J. V. Stalin
Source: Works, Vol. 9, December-July, 1927, pp. 182-193
Publisher: Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1954
First Published: Bolshevik, No. 6, March 15, 1927
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
Your letter of January 14, 1927, to the Bolshevik on the subject of a workers’ and peasants’ government was forwarded to me at the Central Committee for reply. Owing to pressure of work I am answering with some delay, for which please excuse me.
1) The question must not be put in the way that some comrades put it: “a workers’ and peasants’ government—is it a fact or an agitational slogan?” One must not say that, although we actually do not have a workers’ and peasants’ government, we can nevertheless speak of a workers’ and peasants’ government as an agitational slogan. From such a formulation it follows that our Party is capable of issuing slogans that are intrinsically false, that are actually untenable, slogans in which the Party itself does not believe, but which it nevertheless puts into circulation in order to deceive the masses. Socialist-Revolutionaries, Mensheviks and bourgeois democrats may act in that way, because divergence between words and deeds and deception of the masses are one of the principal weapons of these moribund parties. But that can never, under any circumstances, be the attitude of our Party, for it is a Marxist party, a Leninist party, an ascending party, and one that draws its strength from the fact that its words are not at variance with its deeds, that it does not deceive the masses, tells them nothing but the truth, and builds its policy not on demagogy, but on a scientific analysis of class forces.
The question must be put this way: either we do not have a workers’ and peasants’ government, in which case the slogan of a workers’ and peasants’ government must be discarded as superfluous and false; or we do in fact have a workers’ and peasants’ government, and its existence is in conformity with the state of the class forces, and in that case the slogan of the workers’ and peasants’ government is a correct and revolutionary one. Either the one or the other. You have to choose.
2) You call the slogan of a workers’ and peasants’ government “Comrade Stalin’s formula.” That is quite untrue. In point of fact, this slogan or, if you like, this “formula” is Lenin’s slogan and nobody else’s. I merely repeated it in my Questions and Answers.1 Take Lenin’s Works, Vol. XXII, pp. 13, 15, 90, 133, 210; Vol. XXIII, pp. 93, 504; Vol. XXIV, p. 448, and Vol. XXVI, p. 184, where Lenin speaks of Soviet power as a “workers’ and peasants’ government.” Take Vol. XXIII, pp. 58, 85, 86, 89; Vol. XXIV, pp. 115, 185, 431, 433, 436, 539, 540; Vol. XXV, pp. 82, 146, 390, 407, and Vol. XXVI, pp. 24, 39, 40, 182, 207, 340, where Lenin speaks of Soviet power as “workers’ and peasants’ power.” Take all these, and certain other works of Lenin as well, and you will realise that the slogan or “formula” of a workers’ and peasants’ government is Lenin’s slogan or “formula,” and nobody else’s.
3) Your basic error is that you confuse:
a) the question of our government with that of our state;
b) the question of the class nature of our state and of our government with that of the day-to-day policy of our government.
Our state must not be confused, and, hence, identified, with our government. Our state is the organisation of the proletarian class as the state power, whose function it is to crush the resistance of the exploiters, to organise a socialist economy, to abolish classes, etc. Our government, however, is the top section of this state organisation, its top leadership. The government may make mistakes, may commit blunders fraught with the danger of a temporary collapse of the dictatorship of the proletariat; but that would not mean that the proletarian dictatorship, as the principle of the structure of the state in the transition period, is wrong or mistaken. It would only mean that the top leadership is bad, that the policy of the top leadership, the policy of the government, is not in conformity with the dictatorship of the proletariat and must be changed in conformity with the demands of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The state and the government are alike in their class nature, but the government is narrower dimensionally, and does not embrace the whole state. They are organically connected and interdependent, but that does not mean that they may be lumped together.
You see, then, that our state must not be confused with our government, just as the proletarian class must not be confused with the top leadership of the proletarian class.
But it is still less permissible to confuse the question of the class nature of our state and of our government with that of the day-to-day policy of our government. The class nature of our state and of our government is self-evident—it is proletarian. The aims of our state and our government are also evident—they amount to crushing the resistance of the exploiters, to organising a socialist economy, abolishing classes, etc. All that is evident.
But what, in that case, does the day-to-day policy of our government amount to? It amounts to the ways and means by which the class aims of the proletarian dictatorship can be realised in our peasant country. The proletarian state is needed in order to crush the resistance of the exploiters, to organise a socialist economy, to abolish classes, etc. Our government, however, is needed in order, in addition to all this, to chart the ways and means (the day-to-day policy), without which the accomplishment of these tasks would be unthinkable in our country, where the proletariat constitutes a minority, and the peasantry the overwhelming majority.
What are these ways and means? What do they amount to? Fundamentally, to measures designed to preserve and strengthen the alliance between the workers and the main mass of the peasantry, to preserve and strengthen within this alliance the leading role of the proletariat, which is in power. It scarcely needs proof that without such an alliance, and apart from such an alliance, our government would be powerless, and we should not be in a position to accomplish those tasks of the dictatorship of the proletariat of which I have just spoken. How long will this alliance, this bond, exist, and until when will the Soviet government continue its policy of strengthening this alliance, this bond? Obviously, just so long as there are classes, and just so long as there is a government, as an expression of class society, as an expression of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Moreover, it must be borne in mind that:
a) we need the alliance of the workers and the peasants not in order to preserve the peasantry as a class, but to transform and remould it in a way that will contribute to the victory of socialist construction;
b) the Soviet government’s policy of strengthening this alliance is designed not to perpetuate, but to abolish classes, to hasten the tempo of their abolition.
Lenin was therefore absolutely right when he wrote:
“The supreme principle of the dictatorship is the maintenance of the alliance of the proletariat and the peasantry in order that the proletariat may retain its leading role and state power” (Vol. XXVI, p. 460).
There is no need to prove that it is precisely this proposition of Lenin’s, and nothing else, that constitutes the guiding line of the Soviet government in its day-to-day policy, that the Soviet government’s policy at the present stage of development is essentially a policy of preserving and strengthening precisely such an alliance between the workers and the main mass of the peasantry. It is in this sense—and in this sense alone, and not in the sense of its class nature—that the Soviet government is a workers’ and peasants’ government.
Not to recognise this is to depart from the path of Leninism and to take the path of rejecting the idea of a bond, of an alliance, between the proletariat and the labouring masses of the peasantry.
Not to recognise this means to believe that the bond is a manoeuvre and not a real revolutionary matter, to believe that we introduced NEP for the purpose of “agitation,” and not for the purpose of building socialism in conjunction with the main mass of the peasantry.
Not to recognise this is to believe that the fundamental interests of the main mass of the peasantry cannot be satisfied by our revolution, that these interests are in irreconcilable contradiction to the interests of the proletariat, that we cannot, and must not, build socialism in conjunction with the main mass of the peasantry, that Lenin’s co-operative plan is unworkable, that the Mensheviks and their echoers are right and so forth.
One has only to put these questions in this way to realise how utterly putrid and worthless is the “agitational” approach to this cardinal question of the bond. That is why I said in my Questions and Answers that the slogan of a workers’ and peasants’ government is not “demagogy” and not an “agitational” manoeuvre, but an absolutely correct and revolutionary slogan.
In brief, the class nature of the state and the government, which determines the principal objectives of the development of our revolution, is one thing, and the day-to-day policy of the government, the ways and means of carrying out this policy in order to attain those objectives, is another. The two, unquestionably, are interconnected. But that does not mean that they are identical, that they may be lumped together.
You see, then, that the question of the class nature of the state and the government must not be confused with that of the day-to-day policy of the government.
It may be said that there is a contradiction bore: how can a government which is proletarian in its class nature be called a workers’ and peasants’ government? But the contradiction is only a seeming one. As a matter of fact, there is the same sort of “contradiction” here as some of our wiseacres try to discern between Lenin’s two formulas about the dictatorship of the proletariat, one of which says that “the dictatorship of the proletariat is the rule of one class” (Vol. XXIV, p. 398), and the other that “the dictatorship of the proletariat is a special form of class alliance* between the proletariat, the vanguard of the working people, and the numerous non-proletarian strata of working people (the petty bourgeoisie, the small proprietors, the peasantry, the intelligentsia, etc.)” (Vol. XXIV, p. 311).
Is there any contradiction between these two formulas? Of course not. How, then, is the power of one class (the proletariat) achieved when there is a class alliance with, say, the main mass of the peasantry? By carrying out in. practice within this alliance the leading role of the proletariat (“the vanguard of the working people”), which is in power. The power of one class, the proletarian class, which is exercised with the help of an alliance of this class with the main mass of the peasantry by way of state leadership of the latter—that is the underlying meaning of these two formulas. Where, then, is the contradiction?
And what does state leadership of the main mass of the peasantry by the proletariat mean? Is it the sort of leadership which existed, for example, in the period of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, when we were striving for the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry? No, not that sort of leadership. State leadership of the peasantry by the proletariat is leadership under the dictatorship of the proletariat. State leadership by the proletariat signifies that:
a) the bourgeoisie has already been overthrown,
b) the proletariat is in power,
c) the proletariat does not share power with other classes,
d) the proletariat is building socialism, and giving the lead to the main mass of the peasantry. Leadership by the proletariat at the time of the bourgeois-democratic revolution and of the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry signifies that:
a) capitalism remains the foundation,
b) the revolutionary-democratic bourgeoisie is in power and constitutes the predominant force in the government,
c) the democratic bourgeoisie shares power with the proletariat,
d) the proletariat is emancipating the peasantry from the influence of the bourgeois parties, leading it ideologically and politically, and preparing for a struggle for the overthrow of capitalism.
The difference, as you see, is fundamental.
The same must be said of the workers’ and peasants’ government. What contradiction can there be in the statement that the proletarian nature of our government, and the socialist objectives that follow therefrom, far from preventing, impel it, necessarily impel it to pursue a policy of preserving and strengthening the worker-peasant alliance as a cardinal means of achieving the socialist class objectives of the proletarian dictatorship in our peasant country, and that this government is called a workers’ and peasants’ government because of this?
Is it not obvious that Lenin was right in putting forward the slogan of a workers’ and peasants’ government and in describing our government as such a government?
Generally speaking, it must be said that “the system of the dictatorship of the proletariat”—with the help of which the power of one class, of the proletariat, is exercised in our country—is a fairly complex thing. I know that this complexity is displeasing, distasteful to some of our comrades. I know that many of them, on “the principle of the least expenditure of energy,” would prefer to have a simpler and easier system. But what can you do about it? In the first place, Leninism must be taken as it actually is (it must not be simplified and vulgarised); in the second place, history tells us that the simplest and easiest “theories” are far from always being the most correct.
4) In your letter, you complain:
“All comrades who discuss this question sin in that they speak only of the government or only of the state, and therefore do not give a complete answer, since they leave entirely out of account what should be the relation between these concepts.”
I must admit that our leading comrades are indeed guilty of this “sin,” especially when it is remembered that certain not over-diligent “readers” do not want to delve properly into the meaning of Lenin’s works themselves and expect to have every sentence thoroughly masticated for them. But what can you do about it? In the first place, our leading comrades are too busy, and overburdened with current work, which prevents them from busying themselves with explaining Leninism, so to say, point by point; in the second place, something, surely, must be left to the “reader”—who must, after all, pass from a light reading of Lenin’s works to a serious study of Leninism. And it must be said that unless the “reader” does make a serious study of Leninism, complaints like yours and “misunderstandings” will always arise.
Take, for example, the question of our state. It is obvious that, both in its class nature and in its programme, its fundamental tasks, its actions, its deeds, our state is a proletarian state, a workers’ state—true, with a certain “bureaucratic distortion.” Recall Lenin’s definition:
“A workers’ state is an abstraction. Actually, what we have is, firstly, a workers’ state with the peculiarity that the population of our country is not predominantly working class, but peasant; and, secondly, a workers’ state with a bureaucratic distortion” (Vol. XXV1, p. 91).
Only Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries and certain of our oppositionists are capable of doubting this. Lenin explained time and again that our state is the state of a proletarian dictatorship, and that proletarian dictatorship is the rule of one class, the rule of the proletariat. All this has long been known. Yet there are plenty of “readers” who had and still have a grievance against Lenin because he sometimes called our state a “workers’ and peasants’” state, although it should not be difficult to understand that in doing so Lenin was not defining the class nature of our state, and still less denying its proletarian nature, but that what he had in mind was that the proletarian nature of the Soviet state necessitated a bond between the proletariat and the main mass of the peasantry, and, consequently, that the policy of the Soviet government must be directed to strengthening that bond.
Take, for example, Vol. XXII, p. 174; Vol. XXV, pp. 50 and 80; Vol. XXVI, pp. 40, 67, 207, 216, and Vol. XXVII, p. 47. In all these works, and in certain others as well, Lenin describes our state as a “workers’ and peasants’” state. But it would be strange not to realise that in all these instances Lenin is not describing the class nature of our state, but defining that policy of strengthening the bond which follows from the proletarian nature and socialist objectives of our state in the conditions of our peasant country. In this qualified and restricted sense, and in this sense alone, one may say that ours is a “workers’ and peasants’” state, as Lenin does in the indicated passages in his works.
As to the class nature of our state, I have already said that Lenin gave us a most precise formulation which does not permit of the slightest misconstruction—namely: a workers’ state, with a bureaucratic distortion, in a country with a predominantly peasant population. That, one would think, is clear. Nevertheless, certain “readers,” who are able to “read” words but who refuse to understand what they read, continue to complain that Lenin has got them “confused” about the nature of our state, and that his “disciples” refuse to “disentangle” the “confusion.” That is rather funny. . . .
How are “misunderstandings” to be removed, you will ask?
There is only one way, in my opinion, and that is to study not isolated quotations from Lenin, but the substance of his works, and to study seriously, thoughtfully and assiduously.
I see no other way.
1. See J. V. Stalin, Works, Vol. 7, pp. 158-214.
* My italics.—J. St.