Transcribed for the first time here, a major piece by Karl Radek examining the dire situation Soviet Russia found itself in after victory in the Civil War, the complicated attitude of the workers’ state to the peasants, and the peasants’ ambivalent, sometimes hostile, relationship with the working class and their institutions, the rise of a bureaucracy, need and dangers of the New Economic Policy, and the receding of revolution’s European wave. Frank, honest, and fearing for the future, Radek delivers an important early analysis on the roots of many of the conflicts that would consume the Soviet Union over the following decade.
‘Russia’s Internal and External Situation’ by Karl Radek from Soviet Russia (New York). Vol. 5 No. 2. August, 1921.
PARTY discussions in recent days have been concerned with an alteration in the internal and external situation of Soviet Russia, which was not immediately grasped by all the party. If we desire correctly to estimate the resolutions of the last party congress we must take as our point of departure an analysis of the altered situation of Russia. The decisive fact, which has aroused not only the consciousness of the peasants, but also of the working class, is the fact of the defeat of the feudal and capitalistic counter-revolution, which has been accomplished in a long series of campaigns.
The peasant is convinced that he is no longer threatened by any danger from the old landed proprietors, and this conviction is bringing about an entirely new phase in the relation of the peasant to the working class. For the Soviet Government arose from a common struggle, waged by both the peasants and the workers, against the feudal and capitalist bourgeoisie. The last three years of revolution and civil war were filled with a jointly waged repulse of reactionary restoration. The peasant to be sure was little content with the fact that he was obliged to feed the cities without receiving anything in return, but yielded because of his conviction that the Soviet Government, if it were eliminated, would be replaced by a government of capital and landed property.
The attitude of the peasants in the Red Army was quite characteristic. There is no doubt that the Red Army was created by the application of compulsory methods. But in view of the situation of the Red Army — in some respects even unbearable — whose members had to fight, often without shoes and without regular nourishment, on fourteen fronts, it would have been absolutely impossible to conduct a war if the peasants had not been conscious of the fact that the war was being waged in their interest also. Even those who had deserted were brought back to the ranks by means of agitation, by presenting to their consciousness this threatening danger. I myself know of a case in which thousands of deserters, who had banded together, were approached by Comrade Pankov, himself a peasant, who went into their camp unarmed, and who succeeded by propaganda alone in bringing back these people into the army. In spite of all the awful things they had experienced in the last few years, it was possible to arouse a sense of this danger in them, and the political work in the army consisted in awakening in the peasants feelings of a solidarity of interests, as opposed to feudal reaction. At the moment of Wrangel’s defeat, when there were no longer any White troops on any front, the peasants had an idea that no danger was threatening them any more. This expressed itself in the meetings of the village Soviets, in which it was openly declared that the White troops were being disposed of in such a way that they could be regarded as no longer a danger. If you trace the views that have predominated in the Russian counter-revolution, you can see that even in these circles the conviction is gaining ground that it will not be possible to conduct the policy of Kolchak, Yudenich, Denikin, etc., in the future, that the peasants must not be frightened by using the bogy of a restoration of the landed estates, and that the fact to be taken as a basis is that the land belongs to the peasants.
Wrangel Tried to Placate the Peasants
And a consideration of the propaganda conducted by Wrangel will show that he tried at least externally to base himself on the above mentioned understanding. A study of the policy of French imperialism will show that even in these circles there is a conviction that the plan of restoring landed property and eventually fighting down the Soviet Government must be given up. Savinkov, in a letter to the French Government, declares that the peasants must under no circumstances be permitted to infer that they are dealing with members of the old regime, for they will them inevitably join with the workers. Of course it would be an illusion to believe that European counter-revolution is really capable of giving up the plan of restoring the great landed proprietors, for even if the counter-revolution should be successful in a petty bourgeois form it would have to restore the great landed proprietors. If the capitalist counter-revolution should be victorious, it would have to impose enormous taxes on the peasants, not in order to bring about a return of the old form, but in the form of payments in installments. At any rate, the peasant is convinced that this danger is now past and this conviction must be considered as an important factor.
Real Suffering of the Peasants.
The second fact determining the political situation has transpired as a result of the investigations that we have conducted since the last crop failure, which has brought about the great crisis in our agricultural economy. Until recently it was generally believed that the city might perhaps have suffered much by the war, but that the peasants had grown rich and were living much better than the city dwellers. This is true, however, only of the immediate vicinity of the big cities, where the peasants were able to exchange their foodstuffs for all sorts of commodities. But on a nationwide Russian scale this assumption would be absolutely incorrect The peasant did succeed in getting articles of luxury, but not instruments of production, cattle, horses. The decrease in the crops is not merely the result of a lack of good will on the part of the peasants, but is primarily due to the fact that Russia has been unable for seven years, owing to the imperialistic and the civil wars, to import any agricultural machines, scythes, or other farm implements, that the live stock has been considerably decimated, the number of horses decreased, and that the peasants have lost a tremendous number of their best people in the war. In this situation, in which the peasant is conscious that he is no longer threatened by any danger from without, and in which distress is simultaneously becoming greater and greater all the time, the relation between the peasantry and the working class was naturally also exacerbated, the peasants believe that they no longer need the help of the workers, and that they are being obliged to deliver foodstuffs to the workers for no return. This has brought back in a sharp form the question of the relation of the working class to the peasantry.
War Industries in Russia.
We must consider also in this connection the total result of the war. For three and one-half years Russia was waging a great war on the basis of a disorganized economy. Soviet Russia has been feeding an army of five millions. Abroad, the impression has been that the great civil war was being fought with the remnants of the old army. This is not so.
We can prove statistically that in the year 1919 we had already succeeded in forcing the production of arms and munitions to a point that was as high as that reached before Kerensky’s assumption of the government In 1919-1920 the war industry was the sole industry of Russia, and this fact accelerated the growing debility of Russian industry in general. The munitions industry used up at a tremendous rate the stores of metal, the accumulated as well as the newly acquired stocks of raw materials. The economic situation, owing to the fact that during the war production was limited to the war industries only, was tremendously disturbed. All needs were judged by the criterion of whether they were war requirements or not, for instance, compare the treatment of the textile workers with that of the munition workers. The textile workers often had no bread while the munition workers had all sorts of privileges. The workers who, like the peasants, are convinced that the war is over, and that the revolution is no longer threatened by any danger from the outside, who have been obliged to live under unheard of difficulties as to food and clothing, and for whom we have not been able to build any new dwellings or repair their old ones, who have had to toil so hard during the entire civil war — twelve hours a day in the munitions factories — they also are now demanding an improvement in their situation. But the working class is mistaken if it believes that the revolution has emerged from the danger of external complications. We must not, however, neglect the fact that the conduct of these workers will be influenced by their beliefs, even though they be mistaken. From these relaxations of the efforts of the country and of great masses of workers, there arises a general discontent, which asks what have been the promises of the revolution, and what have been its performances. Let us not forget that during the war and the revolution the conditions of the working class have changed. Already during the imperialist war great masses of peasants and petty bourgeois elements were drawn into the factories, in the first place because of the higher pay, and in the second place because the work in the munitions factories was a ground of exemption from military service. During the revolution great masses of workers went back into the village, in which they sought their bread. In part these were highly skilled workers, who had greater cultural needs and who bore hunger with less fortitude than those who had not been used to good living before. At the same time, peasants were requisitioned as unskilled laborers, for instance on the railroads, and this great mass was gradually incorporated in the working class. Female labor also has gained in compass. Many elements of the petty bourgeoisie, which had formerly led a parasitical existence, were pushed down into the working class. The best elements however were at the front, where we have a much greater loss to record than during the imperialistic war. This has involved a weakening of the really revolutionary ranks of the workers. In the factories there were left only former peasants and the petty bourgeoisie, who had gained their living by trade; these elements considered the Communists simply as slave drivers, as elements that were demanding greater and greater sacrifices from them.
The Attitude of the Working Class Toward the Peasantry.
The first question to be discussed in connection with the new situation is the relation between Communist and non-Communist elements. The second question is concerned with how we shall cope with the new political situation. You are probably acquainted with the discussions that have been going on since September last year, within the party, in other words from the moment when we seemed about to be on the point of disposing of Wrangel. We were faced with this question: is it possible to soften the antagonism, is it possible to close the gap between the advance guard and the main body of the workers? This question was approached in a manner to divide the discussion into several channels, namely these: the question of trade unions, of party organization, discussions on the higher layers of the population and the lower layers, a discussion of the alteration of the foodstuff policy, an attempt at the new agrarian policy. The Congress took a definite stand, with a majority that made further struggles on these tendencies impossible within the party, with a majority that forced the minority faction of the party into a complete acceptance of the will of the party, which is now fully conscious that the approaching period will not be a peaceful one, but a period of sharp struggles. For the mode of accepting the situation is never the following: the party has spoken and all will therefore admit the correctness of the new policy. It is clear that the adaptation of the party to the new conditions will assume the form of a series of conflicts between the proletariat and the peasants.
The Revolution Abroad.
The consciousness of danger was also sharpened by the example offered by Kronstadt, to liquidate which incident 200 members of the Party had to leave the Congress. This local action shows that the continuance of the revolution will not only involve the discussion of a program, but will be a struggle with arms in hand. It is necessary to understand the decisions of the Party Congress, and this is necessary not only for the Russian party, which will carry them out, but also for the foreign comrades. But what is happening in Russia? The destinies of the Russian revolution will influence the international movement not only by the fact that they actually alter the world situation, but chiefly in an ideological way. The reverberations of all our struggles will extend very far into the approaching day of accounting of the social revolution abroad.
Our first question is the question of the relation to the peasantry. In this connection Russian Communists have been rebuked by western opportunists for being the moat opportunistic party in the world. I remember how the German Independents at the outbreak of the Russian Revolution sent a telegram to the Soviet Government, in which Ledebour considered it necessary to remind us that socialization should not stop with the factories, but should also involve the entire agricultural system. The Russian comrades were not so stupid as to follow this advice. There is no power that can socialize 15,000,000 small peasant farms by means of a national decree. The Russian November Revolution accepted the formula of the social revolutionists, the formula of a nationalization of the soil, and for tactical reasons. The November Government was a government of the coalition with the Left Social-Revolutionists. In reality the point was the recognition of the soil as the property of the peasants into whose hands it fell. A socialization of agriculture can be undertaken only after a long historical evolution within the revolution, after industry has been gotten to function well, and after the workers, who hold a national monopoly in their hands, have attained a predominance over the peasants. The new generation of peasants, who have seen much, and who are able to judge of the value of cooperatives, might be capable of passing over to new forms of work.
If the Soviet enterprises can demonstrate that by cooperatives better results are obtained, the question of a socialization of agriculture will be up for immediate consideration. The policy of the Soviet Government toward the peasants was clear. It knew that socialization could not be transplanted into the village by an interference from above. Nothing would be altered by this. But the manner is to be changed in which the Soviet Government will provision the cities, and in which it takes grain from the peasants. The bread monopoly was not first introduced by the Bolsheviki, but was already established by the Kerensky Government, when it transpired that their provision policy had raised prices and had not secured the provisioning of cities and workers. But the execution of the monopoly left it in the hands of the great landed proprietors and grain dealers, and this took away the grain of the peasants at fixed prices, but delivered nothing to them at fixed prices. This was one of the causes of the rebellion of the peasants against the government. When we (the Bolsheviki) came to power, resources had been reduced to nothing. Kerensky’s apparatus had broken down. In the storehouses of the Government there were no stocks of grain. The new apparatus which we were to create had not yet been put in place. And there remained only the one path which Lenin took in the Putilov Works, when he said to the workers: “The Workers’ Government is nothing else than you yourselves, and if you cannot get any bread for yourselves, we cannot give you any.” There began the organization of sections which went into the villages and took what was available. Simultaneously we attempted to crystallize out those elements in the villages that might help us. We tried to gain the support of the poor peasants, to whom we gave a portion of the grain that had been confiscated. There was thus created the system of the razviertka, which consisted in the Government’s confiscating everything in the way of grain and raw materials, which was not absolutely necessary for the peasants, in order to live them- selves, and we could not deviate from this way for the simple reason that the Ukraine had been lost to Germany and Siberia to Kolchak, the Social- Revolutionists, and counter-revolutionists.
Reduce the Size of the Army!
Central Russia had to feed itself, and the process could not be carried out by gentle means. All the grain the peasant had left had to be taken away ruthlessly, and the quantity of grain given to the peasant had to be approximated to the quo-turn of the city worker. When the civil war began and an army of 5,000,000 was to be supported, we had to proceed even more sharply. Our line of action toward the peasantry, which was laid down in 1919 at the Eighth Party Congress: “Fight against the rich peasant, do not disturb the middle peasant, and support the poor peasant,” had to remain on paper. The city and the army had great needs, with the result that the deliveries by the rich peasants constituted only a small percentage, and that it became necessary to proceed sharply even against the middle peasants. Can we do anything to change this situation? Can we make any concessions to the peasants in this matter? We think so. When we demobilize, and in part we shall demobilize, in any case, for an army of 5,000,000 is not a good instrument of war. The relation between fighters and eaters was always a poor one in the Russian Army. The difference is so great that we must keep down this ratio in the interest of the striking power of the army. Whether we shall continue to wage war or not, the army must be reduced to half its size. This will relieve us of a great burden, for the peasants will return to economic work and will feed themselves. The apparatus which we have developed now permits us to achieve a much more precise understanding of the situation. We can now discontinue our custom of imposing the entire burden of deliveries on individual provinces. We have added Siberia, Ukraine, the Caucasus to our grain furnishing districts. The increase which these districts gave to our population is only one sixth of the increase of grain that we obtained by these annexations. If we continue to have peace for a time, we shall be able to approach the question of liquidating the evil of banditry in these districts, so that the influx of grain from Ukraine may be increased. It is clear that as soon as we have put down the vendee in the Don region and a relative condition of quiet has been restored there, we shall be glad to take up the same task in the Kuban.
A New Incentive to Till the Soil.
The conclusion of the commercial agreement with England, which opens the way for us to conclude similar agreements with America and Germany, affords us an opportunity to get industrial products and aids us in disposing of the question of foodstuffs. Our gold supply is not so great as to put us in a position to spend with a lavish hand, but there is no doubt that we can have great quantities of goods for a portion of this gold supply, goods that are unquestionably necessary for the peasants. This will bring the proletarian state nearer to the peasant, since the peasant beholds in this state an organization that permits him to improve his economy. If we at the same time permit American capitalists to work on the Russian boundary, by an application of the concessions policy, in order to obtain important means of production and raw materials from them, we shall thus obtain the possibility of building up our industry, more and more, and supplying our peasants with our own industrial products. We can count upon the fact that we shall be able to make secure the feeding of the cities if we take gentler steps with the peasants.
We shall do this by substituting a tax in kind for the system of taking away everything from the peasant, so that the peasant will be required to make deliveries in accordance with the size of his establishment, the number of his cattle, the number of men employed. On the basis of his harvest calculations, the peasant will learn, at seed-time, what tax he will have to pay in grain. In this way an incentive is given to increase the amount of seeded land, and to cultivate the soil more carefully. The peasant will know that after he has delivered a certain percentage of grain, he will obtain industrial products for the rest, or may exchange the rest in local free trade. He will thus be placed in a better relation with the proletarian state. We are convinced that by this political step we have turned a good card out of the hand of the European reaction, and that this concession to the peasants will put us in the position to fight down the petty bourgeois counter-revolution, both militarily and politically. A comrade who returned from Kronstadt reported that the news of the proceedings of the party congress, concerning the procedure with the peasants, had filled a whole division of the Red Army with an entirely new spirit. These sons of the peasantry in the army, who are not so stupid as western Europe would like to believe them — for they discuss and grasp often too much — these sons of the peasantry at once recognized the changed policy of the Government toward the peasants, and were quite ready to fight once more for the Government.
The Peasants and the Constituent Assembly.
It would be ridiculous to assume that, because there are Social-Revolutionists at the head of the present movement, the peasants are all Social-Revolutionists. The Constituent Assembly is a phantom as far as the peasants are concerned. They have not felt the need of it, they have not advocated it. The peasant knew nothing about it in his political life. The watchword of the Constituent Assembly is a watchword that the Social-Revolutionists brought into the movement and the peasants are willing to give it up as soon as their own needs are satisfied. We are convinced we shall have a better relation with the peasantry. This does not mean that there are not dangerous sides to this policy. It is, on the other hand, a policy that involves the greatest danger.
Dangers of the New Policy.
What does it mean for us to leave a portion of the peasant’s products in his own hands? If we are not in a position to give him industrial products, the gate is absolutely open to capitalistic speculation. But if the railroad men are starving and the peasant gives them a portion of his products and in return receives transport of his own grain along their line, this may result in a great disorganization in the railroad system, and capitalistic speculation may assume nation-wide proportions.
There is a further danger that the peasant may attempt to get a great portion of the crop into his own hands and may thus keep secret a portion of his harvest. The party could not live on illusions: it well knows the dangers that it must fight. We see the thing in this light: we shall have a struggle between capitalistic speculation, based on a rebirth of petty industry and on the other hand on corruption in the nationalized factories. The speculator will attempt to create a great mass of small traders, being a trading capitalist, and on the other hand he will try by corruption to make the national industry serve him. The question now is whether the Government will be strong enough to take up the armed struggle against the peasants, to maintain peace on the exterior, or whether the proletariats of foreign countries will come to aid us.
The New Policy May Be a Failure.
This will be a long process, and if the revolution abroad does not come to our assistance we shall suffer a failure of this policy. Just as the debacle in France occurred by reason of the fact that the peasant was rendered satisfied and a new class arose through the Constituent Assembly, so in our country, together with the bureaucracy of the Soviet institutions, the speculator would strengthen the counter-revolutionary movement We have no illusions as to the fact that our victory is possible only with a victory of the European revolution. The policy that we have now undertaken is intended to extend the wind of the revolution, so that it may hold out longer than that of the counter-revolution. We must see to it that a concentration of capital is prevented, and that we shall be able to fight all counter-revolutionary elements on the basis of the creation of free trade.
The second question is that of the relation with the working class. What is the meaning of the altered foodstuff policy? It does not mean that the proletarian dictatorship is to become a peasant dictatorship. It means a policy of the internal breathing-spell, of internal maneuvering. The policy of concessions to foreign countries is connected with this policy and is also a maneuvering policy. The most important thing for us is not to be misled, not to lose the social basis upon which we have established ourselves. This danger no doubt exists. It exists if only in the fact that the proletariat itself includes peasant and petty bourgeois elements, which naturally express themselves in part at least as an opposition to the Communist Party. The danger exists in the fact that through the dictatorship of the proletariat, not only open counter-revolution, but also the center parties, are put down — and they had to be put down —and that thereby the Communist Party is left as the only organizing factor in political life, and, since the party is at the same time the governing party, it was not to be avoided that many petty bourgeois elements sought and obtained admission to its ranks. The necessity of making use of specialists also makes it necessary to adopt a conciliatory policy toward them. If officers are put into service they may be dominated by the sword, by permitting them to give commands today and putting them in jail tomorrow. The Communist Party seeks to influence the officers and finds an honest echo among them. The Russian corps of officers never was the same as the European. The officers had no preferential social position. They were therefore far more democratic in spirit than in the West We must also consider the numbers of officers that were not commissioned until after the war began. Life did not fail to influence them, and we have many officers who have entered our party. The same was the case with other specialists. But even if they do come to us, they nevertheless represent a difference of opinion which has an influence on the party.
All these facts taken together make it plain that the Communist Party of Russia, once the most proletarian party in the world, has recently added a number of petty bourgeois elements to its ranks, partly drawn from the Soviet bureaucracy, partly from the circles of the intellectuals, this has produced a petty bourgeois danger for the party. This danger consists in the fact that these elements may influence the ideology of the party, for these elements have always been accustomed to command, and interpret the relation of the vanguard of the proletariat to the mass of the proletariat as a relation of command.
Soviet Russia began in the summer of 1919, published by the Bureau of Information of Soviet Russia and replaced The Weekly Bulletin of the Bureau of Information of Soviet Russia. In lieu of an Embassy the Russian Soviet Government Bureau was the official voice of the Soviets in the US. Soviet Russia was published as the official organ of the RSGB until February 1922 when Soviet Russia became to the official organ of The Friends of Soviet Russia, becoming Soviet Russia Pictorial in 1923. There is no better US-published source for information on the Soviet state at this time, and includes official statements, articles by prominent Bolsheviks, data on the Soviet economy, weekly reports on the wars for survival the Soviets were engaged in, as well as efforts to in the US to lift the blockade and begin trade with the emerging Soviet Union.
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