Following the October Revolution the
Bolsheviks faced the awesome task of administering and directing
a national economy. As professional revolutionists they had
little opportunity or reason to concern themselves with problems
of practical economic administration. As Marxists they had
definite ideas on current economic questions and issues of the
day but they disagreed heatedly among themselves as to how
Marxist doctrine should be applied to the problem of running and
administering Russia,s national economy.
Lenin then advocated state capitalism on the model of the German
war economy, but state capitalism controlled and directed by
workers' and party organs that had emerged during the
revolution. Influenced by German Social Democratic writers,
Lenin believed that banks occupied a key position in the modern
capitalistic economy and that they offered successful
revolutionists a simple and convenient means to regulate an
economy without resorting to extreme and drastic measures to
reshape its general structure and organization.
In December 1917 banks were nationalized and foreign and
internal loans contracted by the tsarist and Provisional
governments were annulled. Lenin knew that many capitalists and
plant managers were hostile to the Bolshevik regime and wished
to create for it economic difficulties; but he saw in workers'
factory committees, which observed management and actively
participated in the determining of basic factory policies, a
means of controlling management. From the time he wrote "State
and Revolution" in the summer of 1917 and until the spring of
1918, Lenin had great faith in what could be accomplished
through workers' control and the revolutionary enthusiasm of the
But the economic crisis and chaos produced by the uncontrolled
and indiscriminate nationalization of factories soon alarmed
Lenin and caused him to return to the instinctive distrust of
all spontaneous mass movements he had displayed earlier in "What
Is To Be Done" and other works. His growing concern about the
unsatisfactory performance of Russia's economic became
particularly evident in March 1918, when he insisted on worker
discipline in the factory and called for increased productivity
with the help of bourgeois specialists and even of capitalists
willing to cooperate with the Communist government.
Left Communists were dissatisfied with Lenin's economic program
throughout the fall, winter, and spring of 1917-1918. Demanding
the immediate nationalization of basic industry and the radical
transformation of old Russia into a new socialistic society,
they sharply criticized Lenin's ideas on state capitalism. They
also argued for central direction of the economy and economic
planning before Lenin did, and it was largely upon their
initiative that a Supreme Council of the National Economy was
founded in December 1917.
When Lenin emphasized the importance of worker discipline, they
accused him--and with some justification--of having betraying
the ideals he had formulated in his "State and Revolution". They
denied the necessity of discipline imposed on the workers from
outside the factory; such discipline was only required in
dealing with such class enemies as bourgeois technicians and
specialists. Worker discipline, in their opinion, was something
that the workers should agree upon among themselves. The program
of War Communism adopted in the second part of 1916 was
essentially a compromise between the position of Lenin and that
of the Left Communists.
In accord with the view of the Left Communists, the Soviet state
pushed ahead on the road to rapid nationalization and
revolutionary transformation of society and made every effort to
subordinate the entire economy to central guidance and
direction. Under War Communism, however, the influence workers'
factory committees had attained in 1917 over internal
administration and management of factories was no longer viewed
with favor. By mid-1918 it had become clear to Lenin and others
that that workers, if left to their own devices, could not be
depended on to practice labor discipline and to maintain a level
of production required to provide the army with the arms and
supplies it needed to conduct military operations.
Communist leaders therefore began to look more and more to
unions, which by this time had been thoroughly Bolshevized, as a
means of subjecting workers to the strict control of the state.
The Left Communists continued to question the need for such
control; but the prevalent view among Communist leaders during
the Civil War was that unions should serve primarily as
instruments for the supervision and mobilization of labor. This
attitude was also reflected in the decision of the fall of 1918
to introduce compulsory labor for all citizens between the ages
of 16 and 50.
The Supreme Council of the People's Economy soon ceased to be a
council and rapidly evolved into a bureaucratic organ of the
state. New organs subordinate to the Supreme Council appeared in
the second part of 1918 as the needs of the war economy and the
problems of nationalized industry increasingly complicated the
task of controlling and coordinating the national economy. These
subordinate bodies were established fall all the principal
branches of Russian industry-- chief oil committee, chief
tobacco committee, textile center, etc. -- and to a considerable
extent Staffed by former plant owners, mangers, and specialists.
The Left Communists naturally criticized the employment of
bourgeois specialists and experts in the industrial committees
and centers as dangerous bureaucratization of the administration
of the national economy; but such criticisms were necessarily
ignored because the services of these specialists were urgently
needed to check the growing confusion and chaos in the
management and operation of Russian industry.
The control of the peasantry and delivery of food to the army
and towns proved to be equally vexing problems. Early in 1918
food shortages became critical in Petrograd and Moscow. The
Bolsheviks tried to meet this crisis by going to the people in
their own fashion. In mid-1918 Poor Peasants. Committees were
formed, and Bolshevik workers were sent out into the countryside
to lead the poor peasants in revolt against kulaks and to assist
in requisitioning food supplies for Petrograd, Moscow, and other
towns and the army.
Every effort was made to induce poor peasants to cooperate with
the government in the organization of collective farms and to
participate in the '.transition from small, individual farms to
the socialized working of the land." Bolshevik efforts during
1918 to promote class warfare and socialism in the Russian
village were not, however, very successful; for even so-called
poor peasants were then disinclined to accept Bolshevik plans
for collectivization. The peasantry as a whole had benefited
from the division of former private estates, and church and
state lands; and that sending of workers and party officials
from towns into the village to requisition food alienated almost
the entire peasantry.
As long as the government could not provide the countryside with
the industrial goods it needed, there was no compelling economic
reason for the peasants to deliver foodstuffs for the towns and
army. As Lenin admitted later, the government for the most part
took the peasants' surplus grain and even food needed by their
families "on credit, for paper money." Since this paper money
was practically worthless, the peasants naturally felt cheated
and therefore united in opposition to their enemies from the
outside, the principal one being of course the Communist
government in Moscow.
In sum, War Communism failed to organize a productive,
well-regulated economy, but it succeeded in meeting the
immediate and minimal needs of the Communist state during the
Civil War period. In regard to the countryside, the
requisitioning of grain and other products of the land was a
defensible and, temporarily, even a successful policy; however,
it soon led to peasant resistance in the form of a producers'
strike and a reduction in the acreage under cultivation. In
regard to towns and industrial centers, official policies under
War Communism probably slowed the rate of decline in labor
productivity and helped to introduce an element of system and
order into the general picture of unmanageable economic chaos
caused by local control in the hands of workers, factory
Now Russian industry was subordinated to the coordinating
direction of the Supreme Council, and millions of people were
mobilized for compulsory labor service. Supreme Council control
over industry and the labor force was, however, often more
apparent than real, for many industries functioned rather
independently of Supreme Council directives by limiting their
production to items that could be bartered locally. Moreover,
the Supreme Council was powerless to counteract the effects of
central Russia's having been cut off from supplies of food, raw
materials, and fuel from the Ukraine, the Caucasus, and Central
Asia. Total industrial production continued to fall until 1920,
when Russian industry produced approximately l4% of what it had
Nevertheless, the nationalization of industry and the efforts of
the Supreme Council to control and coordinate the economy and
labor force gave the Bolsheviks and overall view of available
human and material resources, which enabled them to organize
munitions production and army supply much better than could
their White opponents. This in itself was a considerable
achievement and an essential ingredient of the Bolshevik's
The year 1921 was a crucial turning point, for during this year
Communist leaders adopted a line of action that combined firm
control from above with a relatively non-doctrinaire economic
and cultural policy calculated to lessen tensions between the
ruling party and the majority of the population.
At the end of February and early in March 1921 Kronstadt sailors
revolted against the Communist government in Moscow that ruled
in the name of "the dictatorship of the proletariat." The
Kronstadt sailors had been the Bolsheviks most loyal supporters
in 1917; however, since then their enthusiasm for Russia's new
rulers had cooled as the Communists proceeded to eliminate all
competing socialist parties from politics and to rule Russia no
less harshly and authoritarianly than did the officials of the
tsar prior to the Revolution.
The Kronstadt insurgents, therefore, demanded, among other
things, reelections for the Soviets "by secret ballot," "freedom
of speech and press for workers, peasants, and left socialist
parties," freedom of assembly, liberation of political
prisoners, abolition of the privileged position of the Communist
Party in Russian society, abolition of food requisitioning
squads, and the right of the peasants to utilize their own land
as they saw fit as long as they did not use hired labor. After
March 2, a Provisional Revolutionary Committee led the struggle
of the Kronstadt garrison against the Soviet government.
Beginning on March 7 War commissar Trotsky had the island
shelled and ordered Red Army assaults .cross the ice of the Gulf
of Finland until the fortress finally fell on March 18.
The survivors of the garrison of some 14,000 men--except those
who escaped across the ice to Finland--were either imprisoned or
shot. No public trial was held because a proletarian revolt was
an extremely delicate issue in a self-styled workers' society.
General unrest among Russian workers and peasants helped to
spark the Kronstadt revolt. In February 1921 a wave of strikes
had challenged Communist authority in Petrograd. These strikes
registered worker protest against the regimentation of labor and
against the use of force to prevent hungry urbanites from
foraging for food in the country.
The peasants resented above all the Communists grain
requisitioning, and during 1920 and 1921 a number of violent
peasant uprisings occurred in the Central Agricultural Region of
the Ukraine, the Urals, and western siberia. suppression of
peasant revolts in the Ukraine and in the Tambov region
southeast of Moscow required large concentrations of Red Army
troops. Makhno, now an enemy of the communist regime, held out
in the Ukraine until August 1921, when he was finally forced to
flee into Rumania.
The Communists had clearly failed during the first four years of
their rule to bridge the gap that had always separated the state
from society in Russia. In 1921 the state was still viewed by
the overwhelming majority of its citizens as an essentially
hostile force that tyrannized over them with bureaucratic red
tape and police controls.
Lenin realized that the climate of opinion in Russia was hostile
to the government and that the populace, particularly the
peasants, had to be placated. Thus in the spring of 1921 he
proposed the New Economic Policy (NEP) , which replaced grain
requisitioning with a tax in kind more acceptable to the
peasants and permitted privately owned small-scale industry and
peasants to market their products freely.
The partial revival of capitalism implied by NEP as well as
increasing concentration of power and decision making in the
hands of a small number of party leaders gave rise to widespread
criticism in Communist and workers. circles. From the very
beginning Lenin and a few close associated decided basic party
policy' and they continued to do so after the Bolshevik seizure
of power in October 1917.
Indeed, the conquest and consolidation of Bolshevik power and
the Civil War emergency called for more, not less, centralized
direction; and the influence of workers over Russia's economy
and political life could only decline as Bolshevik leaders began
to make wider and wider use of trade unions as a means of
mobilizing and regimenting labor. In March 1919 the Eighth Party
congress institutionalized control from above by approving the
creation of three new central party organs: The Politburo, the
Orgburo, and the Secretariat. The death of Sverdlov (on whose
shoulders tasks of routine party administration had primarily
rested) on the eve of the congress and the Civil War crisis
seemed to justify such action at the time' but after the Civil
War had ended the bureaucratic apparatus of the central party
continued to grow.
The two chief Communist opposition groups in the early 1920's
were known as the Democratic Centralists and the Workers'
Opposition. The democratic centralists chose one of Lenin.s
favorite slogans to describe their ideal of party organization.
Lenin had always, in principle at least, been concerned with the
furthering of inner-party democracy, but in practice he quickly
came to distrust the political maturity of Russian workers and
therefore almost invariably relied on central direction from
above. The democratic Centralists, on the other hand, emphasized
the necessity of decentralizing and minimizing bureaucracy
within the party.
The second group, the Workers. Opposition, not only advocated
more party democracy but also objected to the subordination of
workers and trade unions to excessive control by the party. In
addition, the Workers' Opposition condemned NEP for its
sacrifice of workers' interests for the sake of the peasants.
Within the frame of reference of Marxism, it was of course the
proletariat, not the backward peasantry, that was supposed to
play a leading role in the building of a future socialist
Lenin feared that such criticism would weaken party discipline
and create difficulties for party leaders in carrying out
policies that seemed essential for the further consolidation of
Communist power in Russia. Criticism of NEP was especially
unwelcome because of this policy's assigned role of lessening
peasant hostility to Communist rule and of setting into
operation economic forces that were to restore agricultural and
industrial production to the level of pre-1914 tsarist Russia.
Consequently, Lenin considered it necessary to limit freedom of
discussion within the party and workers' groups; he particularly
concentrated on the party because here was the main center of
power in Soviet Russia. Up to this time a certain degree of
democratic discussion had been encouraged. Until the Tenth Party
Congress of March 1921, party members had been permitted,
"within the limits of Communism," to form groups and canvas for
votes; but the Kronstadt revolt and the economic and political
crisis of 1921, peasant dissatisfaction, and opposition within
the party persuaded Lenin that the organization of party
opposition groups could no longer be tolerated.
The key word at the Tenth Party Congress was "factionalism,"
which was defined as "the rise of groups with special platforms
with the aim to shut themselves off to a certain extent and to
create their own group discipline." To meet the danger of
factionalism, all party organizations were ordered to keep a
constant watch for factional activities, and the Central
Committee was, in a secret resolution, given "plenary powers" to
deal with cases of factionalism, namely, to expel rank- and-file
members from the party and to transfer members of the Central
Committee to the status of candidates.
As an "extreme measure," even members of the Central Committee
could be expelled. These measures, however, did not necessarily
end all discussion and criticism within the party. On the
contrary, discussion of various points of view continued to be
encouraged up to the point that a definite policy had been
established in regard to a given issue. But after such a policy
had been formally accepted by the party, the organization of
groups in opposition to this policy was strictly forbidden.
These rules helped Lenin to surmount a serious political and
social crisis, to minimize opposition to NEP, and to proceed
with the reconstruction of Russian society after seven years of
war, revolution, and internal discord. The factionalism rules
can therefore be easily justified and defended; yet, they had a
negative side, too, for these rules could be used for
illegitimate as well as legitimate purposes.
Once the crises of 1921 was overcome there was little to prevent
one small clique or another within the party leadership from
using these rules as a convenient means to seize power for
itself and to silence honest opposition. This, indeed, was
exactly what happened as Stalin emerged as Lenin's successor in
the course of the 1920's.