Source: Published in To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 (https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/897-to-the-masses), pp. 970-76
Translation: Translation team organized by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters & Andy Blunden for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission
The international position of the RSFSR [Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic] at present is characterised by a certain equilibrium. Although it is highly unstable, it has nevertheless given rise to a peculiar state of affairs in world politics.
This idiosyncrasy is as follows: On the one hand, the international bourgeoisie is filled with furious hatred of and hostility toward Soviet Russia and is prepared at any moment to attack it in order to strangle it. On the other hand, all attempts at military intervention have ended in complete failure, despite the bourgeoisie’s expenditure of hundreds of millions of francs and the fact that the Soviet government was then much weaker than it is now, while the Russian landowners and capitalists then had at their disposal entire armies on RSFSR territory.
Opposition to the war against Soviet Russia has grown considerably in all capitalist countries, adding fuel to the revolutionary movement of the proletariat and extending to very wide sections of the petty-bourgeois democrats. The conflict of interests between the various imperialist countries has become acute, and is growing more acute every day. The revolutionary movement among the hundreds of millions of oppressed peoples of the East is growing with remarkable vigour. The result of all these conditions is that international imperialism has proved unable to strangle Soviet Russia, although it is far stronger. Indeed it has been obliged for the time being to grant Russia recognition, or semi-recognition, and to conclude trade agreements with her.
In this way we have attained a very insecure and unstable equilibrium that enables the socialist republic to exist – not for long, of course – within the capitalist encirclement.
This state of affairs has given rise to the following international alignment of class forces:
The international bourgeoisie, deprived of the opportunity of waging open war against Soviet Russia, is waiting and watching for the moment when circumstances will permit it to resume the war.
The proletariat in all the advanced capitalist countries has already formed its vanguard, the Communist parties, which are making steady progress towards winning the majority of the proletariat in each country. They are destroying the influence of the old trade-union bureaucrats and of the upper stratum of the working class of America and Europe, which has been corrupted by imperialist privileges.
The petty-bourgeois democrats in the capitalist countries, whose foremost sectors are represented by the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals, serve today as the mainstay of capitalism. They retain an influence over the majority, or a considerable section, of the industrial and commercial workers and office employees who are afraid that if revolution breaks out they will lose the relative petty-bourgeois prosperity created by the privileges of imperialism. But the growing economic crisis is worsening the condition of broad masses everywhere, and this fact, together with the evident inevitability of new imperialist wars if capitalism is preserved, is steadily weakening this mainstay.
The masses of the working people in the colonial and semi-colonial countries, who constitute the overwhelming majority of the population of the globe, were roused to political life at the turn of the twentieth century, particularly by the revolutions in Russia, Turkey, Iran, and China. The imperialist war of 1914 – 18 and Soviet power in Russia are completing the process of converting these masses into an active factor in world politics and in the revolutionary destruction of imperialism – even though the educated petty bourgeois of Europe and America, including the leaders of the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals, stubbornly refuse to see this. British India is at the head of these countries, and there revolution is maturing in proportion, on the one hand, to the growth of the industrial and railway proletariat, and, on the other, to the increase in the brutal terrorism of the British, who resort to massacres (Amritsar), public floggings, and so on.
The internal political situation in Soviet Russia is determined by the fact that here, for the first time in history, there have been, for a number of years, only two classes: the proletariat, trained for decades by a very new, but modern, large-scale machine industry, and the small peasantry, who constitute the overwhelming majority of the population.
In Russia, the big landowners and capitalists have not vanished, but they have been subjected to total expropriation and crushed politically as a class, whose remnants survive as Soviet government employees. They have preserved their class organisation abroad, as émigrés, numbering probably between one and a half million and two million people, with more than fifty daily newspapers of all the bourgeois and ‘socialist’ (i.e., petty-bourgeois) parties, the remnants of an army, and numerous connections with the international bourgeoisie. These émigrés are striving, with might and main, to destroy Soviet power and restore capitalism in Russia.
Given this internal situation in Russia, the main task now facing its proletariat, as the ruling class, is to properly determine and carry out the measures necessary to lead the peasantry, establish an enduring alliance with it, and achieve the transition, in a series of gradual stages, to large-scale, socialised, mechanised agriculture. This is a particularly difficult task in Russia, because of both its backwardness and its extreme state of ruin as a result of seven years of imperialist and civil war.
Quite apart from these specific circumstances, this is one of the most difficult tasks of future socialist construction in all the capitalist countries, with, perhaps, the sole exception of Britain. Even in regard to Britain it must not be forgotten that, while the small tenant farmers there are very few in number, the percentage of workers and office employees who enjoy a petty-bourgeois standard of living is exceptionally high, due to the actual bondage of hundreds of millions of people in Britain’s colonial possessions.
As a result, from the standpoint of development of the world proletarian revolution as a single process, the epoch Russia is passing through is significant as a practical test and a verification of the policy of a proletariat in power towards the mass of the petty bourgeoisie.
The basis for proper relations between the proletariat and the peasantry in Soviet Russia was created in the period of 1917 – 21. The offensive of the capitalists and landowners, supported by the whole world bourgeoisie and all the petty-bourgeois democratic parties (Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks), caused the proletariat and the peasantry to form, consolidate, and give shape to a military alliance to defend the Soviet power. Civil war is the most intense form of class struggle, but the more intense it is, the more rapidly and clearly does this experience prove to even the most backward strata of the peasantry that only the dictatorship of the proletariat can save it, and that the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks are in fact merely the servants of the landowners and capitalists.
But while the military alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry was – and had to be – the initial form of their firm alliance, it could not have been maintained even for a few weeks without an economic alliance between the two classes. The peasants received from the workers’ state all the land and protection against the landowners and the kulaks; the workers received from the peasants loans of food supplies until large-scale industry could be restored.
The alliance between the small peasants and the proletariat can become a correct and stable one, from the socialist standpoint, only when the complete restoration of transport and large-scale industry enables the proletariat to give the peasants, in exchange for food, all the goods they need for their own use and for the improvement of their farms. With the country in ruins, this could not possibly be achieved all at once. The surplus appropriation system was relatively the most bearable measure available to the insufficiently organised state to maintain itself in the incredibly arduous war against the landowners. The crop failure and the famine in 1920 increased even more the hardships of the peasantry, already severe enough, and made the immediate transition to the tax in kind imperative.
A moderate tax in kind will bring about at once a big improvement in the condition of the peasantry, while also stimulating them to enlarge crop areas and improve farming methods.
The tax in kind signifies a transition from the requisition of all the peasants’ surplus grain to regular socialist exchange of products between industry and agriculture.
Naturally, the tax in kind means freedom for the peasant to dispose of his after-tax surplus at his own discretion. To the degree that the state cannot provide the peasant with goods from socialist factories in exchange for all his surplus, freedom to trade with this surplus necessarily means freedom for the development of capitalism.
Within these limits, however, this is not at all dangerous for socialism as long as transport and large-scale industry remain in the hands of the proletariat. On the contrary, the development of capitalism, controlled and regulated by the proletarian state (i.e., ‘state’ capitalism in this sense of the term), is advantageous and absolutely necessary in an extremely devastated and backward small-peasant country (within certain limits, of course), inasmuch as it is capable of hastening the immediate revival of peasant farming. This applies still more to concessions: without denationalising anything, the workers’ state leases out certain mines, forest tracts, oilfields, and so forth, to foreign capitalists in order to obtain from them new equipment and machinery that will enable this state to accelerate the restoration of Soviet large-scale industry.
The payment made to the concessionaires in the form of a share of the highly valuable products obtained is undoubtedly a tribute paid by the workers’ state to the world bourgeoisie. Without in any way glossing this over, we must clearly realise that we stand to gain by paying this tribute, so long as it accelerates the restoration of our large-scale industry and substantially improves the condition of the peasants and workers.
The food policy pursued by Soviet Russia from 1917 to 1921 was undoubtedly very crude and imperfect, and gave rise to many abuses. A number of mistakes were made in its implementation. But as a whole, it was the only possible policy under the conditions prevailing at the time. And it did fulfil its historic mission: it saved the proletarian dictatorship in a ruined and backward country. There can be no doubt that it has gradually become more comprehensive. In the first year that we had full power (1 August 1918 to 1 August 1919) the state collected 110 million poods of grain; in the second year it collected 220 million poods, and in the third year – over 285 million poods.
Now, having acquired practical experience, we have set out, and expect, to collect 400 million poods (the tax in kind is expected to bring in 240 million poods). Only when it is actually in possession of an adequate stock of food will the workers’ state be able to stand firmly on its own feet economically, secure the steady, if slow, restoration of large-scale industry, and create a proper financial system.
Only large-scale machine industry capable of reorganising agriculture can provide the material basis for socialism. But we cannot confine ourselves to this general thesis. It must be made more precise and specific. Large-scale industry based on the latest achievements of technology and capable of reorganising agriculture implies the electrification of the whole country. We had to undertake the scientific work of drawing up such a plan for the electrification of the RSFSR and we have accomplished it. With the cooperation of over two hundred of the best scientists, engineers, and agronomists in Russia, this work has now been completed. It was published in a large volume and was endorsed, in broad outline, by the Eighth All-Russia Congress of Soviets in December 1920. Arrangements have now been made to convene an all-Russian congress of electrical engineers in August 1921 to examine this plan in detail, before it is given final government endorsement. It will take an estimated ten years to carry out the first part of the electrification scheme, which will require about 370 million man-days of work.
In 1918, we had eight newly erected power stations; in 1919, the figure rose to thirty-six, and in 1920, one hundred. Modest as this beginning is for our vast country, a start has been made; work has begun and is making steady progress. In the imperialist war, millions of prisoners of war in Germany became familiar with modern up-to-date technique, and this was followed by the stern but hardening experience of three years of civil war. As a result, the Russian peasant is a different man. With every passing month he sees more clearly and more vividly that only the guidance given by the proletariat is capable of leading the mass of small farmers out of slavery and toward socialism.
The dictatorship of the proletariat does not signify a cessation of the class struggle, but its continuation in a new form and with new weapons. This dictatorship is essential so long as classes exist, so long as the bourgeoisie, overthrown in one country, intensifies tenfold its attacks on socialism on an international scale. In the transition period, the small-farmer class is bound to experience certain vacillations. The difficulties of transition, and the influence of the bourgeoisie, inevitably cause the mood of these masses to change from time to time. Upon the proletariat, enfeebled and to a certain extent declassed by the destruction of the large-scale machine industry, which is its vital foundation, devolves the very difficult but paramount historic task of holding out in spite of these vacillations, and of carrying to victory its cause of emancipating labour from the yoke of capital.
The vacillations of the petty bourgeoisie find political expression in the policy pursued by the petty-bourgeois democratic parties, that is, the parties affiliated to the Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals, represented in Russia by the Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik parties. These parties now have their headquarters and newspapers abroad, and are actually in a bloc with the whole of the bourgeois counterrevolution and are serving it loyally.
The shrewd leaders of the Russian big bourgeoisie headed by Milyukov, the leader of the Cadet (Constitutional Democratic) Party, have quite clearly, definitely, and openly appraised this role of the petty-bourgeois democrats, that is, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks. In connection with the Kronstadt mutiny, in which the Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries, and White Guards joined forces, Milyukov declared in favour of the ‘soviets without the Bolsheviks’ slogan. Elaborating on the idea, he called for ‘honour and recognition to the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, because theirs is the task of first taking power away from the Bolsheviks’. (Pravda no. 64, 1921, quoted from the Paris Poslednye novosti). Milyukov, the leader of the big bourgeoisie, has correctly appraised the lesson taught by all revolutions, namely, that the petty-bourgeois democrats are incapable of holding power, and always serve merely as a screen for the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, and a stepping stone to its undivided power.
The proletarian revolution in Russia again confirms this lesson of 1789 – 94 and 1848 – 9, and also what Frederick Engels said in his letter to Bebel of 11 December 1884:
Pure democracy ... at the moment of revolution [acquires] a temporary importance as the last sheet-anchor of the bourgeois and, indeed, feudal economy generally.... It was thus that, from March to September 1848, the entire feudal-bureaucratic mass swelled the ranks of the liberals in order to keep down the revolutionary masses.... At all events, on the crucial day and the day after that, our only adversary will be collective reaction centred round pure democracy, and this, I think, ought never to be lost from view.
Published: in To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 (https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/897-to-the-masses), p. 977.
After having heard the report of Comrade Lenin on the policies of the Communist Party of Russia and taken note of the relevant theses, the Third World Congress of the Communist International declares:
The Third World Congress of the Communist International views with admiration the nearly four years of struggle by the Russian proletariat to win and maintain its political power. The congress unanimously approves the policies of the Communist Party of Russia, which from the very start has in every situation correctly assessed the threatening dangers. True to the principles of revolutionary Marxism, it has always found ways and means to overcome these dangers. Today open civil war has ended, for the moment. And now too, the Communist Party of Russia’s policies toward the peasantry and on the question of concessions and of building up industry serve to focus the energies of the proletariat under its leadership on maintaining the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia until the proletariat of Western Europe comes to the aid of its brothers.
The world congress expresses its conviction that only the consistent and purposeful policies of the Communist Party of Russia have enabled Soviet Russia to endure as the first and most important citadel of world revolution. The congress condemns the traitorous conduct of the Menshevik parties, who campaign in every country against Soviet Russia and the policies of the Communist Party of Russia, thus reinforcing capitalist reaction against Russia while seeking to delay social revolution on a world scale.
The world congress calls on the proletariat of every country to take a stand unanimously on the side of the Russian workers and peasants and to bring into reality the October Days of the entire world.
Long live the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat!
Long live the social revolution!
1. On 13 April 1919, British troops opened fire on an unarmed religious festival in the northern Indian city of Amritsar. More than 1,500 were shot, with over 1,000 killed.
2. A pood is equal to approximately 16.38 kilograms (36.11 pounds).
3. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 47, pp. 233 – 4.