Saturday, March 13, 2010

*All Out On March 20th To End The Afghan And Iraq Wars -A Guest Commentary From "The National Assembly To End The Afghan And Iraq Wars

Click on the title to link to the "National Assembly To End The Afghan And Iraq Wars" Website.

Markin comment:

I have already argued in previous entries about the importance of massing in Washington, D.C. on March 20th for this event. Bring your own slogans and banners, but be there to start building the long-delayed needed divorce and consequent free ride that one Barack Obama has received- for no known rational reason. We knew, because he made it clear from the beginning what his priorities were, and rubbed our noses in it last year. Now we need to get our priorities clear. Obama- Troops Out Now!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

*All Out On March 20th To End The Afghan And Iraq Wars -A Guest Commentary From "The National Assembly To End The Afghan And Iraq Wars

Click on the title to link to the "National Assembly To End The Afghan And Iraq Wars" Website.

Markin comment:

I have already argued in previous entries about the importance of massing in Washington, D.C. on March 20th for this event. Bring your own slogans and banners, but be there to start building the long-delayed needed divorce and consequent free ride that one Barack Obama has received- for no known rational reason. We knew, because he made it clear from the beginning what his priorities were, and rubbed our noses in it last year. Now we need to get our priorities clear. Obama- Troops Out Now!

*From The Marxist Archives- Leon Trotsky On "Students And Capitalism"

Click on the title to link to a "Workers Vanguard" article, dated February 26, 2010 concerning the relationship between students and capitalist society.

Markin comment:

In light of the recent March 4th "Defend Public Education" national actions led by students, teachers and campus labor organizations it is good to note the relationship between students, the working class and capitalist society. Back in the 1960s we wasted a lot of precious resources, personnel, and, above all, time by being very, very unclear on that relationship. But hell, we are all in the same boat right this minute so this lesson might be easier to learn today.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

*Honor The 91st Anniversary Of The Founding Of The Third International (Comintern)-The "Communist International Internet Archives" Website

Click on the title to link to the "Communist International Internet Archives" Website.

Markin comment:

Some anniversaries marking events in our revolutionary calender are worthy of note every five or ten years. Others like May Day, the Paris Communes (1793 and 1871), The Russian October Revolution, and here the founding of the Communist International in 1919 (also known as the Third International and Comintern) are worthy of annual observance. I have done my duty in honoring the revolutionary years of that organization in this 91st anniversary year.

*Honor The 91st Anniversary Of The Founding Of The Third International (Comintern)

Click on the title to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the Communist International

Markin comment:

Some anniversaries marking events in our revolutionary calender are worthy of note every five or ten years. Others like May Day, the Paris Communes (1793 and 1871), The Russian October Revolution, and here the founding of the Communist International in 1919 (also known as the Third International and Comintern) are worthy of annual observance. I have done my duty in honoring the revolutionary years of that organization in this 91st anniversary year.

*Honor The 91st Anniversary Of The Founding Of The Third International (Comintern)-The Famous 21 Conditions For Entry

Click on the title to link to the "Communist International Internet Archives" online copy of the famous "21 conditions" for the entry of parties to the Communist International adopted at the 2nd World Congress in 1920.

Markin comment:

Some anniversaries marking events in our revolutionary calender are worthy of note every five or ten years. Others like May Day, the Paris Communes (1793 and 1871), The Russian October Revolution, and here the founding of the Communist International in 1919( also known as the Third International and Comintern) are worthy of annual observance. I have done my duty in honoring the revolutionary years of that organization in this 91st anniversary year.

*Honor The 91st Anniversary Of The Founding Of The Third International (Comintern)-Lenin's "Founding Of The Communist International"

Click on the title to link to a "Lenin Internet Archive" online copy of his "Founding Of The Communist International", dated March 6, 1919.

Markin comment:

Some anniversaries marking events in our revolutionary calender are worthy of note every five or ten years. Others like May Day, the Paris Communes (1793 and 1871), The Russian October Revolution, and here the founding of the Communist International in 1919 (also known as the Third International and Comintern) are worthy of annual observance. I have done my duty in honoring the revolutionary years of that organization in this 91st anniversary year.

*Honor The 91st Anniversary Of The Third International (Comintern)-The Manifesto Of The Communist International To The Workers Of The World

Click on the title to link to the "Leon Trotsky Internet Archive" for an online copy of his "Manifesto Of The Communist International To The Workers Of The World"

Markin comment:

Some anniversaries marking events in our revolutionary calender are worthy of note every five or ten years. Others like May Day, the Paris Communes (1793 and 1871), The Russian October Revolution, and here the founding of the Communist International in 1919 (also known as the Third International and Comintern) are worthy of annual observance. I have done my duty in honoring the revolutionary years of that organization in this 91st anniversary year.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

*All Out On March 20th To End The Afghan And Iraq Wars -A Guest Commentary From "The National Assembly To End The Afghan And Iraq Wars

Click on the title to link to the "National Assembly To End The Afghan And Iraq Wars" Website.

Markin comment:

I have already argued in previous entries about the importance of massing in Washington, D.C. on March 20th for this event. Bring your own slogans and banners, but be there to start building the long-delayed needed divorce and consequent free ride that one Barack Obama has received- for no known rational reason. We knew, because he made it clear from the beginning what his priorities were, and rubbed our noses in it last year. Now we need to get our priorities clear. Obama- Troops Out Now!

*The Latest On Obama's Afghan War Budget- The Parliamentary Front- Vote "No" On All War Budgets- With Both Hands

Click on the title to link to a short article culled from "Boston Indymedia" concerning the (weak)parliamentary buildup in opposition to Obama's supplementary Afghan war budget.

Markin comment:

This one would seem like a no-brainer. But just to be sure we anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, pro-workers party militants vote "no" on the small change Afghan supplementary war budget (the little 33 billion dollar one noted in the linked article), the regular big ticket Afghan war budget, the still big ticket Iraq war budget, and for good measure the whole imperialist war budget (yes, that 700 billion plus one). And for even more good measure-Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal of All U.S./Allied Troops and Mercenaries From Afghanistan and Iraq! Hands off Pakistan and Iran! Not One Penny, Not One person For the Obama War Machine!

*Those Who Fought For Our Communist Future Are Kindred Spirits- Honor Mineworkers' Leader Mother Jones

Click on the title to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for early 20th century American labor leader Mother Jones.

This is a repost of a January 2009 entry on Mother Jones for her role as a class struggle leader. Here she is being honored as a women's liberation leader as well.

March Is Women's History Month

Every January, as readers of this blog are now, hopefully, familiar with the international communist movement honors the 3 Ls-Lenin, Luxemburg and Leibknecht, fallen leaders of the early 20th century communist movement who died in this month (and whose untimely deaths left a huge, irreplaceable gap in the international leadership of that time). January is thus a time for us to reflect on the roots of our movement and those who brought us along this far. In order to give a fuller measure of honor to our fallen forbears this January, and in future Januarys, this space will honor others who have contributed in some way to the struggle for our communist future. That future classless society, however, will be the true memorial to their sacrifices.

Note on inclusion: As in other series on this site (“Labor’s Untold Story”, “Leaders Of The Bolshevik Revolution”, etc.) this year’s honorees do not exhaust the list of every possible communist worthy of the name. Nor, in fact, is the list limited to Bolshevik-style communists. There will be names included from other traditions (like anarchism, social democracy, the Diggers, Levellers, Jacobins, etc.) whose efforts contributed to the international struggle. Also, as was true of previous series this year’s efforts are no more than an introduction to these heroes of the class struggle. Future years will see more detailed information on each entry, particularly about many of the lesser known figures. Better yet, the reader can pick up the ball and run with it if he or she has more knowledge about the particular exploits of some communist militant, or to include a missing one.

Monday, March 08, 2010

*The Latest From The United For Justice With Peace (UJP) Website- Congrees To Vote On Afghan War ON March 10- Vote "No" With Both Hands!

Click on the title to link to a "UJP" Website article concerning an upcoming Congressional vote on Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich's anti Afghan War resolution.

Markin comment:

When we have a Workers Party Congressional Representative in office, he or she will make it the first order of business to use that position as a "bully pulpit", or as Lenin put it in his 1901 pamphlet, "What Is To Be Done?" use it as a "tribune of the people", to present resolutions against the entire imperial war budget. Voting "No" with both hands, and both feet across the board and appealing to the masses to support that effort.

In the meantime Representative Kucinich remains one of the few steady anti-war Democrats who have not caved in to Obamania. However, as I have written on many other occasions his work is in vain in the party he belongs to. Break with the Democrats! And that is not addressed to him, that is a lost cause at this point, but to the many anti-war activists who still adhere to that party. Out Now!

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-The Russian Revolution and the Emancipation of Women

Markin comment:

The following is an article from an archival issue of Women and Revolution, Spring 2006, that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of Women and Revolution during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.


Spartacist English edition No. 59
Spring 2006

The Russian Revolution and the Emancipation of Women

(Women and Revolution Pages)

“‘Liberation’ is an historical and not a mental act, and it is brought about by historical conditions, the development of industry, commerce, agriculture, the conditions of intercourse.”

—Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels,
The German Ideology (1846)

Today, millions of women even in the advanced capitalist “democracies” endure nasty and brutish lives of misery and drudgery. In the United States, to name just two instances of anti-woman bigotry, abortion rights are under increasing attack and quality childcare is scarce and too costly for most working women. Conditions for women in the Third World are worse by orders of magnitude. But even 15 years ago women in the Soviet Union enjoyed many advantages, such as state-supported childcare institutions, full abortion rights, access to a wide range of trades and professions, and a large degree of economic equality with their male co-workers—in short, a status in some ways far in advance of capitalist societies today.

The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution made these gains possible. No mere cosmetic gloss on the surface, the Russian Revolution was, in the words of historian Richard Stites, a

“classical social revolution—a process not an event, a phenomenon that cannot be fused, triggered, or set off by a mere turnover of power which confines itself to the center and confines its efforts to decrees and laws enunciating the principles of equality. True social revolution in an underdeveloped society does not end with the reshuffling of property any more than it does with the reshuffling of portfolios; it is the result of social mobilization. Put in plain terms, it means bodies moving out among the people with well-laid plans, skills, and revolutionary euphoria; it means teaching, pushing, prodding, cajoling the stubborn, the ignorant, and the backward by means of the supreme component of all radical propaganda: the message and the conviction that revolution is relevant to everyday life.”

—Stites, The Women’s Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism, and Bolshevism, 1860-1930 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978)

This thoroughgoing effort to remake society was made possible by the smashing of tsarist/capitalist rule and the Bolshevik-led seizure of power by the soviets—workers and peasants councils—in October 1917. The estates of the landed nobility were abolished and the land nationalized; industry was soon collectivized. The new workers state took the first steps toward planning the economy in the interests of the toilers. This brought enormous gains to working women. The Russian Revolution sought to bring women into full participation in economic, social and political life.

Since the counterrevolution that restored capitalism in 1991-92, women in the ex-Soviet Union face vastly worse conditions somewhat akin to the Third World. Massive unemployment, a plummeting life expectancy, and a resurgence of religious backwardness—both Russian Orthodox and Muslim—are just three examples. From 1991 to 1997 gross domestic product fell by over 80 percent; according to official (understated) statistics, capital investment dropped over 90 percent. By the middle of the decade, 40 percent of the population of the Russian Federation was living below the official poverty line and a further 36 percent only a little above it. Millions were starving.

Women’s Liberation and World Socialist Revolution

The Bolsheviks recognized that without qualitative economic development, the liberation of women was a utopian fantasy. Working to maximize the resources at hand, the early Bolshevik regime did all it could to implement the promise of women’s emancipation, including the formation of a party department that addressed women’s needs, the Zhenotdel. But at every step their efforts were confronted with the fact that short of a massive infusion of resources, the results were limited on all sides. Leon Trotsky, the leader together with V.I. Lenin of the Russian Revolution, explained that from the beginning the Bolsheviks recognized that

“The real resources of the state did not correspond to the plans and intentions of the Communist Party. You cannot ‘abolish’ the family; you have to replace it. The actual liberation of women is unrealizable on a basis of ‘generalized want.’ Experience soon proved this austere truth which Marx had formulated eighty years before.”

—The Revolution Betrayed (1936)

The grim poverty of the world’s first workers state began with the economic and social backwardness inherited from the old tsarist empire. Foreign investment had built modern factories in the major cities, creating a compact, powerful proletariat that was able to make the revolution in a majority-peasant country. The revolutionary workers were, in most cases, only one or two generations removed from the peasantry. The workers supported their cousins in the countryside when they seized the landed estates and divided up the land among those who worked it. The alliance (smychka) between the workers and peasants was key to the success of the revolution. But the mass of peasant smallholders was also a reservoir of social and economic backwardness. The devastation wrought by World War I was compounded by the bloody Civil War (1918-1920) that the Bolshevik government had to fight against the armies of counterrevolution and imperialist intervention, throwing the country’s economy back decades. The imperialists also instituted an economic blockade, isolating the Soviet Union from the world economy and world division of labor.

Marxists have always understood that the material abundance necessary to uproot class society and its attendant oppressions can only come from the highest level of technology and science based on an internationally planned economy. The economic devastation and isolation of the Soviet workers state led to strong material pressures toward bureaucratization. In the last years of his life, Lenin, often in alliance with Trotsky, waged a series of battles in the party against the political manifestations of the bureaucratic pressures. The Bolsheviks knew that socialism could only be built on a worldwide basis, and they fought to extend the revolution internationally, especially to the advanced capitalist economies of Europe; the idea that socialism could be built in a single country was a later perversion introduced as part of the justification for the bureaucratic degeneration of the revolution.

In early 1924 a bureaucratic caste under Stalin came to dominate the Soviet Communist Party and state. Thus, the equality of women as envisioned by the Bolsheviks never fully came about. The Stalinist bureaucracy abandoned the fight for international revolution and so besmirched the great ideals of communism with bureaucratic distortions and lies that, in the end in 1991-92, the working class did not fight against the revolution’s undoing and the restoration of capitalism under Boris Yeltsin.

The Russian Revolution marked the beginning of a great wave of revolutionary struggle that swept the world in opposition to the carnage of WWI. The October Revolution was a powerful inspiration to the working class internationally. Germany, the most powerful and most advanced capitalist country in Europe, was thrown into a revolutionary situation in 1918-19; much of the rest of the continent was in turmoil. The Bolsheviks threw a good deal of the Soviet state’s resources into the fight for world socialist revolution, creating the Communist International (CI) for this purpose. But the young parties of the CI in Europe had only recently broken from the reformist leadership of the mass workers organizations that had supported their own bourgeois governments in WWI and were not able to act as revolutionary vanguard parties comparable to the Bolsheviks. The reformist, pro-capitalist and deeply chauvinist leadership of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) was able to suppress the proletarian revolutionary opportunity in Germany in 1918-19, with the active collaboration of the military/police forces.

Social-democratic parties like the German SPD and the British Labour Party bear central historical responsibility for the degeneration of the Russian Revolution. Yet they howl along with their capitalist masters that the early Bolshevik regime under Lenin inevitably led to Stalinist despotism, that communism has failed and that capitalist “democracy” is infinitely preferable to communism. They are echoed by many of today’s leftist-minded youth, who equate communism with the Stalinist degeneration of the Soviet workers state. Anarchist-influenced youth hold that hierarchy is inherently oppressive, that small-scale production, decentralization and “living liberated” on an individual basis offer a way forward. This is a dead end.

Despite the triumph of the bureaucratic caste in 1924 and the consequent degeneration of the Russian Revolution, the central gains of the revolution—embodied in the overthrow of capitalist property relations and the establishment of a planned economy—remained. These gains were apparent, for example, in the material position of women. That is why we of the International Communist League, standing on the heritage of Trotsky’s Left Opposition, which fought against Stalin and the degeneration of the revolution, stood for the unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union against imperialist attack and an intransigent fight against all threats of capitalist counterrevolution, internal or external. At the same time we understood that the bureaucratic caste at the top was a mortal threat to the continued existence of the workers state. We called for a political revolution in the USSR to oust the bureaucracy, to restore soviet workers democracy and to pursue the fight for the international proletarian revolution necessary to build socialism.

Heritage of Bolshevik Work Among Women

A host of books published over the last decade and a half speak to the enormous gains made by women in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. The Bolsheviks immediately began to put into place civil law that swept away centuries of property law and male privilege. Wendy Goldman’s valuable Women, the State and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 1917-1936 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993) focuses on the three Family Codes of 1918, 1926 and 1936 as turning points in Soviet policy, serving as markers for the party and state program on the woman question. The 1918 Code, the “most progressive family legislation the world had ever seen,” gave way to the 1926 Code, which came into effect in a period of intense political struggle between the Stalinist bureaucracy and oppositional currents arrayed against it, centrally Trotsky’s Left Opposition. The 1936 Family Code, which rehabilitated the family in official Stalinist ideology and made abortion illegal, codified the wholesale retreat under Stalin in the struggle for women’s equality.

Goldman’s book is only one among many publications since 1991 that have profited from the increased access to archives of the former Soviet Union. Another, Barbara Evans Clements’ Bolshevik Women (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997) is a group biography, centering on selected longtime party members. Clements has assembled a database of several hundred Old Bolshevik (party members before 1917) women cadre, which she analyzes for trends in origins, education and party activity.

Bolshevik Women focuses on prominent party members such as Elena Stasova, a Central Committee member and the CC secretary in Petrograd in 1917. Another is Evgeniia Bosh, described by Victor Serge (a one-time member of the Left Opposition who later broke with Trotsky) as one of “the most capable military leaders to emerge at this early stage” of the Civil War (quoted in Clements, Bolshevik Women). Bosh committed suicide in January 1925 when the Stalin faction purged Trotsky as People’s Commissar for War. Yet another was Lenin’s close friend and collaborator, Inessa Armand, the first head of the Zhenotdel until her death in 1920.

Less well known are Konkordiia Samoilova, another longtime party cadre, whose work after 1917 focused on Zhenotdel field activities; Klavdiia Nikolaeva, removed as head of the Zhenotdel in 1925 due to her support to the anti-bureaucratic Opposition; Rozaliia Zemliachka, who became a stalwart bureaucrat and the only woman to sit on the Council of People’s Commissars under Stalin; and Alexandra Artiukhina, who headed the Zhenotdel from 1925 until its liquidation by Stalin in 1930.

The International Communist League’s work among women stands on the traditions established by Lenin’s Bolsheviks. Some of the earliest issues of Women and Revolution published original research on the Russian Revolution and Bolshevik work among women by Dale Ross, W&R’s first editor, based on her PhD dissertation, The Role of the Women of Petrograd in War, Revolution and Counter-Revolution, 1914-1921 (1973). The second and third issues of W&R (September-October 1971 and May 1972) published in two parts the Bolsheviks’ “Methods of Work Among the Women of the Communist Party” from the Third Congress of the Communist International (1921). The new information available has further confirmed and enriched our solidarity with the Bolshevik road to the emancipation of women.

Subsequent issues of W&R explored other aspects of the fight for women’s liberation in the USSR. Of special significance is “Early Bolshevik Work Among Women of the Soviet East” (W&R No. 12, Summer 1976). This article detailed the heroic efforts of the Bolshevik government to transform conditions for the hideously oppressed women of Muslim Central Asia, where Zhenotdel activists themselves took to the veil in order to reach these secluded women. It is beyond the scope of the present article to deal with this important subject.

Marxism vs. Feminism

For Marxists, the special oppression of women originates in class society itself and can only be rooted out through the destruction of private property in the means of production. The entry of women into the proletariat opens the way to liberation: their position at the point of production gives them the social power, along with their male co-workers, to change the capitalist system and lay the basis for women’s social independence from the confines of the institution of the family. Marxism differs from feminism centrally over the question of the main division in society: feminists hold that it is men vs. women; for Marxists, it is class, that is, exploiter vs. exploited. A working woman has more in common with her male co-workers than with a female boss, and the emancipation of women is the task of the working class as a whole.

The Marxist view of the family as the main source of the oppression of women dates from The German Ideology, where Marx and Engels first formulated the concept that the family was not an immutable, timeless institution, but a social relation subject to historical change. In the classic Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884), Engels (working with the material available at the time) traced the origin of the institution of the family and the state to the division of society into classes. With the rise of a social surplus beyond basic subsistence, a leisured, ruling class could develop based on a private appropriation of that surplus, thus moving human society away from the primitive egalitarianism of the Stone Age. The centrality of the family flowed from its role in the inheritance of property, which required women’s sexual monogamy and social subordination. Engels termed this “the world historical defeat of the female sex.”

A collectivized, planned economy seeks to productively employ all adults with the goal of maximizing the wealth, including leisure time, available to all. In contrast, in the boom-bust cycle of a capitalist economy, each capitalist enterprise seeks to maximize its rate of profit. Inevitably, capitalist firms seek to reduce costs (and increase profits) by reducing both wages and jobs, leading to an impoverished working class, a pool of chronically unemployed workers and long hours for those who do work. Isolated in the family, women make up a large component of the reserve army of the unemployed, hired during economic booms and sent “back to the kitchen” during hard times. When women are drawn into the workforce in great numbers, the capitalists then try to reduce real wages for men, so that it takes the income of two working adults to raise a family.

The necessary role of the family—the function that must be replaced and cannot be abolished—is the rearing of the next generation. Under capitalism, the masses of youth are slated for wage slavery and service as cannon fodder in the bourgeois army, and the family plays an important role in training them to obey authority. It is also a major source for inculcating religious backwardness as an ideological brake on social consciousness.

While many aspects of the capitalist system serve to undermine and erode the family (the employment of women and public education are two examples), capitalism cannot provide a systematic solution to the double burden women shoulder, and must seek to bolster its weakened institution. Bourgeois feminists, whose quarrel with the capitalist system is their own subordinate status within it, address this by arguing for a redivision of household tasks within the family, increasing men’s share of domestic responsibilities. Marxists seek to transfer housework altogether to the public sphere. As the Bolshevik leader Evgeny Preobrazhensky (later allied with Trotsky) said, “Our task does not consist of striving for justice in the division of labor between the sexes. Our task is to free men and women from petty household labor” (quoted in Goldman, Women, the State and Revolution). Thus one of the tasks of the socialist revolution is the full replacement of the institution of the family with communal childcare, dining halls and laundries, and paid maternity leave, free health care, and special efforts to draw women fully into social and political life.

In Russia, the feminist movement was part of a broader bourgeois-democratic current that opposed tsarism and wanted to modernize Russia as an industrial capitalist society. For example, in 1906 amid the continuing ferment of the first Russian Revolution, the three main feminist organizations, the Women’s Equal Rights Union, the Women’s Progressive Party and the Women’s Mutual Philanthropic Society, directed their efforts toward the passage of equal rights and woman suffrage bills in the newly established Duma (parliament). When the predominantly liberal First and Second Dumas were dissolved by the autocracy, the Russian feminist movement went into decline.

In 1917 the main “women’s issue” in the eyes of the working woman was opposition to the bloody imperialist war that had been raging for three years. The war sparked the February revolt, which began with the mass outpouring of women on International Women’s Day. After the abdication of the Tsar and the establishment of the bourgeois-democratic Provisional Government, most of the ostensible parties of the left and of reform—including the Russian feminists—considered the main goals of the revolution to have been accomplished. Therefore, they abandoned their opposition to the war and supported the renewal of the imperialist slaughter in the name of “democracy.”

The Bolsheviks fought for the soviets of workers and peasants deputies to become organs of the rule of the exploited and oppressed, including women, and to end the war immediately without annexations of other countries. The best fighters for women’s liberation were the Bolsheviks, who understood that the liberation of women cannot be isolated from the liberation of the working class as a whole. Nor can it be fully achieved, least of all in a backward country—even one with a revolutionary government—in political, social and economic isolation from the rest of the world.

Early Bolshevik Work Among Women

Russian society was permeated with the grossest anti-woman bigotry. In 1917 peasants barely 50 years out of serfdom made up some 85 percent of the population. They lived under a village system with a rigid patriarchal hierarchy, without even a rudimentary modern infrastructure, lacking centralized sewage, electricity or paved roads. Ignorance and illiteracy were the norm and superstition was endemic. The ancient institutions of the household (dvor) and the communal village determined land ownership and livelihood and enforced the degradation of women. This extreme oppression was the inevitable corollary of the low productivity of Russian agriculture, which used centuries-old techniques. Peasant women were drudges; for example, a batrachka was a laborer hired for a season as a “wife” and then thrown out upon pregnancy. One peasant woman described her life: “In the countryside they look at a woman like a work horse. You work all your life for your husband and his entire family, endure beatings and every kind of humiliation, but it doesn’t matter, you have nowhere to go—you are bound in marriage” (quoted in ibid.).

However, by 1914 women made up one-third of Russia’s small but powerful industrial labor force. The Bolshevik program addressed their felt needs through such demands as equal pay for equal work, paid maternity leave and childcare facilities at factories, the lack of which had a severe impact on infant mortality. As many as two-thirds of the babies of women factory workers died in their first year. The party made efforts to defend working women from abuse and wife-beating, and opposed all instances of discrimination and oppression wherever they appeared, acting as the tribune of the people according to the Leninist concept put forward in What Is To Be Done? (1902). This included taking up a fight after the February Revolution within the trade unions against a proposal to address unemployment by first laying off married women whose husbands were working. Such a policy was applied in the Putilov munitions works and the Vyborg iron works, among other enterprises, and was opposed by the Bolsheviks as a threat to the political unity of the proletariat. Hundreds of women were members of the Bolshevik Party before the revolution, and they participated in all aspects of party work, both legal and underground, serving as officers in local party committees, couriers, agitators and writers.

Confined to the home and family, many women are isolated from social and political interaction and thus can be a reservoir of backward consciousness. But as Clara Zetkin said at the 1921 Congress of the Communist International, “Either the revolution will have the masses of women, or the counterrevolution will have them” (Protokoll des III. Weltkongresses der Kommunistischen Internationale [Minutes of the Third World Congress of the Communist International]) (our translation). Before World War I the Social Democrats in Germany pioneered in building a women’s “transitional organization”—a special body, linked to the party through its most conscious cadre, that took up the fight for women’s rights and other key political questions, conducted education, and published a newspaper. The Russian Bolsheviks stood on the shoulders of their German comrades, most importantly carrying party work among women into the factories. Building transitional organizations, founding the newspaper Rabotnitsa (The Woman Worker), and, after the October Revolution, the Zhenotdel, the Bolsheviks successfully mobilized masses of women in the working class as well as the peasantry whom the party could not have otherwise reached.

Rabotnitsa called mass meetings and demonstrations in Petrograd in opposition to the war and to rising prices, the two main issues galvanizing working women. The First All-City Conference of Petrograd Working Women, called by Rabotnitsa for October 1917, adjourned early so that the delegates could join the insurrection; it later reconvened. Among its achievements were resolutions for a standardized workday of eight hours and for banning labor for children under the age of 16. One of the aims of the conference was to mobilize non-party working women for the uprising and to win them to the goals that the Soviet government planned to pursue after the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The revolutionary beginnings in Russia took hold in no small measure due to the political awakening of the toiling women of the city and village to this historic mission. Even the most bitter political opponents of the October Revolution, such as the Russian Menshevik “socialist” proponents of a return to capitalist rule, grudgingly recognized the Bolsheviks’ success. The Menshevik leader Yuri Martov wrote to his comrade Pavel Axelrod, demonstrating as well his own contempt for the proletarian masses:

“It would be hard for you to imagine how in the recent past (just before my departure) there was a strong, genuine Bolshevik fanaticism, with an adoration of Lenin and Trotsky and a hysterical hatred of us, among a significant mass of Moscow women workers, in both the factories and workshops. This is to a notable degree explained by the fact that the Russian woman proletariat, due to its illiteracy and helplessness, in its mass could only have been drawn into ‘politics’ by means of the state mechanism (endless educational courses and ‘cultural’-agitational institutions, official celebrations and demonstrations, and—last not least [original in English]—by means of material privileges). Thus the words that one runs across in letters from women workers to Pravda, such as, ‘only after the October overthrow did we women workers see the sun,’ are not empty phrases.”

—“Letter to P. B. Axelrod, 5 April 1921,” Yu. O. Martov, Letters 1916-1922 (Benson, Vermont: Chalidze Publications, 1990) (our translation)

The Early Soviet Government and the 1918 Family Code

The revolution released a burst of optimism and expectations for a society built on socialist principles. Discussions raged among young people on sexual relations, child rearing and the nature of the family in the transition to socialism. Creative energy gripped cultural fields as well, where priorities and tasks changed to reflect the widely held view that the family would soon wither away (see “Planning for Collective Living in the Early Soviet Union: Architecture as a Tool of Social Transformation,” W&R No. 11, Spring 1976).

Soviet legislation at that time gave to women in Russia a level of equality and freedom that has yet to be attained by the most economically advanced “democratic” capitalist countries today. But there was a problem, succinctly addressed by A. T. Stelmakhovich, chairman of the Moscow provincial courts: “The liberation of women...without an economic base guaranteeing every worker full material independence, is a myth” (quoted in Goldman, Women, the State and Revolution).

Just over a month after the revolution, two decrees established civil marriage and allowed for divorce at the request of either partner, accomplishing far more than the pre-revolutionary Ministry of Justice, progressive journalists, feminists and the Duma had ever even attempted. Divorces soared in the following period. A complete Code on Marriage, the Family and Guardianship, ratified in October 1918 by the state governing body, the Central Executive Committee (CEC), swept away centuries of patriarchal and ecclesiastical power, and established a new doctrine based on individual rights and the equality of the sexes.

The Bolsheviks also abolished all laws against homosexual acts and other consensual sexual activity. The Bolshevik position was explained in a pamphlet by Grigorii Batkis, director of the Moscow Institute of Social Hygiene, The Sexual Revolution in Russia (1923):

“Soviet legislation bases itself on the following principle:

“It declares the absolute non-interference of the state and society into sexual matters, so long as nobody is injured, and no one’s interests are encroached upon.”

—quoted in John Lauritsen and David Thorstad, The Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1864-1935) (New York: Times Change Press, 1974)

To draft the new Family Code a committee was established in August 1918, headed by A. G. Goikhbarg, a former Menshevik law professor. Jurists described the Code as “not socialist legislation, but legislation of the transitional time,” just as the Soviet state itself, as the dictatorship of the proletariat, was a preparatory regime transitional from capitalism to socialism (quoted in Goldman, op. cit.)

The Bolsheviks anticipated the ability to “eliminate the need for certain registrations, for example, marriage registration, for the family will soon be replaced by a more reasonable, more rational differentiation based on separate individuals,” as Goikhbarg said, rather too optimistically. He added, “Proletarian power constructs its codes and all of its laws dialectically, so that every day of their existence undermines the need for their existence.” When “the fetters of husband and wife” have become “obsolete,” the family will wither away, replaced by revolutionary social relations based on women’s equality. Not until then, in the words of Soviet sociologist S. Ia. Volfson, would the duration of marriage “be defined exclusively by the mutual inclination of the spouses” (quoted in ibid.). Divorce would be accomplished by the locking of a door, as Soviet architect L. Sabsovich envisaged it.

The new marriage and divorce laws were very popular. However, given women’s traditional responsibilities for children and their greater difficulties in finding and maintaining employment, for them divorce often proved more problematic than for men. For this reason the alimony provision was established for the disabled poor of both sexes, necessary due to the inability of the state at that time to guarantee jobs for all. The 1918 Code eliminated the distinction between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” children, using instead the carefully considered wording “children of parents who are not in a registered marriage.” Thus, women could claim child support from men to whom they were not married.

The Code also established the right of all children to parental support until age 18 and the right of each spouse to his or her own property. In implementing the Code’s measures, judges were biased in favor of women and children, on the grounds that establishing support for the child took priority over protecting the financial interests of the male defendant. In one case, a judge split child support three ways, because the mother had been sleeping with three different men.

During the debate on the draft, Goikhbarg had to defend it against critics who wanted to abolish marriage altogether. For example, N. A. Roslavets, a Ukrainian woman delegate, recommended that the CEC reject the marriage section of the Code, arguing that it would represent a step away “from the freedom of marriage relations as one of the conditions of individual freedom.” “I cannot understand why this Code establishes compulsory monogamy,” she said; she also opposed the (very limited) alimony provision as “nothing other than a payment for love” (quoted in ibid.).

Goikhbarg later recounted, “They screamed at us: ‘Registration of marriage, formal marriage, what kind of socialism is this?’” His main argument was that civil marriage registration was crucial to the struggle against the medieval grip of the Russian Orthodox church. Without civil marriage, the population would resort to religious ceremonies and the church would flourish. He characterized Roslavets’ criticisms as “radical in words” but “reactionary in deed.” Goikhbarg pointed out that alimony was limited to the disabled poor, and that it was impossible to abolish everything at once. He argued, “We must accept this [code] knowing that it is not a socialist measure, because socialist legislation will hardly exist. Only limited norms will remain” (quoted in ibid.).

Uneven and Combined Development

The October Revolution put power in the hands of a working class that was numerically small in a country that was relatively backward. The Bolsheviks thus faced problems that Marx and Engels, who had projected that the proletarian revolution would occur first in more industrialized countries, could not have anticipated. It was envisioned by the Bolsheviks that the Russian Revolution would inspire workers in the economically advanced European countries to overthrow their bourgeoisies, and these new revolutions would in turn come to the aid of the Russian proletariat. These workers states would not usher in socialist societies but would be transitional regimes that would lay the foundations for socialism based on an internationally planned economy in which there would be no more class distinctions and the state itself would wither away.

The seizure of power in Russia followed three years of world war, which had disrupted the food supply, causing widespread hunger in the cities. By the end of the Civil War, the country lay in ruins. The transport system collapsed, and oil and coal no longer reached the urban areas. Homeless and starving children, the besprizorniki, roamed the countryside and cities in gangs. In the brutal Russian winter, the writer Viktor Shklovsky wrote that, because of the lack of fuel, “People who lived in housing with central heating died in droves. They froze to death—whole apartments of them” (quoted in ibid.).

The collapse of the productive forces surpassed anything of the kind that history had ever seen. The country and its government were at the very edge of the abyss. Although the Bolsheviks won the Civil War, Russia’s national income had dropped to only one-third and industrial output to less than one-fifth of the prewar levels. By 1921 Moscow had lost half its population; Petrograd, two-thirds. Then the country was hit with two straight years of drought, and a sandstorm and locust invasion that brought famine to the southern and western regions. In those areas, 90 to 95 percent of the children under three years old died; surviving children were abandoned as one or both parents died, leaving them starving and homeless. There were incidents of cannibalism.

The toll on all layers of society was terrible. Of the Bolshevik women cadre in Clements’ study, 13 percent died between 1917 and 1921, most of infectious disease. Among them were Inessa Armand, head of the Zhenotdel, and Samoilova, both of whom died of cholera. Samoilova contracted the disease as a party activist on the Volga River. Horrified by the conditions on the delta, she spent her last days rousing the local party committee to take action.

As Marx put it, “Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural level which this determines” (“Critique of the Gotha Program,” 1875). The Bolsheviks knew that, given centuries of oppression and the devastation of the country, even the most democratic laws could not protect the most vulnerable, the working-class and especially peasant women, who continued to suffer misery and degradation. Until the family was fully replaced by communal living and childcare, laws addressing the actual social conditions were a necessary part of the political struggle for a new society.

The Protection of Motherhood

Immediately after the revolution the government launched a drive to provide social and cultural facilities and communal services for women workers and to draw them into training and educational programs. The 1918 Labor Code provided a paid 30-minute break at least every three hours to feed a baby. For their protection, pregnant women and nursing mothers were banned from night work and overtime. This entailed a constant struggle with some state managers, who viewed these measures as an extra financial burden.

The crowning legislative achievement for women workers was the 1918 maternity insurance program designed and pushed by Alexandra Kollontai, the first People’s Commissar for Social Welfare and head of the Zhenotdel from 1920 to 1922. The law provided for a fully paid maternity leave of eight weeks, nursing breaks and factory rest facilities, free pre- and post-natal care, and cash allowances. It was administered through a Commission for the Protection of Mothers and Infants—attached to the Health Commissariat—and headed by a Bolshevik doctor, Vera Lebedeva. With its networks of maternity clinics, consultation offices, feeding stations, nurseries, and mother and infant homes, this program was perhaps the single most popular innovation of the Soviet regime among Russian women.

In the 1920s and 1930s women were commonly allowed a few days’ release from paid labor in the form of menstrual leave. In the history of protection of women workers, the USSR was probably unique in this. Specialists also conducted research on the effects of heavy labor on women. One scholar wrote, “The maintenance of the health of workers appears to have been a central concern in the research into labour protection in this period” (Melanie Ilic, Women Workers in the Soviet Interwar Economy: From “Protection” to “Equality” [New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999]). Strenuous labor could lead to disruption or delay of menstrual cycles among peasant women especially. The resolution of this problem—machine technology that limits to the greatest possible extent the stress and potential danger of industrial and agricultural labor for all workers, men and women—was beyond the capability of the Soviet economy at that time.

Abortion: Free and on Demand

In 1920 the Soviet government issued a decree overturning criminal penalties for abortion—the first government in the world to do so:

“As long as the remnants of the past and the difficult economic conditions of the present compel some women to undergo an abortion, the People’s Commissariat of Health and Social Welfare and the People’s Commissariat of Justice regard the use of penal measures as inappropriate and therefore, to preserve women’s health and protect the race against ignorant or self-seeking profiteers, it is resolved:

“I. Free abortion, interrupting pregnancy by artificial means, shall be performed in state hospitals, where women are assured maximum safety in the operation.”

—“Decree of the People’s Commissariat of Health and Social Welfare and the People’s Commissariat of Justice in Soviet Russia,” translated from Die Kommunistische Fraueninternationale (Communist Women’s International, April 1921), in W&R No. 34, Spring 1988

In carrying out this decree, again inadequate resources clashed with the huge demand, and because of the shortage of anesthetic, abortions, horribly enough, were generally performed without it. The law required that all abortions be performed by a doctor in a hospital, but the country lacked adequate facilities. Working women received first priority. In the countryside, many women had no access to state facilities. As a result, unsafe abortions continued to be performed, especially by midwives, and thousands were treated in the hospitals for the effects of these dangerous procedures.

Doctors and public health officials argued that there was an urgent need for quality contraception, which in backward Russia was generally unavailable. In the mid 1920s, the Commission for the Protection of Mothers and Infants officially proclaimed that birth control information should be dispensed in all consultation offices and gynecological stations. The shortage of contraception was in part due to the lack of access to raw materials like rubber—a direct result of the imperialist blockade against Soviet Russia.

While acknowledging that the Soviet Union was the first country in the world to grant women legal, free abortion, Goldman claims that the Bolsheviks never recognized abortion as a woman’s right, but only as a public health necessity. Certainly the reference elsewhere in the decree to abortion as “this evil” sounds strange to 21st-century ears, accustomed to hearing such language only from religious bigots. However, abortion was much more dangerous in the 1920s, before the development of antibiotics and in a country where basic hygiene remained a serious problem. The Bolsheviks were concerned about improving the protection of mothers and children, which they viewed as the responsibility of the proletarian state and a central purpose of the replacement of the family with communal methods.

Goldman’s claim is undermined by Trotsky’s statement that, on the contrary, abortion is one of woman’s “most important civil, political and cultural rights.” He blasted the vile Stalinist bureaucracy for its 1936 criminalization of abortion, which showed “the philosophy of a priest endowed also with the powers of a gendarme”:

“These gentlemen have, it seems, completely forgotten that socialism was to remove the cause which impels woman to abortion, and not force her into the ‘joys of motherhood’ with the help of a foul police interference in what is to every woman the most intimate sphere of life.”

—The Revolution Betrayed

The Zhenotdel Mobilizes the Masses of Women

The Zhenotdel, founded in 1919, infused energy into the party’s frail and disparate women’s commissions. It played a major part in the mobilization of women behind the struggle for socialism in Russia. In 1920 Samoilova reported that people were describing a “second October Revolution” among women (quoted in Carol Eubanks Hayden, Feminism and Bolshevism: The Zhenotdel and the Politics of Women’s Emancipation in Russia, 1917-1930, unpublished PhD dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1979). The Zhenotdel’s fundamental organizing precept was “agitation by the deed.” Historian Richard Stites described it as “the deliberate, painstaking effort of hundreds of already ‘released’ women injecting their beliefs and programs and their self-confidence into the bloodstream of rural and proletarian Russia” (Stites, The Women’s Liberation Movement in Russia). That so many women became members of the Soviet government and of the party illustrates the extraordinary social mobility the party was encouraging.

A major vehicle for this work was the system of “delegate meetings” developed by the Zhenotdel and designed as a school in politics and liberation. Elections would be held in a factory for women workers to choose one of their ranks as delegate to the Zhenotdel for a period of three to six months. The election itself was a step forward in consciousness. The delegatka, wearing a red scarf as her badge of office, served as an observer-apprentice in various branches of public activity such as the factory, soviet, trade union, schools, hospital or catering center. After her sojourn in the world of practical politics, she would report back to the Zhenotdel and to her co-workers about what she had learned in the process of acting as an elected politician, administrator, propagandist and critic. One observer described the delegatki as “a menace to bureaucrats, drunkards, kulaks, sub-kulaks, and all who opposed Soviet laws” (quoted in ibid.).

In addition to the journal Kommunistka, which carried articles on major theoretical and practical aspects of the woman question, the Zhenotdel published women’s pages (stranichki) in many national and local party newspapers. Working-class women were encouraged to become correspondents, sending reports and letters to the press. Conferences and congresses brought women of different regions together in great number and variety. The last important meeting was the 1927 Congress of Women Deputies to the Soviets, a massive witness to the work that had been done in the preceding ten years where women displayed “a sense of power and achievement” (ibid.).

Communal Living: Replacing the Household Pot

Early measures to institute communal living in Soviet Russia were heavily influenced by the Civil War. In the effort to mobilize the population to fight the war, the Bolsheviks instituted “war communism,” which included state rationing, public dining halls, free food for children and wages in kind. By January 1920 Petrograd was serving one million people in public cafeterias; in Moscow, 93 percent of the population was served in this way. Meals were of poor quality, but in the revolutionary optimism of the time this was seen as a temporary problem. In later years, many expressed nostalgia for the idealistic future promised by communal living under “war communism” as opposed to the harsh reality that was to come. Party leader I. Stepanov captured it:

“All we adults were insanely and dreadfully hungry, but we could justly say to the whole world: The children are the first privileged citizens of our republic. We could say that we were moving toward the realization of freeing love…from economics and women from household slavery.”

—quoted in Goldman, op. cit.

A key component of freeing women from the household prison was the socialization of child rearing. The Bolshevik program rested on a concept that all individuals should have full access to all the cultural and social benefits of society, as opposed to restrictions dictated by social and economic status. An All-Russian Congress for the Protection of Childhood was convened in 1919. The delegates debated theories of childcare and the degree of state vs. parental involvement with the upbringing of the very young. The words of one of the members of the Presidium of the Congress, Anna Elizarova, captured the general understanding of the majority: “There must be no wretched children who don’t belong to anyone. All children are the children of the state” (quoted in ibid.).

A provision of the Family Code put forward the year before had banned adoption altogether in favor of the state’s assuming care for orphans. This measure was especially important because adoption in Russia was notoriously used by peasants as a source of cheap labor. Instead, the government would take on the task of a quality upbringing for all children.

But the enormous contradiction between aspiration and reality remained. The state was unable to care for the millions of homeless orphans in Russia, the besprizorniki. This problem predated the revolution, and seven years of war followed by famine brought the numbers up to an estimated 7.5 million by 1922. The government authorized free food for all children under 16; kitchens and homes were set up, and the estates of the ex-nobility were turned into homes for orphans, with partial success. Goldman caught the vicious circle caused by the lack of resources to meet the need: “Without daycare, many single mothers were unable to search for work, and without work, they were unable to support their children, who in turn ran away from impoverished homes to join the besprizorniki on the streets” (ibid.). Although the numbers shrank in the decade after the famine of 1921, the besprizorniki remained a problem for the Soviet government well into the 1930s.

Temporary Retreat: the New Economic Policy

As the Civil War drew to a close in late 1920, the limits of the policy of “war communism” became clear. Industry had virtually collapsed. The most politically advanced workers had been killed in the Civil War or drawn into state and party administration; many of the remaining workers had gone back to the countryside to eke out a living from the land. Peasants in the south began rebelling against forcible requisitioning of grain (see “Kronstadt 1921: Bolshevism vs. Counterrevolution,” page 6).

To revive production and maintain the alliance with the peasantry, in early 1921 Lenin proposed the New Economic Policy (NEP), in which the forcible requisitioning of grain was replaced by a tax on agricultural products, with the peasantry now allowed to sell much of their grain on the open market. The government sought to stabilize the currency; rationing of food and scarce consumer goods was ended and small-scale production and distribution of consumer goods for profit was allowed. While these concessions to market forces revived the economy to a great extent, they also tended to exacerbate the existing imbalances, with heavy industry getting little or no investment, and the pre-existing layer of better-off peasants (kulaks) becoming richer at the expense of the poorer layers in the villages. A tier of newly rich small producers and traders (NEPmen) flourished.

As would be expected, the NEP had a negative impact on conditions for women and children. Women suffered a general rise in unemployment through 1927, and were pushed back into “traditional” sectors such as textiles and light industry. “Free market” practices meant discrimination against women in hiring and firing—especially given the expenses of paid maternity leave and on-the-job protection for pregnant and nursing mothers. Charges were instituted for previously free public services, such as communal meals. Half the childcare centers and homes for single mothers were forced to close, undermining any attempt to liberate women: mothers had little opportunity to study, get skills or participate in social and political life.

Perhaps the most tragic consequence of the NEP for women was the re-emergence of prostitution. Prostitution was not illegal in Soviet Russia. Rather, the government sought to “return the prostitute to productive work, find her a place in the social economy,” in the words of Lenin as reported by Zetkin (“My Recollections of Lenin,” in The Emancipation of Women [1934]). A 1921 government commission reaffirmed opposition to state interference in private matters:

“In fighting against prostitution, the government by no means intends to intrude into the sphere of sexual relations, for in that area all forced, regulated influence will lead only to distortion of the sexual self-determination of free and independent economic citizens.”

—quoted in Elizabeth A. Wood, The Baba and the Comrade: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997)

Unemployed women and besprizorniki were the largest groups of urban prostitutes during the years of the NEP.

Goldman notes that delegates to a 1922 meeting on female labor angrily called attention to “the catastrophic position of services designed to protect mothers and infants due to state budgeting pressures under NEP” (Goldman, Women, the State and Revolution). Delegates stressed that women’s problems were “closely connected to the overall position of the working class and under no condition should be considered apart from the proletarian state.” The government tried to replace the lost resources through voluntary contributions and labor, and the commissariats issued decrees aimed at stopping anti-woman discrimination.

But these measures had little effect. In early 1923 a debate over whether further measures should be taken to address these problems broke out among leading women cadre, including Vera Golubeva and Alexandra Kollontai, who argued that the scope of the party’s work among women should be widened. Golubeva, the deputy director of the Zhenotdel, argued that with the increasing unemployment among women, the party had to extend its reach into sectors of the population beyond the working class, drawing unemployed and peasant women into special (“transitional”) bodies of work linked to the party. The question was discussed at the April 1923 party congress.

In the end the Soviet government had no other choice but to resort to the NEP. The alternative, to maintain the policies of war communism in the conditions of social collapse, would have led to massive peasant revolt and counterrevolution. But the NEP brought its own dangers of that kind. As Trotsky said, “With the transfer to the NEP bourgeois tendencies received a more copious field of action” (The Revolution Betrayed). Even within the constraints imposed by national isolation and economic weakness, however, the degradation of women’s status was not preordained but was rather determined by a political struggle over changeable government policies.

In fact, the broader policies advocated by the Left Opposition could have opened the road to a real improvement in the situation of women even within the framework of the existing material conditions. The implementation of a systematic plan of industrialization as laid out by the Opposition in 1923 would have undercut the bourgeois tendencies fueled by the NEP, while greatly increasing the employment of women in industry and changing the functioning of factory managers. Discrimination against women workers in wages and employment was a manifestation of bureaucratic degeneration within the industrial managerial apparatus that could have been fought and reversed.

The “Sea of Peasant Stagnation”

The most intense conflicts between the goals of the Bolshevik Revolution for the liberation of women and the actual conditions of Russian society occurred in the countryside. The 1922 Land Code abolished private ownership of land, water, forests and minerals and placed all land in the hands of the state. By law all citizens regardless of sex, religion, or nationality had rights to the land, and each adult was to have a voice in the skhod or village assembly. The Family Code granted individuals the right to live apart from a spouse, to divorce, and to receive alimony and child support. Extreme poverty exacerbated the gap between law and life, making it almost impossible for many peasant households to pay women their legal due. As long as the family remained the basic unit of production, as long as patriarchy determined the institutions of village life, neither peasant women nor men could realize the individual freedom promised by Soviet civil law.

The contradictions could not be resolved by law; the problem was inherent in the very nature of the Russian Revolution. The relatively small proletariat was able to carry out its revolutionary dictatorship because it embraced the fight of the peasantry against feudal barbarism. But once in power the proletariat had to go beyond the bourgeois-democratic tasks posed by the abolition of tsarist absolutism. As Trotsky predicted even before the outbreak of the 1905 Revolution, in addressing such questions as the length of the working day, unemployment, and protection of the agricultural proletariat, “the antagonism between the component sections will grow in proportion as the policy of the workers’ government defines itself, ceasing to be a general-democratic and becoming a class policy” (Results and Prospects [1906]). The deepgoing process of uprooting feudalistic social relations in the countryside required a huge investment of resources to build the necessary infrastructure of schools, roads and hospitals, as well as the mechanization of agriculture. The Bolsheviks looked to workers revolution in the advanced European countries, which could provide the technological resources to enable the Russian proletariat to prove the benefits of collectivized agriculture to the peasant masses.

The Commissariat of Justice set up several commissions to investigate the tangled problems facing women and children in the countryside. The jurists upheld their commitment to equal rights in the face of powerful peasant opposition. For example, land ownership was based on the male-dominated family unit (dvor), and alimony was awarded based on family assets. Faced with a demand for alimony, peasants developed ruses for avoiding payments by creating a fictitious division of the family unit, thus reducing the extent of property that the court could award a divorced woman. Officials in the Commissariats of Land and Justice repeatedly refused to accede to peasant demands to abolish divorce and alimony, and continued to support the rights of the vulnerable, the weak, and the landless peasant woman. The Land and Family Codes established rights for women that could result in smaller farm plots and decreased production, at a time when increasing grain production was a state priority. The Moscow commission declared: “To agree that the dvor should bear no responsibility for alimony means to flood our Soviet law in a sea of peasant stagnation” (quoted in Goldman, op. cit.).

Despite the difficulties, the laws, enforced by the Soviet state, did have an impact. Melnikova, an impoverished batrachka thrown out of her husband’s dvor, came to the judge saying, “I heard in the village that now there was this law that they could no longer insult women in this way” (quoted in ibid.). While there was often much resistance based on fear, ignorance and the inertia of tradition, once they were functioning, the institutions and changes in daily life throughout the early and middle 1920s gained the increasing support of the peasantry, especially the women.

A small but significant minority of peasant women found their lives transformed by the party’s educational efforts, the activities of the Zhenotdel and their new legal rights. Delegates at one women’s congress spoke proudly of their struggle as single women to retain their share of the land, to attend meetings of the skhod, and to organize agricultural cooperatives for women. Mothers of illegitimate children and divorced peasant women defied centuries of patriarchal tradition to fight the household in court for the right to child support and alimony.

Problems of Everyday Life

In 1923, a discussion developed within the Bolshevik Party on the question of how to improve the quality of byt (daily life). This seemingly mundane issue cuts to the heart of the struggle to create wholly new economic and social relations. At its core is the question of the emancipation of women, which is the political prism for “everyday relations” in a broader social sense. No other question reaches so far into the daily life of the masses, weighed down by centuries of custom, habits of social deference and religious reaction, especially in a backward, impoverished country as was Russia in the early 20th century—comparable to Iran or India today. As Trotsky said two years later, “The most accurate way of measuring our advance is by the practical measures which are being carried out for the improvement of the position of mother and child…. The depth of the question of the mother is expressed in the fact that she is, in essence, a living point where all the decisive strands of economic and cultural work intersect” (“To Build Socialism Means to Emancipate Women and Protect Mothers,” December 1925, Women and the Family).

Even party members, shamefully, sometimes derided the Zhenotdel as “bab-kom” or “tsentro-baba” (baba is a derogatory term for woman). Zetkin recalls Lenin saying:

“Our communist work among the masses of women, and our political work in general, involves considerable educational work among the men. We must root out the old slave-owner’s point of view, both in the Party and among the masses. That is one of our political tasks, a task just as urgently necessary as the formation of a staff composed of comrades, men and women, with thorough theoretical and practical training for Party work among working women.”

—Zetkin, “My Recollections of Lenin”

Neither the social reorganization nor the material conditions yet existed to inaugurate a new and higher order of family life, which in any case would require some generations to evolve. Indeed, the equality of women, in a social sense, may well be the last emancipation to be fully achieved in a classless society, just as women’s oppression was the first non-class social subordination in history.

Trotsky began to write a series of essays on the question of byt, such as “From the Old Family to the New” and “Vodka, the Church, and the Cinema” (both dated July 1923), later collected in one volume as Problems of Everyday Life. Of course, he emphasized the importance of material abundance in the achievement of “culture,” which he defined not in the narrow sense of literature and art, but as all fields of human endeavor. Only in an advanced communist society can one truly speak of “choice” and “freedom.” Meanwhile, however, Trotsky advocated the encouragement of voluntary initiatives in daily life.

Trotsky’s writings provoked a sharp rebuttal from Polina Vinogradskaia, a member of the Zhenotdel, who argued that the problem could be reduced to lack of initiative from the government and opposed opening a wider discussion on byt. But Trotsky insisted that such a discussion was a necessary part of social development:

“The material foundations inherited from the past are part of our way of life, but so is a new psychological attitude. The culinary-domestic aspect of things is part of the concept of the family, but so are the mutual relationships between husband, wife, and child as they are taking shape in the circumstances of Soviet society—with new tasks, goals, rights, and obligations for the husbands and children….

“The object of acquiring conscious knowledge of everyday life is precisely so as to be able to disclose graphically, concretely, and cogently before the eyes of the working masses themselves the contradictions between the outgrown material shell of the way of life and the new relationships and needs which have arisen.”

—“Against Bureaucracy, Progressive and Unprogressive,” August 1923, Problems of Everyday Life

In the revolutionary process the working masses were not simply passive objects, but necessary actors. Trotsky suggested, for example, that more forward-looking people “group themselves even now into collective housekeeping units,” posing this as “the first, still very incomplete approximations to a communist way of life” (“From the Old Family to the New”). While such pro-socialist initiatives were not central in the political struggle against the Stalinist degeneration of the party and state, they were entirely possible within the difficult reality of Soviet Russia in the 1920s.

The Degeneration of the Revolution

These 1923 debates on how to deal with the excruciating contradiction between the communist program for women’s liberation and the terrible material want in the country took place on the cusp of the decisive battle over the degeneration of the revolution. The poverty of the country created strong pressures toward bureaucratic deformations. Social inequalities under the NEP only exacerbated the pressures. As Trotsky later explained in his seminal work on the Stalinist degeneration:

“The basis of bureaucratic rule is the poverty of society in objects of consumption, with the resulting struggle of each against all. When there is enough goods in a store, the purchasers can come whenever they want to. When there is little goods, the purchasers are compelled to stand in line. When the lines are very long, it is necessary to appoint a policeman to keep order. Such is the starting point of the power of the Soviet bureaucracy. It ‘knows’ who is to get something and who has to wait.”

—The Revolution Betrayed

Eventually and inevitably, these material pressures found expression within the Bolshevik Party itself. Stalin, who was appointed General Secretary of the party in March 1922, substantially increased the wages, benefits and material privileges of party officials, and became the exponent of the interests of the new bureaucratic layer. Soon after Stalin’s appointment, Lenin suffered a major stroke; he returned to work for only a few months in late 1922, when he urged Trotsky to wage a resolute struggle against the influence of the growing bureaucratic layer within the party (see “A Critical Balance Sheet: Trotsky and the Russian Left Opposition,” Spartacist No. 56, Spring 2001). A series of strokes beginning in December left Lenin incapacitated until his death in January 1924.

Stalin joined with fellow Political Bureau members Leon Kamenev and Gregory Zinoviev in a secret “triumvirate” within the Soviet leadership, working assiduously to block the ascension of Trotsky. Trotsky understood that the alliance between the workers and peasants would remain fragile as long as the Soviet regime could not provide industrial and consumer goods to the peasants at low cost. Thus he advocated increased investment in heavy industry and centralized government planning. The bureaucracy resisted this, preferring to let the NEP run its course, and increasingly bending to the economic pressures of the kulaks and NEPmen.

In the summer of 1923 growing economic discontent erupted in strikes in Moscow and Petrograd. In a series of letters to the Central Committee, Trotsky demanded that the party open an immediate campaign against bureaucratism, and that it develop a plan for industrial investment. Forty-six leading party members (including the woman military leader Evgeniia Bosh) signed a declaration along similar lines. There was an outpouring of support for the loose, anti-bureaucratic opposition and the proposed “New Course” in the pages of the party newspaper, Pravda.

At the same time a revolutionary crisis in Germany held out the possibility of a workers revolution there, giving hope that the isolation of the Soviet workers state would soon end. When Zinoviev’s Communist International leadership and the German Communist Party failed to seize the revolutionary opportunity that opened up in the summer of 1923 and ignominiously called off a planned insurrection in late October, demoralization swept Russia (see “A Trotskyist Critique of Germany 1923 and the Comintern,” Spartacist No. 56, Spring 2001).

In the ensuing party discussion, the triumvirate pulled out every stop to destroy the Opposition. The elections to the 13th Party Conference, held in January 1924, were so rigged that, despite strong support from party organizations in Petrograd, Moscow and some smaller towns, Trotsky and his supporters won just three out of 124 delegates. The triumvirate’s victory at this conference marked the decisive point in the degeneration of the revolution. After Lenin’s death that same month, the triumvirate opened a mass membership campaign (the “Lenin levy”), allowing politically backward workers, assorted careerists, NEPmen and other unsuitable elements into the party. This began the process that would transform the party from a conscious proletarian vanguard into a capricious bureaucratic apparatus at the top of the Soviet state.

At the end of 1924, the bureaucratic victory took programmatic shape as Stalin promulgated the absurd idea that the USSR could build socialism on its own, without revolutions in other countries. Over the next decade and a half, the Soviet bureaucracy zigzagged between outright conciliation of the various imperialist powers and heedless adventurism bound for defeat, but the theory of “socialism in one country” was the mainstay of evolving Stalinist dogma. The Communist International was transformed from a party seeking international workers revolution into one acting as a tool of Kremlin diplomacy.

Within the USSR itself, the bureaucracy began to relax the original NEP legislation which, while allowing free trade in agricultural produce, had severely restricted the hiring of labor and acquisition of land. Socialism was to be built in the USSR “at a snail’s pace,” in the words of Nikolai Bukharin, now allied with Stalin. The conciliation of the NEP petty traders and backward peasant dvor had serious and detrimental consequences for Soviet women and children. In April 1924 an order to place teenagers in agriculture was promulgated. The provision against adoption was reversed in practice. In 1926, some 19,000 homeless children were expelled from state-funded children’s homes and placed in extended peasant households to plow with a centuries-old wooden plow, and to reap with a sickle and scythe.

From mid 1926 to late 1927, Trotsky joined with Zinoviev and Kamenev, who, responding to their proletarian bases in Leningrad (formerly Petrograd) and Moscow, had broken with Stalin. The United Opposition (UO) fought against the policies of “socialism in one country” and for a perspective of international revolution. Along with a tax on the kulaks to fund investment in heavy industry, the UO fought for a policy of voluntary collectivization of the peasantry and “the systematic and gradual introduction of this most numerous peasant group [the middle peasants] to the benefits of large-scale, mechanized, collective agriculture” (“The Platform of the Opposition,” September 1927, in Trotsky, The Challenge of the Left Opposition [1926-27] [New York: Pathfinder Press, 1980]).

From 1924 on, the Zhenotdel was directly involved in party factional struggles; many prominent activists supported the Opposition, including Zhenotdel head Klavdiia Nikolaeva. She was replaced in 1925 by Stalin supporter Alexandra Artiukhina. During the fight against Zinoviev and his Leningrad organization, Artiukhina mobilized Zhenotdel workers for the Stalin faction in order to keep a “united, solid, disciplined Leninist Party” (quoted in Hayden, op. cit.). Artiukhina asserted that from the slogan “equality” women workers might get the idea that they should receive the same wages as more highly skilled male workers, and argued that the Zhenotdel should undertake to explain to them why wage differentials were necessary. In sharp contrast, the United Opposition’s platform called for women workers to receive “equal pay for equal work” and for “provision to be made for women workers to learn skilled trades” (“The Platform of the Opposition”).

Stalin’s firm control of the party and state apparatus allowed him to vilify and then crush the UO, most of whose leading members were expelled from the party in late 1927. While Zinoviev and Kamenev capitulated to Stalin, Trotsky and many other leading UO members were sent into internal exile. The bureaucratization of internal party life had a demoralizing effect on the Zhenotdel. As of 1927, attendance at delegate meetings dropped off sharply—as low as 40 to 60 percent of potential attendees compared to 80 to 95 percent previously.

The Family Code of 1926

The bureaucratization of the Soviet party and state was not a swift, unitary process. It took years for the bureaucracy to fully stifle revolutionary consciousness, which also weakened in the face of the devastation of the country. The passionate debate over the Family Code of 1926 is just one example of the intensive public discussion that was still taking place in some sectors of Soviet political life. The Bolsheviks recognized that social relations would continue to evolve after the revolution. Drafted deliberately as a transitional set of laws, the 1918 Family Code was never considered to be definitive. Debate and discussion on family policy continued to simmer throughout the period of the Civil War and NEP. In 1923 a committee was formed to draft a new code. In October 1925, after a number of drafts and intense public debate, a draft was presented to the CEC. There followed another year of nationwide discussion.

The 1926 Family Code marks a midpoint in the degeneration of Soviet family policy from the liberating ferment of the early revolutionary years to the Stalinist rehabilitation of the institution of the family in 1936. By 1925-26, arguments for the abolition of all marriage codes had ebbed. Instead, proponents of looser policies such as recognizing “de facto” (common law) marriage clashed with more conservative forces. Predominantly from the peasantry, the advocates of a stricter civil code also included some working-class women who spoke for the vulnerability of women and children in a society where the full replacement of the family with socialized methods was not yet possible.

Changes from the 1918 law in the 1926 Family Code included extending alimony payments to the able-bodied unemployed, as opposed to the disabled only, and adding joint rights for property acquired in the course of marriage, as opposed to the earlier stipulation that spouses retain only their own property. The 1926 Code also made divorce even easier: the “postcard divorce” was the simple filing of the wish to dissolve the marriage on the part of one of the parties; the requirement of an appearance in court was dropped. The greatest controversy was provoked over government recognition of de facto marriage, that is, to grant the same legal status to people living together in unregistered relationships as to officially married couples.

The juridical difficulty centered on the problem of defining marriage, outside of the civil registration of same, because, naturally, once you got into the courtroom, a man and a woman could well disagree on whether a marriage existed. Forty-five percent of alimony suits were brought by unmarried women abandoned at pregnancy.

For many women, less skilled, less educated, and less able to command a decent wage or even a job, easy divorce too often meant abandonment to poverty and misery for themselves and their children by a husband exercising his right to “free union.” Their condition of dependency could not be resolved by easy divorce laws in the absence of jobs, education and decent, state-supported childcare facilities. As one explained in a Rabotnitsa article, “Women, in the majority of cases, are more backward, less qualified, and therefore less independent than men.... To marry, to bear children, to be enslaved by the kitchen, and then to be thrown aside by your husband—this is very painful for women. This is why I am against easy divorce.” Another noted, “We need to struggle for the preservation of the family. Alimony is necessary as long as the state cannot take all children under its protection” (quoted in Wendy Z. Goldman, “Working-Class Women and the ‘Withering Away’ of the Family,” in Russia in the Era of NEP, ed. Fitzpatrick, Rabinowitch and Stites [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991]). These excruciating contradictions underline the stark truth that the family must be replaced and cannot be simply abolished.

While the differences over the proposed Code were not clearly between the Right and Left, the discussion paralleled the general debates in the party and similarly reflected the pressures of class forces. Those opposed to the draft Code tended to reflect the influence of the peasantry, which adamantly opposed recognition of de facto marriage and easy divorce as a threat to the stability and economic unity of the household and a product of “conniving females,” “social and moral chaos,” and “debauchery” (Goldman, Women, the State and Revolution).

The United Opposition did not have a formal position on the Code, as far as we know; but Oppositionists took part in the debate. Alexander Beloborodov, who was expelled from the party with Trotsky in 1927, had many reservations about the Code; he was particularly concerned about the effect of family instability on children “in so far as we are unable to arrange for community education for children and demand that the children be brought up in the family” (quoted in Rudolph Schlesinger, Changing Attitudes in Soviet Russia: The Family in the U.S.S.R. [London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1949]). Trotsky himself denounced opposition to the recognition of de facto marriage in a 7 December 1925 speech to the Third All-Union Conference on Protection of Mothers and Children:

“Comrades, this [opposition] is so monstrous that it makes you wonder: Are we really in a society transforming itself in a socialist manner…? Here the attitude to woman is not only not communist, but reactionary and philistine in the worst sense of the word. Who could think that the rights of woman, who has to bear the consequences of every marital union, however transitory, could be too zealously guarded in our country?... It is symptomatic and bears witness to the fact that, in our traditional views, concepts and customs, there is much that is truly thick-headed and that needs to be smashed with a battering ram.”

—Trotsky, “The Protection of Motherhood and the Struggle for Culture,” Women and the Family

Forced Collectivization and the Five Year Plan

By 1928, the bureaucracy’s policies of encouraging the kulaks to “enrich” themselves had brought the disaster predicted by the Opposition: the wealthy peasants had begun hoarding grain, having no incentive to sell to the state since there was nothing much they could buy with the proceeds. Unable to feed the cities, Stalin did an about-face. He turned on his ally Bukharin and forcibly collectivized half the peasants in the country in the space of four months. The peasants responded by sabotage, killing farm animals, including more than 50 percent of the horses in the country. During the ensuing social upheaval through the early 1930s more than three million people died.

At the same time, Stalin abandoned the policy of building socialism “at a snail’s pace” and adopted a desperately needed plan for industrialization, albeit accelerated to a reckless and murderous pace. The resulting economic development brought about a qualitative change in the conditions of working women. To enable them to work, childcare centers and cafeterias sprang up overnight in neighborhoods and factories. “Down with the kitchen!” cried one propagandist:

“We shall destroy this little penitentiary! We shall free millions of women from house-keeping. They want to work like the rest of us. In a factory-kitchen, one person can prepare from fifty to one hundred dinners a day. We shall force machines to peel potatoes, wash the dishes, cut the bread, stir the soup, make ice cream.”

“The saucepan is the enemy of the party cell” and “Away with pots and pans” became party watchwords (quoted in Stites, Women’s Liberation Movement in Russia).

However, economic planning in the USSR was not based on the democratic input of the workers, but on bureaucratic fiat. While the gains of industrialization were enormous, they were at the cost of quality of goods and with great bureaucratic inefficiency. Despite these problems, the Soviet Union was the only country in the 20th century to develop from a backward, overwhelmingly peasant country to an advanced industrial power. This is confirmation of the tremendous impetus to human well-being—not least the status of women—that results from the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of a collectivized, planned economy, even in a single country. It was only because of this industrial development that the USSR was able to beat back the assault of Hitler’s armies in World War II, though at the cost of 27 million Soviet lives. At the same time the bureaucracy clogged society’s every pore, leading to waste, repression and caprice, while working to prevent the international extension of the revolution, which could be the only real, long-term defense of the gains of October.

Despite the real strides forward made by women through industrialization, the bureaucracy had abandoned the communist commitment to fight for women’s liberation. It used the rhetorical adventurism of the period to cover its retreat. Grotesquely, the government announced in 1930 that the woman question had been officially resolved. At the same time the Zhenotdel was liquidated; the prelude to this had been the abolition in 1926 of the International Women’s Secretariat, which was downgraded to the women’s department of the Comintern Executive Committee. The Zhenotdel’s liquidation was put forward in the guise of a party “reorganization” in 1929, with the claim that work among women would become the work of the party as a whole. But these words, borrowed from the revolutionary years, were now only a cover for inaction and retreat.

1936 and the Triumph of the “Socialist Family”

In 1929 the Communist Party was still calling for the withering away of the family. By 1936-37, when the Russian CP’s degeneration was complete, Stalinist doctrine pronounced this a “crude mistake” and called for a “reconstruction of the family on a new socialist basis.” The third Family Code, which became law in 1936, also made divorce more difficult, requiring an appearance in court, increased fees and the registration of the divorce on the divorcees’ internal passports, to prevent “a criminally irresponsible use of this right, which disorganizes socialist community life” (Schlesinger, The Family in the U.S.S.R.).

The official glorification of family life and the retreat from Bolshevik policies on divorce and abortion were an integral part of the political counterrevolution that usurped political power from the working class. Trotsky addressed this at length:

“The triumphal rehabilitation of the family, taking place simultaneously—what a providential coincidence!—with the rehabilitation of the ruble, is caused by the material and cultural bankruptcy of the state. Instead of openly saying, ‘We have proven still too poor and ignorant for the creation of socialist relations among men, our children and grandchildren will realize this aim,’ the leaders are forcing people to glue together again the shell of the broken family, and not only that, but to consider it, under threat of extreme penalties, the sacred nucleus of triumphant socialism. It is hard to measure with the eye the scope of this retreat.”

—The Revolution Betrayed

Repudiating the Bolshevik commitment to noninterference in people’s personal lives, the theory of the “extinction of family” was declared as leading to sexual debauchery, while praise of “good housewives” began to appear in the Soviet press by the mid 1930s. A 1936 Pravda editorial denounced a housing plan without individual kitchens as a “left deviation” and an attempt to “artificially introduce communal living.” As Trotsky said, “The retreat not only assumes forms of disgusting hypocrisy, but also is going infinitely farther than the iron economic necessity demands.”

To the great hardship of Soviet women, the 1936 Family Code criminalized abortion, and the death rate from abortions soared. At the same time, the government began to issue “heroine awards” to women with large numbers of children, while officials decreed that in the Soviet Union “life is happy” and only selfishness impels women to abortion. The 1944 Family Code withdrew the recognition of de facto marriage, restored the humiliating concept of “legitimacy,” abolished coeducation in the schools and banned paternity suits. Only in 1955 did abortion again become legal in the USSR.

1991-92: Capitalist Counterrevolution Tramples on Women

In the 1930s Trotsky predicted that the Kremlin bureaucracy would reach an impasse on the economic front when it became necessary to shift from crude quantitative increases to improvement in quality, from extensive to intensive growth. He called for “a revision of planned economy from top to bottom in the interests of producers and consumers” (Transitional Program, 1938). Reflecting in large part the unrelenting pressure of world imperialism on the Soviet workers state, these economic problems came to a head in the 1970s and 1980s.

Taking over where the moderate Mikhail Gorbachev shrank from the necessarily harsh measures of restoring a fully capitalist economy, Boris Yeltsin seized power in August 1991. Over the next year, in the absence of working-class resistance, capitalist counterrevolution triumphed in Russia, a world-historic defeat for the proletarian revolution. The USSR was broken up into mutually hostile nationalist regimes. Since then things have gotten far worse for everyone except a tiny minority at the top—but for women and children most of all. The vast majority of the population has been driven into dire poverty and chronic unemployment. The extensive system of childcare and help for mothers is gone, the besprizorniki are back, prostitution flourishes, and women in Central Asia have been thrown back centuries.

The International Communist League recognizes the harsh reality that political consciousness has retreated in the face of these unprecedented defeats. One of our key tasks is to struggle to explain and clarify the Marxist program, freeing it from the filth of Stalinist betrayals and the lies of capitalist ideologues. This study of the Bolshevik fight for the emancipation of women, showing how much could be achieved in spite of the poverty, imperialist strangulation and later Stalinist degeneration of the USSR, is a testimony to the promise that a world collective planned economy, born of new October Revolutions, holds out to the exploited and oppressed of the world. The breadth of our long-term historical view of the socialist future, a new way of life that can evolve only after ripping out the entrenched inequality and oppression bred by capitalist exploitation, was addressed by Trotsky:

“Marxism sets out from the development of technique as the fundamental spring of progress, and constructs the communist program upon the dynamic of the productive forces. If you conceive that some cosmic catastrophe is going to destroy our planet in the fairly near future, then you must, of course, reject the communist perspective along with much else. Except for this as yet problematic danger, however, there is not the slightest scientific ground for setting any limit in advance to our technical productive and cultural possibilities. Marxism is saturated with the optimism of progress, and that alone, by the way, makes it irreconcilably opposed to religion.

“The material premise of communism should be so high a development of the economic powers of man that productive labor, having ceased to be a burden, will not require any goad, and the distribution of life’s goods, existing in continual abundance, will not demand—as it does not now in any well-off family or ‘decent’ boardinghouse—any control except that of education, habit and social opinion.”

—The Revolution Betrayed

*Victory To The Massachusetts Shaw's Market Distribution Workers- Free, Quality Heath For All!

Click on the title to link to a "" posting, dated March 8, 2010, concerning a strike of the Shaw's Market distribution center by the Food and Commercial Workers Union.

Markin comment:

As usual these days in the organized labor (and the unorganized part as well), a central issue, as here is givebacks on health care benefits. As the headline to this entry highlights now, more than ever, we need free, quality health care for all.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

*From The Pages Of The Communist International-In Honor Of The 91st Anniversary Of Its Founding (March 1919) And The 90th Anniversary Of The Second World Congress (1920)-Various Theses

Honor The 91st Anniversary Of The Founding Of The Communist International (March, 1919)- Honor The 90th Anniversary Of The Historic Second World Congress (The 21 Conditions Congress) Of The CI (July-August 1920)

Markin comment:

Some anniversaries, like those marking the publication of a book, play or poem, are worthy of remembrance every five, ten, or twenty-five years. Other more world historic events like the remembrance of the Paris Commune of 1871, the Bolshevik Russian Revolution of 1917, and, as here, the founding of the Communist International (also known as the Third International, Comintern, and CI) in 1919 are worthy of yearly attention. Why is that so in the case of the long departed (1943, by Stalin fiat) and, at the end unlamented, Comintern? That is what this year’s remembrance, through CI documentation and other commentary, will attempt to impart on those leftist militants who are serious about studying the lessons of our revolutionary, our communist revolutionary past.

No question that the old injunction of Marx and Engels as early as the Communist Manifesto that the workers of the world needed to unite would have been hollow, and reduced to hortatory holiday speechifying (there was enough of that, as it was) without an organization expression. And they, Marx and Engels, fitfully made their efforts with the all-encompassing pan-working class First International. Later the less all encompassing but still party of the whole class-oriented socialist Second International made important, if limited, contributions to fulfilling that slogan before the advent of world imperialism left its outlook wanting, very wanting.

The Third International thus was created, as mentioned in one of the commentaries in this series, to pick up the fallen banner of international socialism after the betrayals of the Second International. More importantly, it was the first international organization that took upon itself in its early, heroic revolutionary days, at least, the strategic question of how to make, and win, a revolution in the age of world imperialism. The Trotsky-led effort of creating a Fourth International in the 1930s, somewhat stillborn as it turned out to be, nevertheless based itself, correctly, on those early days of the Comintern. So in some of the specific details of the posts in this year’s series, highlighting the 90th anniversary of the Third World Congress this is “just” history, but right underneath, and not far underneath at that, are rich lessons for us to ponder today.
Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist International: Theses

Theses on the Conditions under which Workers' Soviets may be Formed

1. The Soviets of Workers’ Deputies appeared for the first time in Russia in 1905, at a time when the revolutionary movement of Russian workers was at its height. Already in 1905, the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ Deputies was taking the first instinctive steps towards the seizure of power. And at that time the Petrograd Soviet was strong only in so far as it had a chance of acquiring political power. As soon as the imperial counter-revolution rallied its forces and the labour movement slackened, the Soviet, after a short period of stagnation, ceased to exist.

2. When in 1,916, at the beginning of a new strong revolutionary wave, the idea began to awaken in Russia of the immediate organisation of Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, the Bolshevik Party warned the workers against the immediate formation of Soviets, and pointed out that such a formation would be well-timed only at the moment when the revolution was already beginning, and when the time had come for a direct struggle for power.

3 At the beginning of the February revolution of 1917, when the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies were transformed into Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, they drew into the sphere of their influence the widest circles of the masses, and at once acquired a tremendous authority, because the real force was on their side, in their hands. But when the liberal bourgeoisie recovered from the suddenness of the first revolutionary blows, and when the social traitors, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks, helped the Russian bourgeoisie to take the power into its hands, the importance of the Soviets began to dwindle. Only after the July days and after the failure of Kornilov’s counter-revolutionary campaign, when the masses began to move, and when the collapse of the counter-revolutionary bourgeois coalition government became acute, did the Soviets begin to flourish again, and soon acquired a decisive importance in the country.

4. The history of the German and the Austrian revolutions shows the same. When the popular masses revolted, when the revolutionary wave rose so high that it washed away the strongholds of the monarchies of the Hohenzollerns and the Hapsburgs, in Germany and in Austria the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies were formed with all the power of a force of nature. At first the real force was on their side, and the Soviets were well on the way to become the de facto power. But as soon as, owing to a whole series of historical conditions, the power began to pass to the bourgeoisie and the counter-revolutionary Social-Democrats, the Soviets began to decline and dwindled away to nothing. During the days of the unsuccessful counter-revolutionary revolt of Kapp-Luttwitz in Germany, the Soviets again resumed their activity, but when the struggle ended in the victory of the bourgeoisie and the social-traitors, the Soviets, which had just begun to revive, once more died away.

5. The above facts prove that for the formation of Soviets certain definite premises are required. To organise Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, and transform them into Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, the following conditions are necessary.

(a) A great revolutionary impulse among the widest circles of workmen and workwomen, the soldiers and workers in general;

(b) An acute political and economic crisis, attaining such a degree that the power begins to slip out of the hands of the government;

(c) When, in the ranks of considerable masses of workers, and first of all in the ranks of the Communist Party, a serious decision to begin a systematic and regular struggle for the power has become ripe.

6. In the absence of these conditions, the Communists may and should systematically and insistently propagate the idea of Soviets, popularise it among the masses, demonstrate to the widest circles of the population that the Soviets are the only efficient form of Government during the transition to complete Communism. But to proceed to the direct organisation of Soviets in the absence of the above three conditions is impossible.

7. The attempt of the social traitors in Germany to introduce the Soviets into the general bourgeois-democratic constitutional system, is treason to the workers’ cause and deception of the workers. Real Soviets are possible only as a form of state organisation, replacing bourgeois democracy, breaking it up and replacing it by the dictatorship of the proletariat.

8. The propaganda of the Right leaders of the Independents (Hilferding, Kautsky and others), intended to prove the compatibility of the ‘Soviet system’ with the bourgeois Constituent Assembly, is either a complete misunderstanding of the laws of development of a proletarian revolution, or a conscious deception of the working class. The Soviets are the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Constituent Assembly is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. To unite and reconcile the dictatorship of the working class with that of the bourgeoisie is impossible.

9. The propaganda of some representatives of the Left Independents in Germany presenting the workers with a ready-made formal plan of a ‘Soviet system’, having no relation whatever to the concrete process of civil war. is a doctrinaire pastime which diverts the workers from their essential tasks in the real struggle for power.

10. The attempts of separate Communist groups in France, Italy, America and England to form Soviets not embracing the larger working masses, and unable, therefore, to enter into a direct struggle for power, are only prejudicial to the actual preparation of a Soviet revolution. Such artificial hot-house ‘Soviets’ soon become transformed, at best, into small associations for propaganda of the Soviet idea, and in the worst case such miserable ‘Soviets’ are capable only of compromising the Soviet idea in the eyes of the popular masses.

11. At the present time there exists a special situation in Austria, where the working class has succeeded in preserving its Soviets, which unite large masses of workers. Here the situation resembles the period between February and October, 1917, in Russia. The Soviets in Austria represent a considerable political force, and appear to be the embryo of a new power.

It must be understood that in such a situation the Communists ought to participate in these Soviets, help them penetrate into all phases of the social, economic and political life of the country; they should create Communist factions within these Soviets, and by all means aid their development.

12. Soviets without a revolution are impossible. Soviets without a proletarian revolution inevitably become a parody of Soviets. The authentic Soviets of the masses are the historically-elaborated forms of the dictatorship of the proletariat. All sincere and serious partisans of Soviet power should deal cautiously with the idea of Soviets, and while indefatigably propagating it among the masses, should proceed to the direct realisation of such Soviets only under the conditions mentioned above.
Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist International: Theses

Theses on the Trade Union Movement, Factory Committees and the Third International
1. The trades unions, created by the working class during the period of the peaceful development of capitalism, were organisations of the workers to increase the price of labour in the labour market, and for the improvement of labour conditions. The revolutionary Marxists endeavoured by their influence to unite them with the political party of the proletariat, the – Social Democracy, for a joint struggle for socialism. For the same reasons that international Social Democracy, with a few exceptions, proved to be not an instrument of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat for the overthrow of capitalism, but an organisation which held back the proletariat from revolution, in the interests of the bourgeoisie, the trades unions proved to be in most cases, during the war, a part of the military apparatus of the bourgeoisie, helping the latter to exploit the working class as much as possible in a more energetic struggle for profits. Containing chiefly the skilled workmen, better paid, limited by their craft narrowmindedness, fettered by a bureaucratic apparatus disconnected from the masses, demoralised by their opportunist leaders, the unions betrayed not only the cause of the social revolution, but even also the struggle for the improvement of the conditions of life of the workmen organised by them. They started from the point of view of the trade union struggle against the employers, and replaced it by the programme of an amicable arrangement with the capitalists at any cost. This policy was carried on not only by the Liberal unions of England and America, not only by the would-be ‘socialist’ trades unions in Germany and Austria, but by the syndicalist unions in France as well.

2. The economic consequences of the war, the complete disorganisation of world economy, the insane prices, the unlimited use of the labour of women and children, the worsening of the housing conditions, all these are forcing the large masses of the proletariat into the struggle against capitalism. This struggle is revolutionary warfare, by its proportions and the character that it is assuming more and more every day; a warfare destroying in fact the bases of the capitalist order. The increase of wages, obtained one day by the economic struggle of one or another category of workers, is the next day nullified by the high prices. The prices must continue to rise, because the capitalist class of the victorious countries, ruining Central and Eastern Europe by its policy of exploitation, is not only not in a position to organise the world economy, but is incessantly disorganising it. For the success of their economic struggle, the wider masses of workers, who until now have stood apart from the labour unions, are now flowing into their ranks in a powerful stream. In all capitalist countries a tremendous increase of the trades unions is to be noticed, which now become organisations of the chief masses of the proletariat, not only of its advanced elements. Flowing into the unions, these masses strive to make them their weapons of battle. The sharpening of class antagonism compels the trades unions to lead strikes, which flow in a broad wave over the entire capitalist world, constantly interrupting the process of capitalist production and exchange. Increasing their demands in proportion to the rising prices and their own exhaustion, the working classes undermine the bases of all capitalist calculations and the elementary premise of every well-organised economic management. The unions, which during the war had been organs of compulsion over the working masses, become in this way organs for the annihilation of capitalism.

3. The old trade union bureaucracy and the old forms of organisation of the trades unions are in every way opposing such a change in the nature of the trades unions. The old trade union bureaucracy is endeavouring in many places to maintain the trades unions as organisations of the workers’ aristocracy; it preserves the rules which make it impossible for the badly paid working classes to enter into the trade union organisations. The old trade union aristocracy is even now intensifying its efforts to replace the strike methods, which are ever more and more acquiring the character of revolutionary warfare between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, by the policy of arrangements with the capitalists, the policy of long term contracts, which have lost all sense simply in view of the constant insane rise in prices. It tries to force upon the workers the policy of ‘Joint Industrial Councils’, and to impede by law the leading of strikes, with the assistance of the capitalist state. At the most tense moments of the struggle this bureaucracy sows trouble and confusion among the struggling masses of the workers, impeding the fusion of the struggle of various categories of workmen into one general class struggle. In these attempts it is helped by the old organisations of the trades unions according to crafts, which breaks up the workmen of one branch of production into separate professional groups, notwithstanding their being bound together by the process of capitalist exploitation. It rests on the force of the tradition of the old labour aristocracy, which is now constantly being weakened by the process of suppression of the privilege of separate groups of the proletariat through the general decay of capitalism, the equalisation of the level of the working class and the growth of the poverty and precariousness of its livelihood. In this way the trade union bureaucracy breaks up the powerful stream of the labour movement into weak streamlets, substitutes partial reformist demands for the general revolutionary aims of the movement, and on the whole retards the transformation of the struggle of the proletariat into a revolutionary struggle for the annihilation of capitalism.

4. Bearing in mind the rush of the enormous working masses into the trades unions, and also the objective revolutionary character of the economic struggle which those masses are carrying on in spite of the trade union bureaucracy, the Communists must join such unions in all countries, in order to make of them efficient organs of the struggle for the suppression of capitalism and for Communism. They must initiate the forming of trades unions where these do not exist. All voluntary withdrawals from the industrial movement, every artificial attempt to organise special unions, without being compelled thereto by exceptional acts of violence on the part of the trade union bureaucracy such as the expulsion of separate revolutionary local branches of the unions by the opportunist officials, or by their narrow-minded aristocratic policy, which prohibits the unskilled workers from entering into the organisation – represents a great danger to the Communist movement. It threatens to hand over the most advanced, the most conscious workers to the opportunist leaders, playing into the hands of the bourgeoisie. The luke-warmness of the working masses, their theoretical indecision, their tendency to yield to the arguments of opportunist leaders, can be overcome only during the process of the ever-growing struggle, by degrees, as the wider masses of the proletariat learn to understand, by experience, by their victories and defeats, that in fact it is already impossible to obtain human conditions of life on the basis of capitalist methods of management; and by degrees as the advanced Communist workmen learn through their economic struggle to be not only preachers of the ideas of communism, but also the most determined leaders of the economic struggle of the labour unions. Only in this way will it be possible to remove from the unions their opportunist leaders, only in this way will the communists be able to take the lead in the trade union movement and make of it an organ of the revolutionary struggle for communism. Only in this way can they prevent the break-up of the trades unions, and replace them by industrial unions – remove the old bureaucracy separated from the masses and replace it by the apparatus of factory-representatives, leaving only the most necessary functions to the centre.

5. Placing the object and the essence of labour organisations before them, the Communists ought not to hesitate before a split in such organisations, if a refusal to split would mean abandoning revolutionary work in the trades unions, and giving up the attempt to make of them an instrument of revolutionary struggle, the attempt to organise the most exploited section of the proletariat. But even if such a split should be necessary, it must be carried into effect only at a time when the Communists have succeeded by incessant warfare against the opportunist leaders and their tactics, in persuading the wider masses of workmen that the split is occurring not because of the remote and as yet incomprehensible aims of the revolution, but on account of the concrete, immediate interests of the working class in the development of its economic struggle. The Communists, in case a necessity for a split arises, must continuously and attentively discuss the question as to whether such a split might not lead to their isolation from the working masses.

6. Where a split between the opportunists and the revolutionary trade union movement has already taken place before, where, as in America, alongside of the opportunist trades unions, there are unions with revolutionary tendencies – although not communist ones – there the Communists are bound to support such revolutionary unions, to persuade them to abandon syndicalist prejudices and to place themselves on the platform Of communism, which alone is the platform for the economic struggle. Where within the trades unions or outside of them organisations are formed in the factories, such as shop stewards, factory committees, etc., for the purpose of fighting against the counter-revolutionary tendencies of the trade union bureaucracy, to support the spontaneous direct action of the proletariat, there, of course, the Communists must with all their energy give assistance to these organisations. But they must not fail to support the revolutionary trades unions, which are in a state of ferment and passing over to the class struggle. On the contrary, by approaching this evolution of the unions on their way to a revolutionary struggle, the Communists will be able to play the part of an element uniting the politically and industrially organised workmen in their struggle for the suppression of capitalism.

The economic struggle of the proletariat becomes a political struggle during an epoch of the decline of capitalism much quicker than during an epoch of its peaceful development. Every serious economic clash may immediately place the workers face to face with the question of revolution. Therefore it is the duty of the Communists in all the phases of the economic struggle to point out to the workers that the success of the struggle is only possible if the working class conquers the capitalists in open fight, and by means of dictatorship proceeds to the organisation of a socialist order. Consequently, the Communist must strive to create as far as possible complete unity between the trades unions and the Communist Party, and to subordinate the unions to the practical leadership of the party, as the advanced guard of the workers’ revolution. For this purpose the Communists should have communist groups in all the trades unions and factory committees and acquire by their means an influence over the labour movement and direct it.

1. The economic struggle of the proletariat for the increase of wages and the improvement of the conditions of life of the masses, is getting more and more into a blind alley. The economic crisis, embracing one country after another in ever-increasing proportions, is showing to even unenlightened workmen that it is not enough to demand an increase of wages and a shortening of the working hours, but that the capitalist class is less capable every day of establishing the normal conditions of public economy and of guaranteeing to the workers at least those conditions of life which it gave them before the world war. Out of this growing conviction of the working masses are born their efforts to create organisations which will be able to commence a struggle for the alleviation of the situation by means of workers’ control over production, through the medium of the factory committees. This aspiration to create factory committees, which is more and more taking possession of the workmen of different countries, takes its origin from the most varied causes (struggle against the counter-revolutionary bureaucracy, discouragement after union defeats, striving to create an organisation embracing all workers), but at the end it results in the fight for control over industry, the special historic task of the factory committees. Therefore, it is a mistake to form the shop committees only out of workmen who are already struggling for the dictatorship of the proletariat; on the contrary, the duty of the Communist Party is to organise all the workers on the ground of the economic crisis, and to lead them towards the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat by developing the struggle for workers’ control over production, which they all understand.

2. The Communist Party will be able to accomplish this task if, taking part in the struggle in the factory committees, it will instil into the minds of the masses the consciousness that a systematic reconstruction of public economy on the basis of capitalism, which would mean its new enslavement by the government in favour of the industrial class, is now totally impossible. The organisation of economic management in the interests of the working masses, is possible only when the government is in the hands of the working class, when the strong hand of labour dictatorship will proceed to the suppression of capitalism and to the new socialist organisation.

3. The struggle of the factory committees against capitalism has for its immediate object workers’ control over production. The workers of every enterprise, every branch of industry, no matter what their trade, suffer from the ‘sabotage’ of production on the part of capitalists, who frequently consider it more profitable to stop production in order that it may be easier to compel the workers to agree to unsatisfactory labour conditions, or not to invest new capital in industry at a moment of a general rise in prices. The need to protect themselves against such a sabotage of production by the capitalists unites the workmen independently of their political opinions, and therefore the factory committees elected by the workers of a given enterprise are the broadest mass organisations of the proletariat. But the disorganisation of capitalist management is the result of not only the conscious will of the capitalists, but in a still greater degree an inevitable decline of capitalism. Therefore, in their struggle against the consequences of such a decline, the factory committees must go beyond the limits of control in separate factories. The factory committees of separate factories will soon be faced with the question of workers’ control over whole branches of industry and their combinations. And as any attempt on the part of workmen to exercise a control over the supplying of the factories with raw material, or to control the financial operations of the factory owners, will be met by the most energetic measures against the working class on the part of the bourgeoisie and the capitalist government, the struggle for workers’ control over production must lead to the struggle for a seizure of power by the working class.

4. The campaign in favour of factory committees must be conducted in such a way that into the minds of the popular masses, even those not directly belonging to the factory proletariat, there should he instilled the conviction that the bourgeoisie is responsible for the economic crisis, while the proletariat with the watchword of workers’ control of industry, is struggling for the organisation of production, for the suppression of speculation, disorganisation and high prices. The duty of the Communist Parties is to struggle for control over production on the ground of the most insistent questions of the day: the lack of fuel and the transport crisis, to unite the different groups of the proletariat and to attract wide circles of the petty bourgeoisie, which is becoming more and more proletarianised day by day, and is suffering extremely from the economic crisis.

5. The factory committees cannot be substituted for the trades unions. During the process of struggle they may form unions outside the limits of single factories and trades, according to the branches of production, and create a general apparatus for the direction of the struggle. The trades unions are already now centralised fighting organs, although they do not embrace such wide masses of workers as the factory committees can, these latter being loose organisations which are accessible to all the workers of a given enterprise. The division of tasks between the shop committees and the industrial unions is the result of the historical development of the social revolution. The industrial unions organise the working masses for the struggle for the increase of wages and shortening of hours on a national scale. The factory committees are organised for workers’ control over production, for the struggle against the crisis, and embrace all the workers of the enterprise, but their struggle can only gradually assume the character of a national, one. The Communists must endeavour to render the factory committees the nuclei of the trades unions and to support them in proportion as the unions overcome the counter-revolutionary tendencies of their bureaucracy, as they consciously become organs of the revolution.

6. The duty of the Communists consists in inspiring the trades unions and factory committees with a spirit of determined struggle, and the consciousness and knowledge of the best methods of such a struggle – the spirit of communism. In carrying out this duty the Communists must in practice subordinate the factory committees and the unions to the Communist Party, and thus create a proletarian mass organ, a basis for a powerful centralised party of the proletariat, embracing all the organisations of the workers’ struggle, leading them all to one aim, to the victory of the working class, through the dictatorship of the proletariat to communism. The Communists, by converting the trades unions and factory committees into powerful weapons of the revolution, prepare these mass organisations for the great task which they will have after the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat – the task of being the instrument of the reorganisation of economic life on a socialist basis. The trades unions, developed as industrial unions and supported by the factory committees as their factory organisations will then make the working masses acquainted with their tasks of production. They will educate the most experienced workers to become leaders of the factories, to control the technical specialists, and, together with the representatives of the workers’ state, lay down the plan of the socialist economic policy, and carry it out.

The trades unions tried to form international unions even in peacetime, because during strikes the capitalists used to invite workers from other countries as strike-breakers. But the Trade Union International had only a secondary importance before the war. It made one union support another when needful, it organised social statistics, but it did nothing for the organisation of a joint struggle, because the trades unions, under the leadership of opportunists, strove to avoid all revolutionary collisions on an international scale.

The opportunist leaders of the trades unions, who each in his own country during the war was a flunkey of his bourgeoisie, are now striving to revive the Trade Union International, attempting to make it a weapon for the direct struggle of the international world capital against the proletariat. Under the direction of Legien, Jouhaux and Gompers they are creating a Labour Bureau of the League of Nations, that organisation of international capitalist robbery. In all countries they are attempting to crush the strike movement by means of laws, and so compel the workers to submit to the arbitration of representatives of the capitalist state.

They are endeavouring to obtain concessions for the skilled workers by means of agreements with the capitalists, in order to break in this way the growing unity of the working class. The Amsterdam Trade Union International is thus a substitute for the bankrupt Second International of Brussels.

The Communist workers who are members of the trades unions in all countries must on the contrary strive to create an international battle-front of trades unions. The question now is not financial relief in case of strikes; but when danger is threatening the working class of one country, the trades unions of the others, being organisations of the larger masses, should all come to its defence; they should make it impossible for the bourgeoisie of their respective countries to render assistance to the bourgeoisie of the country engaged in the struggle against the working class. The economic struggle of the proletariat in all countries is daily becoming more and more a revolutionary struggle. Therefore, the trades unions must consciously use their forces for the support of all revolutionary struggles in their own and in other countries. For this purpose they must not only, in their own countries, strive to attain as great as possible centralisation of their struggle but they must do so on an international scale by joining the Communist International, and uniting in one army, the different parts of which shall carry on the struggle jointly, supporting one another.
Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist International: Theses

Theses on the Agrarian Question
1. Only the urban industrial proletariat, led by the Communist Party, can save the toiling masses in the countryside from the yoke of capital and landlordism, from dissolution and from imperialist wars, inevitable as long as the capitalist regime endures. There is no salvation for the peasants except to join the Communist proletariat, to support with heart and soul its revolutionary struggle to throw off the yoke of the landlords and the bourgeoisie.

On the other hand the industrial workers will be unable to carry out their universal historic mission, and liberate humanity from the bondage of capital and war, if they shut themselves within their separate crafts, their narrow trade interests, and restrict themselves complacently to a desire for the improvement of their sometimes tolerable bourgeois conditions of life. That is what happens in most advanced countries possessing a ‘labour aristocracy’, which forms the basis of the would-be parties of the Second International, who are in fact the worst enemies of Socialism, traitors to it, bourgeois jingoes, agents of the bourgeoisie in the labour movement. The proletariat becomes a truly revolutionary class, truly socialist in its actions, only by acting as the vanguard of all those who work and are being exploited, only as their leader in the struggle for the overthrow of the oppressors; and this cannot be achieved without carrying the class struggle into the agricultural districts, without rallying the toiling masses of the country around the Communist Party of the urban proletariat, without the peasants being educated by the urban proletariat.

2. The toiling and exploited masses in the countryside, which the urban proletariat must lead on to the fight, or at least win over to its side, are represented in all capitalist countries by the following groups:

In the first place, the agricultural proletariat, the hired labourers (seasonal, migrant and casual) making their living by wage labour in capitalist agricultural or industrial establishments. The independent organisation of this class, separated from the other groups of the country population (in a political, military, trade, co-operative, educational sense), and energetic propaganda among it, in order to win it over to the side of the Soviet Power and of the dictatorship of the proletariat – such is the fundamental task of the Communist Parties in all countries.

In the second place the semi-proletarians or smallholders, those who make their living partly by working for wages in agricultural and industrial capitalist establishments, partly by toiling on their own or on a rented piece of land, yielding but a part of the food needed for their families. This class of the toiling rural population is fairly numerous in all capitalist countries, but its existence and its peculiar position is hushed up by the representatives of the bourgeoisie and the yellow ‘socialists’ affiliated to the Second International. Some of these people intentionally cheat the workers, but others follow blindly the average petty-bourgeois view and mix up this special class with the whole mass of the ‘peasantry’. Such a method of bourgeois deception of the workers is to be observed more particularly in Germany and France, and to a lesser extent in America and other countries. Provided that the work of the Communist Party is well-organised, this group is sure to side with the Communists, the conditions of life of these half-proletarians being very hard; the advantage the Soviet Power and the dictatorship of the proletariat would bring them being enormous and immediate. In some countries there is no clear-cut distinction between these two groups; it is therefore permissible under certain circumstances not to form them into separate organisations.

In the third place the small peasants, the farmers who possess by right of ownership, or rent, small portions of land which satisfy the needs of their family and of their farming without requiring any additional wage labour. This part of the population gains everything by the victory of the proletariat, which brings with it: a) liberation from the payment of rent, or a part of it, with crops to the owners of large estates (for instance, the métayers in France, the same arrangements in Italy, etc.); b) abolition of all mortgages; c) abolition of many forms of dependence on the owners of large estates (the use of forests and pastures, etc.); d) immediate help from the proletarian state for farm work (permitting use by peasants of the agricultural implements and part of the land on the big capitalist estates expropriated by the proletariat, immediate transformation by the proletarian state power of all consumer and agricultural co-operatives, which under capitalist rule were chiefly supporting the wealthy and powerful peasant, into institutions primarily for support of the poor peasant; that is to say, the proletarians, semi-proletarians, small peasants etc.).

At the same time the Communist Party should be thoroughly aware that during the transitional period leading from capitalism to communism, i.e., during the dictatorship of the proletariat, at least some partial hesitations are inevitable in this class, in favour of unrestricted free trade and free use of the rights of private property. For this class, being a seller of commodities (although on a small scale), is necessarily demoralised by profit-hunting and habits of proprietorship. And yet, provided there is a consistent proletarian policy. and the victorious proletariat deals relentlessly with the owners of the large estates and the big peasants , the hesitations of the class in question will not be .considerable, and cannot change the fact that on the whole this class will side with the proletarian revolution.

3. All these three groups taken together constitute the majority of the agrarian population in all capitalist countries. This guarantees in full the success of the proletarian revolution, not only in the towns, but in the country as well. The opposite view is very widely spread, but it persists only because of a systematic deceit on the part of bourgeois scientists and statisticians. They hush up by every means any mention of the deep chasm which divides the rural classes we have indicated, between exploiting landowners and capitalists on the one hand and half-proletarians and small peasants on the other. This arises from the incapacity and the failure of the heroes of the yellow .Second International and the ‘labour aristocracy’, demoralised by imperialist privileges, to do genuine propaganda work on behalf of the proletarian revolution, or to conduct organising work among the poor in the country. All the attention of the opportunists was given and is being given now to the arrangement of theoretical and practical agreements with the bourgeoisie, including the landed and middle peasantry, and not to the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeois government and the bourgeois class by the proletariat.

Finally, this view persists because of the force of inveterate prejudice connected with all bourgeois-democratic and parliamentary prejudices, and the incapacity to grasp a simple truth fully proven by the Marxian theory and confirmed by the practice of the proletarian revolution in Russia. This truth consists in the fact that the peasant population of the three classes we have mentioned above, being extremely oppressed, scattered and doomed to live in half-civilised conditions in all countries, even in the most advanced, is economically, socially and morally interested in the victory of Socialism; but that, with the exception of the agricultural workers, who already support the revolution, it will finally support the revolutionary proletariat only after the proletariat has taken the political power, after it has done away with the owners of the large estates and the capitalists, after the oppressed masses are able to see in practice that they have an organised leader and helper sufficiently powerful and firm to support, to guide and to show the right way.

The ‘middle peasantry’, in the economic sense, consists of small landowners who possess, according to the right of ownership or rent, portions of land, which, although small, nevertheless may usually yield under capitalist rule, not only a provision for the family and the needs of the farming, but also the possibility to accumulate a certain surplus, which, at least in the best years, could be transformed into capital; these farmers are often also in a position to hire outside labour. A group with farms of from 5 to 10 hectares of land in the German statistics of 1907 can serve as an example of the middle peasantry in an advanced capitalist country, where the number of agricultural wage labourers employed came to about a third of the number of farms in the group. In France, the country of a greater development of intensive culture, for instance of the vineyards, requiring special treatment and care, the corresponding group employs outside wage labour probably in a somewhat larger proportion.

4. The revolutionary proletariat cannot make it its aim, at least for the near future, and during the beginning of the period of proletarian dictatorship, to win this class over to its side. The proletariat will have to content itself with neutralising this class, i.e., preventing it from giving active aid to the bourgeoisie in the struggle between it and the proletariat. The vacillation of this class is unavoidable, and in the beginning of the new epoch its predominating tendency in the advanced capitalist countries will be in favour of the bourgeoisie, for the ideas and sentiments of private property are characteristic of the owners. The victorious proletariat will immediately improve the lot of this class by abolishing the system of rent and mortgage, and by the introduction of machinery and electrical appliances into agriculture. The proletarian state power cannot at once abolish private property in most of the capitalist countries, but must do away with all duties and levies imposed on this class of people by the landlords. In any case, the proletarian regime will guarantee the small and middle peasants not only the retention of their land, but also its increase by all the land they hitherto rented (by the abolition of rent).

The combination of such measures with a relentless struggle against the bourgeoisie guarantees the full success of the neutralisation policy. The. transition to collective agriculture must be managed with much circumspection and step by step, and the proletarian state power must proceed by the force of example, by the provision of machinery, the introduction of technical improvements and electrification, without any violence towards the middle peasantry.

5. The large peasants are capitalists in agriculture, managing their lands usually with several hired labourers. They are connected with the ‘peasantry’ only by their standard of culture, their way of living, and their personal manual labour on the land. This is the most numerous element of the bourgeois class, and the decided enemy of the revolutionary proletariat. The chief attention of the Communist Party in the rural districts must be given to the struggle against this element, to the liberation of the labouring and exploited majority of the rural population from the moral and political influence of these exploiters.

After the victory of the proletariat in the towns this class will inevitably oppose it by all means, from sabotage to open armed counter-revolutionary resistance. The revolutionary proletariat must therefore immediately begin, theoretically and organisationally, to prepare the necessary force for the disarmament of this class, and together with the overthrow of the capitalists in industry, the proletariat must deal a relentless, crushing blow to this class. To that end it must arm the rural proletariat and organise soviets in the country, with no room for exploiters and a preponderant place reserved to the proletarians and semi-proletarians.

But the expropriation even of the large peasants can by no means be an immediate object of the victorious proletariat, considering the lack of material, particularly of technical-material and further, of the social conditions necessary for the socialisation of such lands. In some, probably exceptional cases, parts of their estates will be confiscated if they are leased in small parcels, or if they are specifically needed by the small-peasant population. A free use must be also secured to this population, on definite terms, of a part of the agricultural machinery of the large peasants, etc. As a general rule, however, the state power can leave the large peasants in possession of their land, confiscating it only in case of resistance to the government of the labouring and exploited peasants. The experience of the Russian proletarian revolution, whose struggle against the landed peasants became very complicated and, prolonged owing to a number of particular circumstances, nevertheless shows that this class, if it is taught a lesson for even the slightest resistance, will be quite willing to serve loyally the aims of the proletarian state. It begins even to be permeated, although very slowly, by a respect for the government which protects every worker and deals relentlessly with the idle rich.

The specific conditions which made the struggle of the Russian proletariat against the large peasantry peculiarly difficult after the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, consist mainly in the fact that after the coup d'état of October 25 (November 7) 1917, the Russian revolution traversed a stage of ‘general democratic’ (in fact, bourgeois-democratic) struggle of the peasantry as a whole against the landowners. The urban proletariat was culturally and numerically weak and, with the extremely bad communications, the long distances created great difficulties. The revolutionary proletariat in Europe and America must energetically prepare and carry out a much more rapid and complete victory over the resistance of the large peasantry, depriving them of all possibility of resistance. This is of the utmost importance, considering that until a complete, absolute victory is won, the proletarian state power cannot be regarded as secure and capable of resisting its enemies.

6. The revolutionary proletariat must proceed to an immediate and unconditional confiscation of the estates of the landowners and big landlords, that is of all those who systematically employ wage labour, directly or through their tenants, exploit all the small (and not infrequently also the middle) peasantry in their neighbourhood, and do not do any actual manual work. To this element belong the majority of the descendants of the feudal lords (the nobility of Russia, Germany and Hungary, the restored seigneurs of France, the Lords in England, the former slave owners m America) or financial magnates who have become particularly rich, or a mixture of those classes of exploiters and idlers.

No propaganda can be admitted in the ranks of the Communist Parties in favour of compensation to be paid to the owners of large estates for their expropriation. In the present conditions prevailing in Europe and America this would mean treason to socialism and the imposition of a new tax on the labouring and exploited masses, who have already suffered from the war – the war which increased the number of millionaires and multiplied their wealth.

In the advanced capitalist countries the Communist International considers that it is correct to preserve the large agricultural establishments and manage them on the lines of the ‘Soviet farms’ in Russia. It is also advisable to encourage collective establishments, co-operative estates, communes.

As a result of the economic backwardness of the country it was necessary in Russia to proceed to distribute the land among the peasants for their use. Only in comparatively few cases was it possible to use the land for the establishment of a so-called Soviet Farm, managed by the proletarian state on its own account. The previous wage-labourers are then transformed into both employees of the state and members of the soviets that administrate the state.

The preservation of large landholdings serves best the interests of the revolutionary elements of the rural population, namely, the land less agricultural workers and semi-proletarian small land-holders, who get their livelihood mainly by working on the large estates. Besides, the nationalisation of large land-holdings makes the urban population, at least in part, less dependent on the peasantry for their food.

In those places, however, where relics of the feudal system still prevail, the landlord’s privileges give rise to special forms of exploitation, such as serfdom and share-cropping, it may under certain conditions be necessary to hand over part of the land of the big estates to the peasants.

In countries and areas where large landholdings are insignificant in number, while a great number of small tenants are in search of land, there the distribution of the large holdings can prove a sure means of winning the peasantry for the revolution, while the preservation of the large estates can be of no value for the provisioning of the towns. The first and most important tasks of the proletarian state is to secure a lasting victory. The proletariat must not flinch from a temporary decline of production so long as it makes for the success of the revolution. Only by persuading the middle peasantry to maintain a neutral attitude, and by gaining the support of a large part, if not the whole, of the small peasantry, can the lasting maintenance of the proletarian power be secured.

At any rate, where the land of the large owners is being distributed, the interests of the agricultural proletariat must be a primary consideration.

The implements of large estates must be converted into state property, absolutely intact, but on the unfailing condition that these implements be put at the disposal of the small peasants free of charge, subject to conditions worked out by the proletarian state.

If, just after the proletarian coup d'état, the immediate confiscation of the big estates becomes absolutely necessary, and moreover also the banishment or internment of all landowners as leaders of the counter-revolution and relentless oppressors of the whole rural population, the proletarian state, in proportion to its consolidation not only in the towns, but in the country as well, must systematically strive to take advantage of men of the bourgeoisie who possess valuable experience, learning, organising ability, and must use them under special supervision of reliable communist workers and the control of the estate Soviets, to organise large-scale agriculture on socialist principles.

7. Socialism will not finally have vanquished capitalism and securely established itself for ever until the proletarian state power, after having finally subdued all resistance of the exploiters and secured for itself a complete and absolute submission, will reorganise the whole of industry on the basis of scientific large-scale production and the most modem achievements of technique (electrification of the whole economy). This alone will afford a possibility of such radical help in the technical and the social sense, accorded by the town to the backward and dispersed country, that this help will create the material base for an enormous increase of the productivity of agriculture and general farming work, and will incite the small farmers by force of example and for their own benefit, to change to large collective machine agriculture.

Most particularly in the rural districts a real possibility of successful struggle for socialism requires that all Communist Parties inculcate in the industrial proletariat the consciousness of the necessity of sacrifice on its part for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of proletarian power; for the dictatorship of the proletariat is based not only on its ability to organise and to lead the working and exploited masses, but also on the vanguard being ready for the greatest efforts and most heroic sacrifice for this goal. The possibility of success requires that the labouring and most exploited masses in the country experience an immediate and great improvement of their position caused by the victory of the proletariat, and at the expense of the exploiters. Unless this is done, the industrial proletariat cannot depend on the support of the rural districts, and cannot secure the provisionment of the towns with foodstuffs.

8. The enormous difficulty of the organisation and education for the revolutionary struggle of the agrarian labouring masses placed by capitalism in conditions of particular oppression, dispersion, and often a medieval dependence, require from the Communist Parties a special care for the strike movement in the rural districts. It requires powerful support and wide development of mass strikes of the agrarian proletarians and half-proletarians. The experience of the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917, confirmed and enlarged now by the experience of Germany, Poland, Italy, Britain and other advanced countries, shows that only the development of mass strike struggle (under certain conditions the small peasants are also to be drawn into these strikes) will be able to arouse the slumbering village and awaken the consciousness of the necessity of the class organisation in the exploited masses in the country, and show the obvious practical use of a union with the town workers. From this standpoint the promotion of the unionization of agricultural workers and the co-operation of communists in the land and forest workers’ unions are of great importance. The communists must likewise support the co-operative organisations formed by the exploited agricultural population closely connected with the revolutionary labour movement. A vigorous agitation is likewise to be carried on among the small peasants.

The Congress of the Communist International denounces as traitors those socialists – unfortunately there are such not only in the yellow Second International but also among the three most important European parties which have left the Second International – who manage not only to be indifferent towards the strike struggle in the rural districts, but who oppose it (like the trades union bureaucracy, the Scheidemanns and the Kautskys) on the ground that it might cause a falling-off of the production of foodstuffs. No programmes and no solemn declarations have any value if the fact is not in evidence, testified by actual deeds, that the Communists and the workers’ leaders know how to put above all the development of the proletarian revolution and its victory, and are ready to make the utmost sacrifices for the sake of this victory. Unless this is a fact there is no issue, no escape from starvation, dissolution and new imperialist wars.

The Communist Parties must make all efforts possible to start as soon as possible setting up Soviets in the country, and these soviets must be chiefly composed of hired labourers and half-proletarians. The formation of Soviets of small peasants must also be propagated. Only in connection with the mass strike struggle of the most oppressed class will the soviets be able to serve fully their ends, and become sufficiently firm to dominate the small peasants and later bring them into their ranks in alliance with the soviets of agricultural workers. But if the strike struggle is not yet developed, and the ability to organise the agrarian proletariat is weak because of the strong oppression of the landowners and the landed peasants, and also because of the want of support from the industrial workers and their unions, the organisation of the soviets in the rural districts will require a long preparation by means of creating Communist cells, however small; of intensive propaganda expounding in a most popular form the demands of the Communists and illustrating the reasons for these demands by specially convincing cases of exploitation; by systematic agitational excursions of industrial workers into the country, etc.