Nikolai Bukharin
Third Congress of the Communist International

Speech in Discussion of Policies of the Communist Party of Russia
July 5, 1921

Source: Published in To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921 (, pp. 697-702
Translation: Translation team organized by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission

Comrades, I would like to make some comments here about the speeches of two different comrades representing the KAPD, Comrades Sachs and Hempel. Comrade Sachs offered as his best argument against us the following: Our concessions and different trade relationships to the capitalist states are buttressing capitalism in the Western European countries and are thus holding back the cause of revolution. In my opinion this is not accurate for the following reasons: First, the amount of our aid is completely inadequate for Western European capitalism. The quantity of goods that we receive from Western European countries comes directly to us. On the other hand, the goods that we export are divided among all the different countries of the capitalist world. Naturally, the statistical relationship is more favourable for us than for capitalism.

The second counterargument is that this economic reality is accompanied by another reality: the heightening of political competition among the different capitalist states. We must not overlook this argument. To the extent that we conclude genuine concessions, we thereby disorganise the entire political structure of world capitalism as a whole, and this has economic consequences. Political disorganisation always has a crippling effect on economic activity.

Thirdly, we must draw a balance sheet here. When we give something, we simultaneously receive something. And if you undertake to evaluate this fact, you must compare all its components, and then you will immediately note that we strengthen ourselves more than the aid we provide to capitalism. These three arguments are completely adequate to destroy Comrade Sachs’s line of reasoning.

Now as to the speech of Comrade Kollontai. It is quite understandable that all the old Menshevik memories of Comrade Kollontai are being regenerated in the present period of her intellectual development. (Laughter) That is of course why we come across things that have an almost completely Menshevik ring, and there is also a noticeable link to the KAPD. Yet Comrade Kollontai’s line of argument is somewhat humorous. She begins with a diagnosis and a prognosis: a new class of specialists, bureaucrats, and bourgeois is in formation here. This is a new class; it will constantly grow in strength; and we will need to carry out a third revolution against it. But if we have a close look at this so-called third revolution, then we wind up with the same third revolution that the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries talk of.

But their understanding of it is more logical. They regard the October Revolution as a counterrevolution, and in their opinion the third revolution is the real revolution, which will restore the suppressed February Revolution. But Comrade Kollontai’s third, future revolution is a proletarian revolution. What does Comrade Kollontai say to this? Already, the class that really rules is almost the former bourgeoisie. Then comes a sudden leap from the realm of necessity to that of freedom, with quite a different assertion, that it is really not the proletariat that is ruling in our country, and not this new bureaucracy either, but the peasantry. That is quite a different thesis advanced by Comrade Kollontai.

Let us examine the substance of this second thesis. What is it based on? On the fact that we have made substantial economic concessions to the peasantry. Comrades, permit me to make an analogy here. Imagine that you have a capitalist factory director, and the workforce goes on strike. Under the pressure of the workers, the factory director doubles their wages and makes substantial economic concessions. Now Comrade Kollontai comes along, saying, what is going on here? The factory director has made substantial concessions to the workforce, and he has thereby ceased to be a capitalist. The same argumentation. What does that signify? It signifies a truly revisionist theory. Consider a bourgeois government, which makes major concessions to workers during a war, and even sets up figures from the ranks of the working class as ministers. It is as if one were to regard such a government as no longer bourgeois but as suspended above the classes. The line of reasoning is the same, and it has nothing to do with Marxism. (Applause)

Now the third point: the question of state capitalism. When Comrade Lenin uses the term state capitalism here, it is different from the term ‘state capitalism’ as used in Western Europe, which is something quite different. In Western Europe, state capitalism is quite correctly understood as capital in the form of a state monopoly, exerted by the bourgeois state. That is the concept of state capitalism in its pure form. That is something quite different. In genuine state capitalism, the means of production are actually owned by the bourgeoisie, represented by the state. Here the relations of production are different. Even in the case of concessions, the real proprietor is the proletariat, which leases out its property to the capitalist holding the concession. The property relations and corresponding productive relations are quite different. This is a distinctive economic structure, and in terms of theory, it should not be confused with ‘state capitalism’ in the usual sense of the word.

Comrade Kollontai – and this is what is striking with all these critics – says that we are menaced by great dangers. She has a striking formulation: I am very frightened. What conclusions flow from that? Big fears do not lead to big deeds.

Radek: But they did result in a big speech.

Bukharin: What did she propose to us? For example, we replaced the system of grain requisitioning with the tax in kind. That was the first step in our new orientation. Now has Comrade Kollontai proposed that we go back again to the requisitioning system? Not at all! At our party congress, the Workers Opposition did not say a single word against it, not a single word. I do not know what group it is that Comrade Kollontai is representing here. It seems to me that the group is quite monolithic, and consists of Comrade Kollontai alone. (Laughter) I must point out that no arguments have been advanced against our policies. Intellectual manipulation carried out in a mechanistic spirit: that is not a genuine argument; we cannot be satisfied with that.

Comrades, Gorter says in his much-renowned pamphlet that the world is headed for ruin because the Russian comrades do not hold to a historical-materialist point of view. Now let us understand what historical materialism is. We have the historical materialism of Comrade Kollontai, who had much to say about the spirit of creation and things like that, a spirit that could not care less about base material conditions and mechanical considerations of the type invoked here by Comrade Lenin.

In my view, the most inadequate aspect of Comrade Kollontai’s entire speech is that no one can understand what exactly she is proposing. Much can be said about how prevalent corruption is here, how we are poor organisers, how we have made this and that error. All this is true. But, comrades, tell me what we should do? We are striving with every means to overcome these deficiencies. But if you have a magical formula, do not be bashful, tell us what it is, and we will be very grateful. (Laughter)

As for the speech by Comrade Kerran, he said quite rightly that we should utilise the cooperatives in Western Europe. And here Comrade Hempel was quite correct to say that cooperatives in Western Europe are organised along capitalist lines. But everything Kerran says applies not to the line of the Communist International but to that of the Soviet government. Comrade Kerran’s speech would be excellent if it had been delivered not to the congress of the Communist International but in the Commissariat of Foreign Trade. It can be said that we want to conduct trade with the social patriots but carry out revolution with the Communists. These two things are by no means mutually exclusive.

Then Comrade Hempel told us that he does not need to judge whether or not this policy is good for Soviet Russia; that is for the Russian comrades to decide. And it is precisely on these grounds that his entire speech criticises our position. But in our opinion, every Communist Party ought to concern itself with the affairs of every other Communist Party in order to generalise our experiences. That is an entirely routine internationalist approach.

Comrade Hempel said that he gained more wisdom about Russian politics than ever before in his life by what Comrade Kollontai said in this session. And he added: we must increase initiative. Well, comrades, we can cry out for initiative a thousand times, but tell us please how this initiative is to be generated? We have tried conferences of non-party people, various institutions, inspections on the job – please make us a specific proposal. And if you do not propose anything, then we must say, comrades, that this criticism has no substance. Propose something specific, and we will adopt it gratefully, but do not just make a noise about increasing initiative. If you do not take up the topic from a practical point of view, it’s simply futile. (Loud applause)

Comrade Hempel also said that when social layers are pressing up from below, then you have a power. And given this power, there is no need to make concessions to capitalism. If by this pressure from below you are thinking of the process of education and development of our workers, we must certainly clear the road for this new and growing power. That is our highest duty. But sometimes this pressure from below to above is confused with what we experienced in Kronstadt. For that too was from below to above.

Trotsky: But its goals were directed from above to below. (Loud applause)

Bukharin: As for the class character of the struggle with the peasantry, I have spoken of that on another occasion.1 Hempel talks about concessions from an international point of view. He said that we have acquired a stake in maintaining the functioning of economic life in the West, which is important to us, and for this reason the policy of economic relations and concessions is unacceptable. Let me make an analogy here, one that was used by Karl Renner. He said that the terms ‘worker’ and ‘capitalist’ are mutually related. Capital cannot exist without workers, and workers cannot exist without capital. There is therefore a common interest shared by capital and the proletariat. And that is why revolution is impossible. But of course this common interest, at any given moment, is relative. There are also much greater and more enduring interests of the working class that break up this common interest. The situation here is identical. It would be good if we could obtain something from Britain, but we are well aware that the development of the workers’ movement provides us with a far greater and more definitive guarantee. The interests of the Russian Revolution are fundamentally those of the world revolution. That is why we are the most active component of the Communist International.

Of course I will not refute the argument advanced by Comrade Hempel that borders on slandering the German working class, by saying that German workers are completely contaminated. If the entire German working class is contaminated, what is this revolution that you in the KAPD want to make, dear comrades? If this is the case, you will only be able to make a contaminated revolution. I don’t know what to make of that. But when Comrade Hempel argues in favour of sabotage, that is really quite humorous. He says we must make the factories unprofitable. The train of thought here is obvious. The proletariat must worsen economic conditions, so that it can then rise in revolution against these bad conditions. Thus, a general boycott against preservation of wages. Then all the workers will be discontented. They will be hungry, they will revolt, and they will do away with capitalist society as a whole.

Comrade Hempel also says that if you initiate trade relationships with the different capitalist states, you cannot be a Communist. Comrades, we heard the same things said about the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. It was said that we were sitting at the same table as generals, and that is why we suddenly turned into generals. But you know that we are in a much more favourable position, for capitalism and capitalist society fear that we are infecting their society with Bolshevism. There are perhaps dangers running the other way, but they are not as great. We have already achieved a certain immunity. Now it is a question of time: can we hold on or not? There is no way to answer this question with absolute certainty. But for us, the main task right now is to gain time. If we perish, that does not mean the Western European revolution will perish. They will take our experiences to heart. But we have not yet perished.

Now as for the speech by Comrade Hempel, I really do not know whether or not he is against trade relations. He did not answer the question whether he is against concessions. But those are precisely the crucial issues. His criticism is marked by the same clichés as that of Comrade Kollontai. Comrade Hempel says that the Russian party must see the dangers. Well, we see them all right. All the Russians who have come to the podium say that class relations are such and such, and that, in order to preserve the power of the proletariat, we are compelled to make major concessions to the peasantry. What does that tell you? It tells you that we see these dangers. The struggle has already begun to cleanse our party of bureaucrats.2 The Central Committee has just decided to expel many thousands, perhaps more than one hundred thousand members from the party, under strict supervision by the commissars. That tells you that we see the danger. So Comrade Hempel’s advice is very good, but it has been made rather too late. What he has said is just another expression of the ‘Russian diktat’, a campaign of theoretical abuse mounted by the KAPD to the effect that delegations cannot act independently because they are under our orders. This abuse will not succeed.

As for the notion that the Third International is a counterweight to the Soviet government, that concept of Comrade Hempel is completely illogical, because the Third International is actually counterposed to the League of Nations. But what is important here is to see that there is a division of labour between our organs of government, on the one hand, and the Third International as an independent revolutionary organisation of the working class.

By and large, I must say that the entirety of the criticism directed against us is not criticism at all, but rather consists only of empty words. (Loud applause)


1 This may be a reference to Bukharin’s 1920 work, Economics of the Transformation Period. The question is taken up in the chapter, ‘City and Country in the Process of Social Transformation’.

2The Tenth Congress of the Russian Communist Party in March 1921 passed a resolution, ‘The Issues of Party Building’ that stated: ‘There is the absolute necessity for the party to make a decisive shift towards attracting workers and cleansing itself of non-Communist elements.’ It called for carrying out a cleansing campaign during August and September 1921. By the time of the Eleventh Congress in 1922, more than one hundred thousand members had been expelled from the party.