Christian Rakovsky


Power and the Russian Workers

(August 1928)

From The New International, Vol. I No. 4, November 1934, pp. 105–109.
Another translation entitled The “Professional Dangers” of Power appeared in Christian Rakovsky, Selected Writings on Opposition in the USSR 1923–30 (editor: Gus Fagan), Allison & Busby, London & New York, 1980.
Transcribed and marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Although written more than six years ago, Rakovsky’s letter is even more pertinent today. It deals with an aspect of the Russian revolution which no-one, to our knowledge, has yet attempted to submit to a detailed Marxian analysis: the effects of power as such upon a class and a party which have never exercised it before and which are handicapped by the additional disadvantages of a protracted isolation from governmental cooperation by culturally more developed nations and of a bureaucratic regime at home which deforms the proletarian character of the state. It is interesting to record, also, that Rakovsky himself capitulated recently to the regime and the morals which he so pitilessly lays bare in his letter. To its intrinsic value is thus added its interest as a self-condemnation! Rakovsky wrote it shortly after his expulsion from the Russian Communist party, together with thousands of other Oppositionists, and his exile to Astrakhan. It is addressed to another Oppositionist, Valentinov, who, prior to his own expulsion and exile, was the editor of Trud, the official daily newspaper of the All-Russian Council of Trade Unions. – ED.

Dear Comrade Valentinov:

IN YOUR Meditations on the Masses, dated July 8, you deal, by raising the question of the “activism” of the working class, with a fundamental question, that of the maintenance by the proletariat of its role of hegemony in our state. Although all the demands of the Opposition strive towards this goal, I agree with you that not everything has been said on this question. Up to the present, we have always examined it in connection with the totality of the problem of the conquest and preservation of the political power; whereas to throw a better light on it, it ought to be dealt with separately, as a special question having a value of its own. At bottom, the events themselves have already brought it into prominence.

The Opposition will always retain as one of its merits towards the party, which nothing can deprive it of, the fact that at the proper time it sounded the alarm about the frightful decline in the spirit of activity of the working masses and about its ever growing indifference towards the destiny of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the Soviet state.

What characterizes the flood of scandals that have just been exposed, what is most dangerous in it, is precisely this passivity of the masses (a passivity which is still greater in the communist mass than among those not in the party) towards the unprecedented manifestations of despotism which have taken place. Workers witnessed them, but passed them off without protesting, or contented themselves with grumbling a little out of fear of those who were in power or simply out of political indifference. From the time of the Chubarovsk deadlock (not to go back to remoter times) down to the abuses of Smolensk, of Artiemovsk, etc., you always hear the same refrain: “We’ve known about it for some time now ...”

Thievery, prevarication, violence, graft, unheard-of abuse of power, boundless despotism, drunkenness, debauchery: all this is spoken of as of facts already known not for months but for years, but also something which everybody tolerated without knowing why.

I do not need to explain that when the world bourgeoisie clamors about the vices of the Soviet state, we can ignore them with tranquil contempt. Too well do we know the moral purity of the bourgeois governments and parliaments of the whole world. But it is not after them that we should model ourselves: with us it is a question of a workers’ state. Today nobody can deny the frightful ravages of political indifference within the working class.

In addition, the question of the causes of this indifference and the means calculated to eliminate it, proves to be essential.

But this imposes upon us the obligation of dealing with it fundamentally, scientifically, by subjecting it to a thorough analysis. Such a phenomenon deserves that we accord it our most concentrated attention.

The explanations which you give of this fact are, without a doubt, correct: every one of us has already presented them in his speeches; they have, in part, already found their reflection in our platform. Nevertheless, these interpretations and the remedies proposed for getting out of this painful situation, have had and still have an empirical character; they relate to each particular case and do not settle the essence of the question.

In my opinion, this has happened because the question in itself is a new one. Up to now, we have witnessed plenty of examples of the spirit, of activity of the working class sinking and declining until it even reached the point of political reaction. But these examples appeared to us, both here and abroad, during a period when the proletariat was still fighting for the conquest of political power.

We could not have an example of the spirit of decline in the proletariat at a time when it had power in its hands, for the simple reason that ours is the first case in history where the working class has held the power for so long a time.

Up to now we have known what could happen to the proletariat, that is, what oscillations could take place in its state of mind, when it is. an oppressed and exploited class; but it is only now that we can evaluate on the basis of facts the changes occurring in the state of mind of the working class when it takes over the leadership.

This political position (of ruling class) is not devoid of dangers; they are, on the contrary, quite great. I do not have in mind here the objective difficulties due to the whole ensemble of historical circumstances: capitalist encirclement outside and petty bourgeois encirclement inside the country. No, it is a question of the difficulties inherent in every new ruling class, which are the consequence of the conquest and the exercize of the power itself, of the aptitude or the inaptitude to utilize it.

You understand that these difficulties would continue to exist up to a certain point even if we were to suppose for a moment that the country was populated only by proletarian masses and if, on the outside, only proletarian states existed. These difficulties might be called “the professional risks” of power.

Indeed, the position of a class fighting for the conquest of power and that of a class which holds it in its hands are different. I repeat that in speaking of dangers I do not have in mind the relationships which exist with the other classes, but rather those which are created in the ranks of the triumphant class.

What does a class taking the offensive represent? A maximum of unity and of cohesion. All craft and group, to say nothing of individual interests, retire to the background. All the initiative is in the hands of the militant mass itself and of its revolutionary vanguard, connected with this mass in the most intimately organic fashion.

When a class seizes power, one of its sections becomes the agent of this power. Thus the bureaucracy comes forward. In a socialist state, where capitalist accumulation is forbidden by the members of the ruling party, this, differentiation commences by being functional; then it becomes social. I am thinking here of the social position of a communist who has at his disposal an automobile, a good apartment, a regular vacation, who receives the maximum wage authorized by the party – a position which differs from that of the communist working in the coal mines and receiving from 50 to 60 rubles a month. As to the workers and employees, you know that they are divided into eighteen different categories ...

Another consequence is that part of the functions formerly performed by the whole party, by the whole class, now become attributes of power, that is, only of a certain quantity of persons in this party and in this class.

The unity and the cohesion which were formerly the natural consequence of the revolutionary class struggle can now be maintained only thanks to a whole system of measures having as their aim the preservation of the equilibrium between the various groupings of this class and party, their subordination to the fundamental goal.

But that is a long and delicate process. It consists in politically educating the dominant class to the skill which it must acquire in order to keep hold of the state apparatus, the party, and the trade unions, to control and direct them.

I repeat: it is a matter of education. No class ever came into the world possessing the art of administration. It is acquired only thanks to experience, to mistakes committed, that is, by drawing the lessons from the mistakes one commits himself. A Soviet constitution, however ideal, cannot assure the working class the application, without obstacles, of its dictatorship and its governmental control, if the proletariat does not know how to utilize the rights which the constitution accords it. The lack of harmony existing between the political capacities of a given class, its administrative skill, and the constitutional, juridical forms which it works out for its use when it conquers power, is an historical fact. It can be observed in the evolution of all classes, in part also in the history of the bourgeoisie. The English bourgeoisie, for example, fought a good many battles not only to recast the constitution after its own interests, but also in order to be able to profit by its rights and, in particular, by its right to vote, fully and without obstacles. The novel by Charles Dickens, Pickwick Papers, contains many of those scenes of the epoch of English Constitutionalism, when the ruling group, assisted by the administrative apparatus, overturned into the ditches the coaches bearing opposition voters, so that they would not arrive in time to the ballot boxes.

This process of differentiation is perfectly natural with the bourgeoisie which has triumphed or which is about to triumph. Indeed, taken in the broadest sense of the term, it constitutes a series of economic and even of class groupings. We know the existence of the big, the middle and the petty bourgeoisie; we know that there are financial, commercial, industrial and agrarian bourgeoisies. As a result of certain events, like wars and revolutions, regroupings occur within the ranks of the bourgeoisie itself; new strata appear, beginning to play a role proper to them, as for example proprietors, purchasers of national wealth or the nouveaux riches, as they are called, who come forward after every war that lasts for any length of time. During the French Revolution, at the period of the Directory, these nouveaux riches constituted one of the factors of the reaction.

In general, the history of the Third Estate triumphing in France in 1789 is extremely instructive. In the first place, this Third Estate was itself extremely variegated. It extended over everybody who was not a part of the nobility or the clergy; thus, it comprised not only all the varieties of the bourgeoisie, but also the workers and the poverty-stricken peasants. It is only gradually, after a long fight, after armed interventions, repeated on numerous occasions, that the legal possibility for the whole of the Third Estate to participate in the administration of the country was realized in 1792. The political reaction which began even before Thermidor, consists in that the power began to pass, both formally and in fact, into the hands of an increasingly restricted number of citizens. Little by little, first by the fact of the situation and then by law, the masses of the people were eliminated from the government of the country.

It is, true that here the pressure of the reaction made itself felt primarily along the seams and edges, joining together the scraps of classes which comprised the Third Estate. It is also true that if one examines a distinct grouping of the bourgeoisie, it does not present class contours as clearcut as those which, for example, separate the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, that is, two classes playing an entirely different role in production.

Furthermore, in the course of the French Revolution, during the period of its decline, the power not only acted to eliminate, following the lines of the seams and edges, social groups which only yesterday marched together by agreement and were united by the same revolutionary aim, but it also disintegrated more or less homogeneous social masses. Functional specialization, the given class bringing forth out of its ranks the upper circles of functionaries – that is the result of the fissures which were converted, thanks to the pressure of the counter-revolution, into yawning gaps. It is as a result of this that the dominant class itself produced the contradictions during the struggle.

The contemporaries of the French Revolution, those who participated in it, and even more so the historians of the epoch that followed, occupied themselves with the question of the causes that promoted the degeneration of the Jacobin party.

On more than one occasion, Robespierre put his supporters on guard against the consequences that the intoxication of power might involve. He warned them that, having it in their hands, they ought not be too self-presumptive, “get puffed up”, he said, or as we would say now, not allow oneself to be infected by “Jacobin vanity”. But as we shall see later, Robespierre himself contributed a good deal to letting the power slip out of the hands of the petty bourgeoisie leaning upon the Parisian workers.

We shall not quote here the indications supplied by the contemporaries concerning the various causes for the decomposition of the Jacobins, as for example the tendency to enrich themselves, the participation in contract awards, supplies, etc. Rather let us point to a strange and well-known fact: the opinion of Babeuf that the fall of the Jacobins was greatly facilitated by the noble dames by whom they were so deeply smitten. He addressed himself to the Jacobins in these terms: “What are you doing, pusillanimous plebeians? Today they hold you in their arms, tomorrow they will strangle you!” (If automobiles had existed at the time of the French Revolution, we would have had the factor of the “automobile harem”, pointed to by comrade Sosnovsky as having played a fairly important role in shaping the ideology of our Soviet and party bureaucracy.)

But what played the most important role in the isolation of Robespierre and the Jacobin Club, what separated them sharply from the masses (workers and petty bourgeoisie), was, besides the liquidation of all the elements of the Left, beginning with the Enragés, the Hébertists and the Chaumists (in general, the whole Paris Commune), the gradual elimination of the elective principle and its replacement by the principle of APPOINTMENTS.

The dispatch of commissioners to the armies or to the towns where the counter-revolution was raising its head, was not only a legitimate but an indispensable job. But when, little by little, Robespierre began to replace the judges and the commissioners of the various sections of Paris who, up to then, had been elected in the same way as the judges; when he began to appoint the chairmen of the revolutionary committees and reached the point of substituting functionaries for the whole leadership of the Commune – he could thereby only reinforce the bureaucracy and kill off popular initiative.

Thus, the regime of Robespierre, instead of raising the spirit of activity of the masses, who were already oppressed by the economic crisis and above all by the provisions crisis, only aggravated the evil and facilitated the work of the anti-democratic forces.

Dumas, the chairman of the revolutionary tribunal, complained to Robespierre that he was unable to find any jurors for the tribunal, for nobody wanted to fill this function.

But Robespierre experienced this indifference of the Parisian masses in his own case when, on the 10th of Thermidor, he was marched through the streets of Paris, wounded and bleeding, without anyone fearing that the popular masses might intervene in behalf of the dictator of yesterday.

Obviously, it would be ridiculous to attribute the fall of Robespierre as well as the defeat of the revolutionary democracy to the principle of appointments.

But without a doubt, it accelerated the action of the other factors. Among them the decisive role was played by the difficulties of provisionment, caused in large part by two years of bad harvest (as well as by the disturbances connected with the passing of the large agrarian property of the nobility to the small scale cultivation of the land by the peasants), by the constant rise of the price of bread and meat, by the fact that the Jacobins did not, at the outset, want to resort to administrative measures to curb the avidity of the rich peasants and the speculators. When the Jacobins finally decided, under the violent pressure of the masses, to adopt the law on the maximum, this law, operating under conditions of a free market and capitalist production, could act inevitably only as a palliative.

* * * *

Let us now pass to the reality in which we live.

I believe that it is necessary first of all to point out that when we use expressions like “party” and “masses”, we should not lose sight of the content which the history of the last ten years has introduced into these terms.

The working class and the party – no longer physically but morally – are no longer what they were ten years ago. I am not exaggerating when I say that the militant of 1917 would hardly recognize himself in the person of the militant of 1928. A profound change has taken place in the anatomy and the physiology of the working class.

In my opinion, it is necessary to concentrate attention on the study of the changes in the tissues and in their functions. The analysis of the changes that have occurred will have to show us the way out of the situation that has been created. I do not claim to present this analysis here; I will confine myself only to a few observations.

In speaking of the working class it is necessary to find a reply to a whole series of questions, for example:

If we go right down and penetrate to the very depths of the proletarian, semi-proletarian and in general the toiling masses, we will encounter whole sections of the population about whom very little is said among us. I do not have in mind here only the unemployed, who constitute an ever growing danger which was, however, clearly indicated by the Opposition. I am thinking of the mendicant or half-pauperized masses who, thanks to the tiny subsidies granted by the state, are encamped on the outskirts of pauperism, thievery and prostitution.

We cannot imagine how people sometimes live a bare few steps away from us. It occasionally happens that one collides with phenomena whose existence in a Soviet state could not even be suspected, and which leave the impression of a suddenly discovered abyss. It is not a question of pleading the cause of the Soviet power by invoking the fact that it has not yet been able to rid itself of the painful heritage left it by the czarist and capitalist regime. No, but in our epoch, under our regime, we record the existence in the body of the working class of crevices into which the bourgeoisie could drive a wedge.

At one time, under the bourgeois power, the conscious part of the working class drew this great mass, including the semi-vagabonds, behind it. The fall of the capitalist regime was to bring about the liberation of the entire proletariat. The semi-vagabond elements rendered the bourgeoisie and the capitalist state responsible for their situation; they looked to the revolution to bring about a change in their conditions. At the present time, these circles are not content: their position has not improved, or only barely. They begin to look with hostility upon the Soviet power as well as that part of the working class which labors in industry. They become particularly the enemies of the Soviet, party and trade union functionaries. Sometimes you hear them speak of the summits of the working class as the “new nobility”.

I will now dwell here on the differentiation which the power has introduced into the proletariat, and which I designated above as “functional”. The function has modified the organ itself, that is, the psychology of those who are charged with the various tasks of management in the administration and the economy of the state, has changed to such a point that not only objectively but subjectively, not only materially but morally, they have ceased to be a part of this same working class. Thus, for example, the manager of a factory playing at being a “satrap”, in spite of the fact that he is a communist, despite his proletarian origin, despite the fact that he was still at the bench a few years ago, will not embody in the eyes of the workers the best qualities that the proletariat possesses. Molotov can, to his heart’s content, put an equality sign

between the dictatorship of the proletariat and our state with its bureaucratic degenerations, and what is more, the brutes of Smolensk, the swindlers of Tashkent and the adventurers of Artiemovsk. By this he only discredits the dictatorship without disarming the legitimate discontentment of the workers.

If we pass over to the party itself, in addition to all the nuances that we encounter in the working class, it is necessary to add the turncoats from other classes. The social structure of the party is much more heterogeneous than that of the proletariat. This was always the case, naturally with this difference, that while the party lived an intense ideological life, it fused this social amalgam into a single alloy, thanks to the struggle of the active revolutionary class.

But the power is a cause, in the party as well as in the working class, of the same differentiation which reveals the seams existing between the various social layers.

The bureaucracy of the Soviets and the party is a fact of a new order. It is not a question here of isolated cases, of hitches in the conduct of some comrade, but rather of a new social category to which a whole treatise ought to be devoted.

On the subject of the draft of the program of the Communist International, I wrote among other things the following to Leon Davidovitch [Trotsky]:

“In connection with Chapter IV (the transitional period). The manner in which the role of the communist parties in the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat is formulated, is pretty weak. To be sure, this vague manner of speaking of the role of the party towards the working class and the state is not due to chance. The antithesis existing between proletarian democracy and bourgeois democracy is pointed out; but not a single word is uttered to explain what the party must do in order to realize, in actuality, this proletarian democracy. ‘Draw the masses into participation in the construction’, ‘re-educate its own nature’ (Bukharin loves to speak of this last point, among others, and more particularly in connection with the question of the cultural revolution): these are true affirmations, from the point of view of history, and have long been known; but they are transformed into platitudes if one does not introduce into them the experience that has accumulated in the course of the ten years of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

“It is here that arises the question of the methods of leadership which have such an important role.

“But our leaders do not like to speak of it, for fear that it may appear that they themselves are still far from having ‘re-educated their own nature’.”

If I were charged with writing a draft of the program of the Communist International, I would have devoted not a little space in this chapter (the transitional period) to the theory of Lenin on the state during the dictatorship of the proletariat and on the role of the party and its leadership in the creation of a proletarian democracy, such as it should be and not a bureaucracy of the Soviets and the party, like the one now existing.

Comrade Preobrazhensky promises to devote a special chapter in his book, The Conquests of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat in the Year XI of the Revolution, to the Soviet bureaucracy. I hope that he will not forget the role of the party bureaucracy, either, which plays an even greater role in the Soviet state than its blood-sister of the Soviets. I have expressed the hope to him that he will study this specific sociological phenomenon in all its aspects. There is no communist brochure which, in relating the treason of the German social democratic party on August 4, 1914, does not at the same time point out the fatal role which the bureaucratic upper circles both of the party and the trade unions played in the history of the backsliding of this party. On the other hand, very little has been said, and that in very general terms, about the role played by our Soviet and party bureaucracy in the disaggregation of both the party and the Soviet state. This is a sociological phenomenon of the highest importance which cannot, however, be understood and grasped in its full scope without examining the consequences which it has involved in changing the ideology of the party and the working class.

You ask what has become of the spirit of activity of the party and of our proletariat? Where has their revolutionary initiative gone to? Where are their ideological interests, their revolutionary valor, their proletarian pride? You are astonished at there being so much sluggishness, cowardice, pusillanimity, arrivism and so many other things that I would have added on my own account? How does it happen that men having a valorous revolutionary past, whose personal honesty is beyond question, who on more than one occasion gave examples of devotion to the revolution, should have been transformed into piteous bureaucrats? Where does this horrible Smerdiakovstchina [1] come from of which Trotsky spoke in his letter on the declarations of Krestinsky and Antonov-Ovseienko?

But if one may look forward to turncoats coming from the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie, intellectuals, “individuals” in general, backsliding from the standpoint of ideas and ethics, how explain the same phenomenon when the working class is involved? Many comrades note the fact of its relative passivity, and they cannot dissemble their disillusionment.

It is true that other comrades have seen, in a certain campaign connected with the hoarding of grain, symptoms of revolutionary good health, a proof that the reflexes of the class still live in the party. Just recently, comrade Ischenko wrote me (or more exactly, wrote in theses which he will certainly have sent to other comrades as well) that the hoarding of grain and self-criticism are due to resistance by the proletarian section of the leadership and the party. Unfortunately, it must be said, this is not exact. The two facts result from a combination arranged in the upper circles which is not due to the pressure of workers’ criticism; it is out of political, and sometimes out of group, or I should say, out of factional considerations that a section of the upper strata of the party pursued this line. One can speak only of one proletarian pressure: that which had the Opposition at its head. But it must be said plainly: this pressure did not suffice to keep the Opposition inside the party; even more, it did not succeed in changing its policy. I am in agreement with Leon Davidovitch who showed, by a series of indisputable examples, the revolutionary, genuine and positive role which certain revolutionary movements played by their defeat: the Paris Commune, the December 1905 insurrection in Moscow. The former assured the maintenance of the republican form of government in France; the latter opened up the road to constitutional reform in Russia. However, the effects of these triumphant defeats are of short duration if they are not reinforced by a new revolutionary wave.

Saddest of all is the fact that no reflex takes place on the part of the party and the mass. For two years, an especially bitter struggle developed between the Opposition and the upper circles of the party; in the course of the last two months events took place that ought to have opened the eyes of the blindest. Still, one does not yet feel that the party masses have intervened.

Also comprehensible is the pessimism displayed by certain comrades and which I feel peering out of your questions too.

Babeuf, after coming out of the prison of l’Abbaye and casting a glance about him, began to ask what had become of the people of Paris, the workers of the Saint-Antoine and Saint-Marceau suburbs, those who took the Bastille on July 14, 1789, the Tuileries Palace on August 10, 1792, who besieged the Convention on May 30, 1793 – to say nothing of their numerous other armed actions. He summed up his observations in a single phrase, in which one feels the bitterness of the revolutionist: “It is harder to reeducate the people in an attachment to Liberty than to conquer it.”

We have seen why the people of Paris forgot the allure of Liberty: the famine, unemployment, the suppression of the revolutionary cadres (many of the leaders had been guillotined), the removal of the masses from the management of the country. All this brought about such a great physical and moral exhaustion of the masses, that the people of Paris and the rest of France required thirty-seven years of respite before beginning a new revolution.

Babeuf formulated his program in two words (I speak here of his 1794 program): “Liberty and an elected Commune.”

I must make a confession here: I have never let myself be swayed by the hope that it would suffice for the leaders to appear in the party meetings and the workers’ gatherings for them to win over the masses to the side of the Opposition. I always considered such hopes, which came from the side of the Leningrad leaders, as being a certain survival from the period when they took the official ovations and applause for the expression of the true sentiment of the masses, attributing them to their imaginary popularity.

I would go further: this is what explains for me the abrupt turn-about-face they undertook in their conduct.

They came over to the Opposition, hoping to gain power in a short lapse of time. Towards this end they joined with the 1923 Opposition. When somebody from the “group without leaders” reproached Zinoviev and Kamenev for having left their ally Trotsky in the lurch, Kamenev replied: “We needed Trotsky to govern; for getting back into the party, he is a dead weight.”

However, the point of departure, the premise should have been that the job of educating the party and the working class is a difficult and long-term job, all the more so because the mind must first be cleared of all the impurities introduced into it by the practise of the Soviets and the party and the bureaucracy of these institutions.

It must not be lost sight of that the majority of the party members (to say nothing of the young communists) have the most erroneous conception of the tasks, the functions and the structure of the party, namely: the conception that the bureaucracy teaches them by its example, its practical conduct and its stereotyped formulae. All the workers who joined the party after the civil war came in, in most cases, after 1923 (the Lenin enrollment); they have no idea of what the regime of the party once was. The majority of them is devoid of that revolutionary class education which is acquired in the struggle, in life, in conscious practise. At one time, this class consciousness was obtained in the struggle against capitalism; today, it must take shape in participating in the building up of socialism. But our bureaucracy, having made a hollow phrase of this participation, the workers nowhere acquire such an education. I exclude, of course – as being an abnormal means of educating the class – the fact that our bureaucracy, by reducing real wages, by aggravating the working conditions, by promoting the development of unemployment, provokes the workers to struggle and arouses class consciousness; but then, it is hostile to the socialist state.

In the conception of Lenin and of all of us, the task of the party leadership lies precisely in preserving the party and the working class from the corruptive influence of privileges, of favors and of tolerations inherent in the power by reason of its contact with the debris of the old nobility and the petty bourgeoisie; the perverse influence of the N.E.P., the temptation of bourgeois morals and ideology, should have been forestalled.

At the same time we had the hope that the party leadership would create a new apparatus, truly worker and peasant, new trade unions, truly proletarian, and new morals in daily life.

It should be said frankly, plainly and aloud: the party apparatus has not accomplished this task. It has displayed, in this double task of preservation and education, the most thorough incompetence; it is bankrupt; it is insolvent.

We were convinced long ago, and the last eight months should have proved it to everybody, that the party leadership was marching along the most perilous path. It still continues to march along this road.

The reproaches we address to it do not concern, so to speak, the quantitative side of its work, but rather the qualitative side. This point should be underlined, otherwise we shall again be inundated with figures about the infinite and integral successes obtained by the Soviet and party apparatuses. It is high time an end were put to this statistical charlatanry.

Open the minutes of the fifteenth congress of the party. Read Kossior’s report on the organization’s activity. What do you find there? I quote literally: “Prodigious growth of democracy within the party ... The organizational activity of the party has vastly expanded” ... etc.

And then of course, to reinforce it: figures, figures and more figures. And this was said at the moment when there were in the files of the Central Committee documents testifying to the frightful disintegration of the party and the Soviet apparatuses, to the stifling of all control by the masses., to a terrifying oppression, persecutions, a terror playing with the life and existence of militants and workers.

Here is how Pravda of April 11 characterizes our bureaucracy:

“The office-holding, hostile, lazy, incompetent and snooty elements are engaged in running all the best Soviet inventors beyond the frontiers of the U.S.S.R. unless we deal a final blow to these elements, with all our energy, our determination, our implacability ...”

Yet, knowing our bureaucracy, I should not be astonished to read or to hear somebody speak again of the “enormous” and the “prodigious” growth of the spirit of activity of the masses of the party, of the organizational work of the Central Committee in implanting democracy ...

I believe that the party and Soviet bureaucracy now existing, will continue with the same success to cultivate around itself suppurating abcesses, in spite of the noisy trials which have taken place in the last month. This bureaucracy will not change because of the fact that it is subjected to a purge. I do not of course deny the relative utility and the absolute necessity of such a purge. I simply want to emphasize that it is not merely a question of changing the personnel, but above all of changing the methods.

In my opinion, the first condition to enable our party leadership to exercize an educative role is to reduce the magnitude and the functions of this leadership. Three-fourths of the apparatus ought to be disbanded. The tasks of the remaining fourth ought to receive strictly determined limitations. This would also apply to the tasks, functions and rights of the central organs.

The party members must regain their rights, which have been trampled under foot, by having themselves accorded sure guarantees against the despotism to which the upper circles have accustomed us.

It is hard to imagine what is taking place in the lower ranks of the party. It is especially in the struggle against the Opposition that the ideological mediocrity of these cadres was manifested, as well as the corruptive influence which they exercize over the proletarian masses of the party. If at its summit there was still a certain ideological line, an erroneous and sophistic line, mixed, it is true, with a strong dose of bad faith – at the lower rungs, on the other hand, the. most unrestrained demagoguery was employed against the Opposition. The agents of the party did not hesitate to exploit anti-Semitism, the phobia against foreigners, hatred of intellectuals, etc. I believe that any reform of the party that bases itself upon the party bureaucracy, will prove utopian.

* * * *

I sum up: while registering, as you do, the absence of the spirit of activity of the party masses, I see nothing astonishing in this phenomenon. It is the result of all the changes that have taken place in the party and in the proletariat itself. It is necessary to reeducate the working masses and the masses of the party within the framework of the party and the trade unions. This process is in itself a difficult one and of long duration: but it is inevitable, it has already begun. The struggle of the Opposition, the expulsion of hundreds upon hundreds of comrades, the prisons, the deportations, while they have not yet accomplished much for the communist education of our party, have in any case had more effect than the whole apparatus put together. At bottom, the two factors cannot even be compared: the apparatus has squandered the capital of the party left by Lenin, not only needlessly but in an injurious manner. It demolished, whereas the Opposition built up.

Up to this point, I have reasoned “by abstraction” from the facts of our economic and political life which have been analyzed in the platform of the Opposition. I have done it deliberately, for my task was to point out the changes that have taken place in the composition and the psychology of the proletariat and the party in connection with the conquest of power itself. They may have given a one-sided character to my exposition. But without making this preliminary analysis, it would be difficult to understand the origin of the economic and political mistakes committed by our leadership with regard to the peasants and in the labor questions of industrialization, of the internal regime of the party, and finally, of the administration of the state.

ASTRAKHAN, August 6, 1928

With communist greetings,
Christian RAKOVSKY


1. Smerdiakov is the eternally whining figure in Dostoievsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, who finally commits suicide. – ED.

Last updated on 15 March 2016