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Archive for the ‘Socialism From Below or Workers’ Opposition’ Category

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

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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-

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

Posted by admin On March - 14 - 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.

Hal Draper’s contribution to revolutionary Marxism Socialism from Below-Joel Geier

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Hal Draper’s contribution to revolutionary Marxism
Socialism from Below
By Joel Geier

Fifty-one years ago the Berkeley Independent Socialist Club published Hal Draper’s The Two Souls ofSocialism.1 Of the hundreds of radical pamphlets published in the 1960s, Two Souls has had perhaps the longest-lasting impact. Appearing at a time when various forms of top-down versions of socialism—social democracy, Stalinism, and Maoism—were in vogue, its emphasis on workers’ self-emancipation set it clearly apart. Moreover, Draper did not merely reintroduce genuine Marxism to a new generation; in its originality and clarity, Two Souls—and the subsequent work that elaborated in detail on his arguments—presented a different way of looking at the world, at socialism, and at competing ideologies.

Traditional interpretations maintained that the essential divisions in the socialist movement were between reform and revolution, pacifism versus violence, and democracy versus authoritarianism. Two Souls took a somewhat different angle, namely, that “throughout the history of socialist movements and ideas, the fundamental divide is between Socialism-From-Above and Socialism-From-Below,”2 thus introducing the vocabulary, narrative, and ideas of socialism from below as the contemporary representation of revolutionary Marxism.

The unifying feature of the many varieties of socialism from above, Draper argued, is distrust or opposition to the working-class’s potential to recreate society based on its own initiative. Socialism from above, Draper specified, is the idea that socialism “must be handed down to the grateful masses in one form or another, by a ruling elite not subject to their control in fact.”3 Distrust of the mass’s ability to rule and denial of democratic control from below are the core tenets of the many variants of socialism from above that have dominated the history of the socialist movement.

The heart of socialism from below is the understanding that “socialism can be realized only through the self-emancipation of activated masses in motion, reaching out for freedom with their own hands, mobilized ‘from below’ in a struggle to take charge of their own destiny, as actors (not merely subjects) on the stage of history.”4 These few words summarize what Draper would later work for decades to restore and defend as the heart of revolutionary Marxism in his analysis of the entire body of Marx’s political writings, as presented in numerous articles, as well as in his indispensable, magnificent multivolume series, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution (KMTR).

A major thesis of Two Souls was that social democracy and Stalinism, the two major self-styled socialisms from above, despite their real and obvious differences, both identify socialism with the statification of the economy, and both reject workers’ democratic rule as the foundation of socialism. Long before Stalinism, Eduard Bernstein, the theoretical father of social-democratic reformism, was the first to revise Marxism to eliminate working-class self-emancipation from its essence, substituting “superior educated” parliamentary representatives for the “uninformed masses” as the agency for socialism. Social democracy and Stalinism, whose advocates strongly denied their similarities, were the dominant radical ideologies that divided the socialist movement during Draper’s political life, which was split between those who supported “democratic” Washington or “socialist” Moscow. These constrained political choices debilitated the working-class movement long before the wrecking operations of neoliberal capitalism began.

Draper’s other major insight in Two Souls was to show how Marx closely linked revolutionary democracy and revolutionary socialism. Draper traced Marx’s path as “the first socialist thinker and leader who came to socialism through the struggle for liberal democracy,” beginning political life as a “radical democratic extremist,” defending all democratic rights throughout his life, and insisting that democracy meant control from below. Before Marx, “Nowhere did the line of the Socialist Idea intersect with the line of Democracy-from-Below,”5 joining collectivism with democracy. Draper demonstrated that only proletarian socialism could merge collectivism with democracy. Without this fusion of revolutionary democracy and revolutionary socialism, he argued, all other radical variants eventually veer off into some form of socialism from above.

Yet Draper showed that Marx was not so naïve as to think that workers could at any moment run society. To do so, they would have to transform their consciousness and themselves through struggle. As Marx argued to the Communist League in 1850,

We say to the workers: “You will have to go through 15 or 20 or 50 years of civil wars and international wars, not only in order to change extant conditions, but also in order to change yourselves and render yourselves fit for political domination”; you on the other hand say to the workers: “We must attain to power at once, or else we may just as well go to sleep.”6

“This is Marx’s program for the working-class movement,” wrote Draper, “as against those who say the workers can take power any Sunday, and those who say never.”7

Two Souls then applies these insights by contrasting the theory and practice of different, important socialists from above and below. Draper showed that the fathers of anarchism, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Mikhail Bakunin, were not the libertarians they are claimed to be but authoritarian opponents of all democracy, including a workers’ state. Proudhon, for example, opposed the right to strike. Draper exposed the German Social Democrats Ferdinand Lassalle, and Eduard Bernstein, the English Fabians, and the American nationalist Edward Bellamy—state socialists, revisionists, and would-be reformists—as glorifiers of the existing state and its bureaucracy with its lack of democratic control from below. He contrasted them with contemporary revolutionary champions of workers’ control: William Morris, Rosa Luxemburg, and Eugene Debs, among others. Draper later expanded the pamphlet’s short historical overview of socialism from above with greater depth in the “Critique of Other Socialisms” section of his KMTR.8

Two Souls was a transformative text for those socialists attempting to uphold and revive genuine Marxism in a period dominated by variants of socialism from above. Its introduction defined the political identity of the Independent Socialist Clubs, founded by Draper (along with this author) in Berkeley in 1964. Draper’s ideas were also shared by the International Socialists (IS) in Britain and the International Socialist tendency, a collection of small left organizations internationally, committed to opposing both US imperialism and Stalinism, and that were closely connected to the IS in the UK. Two Souls continues to inform the politics of the International Socialist Organization.

Though Two Souls gained some notoriety on the left, most of Draper’s valuable contributions to Marxism are almost unknown, invisible to today’s radicals. And yet, Draper was arguably the most important American author and defender of international socialist politics in the last half of the twentieth century. Draper’s substantial theoretical innovations came in the period when Marxism was also being distorted beyond recognition by academic reinterpretations that considered Marxism as a form of “class reductionism.”

Draper was resolute in keeping revolutionary ideas alive in those hollow years. Much as Lenin had done in his work State and Revolution, Draper worked to bring Marx’s views—as Marx himself expressed them—to light, to free them from the distortions of “friends” as well as enemies.

The aim of this essay is to introduce to the newly emerging socialist movement Draper’s central role as the Marxist navigator of late-twentieth-century American socialism, free of all the distortions of socialism from above. In that spirit, this article will present a short survey of his work in the context of his political activity.

Along with Engels, Draper believed that Marx’s “real mission in life was to contribute…to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat . . . to make [it] conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the conditions of its emancipation.”9

Born Harold Dubinksy in Brooklyn in 1914, the son of Jewish parents who emigrated from Ukraine, Draper joined the youth organization of the Socialist Party, the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL), when he was a teenager, becoming one of the outstanding socialist student leaders of the 1930s in the student antiwar strikes and in the American Student Union.10 His major achievement in the 1930s was winning the YPSL to the Trotskyist Fourth International—the association of international organizations and parties adhering to the politics of Leon Trotsky, the exiled leader of the Russian revolution who had broken with Russia’s rising bureaucratic state under Stalin. As Draper reported in the September 1937 issue of Socialist Appeal, “The Young People’s Socialist League became the first organization of the Second International to go over to the banner of the Fourth Internationalist movement by action of its 9th National Convention.”11 It was unfortunately, an unmatched record; no other Second International organization ever followed. As a Trotskyist, Draper took part in the US Socialist Workers’ Party founding convention in 1937–38.

But the Fourth International soon revealed that it was unprepared for the eruption of Russian imperialism and the spread of Stalinism beyond Russia. In August 1939, Stalin and Hitler signed a neutrality pact in which they agreed to militarily carve up Poland between them. With crucial German support, Russia occupied Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and parts of Finland and Romania. In return, the Russians provided the Nazis with secure borders to successfully fight a one-front war in the West, which led to the conquest of Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, and France.

The Trotskyist movement maintained that since nationalized property was a conquest of the revolution, Russia remained a workers’ state in spite of the fact that workers were not in control. On these grounds, they supported the Russians in this war of foreign conquest and occupation, calling upon the workers of the invaded countries to assist the Russian army. They claimed that doing so was “defending Russia from imperialist attack.”

Draper was part of a group of SWP leaders that included Max Shachtman, James Burnham, and Martin Abern who refused to support the Soviet invasion and occupation of Eastern European states, and concluded that Russia under Stalin had developed into a new form of class society. The dissidents in 1940 raised a slogan that summarized their opposition to all sides in the war as imperialist, and which would be their signature banner for decades: “Neither Washington nor Moscow, but for the Third Camp of International Socialism.”12 Draper, who as head of the YPSL had led most of its members into the SWP, now as national secretary of the YPSL Fourth International led 90 percent of its members into the new Trotskyist opposition as the movement split over World War II.

Draper was part of the opposition team developing the new position that, under Stalinism, the bureaucracy had emerged as a collectivized ruling class. The Trotskyist majority argued that since the invading Russian army was nationalizing property, destroying the capitalist class, and setting up social systems identical to those of the “Russian workers’ state,” it was carrying out the socialist revolution from above through “bureaucratic, military means.” The opposition, which soon left the SWP to form the Workers’ Party (WP), insisted that, while bourgeois revolutions were often carried out from above, there was no such thing as a socialist revolution from above: the socialist revolution, in Marx’s words, could only be achieved through the self-emancipation of the proletariat.13

The WP restored the theory that workers’ democracy is central to socialism by reexamining what constitutes a workers’ state when property is nationalized. When property is nationalized, they concluded, the question becomes: Who owns and controls the state that is the repository of nationalized property? Workers’ democracy is not an added extra but an essential element; socialism cannot exist without workers’ control of nationalized property, the economy, and the state. In Marx’s words, it is “the raising of the working class to [the] position of ruling class, to win the battle for democracy” that defines a workers’ state. When the working class has no power, there is no workers’ state; those who have power, the bureaucracy, are actually the ruling class.

These ideas, which overcame confusion that arose during the process of degeneration of the Russian Revolution, were first developed in the Workers’ Party under the collective leadership of Max Shachtman, Martin Abern, C. L. R. James, Joseph Carter, Ernest Rice McKinney, Albert Glotzer, Raya Dunayevskaya, Irving Howe, Julius Jacobson, and many other veteran Trotskyists. Draper’s collaboration was essential in developing these positions; he spent the rest of his life elaborating upon them. Most of his work cannot be separated from the collective contribution of the WP and its successors.14

Draper was a shipyard worker in San Pedro, California, and a rank-and-file trade union militant during World War II. He took an active part in the finest moment of the WP’s history: its class-struggle approach to antiwar work. That work created rank-and-file groups in major industrial unions in opposition to the pro-war no-strike pledge and class collaboration with the War Labor Board—a pledge signed by the trade-union bureaucracy and supported by the social democrats and Stalinists. In the ensuing great wildcat-strike wave of the war years, the WP was the only radical group willing and able to provide direction and leadership.

When Draper was laid off from the shipyards, he became a full-time organizer for the Los Angeles branch of the WP. His proudest achievement as branch organizer was coordinating trade union work and leading opposition to racism and to fascists through direct working-class mass mobilization, without calling upon the state to ban free speech.

In his article “Free Speech and Political Struggle,” he drew upon these lessons to answer similar questions that arose in the 1960s and are relevant today in the fight against the right wing. “Revolutionary socialists,” he argued, “want to push to the limit . . . the fullest democratic involvement of the great mass of the people . . . all the way [without which] no progressive social transformation is possible.” But he did not reduce all social struggles (strikes, wars, revolutions, etc.) to questions of free speech. “Only juridical cretins can believe that all social struggles are resolved by any kind of speech, free or otherwise…. [S]ocial struggles are decided by the contest of power.”15

In 1948, Draper was called back to New York to help stabilize the WP as editor of the New International, the group’s theoretical monthly. In 1949, the WP reorganized itself as the Independent Socialist League (ISL)—concluding that its size did not warrant calling itself a “party”—with Draper as the editor of its newspaper, Labor Action. For the next eight years, he was pivotal in holding the ISL together by almost singlehandedly putting out a lively newsweekly. At times he wrote entire issues under pen names (Philip Coben, Bernard Cramer, Paul Temple, and H. Spector) to disguise that this stimulating newspaper was the work of one person. A major benefit of Labor Action was its role in educating the Socialist Youth League (later the Young Socialist League), aligned with the ISL—the sole non-Stalinist socialist youth organization of the period. This small youth renewal maintained the continuity of revolutionary socialism, playing an outsized role in the new civil rights movement, and producing a remarkable number of radical leaders of the 1960s as well as cadres for both the future International Socialists (IS) and Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

Draper’s journalism in the years of reaction strengthened the ISL’s political outlook and international influence, despite its ongoing decline. Labor Action was distinguished by its defense of civil liberties against the anti-Communist witch hunts, championing the emerging civil rights movement, defense of the labor movement, implacable hostility to all imperialism, and support of class struggle and revolt everywhere it appeared. While Labor Action is archived in the Marxists Internet Archive (marxists.org), the lack of an index means that the vast majority of Draper’s writings are not readily accessible.16

At the end of the 1940s, Draper directed the ISL’s attempt to deal with the postwar reality that had destroyed its prewar Trotskyist perspective that the end of the war would result in socialist revolution in the capitalist countries and that Stalinism could not survive the war. The ISL dropped the revolutionary dogma that capitalism was no longer capable of expanding, and introduced the “permanent war economy” theory as a starting point to explain the postwar boom.17

The expansion of Stalinism led many ex-radicals, like George Orwell and Hannah Arendt, to support the West, with theories that Stalinism atomized the working class, rendering it incapable of resistance, thus ending class struggle and history. Draper and Shachtman argued instead that Stalinism’s class and national contradictions showed it would be an unstable, short-lived system. Their position was soon confirmed by the Titoist Yugoslav Communist split with Moscow and by working-class revolts in East Germany, Poland, and Hungary, about which Draper wrote extensively.18 But political clarity was not enough to overcome demoralization as revolutionary prospects faded. Cold War McCarthyism hit the working-class left, and the WP went into a long, drawn-out political and organizational decline.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Draper was the most prominent American advocate of third-camp socialism. His was a heroic but losing fight against the drift of the socialist movement toward accommodating and capitulating to Washington or Moscow. He wrote a stream of exposés of the ruling class’s actions, maneuvers, dynamics, policies, and aims for world domination. Some of his strongest polemics were against his former comrades of the WP/ISL, led by Max Shachtman and later Michael Harrington, as they integrated into the pro-Western camp. In 1961, for example, he published a pamphlet that included a speech that Shachtman had delivered to the SP supporting the CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, along with his own critique of Shachtman’s arguments.19 Draper’s writings from this period left a strong anti-imperialist heritage for his comrades in the International Socialists to build upon, particularly when they were isolated on the left (as when they publicly opposed Israel’s 1967 War) or faced apologetics for the foreign policies of so-called “progressive” ruling classes.

Only a few of Draper’s antiwar articles are easily available. One collection, America as Overlord,20 begins with “Behind Yalta: The Truth About the War,” a superb exposé that took up the entire April 4, 1955, issue of Labor Action.21 It examined the just-released papers of the February 1945 Yalta Conference, in which the “three great democrats,” Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, met to celebrate their approaching victory by dividing Europe as the spoils of war. As Churchill claims to have said to Stalin at Yalta: “Don’t let us get at cross purposes in small ways. So far as Britain and Russia are concerned, how would it do for you to have 90 percent predominance in Romania, for us to have 90 percent of the say in Greece, and go fifty-fifty about Yugoslavia?”22 Draper’s study of the Yalta papers highlighted the imperialist deals that World War II was really about; the contempt that the Big Three had for less powerful nations, including their allies; and the unfolding imperialist rivalries between the three that were to become harbingers of the Cold War. Draper revealed that, at Yalta, the rivalry between Britain and the United States was greater than that between either of them and Russia. Neither the Americans nor the British understood the profound change in the imperialist balance of forces that was shortly to become apparent, beginning the next round of imperialist competition between America and the USSR.

Imperialist crimes examined

In the 1950s Draper focused on the major imperialist crimes of the period (Korea, Suez, Algeria, Hungary), but he also wrote on imperialist outrages others neglected, with essays on America’s role in Guatemala, Okinawa, Samoa, and Guam. The highlight of the collection in America as Overlord are bookend pieces on distinct phases of American imperialism. In the essay “America as Arbiter,” Draper examines the Suez crisis to probe the changes in relations between the United States and the other capitalist powers that resulted from World War II. He defines this new phase of imperialism in the role of the United States as organizer of world capitalism, the superpower that acts as “mediator and arbiter” of its imperialist camp—one that, to be sure, had its own interests within that camp, but had to reconcile the interests of the conflicting capitalist powers into one camp under its domination. Draper connects this to the feudal relation—not of master and serf but of overlord and vassal—and probes the contradictions of this new role as policeman, dominator, organizer, and arbiter for global capitalism.23

The book ends with a wonderful essay that is still relevant as a guide on how to support progressive wars, despite their limitations. “The ABC of National Liberation Movements” was written in 1968, after a massive military action by the forces of the National Liberation Front throughout Vietnam (the Tet offensive), to change the position of the Independent Socialist Clubs.24 Draper argues in an introductory note that Tet revealed that the “war in Vietnam was not primarily a civil war between two Vietnamese sides, one of which (the old reactionary side) was being supported by the imported arms of western imperialists. The Tet offensive showed conclusively that the overwhelming majority of the Vietnamese supported the NLF either actively or passively.”

Despite the NLF’s Stalinist politics, which the ISC continued to oppose, it was necessary to support the NLF’s victory as a struggle for self-determination against foreign imperialist aggression. Draper described the historical support of the Marxist movement for genuine wars of national liberation or for democratic rights, despite the undemocratic character and reactionary politics of the class and/or political forces leading them. In doing so, he draws out the distinction between political and military support—“military support” being the Marxist term for supporting the victory of one side without providing political support for its leadership. He then explains the application of this revolutionary policy in previous wars, in a survey that includes China under Chiang Kai-shek against Japanese attack; Yugoslavia under Marshal Tito against a potential Russian invasion; and Ethiopia under Haile Selassie against Mussolini’s Italy, among others. Though written contemporaneously to address a needed adjustment to a political line, it remains a powerful education on Marxist war policy.

The other volume of Draper’s 1950s antiwar essays is War and Revolution: Lenin and the Myth of Revolutionary Defeatism.25 This book is a primer on all aspects of antiwar methodology. Draper addressed the confused thinking within the socialist movement as it attempted to maintain Lenin’s slogan that he issued with the outbreak of World War I of “revolutionary defeatism.” In normal language, calling for the defeat of one side in a conflict implies that you support the victory of the other side. Most revolutionaries thought that if you were not for defeat, then somehow you were for the defense. But as Draper said, “This defeatism of Lenin’s sought to combine some variety of ‘defeat of your own government’ with the antiwar policy of opposition to both war camps.” The murkiness of the position became obvious during World War II for socialists who did not support the Allied war but were not calling for the defeat of the United States by Nazi Germany.

In exploring the history of this slogan in Lenin’s work, Draper discovered that it originated in the Russo-Japanese War, when he supported the defeat of Russia and the victory of “progressive” Japan; this was prior to his understanding of modern imperialism. Lenin later argued that the defeat slogan applied only to reactionary tsarist Russia, not to other countries. But the German Social Democratic Party used precisely that argument to justify its social-patriotic line for supporting Germany against Russia in World War I. Lenin’s slogan became more confusing when socialists attempted to apply it to all countries in an inter-imperialist war such as World War I, calling for the defeat of all while disclaiming victory for any. Lenin justified his position by arguing that calling for defeat would facilitate revolution—it was a way to cut against any concession to ones “own” government’s patriotism. But revolution should not be equated with defeat, nor does defeat necessarily facilitate revolution—it can just as easily facilitate reaction. Lenin had firsthand experience of that danger in the Russian Revolution. The plots of General Kornilov, Alexander Kerensky (president of the provisional government), and others were designed to produce military setbacks—the surrender of Petrograd, and even Russia’s defeat by Germany as a lesser evil—in order to facilitate the victory of the counterrevolution.

Draper sympathetically contrasted the views of leading anti-war internationalists like Luxemburg and Trotsky, who were against both imperialist camps; but in opposing the military victory of their own government, they did not counterpose a desire for its military defeat. Draper’s investigation showed that Lenin abandoned revolutionary defeatism in 1916, didn’t raise it during the Russian Revolution, and never repeated it. The position did not appear in any early Comintern documents.

Zinoviev revived “revolutionary defeatism” in the fight against the Left Opposition to magnify historical differences between Trotsky and Lenin. It was incorporated into the program at the Sixth Comintern Congress of 1928. Defeatism became integrated into the revolutionary canon as the only consistent antiwar policy. Draper’s intellectual courage and principled scholarship caused him to challenge existing revolutionary dogma and examine every aspect of Lenin’s views and contradictions on the question, rejecting defeatism as the one unsound aspect of Lenin’s war policy.

These essays are a remarkable training in socialist scholarship. They show how Marxists can have an open, inquisitive, critical attitude to our theoretical heritage, preserving its essence while overcoming errors. It is one of Draper’s finest contributions to Marxist policy as well as revolutionary functioning. These two books are among the few readily available articles from Draper’s many writings in the 1950s.26

Into the library

Despite Draper’s effort to hold the ISL together through its publications, in 1958 Max Shachtman convinced the organization to dissolve into the Socialist Party. Draper, in his unsuccessful opposition, saw this as an enormous capitulation to right-wing social-democratic politics. In its aftermath he stopped being a full-timer, went to library school, and moved to Berkeley, California, where he worked part-time in the university library. His activity shifted from journalism to theoretical essays, including works that would later become incorporated into Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution. Among those essays are “The Dictatorship of the Proletariat in Marx and Engels,” “Marx and Engels On Women’s Liberation,” “The Death of the State in Marx and Engels,” and “The Principle of Self-Emancipation in Marx and Engels.”27

All of these titles reference both Marx and Engels; Draper was the strongest fighter against the “persistent effort to put a wall between them . . . eliminating Engels from the picture has a massively crippling effect on any attempt to understand Marx.” He defended Marx and Engels as a partnership, referring to them as “The Firm”—a collaboration with an agreed-upon division of labor. It’s a recurring staple in academic Marxism that the two held different views and that, on at least some questions, Engels didn’t understand Marxism. Draper argues that if Engels got it wrong and Marx thought that he and Engels had the exact same views, “obviously, Marx did not understand Marxism either; only the mythologists do.” To attempt to separate the work of their collaboration, Draper maintained, is to create a hole in the Marxist canon, and “the bigger the vacuum that can be created in the Marx canon the more easily can the empty spaces be filled in freehand and at will by anyone who cares to spin a fantasy of their own about Marxism.”28

In the 1960s, Draper, more than any other radical from the 1930s, was able to make the leap into the new radicalism—as a participant, an interpreter, and a defender of the emerging New Left movements. To start, he was instrumental in the split with the Shachtmanites as they moved to support the Democratic Party and American imperialism, a split that led to the formation of the Berkeley Independent Socialist Club (ISC), forerunner of the International Socialists. He initially opposed a membership organization, but without convincing him, the ISC would not have been founded; he was its theoretical and political leader. It was through the ISC and its cadres that Draper would have his greatest impact on the radicalization of the 1960s.

Auspiciously, the ISC was formed the same night as the Free Speech Movement (FSM), in which Draper and the ISC had important roles. Present at the ISC’s invitation-only inaugural meeting were Mario Savio and Jack Weinberg, shortly to become the two major leaders of the FSM, and this author. These three attended the ISC’s first public meeting, where Draper spoke on “Clark Kerr’s Vision of the University.” The next day Weinberg was arrested at the Campus Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) table and placed in a police car, which provoked the now-famous sit-down around the car. The police car became the stage for a speak-out in which both Savio and Weinberg carried Draper’s ideas of the preceding night into the new movement. The following week, the ISC published those ideas as a pamphlet called The Mind of Clark Kerr, His View of the University Factory,29 which became the “bible” of the FSM—the framework of ideas for which it fought against Kerr’s model of the university. Kerr, then president of the University of California system, saw the university as a “knowledge factory,” integrated with and subservient to industry and business, with himself as the “captain of the bureaucracy” and students as raw material to become technicians and middle managers for capitalism. It was, Kerr said, the “wave of the future” and it would be pointless to try to fight it—or so he thought until the captains of business ordered their hired hand in the bureaucracy to shut down the Berkeley civil rights movement, unleashing the FSM.

Draper was a frequent, powerful speaker at FSM rallies, interpreting the dynamics of the social and political forces in California that stood lined up against the students in the battle of Berkeley. He connected with and understood the impulses and consciousness moving the new generation of radicals. Kerr saw Draper as his main intellectual opponent, referring to him as “the chief guru of the FSM.”30 Many of Draper’s ideas were expressed by Mario Savio, including in his famous speech on stopping the machine by putting your bodies on the gears. Draper wrote the classic history of the FSM: Berkeley, The New Student Revolt.31 His series of articles in New Politics marked his role as the intellectual defender of the New Left against its old-left critics.32

The FSM was a link in the radical chain, the bridge between the civil rights movement and the antiwar movement, the catalyst in the creation of the mass student left that played a leading role in the antiwar and other social movements. The American war in Vietnam took off a few months after the FSM was founded, in March 1965. Opposition emerged with a series of teach-ins that began at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and spread throughout the country. In Berkeley, as a result of the FSM, the thirty-six-hour Vietnam Day teach-in was the largest in the country, drawing 30,000 people. Draper, as representative of the ISC, was asked to debate a leading peace activist, Robert Pickus, on immediate withdrawal versus negotiations now. Draper boldly proclaimed that people who proposed negotiations shared the American imperialist mentality, assuming that the United States had a right to negotiate the fate of another country. Second, he asserted that promoting negotiations was a pro-war position of “war now, peace later.”33 The United States would continue to wage war while it negotiated to achieve its goals, and if the Vietnamese did not capitulate to US demands, war would be prolonged. Negotiations were thus a liberal cover to justify the continuation of war. Using his impressive knowledge of foreign policy, Draper won the debate and the Berkeley student movement to the position of immediate withdrawal. From there the call for immediate withdrawal gained credibility and spread nationally. This would have occurred in time without Draper’s efforts, but he certainly helped speed up the process.

In 1967, Draper wrote an article for the first issue of the Independent Socialist (later renamed Workers’ Power) called “Who Will Be the Lesser Evil in ’68?” 34 After Two Souls, it is the most quoted and best known of Draper’s writings. It makes an unforgettable argument against voting for the Democratic Party as a lesser evil by showing how that dynamic has helped propel all politics further to the right. Draper reasoned “that you can’t fight the victory of the rightmost forces by sacrificing your own independent strength to support elements just the next step away from them.” Even when there really is a lesser evil, supporting it undercuts prospects for fighting the Right, and usually results in getting both the lesser and the greater evil—as liberal and conservative policies often converge to serve the needs of capitalism. In posing the question of whether to vote for the Democrats as the lesser evil, “it is the question that is the disaster, not the answer. In setups where the choice is between one capitalist politician and another, the defeat comes in accepting the limitations of this choice.”

In 1968, the ISC was the architect of the California Peace and Freedom Party (PFP), which registered 120,000 people into a new, independent political party committed to Black liberation and opposition to the war. The PFP formed an alliance with the Black Panther Party (BPP), and Draper played a major role in organizing the campaign to run Eldridge Cleaver of the BPP as the PFP’s presidential nominee. Cleaver’s politics, however, were unstable; he made rapid moves to ally first with the politics of counterculture “yippies,” and then those of guerrilla warfare. This led to a disastrous campaign and damaged hopes that the PFP would be the springboard for independent political action. It was to be the last major movement activism he engaged in. The collapse of the New Left and student movements in the next two years was another demoralizing element.

In 1971, Draper led a small split from the International Socialists. The new perspective he outlined was that the road to a revolutionary party was not through traditional socialist organization, though this was still the future goal. Two of Draper’s essays now popular on the internet, “A New Beginning” and “Anatomy of the Micro-sect,” summarize his new position.35 Although they are the weakest of Draper’s published works, they found significant support among radicals who were disillusioned with revolutionary organization and open to viewing the decline of the Left during a reactionary period as due to subjective weakness in left organizations, including real sectarianism that existed at the time among competing small organizations making wildly unrealistic claims as to their own capacity to lead the masses.

Draper proposed creating a political center, principally defined as a publication center, as an alternative to what he rejected as the “sect” road, a membership organization based on a well-defined program. In a series of essays, Draper, known for being extraordinarily meticulous in his scholarship, strangely presents embarrassingly superficial historical narratives to back up his new views. He makes the sweeping claim, without evidence, that no sect has ever succeeded in producing a revolutionary party, ignoring the emergence of the European socialist movement. Bolshevism, he asserts, was in essence Lenin’s political center, focused on the publication Iskra. This has some validity for the period leading up to 1903 and the formation of the relatively small Bolshevik faction. The subsequent emergence of Bolshevism as a mass party with its underground illegal organization, shop organization, factory-cell structure, district committees, and cadres is ignored, replaced by Draper’s bizarre, unsubstantiated claims that the Bolsheviks remained a faction, was not a membership organization, and was a broad party.

The real difficulties of building revolutionary organization evaporate when all that is needed is a publication produced by a small number of self-selected editors, without the messy problems of a membership, democratic input, control, or correction. Draper criticizes the failures of sects, while ignoring the inability of political centers such as Monthly Review, the National Guardian, and Dissent, to be the road to creating a mass party. He ignores the history of his own political centers that were no more successful. Labor Action could not stop the disintegration of the ISL. The Independent Socialist Committee of 1963, which Draper chaired, attempted to maintain loose ties with left-wingers through pamphlets, publications, and correspondence, and was a miserable flop until the ISC launched as a membership organization. The Center for Socialist History has issued some good publications, but that’s its limit.

The best ideas cannot substitute for organization. The most tragic example is that of Leon Trotsky acting as a fantastic political center in 1930s Germany. Trotsky’s writings on fascism and how to fight it are among the greatest works of Marxist analysis, and they had mass readership and popular support. But they could not be translated into action, as the miniscule size of the Trotskyist organization made it impossible for Trotsky’s views to become a material factor in the fight against fascism. Draper’s ideas, as this essay maintains, are vital in the fight for socialist revolution. But they can only be realized if they are debated and deployed by revolutionary fighters, cadres, and rank-and-file workers trained in organizations based on those political ideas.

In the last twenty years of his life, Draper made his last great contribution to the socialist movement by delivering the fullest explanation of revolutionary Marxism ever to appear in print, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution (KMTR).36KMTR, four massive volumes that total more than 3,000 pages, provides the foundation for the entire structure of the politics of socialism from below. It integrates the interconnected political questions that Marx worked on throughout his life: class, the proletariat, the bourgeoisie, and other classes; self-emancipation; the class nature of the state; state bureaucracy; revolution; Bonapartism; the dictatorship of the proletariat; and other political tendencies. Its amazing scholarship was an inspired advance in Marxist literature and theory. As Paul Sweezy of Monthly Review stated, “It will remain an indispensable source for all serious students of Marxian ideas . . . there is nothing in the existing literature which is even remotely comparable to it.” It is an all-encompassing but, as Robert Heilbroner wrote in the New York Review of Books, “extraordinarily stimulating work, written in a fresh, open, often amusing style.” 37 It is the outcome of Draper’s talents as a highly readable, clear, engaging, and witty writer. His brilliant intellect, sharp, analytical mind, and extraordinary capacity for hard work shine through each volume. Draper taught himself German as he was writing the book to better understand Marx’s words, nuances, meanings, and to retranslate passages where Marx had been misinterpreted by inaccurate or clumsy translations.

Draper’s self-imposed mission in KMTR is to allow Marx to speak for himself, to restore Marx’s thought—not as others have interpreted it but as Marx himself saw it. It is, in its copious citation of Marx’s ideas, Marx’s own “meaning of Marxism.” Draper does this not through selective clippings, quotations, or articles, but through systematically engaging with Marx’s entire corpus. Draper restricts his study to Marx the political man, not Marx the philosopher, economist, or theorist of historical materialism. His anchor begins with Engels’s characterization that “above all else Marx was a proletarian revolutionist,” and the first volume begins with a new explanation of how Marx became a Marxist. Draper focuses not on the traditional narrative of Marx’s philosophical development—from the Young Hegelians to Feuerbach, and beyond—but rather on Marx’s political emancipation from Hegel’s political philosophy on the state, bureaucracy, and private property. For Hegel the state (including the absolutist, authoritarian, monarchical Prussian state) is eternal; it embodies the just relationship of harmony among society’s elements and is the realization of freedom. The state bureaucracy was thus the “universal class,” representing the interests of all of society.38 Marx’s rejection of the existing state and its institutions and bureaucracy led him on a journey “from a radical-democratic liberal to revolutionary-democratic communist,” from democratic extremist defender of the free press and all democratic rights to finding that those goals were best realized in the proletariat, in socialism, and—crucially—in the principle of proletarian self-emancipation, the foundation of revolutionary socialism from below.

Draper’s first volume, State and Bureaucracy, is not a “short course” introduction with a few maxims and quotations on the relation of the state to the ruling class. It explores Marx’s realization that the state and the bureaucracy exist to defend private property, which led him to become a Marxist. Throughout his life he continued to refine his ideas on these questions. Draper explores all of Marx’s rich, highly complex explorations of the nature of the state and its bureaucracy in ever-changing class societies, in different historical situations, with the developments of classes and their separate layers, and in terms of the relationship between base and superstructure. The emphasis is on the capitalist state and the peculiarities of the capitalist class, which give rise to the “political ineptitude” of the bourgeoisie as a governing class. This is truer for the bourgeoisie than for any previous ruling class because, under capitalism more than any other class society, economics and politics are separated. As Draper remarks, rule by a capitalist class was

profusely crisscrossed internally with competing and conflicting interest groups, each at the other’s throat . . . competing national groups (countries) are split by regional group interests, different industrial interests. Antagonisms within an industry, rivalry between producers of consumers and producers goods, light and heavy industry . . . internally, [made] capitalism . . . a snake-pit. By comparison, the incessant feuding of medieval barons was a marshmallow-throwing contest.39

The bourgeoisie remains the ruling class as long as the social relations of capitalist production are maintained, but the different permutations of this dynamic and its relation to the political state vary widely, as Marx explored and Draper detailed amply.

To present Marx’s views faithfully, Draper asserts, requires an “excavation.” Draper models his methodology on Lenin’s State and Revolution, which Lenin described as an engagement “in excavations, as it were, to bring undistorted Marxism to the knowledge of the mass of the people.”40 Even Lenin, Marx’s greatest disciple, was for most of his political life unaware of Marx’s real views on the state. Most of Marx’s collected work had not been printed, and Lenin accepted prevailing Second International doctrine, which held that the institutions and bureaucracy of the state could be used for socialist construction, and that only anarchists call for the destruction of the existing class state. Lenin had to do a personal as well as a political excavation. He dug up all of Marx’s then-extant printed work about the state in order to wipe away the reformist gloss that the Second International had overlaid onto Marx’s views and restore Marx’s revolutionary opposition to the existing state, representing his views on a workers’ state and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Draper made that his model for KMTR: it is a personal as well as a political restoration project for all of Marx’s political views, not just one, and to uncover and clear away not just social-democratic falsifications but also more recent distortions imposed on Marxism as a result of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution.

Draper submits that, in the process of degeneration and Stalinist counterrevolution, it was not only the institutions of proletarian rule (soviets, trade unions, the Bolshevik Party, etc.) that degenerated; ideas did as well. Principles became distorted as necessary measures to defend the revolution against imperialist invasion and counterrevolution, and were turned into virtues. Draper argues that, had the German Revolution been successful, these distortions—which Lenin recognized as retreats from socialism—might have been thrown out the window. But the German Revolution failed, and these distorted ideas were then accepted and passed on as the norms of Marxism: “The distortions became principles.”41 One example is Trotsky’s conclusion that “the dictatorship of the proletariat found its distorted but indubitable expression as the dictatorship of the bureaucracy.”42 This idea, from the greatest fighter against the rising bureaucracy, had no relation to anything in Marx’s thinking but shows how ideas accepted as Marxist theory became damaged as a result of the Russian degeneration.

The second volume, The Politics of Social Class, is groundbreaking: there has been nothing approaching it in the Marxist literature for the past 150 years. Draper proceeds from the understanding that “class dynamics is the foundation of all of Marx’s politics.” He examines the anatomy of all the social classes of modern society and their interrelations with the working class. There are individual sections that pore over Marx’s assessments of the bourgeoisie, petit-bourgeoisie, peasantry, and intellectuals, and their politics and role in revolution. These in-depth sections, with their 700 pages of complex and sophisticated delineation of class composition, class struggle, class structure, and the relation of different classes to politics and revolution, are indispensable political guides. In particular, a discussion on Marx’s and Engels’s conclusions on class forces in the 1848 revolution shows that they were the basis for the theory of permanent revolution, on which Trotsky later elaborated.43

Draper’s approach to social class is also borrowed from Lenin: “Marxism is the theory and practice of proletarian revolution.” The key word is proletarian, and the focus is on what distinguishes the proletariat in its revolution. Marx states that the working-class movement, unlike the movements of all previous revolutionary classes, which had been minority class movements, is “the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.”44

Working-class revolution is different from all previous revolutions because the proletariat is a propertyless class; it does not, nor can it, own property. The bourgeoisie, the previous revolutionary class, was able to build its economic power under feudalism, then politically supplant the old, decaying feudal ruling class through bourgeois revolutions. However, Marx says, that it is impossible for the propertyless proletariat to develop its economic powers under capitalism. Proletarian revolution can only succeed by conquering political power, “to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.”45 Political power then starts the process of economic transformation to socialism. And, as Draper stresses, the proletariat must do that very rapidly once it takes power; otherwise, it will be defeated by the rooted power of the capitalist class and its institutions. Nationalized property does not create a workers’ state, but a workers’ state nationalizes property. Proletarian revolution is a reversal of previous revolutionary patterns: the conquest of political power must come first, and success occurs if and when the political revolution leads to an economic and social revolution. The proletariat’s inability to own property circumscribes its only way to rule democratically and collectively, without which it cannot be a ruling class. To emancipate itself, it is forced to liberate all humanity, which is what makes the proletariat the “universal class” in Marxist theory.46

Democratic collectivism is the introduction of proletarian democracy. Yet, Draper clarifies, when most people discuss democracy they mean bourgeois democracy. Working-class and bourgeois democracy overlap in such matters as rights to free speech, free press, free assembly, the right to organize opposition, and so on. Marx defends all bourgeois democratic rights, but states that under bourgeois democracy they are at best limited and distorted and often little more than a “democratic swindle.” The model country of the democratic swindle, Marx says, is the United States, where democratic rights are used to convince the working class to cooperate in their own exploitation. Democracy has to be separated from its bourgeois shell. The basic element of proletarian democracy is democratic control from below; but it is necessary to create a new, more democratic form of state in which control can actually come from below.47 As Engels stated in an 1891 postscript to Marx’s Civil War in France, “Of late, the Social-Democratic philistine has once more been filled with wholesome terror at the phrase: dictatorship of the proletariat. Well and good, gentlemen, do you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the dictatorship of the proletariat.”48 In short, the workers’ dictatorship consisted of organs of direct democracy (workers’ councils, soviets, factory committees, trade unions, workers’ militias, etc.) controlled by the working class from below.

Draper wrote a whole volume on the dictatorship of the proletariat devoted to dispelling forever the slanders against Marxism on this issue.49 It is questionable whether there will ever be another inquiry on the topic in this depth, and anyone who writes on the subject in the future will have to deal with Draper’s volume to be taken seriously. To undo the damage done to Marx, Draper examines the meaning of the term dictatorship over the centuries, its currency in Marx’s time, and how it has no relation to the modern usage of dictatorship: an individual dictator, a party dictatorship, a military regime, or a repressive “barracks communism.” Draper explores every instance of Marx’s use of the term dictatorship of the proletariat and finds that it is always a dictatorship of a class: that is, dominating society by setting up class institutions of power and class rule. In Marx’s day, dictatorship of the bourgeoisie just meant the rule and dominance of capitalism over the institutions, laws, and ruling ideas of capitalist society. Draper shows that Marx uses the term dictatorship of the proletariat interchangeably with proletarian power, with proletarian political rule, with workers’ democracy, with workers’ state—the term had no other meaning for Marx, nor should it for socialists.

Class dynamics—the raising of the working class to the position of ruling class—are the substance of all of Marx and Engels’s socialist politics. The proletariat, the state, revolution, and the dictatorship of the proletariat form a unity, and that unity is the self-organization and self-emancipation of the working class. The working class, to emancipate itself, has to become fit to rule through revolutionary activity. It cannot be free to rule until it liberates itself of all capitalist ideas and politics. For Marx, this begins with independent working-class organization to carry through these struggles, to raise the consciousness, confidence, and combativity of the working class. Through this process workers become fit to rule. The school of revolutionary politics goes only through working-class organization, independent of the ruling class.

Draper, the most important American Marxist theorist of the latter half of the twentieth century, dedicated his life’s work and the enormous effort of KMTR to helping revive Marx’s proletarian revolutionary ideas because of their historic mission of working-class self-emancipation. His writings have much in them to educate a new generation of revolutionaries. But they will only come fully into their own when Marx’s does, when a revival of class struggle produces a working class that is conscious of its real position. To succeed, cadres will have to be educated and trained in the politics of socialism from below, merging with the vanguard of the working class in creating a revolutionary leadership dedicated to the self-emancipation of the working class as the road to the future socialist society.

Hal Draper’s “The Two Souls of Socialism” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1966/twosouls/) was published in New Politics (Winter, 1966), 57–84. It was also issued as a pamphlet by the Independent Socialist Clubs. The version on Marxists.org cited here is from the pamphlet published in 1970 by the International Socialists. According to Draper’s introduction, this was a rewritten and expanded version of an earlier article, “Socialism from Below as the Meaning of Socialism,” in Anvil (Winter 1960), the magazine of the Young Peoples Socialist League. This earlier version was also reprinted in the British magazine International Socialism 11 (Winter, 1962).
Ibid., 4.
Ibid., 9.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Meeting of the Central Authority,” Collected Works, Vol. 10 (New York: International Publishers, 1978), 626.
Draper, “Two Souls.”
Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Vol. IV, Critique of Other Socialisms, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1990).
Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 24, 468.
Hal Draper, “The Student Movement of the Thirties,” https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/….
Hal Draper, “Left Wing Carries YPSL Convention,” 1937, https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/….
The original 1940 slogan was “Neither London-Paris nor Berlin-Moscow.” As World War II unfolded, it changed to “Neither London, Washington, Moscow nor Berlin, Tokyo, Rome.’” When the Cold War started in 1946, it took the familiar form used for decades: “Neither Washington nor Moscow.”
An analysis of Russia as a new class society can be found, for example, in Max Shachtman, “Is Russia a Workers’ State?” New International, Vol. VI, No. 10, December 1940, at https://www.marxists.org/archive/shachtm….
I discuss the split in Joel Geier, “War and Revolutionary Socialism: The Second World War and the Origins of International Socialism,” at http://wearemany.org/a/2014/06/war-and-r….
Hal Draper, “Free Speech and Political Struggle,” Independent Socialist 4 (April 1968), https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/ne….
The Labor Action archive can be found here: https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/ne….
See, for example, T. N. Vance, “The Permanent War Economy, Part I,” New International, Vol. 17, No. 1, January–February 1951, https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/wr….
Draper’s and Shachtman’s articles on Tito are in the August, September, October, and November 1948 issues of New International, https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/ne….
Max Shachtman and Hal Draper, Two Views on the Cuban Invasion: A discussion pamphlet (Oakland, 1961), https://archive.org/details/TwoViewsOfTh… Hal Draper, “Notes on India-China Border War,” 1962, in possession of author. Excerpts of it appeared under the title “Defensism or Defeatism,” in International Socialism 13 (Summer 1963), https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/ne….
Hal Draper, America as Overlord (Alameda, CA: Center for Socialist History, 2011). The issue of Labor Action devoted to Yalta, https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/ne….
Ibid., 1–54.
Winston Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy: The Second World War, Vol. 6 (New York: Rosetta Books, 2002), 227.
Ibid., 55–67.
Ibid., 145–63. https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/….
Hal Draper, War and Revolution: Lenin and the Myth of Revolutionary Defeatism (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1996).
America as Overlord and some other writings by Draper are available from the Center for Socialist History: http://csh.gn.apc.org/.
The four essays were published in New Politics 1, no. 4 (Summer 1962); International Socialism 44 (July–August 1970); and Socialist Register 1970 and 1971. All are at marxists.org/draper.
Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, Vol. I, State and Bureaucracy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977), 23–26.
Hal Draper, The Mind of Clark Kerr (Berkeley: Independent Socialist Club, 1964), https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/….
Clark Kerr, “Fall of 1964 at Berkeley: Confrontation Yields to Reconciliation,” in Robert Cohen and Reginald E. Zelnik, The Free Speech Movement, Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 391.
Hal Draper, Berkeley: The New Student Revolt (New York: Grove Press, 1965), https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/….
Hal Draper, “FSM: Freedom Fighters or Misguided Rebels?” New Politics IV, no. 1 (Winter 1965); Hal Draper: “In Defense of the ‘New Radicals’,” New Politics IV, nos. 3 (Summer 1965) and 4 (Fall 1965), http://www.unz.org/Pub/NewPolitics-1965q….
Quoted in James Petras preface to We Accuse, A powerful statement of the new political anger in America, as revealed in the speeches given at the 36-hour “Vietnam Day” protest in Berkeley, California (Berkeley and San Francisco: Diablo Press, 1965), 3.
Hal Draper, “Who’s Going to Be the Lesser Evil in ’68?” Independent Socialist 1, no. 1, https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/….
Hal Draper, “Toward A New Beginning—On Another Road; The Alternative to the Micro-Sect,” 1971, https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/… Hal Draper, “Anatomy of the Micro-Sect,” 1973, https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/….
Hal Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution: Vol I, State and Bureaucracy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977); Vol II, The Politics of Social Classes (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1978); Vol. III, The “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1986); Vol. IV, Critique of Other Socialisms (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1990).
Draper, KMTR, Vol. I. The Sweezy and Heilbroner blurbs are on the back cover.
Ibid., 32–34, 77–95.
Ibid., 323.
Ibid., 20–21.
Hal Draper, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat from Marx to Lenin (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1987), 99–101.
Leon Trotsky, “The Workers’ State, Thermidor and Bonapartism,” 1935, https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky….
Draper, KMTR, Vol. II, 201–87.
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto in The Communist Manifesto: A Road Map to History’s Most Important Political Document, Phil Gasper, ed. (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2005), 55.
Ibid., 69.
Draper, KMTR, Vol. II, 40–55, 70–80; Draper, KMTR, Vol. I, 141–47.
Draper, KMTR, Vol. I, 38–52, 282–97, 302–10.
Engels quouted in KMTR, Vol. III, 317.
Draper, KMTR, Vol. III.
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Issue #64
March 2009
Hothouse Earth
Capitalism, climate change, and the fate of humanity
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Hothouse Earth
Chris Williams
Letter from the editors
Obama’s mixed message
The road to Gaza’s killing fields
Toufic Haddad
The right-wing counteroffensive
Ernesto Herrera
The U.S. economic crisis
Fred Moseley
Critical Thinking
Return of the one-state solution
Phil Gasper

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