Source: Stenographic account of the Ninth Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik), Moscow, 1922, pp. 269-275.
Translation: Guy Desolre, 1977 for Inprecor 31 mars 1977
Transcription/HTML Markup: Martin Fahlgren and David Walters for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Creative Commons (Attribute & Share-alike) Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2009.
From the seizure of power in October 1917 to 1925, and even to 1929 (when Tomsky was removed as president of the Central Council of Trade Unions), there were many discussions on the question of the trade unions in Soviet Russia. All of them, in one form or another, were aimed at determining the place of the unions in society and in the state, with respect to the management of the economy and with respect to the party. What was at stake in all these discussions was the question of the relationship of the masses to the revolution. In general, these discussions are little known, except for the one that occurred in 1920-21, which on the contrary has been the object of much deeper examination, both by historians of the Russian revolution (E.H. Carr, Isaac Deutscher, etc.) and by those who claim allegiance to the heritage of Bolshevism.
We believe that the explanation for this is not difficult to find. The 192.0-21 discussion, which saw Lenin successfully oppose the Trotsky-Bukharin tendency and the tendency known as the Workers Opposition, later permitted, during the Stalin era, the establishment of one of the most durable caricatural images ever seen: the image of a Trotsky trying to “tighten the belts” of the workers and place the unions under the control of the state, or even militarize them; the image of a Shliapnikov trying to reduce the role of the party to nothing, trying to counterpose the unions to the Soviet state and the party; and finally, against them, the wise Lenin, supported by Stalin, putting forward the idea of the union as a place of workers’ education (a school of management, administration, and communism). This is the image presented by the 1938 edition of the book “History of the Communist party of the Soviet Union (Bolshevik),” an image which has also been painted by all official historiography in the USSR since then. But this same image has also marred, at least in part, a whole series of other works dealing with the trade-union question. 
Nevertheless, at the Tenth Congress of the Communist party, at which this discussion was brought to a close, Lenin himself said that it had been a useless indulgence. And in his autobiography Trotsky said not only that the discussion was beside the real point, but also that it had lost “all meaning” by the time of the congress.
In fact, the whole 1920-21 trade-union discussion occurred within the political context traced out by the program adopted by the Ninth Congress and by war communism, namely the general problems of statization. All the tendencies, from the “group of ten” (Lenin and his supporters, who opposed “a precipitous statization”) to the small “fourth tendency,” known as the “democratic centralism” tendency (which called for the fusion of the unions with the People’s Commissariat of Labor, implemented by Stalin twelve years later, in 1933), argued in a political context dominated by this question of statization. Their differences related to its pace and methods; the principle was not challenged by anyone.
One concrete example illustrates this clearly: At the time of the 1920-21 discussion, compulsory unionization was the rule in the Russian Federated Soviet Socialist Republic. This system had been progressively generalized during the period of war communism. Now, nobody, not even the Workers Opposition, raised the banner against this principle. On the contrary, it is perfectly understandable that the “congress of producers” which, according to this tendency, was to represent the unions and direct the economy would have derived its representative character solely from the compulsory affiliation of all the producers to the unions.
On the other hand, the Eleventh Congress of the Bolshevik party (March 27-April 2, 1922) marked the abandonment of the system of compulsory union affiliation. This was also the congress which sanctioned the right to strike. Much less turbulent than the preceding congress (there were no strong opposition tendencies) , it has also been much less closely studied by historians.
In an effort to “bend the stick the other way,” to achieve a sort of “rehabilitation” of the Eleventh Congress, we are publishing below a previously unpublished translation of the speech on the trade-union question delivered at this congress by Leon Trotsky.
The importance of the decisions of the Eleventh Congress ought not to be underestimated. It was in the wake of this congress that the Fifth Congress of the trade unions (September 1922) declared itself in favor of workers’ autonomy in collective negotiation, both in the socialist sector and in dealings with the state capitalist sector, that the second labor code of the RFSSR was adopted (November 1922), which recognized trade-union rights, and that a code on civil procedure in the RFSSR was adopted (1923) which granted immunity to the unions’ strike funds.
Some authors believe that the Eleventh Congress confirmed a decline in the influence of the unions. This is an error of assessment which results primarily from a reading of the resolution on the tasks of the unions, in which it was decided to eliminate the unions from direct participation in the management of the enterprises. In reality this decision, far from expressing an ebb in the influence of the unions, was an expression of the new orientation toward making the unions independent of the organs of economic management: One cannot simultaneously participate in management and be in a good position to contest the decisions that are made.
It is this resolution that Trotsky is supporting here, through resolutely backing Lozovsky, an old comrade of Trotsky’s from the newspaper Nashe Slavo and the Interborough Organization. (This support was somewhat unusual in view of the low esteem in which Trotsky held Lozovsky). Trotsky’s intervention was centered on one single problem, the existing relations between economic management on the one hand and trade-union activity on the other. It was not without a certain irony that Trotsky stressed that it was primarily from this standpoint that the resolution of the Tenth Congress, against which he had fought, had proven inadequate. Nor was it without a certain irony that he recalled that at the beginning of 1920 he was the first in the Central Committee to specify the measures which anticipated the economic course initiated with the new economic policy.
But what primarily characterizes Trotsky’s speech is the “angle of attack” from which he approached the trade-union question. His aim, of course, was to eliminate the ambiguities inherent in the positions of the Tenth Congress. There could no longer be any talk of the unions’ participating in the exercise of state functions when the old centralization of economic life was being abolished. The ambiguity therefore had to be removed. How? It is here that the argumentation advanced by Trotsky takes on a particular tone. Although he—unlike the trade unionist Ryazanov—had fully understood what the new trade-union course (oriented toward defense of the interests of the workers) implied for an economy based on hozzascët [ska nog skrivas hozrascet på engelska ]  and also understood what this economy meant for the workers, he did not place the emphasis on the “defensive functions” of the unions but instead on necessity and economic effectiveness. Trotsky’s speech aimed not so much at proving that under the new conditions the incorporation of the unions into the state was no longer justified, since they now had to protect the workers, as at proving that the unions ought not to interfere in the economy if the effectiveness of the reform was to be preserved. This angle of attack lends Trotsky’s speech a rather stiff, even formal logical, aspect, a precise counterpart to the position he had taken a year earlier (the state is a workers state, therefore the unions no longer need defend the workers, etc.).
This formal logical aspect is confirmed by the structure of the speech, which develops around the question, “who is right, Lozovsky or Ryazanov, in interpreting the new trade-union policy?” leaving aside the basic problems raised by the speech of Tomsky, which Trotsky admitted he had not heard.
Indeed, Trotsky bitingly criticized the position of D. Ryazanov (another ex-comrade of his from Nashe Slavo and the Interborough Organization). Ryazanov, generally close to the positions of Tomsky, the president of the council of unions (they had both been the object of disciplinary sanctions in May 1921), had separated himself from Tomsky in his interventions at the congress. Although all the Bolshevik leaders called for a return to the right to strike, which was regarded as an ultimate anti-bureaucratic guarantee, Ryazanov decided to wage a rear-guard battle, not against this right but against the fact that it was even being discussed. He insisted that this right had never been legally suppressed, that it was a “fundamental right of the working class,” and that his position had never varied since October 26, 1917, when he had convinced the Petrograd council of trade unions to adopt a resolution calling on the workers not to use this right against the new regime.
In his intervention Ryazanov also opposed the return to voluntary trade-union affiliation, calling this the organizational principle of “stab unions.” It was easy for Trotsky: to poke fun at the not very dialectical eternal truths proclaimed by Ryazanov, accusing him of being thoroughly incapable of practically applying the principles of Marxism which he knew so well in theory. One may be astonished at the violence of Trotsky’s criticism of Ryazanov. It must be recalled that at the Tenth Congress the latter had proposed (unsuccessfully) that all elections to the Central Committee on the basis of platforms be prohibited in order to prevent the Central Committee from being elected on the basis of political platforms dealing with secondary questions. (In fact, the trade-union question itself had become “secondary” at that point, and it was Zinoviev who had imposed the election of the CC on a platform basis in order to get rid of some opponents of his.) Trotsky fustigated Ryazanov as the well-intentioned militant who commits blunder after blunder. This is also the explanation for the rather obscure passage referring to the sanction taken against Ryazanov in May 1921, about which a few words must be said, since historians have not always interpreted the events properly.
In May 1921 Ryazanov had gotten the communist “fraction” at the trade-union congress to adopt a resolution in which some of the principles governing the work of communists in the trade-union movement were reaffirmed. In reality, it was only a matter of a document repeating the decisions of the Tenth Congress of the party, insisting on the need to reestablish democratic norms in the unions and on the duty of the party Central Committee to form a stable leading trade-union nucleus that would be capable of directing the unions without the Central Committee having to take these problems up on a daily basis. This resolution, which was adopted by the fraction, was to have been submitted to the trade-union congress, but the Central Committee intervened to annul the fraction’s resolution. Ryazanov was taken out of the union movement and Tomsky was sent on a mission to Turkestan.
The Menshevik historian and trade unionist S. Schwartz has asserted that Ryazanov’s “crime” was to have been “too cynical” in defending the submission of the unions to the party. This interpretation is rather improbable, for it implies that Ryazanov had somehow “gone further” than the decisions of the Tenth Congress of the party. Now, the text of the resolution (as Ryazanov recalled in his own defense at the Eleventh Congress) proves that this was not at all the case. The sanction against Ryazanov was motivated by the fact that the directives of the Tenth Congress were norms elaborated for the party and were not supposed to be imposed on, nor even submitted to a vote by, the trade-union congress.
The time Trotsky devoted to his criticism of Ryazanov appears out of proportion to the importance of the positions being criticized. In spite of the mention of his previous positions, in his speech Trotsky seems not to have wanted to go beyond a limit he had laid down for himself: he did not want to do anything more than “defend and illustrate” the policy of the Political Bureau.
Hence, his positions suffered from the same limits as those of the majority of the party. They lack any reflection on what had to be done to assure that the management apparatuses of the economy would not be even further removed from the workers (apart from the presence behind these apparatuses of a “party worker” increasingly functioning as a deus ex machina ). Also absent is any reflection about the association of the workers with the administration of the economy through channels other than the trade unions. Such reflection, which was at the center of the concerns of the earlier Shliapnikov-Kollontai tendency (although posed in simplistic and unrealistic terms) did not figure among the concerns of the majority of the Bolsheviks in 1922.
Finally, to conclude and sum up, let us note that the positions Trotsky took here were an explicit break with his positions of 1920-21 on the relations of the unions to the Soviet state (trade unions as “economic organs of power,” the “compulsory character” of unionization, which is intended to establish “labor discipline,” exercise “revolutionary repression,” and “discipline” the working class). He was later to describe this as the establishment of a “brutally centralized apparatus . . . created on the basis of trade-union organization. “ Nevertheless, this break was relative, given that the change in orientation was justified essentially in light of a theory of stages of transition (stages separated by the “turn” in economic policy), a theory which Ryazanov was ignorant of. This justification limited and strongly down-played the self-critical import of Trotsky’s shift. He remained as we shall I see further on, wedded to the idea of the statization of the unions as a long-term perspective. It was only with the elaboration of his critique of the degeneration of the workers state that he abandoned this idea. But that is another story.
In the first volume of his book the Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn lends a certain actuality to the passage of Trotsky’s speech dealing with the suicide of the chief engineer of the Moscow waterworks. This man, Oldenberger, was an apolitical engineer, the sort of bourgeois “specialist” the Russian economy needed so badly, who was driven to suicide by the incessant harassment to which he was subject by the Communists of his enterprise. Solzhenitsyn cites his case as an example of the injustices of which the revolution was guilty even in its first few years. Trotsky, on the contrary, justified the exemplary severity exhibited by the Supreme Court of the Central Executive Committee of the Russian Soviet, which condemned the Communists who had persecuted the engineer. He justified this in the name of the need to use all means, even the harshest, to educate the workers, including Communists, in order to prevent their backward cultural level from leading them to catastrophic behavior. This section of Trotsky’s intervention, explicitly approved by Tomsky, who was the congress reporter on the point, in his concluding summary, clearly demonstrates the simplistic character of the thesis upheld by Solzhenitsyn.
But while Solzhenitsyn’s thesis is unacceptable, Trotsky’s viewpoint is not unassailable either. One may detect a tendency to place all the workers of the waterworks in the same sock, thus ignoring the fact that among them were not only Communists lacking culture (the new arrivals), but also skilled workers who had been at their jobs for a long time (the very workers who had elected Oldenberger to the local soviet).
1. The Workers Opposition was a left tendency in the Bolshevik party formed at the end of 1920. Its program called for management of industry by the trade unions, the equalization of wages, and distribution by means of payment in kind. Its major leaders were Alexandra Kollontai and A. Shliapnikov Although defeated at the Tenth Congress of the Communist party in 1921, the Workers Opposition was still represented on the Central Committee, by Shliapnikov, who remained on the body until 11922.
2. See A.G. Titov, Bor’ba partii’s trockizmom v gody stroitel’stva socializmus v S.S.S.R , Moscow, 1975, pp.31-37.
3. A critique of these positions may be found in the study by E. Germain, “La discussion sur la question syndicale dans le parti bolchévique (1920-1921),” in the review Quatriéme Internationale , Vol. 13, Nos. 1-3 (March 1955), pp. 50-59.
4. The trade-union resolution, drafted by Lenin on the basis of reports by Andreiev (who had signed Trotsky’s platform at the Tenth Congress) and Rudzutak (who had signed the platform of the ten), was presented by a unanimous Political Bureau and was adopted unanimously with two abstentions.
5. Isaac Deutscher, Soviet Trade Unions , Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, 1950, pp. 61-62.
6. The word hozzascët, an abbreviation of the Russian words literally meaning economic calculation, is difficult to translate adequately. It refers to the system of independent management of enterprises inaugurated under the new economic policy. The usual English rendering of the name of the system is “self-supporting,” which covers only one aspect of the phenomenon. The first function of hozzascët was to make sure that the state enterprises did not become a burden on the state. It was introduced by decision of the Council of People’s Commissars on August 9, 1921. This is the decision Trotsky is referring to in his speech when he mentions a decision “published August 11, 1921.”
7. The essential passages of Tomsky’s speech have been translated by Mervyn Matthews in Soviet Government , London, 1974, pp. 409-12. (See appendix to this article.)
8. Isaac Deutscher (op.cit., pp. 62-63) mistakenly identifies the date and compounds this with an error of interpretation seeing it as a conflict over wage policy after the Eleventh Congress.
9. S. Schwartz. Lénine et les syndicats , Paris, Spartacus 1971, p. 71.
10. At the Eleventh Congress Larin proposed lifting the bar on Ryazanov’s trade-union activity.
This motion was rejected after a very harsh speech by Zinoview.
11. Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism .
12. Trotsky, “Thèses sur la situation économique de la Russ sovietique du point de vue de la révolution socialiste,” (1922), in: Critique de l’Economie politique , Nos. 7-8 (1972) , p. 107.
The resolution of the Tenth Congress on the trade unions did not last to the Eleventh Congress. Some of us had predicted this. What in this resolution has not stood up? What has not stood up is the part characterizing the interaction between the unions and the economic organs. What is still valid?
The part characterizing the general historic role of the unions as “schools of communism” throughout the various stages of historical development, beginning in bourgeois society and extending through the various transitional forms of the dictatorship of the proletariat on the road to communism. This part is maintained. But the part that dealt concretely with the present forms of economic life and characterized the interaction between the unions and the economic organs, and hence the soviet state as such, merits radical revision.
During the discussion here we have heard two interpretations, two explanations, of this radical revision. (Unfortunately, I was unable to be present during the report of Comrade Tomsky, having been compelled to direct my attention to obligations which could not wait.) But in the course of the discussion Comrade Lozovsky spoke of a radical turn in the realm of our economic policy, a turn which requires and will ever more urgently require a radical turn in the realm of trade union policy in the broad sense of the term. Comrade Ryazanov, who we heard from subsequently, claimed on the contrary that it was simply a matter of returning to the invariable principles which he had proclaimed in 1917, 1918, and subsequently, against the upholders of illusions and against ignorant people. (Comrade Ryazanov does not spare the strong expressions.) We thus have two counterposed explanations of the party’s new policy in the realm of the trade-union movement. The first explanation: a return to the path of the absolute principles of Ryazanov, “absolute” not in the sense that we accept them philosophically, but in the practical sense, that is, permanently useful. The other explanation: a radical turn in the domain of economic life entails a radical turn in trade-union policy. We must choose between these two explanations, not only for our own purposes, but also for Europe, because our experiences are instructive for Europe.
My opinion is that under the circumstances the position of Comrade Lozovsky—namely that the turn in economic policy requires another turn in trade-union policy—is correct. Where did we begin? As was pointed out in the discussion yesterday, and as Comrade Lenin said in his report three days ago, we began our economic policy with a radical and irreversible break with the bourgeois post. Before, there was the market; we abolished it. Free trade was abolished. Competition was abolished. Commerical calculation was abolished. And what did we put in their place? The Supreme Council of the National Economy (Vesenha), supreme and sacred, which distributes everything, organizes everything, and in the end takes care of everything—where the machines go, where the materials go, where the finished products go. On the basis of a single center it decides and apportions everything, through its responsible organs. We have now brought this experience to a close. Why? Because we had trouble carrying it out, or in other words, as Comrade Lenin put it, because our cultural level was too low. What if we had not called a halt? In other words, what if another working class, at another stage of its dictatorship, had had the possibility, because of its cultural preparation, of continuing this state-organized suppression and centralization of the market, competition, and commercial calculation, of establishing a single economic plan taking account of everything and examining everything? In that case there surely could have been no room for any ambiguity between the trade-union organs and the economic organs. In that case the statization of the unions and the planned direction of the socialist economy would have been nothing but two sides of one and the same process.
Where, then was our error? Speaking from the economic point of view—and yesterday I tried to show that this was a revolutionary inevitability, in general and in particular—but looking solely at the economic side of the question, then the error was that the proletariat tried to reach beyond its strength as far as economic construction is concerned. Under the existing conditions in the country, and given the present state of its cultural, technical, productive, and organizational capacities, the working class was unable to build socialism in a centralized manner. But if it had done so, if it had advanced on this road, then even today I personally see no other road than the statization of the unions. One thing flows from the other. The error was not in the need for statization, but in the economic policy, which did not correspond to existing conditions.
And this is why in February 1920, on the eve of the Ninth Congress, when I proposed moving from rationing to money accounts in consumption and to contractual relations in production, winning four votes against eleven on the Central Committee on this point, after my proposal had been defeated, I then concluded that it was necessary to make a turn toward abolishing the duality that existed in economic leadership, that is, to more energetically and rapidly statizing the unions. And this was a correct conclusion. If we want to draw a conclusion for us and for Europe on the basis of the new policy, then this can in no case be done in the metaphysical spirit of the invariable trade-union truths Comrade Ryazanov lays down when he tells us that for thirty-six years, or anyway since 1918 . . . (interruption from Ryazanov: “It’s what live been repeating for just four years”). Of course, you can keep repeating the same thing for four years, if the situation that corresponds to what you’re saying does not change. But the essential point lies in what has changed, as Lozovsky said, in the sharp change in the methods of organization of the socialist economy. And the methods of trade-union activity for the proletariat are linked to the methods of economic organization. This is the essential point.
Ryazanov’s error lies in this, that a great turn has occurred during the past four years, although he has not noticed it and brushes it aside. I would even go further: After we had taken this profound economic turn, from which the need to alter trade-union policy resulted, the Central Committee, by the force of inertia, strived to maintain the old trade-union policy. One has the feeling that we were on shaky ground economically. In the resolution on the trade unions passed at the Tenth Congress the party formulated its thought this way: It is beyond the strength of the trade unions to direct the economy; but the economic foundations of this direction were not questioned. Centralized leadership through the union is not possible, said the Congress, without affecting the leadership of the omnipotent Vesenha. Hence the contradiction and ambiguity of the resolution of the Tenth Congress, which did not serve us for even a year. Out of inertia the Central Committee did not link trade-union policy to the organization of the economy during the post year, when it was nevertheless already moving toward formulating the new economic policy. Take the decision of the Council of People’s Commissars (Sovnarkom) of August last year. The Sovnarkom decision, published August 11, 1921, spoke of the new economic policy very clearly and precisely for the first time, formulating its principles—well, if you want, not exactly clearly and precisely but at least more clearly and precisely than before. Point 2 of this decision said: “During the application of the new course in economic policy it is indispensable to associate the unions, and through them, the workers themselves, even more decisively, in the organization of statized production, in decision-making in the organization of the management of the economy, labor, etc.” Associate even more decisively.
That was the error. Although in practice even the remuneration and regulation of labor were in fact and concretely passing into the hands of the leadership, we still said in this decision that it was necessary “to further associate the trade unions” with the organization of economic management under the conditions of the new economic policy. That was in August 1921. Some comrades have asked me how I can welcome the new theses now. But these theses flow entirely from my old position. I may remind you that I opposed the second theses of the August decision when it was submitted to the Central Committee. “Given that the new economic course consists of a return to commercial principles in a considerable number of enterprises and a reestablishment of the free market, within certain limits, the evolution of the trade unions toward statization must be not only halted but even reversed.” (August 8, 1921.) That is what I proposed. This was rejected by the CC. I advance this important point in order to show that it is only in the concrete relations between trade-union policy, the methods of trade-union organization, and the forms of organization of the economy that we can find the key to the question we are considering here, and not in general principles supposedly valid for all stages of economic growth. It is true that Larin has said on this subject that the leasing of factories does not matter; the lease, the concession, and all that play no role, mainly because, according to him, they can be important only when we have to wage war against the bourgeoisie. But didn’t Germany and England fight and won’t they aspire to fight again? And in the intervals between wars, when confiscation of enemy industrial enterprises takes place, they still set up companies in each other’s countries. The reformists used to tell us that the internationalization of capital ruled wars out, that there would be no war, because English capital was investing in German factories, because French capital was investing in factories in England, and so on. And we revolutionaries said that this was an absurdity.
The internationalization of capital postponed the war, that’s true, but at the same time it sharpens the contradictions and gives wars a catastrophic character. The same thing is valid in the relations between bourgeois Europe and us. But Comrade Larin’s fundamental error is different: even apart from the enterprises that are leased or are concessions, which are not very numerous, the new economic policy also entails market “games” among the state enterprises themselves. In fact, if you take a look at page 4 of Izvestia you will see advertisements for Mostorg, Gum, and other state enterprises. They trade with one another. All these are state advertisements, for there are practically no private ones. The advertisements reflect our economy. What does this mean? If we eliminated the fourth page of Izvestia these enterprises would be linked together only through offices, as was the case in the past, and their mutual accounting would be settled by order and not by the flow of Soviet currency. It’s as simple as that. Could this possible be the correct way out? No, it would be fatal. For the moment, the question is not the leases (the proportions they will assume will depend on the march of development). The point is that the utopian idea of centralized statized orientation from the center on general accounting systems, distribution, construction, supply, etc. has been postponed to a later period. The trust, the factory, the provincial sovnarkoz will orient themselves: they will sniff around, see what exists in the soviet state, buy; those who can buy will be strongest. And it doesn’t matter if the provincial sovnarkoz of Moscow and the one of Petrograd occupy the same position in the soviet hierarchy; if today one has money and the other doesn’t, then one will be supplied and the other won’t be.
The orientation toward the market, the orientation toward commercial calculation and no longer toward centralized accounts—such is the absolute necessity of the transitional stage. But this absolute necessity of the transitional stage rules out the possibility of the unions’ practically participating in the leadership of the enterprises. In the post, in the resolution of the Tenth Congress, we spoke not of leadership but of informal participation, thus sowing confusion. Today we can no longer do this. Our task is to maneuver in the market. Since we tried to break directly and all at once with the market past, since we tried to embrace the entire economy in a centralized manner, no specialist could teach us these methods, because there is no specialist who knows them.
Under those conditions we could build only through the unions. They did not know how to do this either, but the position of principle was clear for them, or at least for their leaders. But now, when we are venturing out into the market, we cannot “allow” the unions into the management of production. Would Rockefeller be so frightened if Tomsky was his competitor in a Russian trust, and wouldn’t Rockefeller invest his capital in another trust? No, that’s not the point. The reason is different. We are sure that Tomsky will do a good job defending the interests of the working class against Rockefeller, but we are also sure that in a contest over speculation and market maneuvers Rockefeller will make mincemeat out of Tomsky in five minutes, of this we have not the slightest doubt. Now, we have to learn from him, from Rockefeller. But this means maneuvering on a daily basis, and that is absolutely incompatible not only with trade-union leadership of the economy, but even with practical control by the trade unions over the ongoing activities and practices of the economic organs. Naturally, control is possible through the general institutions of the state, control by the public opinion of the working class, but in practice the daily control of these market manipulations is not possible. That is the essence of the problem.
Comrade Ryazanov’s error is linked to this: what relation is there between the programmatic question concerning the unions and the little incident in the management of the Moscow waterworks, the conflict between a group of workers and a specialist. The specialist hanged himself, and the workers were hauled into court. Their behavior, Ryazanov tells us, is only the fruit of your own errors. This is quite possible. But it changes nothing in the substance of the affair. The arrest and the trial itself constitute a sharp call to order addressed to the working class as a whole by the vanguard of the class. This shows once again that we are much too uncultivated—for that is what we believe the affair boils down to in the final analysis. That is, we were unable to construct a socialist economy through the centralized path on the basis of our own communist strength, and we are forced to assimilate capitalist methods of organization, the path of calculation, competition, advertising in Izvestia, and so on. We are forced to learn from the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois specialists in this damnable sphere of commerce. And—it would be ridiculous to deny it—linked to this is an increase in the role and significance of bourgeois specialists in the present transitional epoch of our society. Of course, the specialist tries to in-crease his own importance, and naturally, we will put him in his place in due time. And we must tell the most backward workers that the specialist is indispensable to us at the moment. Of course, without us he is lost; he is compelled to serve us, but we are compelled to place him in conditions such that he can serve us.
So, what is the meaning of what happened in the Moscow waterworks. Just this: not only did these comrades in this enterprise lack the minimum culture necessary to be able to take charge of the distribution of water, but they also lacked the cultural level that would have enabled them to say to themselves: “I have enough strength to take power over the distribution of water, but not enough preparation and education to manage the distribution of water,” not enough technical or commercial expertise, or however you want to put it. Naturally, this has less significance than managing the enterprise oneself, but it is already important for the workers to say to themselves consciously: “I cannot do everything, so I will accept a specialist and place him in certain conditions.”
If not even this level has been reached, then things are even worse. And the party cries severely: Comrades, if during the retreat to new defense lines, where we have to hold the line shoulder to shoulder at the risk of falling under capitalist control again under the worst possible conditions - that is, under conditions of colonial subjugation—if during this move to the new defense lines you do not find within yourselves sufficient internal energy, comprehension, and political culture to make use of all the indispensable instruments and methods we need to maintain this line of defense, then we are lost. Hence the severe judgment. In truth, didn’t we act in this way during the time of the army’s retreat, when we implacably shot disrupters? And who were they? Scoundrels? Not always; there were a lot of guys who just lost their way, who were on the wrong track. Shooting them was a cruel measure designed to warn the others. It is also indispensable to issue severe warnings in the economic domain. Not because foreign specialists will get scared and not come to work with us if we don’t, as Ryazanov claims, but because we disorganize ourselves and our own economy if we treat the specialists as though we could get along without them.
It is in this lack of understanding of the character of the present moment that the great misfortune of Comrade Ryazanov lies. I don’t know whether he deserved this sanction or a different one. (Interruption by Ryazanov: “You were the ones who took it.”) I have neglected to mention many of your ac probably highly laudable, in particular the details of the intervention for which you were sanctioned. It was only today that I heard the reading of your resolution from you, and I don’t know if it was only because of it that you were sanctioned. I cannot guarantee the justice of the sanction, but I cannot take it upon myself to tall it unjust. Your point of view is erroneous. You have written a very good little book, “Commentary on the Communist Manifesto.” That’s another thing. (Ryazanov: “Because I had some free time when I was thrown out of the union movement.”) If that’s the way it is, then Ryazanov is making the most self-destructive reply against himself, because none of us could have written the commentaries he wrote on the Communist Manifesto. I don’t think there’s a man who knows Marxist literature as profoundly as Ryazanov does—I recognize your extraordinary erudition—but that does not mean that he applies it correctly in practice. (Ryazanov: “Like a minister of war in the domain of political economy.”) It’s possible that this minister of war should not write theoretical works on political economy, and if he did so anyway we might punish him. We are not punishing you because of your useful commentaries, but because of your attempts to immortalize certain methods which you apply in the trade-union movement, independent of the character of economic relations and the political period. That is your enormous error.
Last updated on: 18 January 2009