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Bhagat Singh: a rebel in prison-CHAMAN LAL

Posted by admin On December - 26 - 2018 Comments Off on Bhagat Singh: a rebel in prison-CHAMAN LAL


Five more letters of Bhagat Singh found with his younger brother Ranvir Singh’s family reveal the teenager’s fearless and forthright approach in dealing with the British officialdom.
THE earliest record of Bhagat Singh’s writings dates back to 1918 when he was 11 years old, and they were postcards he had written in Urdu and Punjabi to his grandfather and an aunt, Hukam Kaur. Collections of Bhagat Singh’s writings began to appear only in the 1970s, and the latest collections in Urdu and Marathi comprise 125 writings of Bhagat Singh, including 53 letters. With the addition of five more letters discovered in 2017-18 to the collections, Bhagat Singh’s writings number 130, apart from his Jail Notebook.

In this process of searching for Bhagat Singh’s writings, this writer located five letters of his in his trial proceedings edited by M.J.S. Waraich, which were then published in The Tribune in 2007. Following this, he found 10 more letters from the exhibition titled “The Trial of Bhagat Singh” held in 2008 in the newly built Supreme Court museum complex. The Supreme Court gave him a digital copy of the exhibition and the permission to use the contents with acknowledgements. The 10 letters were published in The Hindu of August 15, 2011, along with the rare photograph of Bhagat Singh and B.K. Dutt, first published on April 12, 1929, in Bande Matram from Lahore.

In 2013, this writer found a letter of Bhagat Singh that even Bhagat Singh believed was lost. However, it was a Hindi translation from the English original. This letter was retranslated into English, and both versions were published in The Hindu (Sunday Magazine) of March 23, 2014. In fact, before going to the gallows, Bhagat Singh took care to leave his writings in safe hands. Thus, he handed over his Jail Notebook to a younger brother, Kulbir Singh, along with a few other items.

Many of his writings were on loose sheets of paper, which he handed over to Kumari Lajjawati, who was secretary of the Bhagat Singh Defence Committee and reported directly to Jawaharlal Nehru on all steps taken to save the life of the three convicted revolutionaries, Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru. Bhagat Singh wanted her to hand over these papers to his comrade Bejoy Kumar Sinha, who was serving life imprisonment in the Andamans in the Lahore Conspiracy case, on his release.

Kumari Lajjawati, who was a teacher in and later Principal of KMV College in Jalandhar, handed over the papers to Feroze Chand, editor of The People, an English weekly founded by Lala Lajpat Rai. The People published many of Bhagat Singh’s writings from these papers for the next two to three years.

The papers that Kumari Lajjawati handed over to Bejoy Kumar Sinha after his release from the Cellular Jail in 1938 were lost during the 1942 Quit India Movement. The person to whom Sinha handed over the writings to be kept in safe custody probably destroyed them himself out of fear of the colonial police.

Interestingly, in 2017-18, five letters of Bhagat Singh were found from the family papers of another younger brother of his, Ranvir Singh, whose son Sheonan Singh served in the Indian Army with distinction and retired as Major General a few years ago. Ranvir Singh had begun writing a biography of Bhagat Singh in Urdu, which he could not complete as he passed away.

Sheonan Singh could not read Urdu, so he gifted the papers to the Khatkar Kalan Bhagat Singh Memorial Museum set up by the Punjab government in the ancestral house of the Bhagat Singh family in its ancestral village of Khatkar Kalan near Jalandhar. Sheonan Singh sent the papers through an acquaintance sometime in 2017. In those Urdu papers, there were five letters in English, which were part of Bhagat Singh’s communication with British colonial officials regarding his surveillance. Interestingly, the most senior British officer of Punjab, the Chief Secretary, responded to a letter from 19-year-old Bhagat Singh in 1926.

This correspondence makes fascinating reading. When the existence of these letters was mentioned in the Punjab media, this writer requested Sheonan Singh for copies, which, incidentally, he himself did not keep even for the record, and the material was yet to reach Khatkar Kalan museum. However, Sheonan Singh did arrange to provide copies of these typed letters to me, and these have been reproduced here with due credit to Sheonan Singh.

The English material found among the Ranvir Singh-held papers included seven letters of communication between British officials and Bhagat Singh and one statement by ‘Azad’. Of the five letters from Bhagat Singh, three relate to his strong resentment at his mail being intercepted in 1926. Two letters relate to his arrest and subsequent release after five weeks in 1927. Bhagat Singh wrote all the letters on his father’s letterhead in typed form, and from this correspondence it seems that one letter of October 26 is missing, which had been responded to by The Postmaster, Lahore, on October 30. The first letter by Bhagat Singh from these discovered letters is dated November 1, 1926, and it is in response to the letter of October 30, 1926, from The Postmaster, Lahore.

The letter is as follows:


The Postmaster



I thank you for your favour dated 30th October 1926, No D2850. In reply to the same I may request that I tore off all the envelopes whenever I received them. Yet this one referred in my last letter, was preserved, and is being enclosed herewith. This was posted at Bombay on 13th October, two days before the other one, but was delivered on 23rd along with that one. The circumstances were quite normal. The letter box contained a few letters at first delivery. The letter box was emptied by myself. When at 12 or so at noon I again opened my letter box I found these two and another letter there. The circumstances were quite ordinary.

But I have been marking since one or two months that all the letters addressed to me were stamped and then stamped again [emphasis added throughout]. Cut exactly at the same place. This of course did arise suspecion in my mind. I had no desire to write at first but at the receipt of these two letters I was anxious to know the real cause. This envelope will help you upto some extent to prove the truth of allegation.

But may I request you to write a definite answer to my first letter—Are any letters opened or intercepted? If so why?

I am certain about one thing and that is this that they were not delivered to me by the first delivery but were detained for a day or two. This envelope will help you in this matter too.


The above letter was in response to The Postmaster’s letter of October 30, 1926, reproduced below:



The Postmaster

Lahore G.P.O.


S. Bhagat Singh

C/O The Himalya Ass: Coy Ltd:

Lahori Gate, Lahore.

No. D. 2850 dated at Lahore the 30.10.1926


I have the honour to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 26th instant: addressed to the Postmaster General Punjab and N.W.F. Circle, Lahore and request that you will send per bearer the covers of the letter which are alleged to have been restamped and delivered to you late.

The enclosed envelope does not bear the 2nd delivery stamp. The postmarks show that it was posted Bombay on the 15th and received in this office by the 11 A.M. delivery on Sunday the 17th: Kindly let me know the circumstances under which you state that it was delivered to you on the 23rd.

I have etc..,


Postmaster Lahore

The second and third letters of Bhagat Singh of November 17 and 26, 1926, are addressed to Secretary, Punjab Government, with reference to the interception of his post. Bhagat Singh addressed the Punjab government, Lahore, through its bureaucracy. In the first letter he refers to the Postmaster’s letter of November 16 (which was not among the matter found) telling him that his post was being intercepted as per the order of the Punjab government.

The November 17 letter, typewritten, of Bhagat Singh is as follows:

C/O The Himalaya Ass: Co: Ltd:


Lahore, 17th Nov: 26


The Secretary,

The Punjab Government,



I enclose herewith a copy of letter of Postmaster Lahore G.P.O dated 16th instant addressed to me. In reply to my letter dated 1st instant addressed to him, he wrote to me that my letter were detained by that department under the orders of the Punjab Government.

May I ask you whether any such orders have been issued to that department? If so, when & why? Ans are there any letters that were intercepted and never delivered to me?

I would request you to kindly give a direct plain and detailed reply to it. Moreover, will you please let me know what led you to issue such orders?

Awaiting an early reply

Yours obediently,

Sd/- Bhagat Singh

When there was no response from the Punjab government, Bhagat Singh wrote a reminder on November 28, 1926, asserting his right to get a reply as an honest citizen:

C/O The Himalaya Ass: Co: Ld:

Lohari Gate

Lahore, 28th November, 26


The Secretary

The Punjab Government,



I beg to draw your kind attention towards my last letter dated 17th November, 1926, sent under a registered cover, which was received by you the very next day. It is more than a week since, and I have altogether failed to receive any reply to the same.

I had sent a copy of the Post Master’s letter dated 16th Nov: addressed to me telling me that my letters were intercepted under the orders of the Punjab Govt:. Naturally I was very anxious to know what led the Punjab Govt: to issue such orders. I think that as an honest citizen I have a right to enquire such a question relating to myself. But I have not received any reply to that letter. Will you kindly send a reply to the same at an early date and also let me know the cause of this delay?

Hoping to be favoured soon.

Yours obediently,

Sd/- Bhagat Singh

The letters to the Punjab government elicited a response from no less than the Chief Secretary of Punjab, H.D. Craik, on November 27, 1926, informing him that it was the Governor of Punjab himself who gave the order for interception and censuring of his mail/post. One wonders how such a powerful British colonial regime became so scared of a 19-year-old boy.

Chief Secretary H.D. Craik’s response was as follows:

No: 9349-S.B.


H.D.Craik, C.S.I-, I.C.S.,

Chief Secretary to Govt: Punjab


S. Bhagat Singh C/O the Himalya

Assurance Company Ltd:, Lohari Gate


Dated Lahore the 27th November, 1926.


In reply to your letter, dated the 17th November, 1926, I am directed to inform you that orders for the interception of your correspondence were issued by the Governor of the Punjab in council in accordance with the provisions of section 26(1) of the Indian Post Office Act, 1898(VI of 1898), as amended by section 6 of the Indian Post Office (amendment) Act of 1912 (III of 1912)

I have etc…

Sd/- H.D.Craik

Chief Secretary to Govt: Punjab

The next two letters by Bhagat Singh addressed to British officials are part of the correspondence relating to his first arrest on May 29, 1927, and release on bail bonds on July 4, 1927.

Interestingly, Bhagat Singh refers here to Punjab Assembly question in regard to his arrest and bail bonds by Dr Gopi Chand Bhargava, MLC, who became the first Chief Minister of East Punjab after Partition.

In this context, one letter of May 1929 was already available, now two earlier letters of May and June 1928 have also been found.

The following is Bhagat Singh’s letter to the District Magistrate of Lahore with regard to the cancellation of his bail bonds:


Shahanshahi Kutia,

Sutarmandi, Lahore 9.5.28


The District Magistrate



Kindly let me know the exact date on which my personal bond: for Rs 20000/- and bail bonds & surities for Rs 20000/-each (in the case Crown vs Bhagat Singh section 302 I.P.C.) were cancelled, as stated by the hon: Sir Geoffrey and De-Montmousery in reply to starred question no. 1386(d) put by Dr. Gopi Chand Bhargwa M.L.C. on the 8th instant in the Punjab Legislative Council.

An early reply will highly oblige

Yours etc.

(In the hand of S. Bhagat Singh. No Signature)

The last of Bhagat Singh’s recently discovered five letters was written to the Superintendent, Punjab C.I.D., Lahore on June 19, 1928:

Shahanshahi Kutia


Lahore, 19 VI’28


The Superintendent

Punjab C.I.D. (Political)


Dear Sir,

I am sorry to say that I have not received any reply to my last letter requesting to return all my clothes and papers that were taken from my body at the time of my arrest on May the 29th 1927, and the clothes and books that were sent by my father while I was in the police custody. Will you kindly let me know by the return when and where can I get the same?

Hoping to be favoured soon.

Yours etc.

Shahanshahi Kutia

Sutarmandi, Lahore

One tribute to Bhagat Singh after his execution is also found in these papers. This tribute is by Azad, who could not be Chandrashekhar Azad as he was martyred one month before Bhagat Singh’s execution. At best as reflected from language and style, it could possibly be of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who was a very senior Congress leader then and later too.

S. Bhagat Singh (after death)

The execution of S. Bhagat Singh was felt in India as something more than a public calamity; men, women and boys turned pale, as if they had heard of the loss of a dear friend, they wept whole the night. An object of our admiration and affection, of our pride and of our hope was suddenly taken from us and it seemed as if we had never till then, known how deeply we loved and revered him. India had lost in its great hero-a patriot. He cannot be said to have fallen prematurely whose work was done. The most triumphant death is that of a martyr; the most awful of that of the martyred patriot. He has left us, not indeed his mentle (sic) of inspiration, but a name and example, which are at this hour inspiring thousands of the youth of Mother India, a name which is our pride and an example which will continue to be our shield and our strength. Thus it is that the spirits of the great and the wise continue to live and to act after them.

Sd/- Azad

It is interesting that one keeps on finding Bhagat Singh’s writings even after 88 years of his execution. Who knows, the writings handed over by Bejoy Kumar Sinha to an unknown contact for safe-keeping and said to be destroyed may one day be found and may help the people of India know Bhagat Singh better, more deeply.

Chaman Lal, a retired Professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University and author of a few books on Bhagat Singh, has set up the Bhagat Singh Archives and Resource Centre at Delhi Archives of the government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi.

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The Third Camp in Theory and Practice: An Interview with Joanne Landy and Thomas Harrison-Kent Worcester

Posted by admin On August - 26 - 2018 Comments Off on The Third Camp in Theory and Practice: An Interview with Joanne Landy and Thomas Harrison-Kent Worcester



Joanne and me

[Reprinted by permission from Left History 21.2]


Joanne Landy (1941–2017) and Thomas Harrison (1948–) became socialists as teenagers and have remained involved in the democratic left ever since. They were active in the student protest movement at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1960s, where they met and became close friends and collaborators. During the 1970s, they became increasingly interested in the issue of labor rights in Central and Eastern Europe, and they worked to link democratic and social justice struggles in the Eastern Bloc with social movements in the United States, the West, and the Third World. Until Joanne Landy’s death in October 2017, they were co-directors of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy (CPD), which was founded in 1982. Initially, the organization was called the Campaign for Peace and Democracy/East and West, but with the end of the Cold War the title was shortened.

The Campaign promoted a policy of “détente from below” and worked to advance “a new, progressive, and non-militaristic U.S. foreign policy—one that encourages democracy and social justice by promoting solidarity with activists and progressive movements throughout the world.”[1] During the Cold War, the Campaign defended independent human rights, labor, and peace activists in Soviet Bloc countries and enlisted support for them among labor, human rights and anti-war activists in the West. CPD also mounted campaigns in opposition to U.S.-supported dictatorships in Latin America like Chile and Nicaragua and organized public support for these campaigns by Eastern Bloc dissidents. In the post-Cold War period, CPD opposed U.S.-led wars in the Middle East and Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights, and supported movements for democracy and social justice in Greece, Mexico, and the Middle East, including Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Syria, while opposing Russian intervention in Syria, Ukraine, and Georgia.[2]

As young radicals, Landy and Harrison gravitated to the “third camp” wing of the organized left. Perhaps the most prominent figure in the third camp tendency was Max Shachtman, a writer and organizer who led a major split out of the Socialist Workers Party in 1940, and helped launch a succession of socialist groups and periodicals in the mid-century period. However, by the end of the 1950s Shachtman had abandoned third camp principles, becoming a defender of United States foreign policy.[3] Another key figure on the third camp left was Hal Draper, who later won acclaim for his five-volume series on the revolutionary ideas of Karl Marx. While Shachtman was based in New York City, Draper was a longtime Bay Area resident and, along with Joanne Landy, Joel Geier, Mike Parker, and other “left Shachtmanites,” played a leading part in Berkeley’s Free Speech movement.[4]

The term “third camp” implies a rejection of both the Western alliance (the first camp) and Soviet-style societies (the second camp), in favor of democratic movements in opposition to western capitalism, as well as various forms of authoritarian statism. Since its inception, the CPD developed and advanced a third camp perspective on a range of global issues, from dissident movements in Eastern Europe and the breakup of Yugoslavia, to the rise of the Arab Spring in 2010–2011, and contemporary conflicts in the Near and Middle East. Arguably, the CPD helped to reorient sections of the peace movement and the left more generally away from a focus on great power actors to a strategy of building movements from below across national and regional borders.

Joanne Landy joined the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL), the youth group of the Socialist Party, in 1958. She became active in the YPSL left wing, and along with Draper, Geier, and others, helped launch Berkeley’s Independent Socialist Club (ISC) in 1964. During this period, Landy was also heavily involved in the Free Speech Movement. Thomas Harrison moved to Berkeley in 1966, and joined the ISC in the same year. As the group evolved—changing its name to the International Socialists (IS) in 1969 and moving toward a “democratic centralist” internal regime—Landy and Harrison found themselves increasingly at odds with the group’s trajectory. They were expelled in 1972 for violating internal discipline, and remained independent socialist activists afterwards, though collaborating with like-minded socialist organizations and individuals, including many who were in the ISC and/or IS. In addition to their work on behalf of the Campaign, Landy and Harrison contributed to debates over foreign policy, health care, the two-party system, and third party politics, through public lectures and contributions to the socialist journal New Politics, along with other magazines and newspapers such as The Nation, The Progressive, and the New York Times.

In their capacities as co-directors of CPD, Landy and Harrison worked alongside several prominent figures, such as the Berkeley student radical Mario Savio, Chilean playwright Ariel Dorman, whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, actor Ed Asner, French leftist writer Daniel Singer, then-radical Polish dissident Jacek Kuron, and the historian and anti-nuclear activist E.P. Thompson. The conversation that follows addresses important theoretical and strategic issues, but it also touches on these and other larger-than-life personalities. As the conversation makes clear, Landy and Harrison developed a carefully considered approach to social activism that combined a firm commitment to political clarity with a willingness to pursue friendships and common activity with people from a broad range of backgrounds and perspectives.

The interview is organized into eleven sections. The first and second (Family Backgrounds, and Radical Politics) explore the social milieu in which Joanne Landy and Thomas Harrison were radicalized in the late 1950s (Landy) and mid-1960s (Harrison). The third, fourth, and fifth sections (The Independent Socialist Club, Socialist Horizons, and The International Socialists) address their involvement in organized third camp politics from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s. The history of Shachtmanism is not well documented and these sections may be of particular interest to readers who are curious about the development of radical, small-d democratic leftism in the United States. The sections that follow (Expulsion and Beyond, Solidarnosc, and Détente from Below) are concerned with the turn Landy and Harrison made in the mid-1970s toward building solidarity with Soviet bloc activists and dissidents, which led to the formation of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy in the early 1980s. The final sections (Liberal Interventionism, and The Near and Middle East) explore the ways in which Landy and Harrison responded to the collapse of the Soviet Union and allied regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as how they sought to apply the third camp template to developments in the Near and Middle East in the wake of the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the Arab Spring uprisings in 2010–2011.

The first half of the interview addresses the question of socialist organization in the U.S. during the midcentury era, while the second is concerned with how two leading third camp activists responded to major international and global crises and conflicts over the past four decades. While a certain amount of biographical information is presented in these pages, there is also a great deal of political analysis that tackles contested issues on the United States and international left.

In 2014, Left History published my interview with Phyllis and Julius Jacobson, who founded and subsequently co-edited New Politics for four decades.[5] That interview focused on the Jacobsons’ journey from party building in the 1930s and 1940s to producing a pluralistic journal of leftist opinion and debate during the final decades of the twentieth century. The present interview tracks the ways in which two sixties activists have sought to relate third camp principles to ever-changing realities throughout their adult lives. In tandem, the two interviews provide an in-depth look at the development of third camp politics from the 1930s to the present day.

Family Backgrounds

Kent Worcester (KW): Did you come from the kinds of families that prepared you for the world of leftwing activism?

Joanne Landy (JL): My mother was a liberal activist—active in the Parent-Teacher Association, fighting for integrated schools in Chicago in the 1950s. She was not a radical. She supported Planned Parenthood, civil rights, and so on, but she was a little like the people today who would argue that you should vote for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary because “she would have had a better chance to win against the Republican” (though perhaps I’m being unfair—she might well have supported Sanders. Since she’s no longer alive, I can’t ask her). But she was a real activist. She would spend hours on the phone talking to allies in the PTA. She was really good at convincing people of her point of view, taking a lot of time, and both feeling and showing respect for people she disagreed with. I learned a lot from her about the nuts and bolts of organizing.

I had a younger sister—four years younger. I was born in 1941 and she was born in 1945. She died at the age of 36 from alcohol and drugs. My dad was German and Jewish. He left Germany in 1933. He had trained as a lawyer, but the Nazis did not allow Jews to serve in the professions. I don’t think he saw what was coming in Germany, but he knew that things were getting bad. Once he left he lived in France for two years and then came to the U.S. in 1935. He earned a Ph.D. in library science and later became the director of the library at Chicago State University (when he started it was Chicago Teachers College and Wilson Junior College), which is now in the news because it’s being starved of funds. It’s tragic because it was a kind of avenue of mobility for black youth. My dad wasn’t a liberal—he tended more toward moderate conservatism—but he was very proud of the University and the opportunities it offered to people who had few opportunities.

KW: So when the civil rights movement came along they were both sympathetic.

JL: I wouldn’t say that. My mother was very sympathetic, but my father complained about how disruptive Martin Luther King was. Then later, when Malcolm X came along, he contrasted him to Martin Luther King. I said, “well, Daddy, don’t you remember how you used to denounce Martin Luther King?” He would just mutter something in response. His takeaway from the German experience was that it was important to maintain order. He had a visceral reaction against chaos. Over time he became mellower about the Civil Rights Movement, but his initial reaction was to say that he was against segregation but that this wasn’t the way to change things.

So it was a mixed marriage in more than one sense. He was Jewish and she was Unitarian, but at my father’s insistence they agreed to raise my sister and me in the Jewish tradition. Then again, at my mother’s insistence we always had a Christmas tree. My father would turn ashen when it went up a few days before Christmas and regained his color when the tree was taken down in early January. A little tension there.

Thomas Harrison (TH): My father was a career army officer, whereas my mother’s background was labor liberal. Neither of my parents went to college. My paternal grandfather was a career army sergeant stationed on one of those sleepy pre-World War II bases, this one in Washington State—Fort Casey, on an island at the entrance to Puget Sound. It had big guns trained seaward that were meant to defend Seattle from a maritime invasion. I don’t think my dad originally intended to follow in his father’s footsteps. He worked at the Isaacson steel mill in Seattle and as a merchant seaman on a Dutch ship before he was drafted after Pearl Harbor. Dad saw combat at the Battle of Okinawa, one of the worst, and later in Korea.

My mother came from a working class family, most of them in the building trades. Her dad was a house painter and a staunch trade unionist. Seattle had this fabulous history of militant labor—the IWW, the 1919 General Strike, etc.—of which I was very much aware even at an early age. I used to do odd jobs for a neighbor, an elderly widow named Betty, who told me how she and her husband would join the mass pickets, thousands of them, in support of the 1934 waterfront strike. My brothers and I were taught never to cross a picket line, and whenever my mother would drive by one she would honk and wave. She was always a New Deal Democrat, and I am sure that had she lived she would have been an enthusiastic supporter of Bernie Sanders. During the War she worked at a radio station in Seattle and belonged to a union that was controlled or heavily influenced by CPers. After she married my father, who had by then become an officer, the FBI came to our door to ask some questions about that; my parents were extremely upset.

KW: Did she support Henry Wallace in 1948?

TH: It’s interesting that you ask me this. I don’t think so, but her brother told me, only a short time ago, that he voted for Wallace in ’48. My father became a Reagan Democrat in 1980, for reasons having to do with foreign policy. He was liberal on social issues but he was a hawk. Dad abhorred Communism, of course, but he always had a sneaking interest in it. For example he took me to hear a speech at an outdoor rally in San Jose by Glen Taylor, a fellow traveler and one-time senator from Idaho who had been Wallace’s running mate in ’48. Anyway, he and I had terrible fights about the Vietnam War, the New Left, the draft, and that sort of thing.

We moved around a lot but both of my parents had roots in Seattle, and it’s where I was born, and we sometimes lived there when I was growing up. I was closest to my maternal grandmother’s side of the family, who were Swedes by way of Norway. My grandmother migrated from Oslo, with her parents and eight of her ten siblings, in 1914. She was active in a Swedish sect, the Mission Covenant Church, and I was baptized at the “Swedish Tabernacle” in downtown Seattle. We also spent time in Germany, Japan, New Orleans, Baltimore, Monterey, Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, and Augusta, Georgia. Never lived in one place longer than three years. I went to a segregated junior high school in a suburb of New Orleans (and later David Duke’s base)—and got in a lot of trouble with my schoolmates for supporting integration, as you might imagine.  I really hated that place, hated the whole South.

KW: You both went to Berkeley as undergraduates.

JL: I went to a few schools before I ended up in Berkeley. I started at the University of Chicago just before I turned sixteen. I was there for two years. It was then that I met my first husband—Sy Landy.[6] He lived in New York, so I moved to New York in the fall of 1959.

KW: How old were you when you got married?

JL: Eighteen. My parents wondered if I was perhaps a little young, but you have to understand that at the time it was not so very unusual. In general, middle class kids who went to college got married at 21 or 22, but not infrequently they were younger. Things have really changed since then. My parents weren’t too upset by it. They simply wanted to make sure that I was doing what I wanted to do.

Radical Politics

KW: Was Sy Landy a Marxist at this point?

JL: Oh yeah. We met in the Young Peoples Socialist League (YPSL), pronounced yipsel, which was the youth group of the Socialist Party. In high school I had attended workshops organized by the American Friends Service Committee, and I was a committed pacifist by the age of 12 or 13. I made my parents have a minute of silence before every meal, which is something I’d picked up from the Quakers. They patiently went along. I joined YPSL in the late 1950s—1958—which was around the same time that the Shachtman group, the Independent Socialist League (ISL), decided to disband and join the Socialist Party.[7] As a result, the Shachtman youth group, the Young Socialist League (YSL) joined YPSL. In fact, it was Debbie Meier, who had been in the ISL and YSL, who recruited me into YPSL.[8] There were other groups at the University of Chicago in the late 1950s—there were members of the Cochranite group, and the Socialist Workers Party. George Rawick was teaching at the University of Chicago and he had been a Shachtmanite and close to YPSL as well.[9]

I spent a lot of time reading socialist books and magazines. I was reading a lot of George Orwell (Homage to Catalonia and more), of course Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution, and Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station—there were a bunch of things you were supposed to have read if you were in or around YPSL. Debbie kept pressing me to join YPSL, and I kept telling her, “Well, there’s so much more I need to read.” She finally said, in an exasperated voice, “Joanne, there will always be more to read. If you basically agree with us now you should help build the organization. If you change your mind later you can always leave.” “Okay, okay, okay,” I finally said.

Close to when I joined—it might have been just before, or just after—George Rawick and I had a big argument about pacifism. George used to look at his fingernails whenever he would have a serious conversation—so as he was intently focusing on his nails, he said to me, “Well, I would really like to be a pacifist, Joanne, but I can’t for moral reasons.” “Moral reasons?” I squeaked, “That’s my thing!” So he explained to me that you have to look at the consequences of your actions, and that there are situations in which a pacifist position means that not only will you die but other people might die as well. We had a furious argument about this but I recognized pretty quickly that I had been defeated, though it took me a few days to admit it. Nonetheless, to this day I retain a strong sympathy for non-violence, even though I’ve had fierce arguments with pacifists since that time.

TH: In the 1950s the pacifists were some of the only allies that the ISL had because most were opposed to both sides of the Cold War.

JL: Even now the War Resisters League are people we often agree with and work with. They’re pacifists but we can agree that in a strategic sense that it’s more often smarter to use non-violent means. Non-violent strategies and tactics are often helpful in terms of exposing the elite causes and sources of violence.

KW: Tom, were you radicalized in high school?

TH: Yes, but in an isolated sort of way. I had one or two friends whom I talked politics with, but when I opposed U.S. involvement in Vietnam in a high school debate around 1963 or ‘64, I was the only one. During my senior year in San Jose, I used to spend time with my best friend (who later joined the ISC) at a bookstore that had lots of Marxist and leftwing books and was owned by two friendly older women who must have been current or former members of the CP. The high school library happened to have Isaac Deutscher’s anthology of Trotsky’s writings, which I checked out. As a result of reading Trotsky I started to think of myself as a Trotskyist. I arrived at Berkeley in the fall of 1966, looking for something to join.

KW: Did you pick Berkeley because of its radical reputation?

TH: I picked Berkeley because it was affordable—I was a California resident, and it was considered the best of the UC campuses. Even though I had radical ideas, they were pretty inconsistent. For example, I definitely considered myself a revolutionary socialist, yet I was very excited by Bob Scheer’s antiwar campaign in the Democratic primary that summer.

KW: Joanne, you were at Berkeley by 1964. What was the campus like back then?

JL: For various reasons a number of us who had been active in YPSL ended up in the Bay Area in the early-to-mid 1960s—Mike Parker,[10] Joel Geier,[11] Sam Farber,[12] Mike Shute,[13] Kit and Lisa Lyons,[14] myself and a few others.

KW: Sy Landy?

JL: No, he was still in New York. Sy and I broke up in 1962 or 1963. We remained friendly. Getting divorced was a little difficult—New York State’s laws were pretty archaic. But I found out that we could get our marriage annulled under two conditions: first, if we had been married for under three years, which we were, and, second, if someone would testify that before we were married they had heard Sy promise to support me financially and to have children, and that later, after we were married, that same person had conveniently been present when Sy said that he had never intended to do either. The divorce court was lined end to end with women and a family member or friend who supposedly witnessed such pre-wedding and post-wedding conversations. A real farce.

TH: Sy was a quintessential New Yorker, very much at home in NYC, and very likeable. Joel Geier used to say that Sy would never leave New York because he’d miss his delicatessen too much. He had a sly sense of humor; Sy once compared some pretentious little revolutionary sect to a flea floating down the river on its back with an erection shouting, “open the drawbridge!”

JL: We weren’t close after the marriage ended but we were friendly. There’s a funny story about this. At some point in the 1980s, I was one of the main speakers at a public meeting held at the Workmen’s Circle in New York City in defense of Poland’s Solidarnosc. Sy got up during the question-and-answer period and said that Solidarnosc was a bourgeois organization and that no self-respecting socialist should have anything to do with it. Afterwards he came up to me with his sly smile and said, “You know, you owe me a debt of gratitude.” And I said, “Why is that?” And he said, “Well, I didn’t say my name!” That’s an example of his quick sense of humor.

After Sy and I broke up Mike Shute became my boyfriend. We visited Berkeley in August 1964 and it was hopping. It had campus radicalism, great weather. Mike decided to go to graduate school there, and I was really happy about that.

TH: There were lots of literature tables that various groups set up on campus, and people would hang around for hours talking about politics. It was an incredible scene. Every day people would stand around and argue for hours and hours. And after the tables were taken down, they would move to The Terrace, behind Sproul Plaza, and continue discussing things over coffee for hours more.

The Independent Socialist Club

KW: When did you decide to join the Independent Socialist Club (ISC) in Berkeley?

JL: I helped to form it in the fall of 1964, shortly before the Free Speech Movement was born. Hal Draper,[15] Ernie Haberkern,[16] David and Mike Friedman, Mike Parker, Joel Geier, Kit and Lisa Lyons, and a number of other people who had been active in the Independent Socialist League or the leftwing of the YPSL decided to launch the ISC in the fall of 1964. The YPSL leftwing was defined by its “third camp” politics—“Neither Washington nor Moscow”—and by its opposition to supporting the Democratic Party. The YPSL right wing followed Max Shachtman, who had earlier advocated for the third camp and independent political action, but who by the early 1960s had become pro-West and for entry into the Democratic Party.

The ISC got off the ground pretty quickly, and played an important role in the Free Speech Movement—Hal Draper and Jack Weinberg,[17] for example, were leading figures in the FSM.

KW: Did the ISC view the Free Speech Movement as a recruiting ground?

JL: That wasn’t the focus or the mentality, though we did recruit dozens of people in those years. The ISC was an organic part of the FSM, and the student movement in general. We recruited out of the movement but we were also part of the movement. We probably had 60-70 members in the Bay Area by the mid-1960s, many of whom were highly active in student politics.

Tom Harrison, back row, center; Joanne Landy, second row, right
KW: Was Hal Draper the group’s leader?

TH: He was a central figure because of his writings, and he often gave talks and spoke at rallies. We always got a good turnout whenever he spoke. He also took part in a debate with Sociology professor Nathan Glazer about the Free Speech Movement that attracted hundreds of people.

JL: But he was not the central player from an organizational perspective. Joel Geier and Mike Parker were key in terms of maintaining the group on a daily basis. Geier and Draper would often confer.

KW: Phyllis and Julius Jacobson suggested that Draper was something of a paradox—he could be remote, but he also was a beloved figure among younger radicals.[18] Jack Weinberg, for example, famously said, “Don’t trust anyone over 30—except Hal Draper.”

TH: He was just a brilliant guy. And while he was an inspiring speaker, he also spent time talking with people. I remember going on a hike with him and his wife Anne and a bunch of others on Mount Tamalpais. Once he told me I should learn German and dedicate myself to the history of the early years of the Third International. He could be intimidating, and he wasn’t warm or cuddly. I heard that he greeted people by saying, “and how are you justifying your existence?” He was a big wine aficionado—did you know that? He knew a tremendous amount about California wines.

JL: And he organized square dances! He definitely socialized with people.

TH: But he maintained a certain distance. He and Anne weren’t expansive and embracing like Phyllis and Julius Jacobson, who would frequently invite us over for dinner and holidays, invite us to stay at their vacation home upstate, and so on.

JL: The Drapers were much older than most of us, but they weren’t anti-social. I wrote my senior thesis at Berkeley on the ideas of Lenin and Luxemburg, and Hal spent many hours helping me with it. The Drapers were always friendly with me, but some people may have had different experiences. Whenever I called Hal, and said, “How are you?” there was silence on the other end. Finally, one day I said, “Hal, why aren’t you saying something?” He said, “Well, the question is just a formality.” And I said, “Hal, it’s a conversation stopper if you don’t say anything. You need to say ‘fine’ or ‘not bad’ or something.” He said, “Really? OK.” After that he would always say, “fine” whenever I asked him how he was. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

KW: Mario Savio, the leader of the Free Speech Movement, seems to have been the right person at the right time.

JL: Very sweet and very smart. The Free Speech Movement was much bigger than anything I’d ever seen before—it was an engulfing moment. It was a revolution, but on a single campus. It bore a kinship to what I had read about the Russian Revolution, but on a smaller scale of course. You saw authority crumble, you saw the students win their demands, you saw different sectors of the students and faculty come over to our side. There were setbacks and pauses, and times when we vigorously debated how to respond to one problem or another. In the end, we won. It was invigorating and educational.

TH: When I was an undergraduate at Berkeley there was a student strike almost every quarter, it seemed. I actually went to very few classes. I was reading a lot, but not necessarily what was required for my classes.

Just to give you a sense of the times, there was a sit-in a couple of months after my arriving on campus, which I rushed to join. It was around a Naval ROTC table in the Student Union—as a non-student group they were allowed to recruit there while the non-student political groups weren’t. I didn’t get arrested, but a few people, including Mario Savio, did. That led to a strike. Before that, in September I think, I was attending a rally at Sproul Plaza and a young woman came up to me with a piece of cardboard that was filled with political buttons. One of the buttons said, “I wouldn’t vote for [Edmund] Brown even if he ran against Ronald Reagan.” This was prior to the California gubernatorial election, which Reagan won.

And this was Joanne. She asked me if I’d like to buy this button, and I said, “No, but I would like to buy a button with a picture of Karl Marx,” which she said she had. So we had a conversation that lasted several hours on the steps of Sproul Plaza.

JL: We went through all the big issues—the Russian Revolution, Stalinism, the Cold War.

KW: Who were some of your favorite professors?

TH: Carl Schorske, Larry Levine, Reginald Zelnick in History, and Mike Rogin in the Political Science department.

JL: Mike Rogin was close to the ISC, in fact. All of these people we’ve named were part of the pro-student wing of the faculty. They didn’t take part in the sit-ins but they played an active supporting role. William Kornhauser, Philip Selznick in Sociology, Sheldon Wolin in Political Science.

TH: Right. But there were some real trolls, too—Martin Malia, who was a great historian but a terrible reactionary. Gerald Feldman was another, a specialist in German history. He absolutely hated the student movement, and there was a rumor that he carried a blackjack in his pocket. One night there was a fire at Wheeler Auditorium, and I was with Joanne, and Feldman was there and accused Joanne of being to blame.

JL: And I said, “What the hell are you talking about?”

KW: Nathan Glazer was another critic of the student movement, although his approach was much more low-key.

JL: There’s a funny story about Hal Draper and Nathan Glazer. We—the ISC branch—had decided to organize a debate about the Free Speech Movement after the FSM had won. And we wanted to invite Glazer to represent the liberal position. Glazer’s view was that the FSM’s use of civil disobedience was illegitimate. Draper’s position was that the FSM needed radical means and radical leaders to win even liberal goals—and that without radicals taking the lead the Free Speech Movement would have never succeeded.

So I phoned Glazer and invited him to participate in this debate. And Glazer, who was well aware of Draper’s debating prowess, said, “I’ll get slaughtered.” So I said, “Don’t say yes or no right away, but take some time to think it over. Let me call you back in a couple of days.”

And I called him back a couple of days later, and he said, “Joanne, I’m not suicidal. I’m not going to do this.” I told him, “If you don’t do it, we’re going to have to ask Professor William Petersen to do it.” “Oh no!” he said, aghast, because he knew that this would discredit his side of the debate. I said, “Why don’t you think about it some more? Let me call you back in a couple of days.” Eventually he said, “OK, but I’m going to regret this for the rest of my life.” The debate finally happened, and of course he got slaughtered.

KW: Did ISC members listen to rock music? Did the men grow their hair long?

TH: We certainly weren’t hippies, but there was long hair, short hair – there was no sense whatsoever of a dress code in the ISC. Lots of people smoked dope, went to rock concerts, and so on. It was all very porous. And of course that was a glorious time and Berkeley was a glorious place for popular culture. Bands such as Big Brother and the Holding Company and Jefferson Airplane sometimes played for free in the parks. Janis Joplin was just mind-blowing. Right after my freshman year was the “Human Be-In” and afterwards the “Summer of Love.”

JL: And we were all affected by what was going on around us, including the music. But there were arguments—we would argue with people over what might be described today as “anti-politics.” We didn’t think that dropping out or building communes would lead to the revolution. But we were part of the sixties culture.

Socialist Horizons

KW: In the mid-1960s the ISC is growing and the anti-Vietnam war movement is gaining traction. Did you think that a socialist transformation might be on the horizon?

TH: No. We never thought that socialist revolution was imminent. Never.

JL: But we were excited about the antiwar movement, and we were also excited about how the ISC was doing. We had an optimistic and enthusiastic feeling, but we weren’t living under the illusion that socialism was around the corner. We tried to be sober about these things. But on the other hand the group gained members and established new chapters in the late 1960s—there was a definite sense of momentum.

KW: When did your optimism peak?

TH: 1968 of course was the most exciting year. It was worldwide. France, Czechoslovakia. If you think about what took place in France it is almost unbelievable—workers and students united, the government shaken to its foundations, our dream come true.

JL: There was a vibrant if not unproblematic student movement, and antiwar movement, here in the United States. You didn’t have to believe that we would soon be following in France’s footsteps to be hopeful. It’s perhaps easier for people who lived through this period to retain a sense of optimism than it might be for people who didn’t experience the sixties firsthand.

KW: My impression is that the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was not much of a factor at Berkeley.

TH: It was there—it had a presence—but it never amounted to much, mainly because it was so faction-ridden and full of internal bickering.

JL: It wasn’t hegemonic in the way it was on some campuses. Also, by the time that SDS was on the scene there was already a well-established campus left that had a strong sense of itself. And to some degree Berkeley is in its own world. It’s not that we didn’t know about what was going on at Harvard or Columbia, but Berkeley’s New Left was unique.

KW: And when did you start to think, “Oh no, this is starting to smell bad.”

TH: 1969. Things started to get very dire—Weathermen, Progressive Labor…

JL: And SDS split apart.

TH: Maoism in this country really got going around 1969-1970. Bob Avakian is part of this story of course, and he was in the Bay Area.[19]

JL: Bob Avakian’s father, Spurgeon Avakian, was a judge, and in fact he presided at my second wedding, to Nelson Lichtenstein.[20] A while after Mike and I broke up in the late sixties I began to see Nelson, also a history PhD student at UC Berkeley. We lived together and then got married. Nelson and I moved to New York in 1975—he couldn’t find a job in the academy, so he moved here to work at Facts on File. Tom moved to New York a few months after we did.

TH: Nelson is a very warm person, generous and full of enthusiasm, and he’s been an outstanding labor historian for many years. His first book, which was based on his dissertation, was profoundly shaped by his time around the ISC. When I moved to New York to attend grad school at Columbia, Nelson gave me some writing work at Facts on File, where he was an editor, providing badly needed income to supplement my measly fellowship.

JL: The ISC changed dramatically in the early 1970s, however. It was larger in numbers, and had already decided to rename itself the International Socialists in 1969. There was a sharp turn toward industry, which meant placing members in key industrial sectors such as auto and steel. The group became “harder” as a result—this wouldn’t have necessarily followed, but it did. Draper initially supported the policy of industrialization but didn’t agree with the way in which it was implemented, and he dropped out of the organization in 1971.

TH: By the way, we very much agreed with Draper about the recklessness with which the IS tried to turn itself into a workers’ party.

JL: I wasn’t against the general strategy of industrialization—Hal and Anne actually were the ones who convinced me of its merits. But I was not in favor of the manner in which it was done, and the things that went along with it. I wasn’t in favor of shaming people who for whatever reason weren’t ready to take the plunge. I wasn’t in favor of ignoring the gains we had made and could still make on college campuses. And I wasn’t in favor of the idea that we had become a “pre-party” formation, and that we were on the way to building the revolutionary party.

TH: What we needed was a few more years to build a healthy third camp tendency.

KW: Tom, you didn’t come out as a gay man while you were at Berkeley.

TH: Oh no, that was much later. I was very confused—it was personal and it’s hard to describe or explain. I didn’t know. Plus, this was before Gay Liberation—before 1969, I mean—and the atmosphere in the ISC did not seem friendly to homosexuality. It was a subtle thing; there was no formal sanction on being gay, as there was in some of the sects. On the contrary, after Stonewall the IS responded quickly to Gay Liberation by adopting an excellent position on gay rights, and the atmosphere improved a great deal. But before 1969 there were the occasional (private) sneers and jokes about homosexuals, and, to me at least, there was a sense that gays were merely tolerated. I certainly felt intimidated, but I can’t blame that for my confusion, which had much more to do with my own anxieties than anything about the organization.

I think it’s hard now to recall how natural it was in those days for straights—including socialists—to treat gays as at best neurotic and embarrassing and at worst disgusting. After all, it wasn’t until 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association declared that homosexuality was not a mental illness. And psychiatric orthodoxy, Freudianism, etc., was widely accepted among the comrades.

JL. I’m horrified to learn that anyone in the ISC was making such degrading, coarse jokes and sneers.

The International Socialists

KW: The IS was launched in 1969; Hal Draper joins the organization but leaves in 1971. Were you part of a factional grouping within the IS during this period?

TH: Joanne, Mike Shute, and Charlie Capper were not quite a faction but they were…

JL: We were a tendency—with a small-t—of like-minded people. We didn’t draw organizational lines that you could or couldn’t cross.

KW: But your opposition to calling for a National Liberation Front (NLF) victory in Vietnam helped bring you together.

JL: That was the main issue. We formed a “third camp tendency” a few months before we were expelled from the Berkeley IS in January 1972. Tom was a member but he wasn’t expelled, because he was living in Seattle at the time.

KW: Is opposition to an NLF victory a policy you support in retrospect? I assume that by this point the radical wing of the anti-Vietnam War movement actively favored an NLF victory.

JL: The ISC had always maintained a third camp position on the question of the Vietnam War. After the Tet Offensive, however, Draper argued that the group should support the military victory of the NLF on the grounds that the NLF had become the de facto government, so it had become a question of national self-determination. Mike Shute and I and others continued to support what we believed to be the consistent third camp position, and we made our case in a leaflet that we distributed at an antiwar demonstration in 1971, which led to our expulsion in January of the following year.

TH: The “third camp tendency” consisted of a small group of IS members: Joanne and myself, Mike Shute, Charlie Capper, Lois Weiner,[21] Nelson Lichtenstein, Bruce and Cynthia Novack, and one or two others. Draper had written this long piece on self-determination in which he made his case for military support to the NLF, while our group coalesced around the third camp position. Joanne wrote a response to Draper’s piece that was also quite lengthy. Some of the same questions arise today in relation to, say, Iraq and Syria. We argued that one could unequivocally call for unilateral U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam without supporting the NLF; today we oppose U.S. military intervention in the Middle East but also oppose regimes like those of Saddam Hussein or Bashar al-Assad.

KW: Let’s suppose the organizers of a demonstration issue four demands, and one of the demands is victory to the NLF. Would you encourage people to skip the demonstration?

JL: It’s always a question of degree. Similar questions came up with protests over the Iraq war. If it was a demonstration organized by ANSWER, then their support for Saddam Hussein became a prominent part of the demonstration, and I myself wouldn’t attend such a protest.[22] But if it’s part of the mix I’m not going to be happy, but I go. And if I have the time, and courage, and wit to say something or carry a third camp sign, then I’ll do that.

TH: People who are involved in ANSWER support all kinds of dictators—not only Saddam Hussein, but Assad in Syria, Kim Il-Jung in North Korea, and so on. But most people who join a march organized by ANSWER aren’t necessarily aware of the group’s hideous politics.

JL: An example of this came up last weekend. There was an anti-NATO demonstration where nothing was said about Putin, Assad, Ukraine, and so on. A supporter of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy urged people to attend the march even though he wasn’t endorsing it. I probably would have gone if I could have but I’m not completely certain about that. There’s not a single formula we can use to decide these things. It’s on a spectrum.

KW: Were there antiwar activists who tuned you out once they learned about your position on the NLF?

TH: It was an unpopular position, that’s for sure—and still is!

JL: It seemed to us that the IS people felt relieved that they no longer had to defend this unpopular position. They gave military support to the NLF but not political support, but you didn’t hear much about their political criticisms.

KW: The U.S. Socialist Workers Party also opposed the “victory to the NLF” demand. Their position was, “Bring the Troops Home Now.” Is that where you ended up?

TH: Of course we supported the demand of Bring the Troops Home Now, but we also emphasized the question of independent political action. And in practice this differentiated us from the SWP and their youth group the YSA. The SWP danced around the issue of the Democratic Party and its role vis-à-vis the antiwar movement. Meanwhile, they would run their own sectarian electoral campaigns.

JL: Although the SWP had its own speakers advocating a vote for its own candidates, it avoided including non-SWP speakers, such as from the new Peace and Freedom Party, who advocated independence from and no support to the Democratic Party at their rallies and demonstrations. I would never insist that an antiwar demonstration be built around a call for independent political action, or that liberal politicians be excluded as speakers. But I would want to make sure that the independent political action position was represented on the speakers’ platform.

Expulsion and Beyond

KW: But why did the IS expel you over this question of support for the NLF? Why wasn’t this something that could be debated within the organization?

JL: It could be debated. We were expelled because we passed out a leaflet with our point of view at an antiwar demonstration, even though the leaflet said clearly that we were a minority tendency in the IS.

TH: We had “violated discipline.” And this was at a time when the IS was trying to transform itself into a more disciplined organization.

JL: The leadership said that we could make the case for our position in the group’s journal, but that we couldn’t pass out our own leaflet at a public event. They insisted that Lenin and the Bolsheviks would never have allowed it. We responded by pointing out that we weren’t experiencing another 1917, that the stakes were not quite as high, and that in fact the Bolsheviks were often rather looser in their approach to discipline. We also predicted that our expulsion was going to be the beginning of a process of the organization enduring more and more splits and expulsions in the future.

On a related point, Mike Shute had an excellent piece of advice, which we did our best to adhere to—he said, let’s make this the friendliest split in the history of the left. We realized that despite our expulsion these were the people that we were closest to politically, so why not try to get along? In this we succeeded; in fact, we are friendly to this day with people who voted for or supported our expulsion, and often collaborate with them.

TH: The judge at our “trial” was Sam Farber, a brilliant analyst of the Cuban Stalinist regime, a longtime friend of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, and a personal friend.

JL: For a long time, whenever Sam came in the room we’d say, “Here comes the judge!”

KW: If your group had said, “We’ve made a mistake, you were right,” they would have taken you back.

JL: Oh yeah. They regretted, as they saw it, having to drive us out. It was…peculiar. And we weren’t at all eager to leave the organization, but we weren’t willing to remain under the conditions the majority insisted on.

KW: After you left IS you formed a group called “Socialists for Independent Politics.” What did you hope to accomplish?

JL: Just to hold things together. To get some ideas down on paper.

KW: Why didn’t you leave with Draper?

TH: Because we didn’t agree with his organizational proposals—turning the group into a mere editorial board plus supporters—and we felt that he was soft on the union bureaucracy.

KW: Nevertheless, Draper’s departure must have been a little discouraging.

TH: Yes, but I think that Draper himself had become discouraged. The fiasco of the Cleaver campaign for president in 1968, on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket, definitely played a part in this. He had been a big proponent of both Peace and Freedom, and, at first, the Cleaver ticket. But Cleaver made a farce out of the entire campaign. With a different candidate and a serious, broader campaign, Peace and Freedom might have picked up a lot of Eugene McCarthy’s supporters after the Democratic convention, I think, because there were thousands of angry young McCarthy supporters who hated Humphrey and didn’t know where to turn, and because the idea of a genuinely antiwar party had a certain appeal at the time. After that, Draper really became sour on organizational issues.

JL: He reacted correctly, I think, against some of the wild-eyed “struggle group” ideas—that rank and file militants should leave the existing unions and build new working class organizations to replace them—that were floating around the IS at the time. On the other hand he was skating toward a generalized defense of the labor bureaucracy. We didn’t really agree with either position.

TH: In addition, the tone of the Draper group was very different from our tone. We tried to be friendly. Their approach was the opposite. They were contemptuous, arrogant, and hostile in their dealing with the IS majority.

JL: But we also tried to maintain good relationships with the folks around Draper.

KW: Did it take you a few years to adjust to not being in an organization?

JL: It’s true that ever since then I’ve felt a little sorry not to have an organization like the ISC was before it changed—radical, democratic, third campish, and looser than the IS became in the 1970s. A small group of determined people can make a difference, especially if you have good ideas. As socialist independents, we’ve worked alongside small socialist groups—Solidarity, for example, as well as the International Socialist Organization (ISO), and the Democratic Socialists of American (DSA). We’ve been involved in politics for quite a few years without being in a formal group, so we’ve gotten used to it. The Campaign for Peace and Democracy has provided a way of promoting third camp ideas without having to belong to any particular socialist organization.

KW: Before we talk more about the Campaign, could you both say something about the shock of moving from the West Coast to New York City in the mid-1970s.

TH: There were times when I wondered whether I had made a big mistake. This was 1975. The city was in terrible shape. It looked bad, and it felt scary. It actually smelled bad. I arrived in the summer and it was just hideous.

KW: George Orwell here.

TH: I was starting grad school at Columbia, in History. I never finished my Ph.D., however. I received a fellowship to study in Paris in 1978, and ended up staying longer than I had expected—a year and a half—because I liked it so much. My advisor was Robert Paxton, whose path-breaking book on Vichy France had come out just three years before I came to Columbia and caused a huge sensation in France. He was an outstanding scholar, dignified and extremely erudite, and very principled. I returned to New York in 1980 and was at loose ends. I found a job at the Brearley School, a private girl’s school in Manhattan, and I’ve been teaching there ever since.

KW: When did you join the New Politics editorial board?

JL: My former husband Sy Landy and I had worked on the magazine when we were living in New York City in the early 1960s. Sy was on the editorial board for a few years, and I wasn’t. The sexist exclusion wasn’t just about me—Julie [Julius] was editor, and his wife Phyllis wasn’t even though she was actually co-editor. The exclusion was completely unconscious.

Even after I moved to Berkeley in 1964 we sold the magazine at ISC tables and events. New Politics was starting to wind down in the mid-1970s but the magazine revived in 1986, and Tom and I have both been active as contributors and editors of this second series of the magazine.

We did maintain a Socialists for Independent Politics discussion group for several years. We met at Cynthia Novack and Dick Bull’s (her second husband) apartment every couple of months or so. Cynthia and Dick were dancers and their apartment was also a dance studio. Draper spoke to our group when he was in town. There were eight or ten of us, and another ten or fifteen people would turn up. We weren’t a formal organization but it was a way to keep our politics alive. We even published a mimeographed bulletin.

TH: We had an interesting discussion about the 1980 Barry Commoner campaign, as I recall. And some of us were active in the campaign.


KW: Solidarnosc, the independent trade union in Poland, was launched in 1980, and the Campaign for Peace and Democracy/East and West was formed a couple of years later to help promote ties between democratic labor, peace and human rights activists across Cold War lines.

JL: I remember quite vividly how the group got started. Arthur Lipow was visiting New York, and Solidarnosc had just gotten underway in Poland.[23] In his typical manner he said, “Joanne, you must do something about this. This is a historic opportunity for our politics and you just have to organize something.” I have to give him credit—he was right.

A small group of us then met in my apartment – Gail Daneker, Judy Hempfling, Chris Meagher, Sam Farber, Gabe Gabrielsky, Mel Bienenfeld, and a couple of others. Gail had come from the world of left-leaning NGOs, and she was the person who knew that we would need a board of directors, and that we would need to file the paperwork in order to claim nonprofit status. She also encouraged us to reach out to folks like Ed Asner, Paul Sweezy, Seymour Melman, Erika Munk, Pete Seeger—people from outside our existing circle of contacts, in other words. We also got in touch with Mike Harrington, Barbara Garson, and David McReynolds, whom I had known from past activities. In addition, we made a point of making sure that we involved people who had been in and around the Communist Party but who were shaken up by the struggles that were taking place in countries like Poland. It was easy to attract the support of people who already had third camp politics, but we worked hard to reach beyond the traditional third camp milieu.

KW: Were you thinking that this was broadly analogous to the crisis within the Communist world that erupted in 1956-1957, as a result of the Hungarian revolt and the Khrushchev revelations about Stalin?

JL: Maybe we should have but I don’t remember thinking in those terms.

TH: We didn’t anticipate anything quite so cosmic. We just knew that Poland was in turmoil.

JL: In 1980 it was just Poland. We wanted to get people talking about the importance of independent trade unions in so-called workers’ states, and toward that end we organized a couple of well-attended public events in New York. And in fact, we hadn’t expected these events to attract as many people as they did. We organized a public meeting with something like twenty speakers at Washington Irving High School, and after that there was a big event at the Town Hall that was mainly organized by Ralph Schoenman.

These events helped bring together a core group of people, many of whom came out of third camp politics. But it wasn’t limited to third camp socialists—Gail, for example, wasn’t a socialist but was a Green. She didn’t like the idea of nationalizing practically anything. But she was pro-labor and had worked for a group called Environmentalists for Full Employment, so she came out of a small-d democratic background. Steve Becker was another pro-labor green who worked closely with the Campaign.

KW: Women have played a central leadership role in the Campaign from the beginning. Were you thinking that peace groups had been mostly dominated by men and that you needed a more feminist approach to these issues?

JL: I had been a leading member of the ISC, and for a short period the IS, and of course a woman, but I never thought about the question of leadership from a feminist perspective until years later. Gail and I were both feminists, and we were the Campaign’s leading members, but we didn’t think about the Campaign as a women-led movement.

TH: I never thought about it either.

JL: But now that you mention it…

KW: Who were the most interesting speakers at your early events?

JL: Harrington comes to mind. He quite liked what we were up to, i.e., the broadness of our approach. We weren’t close friends, and had many disagreements, but he was a friendly kind of person.

TH: Daniel Singer was an inspiring speaker and very close to us.

KW: What made you decide to create an actual organization?

JL: Well, we had organized a couple of big events, and we wanted to build on our success. We officially launched CPD/EW in 1982 with a dinner at Sardi’s. Adam Hochschild came to the dinner, and he later joined our board.

KW: You must have spent hours setting up the organization—tax forms, post office forms, and so on. Did any other ISC/IS spin-offs go in this NGO direction?

TH: Labor Notes and Teamsters for a Democratic Union both come to mind. But our focus on foreign policy was distinctive.

KW: The NGO model of organization offered certain advantages—it’s much easier to raise foundation money if you have a 501(c)(3) status, for example.

JL: Even individuals. If you want gifts to be tax deductible you need that 501(c)(3) status. I never even knew about this until Gail laid it all out. The problem with the term “NGO” is that it has a bad odor for some people—there are definitely NGOs out there that exist simply in order to keep themselves afloat.

KW: How would you describe the Campaign?

JL: As an advocacy group—a third camp advocacy organization. We were radical democrats who opposed the elite-driven foreign policy of the United States and supported social justice, democracy and freedom from great power domination everywhere.

KW: What was it like working with Ed Asner?

JL: “Work with” is a little bit of an exaggeration. He signed our first ad in the New York Times, “U.S. Peace and Labor activists defend Polish Solidarnosc on Trial,” which appeared on April 10, 1983, and he came with us later when we went to the Polish Embassy to protest repression against Solidarnosc. We had sent out a press release, but there didn’t seem to be any press in the vicinity as we gathered our group outside the embassy, but when Ed showed up suddenly there were press photographers everywhere, sprouting up like mushrooms after the rain. Another big name was the writer Ariel Dorfman, whom Tom mentioned. He also has joined many of our protests and petitions.

Building the Campaign

TH: In some ways the most important people who worked with us were from Europe—E.P. Thompson, for example, as well as folks from Eastern Europe.

KW: Were European leftists were generally more willing to criticize the Soviet Union, and Soviet-style states in Eastern Europe, than U.S. leftists, many of whom clung to the perspective that the enemy of our enemy is our friend?

TH: It certainly seemed that way. There was less interest in the Solidarnosc movement in the U.S. than there seemed to be in Europe. Also, Europeans felt under the gun because of the military buildup that was taking place. There was genuine grassroots concern about what both the Americans and the Soviets were up to so far as nuclear weapons were concerned.

JL: The Campaign helped encourage the major U.S. peace organizations to reach out to independent peace activists in the Soviet bloc. The Fellowship of Reconciliation, War Resisters League, Sojourners, the nuclear freeze campaign, and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), as well as local peace groups around the country—they all became more interested in and supportive of independent movements in Eastern Europe as a result of our efforts. This also applied to leading individuals in the peace movement, such as Randy Forsberg and Pam Solo. To say that we worked closely with them might be an overstatement, but people from these groups supported our campaigns, came to our events, and sometimes spoke at them. That was one of the big accomplishments of the Campaign. The tendency of the big peace groups had been to avoid having anything to do with independent activists from places like Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union out of concern for legitimizing U.S. militarism. This started to change as a result of our efforts to show that opposing the U.S. war machine and supporting democratic rights in the Soviet bloc could actually strengthen both causes. The U.S. Peace Council would have nothing to do with us, of course, because they really were pro-Soviet.

Our position was quite simple. We were not demanding that the peace movement make a complete break with people who were soft on the Soviet question. So for example, if a group such as the AFSC or the Fellowship of Reconciliation went to Moscow, we would encourage them to meet with independent people, and we wouldn’t denounce them for meeting the leaders of the official peace groups, even though we believed and said that these official groups weren’t genuine anti-war organizations since they condemned only the U.S. and not the Soviet Union.

TH: E.P. Thompson played a crucial role in all of this. He really encouraged peace activists in Britain as well as Western Europe and the United States to search for counterparts in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and to help them in any way that we could. His writings were critically important in terms of taking on the theories that were used to justify the Cold War and nuclear deterrence, making the case for a nuclear free world and for building a peace movement that was genuinely independent of both the West and the Soviet bloc. He was also an incredibly electrifying speaker.

JL: Thompson was the person who developed the intellectual framework for the idea of détente from below. Of course, when we read about his ideas they fit perfectly with the politics that we had already had, but he put it in new language and from a fresh perspective. The fact that he was an ex-CP person himself was also important.

KW: The ice was cracking.

TH: There was a parallel with 1956 in that you could begin to see the possibility of a real embodiment of the third camp ideal. Here was this peace movement in the West with major components consciously committed to building bridges with independent peace activists in Eastern Europe. There was a point in the 1980s when it seemed as if there was a common struggle that united people across the Cold War divide—a struggle that was against U.S. foreign policy, about the placement of missiles on European soil, but that was also against authoritarian rule in the Soviet bloc. It was very exciting.

KW: When does Christopher Hitchens enter this story?

JL: There was a vivid personality! And he really did work closely with the Campaign until he broke with us over Bosnia. He came with a group of us when we went to Czechoslovakia; he organized a public meeting for the Campaign in Washington, D.C.; he spoke at many of our events, including the big one-day conferences. The first inkling that I had that there was an emerging divergence between us was in the early 1990s, when we were talking about the United Nations. I was making the point that it is a top-down organization in which the great powers make the crucial decisions. And he said, “Well, it’s run by the victors of World War Two and that’s pretty good.”

TH: The big turning point for him, as Joanne noted, was Yugoslavia, when he came out in favor of a NATO intervention in Bosnia in 1994.

KW: Whereas the Campaign’s position was that the international embargo against Bosnia should have been lifted, so that they could defend themselves.

TH: I ended up writing a great deal about Bosnia, and spoke at quite a few events. At one point I, along with Steve Shalom, took part in a public debate with Michael Walzer and Bogdan Denitch on the question of U.S. and NATO intervention in Bosnia. It was actually broadcast on cable TV, on a show called “Perspectives from the Left.”

Détente from Below

KW: The Campaign initially focused on developments in Eastern Europe. What made you decide to expand your focus to encompass Latin America, the Near and Middle East, and so on?

JL: It’s not exactly true that we initially focused on Eastern Europe to the exclusion of other areas of the world. Even at the beginning we were interested in countries within the Western “camp,” such as Turkey, the Philippines, in Latin America, etc. One of the most important things we did was to enlist Eastern European intellectuals and trade union activists to sign statements opposing U.S. policy towards Nicaragua and Chile. International solidarity—independent of and in defiance of the superpowers—was baked into the Campaign from the beginning.

TH: That was the point. We were trying to break down bipolar, Cold War-type thinking.

JL: We never imagined that we could address every issue around the world. For a long time, our focus was on Eastern Europe and Latin America.

TH: Even at our first all-day conference we included a panel on Tibet. Other panels I recall were on Kashmir, and the EU with John Palmer. We did events about the Kurds. The goal was to encourage solidarity from below, and to bring together democratic, peace, and trade union activists in a way that was genuinely independent of Cold War thinking.

KW: What was it like to have been heavily involved in Eastern European solidarity activism, and then for the Soviet bloc to fall apart in a few short years?

TH: It was a big surprise. Everybody says that, and it’s true. Despite all of the warning signs, none of us expected it. The system may have been disintegrating, but it seemed like it would never end. When the end came, it was thrilling. We had high hopes, which sadly were not realized. And so we had to adjust to a new set of realities. Joanne wrote a series of very effective essays about shock therapy and so on.

JL: I was in Poland in 1989, and it was clear that things were not moving in a socialist direction. Some of the activists that I knew were still holding onto a radical sensibility but other people who had come out of leftwing anti-Stalinist politics were beginning to think and sound like typical Western politicians. I remember going to a meeting after 1989 at Helsinki Watch in New York where Adam Michnik gave a presentation. He had recently been elected to parliament, and I asked him why he hadn’t told voters that his party was planning to close many of the Gdansk shipyards. He said that they hadn’t expected to get elected so that’s why they hadn’t spelled out their program. I followed up by saying, well, once you were elected and you were going to begin to take action, don’t you think you should have consulted the Polish people again, and asked for some kind of support for your plans? He didn’t reply.

So you can imagine how devastating it was to see people who had been grassroots activists suddenly become the shock troops for neoliberalism. I don’t think that what happened was inevitable. But it was a reflection of the weakness of the global left that the only thing that seemed like an alternative to the Communist regimes was the capitalist system. Anyway, by the summer of ‘89 I was very depressed about the pro-capitalist direction developments in Eastern Europe were taking, even though I of course welcomed the end of Russian domination and one-party dictatorship.

TH: This was at a time when Reaganism, Thatcherism, and neoliberalism were absolutely hegemonic. The left was at its very weakest.

JL: And on the whole, the left in the West was very reluctant to extend its support to the struggles of dissidents and ordinary people in Eastern Europe in initiatives such as Solidarnosc in Poland and Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia. The people who were actually on the ground, offering support, were from the National Endowment for Democracy, the AFL-CIO, and others who supported U.S. imperial foreign policy aims. And their support came with all kinds of conditions. It wasn’t that individual dissidents were corrupt or greedy—most of the people we knew in Poland, for example, were dedicated small-d democratic activists. Many had embraced democratic socialist ideals in their youth and were broadly egalitarian in their outlook. But the system they were living under collapsed at a time when it seemed like the only option on the table was market capitalism. Progressive and left movements in the West were not only weak; they were generally uninterested in offering the East Europeans a different path as they ended the Communist system.

TH: Many of the people we’re talking about came of age during the 1960s, when the left was relatively strong and hopes were high. And it went downhill from that point on. It was tragic.

KW: What are some of the lessons of the Campaign? What kinds of initiatives worked and what kinds didn’t?

TH: We got a lot of things right, in my view. For example, the work we did in the 1980s around dissidents and movements from below in Eastern Europe, like the work we did around Bosnia in the 1990s, was unusual on the radical left for its emphasis on the issue of democracy, including the democratic right of peoples to self-determination.

JL: It’s important to emphasize that the Campaign was and is a specific type of group. It’s not a membership organization. The projects that we undertook were related to how we were organized. We were always a small, self-organized group that wrote statements, sponsored public meetings, and so forth. We started with Poland, and a lot of people continued to associate us with the work we did around Solidarnosc, and Central and Eastern Europe more generally. Our approach then was to build ties between grassroots activists in the West and dissidents in the East—détente from below, in other words.

And over time we were able to attract support from prominent individuals in the peace movement who proved willing to sign statements of support for Solidarnosc and other grassroots movements in Eastern Europe. Peace groups had traditionally stayed away from taking a critical stand on anything having to do with the Soviet bloc, and were often willing to meet with official peace groups from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, validating the idea that they were actual counterparts to our own independent peace organizations. Our efforts had an impact in terms of helping people move beyond the Cold War framework: even though some peace groups continued to meet with government-controlled groups from the Eastern bloc, they frequently challenged authorities on their repression of independent groups and met with independent groups as well.

My first trip to the region was in 1981, the year of the U.S. Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) strike. I recall that vividly. Since I was respecting the strike by not flying from a U.S. airport, I took a train to Montreal and flew from there to Warsaw on LOT Polish airlines. When I got to Warsaw, I went into the LOT ticket office to arrange details of my return flight. I was wearing my “Support PATCO Strikers” button, and the staff spontaneously shouted out their approval.

KW: What was it like to visit Warsaw in this period?

JL: It was thrilling. The atmosphere in the building where Solidarnosc was meeting was electric. There were meetings of all sorts going on simultaneously—steelworkers, journalists, academics. People were rushing up and down the stairs with papers, coffee, etc. It reminded me of the heady days in Berkeley, California, when I was active in the Free Speech Movement in 1964.

KW: Was your hotel room bugged?

JL: I assumed that it might be, so I was cautious in what I said. When I met with Solidarnosc people in their homes, if a sensitive topic came up they would point to the ceiling and twirl their index finger in a circle to indicate that we were likely being bugged, at which point we would just write down key points of our conversation and show the paper to one another.

KW: Were you followed from the airport?

JL: I don’t know. I wasn’t aware of being followed from the airport, but once, a few years later, when I was in Gdansk, I met with one of the women who had been active in the Gdansk shipyard strike that sparked the birth of Solidarnosc as an independent trade union. As we walked through the streets she said, “Well, you know, they’re following us”—I hadn’t noticed a thing—and she took me through a couple of crowded department stores, where we’d go in one set of doors and leave by another that exited onto another street.

TH: When I visited members of the Trust Group in Moscow in the 1980s they didn’t even write things down on paper—they used those erasable pads with cellophane, so that anything they wrote down could be immediately erased.

KW: How did you know whom to work with?

TH: It was usually pretty obvious, because these were the people who were leading members of democratic movements, whether they were organized around issues of peace, labor rights, or whatever.

JL: Helsinki Watch helped us identify some people, but as far back as the early 1960s we were in touch with various radicals in Eastern Europe. Back in Berkeley there was a fellow named Witold Jedlicki who had been hidden by the family of Jan-Jósef Lipski during World War II. As a result, he was a close friend of Lipski, who became a leading member of the KOR group of intellectuals that helped advise Solidarnosc in its early phase. The first time I went to Poland I was able to meet Lipski. There was a Solidarnosc conference going on at the time and I was able to attend the conference and met a lot of interesting people as a result. At a later point an independent peace group called Freedom and Peace was organized in Poland and they were particularly keen to establish links with groups like ours in the west. Their leader, Jacek Czaputowicz, was in and out of jail in the 1980s, and I visited with him very shortly after he had been released from jail. He was a young guy—maybe twenty—and I remember thinking that he was the palest person I had ever met. There must have been a long period when he was in prison that he had no access to sunlight.

KW: Did you carry CPD materials in your suitcases?

JL: Generally no. I once went to participate in a demonstration in Poland that called for the release of prisoners who were in jail under martial law. I wore a t-shirt that carried a political message—I think I still have the t-shirt—but I had taken a white t-shirt and a magic marker with me, and wrote down the message the night before. I did once bring some materials sent by the London-based Czech human rights activist Jan Kavan to dissidents in Czechoslovakia. I definitely breathed a sigh of relief once I was out of the airport carrying the books he’d asked me to bring. On one of my early trips to Poland I’d received a request from women there for books about feminism, and I brought as many as I could manage.

I didn’t bring lists of names and phone numbers with me on these visits, of course. I’d usually have the phone number of a key contact person memorized, or partially written out in two or three different places, and it was usually someone whom the authorities were already very familiar with. They were public dissidents, and presumably known for meeting with people from outside the country. That person would then make the necessary introductions.

KW: Would you have gone to the U.S. embassy if you’d been arrested in a country like Poland or Czechoslovakia?

JL: Maybe.

TH: When I met with the Trust Group people in Moscow there was an unmarked KGB truck outside the building with listening devices. You could see a couple of tall poles poking out of the truck.

JL: I remember when I met with the activist Petr Uhl at his home in Prague. He told me to take a look out the window at the traffic light on the street corner. There was a camera placed on top of the traffic light that was pointed right at his apartment.

TH: The repression in the Soviet Union was a lot fiercer than it was in these other countries. Dissidents were still being shipped off to mental hospitals in the 1980s in the Soviet Union, for example.

KW: The 1991 Yale conference on “Post-Communist Futures” was held in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and Soviet-style regimes across Central and Eastern Europe. Did the Campaign have a clear sense of what was happening, or did you think to yourselves, “Man, we are really paddling in the dark here.”

TH: Something in-between. We knew that there were certain demands that we needed to raise—for example, we were strongly opposed to the policy of shock therapy.

Liberal Interventionism

JL: But we were also experiencing some arguments within the Campaign before the start of the Gulf War in 1991. Some members of the Campaign’s Board of Directors were in favor of sending hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops into the region—not necessarily to start a war, but to send the Iraq government a message. That was Noam Chomsky’s position, for example. Tom and I were unconvinced, shall we say, and we wrote an article opposing the impending war that appeared in The Progressive. On the other hand, everyone on the Board was against the war once it started, which enabled us to move on. But for a while things were a little tense.

During the Cold War these kinds of disagreements didn’t surface, since everyone broadly agreed that they were opposed to both Washington and Moscow. But as the Cold War ended, these differences emerged. Some were willing to back some forms of U.S. military intervention—not uncritically, and not consistently, but on occasion.

TH: An early glimmer of this kind of liberal interventionism surfaced around the issue of Bosnia in 1992-1994. The Campaign took a position in favor of lifting the arms embargo so that the Bosnians could defend themselves against Serbian aggression. But we also argued against any form of U.S. military intervention in Bosnia, whether through bombing campaigns or troops on the ground or whatever.

KW: Tom, you wrote extensively on foreign policy questions in the 1980s and 1990s, but you were also writing about party politics. Did you feel torn between writing about domestic and international issues?

TH: Both were interesting to me, and they were interconnected politically.

JL: You’re not going to get a better foreign policy without a powerful movement independent of the Democratic Party.

TH: Yes. Part of what I tried to argue in my pieces on the Democrats was the importance of formulating a new, democratic foreign policy through independent politics, by creating a new party of the left. We obviously need to open up the question of military spending and it’s not possible to do that within the current two-party system.

JL: Some of the people who have supported the Campaign over the years are also inclined to vote for Democrats. We did not make the question of the Democratic Party a make-or-break issue for our supporters. But at the same time, Tom and I never downplayed or disguised our fundamental critique of the Democrats and our support for independent political action.

TH: You know who was a big influence on me? Sheldon Wolin (1922-2015), along with his magazine Democracy (1980-1983). It was in large measure because of Wolin that I became inspired to write about American politics. He had a very sophisticated, radical point of view that was opposed to the two-party system and the status quo. If you look at my articles for New Politics on U.S. politics you’ll see that the tone was definitely inspired by Wolin’s essays and books. Very sarcastic, and a little bitter.

KW: Did you take any classes with Wolin when you were at Berkeley?

TH: No, much to my regret. I don’t know why I didn’t. Wolin had a lot to say about Reagan’s triumph in 1980, not only about the Republicans but also about the complicitous, enabling role of the Democrats and the political system as a whole. That had a big effect on my thinking. Most people don’t remember now how thoroughly traditional labor-liberalism collapsed at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s. With Reagan’s election I thought that we had reached the bottom of the barrel.

KW: Back to the Campaign: presumably your work attracted some fierce criticism from folks who were favorably disposed toward the Soviet Union. Were you bothered by some of the negativity?

JL: We were most definitely disliked by pro-Soviet types, including people around the U.S. Peace Council. Mainly what we encountered was the secondary effect, however. We had to deal with activists in the peace movement who were influenced by or at least talking to pro-Soviet types. The occupational hazard of the peace movement during the Cold War was the reluctance to criticize the “other side” so as, the thinking went, not to give support to “your side.” They were not hardline CPers but many people did believe that in order to justify lower military spending you had to argue that the Soviet Union was basically a benign actor in international affairs. Luckily there were always some people who supported us and who recognized the importance of reaching out to genuine peace activists in the Soviet bloc—and in fact the numbers of such people increased over the years of our work.

These questions are relevant to this today. Most people in the peace movement are not pro-Assad, for example, but they are reluctant to criticize the Syrian government on the grounds that if you attack Assad you must favor U.S. military intervention. There are some people in the peace movement, for example, who call for organizing delegations to visit the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. to thank them for agreeing to a ceasefire, rather than challenging their intervention in the first place.

KW: Jesus, that’s idiotic.

JL: That’s what was so useful about E.P. Thompson’s role in the 1980s in the peace movement. He very skillfully articulated a perspective of détente from below.

TH: After the fall of Soviet Communism in the early 1990s things became a little more difficult. Many human rights and peace activists developed serious illusions about U.S. imperialism. That was a battle that had to be fought over and over again.

JL: There were a number of people—not in the Campaign, but in the larger peace movement—who argued, with the fall of USSR, that NATO had a valuable role to play in Europe and elsewhere. For some people the idea of being opposed to U.S. military intervention on principle was a difficult pill to swallow. I remember just after Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, meeting with someone who had been a Campaign supporter in the past . CPD co-director Jennifer Scarlott[24] and I met with him to ask for further support, and he began the conversation by asking eagerly, “Does either of you have the ear of the Clinton administration?” as if that were the key question. I doubt that he would have asked about our influence with an American president during the Cold War.

KW: Did it become harder and harder to raise money after the fall of the Soviet Union? Was this one of the reasons why the Campaign was put on hold in the mid-to-late 1990s?

TH: That was the big reason. The Clinton years were the years of the locust so far as the Campaign was concerned. It was very hard to do anything. None of our funders were interested in the issue of Bosnia, for example. Many people felt that Serbian aggression against Bosnia had to do with age-old incorrigible ethnic hatreds, and that all sides were somehow equally aggressive and bloodthirsty. Then they looked to the Clinton administration and the UN to figure things out. They weren’t interested in an independent approach to defending Bosnia’s sovereignty and the lives of ordinary Bosnians.

Near and Middle East

KW: What led you to revive the Campaign in the early twenty-first century? Was it the build-up to the Iraq war?

JL: That was definitely part of it. In 2002 we drafted a statement that made the case for opposing both Saddam Hussein and U.S. military intervention. The statement first appeared in the Nation, and then in the New York Times and elsewhere.

KW: It’s striking how a third camp approach can be applied to both Eastern Europe in the 1980s and the Middle East in the early 21st century.

JL: More recently we were inspired by the Arab Spring in 2011, but the problem is that pretty much everywhere—not just Syria—serious repression has been directed toward pro-democratic forces in the region. I reluctantly accept what Gilbert Achcar has argued, that the Arab Spring was the start of what is going to a long process, and that we can’t expect sustained immediate victories. But at the moment the situation is grim—there’s not only repression directed by state military forces, but also the rise of jihadists of different varieties. As a result, pro-democratic forces face at least two enemies, if not more.

It’s also worth noting that it was much easier for people like us to meet activists in Eastern Europe and even the Soviet Union than it is in places like Iraq and Syria. The way we sorted out who was who in Eastern Europe was by going there and meeting with people. I wouldn’t feel safe visiting Iran, for example, even though at the moment there isn’t the kind of overt military conflict that’s going on in Libya or Syria.

KW: Are you beginning to get a sense of who’s who in the Syrian opposition?

TH: It’s murky—we don’t know much about the groups. Unlike a lot of people, we recognize that there is a civil society in Syria that is very much alive in many parts of the country. That’s a hopeful sign, but I’m not optimistic about how things will play out in the coming months and years. The better groups are getting decimated, or have made their peace with the jihadists.

KW: Are you surprised at the scale of quasi-Stalinist support for Bashar al-Assad and the Russians within many sections of the American left?

TH: I’m not sure if Stalinism is the best label for this. Certainly there’s a fear of radical Islam that pushes some people in the direction of strongmen like Assad—that you need a strong leader to keep the forces of Islamic extremism from gaining power.

JL: I also think that it reflects U.S. leftists’ terrible sense of weakness—they don’t feel as if they can influence events, so they look to someone like Assad who can stand up against the Americans and the jihadists.

TH: The collapse of the Arab Spring has paved the way for a profound sense of pessimism. So many people refuse to believe that there was anything good about the Syrian revolution. There’s a lot of cynicism about this, and people just refuse to be convinced that there are masses of ordinary people on the ground in places like Syria who are neither pro-regime, nor pro-U.S., nor jihadist.

JL: From the outset there have been important voices on the left who have argued that Assad is an anti-imperialist leader who stands up against the United States and therefore deserves our support. And their attitude toward Syrian opponents of Assad is that these people are objectively helping U.S. imperialism. Beneath that is a larger sense of cynicism and pessimism that is very pervasive on the U.S. left.

TH: Even before the Arab Spring there were people on the left who refused to believe that there could be authentically indigenous movements from below in the Middle East. Quite a few people, for example, argued that the Green Movement in Iran was something that the State Department had somehow organized, and this was a couple of years before the Arab Spring. The same arguments that people made against the reform movement in Iran are now being used to prop up Assad’s regime in Syria.

JL: It was easier to make the argument, however, that the Green Movement was a mass, democratic movement—the evidence in terms of photographs of hundreds of thousands of people marching in Tehran and so forth was very difficult to overlook. The initial movement in Syria was so quickly repressed that it’s easier for these people to deny that it ever took place. The situation became militarized very quickly, which placed democratic activists in an almost impossible position. The pro-Assad forces are receiving an enormous amount of support from the Russians, whose leaders are keen to restore Russia’s status as a world power.


Further Reading

Cohen, Robert and Reginald E. Zelnick, eds. The Free Speech Movement: Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002.

Draper, Hal, ed. Berkeley: The Student Revolt. New York: Grove Press, 1965.

———. Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, vols. 1–5. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977–1990.

Drucker, Peter, Max Shachtman and His Left: A Socialist’s Odyssey Through the “American Century.” Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1994.

Feffer, John. “Regretting the Region’s Right Turn.” JohnFeffer.com. Last modified 23 April, 2013.

Fisk, Milt. Socialism From Below in the United States: The Origins of the International Socialist Organization. Cleveland, OH: Hera Press, 1977.

Fisk, Robert. “Revolution in the Teamsters.” Tikkun 8, no. 2 (March, 1993): 19–24, 71–74.

Friedman, Michael, ed. The New Left of the Sixties. Berkeley, CA: Independent Socialist Press, 1972.

Harrison, Thomas. “Breaking Through by Breaking Free: Why the Left Needs to Declare Its Political Independence.” In Empowering Progressive Third Parties in the United States: Defeating Duopoly, Advancing Democracy, edited by Jonathan H. Martin, New York: Routledge, 2016.

———. “After the Elections: Which Way for the Left?” New Politics 54 (Winter, 2013).

———. “Socialism and Homosexuality.” New Politics 46 (Winter, 2009).

———. “Obama and Empire.” New Politics 47 (Summer, 2009).

———. “The 2004 Elections and the Collapse of the Left.” New Politics 38 (Winter, 2005).

———. “The Dead-End of Lesser Evilism.” New Politics 37 (Summer, 2004).

———. “Only a Democratic Foreign Policy Can Combat Terrorism.” New Politics 32 (Winter, 2002).

———. “The Democrats: No Way To Fight the Right.” New Politics 31 (Summer, 2001).

———. “Election 2000: Infamy and Hope.” New Politics 30 (Winter, 2001).

———. “The Need for a Political Alternative to Clintonism.” New Politics 27 (Summer, 1999).

———. “France (1789–1794): The Mother of Revolutions.” New Politics 25 (Summer, 1998).

———. “The 1996 Elections: Angry Voters with Nowhere to Go.” New Politics 22 (Winter, 1997).

———. Review of Radical Democracy, by C. Douglas Lummis. The Nation: 50–52.

———. Review of Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation, by Laura Silber and Allan Little. The Nation (April 8, 1996): 37–40.

———. “The Empire and Left Illusions.” Against the Current 61 (March/April, 1996).

———. “A Cold Peace in Bosnia.” New Politics 20 (Winter, 1996): 6–12.

———. “Bosnia: Against Interventionism, Lift the Arms Embargo.” New Politics 17 (Summer, 1994): 3–10.

———. “Somalia and U.S. Imperial Policy.” New Politics 16 (Winter, 1994): 5–9.

———. “Intervention Won’t Achieve Our Goals.” Peace and Democracy News (Winter, 1993/1994): 1–3.

———. “A Question of International Solidarity.” In Why Bosnia? Writings On the Balkan War, edited by Rabia Ali and Lawrence Lifschultz. Stony Creek, CN: Pamphleteer’s Press, 1993.

———. “The Betrayal of Bosnia.” Z Magazine (July/August, 1993): 34–40.

———. “Intervention in Bosnia: The Arguments Against.” Labour Focus on Eastern Europe (May–August, 1993).

———. “Solidarity With Bosnia.” Peace and Democracy News (Winter, 1992/3): 1–2.

———. “The Gulf War and the Anti-War Movement.” Peace and Democracy News (Summer, 1991): 1–3.

Harrison, Thomas and Joanne Landy. “The Greek Grassroots Challenge to the Politics of Austerity.” Campaign for Peace and Democracy. 2012. (accessed January 9, 2018).

Howe, Irving. A Margin of Hope: An Intellectual Autobiography. New York: Harvest, 1984.

Isserman, Maurice. If I Had a Hammer: The Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left. New York: Basic Books, 1987.

Landy, Joanne. “The Foreign Policies of Sanders, Trump, and Clinton: America and the World in 2016 and Beyond.” New Politics 61 (Summer, 2016).

———. “Ukraine Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Is There a Way Out?” New Politics 57 (Summer, 2014).

———. “Some Lessons of 1989’s East European Revolutions: Reflections of a U.S. Peace Activist,” New Politics 53 (Summer, 2012).

———. “The Change We Really Want?” New Politics 46 (Winter, 2009).

———. “Iraq: The Case for Immediate U.S. Withdrawal,” New Politics 37 (Summer, 2004).

———. “Revolution and Us.” Tikkun 5, no. 2 (March, 1990): 18–27.

———. “Two Steps Back: The East Chases the Worst of the West.” The Progressive (June, 1991).

———. “Suppose We Invade Haiti. Then What?” New York Times (op-ed), August 7, 1994.

———. “A New Goal for the Peace Movement.” New York Times (op-ed), December 25, 1988.

———. “The Polish Regime Calls It Justice.” New York Times (op-ed), June 15, 1985.

———. “Let U.N. Assembly Elect Security Council.” New York Times (letter), December 24, 1992.

Landy, Joanne and Oliver Fein. “We Can Do It! The Case for Single Payer National Health Insurance.” New Politics 45 (Summer, 2008).

Landy, Joanne and Jennifer Scarlott. “Democratic Movements Can Force Disarmament.” The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 48, no. 4 (May, 1992).

Morton, Brian and Joanne Landy, “East European Activists Test Glasnost,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 44, no. 4 (May, 1988): 18–26.

Polish Video Tribute to Joanne Landy, New Politics (last modified July 1, 2017).

Worcester, Kent. “From the Sixties to the Present: An Interview with Lisa Lyons.” In Silent Agitators: Cartoon Art From the Pages of New Politics, edited by Kent Worcester, 96–101. New York: New Politics, 2016.

———. “Third Camp Politics: An Interview with Julius and Phyllis Jacobson.” Left History 18, no. 1 (Spring/Summer, 2014): 39–60.


[1] “Statement of Purpose,” Campaign for Peace and Democracy, accessed on January 9, 2018.

[2] “Highlights of CPD Initiatives, 2002–2013,” Campaign for Peace and Democracy, accessed on January 10, 2018.

[3] Key sources on the history of the Shachtmanite current include Peter Drucker, Max Shachtman and His Left: A Socialist’s Odyssey Through the “American Century” (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1994); Irving Howe, A Margin of Hope: An Intellectual Autobiography (New York: Harvest, 1984); and Maurice Isserman, If I Had a Hammer: The Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left (New York: Basic Books, 1987).

[4] On the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, see Robert Cohen and Reginald E. Zelnick, eds., The Free Speech Movement: Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002), and Hal Draper, ed., Berkeley: The Student Revolt (New York: Grove Press, 1965).

[5] Kent Worcester, “Third Camp Politics: An Interview with Phyllis and Julius Jacobson,” Left History 18, no. 1 (2014): 39–60.

[6] Seymour Landy (1931–2007) was a Marxist writer and activist. He was a member of the Independent Socialist Clubs (ISC) and the International Socialists (IS) in the 1960s and early 1970s, before breaking with the IS in 1973. He subsequently cofounded the League for the Revolutionary Party in 1976.

[7] Max Shachtman (1904–1972) was a leading Trotskyist before he split with the movement in 1939–1940. He cofounded the Workers Party (1940–1947) and its successor organization, the Independent Socialist League (1947–1958). His books include Behind the Moscow Trial (1936) and The Bureaucratic Revolution: The Rise of the Stalinist State (1962).

[8] Deborah Meier is a longtime educator and a leading advocate for the small schools movement. Her books include In Schools We Trust (2002) and Many Children Left Behind (2004).

[9] George Rawick (1929–1990) was a historian whose works include From Sundown to Sunup (1971) and Listening to Revolt: The Selected Writings of George Rawick (2010). He edited the 41-volume set of oral histories of former slaves, The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography (1971–1979).

[10] Mike Parker is a veteran labor activist. His books include Inside the Circle: A Union Guide to QWL (1986) and Choosing Sides: Unions and the Team Concept (1988, with Jane Slaughter). He is currently active with the Richmond Progressive Alliance in California.

[11] Joel Geier is an associate editor of the International Socialist Review (ISR). His coauthored response to Martin Smith’s “Talkin’ ‘bout a Working-Class Revolution” appeared in Left History in 2013. See Candace Cohn et al., “Response to Martin Smith’s ‘Talkin’ about a Working-Class Revolution’: Not the IS, Not in Our Name,” Left History 17, no. 2 (2013): 137–156.

[12] Sam Farber is a Cuban-born socialist. His books include Revolution and Reaction in Cuba, 1933-1960 (1976), Before Stalinism: The Rise and Fall of Soviet Democracy (1990), and The Origins of the Cuban Revolution Reconsidered (2007).

[13] Mike Shute’s essay “For an Independent Campaign against Brown and Reagan, and the Building of a New Party” was circulated by the ISC in 1966.

[14] Lisa Lyons is a longtime socialist-feminist cartoonist. She creates cover art and interior illustrations for the semiannual journal New Politics.

[15] Hal Draper (1914–1990) was a writer and socialist activist. His essay “The Two Souls of Socialism” (1966) is a classic of socialist thought. His books include Berkeley: The New Student Revolt (1965), Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Vols. 1–5 (1977–1990), and War and Revolution: Lenin and the Myth of Revolutionary Defeatism (1996).

[16] Ernest E. Haberkern is a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Socialist History and the coeditor, with Arthur Lipow, of Neither Capitalism nor Socialism: Theories of Bureaucratic Collectivism (1996).

[17] Jack Weinberg is a longtime labor and environmental activist. He was held in a police car for 32 hours for sitting at a Congress of Racial Equality table and not showing a student ID. Three thousand people surrounded the police car, and the FSM was launched.

[18] Phyllis Jacobson (1922–2010) and Julius Jacobson (1922–2003) co-founded New Politics in 1961 and served as co-editors until 2002. Their co-edited book Socialist Perspectives was published in 1983. Julius Jacobson also edited The Negro and the American Labor Movement (1968), and Soviet Communism and the Socialist Vision (1972).

[19] Robert Avakian is a former Free Speech Movement activist and Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP).

[20] Nelson Lichtenstein is a professor of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara and director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy. His books include Walter Reuther: The Most Dangerous Man in America (1997), State of the Union (2002), and The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business (2009).

[21] Lois Weiner is a professor of education at New Jersey City University and a member of the New Politics editorial board. Her books include Urban Teaching: The Essentials (2006) and The Future of Our Schools (2012).

[22] ANSWER (“Act Now to Stop War and End Racism”) is a U.S.-based coalition that was founded by members and supporters of the Workers World Party shortly after 9/11. The group maintains a self-consciously “anti-imperialist” stance and continues to organize rallies and demonstrations against different aspects of U.S. and Israeli foreign policy. Both the Workers World Party and ANSWER are loath to criticize authoritarian regimes that are in conflict with the United States and its allies. See Answer Coalition; and David Corn, “Behind the Placards,” LA Weekly, October 30, 2002, both accessed on January 9, 2018.

[23] Arthur Lipow’s (1935–2016) books include Authoritarian Socialism in America: Edward Bellamy and the Nationalist Movement (1982) and Political Parties and Democracy: Explorations in History and Theory (1996).

[24] Jennifer Scarlott was a co-director of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, as well as an editor and contributor to CPD’s Peace and Democracy News, from 1990 to 1998. She currently serves as Coordinator of two grassroots organizations in the Bronx—Bronx Climate Justice North and North Bronx Racial Justice.



The Third Camp, Socialism From Below, and the First Principle of Revolutionary Socialism-Daniel Randall

Posted by admin On June - 8 - 2018 Comments Off on The Third Camp, Socialism From Below, and the First Principle of Revolutionary Socialism-Daniel Randall


“The socialists consider it their principal, perhaps even their only, duty to promote the growth of this consciousness among the proletariat, which for short they call its class consciousness. The whole success of the socialist movement is measured for them in terms of the growth in class consciousness of the proletariat. Everything that helps this growth they see as useful to their cause; everything that slows it down as harmful.”

—George Plekhanov

An old Jewish story tells of a student who visited the great rabbis of the day and asked each to tell him the entire Torah while standing on one leg. All dismissed him, insisting the task was impossible, except for Rabbi Hillel, who said, “‘Do not do unto others that which is hateful to you.’ That is the whole Torah. All the rest is commentary. Now, go and study.”

With all the necessary qualifications about the differences between a religious text and a necessarily materialist and critical politics, might it be possible to distill revolutionary socialism down in a similar way? Of course, it is not; but then “do not do unto others that which is hateful to you” isn’t really “the whole Torah”; it’s a literary exercise for Hillel to communicate the golden rule, or first principle, that he considers to be the essence of Jewish faith. One can argue, convincingly, that revolutionary socialism has two such principles: first, that value in capitalist society, and wealth in all societies, derives from labor. From this we get the foundational and irreplaceable focus on class. Second, and more significant for this article, the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself. This idea, that liberation from the exploitation and oppression that are necessarily integral to capitalism cannot be carried out for us by any external force, handed down from above, or done on our behalf, but rather must be our own act, consciously and independently organized by our class—this is our first principle, our golden rule, if we have one.

It is this golden rule that underpins the two related but distinct concepts this article explores: the third camp and socialism from below.

The Third Camp

Even those of us who consider ourselves partisans of the tradition that bears its name must admit that the concept of the third camp is not well known beyond some small corners of the revolutionary left. Even there, it is often considered a relic of the world that bore it.

Although its conceptual roots lie further back, “third campism” as a discrete political tradition cohered in the 1939-1940 schism in the American Trotskyist movement. Grasping for an adequate response to the Hitler-Stalin Pact and the Russian invasions of Poland and Finland, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) split, effectively down the middle, in a debate about whether they could still maintain their position of unconditional defense of the Soviet Union.

Leon Trotsky’s supporters on the “majority” side of that debate compiled a collection of his essays, In Defense of Marxism, that covers it. The debate was also surveyed, with explicit editorial sympathy for the “minority,” in two volumes entitled Fate of the Russian Revolution, published by Workers’ Liberty. The “minority” perspective came to be summarized by the slogan, “Neither Washington nor Moscow, but the Third Camp of international socialism.” The SWP split apart, and in 1940 the “minority” founded the Workers Party, which would become the Independent Socialist League in 1949.

The roots of the concept of the third camp go deeper. It was not merely an attempt to create a theoretical framework to understand developments in Russia, although it emerged through that, but a reassertion of something integral, even foundational, in socialist politics: the idea that the working class cannot rule except by and for itself. In his reply to Trotsky in the debate that split the SWP, Max Shachtman, the leader of the “minority,” put it like this:

I repeat, I do not believe in the bureaucratic proletarian (socialist) revolution [that is, the ability of the Stalinist bureaucracy to advance the cause of socialism]. … I reject the concept not out of “sentimental” reasons or a Tolstoyan “faith in the people” but because I believe it to be scientifically correct to repeat with Marx that the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself. The bourgeois revolution … could be made and was made by other classes and social strata; the bourgeoisie could be liberated from feudal rule and establish its social dictatorship under the aegis of other social groups. But the proletarian revolution cannot be made by others than the proletariat acting. … No one else can free it—not even for a day.1

Shachtman’s conclusion represented a form of return to first principles. In 1853 Marx and Engels, both of whom emphasized that democratic forms are necessary to working-class rule, had referred to the revolutionary potential of burgeoning working-class movements as a “sixth power in Europe,” which could “assert its supremacy over the whole of the five so-called ‘great’ powers.”2 Trotsky himself had coined the term when, in 1918, he described the revolutionary working class as an independent “third camp” in the 1917 February Revolution, opposed to both the first camp of “all the property-owning and ruling classes,” and the second camp of “the compromising groups.”3

At the end of his life, Trotsky was wrong to argue, against Shachtman and others, that the gains of the 1917 revolution were still expressed, in however degenerated a form, in the Stalinist state. But his vital roles in making that revolution and then in defending it from Stalinist sabotage showed that for Trotsky, the golden rule of revolutionary socialist politics was precisely that all efforts must be directed toward building up working-class consciousness and political independence. This was the thread of his politics, which those who would found the third-camp tradition saw themselves as picking up and extending.

That tradition today is scattered and semi-submerged.4 But it contains much that could help reinvigorate and renew socialist politics, and reorient a left in disarray.

Socialism From Below

In 1960 Hal Draper, who emerged as one of the foremost theorists, writers, and organizers of the third-camp tradition, and who co-founded the journal in which this article appears, wrote the pamphlet The Two Souls of Socialism. Draper argues that socialist thought throughout history can be divided between “socialism from above” and “socialism from below”—the former advocating utopian-elitist conspiracies, or statist dictatorship, to deliver socialism to the masses, and the latter advocating the masses’ self-activity and self-organization. He describes working-class self-emancipation as the “First Principle” of revolutionary socialism.5

As a literary device, the concept of socialism from below is useful. But to extrapolate from these three words a “way of doing politics,” as Dan Swain called socialism from below in a June 2015 article for rs21, republished by New Politics,6 obscures more than it clarifies.

The diffuse, loosely networked social movements of the past decade—the Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt, the Spanish “Indignados,” the global Occupy movements—caught many leftist imaginations, seeming to express a potential new grass-roots politics from below that was brushing aside the old orthodoxies and staid structures of parties and unions.7 But it was in large part precisely because these movements had no adequate, permanently organized structures, able to impose above—at the level of politics, government, and society—the demands and aspirations generated below, that the movements dissipated—or, as in the case of the Arab Spring, were effectively confiscated by reactionary movements that were organized above.

We require, in other words, a comprehensive perspective for working-class power, from below and above. To achieve that, our class needs its own political organizations: democratic revolutionary parties. An overemphasis on socialism from below as the summarizing concept of revolutionary politics can lead, and, in Draper’s case, perhaps did lead, to de-emphasizing the vital necessity of permanent political organization. The idea of socialism from below can serve us as a literary device, but only if it is part of a more thoroughgoing independent working-class politics.

The Left in Disarray: The Long
Retreat from the First Principle8

These are odd times to be a partisan of class politics and moreover of the idea that authentic socialist politics are the politics of working-class self-liberation. The economic crisis of 2008 shook the immense mystique that neoliberal, free-market capitalism had built up in the minds of millions, and the consequences and sequels of that crisis are still working themselves through. Looked at from one angle, that crisis provided, and continues to provide, an epochal opportunity to spread the idea that the working class, the global social majority, which produces society’s vast wealth, should also control that wealth.

But 2008 found much of the revolutionary left in the midst of a long-term “retreat from class.” That was the phrase used by the Marxist writer and historian Ellen Meiksins Wood in her 1986 book, The Retreat from Class: A New True Socialism. The book was a polemic against those socialists, mainly but not exclusively from Stalinist or Stalinist-influenced backgrounds, who were galloping away from class-struggle politics in the direction of a hodgepodge of post-modernism and barely reformist liberal identity politics. Some of those criticized remained in the tent of broad leftist or even labor movements, but largely on their right wings. Yet much of post-Trotsky Trotskyism, without ever really going over to the right or explicitly abandoning principles, had also undertaken its own version of the same retreat, a systematic backing away from the idea of independent working-class politics as the foundational core of socialism, a retreat from the first principle of working-class self-emancipation.

Utterly disoriented by their Biblicist adherence to the claim that the Stalinist states somehow represented historical progress, post-Trotsky “orthodox” Trotskyists were able to substitute a whole variety of locums for the independently organized working class—other forces and movements that they argued could be unconscious bearers of the socialist project, or at least potential allies, and whose victories against imperialism would be beneficial for socialist interests no matter how murderously hostile they were in practice to actual working-class organization.

The retreat from class has taken a variety of forms, not always in the direction of passive support for anti-imperialist locums. Elsewhere on the left, other tendencies recoiling from a low ebb of class struggle and disoriented by changes in capitalism have argued that automation, atomization, and precarity have rendered the workplace no longer privileged as a site of anti-capitalist organization, and organized labor no longer privileged as an agency for socialist change.9 Some eco-socialists, responding to climate crisis, have also argued that there is no longer any privileged agent of socialist transformation nor or any privileged role to be played by the international proletariat.10

These arguments deserve a hearing. The socialist movement is not a religion, and no idea should be sacred in left thought. If the two golden rules for revolutionary socialism proposed at the beginning of this article no longer stand up to reality, they should be amended and reshaped or ditched entirely, and our politics should be reassessed. If it is no longer the case that labor creates wealth, giving the working class a privileged position as an agent of revolutionary social change, we should indeed move to some kind of post-class politics. But the evidence does not suggest this.

Far from disappearing from the historical stage, the wage-working proletariat is expanding. It has become the biggest single class only recently. Capitalist globalization has led to the creation of vast new working classes, and with them, new labor movements, throughout the world: in South Korea, in Brazil, in India, in Mexico, in Nigeria, and elsewhere. It is a profound historic tragedy that, at moments when the international left should have been seizing the potential for labor-movement growth and renewal by building movements of internationalist class solidarity, much of it was instead focusing on cheer-leading the enemies of labor. When an independent labor movement, an embryonic third camp, began to emerge in Iraq following the U.S.-British overthrow of the Ba’ath regime, the global far-left largely ignored it, preferring instead to idealize the so-called resistance to U.S.-British occupation, led by competing factions of Sunni-supremacist sectarians and Shi’a clerical-fascists.

There are certainly challenges inherent in attempting to reverse the retreat from class: Independent labor organization is still weak throughout much of the world. Neoliberal ideology has sunk deep and increasingly global roots that organized socialists must struggle to confront. Debates about tactics, strategies, and forms of organization are all vital. But is there anything objective, material, in today’s world which suggests that socialist politics must reassess its foundational principles that class is central and that our politics must be one of working-class self-emancipation? The evidence suggests not.

In returning to class, we can learn much by rediscovering the theorizing and practice of those socialist traditions that have, at times of upheaval and crisis on the left, cleaved to the idea that the only consistent socialism is socialism as working-class self-liberation.

Renewing the Third Camp,
Reasserting the First Principle

It might seem odd to look to a semi-submerged historical tradition, shaped in and by a different world, as a source for contemporary socialist renewal. But the third-camp tradition as it developed was not the product of some obscure quibble over the theoretical characterization of a particular state. Rather, it was an effort to reorient the revolutionary socialist movement, undertaken by activists who could see clearly how Stalinism was deracinating, distorting, and destroying socialist politics.

In attempting to renew socialism as a politics of working-class self-emancipation, the third campists emphasized both aspects: independent working-class self-activity and organization, and emancipation and freedom. Kicking back against the bureaucratic statism, top-down command structures, and enforced, monolithic ideological homogeneity that Stalinism had made hegemonic in left politics, both as models for the “socialist” society and the cultures of organizations aspiring to build it, the third campists sought to reconnect socialism with its libertarian core.

What does it mean, then, to aspire to the renewal of the third-camp tradition today? It certainly does not mean adopting a religious attitude to tradition, claiming some unbroken chain of political doctrine from Marx and Engels through Lenin and Trotsky to Shachtman and Draper. Neither does it mean excluding all that is valuable in working-class socialist traditions outside this genealogy.

The renewal of the third camp, in a world of left disarray and insurgent populism (occasionally on the left but largely on the right) fundamentally means reasserting independent working-class politics. It means reconnecting to the first principle of revolutionary socialism, that working-class emancipation cannot be won by hitching our wagon to the parties or politics of other classes, but only on the basis of our class organizing by and for itself. To renew the third camp today means a return to class as the key axis for political organization; a return to understanding struggle between classes, within every country, as the motor of social change; and a re-forging of socialism as a project of working-class self-liberation.

The literary emphasis that the concept of socialism from below places on mass, grass-roots upheaval, with all that this implies in terms of a vibrant, fructifying democracy rather than systems of command and control, whether in our own organizations or the society we aspire to build, can aid that renewal. But ultimately it is the concept of the third camp, of independent working-class politics, that is key.

This first principle of revolutionary socialism goes right back to its conception as a discrete politics. The work of Marx and Engels was dedicated to helping the working class understand itself, organize itself, become a class for itself. Class remains the fundamental social conflict, the relationship that holds the key to unlocking revolutionary social change. Renewing the third camp, helping our class become a class for itself, remains the key task of socialists today.

Everything that helps this is useful to our cause; everything that slows it down is harmful. That is the essence of revolutionary socialism; that is our golden rule. Everything else is commentary, strategy, and tactics.

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Appeal of the 22 : “To Members of the International Conference of the Communist International”

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Copy to the CC RCP(b)

Dear comrades!

From our newspapers we have learned that the Executive Committee of the Communist International is discussing the “united workers’ front,” and we consider it our communist duty to inform you that in our country the “united front” is in bad shape not only in the broad sense of this term, but even in its application toward the ranks of our party.

As the forces of the bourgeoisie press on us from all sides, as they even infiltrate our party, the social composition of which (40% worker and 60% non-proletarian) favor this, our leading centers wage a relentless, corrupting struggle against all, especially proletarians, having their own opinions, and they apply all kinds of repressive measures against the expression of these opinions within the party.

The attempt to bring the proletarian masses closer to the government is declared to be “anarcho-syndicalism,” and its advocates are persecuted and discredited.

In the trade union movement, there is the same picture — suppression of worker spontaneity and initiative, struggle using all means against heterodoxy. The unified forces of the party and trade union bureaucracy, taking advantage of their position and authority, ignore our congresses’ decisions about laying the foundations of worker democracy. Our union communist fractions, even the fractions of entire congresses are deprived of the right to manifest their will in the election of their own leaders. Bureaucracy’s tutelage and pressure has gone so far, that party members are threatened with exclusion and other repressive measures if they elect whom they want instead of those whom the higher-ups want. Such methods of work lead to careerism, intrigues, and servility, and workers respond to this by leaving the party.

Sharing the idea of the united workers’ front as it is interpreted in point 23 of the theses, we appeal to you, with the sincere wish to end all these abnormalities, which stand in the way of the unity of this front, first of all within our RCP(b).

The situation within our party is so difficult, that it impels us to turn to you for help and in this way to eliminate the impending threat of a split in our party.

With communist greetings, members of the RCP(b):

M. Lobanov party member since 1904
N. Kuznetsov ” 1904
A. Polosatov ” 1912
A. Medvedev ” 1912
G. Miasnikov ” 1906
V. Plashkov ” 1918
G. Shokhanov ” 1912
S. Medvedev ” 1900
G. Bruno ” 1906
A. Pravdin ” 1899
I. Ivanov ” 1899
F. Mitin ” 1902
P. Borisov ” 1913
M. Kopylov ” 1912
Zhilin ” 1915
Chelyshev ” 1910
Tolokontsev ” 1914
A. Shliapnikov ” 1901
M. Borulin ” 1917
V. Bekrenev ” 1917
A. Pavlov ” 1917
A. Tashkin ” 1917
I support [this appeal]. A. Kollontai party member since 1898
I support the declaration of the 22 comrades.
Zoya Shadurskaia.[*]
* Shadurskaia was also a party member, but the year she joined was mistakenly omitted from the document.
–This is a translation of the appeal as it was printed in the stenographic report of the Eleventh Russian Communist Party Congress (Odinnadtsatyi s”ezd RKP(b), mart-aprel’ 1922 goda: stenograficheskii otchet, Moscow, 1961, pp. 749-50). Translated by Barbara C. Allen.
Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Theses of the Workers Opposition.

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General Tenets

1. The role and tasks of trade unions in the transitional period have been precisely and clearly defined by recommendations of the All-Russian congresses of trade unions. The first All-Russian congress of trade unions in January 1918 defined the tasks of trade unions thus: “the center of gravity of unions’ work at the present time must be in the area of economic organization. [Trade unions] must assume the main work of the organization of production and reformation of the undermined productive forces of the country.”

The second congress in February 1919: “…trade unions have passed from control over production to the organization of it, participating in the administration of separate enterprises, as in the entire economic life of the country. …trade unions must prepare their organizations as well as the broad working masses not only for management of production, but also of the entire state apparatus.”

The third congress, April 1920: confirmed the basic decisions of the earlier two.

The eighth congress of the Russian Communist Party in March 1919 decided: the apparatus of socialized industry must rest upon the trade unions first of all.

2. the transition from military tasks to economic construction and from militarized methods of work to democratic methods, revealed a crisis in professional workers organizations, expressing itself in the inconsistency of the content of their everyday work with those tasks, which were defined in the congress resolutions and reinforced in the party program. The practices of party congresses and state organs for the past two years have systematically narrowed the scope of the work of trade unions and brought almost to zero the influence of workers’ unions in the Soviet government. The role of trade unions in the organization and administration of production in fact has been reduced to the role of an office of inquiry and recommendation, placing staff in administrative posts, between state organs and unions there is no agreement and conflicts overload party organizations. The unions still have neither a printing press nor paper. Journals of even the largest unions come out with a delay of several months. The state printing press gives lowest priority to work on behalf of unions.

3. This decline of the role and significance of the trade unions occurs at a time, when the experience of three years of the Russian revolution shows, that the unions wholly and faithfully carried out a communist line, led behind them wide circles of nonparty working masses; when to all and each it is clear that the realization of the RKP program in our country, where the majority of the population is petty commodity producers, demands a strong authoritative mass worker organization, accessible to the broad masses of the peasantry. The belittling of the significance and actual role of the trade unions in Soviet Russia signifies the manifestation of bourgeois, class hostility toward the proletariat and must be quickly overcome.

Immediate tasks and activity of the trade unions

4. The first real possibility of a respite from bloody armed struggle makes it possible to concentrate all forces and resources of the country on struggle with economic ruin and on the utmost elevation of productive forces of our republic. Past experience teaches that the realization of tasks put forth was successful only insofar as broad layers of the working masses took part in the realization of them. Now we must construct our activity so that it is directed toward involving the working masses directly in the work of building the national economy.

5. Victory over ruin … is possible and achievable only through radical change of the existing system and of the methods of organization and management of the economy of the republic, now resting on an enormous bureaucratic machine, excluding the creative initiative and independent action of producers organized into unions. The system of building economic policy by a bureaucratic path, over the heads of organized producers, by means of functionaries, appointees, dubious specialists, has given birth to duality in management of the economy, involving constant conflicts between factory committees and the management of enterprises, between unions and economic organs. The entire sum of conditions given birth to by this system delays the appearance of an enthusiasm for production among the working masses and their involvement and systematic participation in overcoming economic ruin.

6. The effort observed at present to evade putting into practice decisions of the party congress on the role and tasks of the trade unions in the soviet government attest to the direct distrust of the strength of the working class. The conscious leading elements of the working class, organized communists, must direct all their energy to overcoming this distrust and the bureaucratic stagnation existing in the party. The necessity of the annihilation of this existing system is dictated by those circumstances, that the huge masses of producers are educated and ideologically prepared by the trade unions so that the real defense of class interests of the producers, in the times in which we are living, consists in the victory over economic ruin, in the renewal and elevation of productive forces of the republic; the very existence of the working class of our country depend on the success of the fulfillment of these tasks. The existing bureaucratic approach to economic construction places obstacles in the way of the achievement of the maximum of production results, which introduces discord, distrust and demoralization into the ranks of the workers.

7. The difficult economic situation of our country demands the quickest heroic measures, able to put a stop to the approaching catastrophe. The chief measure capable of raising production, is the execution of economic policy of workers organizations through professional and production unions, the presentation to them of decisive influence in the state economic organs, which collect and distribute all types of material resources of the country. Management of the national economy is simultaneously management by the workers. The introduction of a system of organization and management of the national economy by means of production unions creates a unified leadership, destroys contraposition of working masses to specialists and in this way creates a wide scope of organizational and administrative activity for people of science, theory and practice.

8. Professional and production unions are to be built on the basis of workers democracy, the elective principle and accountability of all organs from the bottom to the top.

Entire branches of our industry are managed by worker-administrators. Many hundreds of complex industrial enterprises are led by collegia or individual worker-managers. As representatives of unions and economic organs they are not responsible nor obligated by accountability to the organizations which appointed them, but answer only to the economic organ. The unification of leadership of industry in the unions destroys this harmful phenomenon.

9. It is necessary to begin the transition from the existing bureaucratic system by strengthening the lowest cells of professional and production unions, putting in place the goal of preparation of them for direct management of the economy, in order to ensure the success of the transition of workers unions from the contemporary passive cooperation with the organs of national economy to active, conscious, initiating and creative participation in the management of the entire economy of the country and in the goals of accelerating this transition, the implementation of the following measures is necessary:

a. create boundaries between separate unions according to characteristic of production

b. quickly begin the reinforcement of the unions with workers, technical and other material resources in the goals of adapting them to new tasks

c. conduct a selection of the staff of the union and workers committees from the standpoint of their fitness, to realize the tasks standing before the unions. This selection must proceed from the lowest levels and under the control of the unions.

d. All areas where there is currently parity between VSNKh and VTsSPS on the management and organization of the economy must be shifted toward increasing the rights and advantages of workers organizations

e. Not one person must be assigned to an economic administrative post bypassing the union

f. All proposed candidates cannot be rejected and must be considered obligatory for VSNKh and its organs.

g. All staff put in place by or nominated by unions are to be responsible to the unions and can be replaced by the unions at any time.

h. Unions recognized by VTsSPS as sufficiently strong for the organization of direct management of entire branches of industry, are to realize this right, not waiting for others to become ready for this.

10. development of activity and consciousness of the worker in the process of his activity — in this must consist the role of the unions, as schools of communism.

The Management of the National Economy

General Theses

11. emphasizes that the unions must concentrate in their hands all management of the economy as a unified economic whole.

12. This concentration of management will be achieved in the center as well as on the local level, by election of representatives of organized producers. In this way unity of will will be created, necessary in the organization of the economy, and likewise the real possibility of an initiative influence from the wide masses on the organization and development of our economy.

13. The organization of management of the entire economy will belong to an All-Russian congress of producers, unified in professional production unions, which elects a central organ, governing the entire economy of the republic

a. All-Russian congresses of production unions of separate branches of the economy elect organs, managing production economic branches and departments.

b. Oblast, guberniia, uezd, regional and similar organs of administration to be instituted by corresponding local congresses of professional and production unions. In this way there will be achieved a combination of production centralism with local initiative and spontaneous activity.

14. Enterprises, related according to production feature, to be unified into groups (clusters, boards) in the aims of the best use of technical means and materials Related enterprises located in the same city or village to b e united under a common management, created by the union. The management of unified enterprises, territorially separate, to be created by congresses of workers committees of the given enterprises, convoked by the union.

Organization of workers committees, managing enterprises

15. All workers and employees, who are members of professional and production unions should actively and in an organized manner participate in management of the economy.

16. All workers and employees, without distinction to position and profession, occupied in separate economic units, such as: factories, mines, transport services and in connection with all types of agriculture, are direct managers of property located within them, are answerable for its preservation and the expedient use of it before all laborers of the republic.

17. workers and employees … are to elect a leading organ, called a workers committee for each of their own enterprises.

18. The workers committee is the primary organizational cell of the union of the given production and is formed under the leadership and control of the corresponding union.

19. among the tasks of the workers committee is included the management of the given factory or economic unit, including:

a. leadership of production activity of all workers and employees of the given economic unit

b. care of all needs of the producers

Members of the committee are to distribute among themselves their work on the management of the economy in accord with the statutes and instructions of the union, so along with collective responsibility, first of all resting with the chairman, there should be defined precisely the personal responsibility of each.

20. All activity of the enterprise is to be elaborated and approved by the laborers employed in the given enterprise under the responsibility and leadership of the workers committee and unions.

Organization of workers’ everyday life

21. One of the indispensable conditions of the elevation of our national economy is the systematic implementation of the naturalization of wages, as a measure, ensuring the heightening of the productivity of labor and the betterment of the producers’ lives. All examples below must be connected with the tariff system and enter into the general sum of natural wages.

1. Abolition of payment of rations and household articles, issued to workers by ration cards and orders of state produce organs

2. Abolition of payment of lunches for workers and their families.

3. Abolition of payment of baths, trams, theaters and so on.

4. Abolition of payment for apartments, heat and electricity.

5. In places, where the housing question is severe, to conduct consolidation of soviet and military institutions in the aims of presenting apartments to workers.

6. To organize repairs of workers’ living quarters by means of the resources of the enterprise, under the conditions of the guarantee of fulfillment by the enterprise of its basic production tasks.

7. to recognize as a matter of first-degree importance the construction of workers’ villages and workers communal homes and to include in the program of the State Committee for Construction for the approaching construction period maximum construction of workers’ housing.

8. To organize special workers’ trams and trains, timing their movement from and to work in the enterprises

9. To give precedence to supply of workers with items of widespread use.

10. to simplify and speed up the order of receiving work-clothes, also the order of fixed and bonus payments

11. to attach to the factories or specially organize shoe and clothing repair shops for servicing workers’ needs, to which the enterprises must lend assistance, as organizations of equipment, as well as much as possible supply them with equipment.

12. to supply communal economic units with technical inventory and means for tending to communal gardens at the cost of the enterprise.

13. Enterprises, located in close proximity to the countryside, should organize the repair of agricultural machinery.

14. In drawing up financial and production estimates for factories, the necessity of implementing the measures enumerated above must be taken into account.

22. All the measures indicated above must be carried out first of all in nationalized enterprises. In private and handicrafts enterprises they can be carried out with the permission in each case of the trade union.

The measures of a collective nature should be carried out in the factories depending on the success of their work. Measures having a purely personal meaning for the individual worker should be carried out in the form of incentives, starting with the more advanced workers.

[signed by]

All-Russian Union of Metalworkers. Chairman of Central Committee A. Shliapnikov, assistant chairman M. Vladimirov, secretary S. Sliznev, members: I. Kariakin, V. Pleshkov, S. Medvedev.

Central Board of Artillery Factories. Member of Central Committee and chairman A. Tolokontsev, members: P. Borisov, G. Bruno, Ia. Kubyshkin.

Assistant chairman of the soviet of military industry K. Orlov.

Chief of Board of Aviation Factories Mikhailov.

Director of State Machine-building factories (Gomza) A. Vasil’ev.

Chairman of Central Board of Heavy Industry I. Kotliakov.

Chairman of chief administration of unified medium-sized machine building factories I. Barulin.

Chairman of board of Sormovo factory Chernov-Greshnev.

Member of the committee of Moscow section of the All-Russian Union of Metalworkers N. Ivanov.

Chief of section for production propaganda of the All-Russian union of metalworkers N. Kopylov.

All-Russian Miners’ Union. Chairman of Central Committee A. Kiselev, members: M. Mikov, S. Losev, V. Sigert, S. Arutiuniants, A. Gorbachev, A. Storozhenko.

Member of the central committee of the Miners’ Union and member of the collegium of the mining council of VSNKh V. Voronin.

Chairman of the Usol’sk. subregion of miners’ administration V. Sorokin.

Kizelovskii regional committee of miners’ union. Chairman I. Ialunin, members: S. Rychkov, A. Mironov, I. Lagunov, P. Fedurin, A. Zaburdaev.

Chairman of the central committee of the textileworkers’ union I. Kutuzov.

Chairman of the central committee of the Farm and Forest Workers’ Trade Union N. Kubiak, member Khitrov.

Chairman of Kursk gubernia commission on supply of workers Izvorin.

Member of the party control commission under the party central committee Chelyshev.

Signed December 18 1919
—-Source: “Tasks of Trade Unions.” Pravda January 25, 1921;

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

“On the relations between the Russian Communist Party, the soviets, and production unions.”-Alexander Shliapnikov 1920 Theses to the Ninth Party Congress

Posted by admin On May - 10 - 2018 Comments Off on “On the relations between the Russian Communist Party, the soviets, and production unions.”-Alexander Shliapnikov 1920 Theses to the Ninth Party Congress


1. The three-year experience of the Russian Revolution shows that the single force consciously fighting for the organization of society on communist foundations is the Proletariat.

2. The rural commodity producer, likewise the poor peasants and middle peasants, and also the urban artisan have supported the proletariat in its struggle against the landowner and the large capitalist, but since according to their position they are property owners their support has been found, and is found now in a state of constant fluctuation. Only the direct threat of a relapse to the past has restrained and is restraining these masses from direct betrayal of the cause of the Proletarian Revolution.

3. As a privileged estate in Russia in relation to the repressed worker and peasant masses, the intelligentsia, throughout imbued with the ideas and system of the ruling exploiter class, has met the emancipatory struggle of the Proletariat in an openly hostile manner, has refused any cooperation with it and in a significant part went over to the side of the counterrevolution. Only thanks to long and tenacious struggle has the Proletariat succeeded in attracting part of it to participation in construction.

4. In the process of armed struggle and creative construction the Working class has been defined as the only class, capable of managing industry and the state, and likewise to defend its homeland in an organized manner from class enemies.

5. In its struggle the Proletariat has created three forms of political and economic associations:

1) the Russian Communist Party,

2) Soviets of Workers and Peasants,

3) Production Workers Trade unions

The Russian Communist Party

6. The Russian Communist Party (RKP), as the history of the preceding years indicates, is the only revolutionary party of the Working Class, leading class war and civil war in the name of Communism.

7. The R.K.P. unifying the more conscious and decisive part of the Proletariat around the Revolutionary Communist Program of action and drawing to the Communist banner the more leading elements of the rural poor, must concentrate all higher leadership of communist construction and the general direction of policy of the country.

8. The RKP, being in power, must realize its superior leadership through its local committees and cells, but by no means over their heads. All decisions in the area of management of the country and the national economy the party must realize and put into practice through mass organs created in the process of revolution: The Congresses of Soviets, the All-Russian Central Executive Commission of the Soviet (VTsIK), local councils of the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions, production associations and local councils of unions

The Soviets

9. The Soviets of Workers and Peasants, and likewise their congresses, created by the revolution, have turned out to be the only form of political union of the urban proletariat with the poor of the countryside. As organs of political power, the soviets serve as guides of the dictatorship of the Proletariat and realize it in practice.

10. Soviets, as organs of centralized system of power manage the country by a path of direct participation of all laborers, with direct responsibility and accountability of all organs of power before the elected representatives of the workers and peasants.

The Unions

11. In the process of struggles for the seizure of industry and management of it, the Russian proletariat created numerous associations of workers in the form of production unions, unifying all workers occupied in production without exception.

12. Production associations, in the countenance of all their unions, central committees and the All Russian Central Council of Trade Unions recognize for the RKP political and economic leadership, reject the independence of the Trade union movement from the political party, under whichever slogan this would be carried out (equality, self-sufficiency, anti-stateness, and so forth).

13. The program of the RKP in part concerning the emancipation of the trade unions from a narrow guild mentality has been fulfilled. The whole Trade Union Movement is included in the production framework. All workers, independent of their professions, are members of the unions.


14. For 2 1/2 years of the existence of the dictatorship of the proletariat the following interrelations have been traced between the above indicated mass organizations of all laborers: 1. The RKP is the sole responsible political leader of the revolutionary struggle in construction of the worker and peasant masses. 2. The soviets have become the sole form of political power in the country. 3. The unions — are the sole responsible organizers of the national economy and are a school for the workers in the management of the state economy.

15. In the process of common work, these basic lines, defining the borders of activity and responsibility of each organization, have been demolished. The decrees of the organizations have become intertwined, have hampered and disorganized work and harmfully reflected on the success of the common cause. These circumstances urgently demand the definition of the boundaries, of character and order of work of all organizations numbered above.

16. This order will be to a significant degree resolved by a path of establishment of rights, obligations and order of work ofthe Central Committee of our party.

Central Committee of the Party

17. In accord with the 20th point of the charter of the RKP, the supreme organ of the RKP is the Congress, and in the periods between congresses, although this is not indicated in the regulations, these rights must belong to the Central Committee. In the epoch of the communist revolution that we are living through the Central Committee of the RKP is realizing the dictatorship of the organized Proletariat.

18. In accord with the meaning of the 24th point of the regulations of the RKP the CC must realize the leadershp of the central soviet and social organizations by means of the fractions of the latter. In such a way the leadership of external and internal policy, the CC of the RKP realizes through the VTsIK and its organs.

19. In the economic area the CC of the RKP must firmly and decisively carry out the program of the party, especially in part, demanding the transfer of the management of the entire national economy of the republic to the production associations.

20. The CC RKP must carry out the program of industrial construction through the production worker asssociations or their All-russian center. In the area of worker policy the CC takes decisions with the direct complicity of the leading center of the Trade Union Movement.

21. All mass organizations and organs of power, created by the revolution, the CC must support with all its strength its authority and must not assume their functions. Work of the VTsIK, as the supreme organ of the mass managment of the republic, must be placed at its proper importance. The same in relations of local soviets and executive committees.

22. The CC is obligated to lead the work of local organizations, encouraging at the same time all kinds useful party initiative, as in the Center, as on the local level. The leadership must be produced by a route of giving clear, definite directives and instructions and must not descend to petty intrusion into the life and activity of the organizations.

23. The CC must carry through directives of the Congress and conferences about the workerization of organs of state management not only according to form by a path of inclusion of individual workers in collegiums, but also in essence, bringing into the organs of management mass worker organizations, in the spirit of the program of the RKP.

In the first place these measures must be carried out in the area of management of the economy of the Republic – Industry, Transport, Provisions, agriculture and so on.

24. At the given moment the distribution of party forces has especially important significance. The CC must especially carefully relate to this matter, conduct a registration and characterization of all workers, accept into the system a systematic distribution of them in all branches of work.

Candidates, proving by their activity dedication to the revolution must be nominated to responsible political posts. Elements hostile to the working class in the past may be merely clerical staff, but by no means responsible leaders of government institutions.

25. Under the carrying-out of the program of the party on the question of use of the cultural inheritance of the bourgeoisie, in the form of specialists of various brances of science, technology and art, the CC must carry out this utilization through the corresponding associations of workers. Only by the path of direct cooperation with the workers, specialists, people of science can be completely and expediently utilized. The detachment of them into a privileged ruling caste, in spite of and against the will of the workers unions is capable of developing, patronage, adventurism and a striving to use such a position in interests alien to the workers revolution. The government must place this layer of workers in material conditions, promoting the manifestation of full efficiency and initiative.

26. The inefficiency of the central governing organs , the flourishing of bureaucracy and sabotage there witness to the incapacity of the organizational part of the CC to cope with the tasks of direction of activity of these institutions. The CC penetrating into trifles, as for example: the distribution of apartments, rooms, payment on the accounts of the suppliers, assignation of superintendents of buildings and so forth, could not master the more important apparatuses of power, as for example: Narkomprod, Narkompros, Narkomput’, Goskontrol’, Narkomvoen and others, located practically in hands alien to the interests of the working class.

27. The history of party work of the last year has proven, that the present staff of the CC are not capable of conducting complex party government work. Therefore before party comrades stands the task: at the approaching Congress of the RKP to put together a more efficient CC. In the interests of realization of the policy of workerization of the organs of state management, this workerization must begin with the Central Committee of the RKP.

28. In the aims of protection of the party from the rush into it of alien careerist elements and so forth, and likewise in the interests of straightening out the revolutionary line in the provinces, it is necessary to set up contacts between all workers, old party figures. At the ninth congress it is necessary to put forward a maximum of party workers.
–Note: Iurii Lutovinov presented these theses to the congress, as Shliapnikov was not in attendance.

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Challenging capitalism through workers’ control – interview with Dario Azzellini-

Posted by admin On April - 27 - 2018 Comments Off on Challenging capitalism through workers’ control – interview with Dario Azzellini-


April 26, 2018 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Investig’Action


— A common feature in every crisis situation, from the upheavals of the early 20th century to the neo-liberal re-structurings of the late 20th century, is the emergence of workers’ control – workers organising to take over their workplaces in order to defend their jobs and their communities. We interviewed Dario Azzellini* to talk about this issue in depth: the emergence of new values and social relations not just in the recuperated workplaces but also in the communities, the need to re-orient production, the overcoming of the separation between political, economic and social spheres, and the role of workers’ control in the larger struggle against capitalism.

Why is workers’ control an important issue?

It is an important issue because if we look at what is socialism, what Karl Marx described, the living example for him is the Paris Commune. It is the people taking matters into their own hands, and the state as such disappears because power is no longer delegated.

But I would say that workers’ control is one first step on a path to socialism, in the sense that control over production and workplace should not be only on behalf of the workers but also of the communities, the self-organised people in general. And even that is still not the last step, because as Marx says, the commune is the finally discovered political form, so it is still a political form. Socialism, or communism, is about going beyond politics, achieving the self-organisation of life.

So these are all intermediary steps, and even the commune would not be the final form, but we cannot even imagine the final form, because we are trapped in the imagination of what we know and what has been done. What has to be developed is probably beyond our imagination now.

Nevertheless it is important also in the immediate context…

Yes, because if workers take charge of their workplaces and decide on production, the labour processes, the values, everything changes, we have seen that in worker-controlled places. Security and health questions become central, and they are far from it in capitalist workplaces. For example, many worker-controlled workplaces start working with organic, or less toxic, production, because they are exposed to it.

So once workers can decide, these questions become central. The struggle is no longer only about wage raises, which is the only struggle more or less allowed in the framework of capitalist society. Instead workers’ control is automatically challenging capitalism. We have a central field of conflict, and obviously all the other fronts, like gender, race, etc., are equally important. But labour and production are not only fundamental for society but also a field we all have in common and that is absolutely fundamental for our survival and to the structuring of the whole society. In this field all other contradictions obviously have to be tackled too.

We should not forget that the predominant way in which the economy and production are organised reflects on the rest of society. For example, as long as the dominant form of production was Fordism, the rest of society (universities, schools, bureaucracy) was organised in a Fordist way. So there is some kind of leverage if we are talking about labour and workers’ control.

In both books you have edited you describe lots of historical scenarios where workers’ control comes into play. What was the purpose of bringing together all these different experiments?

We try to show, with the books and the research, how workers’ control is an important and recurring question, and we have to dig and make it known, because nobody is really interested in making it known. Unions have no interest in showing that workers can organise by themselves, parties, which are based on the principle of representation, are also bypassed if the workers organise themselves. And of course capitalists would have even less interest.

But it is interesting that workers’ control comes to the fore in every kind of crisis, political, economical, in anti-colonial struggles, during the revolutions of the early 20th century, after WW2 or other wars, when capitalism is not able to develop because capitalists will invest into speculation and commerce and not into production, it happened during the neoliberal re-structurings of the early 80s, etc. So it happened always, not because the workers knew of previous experiments, but because it was something anthropologically present in the workers – get together, self-organise in a democratic way and try keep up the production, benefiting themselves and the people around them.

What are the common features among all these different workers’ control attempts?

This is the first common aspect, that in any situation of crisis, there are always workers that take responsibility for their jobs, for their workplaces, and for the people, for society. The second thing is that they choose democratic structures that are based on equality, they do not simply elect a new boss. Hierarchies disappear, it does not really matter what position was previously held in the production chain. That does not determine what one is able to do in a crisis.

For example there is the Junin clinic that is now under workers control in Córdoba, Argentina. I visited it and the head of the cooperative now is the former janitor and technician, because he was the person who was most able to organise the struggle, so he was elected as the formal head of a cooperative, which is still deciding everything in assemblies on a democratic base. This shows that the skills or capacities that are seemingly important in a capitalist hierarchy are not the same ones in a democratic and workers’ assembly based structure.

Another common feature is that the workplace switches from a hierarchically organised workplace where the central aim is to produce as much surplus value as possible, to a place where the well-being of the workers and the purpose of production, what you produce and for whom, become the central question. So the social relations in the factory change, especially if these places go through a process of struggle or occupation, against former bosses, or political struggles. There is a trust that is built during these struggles which inevitably forces a change in the social relations.

One example of this is that it becomes less rigid that people have to fulfil the same amount of work. Or if people are sick or cannot come to work because their kids are sick, it is not a problem. It is understood by the other workers because of this relation of trust that I mentioned. This naturally contrasts with workplaces with a boss. But also in many traditional cooperatives, which do not have to go through this trust-building struggle, there is also more of a tendency to demand that everyone has to fulfil the same amount of work, there are conflicts about work hours, internal conflicts, etc.

So recuperated factories/companies do not just go back to reproducing the old logic…

Precisely. Especially if they have had a length of struggle, they do not go back, they do not re-install the hierarchies they got rid of. It is a bit different in places that did not have a long struggle. There was a bit of contradictory phenomenon for example in Venezuela (1), where you had a government that was (supposedly) in favour of workers’ control. Workers would occupy a workplace and after two weeks the government would step in, expropriate the workplace and put in some provisional administration to then supposedly pass it over to the workers. At first glance this sounds great, but at the same time the workers did not have the time to form a collective, to build this conscience.

So very often you end up having conflicts among the workers, or you would never get to workers’ control because the administration was reluctant to do so. I say it is contradictory because you do not wish that people have to struggle for years without an income for their workplace, but on the other hand it is what then makes these worker-controlled companies really democratic and successful.

You mentioned cooperatives, and this is an important point to discuss. Most of these worker-controlled or worker recuperated companies register legally as cooperatives. But as you have said, they are not like usual cooperatives. What are the main differences?

The first main difference is that traditional cooperatives usually mean that people that already have similar ideas and values come together to build the cooperative. A workplace recuperation is very different, because everyone is involved. Everyone that is working there is also potentially there when the recuperation takes place. It is something that Gramsci describes when referring to the workers’ councils. He says that they are the real class organisation, because the whole class is there, not just political tendencies.

Another very important difference is that traditional cooperatives tend very much to base the right to decide on property, on being an owner of the cooperative. And that is problematic because it is the same logic as capitalism. Recuperated workplaces have democracy on the shop floor, and their starting point is to question private property of the means of production, so capitalism is immediately questioned. At the same time, almost none of these recuperated workplaces have models based on individual shares, or unequal shares, or even outside investors, or employ wage labour, features that are common for cooperatives.

So you have all these differences. Most of the time it is still more pleasant to work in a cooperative than in a pure capitalist private company, but what I stress is that cooperatives as such are only a democratisation within the framework of capitalism. Many cooperatives are driven by entrepreneurial or ownership logic, and by doing that they lead workers into what I call a “class limbo”. Workers no longer know that they are workers. This is especially strong in the US, where cooperatives are presented as an alternative business model, and not as an alternative model for society, or communities, or part of the workers’ struggle, which is what cooperativism historically meant. But given the way they live, the way they work, they are not entrepreneurs, they are workers!

This is in high contrast with the recuperated workplaces, where workers, having gone through these struggles, see themselves of part of the workers’ movement. There are a lot of recuperated companies in Argentina for example that have the rule that one day of the month they go and support other workers’ struggles, and it is part of their work. In Uruguay when companies in a given sector go on strike, workers in recuperated companies of the same sector go on strike as well so as to not undermine the struggle of the other workers.

In a nutshell, cooperatives wage a struggle for survival in a capitalist system. Recuperated workplaces wage a struggle against the bourgeois law, often manifested in state repression, against the capitalist owners and private property. So workers are reinforced in their subjectivity as struggling workers, and as workers without a boss, and that is a fundamental difference.

How would you characterise the relationship between recuperated workplaces and labour unions?

It varies a lot, it depends on how the unions work. There have been examples of unions that have supported worker takeovers, and this is very good because they can reach out to a broader public. But most of the times the unions either ignore or intervene in a negative way in these struggles, unfortunately.

In any case we should not see trade unionism and workers’ control as antagonistic projects, they are simply two different things, two different fronts of the struggle. One thing is a self-organisation in the workplace that allows for struggles that would not be possible with unions. Unions have their formal recognition and are interested in sticking to rules and laws to keep up this status of a “reliable partner”, so they will not do certain things, like wildcat strikes or occupations. They are not as flexible and not as fast in their decisions as the workers’ assemblies obviously are.

You mentioned how new social relations are produced in the workplace, but recuperated companies also create new social relations with their communities. Can you talk about that?

Yes, the relation with the community and with other social movements is fundamental. In fact we can put it the other way around. Of the examples of recuperated workplaces (factories, restaurants, print shops, hospitals, etc.) it is usually the ones that have a strong relationship with communities and other social movements that tend to be successful. The ones that tend to be isolated and do not have these strong relationships, often with time either turn into more or less traditional workplaces or cooperatives, withdrawing from the larger struggle, or they simply fail, because they did not have the necessary support.

And there is one question that is central to that. In the capitalist system closing down a workplace is simply a legal question. It is not a social question, it is not a political question. The law of the land is a bourgeois law that is based on property. Within these boundaries the chances of achieving something are minimal. So the main challenge for all these workers is to turn a legal question into a political question, and for that you need as much support as possible. You need the support of the communities, of other movements, of unions, maybe even of institutions and political instances. And with that you can win everything.

One example is the Republic Doors and Windows, the factory now called New Era Windows in Chicago, which is producing eco-friendly windows. When it was closed down and occupied for the second time, together with Occupy Chicago in 2010-11, the occupation got the workers the possibility to be at the negotiating table about the future of the factory, which they later agreed to buy. And the workers did that by the forcing the banks that had taken over the bankrupted factory to pay them 1.5 million dollars for lost wages. Usually if there is money left (e.g. from selling machinery) it goes to the creditors. But the workers managed to do a political campaign that generated so much public support that the banks saw themselves forced to pay the workers 1.5 million dollars, even if legally they were not obligated to do that.

So they managed to turn a legal question into a political one…

Exactly, and once you do that you can win everything, even things that seem completely impossible or that are not in the existing legal framework. That is one of the big reasons why it is important to have bonds with other movements and communities. The second one is that you create new values. Factory work is usually not fun, not even in a recovered factory. What keeps you working in capitalism is money, but in a recovered workplace the workers find new values, and one of the values is to be useful for society, not just for capitalism.

Many of these workplaces, if we are talking about industrial workplaces, are usually situated in poor communities. There are no factories in Beverly Hills! One usual feature of these poor communities is that they lack space. They lack space for social, collective activities. In Argentina for example, where there are more than 400 recuperated workplaces, more than 60% give permanent space to community activities, from bachilleratos populares, i.e. the possibility for adults to re-do their school, to community radio stations, libraries, even just community festivities. So they become an important focus of community life, and the spaces in a certain way become commons, because they are used for other activities which are not immediately linked to production.

Can you talk about the need for recuperated factories to re-orient production? Because if these factories are closed because they are not profitable any more, workers cannot just go back to what they were producing before.

Indeed, often it is simply not possible to continue the production that existed before. One example is Officine Zero (2), a former night train repair facility in Rome. Night trains are almost gone in Europe, there is only one facility left which is enough for the few night trains that still run. Most of the trains are fast-track trains now, so you cannot continue planning to produce or repair night trains. The workers that took over the factory now engage in a number of activities, such as recycling domestic appliances or furniture, and have continued the workshops they had – upholstery, carpentry, iron works and others.

Another example is Rimaflow in Milan (2), which was producing air-conditioning pipes mainly for BMW cars. The owner took out the machines, but even if he had not, BMW was not going to buy air-conditioning pipes from an occupied factory! So you have to re-invent yourself. But that is good, because then the workers start thinking about useful production. Rimaflow started with a mix of activities, for example upcycling and recycling of household electric appliances and computers.

Later they raised money for an air-conditioning system and set up a hall to recycle industrial pallets. So they collect industrial pallets from all kinds of factories, put them back together and sell them back. They also started an artisanal food and liquor production, cooperating with organic cooperatives. They produce Rimoncello, which is a lemon liquor (originally Limoncello), together with cooperatives from Southern Italy which pay fair wages to immigrant seasonal workers, and they produce Amaro Partigiano (a digestive liquor) together with the Italian Institute for Partisan Studies.

A traditional economist might call this “patchwork”. But I would disagree, this does make sense. We have to transform our society in every sense, so these successful examples of industrial conversion make sense, because naturally we are not occupying the workplaces to simply go on with the same capitalist production we had before. We do not want to take over everything and then keep producing military helicopters!

Along these lines: in capitalist societies, in liberal democracies, there is a separation between economic, social and political spheres. How do worker recuperated companies, by themselves and through their relations with communities, challenge this separation?

Yes, I think that is a central aspect of what we can call “council democracy” as a model for communes, worker-controlled workplaces, etc. Capitalism, and bourgeois society, is always based on the division of spheres. The first step is the division between the political and social spheres, which is never justified, it is there to be accepted a priori. Because there is no reason why some people should be governing and others should be governed.

The second separation is that the economic sphere is supposed to be separate, autonomous, often likened to living organism that society has to keep feeding. We get to this point where it sounds mythological, like the market is this kind of dragon that needs to be fed all the time otherwise it will get angry and destroy everyone! Which is also totally absurd, because the economy should be serving society, it should be serving the people, not the other way around.

The recuperated workplaces are obviously an overcoming of that. First of all because usually there is no representation, there are only spokespeople. The decisions are taken by the people concerned with the issues and not delegated, which is the foundation of the separate political sphere. Secondly, the economic decisions are also taken directly by those involved in the production process, and subject to their political decisions and social needs. So this separation of spheres is tendentially overcome.

There is a second division of spheres which is characteristic to capitalism and bourgeois society, that is also tendentially overcome, namely the division between intellectual and manual work. The person that is unloading the pallets from the truck has as much to say in the assemblies as the engineer that is adjusting the computer-led production process, for example. It is also quite common to have much more job rotation, people learning new tasks and developing new ideas, therefore there is much less of the traditional division of labour and particularly between intellectual and manual work.

Also when we talk about overcoming the division between political, social and economic spheres, we should always stress that this is a “tendency towards…”. Because as long as we are in a capitalist system it would be an illusion to think that we can be totally move beyond that.

You cannot just create an island…

You cannot create a happy island in the capitalist system. You can work towards overcoming the system, which means you have to expand. One of the things they always stressed in Rimaflow was that they needed to build a new economy because the economy of the bosses is not working anymore, and we can be successful if examples such as Rimaflow occur 100, 1000 times. A happy little island will not survive, the system will crush it.

Many cooperatives had a lot of idealism concerning this issue, and their ideals faded away with the age of the members and immersion in capitalism, or the cooperatives got big and got bought up. That is why I am always speaking of a tendency towards building a new economy, overcoming the separation of spheres, etc.

With globalisation and the evolution of capitalism, there is a fragmentation or an atomisation of the production chain. Does this present new challenges for workers’ control, or make this question more urgent?

Yes, it presents new challenges but also new opportunities. For example, the necessity of building local and regional economies is growing. Because of the ongoing globalisation, capital is concentrating more and more in ever fewer metropolitan spaces. So the necessity to build local and regional economic systems, and to keep wealth where it is produced, is becoming more urgent. This represents a chance for workers’ control and more localised production and distribution.

The fragmentation of the production chain is itself a very contradictory issue. For example in the US, there is a tendency of insourcing again. Car manufacturers in the US are insourcing again a lot of production steps that they had outsourced before. This proves that the outsourcing was never about saving money or being more efficient, it was simply about the destruction of the workers’ power. So now that they have destroyed the unions in the car sector, that used to be some of the few strong unions in the US, they are insourcing again all these production steps.

But the fragmentation, which is not only a fragmentation of the production chain but also inside the workplace itself, makes it a much more subjective act to be collective and to struggle than it was before. You had companies like Fiat, which had 70 or 80 thousand workers which were automatically organised because 95% of them had the same contract and the same work conditions. You look now at the same Fiat factory, it has 12 thousand workers that have probably 40 different kinds of contracts, from part-time contracts, to sub-contracted labourers, to insourced work, or seasonal labour, and at the same time you have another 70.000 workers in the greater region of Turin which are working in different outsourced, independent companies, or even as independent workers.

So in Fordism the factory was the entity doing the workers’ movement a “favour” by homogenising the workers, in some sense creating the class and class conflict (the class constitutes itself as conflict, it does not exist as such or derive from a certain position in the production process). Now work is fragmenting and differentiating people. That makes it much more difficult to create a collective vision and struggle, to avoid turning against each other. Because capitalism will then point to a group and tell them they cannot earn more because of the privileges of the other group over there…

It becomes a race to the bottom…

Exactly, it becomes a race to the bottom, in the form of part-time contracts, or temporary work, and with all these divisions among workers. It is creating a very problematic situation, also from the point of view of production, and that is why I think it is very important to take over as many workplaces as possible, and to use these workplaces, as well cooperatives that place themselves into a political/labour/class struggle logic, to build production chains.

For example in Argentina, a study of about 80 recuperated factories showed that over 16% of the commercial activity, sales or buying resources and parts, was done with other recuperated workplaces, and almost 2% was with the solidarity economy or other kinds of cooperatives (3). This means that almost 20% of what they are doing is in a cycle that, while not being complete out of capitalism, does not strictly follow the rules of capitalism. You are supporting different labour relations and social relations by having these economic relationships. Therefore I think it is important that we have as many worker-controlled workplaces as possible and that we also start thinking about creating production chains.

To finish, do you want to tell us about the website workerscontrol.net that you helped found?

What we are trying to do is to create a virtual archive with workers’ control experiences from all kinds of epochs and different languages. We have functioning Spanish, Italian, French, English, German, Portuguese and Greek. The idea was to build a network of researchers and activists from recuperated workplaces, to make available as many experiences as possible. Because up to now there was nothing like that, you only had websites or sources dedicated to specific authors or to specific recuperated workplaces.

We founded it also as a decentralised network, there is no central group reviewing what can be on the website or not, so all the nodes are autonomous and free to publish whatever they think is useful in the framework of workers’ control. It is an interesting network of collaboration between people with different political orientations, people that consider themselves council communists, or more anarcho-syndicalists, others Luxemburgian or Gramscian, others Trotskyist, others might be more workerist/operaist, others more traditional Marxists.

What we all have in common is that we support workers’ control and want to create access to as much information as possible. We are now in a process of redesigning the website, which will be relaunched in a few months with a new design and more visibility.

* Dario Azzellini is a sociologist, political scientist, author and documentary filmmaker. He has worked and written extensively on the issue of workers’ control, including two recently edited books, Ours to master and to own. Workers’ Control from the Commune to the Present (with Immanuel Ness) and An Alternative Labor History: Worker Control and Workplace Democracy. He has also produced a series of documentaries on this issue called “Occupy, Resist, Produce” (with Oliver Ressler). More information about his work can be found on his website.


(1) A second interview with Dario Azzellini on the issue of communes and workers’ control in Venezuela is available here.

(2) The documentary “Occupy, Resist, Produce” dedicated to Rimaflow is available here. The one dedicated to Officine Zero is available here.

(3) Information from this report, pages 35-36.

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Cuba after the Castros-Lal Khan

Posted by admin On April - 23 - 2018 Comments Off on Cuba after the Castros-Lal Khan

Since the Cuban revolution of 1959, the Castro brothers Fidel and Raúl were presidents of the socialist republic. Raúl had taken over as the president from his ailing brother Fidel in 2006. Last Wednesday however, the Cuban National Assembly and its 605 members elected Miguel Díaz-Canel as the country’s new president. In the swearing-in speech, Díaz pledged to uphold the values of the country’s socialist revolution. He added, “there would be no capitalist restoration, but there will the modernisation of our social and economic model… Socialism or Death! We will triumph”. Meanwhile, Raúl Castro is expected to remain a powerful influence in the Cuban state even after he steps down.

Díaz was born in April 1960, a year after Fidel Castro became the revolutionary government’s prime minister. Díaz began his political career in his early 20s as a member of the Young Communist League in Santa Clara. He started his professional career as a teacher at the city’s engineering university. Díaz became the secretary of Cuba’s Young Communist League at the age of 33, and rose to the post of Cuba’s vice president in 2013. Raúl Castro had praised Díaz for his ‘ideological firmness’.

Inspite of the pressures and economic crises it faces, Cuba still maintains a planned (socialist) economy. Most industries are owned and operated by the government, and most of the labour force is employed by the state. After the fall of the Soviet Union a severe crisis hit Cuba. It’s GDP declined by 33 percent between 1990 and 1993, partially due to the loss of Soviet subsidies and a crash of sugar prices in the early 1990s. The Communist Party encouraged the formation of worker co-operatives and self-employment. After Raúl Castro took over the presidency in 2006, attempts were made to open up more sections of the economy to the private sector. The social democratic faction of the Communist party were advising Raúl Castro to establish a Cuban version of the Sino-Vietnamese model, which maintains a one-party state while opening the economy to private enterprise and the markets for foreign monopolies. But soon the spectre of rich capitalists and the curse of huge inequality forced the regime to reverse most of these counter-reforms.

In the year 2000, public sector employment amounted to 76 percent and private sector employment — mainly composed of the self-employed — was 23 percent as compared to the 1981 ratio of 91 percent to 8 percent. However, investment is restricted and requires approval by the government. The government sets most prices and rations goods to citizens. Housing and transportation costs are low. Cubans receive government subsidised education, healthcare and food subsidies.

The Cuban revolution proved that a planned economy in a small state can benefit the oppressed masses, and provide health and education

The country achieved a more even distribution of income since the Cuban Revolution, despite an economic embargo imposed by the US imperialists. Despite the shrinkage of Soviet grants and economic crises, Cuba retains high levels of healthcare and education. Today, Cuba has the highest per capita ratio of doctors in the world, second only to Italy.

Before the revolution Cuba had a one-crop economy (sugar cane) whose domestic market was constricted. Its population was characterised by chronic unemployment and deep poverty. United States monopolies plundered Cuba. They dominated the country’s entire financial system, all electric power production and the majority of industry. US monopolies owned 25 percent of the best land in Cuba. Sugar and livestock-raising landowners owned more than 80 percent of the country’s farmland.

In the 1950s, most Cuban children were not in school. A vast majority of households had no electricity. Only 15 percent of rural homes had running water. Nearly half the population was illiterate. More than 40 percent of the Cuban workforce in 1958 was either underemployed or unemployed. The planned economy introduced after the revolution brought enormous improvements in the living conditions of ordinary Cubans.

The present economic crisis again threatens the planned economy that made these collective gains possible. Diaz faces daunting challenges. Although he still believes in the continuation of the planned economy, it would be hard for him to sustain it in the present milieu. This situation is explained by Marxist theory, which rejects the possibility of socialism occurring in one country, particularly when that country is economically underdeveloped and exists in a capitalist world currently unthreatened by immediate socialist revolutions. The bureaucratic character of the regime and isolation of the Cuban revolution are also obstructions in building a socialist society. The current low productivity rates are due to a bureaucratic system that systematically creates disorganisation and chaos and does not provide workers with political incentives — allowing them to have a say and control over what they do — to motivate them.

Today the Cuban revolution is at the crossroads. Although it has succeeded over the last 59 years in maintaining its non-capitalist course, even if that took place at the price of developing a certain deprivation. The Cuban regime also established international relations with leftist governments emerging from the struggles against imperialism and its neo-liberal globalisation, in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Cuban aid has been of great importance for the advances made by the ‘Bolivarian revolution’ in Venezuela. However, with these left wing governments in crisis, their resources to support the Cuban economy have diminished.

This creates more problems for President Díaz-Canel. Absence of a framework of workers’ democratic control and the re-establishment of even partial market relations pervades social discontent and cynicism among the population and weakens the legitimacy of the Cuban system. Donald Trump’s reinforcement of the embargoes and his belligerence is also a crude attempt to force Cubans into capitulation to capitalism.

Despite all these setbacks, the Cuban revolution — inspite of its bureaucratic domination and isolation — has proved to the peoples of the world that a planned economy in a small island nation can enormously benefit the oppressed masses and provide health and education with a quality even better than some advanced countries. The Cuban revolution deserves to safeguard the best of its socialist economic system as an alternative paradigm to the present merciless and exploitative globalisation. It must break with the worst of itself. A renewed struggle of the Cuban workers and youth for Marxist internationalism for spreading revolutions combined with the creation of a democratic control of the economy, society and the state is crucial for the revolution’s survival.

The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. E-mail ptudc@hotmail.com

Published in Daily Times, April 23rd 2018.

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

1919-1922: The Workers’ Opposition and Appeal by members of the Workers’ Opposition group for support against Bolshevik forces trying to silence their dissent within the party. Distributed at the Eleventh Russian Communist Party Congress in 1922

Posted by admin On April - 2 - 2018 Comments Off on 1919-1922: The Workers’ Opposition and Appeal by members of the Workers’ Opposition group for support against Bolshevik forces trying to silence their dissent within the party. Distributed at the Eleventh Russian Communist Party Congress in 1922


Alexandra Kollantai

A short history of a group within the Russian Communist Party that struggled against the increasing party bureaucracy and for trade union control over industry which, by 1922, had been forcibly disbanded by the party.

The Workers Opposition began to form in 1919, as a result of the policies of War Communism, which set a precedence for the domination of the Communist Party over local party branches and trade unions. During the civil war, the Workers Opposition began agitating against the lack of democracy in the Communist Party as a result of the centralising actions of the party’s bureaucracy. The Workers Opposition, composed almost entirely of unionised workers (with particular strength amongst metal workers), argued for the restoration of power to local party branches and trade unions and was led by respected veteran Bolsheviks such as Alexander Shliapnikov, Alexandra Kollontai and Sergei Medvedev.

At the Ninth All-Russia Conference of the Communist Party in September, 1920, discussions on the growth of party bureaucracy and the running of the Soviet economy led to great controversy. Where Lenin argued that it was the role of party bureaucrats to teach unionised workers how to administer the nation’s economy, the Workers’ Opposition took the opposite line; that it should be the trade unions themselves, not party bureaucrats, who should take on the task of building the communist economy. As Alexandra Kollontai wrote in her seminal Opposition pamphlet:

“There can be no self-activity without freedom of thought and opinion, for self-activity manifest itself not only in initiative, action and work, but in independent though as well. We give no freedom to class activity, we are afraid of criticism, we have ceased to rely on the masses: hence we have bureaucracy with us. That is why the Workers’ Opposition considers that bureaucracy is our enemy, our scourge, and the greatest danger to the future existence of the Communist Party itself.
The Workers’ Opposition has said what has long ago been printed in the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels: the building of Communism can and must be the work of the toiling masses themselves. The building of Communism belongs to the workers.” – Alexandra Kollontai, The Workers’ Opposition

The group demanded that industrial administration be made the responsibility of unions and that unions would control the national economy as a whole. Though having substantial support amongst the Communist Party’s grassroots, the party’s leadership refused its platform wholesale. Lenin even went so far as to state that the party “must combat the syndicalist deviation, which will kill the Party unless it is entirely cured of it.” (Lenin, The Party Crisis). The Opposition also argued that to combat bureaucratisation all non-proletarians should be expelled from the Communist Party and administrative government positions. They also argued that such positions should be elected, not appointed.

It should be pointed out, however, that the call of the Workers’ Opposition for control of the national economy to be handed over to the unions was not as honourable as it first seems. The All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions was entirely an arm of the Bolshevik state by this point, concerning itself primarily with disciplining workers rather than fighting for improved conditions. They were entirely different from the factory committees, which had been organised at the grassroots by the workers themselves. In 1918, Shliapnikov even went as far as to say that the factory committees were putting control “in the hands of a crowd that, due to its ignorance and lack of interest in production, is literally putting a brake on all work” (quoted in Carmen Sirianni’s Workers’ Control and Socialist Democracy: The Soviet Experience). Though the Workers’ Opposition repeatedly argued that communism could only be built by the workers themselves and were in favour of total union control of the economy to achieve this, it was by no means the same as actual workers’ control of the economy. To put it bluntly, they preferred that the bureaucrats running the economy be from the unions, rather than the Communist Party.

Such internal ideological problems that the Workers’ Opposition suffered from were related almost entirely to their inability to reject some of the central tenets of Bolshevism and break with the Russian Communist Party entirely. Generally, members of the Workers Opposition were experienced grassroots Bolshevik organisers from working class backgrounds who had spent a lifetime agitating amongst their class. As such, they naturally had a loyalty to the organs of class power which had been thrown up in times of struggle.

However, their simultaneous loyalty to Bolshevism and the Party confused the issue of the revolutionary organisation’s role and its relationship to the working class. So while they may have argued that the “the building of Communism can and must be the work of the toiling masses themselves”, their inability to reject the vanguardism of authoritarian socialism meant that they also argued that “The RKP [Russian Communist Party – libcom] is the sole responsible political leader of the revolutionary struggle in construction of the worker and peasant masses.” (Shliapnikov, On the relations between the Russian Communist Party, the soviets and production unions).

Reading the texts of the Workers’ Opposition, one glaring fact is that though they repeatedly argued for union control of the economy and greater democracy within the Communist Party, they did not challenge the political domination of the party itself. Though the Workers’ Opposition wanted greater union control of the economy, actual positions of administrative power were to be elected through the party local branches. The basic problem which the Workers’ Opposition had with the Russian Communist Party was that it was appointing bureaucrats into positions of power from the centre rather than electing them at a local level. They did not intend to challenge the Communist Party’s monopoly of power itself.

The events of Kronstadt, and their reaction to it, show most clearly these problems. As Kronstadt erupted in opposition to the Communist domination of Russia and demanded a return to the slogans of “All power to the soviets”, the Workers’ Opposition sided with their party and many even volunteered to help with the military assault on the uprising. Kronstadt marked a problem for the Workers’ Opposition: why was their class attacking the Communist Party, the only “responsible political leaders of the revolutionary struggle”? Their inability to break with the vanguardist baggage of Leninism meant that they ultimately found fault with their class and not with the new state bureaucrats.

Even with such a doting loyalty to Leninism, however, the Workers’ Opposition was too great a deviation from the orthodox Leninism of the party. At the 10th Party Congress in March 1921, the positions of the Workers’ Opposition were rejected, its ideas condemned, and they were ordered to disband.

Though the Opposition’s members continued their agitation, they would still find themselves under attack by the Communist Party bureaucracy. Shliapnikov talked of how Workers’ Opposition members were edged out of the party, sometimes systematically transferred to different districts, sometimes expelled from the party entirely. Similar actions were taken against unions which had a traditional loyalty to the Workers’ Opposition. For instance, the 1921 metalworkers’ union conference voted down a list of recommended candidates for the union leadership from the Communist Party’s Central Committee. This vote, however, was ignored and the party leaders appointed their own candidates into office, done to remind the metalworkers who was in charge as their union had been a hub of Workers’ Opposition activity.

By 1922 the Workers’ Opposition would finally be defeated. The 11th Party Congress would see the party leadership put forward a motion to expel the leaders of the Workers’ Opposition from the party. Though the Opposition’s close links with the grassroots of the party meant that the motion failed, the group was now almost entirely disbanded as a result of the concerted effort of party leaders. For instance, of the 37 Workers’ Opposition delegates to the 10th Congress, only four managed to return as voting delegates to the next congress. Following such pressure, the Workers’ Opposition collapsed.

In their Appeal of the 22, distributed at the party congress in 1922, they pleaded with the delegates of the Comintern to recognise the “repressive measures against the expression of [their] opinions within the party” and help “to end all these abnormalities”. These cries for help, however, fell on deaf ears.

In 1926, the remaining members of the Opposition briefly joined the Left Opposition led by Trotsky, who, now finding himself out of favour with the party bureaucracy began struggling against the growing bureaucracy and lack democracy he helped to create. Indeed, the fate of Trotsky would resemble that of the Opposition. After abandoning the Russian working class in favour of political power and party loyalty, the Workers’ Opposition was hounded out of the party and many of its leaders (including Shliapnikov and Medvedev) would later be tried and executed for their minor deviations from orthodox party ideology. Just like Trotsky, the Workers’ Opposition would be destroyed by the authoritarian structures they helped create with their desertion of the Kronstadt rebels marking the final defeat of the only force in Russia which could have rescued them from their fate.



Appeal by members of the Workers’ Opposition group

Appeal by members of the Workers’ Opposition group for support against Bolshevik forces trying to silence their dissent within the party. Distributed at the Eleventh Russian Communist Party Congress in 1922.
Dear comrades!

From our newspapers we have learned that the Executive Committee of the Communist International is discussing the “united workers’ front,” and we consider it our communist duty to inform you that in our country the “united front” is in bad shape not only in the broad sense of this term, but even in its application toward the ranks of our party.

As the forces of the bourgeoisie press on us from all sides, as they even infiltrate our party, the social composition of which (40% worker and 60% non-proletarian) favor this, our leading centers wage a relentless, corrupting struggle against all, especially proletarians, having their own opinions, and they apply all kinds of repressive measures against the expression of these opinions within the party.

The attempt to bring the proletarian masses closer to the government is declared to be “anarcho-syndicalism,” and its advocates are persecuted and discredited.

In the trade union movement, there is the same picture — suppression of worker spontaneity and initiative, struggle using all means against heterodoxy. The unified forces of the party and trade union bureaucracy, taking advantage of their position and authority, ignore our congresses’ decisions about laying the foundations of worker democracy. Our union communist fractions, even the fractions of entire congresses are deprived of the right to manifest their will in the election of their own leaders. Bureaucracy’s tutelage and pressure has gone so far, that party members are threatened with exclusion and other repressive measures if they elect whom they want instead of those whom the higher-ups want. Such methods of work lead to careerism, intrigues, and servility, and workers respond to this by leaving the party.

Sharing the idea of the united workers’ front as it is interpreted in point 23 of the theses, we appeal to you, with the sincere wish to end all these abnormalities, which stand in the way of the unity of this front, first of all within our RCP(b).

The situation within our party is so difficult, that it impels us to turn to you for help and in this way to eliminate the impending threat of a split in our party.

With communist greetings, members of the RCP(b):

M. Lobanov, party member since 1904
N. Kuznetsov, party member since 1904
A. Polosatov, party member since 1912
A. Medvedev, party member since 1912
G. Miasnikov, party member since 1906
V. Plashkov, party member since 1918
G. Shokhanov, party member since 1912
S. Medvedev, party member since 1900
G. Bruno, party member since 1906
A. Pravdin, party member since 1899
I. Ivanov, party member since 1899
F. Mitin, party member since 1902
P. Borisov, party member since 1913
M. Kopylov, party member since 1912
Zhilin, party member since 1915
Chelyshev, party member since 1910
Tolokontsev, party member since 1914
A. Shliapnikov, party member since 1901
M. Borulin, party member since 1917
V. Bekrenev, party member since 1917
A. Pavlov, party member since 1917
A. Tashkin, party member since 1917
A. Kollontai, party member since 1898
Zoya Shadurskaia*

* Shadurskaia was also a party member, but the year she joined was mistakenly omitted from the document.

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.






emocratic production and the Workers’ Opposition of revolutionary Russia-Don Fitz

Posted by admin On March - 29 - 2018 Comments Off on emocratic production and the Workers’ Opposition of revolutionary Russia-Don Fitz


In a post-capitalist society, who should control production? How should decisions about work life be made? Who should decide what is produced, where it is produced and how it is exchanged within a country and between countries? For the first time in history, the great Russian Revolution of 1917 had to confront these issues in more than a theoretical way. The issues became painfully pragmatic during intense conflict between the party majority and the Workers’ Opposition (WO) of 1919-1921.

Too many discussions of the Bolsheviks focus on political battles and treat economic debates as barely secondary. In fact, struggles at the point of production were core; political conflicts reflected many of these differences; and, today, perspectives on top-down control version self-management permeate every vision of a new society.

In the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote that the task of building communism must be the work of the “toiling masses” themselves. [1] In August 1917, Vladimir Lenin wrote in The State and Revolution that “the administration of industry is well within the competence of any moderately intelligent citizen.” [2] By 1919 thousands of workers across Russia saw these principles slipping away and cohered a group whose best-known leaders were Alexandra Kollontai and Alexander Shlyapnikov.

Both had been early confidants of Lenin. While Lenin was in exile, Kollontai kept him informed of unfolding events in Russia. Shlyapnikov, a major leader of the Metalworkers Union, was the senior Bolshevik in Petrograd when the February revolution broke out. When Lenin returned to Russia and Kollontai presented his “April Theses” on the need for a continuing revolution, Kollontai and Shlyapnikov were among his most ardent supporters. Yet, by 1922 Lenin had suggested that each be shot. What had the WO done that engendered such hostility from the great architect of revolution?

First days of revolution
Having been a metalworker since he was 13 years old, Shlyapnikov had an intense conviction that working people were most qualified for running industry because they had day-to-day experiences with processes of production. He played a key role in absorbing craft unions into a single industrial Metalworkers’ Union, as advocated by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

As the first Commissar of Labor in the new Soviet government, Shlyapnikov was keenly aware that both Bolsheviks and non-Bolsheviks had brought success to the October Revolution. The Metalworkers Union and vast numbers of other workers wanted a multi-party revolutionary government.

But as several parties rose in opposition and many of their members joined the counter-revolutionary “White” armies, the Soviets used various methods to restrain them. When Lenin suggested to the Council of People’s Commissars that it arrest leaders of the Kadet Party, Stalin was the only member to vote against the resolution. [3] Though Stalin is often portrayed as waiting for the chance to suppress opponents, unfolding events of the Bolshevik Revolution confirm that history molds people at least as much as individuals create history.

At the very outset of the October 1917 revolution, the Metalworkers’ Union called for workers’ control of production. In March 1919, the 8th Party Congress (now the Russian Communist Party, or RCP) approved the famous economic section of its program, which included in paragraph 5: “Trade unions should further concentrate in their hands management of the entire economy as a single unit.” [4] This clearly distinguished the Bolsheviks both from anarcho-syndicalists, who abhorred any “concentration,” and from super-centralizers, who wanted the economy coordinated by the state rather than the unions. Would workers’ control soon blossom in Russia?

Rancorous collapse of a honeymoon
Despite the favorable resolution, Shlyapnikov sensed a discrepancy between what it said and what he saw being practiced. He was critical of reliance on specialists to run factories and impose top-down discipline on workers. No one disagreed that plunging productivity was threatening the survival of the revolution.

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of March 1918 resulted in the loss of 40% of Russian industry and 70% of its iron and steel production. [5] Supply lines were broken as parts necessary for manufacture vanished. The Civil War that began in May 1918 cost millions of lives from fighting, famine and disease. [6] Mass starvation spread in Russian cities. How could the human misery be ended?

Leading Bolsheviks who had never worked in a factory interpreted the cause of the crisis as absenteeism and slovenly work habits. They saw the solution as more labor discipline with control by technocrats and the growing bureaucracy. Others, like Shlyapnikov, felt that production was hampered by breakdowns in supplies and lack of fuel and food. For them, bureaucratic control could not overcome inadequate raw materials, cold and hunger.

One of the first great blots on the revolution was in Astrakhan, where Bolsheviks authorities dispersed worker assemblies, jailed elected leaders and insisted on greater productivity. In 1919, Bolsheviks fired upon a metalworkers assembly of 10,000 workers, resulting in 2000 injuries. The new secret police, the Cheka, killed hundreds, some by tying rocks to them and throwing them in the Volga River. Renewed assaults resulted in the execution of over 4000 by April. As head of the Red Army, Leon Trotsky sent his approval. Shlyapnikov demanded an investigation. [7]

Also in 1919 forced labor camps were created, where people could be sent by orders of the Cheka, revolutionary tribunals or people’s courts. As the tide of the Civil War turned during Fall 1919 and the collapse of White armies was eminent, attention turned to the organization of industry. [8] At the end of that year, when Leon Trotsky was at the height of his popularity, he first proposed the militarization of labor. Labor armies would be run with drafts, compulsion and a top down structure like the military.

Shlyapnikov accepted Trotsky’s use of former tsarist officers as “specialists” in the Red Army (the most centralized branch of “industry”) because workers had no special knowledge of military strategy. But he argued that industrial workers understood production processes better than the specialists assigned by the party to run factories. As more and more rank-and-file party members shared similar concerns they began to cohere as the Workers’ Opposition (WO) in 1919. [9]

Pulling apart
Division within the RCP intensified throughout 1920. The year began with Shlyapnikov’s proposal that unions take control of all levels of the economy. [10] In March Trotsky put forth his idea of “one-man management” of factories and Lenin soon agreed. Kollontai staunchly defended the concept of “collective management” by elected worker representatives.

The debate over economic control spread throughout the party and promised to be intense at the upcoming 9th RCP Congress. Lenin and other party leaders thought it best that Shlyapnikov not be present and assigned him to western Europe for union work. [11] Kollontai criticized Lenin for repeatedly removing those he disagreed with from open party discussions.

In Shlyapnikov’s absence, the 9th party congress overturned the 8th congress’ resolution on unions’ running the economy and instead called for the party to increase its control over union staff. [12] Subsequently, support for the WO spread among industrial unions across the country. Throughout the year, party leaders attacked WO leaders personally and politically as they sought to undermine its influence.

They accused the WO of having ties to counterrevolutionaries. Lenin and Nikolai Bukharin claimed that the desire of the WO to include non-Bolsheviks in management of the economy made it “syndicalist,” even though actual syndicalists did not include it in their umbrella. Grigory Zinoviev chided it for failing to understand that the transition to socialism had to be controlled by party specialists rather than workers. [13]

The discord of 1920 did not only center on the WO. In August, Trotsky inspired the merger of railway and water-transport unions into a new Tsektran, which had appointed leaders and widespread labor conscription. Multiple organizers feared that this was merely Trotsky’s first step in centralizing all unions into an appointed state apparatus of militarized labor. Hostility spread so rapidly that the 9th Party Conference presidium left Trotsky and his supporters off its list for the Central Committee (though they were later put back on). [14]

Trotsky’s allies were so adamant in demanding the militarization of labor that they broke party discipline by denouncing the WO in meetings with non-party workers. [15] Defending his proposals, Trotsky wrote: “Man must work in order not to die. He does not want to work. But the social organization compels and whips him in that direction.” [16] In one meeting after another, workers openly worried that if Trotsky’s proposals were put into effect, they could be jailed for breaking minor labor rules. [17]

The anger seemed about to boil over. Lenin’s supporters put together a commission to resolve differences. It included both Trotsky and Shlyapnikov. Yet, both quickly resigned, complaining that Lenin had stacked the deck to ensure that the views of neither would be represented in its proposals. This may have been the only time that Trotsky and Shlyapnikov agreed during this period. [18]

As the infamous 10th Party Congress of March 8-16, 1921 approached, the RCP had three clearly defined factions. On the left, the WO called for increased union control over the economy, decreased bureaucratization, and restoration of internal party democracy. The right, led by Trotsky and Bukharin, called for labor armies controlled by the state. “The Ten,” based on Lenin’s most loyal supporters, proposed that unions be separate from the state, with their major role being education of workers on socialism.

Many meanings of ‘workers’ control’ It would be easy to argue that “workers’ control” was abandoned at the 10th Party Congress. But the phrase “workers’ control” meant very different things to different people at different times. So it’s necessary to dive into socialist theory.

Did “workers’ control” suggest that the labor force at each factory could seize it, do with it whatever they wanted, including selling it to the highest bidder and dividing the proceeds (as actually occurred at least once after the revolution)? Did it mean that each group of workers would decide not only how to organize production but also what products to manufacture and sell in the market? Or, did it mean, as the WO proposed, that elected union leaders would coordinate production at a local and national level, leaving the maximum possible decision-making regarding the organization of production to each group of workers?

Marx’ critique of capitalism’s “anarchy of production” was a central part of the attitude towards workers’ control in the early 20th century. Goods were produced, not due to social need, but because they could sell in the capitalist market. For Marx, economic justice required a plan for production to meet needs. This was supported by virtually everyone calling themselves socialists.

A major difference arose between reformists (like Eduard Bernstein) who felt that workers’ rights could be won gradually by electing socialists to office and those (like Lenin) who saw the necessity for revolution. Both sides rejected anarchist and syndicalist views that would leave production in the hands of each workgroup. For socialists, a series of worker-owned enterprises would leave the market intact and force the workgroups to compete with each other and exploit themselves.

Marx assumed that those who would plan production would be the “toiling masses” themselves. But what if the “toiling masses” were divided from those who had power over the economy? Marx never posed this possible discord between theory and practice, but it was posed by bitter debates within the RCP.

Lenin’s approach to control of industry reflected his approach to land and the peasantry. The Bolsheviks assumed that raising productivity required collective working of the land. When Lenin returned to Russia after the February 1917 revolution and spoke at the Bolshevik April conference regarding a resolution on land, he was adamant that the clause on peasants’ taking control of land should go before the portion on nationalizing land because “it is the revolutionary act which is important.” As peasant land seizures spread across Russia during the following months the Bolsheviks followed Lenin’s lead in enthusiastically supporting them while scarcely mentioning the ultimate goal of nationalizing land. [19]

Likewise, between the two revolutions, workplace seizures grew like an urban wildfire. Lenin unabashedly fanned the flames of discontent as he spoke and wrote in favor of “workers’ control over the production and distribution of goods.” Criticism came from other Bolsheviks such as Solomon Lozovsky who wrote: “It is necessary to make an absolutely clear and categorical reservation that the workers in each enterprise should not get the impression that the enterprise belongs to them.” [20]

Shlyapnikov and Kollontai were among the thousands of revolutionaries who lauded Lenin’s statements. For them, workers’ control was an end in itself and the foundation of a new society. But a careful reading of Lenin reveals that he saw workers’ control as a means of smashing capitalist control of industry that would yield to the greater end of centralized planning. [21]

Thus, three apparitions haunted the Bolshevik spirit in 1917: the wary spirit worried that workers’ control could interfere with building a state-run economy; the undivided spirit beheld self-management as simultaneously the method and goal of establishing socialism; and, the redefining spirit realized that workers’ control could first be used as a method to break up capitalism and then reappear as control by the party unifying production on behalf of the working class. These ghosts wrestled with each other, sometimes within themselves, through 1921 and beyond.

Praise of worker’s control diminished as party leaders saw production falling and centralization became the word of the day. Terrified by mushrooming disorder, they decided to bring back bureaucrats to run the state and economy. Shlyapnikov was shocked when he returned to Moscow in February 1919 to see the extent of pre-revolutionary specialists in control of industry. The same concern echoed across the country. [22]

The Bolshevik factions of 1921 were corporal forms of the three apparitions of workers’ control. The WO advocated workers’ making fundamental decisions about production and coordinating the economy through elected representatives. Endorsing top-down militarization of labor, the Trotsky-Bukharin bloc did not even give lip service to workers’ control. Lenin, the skilled manipulator, cohered the overwhelming majority by co-opting much of the language of workers’ control while adopting a gentler-worded form of much of what Trotsky-Bukharin proposed.

10th Congress of the Russian Communist Party
In late 1920, Lenin and Trotsky each had representatives on the party’s Central Committee (CC) while there were none for the WO. Since Trotsky’s faction was strong, almost winning a CC majority, Lenin had his work cut out for him, which he did most skillfully. [23]

Efim Ignatov was one of many Moscow workers who favored a major role for the soviets and unions in coordinating production. They blocked with WO supporters to obtain a large minority of votes for selection of delegates to the 10th Party Congress. Lenin had the party’s Central Committee (CC) interfere to deny proportional representation – all the delegates went to his faction. [24] It is unknown the extent to which the WO was similarly underrepresented in other parts of Russia.

While support for the WO was strong among industrial workers, it lacked the political skills of Lenin and the writing talent of Trotsky. So several of its leaders turned to Kollontai who wrote the pamphlet entitled The Workers’ Opposition.

As editor of the party’s paper Pravda, Bukharin was able to ensure that Kollontai’s manuscript was published well after those airing Lenin’s and Trotsky’s views. When it did appear, workers read the WO echoing their own complaints: though self-organization of production should be the essence of communism, workers were denied any such role, which was given to party-approved specialists. The party was interfering with workers’ initiative so much that they could not even organize their own canteens or childcare without going to bureaucrats. As former capitalists adapted themselves to the soviet system, they reappeared as the new bosses. [25]

Kollontai quipped that while party leaders regarded unions as “schools for communism,” unions should be its creators as well. She proposed that “all cardinal decisions of party activity” within unions should be subjected to a vote by the rank and file. Instead of concentrating funds for the dominant view, she advocated printing views of all factions. Though Kollontai’s pamphlet clearly stated that “specialists can do valuable work,” it was ridiculed by Lenin’s supporters as ignoring the need for specialists. [26]

Factionalism was even deeper in 1921 than it had been in 1917 when some CC members opposed the seizure of power; in 1918 when there was strong opposition to the treaty of Brest-Litovsk; or during many other disagreements. In earlier disputes different Bolsheviks lined up together and other disputes would see different realignments. But the 1921 division had been brewing for years with opposing sides becoming more intransigent – the sort of conflict that could rip a party apart.

As sailors rallied to the call of many Petrograd workers for democratic elections and coping with food shortages, the Kronstadt Rebellion broke out when the 10th Congress was opening. Timing could not have been worse for the WO, which strongly advocated working within the RCP rather than rising up against it.

Multiple speakers used Kronstadt to associate the WO with counter-revolution. Lenin opened the congress with an attack on the WO, saying it used the same slogans as Kronstadt. He singled out Kollontai, denouncing her pamphlet as the “platform of a new party” and exclaimed: “For this you should not only be excluded but shot as well!” Attempting to link it to another source of discord Bukharin howled that the WO “was complicit in peasant opposition to the Soviet regime.” [27]

Despite the onslaught of Lenin’s full fury the WO pushed forward. It’s ally Ignatov made three proposals designed to reverse the path taken by the RCP: (1) purge non-proletarian, non-peasant party members who had joined since mid-1918, (2) require non-workers to wait 1-2 years before holding party positions, and (3) require all party members to do at least three months of physical labor a year. [28]

As the congress wore on, Lenin’s grip became tighter and votes for WO proposals became smaller. By the end, there was an overwhelming vote endorsing Lenin’s view that workers were not yet ready to run the economy. Two shockers came during the final session. One resolution banned factions and allowed the Central Committee (CC) to expel those engaged in factional activity. The second, aimed specifically at the WO, condemned the “syndicalist and anarchist” deviation within the party.

The icing on the cake was election of Shlyapnikov to the CC and the refusal to allow WO members to leave their position in the party. Together, these destroyed the ability of the WO to organize and specifically forced Shlyapnikov to present Lenin’s views when speaking in public. A question which no one seemed to have asked was: If it was okay for the RCP to have banned factions and muzzled the WO, would it have been okay for the Mensheviks to have done the same to the Bolsheviks when they had the upper hand?

By the end of the 10th Congress, it was unambiguous that the phrase “workers’ control” assumed that the single party in power was alone in representing the true interests of the working class. The party would control industry, including control of management and day-to-day decisions regarding work life. This interpretation implied that the vanguard party, knowing better than workers themselves what their true needs were, could remove and replace those elected to union offices.

The end approaches
After the 10th Congress, anti-WO campaigns multiplied. Party leaders removed former WO organizers from positions and/or transferred them to locations where they would be isolated. The epitome of this strategy was when Lenin, Bukharin, Zinoviev and Vyacheslav Molotov collaborated to oust Shlyapnikov as head of the Metalworkers’ Union and replace him with yes-bureaucrats. It required the big guns from the party center since they were strongly resisted by the union, which voted repeatedly against such maneuvers. When a CC commission noted that the reason for removing specific metalworkers was that they had been WO supporters, Shlyapnikov correctly replied that such targeting violated the 10th Party Congress ban on factions. [29]

Instead of responding to Shlyapnikov’s charges, the center initiated the party’s first show trial of Shlyapnikov for the crime of continuing a faction (which he had not done). This attack accomplished several goals simultaneously. First, it initiated terror against resistance to Lenin’s power. (A side effect was teaching Stalin how to conduct a show trial via false accusations.) Second, by publicly humiliating Shlyapnikov after removing him from union leadership, it further undercut his political effectiveness. [30]

The most important aspect of Shlyapnikov’s show trial was how it fit into the overall plan to slash the power of the Metalworkers’ Union. The 500,000 members of the union outnumbered the membership of the RCP. [31] Forcing such a union to kneel before the smaller organization put the RCP well on its way to being the single political/economic force in the country.

Shlyapnikov was hardly a solitary target of the party’s wrath. The list is quite long, with some of the notable cases being David Ryazanov, Flor Mitin and Kollontai. Prior to the May 1921 trade union congress Ryazanov criticized the party for treating trade unions with scorn, only consulting them on trivial matters, and insisting that their leaders sign decrees whether they agreed with them or not. In order to prevent Ryazanov from presenting such a resolution, they forbade him from attending the congress. (Party discipline meant that leaders could tell followers what meetings they could and could not go to.) When the resolution made it to the floor and passed anyway the party investigated how the resolution could have possibly made its way through its censors. [32]

Mitin discovered how to cope with demotion of WO supporters across the country. He transferred many to a different location but in a higher position than what they had been demoted to. His actions did not violate the ban on factions while the pattern of targeting party loyalists who had been members of the WO did violate the ban. The party center found this irrelevant and had Mitin expelled. [33]

When Kollontai criticized the New Economic Policy (NEP) at a July 1921 Communist International (Comintern) meeting, Trotsky misrepresented her views as merely those of one individual and appealed to the sexism of the audience by referring to her as a “Valkyrie.” Another Bolshevik denounced her for violating party discipline and presenting ideas of the “shitty” Workers’ Opposition. [34]

Anti-WO tactics were not limited to personality attacks, reassignments and expulsions. An odd letter went to Shlyapnikov inviting him to join efforts to create a new international party, which would be an extreme violation of party discipline. Shlyapnikov interpreted it as an effort to entrap him. [35]

Within months of the 10th Party Congress, anti-WO repression had spread rapidly through Russia. In Nikolaev, 84 of the 100 delegates to a local congress supported WO ideas. As a result, 90 of its best-known supporters were transferred to other locations in early 1922. Retaliation against WO supporters and removal of elected union officers resulted in fewer workers being willing to participate in unions. [36]

The third meeting of the Comintern
With opportunities for discussion and organization being closed down, Kollontai and Shlyapnikov realized that there was one avenue still open for getting their ideas heard: the Comintern. One of its 21 points of agreement for joining included the right of a political minority in a country to appeal its case to the international. They organized an “Appeal of the 22” from loyal Bolsheviks to the third Comintern meeting of February 24 – March 4, 1922 regarding the suppression of union activists. [37]

When Kollontai tried to address the Comintern Executive, Trotsky and Zinoviev removed her from the list of speakers. Resisting that decision, Kollontai insisted on speaking and Trotsky repeated his disallowal and ordered Russian delegates to “obey party directives.” (Trotsky’s elimination of the right of a party minority to exercise its right of dissension would soon haunt him.) The Comintern created a commission to investigate the affair and censured the 22, ordering them to abstain from such actions in the future. [38]

Back in the USSR things did not settle down. The Metalworkers’ Union met in March 1922. Despite intense maneuvers WO supporters gained 84 votes against 99 for the slate approved by the party center for the union’s central committee. They asked for proportional representation. The RCP’s Politburo stepped into the union’s affairs and ruled that WO supporters should not have any representation. [39]

WO supporters in the Siberian city of Omsk had a majority of the party’s committee. CC secretary Stalin took the reigns of reorganizing the RCP in Omsk – there were reprimands, expulsions and over 100 transfers to reestablish control of the local party from the center. [40]

As the 11th Party Congress approached, it was clear that Lenin’s view of unions as mediators between workers and state-appointed managers prevailed over Trotsky’s implications that unions should be crushed and the WO orientation that they be managers of industry. Party leaders such as Bukharin were threatened by the continuing loyalty to WO ideas. The existence of Shlyapnikov was living contradiction to Bukharin’s belief that workers could not generate an “intellectual elite” capable of managing the economy. The need to destroy Shlyapnikov and co-thinkers figured large in frequent complaints that the “Appeal of the 22” had fallen into the hands of reactionaries and thereby threatened the revolution – complaints which prefigured those that would appear against Trotsky. [41]

The 11th Party Congress took place March 22-April 2, 1922. Since Lenin had theorized that conditions in Russia meant that the proletariat no longer existed as a class, Shlyapnikov congratulated the congress “on being the vanguard of a non-existent class.” [42] Lenin reminded the congress that those who create panic in an army are shot and denounced participants in the “Appeal of the 22” for starting panic in the party. Unambiguous was the implication that Shlyapnikov, as originator of the Appeal, should be shot.

Kollontai challenged the atmosphere of terror engulfing the party’s persecution of those who supported WO beliefs. She noted that the ban on factions created an atmosphere whereby two comrades engaged in discussion would be fearful of a third entering the room because that person could accuse them of having a “factional” meeting. [43]

As the party discussed whether Shlyapnikov and Kollontai should be expelled for holding “factionalist” meetings, Shlyapnikov mocked them for not presenting evidence that “meetings” had a chairperson, agenda, votes or minutes. [44] When reading this period of Soviet history, it is easy to get lost in a discussion of whether Shyapnikov, Kollontai and hundred of groups across Russia were or were not adhering to the ban on factions and lose sight of the fact that “party discipline” in 1922 required surrendering basic democratic rights.

Throughout 1922, the secret police was increasingly used to ferret out what the party center saw as its enemies. Shlyapnikov strongly suspected that police provocateurs were behind the woman who sought to entice him into creating a “fourth international,” an act that would have verified Lenin’s accusations. Secret police kept close surveillance of party opposition groups such as Workers’ Truth and Workers’ Group, whose members were later arrested. Earlier, the Cheka had destroyed a group that dared to actually split from the RCP and call itself the “Worker-Peasant Socialist Party.” [45]

How do you strangle an opposition?
Suppression of dissent within the RCP was not an aberration of the 10th Party Congress – it both preceded it and intensified after it. Lenin’s illness resulted in his being out of the picture during most of 1923. (He died in January 1924.) The following are actions and trends that preceded Stalin’s rise to power:

a. Probably the most frequent complaint among WO supporters was transfer to other locations to prevent them from organizing, speaking or attending congresses or conferences.

b. Perhaps tied for first place among complaints was removal of elected worker representatives and/or appointment of those who would be more compliant.

c. Publication of minority views was delayed or dissidents were not allowed to defend themselves from attacks.

d. Conference dates were moved up to prevent membership discussion of issues.

e. Votes were overturned or minorities were disallowed proportional representation on higher bodies.

f. Rules against “factionalism” were applied vigorously to party minorities while majorities could engage in such behavior without rebuke.

g. Many were prohibited from resigning from party positions, thereby compelling them to represent views they did not agree with when speaking publicly.

h. Oppositionists were prohibited from presenting a proposal for a vote and banned from appealing the decision to a higher body.

i. Oppositionists were repeatedly attacked as playing into the hands of counterrevolutionaries.

j. The secret police was used against critics inside the Communist Party via surveillance, interrogation, entrapment and arrest.

k. Oppositionists were expelled from the RCP for disagreement.

j. Lenin’s singling out opponents who he suggested should be shot was not a way to build solidarity among comrades.

Those who seemed to most frequently engineer the destruction of the WO were Lenin, Zinoviev, Trostky and Bukharin. Though Stalin’s name does appear among those carrying out the suppression, it does not appear as prominently as these. History suggests that Stalin successfully learned the lessons they taught.

Battle for supremacy
As Lenin’s health faded, conflict over succession became extreme. The “triumvirate” of Stalin, Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev manipulated election to the January 1924 13th Party Congress as seamlessly as the party center had done against the WO. Though Shlyapnikov stood outside of the ensuing factional fights, he publicized strong opposition to Stalin’s “socialism in one country,” which resulted in his being denied the right to speak at the 14th Congress in May 1925. That year, Zinoviev and Kamenev echoed Shlyapnikov’s concern and created the “United Opposition” (UO) with Trotsky. Stalin then made sure that they were removed from positions, just as the party center had done to the WO. [46]

Shlyapnikov wrote of his agreements and disagreements with Trotsky and concluded that Trotsky had little chance of grabbing party leadership. Accusations of who did what to whom and why during 1923-27 became weird. Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev did their best to woo WO supporters to their group and denounced the increasing variety of tactics Stalin used against them, despite their similarity to the tactics that they had used against the WO. Stalin simultaneously aimed his guns on Shlyapnikov with the falsified “Baku Letter,” a document that had been altered to imply WO supporters wanted to dissolve Communist Parties in western Europe. [47]

After Stalin’s thugs disrupted their meetings, Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev admitted that the UO had lost, denounced Shlyapnikov for his WO ideas, and promised to dissolve their group. Historian Isaac Deutscher wrote that Shlyapnikov gave in to Stalin although it was actually the UO that did so. In fact, a Pravda article by Valerian Kuibyshev denounced Shlyapnikov for failing to recognize his errors as Trotsky and Zinoviev had done. [48]

The UO became outraged at Stalin’s bungling of foreign affairs and, despite their pledge to end factionalism, in May 1927 issued the “Declaration of the 83.” [49] Shlyapnikov and his allies were not cosigners and have been criticized ever since for not doing so.

Shlyapnikov’s biographer Barbara Allen interprets his unwillingness to sign the declaration as due to (1) Trotsky’s refusal to invite Shlyapnikov to participate in writing or editing it, and (2) Trotsky’s refusal to withdraw his condemnation of the WO made the previous year. [50] Though it is clear that a prominent leader like Shlyapnikov would not attach his name to a document for which he was excluded from drafting and omitted multiple WO beliefs, issues separating the WO from the UO ran far deeper.

In 1927 Leon Trotsky was one of the most politically unstable leaders of the RCP, having occupied virtually every position on the Social Democratic spectrum. First, he was a Menshevik denouncing Lenin’s authoritarianism; then, he organized his own group around his personality; then, he was reborn as the unquestioning disciple of Lenin; then, in 1919, he and Bukharin cohered the extreme right wing faction in opposition to both Lenin and the WO. As a Menshevik, Trotsky had praised internal party democracy; then, he flip-flopped to become a major opponent of party democracy, wrote several chapters in the book of suppression of dissent, and helped develop practices to crush party opponents; and finally, he stomped his foot in fury as he became the victim of the very rules and practices for which he was the co-author. Realizing that having been a right-wing Bolshevik did not worked out so well, Trotsky reappeared as a left oppositionist. His disciples have worshiped him as “leftist” ever since.

Trotsky had ridiculed Kollontai’s lack of faith in specialists and bureaucrats during the 1921 Party Congress, but zigzagged in 1923 to demand that the industrial bureaucracy be “destroyed.” [51] Meanwhile, Shlyapnikov and Kollontai maintained the same position they had had for years – preserve specialists as advisers and elect managers. The contrast was deep because Shlyapnikov’s political life had centered on workplace democracy while Trotsky pulled the democracy rabbit out of his hat when convenient.

Trotsky’s inconsistency, along with Kamenev’s and Zinoviev’s alignment and realignment of factional allies would make any reasonable person ask: “What will the UO do to our economic program if they actually defeat Stalin and Bukharin?” Since those who became the UO had scorned WO ideas throughout the 1919-21 debates and repeated that scorn in 1926, there was no reason to believe that it would not happen again. It would not have been out of character for Shlyapnikov to have asked himself if the same group which helped remove the WO from influence was now toying with it to get support while covertly planning to dump it once getting the upper hand over Stalin. The UO’s absence of interest in soliciting input from WO supporters when drafting its program must have exacerbated suspicions of its long-term objectives.

Though both Kollontai and Shlyapnikov continued to work inside the RCP, the infighting led them in different directions. Kollontai wrote that early in life she had been shy and unsure of herself. The severity of attacks on her views and personality seem to have traumatized and embittered her. Kollontai played a critical role in arranging a treaty of mutual recognition between Norway and the USSR in February 1924 and followed that with diplomatic work in Mexico. She continued to address the oppression of women, even when Trotsky’s opposition would not. [52]

In his autobiography Trotsky attacked Kollontai for “bowing” to Stalin. Trotsky seemed to assume that anyone who did not bow to him supported every proclamation from Stalin. In 1927, she wrote that “… the masses distrust the opposition … The formation of a bloc with yesterday’s opponents is completely incomprehensible.” [53] This slap at the unnamed Kamemev and Zinoviev was hardly groveling to Stalin. Shlyapnikov nevertheless told her of his disapproval. [54] Though Kollontai’s articles became infrequent, she occasionally wrote about women’s issues and continued diplomatic work with Norway and Sweden until her death in March 1952. [55]

Shlyapnikov under Stalin
As Stalin consolidated power Shlyapnikov continued his course of working within the RCP while trying to do what he could to improve the condition of workers. This required him to repeatedly deny accusations of factionalism. During 1926-27 a Trotskyist detained in Omsk tried to deflect attention with claims that a secretly formed WO group had illegal literature and printing equipment and had tried to link up with other cities. Shlyapnikov had to assure the secret police that he had warned his colleagues against doing any of these. [56]

As Shlyapnikov retreated into writing memoirs of the revolution, he was sharply criticized for failures to glorify Stalin. Refusing to recant, he was purged from the RCP in 1933. The hate campaign went into high gear: Stalin’s supporters began condemning those who failed to condemn Shlyapnikov. [57]

Until the end, Shlyapnikov was a worker-intellectual who focused on how the organization of labor could be improved. Throughout his life workplace democracy and industrial productivity were one and the same goal. The WO’s central concept was that those who labor every day understand the best ways to sustain and enhance production processes. Even before the revolution, Shlyapnikov had opposed speed-up, noting that he saw more industrial accidents with an 8-hour day than the old 11-hour day. As Trotsky preached that labor productivity must be increased by cracking the Bolshevik whip, Shlyapnikov patiently explained that the real problem was bottlenecks that prevented supplies from reaching factories. He realized that ultra-specialization of factories intensified the bottlenecks and countered that each factory should be able to produce as much basic machinery as feasible. [58]

A fundamental breach with the party center was the WO belief that effective management of industry could only occur if non-Bolsheviks were included in decision-making. Lenin, Trotsky and others insisted that decisions be left to Bolsheviks who were required to vote as directed by party discipline. Understanding that hunger and cold would worsen low productivity, the WO stood aghast at Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP) that would prioritize creating rich peasants over increasing food and fuel for industrial workers.

Instead of relying on the NEP’s use of the market to help peasants, Shlyapnikov advocated building up industry and improving wages so peasants could more easily sell bread to urban workers. Shlyapnikov’s approach to the peasantry was to urge voluntary formation of cooperatives to improve agricultural productivity (in contrast to the forced collectivization that Stalin would carry out). [59]

When Trotsky proposed to close small factories and concentrate industry in 1923, Shlyapnikov pointed out that unemployment was already ravaging Russia’s cities. Having faith in Russia’s workers, Shlyapnikov advocated building up industry by better use of resources, such as using gold to build domestic machines rather than buying foreign products. [60]

Nevertheless, Shlyapnikov had such a strong knowledge of industrial processes that in 1927 he was sent to western Europe to purchase high quality machinery. Back in Russia, he realized that a major factor interfering with planning was that distortions in data increased with each level of management. [61]

As the Soviet Union began its first 5-year plan, Shlyapnikov was made leader of the metal ware-industries association in 1931. There he coordinated the transition to making precision instruments required for airplane, auto and tractor manufacture. [62]

Even after his 1935 arrest Shlyapnikov worked as an assistant director of transportation in Astrakhan where he was in exile. His son Yuri, who was allowed to visit him in 1936, was impressed with Shlyapnikov’s design of a timesaving machine for unloading bread. This was the year before his execution. [63]

Since Shlyapnikov’s ideas for workers’ control of industry were known throughout Russia, Stalin needed to destroy him, especially after the widespread labor discontent of 1932. Shlyapnikov was also a thorn in Stalin’s side because he refused to admit errors as Trotsky and Zinoviev had done in 1926. Praise of the great leader was in vogue during the 17th Party Congress in 1934, but Shlyapnikov never joined the chorus. Shlyapnikov’s unwillingness to bend to Stalin could well have been the reason that there was no public show trial for him as there was for luminaries who confessed to “counter-revolutionary” activity, including Bukharin, Zinoviev, Kamenev and many others. [64]

Shlyapnikov was dangerous to every team in power since the revolution because he elbowed room for his ideas while playing by their rules. When the 10th Party Congress forbade factions, the WO was dissolved (even though the party center continued its own factional behavior). As the concept of factional behavior broadened, Shlyapnikov worked with his co-thinkers to operate as best they could, unlike Trotsky who enthusiastically enforced rules when part of the ruling clique and ignored the same rules when he was on the outside looking in.

Throughout his life as a dissident, Shlyapnikov continually made quips at those who failed to grasp the holes in their own rules. When Shlyapnikov’s interrogators first questioned him about “anti-party views,” he asked if they were attributing “their own thoughts to him.” When asked why he did not criticize his own historical writings, he retorted that the party had not assigned him to write historical fiction. In court for his 1933 purge trial due to a long list of anti-party crimes, he queried as to how such criminal activity could have occurred for 16 years with no one noticing. Under interrogation in 1935 for an alleged conspiracy, he noted the absurdity of claiming that he would secretly work with Zinoviev in 1932, when Zinoviev’s opposition was defeated, even though he had nothing to do with it in the 1920s when it was strongest. [65]

Stalin was never known for having a keen since of humor. He decided that Shlyapnikov would have the same fate as other thought criminals. Shlyapnikov was re-arrested in September 1936 as one of thousands caught up in the Great Terror. The only thing laughable about Stalin’s cabal was the charges they came up with for their victims. On September 2, 1937 the court found Shlyapnikov guilty of heading the “anti-Soviet terrorist organization” called the Workers’ Opposition, which had conspired with “Trotskyist-Zinovievist and right-Bukharinist terrorists.” Shlyapnikov was shot in Moscow the same day. [66] The isolation and persecution of Shlyapnikov by Lenin had facilitated his execution by Stalin.

Looking forward
Yes, Stalin was very wicked. But he was not a particularly creative thinker. Stalin carried out an enormous expansion and modification of techniques of suppression of those who preceded him. Understanding of what led to his consolidation of power is essential to building organizations today that are democratic and revolutionary.

The ghost of the WO haunts every scenario of progressive activity. Whether we seek to create democratic unions, establish independent political parties, grow local and healthy food or build consumer cooperatives, we repeatedly confront those who would control us from above. Learning from the legacy of the WO requires exploring its weakness as we appreciate its strengths.

During each phase of the Russian Revolution, there were those who criticized WO leaders for failing to leave the RCP and form an independent party. There is no agreement on when that should have occurred. Would it have been too early in 1919 when Shlyapnikov returned to Moscow and heard that complaints against top-down management were spreading across Russia?

Was the time ripe in 1920 when the Civil War was over and militarization of labor was becoming the word of the day? Or was the critical hour the 10th Party Congress that, in 1921, forbade the WO from using its name or organizing? Or, perhaps 1922, when former WO members were barred from sharing concerns internationally? Would it have been too late in 1929 when Stalin’s policies of forced collectivization resulted in millions of deaths? Despite worker protests in 1932, Stalin had consolidated power to such an extent that an opposition party could scarcely have survived.

Whatever the “correct” date might have been, it most definitely was not 1927, when the United Opposition issued the “Declaration of the 83.” By then, virtually everyone supporting WO ideas understood that siding with Trotsky over Stalin would mean replacing one authoritarian egomaniac with another. To bloc with those who had utter contempt for workplace democracy until it became politically expedient to feign solidarity would have betrayed everything the WO had worked for.

Was the steady (though often circuitous) march toward economic centralization inevitable, as historian E. H. Carr thought? [67] If so, WO concepts were whimsical fantasies that must be brushed aside now as then. Central control remains an essential part of Leninist thought, whether it appears as Trotskyism or Maoism. The assumption is that the only form a post-capitalist society can take is having one ruling clique over a single party that controls the economy and work life. Why the WO challenge to this view was defeated remains critical today.

In a world being devastated by climate change, racist xenophobia, neoliberalism and the mindless worship of object possession, the end of capitalism could well be as terrifying as the starvation which engulfed Russian cities at the time of its revolution. Desperate people, robbed of their self-confidence, are prone to bending to strong leaders rather than keeping power in their collective hands. Struggles by the WO show the need to never let power-mongers cohere their control and become a new ruling class. Worker self-management, agricultural collectives, and consumer cooperatives can join together to create a democratic society without being dominated either by corporate markets or vanguardist elites.

The ultimate failure of the WO was, in part, due to a lack of the political/manipulative adroitness of Lenin. It was, in part, due to the lack of writing brilliance of Trotsky. More than anything else, it was a lack of self-confidence that led the WO to look for support from those determined to destroy it. Shlyapnikov spent his entire political life having faith in the Bolshevik organization. He was an outstanding figure in the revolution because his ultimate weakness was the same as his greatness – his failure to act as though he would be Prince.

Observers saw Shlyapnikov as easily outmaneuvered and no match for Lenin. When she broke off her romantic relationship with him in 1916, Kollontai concluded that, in political battles, Shlyapnikov was “helpless and clumsy.” [68] While Kollontai may have hit the nail on the head in recognizing Shlyapnikov’s political naiveté, the hammer rebounded. Lenin’s friends often referred to him as “Ilyich.” She ended her most famous work, The Workers’ Opposition, completed before the 10th Party Congress, with the prophesy “Ilyich will be with us yet.” [69] Even as Lenin was devising a strategy to destroy the WO, Kollontai fantasized that he would advance its cause. Kollontai’s placing her hope in Lenin manifests the pathos of those who sought for the underclass to become its own master.

Many believe that honoring the great accomplishments of leaders like Lenin and Trotsky requires (1) overlooking the enormity of their mistakes and (2) denigrating the contributions of those like Shlyapnikov and Kollontai. The Russian Revolution shows us that when oppressed people partner with those who have the intellectual capabilities of Bolshevik leaders, sooner or later the underclass will need to wrest control from their hands, even as the new leaders shriek that they must be able to dominate society because the counter-revolution is so strong.

In hindsight, all but the most blind can see that ultra-centralization which dismembered workplace self-management, created not socialism, but a new type of rule, which has been called a vanguard, bureaucratic or coordinator ruling class. Building a classless society requires ending the dichotomy between controllers and controlled. Leaders must be aware of the power they have and be willing to step aside rather than holding onto power for decades.

More important, we need to build a culture of those not in leadership positions stepping up to the plate to use the abilities they may have never known they had. Even more important, rank-and-file members must insist and demand that leaders teach them the organizing, speaking and writing skills that are necessary to replace them. Every progressive group – not just unions, but also political parties, and groups focused on community organizing, environmental protection, anti-imperialism, and rights of the specially oppressed – need to vastly expand the practice of rotating the role of coordinators. This is what it means to develop a leadership that negates itself in the process of becoming.

This article is based on a January 2018 presentation at Legacy Books & Cafe in St. Louis, Missouri. Don Fitz, who can be reached at fitzdon@aol.com, was the 2016 candidate of the Missouri Green Party for Governor. He is on the Editorial Board of Green Social Thought and is Outreach Coordinator for the Green Party of St. Louis.


1. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party”. In Selected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Vol 1 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969).

2. V. I. Lenin, “The State and Revolution”. In Selected Works of V. I. Lenin, Vol 2 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1970).

3. Barbara C. Allen, Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885-1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik (Chicago IL: Haymarket Books, 2015), 106.

4. Ibid., 133.

5. Edward Hallet Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution: 1917-1923. Vol 2 (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1985), 85.

6. Allen, 122.

7. Ibid., 131.

8. Ibid., 137-139.

9. Ibid., 1, 158.

10. Ibid., 141.

11. Ibid., 143.

12. Ibid., 146-147.

13. Ibid., 174, 160.

14. Ibid., 162.

15. Ibid., 167.

16. Carr, 215.

17. Allen, 166.

18. Ibid., 167.

19. Carr, 29-30.

20. Ibid, 65, 68.

21. Ibid., 58.

22. Allen, 132.

23. Ibid., 163-164.

24. Ibid., 72-73.

25. Alexandra Kollontai, The Workers’ Opposition. In Alix Holt, Selected Writings of Alexandra Kollontai (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1980), 152, 163-164.

26. Ibid., 179, 195-197.

27, Allen, 182-184.

28. Ibid., 184-185.

29. Ibid., 191, 204.

30. Ibid., 216.

31. Ibid., 209.

32. Ibid., 200-202.

33. Ibid., 211-212.

34. Ibid., 213.

35. Ibid., 214.

36. Ibid., 212, 218, 229.

37. Ibid., 232.

38. Ibid., 233.

39. Ibid., 237.

40. Ibid., 240.

41. Ibid., 238.

42. Ibid., 245.

43. Ibid., 247.

44. Ibid., 248.

45. Ibid., 210, 241, 254-257.

46. Ibid., 262.

47. Ibid., 262, 270-272.

48. Ibid., 274-277.

49. Ibid., 279.

50. Ibid.

51. Ibid., 261.

52. Alix Holt, Selected Writings of Alexandra Kollontai (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1980), 29, 293, 297.

53. Ibid., 298.

54. Allen, 281.

55. Holt, 23.

56. Allen, 293-305.

57. Ibid., 309, 313.

58. Ibid., 46, 306.

59. Ibid., 261, 265.

60. Ibid., 261.

61. Ibid., 288-290, 343.

62. Ibid., 305.

63. Ibid., 360.

64. Ibid., 277, 320, 331-332.

65. Ibid., 319, 323, 327, 344.

66. Ibid., 363.

67. Carr, 55-95.

68. Allen, 70, 80.

69. Kollontai, 200.

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