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The New International, November 1946


Notes of the Month

Russia Twenty-Nine Years After


From New International, Vol. XII No. 9, November 1946, pp. 262–263.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


As the marching thousands once more pour through Moscow’s Red Square for the twenty-ninth anniversary of the Russian Revolution, they will for the first time be reviewed by a government of ministers. Few of the formal outward changes introduced by the new ruling class in their efforts to obliterate the revolutionary distinctions between the Russian state and all others, speak such volumes as the recent amendments to the Russian Constitution changing the names of the heads of government from “People’s Commissars” to “Ministers.”

In Leon Trotsky’s reminiscences of Lenin, published under the title Lenin he relates the conversation that gave birth to the term “People’s Commissars.” Lenin and Trotsky were resting from the fatiguing all-night session of the Soviet Congress in Smolny on the day of the insurrection. Their thoughts turned to the formal organization of the new revolutionary government. Lenin was anxious to differentiate the new regime from the old, even in the nomenclature applied to its heads. He specifically wanted to avoid the term “Minister.” The Russian masses had just had their fill of government by Kerensky’s Ministers, not to speak of the long association of the term with the appointees of the Czar. Trotsky suggested “Commissar,” an adaptation of the famous revolutionary “Commissioners” of the French Revolution. Lenin greeted it with enthusiasm. “It smells of revolution,” was his comment. The announcement of a government of “People’s Commissars.” instead of a new set of Ministers had a tremendous symbolic significance to the Russian masses and to the world at large.

The triumphant counter-revolution under Stalin waited a long time before venturing to discard the term “People’s Commissar.” Like so much of the nomenclature of the Revolution, the term was a necessary cover for the counter-revolutionary changes in the essence of the regime. However, the heads of the new ruling class must have felt exceedingly uncomfortable as “People’s Commissars.” They yearned to rid the state of its remaining revolutionary configurations in outward appearances in order to make Russian state forms more like those of other states. The Russian bureaucrat thinks: “Why can’t we be like other states?” Though the heads of capitalist nations have long since ceased being terrified of Russia as a revolutionary power, it continued to be an unpleasant reminder of Russia’s past to do business with officials who bore such titles as “People’s Commissar,” and, as with all that is strange and different, remained a source of uneasiness. It is significant, too, that the Stalin regime chose “Minister” rather than the more democratic “Secretary” adopted by the young American republic when it won its war of independence against the Ministers of the British Crown. As in other instances, when the Russian rulers assume the trappings of the bourgeois world, they choose the reactionary rather than the democratic.

But if the term “People’s Commissar” was long devoid of any proletarian revolutionary content in Russia, the term “Minister” is just as devoid of any bourgeois content today. It has about the same relevance as evidence that capitalism is returning to Russia as the appearance of cosmetics shops and the introduction of American jazz. The statified economy remains intact. Far from any evidence of the return of capitalist property forms, all indications point to greater state control. Significant in this respect is the recent announcement that henceforth the Council for Collective Farm Affairs will have its own direct representatives, “controllers from the center,” to supervise the local collectives. This is part of a drive to centralize agriculture and offset tendencies toward “squandering of collective farm property” and “money chasing” on the part of collective farmers.

Few traces remain of the world-shaking changes wrought by the Russian Revolution. Even its outward symbols are being systematically uprooted. The meaning of that great liberating event lives on only in the program and activities of the Fourth Internationalist movement. The real celebration of the twenty-ninth anniversary of the Russian Revolution will not take place in Red Square but in the press and meetings of the revolutionary Marxist parties.

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