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International Socialism, July-September 1972


M. Brinton

On the Bolsheviks and Workers’ Control


From Letter, International Socialism (1st series), No.52, July-September 1972, pp.30 &34.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Dear Comrades,

In his revew of my book The Bolsheviks and Workers Control (International Socialism 49), Chris Harman states:

‘He (Brinton) distorts the meanings of discussions and conceals facts. For example one small instance which typifies his whole approach: Brinton quotes as a critic of the Bolshevik line on workers’ control the anarchist Shatov; however his account deliberately omits to mention that Shatov later joined the Bolsheviks, accepting their discipline as necessary to defend the revolution. Such distortion means that Brinton’s work is little help to serious revolutionaries trying to come to terms with how the revolution was eventually lost.’

One could scarcely find a better illustration of my claim that the essence of Stalinism is to be found in the methods of Leninism and Trotskyism. Chris Harman, your Editor, provides unsolicited support for my contention (drawn in this instance from the field of historiographic falsification). The Stalinists, as I am sure your readers know, became past masters in this art.

I mention Vladimir Shatov once in my book. On the page in question (p.31) I state, in a footnote, that he ‘later became a member of the Petrograd Military Revolutionary Committee and an officer of the 10th Red Army’. I point out that ‘in 1919 he played an important role in the defence of Petrograd against Yudenich’. I also bring to the attention of readers the fact that ‘in 1920 he became Minister of Transport in the Far Eastern Soviet Republic’.

If I don’t mention that Shatov ‘later joined the Bolsheviks’ it is because I honestly don’t know whether this is a fact (even were it true, so what? Does the fact that a Parvus, a Plekhanov, a Kautsky, or for that matter even a Trotsky, eventually advocated things different from what they had argued for in their youth invalidate their early opinions?).

That Shatov supported the Bolsheviks, I would have thought my footnote made abundantly clear to even the dimmest. That he actually joined them, as Chris Harman alleges (and alleges that I ‘deliberately omitted to mention’) is doubtful. I have not found the fact mentioned by Lenin, Trotsky, Deutscher, Carr, Daniels, Serge or Avrich. In 1920 Shatov in fact assured Emma Goldman that ‘he had not joined the Communist Party and never would’.

As Chris Harman, your editor (at the relevant time) has himself selected this episode as ‘typifying my whole approach’ and is ‘of little help to serious revolutionaries trying to come to terms with how the revolution was lost’, it is surely incumbent upon him to produce some factual evidence that Shatov ‘joined the Bolsheviks’. If he can, I will withdraw, pleading inadequate information, but not bad faith. If Barman cannot produce the evidence, however, he should publicly retract, pleading the habitual bad faith of the political hack.

I await developments with interest. So no doubt will a number of your readers.


Yours fraternally
M. Brinton

Chris Harman

A Reply to Comrade Brinton


From International Socialism (1st series), No.52, July-September 1972, p.34.


Comrade Brinton does protest too much. Shatov was ‘frequently castigated as an "Anarcho-Bolshevik"’ according to Paul Avrich (The Russian Anarchists, p.197). He made it clear that he was for uncritical support for the Bolshevik government. ‘We anarchists should be true to our ideals, but we should not criticise at this time. We must work and help to build.’ (Berkman, The Bolshevik Myth, quoted in Avrich, ibid.) He may or may not have actually taken out a Bolshevik party card, but there can be no doubt that by 1919 he recognised the discipline enforced by that party as essential for saving the revolution.

The fact is important. Not because a change of mind by any single individual is significant, but because what happened to Shatov happened also to thousands of other worker militants who had been hostile to the Bolsheviks at earlier points in the revolution. All of them moved towards support for ‘authoritarian’ forms of direction in industry – not as a result of Bolshevik ‘distrust of the masses’, but because of the overwhelming economic and military needs of the situation.

Brinton, because of his whole approach, has to try to conceal the way in which individuals recognised this and changed their ideas accordingly. That is why no-one would be able to tell from his book that those he quotes as against the Bolsheviks at the January 1918 trade union conference were supporting them only 18 months later. The footnote on Shatov might indicate as much to a few initiates, but I doubt it.

Brinton’s distortions do not only extend to Shatov. He distorts the picture even more as regards the Bolsheviks. He tried to give the impression that they demagogically supported workers’ control until they had taken power, and then turned against it. To prove his case he quotes one speech at the January 1918 trade union meeting, that of the ‘Bolshevik trade unionist’ Lozovsky.

But Lozovsky was hardly a typical spokesman for the Bolsheviks. He had only joined them six months before and was on the extreme right-wing of the party. He still shared many of the Menshevik ideas about the non-socialist character of the revolution and was particularly dubious about too hasty introduction of either workers’ control or nationalisation. He had strongly criticised a draft for a decree on workers’ control drawn up by Lenin in mid-November and, three weeks before the trade union conference, had been the only Bolshevik on the supreme council for the national economy to oppose Lenin’s suggestion of immediate nationalisation of industry (E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, pp.73 and 81). It was not surprising he could make statements similar to those of the Mensheviks and very different in tone to those of Lenin on workers’ control, let alone to those of many rank and file activists.


Chris Harman

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