FOR THE INAUGURAL edition of Lessons of History, we have chosen the following article by Nikolai Ossinsky, “The Construction of Socialism.” This article was originally published in the first, April 1918, issue of Kommunist, the journal of the proletarian communists (pejoratively dubbed “Left Communists” by Lenin’s faction) of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik). The English translation provided here is from the Communist Workers Organisation (UK), affiliate of the Internationalist Communist Tendency, and first appeared in their journal, Revolutionary Perspectives.

Ossinsky, born Valerian Obolensky (1887-1938), was an Old Bolshevik, joining the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party after the 1905 Revolution, of which he was a participant. From 1910 to 1917, he was imprisoned by the tsarist regime, but released in the amnesty issued after the February Revolution by the Provisional Government. He then arrived in Moscow, rejoining many of his old comrades and meeting his future colleagues on Kommunist: Nikolai Bukharin, Georgi Lomov and Vladimir Smirnov. After the October Revolution, in December 1917, the four were elected to the Supreme Council of the People’s Economy (Vesenkha), with Ossinsky as its first Chairman, and responsible for the socialization of the economy — the breaking of the grip of capitalist economic relations and reconstruction along “socialist”[1] lines.

It was at Vesenkha that Ossinsky and the other future members of the Kommunist grouping saw the inner workings of the early Soviet Russian economy, including the differences in outlook and policy between the workers of the factory-shop committees and the Soviet government, particularly the Council of People’s Commissars. A key difference that began to develop at this time was over what would be the backbone of economic development in the transition from capitalism to communism. Would it be the creativity and initiative of the workers themselves, or would it be control and guidance by the state and its officials? In short, would the direction come from above or below?

This was an important one for the Bolsheviks, since, in the period up to and immediately after the October Revolution, it had generally expressed, through its publications and speeches, the position that it would be the workers themselves, through their own organs of power, that would take hold of the economy and move its reconstruction forward (however, there was no adopted or agreed-upon program, platform or even basic document that specified this position). At the time, there appeared to be no differences among the Bolsheviks about this. Lenin himself had repeatedly asserted after the Revolution and through the winter of 1917-18 the central role of the working class in the building of the “socialist” economy:

“Creative activity at the grass roots is the basic factor of the new public life. Let the workers set up workers’ control at their factories. Let them supply the villages with manufactures in exchange for grain. Account must be taken of every single article, every pound of grain, because what socialism implies above all is keeping account of everything. Socialism cannot be decreed from above. Its spirit rejects the mechanical bureaucratic approach; living, creative socialism is the product of the masses themselves.”[2]

Even as late as March 1918, Lenin was continuing to speak about “socialism” being “implemented by tens of millions when they have learned to do it for themselves.”[3] That last, italicized phrase is important, though, because it indicates a change in perspective. No longer was economic transformation a matter of happening “from below, by the masses, through their experience,”[4] but from above, until workers learned to do it from union officials and the state management bodies, most notably the Vesenkha.

Looking back, it is debatable whether the Vesenkha was designed to facilitate or fetter the development of workers’ control. Historian Robert Daniels, in his book, The Conscience of the Revolution, writes that the body was set up “apparently at the behest of the factory committee leadership.” However, this is not a fully accurate telling. Vesenkha was established at the request of the All-Russian Council of Workers’ Control, itself created only a few weeks before as a controlling body for the factory-shop committees — a body almost exclusively composed of a growing corps of functionaries: trade union officials, mostly (most unions at the time were dominated by the Bolsheviks), with only five of the 21 “representatives” on the Council actually coming from the workplace floor.[5] The formation of the Vesenkha was meant to further the process of “state-ization,” according to the Bolsheviks themselves. This was confirmed by Lenin over the following weeks and months after its formation, who spoke openly about the “old workers’ control” (i.e., the factory-shop committees) being “antiquated”[6] and the “transition from ‘workers’ control’ to ‘workers’ management’”[7] placing control in the hands of the state Commissariats.

This change by Lenin might have been seen as happening suddenly by some Bolsheviks (and even by some communists today). But Lenin had maintained a different perspective since before the October Revolution. In his articles, “The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It” and “Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?”, Lenin writes openly about the state takeover and control of the major sectors of the economy — sugar, coal, oil, iron, steel, etc. — that would serve as the basis for a centralized planned economy that had as its goal the “development of the productive forces.”[8] That is, the development of the instruments of production, as opposed to the development of the class of producers. The key to the implementation of this plan would be convincing the bourgeois owners and their petty-bourgeois organizers (managers, technicians and other “experts” — later called the spetsy, or specialists) to agree to stay on as management of the newly state-ized industries, often with exceptionally higher salaries than the workers in the factories. All economic and production decisions were to be centralized, made by the owners, spetsy and the state bodies. Workers’ control was to be “transitioned” out of existence, with the former bodies meant to administer production transformed into a system that policed the workers on the shopfloor, under the guise of guarding against “waste” and “poor quality.”

However, Lenin’s position was in a practical minority at the time of the October Revolution, as workers, organized into their factory-shop committees, pushed forward with their plans for workers’ control. With the new conditions, though, came new problems. Because the Bolsheviks did not have anything concrete on the question of workers’ control, including a shared position on what it meant and how far it was to be extended, the revolutionary workers had to deal with both the overall question of reconstruction, but also the very practical question of day-to-day operations, solely through their own creativity and initiative. The vacuum left by the lack of political leadership from the Bolsheviks and, thus, the soviets themselves, allowed for the problems of illiteracy, ignorance and lack of experience to play a disproportionately large role in the restoration, to say nothing of the reconstruction, of the economy. The problems themselves were not insurmountable or even universal, but the lack of immediate progress allowed Lenin and his supporters to push for a change in outlook and direction in the development of the economy.

This shift, this “new orientation,” as Ossinsky put it, was seen by the proletarian communists soon to gather around Kommunist not only as a departure from the program that won the revolution, but also as a potential threat against the development of Russia in the direction of “socialism.” Having seen the extent of the economic catastrophe the fledgling soviets had been left by the Provisional Government, as well as the increasing conflicts between the workers and Vesenkha’s “experts” (the former owners and spetsy), it was becoming apparent to Ossinsky and other members that a divergence in perspective and policy was emerging. This situation was only made worse by a rise in incidents of sabotage by dispossessed supporters of capitalism, as well as by fears of a new German offensive that would destroy or capture large sections of industry, which compelled many Bolsheviks to abandon the principle of workers’ control in favor of Lenin’s plan, which was seen as quicker, easier and more “realistic” than what the Revolution ushered in.

Ossinsky flatly rejected Lenin’s technocratic plan for the organization of industry, pointing out that it would never be just a temporary arrangement. The petty bourgeoisie, once returned to their former social relations, would not voluntarily surrender what they had so recently recovered to the class they felt had to be managed and controlled — “proletarian state” or no. Moreover, for the sake of expediency, Lenin was sacrificing two important elements: first, the unity and solidarity of the proletariat itself, which was the backbone of the transition from capitalism to communism; second, the working class as an active participant in the administration of the economy, which left all power in the hands of the spetsy and state-appointed managers. Against this, Ossinsky reasserted the position held by many Bolsheviks and most workers before and immediately after the revolution: that the organization and reconstruction of industry had to rely on the initiative, creativity and experience of the workers themselves, regardless of whether such development would take longer, be more agonizing or prone to failures along the way. In his view, the problems of workers’ control would be tied to the problems of the revolution itself, and ultimately alleviated in much the same way: through unity and solidarity on an international level, through successful workers’ revolutions in Europe and the rest of the world.

It was in this atmosphere that Ossinsky characterized Lenin’s plan as state capitalism — the first use of that phrase to describe what was developing in Soviet Russia. Drawing on the writings of Marx and Engels, particularly the latter’s book, Anti-Dühring, Ossinsky correctly dismissed the view that “nationalization” (or, “state-ization”) was not inherently “socialist” and could just as easily form a key part of a capitalist economy. At the same time, he directly criticized a proposed plan for the Soviet government and a group of former capitalists to enter into a profit-sharing partnership. That plan was eventually rejected by the government, but Ossinsky saw it as an extreme symptom of a larger problem. Through the debates, Lenin had come to embrace the state-capitalist label while continuing to call his plan temporary until the world revolution came. But the world revolution never came, and state capitalism — a brutal, bureaucratic state capitalism that dragged the term “communism” through the mud — became entrenched in the Russian economy.

With the collapse of the USSR and the so-called “people’s democracies,” Ossinsky’s critique and rejection of state capitalism as a stepping stone to “socialism” was vindicated for all who were willing to see. In the process, it also exposed all the various “Marxist-Leninists” and their cousins (Trotskyists, Maoists, Hoxhaists, etc.) as organizations seeking not liberation for the working class, but management of the working class. More to the point, it demonstrated that these currents never fully broke from the petty-bourgeois politics of social democracy in a communist direction, placing them on the far flank of the Left of the capitalist order. The proletarian communists — the oft-slandered Left Communists — proved to be the only political movement with the insight to recognize the danger as it arose and fight against it. It is that movement, of which the Workers’ Group considers itself a part, that continues today to fight for the unity, solidarity, self-organization and self-liberation of the world’s working class through its own revolution and the transition to communism.



The “new orientation” is currently being carried out by the majority of our party. We are not talking about foreign policy, but about domestic policy, in particular, economic policy.

This orientation, the author of which is Comrade Lenin, consists in the following. Approximately until the end of January 1918 we experienced a period of acute civil war, the period of collapse of the old political and economic order and the forces that defended it. Today this period is over. It is time to actively begin the “organic construction”[9] of a new society. On the one hand, we must build socialism. On the other, we must establish the order that everyone wants and end confusion, disorganization, and disorder. By assuming that we hold power, that our enemies are defeated, we must not be afraid to use the forces who were once our enemies. We must make the intelligentsia work instead of carrying out sabotage. They sell themselves in the service of capital. We have to buy them, too. Within the intelligentsia we especially need the organizers of production, the “captains of industry” who organized the economy for capital. Like the commanders of the Tsarist army that we must solicit to help us organize the Red Army, we must ask the leaders of the trusts to organize socialism, by paying them whatever the price.

“Learning and organizing socialism through the organizers of trusts” is one of the slogans of Comrade Lenin, another being, “put an end to disorder.” From top to bottom, within the structures that govern the different branches of the economy, disorder, idleness and flight thrive on this rotten ground. “Do not steal, do not be lazy, make strict account of everything” — these simple petty-bourgeois recommendations must become our main slogans.[10] We must teach everyone, employees, workers, civil servants, not only to consume, but also to work. For this we need self-discipline and tribunals, to strengthen the power of the Commissars elected by the soviets which must work and not make speeches. There is a need to intensify work through the introduction of piece-rate payments and bonuses in the factories, the railways, and so on. Perhaps it is necessary to introduce Taylor’s American system[11], which links piece work payments and payment by the hour; you pay not only according to the quantity of products, but also according to the speed of their manufacture.

The supporters of the “new orientation” claim that all of this represents the construction of socialism, that this new vision of political tasks depends only on the fact that a new period within the country has begun and that it is an organic period. Yet all these new trends correspond to the conclusion of the peace, a retreat in the face of international capital which the annexationist peace in fact was, in the domestic concessions made to foreign imperialism resulting from it. Indeed, war is waged not just to seize territories, but also to subjugate them to the tentacles of capital. The annexationist peace was concluded by the imperialists to make use of the economy of the defeated country. And even in the head of Comrade Lenin, the new organic “socialist” period requires new relations with foreign capital from which he wishes to obtain money, engineers, weapons, military instructors, and even military support. It is the same with the formation of a so-called “Red” Army, but with the close — too close and dangerous — collaboration of tsarist officers and generals.


And then, we will be asked, in your opinion, isn’t the critical period of the overthrow of bourgeois society now over? Do you deny the need to actively build and put in order our “Socialist” homeland? We do not deny either. But for us the end of this acute period has another meaning entirely. And we think we need another construction, another kind of order to that advocated by the majority of our party.

The intense period in which the military forces of the bourgeoisie (White Guards, Kaledin’s forces, etc.[12]) have been crushed is over; as is the sabotage by the bourgeoisie, and by the intelligentsia. In addition, the acute period of the destruction of the bourgeois state and economic order, old justice, zemstvos[13] and municipalities, banks, the capitalist economy and landowners, etc., is complete. But the period of acute class antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat is not over; it cannot end like this. After having overcome the bourgeoisie, the workers cannot conclude peace with it; they must eliminate it completely as a class; after having broken the armed forces and class bases of the bourgeoisie, we cannot co-operate with what is left of its organized forces maintaining the remains of bourgeois social relations; we cannot make a pact with the bourgeoisie as a class.

We must use the knowledge and experience of the former mercenaries of the bourgeoisie[14], its organizers, its technical specialists, its scholars, etc. (the bourgeoisie itself and the capitalists have little of such knowledge). But we have to use them in our way by breaking their organized class ties, their relationships with the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois order. We have to get them to work in new social relationships, as workers of the whole society under the power of the workers and peasants; we have to dissolve them into the ranks of the latter. And our concrete work as well as the “organic construction” of socialism must be carried out in another way. The organizers of the trusts cannot and will never build socialism. It can be realized only by the creativity of the proletariat itself, through its gigantic efforts and with the technical assistance of the intelligentsia.

One should not even think of peaceful work in bodies led by the petty bourgeois. Above all, it is impossible because of the external situation, of the all-out and powerful offensive of imperialism. If what we are building is socialism, this structure will inevitably be linked to the struggle, to resisting the ambitions of foreign imperialism. And even this construction, such as it is, simply cannot come about via the detailed and mechanical petty-bourgeois directives imposed by just anyone. The former servants of capital[15] cannot simply move the workers like lifeless puppets; the working masses must develop their own initiatives and activities. During this construction process the workers must organize and develop their strength. Socialism will thus have a firm foundation and it will not be possible to eliminate it if the new economy is implemented by the proletariat, if it subject to it as master, if mastering and organizing it is taken on by the workers themselves.

We are not talking about a passive activity carried out under the direction of capitalism’s former servants and the establishment of “socialism” by them as in the trusts, but a voluntary construction of socialism by the workers with the technical assistance of the intelligentsia and a struggle of the proletariat for socialism against enemies both at home and abroad (sometimes defensive sometimes offensive, this will depend on the situation) — that is our position.


First of all, we would like to make some general comments on the organization of production, especially in capitalist society.

One of the most characteristic features which stands out from the activity of capital in production, is the fact that all the elements, all the aspects, of the process of production acquire some value here which, by uniting, increases and forms capital which produces surplus value.

This concerns, in the first place, the labor power that is purchased as a commodity entering into capital and consumption; its exploitation creates new surplus value, while the initial value, that of the means of production (machines, materials, etc.) is retained, and “transferred” into the goods produced. This is characteristic of the labor force that is the source of the alleged economic superiority of capitalism, its power (“Kommando des Kapitals,” Marx[16]).

In the capitalist factory, the worker does not so much use the means of production to manufacture products as the means of production, converted into capital, exploits and drains the worker by extracting surplus value. This is why, in a large factory, the agents of capital, those who embody its eyes and ears (directors, engineers, workshop foremen, etc.), organize not just the technical process of production, but also work as a “concrete” activity producing use value, and utilizing labor power, the extortion of “abstract” labor from workers, an expenditure of energy that creates exchange value. This latter aspect is essential. And in this sense, for them, the free man has no will of his own. He is only a particular commodity, a living thing, a source of exchange value, of golden juice. Yes, this commodity is sold for money, it must no longer “speak.” And this is why the main task of all engineers, technicians, and supervisors is to make the best use of this commodity and, as much as possible, draw its precious juice from it. That is why their power over the labor force must be unlimited.

The management of a large plant is always centralized, concentrated in one place, due to the fact that such technical concentration is necessary for capitalism; moreover, it is dictatorial because that is what the production of surplus value requires.

There is another aspect linked to it but is the main aim of capitalist production. For the capitalist, it is important to use a purchased commodity: the labor force. It is also important to have a hold over the possessor of this commodity. The worker possesses it, and even the door to it and it rules the market. That is why the capitalist tries to create a situation where, in ensuring capitalist domination and the unlimited right to exploit, he maintains the worker as a living thing and enslaves him, as the owner of the commodity and of the labor-power, to extract the most golden juice from him to give to the capitalist. According to Marx, this is ensured by the transformation of the wage, that is to say the value of the workforce, into the value of labor. The worker is not paid by being hired for a certain time, for example, a month or two weeks. He is paid by the hour, by piecework, he gets bonuses, and so on.

The proletarian — as a person who has no capital and who is not interested in producing surplus-value (because it exhausts him, and it is not for his profit) — conceives production and its work especially from a social point of view. As a conscious member of the class of industrial workers, he sees the factory as a social production which produces use values and which, one day, will eventually be useful to society. Thus, he considers work as the social function of the production of goods. He has the weakness to consider himself a human being and member of society. Even as a holder of the commodity, he is not at all interested in this labor power which prematurely wears him out.

But such a position cannot suit the capitalist: for him it is important to break up the workers, to reduce them to a commodity which would sell its labor power for a penny. This reinforces the power of capital and makes it easier to extract surplus-value from workers. This is why the authoritarian and hierarchical management system of the capitalist enterprise is closely linked with piece work, bonuses, “profit-sharing” and, finally, a synthesis of all these processes, with the “Taylor system” (which is above all that of forced labor).


Let’s look now at how the comrades of the majority of the party want to “build socialism.” They offer a form of organization of production which can be described thus: one organizes, for example, the industry building coaches and trains[17]; and for this purpose, all the factories which produce coaches and trains are declared state-owned. We thus form an enterprise, a state trust. From the outside this factory has the appearance of a limited company whose shares (or their majority) belong to the State. But to “buy” the participation of “captains of industry” and trust managers, either we have to sell them some shares, or this limited liability company issues bonds for which a defined interest rate is paid once (as opposed to shares where the dividends are variable and dependent on the annual profit). It is with these obligations that one buys the capitalist organizers. We should note in this connection that we not only buy the capitalists, but we are thus buying again the nationalized factories. This is not the cancellation, liquidation of the old capital stock, but their repurchase by bonds in place of the shares. The co-owners of the company, the shareholders, have become its creditors.

If they are reimbursed for all or part of their capital, is another question. In any case, they will receive at least part of their capital; moreover, they will benefit by exchanging shares for bonds or — “bribes.”

How will such a trust be managed? It will surely be fairly centralized. It will be concentrated in the hands of a nucleus which will consist of representatives of the State, of messieurs “the captains of industry” (who will also represent the creditors, bondholders), and representatives of the trade unions. Any initiative on the organization and management of the undertaking shall be the responsibility of the “organizers of trusts;” because we do not seek to educate them into becoming workers but will learn from them. Naturally, in each factory, the management will be centralized and authoritarian with regard to the rank and file. The center will appoint the directors from whom, will perhaps arise the controller-commissars, the “archangels,” as Comrade Krylenko[18] puts it. Their power will not be controlled by the factory workers; at best, the workers’ committees will have the right to complain about them to a higher authority. We will no longer need to develop workers’ control; everything can be controlled from the center because it will be made up of representatives of the workers ‘and peasants’ authorities and professional managers. It is true that we can learn from these gentlemen the capitalists; it does not matter since the students will be able to control their masters.

In this case, the organization of industrial work is also edifying. It’s enough just to react and “resolve conflicts!” But first of all, to work! The center will deal with the organization of production; the ordinary worker must not forget that it is primarily labor power (himself) which has to be used in the most intensive manner. The workers have not yet demonstrated their social maturity, they have not yet given assurance about production, nor married their emancipation from capitalism to an increase in labor productivity: This is why they must not be allowed to manage production and forced to work through material stimulation: paid by piece work and, probably, with the introduction of Taylorism. Since there are no more capitalists, there is no danger. In addition, it is necessary to make propaganda amongst them for self-discipline, professional tribunals, performance standards, etc. It is necessary to pull the strings from above and incite the workers below to submit to their direction; and we ourselves, must submit too. All this is not dangerous: the working class has the power and the organizers of the trusts will be no more than masters and instructors.


Is it true that there is no danger? And what will or might happen in the course of such a “construction of socialism?” We think that it is a very dangerous road that has little to do with socialism.

First, if one considers the construction of socialism as nationalization of enterprises, it must be seen that nationalization as such, that is, the transfer of enterprises to state property, does not mean socialism at all. In Prussia the railways are in the hands of the State, but nobody asserts that this was a transitional step towards socialism.

For nationalization to have such a meaning and to become socialization, it requires above all, the organization of the economy of nationalized enterprises on the basis of socialism, that is, that capitalist control is eliminated and that, in the organization of the enterprise there is no opportunity for it to regain control. Secondly, social power must be in the hands of those who possess the means of production, that power must be proletarian. How are these conditions faring?

The second condition already exists. So far, we have the dictatorship of the proletariat and the poorest peasantry. Is this definite? If this question means, “Is there a threat of a restoration of the power of the conciliatory faction of the intelligentsia and the constitutional democratic bourgeoisie?”, the answer is no. But if we mean that there might be a tendency towards degeneration of the semi-proletarian dictatorship and its transformation into the political domination of the semi-proletarian, half-petty bourgeois mass, the answer is yes. Such a danger exists. As can be seen in the “Theses on the Current Situation,” published in this issue[19], the economic and international consequences of peace create a tendency of this kind and can be overcome only by a resolute class policy for the coherent construction of true socialism. In the course of such a construction, the working class, which is currently suffering from some blows, must organize and strengthen itself. If it does not, if it is pulled in another direction the degeneration of the dominant political power in Russia, Soviet power, will be inevitable. This is why, to a large extent, to answer the question, “Can we exercise power through nationalization as a step towards socialism?”, it will be necessary to see how production is organized, will it be based on socialism and will it organize and push the proletariat onto a socialist path?

We have a responsibility to examine the form of production that is proposed by the majority of the party. Its external, legal framework is nationalization. We have already said that, in itself, this is not socialism. In addition, the form of a public limited company which is proposed to be given to state trusts is purely the fruit of financial capital and state capitalism. The public limited company is the most appropriate form used by financial capital to unite the banks with industry.

Here this form may be an accidental circumstance (although in our view, this is not the case). But it is not an accident that “a bribe” in the form of a bond issue, will be granted to the organizers of the trusts[20]. A good personal remuneration would have been enough if we had hired them as simple instructor-organizers. But the fact is that we appointed them as representatives of a class, and a “bribe” (specifically, the repayment) is given to them all. Thus, on the one hand, a concession is made to this class which reinforces its social power, and on the other, it consolidates the link between these instructors and their class, the bourgeoisie. They not only play the role of employees of the Soviet Republic, but also act as representatives of financial capital. In addition, they often take part in the future trusts as official bondholders. And since these bondholders are international bankers who already hold the shares of factories and that they will do business, with the endorsement of Mr. Meshchersky[21] and company (“the organizers of trusts”), it is obvious that there is a real link, a “blood” link with foreign financial capital. This is why the system of compulsory borrowing and limited liability is not a coincidence: for the “organizers of trusts” this system is a necessary part of the transaction that links them to foreign capital and may become the bridge through which the latter can get back into “socialized” industry. From this point of view there is already danger that our “masters” are not helping us to build socialism, but surreptitiously create real capitalist trusts to carry out their class activities.

But, for the moment, this remains superficial and concerns only the relations with the “outside” capitalist world. However, the shifts in this direction are extremely dangerous, especially today where the tentacles of foreign bankers and the bayonets of imperialist coalitions (which they direct) surround us, to the extent that any connection with them can very quickly turn into submission. It is this external aspect which is the most important, alongside the maintenance of the dictatorship and the guiding power of the proletariat and not that of the capitalists in the internal organization of production.

What is the situation? It is very sad. We propose to the masses of proletarians to consider themselves solely as workers in the professional and technical sense of the word. First and foremost, worry only about work. Take on board petty-bourgeois commands; these are now your main slogans. Don’t worry about the enterprise or its activity. These gentlemen, the organizers of production will “teach” you. Everything will be decided by the center. Your social task will be reduced to the participation in the elections of leaders who will defend your interests, and passively agreeing to the introduction of “discipline at work” and keeping order in the workplace. Here, of course, it is obvious that even the centralization of management has its autocratic character. The directors sent to the factories have total power and the right to demand complete obedience: this will be how discipline and order are carried out (see the decree on the running of the railways).

Will the workers’ leaders participate in the management of companies alongside the businessmen? Will the capitalists succeed in ensuring the proletariat has a real power of command over production? We doubt it, especially if the proletariat as a class is transformed into a passive element, the object and not subject of the organization of work for production. Labor leaders can only draw their strength from their direct link with the active masses. Thus, this workers’ bureaucracy will play the role of passive pupil of these gentlemen representatives of capital, and it will be the most adept in the “business” commandments of Smiles[22]. We are creating here the surest way to get capital back (especially since there is strong external pressure) in its old place.

Finally, we must take a third point on board. To encourage the zeal of the workers at work, piecework and time and motion studies (calculating how long a task should take, the Taylor system) are introduced. We have already spoken of the influence of this form of wage on the unity of the class and on the consciousness of the workers. These forms were invented by the capitalists to break proletarian solidarity. They create competition and division among the workers. They lead to the domination of personal, selfish interests over common class interests. They transform workers into small traders of their own labor power. They are the best way to plant petty-bourgeois psychology and influence in the working masses and also to simply transform the most experienced workers into smallholders. They force increased attention on vocational work in the workshops at the expense of social tasks. The worker tries to “receive” a maximum per day and no longer has either the time or the interest to think about anything else. Considering the fatigue and the general overwork of the current workers, it must be said that all these capitalist temptations will enormously increase the passivity of the class, the inaction of the Russian proletariat. And all this, on the one hand at a time of a resolute offensive by world imperialism and, on the other, on the eve of the decisive battle for which we must always be ready!

We are not talking about the influence of all this on the situation of the unemployed and on the relations between the employed proletarians and the unemployed. The prospects are everywhere sad: the differentiation within the proletariat, the appearance of a working-class aristocracy indifferent to politics, alongside those who are unlucky and jealous and finally a general passivity. Under such conditions, the participation of capitalists in the organization of production promises nothing good.


In general, what then are we promised? Suppose that the workers approve the new system (although the introduction of former butchers and saboteurs in the factories under Soviet power is unlikely). Above all, it promises the reinforcement of the capitalist positions. The end of the “acute period” of the destruction of the bourgeois order will mean at bottom the beginning of concessions to the remnants of the defeated bourgeoisie. If it does not strengthen the positions of the Russian bourgeoisie, at least it will be an opening for international capital. Currently German imperialism is undoubtedly concerned with the search for such an outcome and uses hundreds of officials and “experts” for this purpose. Let us face up to what we can expect. Once we start down this road, which uses the passivity of the working class and which is developed by the “organic work” of the right-wing Bolshevik type, foreign capital will go far and begin to restore more and more its power and its leadership.

The form of organization of state enterprises (the formation of trusts, borrowing, bureaucratic centralization, the form of stock and shares) facilitates the intrusion of foreign financial capital, whether of the German “brute” or of the “kind” American. The absolute power of management, half in the hands of notorious businessmen, will evolve towards the power of capital. And, in short, the whole system (considering the other circumstances consistent with such a political line) may become a step towards the emergence in Russia of state capitalism from the rotten terrain of the tsarist autocracy and now born on a land freed from serfdom, if the decadent tendency of the Russian revolution prevails (leaving aside the prospect of international revolution).

The Russian proletariat must choose another way, through which it will strengthen its active class strength, its ability to resist foreign plunderers, and its influence on the development and success of the international revolution which will be a great and final deliverance from the yoke of capital. It is the way to build true socialism through the efforts of the proletariat itself, without the tutelage of the capitalist masters.

We will discuss this in a future article.[23]


[1] Throughout this introduction, we will put “socialism” in quotation marks. This is because the use of the term at the time Ossinsky’s article was written was as a synonym or a kind of shorthand for a few things: first, the lower phase of communism, second, the early form of the communist mode of production and, third, the elements of the communist mode of production that exist during the period of transition from capitalism to communism. Because of this relative ambiguity, and conscious of how the term has been emptied of any meaningful content today, we feel it is most helpful to the reader to make reference to “socialism” as something being excerpted and not as language we would use. [Class Line note]

[2] “Meeting of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee,” Collected Works, Vol. 26 [Progress, 1977], p. 288-289. [Class Line note]

[3] “Report on the Review of the Programme and on Changing the Name of the Party,” Collected Works, Vol. 27 [Progress, 1974], p. 135. Emphasis ours. [Class Line note]

[4] “Report on the Economic Condition of Petrograd Workers and the Tasks of the Working Class,” Collected Works, Vol. 26 [Progress, 1977], p. 365. [Class Line note]

[5] Brinton, Maurice, The Bolsheviks and Workers’ Control [Solidarity, 1970] — [Class Line note]

[6] “Fifth All-Russia Congress of Soviets of Workers’ Peasants’, Soldiers’ and Red Army Deputies,” Collected Works, Vol. 27 [Progress, 1974], p. 517. [Class Line note]

[7] “Report of the Central Committee,” Collected Works, Vol. 29 [Progress, 1974], p. 154. [Class Line note]

[8] The “productive forces” theory was developed by Karl Kautsky in the 1890s, ostensibly based on Marx and Engels, as part of Second International’s position that only the advanced capitalist countries could achieve “socialism.” Kautsky based his argument on a misreading of Marx and Engels, where they explain that when a contradiction between the “productive forces” (the trio of raw materials, means of production and class of producers — the proletariat) and the existing social relations (relations among classes on the nation-state scale) develops, it is at that point where revolution is objectively possible. Kautsky, who rejected the idea that the transition from capitalism to communism was the starting point of the “radical rupture” with existing society, seeing it instead as the endgame of capitalism itself, argued that the building up of the means (i.e., instruments) of production to an appropriate sophistication and scale would bring about “socialism,” which can then open the way for the development of workers’ administration. By separating development of the instruments of production from the class of producers and putting the former above the latter, Kautsky reduced the economic transformation to a question of technocratic management — management of production and management of the producers. In Russia in 1918, this meant dismantling the hard-won revolutionary gain of workers’ control and re-imposing the social relations in production that existed under the tsar as a means of rebuilding and eventually advancing the instruments of production. As for the workers, their consciousness, creativity and initiative were to be “developed” later … which really meant never. [Class Line note]

[9] The expression, “organic construction,” appears to be attributed to Lenin by Ossinsky, but the term does not seem to appear in any of the documents written by Lenin in this period (covered by Volumes 26 and 27 of his Collected Works). We can only assume that Ossinsky was using the term to contrast it with his own “dialectical construction of socialism.” He was trying to underline the contrast between those who were obsessed with organization and discipline to boost socialism with his own view that socialism can only be built through the initiative of the masses, even if this takes longer and is more problematic. For a theoretical discussion of this distinction in the works of Luxemburg and Lenin, see George Lukács’ History and Class Consciousness, Chapter 7, which can be found at [Revolutionary Perspectives note]

[10] All these slogans, as well as the program on which they are based, are to be found in the theses of Comrade Lenin, who promised to publish them quickly after the 4 April meeting between members of the Central Committee and the Left Communist group. Why have these theses not yet been published? [Original note]

They would be published in the pamphlet, “The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government,” appearing for the first time in Pravda, Vol. VI, No. 83, 28 April 1918. They can be found in Lenin’s Collected Works, Volume 27 [Progress, 1972], p. 235-277. [Revolutionary Perspectives note]

[11] The American system of Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915), chief engineer at the Midvale Iron Works, sought to raise productivity of workers through a scientific organization of labor by studying the time taken for every operation and developing standardization of work as well as introducing piece work. [Revolutionary Perspectives note]

[12] Alexei Maximovich Kaledin (1861-1918). A Cossack general who never accepted the overthrow of the tsar and followed Kornilov in 1917. Elected Ataman of the Don Cossacks after October, he was defeated by the Bolsheviks under Antonov-Ovseenko in February 1918 and committed suicide. [Revolutionary Perspectives note]

[13] Elected by local gentry as a form of local and provincial government. They were set up after the emancipation of the serfs in 1864 by Alexander II. [Revolutionary Perspectives note]

[14] A colorful reference to the petty bourgeoisie. [Class Line note]

[15] This is a play on the language used in the German edition of the Communist Manifesto. In the Manifesto, Marx speaks of the old petty bourgeoisie disappearing and being replaced, in trade, manufacture and agriculture, by “labor overseers and servants (Domestiken).” In the English edition, this phrase in the Manifesto was clarified by Engels in 1888, replaced with the formulation, “bailiffs, overlookers and shopmen” — police, managers and small business owners in modern language (bureaucrats were included as part of the “new,” capitalist petty bourgeoisie in works by Marx that preceded the Manifesto). [Class Line note]

[16] See Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1 [Penguin Classics, 1990], p. 439. [Revolutionary Perspectives note]

Translated as, “command of capital.” For more on what Marx meant, see Section 5 of Chapter XIV: “Division of Labour and Manufacture,” Capital, Volume 1; in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 35 [Lawrence & Wishart, Ltd., 2010], p. 364-374. [Class Line note]

[17] “Competent” people know that these examples are not made up by us but are based on schemes discussed in the relevant institutions. More recently (after this article had already been written), these plans, in their original form, have now been deferred. The slogan of learning socialism from the organizers of the trust has now also “withered.” But this changes nothing, as we are examining an entire political tendency in its clearest expressions. These schemes can still be revived. The speech of the “communist” Gukovsky (People’s Commissar for Finance and a former Menshevik) prove that in the realm of financial politics the ideas of Samuel Smiles (see Note below — Eds.) continue to rule. [Original note]

[18]. Nikolai Vasilyevich Krylenko (1885-1938), old Bolshevik from 1904 on and very close to Lenin. He was army commander from November 1917 to January 1918. On 10 February, he received the telegram from Trotsky announcing the ceasefire and the beginning of peace negotiations, and began to demobilize. The next day, however, he received information from Lenin that peace negotiations had broken down. On 19 February, he ordered the troops to resist a new German offensive. By 24 February, seeing the difficult situation on all fronts, he demanded that peace be signed no matter what the conditions were. Deputy Commissar for Justice and assistant Prosecutor General in the trials of the 1920s, he became People’s Commissar for Justice in 1931, but left the post of Prosecutor General to Vyshinsky after 1932. Accused of treason, he was imprisoned and shot in 1938. [Revolutionary Perspectives note]

[19] “Theses on the Current Situation,” in English at [Revolutionary Perspectives note]

“The Left Communists’ Theses on the Current Situation (Russia, 1918)” — This document will appear as part of the Lessons of History section, along with an introduction, in a future issue of Class Line. [Class Line note]

[20] The same is true of the transfer to the bankers of part of the shares and other instruments of this kind. [Original note]

[21] Prince V. Meshchersky, iron and steel magnate, owned the leading factories for building locomotives and wagons. Representing an important group of capitalists in the machine and metallurgy industries in March 1918, he proposed to the Soviet government to set up a new trust. The group would hold half the shares of the metallurgy trust and the state the other half. The group would be responsible for management in the name of the trust. On the basis of a narrow majority, the government decided to negotiate, but on 14 April finally rejected the proposal in favor of the complete nationalization of industry. The Government suspected that German capitalists were behind Meshchersky’s proposal. [Revolutionary Perspectives note]

[22] Samuel Smiles (1818-1904). A former Chartist, he became the ideologue of Victorian individualism. His book, Self-Help, sold a quarter of a million copies in his lifetime. [Revolutionary Perspectives note]

[23] The second part of this document, which we will be translating shortly, appeared in Kommunist, No 2. [Revolutionary Perspectives note]

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