate millions of people to the dictates of a handful of billionaires, and which render ever worse the living conditions of those millions, are becoming, year by year, more and more intolerable to the consciousness of the masses of people. While the conditions of those masses will grow worse year by year, the conditions of the working class in the USSR will improve year by year, as the result of the Socialist organisation of labour. Despite the boycott of the capitalist world, we have achieved a level of wages in the USSR which is considerably higher than that of the pre-war period. We have achieved, further, that in the year of 1931 alone there will be 800 thousand young workers graduating from the industrial training schools, that scores of thousands of workers are attending our higher technical schools, and to-morrow they will be our proletarian engineers. We have reached a stage when we steadily increase the amount of expenditure on the building of decent human dwellings, while spending large sums on the educational requirements of the masses. Regardless of the tremendous difficulties with which we have to contend owning to the financial blockade of the capitalist world, owing to the struggle waged against us by members of the deposed class with the aid of foreign capitalists, – a struggle in which no means are scorned by our opponents, such as attempts at disorganising the food supply, or the fuel supply, including acts of downright treason against their native country, – regardless of all this, we find that the upward progress of our economic life is accompanied by the tremendous growth in the energy of the working class, by a growth of proletarian culture that is going to change the face of our entire country within a few years. We took up the collectivisation of agriculture, a task bristling with unprecedented difficulties, and demanding the greatest efforts of the working class. But collectivisation will give us millions of new workers, who will be for the first time using machinery, who will listen to radio transmissions, and will eagerly strive after the new life. We shall not conceal it from you, our capitalist friends of Europe, that you may become confronted with the uncomfortable comparison as between the position of the proletariat in USSR and that of the proletariat in he capitalist countries, such comparison being inevitable. But matters have advanced too far for you to be able to put off this possibility by means of military adventures. Thousands of worker delegations from abroad have visited the USSR. They saw how labour armies were formed to clear the forests; they saw how labour armies marched off into the deserts of Central Asia to build the Turkestan-Siberia Railway. They saw the great joy of the masses when hundreds of tractors attacked the virgin Steppe, which will next year be covered with wheat crops. They saw the enthusiasm with which workers are constructing the Dnieprostroy, Magnitogorsk, the Cheliabinsk tractor works, and so on. They have seen the Electrozavod built by the workers here, in Moscow.

If world Capitalism will attempt the destruction of our work by means of war, then all the tales about slave labour will be thrown to the winds. And the proletariat throughout the world will clearly see the glaring fact, that it is a war of the capitalist slave-drivers against nascent Socialism, against Socialism completing the erection of its foundation. The working class will not suffer from this war. It will make use of it to rise up against the capitalist world. As to the answer which the “Soviet slaves” will give you, about this there is no need to speak. Should the necessity arise, we shall demonstrate that answer to you in such a manner that the idea of subjugating the emancipated labour of the Soviet Union will be knocked out of your heads for ever and aye, that is, if there will be any heads left on you.

Last updated on 18.10.2011