In 2017 all progressive people celebrated the centennial anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution. One hundred years ago workers and peasants managed to take power from capitalists and landlords in order to construct a new world. The main factor that ensured the victory of the Revolution was that, at the moment, workers already had mass organizational structures (i.e. trade unions, committees, soviets), which were built on democratic principles. These structures proved to be the headquarters of the insurrection and became the foundation of state apparatus meant to implement dictatorship of proletariat. They reflected the real will of working people, they could be easily understood and were comprised of their representatives. Nevertheless, for those structures to appear on historical stage on time and prepared to act and to fight, working classes had to go a long way of struggle for democracy that stretched over decades under conditions of the severest repressions by the classes-exploiters.
The Great October came true only because it was a result of activities of masses at large, including strata that didn’t belong to proletariat. Still we should remember that the nucleus of the insurrection and the main basis for the whole Soviet power were workers, the industrial proletariat that had matured in Russian Empire and had gone a long way to the perception of their class interests.
The history of Russian workers democracy is of special interest now as hired personnel represent an overwhelming majority of local population and the future depends on these people. The experience of peasants as well as of the multimillion mass of soldiers (mainly also of peasant origin) tired of the world war is also important, but not to the same extent, as those strata were characteristic for that time predominantly.
Indeed, development of working-class democracy under capitalism might progress in two directions. First, workers established forms of democracy on a grass-root level that are accompanied by the first forms of class struggle. Second, the use of bourgeois democracy in order to provide for the participation of workers movement in public politics including bourgeois parliaments, all this for the sake of workers movement’s development. Both of these directions were developing in Russia with the active participation of the Lenin’s party, which accumulated the experience of the working class and guided its activities.
Working class of modern Russia hasn’t got over the defeat of Socialism in 1991 and even partially lost its historical memory. Still Russian working people bereft of the achievements of Socialism have been facing exploitation again, repressions, life with no prospects. Under these conditions workers willingly or unwillingly will have to fight for their rights. The logics of this struggle doesn’t basically differentiate from the logics of proletarian protests in XIX – XX Centuries, though there are obvious differences in the structure of working class now and then. All this means that the previous experience of proletariat will be inevitably requested when workers will see themselves again as a struggling class.
Due to upcoming rise of working-class people, Soviets of workers representatives may be reborn. Still, at the same time, it’s obvious that new Soviets won’t be an exact replica of democratic structures of early XXth century. Class struggle, especially under revolutionary conditions, will produce new forms of working-class, people’s organization in fighting to overthrow capitalism.
The aim of this article is to give a sketch of the development of workers democracy before the October revolution and to demonstrate briefly how democracy changed over the period of USSR. The conclusion will be an attempt to describe the current state of working class in Russia. Before the October revolution, proletariat for several decades followed the path of consociation and democratization. As a result, the Soviet Power was established. Current historical period may be also characterized as a period preceding active and organized struggle of working class for power. All those who work for the resurrection of Socialism may take interest in comparative similarity of the said two historical periods.
Cashboxes and first unions
While taking the rout of economic struggle the workers movement of Russia right from the very first steps went along classical path: beginning from separate single and spontaneous protests up to organized mass struggle with putting forward not only economic, but also political demands. During many years workers had to find their own ways to establish the most effective methods of struggle.
In the seventies of XIXth century czarist gendarmes relatively easy crashed first-appeared workers unions, then within one to two decades no repression could undermine the All-Russia rise of workers movement.
Thousands of strikes that took place in the 80ies and 90ies of XIX Century gave workers an extended experience. If we consider this movement beginning from the first actions and till the highest level of organized struggle, we come to a conclusion that here we deal with nothing less than the search by proletariat for effective methods of struggle for its economic and political rights, i.e. a sort of political experiment that lasted over decades.
The accumulated experience had led the working class to quite natural result. A strike – the most effective tool of economic struggle – turned into a most common instrument of working class. In the 90ies, authorities recorded 1765 strikes. By that period strikes had become offensive in nature, because that was not only a reaction on the deterioration of working conditions due to employers, but concrete demands to improve these conditions as well. Workers learned to use solidarity strikes as effective tactical tool. All those actions not only helped workers to increase the value of their working force to a certain extent, but also rallied workers into a class, made them move towards unification. Workers’ circles started to appear where they not only increased their literacy but studied Marxism as well.
Under the most difficult conditions of repressions from tsarism, for a long time workers’ strive for unification couldn’t lead to creation of legal trade unions. Since 1903, a revolutionary marxist party RSDRP(b) headed by Lenin became the core of the struggle for trade unions.
During the period of the First Russian Revolution in 1905-1907, through struggle, Russian proletariat learned to unite in trade unions and Soviets. In 1905, according to annual statistics, every Russian worker had been on strike at least two times. It appears that at the time of mass creation of assemblies, workers already had full experience and traditions of class struggle.
Exactly this experience of the working class that had been accumulated before the first Russian revolution and that manifested itself in striking, conspiracy, constant establishing of horizontal contacts and ties naturally led workers to creation of Soviets and to wide propagation of trade unions. That was a qualitative leap in the workers movement’s development that had been conducted by the decades of quantitative growth.
A trade union, as history shows, is the first organisational form of workers. This form has several vulnerabilities if compared with Soviets.
Let’s consider the opinion of contemporaries. The second congress of RSDRP that took place in 1903 assessed the trade union struggle of workers as follows:
«Professional struggle of workers is a natural consequence of the status of proletariat in capitalist society…This struggle of workers is one of the main means to curb the tendency of capitalist rule to reduce the living level of workers… Such struggle develops independently from the political struggle of proletariat led by Social Democracy and leads to splitting of proletarian forces and to subjugation of workers’ movement to the interests of ruling classes…»1
In 1917 Bolshevik newspaper «Pravda» wrote in its issue №47 dated May 16 (3):
«Trade union is the first step that a worker takes in his organized life and activity.»2
Here are the usual goals that workers unions in Russia set in the beginning of XX Century:
– organization of workers in one plant/branch;
– elaboration of unified demands of workers in one plant/branch;
– election of their own leaders;
– preparation and carrying out strikes;
– collection of means (fees), control and follow-up of the resources;
– distribution of means from the cashbox to the families of striking workers;
– carrying out negotiations with the owners, administration and authorities;
– printing leaflets and their distribution;
– establishing of horizontal ties with other workers’ unions and working teams;
– fighting strike-breakers (announcing the workplaces under boycott, organizing vigils etc.).
Activities of workers’ unions contributed to the development of habitual democratism in a working environment. Any decision-making wasn’t an easy task – one not only had to express one’s point of view, but also to back it up, to listen to other members’ position. The majority of votes necessary for decision-making were conquered in the course of debates, of agitated discussions when the hesitating people were won over. Right after the voting the apparatus to implement the decisions was created.
But at the same time trade unions gave predominantly economic direction to the labor movement, making workers detached by industry and not fostering them to involve in political struggle.
What do we call a trade union
Any trade union is of a dual nature.
On the one hand, it is a phenomenon of the world of goods and competition. As they don’t have capital, workers bring to the market the only goods they possess – their working capability. Here they face their cunning adversary – organized buyers, i.e. these who purchase their labour. In any transaction both a seller and a buyer try not to miss their profit. The interests of a buyer in this instance require a dissent among sellers. While approaching each worker separately, employers have an advantage and usually manage to impose the most profitable conditions for themselves and the most one-sided (i.e. providing possibility to exploit) for workers. To follow their trade interests the sellers have to try and find the best conditions for their labour force sales. They establish special “companies” that consolidate the goods (i.e. labour) and go into negotiations with the buyers while having better positions. Now we see that trade union is part and parcel of Capitalism, an organization of sellers of labour that looks after their interests as opposed to the interests of buyers that do their best to break the unity of their “partners”.
But on the other hand, trade union is an organization, contributing to the emergence of class consciousness among workers. Allied workers want not only to sell their labour force for a better price, they act jointly against interests of capitalists. Members of struggling trade unions develop an understanding that workers have a group interest (even if at first only workers of “their” branch are taken into account) and that they oppose business owners, who are as well sharing their particular interest. Usually, proletarians, busy with their economic struggle, cannot go beyond this understanding without help of a revolutionary marxist party. Lenin wrote about this in his famous work «What is to be done?»:
«Class political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without; that is, only from outside the economic struggle, from outside the sphere of relations between workers and employers»3
Political struggle unfolded at the level of Soviets, organizations of another kind that provide ways to go beyond economism. Bolsheviks immediately praised the new creative activity of the masses. History has not yet known such a form of unification of the exploited — over time, all working classes could meet in Soviets.
Though initially, Soviets were workers’ organizations similar with trade unions but more complex.
What do we call Soviets
Bourgeoisie has learnt to promptly use any dissent and weakness among their class enemies. There are adopted laws preventing workers from using the most effective methods of their struggle, whereas the situation in the market of labour is skillfully used. Industrial division of trade unions makes it possible to crush not enough conscious workers in parts, preventing them from uniting.
Experienced in fighting against bourgeoisie, workers may need new forms of class unification in order to organize more severe class struggle.
During the years of the First Russian revolution, working class of Russia came to creation of Soviets, i.e. of elected class bodies, capable of not only resolving day-to-day issues of survival and local self-government, but also rising to the statewide level.
In 1905 the revolution being in full swing, in a number of industrial cities one could observe a situation when on the same industrialized territory there simultaneously functioned strike committees and workers from several plants had to constantly coordinate their activities. A body comprised of elected representatives of several strike committees was given the name Soviets. Some of enterprises elected to Soviets their representatives that were not members of local committees – in this case the representatives were elected at workers’ general meetings. Thus Soviets sprang to life as a grassroots initiative. From the very beginning these bodies, established to solve concrete problems of protesters, had to turn into universal managing bodies capable of taking decisions on wide range of issues and to organize their implementation. They had to simultaneously find solutions concerning coordination of strikes and organizing provision for the workers’ family members in all striking plants. In the course of further development, Soviets, while transforming from their basic forms into more complex structures, established a hierarchy that started from local committees and up to city committees and higher. In revolutionary 1917, following the example of workers, Soviets were created by peasants, soldiers, сossacks. Soviets, representing different strata of exploited population, had the strongest strive for unification. This led to creation of Soviets of workers, soldiers and peasants’ representatives. All-Russian Congresses of Soviets will play a decisive role in determining the fate of the whole country. On the Second Congress of Soviets, after the victorious proletarian insurrection took place, Lenin declared the Soviet power.
It’s important to understand, that after the victory of the October Revolution, it was for the Soviets to be organs of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Once the Soviets, which were representing workers, peasants and other working strata, had been able to unify, workers under the guidance of the Bolsheviks’ party then managed to take the primary role.
In the work «Concerning Questions of Leninism» I.V. Stalin wrote:
«The Soviets are a mass organisation of all the working people of town and country. They are a non-Party organisation. The Soviets are the direct expression of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is through the Soviets that all measures for strengthening the dictatorship and for building socialism are carried out. It is through the Soviets that the state leadership of the peasantry by the proletariat is exercised. The Soviets connect the vast masses of the working people with the vanguard of the proletariat».4
Democratic struggle inside Soviets
New representative bodies, right after they were established, turned into battlefield for opposing class interests. Inside Soviets, especially before the October, bitter internal struggle between various fractions took place. Bolsheviks, representing genuine proletarian positions, managed to democratically win clear majority from bourgeois socialists.
The class essence of Soviets created conditions inside them, under which all rival forces had to take into account interests of proletariat. Here is one of the differences between Soviets and parliament – in the latter there can easily act groups that openly proclaim their anti-workers’ attitudes. More than that, for all seeming democracy there can be observed the trend that leads to decrease of the number of representing workers MPs. In the modern Russian parliament, the Duma, there cannot be found a single MP from workers, acting on behalf of the class. Parliaments were historically established as a tool of exploiters’ dominance, whereas the base of Soviets was quite different – Soviets evolved from the groups of striking proletariat to fight for the workers’ cause.
Soviets, as a stage of workers movement – and then wider, of entire revolutionary movement of workers – have a number of advantages over the preceding forms of struggle.
Unorganised struggle and petty individual sabotage may give an employee only a slight satisfaction from the harm that he manages to inflict upon capitalist. Such actions will not increase his salary, will not cancel too heavy output goals, and will not cut his working hours.
On having reached the level of organized strikes, on having learnt to unite and create trade unions, workers start to act as a class. Still trade unions, even these that can win strikes, have their limits of possibilities as they act within the framework of only economic struggle and bourgeois labour policy.
As for political struggle to pursue true needs of workers, organizations of another level are needed, e.g. Soviets. On the base of Soviets, working class led by a revolutionary communist party is able to accomplish its main task: to defeat bourgeois socialist parties and to consolidate all the people except of exploiting classes.
Soviets surpassed trade unions due to going beyond the limitations of trade. While uniting representatives from all enterprises situated on the same territory in one managing elected body that possesses real power, Soviet accumulates the will of working class that turns into overt political subject. As soon as decision is made, its implementation is organised immediately. Class proletarian membership of Soviets makes it possible to ignore and, if necessary, to suppress the will of strata that are hostile.
History had shown the tremendous efficiency of the new proletarian authorities.
Soviet power could very quickly introduce 8 hours working day, establish workers’ control over enterprises and later on nationalize the whole industry. Those issues actually proved to be the first and the easiest to resolve by Soviets who had taken power, though over decades in the past workers could only dream about such achievements. Starting with resolving simple issues, Soviets proved to be capable of constantly improving the living conditions of proletariat of the giant country, of carrying out both electrification and industrialization, of establishing the best in the world system of mass education and ensuring lasting development of science and defensive capacities. Soviet power turned into basis for creation of USSR and its social-political order – Socialism.
Now we can see that Soviets is a historical phenomenon that proved its effectiveness in anti-capitalist struggle. It’s probable that the twenty-first century will give new forms of class association. But if these organs appear under conditions of revolutionary situation, when proletariat will be ready to take power, they will inevitably have attributes of Soviets. Here are a number of features of Soviets we’d like to stress:
— The basis of Soviets is a body that is created based on class and industrial-territorial principle. Elections take place at enterprises situated at certain territories (city, district etc.). There are established clearly defined boundaries leaving outside Soviets the forces that are hostile to the interests of working class. In the history of USSR there was a time when they rejected elections at enterprises. Communists don’t assess that reform reflected in the Soviet Constitution of 1936 unambiguously. Cancelling of elections at enterprises and going over to the polling system based on territorial principle only (as bourgeois parliaments are elected) might be a mistake that contributed to the transformation of Soviet power apparatus.
— The electoral victory is not due to more investment and better organized electoral campaign. Those people are elected to labour Soviets who are from production plant and were put forward by people who have production relations with them. A person working at a plant is well known to his immediate colleagues.
— A delegate on any level can be recalled by electorate any time. Such system doesn’t allow the delegates to forget about the interests of electorate for several years until the next elections, that is a typical occurrence for all parliaments. Elected delegate has to constantly report before the constituency on all his activities.
— From the very beginning Soviets were intended to resolve actual issues, rather than to perform parliamentary talking shop. The principle of power division is cancelled – these who take a decision are responsible for this decision’s implementation as well.
— State authority, based on Soviets, is the dictatorship of the proletariat.
— Soviet power has hierarchical structure and it’s based on sessional principle. This means that the delegates don’t have meetings all the time, but come to sessions several times a year to take decisions and laws, whereas the rest of the time they spent on their enterprises, working in their region.
— Soviet is a representative body, it’s a battlefield for internal struggles where genuine interests of working class should be still defended by political means. Such task is up to a communist workers’ party. It has been proven that the establishment of Soviets leads to class struggle intensification.
— Only parties that are close to proletarian interests can act in Soviets. History of USSR has shown that in case overtly bourgeois forces are let into Soviets (that get there through polling system), this inevitably leads to acute struggle that can destroy Soviet workers’ power and the Soviet themselves. This was the case in the time of Perestroyka.
Though born as bodies of workers’ self-government, Soviets right in the very beginning turned into something bigger, as from the start they were actively and uncompromisingly attacked by exploiting classes and associated political forces. The development of Soviets have shown that under conditions of Capitalism they are a natural center in organizing the struggle against Capitalism for Socialism.
In his article «Socialism and Anarchism» dated 1905 V.I. Lenin wrote:
«Soviet of Workers’ Deputies is not a workers’ parliament or a workers self-government body. It’s not a body of self-government at all, it’s a militant organization for attaining certain goals».5
Forms of grass-roots democracy
The development of workers’ democracy had led not only to creation of workers’ unions and Soviets. In 1917, grassroots mass democracy gave birth to wide scale activities in the street and to the activities associated with organizing congresses. Right after the events of February, workers, soldiers and peasants set up a lot of committees, carried out a lot of meetings on a daily basis, elected delegates to various representative bodies.
Constant meetings took place at factories situated in industrial regions. Those meetings took decision not only on economic issues but on political ones as well.
In military units at the front as well as in the rear there were also constant elections, meetings and congresses.
Later in 1918 in the work “Next tasks of Soviet power” Lenin describes that period as follows:
«Meetings’ activities represent genuine democracy of working people, their straightening, their aspiration to the new life, their first steps in the field that they themselves cleared from various blackguards (exploiters, imperialists, landlords and capitalists) and that they want to learn to arrange by themselves, for themselves, based on their own Soviet power, and not the alien power of toffs, of bourgeoisie».6
Meeting activities were background for acute political struggle. This phase of grass-roots form of democracy allowed workers and other exploited strata to elevate the level of their class consciousness up to clear understanding of historical moment. People who took to the streets and their representatives in Soviets are the two stages of true democracy.
The role of a vanguard communist party
A revolutionary communist party has the primary role in the development of workers democracy. The most advanced representatives of society join the ranks of the party for political struggle aimed at liberation of working people. Such party is a Marxist party. It rejects agreements with bourgeoisie on the matters of principle and acts so as to bring about revolutionary uprising of wide strata of working people, especially the working class. Communists must be ready to fight in the political struggle by all means (depending on current situation) and not to just partially facilitate the lives of workers, but against Capitalism and for Socialism. Bolsheviks of Lenin were exactly such vanguard of workers class.
Principles of democratic Socialism that were followed by this party were also established in the course of the struggle, these principles envisaged election of party’s ruling bodies at congresses and conferences where the delegates represented all party organizations. Congress represent the supreme managing body of the party, whereas in between the congresses the party is managed by Central Committee, elected at a congress. Such democracy enables each party member by way of elections to take part in decision making and control activities of the leadership. An important feature of democratic Socialism was unconditional implementation of decisions made, the subordination of primary organizations to the superordinate ones and subordination of minority to majority.
As early as from the beginning of the 90ies of XIX Century circles of Social Democrats tried to actively help workers’ movement. When getting through the storms of the first Russian revolution, February revolution and Great October, Bolsheviks took the most active part in the making of workers’ democracy and its development. In the trade unions and in the Soviets there unrolled struggle between different parties, many of which considered themselves socialist, whereas in reality they were bourgeois or petty bourgeois democrats. Both SRs and Mensheviks dominated in Soviets on certain stages in 1917, still they were incapable of splitting with bourgeoisie resolutely and carried out conciliating politics all the time. Eventually, Bolsheviks had proved to the workers of Russia that they were right.
History taught us that the combination of Soviets and revolutionary Communist party is an effective way to success of Socialist revolution.
Participation of workers’ representatives in tsarist Duma
The development of workers’ democracy is not the only way of proletarian participation in political struggle. Though bourgeois democracy in the times of tsarism was manly nominal, still it enabled Bolsheviks to use the civil rights and freedoms that had been conquered from despotism, including the right to be elected in their interests. A group of workers’ deputies acted in Duma of II-IV cessions in the period of 1907-1914. Being constantly in minority and under surveillance of police, Bolshevik deputies couldn’t influence the “lawmaking” activities of Duma. Still they made a lot to assist workers movement. Inquiries from MPs and discussions of issues important for workers movement helped workers in a number of cases. Nevertheless, the main achievement of Bolshevik fraction in Duma was the public announcement of workers class’ demands that surely helped to consolidate the class. The fact that in the very beginning of the imperialistic war all Bolshevik MPs were sent to far-away Siberian exile tells us that their voices seriously interrupted with the attempts by exploiters to suppress and deceive working people.
It’s important to understand, and Bolsheviks understood this well, that participation in bourgeois parliament is of only secondary importance for workers movement. Practice has taught us how groundless and harmful are the hopes of bourgeois democratic socialists to bring liberation of workers’ class by performing parliamentary activities instead of revolutionary activities. Nowadays similar to the beginning of XX Century there act “friends of people” suffering from “parliamentary cretinism” and persuading workers that the parliamentary talk shop is the real democracy as opposed to the extremely complicated grass roots activities aimed at setting committees, trade unions and Soviets. The experience of different fractions of Socialists in Duma of the beginning of XX Century amply demonstrated who proved to be right – Bolsheviks, or those who betrayed workers’ movement for the sake of compromises with bourgeoisie.
Party and Soviet democracy after the victory of the revolution
Thus, Communist party based on the principles of democratic centralism accumulates the class-conscious representatives of workers to consider all the acute issues of modernity, to provide the best cadres for governing bodies and national economy. Joint work of Soviets as organs of proletarian dictatorship and Communist party as the vanguard of proletariat when two of them complement each other can ensure their serious and fruitful collaboration aimed at construction of Socialism. Soviet Union had managed to achieve a lot in the period of 1917-56. Armies of whites and interventionists were defeated, a plan of electrification throughout the country was implemented, collectivization and industrialization were carried out, the victory of the Soviet people ended the Great Patriotic War; destroyed by the war, national economy was restored.
But development of workers’ democracy confronted serious challenges, which were apprehended by proficient marxists, such as Lenin and Stalin, in the first place. These are words Lenin used in his work «“Left-Wing” Communism: an Infantile Disorder» to describe the scheme of cooperation between the party and Soviets:
«The connection between leaders, party, class and masses, as well as the attitude of the dictatorship of the proletariat and its party to the trade unions, are concretely as follows: the dictatorship is exercised by the proletariat organised in the Soviets; the proletariat is guided by the Communist Party of Bolsheviks...»7
And yet, foreknowing the way things might go, Lenin added:
«We are apprehensive of an excessive growth of the Party, because careerists and charlatans, who deserve only to be shot».8
This matter was compounded by the fact that the mechanism for bottom-up criticism and control had the tendency to weaken. Therу were cases when those appeared on leading positions of the party had to be removed. Analyzing the situation of excessive bureaucracy in the party as well as in Komsomol, trade unions, economiс organizations, I.V. Stalin in his speech delivered at the Eighth Congress of the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League in 1928 said:
«How are we to put an end to bureaucracy in all these organisations?
There is only one sole way of doing this, and that is to organise control from below, to organise criticism of the bureaucracy in our institutions, of their shortcomings and their mistakes, by the vast masses of the working class.
I know that by rousing the fury of the masses of the working people against the bureaucratic distortions in our organisations, we sometimes have to tread on the toes of some of our comrades who have past services to their credit, but who are now suffering from the disease of bureaucracy. But ought this to stop our work of organising control from below? I think that it ought not and must not. For their past services we should take off our hats to them, but for their present blunders and bureaucracy it would be quite in order to give them a good drubbing».9
Because of the lack of mass bottom-up criticism, fighting against bureaucratism and careerism were not effective enough to make a difference at the root of the situation and to free the country from unreliable people and even hidden enemies.
The situation was aggravated when in 1936 the adoption of new Soviet constitution led to rejection of the previous election system of industrial-territorial constituencies. This didn’t pose a big problem when there was revolutionary leadership in the party, nevertheless this new system facilitated degradation of Soviets and transformation of the party when, after the anti-stalinist Twentieth Party Congress, self-seekers and anti-stalinists prevailed in the party’s leadership.
The next step in the way of degradation of the party and economic leadership was economic reform in 1965, which enhanced private-ownership tendencies by making facilities to be oriented on sales volume and profit. Stable segment of shadow economy appeared in the country, closely linked with betrayers in the leadership. These nascent capitalist relationships were hypocritically hidden behind dedication-to-communism phrases.
Thus, as a result of progressing toxic tendencies, tragedy of 1991 happened. Widespread resistance of workers to the destructive processes did not happen because all organizational centres, such as Soviets and party, were in the hands of betrayers.
Why did it happen and what was the role of workers democracy in this history?
Since 1917, the party of Bolsheviks had had a huge weight in Soviets. All key positions were initially occupied by communists proven under the conditions of underground, revolution at the fronts of the Civil War. The party united in its ranks the best and the most active supporters of Socialism, exactly those people were best suited to govern in that period. Military and economic positions could be filled by non-communists, still every candidate were approved, above all, at the party level.
Communists don’t stand separately from people, communists is the part of working people, their vanguard. It’s logical that the vanguard is in power. But at the same time it’s necessary to educate people in the way that will make power being widely distributed among all, in order for a special group of leaders to become not needed.
Lenin wrote about this in his genius work “The State and Revolution”:
«We, the workers, shall organize large-scale production on the basis of what capitalism has already created, relying on our own experience as workers, establishing strict, iron discipline backed up by the state power of the armed workers. We shall reduce the role of state officials to that of simply carrying out our instructions as responsible, revocable, modestly paid "foremen and accountants" (of course, with the aid of technicians of all sorts, types and degrees). This is our proletarian task, this is what we can and must start with in accomplishing the proletarian revolution. Such a beginning, on the basis of large-scale production, will of itself lead to the gradual "withering away" of all bureaucracy, to the gradual creation of an order – an order without inverted commas, an order bearing no similarity to wage slavery – an order under which the functions of control and accounting, becoming more and more simple, will be performed by each in turn, will then become a habit and will finally die out as the special functions of a special section of the population».10
Up to the revolutionary moment, 80% of the population of Russia were peasants with very low level of literacy that was in bad need of improvement. The party took upon itself the leading role in the course of new society’s creation, until there wasn’t accumulated big enough pool of qualified personnel, there remained class contradictions, the differences between urban and rural areas, between intellectual and manual labour. Decisions were taken at party meetings, whereas in Soviets these decisions were adopted as well as the majority of the deputies were party members.
As a result, Soviets and trade unions operated under ideological leadership of the party and the party had a key role in the system of working people’s power. Till 50ies the party was capable of self-purification – there were organized bottom-up criticism and removal from leadership positions of those whom Stalin called «supercilious noblemen».
But mechanism of interaction between the party and the working class, implying the removal of careerists from leadership positions, was not infallible. In 1923 in his article «The Party’s tasks» Stalin, seeing the signs of increasing gap between the party and working masses, wrote:
«I think that unless we show a certain degree of confidence in the non-Party people they may answer by becoming very distrustful of our organisations. This confidence in the non-Party people is absolutely necessary, comrades. Communists must be induced to withdraw their candidatures.
Speeches must not be delivered urging the election only of Communists; non-Party people must be encouraged, they must be drawn into the work of administering the state. We shall gain by this and in return receive the reciprocal confidence of the non-Party people in our organisations».11
One more reason why betrayers appeared on leadership positions of the party was the derogation from principles of democratic centralism. Principle of accounting of higher ranking organizations before the under ones was violated, freedom of criticism were suppressed by superiors and periodical cleaning of the party from alien elements was stopped. This trend remained unchanged due to the hardest Great Patriotic War that was followed by the restoration of destroyed economics that requested mobilization measures (i.e. the development of democracy was further delayed again). After the war the system of party self-checks stopped to effectively remove self-seekers and enemies. Management function have remained available only to special people, though from the perspective of communist society development, there should have been, on the contrary, expansion of democracy.
The stratum of party and economic “professional executives” had been formed that could be easily corrupted and were very much reluctant to let new people into their caste. This situation smoldered for decades. By 1991 the leadership of the party had consisted almost entirely from self-seekers, hidden anticommunists and opportunists. Soviets that were comprised of deputies that couldn’t be recalled and were elected at territorial polling stations, turned into parliaments that represented all strata of society, including newly emerging bourgeois ones.
By the end of the 80s Soviets were not the bodies of proletarian dictatorship anymore. Many citizens of USSR stopped to percept Socialism as a the supreme value exactly in that period, when the construction of new society was headed by those who had long ago thought about a turn to capitalism. A brief answer from RCWP – marxist-leninist communist party that operates since 1991 – to the question “What are the reasons of temporary defeat of Socialism in USSR?” would be as follows: “because the Soviet power ceased to be Soviet, whereas Communist party ceased to be Communist”.
The capitalist restoration that finally took place in 1991 had been maturing for a long time within the Soviet society. The tendency of the leadership to transform was not defeated, even though the ways to overcome it were clear since the early 20s. The danger of this tendency should not be underestimated. For any further changes it’s important to draw conclusions: if party and government bodies are not controlled by and not exposed to criticism from party bottoms and all workers, if party credibility is being undermined – party and Soviets degenerate. Bottom-up criticism and control by grassroots organizations are not somehow excessive democracy, it’s a matter of survival of a Socialist country.
Workers democracy of modern time
We followed the path of Russian workers democracy from its very beginning to the tragic destruction of the Soviet Union. This path was full of experience, that, no doubt, might be used in XXI century, and not only in Russia. Workers democracy turned out to be relevant to take power and to keep it as well. Two historical discoveries of Russian proletariat, as we see it, are particularly valuable. First, workers’ Soviets and the principles of their construction. Second, bolsheviks’ tactics of using bourgeois parliamentarism by working class.
One more conclusion: history of Russian workers movement shows that workers can and should gain democracy experience in the initial stages of economic and political struggle, even before the question of taking power is being raised earnestly. And then, after the democracy experience has been accumulated – working class is ready to act as a unified force. Without the experience of grass-roots democracy workers are not able to be effective in management by themselves in times of crisis, and that in fact leads to unfortunate and gory consequences for workers.
It’s important to remember not only victories, but also to make proper conclusions out of defeats. Modern communists from all over the world should learn the tragic history of a gradual departure from principles of workers and party democracy in USSR, resulting in downfall of the first socialist country. This analysis is needed in order to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
Since 1991 the working people of destroyed USSR have found themselves in a situation when the state power belongs to exploiting classes, whereas one has to struggle for provision of basic conditions. Russia – the biggest splinter of USSR was turned into one of the Capitalist countries. Modern Russian workers have forgotten almost entirely the experience of the former working class. The way of creating trade unions and other grassroots democratic structures has to be travelled again.
Much remains to be mastered, however modern Russian workers have their new democratiс groundwork. For example, in periods of heightened class struggle workers learned to make – though short-term but effective on a local scale – representative bodies, namely, Salvation committees.
The first time was in 1998 when widely spread delays of meager workers’ salaries by the owners of enterprises took place and there were mass protest actions across the country, notedly in the Kuzbass area. The intensity of the struggle was so high that for some time in Kuzbass bourgeois authorities were paralyzed due to activities and enhanced role of miners’ strike committees.
Salvation committees was needed by workers again, later on in 2005, when protests against so-called «monetization of benefits» have occured. The practice of these actions has shown that successes in fighting were achieved in those regions where workers not only held meetings but also were organized.
What are these Salvation committees? At times of social disturbances protesters usually put forward their vital demands to the authorities. Still, the authorities will never meet the demands if after the end of the meeting there is no organized nucleus left that should watch how the demands are followed.
Nevertheless, in case in the course of unrest (e.g. at a meeting) a body of grass-root democracy capable of acting is elected, and then working people will have a chance to achieve certain success. Salvation committee has one though important tool of influence over bourgeois authorities: provided the basic demands are not met, a new meeting might be called again or there can be organized another, yet more radical action (e.g. blocking of a thoroughfare). When officials and capitalist don’t have enough self-assuredness – and this happens at times of mass protests of working people, they can flinch and meet some people’s demands.
Russian Communist Workers Party has been acting in Russia since 1991. This party is based on Lenin’s principles of democratic centralism and it contributes to organized struggle of working people for their rights. The party takes active, and in many cases organizational, role in protest actions by working people. RCWP has managed to unite with several other communist organizations (RPC, Union of Communists). Now RCWP is a member of CPSU – an international union of communist parties acting on the territories of FSU.
The main press organ of RCWP «Trudovaya Rossiya» (Labour Russia), a newspaper that has been issued since 1994, serves to distribute experience of working class in fighting and ideas of communism.
For a long period official registration was denied to the party by bourgeois authorities. Nevertheless, in 2010 there was created legal party – ROT Front, where RCWP is the nucleus. A number of other left organizations and trade unions are also part of ROT Front.
Over the whole period of modern capitalist Russian Federation’s existence on a number of occasions RCWP managed to have our candidates elected to various representative bodies both on federal and local levels, whereas these people didn’t have any hope for the parliamentary talk-shop and worked on a day-to day basis in the interests of working people.
At the elections to Duma in 1995 in Vsevolozhsk district #99 there was elected party’s candidate Grigoriev Vladimir Fedorovich, all this despite the fact that election block “Communists – Labour Russia for Soviet Union” with the use of various manipulations wasn’t let in parliament. Vladimir Fedorovich revealed the politics of bourgeois regime and assisted workers in their struggle for their rights for four years.
In 2003, Viktor Arkadievich Tyulkin was elected to the IV Duma. The red MP used possibilities of his position to develop extra parliamentary workers’ struggle, he developed and actively promoted the draft of federal law on the Victory Banner. Several times he was deprived the right of speech for a month because of his radical criticism of bourgeois regime and its supporters.
RCWP’s representatives managed to succeed in several elections to regional representative bodies, like in Tyumen, Kirov, Republic of Dagestan, Chelyabinsk and Vladimir region.
In the presidential elections of 2018 a member of RSWP Natalya Sergeevna Lisitsyna, a crane operator at Kirov plant was put forward by ROT Front as a presidential candidate. The resistance of bourgeois bureaucratic machine prevented workers’ candidate from being registered.
Similar to the beginning of XX Century communists that duly stand for the interests of workers’ class have to constantly fight against bourgeois politics in workers’ movement. In Russia there are trade unions that report to the bourgeois authorities, as well as various pseudo left and even pseudo communist parties (the biggest of them is CPRF). Criticism of these bourgeois tools of influence over workers is an important task, genuine communists should never forget about. This issue is directly linked to the issue of workers democracy’s development as opportunists try to persuade working people that workers don’t need their own grassroots democracy structures. In these cases when such structures do spring to life, pseudo left carry out conciliatory politics.
It’s obvious for communists of RCWP that modern Russian workers have to face challenges that are similar with those that workers movement of Russia were dealing with in early XXth century. The communists’ aim is to convey to workers this accumulated historical experience of making democratic workers organizations and acting in virtue of them. This will enable Russian workers’ movement of our time to not stray from the path neither fall under the influence of bourgeois labour policy. And most importantly, workers will have organizational experience that is much-needed in front of the forthcoming revolutionary crisis.