Democratic centralism, the Workers Opposition, clandestine opposition movements, the crisis in the party, Kronstadt and the end of the revolutionary period in Russia - Michel Olivier

Democratic centralism, the Workers Opposition, clandestine opposition movements, the crisis in the party, Kronstadt and the end of the revolutionary period in Russia -  Michel Olivier

A short essay on the left opposition in the Bolshevik Party in Russia from 1919 to 1927, focusing mostly on the Democratic Centralists and the Workers Opposition.

Democratic Centralism, the Workers Opposition, Clandestine Opposition Movements, the Crisis in the Party, Kronstadt and the End of the Revolutionary Period in Russia – Michel Olivier1

Leonard Schapiro begins his book, The Origin of the Communist Autocracy,2 with the following statement: “It is strange that the story of political opposition to Lenin has never before, so far as I am aware, been told in detail or as a whole….3 And he was right. He began work on this topic, but why did he end his account in 1922? In fact, he stopped when he believed that the central power was no longer threatened by the opposition movements, especially after a measure that had a greater impact than any other, the prohibition of internal factions pronounced at the 10th Congress of the Communist Party (March 1921), which took place at the same time that the Kronstadt Revolt was being drowned in blood. It is a kind of institutional view of history, that of those who are in power and who have successfully imposed their will on others. Furthermore, he writes in his conclusion: “Many of them [the Bolshevik leaders] were to rebel once again, in 1923,4 when they discovered that what had really taken place was the consolidation in power of the central Party apparatus. But it was then too late.5 From our point of view, history is not made only by the victors. There are victories that prove to be defeats. For the workers movement, which has only known a long series of defeats, what followed the revolution in Russia, that is, the establishment of an imperialist state, which is generally considered to be a victory, is analyzed as a terrible defeat. On the other hand, the struggle of the Bolshevik left, as well as its ideas, are now revealed to be quite fruitful despite the succession of defeats of that era: the failure of the revolution in Germany and Hungary, the massacre of the workers who participated in the Kronstadt revolt, etc. This history therefore has yet to be written.

Thus, this gap in our knowledge is not restricted to the period when Lenin was still alive. For many of the communist protagonists of the era, the debates in the Russian party began with the “Platform of the Forty-Six” “old Bolsheviks” of October 15, 1923, which was delivered to the Politburo of the Party. In this document the old Bolsheviks severely criticized the Party’s economic policies, but directed even harsher criticism at the internal regime of the Party.

The Party has to a considerable degree ceased to be an independent, living collective…. A growing division between a hierarchy of secretaries … the functionaries of the Party recruited from above, and the masses of the Party who do not participate in its common life, is evident.” (Communist Bulletin, No. 32-33, 1933.)

The lack of information, on an international scale, on the part of the members of the national communist parties, is extraordinary during this era; it was not customary to debate the situation of the Russian party within the Communist International (CI). What strange internationalists! Russian affairs are the private preserve of the Russians! Thus, Bordiga6 expressed his strong disagreement with this rule during the course of a very serious political dispute with Stalin on February 22, 1926 (at the “Sixth Enlarged Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International”), in which he argued in support of the International’s right to debate Russian issues. At this meeting of the Executive Committee, Bordiga expressed his opposition to the theory of “socialism in one country” and subjected it to harsh criticism.

As a consequence of this rule that stipulated that the Russian question was not subject to debate, it will be easily understood that the members of the International remained ignorant of the dissent within the Russian Communist Party, until Trotsky inaugurated his open protest campaign. This is why, even today, the factions and currents within the Russian party are still an affair that is largely reduced to the Trotskyist Opposition for many researchers and historians of Russia.

Trotsky himself helped to establish this interpretation by defining the Platform of the Forty-Six “old Bolsheviks” of October 15 as the Platform of the “Opposition of 1923”. Nothing could be more simplistic. This Platform was independent of the letter that Trotsky wrote on October 8, 1923 to the Politburo, although a large number of Trotsky’s political supporters also signed the Platform. Meanwhile, most of the forty-six signatories were left communist veterans of the 1919 faction who, for the most part, had resumed their political struggle after December 1919 within the “Democratic Centralist” group, that is, at least sixteen of them that we know of and, quite frequently, they had agitated in 1919 against the positions that Trotsky advocated at that time.

The text that follows is a continuation of the book published by the editors of the Smolny Collective about the left communist fraction in Russia in 1918 and, more particularly, about the debate concerning the economic and social measures of the transition period. With this publication of the documents of the left communists of 1921 to 1929 we provide the reader with raw material about the divergences and struggles within the Russian Communist Party that has up until now been little-known or totally unknown.

We are aware of the fact that our work is still incomplete and we hope that it will serve to inspire those who will improve and complete it. We sought to gather the important texts that have been published in French, most of them having appeared in diverse publications or books and at various times, many of them in publications that were privately distributed.

Democratic Centralism (1919-1921)

There is an obvious and direct connection between the 1918 faction of left communists and the group of Democratic Centralists,7 or “Decists”,8 which was formed in December 1919, both with regard to individuals as well as the ideas that these groups advocated. The disagreements that had been temporarily put on hold due to the gravity of the situation during the course of the civil war once again arose when the civil war came to an end. The entire year of 1918 was characterized by seething dissent. In May-June 1918, at the First Congress of Economic Councils, Lenin had pronounced in favor of “labor discipline” and “one man management” and the need to employ bourgeois specialists in the enterprises. Osinsky and Smirnov, supported by numerous provincial delegates, demanded “a workers management … not just from above, but also from below.” A subcommittee of the Congress approved a resolution mandating that two-thirds of the representatives who compose the administrative councils of the industrial enterprises should be elected from among the workers,9 which infuriated Lenin. In the Plenary Session he caused the resolution to be modified, so that, at most, one-third of the directive staff should be elected by the workers. This led to a split among the left communists. Radek was willing to accept “one man management” in exchange for the nationalization decrees of June 1918 which inaugurated the era of “war communism” and, in Radek’s view, consolidated the foundations of the regime. At this time, Bukharin also parted ways with the left. The group’s ideas still found an echo and would reemerge in the new group, the Democratic Centralists. Democratic Centralism was conceived by Osinsky, Sapronov, Smirnov, Massimovsky, Kossior, etc., in response to the same concerns about the defense of workers democracy against the regime’s increasing militarization. They also continued to protest against the principle of “one man management” in industry and to defend the collective or collegial principle as “the most effective weapon against compartmentalization and the bureaucratic suffocation of the state apparatus”. (“Theses on the Collegial Principle and One-Man Management”.) While recognizing, as they already had in their journal, The Communist (1918), the need to use bourgeois specialists in industry and the army, they put the accent above all on the need to maintain these specialists under the control of the rank and file: “No one disputes the necessity of using the spetsy—the dispute is over how to use them.” (Sapronov, quoted by Daniels, The Conscience of the Revolution, p. 109).

They would also once again stress the need to instill life into the workers councils (soviets), as they had been proclaiming since 1918. They were alarmed by the loss of initiative on the part of the local councils and proposed reform measures whose purpose was to revitalize them as effective institutions of workers democracy. Thus, during the course of a Communist Party congress in December 1919 devoted to the question of the structure of the state, Sapronov’s proposed resolution, which called for modifications in the composition of the Central Executive Committee in order to make it more representative, as well as reforms devoted to returning a degree of real power to the executive committees of the local soviets, was approved despite the opposition of Vladimirsky,10 who was the official spokesman for the Party. A committee of the Seventh Soviet Congress, which met immediately after the Communist Party Congress, also engaged in prolonged debate on the respective proposals of Vladimirsky and Sapronov; the resolution that was adopted by this committee was based on Sapronov’s proposed resolution and contained most of the measures he suggested. In the end, however, this resolution remained a dead letter.

The Eighth Party Congress that met in March 1919 reorganized Party operations, with a political bureau and a central committee as well as with the formation of an organizational bureau, at a time when the policy of “war communism” entailed the mobilization and control of all the country’s resources. In December 1919 Trotsky called for the militarization of labor, and it was at this time that the struggle of the Democratic Centralists was first launched.

In March-April 1920, the Ninth Congress of the Communist Party was particularly distinguished by the debate triggered by Democratic Centralism.11 The Democratic Centralists denounced the centralization and the authoritarian methods of the Central Committee, which they defined as “bureaucratic centralism” and “authoritarian centralism”, and which they connected with the administrative and economic management of the state.12 The Democratic Centralists also condemned the “technocratic” organization of labor under the principle, proclaimed by Lenin, of “one man management”, known as edinonachalie. They accused Lenin of having distorted the meaning of the formula, democratic-centralism, by taking advantage of the situation of the civil war and the new institutions created to deal with the civil war, in order to develop a hierarchical authoritarianism. The Ninth Congress voted against the Democratic Centralists in order to uphold the higher principle of unity, while also voting in favor of the creation of a Control Commission to guard against abuses of power and bureaucratism.

In September 1920 the Democratic Centralists denounced the bureaucratization of the Party and the increasing concentration of power in the hands of a small minority. The Congress ended up voting in favor of a manifesto that called for “more general criticisms of the party’s institutions, central as well as local” and the rejection of “repression of any kind against comrades because they have different ideas”. This demonstrates that even during this period, the Party was still characterized by an atmosphere of lively debate, and that such criticisms still had some influence in its ranks. ("Resolution of the Ninth Party Congress Concerning the New Tasks of the Construction of the Party").

Thus, in the years 1919 and 1920, the Democratic Centralists called for safeguards for freedom in the Communist Party. They did not want the Central Committee to lead the Party, but to guide it in accordance with a general line without becoming entangled in details. They insisted that the “rank and file militants” should debate questions before any important decisions are made, that minority viewpoints should be represented in the electoral slates for every Party election and that they should also be provided with the means to publicize their opinions. The attitude of these militants in opposition to the measures implemented by the regime during the civil war period may be summarized by the following words of Osinsky, who declared in March 1920, at the Ninth Congress of the Communist Party: “Comrade Lenin has revealed here today a very original understanding of democratic centralism…. Comrade Lenin says that all democratic centralism consists of is that the congress elects the Central Committee, and the Central Committee governs…. With such an original definition we cannot agree. We consider that democratic centralism … consists of carrying out the directives of the Central Committee through local organizations; the autonomy of the latter; and their responsibility for individual spheres of work.13

Later in the same report, Osinsky said: “… the basic slogan which we should proclaim at the present time is the unification of military work, military forms of organization and methods of administration, with the creative initiative of the conscious workers. If, under the banner of military work, you in fact begin to implant bureaucratism, we will disperse our own forces and fail to fulfill our tasks.14

These same political positions in defense of the initiative of the workers were still encountered in 1927, as we see in On the Eve of Thermidor, and throughout the entire history of the left communists. Some members of the Democratic Centralists had already been involved in “the Military Opposition”, a short-lived movement that arose in March 1919. The necessities of the civil war then compelled the formation of a centralized fighting force, the Red Army, composed not only of workers but also of recruits from the peasantry and other social layers. This army rapidly took on the contours of the hierarchical structure established in the rest of the state apparatus. The election of officers was soon abolished as “politically unnecessary and from the technical point of view impractical” (Trotsky, Work, Discipline and Order, 1920 [the transcript of a speech delivered in Moscow on March 28, 1918—American translator’s note]. The death penalty for refusal to engage the enemy, saluting and special protocols for relations with officers were reestablished and these measures further reinforced hierarchical distinctions, especially on the General Staff of the Army, as well as in the recruitment of former officers who had served at every level in the imperial army.

The main spokesman for this opposition was Vladimir Smirnov, who opposed the tendency to model the Red Army on the standards of the classical bourgeois army. He was against neither the formation of the Red Army—the journal The Communist had vigorously advocated such an army since January 1918—nor the employment of military “specialists”, but he was against excessive discipline and hierarchy and demanded that the general political orientation of the army should not be divorced from communist principles. The Party leadership accused the members of the military opposition (in an attempt to tar them with the brush of the Brest-Litovsk debate) of wanting to dismantle the army and replace it with a system of guerrilla detachments that was more adapted to peasant or partisan warfare; this accusation was, however, groundless. In fact, most Party members did not distinguish bourgeois forms of hierarchical centralization from centralization and self-discipline originating from the base, which is the hallmark that characterizes the proletariat. The proposals of the Military Opposition would be rejected.

The Workers Opposition

The Workers Opposition, for the most part, had nothing to do with the orientations of the Democratic Centralists, even though some members of the communist left of 1918 are found among its ranks, such as Alexandra Kollontai and Miasnikov. The political background of Gabriel Miasnikov and his working class comrades is harder to characterize. Miasnikov was a member of the communist left in 1918, but if he found himself in the movement of the Workers Opposition this is because this fraction of the Communist Party was composed for the most part of workers, while the Democratic Centralists were largely members of the Central Committee and the leading institutions of the Party.

On the other hand, a certain number of other persons whose history we can trace and who later joined the Workers Opposition had come from another leftist current of the Bolshevik Party. Since the period before Lenin’s return to Russia in April 1917, the faction of the metal workers of Petrograd, inspired by Shliapnikov and Kollontai, advocated the idea that the workers councils were the indispensable elements for revolutionary power, and in their advocacy of this position they were opposed by the Bolshevik right wing which, like the Mensheviks, advocated the existence of the workers assemblies for the sole purpose of supporting and consolidating the government power of the bourgeoisie which had overthrown Czarism. It was their insistence on this factor, however, which, thanks to the factory committees that supplied the reserves of the Red Guard under the motivation of Shliapnikov and Eremeev, allowed the Bolsheviks to be victorious in October. Thus, it was subsequently the case that the Workers Opposition represented the workers who were for the most part enrolled in the trade unions, and it always enjoyed the support of the majority in the metal workers trade union.

In March 1921, at the Tenth Party Congress, a controversy came to a head within the Bolshevik Party that had been building steam since the end of the civil war: the trade union question. On the surface, it was a debate about the role of the trade unions during the dictatorship of the proletariat, but it was in fact the expression of much more profound problems concerning the future of state power and its relations with the working class. For tactical reasons, Lenin restricted the debate to the trade union question and the other questions were therefore swept out of sight.

Briefly, there were three positions in the Party on the trade union question:

• That of Trotsky, Bukharin, etc., in favor of the total integration of the trade unions in “the workers state”, in which they would have the task of stimulating the productivity of labor (in this regard, Trotsky sought to impose a carbon copy of the program he advocated for the organization of the Red Army);
• That of Lenin, for whom the trade unions should always act as institutions for the defense of the class, even against “the workers state”. He defended the idea that the trade unions, too, suffered from “bureaucratic deformations” (“Platform of the Ten”15), a position that he presented as an intermediate position;
• That of the Workers Opposition, in favor of the management of production by the industrial trade unions, which must remain independent of the soviet state.16

In fact, the entire framework of this debate was totally inadequate and failed to address the real problems: the condition of the working class and its power. The Workers Opposition expressed, in a confused and uncertain way, the antipathy of the proletariat towards the bureaucratic and military methods that were increasingly becoming the main characteristics of the regime. The working class wanted to change these things now that the rigors of the civil war were a thing of the past.

The leaders of the Workers Opposition came for the most part from the trade union apparatus and appear to have enjoyed a great deal of support among the working class in the southeast of European Russia and in Moscow, especially among the metal workers. Shliapnikov and Medvedev,17 two of group’s leaders, were both metal workers. So, too, was Alexandra Kollontai, the most famous member of the group, who drafted their programmatic text: the “Platform on the Trade Union Question”, presented by the group at the Tenth Congress of the Party (March 8-16, 1921).

The Workers Opposition was born from the most profound depths of the industrial proletariat of soviet Russia and has derived its force not only from the shocking living and working conditions of seven million industrial proletarians, but also from the multiple deviations, reversals and contradictions of our government policies and even from clear deviations from the distinct class-based and consistent line of the communist program.” (Kollontai, The Workers Opposition).

Kollontai proceeded to highlight the shocking economic conditions that the new soviet power had to confront after the civil war. She also called attention to the expansion of the bureaucratic layer whose origins were situated outside of the working class: among the intellectuals, the peasantry, the remnants of the former bourgeoisie, etc. This layer was becoming increasingly dominant in the soviet apparatus and in the Party itself. It encouraged the advancement of social climbers and careerists who had nothing but contempt for the interests of the proletariat. For the members of the Workers Opposition, as the left communists before them had explained, the soviet state itself was not a pure proletarian state, but a heterogeneous institution that was obliged to maintain an equilibrium between the different classes and layers of society. The Workers Opposition insisted on the fact that the best way to ensure that the revolution should continue to be faithful to its original goals, was not to confide its management to non-proletarian technocrats and to socially ambiguous state institutions, but rather to rely upon the independent activity and creative power of the working class masses themselves:

This truth, which is clear and simple for any worker, has been overlooked by the highest echelons of our Party: communism cannot be decreed. It must be created by the indignation of living men, sometimes at the cost of mistakes, but by the creative impulse of the working class itself.” (Kollontai, The Workers Opposition).

The Workers Opposition had important limitations, as it conceived the dictatorship of the proletariat as the dictatorship of the Party. As was the case with many left communists, this view led its members to engage in occasional demonstrations of loyalty to the Party, this time during the course of the Tenth Party Congress. When the Kronstadt Revolt broke out, the leaders of the Workers Opposition would prove their loyalty to the Party by volunteering for the front.18 Nor were they the only ones. None of the other left fractions in Russia understood the importance of the Kronstadt uprising as the last great struggle of the workers for the reestablishment of the power of the councils.

At the conclusion of the Congress, the Workers Opposition was nonetheless condemned as an “anarchist, petty-bourgeois deviation” and as an “objectively counterrevolutionary element”.

The prohibition of “factions” at the Tenth Party Congress delivered a fatal blow to the Workers Opposition, but it was also a fatal blow to the Party itself, even though the measure was supposed to be implemented as an exceptional case to deal with an exceptional situation.19

In 1921, another reason for the weakness of the criticisms directed by the Workers Opposition at the regime was its almost total lack of any international perspectives.

Democratic Centralism had more global and internationalist orientations, which is why this current was capable of surviving and even giving birth to another movement, as we shall see.

The Clandestine Opposition Movements

The Workers Opposition, however, did not disappear after the Tenth Party Congress. In February 1922 its members attended the Fourth Congress of the Communist International (see "Letter of the Twenty-Two Members of the Opposition to the delegates at the Congress of the Communist International"). Later, at the Eleventh Party Congress, Shliapnikov and Medvedev once again issued an appeal to the members of the Party. They attacked the Party’s policies, especially its proposal to exclude them because they had not desisted from their political activities despite the condemnation of factions. They were not excluded, however, although two other members of the Opposition were: Mitine for being a “malevolent disorganizer”; and Kouznetzov “as foreign to the proletariat”.

It seems that some members of the Workers Opposition were still active in 1924, as one may read in the letter from Medvedev published by the Bulletin Communiste in 1927. In 1924, the Workers Opposition distributed a critique of the Party’s actions to foreign comrades; this document is interesting because it refutes everything that is generally taken for granted concerning the Workers Opposition, that is, that it had rapidly disappeared after 1922.

Having been decimated, however, the Opposition was soon overtaken from the left by clandestine groups within the Party such as Workers Truth and The Workers Group. During this period, Workers Truth expressed its hostility towards the Workers Opposition, which it considered to be an “objectively reactionary group20 whose members were nothing but “wolves in sheep’s clothing”. The Workers Group, composed of those who supported the positions of Miasnikov, who was their most well known representative, would have a future and would be the most fruitful opposition movement within the framework of the dictatorship.

The Crisis in the Party, Kronstadt and the End of the Revolutionary Period in Russia….

The regime’s contradictions, held in check by the civil war, rose to the surface in 1921. The peasant revolts, which began in September 1920, spread and gained in intensity. In February 1921 the Cheka counted no fewer than 118 uprisings, the most violent of which erupted in the Province of Tambov. These revolts sometimes mobilized as many as 50,000 rebels at a time. In the cities the situation was no better; in 1920 industrial production fell to approximately one-fifth of its level in 1913. The cities continued to experience problems with the supply of food and fuel. The precariousness of their living conditions led numerous inhabitants of the cities to return to the countryside; the population of Petrograd fell from 2,000,000 in 1917 to 750,000 in 1920. The number of industrial workers fell by 50%. It was in this context that the Kronstadt revolt erupted.

It was a shocking ordeal for the revolution and for the workers movement. Many Bolsheviks were haunted by this event for a long time. As Bukharin told delegates at the Third Congress of the Communist International in 1921: “Who says that the Kronstadt rising was White? No. For the sake of the idea, for the sake of our task, we were forced to suppress the revolt of our erring brothers. We cannot look upon the Kronstadt sailors as our enemies. We love them as our true brothers, our flesh and blood….21

The Tenth Party Congress unfolded in this kind of environment and revealed a divided party, in the grips of a serious crisis. Lenin stated on the occasion of this debate that there were no fewer than eight platforms, which were finally reduced to three before the opening of the Congress. But this extreme discord did lead Lenin to write an article: The Crisis in the Party.22 This crisis could no longer be eliminated despite the bureaucratic measures prohibiting factions, as we saw above. Nothing could resolve this political problem; especially not administrative measures.

The sickness whose profound causes Lenin attempted to diagnose, would prove to be a general crisis of the regime, which entailed a crisis within the Party and in the relations between the Party, the state and the masses. The fact that the crisis should be manifested in the trade union problem is no accident; it constitutes the core of these relations and the contradictions of power for the working class. Lenin came closest to the heart of the matter when he said: “The real divergence … is not where comrade Trotsky perceives it, but in the way to win the masses over, to deal with them, and to organize the connection.23

After the Tenth Congress and its administrative measures, the crisis of the Party would become permanent.

It was in this very context that the “Platform of the Forty-Six” old Bolsheviks unexpectedly appeared. The crisis had entered a new stage because it was at this time that the leadership clique broke apart, signaling the beginning of Stalin’s seizure of power. At first, the left communist current cooperated with Trotsky’s opposition, before the left communists evolved in their own direction and became more radical.

The Democratic Centralists participated in the Unified Opposition (Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, etc.), formed in the spring of 1926. Very soon, however, attempts to engage in discussions within the Party proved to be futile and the former Democratic Centralists perceived this failure to be a confirmation of what was then beginning to dawn upon them: the Bolshevik Party had become the party of the bureaucracy and they had to make a commitment to form an independent organization. This is why they broke with the Unified Opposition after the “declaration of peace” signed by 6 members of the Central Committee on October 16, 1926. (The signers were Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Sokolnikov, Piatakov and Evdokimov.) They perceived this declaration as the capitulation of the Unified Opposition.

In 1926, the Group of the Fifteen was formed by former Democratic Centralists. This is what Miasnikov has to say about this group: “Comrade Sapronov [a former Democratic Centralist] … reappeared once again in 1926-27 with the Platform of Democratic Centralism. It is a totally new Platform24 of a group that is consequently totally new, without any other connection with the past of ‘Democratic Centralism’ than the fact that its spokesman is Sapronov25, as Miasnikov believed. And he continues: “The group of the fifteen is named for the fact that the platform was signed by fifteen comrades. In its main points, in its evaluation of the nature of the State of the USSR, in its ideas concerning the state of the workers, the Program of the fifteen is very close to the ideology of the Workers Group.

The two groups would move closer together politically during this period.

In August 1928, at the Moscow Congress of the Workers Group, it was announced that the “Workers Group has voted to approve the text of an appeal to the Group of the Fifteen and the remnants of the Workers Opposition, inviting them to unite on the basis of a common program, on the basis of the November Revolution [the October Revolution, according to our calendar26].

Miasnikov went on to say, in the same article in L’Ouvrier communiste:27At the same meeting a resolution was proposed to create statutes for the communist-worker parties of the USSR. Because it was only read to the attendees, without having been subjected to serious debate, the proposal was not considered to be an official declaration of the Council, but merely the view of one member of the Central Bureau.28 In its appeal, the Workers Group mentioned this proposal as a matter for debate so that the basis upon which the groups in question would have to unite to form the Russian communist-worker party should be definitively adopted.

For this purpose, the resolution to constitute the Central Bureau of the Workers Group as the Central Organizational Bureau for the Communist-Worker Parties of the USSR has been adopted.

All the members of the Group of the Fifteen were, during that period, scattered in exile; that is why we were unable to organize a Plenary Meeting. But one member of the Group of Fifteen did attend the meeting, with the right to vote.

In Prisons and Concentration Camps (1933-1937)

Ciliga29 depicts how the group that was thus formed essentially on a new basis (on that of the Manifesto of the Fifteen or that of On the Eve of Thermidor) was constantly winning over the militants of the “irreconcilable” Bolshevik-Leninist wing and finally became the majority opposition group in the Vorkuta Prison. But it was the orientation within the working class of the Workers Group, which was by far the more resolute politically, that allowed it to rally other elements around it.

The Miasnikov group, the Decists, a few former Trotskyists, altogether some twenty to twenty-five prisoners, formed a ‘Federation of Left-wing Communists’.30

Michel Olivier

Translated in August 2014 from the Spanish translation:

Michel Olivier, La Izquierda bolchevique y el poder obrero 1919-1927, tr. Emilio Madrid Expósito, Ediciones Espartaco Internacional, 2011.

Originally published under the title: La Gauche bolchevik et le pouvoir ouvrier (1919-1927), Paris, 2009.

  • 1. Published as the “Introduction” to Part One of La Gauche bolchevik et le pouvoir ouvrier (1919-1927), Paris, 2009.
  • 2. Leonard Schapiro, The Origin of the Communist Autocracy: Political Opposition in the Soviet State—First Phase, 1917-1922, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1977.
  • 3. Ibid., p. v.
  • 4. See the Platform of the Forty-Six, October 15, 1923, published in the Appendix to this book.
  • 5. The Origin of the Communist Autocracy, p. 359.
  • 6. The founder of the Communist Party of Italy.
  • 7. The “Praxis” Center for Education and Research (Moscow) is currently in the process of preparing for publication a selection of documents and materials of the “Democratic Centralists” (“Decists”) which contains a total of approximately 50 documents with some 500 pages of theses, political documents of the “Sapronovtsy”, etc.
  • 8. From the initials in Russian of “Democratic Centralism”: “D.C.”.
  • 9. See Socialisme ou Barbarie, no. 35, March 1964, p. 107.
  • 10. Mikhail Vladimirsky (1874-1951). Member of the Central Committee from March 1918 to March 1919.
  • 11. See Lenin’s response to the Democratic Centralists in his conclusions concerning the political report in Oeuvres, Vol. 30, pp. 475, et seq.
  • 12. See the Resolution of the Ninth Congress, in April 1920: “Ultimately, management by a single person, even where this manager is a specialist, is an expression of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
  • 13. Osinsky, “Minority Report on Building the Economy”, quoted in Robert V. Daniels (ed.), A Documentary History of Communism in Russia: From Lenin to Gorbachev, University Press of New England, Lebanon, NH, 1993, p. 98.
  • 14. Ibid.
  • 15. Lenin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Stalin, etc.
  • 16. See all three proposals in Alexandra Kollontai, The Workers Opposition.
  • 17. Sergei Medvedev (1885-1937), a member of the RSDLP since 1900 and a Bolshevik since 1903. He was a member of the Central Committee of the All-Russian Federation of Metal Workers Trade Unions. Expelled from the Party in 1933. Executed on September 10, 1937.
  • 18. Miasnikov was the only one to oppose the assault on Kronstadt.
  • 19. Radek declared: “In voting for this resolution, I feel that it can well be turned against us, and nevertheless I support it…. Let the Central Committee in a moment of danger take the severest measures against the best Party comrades, if it finds this necessary…. Let the Central Committee even be mistaken! That is less dangerous than the wavering which is now observable” (Quoted by Schapiro, op. cit., p. 320).
  • 20. See The Workers Opposition.
  • 21. Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography 1888-1938, Vintage Books, New York, 1975, p. 418 (note 68), taken from Raphael Abramovitch, The Soviet Revolution 1917-1939, New York, 1962.
  • 22. Oeuvres, Vol. 32, pp. 36-47.
  • 23. Oeuvres, Vol. 32, pp. 15-16.
  • 24. The Platform of the Opposition of the Fifteen (June 27, 1927), by the Sapronov-Smirnov group, was published in France in January 1928 by the Groups of the Communist Vanguard under the title, A la veille de Thermidor [On the Eve of Thermidor]. The translator of the text was Hedda Korsch, Karl Korsch’s wife.
  • 25. L’Ouvrier communiste, no. 6-7, March 1930.
  • 26. Miasnikov is using the date from the old Julian calendar. He is talking about the October Revolution, because it began on October 25, 1917 according to the Julian calendar; for the rest of the world, this day corresponds to November 7, 1917 on the Gregorian calendar. This makes a difference of 13 days.
  • 27. L’Ouvrier communiste, no. 6-7, March 1930.
  • 28. This text was drafted by Miasnikov. It was published in France for the first time by Albert Treint on May 15, 1933.
  • 29. Anton Ciliga, The Russian Enigma [1940], Hyperion Press, Westport, Conn., 1973.
  • 30. Ibid., p. 289.


Sep 23 2014 18:16

The author is a bit surprised to see this here as it has been here in English translated from the French original for over 4 years.

Sep 23 2014 19:07

Oh dear, sorry Alias I hope it didn't take you too long!

Alias Recluse
Sep 23 2014 21:20


Sep 24 2014 13:48

Sorry to be pedantic but it is important. Footnote 6 has Bordiga as the founder of "the Italian Commnist Party" or PCI. He was not. He was one of the leading figures in the early "Communist Party of Italy (PCd'I), section of the Third International". The nationalist title, PCI was only adopted by Togliatti after the winding up of the Comintern as part of the Anti-fascist Alliance (1943). The response of many of the surviving original founders of the PCd'I was to form the Internationalist Communist Party in 1943.

Alias Recluse
Sep 24 2014 21:56

Cleishbotham, thank you for your pertinent observation. I have revised the footnote to read "Communist Party of Italy". As you say, it is an important point, especially for a tendency that is so adamantly internationalist.