in the

First Period: 1917-1923
[Section 5 -- Part 5]


© 1976 by Monthly Review Press

Translated by Brian Pearce
Originally published as
Les luttes de classes en URSS
© 1974 by Maspero/Seuil, Paris, France

Prepared © for the Internet by David J. Romagnolo, (June 2000)



[ Section 5 ]

Part 5.

The balance sheet of five years of
revolution and the prospects on
the eve of Lenin's death



The balance sheet drawn up by Lenin on the period of "war communism"



The mistakes of"war communism" analyzed



"State capitalism"



The changes in Lenin's conception of the NEP



The tasks before the Bolshevik Party at the time
of Lenin's death


    page 7

      Key to abbreviations, initials, and Russian
      words used in the text


    A particular form of producers' cooperative

    Cadet party

    The Constitutional Democratic Party


    See STO


    Extraordinary Commission (political police)


    One of the chief directorates in the Supreme Council of the National Economy or in a people's commissariat


    State Planning Commission


    State Political Administration (political police)


    A rich peasant, often involved in capitalist activities of one kind or another, such as hiring out agricultural machinery, trade, moneylending, etc.


    The village community


    People's Commissariat of Labor


    New Economic Policy


    National Economy of the USSR in (a certain year or period)


    People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs


    Unified State Political Administration (political police)


    Organization Bureau of the Bolshevik Party


    Political Bureau of the Bolshevik Party


    Workers' Faculty


    See RKI


    Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik): official

    page 8

    name of the Bolshevik Party, adopted by the Seventh Party Congress in March 1918


    Workers' and Peasants' Inspection


    Russian Social Democratic Labor Party


    Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (Bolshevik)


    Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic


    General assembly of a village


    State farm


    Regional Economic Council


    Council of People's Commissars


    Socialist Revolutionary


    Council of Labor and Defense


    Department in the Bolshevik Party responsible for registering the members and assigning them to different tasks




    Rural district


    Supreme Economic Council


    All-Russia Central Executive Committee (organ derived from the Congress of soviets)


    Administrative body in country areas before the Revolution

    page 437

       Part 5
         The balance sheet of five years of
         revolution and the prospects on the eve
         of Lenin's death

        During the last years of his life, between 1921 and 1923, Lenin tried to draw up a balance sheet of the Russian Revolution and, for this purpose, to define as clearly as possible the stages through which the revolution had passed, together with the nature of the changes that had been effected. He sought at the same time to grasp the mistakes made and the illusions suffered from, so as to determine the tasks which needed to be fulfilled, in terms of the existing class and social relations.

        This balance sheet, although incomplete, is highly important. It contains lessons that are universal in their implications and valid to this day. It deals with the fundamental problems of the transition from capitalism to communism, and in particular with those which arise at the very beginning of this transition.

        A clear view of the decisive contributions to be derived from this balance sheet is hard to arrive at owing to its provisional form at the moment Lenin was obliged to stop work. At that time Lenin had not yet drawn all the conclusions toward which his analyses were leading. In order to appreciate the significance of what he said at this time, we need to continue the work he began, advancing further along the road he indicated. This we can do today by taking into account the lessons to be drawn from the course followed by the Russian Revolution after Lenin's death.

        An attempt to bring out clearly the decisive lessons of Lenin's balance sheet nevertheless encounters two difficulties.

        On the one hand, some of the new ideas set forth by Lenin between 1921 and 1923 were still expressed in terms that corresponded, more or less, to his earlier analyses, so that this

    page 438

    terminology, which, though it had become inadequate, had not yet been wholly abandoned, is likely to conceal what is new in Lenin's thinking, unless one is sufficiently attentive.

        On the other hand, and especially, because the Bolshevik Party grasped only partially what was new in Lenin's last writings, a "traditional" interpretation of these works has become established which needs to be set aside to some extent, if one is not to overlook some points of decisive importance.

        I shall endeavor first of all to present the main features of the historical and political balance sheet drawn up by Lenin on the morrow of "war communism."

    page 439

      1. The balance sheet drawn up by Lenin
         on the period of "war communism"

        When he drew up his historical and political balance sheet of the revolution, Lenin tried to define as clearly as possible the nature of the changes accomplished. This attempt was all the more necessary because the dual character of the Russian Revolution entailed a particularly complex interweaving of two revolutions -- a proletarian revolution and a (mainly peasant) democratic revolution.

        To the proletarian revolution corresponded the leading role played by the proletariat and its party. This leading role was manifested in striking fashion in October 1917: it made possible the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the accomplishment of changes that are inherent in a proletarian revolution.

        To the democratic revolution corresponded the determining role played by the peasantry fighting for aims that were not socialist, such as the generalization of individual peasant production through the destruction of large-scale land ownership.

        Lenin distinguished therefore between the democratic work and the proletarian work of the Russian Revolution, between the tasks and possibilities of each of these two revolutions as determined by concrete conditions due chiefly to the relations between classes and to the forms assumed by the class struggle.

       I.  The democratic work of the Russian Revolution

        In an article written in November 1921 for the fourth anniversary of the October Revolution, and entitled "The Impor-

    page 440

    tance of Gold Now and After the Complete Victory of Socialism," Lenin pointed out that, "our revolution has completed only its bourgeois-democratic work."[1] In saying this, Lenin evidently had in mind the revolutionary elimination of large-scale land-ownership and the political superstructure that accompanied it.

        The expression "bourgeois-democratic" calls for comment. In using it, Lenin referred to those changes which, in the case of previous revolutions, had been brought about by revolutions that were democratic in content (because they corresponded to the "democratic" aspirations and requirements of the nonproletarian popular masses ), but were bourgeois by virtue of the forces leading them and of the social relations which these forces developed and consolidated.

        Actually, when changes similar to (but not identical with) those realized during bourgeois-democratic revolutions are carried out in the course of revolutions developed through the leading role of the proletariat and its party, these changes take on a new character, a fully democratic character. If we retain the qualification "bourgeois" to describe these changes, we must be alert to the new function fulfilled by this qualification. It means that these changes resemble those carried out by a bourgeois-democratic revolution, and also -- this is what is most important -- that if these changes are not followed by others, socialist in character, they can in fact open the way to a capitalist form of development.

        But is it true that the "bourgeois-democratic work" of the Russian Revolution had been "completed" by 1921? Yes, if we allow for the fact that bourgeois-democratic revolutions also permit "precapitalist" forms of production to survive, leaving them to be dissolved subsequently by the expanded reproduction of capital. No, if we consider that the bourgeois democratic work of a revolution is not completed until it has really destroyed the obstacles to the productive accumulation of capital. There are grounds for doubting whether, in 1921, this task had been completed. Indeed, the consolidation of the mir and the generalization of small-scale individual peasant production after 1917 threw up new obstacles to productive

    page 441

    accumulation. These developments favored an extension of a "patriarchal economy" cut off from the market and shut in on itself, while at the same time enabling disguised relations of exploitation and domination to develop, in accordance with, the forms assumed historically by the mir. They thus induced a capitalist development of the parasitic type, which held back production accumulation and the growth of agricultural production. A few years' experience of the NEP were to show that, in this respect, the bourgeois-democratic work of the Russian Revolution had not been completed.

        What Lenin was pointing out in 1921, as he would in 1923, was the uneven development of the democratic revolution and the proletarian revolution: the former had gone very far, whereas the latter had made relatively little progress.

        This unevenness of development was determined by the very nature of the two revolutionary processes and by the way they conditioned each other. It is not necessary, of course, for the democratic revolution to have been carried through "to the end" before the proletarian revolution can take off; in the age of imperialism (the bourgeoisie having ceased to be able to lead a revolution) it is, on the contrary, essential that the two revolutions be combined. However, for the proletarian revolution to be able to undertake socialist tasks on a broad front, certain stages of the class struggle need to have been got through, for the proletariat must have strengthened sufficiently its role as leader of the masses to be in a position to lead them effectively along the road toward socialism.

        In a country where the majority of the people are peasants, this presupposes that the proletariat has formed a firm alliance with the peasantry, an alliance based upon relations of profound trust.

        Under the conditions of the Russian Revolution these relations needed to develop on the basis of the objective role played by the proletariat in accomplishing the tasks of the democratic revolution. For this it was necessary that the proletariat play its role in a definite way, in a way which consolidated its relations with the peasantry. In particular, the proletariat must not try to impose upon the peasantry social

    page 442

    changes for which, as a mass, the latter were not ready. On this point the Bolshevik Party did indeed make mistakes (to which I shall return) in the course of "war communism," mistakes which reduced its power to lead the peasantry, and help guide it toward socialism. Lenin recognized this in June 1921 when, in his report to the Third Congress of the Communist International, he said: "In Siberia and in the Ukraine the counter-revolution was able to gain a temporary victory because there the bourgeoisie had the peasantry on its side, because the peasants were against us. The peasants frequently said: 'We are Bolsheviks, but not Communists. We are for the Bolsheviks because they drove out the landowners; but we are not for the Communists, because they are opposed to individual farming.'"[2]

        He knew that one of the factors in the complex situation which had led the Bolshevik Party to adopt the New Economic Policy was, precisely, the will of the peasants to consolidate their individual farming and to exchange their products "freely." This being so, it was necessary to put off till later the socialist transformation of social relations in the countryside.

       II. The proletarian work of the Russian

        In his article "The Importance of Gold," Lenin also analyzed what at that moment (toward the end of 1921) the "proletarian part" of the work of the Russian Revolution amounted to.[3] For him, this work could be summarized in three main points, which he listed in the following order:

        (1) "The revolutionary withdrawal from the imperialist world war; the exposure and halting of the slaughter organized by the two world groups of capitalist predators . . .

        (2) "The establishment of the Soviet system, as a form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. An epoch-making change has been made. The era of bourgeois-democrat parliamentarian

    page 443

    ism has come to an end. A new chapter in world history -- the era of proletarian dictatorship -- has been opened.

        (3) "The creation of the economic basis of the socialist system; the main features of what is most important, most fundamental, have not yet been completed."

        This statement is remarkably clear-cut. It shows the importance of the tasks accomplished, but also the magnitude of the tasks that still lay before the proletarian revolution. In this connection, the two last points of Lenin's statement deserve special attention. They show, indeed, that two of the most important tasks of the proletarian revolution were only beginning to be tackled in 1921. What Lenin was to write subsequently enables us, moreover, to appreciate better the nature of the problems that the proletarian revolution had solved and also of those that now confronted it.

       (a)  "The creation of the economic basis of
            the socialist system"

        The field in which Lenin considered that "the main features of what is most important, most fundamental, have not yet been completed" was that of "the creation of the economic basis of the socialist system."

        This was to be interpreted later as referring above all to the low level of the productive forces in Russia, from which it was deduced that the main thing was to "build the material foundations" of socialism. There is no doubt that Lenin did have this aspect of the revolution's tasks in mind: it really is a task without which progress toward socialism is not possible. But when Lenin spoke of the "economic basis" of socialism he did not have in mind only the development of the productive forces, but also, and especially, the socialist transformation of production relations. These are two associate tasks which have to be accomplished by the socialist revolution, two tasks which the Chinese Communist Party expresses in this concise formula "Make revolution and promote production." These two tasks are dialectically interconnected. They constitute two contradictory aspects of a single task. The fundamental

    page 444

    aspect of this task of the proletarian revolution is the transformation of production relations, but this does not mean that this aspect is at every moment the principal one. Actually, a socialist transformation of production relations is possible only under definite political and economic conditions. In a country like Russia this transformation required the existence of a firm alliance between the workers and the peasants. In 1921 this alliance was not firm enough. The first task of the proletarian party was to strengthen this alliance, which was one of the aims of the NEP.

        Carrying through the task of the socialist transformation of production relations requires, furthermore, that the living conditions of the masses be such as to enable them really to devote themselves to this as the priority task. This means that the working people must not be absorbed by the struggle against hunger and cold, and not be crushed by day-to-day-difficulties, physical exhaustion, and sickness. The experience of the Russian Revolution, and that of the Chinese Revolution too, shows that, in order that the proletarian revolution may be able to attack the tasks involved in bringing about the most fundamental historical changes, it is necessary that the elementary tasks of everyday life be fulfilled first of all, and that the proletariat and its party show in practice that they are capable not only of performing heroic exploits but also of organizing everyday life: otherwise, the trust accorded them by the broadest masses fades away, and nothing can be achieved without that trust. When that trust prevails the masses go forward, whereas confusion can lead them to commit acts of desperation. Reestablishing acceptable conditions of life, ensuring the supply of food to the towns and balanced exchanges between agriculture and industry, ending unemployment as soon as possible, were therefore also among the necessary aims of the NEP. And these aims had to be attained if the revolution was to resume its upward curve.

        Thus, for Lenin, the "creation of the economic basis" of socialism meant the reconstitution and development of the productive forces and the transformation of production rela-

    page 445

    tions. The latter of these tasks is fundamental, but it cannot be accomplished without certain preconditions.

        The pamphlet written by Lenin in April 1921 on The Tax in Kind [4]provides a clear analysis of the economic relations, or elements of economic relations, which existed in Russia at that time. The pamphlet showed that these relations and these elements were predominantly alien to socialism, and that the long-term historical task of the dictatorship of the proletariat was to transform this situation. The elements analyzed by Lenin belonged to what he called "the various socio-economic structures that exist in Russia at the present time."[5]

        In this work of 1921, Lenin quotes long passages from a pamphlet he had written in the spring of 1918,[6] in which "the present economy of Russia" was analyzed. Lenin's reference back to this earlier pamphlet is highly significant. It shows that Lenin considered in the spring of 1921, after the ending of "war communism" (when large-scale industry had been completely nationalized), that the production relations, or "the various socio-economic structures that exist in Russia at the present time," were not merely the same as in 1918 but that their respective weight had not been fundamentally altered. At the beginning of 1921, just as in 1918, Lenin declared that "the term Soviet Socialist Republic implies the determination of the Soviet power to achieve the transition to socialism, and not that the existing economic system is recognised as a socialist order."[7]

        Even more important, in 1921 as in 1918, Lenin specified that what predominated was petty production, which he described as a combination "patriarchal, i.e., to a considerable extent natural, peasant farming" with "small commodity production,"[8] and that the principal "adversaries" of this petty production were "state capitalism" and "socialism." In his view, at this time, the immediate "adversary" of petty production, capable of preventing the latter from turning in on itself and vegetating, was "state capitalism," for socialist relations were as yet embryonic, and could develop only if "state capitalism" were first strengthened.[9]

    page 446

        On the basis of the survey he made in 1921 of the existing economic relations, Lenin was to give attention, all through the years 1921-1923, to the conditions for socialist transformation of economic relations. We shall see what analyses he carried out and what conclusions he arrived at.

       (b)  The dictatorship of the proletariat in

        At the end of 1921, when Lenin drew up his balance sheet of the proletarian work of the Russian Revolution, he stressed that the central aspect of this work was the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

        The half-century that has passed since this thesis was formulated fully confirms that the Russian Revolution opened a new epoch in the history of mankind: the epoch of the dictatorship of the proletariat, of the revolutionary struggles of the oppressed peoples, the epoch in which capitalism and imperialism are suffering major defeats.

        Lenin's thesis, of course, did not mean (as we have just seen) that the proletarian work of the revolution had been "completed" in Russia itself. Nor did it mean that what had been won in October 1917 had been won "definitively." On the contrary, Lenin constantly emphasized the fragility and imperfection of the form in which the dictatorship of the proletariat had been realized in Russia. He stressed that consolidation of the proletarian power necessitated close links with the masses, a correct political line, and a thorough upheaval in the existing state apparatus -- even going so far as to say that it had to be smashed all over again.

        Already during the "war communism" period Lenin had acknowledged that the form of proletarian power conceived before October had not in fact been realized -- that the soviets were not organs animated by the working masses but organs functioning on their behalf.

        In 1922, in the political report which he delivered on March 27 to the Eleventh Party Congress, Lenin returned to this same idea:

    page 447

    Our machinery of government may be faulty, but it is said that the first steam engine that was invented was also faulty. No one knows whether it worked or not, but that is not the important point; the important point is that it was invented. Even assuming that the first steam engine was of no use, the fact is that we now have steam engines. Even if our machinery of government is very faulty, the fact remains that it has been created; the greatest invention in history has been made; a proletarian type of state has been created.[10]

        In 1923, in his last piece of writing intended for publication, Lenin went further. Not only did he observe that the existing state apparatus was not truly socialist, but he added: "The most harmful thing would be to rely on the assumption . . . that we have any considerable number of elements necessary for the building of a really new state apparatus, one really worthy to be called socialist, Soviet, etc."[11]

        After five years of revolution it seemed, then, that the form in which the dictatorship of the proletariat had been realized in Russia was hardly "soviet," in the strict sense of the word, and that the state apparatus was hardly to be considered socialist. Consequently, the proletarian nature of the ruling power was fundamentally determined by the proletarian character of the leading party and by the relations that this party was able to develop with the advanced elements of the working class and the popular masses.

        The proletarian character of the party was also fragile. As a result of the rapid growth in its membership and the entry into its ranks of elements with little political training, it was no longer the make-up of the party that determined its proletarian character. In 1922 Lenin, as we have seen, stressed this point in the letter he sent on March 26 to Molotov, for communication to the Central Committee: "Taken as a whole (if we take the level of the overwhelming majority of Party members), our Party is less politically trained than is necessary for real proletarian leadership in the present difficult situation."[12] Let us also recall that in this same letter Lenin declared that "the proletarian policy of the Party is not determined by the character of its membership, but by the enormous undivided pres-

    page 448

    tige enjoyed by the small group which might be called the Old Guard of the Party."[13]

        What then characterized the transitory form of the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia was that its existence was closely bound up with the revolutionary work accomplished by Russia's masses under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, with the relations of trust which, over a period of years had been formed between the party's leaders and the advanced elements of the masses, and with the capacity acquired by these leaders to deal with some of the problems presented by the struggle against the bourgeoisie.

        This transitory form of the dictatorship of the proletariat was fragile, however, for the party's leading group was small in numbers, it was divided, and, above all, on several occasions the majority of its members had shown how easily they could allow themselves to be influenced by opportunist ideas, either right or "left," and by nationalist tendencies.

        The significance of this factor of fragility must nevertheless not be overestimated. Historical experience shows that it is inevitable that, at various moments, the elements defending a proletarian line find themselves in the minority, even among the leaders of a revolutionary Marxist party: what is essential is that the proletarian revolutionary elements eventually make their ideas prevail, and that they take, or recover, in good time the leadership of the party. This possibility existed in those days in the Bolshevik Party, as was shown by the fact that when Lenin was at first in the minority, he succeeded in the end in getting his view accepted.

       III.  The stages of the Russian Revolution

        The balance sheet of the work accomplished after five years of revolution leads us to consider what were the stages passed through by the revolution between 1917 and 1923. Lenin suggested several "periodizations."

        During the second half of 1918, when the poor peasants'

    page 449

    committees were developing, Lenin thought, as we know, that the Russian Revolution was entering a fully proletarian stage in the countryside as well. Subsequent facts showed him that this was not the case. In 1921, therefore, he acknowledged that the proletarian work of the revolution had been essentially political, and that, even at this level, the socialist stage had been begun only to a very partial degree.

        At that moment Lenin was brought to distinguish between three major periods in the revolutionary process.

        The first, covering the months between October 1917 and the spring of 1918, was that in which the revolution accomplished its main political tasks: establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, expropriation of the landlords, withdrawal of Russia from the imperialist war, and nationalization of the principal means of production, of transport and exchange.[14]

        The second period ran from the spring of 1918 to the spring of 1921: the period of "war communism." In this period, the central tasks were economic and military.

        A third period began in the spring of 1921. Lenin described it as a period of "the development of state capitalism on new lines,"[15] on the lines of the New Economic Policy.

        The state capitalism of which Lenin spoke at that time enbraced also the state-owned sector of industry, in which, from March-April 1918 onward, the practice had become established of "remunerating specialists at rates that conformed, not to socialist, but to bourgeois relationships."[16]

        It is by taking account of the nature of the predominant economic relations that we can understand the specific form toward which the dictatorship of the proletariat tended at that time, for, in the last analysis, political forms are determined by economic relations. Revolutionary class struggle may smash the bourgeois political machinery, but as long as the fundamental economic relations (those in which the immediate producers are involved) have not been transformed, the tendency for the bourgeois machinery of state to be reconstituted is always present. However, the socialist transformation of economic relations is a task much more protracted and com-

    page 450

    plex than the smashing of the state machine, and so, even after the first stage of the proletarian revolution has been traversed, struggle must still be carried on for the revolutionary transformation of the superstructure and of the production relations.

        We shall see that Lenin increasingly moved toward these conclusions by way of his analysis of the mistakes made during "war communism" and of the problems presented by the building of "state capitalism" under the dictatorship of the proletariat. We shall also see how the experience of the 1921-1923 period led him to rectify his original conception of the New Economic Policy.



    Lenin, CW, vol. 33, p. 112.    [p. 440]


    CW, vol. 32, p. 486.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's The Third Congress of the Communist International. -- DJR]    [p. 442]


    CW, vol. 33, p. 112.    [p. 442]


    CW, vol. 32, p. 329 ff.    [p. 445]


    Ibid., p. 330.    [p. 445]


    "'Left-Wing' Childishness and the Petty-Bourgeois Mentality," in CW, vol. 27, pp. 323 ff.    [p. 445]


    CW, vol. 32, p. 330. (My emphasis -- C.B.)    [p. 445]


    Ibid., p. 331.    [p. 445]


    I shall examine this conception in Chapter 2 of Part Five.    [p. 445]


    CW, vol. 33, p. 301.    [p. 447]


    In Better Fewer, But Better, in ibid., p. 488.    [p. 447]


    CW, vol. 33, p. 256.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's Conditions for Admitting New Members to the Party. -- DJR]    [p. 447]


    Ibid., p. 257.    [p. 448]


    Lenin's report on the NEP to the Seventh Moscow Gubernia Conference of the Russian Communist Party, in CW, vol. 33, p. 87.    [p. 449]


    Ibid., p. 100.    [p. 449]


    Ibid., p. 88. Lenin made this clear in 1918, when he pointed out that, owing to the position accorded to the specialists in state industry, it was capitalist relations that were being established there, "for capital is not a sum of money but definite social relations" (CW, vol. 27, p. 249).  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's "The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government". -- DJR]    [p. 449]

    page 451

      2. The mistakes of "war communism"

        Lenin's balance sheet of the first years of the revolution did not, of course, consist merely of an enumeration of the changes effected and the stages traversed. It included also a critical evaluation of the past activity of the Bolshevik Party. Lenin undertook an analysis of past mistakes so as to prevent their repetition. His balance sheet was also a self-criticism directed at some of the measures taken during the period of "war communism," and at the significance which had been ascribed to them.

       I.  The mistakes of "war communism" and
          their consequences

        The passages in which Lenin subjects "war communism" to critical analysis are numerous, but they do not all illuminate in the same way the nature of the mistakes made and the implications of these mistakes.

       (a)  Lenin's analysis of the mistakes made

        It was especially toward the end of 1921 -- at a moment when the application of the NEP (which the Bolshevik Party had adopted in the spring of that year) was encountering difficulties and calling for rectification -- that Lenin set himself to analyze "war communism." Thus, in the article he published in Pravda for the fourth anniversary of the October Revolution, he wrote: "We expected -- or perhaps it would be

    page 452

    truer to say that we presumed without having given it adequate consideration -- to be able to organise the state production and the state distribution of products on communist lines in a small peasant country directly as ordered by the proletarian state. Experience has proved we were wrong."[1]

        The mistakenness of the policy followed is clearly acknowledged here, but the nature of the mistake is not clarified. On the one hand, the passage suggests that the obstacle to a communistic organization of production and distribution lay mainly in the existence of petty peasant production. On the other it seems still to imply that organization "on communist lines" could have been established by way of orders from the state. This formulation is aimed particularly at stressing the need for stages which must be passed through before there can be any question of a communist form of organization.

        A few days after publication of the passage just quoted, Lenin returned to the same problem, saying: "We made the mistake of deciding to go over directly to communist production and distribution."[2]

        Here, too, it would seem that the mistake that was made did not relate to the significance of the measures taken (which Lenin regarded as "communist measures") but to the moment when they were adopted: they were apparently premature.

        Actually, however, Lenin went further than that. For him, the mistakes of "war communism" did not concern merely the moment when the measures of state organization characteristic of this period were introduced, but also the view that was taken of the nature of the social relations which these measures were capable of bringing into existence. This was said, for example, in the report Lenin presented on October 29, 1921, to the Seventh Party Conference of Moscow Gubernia, where the following formulation appears: "We assumed that by introducing state production and state distribution we had established an economic system of production and distribution that differed from the previous one."[3]

        This formulation clearly recognizes that the forms of state intervention characteristic of "war communism" had not altered the economic system which existed previously, but only

    page 453

    some of the conditions of its functioning, so that it was not the case that the economic system "differed from the previous one": the previous production relations remained intact. This led Lenin to say, in the same report: "We must take our stand on the basis of existing capitalist relations."[4]

        In this passage it is made clear that one aspect of the mistakes committed during "war communism" consisted in beIieving that it had "destroyed" the previously existing relations, whereas in fact these relations were still there. At the Tenth Party Congress, in his report on the tax in kind, presented on March 15, 1921, Lenin had already spoken of the "dream" some Communists had entertained of being able to arrive within three years at the socialist transformation of Russia, and, in particular, of the country's agriculture.[5]

        However, in the formulation quoted above, the object of criticism is not so much the idea that it would be possible by means of state action to establish communist production and distribution, as the illusion that it would be possible to go over in a very short period of time (and without any previous experience) from individual to collective farming.

        Even if Lenin did not in 1921 succeed in determining precisely what the mistakes of "war communism" were, whether they consisted in the moment at which certain measures were taken, or in the nature of these measures, or else in the effects as regards transformation in economic relations that were expected to result from them, he did consider it essential to emphasize the mistaken character of the strategy adopted and of the line followed during this period. He described this strategy as a whole as being one of an attempt at "direct assault" upon capitalism, an attempt which had failed, something that "had to be resolutely, definitely and clearly regarded as a mistake."[6]

        This, then, was most definitely a piece of self-criticism. The latter seemed to Lenin to be indispensable, in order that the Bolshevik Party might not fall into similar errors when working out "new strategy and tactics" -- those of the New Economic Policy.[7]

        The mistakes which Lenin condemned when analyzing the

    page 454

    policy of "war communism" related essentially to the strategic conception to which this policy corresponded. His criticism therefore did not so much concern any of the principal concrete measures which were taken as the magnitude given them and, above all, the significance ascribed to them at the time -- this illusory significance was what led to the field of application of the measures adopted being extended beyond the limit of what was necessary in order to cope with war needs. Lenin brought out this point very clearly at the Tenth Party Congress, when he said:

    The harmonious system that has been created was dictated by war and not by economic requirements, considerations or conditions. There was no other way out in the conditions of the unexampled ruin in which we found ourselves, when after a big war we were obliged to endure a number of civil wars. We must state quite definitely that in pursuing our policy, we may have made mistakes and gone to extremes in a number of cases. But in the war-time conditions then prevailing, the policy was in the main, a correct one. We had no alternative but to resort to wholesale and instant monopoly, including the confiscation of all surplus stocks, even without compensation.[8]

        Shortly afterward, in his pamphlet on The Tax in Kind, he repeated this appreciation of "war communism": "It was the war and ruin that forced us into War Communism. It was not, and could not be, a policy that corresponded to the economic tasks of the proletariat. It was a makeshift."[9]

        The scale of the measures of coercion introduced under "war communism" was, indeed, largely dictated by the war needs with which the Soviet power had to cope at a time when the country was in a state of grave economic chaos, and when the prevailing indiscipline, connected with petty bourgeois conceptions that were present even in the working class, made it impossible to secure overnight a voluntary form of discipline. From the end of 1917 and still more in and after 1918, many peasants tried to keep back for themselves a large proportion of their produce, though this was needed at the front, and large-scale absenteeism developed in industry. Already in the spring of 1918 the workers in a number of factories sold off machines, spare parts, or stocks of goods so as to

    page 455

    increase their own incomes[10] which were rapidly decreasing in real value owing to the rise in prices. In the emergency situation created by the war it was not possible to count upon "self-discipline" emerging overnight. The survival of the army and of the urban population, especially the workers, had to be ensured at all costs.[11]

        During "war communism" Lenin was, in fact, the Bolshevik leader who continued to see most clearly (although he was sometimes overcome by the illusions of the time) that the measures which were then being taken were exceptional in character, dictated by war needs. Others, such as Trotsky, Bukharin, and Preobrazhensky -- followed, apparently, by many party members -- saw in these measures the "direct transition to communism."

       (b)  The effects of the mistakes of "war

        The policy of "war communism" did indeed enable Soviet Russia to emerge victorious, despite the physical exhaustion suffered by the workers and the breakdown of the economy. Events proved that by following this policy, the ruling power set up by the October Revolution was able to mobilize sufficient strength and to concentrate upon the essential tasks of the moment the energy and heroism of the masses fighting for the revolution.

        Nevertheless, the way in which the "war communism" measures were applied, especially on account of the mistakes resulting from the illusion of "direct" transition to communism, eventually produced negative effects which became particularly serious as soon as the policy of "war communism" ceased to be justified by war needs. This became the situation in the autumn of 1920. At that time, through not deciding quickly enough to abandon the measures for requisitioning agricultural produce, militarizing labor, and "governmentalizing" the trade unions, the Bolshevik Party allowed serious discontent to develop among wide sections of the peasantry and the working class. This discontent, which increased during the winter of 1920-1921, found local expression in peasant

    page 456

    revolts and strikes, and matured the conditions for the Kronstadt rebellion. These were the facts Lenin had in mind when he said that the mistakes made had caused the Bolshevik Party to suffer a defeat graver than any which had been suffered on the war front,[12] for the relations between the Soviet power and many sections of the popular masses took a serious turn for the worse at that time. The introduction of the NEP only gradually enabled this situation to be improved.

        "War communism" had other, more lasting consequences. The withering of the activity of the soviets, which had begun already in the spring of 1918, was hastened by the extreme centralization to which this form of the militarization of economic and political relations tended. During the second half of 1918, the authority of the local soviet organs was subordinated to that of the central organs -- the Revolutionary Military Council of the Russian Soviets and the local revolutionary committees derived from this body, the "Council for Workers' and Peasants' Defense," and the Cheka. The weakness of the party's local organizations favored this development, as we have seen, for "localist" or "regionalist" tendencies were not sufficiently countered by the unifying activity of the party, so that the various localities or regions tried to keep as much of their production as possible for themselves -- which was incompatible with war needs. The tendency for the activity of the local soviet organs to become paralyzed was thus rooted in a real situation, but this paralysis was aggravated by the false conception held by the Bolshevik Party at that time regarding the significance of "war communism." The question must therefore be asked: what were the sources of this false conception?

       II.  The sources of the mistakes of "war communism"

        It follows from what has been said that the mistakes made during "war communism" were not all of the same nature. Some seem to have been essentially "practical," due to the way in which the political line was carried out. Thus, the measures of coercion dictated by the emergency needs of the

    page 457

    war and the Bolshevik Party's inability to mobilize rapidly, and on a voluntary basis, the material and human resources required by the army and for the defense and survival of the towns, were applied on too large a scale and in an arbitrary fashion. Other mistakes seem to have been essentially political and ideological, inherent in the political line itself, in the illusory attempt at "direct transition to communism."

        The distinction between these two types of mistake may seem to be connected with the difference between two types of apparatus. The "practical" mistakes might appear to have been committed by state organs which were not proletarian in character and had been penetrated by bourgeois elements, while the ideological and political mistakes were due to the Bolshevik Party itself. Actually, however, this distinction is not satisfactory. On the one hand, it is not true that the "practical" mistakes were committed only by state organs that were nonproletarian in character. The workers' detachments and Bolshevik political commissars sent into the countryside usually acted in the same way as the strictly state organs. Furthermore, the carrying out of the mistaken measures of "war communism" was governed by political directives adopted by the Bolshevik Party and not by the administrative machinery of state.

        On the other hand, and above all, even if we accept the distinction between the two types of mistake, it has to be recognized that since the Bolshevik Party yielded power, what played the dominant role was the political line that it, the party, decided upon.

        It must therefore be acknowledged that the dominant aspect of the mistakes of "war communism" was ideological and political. These mistakes arose from the party line and from the analysis made by the Bolshevik Party of the problems it had to solve, an analysis in which certain theoretical conceptions played their part.

       (a)  Lenin's explanation of the mistakes made

        For Lenin there could be no doubt that the mistakes of "war communism" were political mistakes, and he tried to find the

    page 458

    explanation of them accordingly. In order to give his answer he made use of a metaphor. He compared capitalism to a fortress which the party had tried to take by storm instead of laying siege to it, which would have been the only way to capture this fortress. He added that until the storming of the fortress had been attempted, it was not possible to know that this was impossible and that only a siege would enable the fortress to be taken. In conclusion, Lenin laid down this general principle: "In solving a problem in which there are very many unknown factors, it is difficult without the necessary practical experience to determine with absolute certainty the mode of operation to be adopted against the enemy fortress, or even to make a fair approximation of it."[13]

        Lenin's reply to the question is correct in principle, for it is true that, when one is faced with a new situation, only practical experience enables one to learn how to solve correctly the problems presented. This reply thus clearly states that, in conditions where no practical experience is available, mistakes are inevitable, and that one must make mistakes in order to make progress. This means, too, that theory cannot run ahead of practice, although it can guide practice by drawing systematic conclusions from past practice). Nevertheless, Lenin's answer is inadequate.

        In giving this explanation, Lenin seems to accept -- in contrast to what he writes on other occasions -- that the measures of "war communism" could be regarded as appropriate not only to ensuring the urgent defense of the Soviet power, but also to smashing capitalist relations and causing communist ones to arise. The metaphor employed suggests, indeed, that the forces available to the proletariat in order to carry through the "assault" were inadequate, and that this necessitated a resort to the method of "siege" -- from which it could be concluded that when the proletariat's forces had grown (through increase in the membership of the Bolshevik Party, better ideological training, improved relations with the masses, more effective subordination of the state administrative apparatus, etc.), it would be correct to engage in the same sort of "direct assault" as had failed previously. This was, in a way, the

    page 459

    conclusion arrived at by the Bolshevik Party at the end of the 1920s. In reality, however, what was mistaken was to consider that measures of state coercion could be substituted for action by the masses and for the revolutionary transformation of ideological relations in the struggle for a radical transformation of production relations.

        Lenin's explanation that it was impossible to foresee that an attempt to transform production relations by the methods of "war communism" would fail, is unsatisfactory also from another point of view. What Marx had written on the nature of production relations and on the conditions for their transformation -- for example, when he analyzed the experience of the Paris Commune -- ought, it would seem, to have shown that the methods of "war communism" were not such as to bring about a transformation in production relations. The Bolshevik Party, and Lenin in particular, were not unaware of Marx's analysis, and they regarded it as correct. Consequently, one cannot be satisfied with Lenin's explanation of the mistakes of "war communism," but must approach in another way the question of the origin of the illusions that made them possible.

       (b)  The origin of the illusions about "war

        Several factors seem to explain how these illusions were able to appear, to last for several years, and even to be revived at the end of the twenties.

        One of these factors, the significance of which can only be briefly referred to here, is the tendency to identify the activity of the party with that of the masses, and in particular with that of the mass of the workers. To be sure, there was only a tendency toward such an identification. On more than one occasion, indeed, Lenin mentioned that some measure or other adopted by the party was not understood or accepted by the working class, and that a risk therefore existed that the class might not follow the party. The distinction between party and class was thus certainly present in Lenin's thinking.

    page 460

    It is true, all the same, that where most of the measures taken during "war communism" were concerned and the way in which these measures were conceived, everything proceeded as though action by the party and of the state machine was identical with action by the masses themselves -- which reminds us of the metaphor of "merging" which Lenin used[14] -- a metaphor which, if taken literally, tends to hide the contradictions that can develop between the party and the working class.

        Later on, the tendency to identify the party with the class was to reemerge very strongly and, because not corrected in time, to produce most serious effects.

        This, though, is only one factor in the explanation. We need to ask why practice itself did not reveal sooner that the measures taken by the party and the Soviet state during "war communism" were not leading to the destruction of the former capitalist relations and to the building of new relations. In other words, we need to consider why the economic relations that existed during "war communism" were taken to be communist relations in the process of construction.

        If the question is put like this, the elements of an answer seem to be available.

        First, as we have seen in connection with the role ascribed to the state economic apparatus, the Bolshevik Party had not completely broken with some of the conceptions which had taken shape in the German Social Democratic Party, identifying state ownership and state centralization with the destruction of capitalist relations -- though Marx, Engels, and Lenin himself had often pointed out that development in the direction of socialism, far from implying reinforcement of the state, necessarily implies that the latter withers away, this being an effect of the consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In The State and Revolution Lenin clearly stresses that socialism presupposes disappearance of the state in the strict sense of the word. Lenin takes over this expression quite explicitly in the notes he made while reading the Critique of the Gotha Programme and other passages in Marx and Engels

    page 461

    dealing with the problem of the state, in particular the passage in a letter from Engels to Bebel in March 1875, in which, drawing the lesson of the Paris Commune, Engels wrote: "The whole talk about the state should be dropped, especially since the Commune, which was no longer a state in the proper sense of the word . . . We would therefore propose to replace state everywhere with Gemeinwesen, a good old German word which can very well convey the meaning of the French word 'commune.'"[15]

        If, despite the antistatism of The State and Revolution, and despite the warning given by Lenin when he used the expression "state capitalism under the dictatorship of the proletariat" precisely in order to prevent any confusion being made between state organization of production and distribution and the building of socialism, the governmental measures taken in the "war communism" period were interpreted as equivalent to "the immediate building of socialism," this was because the very magnitude of the state's action destroyed at that time the old forms of existence of capitalist relations and of the bourgeoisie, and so created the illusion that this activity led by the Bolshevik Party could be such as to smash the old economic relations.

        This illusion was reinforced by the fact that the massive intervention of the state in the sphere of distribution had resulted in largely eliminating commodity and money circulation. They were replaced by measures of requisitioning and state-controlled distribution of products. In this situation, it was enough to identify commodity and money relations with capitalist relations (as is done in a frequent, though mistaken, interpretation of some passages in Marx) to proceed from recognition that commodity and money circulation had virtually disappeared to the conclusion that capitalist relations themselves had disappeared. This was how the illusion came to 'prevail that "war communism" had established socialist production and distribution.

        That it was indeed an illusion was confirmed by the open resurgence of commodity exchange when "war communism"

    page 462

    ended, when extensive application of the state measures which had removed commodity relations from the economic foreground was given up. The rapidity of this open resurgence, and the large scale on which it occurred, were due precisely to the fact that capitalist production relations had never been "destroyed," that is, replaced by new social relations. It was therefore enough for repression to be relaxed and a larger quantity of goods to become available for the commodity and money relations which had been repressed until then to come to the surface once more.

        It is necessary, indeed, to emphasize that even during "war communism" the disappearance of commodity exchanges was more formal than real. In every town there were in fact places where illegal traffic was carried on almost openly, since it was tolerated by the police. An example was Sukharevka Square in Moscow, a name which even became the word commonly used in Russian to mean "black market." The scale of this illegal traffic was such that in 1919-1920 the official distribution of foodstuffs in the towns covered, generally speaking, no more than 25-40 percent of the calories needed by the inhabitants.[16]

        In any case, whatever may have been the scale of the illusions which the very conditions of "war communism" caused to arise, certain facts are clear: these illusions were not analyzed at the time, and even afterward this analysis was not developedčinstead, it was merely recognized that "war communism" had failed as a policy for transforming social relations. This inadequate understanding affected the formulation of the new line adopted after the abandonment of "war communism." This line was first presented as a return to the conception of "state capitalism" in the form which it had taken in the spring of 1918; then, as a really new policy, corresponding to the conception of the NEP which was formulated by Lenin in and after the autumn of 1921. Later, in Chapter 4, I shall come back to these different conceptions of the NEP, but before examining them it is necessary to consider the role played by the notion of state capitalism.

    page 463



    Lenin, CW, vol. 33, p. 58.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's "Fourth Anniversary of the October Revolution". -- DJR]    [p. 452]


    Ibid., p. 62.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's "The New Economic Policy and the Tasks of the Political Education Departments". -- DJR]    [p. 452]


    Ibid., p. 88.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's Seventh Moscow Gubernia Conference of the Russian Communist Party. -- DJR]    [p. 452]


    Ibid., p. 98.    [p. 453]


    CW, vol. 32, p. 216.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's Tenth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.). -- DJR]    [p. 453]


    CW, vol. 33, p. 86.    [p. 453]


    Ibid.    [p. 453]


    CW, vol. 32, pp. 233-234. (My emphasis -- C.B.)    [p. 454]


    Ibid., p. 343.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's "The Tax in Kind". -- DJR]    [p. 454]


    Liebman, Leninism under Lenin, p. 334.    [p. 455]


    Between 1918 and the end of 1920, epidemics, famine, and cold killed 1.5 million people in Russia, the First World War having already claimed 4 million victims. See Sorlin, The Soviet People, p. 78.    [p. 455]


    CW, vol. 33, p. 63.    [p. 456]


    Ibid., p. 85. (My emphasis -- C.B.)    [p. 458]


    In August 1919, in an article entitled "Letter to the Workers and Peasants apropos the Victory over Kolchak," Lenin wrote: "The dictatorship of the working class is being implemented by the Bolshevik Party, the party which as far back as 1905 and even earlier merged with the entire revolutionary proletariat" (CW, vol. 29, p. 559).    [p. 460]


    Marx and Engels, Selected Works, vol. 3, pp. 34-35.    [p. 461]


    Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, vol. 2, pp. 242-243.    [p. 462]

    page 464

      3. "State capitalism"

        In the period immediately after the abandonment of "war communism," between the spring and autumn of 1921, the prevailing conception of the NEP was, as we have seen, that it meant a return to the policy of state capitalism, the policy that the Bolshevik Party had proposed to follow on the morrow of the October Revolution. This "return" testifies to the central position occupied for a long period, in the thinking of Lenin and the Bolshevik Party, by the idea of state capitalism under the dictatorship of the proletariat.

       I.  The place occupied in the policy of the
          Bolshevik Party by the conception of state
          capitalism under the dictatorship of
          the proletariat

        When we read Lenin's writings of 1917 and early 1918, we see clearly that the expression "state capitalism under the dictatorship of the proletariat" is being used in order to draw a strict line of demarcation between the legal and political changes which it was then possible to carry out, and the destruction of capitalist production relations. What had to be emphasized was that, even under the dictatorship of the proletariat, the nationalization and statization of the means of production shake capitalist economic relations only to a limited extent: they do not "abolish" these relations, any more than they cause the bourgeoisie to "disappear."

        However, this expression does not serve merely a

    page 465

    "pedagogic" purpose, warning people not to confuse forms of state ownership with socialist economic relations. It corresponds also to a certain conception of the "stages" through which it is necessary to pass in order to reach socialism. Thus, in The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It,[1] Lenin writes: "For socialism is merely the next step forward from state-capitalist monopoly. Or, in other words, socialism is merely state-capitalist monopoly which is made to serve the interests of the whole people and has to that extent ceased to be capitalist monopoly."[2]

        These propositions are themselves based on a certain number of premises. They suggest that the forms of organization of capitalism in its "most advanced" phase are necessarily those upon which the proletariat must and can base itself in building socialism. The problem of the relation between these forms and their class content (the fact that they correspond to certain class relationships) is not clearly presented, so that the only important question that seems to arise is that of who controls the use of these forms. This is what Lenin says: "In point of fact, the whole question of control boils down to who controls whom, i.e., which class is in control and which is being controlled."[3]

        This is fundamentally correct, for the question of power is of primary importance, but to put the matter like this does not render pointless a number of other questions. Can the mode of control and the forms of organization required by this mode of control be the same for both of two antagonistic classes, an exploited class and an exploiting class?

        If not, what changes does the exercise of power by the proletariat dictate in the concrete ways of control? Must not these ways of control themselves be modified, depending on whether the principal task of the hour is to consolidate proletarian power or to bring about socialist transformation of economic relations?

        In October 1917 the question was settled -- at least as far as the stage at which the revolution then stood was concerned -- in favor of the possible, and even necessary, identity of the forms of organization of state capitalism under the dictatorship

    page 466

    of the bourgeoisie and under the dictatorship of the proletariat, with one decisive reservation, namely, that control over the apparatus of state capitalism must be exercised by the popular masses themselves (and not, "in their name," by some other branch of the state apparatus). But this reservation begs exactly that very question, namely, whether the popular masses can really exercise control over the highly centralized apparatus of state capitalism. In 1917 the Bolshevik Party answered this question affirmatively.

        In fact, given the concrete conditions of the time, which we have discussed earlier, it must be acknowledged that there were at that moment no other possible ways of avoiding total disorganization and "fragmentation" of the economy[4] than the measures which were then taken, and which in fact involved only a very slight degree of control by the popular masses who were, generally speaking, not interested in this sort of activity.

        In any case, the problems of the general necessity of a stage of state capitalism, of its eventual role in the advance toward socialism, of the contradictions of such a stage, and of the way to deal with these contradictions, were not really discussed. At the time, the "stage" of state capitalism seemed to the Bolshevik Party to be an obvious necessity, and the "model" offered by the German war economy seemed to be one that should be emulated.

        In practice, the class struggle led the Bolshevik Party in 1918 to apply, or to try to apply, two variants of the same fundamental conception of "state capitalism under the dictatorship of the proletariat."

       (a)  The variant applied between October
            1917 and March 1918

        The first of these aimed at encroaching as little as possible on the legal ownership of enterprises. It prevailed, broadly speaking, until March 1918. In the course of this period, the organization and regulation of industry by the state was seen as the main thing, and enterprises were not usually confiscated unless the workers in them demanded that this be done as a "punitive" measure. At the Third Congress

    page 467

    of Soviets, in January 1918, Lenin confirmed this orientation of policy, stating that the enterprises of some capitalists had been nationalized and confiscated in order "to compel them to submit."[5]

        At the beginning of 1918, one of the immediate reasons most often put forward by Lenin in support of the policy of state capitalism, and more particularly of the policy then being followed, which involved only a limited number of expropriations and nationalizations, was the catastrophic situation in which the Russian economy then found itself. In this situation Lenin considered that it was necessary to halt momentarily the offensive against capital, the struggle to destroy capitalist economic relations and build new, socialist ones. Replying to those who wanted, on the contrary, to continue this offensive, Lenin wrote, for example, in The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government : "The present task could not be defined by the simple formula: continue the offensive against capital. Although we have certainly not finished off capital and although it is certainly necessary to continue the offensive against this enemy of the working people, such a formula would be inexact, would not be concrete, would not take into account the peculiarity of the present situation in which in order to go on advancing successfully in the future, we must 'suspend' our offensive now."[6]

        Here, state capitalism appears less as a stage than as a policy of halting the revolutionary offensive. For Lenin, however, it was not a question of a real halt. As far as he was concerned, "what we are discussing is the shifting of the centre of gravity of our economic and political work. Up to now, measures for the direct expropriation of the expropriators were in the forefront. Now the organisation of accounting and control in these enterprises in which the capitalists have already been expropriated and in all other enterprises, advances to the forefront."[7]

       (b)  The second variant

        The second variant of "state capitalism under the dictatorship of the proletariat" was one that was oriented toward the

    page 468

    large-scale expropriation of the old bourgeoisie, while retaining the bourgeois forms of state organization and regulation, in state-owned industrial enterprises as elsewhere. This second variant came into operation after the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

        To Bukharin and the "left Communists," who protested against this conception, Lenin counterposed the attitude of the workers who, he said, "having grown out of the infancy when they could have been misled by 'Left' phrases or petty-bourgeois loose thinking, are advancing towards socialism precisely through the capitalist management of trusts, through gigantic machine industry, through enterprises which have a turnover of several millions per year -- only through such a system of production and such enterprises. The workers . . . are not afraid of large-scale 'state capitalism'"[8]

        In this same article on "'Left-Wing' Childishness and the Petty-Bourgeois Mentality" Lenin also put forward other arguments which presented state capitalism not as a "stage," but as a policy justified by the isolation of the Russian Revolution and the need to mark time, while holding on to power, until the proletarian revolution should triumph in Germany too.

        At the beginning of 1921, when the first conception of the NEP was outlined, Lenin again stressed the need, under the conditions then existing, to have recourse to state capitalism under the dictatorship of the proletariat.

       (c)  The "return" to state capitalism in 1921

        In Lenin's pamphlet on The Tax in Kind,[9] the NEP is seen essentially as a "return" to state capitalism clothed in the form that the Bolshevik Party had wanted in 1918. It will be seen later that this conception of the NEP was very temporary; it was abandoned in the autumn of 1921. Theoretically, however, it is important, testifying as it does to the considerable place still occupied by the conception of state capitalism under the dictatorship of the proletariat in the policy and ideology of the Bolshevik Party.

        Concretely, state capitalism presented itself at that time in

    page 469

    many different aspects. In his pamphlet, Lenin mentioned those that seemed to him the most important: the granting of concessions to foreign capitalists; cooperatives of small producers and petty capitalists (which Lenin distinguished, of course, from workers' cooperatives); the leasing to capitalist entrepreneurs of industrial, commercial, and mining enterprises belonging to the state, etc.[10] These aspects of state capitalism were then those most recently introduced. They must not lead us to forget the earlier aspects already established and still in force -- the recruiting of capitalists and bourgeois technicians to run state enterprises, and the capitalist relations maintained in these enterprises (the capitalist hierarchy of authority and of wage levels in the state enterprises), the capitalist forms of organization of the overall management of the state enterprises, and the participation of capitalists and bourgeois technicians in these forms of organization (especially the role played by the VSNKh, to which workers' control was in practice subordinate).

        These last-mentioned aspects of state capitalism deserve all the more attention because they were to persist when Soviet Russia entered what Lenin called a new phase of "'retreat," one which seemed to him to signify the abandonment of state capitalism in favor of a new conception of the NEP. Actually, the break effected when the transition was made from the first to the second conception of the NEP, called into question much more than the abandonment of state capitalism, as we shall see when we analyze these two conceptions. Before doing so, however, we must examine the origins of the notion of "state capitalism under the dictatorship of the proletariat" and its place in the development of Lenin's thought.[11]

       II.  The origins of the conception "state
           capitalism" and its place in Leninism

        The notion of "state capitalism" first appeared before the First World War, in the Social Democratic parties of Germany

    page 470

    and Austria. It was in these parties that certain leaders and theoreticians, such as Kautsky and, especially, Hilferding, drew attention to the decisive role being played by the central apparatuses of state monopoly capitalism, and saw in this a prefiguring of the economic machinery which the proletariat would need in order to build socialism.

        The German Social Democratic Party thus reproduced bourgeois and petty bourgeois conceptions of socialism" against which Marx and Engels had waged ceaseless struggle. For years Engels strove, for example, to make known to the masses and the party members the antistatist theses expounded by Marx in his Critique of the Gotha Programme. Only belatedly did he succeed in getting the agreement of the German party leaders to the publication of this work. Soon afterward he managed to have eliminated from the Erfurt Program of the German Social Democratic Party the fresh resurgences of statism that had been contained in the original draft. The program as finally adopted declared that the party could have nothing in common with what was called "state socialism," in which the state takes the place of the private entrepreneur, "and thereby concentrates in the same hands the power of economic exploitation and political oppression"[12]

        We know how sharply Lenin :broke with Kautsky's ideas regarding the political apparatus of the bourgeois state and the possibility of the proletariat's making use of it. In The State and Revolution, for example, he wrote: "In his very controversy with the opportunists, in his formulation of the question and his manner of treating it we can now see, as we study the history of Kautsky's latest betrayal of Marxism, his systematic deviation towards opportunism precisely on the question of the state."[13]

        Lenin showed in rigorous fashion the incompatibility of Kautsky's ideas on the question of the state with the teachings of Marx, and in doing so reminded his readers that, in order to exercise its dictatorship, the proletariat must smash the state machine of the bourgeoisie and build a political apparatus of its own, a state which is destined to wither away.

    page 471

        Having effected this break, however, Lenin nevertheless declared that the state economic apparatus which had been formed in the monopoly stage of capitalism must be retained. Thus, he wrote:

    In addition to the chiefly "oppressive" apparatus -- the standing army, the police and the bureaucracy -- the modern state possesses an apparatus which has extremely close connexions with the banks and syndicates, an apparatus which performs an enormous amount of accounting and registration work, if it may be expressed this way. This apparatus must not, and should not, be smashed. It must be wrested from the control of the capitalists; the capitalists and the wires they pull must be cut off, lopped off, chopped away from the apparatus; it must be subordinated to the proletarian Soviets; it must be expanded, made more comprehensive, and nation-wide. And this can be done by utilising the achievements already made by large-scale capitalism (in the same way as the proletarian revolution can, in general, reach its goal only by utilising these achievements).[14]

        In Lenin's writings of this period there is still a contradiction between the class analysis of the bourgeoisie's political apparatus, which Lenin says emphatically must be smashed, and the role he assigns to the economic apparatus of state capitalism, which he presents as needing to be preserved, in order that it may be subordinated to the organs of proletarian power. The position maintained by Lenin thus fixes a limit to the work of destruction-and-reconstruction to be accomplished by the proletarian revolution. This position raises a number of questions.

        The first set of questions concerns the stages to be traversed by the revolution under proletarian leadership. Lenin agrees that the revolution is not a once-and-for-all "act" but a process that passes through stages, and he indicates that each of these stages is marked off by the limits to the work of destruction-and-reconstruction of social relations which can actually be realized. However, there are some ambiguities regarding the nature of stages, their content, and the conditions governing transition from one stage to another. For instance, state capitalism appears sometimes as a stage which has to be gone

    page 472

    through for apparently "technical" reasons (it is by traversing this stage that the proletariat "learns" to manage the economy: it cannot advance until it has passed through the stage of a state capitalism which it brings increasingly under its own control); but elsewhere, state capitalism appears as a policy which the proletariat applies during a certain stage in the class struggle. This conception of state capitalism as a policy is one that tends to become predominant from 1921 onward.[15]

        Another ambiguity is to be observed in Lenin's writings of 1918, which do not make clear whether, upon transition to the next stage of the revolution, the apparatuses of state capitalism are destined to be destroyed, or whether, on the contrary, they are destined to play a role also in the building of socialism (the latter not being, in Lenin's view, the task that confronted the Russian Revolution in 1918).

        Obviously, one should not expect Lenin to answer in advance a question which the class struggle had not yet raised concretely. Nevertheless, some of his formulations in that period might suggest that the same apparatuses are destined, without being revolutionized, to play a part in socialist construction.

        A second set of questions relates to the conditions for transformation of the social relations established in the apparatuses of state capitalism. Whereas Lenin usually "puts politics in command," and stresses that the transformation of social relations necessitated by the transition to socialism results from class struggle and action by the masses, he did nevertheless use formulations from which it could be concluded that, under the dictatorship of the proletariat, once private ownership of the means of production has been abolished, the transformation of social relations results from the development of the productive forces and not from the class struggle -- notably, in of the disappearance of the division between physical and mental work. For example, he writes:

    When we see how incredibly capitalism is already retarding this development [of the productive forces], when we see how much progress could be achieved on the basis of the level of technique already attained, we are entitled to say with the fullest con-

    page 473

    fidence that the expropriation of the capitalists will inevitably result in an enormous development of the productive forces of human society. But how rapidly this development will proceed, how soon it will reach the point of breaking away from the division of labour, of doing away with the antithesis between mental and physical labour, of transforming labour into "life's prime want" -- we do not and cannot know.[16]

        This formulation, despite its cautious phrasing, shows that at the very moment when he was writing The State and Revolution -- that is, when he was breaking with those theoretical positions of Social Democracy which he had never attacked so resolutely before -- Lenin had not yet entirely abandoned the idea of a transformation of social relations (what he calls "breaking away from the division of labor") resulting, given certain political conditions, from the development of the productive forces, nor (for the two ideas are linked together) that of a relatively long-lasting role to be played by the apparatuses of state capitalism.

        Actually, where these questions are concerned (the place and role of state capitalism, the conditions for the socialist transformation of social relations), two different views conflict -- and coexist -- in Lenin's thought. One of them, the "dominant" view, puts in the forefront the class struggle waged by the masses as a factor in the destruction-and-reconstruction of social relations and, in the first place, of social production relations; the other, the "dominated" view (in the sense that it usually plays a secondary role), sees the emergence of new production relations as being dependent on the development of the productive forces.

        The presence in Lenin's thought of this second conception -- which, when it is dominant, is that of economism -- is not at all surprising. Certain passages in Marx (in particular, the 1859 Preface to the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy ) seem not to rule it out completely, and these passages, interpreted in an economistic way, played a big part in the ideology of the Second International, with which Lenin made a break that was still incomplete in 1918.

        At the level of theory, the difficulty in breaking with the

    page 474

    economistic interpretation of certain passages in Marx lies in the fact that it is true that, in general -- that is, as long as the prevailing production relations do not hinder their development -- it is the productive forces that play the principal and decisive role: however, when the productive forces can no longer develop within the limitations of the prevailing production relations, the principal and decisive role is played by the transformation of the production relations. It is here that an ideological "slip" may occur, leading one to suppose that under certain conditions, namely, given the dictatorship of the proletariat, a radical transformation in production relations may be effected "peacefully," under the "pressure" of the productive forces -- whereas the "necessity" of a transformation of the production-relations does not render this transformation "inevitable," but merely makes possible the opening of a period of social revolution.[17]

        To return to Lenin's passage in which he refers to "breaking away from the division of labor": it suffers from the defect of suggesting (though not actually saying) that, once "the expropriation of the capitalists" has been effected, "breaking away" from the old economic relationships can thenceforth take place as a direct consequence of the development of the productive forces. An interpretation on similar lines might lead one to affirm that the transformation of the apparatuses of state capitalism and of the social relations embodied in them can likewise result from mere development of the productive forces. This interpretation, which makes the productive forces, rather than the class struggle, the driving force of history, and which therefore contradicts the fundamental ideas of Marx and Lenin, has been adopted by modern revisionism. It is an interpretation which rules out the continuation of the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat. It thus leads to consolidation of the elements of capitalist relationships, more or less transformed (in particular, the capitalist division of labor ), which continue to exist after the political power of the bourgeoisie has been destroyed and a state-owned economic sector established. It thus disarms the proletariat and enables the bourgeoisie to strengthen

    page 475

    its position -- in particular as a state bourgeoisie. Finally, this interpretation results in hindering the further development of the productive forces. Despite the brevity of the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat for which he was able to draw up a balance sheet (and of the very special character of this period, which was largely dominated by military tasks), Lenin's last writings show with increasing clearness that he was in the process of breaking with what he had retained of the economist interpretations of Marx's analyses. He was jettisoning more and more of what remained of "Kautskyism" in the role that, in 1918, he still assigned to state capitalism considered not as a policy, but as a form of organization which could serve directly (that is, without being revolutionized) for building socialism and for dealing with the contradictions between the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie. Analysis of the successive formulations that Lenin gave to the New Economic Policy enables us to perceive clearly how he was moving, in 1922-1923, toward a break with his conceptions of 1918. The fact that this transformation of Lenin's ideas had not been completed, and the contradictions which, consequently, are to be found in some of his formulations, made it possible later, by interpreting his writings in a one-sided way and ignoring the movement of thought which is expressed in them, falsely to identify state capitalism with socialism, and this in the name of a "Leninism" which betrays precisely that which is new in Lenin.



    Written in September 1917 and published as a pamphlet in late October (CW, vol. 25, pp. 319-365).    [p. 465]


    Ibid., p. 358.    [p. 465]


    Ibid., p. 342.    [p. 465]


    It needs to be recalled that the winter of 1917-1918 saw a tendency to economic disintegration: each locality, each region tried to keep for itself whatever it produced, and even seized

    page 476

    goods in transit across its "territory," so as to ensure priority satisfaction of its own consumer needs.    [p. 466]


    CW, vol. 26, p.461 [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's Third All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers' Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies. -- DJR]; see also Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, vol. 2, pp. 79 ff. It will be observed that the nationalization decrees adopted in those days were practically always accompanied by a "statement of reasons" which did not refer to a policy of expropriation as a matter of principle but to specific reasons which justified each separate measure.    [p. 467]


    CW, vol. 27, p. 245.    [p. 467]


    Ibid., p. 246.    [p. 467]


    "'Left-Wing' Childishness," in CW, vol. 27, p. 349.    [p. 468]


    CW, vol. 32, pp. 329 ff.    [p. 468]


    Ibid., pp. 346, 347, 349.    [p. 469]


    This place seems to have been even bigger in the first variant of the NEP.  [p. 469]


    Engels, Critique of the Erfurt Programme, in Marx and Engels, Selected Works, vol. 3, p. 432.    [p. 470]


    CW, vol. 25, p. 477.    [p. 470]


    CW, vol. 26, pp. 105-106.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's "Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?". -- DJR]    [p. 471]


    It was in this sense of the expression that the Chinese Communist Party practiced a policy of "state capitalism" during the transition from "new democracy" to socialism. The concrete content of the policy of state capitalism was in China inevitably different to some degree from what it had been in Russia. For example, it included investment by the state in private capitalist enterprises (which became "mixed" enterprises), contracts associating private enterprises with state enterprises, and the transformation of private capitalist enterprises into state enterprises in which the former capitalists retained for a certain period their managerial function and high salaries, and were paid interest on the capital of the enterprises they had formerly owned. This policy was applied mainly in the early 1950s. Some of the economic relationships to which it gave rise continued to be reproduced until the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (and not all of them were destroyed by the latter).    [p. 472]


    CW, vol. 25, pp. 468-469. (My emphasis -- C.B.)    [p. 473]


    As we know, Lenin emphasized that this period covers an "Rentire historical epoch," that of the transition to communism, during which a bourgeois restoration still remains possible (CW, vol. 28, p. 254).  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky. -- DJR]    [p. 474]

    page 477

      4. The changes in Lenin's conception of
         the NEP

        The passages in which Lenin tackles the problems of the New Economic Policy are extremely important. He increasingly raises to the level of theory the experience, both positive and negative, of the first years of the revolution. He starts from a recognition of the failure of "war communism" and, while apparently "returning" to the conceptions of 1917-1918, actually formulates, to an increasing degree, a new strategy -- a strategy enriched by experience and taking more and more into account the fact that the proletarian revolution in industrial Europe no longer seems so imminent, so that it is necessary to consider with ever-greater acuteness the problems of building socialism in a country with a peasant majority, and accordingly to define a new class strategy and a new economic strategy, differing from those which had been followed up to that time. To be sure, many elements of this new strategy can be found in Lenin's earlier writings, but organized in a different way.

        The body of writing in which Lenin deals with these problems was continually being added to between 1921 and 1923. We see in these works literally the birth of new ideas, a broader view of the contradictions, and an ever more precise formulation of the requirements for a correct treatment of these contradictions.

        It is essential to grasp the forward movement of Lenin's thinking, for the latter was a veritable "laboratory." Analyzing the progress of his thought enables us to perceive what is meant by a living application of Marxism: it is also very instructive because it illustrates the obstacles to the birth of new formulations, constituted by the existence of earlier, inadequate formulations.

    page 478

       I.  Lenin's conception of the NEP in the
          spring of 1921

        The first conception of the NEP, formulated in the spring of 1921, presents it as aimed above all at coping with an emergency situation in which it is impossible to continue with the policy of requisitioning, and necessary to reckon with the demands of the peasantry.

        Basing himself upon his analyses of 1917 and early 1918, taking account of the failure of "war communism," and paying maximum attention to the actual demands put forward by the peasants, Lenin assembled the elements of a first conception of the NEP.

        This first conception was one of temporary compromises which had to be accepted so as "to hold out until the victory of the international revolution."[2] It did not aim (as Lenin was to try to do in subsequent writings) to open up a new road to socialism, but merely laid the foundations for measures that were indispensable in order to strengthen Soviet power.

        On the plane of economic policy, this initial conception of the NEP (which prevailed, broadly speaking, from March to October 1921) was paralleled by two types of measures. On the one hand, as we know, requisitioning of the peasants' produce was abandoned and replaced by a tax in kind, with reestablishment of a certain degree of freedom of exchange for the peasants, as well as for small traders and small-scale industry. On the other, "concessions" were granted to foreign big capital, with the twofold purpose of setting one section of international finance capital against another and reactivating Russian industry, which was then in a practically paralyzed condition. This second component of the New Economic Policy was at that time regarded as the chief one, following as it did the line of "state capitalism," of which the NEP then seemed merely a variant. The NEP, conceived as a variant of state capitalism, was justified in Lenin's eyes by the analysis he made at that time of the relations which the proletariat was in a position to maintain with the peasant masses. In the spring of 1921, a political alliance between the proletariat and

    page 479

    the peasantry seemed to him possible only insofar as the proletariat was fighting to uphold the democratic revolution, and not taking as its task the socialist transformation of social relations on a large scale. A policy of economic agreement with the peasantry was necessary, however, in order to consolidate the dictatorship of the proletariat -- in order to "save the socialist revolution in Russia," as Lenin put it in his report of March 15, 1921, to the Tenth Congress of the Bolshevik Party. He explained his line of thought thus: "The interests of these two classes [the peasantry and the proletariat -- C.B.] differ, the small farmer does not want the same thing as the worker."[3]

        At the Tenth All-Russia Conference of the RCP(B), held May 26-28, 1921, Lenin returned to the same idea, pointing out that alliance between the peasantry and the proletariat had been possible under the conditions of the civil war because the White offensive also threatened the peasants with restoration of the power of the big landlords: "It is the Civil War that was the principal reason, the principal motive force, and the principal determinant of our agreement [with the peasantry] . . . It was the principal factor that determined the form of the alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry." Making the point even more clearly, he added: "As soon as we had finally done away with the external enemy . . . another task confronted us, the task of establishing an economic alliance between the working class and the peasantry."[4]

        The "economic" (and therefore not principally political) character of the alliance between the workers and the peasants was here emphasized, it will be seen, by Lenin himself.

        In this same report, Lenin still ascribed an essential position to large scale industry: "Large-scale industry is the one and only real basis upon which we can . . . build a socialist society. Without large factories, such as capitalism has created, without highly-developed large-scale industry, socialism is impossible anywhere; still less is it possible in a peasant country."[5] Furthermore, he linked the existence of proletarian class consciousness with the presence or absence of large-scale industry: "The principal material basis for the

    page 480

    development of proletarian class-consciousness is large-scale industry."[6]

        At that time, one of the aims in view was consolidating the "economic alliance" between the proletariat and the peasantry through the development of "socialist exchange" (on a nonmonetary basis) between town and country. In practice, this amounted to a rather unfavorable attitude toward the revival of rural industry, the basis of the peasants' day-to-day existence. Some of the purposes envisaged by the conception of the NEP which prevailed in the spring of 1921 were not really such as to consolidate de facto the economic alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry.

        Lenin considered, however, that, taken as a whole, the concessions made to the peasantry would ensure that the contradictions between this class and the proletariat would not develop into antagonistic contradictions, though a relationship of antagonism would threaten as soon as the proletariat tried to undertake tasks other than those of the democratic revolution. In the same address to the Tenth Party Conference, Lenin expressed himself in these terms: "Either the peasantry comes to an agreement with us and we make economic concessions to it -- or we fight."[7]

        In this period, as Lenin saw it, the latent, constantly threatening antagonism between the proletariat and the peasantry was bound up with the petty bourgeois character of the latter: the main enemy of the proletariat was the petty bourgeois element[8] -- from which followed the conclusion that we need a bloc, or alliance, between the proletarian state and state capitalism against the petty-bourgeois element."[9]

        In his report in July 1921 to the Third Congress of the Comintern, Lenin defined again, with precision, what his conception then was of the relations between the proletariat and the peasantry. As he saw it, there existed in all the capitalist countries (except, perhaps, Britain), besides the exploiting classes, also "a class of small producers and small farmers. The main problem of the revolution now is how to fight these two classes."[10]

    page 481

        The fight against the small producers and small farmers could not, of course, be waged in the same way as the fight against the big landowners and capitalists, for the simple reason that these social classes made up more than half of the population. Consequently, they

    cannot be expropriated or expelled, other methods of struggle must be adopted in their case. From the international standpoint, if we regard the international revolution as one process, the significance of the period into which we are now entering in Russia is, in essence, that we must now find a practical solution for the problem of the relations the proletariat should establish with this last capitalist class in Russia . . . This problem now confronts us in a practical way. I think we shall solve it. At all events, the experiment we are making will be useful for future proletarian revolutions, and they will be able to make better technical preparations for solving it.[11]

        This conception, in which the petty bourgeoisie (and therefore the peasantry) were defined as the "chief enemy,"[12] was the counterpart of the conception which aimed at promoting state capitalism. We see repeated here one of the themes developed by Lenin in 1918 in his pamphlet on "'Left-wing' Childishness," in which he stressed that in the combination of elements which "actually constitute the various socio-economic structures that exist in Russia at the present time," it was not socialism that was at grips with state capitalism, but "the petty-bourgeoisie plus private capitalism fighting together against both state capitalism and socialism."[13]

        In this passage, as in others, Lenin proposes, therefore, an alliance between socialism and state capitalism against small production, state capitalism being defined not just as a policy, but as an "economic and social form" characterized by "planned state organisation," and making possible "the material realisation of the economic, the productive and the socio-economic conditions for socialism" -- conditions which, in Lenin's view, seemed to be such as existed in Germany, whereas in Russia there were only the political conditions for socialism, namely, the dictatorship of the proletariat. Hence

    page 482

    his conclusion that "our task is to study the state capitalism of the Germans, to spare no effort in copying it and not shrink from adopting dictatorial methods to hasten the copying of Western culture by barbarian Russia, without hesitating to use barbarous methods in fighting barbarism."[14]

        One of the significant themes developed in the pamphlet on The Tax in Kind is that of bureaucracy, in which Lenin sees, not without reason, a product of the "pre-capitalist" character of Russia, the "patriarchalism" of the country's "peasant backwoods," with villages isolated one from another, over which a bureaucracy can easily impose its yoke,[15] though remaining incapable of helping the peasants to emerge from their condition -- whereas the combination of the dictatorship of the proletariat with state capitalism, in the form of the NEP, seemed to him to be capable of doing this. Thus, in this conception of the NEP, state capitalism was at that time the sole means of struggling -- given the restricted forces of the Bolshevik Party, especially in the countryside -- against bureaucracy (that other form of development of the petty bourgeoisie), corruption, and the regime of bribe-taking. It would enable regular relations to be strengthened between town and country and help destroy the economic conditions upon which arose a superstructure that the proletarian revolution had not really been able to destroy.

        Lenin added that, despite the capitalist nature of the development of exchange that was being stimulated in this way, its effects were less to be feared than those that would result from maintaining the existing conditions, since this would lead to the collapse of the dictatorship of the proletariat, whereas the development of capitalism allowed by the New Economic Policy could be kept within limits, owing to the existence of the workers' and peasants' government and the expropriation of the big landowners and the bourgeoisie."[16]

        Lenin did not, of course, say that the political and economic conditions then existing were sufficient to set a limit to the development of capitalism. He wrote, for example: "The whole problem -- in theoretical and practical terms -- is to find

    page 483

    the correct methods of directing the development of capitalism (which is to some extent and for some time inevitable) into the channels of state capitalism, and to determine how we are to hedge it about with conditions to ensure its transformation into socialism in the near future."[17]

        This formulation is interesting from a number of angles. It brings out the very provisional character of this conception of the NEP. It emphasizes the need to find "the correct methods" for restricting the development of capitalism. And it raises the problem of transforming state capitalism into socialism -- thus clearly counterposing the one to the other and excluding the possibility that, since the dictatorship of the proletariat has been established, the development of large-scale industry within the framework of state capitalism can result in socialism without any need for a process of transformation which would be dependent on a correct political line. As for the correct political line, Lenin points out that it cannot be arrived at in abstract fashion: its concrete content depends on the specific handling required by the existing contradictions, and in particular, the class contradictions. In order to be correct, the concrete content of the political line must therefore be determined by practical experience, which may necessitate both bold advances (real or apparent) and temporary "retreats" connected with the implementation of new methods. The road leading to the consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat and eventually to the building of socialism, cannot be found in any book: it is not "straight as the Nevsky Prospekt" (to use one of Lenin's old expressions), and the methods that seem to "approach" most directly the demands of socialism, are not necessarily always those most appropriate to the situation -- that is, to the demands of the class struggle. Accordingly, the variant of the NEP put forward in the spring of 1921, like its successor, was not advanced as a readymade solution of the problems but as an attempt at a solution, to be scrapped or modified if, in practice, it were to prove impracticable.

    page 484

       II.  Lenin's conception of the NEP after the
           autumn of 1921

        A few months' experience showed that the NEP, if conceived as a new form of state capitalism and as an alliance between the latter and socialism against the petty bourgeoisie, was not viable. This was due to a number of reasons: the development of "concessions" and of exchange did not proceed easily; the weight of the machinery of state, invaded as it had been by the old tsarist bureaucracy, continued to be a crushing burden; and in these conditions the initiative from below to which the first conception of the NEP had also sought to appeal[18] did not get under way. The year 1921 was a year of famine. Industrial production made no progress. The supply of food to the towns and to those rural areas which did not produce enough to feed themselves remained gravely inadequate. Lenin drew fresh conclusions from this state of affairs, and proposed a profound transformation of the NEP.

        In October 1921, in a report presented to the Seventh Party Conference of the Moscow Gubernia,[19] Lenin redefine the NEP and economic relations with the peasantry.

    In the spring we said that we would not be afraid to revert to state capitalism, and that our task was to organise commodity exchange . . . What was implied by that term? . . . It implied a more or less socialist exchange throughout the country of the products of industry for the products of agriculture, and by means of that commodity exchange the restoration of large-scale industry as the sole basis of socialist organisation. But what happened? . . . This system of commodity exchange has broken down, it has broken down in the sense that it has assumed the form of buying and selling . . . We must admit that we have not retreated far enough, that we must make a further retreat, a further retreat from state capitalism to the creation of state regulated buying and selling, to the money system.[20]

        Economically, this new definition of the NEP meant a comparatively extensive reestablishment of overt commodity and money relations. The Bolshevik Party agreed thereafter to the development of these relations on a scale much greater than

    page 485

    had been foreseen initially, when it had hoped to establish "direct" (non-monetary) relations between units of production, between agriculture and industry, town and country, the state sector and the peasants. Reestablishment of commodity and money relations was now considered essential for a real restoration of the economy. Generally speaking, it was this change in the "economic" conception of the NEP that attracted attention and appeared significant.

        Actually, however, what was most important was the political implications of this second variant of the NEP. It was, in fact, the beginning of a new type of relationship between the proletariat and the peasantry, since what had been previously described as an "alliance" between state capitalism and socialism, was no longer what was aimed at. What this really meant was new "renunciation" of the attempts to subject the peasants to state economic apparatuses, the function of which was to impose various constraints upon them and thereby to exact from them produce and conditions of exchange to which they would not otherwise have agreed. The road was thus open for seeking an alliance with the peasantry that should be not merely economic but also political. In other words, the Bolshevik Party's adoption of this second version of the NEP implied the possibility of a new realignment of class forces, a reconstruction on new foundations (not yet clearly defined at the end of 1921) of the alliance between workers and peasants -- the only firm basis, in a country like the Russia of that time, for strengthening the dictatorship of the proletariat.

        The concrete conditions for an advance along this newly opened road were not, however, immediately favorable. On the one hand -- and I shall come back to this when dealing with the image of a "retreat" used to describe the NEP -- at the ideological level it was not yet clear whether the redefinition of the relations between the proletariat and the peasantry was tactical in character (and so temporary, being dictated by circumstances) or strategic (allowing a fundamental political line to be defined). On the other hand, the feeble representation of the Bolshevik Party in the villages, a heritage from its past, was not such as to enable it to grasp overnight the profound

    page 486

    aspirations of the peasant masses and form close ties with the poor peasants and the less-well-off middle peasants, so as to help them fight against that strengthening of the richer elements among the peasantry which the "second" NEP might favor.

        As long as the concrete conditions had not been created for a political alliance between the proletariat and the decisive masses of the peasantry (who were still under the ideological and political influence of the well-to-do strata of the countryside), the worker-peasant alliance tended to assume a mainly economic character. Since, however, such an economic alliance was not a component of an effective political alliance, it was very fragile, owing to the contradictions that might deepen between the peasants in their capacity as commodity producers (trying to sell their goods at the highest prices possible) and the workers and the Soviet state.

        But, though real, such economic contradictions can remain secondary, provided they are properly handled, for the fundamental interest of the broad masses of the peasantry is to find a way by which to transform radically the economic relations to which they are subject, a way that frees them from exploitation by the rich peasants, merchants, and usurers (whose forces grew during the first years of the NEP), and ensures a radical improvement in their conditions of life; the peasant masses, however, cannot find this way without the help and guidance of the proletariat, its organization and ideology, which give priority to the collective interest over the interest of the individual and over petty bourgeois egoism. When the initial conception of the NEP was changed at the end of 1921, the question arose: under what conditions, by applying what measures, can the proletariat in power achieve a political alliance of a new type with the peasants, an alliance the aim of which is not merely fulfillment of the democratic tasks of the revolution but also consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat in order to build socialism? This question arose moreover, ever more concretely as time went by and the prospect (once regarded as imminent) of the Russian Revolution merging with a proletarian revolution in the industrialized

    page 487

    countries of Europe, especially Germany, became fainter and fainter.

        In his last works -- written at the beginning of 1923, and thus the fruit of over a year's further experience -- we can see that Lenin took a decisive step toward the formulation of an answer to this question. He sets out his conclusions in concise fashion in On Co-operation, Our Revolution, and Better Fewer, But Better.[21]

       (a)  "On Co-operation"

        In the first of these works, Lenin refers to the polemical character of some of his earlier formulations on state capitalism -- which forbids us to regard everything he said previously on this subject as still representing his views in 1923.[22] But the decisive importance of On Co-operation lies above all in the fact that it accords a big place to co-operative production as a socialist form of production accessible to the peasantry.

        He thus criticizes the attitude formerly taken up by the Bolshevik Party, which, he says, was "already beginning to forget the vast importance of the co-operatives," had given them "not enough attention," and had treated them with "contempt." He stresses that the cooperative movement is of "immense importance" (given that the state owns the means of production) from the standpoint of the transition to socialism, for it is the means that is "simplest, easiest and most acceptable to the peasant."[23]

        Here, in a single phrase, we find rejected the one-sided importance which had been ascribed to state enterprises (in particular, to state farms), and the role of cooperation emphasized, especially as regards the peasantry, which was thenceforth more and more at the center of Lenin's preoccupations. Writing of the peasantry, he says: "If the whole of the peasantry had been organised in co-operatives, we would by now have been standing with both feet on the soil of socialism."[24]

        The cooperatives whose development is thus identified

    page 488

    with creation of the conditions for transition to socialism may assume the widest variety of forms, but this cooperative movement must be voluntary in character, based on the conviction of the peasants themselves.

        In formulating these propositions, Lenin was combating a tendency which was very strong in the Bolshevik Party, and which had developed especially strongly during "war communism." In that period, many Bolshevik leaders sought practically to integrate the cooperatives into the "Soviet organs," which in the circumstances meant not the local soviets (the organs of self-administration by the masses) but centralized administrative apparatuses (the Supreme Economic Council, the Commissariat of Food Supplies, the Commissariat of Agriculture).[25] In fact, this would have amounted to nationalizing the cooperatives. A majority of the "section for study of the co-operatives" at the Ninth Congress of the Bolshevik Party did, moreover, pronounce in favor of such a measure of nationalization. Only an intervention by Lenin at this congress led to the proposal being withdrawn. ("It is . . . impossible to speak of the nationalisation of the co-operatives as yet. First of all create a basis, and then -- then we shall see.")[26]

        In 1923 Lenin assigned a considerable role to cooperation. In his view, it was not merely a preparatory phase. "Co-operation under our conditions," he said, "nearly always coincides fully with socialism," for it makes possible the development of socialist economic relations. As we see, the question that Lenin is dealing with here is not that of the legal ownership of the means of production (which in this work appear as owned by the state), but the social production relations. This is why the "co-operative system" does not merely have a place in what Lenin often calls a "phase of transition to socialism," but is itself "the system of socialism."[27]

        This work possesses a twofold significance: a general-theoretical one (which Lenin did not have time to develop), and a conjunctural one.

        The general-theoretical significance of On Co-operation is that it shows Lenin making another break with one of the variants of the "statist" notions inherited from the Second

    page 489

    International. By explicitly affirming the socialist nature of the cooperatives under the dictatorship of the proletariat, Lenin links his doctrine with the quite explicit formulations found in Marx and Engels, which had so often been "overgrown" by simplistic conceptions of a statist character. In the political conditions of the time, the triumph of these conceptions could foster the reproduction of bourgeois social relations, under a specific legal covering, and enable nonproducers to dispose of the means of production by way of the state machine.

        The "oblivion" into which the passages have fallen in which Marx and Engels gave great importance to cooperation and producers' associations, makes it necessary, no doubt, to remind the reader of them.

        In The Civil War in France, Marx says that one of the great lessons of the Commune, resulting from the revolutionary boldness of the Communards, was that it promulgated practical measures "destroying . . . state functionarism." Among these were not only the political measures mentioned by Lenin in The State and Revolution (putting officials, whose numbers should be reduced, under control by the masses, who were to elect them, and fixing their rates of payment at the same level as workers' wages), but also economic measures, such as the transfer by the Commune of the means of production to associations of workers. In his introduction to The Civil War in France, written in 1891, Engels says that "by far the most important decree of the Commune instituted an organisation of large-scale industry and even of manufacture which was not only to be based on the association of the workers in each factory, but also to combine all these associations in one great union: in short, an organisation which, as Marx quite rightly says in The Civil War, must necessarily have led in the end to communism."[28]

        A few years previously, writing about the period of transition to communism, Engels emphasized the fact that neither Marx nor himself "had ever doubted that in the case of transition to a communist economy it would be necessary to make extensive use of co-operative enterprises as an intermediate rung, provided that matters were organised in such a way that society

    page 490

    (and so, to begin with, the state) retained ownership[29] of the means of production in order that the special interests of the co-operatives in contrast to the interest of society as a whole might not become consolidated."[30]

        Thus, Lenin's On Co-operation links up with Marx's analyses and carries further, on this special but important issue, the break with the ideas of the Second International already begun in The State and Revolution.

        The situation of this work in the political conjuncture of late 1922 and early 1923 is equally important. On Co-operation gives concrete form to the implications of Lenin's conception of the NEP as it had begun to take shape toward the end of 1921. It does this by opening up a new path for the alliance between the workers and the peasants, thereby extending substantially the bearing of the passages in Marx and Engels which were particularly concerned with workers' cooperatives. The new conclusions to which Lenin thus arrived were the outcome of the experience of the first five years of the Russian Revolution, and of an analysis of the successes and failures recorded which brought out more and more clearly the right way to handle the contradictions that had developed between the proletariat and the peasantry on the basis of political and economic practices which were partly misconceived. These writings thus draw the lesson to be learned from past mistakes.

       (b)  The development of socialist economic
            relations and the struggle against the
            state machine

        It was not accidental that Lenin was at one and the same time trying to find a path that would enable socialist economic relations to develop at the actual level of peasant production, and undertaking a struggle against the state machine.

        In his writings of early 1923, Lenin mentions the need to carry out a set of tasks relating to the transformation of political and economic relations. He enumerates these tasks: struggle against a state machine inherited from tsardom, destruction of

    page 491

    this machine and construction of a genuinely socialist one, launching joint work with the peasantry on a basis of trust, a fierce fight against megalomania, waste, boasting, and respect for hierarchy and the forms and usages of administrative procedure -- all the features characteristic of a state machine which is "socialist only in name." In Lenin's view, these tasks could be accomplished only through reestablished and genuine unity between the working class and the peasantry, and by calling upon the advanced workers to learn, through practice and with a critical spirit, not fearing to condemn what might prove to be negative in past or present experience. Lenin thus denounced in advance many of the later attempts to "advance" by means of the same bureaucratic and statist methods as before.

        The main axis of this political line of struggle against a state machine which he described as being the old tsarist one "anointed with Soviet oil," was the ideological and political leadership exercised by the proletariat over the peasantry. It was no longer a question of strangling the petty bourgeois element by means of coercion (though this must, of course, continue to be used against open violation of the rules of economic and political conduct laid down by the dictatorship of the proletariat), but of convincing the peasant masses and building along with them, step by step, a state of a really new type: "We must strive to build up a state in which the workers retain the leadership of the peasants, in which they retain the confidence of the peasants, and by exercising the greatest economy remove every trace of extravagance from our social relations.

        "We must reduce our state apparatus to the utmost degree of economy. We must banish from it all traces of extravagance, of which so much has been left over from Tsarist Russia, from its bureaucratic capitalist state machine."[31]

        The building of a new type of state, the development of relations of trust between the workers and the peasants, and the leading role of the working class implied the application of the mass line in new forms. This was necessary in order to build new political relations, which could only be consoli-

    page 492

    dated, however, through transformation of the economic relations themselves, and, in the first place, of the production relations. As Marx wrote: "It is always the direct relationship of the owners of the conditions of production to the direct producers . . . which reveals the innermost secret, the hidden basis of the entire social structure, and with it the political form of the relation of sovereignty and dependence, in short, the corresponding specific form of the state."[32]

        The link that Lenin established between transforming production relations in agriculture through cooperation and transforming the state was thus not at all fortuitous. Nevertheless, it is true (and I shall come back to this point) that Lenin does not take up in these works a whole series of questions concerned with the transforming of production relations in industry. Perhaps this was because, as Marx puts it, "mankind never sets itself tasks which it cannot solve," and the ideological and political conditions (the degree of acuteness of the contradictions) where transformation of production relations in industry was concerned, were not yet present at that time.

        Even though Lenin does not tackle in its full magnitude the problem of revolutionary transformation of production relations in industry (that is, radical transformation of the production process), he does deal with some extremely important aspects of this problem (and this already in the spring of 1921), when he comes out in favor of a certain form of industrial development based on "the utmost local initiative," and of "small local industry."[33] He is not here rejecting the rapid development of large-scale industry, but he is sketching a line that was later to be put into effect in China under the two slogans of "walk on two legs"[34] and "two initiatives are better than one."[35] Lenin's writings are certainly far from being the equivalent of these slogans and their relation to the fight against the various forms of the division of labor inherited from class societies, but it is possible to perceive in them the start of such an orientation. His writings of 1923 confirm this, with their contrasting of the megalomania and unrealism of the state apparatuses with the modesty and earnestness of the initiatives coming from below, from the workers and peasants,

    page 493

    thus stressing once again the need for a mass line for the revolutionary transformation of economic relations.

        In any case, the beginning of such an orientation in Lenin's last writings was clear enough, the threat that this orientation represented to the state bourgeoisie then taking shape in the administrative and economic apparatuses was definite enough, and the capacity for pressure possessed by this "new bourgeoisie" was itself strong enough for On Co-operation and Our Revolution, which were written in January 1923, not to appear in Pravda until the end of May -- an exceptionally long delay in the publication of anything written by Lenin.

       (c)  Mass line, cultural revolution, and
            transformation of economic relations

        During the first months of the NEP, Lenin urgently stressed the need vigorously to apply a mass line once again. In his pamphlet Instructions from the Council for Labour and Defence to Local Soviet Bodies,[36] he wrote:

    A number of capable and honest non-Party people are coming to the fore from the ranks of the workers, peasants and intellectuals and they should be promoted to more important positions in economic work, with the Communists continuing to exercise the necessary control and guidance. Conversely, we must have non-Party people controlling the Communists. For this purpose, groups of non-Party workers and peasants, whose honesty has been tested, should be invited to take part, on the one hand, in the Workers' and Peasants' Inspection, and on the other, in the informal verification and appraisal of work, quite apart from any official appointment.[37]

    This "instruction" clearly advocates the establishment of control by the masses over the state apparatuses and over the Communists themselves. This orientation is reiterated constantly thereafter in Lenin's writings and speeches, in his interventions at the Eleventh Congress of the Bolshevik Party (at the end of March and beginning of April 1922),[38] and in the works he wrote at the beginning of 1923.

        In the last-mentioned writings, Lenin emphasizes particu-

    page 494

    larly the role of direct contacts between workers and peasants. On this point, the following passage, taken from Pages from a Diary, deserves quotation: "It is our duty to establish contacts between the urban workers and the rural working people, to establish between them a form of comradeship which can easily be created. This is one of the fundamental tasks of the working class which holds power. To achieve this we must form a number of associations (Party, trade-union and private) of factory workers, which would devote themselves regularly to assisting the villages in their cultural development."[39]

        In this passage, as in others, what is aimed at is many-sided organization of the masses, and activity by the workers among the peasantry so as to help the latter organize themselves, in order that they may not have to bow down before administrative apparatuses having nothing socialist about them, in order that they may control these apparatuses, and in order that they may gradually move in the direction of socialism of their own accord, thanks to the leading activity of the proletariat but without haste or coercion.

        In the same period Lenin also returns to the theme of "cultural revolution" as an indispensable condition for the development of socialism. To be sure, what he has in mind, "for a start" (and, therefore, not as a final aim), is "real bourgeois culture," which, he thinks, will enable the masses to shake off "the cruder types of pre-bourgeois culture, i.e., bureaucratic culture or serf culture, etc." It is clear that when Lenin speaks of "bourgeois culture," he does this in order to brush aside the prefabricated notions of "proletarian culture" which were being advocated by "many of our young writers and Communists," and not in order to dismiss a genuine proletarian culture that would really "become part and parcel . . . of our social life, our habits."[40]

        For Lenin, be it remembered, the term "cultural revolution" refers to two interwoven revolutionary processes. The first of these corresponds to the accomplishment, in the domain of way of life and education, of the democratic revolution: it is in this sense that Lenin speaks of getting rid of

    page 495

    "pre-bourgeois culture, i.e., bureaucratic culture or serf culture, etc." The second process is that of a proletarian cultural revolution, the conditions for which Lenin was unable, at the time when he was writing, to explain, but the need for which he obviously feels when he calls upon the factory workers to help in the cultural development of the countryside, and when he says that the replacement of prebourgeois cultures by bourgeois culture is only "a start."

        Lenin's conception of the relations between the superstructure and the infrastructure, which was radically different from the "mechanistic" views of many other Bolsheviks, especially Bukharin, explains the dialectical way in which he presents the problem of the class struggle in the superstructure, and the revolutionary transformation of the latter as a condition for transforming the economic basis.

       (d)  The revolutionary role of the peasantry

        Starting with the conception of the NEP which he formulated toward the end of 1921 -- and so also with his critical review of the relations between the working class and the peasantry during the first years of the Russian Revolution -- Lenin began to work out a new political line in relation to the peasantry, a line which treated these masses as the true ally of the proletariat, not merely in the democratic stage of the revolution -- as an ally capable of moving toward socialism, provided that it was shown the right road.

        Some writings of Lenin's previous to On Co-operation clearly reveal this orientation. Thus, in his speech closing the Eleventh Party Congress (April 2, 1922), he said: "The central feature of the situation now is that the vanguard must not shirk the work of educating itself, of remoulding itself . . . The main thing now is to advance as an immeasurably wider and larger mass, and only together with the peasantry, proving to them by deeds, in practice, by experience, that we are learning, and that we shall learn to assist them, to lead them forward.[41]

    page 496

        The emphasis laid on advancing together with the peasantry, and only together with them was already present in several of Lenin's earlier writings. It goes far to explain the vehemence of his struggle against the Workers' Opposition whose theses embodied the danger of "putting the craft interest of the workers above their class interests,"[42] and thereby causing the proletariat to lose "its leading role" in the "direction of policy."[43] It was only in his writings of 1923, however, that Lenin set forth some of the conditions for a political alliance that could lead the peasantry, and with them Russia, toward socialism.

        This was a step forward of immense significance, for it made possible a new definition not only of the relations between the proletariat and the Russian peasantry, but of the revolutionary role of the peasantry more generally, and thereby, a fresh appreciation of the international political situation, by recognizing that the center of gravity of the international revolution might be shifting from the West to the East, to countries inhabited by great masses of peasants.

        It was therefore not accidental that, at the beginning of 1923, Lenin returned to the theme of the "peasants' war," and recalled what Marx had written in 1856 about a combination of a peasants' war with the working-class movement.[44] He saw more and more clearly the role that the peasant masses of Asia were destined to play in the development of the world revolution. In the last work that he wrote for publication (Better Fewer, But Better, March 2, 1923), Lenin explicitly declared:

    In the last analysis, the outcome of the struggle will be determined by the fact that Russia, India, China, etc., account for the overwhelming majority of the population of the globe. And during the past few years it is this majority that has been drawn into the struggle for emancipation with extraordinary rapidity, so that in this respect there cannot be the slightest doubt what the final outcome of the world struggle will be. In this sense, the complete victory of socialism is fully and absolutely assured.[45]

    page 497

       III.  The predominance in the Bolshevik
            Party of an economistic interpretation
            of the NEP

        The Bolshevik Party mainly ascribed to the NEP a significance different from that indicated in the. preceding pages. The party did not see it as orientation that would make it possible to forge a political alliance of a new type, which could unite the proletariat with the broad masses of the peasantry so as to guide them on to the road of socialist construction. In fact (as will be shown in more detail in the next volume), the Bolshevik Party conceived and "practiced" the NEP as if it were above all an economic policy (in a very narrow sense of that expression) which had been imposed upon it as a result of an unfavorable relation of forces, and which it would therefore be necessary, as soon as circumstances had altered, to repudiate purely and simply, in order once again to put into effect measures regarded as being more in conformity with the requirements for building socialism. These measures would accord with the conception of a "frontal assault" upon capitalist and commodity relations, similar to that attempted under "war communism." For many of the Bolshevik leaders, indeed, "war communism" had not ceased to seem a "model" proletarian offensive, which had had to be abandoned for essentially conjunctural reasons which could therefore be regarded as merely temporary.

        Thus, in 1928, the Large Soviet Encyclopedia stated that what was mistaken and utopian in "war communism" was the belief that the measures taken under pressure of war emergency could bring about "immediately," under the conditions of that time, a "centralized non-commodity economy." It was thus not the measures taken during the civil war that were to be seen as inadequate: only the moment when they were introduced was seen as inappropriate. The article on "war communism" consequently declared that "in building a consistent system of war communism [the expression is used without quotation marks -- C.B.], the working class was at

    page 498

    the same time laying the foundations for further socialist construction."[46]

        What we see prevailing here, as elsewhere, is an economistic interpretation of the NEP. This interpretation signified that the Bolshevik Party had lost sight of (or even had never appreciated) the fact that Lenin's last writings opened the way for a new political strategy, and led necessarily to a realignment of the relations between the workers and the peasants and to a profound transformation in the relations between the masses and the political apparatuses whose bourgeois, and even "prebourgeois," character meant that they could not serve as instruments of real socialist construction.

        The reasons for the prevalence of an economistic interpretation of the NEP were numerous. The most fundamental of them were political in character and were connected with the relation of class forces in Russia, especially inside the machinery of state. However, the development of an ideological struggle such as might have enabled this interpretation to be ousted by a revolutionary conception of the NEP, in conformity with the new indications given in Lenin's last writings, also came up against difficulties of a strictly ideological order. These difficulties were connected with certain hesitations in Lenin's own thinking, and crystallized around a small number of formulations, images, and metaphors which eventually helped to "conceal," to "disguise," what was radically new in those last writings of his. The images and metaphors in question had been used by Lenin for "pedagogical" purposes, but, by being taken literally, they were deprived of their real meaning.

        Since the economistic interpretation of the NEP made itself increasingly felt after Lenin's death, we must examine how this interpretation was rooted in those images and metaphors which were used as pretexts for it. Otherwise, these metaphors may continue to hide the profound meaning of Lenin's last writings.

        As we know, in 1921 Lenin acknowledged the "failure," as he himself called it, of the "methods of 'war communism.'" He drew from this the conclusion that political measures of a

    page 499

    different type must be introduced as soon as possible. He did not shrink from saying that the setback suffered was due to the mistaken character of the policy which had been followed (even though it had been dictated by circumstances). As has already been observed, however, in his writings of 1921 the nature of the mistake made was not precisely analyzed: it did not clearly emerge whether the "methods of 'war communism'" were mistaken in principle, or whether it was only the conditions of the moment that doomed them to defeat. There was thus, in these writings, a "silence" which was rather unusual where Lenin was concerned. This silence was "filled" by means of metaphors and historical analogies.

        In the report which he presented on October 29, 1921, to the Seventh Party Conference of the Moscow Gubernia, Lenin compared "war communism" to the assaults launched by the Japanese against Port Arthur during the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, and then compared the NEP to the siege of that town.[47] With this comparison was linked the metaphor of "withdrawal" and "retreat,"[48] which easily suggests that the measures taken during "war communism" were not mistaken in principle -- it was only the moment when they were adopted that was badly chosen, from which it might be concluded that measures of "direct assault" (Lenin's image for "war communism") might become appropriate again when circumstances had grown more favorable.

        We have seen that this interpretation was not in conformity with the conclusions toward which Lenin was actually moving. Nevertheless, the metaphor he used seemed to "authorize" those who were willing to make dogmatic use of his 1921 statement (and such dogmatization became frequent after Lenin's death) to resume, as soon as this should become possible, the methods of "direct assaults," involving the employment of state coercion against the working class as well as against the peasantry.

        The distortion of what was essential in Lenin's writings of 1923 found apparent justification in dogmatic interpretations of other 1921 writings of his, in which the metaphor of "withdrawal" is coupled with that of a "new retreat."

    page 500

        This second metaphor fills, so to speak, a second "silence" in the speech of October 1921, namely, that which occurs when Lenin observes that the "retreat" effected in the spring has proved "inadequate." He merely notes a "fact," without explaining the reasons for it. They are, it seems, faced with a situation that has to be accepted and which, he says, dictates a "further retreat."

        This image of the two successive "retreats" presents the transition from the first to the second variant of the NEP as a mere prolongation of one and the same withdrawal. Yet, the second "retreat" was something quite from a "prolongation" of the first. What was described as a "retreat" was, in reality, the beginning of a change in strategy much more radical than that which had been announced some months earlier, since it tended toward an entirely new redeployment of class forces, and was thus calculated to prepare a new offensive which would itself be radically different from the first one.

        What Lenin was proclaiming in the autumn of 1921 -- in a way that, at that moment, was not yet fully explicit, even for himself -- and what was of decisive political importance, was renunciation of the dominant role accorded to "state capitalism" and an endeavor to build a real, lasting, and firm alliance with the peasantry. Lenin sketched out what was later to be the political line of the Chinese Communist Party, a line aimed at drawing the working peasantry on to the socialist road, and doing this not by means of coercion but by persuasion. This was the line which Lenin was to elaborate in his writings of late 1922 and early 1923.

        Unfortunately, this gigantic step forward was presented by means of the misleading metaphor of "retreat."

        The appearance of this metaphor in Lenin's report on the NEP was a sign that the magnitude of the political and theoretical break with the errors of the previous period was hardly beginning to be apparent even to Lenin himself. This explains why, in his speech of October 1921, Lenin used another formulation, surprising at first sight, when he said: "We must take our stand on the basis of existing capitalist relations."[49]

    page 501

        The formulation is surprising since one obviously cannot take one's stand anywhere else but on what exists, unless one chooses some imaginary basis. That is just the point, and is one of the profound meanings of this passage -- what was involved was not a "return to the past" but a return to reality. To say that one is "retreating" to the basis of what exists is to say that one is not really retreating at all, but abandoning the imaginary basis of nonexistent socialist relations in order to take one's stand on real relations.

        To say this was also to say that "war communism" had failed in the most profound sense, not because it had led to "economic difficulties" or because it "lacked adequate forces," but because it was not capable, as had been believed, of transforming economic relations; and, consequently, that they had let themselves be deceived by the outward appearances of political and legal relations to which they had supposed the social production relations could be "reduced," and had thus mistakenly identified socialist property, legal ownership by a state of the dictatorship of the proletariat, with socialist economic relations.

        If we approach the matter from this angle, we see that the NEP was not really a retreat, but only apparently so. It corresponded to the abandonment of measures that were illusory from the standpoint of progress toward socialism (even if necessary in order to cope with the demands of war), because they could not affect the profound nature of economic relations. Abandoning such measures meant not a "retreat" but an "advance," for to take one's stand on real relations instead of on illusory ones is in fact to advance: and such an advance is necessary if the real social relations are actually to be transformed.

        Why is all this said in the difficult, deceptive language, not customary with Lenin, of metaphors that require decoding?

        First, because, as regards the strategic significance of the NEP, Lenin in 1921 had not yet broken completely with the earlier conception which "presented" the NEP as a "retreat" aimed at realizing a mere economic alliance with the peasantry (to whom temporary concessions were made). Consequently, we find, in several of Lenin's writings, this concep-

    page 502

    tion coexisting, at the level of certain formulations, with another, a new conception, which represents the real tendency then at work in Lenin's thinking, a conception in which the economic alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry is no longer merely an immediate aim, but the foundation of what is essential for the future: the political alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry, an alliance through which the peasants can be guided on to the socialist road. This combination of two contradictory conceptions, one only nascent while the other is being abandoned, explains why it happened that certain writings of Lenin's were for a long time seen as merely repeating what he had said previously about the economic alliance between the working class and the peasantry.

        Actually, Lenin could not have said much more than he did say at that time, for the fundamental social and political reason that he was only at the beginning of a break -- a break with a whole set of former theoretical and political conceptions, with a whole section of what, in the ideological and political "heritage" from the Second International, had not been jettisoned in Lenin's previous break in 1917 -- notably as regards the considerable role attributed to state centralization, and the "forgetting" of the transformation of economic relations which was made possible by the development of cooperation.

        The significance of the break that then began could not, of course, become fully apparent except through the development of a new practice of class struggle to which it opened the way, thereby ensuring new relations between the working class, as the leading political force, and the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie in general. Until this new practice had been sufficiently developed to make possible a theoretical reformulation, the new strategy heralded by the break could be expressed only in the language of the old one.

        On the morrow of "war communism," however, the development of a new practice of class struggle under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party was held back by the ebbing of the political activity of the masses, who were at grips with the gravest difficulties in everyday life -- hunger, cold, sickness,

    page 503

    unemployment. This development was held back, also, by the changes which had taken place in the Bolshevik Party, so that the party's break with the conceptions of "war communism" and state capitalism was slow and only very partial. These changes also hindered Lenin in defining explicitly the new strategy he was proposing. Despite these hindrances, however, Lenin gradually marked out the main lines of this new class strategy. He was able to do this because of his exceptional political experience and his mastery of Marxism. The latter enabled him to link up his thinking with the lessons drawn by Marx and Engels from the history of the class struggle, lessons which had "fallen into oblivion" in the Second International.



    In this chapter, which forms part of the balance sheet of five years of revolution, what is examined is only the changes in Lenin's conception of the NEP. The actual consequences of the NEP, which developed mainly after 1923, will be examined in the second volume of this work.    [p. 477]


    See Lenin's report on "concessions," presented on April 11, 1921, to the Communist fraction in the All-Russia Central Trade Union Council, in CW, vol. 32, p. 305.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's "Report on Concessions at a Meeting of the Communist Group of the All-Russia Central Council of Trade Unions". -- DJR]    [p. 478]


    Ibid., p. 215.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's Tenth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.). -- DJR]    [p. 479]


    Ibid., pp. 404-405.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's Tenth All-Russian Conference of the R.C.P.(B.). -- DJR]    [p. 479]


    Ibid., p. 408.    [p. 479]


    Ibid., p. 410.    [p. 480]


    Ibid., p. 420.    [p. 480]


    CW, vol. 33, p. 23.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's "New Times and Old Mistakes in a New Guise". -- DJR]    [p. 480]


    Ibid., p. 28.    [p. 480]


    CW, vol. 32, p. 484.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's The Third Congress of the Communist International. -- DJR]    [p. 480]


    Ibid., pp. 484-485.    [p. 481]


    "In the transition from capitalism to socialism our chief enemy is the petty-bourgeoisie, its habits and customs" (CW, vol. 27, p. 294).    [p. 481]


    CW, vol. 27, pp. 335-336. The passage from his earlier work is

    page 504

    quoted by Lenin in his 1921 pamphlet on The Tax In Kind (CW, vol. 32, p. 331).    [p. 481]


    CW, vol. 32, p. 335.    [p. 482]


    Ibid., pp. 349-350.    [p. 482]


    Ibid., p. 352.    [p. 482]


    Ibid., p. 345. (My emphasis -- C.B.)    [p. 483]


    Ibid., p. 352.    [p. 484]


    CW, vol. 33, pp. 81 ff.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's Seventh Moscow Gubernia Conference of the Russian Communist Party. -- DJR]    [p. 484]


    Ibid., pp. 95-96.    [p. 484]


    Ibid., pp. 467-480, 487-502.    [p. 487]


    Ibid., p. 472.    [p. 487]


    Ibid., pp. 467-469.    [p. 487]


    Ibid., p. 474.    [p. 487]


    K.P.S.S. v Rezolyutsiyakh, vol. 1, p. 495.    [p. 488]


    CW, vol. 30, pp. 483-484.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's Ninth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.). -- DJR]    [p. 488]


    CW, vol. 33, pp. 473-474.    [p. 488]


    Marx and Engels, Selected Works, vol. 2, pp. 186-187.    [p. 489]


    The place accorded here to state ownership of the means of production is determined by the actual existence of the state. It is because the latter exists during the transition, that Engels speaks here of cooperative enterprise as an "intermediate rung." This does not mean an "intermediate rung" on the way to state ownership of the production units, since the latter is obviously destined to disappear along with the state itself.    [p. 490]


    Marx and Engels, Werke, vol. 36, p. 426: letter from Engels to Bebel January 20-23, 1886. Engels's last phrase brings up a problem of great importance, which cannot, however, be dealt with merely through state ownership.    [p. 490]


    Lenin, Better Fewer, But Better, in CW, vol. 33, p. 501.    [p. 491]


    Marx, Capital, vol. III, p. 772.    [p. 492]


    Lenin, CW, vol. 32, p. 352.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's "The Tax in Kind". -- DJR]    [p. 492]


    Meaning that large-scale and small-scale industry must be developed at the same time, and that both the most up-to-date and the most established techniques must be used, including traditional techniques, which, moreover, can be gradually transformed.    [p. 492]


    Meaning a combination of central initiative and local initiatives.    [p. 492]


    CW, vol. 32, pp. 375 ff.    [p. 493]


    Ibid., p. 388.    [p. 493]


    CW, vol. 33, pp. 259 ff.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's Eleventh Congress of the R.C.P.(B.). -- DJR]    [p. 493]


    Ibid., p. 466.    [p. 494]

    page 505


    Ibid., pp. 487-488.    [p. 494]


    Ibid., p. 326. (My emphasis -- C.B.)    [p. 495]


    CW, vol. 32, p. 342.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's "The Tax in Kind". -- DJR]    [p. 496]


    Ibid., pp. 341-342. (My emphasis -- C.B.)    [p. 496]


    Our Revolution, (January 16, 1923), in CW, vol. 33, p. 476.    [p. 496]


    Ibid., p. 500.    [p. 496]


    Bolshaya Sovyetskaya Entsiklopediya, vol. 12, p. 376.    [p. 498]


    CW, vol. 33, pp. 84-86.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's Seventh Moscow Gubernia Conference of the Russian Communist Party. -- DJR]    [p. 499]


    Ibid., pp. 95-98.    [p. 499]


    Ibid., p. 98.    [p. 500]

    page 506

      5. The tasks before the Bolshevik Party at
         the time of Lenin's death

        It would be futile to try to state today what the Bolshevik Party "would have been able to do" at the time of Lenin's death, if the new strategy he proposed had been put into effect. This would be a foolish exercise, for history cannot be rewritten. One may, however, legitimately consider the significance of the tasks that Lenin then sought to assign to the Bolshevik Party, and the reasons why these tasks were fulfilled only partially.[1]

       I.  The transitional form of the dictatorship
          of the proletariat and the need to
          strengthen it

        Lenin's last writings are dominated by one essential preoccupation -- to set out the guidelines for preparing the elaboration of a new basic political line for the party, giving the NEP a content such as to make it possible to advance beyond the transitional form then borne by the dictatorship of the proletariat, and to strengthen it through a number of measures which go much further than mere matters of "economic policy," concerning, as they do, also ideological and political relations.

        Inevitably, the guidelines we find in Lenin's last writings are still only very general in character. To become concrete, they would have had to pass into social practice, into a multitude of experiences necessitating activity by the masses,

    page 507

    from which the party could draw lessons conducive to rectifications.

        The transitional form of the dictatorship of the proletariat as it existed in 1923 was, as we have seen, the historical result of that extreme tension of forces caused by the military struggle against the White insurrection and the imperialist intervention. We know how serious were the political and economic effects of the period from which the Russian Revolution emerged at the beginning of 1921 -- effects which were still present in 1923.

        The system of soviets, conceived as organizations animated by the masses, remained in a state of paralysis. The country's administration was dominated by apparatuses which were no longer under direct control by the working people. Consequently, the dictatorship of the proletariat was being exercised by the Bolshevik Party, which had merged with the most militant elements of the working class. The latter, as a result of the economic chaos and the quasi-paralysis of industry, was greatly reduced in numbers and partly "deproletarianized": instead of being made up of genuine workers who had participated as such in proletarian struggles and in the practice of industrial production, it consisted to a large extent of declassed petty bourgeois who were hostile to the dictatorship of the proletariat.

        At the time, the strength of the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia was due above all to the merging of the party with a few hundred thousand workers who were wholly devoted to the cause of Communism and to the presence at the head of the party of a leadership which had successfully survived the tests and trials of the insurrection and the civil war, and was implementing a policy based on Marxist theory in the most revolutionary form this had ever assumed in an organization guiding great masses of people. The strength of the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia lay also in the capacity of the Bolshevik Party to criticize its own activities and rectify its mistakes.

        In that period, the dictatorship of the proletariat brought

    page 508

    about a transformation of the social process of production and reproduction which, though revolutionary, was only partial. In industry this partial transformation affected the principal factories, insofar as these had been expropriated, and where their functioning was no longer subject first and foremost to the need to make profits, but was directed toward objectives laid down by the Soviet power. This transformation implied that the managers of the factories in question were subordinated to the proletariat through the medium of the Bolshevik Party, which appointed and dismissed them and supervised their activity with the help of the trade unions and the most active workers. This supervision was exercised very unevenly, but where it existed it effectively changed the relations between the working class, the managers of the state enterprises, and the means of production belonging to the latter.

        Given the situation prevailing in the state sector, upon which the dictatorship of the proletariat was actually exercised to a partial extent only, and given, too, the enormous place occupied by petty peasant production and the role played by private capitalist production (a certain development of which was tolerated by the NEP), it must be said that the transitional form of the dictatorship of the proletariat which existed in 1923 was not based on a socialist economic foundation.

        In order that no illusion should persist on that point, Lenin did not hesitate to say that "for a time we shall have to live in the midst of the capitalist system."[2]

        The constituent elements of this "capitalist system" were numerous. In the first place, there were the capitalist relations which were reproduced, or could arise, in the private enterprises, on the peasant holdings, or in the enterprises which had been granted as "concessions" or "leased out." These relations showed themselves in the reproduction of commodity and money exchanges and wage relations, and in the functioning of a price system not controlled by the Soviet power and exercising a far-reaching influence upon the forms and ways of reproduction of the material and social conditions of production, including those in the state enterprises.

    page 509

        Indeed, one of the components of the "capitalist system" of which Lenin spoke was constituted by the relations which were reproduced in the state sector. In this sector, capitalist relations were still predominant, scarcely transformed by the fact of state ownership. Although the functioning of some state-owned factories was actually subjected to the requirements of the dictatorship of the proletariat, these factories were only scattered islets (whose survival depended, moreover, on the conditions of reproduction of the rest of the economy, which was subject to the laws of individual, commodity or capitalist production). In the main, production was carried on in the state sector under the same conditions as before, both as regards what was produced and as regards the way it was produced (the mode of production, in the strict sense of the expression). The forms, inherited from the past, in which the elements of production were combined, had not really been changed.

        We know that a genuine social transformation of the relations and forms of production calls for a protracted class struggle, a struggle which must develop through stages whose succession is dictated by the development of the contradictions involved. It is the acuteness of these contradictions that determines the activity of the masses, and it is the correct guidance of this activity that enables production relations to be transformed, thereby making them more and more socialist. In 1923 this transformation had hardly been begun. The capitalist elements in the production relations were still deeply engraved in the totality of the processes of production and reproduction, in the forms of the division of labor inside the state-owned enterprises, and in the ways in which the latter were separated from each other. Consequently, commodity and wage relations were being reproduced, so that profit in money terms made its appearance again at the enterprise level: hence Lenin's remark about "the capitalist system."

        It will be remembered that already in 1918, when the Bolshevik Party took a decision aimed at subjecting the workers in the state-owned factories to a discipline imposed by ap-

    page 510

    pointed managers, and paying the latter, as also the engineers and technicians who were put over the direct producers, salaries that were higher than the workers' wages, Lenin had pointed out that the relations that might thereby be reproduced were capitalist in character. He made the same appreciation of the "profit basis" on which state-owned enterprises were placed at the beginning of the NEP, for he saw that the management of these enterprises was being placed "to a large extent . . . on a capitalist basis."[3]

        Thus, in 1923, the situation in Russia was marked by a profound contradiction between the dictatorship of the proletariat, which had been established and was being upheld through the activity of the most militant workers, soldiers, and peasants, closely linked with the Bolshevik Party and accepting its guidance, and a set of social and class relations which weakened the Soviet power and imposed upon it the transitional form it bore at this time.

        By adopting the New Economic Policy, the Bolshevik Party, and its leadership in particular, took note of this contradiction, and of a certain number of others as well. However, the analysis made by the various leaders of the party of the system of contradictions then existing was far from being unanimous, as was to become strikingly apparent after Lenin's death. The most thorough analysis of these contradictions was Lenin's own. In 1923, though, this analysis was still to some extent expressed by means of formulations that were adapted to previous conceptions, and that, though historically unavoidable, made it hard to see the situation clearly. In these circumstances, the tasks which the Bolshevik Party had to carry out in order to consolidate the dictatorship of the proletariat still did not stand out clearly. This was all the more the case because within the apparatuses of the state and the party there were social forces which were pressing for the existent "capitalist system" not to be destroyed but, on the contrary, consolidated. As we shall see later on, these forces were very active in the years that followed.

        The tasks incumbent upon the Bolshevik Party, if it was to

    page 511

    make Russia advance along the socialist road, the tasks which were indicated, in essence, by Lenin, were several, and concerned above all the transformation of ideological and political relations.

        On the plane of ideological struggle, the party needed to help the masses to acquire an outlook other than one of acceptance of the existing economic and political relations and to undertake the transformation of these relations -- which called for something quite different from a series of revolts without prospect of success. In the eyes of the party's leaders who were aware of the tasks connected with this ideological struggle, the latter appeared as demanding, above all, educational work (to be carried on especially by workers, among the peasantry), constant struggle against "precapitalist" habits and customs, and a form of revolutionary activity sometimes described as "cultural revolution" (though the content of this expression was not clearly defined).

        On the plane of directly political struggle, what was needed was to restore life to the soviets, combat "bureaucracy," and reduce as far as possible the size of the state apparatus, while refraining from hasty measures which experience had shown resulted ultimately in causing the administrative apparatuses to grow bigger and increasing their independence in relation both to the masses and to political guidance by the party.

        As regards economic relations, the Bolshevik Party agreed in 1923 that their transformation was a long-term task, but a unified view was not really arrived at as to the way in which this task should be carried out. The party leadership was far from being in complete agreement with Lenin's guidelines which meant renouncing future use of the methods of "war communism," and accepting the road of cooperation as the way to bring about the transition of the peasantry to socialism. The divergences that existed on this subject did not, however, entail immediate consequences, for the socialist transformation of economic relations was not then on the agenda.

        For the moment, a relative unity of views prevailed in the party on the necessity of accepting, for the time being, the

    page 512

    coexistence of a variety of forms of production, ranging from patriarchalism to the socialist form and including simple commodity production, capitalism, and state capitalism. It was almost unanimously agreed that, temporarily, a big place must be allowed to simple commodity production, especially in the countryside. There was much uncertainty, however, about the way in which this form of production could and should be linked with the others.

        This uncertainty was to play a considerable role throughout the NEP period. The realization of these tasks, despite their importance, was itself subordinated to the realization of urgent political and economic tasks.

        The most urgent political task was to unite the masses under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party. Without such unity no real step forward could be taken in any field whatsoever. Although, in 1923, the dictatorship of the proletariat was not under threat in the immediate sense, as it had been in the winter of 1920-1921, it could be consolidated only if the working people achieved unity for joint struggle, which was necessary if, in the middle and long runs, the task of eliminating bourgeois and prebourgeois social relations was to be accomplished. In order to secure unification of the masses for this struggle, it was above all essential to reestablish a real political alliance between the proletariat and the mass of the working peasants. The conditions for the reestablishment of this alliance were already given, to some extent, insofar as the broad masses of the peasantry saw the Bolshevik Party as alone capable of organizing resistance to the return of the landlords. To that extent, the peasants as a whole gave support to the Bolshevik Party. But in order to carry through new tasks, to go forward to socialism, this support was not enough: it had to be deepened and transformed into active backing by giving it a new political content. On the question of what, concretely, needed to be done in order to accomplish this essential task, there remained much uncertainty, especially as regards the conditions for political differentiation work among the peasantry, aimed at enabling the Bolshevik Party to obtain the

    page 513

    active backing of the least well-off strata of the peasants, those who were most directly interested in a socialist transformation of the rural areas, while at the same time not losing the backing of a substantial fraction of the middle peasants. These problems, which had not been settled in 1923, were to be at the center of the divergences which developed in the Bolshevik Party in subsequent years.

        In 1922 and 1923 the economic task which was still immediately and urgently incumbent upon the party was that of restoring production. At that time, the survival of the Soviet power still depended on its capacity to provide the working people with the means of life. If it failed to do this, there was no point in drawing up plans for the future. As Lenin told the Eleventh Party Congress: "The chief thing the people, all the working people, want today is nothing but help in their desperate hunger and need . . . "[4]

        And in practice it was to this task that the Bolshevik Party at first applied itself -- a task corresponding to the deepest and most crying needs of the people. In order to strengthen the trust that it was possible for the masses to feel for it, the Bolshevik Party had to show that it was capable of something more than merely leading political and military campaigns. The urgency of the tasks needing to be accomplished in the domain of production contributed to confer on the NEP the character of an essentially "economic" policy. It caused some of the Bolshevik leaders to lose sight of the political requirements for the struggle to increase production and feed the masses Some, as we have seen, even showed willingness to agree to the state's giving up vital economic controls (such as the foreign trade monopoly), or sacrificing the immediate interests of the poorest peasants. Here, too, divergences were to appear at several points in the Bolshevik Party during the NEP period.

        These divergences of view were to become all the greater because a number of ideological and political obstacles made it difficult to formulate the various tasks in a rigorous way and to appreciate how they determined each other. Something must

    page 514

    be said on this subject, if we are to form a sufficiently clear picture of the situation in Soviet Russia at the moment of Lenin's death.

       II.  The ideological obstacles to
           accomplishing the Bolshevik
           Party's tasks

        The task of transforming social relations under the dictatorship of the proletariat was all the harder to tackle because, in this field, the Bolshevik Party lacked the benefit of any previous experience. To be sure, it had the experience of the revolutionary struggle against the bourgeois state, but the lessons of this experience could not be applied directly under the new conditions. As we know, the very exercise of power caused party members, including many leading members, to solve problems by using, first and foremost, the means provided by the state apparatus. However, even if this apparatus had been genuinely proletarian in character -- which was far from being the case in 1923 -- giving priority to using this apparatus would not have made possible a revolutionary transformation of social relations, which always calls for action by the masses themselves. Recourse to the state apparatus makes it possible, under certain conditions, to defend transformations that have already been accomplished, but it cannot bring about fresh revolutionary transformations. Moreover, prolonged recourse to the state apparatus, without any effective intervention by the masses, tends to consolidate bourgeois and prebourgeois relations, engender passivity among the working people, and strengthen the positions of authority held by those who hold leading posts in the state apparatus. In 1923, however, this was not generally recognized by the Bolsheviks.

        The exercise of power therefore required that the Bolshevik Party discover new methods for guiding the activity of the masses.[5] In this regard, too, however, the situation was complex. Insofar as the masses tended to trust the party, they were

    page 515

    not very ready to take action, while, if they ceased to trust the party, their action might be directed against it. In his writings of 1923 Lenin emphasizes that the party must seek new forms of leadership of the people's struggles, and he suggests, as we have seen, organization of the masses in a variety of ways.

        However, these guidelines were very general -- they could hardly be otherwise at that time -- and, above all, they did not make a very deep impression on the Bolshevik Party, whose members allowed themselves to become increasingly absorbed in tasks of management or administration.

        The weakness of the efforts made to develop a mass line of a new type, adapted to the conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat, had other ideological roots besides those which have just been mentioned. Among them was a certain form of ouvriérisme which had been inherited from the Second International. This ouvriérisme played a far from negligible role in causing the party to distrust the peasantry, and even those workers who had recently emerged from that class, which meant a very large proportion of the Soviet proletariat. In practice, this attitude hindered the development of the mass organizations, prevented broad and quasi-permanent consultation of non-party people, and was an obstacle to the initiation or consolidation of forms of activity adapted to the nature of the new contradictions, which could be handled correctly only on the basis of the experience of these contradictions acquired by the working people themselves.

        In this field, very many Bolsheviks remained greatly under the influence of the positions taken up during "war communism" or during the first months of the NEP, when it was still considered possible to form an alliance with "state capitalism" against the small producer. The party consequently tended to forget that it was "but a drop in the ocean" and could therefore play its leading role "only when we express correctly what the people are conscious of."[6]

        Other ideological limitations or obstacles, too, made it difficult for the Bolshevik Party to carry out some of its tasks. One of these was an inadequate appreciation of the class nature of the state apparatus. Even though Lenin had not

    page 516

    hesitated to describe this apparatus as "bourgeois" and "tsarist," most of the Soviet leaders stressed mainly the "bureaucratic" character, or "bureaucratic distortion," of the Soviet state. Furthermore, they drew different practical conclusions from this characterization. For some, such as Stalin, the bureaucratic character of the state apparatus was mainly a cultural feature which would disappear as education progressed and which, in the meantime, could be partly combated by eliminating from the administrative and economic apparatuses the elements that had become most heavily "bureaucratized." For others, such as Trotsky, the bureaucratic aspects of the state apparatus (whose "abuses" should be "combated") were essentially bound up with the low level of the productive forces in Russia, and could therefore not be made to disappear until these forces had been sufficiently developed. Here, "bureaucracy" appeared as a social stratum which was assuming a determined and necessary function of constraint, a function which had to be exercised on the plane of production and distribution (the latter having to remain in conformity with "bourgeois right" so long as Russia had not made sufficient progress economically).

        Trotsky's conception had not yet been very explicitly affirmed by 1923, but quickly became defined in the years that followed.

        Lenin's writings, of course, contain some elements of analysis similar to those which have just been mentioned. Lenin, too, used the expressions "bureaucracy" and "bureaucratic distortion," but what is important is that he did not rest satisfied with these elements of analysis or of description, but strove to relate them to class relations and the class struggle. For almost all the party's members, including the leaders, however, the expression "bureaucracy" and "bureaucratic distortion" served as substitutes for class analysis. Thereby a mask was put upon the bourgeois political and ideological relations of which the "bureaucratic" phenomena were merely a manifestation. Consequently, the fight against these phenomena seemed not to be primarily a question of class

    page 517

    struggle, but to depend exclusively on the development of the productive forces, of education, or of repression.

        There was thus a connection between the Bolshevik Party's lack of a mass line aimed at smashing the bourgeois political and ideological relations in the state apparatus, and the dominant place occupied by the idea of "bureaucracy" in the way the effects of these relations were described.

        The absence of a correct theoretical solution to two other important questions also restricted the party's capacity to carry out certain tasks that were needed for the consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

        In the first place, there was the problem of the specific character of agrarian relations in the Soviet Russia of 1923. Without embarking here upon an analysis whose significance cannot fully emerge except in connection with an examination of the unsolved contradictions which developed between 1923 and 1929, it must be pointed out that two essential specific features of the dominant agrarian relations were not really taken into account theoretically by the Bolshevik Party.

        One of these specific features was a consequence of the democratic revolution which had taken place in Russia under the leadership of the proletariat. As a result of this revolution, the payment of the rent and dues to which the peasants had previously been subjected was abolished without capitalist ground rent taking the place of these payments.

        A second specific feature resulted from the renewal, in modified forms, of the prerogatives of the mir and of the general assemblies of its members.

        These two features determined the particular forms of reproduction of the conditions of production in agriculture. Briefly, it can be said that as a result of these two features, the economic constraints obliging the peasants to market part of their produce and to increase production from one year to the next were extremely weak, and productive accumulation of private capital in agriculture was limited. It would have been necessary to take explicit account of these features to work out and carry through a coherent agricultural policy, and to guide

    page 518

    correctly the class struggle in the countryside, but the Bolshevik Party's analyses lacked this explicit reckoning. The party tended to "apply" to the Soviet countryside the laws of reproduction appropriate to the development of a capitalist agriculture which did not possess the peculiarities that were present in Russia.

        The second set of questions to which the Bolshevik Party was unable to provide a correct theoretical solution was that relating to the socialization of the means of production. Lenin had, indeed, frequently pointed out that nationalizing or statizing the means of production did not mean socializing them; he had shown that progress toward socialization required systematic accounting and control of all the means of production and social domination of their use; he had shown, too, that this accounting, control, and social domination could exist in reality only if they were the work of the working people themselves. Nevertheless, while formally agreeing with these theses, the Bolshevik Party tended to identify accounting and control of the means of production by the state apparatus with the carrying out of these tasks by the masses themselves, whereas it is impossible to arrive by that road at genuine socialization of the means of production.

        The tendency to identify the activity of the state apparatus of the dictatorship of the proletariat with the activity of the masses was partly connected with a lack of sufficient clarity concerning the conditions in which the masses can effectively play the role that must be theirs in a genuine socialization of the means of production. Without such clarity, however, progress toward true socialization is impossible. On the one hand, the working people do not "spontaneously" move toward the carrying out of tasks of accounting and control of the means of production, tasks which demand time and organizational effort. On the other, if such effort is made to some extent, in a spontaneous way, it is not usually directed toward the utilization of the means of production in accordance with the overall interests of the dictatorship of the proletariat: rather, it serves narrower interests, such as those of the workers of each enterprise taken separately. This can result in transforming the

    page 519

    means of production into the "collective property" of the workers in the various units of production (in fact, into a particular type of capitalist ownership,"[7] which clearly does not lead to real socialization of the means of production). The question of accounting and control of the existing means of production, moreover, cannot be dissociated from that of the social division of labor and the conditions for transforming it. But these problems were not taken up in the Bolshevik Party, either because it seemed premature to formulate them (this was the case with Lenin) or because the illusion existed that they would solve themselves as the productive forces developed.

        In 1923, therefore, a number of problems of decisive importance for the future of the dictatorship of the proletariat remained unsettled, even on the ideological plane. The situation is not, of course, surprising, since it is only on the basis of practice that theory can develop; but we must not forget that this situation existed, and that it could entail considerable political consequences.

        However, the consequences of the existence of ideological obstacles to a transformation of social relations which could strengthen the dictatorship of the proletariat and advance toward socialism were not all equally apparent at once. Besides, from the theoretical standpoint, the Bolshevik Party was very far from lacking means to overcome such obstacles. The application of historical materialism, and the concrete analysis of the contradictions, successes, and failures experienced could have enabled the party to improve its theoretical knowledge and thus obtain a guide increasingly better adapted to the requirements of action. Concrete proof that such progress was possible is provided by the new theoretical developments found in Lenin's last writings.

        It is impossible not to be struck by the gap which generally distinguishes, from the standpoint of rigor and lucidity of analysis, the writings of Lenin from those of the other Bolshevik leaders. In the fight against economism, against mechanistic forms of materialism, for a dialectical analysis of the realities of Russia and of the revolution, Lenin is almost

    page 520

    constantly "ahead" of the party, including the great majority of the Central Committee: they have difficulty in bringing themselves to rectify earlier formulations, whereas Lenin does not hesitate to undertake rectifications whenever this seems to him to be necessary, even if it means his being at first in the minority and having to fight to make his views prevail. We have seen earlier how, where such vital questions were concerned as that of substituting the slogan of dictatorship of the proletariat for that of revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants, the decision to launch the October insurrection, the question of a coalition government, the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the absolute maintenance of the foreign trade monopoly -- to mention only a few examples -- Lenin had to fight for quite a long time before the Central Committee would follow him. On other points, mainly questions of organization, Lenin was not followed in this way,[8] or was obliged to agree to compromises. Subsequent history showed that, on essential matters, Lenin was the first to form a correct view, and this justifies us in saying that Lenin was usually "ahead" of the Bolshevik Party from the theoretical and political standpoint. For this reason, the use of the expression "the Leninist party" to describe the Bolshevik Party, is highly misleading: it was only belatedly, and not in every case, that the party came around to Lenin's positions, and even then it often did so without having assimilated what was new and vital in Lenin's thought. Hence, too, the considerable gap which frequently existed between the indications given by Lenin -- especially as regards appealing to the initiative of the masses and respecting democratic centralism -- and the actual practice of the Bolshevik Party.

        Basically, the fact that Lenin remained at the head of the party despite the existence of the gaps, delays, and disparities which have been mentioned, testifies to the revolutionary character of the Bolshevik Party. Only a revolutionary party is capable of adopting and retaining a leader who is not just a sort of "arbiter" between different clashing conceptions but is, at one and the same time, the boldest Marxist theoretician with the best sense of reality. It was owing to the experience

    page 521

    he had accumulated in the actual life of the Bolshevik Party, to his political and intellectual courage, and to his ability as a materialist dialectician that Lenin was usually "ahead" of his party, and it was because that party was a revolutionary Marxist party that Lenin was in fact its principal leader, who led the party forward, thanks to rigorous thinking and activity placed entirely at the service of the proletarian revolution.

        If Lenin and the Bolshevik Party had to make progress, and did indeed make progress, in the domain of theory, this was because theory is always incomplete and must ceaselessly be enriched, which also means getting rid of erroneous ideas incompatible with a proletarian standpoint, which become exposed as such in the light of analysis of social practice. The fight to advance Marxist theory and the practice of a proletarian party is dictated by the class struggle, of which it is an effect. The discrepancies between Lenin's ideas and those that were dominant in the party, the gaps between his guidelines and the actual practice of the Bolshevik Party were also effects of the class struggle.

        It was not accidental that in 1923 the gap was especially wide between some of the conclusions at which Lenin had arrived and the conceptions that were dominant in the party -- and which were to make it very difficult to carry out a number of tasks needed for the consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

        On the one hand, Lenin had only recently put forward his new conclusions. These were then available only in the form of notes or scattered remarks, and Lenin had not (and was not to have) the time to fight for the triumph of his new conclusions. On the other -- and this was the social basis of the increasing difficulties Lenin encountered in trying to get his ideas accepted -- the Bolshevik Party of 1923 had been penetrated by many bourgeois and petty bourgeois elements who had often come to the party by way of the administrative and economic apparatuses, in which they had made a "career," and where pressure was brought to bear in a multitude of ways to oppose the initiative of the masses, the strengthening of democratic centralism, and the adoption of conclusions en-

    page 522

    abling the proletarian character of the party's political line to be consolidated.

        Ultimately, there were three kinds of ideological limitation which prevented the Bolshevik Party from accomplishing tasks which would have enabled it to go forward to a higher form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

        First, there were the previously existing theoretical lacunae connected with the lack of sufficient experience and the still-not-completely liquidated influence of the economistic ideology inherited from the Second International -- gaps not yet filled even though Lenin had already opened up a path that made possible an advance toward a correct theoretical solution. The most typical of these was the substitution, for a class analysis of the "bureaucratic" phenomenon, of an "explanation" of it in terms of the development of the productive forces and the "cultural" level. Formulations of this sort are present, of course, in many of Lenin's writings, too, for, while fighting against the ideological heritage of the Second International, against what had constituted the pseudo-Marxism of a certain epoch of the working-class movement, he did not completely "liquidate" this inheritance -- which continually reappears, moreover, as an effect of the bourgeois class struggle. These formulations, however, are merely a residue in Lenin, and not what is essential, for the essential in Lenin is the new.

        Secondly, there were the mistaken ideas still present in the Party even after they had been rejected, in part at least, by Lenin himself. This was the case, for instance, with the role attributed to the methods of "war communism," which Lenin condemned as a matter of principle, but which the party generally regarded as having been not wrong in themselves, as means for making the transition to communist production and distribution, but only as inopportune as regards the time when they were introduced.

        Finally, there were in the Bolshevik Party a certain number of mistaken ideas for example, about the possible substitution of action by the state apparatus for action by the masses in the revolutionary transformation of social relations -- which

    page 523

    were repudiated in words but often remained dominant in practice, because, under the influence of the class struggle, the repudiation of what was mistaken had remained superficial. Thus, almost everything that Lenin said about the class character of the "Soviet" state apparatus, which he described as "bourgeois" and even "tsarist" with respect to the class practices which were reproduced in it, was largely "forgotten." The party, instead of directing the struggle of the masses against this apparatus, confined itself to trying to combat "bureaucratic abuses" by multiplying the "controls" exercised by one part of the apparatus over another.

        The ideological limitations on the consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat were in fact due to political relations, to the class struggle.

       III.  The political obstacles to
            accomplishing the Bolshevik
            Party's tasks

        In 1923 the Bolshevik Party's ability to apply itself to the tasks that needed undertaking was limited, in the short run at least, by the obstacles constituted by certain of the political relations which had developed previously within the party, or between it, part of the masses, and the state apparatus.

        One of these obstacles, a particularly serious one at a time when a new peasant policy needed to be launched, was the very weak representation of the party in the countryside, the inadequate contacts between the party and the peasant masses, so that the latter were mainly in contact with a state administrative apparatus whose characteristics are already known to us. Thus, when we read Lenin's pamphlet on The Tax in Kind, we see that a series of tasks which, in order to be carried out properly from the proletarian standpoint, should have been above all tasks for party activists ("generating the utmost local initiative," "assisting small industry," "directing the co-operatives") were in fact to be carried out by em-

    page 524

    ployees and officials.[9] Already in this work, and, still more in his subsequent writings, Lenin raised the question of changing this situation; for example, through a large-scale transfer of Bolshevik leaders with jobs in the central administration to posts as leaders of counties or rural districts, so as to work there "on exemplary lines," in such a way as to "help to train new workers and provide examples that other districts could follow with relative ease."[10]

        Lenin's suggestions show the extent to which the political relations existing at that time between the party and the peasant masses constituted an obstacle to the implementation of the NEP. This obstacle became still bigger when it became a matter of implementing the second variant of the NEP, which aimed at forming a new type of political alliance with the peasantry. What happened after Lenin's death showed that this obstacle had been removed only very partially, for the attempts made to remove it came up against the relations prevailing between the party and the state apparatus. These relations were such, indeed, that it was extremely difficult for the party to lead the struggle for a radical transformation of the bourgeois and prebourgeois social relations embodied in this apparatus. The contradictions were here all the greater because the party was the effective instrument of the dictatorship of the proletariat and was capable of taking decisions that struck at the bourgeoisie, including many bourgeois elements in the state apparatus and in the party itself, and yet, for all that, it was not capable unless the masses went into action -- of transforming the political relations embodied in the state apparatus.

        The magnitude and character of the party purge carried out in 1921 and continued in 1922 showed that the party was capable at that time of ridding itself of bourgeois elements on a mass scale. The purge, together with voluntary withdrawals, affected a quarter of the party membership of 1921, and the chief charges brought against those who were expelled were careerism, corruption, and joining the party in order to carry on counter-revolutionary activities.[11] Only one-sixth of those party members classified as "workers" were expelled,

    page 525

    whereas the proportion was two-fifths in the case of the peasant members (among whom there were quite a lot of kulaks) and one-third in that of the office workers, intellectuals, and others.[12] These figures show both the extent to which the composition of the party had deteriorated and the capacity it still possessed for eliminating dubious elements from its midst. All the same, because extensive help from the masses was not sought in the way Lenin had often suggested, the party purge remained very incomplete, and, above all, it failed to alter the bourgeois political relations existing within itself, as it needed to do if it was to be able effectively to lead the struggle against the bourgeoisie in the state apparatus itself. This was the reason for the development of a contradiction between the overall leading activity of the party and the fact that, in many cases, party members acted under the influence of officials who were bourgeois or representatives of the bourgeoisie. Lenin took note of this in 1922, in his political report to the Eleventh Party Congress, when he said that, where the bureaucratic machine was concerned, he doubted that the Communists were "directing," and even thought they were "being directed."[13]

        Lenin's statement was not an exaggeration insofar as the expression "being directed" referred to the considerable influence which could be wielded by tens of thousands of officials hostile to the dictatorship of the proletariat and acting in defense of their own interests. This influence was sometimes manifested on a small scale, by giving a certain bias to the application in everyday life of the decisions taken by the party, and more especially by the party leadership. But this influence could also be exerted on the decisions of certain party leaders who were subject to the "arguments" and logic" of the bourgeois elements present in the state's administrative and economic apparatuses.[14] This influence of theirs, however, was still limited at that time, insofar as the party leadership was made up of tried revolutionary fighters who took their decisions on the basis of the activity of a party which included many experienced cadres who had proved themselves in the fires of the civil war. Their influence was also

    page 526

    restricted by the links uniting the party with the most militant elements of the proletariat, and by its leaders' ability to recognize their own mistakes.

        Nevertheless, from day to day the party's activity was being countered by a body of officials who were basically hostile to the dictatorship of the proletariat, by the place such officials occupied at the top of the administrative machine, and by the bourgeois practices and methods they propagated. An idea of the scale of this hostility to the Soviet state is shown by the fact that only 9 percent of the "old" officials and 13 percent of the "new" ones declared themselves favorable to the Soviet regime when, in the summer of 1922, an inquiry was made among officials possessing an engineer's diploma.[15]

        The influence of a body of officials largely hostile to the dictatorship of the proletariat could become even greater since some of the information which the Bolshevik leaders themselves were able to obtain regarding the real situation and the aspirations of the masses was acquired through the medium of a hostile state apparatus whose members had a bourgeois outlook.

        Thus, the make-up of the state administrative and economic apparatuses, the way they operated, and their relations with the Bolshevik Party set limits to the tasks that the party could actually accomplish. These limits, however, could be transcended as long as their existence was not ignored, as long as the party continued to be sufficiently linked with the most advanced sections of the masses, as long as its leaders were capable of carrying out rectifications, and as long as party members were still able to voice their criticism through the practice of genuine democratic centralism.

        In this respect the situation in the Bolshevik Party remained fundamentally sound, even though, since the Tenth Congress, the way the rule forbidding factions was applied, and the tendency to settle by administrative means the problems of party "unity," led to limitations of the members' freedom of expression, and even to the expulsion of some who expressed disagreement with the decisions of the Central Committee. It is known that some local or provincial organizations of the

    page 527

    Bolshevik Party made use of the purges to get rid of dissidents who were accused of ideological deviations.[16] At the time of the Eleventh Congress, several members of the Workers' Opposition were expelled in this way -- a member of the Central Control Commission, which had been formed in order to combat "bureaucracy," declared that its task was to see that no one deviated from the line laid down by the party's Central Committee . . . [17]

        The limitations imposed on the party members' opportunities to defend their views could hinder the party's ability to overcome its errors of judgment or its ideological weaknesses all the more seriously because political life outside the party continued to be practically suppressed. Those parties which had at first been regarded as "Soviet parties," and which had been able to function openly at certain periods, were no longer, de facto, allowed to exist. Mensheviks, SRs, and anarchists were often arrested by the GPU, even when they were not engaged in subversive activity. On several occasions Lenin himself intervened, especially when requested by Gorky and Kropotkin to check the "excesses" of repression.[18] The existence of this repression -- which had had to be introduced when the dictatorship of the proletariat was really in danger through the counter-revolutionary activities of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois parties -- limited the awareness that the Bolshevik Party was able to obtain of the contradictions that were developing.

        The existence in 1923 of a system of repression which was to some extent pointless actually obstructed the leading role of the party, as well as the proper functioning of democratic centralism. It resulted from the acquisition of independence by the party's administrative apparatus. It showed that bourgeois political relations had developed inside the Bolshevik Party itself -- something that Lenin noted on several occasions as when he observed how the problem of relations between Soviet Russia and the non-Russian Soviet republics had been "settled."

        These facts must be taken into consideration if one is to understand the obstacles that at the time made it more

    page 528

    difficult for the Bolshevik Party to accomplish certain tasks involving the consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat. At the same time, one must not imagine that the situation in 1923 was comparable to repression on a quite different scale which was imposed at a later period. In 1923 there was nothing comparable, especially not within the party. Even if the oppositions could not express themselves with the same facility as before the Tenth Party Congress, they could still make their voices heard. Their documents and critiques circulated, they were fairly widely known, and what they said was seriously taken into account in the working out of the party line. Outside the party, the interventions of the GPU did not cause a general concealment of opinions or of reasons for discontent -- as is shown, for example, by the inquiry mentioned above, which revealed that nearly 90 percent of the officials questioned expressed a hostile attitude to the Soviet regime.

        In short, in 1923, though there really were obstacles to the Bolshevik Party's fulfillment of some of the tasks needed for consolidating the dictatorship of the proletariat, these obstacles seemed to be of a kind that could be overcome. The obstacles of an ideological character were not the most serious ones, especially in the short run. They did not challenge the basic principles of revolutionary Marxism as it had been able to develop up to that time, and could therefore have been eliminated by means of experimentation and by drawing up a balance sheet of past errors in the light of Marxist theory. The obstacles of a political character constituted a more serious threat; but they left intact the proletarian character of the party, its leaders' will to fight for socialism, the devotion to the party of hundreds of thousands of militants, including a very high proportion of workers, and the support accorded to the party by broad masses of the people. Actually, what existed was a certain configuration of class relations which meant that, in the years to come, the dictatorship of the proletariat would be confronted by new problems with which the Bolshevik Party was not immediately ready to cope. Hence the special

    page 529

    complexity of the struggles that developed after Lenin's death.



    The policy that was actually followed can be analyzed only by examining the problems that arose after 1923 and the forms that the class struggle assumed at that time.    [p. 506]


    Lenin's report to the Eleventh Party Congress, in CW, vol. 33, p. 304. [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's Eleventh Congress of the R.C.P.(B.). -- DJR]    [p. 508]


    CW, vol. 42, p. 376.   [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's "Draft Theses on the Role and Functions of the Trade Unions Under the New Economic Policy". -- DJR]    [p. 510]


    CW, vol. 33, p. 304.    [p. 513]


    This was what Lenin indicated when, after mentioning the need to combat the defects in the state apparatus, he declined to take the view that the methods for doing this were already known, and said "We must first think very carefully how to combat its defects" (CW, vol. 33, p. 487  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's "Better Fewer, But Better". -- DJR]).    [p. 514]


    Lenin's report to the Eleventh Party Congress, in ibid., p. 304.    [p. 515]


    Insofar as the means of production are used in order to enable the workers of each enterprise to appropriate the value produced, these means of production function as capital. Under these conditions, the contradiction between labor and capital, "abolished" at the level of the unit of production, is maintained on the social scale. This is what Marx notes when writing about workers' cooperatives: he observes that the members are "their own capitalist" in that they "use the means of production for the employment of their own labour" (Capital, vol. III, p. 431).    [p. 519]


    In a letter of March 17, 1921, to the Bolshevik A. A. Joffe, Lenin wrote: "I cannot say how many times I have been in a minority on organisational and personal matters" (CW, vol. 45, p. 99).  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's letter "To A. A. Joffe". -- DJR]    [p. 520]


    CW, vol. 32, pp. 352-353.    [p. 524]


    Ibid., p. 356.    [p. 524]


    The other principal charges were passivity, religious practices, and drunkenness.    [p. 524]


    See Rigby, Communist Party Membership, p. 97.    [p. 525]


    CW, vol. 33, p. 289.  [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's Eleventh Congress of the R.C.P.(B.). -- DJR] It was in this report that Lenin compared the relationship between the Bolshevik Party and the state apparatus to that between a conquering and a conquered people, with the

    page 530

    former eventually becoming subject to the latter owing to the "superiority" of its culture. As we have seen, this comparison was taken up and developed by Bukharin.    [p. 525]


    This partly explains why Lenin had to wage such a struggle to protect the foreign trade monopoly.    [p. 525]


    Kritsman, Geroichesky period, p. 146.    [p. 526]


    See Rigby, Communist Party Membership, p. 98.    [p. 527]


    See Daniels, The Conscience of the Revolution, p. 167. Laid down by the Central Committee, be it noted, and not by the party congress: the traditional status of the latter as the party's highest political instance was thus undermined.    [p. 527]


    Liebman, Leninism under Lenin, p. 317.    [p. 527]

From Marx
to Mao



On to Section 6,
Index and Bibliography