Pierre Broué

The History of the Bolshevik Party (CP) of the U.S.S.R.

Chapter VII. The Crisis of 1921: the Beginnings of the N.E.P. and the Rise of the Apparatus

The country which had experienced the first victory of the proletarian revolution and of the construction of the first workers ’ state seemed, three years later, to be near to decomposition. Entire regions were living in a state of anarchy near to barbarism, under the threat of bands of brigands. The whole economic structure seemed to have collapsed. Industry produced 20% in quantity of its prewar production, and 13% in value. The output of iron represented 1.6% and that of steel 2.4%. The production of oil and of coal, sectors least affected, represented only 41% and 27% of that of pre-war; in other sectors, the percentage varied between zero and 20%. Capital equipment was wearing out: 60% of locomotives were out of action and 63% of the railway tracks could not be used. Agricultural production had fallen in quantity and value alike. The area under cultivation was down by 16%. In the richest regions, the production of specialist crops for the markets or the rearing of cattle had disappeared and given way to poor subsistence cultivation. Trade between towns and the country had fallen to the minimum, to the level of requisitions or of barter-between individuals.

At the same time, there was a black market, in which the prices were forty to fifty times higher than the legal prices. The standard of living of the population of the cities was well below what is strictly necessary to maintain life. In 1920 the trade unions estimated that the absolutely necessary expenditure represented amounts of money two and a half or three times higher than wages. The most privileged workers received between 1,200 and 1,900 calories, instead of the 3,000 which specialists regarded as necessary. For that reason the cities, starving, were emptied. In autumn 1920 the population of forty provincial capitals had fallen by 33% from the 1917 level, from 6,400,000 to 4,300,000. In three years Petrograd lost 57.5% and Moscow lost 44.5% of their population. By comparison with prewar, one lost half and the other a third of their inhabitants.

Four years after the revolution, then, Russia presented this paradox, a workers ’ state, founded in a proletarian revolution, in which, to borrow the expression of Bukharin, a veritable “disintegration of the proletariat” was taking place. In 1919 there had been three million workers in industry; in 1920 there were only 1,500,000 and in 1921 1,125,000. In addition, the majority of them were not really working. “Normal” absenteeism in the factories was 50%. The workers drew wages which were nearly unemployment pay. The trade unions estimated that half of what was manufactured in certain work-places was immediately sold by the people who made it. The same was true, which was more serious, in the case of tools, coal, nails and plant.

The workers had fallen in numbers, but perhaps had changed still more deeply in depth. Its vanguard, the militants of the underground period, the fighters in the revolution, the organisers of the Soviets, the generation of experienced cadres like that of the enthusiastic youth, had left the factories en masse at the beginning of the civil war. The revolutionary workers were at posts of command in the Red Army, in the state apparatus and on every front across the vast country. The most active of those who remained formed the cadres of the trade unions. The most capable sought amid the general poverty that individual solution which would enable them and their families to survive. The workers of the towns went back to the country, with which their links had always remained alive, in hundreds of thousands. No vanguard remained, nor even a proletariat in the Marxist sense of the term, only a mass of declassed workers, a wretched, half-idle sub-proletariat. The regression was so deep and the decline into barbarism so real that the year 1921 was to see the re-appearance of the famine which, according to the official statistics, would affect 36 million peasants. Cases even of cannibalism were recorded.

The crisis of 1921: Cronstadt

The explosion took place at the beginning of 1921. To tell the truth, the crisis had been brewing since the end of the civil war. The peasants had chosen, between the two evils of the White Army and the Red Army, the lesser evil when they supported the second. But the requisitions became all the more intolerable when, after the defeat of the Whites, they no longer had to fear a restoration which would take back the land from them. So the peasant discontent rose without a break from September 1920 onwards. There were uprisings in Siberia during the winter and the food supply of the cities was threatened. It was the support of the peasants to which Makhno owed his ability to hold out with his men under arms. The crisis spread from the country into the cities. For long weeks in Petrograd a workers ’ wages amounted to half a pound of bread a day. In February strikes and demonstrations multiplied.

This is the agitation which formed the background for the Cronstadt insurrection. The discussion on the trade unions and the campaign by Zinoviev for “workers ’ democracy” fed fuel to the flames. The Party Committee in Petrograd tried to take advantage of the discontent of the sailors with the centralisation imposed by the political commissars, by demanding the political leadership of the fleet. Zinoviev served to protect those who denounced “the dictatorship of the commissars”. All these elements of agitation were germinating in a fertile soil at Cronstadt.

In 1917 the naval base had been the fortress of the revolutionary sailors. It was no longer. Here too the vanguard had been drawn off by the new tasks. The leaders of 1917 were no longer there. The Bolshevik, Rochal, had had his throat cut by the Whites in Rumania. The anarchist Iartchuk was in prison. Markin had been killed on the Volga. Raskolnikov, Dingelstedt and Pankratov were dispersed all over the country; they and the people like them were military commissars or chiefs, or commandants of Tchekas. Among the sailors, who were this deprived of their political leadership, there were numerous new recruits. Yet they retained a tradition, a prestige and a strength. No doubt oppositional political currents were at work among them. The influence of the Mensheviks could be felt in the Petrograd factories, but not in the fleet. On the other hand, anarchists and social-revolutionaries without doubt increased their audience, which had never completely disappeared, and which was to reveal itself in the slogans of the insurrection. Yet it is impossible to attribute to a considered initiative by any particular group the first demonstrations of political opposition by the sailors. These arose directly from the workers ’ agitation in February.

One after another the Petrograd factories went on strike on February 24, 25 and 26. Meetings of strikers demanded the end of requisitions, the improvement of the food supply and the abolition of the labour armies. The last-named had been one of the slogans of the Mensheviks speakers frequently demanded that the powers of the Tcheka. On the 24th, the Soviet set up a defence committee consisting of three members under the leadership of Lashevich. It proclaimed a state of siege and gave full powers in each factory to other committees of three, the troiki , and appealed to officer-cadets for the maintenance of order in the streets. Delegates from the Cronstadt sailors took part in all the meetings in the principal factories and were to give an account of them to their comrades in the citadel. It is probably one such meeting which was held on board the Petropavlovsk , on February 28, in the presence of the commissars of the fleet. It adopted a fifteen-point resolution, calling for the re-election of the Soviets by secret ballot after a free election campaign, for the freedom of the press and of meeting for the anarchists and the Socialist parties and for the workers ’ and peasants ’ unions, for a meeting on March 10 at the latest of a non-party conference of the workers, soldiers and sailors of Petrograd, Cronstadt and the region, for the liberation of all the political prisoners of the socialist parties and of persons arrested for having taken part in workers ’ or peasants ’ movements, for the election of a commission to review the cases of all the detainees, for the abolition of the political education and agitation sections, for the equalisation of food rations for all workers, for the abolition of the detachments charged with seeking out and requisitioning stocks of grain, as well as of all the Communist units, the right of peasants to dispose of their land and of their animals, and for artisans to be free to produce what they please when they do not employ wage-labour (1). At this date there is nothing to permit this programme to be regarded as that of an insurrection. The Petrograd defence committee, anyway, did not see it in that light. It sent two orators to Cronstadt, the president of the executive, Kalinin, who had already been able to calm several strikes in Petrograd, and Kuzmin, the commissar of the fleet.

On March 1, these two leaders spoke, in the Anchor Square, to some 6,000 sailors, soldiers and peasants. The meeting was held under the presidency of the Communist, Vasiliev, the head of the Cronstadt Soviet. They were frequently interrupted and did not succeed in convincing the assembly. By a very large majority, it adopted the Petropavlovsk resolution, and then unanimously decided to call a conference of delegates to arrange new elections to the Soviet (2).

It was at this conference, the next day, that the first serious incidents broke out. When Kuzmin stated that the Communist Party would not let itself be driven out of power at the moment of danger, he was accused of having threatened the Cronstadt men. The conference decided by acclamation to arrest him and Vasiliev. The rumour spread that the Communists from the party school were marching on the meeting hall. The conference closed in confusion, after having appointed a committee of five, which was soon enlarged by the cooption of ten newcomers and was to become the provisional revolutionary committee, with the sailor Patrichenko as its president. From that moment the revolution began against those whom the Cronstadt men called “the Communist usurpers” and the “commissarocracy”. It seems have drawn in behind it the majority of the Communists in Cronstadt(3).

The situation was extremely serious for the Bolshevik government. None of the leaders seems to have really believed that White Guards had any influence in the beginning of the affair, its propaganda immediately described the movement as having been inspired by White Guard officers and led by one of them, General Kozlovsky. This former officer in the army of the Tsar, who was serving in the Red Army, was head of the artillery in Cronstadt. He was a member of the city ’s defence committee after March 4, but does not appear to have in any way been an initiator of the movement. None the less, the experience of the civil war showed that spontaneous popular uprisings against the Soviet regime always ended up, despite the democratic character of their initial demands, by falling into the hands of monarchists and reactionaries. On March 3, the Cronstadt delegates tried to get a foothold in Oranienbaum and to win to their cause the 5th air squadron. If they had succeeded, Petrograd would have fallen in a few hours (4). Serge Zorin, the party secretary in Petrograd, revealed the preparations of the commander of a regiment, who was ready to go over to the Cronstadters and who was to declare, before he was shot: “I have been waiting for this moment for years. I hate you all, you assassins of Russia” (5). Despite the cells of the insurgents for a “third revolution”, which obviously would bring them into opposition to the supporters of the Constituant Assembly, the White Guard emigres multiplied their advances and offers of help, which moreover were rejected. Petrichenko refused to receive Tchernov until the situation was clarified (6). Miliukov, the Cadet leader, writes that the insurgents found the right road to bringing down the regime when—though this is untrue—they issued the slogan “Soviets without Communists”.

Lenin stressed: “They do not want the White Guards, but they do not want our regime either” (7). It appears that he particularly feared that the sailors would play the role of a Trojan Morse. Cronstadt is a vital strategic position and it carried important heavy artillery. The island was blocked by ice, but if the insurrection were prolonged until after the thaw, the island could become the bridge-head for a foreign invasion at the gates of Petrograd. The first military initiatives were taken by the insurgents on March 2 and 3. The government seems to have thought at first of negotiating, but made up its mind to use force after several days of propaganda warfare by leaflets and by radio.

There was nothing encouraging in the news from the rest of the country. Victor Serge says that over fifty centres of peasant insurrection could be counted. The socialist-revolutionary Antonov had collected a peasant army of 50,000 in the Tambov region, and months would be needed to defeat them. Makhno still held out in the Ukraine. All these movements could spread with lightning speed if Cronstadt were to hold out for any length of time. Here and there, as at Saratov, peasants were attacking towns in order to slaughter the Communists there. The Bolsheviks could see White Terror on the horizon and the enemy could take advantage of the popular discontent to get a fresh foothold in Russia. They therefore decided to cut it to the quick. At the Tenth Congress, Lenin stated: “Here we have a democratic petty bourgeois movement, demanding free trade and protesting against the dictatorship of the proletariat. But the non-party elements are serving as a stepping-stone, a support and a gangway for the White Guards” (8). As Radek writes, it was on “the monarchist counter-revolutionary conspiracy of the artillery commander, Kozlovsky, un-observed by the sailors” that the proclamations of the Bolsheviks laid the emphasis” (9). On March 5, in his capacity as chief of the Red Army, Trotsky summoned the mutineers to surrender unconditionally. They refused. Tukhachevsky prepared to attack with elite troops, consisting of Tchekists and cadet-officers of the Red Army. The operations were carried out quickly, because time was short before the thaw, which would isolate the fortress from the mainland. The fighting was to be costly in human lives. The attackers went into battle under the fire of the guns of Cronstadt. It began on March 7 and was over by the 17th. A certain number of the leaders of the insurrection escaped, including Petrichenko, who was to take refuge abroad, but the repression was severe. Cronstadters were shot in the streets and, according to Serge, others were to be shot in the coming months, hundreds of them, “in small groups” (10).

The insurrection was liquidated. The Thermidor which Lenin feared had taken place, but the Bolsheviks had defeated the Thermidoreans. None the less, very deep traces remained. The programme of the insurgents bore many reminders of the programme of the revolution of 1917, of which Cronstadt had been the spear-head. The demands which accompanied corresponded to the aspirations of many workers and peasants who were tired of sacrifices, weary, tired out and starving. “We have gone too far”, Lenin was to say. None the less, the party had supported the leadership; the delegates to the Tenth Congress, including the Workers ’ Opposition, played their part in the attack and the repression. Lutovinov, Shliapnikov ’s right-hand man, who was in Berlin, categorically condemned the insurrection and approved the attack by the Red Army. None the less, it is clear that new relations were formed between the party and the working people: ‘Must we give way to the working people, who are at the end of their physical strength and patience, and are less enlightened than we are about their own general interests?”, Radek asked himself some days earlier, in an address to the students of the military academy of the Red Army. He drew the conclusion: “The Party takes the view that it cannot give way, that it must impose its will to conquer on the exhausted working people, who are prepared to give way” (11). For the first time, in the name of its “higher consciousness”, the party which until then had known how to convince the working people, had fought arms in hand against those who had expressed themselves in which it regarded as a reactionary sense. The lyrical agreement of 1917 belonged to the past.

With the insurrection and the repression at Cronstadt there also ended the dream of Muhsam and others, the unification of revolutionary Marxists with libertarians. After the mediation of the American anarchists, Emma Goldmann and Alexander Berkman failed, Cronstadt was to be the symbol of the henceforth irreconcilable hostility between these two currents in the workers ’ movement.

The N.E.P.

It was no doubt not by chance that the Cronstadt revolt coincided with the adoption by the Tenth Congress of the Party of a radical turn in economic policy, known as the New Economic Policy and familiarly called “Nep”. Contrary to superficial but frequently repeated statements, it was not Cronstadt which led to the adoption of Nep, but the same difficulties lie at the origin of the troubles and the turn. The roots of the events of March 1921 lie in the consequences both of the civil war and of its end. Moreover, we may believe that the turn to Nep. was taken too late, and that the Cronstadt insurrection was the price for this useless delay: most of the economic demands of the mutineers were included in the draft prepared by the Communist Central Committee during the first months of 1921 as measures inevitable in the new situation.

The Nep. is characterised by the abolition of measures of requisitioning, which are replaced by a progressive tax, by the re-establishment of free trading and the reappearance of a market, by the return to a monetary economy, toleration of medium and small private industry and an appeal, under State control, for foreign investment. It is an attempt to break out of the vicious circle of war Communism and in a certain sense brings it to an end, because it starts from the necessity to encourage the peasant to supply the products of his labour, in order to open up the policy of industrial productivity necessary to support the market, in place of the necessity to drag out of the country what is needed to feed the towns. Historians have delighted in stressing the two contradictory lines in the explanations given by the leading Communists who presented the Nep. sometimes as a temporary retreat and sometimes as a return to the economic policy which had been sketched out in 1917 and which had undergone a detour imposed by the war. The fact is that it had the double aim of encouraging the peasant masses and of developing, with industry, the economic and social bases of the new regime. It was imposed by the repulse of the European revolution, as Lenin explained at the Tenth Congress: “A socialist revolution, in a country like ours, can finally be victorious, but on two conditions, first, that it be supported at the right moment by a socialist revolutions in one or several advanced countries … We have done much to bring this condition about … But we are still far from its realisation. The other … is a compromise between the proletariat which exercises its dictatorship or holds state power in its hands and the majority of the peasant population” (12).

In fact it was the isolation of the Russian Revolution which led the Bolshevik lenders to advance the Nep., not the adoption of the Nep. which diverted them from the aim of the European Revolution. For March 1921 is not only the month of Cronstadt and the Tenth Congress; it is also the month when the insurrectional strike was repulsed in Germany. This was hastily prepared, badly organised, imposed on the Central Committee of the German party by the Hungarian Bela Kun, the emissary of Zinoviev, utilised perhaps in the hope that a revolutionary success would reduce the necessity for the Nep. turn, but its defeat demonstrated that the tactic of the offensive, of short-term revolutionary perspectives, must be abandoned. Lenin and Trotsky were at first nearly alone, facing a hostile majority, hut succeeded finally in convincing the delegates to the Third Congress of the International. Trotsky ’s speech concluded: “History has given the bourgeoisie a breathing-space … The victory of the proletariat immediately after the war was a historic possibility which has not been realised … We must take advantage of this period of relative stabilisation to extend our influence over the working class and to win its majority before decisive events arise” (13). Before the Communist parties take power, they must “win the masses”. This is the task to which the Communist International summons them from 1921 onwards.

The monopoly of the Party

The turn of Nep., liberalisation in the economic sphere, was an important stage on the road of the political monopoly of the Bolshevik Party. The dictatorship had been justified, for better or for worse, by the necessities of the military struggle. Now it maintained and strengthened itself in the name of other dangers. The end of war Communism and the relaxation of constraints in fact restored their strength to social forces which until then had been held in check or even suppressed; the richer peasants, the kulaks, the new bourgeoisie, the nepmen , enriched by the recovery of trade and industry, the bourgeois specialists and technicians employed in industry.

The Bolshevik leaders were haunted by the fear that they would see these forces coalesce against the regime. The party was weary. Zinoviev declared without equivocation: “Many militants are tired to death; we are demanding an extreme moral tension from them; their families are living in painful conditions and the party or chance transfer them here and there. Inevitably a physical deterioration results” (14). The Smolensk archives reveal that at this date 17% of the party were tuberculous (15). Tens of thousands of the best militants were dead. The end of the war encouraged an influx of careerists and place-seekers, all those for whom a party card represented social insurance. In 1917 the strength of the party came from its old guard. In 1921 this old guard was decimated and used up, as were its connections with an ardent, Combative, generous and enthusiastic working class. A real revolutionary proletariat no longer existed. The proletarians who remained were turning away from the party and its historic perspectives, to cling to the search for a problematic individual solution. How could the Bolsheviks accept free confrontation of ideas and free competition in the elections to the Soviets, when they knew that nine-tenths of the population were hostile to them, when they believed that their overthrow would lead to bloody chaos, to an even deeper descent into barbarism and to the return of the reactionary regime of the pogromists?

Never since June 1917 had the Mensheviks had so much influence in the factories and the unions. For the first time they represented a real force among the workers, as well as the anarchists. The promises of legalisation were therefore not kept. In fact the organisations which competed with the Party were prohibited, if not in law. The journal of the Left Social-Revolutionaries disappears in May 1921. Sternberg managed to flee into exile, but Kamkov and Karelin disappeared in the jails, like Spiridonova in October 1920. There were still many anarchists at liberty in February 1921 to attend the funeral of Kropotkin, but after Cronstadt they were arrested an masse. Makhno managed to get away to Rumania and Volin, after a hunger strike, was allowed to go abroad. Despite Kamenev ’s promises, the aged Aaron Baron remained in prison, while his wife was shot in Odessa. In autumn 1920 Martov received a passport for Germany and was to stay there.

Dan was arrested after Cronstadt as was to be allowed to emigrate later. From February 1921 the Menshevik journal Sotsialistitchesky Vestnik (Socialist Messenger) appears in Germany, but for several years was to be distributed nearly freely in Russia.

Many of the former opponents of the Bolsheviks turned towards them and sometimes met with a warm reception. Semenov, later known as Blumkin, joined the secret service, where there was a place for this former terrorist. The Mensheviks, such as the old “Economist” Martynov, Maisky, Vyshinsky, Troyanovsky, all came over. The fact that the party had a monopoly of political power meant that it became the sole organism within which divergent class pressures and political disagreements could express themselves.

The Tenth Congress

These new conditions weighed on the party which had to face up to two kinds of contradictory imperatives. On the one hand, it could not admit, without losing its character as a Communist Party, to becoming the closed battle-ground of opposed social forces, as its position as the sole party implied. But, as the Party in power, it could not continue to govern the country without internal democracy, like a military unit, without turning its back on its own aims. It felt obliged to filter new recruitments carefully, but at the same time it had to take care not to isolate itself or to fall back into a kind of free-masonry of old comrades, cut off from the new generations which for some years had been growing up under the new regime. It was because the party found itself grappling with these contradictory necessities that it adopted solutions which only later were to reveal themselves as contradictory and even mutually exclusive, while nearly all the leaders and the militants regarded them as complementary. This explains that the Tenth Congress, which its contemporaries regarded above all as the Congress of workers ’ democracy recovered, became in the years that followed the Congress which declared and prepared for monolithism by prohibiting fractions.

It is improbable that the influence of Zinoviev at the Tenth Congress was due to the efforts he had made previously in his campaign for the restoration of workers ’ democracy. On the contrary, he generally enjoyed the solid reputation of being hard-fisted, never embarrassed, precisely, by democratic scruples. Several authors tell that one of the ways to raise a laugh in a working-class audience at the time was to read out a choice of good quotations about democracy from Zinoviev. But it is significant that such a man should choose this war-horse. The incidents concerning Tsektran, the development of the trade union discussion, had amply demonstrated that there were numerous militants and party leaders who believed, with Preobrazhensky, that “the extension of the possibilities of criticism is precisely one of the conquests of the revolution” (16). This was the perspective within which Trotsky likewise had demanded that a “free debate” be opened within the party on the trade union question.

The Tenth Congress opened on March 8. The guns at Cronstadt were roaring. More than two hundred of the delegates were to leave the hall, to go to take part in the assault. It was in no way surprising that, in these conditions, the second day was marked by a very serious warning from Lenin. Speaking of the Workers ’ Opposition”, he said: “A slightly syndicalist or semi-anarchist deviation would not have been very serious, because the party would have recognised it in time and would have set about dealing with it. But when this deviation takes place within the framework of a crushing preponderance of the peasantry in the country, when the discontent of the peasantry against the proletarian dictatorship is growing, when the crisis of peasant agriculture is nearing its limit, when the demobilisation of the peasant army is throwing out hundreds and thousands of broken men, who cannot find work, who know no other trade but war and are recruits for banditry, we no longer have the time for discussion on theoretical deviations. We must say frankly to the Congress: we will permit no more discussions on deviations: they must be stopped … The atmosphere of controversy is becoming a real danger to the dictatorship of the proletariat” (17). Lenin more than anyone else seems to have understood the perilous character of the situation. As he sought to justify the condemnation of the Workers ’ Opposition, he used arguments which reveal an extremely pessimistic appreciation: “If we perish, it is of the greatest importance to preserve our ideological line and to give a lesson to our successors. We must never forget this, even in desperate circumstances” (18).

However, the danger also comes, beyond all question, from the military regime in the party. Bukharin presents the report on workers ’ democracy, on behalf of the Central Committee (19). He began by recalling that one of the contradictions of war Communism, thanks to the introduction into organisation of “militarisation” and “extreme centralism”, which were absolutely necessary, had been to end up by “creating a highly centralised apparatus on the basis of an extremely backward cultural level of the masses”. Such a regime was no longer desirable or practicable. He declared, “We must devote our energies in the direction of workers ’ democracy and achieving it with the same force as we used in the previous period to militarise the party. By workers ’ democracy within the party, we must understand a form of organisation which ensures to every member an active participation in the life of the party and in the discussion of all the questions which are posed there and of their solution, as well as active participation in building the party”. On the thorny question of nominations, he stated categorically: “Workers ’ democracy excludes the system of nominations, and is characterised by the eligibility of every organism from top to bottom, by their responsibility and the control which is imposed upon them”. The methods of work in workers ’ democracy must consist of “wide discussions on all the important questions, absolute freedom of criticism within the party and the collective elaboration of the decisions of the party.”

The solution which Bukharin proposed recalls the definition of democratic centralism in the constitution of 1919: “The decisions of the leading organisms must be applied quickly and exactly. At the same time, discussion in the party of all the debated questions in the life of the party is completely free until a decision has been reached”. His solution explains the spirit of democratic centralism, within the framework of workers ’ democracy as the search for “a constant watch by the public opinion of the party on the work of its leading organisms, and a constant interaction between these and the party as a whole in practice, at the same time as deepening the strict responsibility of the appropriate committees of the party with respect, not only to higher organisms, but also to lower organisms”. The document which Bukharin presented in this way won the unanimous support of the delegates to the Congress, because it was in fundamental harmony with a general aspiration, which was expressed as well by Bukharin and his friends as by Zinoviev and his supporters and by Shliapnikov and the other oppositionists.

It was the principal resolution, and it bore the mark of its relevance to the immediate circumstances. It was in the name of workers ’ democracy that access to the party had to be denied to careerists, intriguers and class enemies: one year ’s probationary membership, without the right to vote, was henceforth imposed on candidates-not of working-class origin. The document took up again something which the Eighth Congress had hoped: it proposed that a decision be systematically enforced so that “workers who have been engaged for a long period in the service of the Soviets or of the party must be employed in industry or in agriculture, in the same conditions of life as other workers”. This showed that the Bolshevik leaders were aware of the danger of degeneration implied by keeping people permanently in administrative jobs and by the differentiation of functions between workers and those who govern over workers (20). In this way the party was showing its determination to remain a workers ’ party, leading party as it might be.

None the less, it was important, in the eyes of the leading Bolsheviks, to set the bounds of this democracy which they were unanimous in demanding, in view of the pressing dangers. On March 11 Bukharin announced his intention of moving a resolution on “party unity”; this was clearly directed against the supporters of the Workers ’ Opposition. In the end, Lenin undertook the introduction of two motions on the last day of the Congress, March 16; one condemned the programme of the Workers ’ Opposition as an anarcho-syndicalist deviation, stating that its views on the role of the trade unions in the management of industry were “incompatible with membership of the party”. The other drew attention to what it called “signs of fractionism” and “the appearance of groups with their own programme and a tendency to turn in upon themselves to a certain extent and to create their own group discipline”. Such a situation weakened the party and encouraged its enemies: the motion reminded that militants that “anyone who expresses a criticism” should “take into account of how they do so and of the situation of the party surrounded with enemies” (21). There too the group of Shliapnikov and Kollontai was all the more clearly the target, in that the resolution laid down, under pain of exclusion, that groups formed around specific platforms must be dissolved immediately. Article 4 laid down that all the discussions on the policy of the party, discussions which it was forbidden to carry on in “fractions”, had their place, in return, in the meetings of the regular organisms of the party. It laid down: “For this purpose, the Congress decides to publish a periodic discussion bulletin and special periodicals”. Article 7 foresaw that, for the application of this resolution, the Central Committee was to receive the power to exclude people from the party, including its own members, provided that the decision was taken by a two- thirds majority: it was not to be published.

This resolution was to be the keystone of the subsequent transformation of the party and of the disappearance of the workers ’ democracy, to which it proposed only to determine a framework. Only twenty-five delegates voted against it. Some expressed their reservations, including Radek in particular, who was uneasy about giving the power to the Central Committee to expel, though he voted for it none the less, in view of the threats to the regime: “In voting for this resolution, I believe that it can well be used against us, yet I support it … At the moment of danger, let the Central Committee take the most severe measures against the best comrades. Even if it is mistaken! This is less dangerous than the wavering which we can observe today” (22). Moreover Lenins attitude seemed re-assuring. It was known that he was proposing an emergency measure, justified by the gravity of the situation. It was known that he thought “that the most vigorous fractional activity is justified … if the disagreements are really deep and if the correction of the false policy of the party or of the working class cannot be obtained any other way” (23). When Riazanov proposed the adoption of an amendment which would prohibit in the future the election of the Central Committee on the basis of lists of candidates supporting different platforms, Lenin vigorously opposed him: “We cannot deprive the party and the members of the Central Committee of the right to turn towards the party if an essential question raises disagreements … We do not have the power to suppress that” (24).

The Congress had already appointed the Central Committee before it voted on these two resolutions, precisely on the basis of the platforms which had been submitted to the vote of the delegates at the time of the debate on the trade union question. The initiative for this procedure had came from Petrograd on January 3, evidently inspired by Zinoviev, who had seen in it a convenient way of eliminating certain of his opponents and, in particular, the three secretaries who had voted for the Trotsky-Bukharin platform. Trotsky had protested against what he regarded as an infraction of the “free discussion” which had been opened and obliged all the candidates and participants to identify themselves with and actually form groups on a particular point. But at the Central Committee of January 12, he was defeated by 8 votes against 7. For this reason the composition of the Central Committee reflected important changes. It included only four supporters of the theses of Trotsky and Bukharin; Krestinsky, Preobrazhensky and Serebriakov, the three secretaries, were not re-elected. In that way, it seems, they paid for the liberalism which they had showed towards the Workers ’ Opposition which now stood condemned, and for their firmness in the face of the demagogic attacks of Zinoviev. Andreyev and Ivan N. Smirnov, who had signed the Trotsky-Bukharin platform, also disappeared. All were old militants, pillars of the Central Committee during the Civil War, and well known for their independence of mind. Those who replaced them were also Old Bolsheviks; the fact that nearly all of them had come into conflict with Trotsky in the pest and that they were linked with Stalin had hardly any significance at this period: Molotov, Yaroslavsky, Ordzhonikidze, Frunze, Voroshilov became full members, and Kirov and Kuibyshev became candidate members. Zinoviev replaced Bukharin in the Politburo. Bukharin became the third candidate member. Molotov was elected “chief secretary” to the Central Committee, and was to be assisted in his new-task by Yaroslavsky and Mikhailov. Despite their protests and at the insistence of Lenin, Shlyapnikov and Kutuzov, supporters of the Workers ’ Opposition, were elected.

The Rise of the Apparatus after the Tenth Congress

The days which immediately followed the Tenth Congress, in the period of crisis marked by the laborious beginnings of the NEP, did not see the resolution on workers ’ democracy expressed in deeds. The new secretariat had a firmer fist than the former one. The Tsektran—what a paradox—was re-established with its privileges. The secretariat created a special section for “the direction and control of transport”. A conference of the party fraction in the congress of the trade unions voted, on May 17, for a resolution which laid down that the party “must make a special effort to apply the normal methods of proletarian democracy, especially in the trade unions, where the choice of leaders must be left to the masses of trade unionists themselves” (25). Riazanov was responsible for this proposal and found himself excluded from every trade union position. Tomsky, who had not opposed the proposal, was relieved of his functions on the central committee of the trade unions, at the recommendation of a special commission headed by Stalin. The majority of the study circles which were founded in the course of the year were wound up nearly at once on various pretexts. There were strong reactions, even in the leading bodies of the party. In “Pravda ” Sosnovsky vigorously criticised the way in which the apparatus was doing its best to suppress differences: “When the best elements in an organisation find that racketeers are not disturbed, while those who have fought them get transferred from Vologda to Kersch or vice versa, that is when, among the best comrades, these feelings of despair and apathy, or of anger, begin to spread, which are the material basis for all the possible “ideological” opposition groupings … At the centre they begin to be interested in the question only when a grouping appears”. He declared that the Communist militant is one who brings to his task “creative fertility of mind” and “who knows, by his example, to set the masses afire”. He served that today this kind of militant is not well regarded by the party cadres, because “he is insufficiently respectful of bureaucratic paper-work”. He voiced accusation that “in mechanically and superficially undertaking to “liquidate intrigues”, we have stifled the true Communist spirit and have educated only the “party card holders” (26).

The reaction of this Old Bolshevik, in the central organ of the party, shows how vigorously the democratic tradition remained. The worker, Miasnikov, a Bolshevik since 1906, publicly demanded the freedom of the press for all, including monarchists. Lenin tried to convince him in private correspondence. Miasnikov was excluded only after repeated acts of indiscipline, and even then on the promise that he would be taken back at the end of a year if he observed party discipline. In August Shliapnikov had criticised a decree of the presidium of national economy, in inadmissible terms in a cell meeting, but the Central Committee refused to give Lenin the two-thirds majority of the votes necessary to the exclusion which he demanded, an the basis of article 7.

The Workers ’ Opposition had appealed from the decisions of the party to the International in a letter known as “the declaration of the 22”, and were charged with grave indiscipline. A commission made up of Dzerzhinsky, Stalin and Zinoviev was to demand at the Eleventh Congress the exclusion of Shliapnikov, Medvediev and Kollontai, but the Congress refused.

None the less, these resistances themselves indicate the growing pressure on the militants, a growing centralisation in the party, the apparatus of which was establishing itself and growing, despite the resolutions of the Tenth Congress, in weight and authority. If the Central Committee refused to use the tremendous privilege which enabled to get rid of a minority in its ranks, that perhaps, among other reasons, is because its members felt that little by little the exclusive authority which they ought to enjoy in principle was gradually diminishing. The Central Committee met no more frequently than every two months. Its powers were being more and more taken over from it by the Politburo, which was increased to seven in 1921.

The influence of those who controlled the party apparatus was growing within this body. The party apparatus continued to increase numerically and the multiplication of fulltimers was justified by the need to mobilise the members, to control the organisations and to stimulate agitation and propaganda. In the month of August 1922, there was a count of 15,325 full-time officials of the party, 5,000 of whom were employed at the level of districts or factories. The secretariat of the Central Committee that year completed the index of the members which thenceforth it controlled and mobilised. Under the supervision of the Central Committee secretariat there function a bureau for appointments, entitled Utchaspred , which had been set up in 1920 to ensure during the civil war the transfers of Communists in sensitive sectors and their mobilisation. The necessities of rapid action led it very quickly, as we have seen, to intervene in the nominations of party officials, and to replace an official which it had decided to transfer. The intervention of the Organisation Bureau might be necessary for the highest posts, but Utchraspred made the nominations to lower-rank posts under the influence of “recommendations” by the secretariat of the Central Committee, the authority of which extended through the whole country: in 1922—1923 it was to effect more than ten thousand nominations and transfers of this kind. These included forty-two posts of secretaries of provincial committees as well as appointments to important posts in the administrative or economic administration, over the heads of the electors or of the heads of the commissariats concerned. When Krestinsky and Preobrazhensky were the secretaries, regional bureaux of the party were created, which acted as links between the party secretariat and the local organisations, and their authority constantly grew.

In 1922 there was set up the section of organisation and instruction, which was attached to the secretariat. This was to become one of its most effective instruments. It had a corps of “leading instructors”, who acted as real inspectors-general, visited local organisation, made reports, controlled the general activity and selected cadres. The section could equally delegate important powers to officials who were known as the “plenipotentiaries of the Central Committee”, and who, in its name, exercised a right to veto any decision by a party body: this was obviously an effective way to bring to heel an excessively stubborn provincial or local committee.

To be sure, successive oppositions had demanded the formation of control commissions, precisely in order to fight against the abuse of authority by the heads of the apparatus. The Workers ’ Opposition saw in them a guarantee against the bureaucracy. A complicated system provided for the election of the provincial committees by the local organisations and for the elections to the Central Control Commission by the provincial congresses. But in reality the elected members lacked authority in relation to the representative of the permanent apparatus. The task of purging evidently enforced on them a close collaboration with the staff of the secretariat which centralised information, and finally the Central Control Commission subordinated the others to itself.

Immediately after the Tenth Congress the “purge” was particularly severe: 136,836 members were excluded from the party, 11 % for “indiscipline”, 34% for “inactivity”, 25% for “minor crimes”, such as drunkenness or careerism, and g, for serious faults such as swindling, corruption or lying. Many dubious elements were eliminated in this way, but it is likely, as Shliapnikov and his friends were to claim, that the oppositionists also were hit or threatened, by an interpretation of the resolution condemning the Workers ’ Opposition which was often too broad. In the course of 1922, it is clear that the party apparatus was moving towards high-handed treatment of the organisation as a whole and, through it, over the life of the entire country, and was substituting itself, in brief, for the party, in the same way ns the party had substituted itself for the Soviets. That is clear from the development of the Control Commissions which became an appendage of the bureaucracy which it was their task to combat. This is even more true in the case of the Workers ’ and Peasants ’ Inspection (Rabkrin), of which Lenin seemed to have had great hopes. These commissions of inspections were originally intended to ensure workers ’ control over the functioning of the State apparatus. Under the authority of the commissar for the Workers ’ and Peasants ’ Inspection, Stalin, they became annexes of the Control Commission, which itself was in close contact, not only with the secretariat, but with the former Tcheka, re-baptised the G.P.U.

In this way there took place a real transfer of authority in the party at all levels, from the Congresses or Conferences to the committees, whether elected or not, and from the committees to their full-time secretaries. The persistence and the spread of the practice of nominations, contrary to the resolutions of the Tenth Congress, made the secretaries responsible, not to the party base, but to the apparatus and the secretariat. A real hierarchy of secretaries came into existence; it was independent and it showed a very well-developed mutual solidarity. Sosnovsky describes in the following way those who were beginning to be called the apparatchiki , the people of the apparatus: “They are neither hot nor cold. They take note of every committee circular … they make all their arithmetical calculations to meet the activity that has been called for, they tailor the whole activity of the party to fit the mathematical framework of their carefully drafted reports; they are satisfied when every point has been covered and when they can satisfy the centre that its instructions have been scrupulously fulfilled. Around party workers of this type, there falls a rain of every kind of plan, programme, instructions, theses, enquiries and reports. They are happy when calm reigns in their organisations, when there are no ‘intrigues ’, when no one fights them” (27). Above the ordinary party members, simple working people, there were already in the party the functionaries of the Soviets, the army and the trade unions. Now there was a higher layer, because the apparatchiki are those who have access to all the responsible posts, those in the offices and in the pyramid of the secretaries.

However, at the Eleventh Congress, at which Lenin was not present, except at the opening debate, the party resisted. Zinoviev ’s speech was full of prudent allusions to “cliques” and to “groups”, which revealed a very wide-spread oppositional state of mind. A proposal to do away with the local Control Commissions was loudly applauded and obtained 89 votes against 223. A resolution, which was to be carried, placed its finger on the root of the trouble by declaring: “The party organisations are beginning to be systematically buried under an enormous apparatus … which, developing gradually, has begun to make bureaucratic incursions and to absorb an excessive part of the resources of the party” (28). But this enormous apparatus seemed still to be anonymous. It had no recognisable face. The same Congress approved the statement by the chairman of the Congress: “Now we need discipline more than ever; it is necessary because the enemy is not as visible as before. Now there is a respite, there appears among us the wish to be freed from the yoke of the party. We are beginning to think that such a moment has arrived, but it has not arrived” (29).

For that orator, that moment never was to arrive. In fact he was part of a group of apparatchiki whose influence did not cease to grow and nearly all of whom occupied decisive posts already in 1922. Their names were still little known. There was the constellation of secretaries of the Regional bureaux, Yaroslavsky, regional secretary in Siberia in 1921, party secretary in 1922, who went on to the Central Control Commission. There was Lazar Kaganovich, secretary in Turkestan, who in 1922 became responsible for the organisation and education section of the secretariat. There was Sergei Kirov, who had been secretary in Azerbaidjan and became a candidate member of the Central Committee in 1922. There was Stanislaw Kossior, who followed Yaroslavsky in Siberia, Mikoyan, secretary in the North Caucasus, who joined the Central Committee in 1922, Ordzhonikidze, secretary in Transcaucasia who had been on the Central Committee since 1921, Kuibyshev, secretary in Turkestan, party secretary in 1922 and president of the Central Control Commission in 1923. Their chiefs were Molotov, chief secretary of the party since 1921, Soltz, president in the same year of the Central Control Commission and, above all, Stalin, member of the Politburo, head of the Workers ’ and Peasants ’ Inspection and an influential member of the Organisation Bureau.

All the high officials were Old Bolsheviks, but they formed a characteristic group. Numerous personal links united them. Kaganovich, Molotov and Mikoyan had all had important jobs in Nijni-Novgorod at the same time, where a young apparatchik , Zhdanov, was to follow them. Ordzhonikidze and Stalin, both Georgians, had been linked in the underground. Kuibyshev attached himself to Stalin during the Civil War. Stalin, Molotov and Stolz were together in the editorial committee of Pravda before the war. Moreover, they all had a common outlook, a conception of existence and activity which distinguished them from the other Bolsheviks: among them there was neither a theoretician, nor an orator, nor even a mass leader, but capable, efficient, patient men, discrete organisers, men of offices and the apparatus, prudent, routinists, workers, obstinate, aware of their importance, definitively men of order. It was Stalin who united them and brought them together. It was around him that they formed a fraction, which did not speak its name, but which acted and extended its network.

Everything was ready in 1922 for the “rule of the bureaux”. Nothing was lacking but “the right man in the right place”. This was Stalin at the post of General Secretary, where he could gather into his hand the threads woven in preceding years. He was the incarnation of the new power of the apparatus. This would be an accomplished fact after the Eleventh Congress. Can we believe the delegate who recorded in his memoirs that the candidature of Ivan Smirnov had been unanimously supported, but that Lenin objected to his being appointed, on the ground that he was indispensable in Siberia? Can we also believe that Lenin took twenty-four hours to reflect before he proposed Stalin (30)? Can we imagine an intervention by Zinoviev, whom a personal hostility to Trotsky brought closer to the Georgian and who regarded Smirnov as a personal friend of Trotsky? These are pure conjectures. But the fact remains: the small paragraph in Pravda on April 4, 1922, announced the nomination of Stalin as General Secretary and opened a new period in the history of the Bolsheviks and that of the peoples of Russia. The event passed almost un-noticed. Preobrazhensky, alone at the Eleventh Congress had asked how one man could accumulate within his grasp functions and powers of this magnitude, in a Soviet regime and a workers ’ party.

With NEP a new era had opened for the Russian Revolution. It renounced, never to come back to it, the heroic enthusiasm of the apocalyptic years. During the slow economic recovery, the patient reconstruction which the turn of 1921 made possible, there sounded the words of Lenin, which had really closed a chapter: “Carried away by the wave of enthusiasm, we counted, we who had aroused popular enthusiasm, at first political and then military, we counted on being able to carry out directly, thanks to this enthusiasm, the economic tasks which were as great was the general political tasks, as the military tasks. We counted—or, perhaps it would be more correct to say, we thought, without sufficient calculation—that we would be able to organise the production and distribution of products by the state, by the express orders of the proletarian state, in the Communist manner. Life has demonstrated our mistake … It is not by relying directly on enthusiasm, but by means of the enthusiasm engendered by our great revolution, giving free play to personal interest, personal advantage, applying the principle of commercial profitability, that to begin with in the land of small peasants we must construct solid bridges to socialism, passing by way of “state capitalism”(31).

Some years later, Bukharin the tender, the ardent, had in his turn to declare the new feelings which the turn had produced in him: “In the fire of self-criticism, the illusions of the period of childhood are destroyed and vanish without trade, the real relations emerge in their sober nudity and the proletarian policy assumes the character sometimes less emotional but also more assured—of a policy which is very close to reality and, also, modifies reality. From this point of view, the passage to NEP represents the collapse of our illusions” (32).

These are the totally different conditions in which the new period opened: there is more grey and more routine, less heroism and less lyricism. The apparatchiks appeared right on cue. Yet nobody among those who saw them growing and who ran up against them believed their victory to be possible. How could the office-people take away from Lenin the leadership of his party?


1. The full text, pp. 22—23 of the study “The Kronstadt Rising”, by George Katkov, which appeared in No. 6 of the St. Anthony ’s Papers, Soviet Affairs, by far the most complete and at the same time the most recent. In French, in addition to the book by Voline, see “La commune de Kronstadt”, by Ida METT (Spartakus), which advances the same viewpoint, and the dossier published in 1959 in “Arguments” No. 14.

2. Katkov, op. cit., p. 28

3. Ibidem, pp. 29—32

4. Ibidem, p. 32

5. Serge, Memoirs d ’un Revolutionnaire”, p. 129

6. Katkov, op. cit., p. 42

7. Quoted by Schapiro, “The Communist Party of the Soviet Union”, p. 205

8. Speech at the Tenth Congress, in “Bulletin Communiste”, No. 15, April 14, 1921, p. 243

9. Radek, “Cronstadt”, “Bulletin Communiste” No. 19, May 12, 1921, p. 322.

10. Serge, op. cit., p. 130

11. Quoted by Barmin, “Vignt Annees au service de l ’URSS”, Paris, Albin Michel, 1939, pp. 143—144

12. Quoted by E. H. Carr, “The Bolshevik Revolution”, Vol. 2, p. 277

13. Trotsky, “The First Five Years of the Communist International”, pp. 219—226

14. Quoted by Suvarin in “Stalin”, p. 298

15. Fainsod, “Smolensk under Soviet Rule”, p. 45

16. Quoted in Schapiro, “The Bolsheviks and the Opposition”, p. 222

17. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol 32, p. 178

18. R. V. Daniels, “The Conscience of the Revolution”, p. 147

19. Report and Resolution, in “Bulletin Communiste”, No. 24, July 9, 1921, pp. 401- 405

20. Ibidem, p. 403

21. Quoted in Schapiro, “The Bolsheviks and the Opposition”, pp. 262—263

22. Ibidem, p. 264

23. Quoted by John Daniels in “Labour Review”, No. 2, 1957, p. 47

24. Quoted by R. V. Daniels, “Conscience …”, p. 150

25. Quoted by Schapiro, “The Bolsheviks and the Opposition”, p. 268

26. Sosnovsky, “Taten und Menschen”, p. 153

27. Ibidem, p. 152

28. Quoted in R. V. Daniels, “Conscience …”, p. 166

29. Ibidem, p. 165

30. Ibidem, p. 170

31. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol ?

32. Bukharin, in “Bolshevik, No. 2, April 1924, p.1