MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Organisations



Socialist International (also: Second International; social-democracy)

The Socialist International was known also as the Second International, following as it was, the First International (1864 through 1876) founded by Marx and Engels. Organized in 1889 with the help of Engels, and based, in large part upon the organizational success of it’s largest section, the German Social Democratic Party, it existed as a loose federation of the world’s socialist parties, most of whom described themselves as “Marxist”. It included openly reformist type organizations that saw a gradual implementation of reforms of capitalism to achieve socialism; socialist parties based on unions, or “Labor” parties; and revolutionary workers parties that saw the need to openly smash the capitalist state structure.

The Socialist International was seen as an instrument of socialist revolution, cutting across international boundaries thrown up to divide the working class. After Engels death and continuing into the early 20th century, the class struggle in the United States and Europe heated up, opening fissures in the Socialist International. Several conferences, in 1907 and 1911 strengthened the internationalist perspective, opposing war and colonialism, but revealing these fissures. The German Social-Democracy, for example, voted at these conferences against the resolutions against colonialism, albeit they too were divided on this issue.

August, 1914, the start of the First World War, marked, as Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky said “the effective death of the International.” He made this statement in response to the failure of the International to oppose the imperialist war. Instead of opposing the war, calling for the overthrow of their own capitalists and organizing strikes against it, the various International sections in France, Germany and Britain, voted for war credits and effectively sided with their own capitalist class to wage war.

This was met with opposition within the ranks of all these sections to form Marxist and Internationalist factions that would work against this capitulation. Most notable were the Russian Marxists of the Russian Social-Democratic and Labor Party (Bolsheviks), who, 11 years earlier had split from their more reformist comrades in the Menshevik wing of the RSDLP. Along with Leon Trotsky (independent of any RSDLP faction) , Vladimir Lenin from the Bolsheviks, Rosa Luxemberg and Karl Liebnecht of the revolutionary wing of the German Social-Democracy and the majority of the Socialist Party of America lead by Eugene V. Debs, a broad internationalist response to this capitulation on behalf of the International started to coalesce.

Various international conferences of Internationalist social-democrats occurred, the most famous one being the Zimmerwald conference of 1916. While failing to build an alternate Socialist International, it did bring together many of the forces that eventually built, in 1919 and under the auspices of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the 3rd, or Communist International.

While the Socialist International remained a corpse throughout the war years, it did regroup, this time without it’s internationalist wing, now in the Communist International, in 1920 and 1921. By now organized as an “anti-Communist” but “pro-socialist” current, it included parties that had now shared state power, including the Australian and British Labour Parties, the German Social-Democracy, and, into the 30s, in many European countries. Clearly only interested in mild reforms in labor legislation and social welfare, the Socialist International clearly went over to the perspective of reforming capitalism, rather than overthrowing it.

Today the Socialist International continues having sections that at one time or other ruled every capitalist country in Western Europe, and many in Latin America as well. It has shed any pretense toward establishing socialism and exists to help implement the globalization of world capitalism under the auspices of the World Trade Organization.

See History of the Socialist International, for documents and biographies.

David Walters, (12/2001)


Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland

(SDKP, Socjal-Demokracja Krolestwa Polskiego) Formed by Rosa Luxemburg, Leo Jogiches, Adolf Warski and Julian Marchlewski and Feliks Dzierzynski in 1892-3 to oppose the nationalist Polish Socialist Party. It was destroyed by the Russian political police in 1896, and later reorganized as the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL).


Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania

(SDKPiL, Socjal-Demokracja Krolestwa Polskiego i Litwy) Founded in 1900 by Stanislaw Trusiewicz and Feliks Dzieriynski in the spirit of the SDKP. It was intended to work from a marxist perspective with regard for the Russian empire and for autonomy for Poland. In 1918, it merged with the PPS-Lewica to form the Polish Communist Party (KPRP). Eventually wiped out by Stalin, it was reformed in 1942 as the Polish Workers party(PPR) and then later merged with the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), resulting in the Polish United Workers Party (PZRP).


Social Democratic Federation (SDF)

English political group formed in 1884 by Henry Hyndman. It's members included Eleanor Marx, and William Morris. The group tried unsuccessfully to run candidates in the 1885 General Election, and tarnished their reputation by accepting money from the Tories. The SDF turned to local working-class struggles and later joined with the Fabian Society and the Independent Labour Party to become what eventually was renamed the Labour Party.


Social Democratic Labour Party of Bulgaria

Also called the Tesnyaki, founded in 1903 after the split in the Social-Democratic Party. The founder and leader of the Party was D. Blagoev; subsequent leaders, were G. Dimitrov, and V. HoIarov. In 1914-18 the Tesnyaki struggled against the First World War. In 1919 they joined the Communist International and formed the Communist Party of Bulgaria, later reorganised into the Stalinist Bulgarian Workers' Party.


Social Democratic Labour Party of Germany

See: German Social Democratic Labour Party


Socialist Labour Association

(SAG, Sozialistische Arbeitsgemeinschaft) The pacifist wing of the SPD, formed in 1916. Led by Hugo Haase, Karl Kautsky and Eduard Bernstein it later became the USPD.


Socialist Labor Party–SLP

The Socialist Labor Party of America (SLP), established in 1876, is the oldest socialist political party in the United States and the second oldest socialist party in the world. Originally known as the Workingmen’s Party of America, the party changed its name in 1877 and has operated continuously since that date, although its current existence is tenuous. The party advocates the ideology of "socialist industrial unionism" — belief in a fundamental transformation of society through the combined political and industrial action of the working class organized in industrial unions. While the SLP maintains it is a socialist party, most observers agree their program is clearly anarcho-syndicalist.

Forerunners and origins

In 1872, the International uniting the socialist parties of the world moved its headquarters to New York City. The organization had been deeply divided over tactics, with one side, headed by Karl Marx, believing in the efficacy of the ballot and trade union organization as preliminary to workers’ revolution and the other, headed by Mikhail Bakunin, advocating the revolutionary overthrow of organized government. Bitterly disagreeing with the violent tactics advocated by their opponents, the so-called International Socialist faction felt the Anarchists must be expelled from the international federation at any cost, while at the same time the number of Anarchists were rising in the organization. As a last ditch effort to stop Bakunin and his allies, the 1872 Congress was called for The Hague, a city chosen so as to exclude Bakunin, who could get there from his safe haven in Switzerland without crossing through countries in which he would be arrested. This decision gave the Marxist faction control of the congress, which they used to further entrench their position by moving the headquarters of the International from London to America.

Later in 1872, a socialist congress was held in New York City bringing together American adherents of the International from 22 sections. This was followed up in 1874 with another gathering, a convention in Philadelphia at which was formed the ephemeral Social Democratic Workingman’s Party, the first Marxist political party in the United States. The SLP does not seem to have used its distinctive arm-and-hammer logo until sometime in the 1890s.

The socialist movement in America remained deeply divided from the onset over tactics, and not just between Anarchists and Social Democrats. Newcomers from Germany often sought to follow the same parliamentary-driven approach being employed by the Ferdinand Lassalle and fledgling Social Democratic Party of Germany, while longer term residents of America often tended to support a trade union orientation. In April 1876, a preliminary conference took place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania bringing together representatives of the union-oriented "Internationalists" and the electorally-oriented "Lassalleans". The gathering agreed to issue a call for a Unity Congress to be held in July to establish a new political party.

On Saturday, July 15, 1876, delegates from the remaining American sections of the First International gathered in Philadelphia and disbanded that organization. The following Wednesday, July 19, the planned Unity Congress was convened, attended by seven delegates claiming to represent a membership of 3, 000 in four organizations: the trade union-oriented Marxists of the now-disbanded International, and three Lassallean groups — the Workingmen’s Party of Illinois, the Social Political Workingmen’s Society of Cincinnati, and the Social Democratic Workingmen’s Party of North America. The organization formed by this Unity Convention was known as the Workingmen’s Party of the United States (WPUS), and the native English-speaking Philip Van Patten was elected as the party’s first "Corresponding Secretary, " the official in charge of the day-to-day operations of the party.

A number of socialist newspapers also emerged around this time, all privately owned, including Paul Grottkau’s Chicago Arbeiter Zeitung, Joseph Brucker’s Milwaukee Socialist, and an English-language weekly also published in Milwaukee called The Emancipator. German émigrés dominated the organization, although in Chicago Albert Parsons and G.A. Schilling maintained an active English-speaking section.

In 1877 the Workingmen’s Party met at Newark, New Jersey in a convention which changed the name of the organization to the Socialist Labor Party (generally rendered in English throughout the 1880s as "Socialistic Labor Party, " a more stilted rendition of the German name of the group, Sozialistischen Arbeiter-Partei). The organization made an electoral alliance with the Greenback Labor Party, the forerunner of the People’s Party, but no great electoral triumphs were scored.

About this same time, the American anarchist movement began to gain strength, fueled by the economic crisis and strike wave of 1877. As socialist Frederic Heath recounted in 1900:

"The line between Anarchism and Socialism was not at this time sharply drawn in the Socialist organizations, in spite of the fact of their being opposites. Both being critics and denouncers of the present system, however, they were able to work together.

"As a result of the brutalities of the militia and regulars in the railway strikes of 1877, a new plan was devised by the Chicago agitators. This found expression in the Lehr and Wehr Vereian (teaching and defense society), an armed and drilled body of workmen pledged to protect the workers against the militia in a strike.... The arms-bearing tactics were opposed by the Executive Committee of the SLP, the Secretary of which was Philip van Patten. A fight ensued between the Verbote, which was the weekly edition of the Arbeiter Zeitung, of Chicago, and the Labor Bulletin, the official party organ which Patten edited."[

This fight over tactics between the electorally-oriented socialists and the mass action-oriented anarchists continued through the 1881 SLP Convention in New York, at which time some of the party’s anarchist members and one New York section split from the party to form a new party called the Revolutionary Socialist Labor Party, as part of an International Workingman’s Association. The official organ of this short-lived splinter group was a newspaper called The Anarchist.

In 1882, Johann Most, a former German Social Democrat turned Anarchist firebrand, came to America, further fueling the growth and militancy of the American anarchist movement. The SLP further broke with the anarchists at its 1883 convention, with Paul Grottkau forced by the anarchists to resign from the Arbeiter Zeitung, turning over its editorship to August Spies, who was later executed as part of the anti-anarchist repression which followed the Haymarket affair of May 1886.

In 1886, the SLP took an active part in the New York City mayoral campaign of Single Tax advocate Henry George. The coming of DeLeon Daniel DeLeon in 1902.

The year 1890 has long been regarded as a watershed by the Socialist Labor Party, as it marked the date when the organization came under the influence of Daniel DeLeon.DeLeon, a native of the Central American island of Curaçao, had been resident in the United States for 18 years before he began to play a leading role in the American socialist movement. DeLeon attended a Gymnasium in Hildesheim, Germany, in the 1860s, before studying at the University of Leyden, from which he graduated in 1872 at the age of 20.DeLeon was a brilliant student — well versed in history, philosophy, and mathematics. He was also a linguist with few peers, possessing fluency in Spanish, German, Dutch, Latin, French, English, and ancient Greek, and a reading knowledge of Portuguese, Italian, and modern Greek.

Upon graduation, DeLeon immigrated to the United States, settling in New York City. There he made the acquaintance of a group of Cubans who sought the liberation of their native land and edited their Spanish-language newspaper.DeLeon paid the bills with a job teaching Latin, Greek, and math at a school in Westchester, New York.This teaching job enabled DeLeon to finance his further education at Columbia Law School, from which he graduated with honors in 1878.Thereafter, DeLeon moved to Texas, where he practiced law for a time, before returning to Columbia University in 1883 to take a position as a lecturer on Latin American diplomacy.

DeLeon seems to have been further politicized by the 1886 workers’ campaign for the Eight-Hour Day, and the brutal excesses of the police which came with it..DeLeon was on the committee which nominated Henry George ran for Mayor in that same year, and he spoke in public several times on George’s behalf during the course of the campaign.DeLeon participated in the first Nationalist Club in New York City, a group dedicated to advancing the socialist ideas expressed by Edward Bellamy in his extremely popular novel of the day, Looking Backward.DeLeon was also deeply influenced by The Co-operative Commonwealth by Laurence Gronlund.

The failings of the Nationalist Club movement to develop a viable program or strategy for winning political power left DeLeon searching for an alternative. This he found in the ostensible scientific determinism underlying the writings of Karl Marx..In the fall of 1890, DeLeon abandoned his academic career to devote himself full time to the SLP. He was engaged in the spring of 1891 as the party’s "National Lecturer, " traveling the entire country from coast to coast to speak on the SLP’s behalf.He was also named the SLP’s candidate for Governor of New York in the fall of that same year, gathering a respectable 14, 651 votes.

As the historian Bernard Johnpoll notes, the SLP which Daniel DeLeon joined in 1890 differed little from the organization which had been born at the end of the 1870s — it was largely a German-language organization located in an English-speaking country. Just 17 of the party’s 77 branches used English as their basic language, while only two members of the party’s governing National Executive Committee spoke English fluently.The arrival of erudite, well-read, multilingual university lecturer with English fluency was seen as a great triumph for the SLP organization.

In 1892, DeLeon was elected editor of The Weekly People, the SLP’s English-language official organ.He retained this important position without interruption for the rest of his life, never serving as the ostensible head of the organization but always recognized, by supporters and detractors alike, as the guiding force of the SLP through his editorial control of the party press. While increasing the exposure and popularity of the organization among the American-born during his editorial tenure, Daniel DeLeon proved to be a polarizing figure among the Socialist Labor Party’s membership during his editorial tenure, as historian Howard Quint notes:

"Even DeLeon’s opponents were usually willing to concede that he possessed a tremendous intellectual grasp of Marxism. Those who had suffered under his editorial lashings looked on him as an unmitigated scoundrel who took fiendish delight in character assassination, vituperation, and scurrility. But most of DeLeon’s contemporaries, and especially his critics, misunderstood him, just as he himself lacked understanding of people. He was not a petty tyrant who desired power for power’s sake. Rather, he was a dogmatic idealist, devoted brain and soul to a cause, a zealot who could not tolerate heresy or backsliding, a doctrinaire who would make no compromise with principles. For this strong-willed man, this late nineteenth-century Grand Inquisitioner of American socialism, there was no middle ground. You were either a disciplined and undeviating Marxist or no socialist at all. You were either with the mischief-making, scatterbrained reformers and ‘labor fakirs’ or you were against them. You either agreed on the necessity of uncompromising revolutionary tactics or you did not, and those falling into the latter category were automatically expendable as far as the Socialist Labor Party was concerned."[

Revolutionary Industrial Unionism in theory and practice

To make sense of the further development of the Socialist Labor Party, we must understand the main ideological principle of the organization — Revolutionary Industrial Unionism (also known as "Socialist Industrial Unionism.")

A central axiom of Marxism is that the liberation of the working class must come at the hands of the working class itself.That this premise has been advanced by an unending string of middle-class intellectuals ranging from the professor-without-portfolio Dr. Karl Marx to the college-educated lawyer V.I. Lenin to lawyer and university lecturer Daniel DeLeon may be characterized as either inevitable, ironic, or a major contradiction, depending on one’s personal perspective. Be that as it may, Marxists have universally assumed that only conscious and concerted effort by the working class itself can lead to cause the revolutionary transformation of economy and society. The devil lies in the details — how best to motivate this state of understanding and drive to action among those who sell their labor-power to others, how best to achieve the transformation of state and society.

The early Socialist Labor Party, influenced by the father of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, Ferdinand Lassalle, argued that the wage gains and improvements of conditions achievable by trade unions were insignificant and ephemeral. Only the capture of the state through the ballot box would enable a restructuring of the economy and society in anything resembling a permanent manner. So long as capitalism existed, wage gains here would be offset by the pressure of wage cuts there and incomes would be driven down to a subsistence minimum through the inexorable pressure of the market. Thus the political campaign for the capture of the state — winning office for the sake of winning power to enact change — was considered paramount.

For the Marxists who had come to dominate the Socialist Labor Party by the 1890s, this idea was exactly backwards. So long as fundamental economic relations between workers and employers remained unchanged, any alteration of the personnel of the state apparatus would be short-lived and would fall to nothing due to the wealth of the employers and their desire to preserve the existing economic order. The employing class controlled press and school and pulpit, the Marxists believed, their ideas of the "natural" order of things stuffed the heads of their willing political servitors. Only through collective action, trade union activities, could the working class begin to achieve consciousness of itself, the nature of the world, and its purported historic mission.

But what sort of trade unions would instill in the working class the ideas and drive to action that would lead to a revolutionary restructuring of the economic order? The party split of 1899 National Secretary Henry Kuhn was the top political official of the SLP "regulars" in the faction fight of 1899.

De Leon’s opponents, (primarily German-Americans, Jewish immigrants of various origins, and trade unionists led by Henry Slobodin and Morris Hillquit), left the SLP in 1899. They later merged with the Social Democratic Party, headed by Victor L. Berger and Eugene V. Debs to form the Socialist Party of America. Early 20th Century

With the death of De Leon, the SLP, always critical of both the Soviet Union and of the Socialist Party’s "reformism, " has been isolated from the majority of the American Left, and that isolation became ever-increasing.By remaining steadfast the party had, however, remained influential. The party had always advocated what they consider purist socialism in its program, arguing that other parties have actually abandoned the dream and become either fan clubs of dictators or merely a radical wing of the Democratic party. Late 20th Century

The party experienced two growth spurts in the twentieth century. The first occurred in the late 1940s. The presidential ticket, which had been receiving 15, 000 to 30, 000 votes, increased to 45, 226 in 1944. Meanwhile, the aggregate nationwide totals for U.S. Senate nominees increased during this same period from an average in the 40, 000 range to 96, 139 in 1946 and 100, 072 in 1948. The party’s fortunes began to sag during the early 1950s, and by 1954 the aggregate nationwide totals for U.S. Senate nominees was down to 30, 577.

Eric Hass became influential in the SLP in the early 1950s. Hass, the nominee for President in 1952, 1956, 1960, and 1964, played a major role in rebuilding the SLP. He authored the booklet "Socialism: A Home Study Course". Hass increased the party’s nationwide totals and recruited many local candidates. His vote for President increased from 30, 250 in 1952 to 47, 522 in 1960 (a 50% increase). Although his total slipped to 45, 187 in 1964, Hass outpolled all other third party candidates - the only time this happened to the SLP. Aggregate nationwide totals for U.S. Senate nominees increased throughout the late 1960s, hitting 112, 990 in 1972.

The increased interest in the SLP in the late 1960s was not a permanent growth spurt. New recruits subscribed to the anti-authoritarian views of the time and wanted their voices to have an equal status with the old-time party workers. Newcomers felt that the party was too controlled by a small clique, resulting in widespread discontent. In 1976, the SLP nominated its last Presidential candidate and has run few campaigns since then. In 1980, members of the SLP in Minnesota, claiming that the party had become bureaucratic and authoritarian in its internal party structure, split from the party and formed the New Union Party.

The SLP began having trouble funding their newspaper The People, so frequency was changed from monthly to bi-monthly in 2004. That did not save the paper from collapse, however, and it was suspended as of 31 March 2008. The SLP closed its national office on 1 September 2008. The SLP, while almost completely inactive, carries on, mainly as a paper organization amongst the remaining members. Legacy.

Perhaps the greatest impact of De Leon and the SLP was their help in founding the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905. Before too long, however they had a falling out with the element that they termed ‘the bummery, ’ and left to form their own rival union, also called the Industrial Workers of the World, based in Detroit. De Leon died in 1914, and with his passing this organization lost its central focus. This body was renamed the Workers International Industrial Union (WIIU) and declined into little more than SLP members. The WIIU was wound up in 1924.

Famed author Jack London was an early member of the Socialist Labor Party, joining in 1896. He left in 1901 but remained a Socialist. Additionally, famed Irish Revolutionaries Jim Larken and James Connolly also participated in he SLP during their brief stays in the United States.

The science fiction writer Mack Reynolds, who wrote one of the first Star Trek novels, was an active member of the SLP and his fiction often deals with socialist reform and revolution as well as socialist Utopian thought.


Socialist League

At a meeting of the Social Democratic Federation executive in December, 1884, the SDF executive voted 10-8, that it had no confidence in Hyndman, mainly as a result of his dictatorial style and control over the journal Justice.

William Morris, Eleanor Marx, Ernest Belfort Bax, Edward Aveling and others left to found the Socialist League and whole branches, such as those in East London, Hammersmith and Leeds, joined the new organisation. Edward Carpenter and Walter Crane also became members of the Socialist League.

Socialist League published a manifesto written by William Morris and Ernest Belfort Bax that advocated revolutionary international socialism. The group also produced its own journal, Commonweal. By 1895 the Socialist League had over 10,000 members, but declined after this and when the organisation disbanded in 1901 it was down to less than 6,000.


Socialist Propaganda League

The Socialist Propaganda League was formed in Boston, U.S.A., in 1915, as an independent group within the Socialist Party. It adopted the platform of the Zimmerwald Left, and rallied the revolutionary elements of the Socialist Party. After the October Revolution the League set up a Committee for Bolshevik Information, which exposed the lies and slander of bourgeois and reformist periodicals about the Soviet Republic. During the Allied armed intervention against Russia the League campaigned under the slogan of "Hands Off Soviet Russia!".


Socialist Revolutionary Party

Russian Socialist party formed in 1902, opposition party to the Russian Social-Democrats. It's main organs were Revolutsionnaya Rossiya and the journal Vestnik Russkoi Revolutsii.

The Socialist-Revolutionary Party (called SRs for short) inherited many ideas and practices from the People's Will party and the Narodniki, many of who were now members of the SRs. They believed in the separate path theory which stipulated that Russia could leap from feudalism to Socialism without need for capitalism and stressing that the peasantry was the revolutionary class, not the urban workers.

The party also inherited the tactics of the People's Will; called direct struggle, believing that revolution would be borne through terrorism. This tactic developed into a moralistic rite among some members of the party, describing death in pursuit of a "holy cause", where sacrifices made to accomplish terrorist acts showed the "highest peak of the human spirit".

The agrarian programme of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, called the "socialisation of the land", envisaged the abolition of private ownership of the land, which was to be transferred to the village commune on the basis of the labour principle and egalitarian tenure, and also the development of co-operatives.

At times, the Bolsheviks entered into temporary agreements with the Socialist- Revolutionaries for the struggle against tsarism.

In 1905 the Maximalists sprung off the SR party due to differences in tactics, the SRs aimed towards political assassination, while the Maximalists aimed towards class assassination.

SRs, like the People's Will, sentenced government officials to execution. In 1902 the SRs assassinated the Minister of Interior, D.S. Sipiagin, subsequently carrying out hundreds of assassinations until crushed by the czar in 1908-09.


In 1917 the SR party split into the Left-SRs and the Right-SRs. The Right SRs were in support of the provisional government while the Left SRs agigated for its overthrow. With the coming of the Soviet government, the Left SRs joined, but the Right-SRs resumed their terrorist tactics and were eventually disbanded.

Victor Chernov was among the prominent theoreticians of the SR party.



Meaning "council" in Russian, soviets were elected local, municipal, and regional councils in Russia and later the Soviet Union. Before the October Revolution of 1917, an estimated 900 soviets were in existence.

The Soviet was the axis of all events, every thread ran towards it, every call to action emanated from it.

1905, by Leon Trotsky

Soviets were representatives of workers, peasants and soldiers in a given locale (rural soviets were a mix of peasants and soldiers, while urban soviets were a mix of workers and soldiers). The Soviets were bodies whose members were volunteers; people who were involved did so to strengthen their class position in Russian politics. Soviets gained political power after the Bolshevik revolution, acting as the local executive bodies of government. Delegates were elected from Soviets to the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, where the foundation of the Soviet government was intended to rest. Gradually, however, soviets began to lose their power because of the extremely harsh conditions brought on by the Civil War , and by the late 1920s became top-down extensions of the "Communist" party.

The cell of the Soviet government is the urban and rural soviet, or council. These urban and rural soviets are grouped first in a volost congress, then in district congresses, then in the regional congresses, and lastly in the pan-Russian Congress of Soviets, made up of urban soviets' delegates (one for every 25,000 inhabitants) and of provincial congress delegates (one for every 125,000 inhabitants). The pan-Russian congress meets twice a year. It appoints an Central Executive Committee which is the supreme authority in the intervals between congresses. From within itself, the Central Executive Committee names the people's commissars who, in turn, make up [the Council of People's Commissars].

Jose Mariategui
History of the World Crises: Institutions of the Russian government

Historical Development: In the decades leading up to 1905, Russia saw the creation of an urban working class, rising up along side seasonal worker/peasants who tended to their land during planting and harvesting but worked in the factory during the off season. The new working class was highly concentrated in massive industrial cities, and was subject to factory discipline not unlike slave labour. Eleven hour work days six days a week were the norm, and working conditions were often very unsafe. Workers had no rights of any kind: no health insurance, no welfare, no freedom of association or speech, nor the right to collectively bargain. Getting seriously injured on the job meant immediate expulsion, and thus, the worker was nearly certain to starve to death. The best labour laws in Russia were the excemption of children and women from working at night, and factory inspections, which were rare, corrupt, and not publicly accountable to any kind of standards.

Though workers had no formal organisation, spontaneous strikes ran rampant throughout the country. Workers demanded to somehow negotiate with the bosses. Workers, recently peasants, had deep-rooted trust in the principles of the traditional obshchina and the more recent Zemstvo. Thus, workers throughout the country spontaneously would elect deputies among their ranks, creating strike committees. Yet, these deputies were almost always fired as scapegoats for the strike, and were often arrested as criminals!

In 1898, the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party was created to fight for workers rights in an organized way, and create a strategic plan for workers struggled based on Marxist theory. [...]

On Sunday, January 9, 1905, the Tsar ordered the military to open fire on a peaceful demonstration of peasants in what would become know as Bloody Sunday. Unrest became endemic. Workers felt completely powerless, while the peasantry was becoming increasingly ostracized from the Zemstvo.

In the summer of 1905, workers in the industrial town of Ivanovo-Voznesensk were on strike. Like the vast majority of Russian workers, they did not have traditional trade-unions. Yet these workers recognized the futility of electing new strike committees, as they knew their members would surely be arrested. Further, they understood that only by strengthening solidarity beyond their own interests, would they be able to wage a successful struggle. In the past, several strike commitees would form in a single city, and the secret police would arrest one group one day, and move to the next the day after. The workers of Ivanovo-Voznesensk knew that only by uniting all the workers throughout the city, despite their various differences and needs, could a broad struggle be successful. In the truest sense of the word, these workers were Russia's first Communists. Thus, spontaneously arising from the masses of striking workers, without guidance from any political party, the Soviet.

The formation of these new institutions swept through the country. In St. Petersburg strikes occured throughout the summer, when on October 3rd, the electric power station workers declared:

"Together with the social-democrats, we shall fight to the end for our demands, and we proclaim before the entire working class our readiness to fight, weapons in hand, for the people's complete liberation."

On October 10th, the first meeting of what would become the Petersburg Soviet occurred, with around 40 delegates. The meeting resolved to call for a general strike, and have workers elect delegates to the Soviet. By October 14th, the Soviets had swelled their ranks by visiting other factories and asking their fellow workers to join them in solidarity to create a general strike, in turn, every striking factory elected one representative to the Soviet. On the same day, the second meeting of the Petersburg Soviet saw the attendance of delegates from 40 large plants, 2 factories, and 3 trade unions (print-workers, shop assistants, and office clerks). Leon Trotsky was also present at this meeting, and would play a leading theoretical and organisational role in the Petersburg Soviet. Out of this meeting came the St. Petersburg Soviet of Deputies. On the 15th, around 100 delegates from factories, in addition to members of several revolutionary parties, were present. According to Trotsky:

"The meeting resembled a council of war more than a parliament. There was no trace of magniloquence, that ulcer of representative institutions. The questions under discussion — the spreading of the strike and the demands to be addressed to the duma — were of a purely practical nature and were debated briefly, energetically and in a businesslike manner. One felt that every atom of time was accounted for. The slightest tendency towards rhetoric was firmly checked by the chairman with the stern approval of the entire meeting.

A special deputation was instructed to submit the following demands to the city duma: 1) that measures be taken immediately to regulate the flow of food supplies to the workers; 1) that premises be set aside for meetings; 3) that all food supplies, allocations of premises and funds to the police, the gendarmerie, etc., be discontinued forthwith; 4) that funds be issued for the arming of the Petersburg proletariat in its fight for freedom.

The Duma rejected all these demands, as the Soviet expected. On October 18th, the Tsar signed a new constitution into effect while General Trepov (commander of the Petrograd garrison) disbanded a meeting of the Soviet.

Meanwhile, the Soviet of 550 delegates (who represented 250,000 workers) created an organisational apparatus, electing the President of the Petersburg Soviet, Khrustalev-Nosar, who was a radical lawyer and later joined the Menshevik party. The Petersberg Soviet also seized a print shop to begin issuing their own newspaper: Izvestiya Soveta Robochikh Deputatov, what would later be called simply Izvestia.

In November, the Monarchy began a wide-scale purge of workers, firing over 100,000 workers due to their involvement with the Soviet. The Petersburg Soviet strongly protested against this, but without success. With the base of the Soviet reeling from a massive body blow, the Tsar moved to arrest the President of the Soviet, Khrustalev-Nosar on November 26th, and Trotsky became President in his place. On December 3, 1905, the Monarchy arrested all leading members of the Soviet, including Trotsky, who gave a famous, impassioned speech at the trial of the Soviet of Workers' Deputies. The Petersburg Soviet of 1905, before strangled to death, would leave to their heirs a Manifesto of demands, a political program for the future. All eight publishers who printed this manifesto were shut down; striking became illegal, and unions banned. The Tsarist gendnarme proudly proclaimed that the Soviets had been ruthlessly crushed.

Though the Bolsheviks were not highly involved in the fledgling Soviets, Lenin recognized their importance. While some in the party felt the Soviets threatened the role of the party itself, Lenin stated on November 4, 1905:

"I think that it is wrong to put the question in this way and that the decision must certainly be: both the Soviet of Workers' Deputies and the Party. The only question — and a highly important one — is how to divide, and how to combine, the tasks of the Soviet and those of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party.

"I think it would be inadvisable for the Soviet to adhere wholly to any one party. As this opinion will probably surprise the reader, I shall proceed straightway to explain my views... The Soviet of Workers' Deputies came into being through the general strike, in connection with the strike, and for its aims. Who led the strike and brought it to a victorious close? The whole proletariat, which includes non-Social-Democrats — fortunately a minority. What were the aims of the strike? They were both economic and political. The economic aims concerned the whole proletariat, all workers, and partly even all working people, not the wage-workers alone. The political aims concerned all the people, or rather all the peoples, of Russia. These aims were to free all the peoples of Russia from the yoke of the autocracy, survivals of serfdom, a rightless status, and police tyranny....

I may be wrong, but I believe (on the strength of the incomplete and only “paper” information at my disposal) that politically the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies should be regarded as the embryo of a provisional revolutionary government. I think the Soviet should proclaim itself the provisional revolutionary government of the whole of Russia as early as possible, or should set up a provisional revolutionary government (which would amount to the same thing, only in another form).

Our Tasks and the Soviet of Workers' Deputies
Vladimir Lenin

The Bolsheviks would soon adopt Lenin's position, in 1906, though the Soviet had ceased to exist.

Historical Development (1917): During the first world war, Russia experienced a great deal of civil unrest and strikes. To increase industrial output, the Tsar and leading capitalists created War Industries Committees in the summer of 1915, and added to them "Workers' groups", marking the first legal organisation of "workers" since the beginning of the War.

On February 23rd the February Revolution begins with striking women textile workers. On the following day, as the strike gains even greater momemtum, workers throughout Petrograd spontaneously elect Soviets for the first time since 1905.....

Further Reading: How the Soviets Work, by H.N. Brailsford; 1905, by Leon Trotsky; Soviets in Action by John Reed.


Socialist Party of America

The Socialist Party of America was formed in July 1901 at the congress in Indianapolis as a result of a merger of groups that had broken away from the Socialist Labour Party and the Social-Democratic Party in the U.S.A., among whose founders was Eugene Debs, the popular American labour leader. He was one of the founders of the new party. The social composition of the party was motley: native-born and immigrant workers, small farmers, and people with a middle-class backgrounds. The Centrist and Right leaders of the party (V. L. Berger, Morris Hillquit and others) denied the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat, refrained from revolutionary methods of struggle and confined the Party’s activities to participation in elections. During World War I three trends formed within the Socialist Party: the Right-Wing, who supported the government’s imperialist policy, the Centrists, who opposed the imperialist war only in word, and the revolutionary minority, who held an internationalist stand and fought against the war. Led by Charles Ruthenberg, James P. Cannon, William Foster, Bill Haywood and others and with the support of proletarian elements, the Left wing of the Socialist Party waged a struggle against the reformist leadership of the party, for the workers’ independent political activity, and for the formation of industrial trade unions based on the principles of the class struggle. In 1919 the Left-wing split away from the S.P., initiated the formation of the Communist Labor Party and Communist Party of America, and became its core.


Socialist Party of Great Britain

Founded in 1904 by formers members of the Social Democratic Federation around a set of eight political principles and socialist objectives which have been retained to this day. The SPGB opposed the First World War on grounds of class and in 1918 described Russia as "State Capitalist". The Party has no leadership. For the SPGB, Socialism is only possible through parliamentary action by a Socialist majority.

See S.P.G.B. Subject Archive.

Richard Lloyd


Socialist Party of India

The name of several political parties in India, all of which have their roots in the Congress Socialist Party formed during the freedom struggle. (The Samajwadi Party is also a modern-day party whose first name in Hindi means "socialist".)

Indian Socialist Party

Despite JP Narayan's personal popularity, the Socialist Party won only 12 seats at the 1951 Indian general election, and its electoral fortunes did not improve. The SP merged with the Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party, which had recently been formed by J.B. Kripalani, to form the Praja Socialist Party.

Praja Socialist Party

The Praja Socialist Party was an Indian political party in existence from 1952 to 1972. It was founded when the Socialist Party, led by Jayprakash Narayan, Acharya Narendra Deva and Basawon Singh (Sinha), merged with the Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party led by J.B. Kripalani (formerly a close associate of Jawaharlal Nehru). A section led by Rammanohar Lohia broke from the party in 1955, resuming the name "Socialist Party".

Socialist Party (1955)

When Rammanohar Lohia was cast out of the Praja Socialist Party in 1955, he founded a group called the Socialist Party (Lohia).

Samyukta Socialist Party (1964)

Samyukta Socialist Party (United Socialist Party, SSP), was formed through a split in the Praja Socialist Party (PSP) in 1964. In 1972 SSP was reunited with PSP, forming the Socialist Party.

The General Secretary of the SSP from 1969 to 1971 was George Fernandes.

Socialist Party (1972)

A third Socialist Party was formed in 1972 through the reunion of the Praja Socialist Party with the Samyukta Socialist Party led by George Fernandes.

In 1974 and 1975, JP led satyagrahas against the corrupt government of Indira Gandhi and called for a 'Total Revolution' in the countryside. In response, Indira declared the two-year State of Emergency under which her own power was consolidated and JP was jailed.

After the Emergency, the Socialist Party joined with a number of other groups to form the Bharatiya Lok Dal, which fused in 1977 into Janata Party as an omnibus opposition to Congress Party rule.


Soviet Government

Formed by the Second Congress of Soviets, the first Council of People's Commissars was elected as the legislative body of the R.S.F.S.R..

In addition to the legislative body of the R.S.F.S.R., the Congress also elected the Central Executive Committee of Soviets as the executive body of the government. [...]

In 1923, the Soviet government became the governing body of the U.S.S.R.

The Soviet government claimed to be a dictatorship of the proletariat, but by no definition of the word was it. The Soviet government was ruled by a single party, by those who adhered to a single ideology regardless of the working class. While initially, the Soviets controlled the government, and therefore a dictatorship the proletariat did exist, due to the Civil War the Soviets lost their power to the Central Committee of the Communist Party (instead of the Central Committee of Soviets) and its Politburo , both of which were necessary to make critical and absolute decisions in the heat of battle. The government, however, never recovered from its Civil War practice, and became a dictatorship of a single party over the nation. While the party laid claims to representation of the working class, it was not an organ of working class power: according to Lenin only Soviets, i.e. local councils elected by local workers, are truly organs of workers power, and they had become subservient to the Communist Party.

A general outline of the life and times of the Soviet government can be rendered as follows:

- WWI (1914-1918)
- Revolution (1917)
- Civil War & Foreign Invasions (1918-1922)
- Reaction and Repression (1924-1939)
- WW II (1940-1945)
- Revision (1953-1964)
- Conservativism (1965-1984)
- Reform (1985-1991)

Further Reading: Arthur Ransome describes the historical context of the communist dictatorship in his book The Crisis in Russia


Soviet Secret Police

"We say that the use of violence arises from the need to crush the exploiters, the landowners and capitalists. When this is accomplished we shall renounce all extraordinary measures. We have proved this in practice. And I think, I hope, and I am confident that the All-Russia Central Executive Committee will unanimously endorse this measure of the Council of People's Commissars and will implement it in such a way that it will be impossible to apply the death penalty in Russia.

V.I. Lenin
Report on the Work of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee And The Council Of People’s Commissars
February 20th, 1920

Of course the demands originated with Stalin, and of course there were excesses, but all that was permissable, to my mind, for the sake of the main objective — keeping state power!

V. Molotov
Molotov Remembers, 2/29/1980, p. 265.

The Soviet Secret Police were first created on October 26, 1917, one day after the Russian Revolution aimed to defend the revolution in the short term, and would remain a part of the Soviet Government until its end. The Secret Police began as an entirely Bolshevik organisation, was frequently altered, and for a period of time, amassed an enourmous amount of power.

Soviet Secret Police Names
Administrative Label Dates
Cheka 1917 - 1922
NKVD 1922 - 1943
    GPU, OGPU, GUGB 1922 - 1945
NKGB, MGB, GRU, MVD 1941 - 1954
KGB 1954 - 1991

The duties of the secret police, while multifaceted, included the administration of the gulag's and prison system, the police, and internal affairs for the police. From the extraordinary heights of power during the Great Terror (NKVD), the power of the secret police would become far more moderate (KGB) for the remainder of their existence, equal to their US counterparts the CIA & FBI.