The Party Before and After Taking Power
August 28, 1921
Stalin, Works, Vol. 5, 1921 - 1923
Three periods must be noted in the development of our Party.
The first period was the period of formation, of the creation of our Party. It embraces the interval of time approximately from the foundation of Iskra  to the Third Party Congress inclusively (end of 1900 to beginning of 1905).
In this period the Party, as a driving force, was weak. It was weak not only because it itself was young, but also because the working-class movement as a whole was young and because the revolutionary situation, the revolutionary movement, was lacking, or little developed, particularly in the initial stages of this period (the peasantry was silent or did not go beyond sullen murmuring; the workers conducted only partial economic strikes or political strikes covering a whole town; the forms of the movement were of an underground or semi-legal character; the forms of working-class organisation were also mainly of an underground character).
The Party's strategy—since strategy presupposes the existence of reserves and the possibility of manoeuvring with them—was necessarily narrow and restricted. The Party confined itself to mapping the movement's strategic plan, i.e., the route that the movement should take; and the Party's reserves—the contradictions within the camp of the enemies inside and outside of Russia—remained unused, or almost unused, owing to the weakness of the Party.
The Party ‘s tactics, since tactics presuppose the utilisation of all forms of the movement, forms of proletarian organisation, their combination and mutual supplementation, etc., with the object of winning the masses and ensuring strategic success, were also necessarily narrow and without scope.
In this period the Party focussed its attention and care upon the Party itself, upon its own existence and preservation. At this stage it regarded itself as a kind of self-sufficing force. That was natural: tsarism's fierce attacks upon the Party, and the Mensheviks' efforts to blow it up from within and to replace the Party cadres with an amorphous, non-Party body (recall the Mensheviks' campaign for a labour congress launched in connection with Axelrod's notorious pamphlet A People's Duma and a Labour Congress, 1905), threatened the Party's very existence and, as a consequence, the question of preserving the Party acquired paramount importance in this period.
The principal task of communism in Russia in that period was to recruit into the Party the best elements of the working class, those who were most active and most devoted to the cause of the proletariat; to form the ranks of the proletarian party and to put it firmly on its feet. Comrade Lenin formulates this task as follows: "to win the vanguard of the proletariat to the side of communism" (see "Left-Wing" Communism... ).
The second period was the period of winning the broad masses of the workers and peasants to the side of the Party, to the side of the vanguard of the proletariat. It embraces the interval of time approximately from October 1905 to October 1917.
In this period the situation was much more complex and rich in events than in the preceding one. The defeats tsarism sustained on the battlefield in Manchuria and the revolution of October 1905, on the one hand, the termination of the Russo-Japanese war, the triumph of the counter-revolution and the liquidation of the gains of the revolution, on the other, and thirdly, the imperialist war, the revolution of February 1917 and the famous "dual power"—all these events stirred up all classes in Russia and pushed them into the political arena one after the other, strengthened the Communist Party and awakened the broad masses of the peasants to political life.
The proletarian movement was enriched by such powerful forms as the general political strike and armed uprising.
The peasant movement was enriched by the boycott of the landlords ("smoking" the landlords out of their country seats) which developed into insurrection.
The activities of the Party and of other revolutionary organisations were invigorated by the mastery of such forms of work as the extra-parliamentary, legal, open form.
Working-class organisation was enriched not only by a tried and important form like the trade unions, but also by such a powerful form of working-class organisation as the Soviets of Workers' Deputies, a form unprecedented in history.
The peasants followed in the footsteps of the working class and set up Soviets of Peasants' Deputies.
The Party's reserves were also enriched. It became clear in the course of the struggle that the peasantry could and would constitute an inexhaustible reserve for the proletariat and its party. It also became clear that the proletariat and its party would play the leading role in overthrowing the rule of capital.
In this period the Party was by no means as weak as it was in the preceding one; as a driving force, it became a most important factor. It could now no longer be a self-sufficing force, for its existence and development were now definitely assured; it changed from a self-sufficing force into an instrument for winning the masses of the workers and peasants, into an instrument for leading the masses in overthrowing the rule of capital.
In this period the Party's strategy acquired wide scope; it was directed primarily to gaining and utilising the peasantry as a reserve, and it achieved important success in this work.
The Party's tactics also acquired wide scope as a result of the enrichment of the movement of the masses, of their organisation, and of the activities of the Party and other revolutionary organisations, by new forms which had previously been absent.
The Party's principal task in this period was to win the vast masses to the side of the proletarian vanguard, to the side of the Party, for the purpose of overthrowing the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, for the purpose of seizing power. The Party now no longer focussed its attention upon itself, but upon the vast masses of the people. Comrade Lenin formulates this task as follows: "disposition of the vast masses" on the social front in such a way as to ensure victory "in the forthcoming decisive battles" (see the above-mentioned pamphlet by Comrade Lenin).
Such are the characteristic features of the first two periods in the development of our Party.
The difference between the first and the second period is undoubtedly great. But there is also something in common between them. Both in the first and in the second period the Party was nine-tenths, if not entirely, a national force, effective only for and within Russia (one of the detachments of the international organised proletariat). That is the first point. The second point is that both in the first and in the second period the Russian Communist Party was a party of upheaval, the party of revolution within Russia, hence in these periods the elements of criticism and destruction of the old order predominated in its work.
An entirely different picture is presented by the third period, the one we are in now.
The third period is the period of taking and holding power with the object, on the one hand, of drawing all the working people of Russia into the work of building socialist economy and the Red Army, and, on the other hand, of applying all forces and resources for rendering assistance to the international proletariat in its struggle to overthrow capital. This period embraces the interval of time from October 1917 to the present day.
The fact that the proletariat in Russia has taken power has created a very distinctive situation, both internationally and within Russia, such as the world has never seen before.
To begin with, October 1917 marked a breach in the world social front and created a turn in the whole of world history. Picture to yourselves the boundless social front, stretching from the backward colonies to advanced America, and then the immense breach forced in this front by the Russian detachment of the international proletariat, a breach that menaces the existence of imperialism, that has upset all the plans of the imperialist sharks and has greatly, radically, eased the task of the international proletariat in its struggle against capital — such is the historical significance of October 1917. From that moment our Party was transformed from a national force into a predominantly international force, and the Russian proletariat was transformed from a backward detachment of the international proletariat into its vanguard. Henceforth, the tasks of the international proletariat are to widen the Russian breach, to help the vanguard, which has pushed forward, to prevent the enemies from surrounding the brave vanguard and cutting it off from its base. The task of international imperialism, on the contrary, is to close the Russian breach, to close it without fail. That is why our Party, if it wants to retain power, pledges itself to do "the utmost possible in one (its own—J. St.) country for the development, support and awakening of the revolution in all countries" (see Lenin's book The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky ). That is why our Party, since October 1917, has been transformed from a national into an international force, into the Party of revolution on an international scale.
An equally radical change has taken place in the Party's position within the country as a result of October 1917. In the preceding periods the Party was an instrument for the destruction of the old order, for overthrowing capital in Russia. Now, on the contrary, in the third period, it has been transformed from a party of revolution within Russia into a party of construction, into a party for the creation of new forms of economy. In the past it recruited the best forces of the workers for the purpose of storming the old order; now it is recruiting them for the purpose of organising the food supply, transport and the basic industries. In the past it rallied the revolutionary elements of the peasantry for the purpose of overthrowing the landlords; now it is recruiting them for the purpose of improving agriculture, of consolidating the alliance between the labouring elements of the peasantry and the proletariat which is in power. In the past it recruited the best elements of the belated nationalities for the struggle against capital; now it is recruiting them for the purpose of building the life of the labouring elements of these nationalities on the basis of co-operation with the Russian proletariat. In the past it destroyed the army, the old militarist army; now it must build up a new, a workers' and peasants' army, which is needed to protect the gains of the revolution from external enemies.
From a party of revolution within Russia, the Russian Communist Party has been transformed into a party of peaceful construction. That is why it has removed from the arsenal of the proletariat such forms of struggle as strikes and insurrection, which are now unnecessary in Russia.
In the past we could dispense with experts in military and economic affairs, for at that time the Party's activity was mainly critical, and it is easy to criticise. . . . Now, the Party cannot dispense with experts; in addition to utilising the old specialists it must train its own experts: mobilisation, supply and operations officers (for the army), food officials, agricultural experts, railway managers, co-operators, experts in industry and foreign trade (in the economic sphere). Without this we shall be unable to build.
A change has also taken place in the Party's position in that its forces and resources, its reserves, have grown and multiplied to a colossal degree.
The Party's reserves are :
1) The contradictions between the different social groups within Russia.
2) The contradictions and conflicts, which sometimes grow into military collisions, between the capitalist states around us.
3) The socialist movement in the capitalist countries.
4) The national-liberation movement in the backward and colonial countries.
5) The peasantry and the Red Army in Russia.
6) The diplomatic and foreign trade services.
7) The entire might of state power.
Such, in general, are the forces and potentialities within the framework of which—and this framework is sufficiently wide — the Party's strategy can manoeuvre, and on the basis of which the Party's tactics can carry out the day-to-day work of mobilising forces.
All these are the favourable aspects of October 1917.
But October also has an unfavourable aspect. The fact is that the proletariat took power in Russia under distinctive internal and external circumstances which left their impress on the entire work of the Party after power was taken.
Firstly, Russia is an economically backward country; it is very difficult for her to organise transport, develop industry, and electrify urban and rural industry by her own efforts unless she exchanges her raw materials for machinery and equipment from the Western countries. Secondly, to this day Russia is a socialist island surrounded by hostile, industrially more developed capitalist states. If Soviet Russia had as her neighbour one big industrially developed Soviet state, or several Soviet states, she could easily establish co-operation with those states on the basis of exchange of raw materials for machinery and equipment. But as long as that is not the case, Soviet Russia, and our Party which guides its government, are obliged to seek forms and methods of economic co-operation with the hostile capitalist groups in the West in order to obtain the necessary technical equipment until the proletarian revolution triumphs in one or several industrial capitalist countries. The concession form of relations and foreign trade—such are the means for achieving this aim. Without this it will be difficult to count on decisive successes in economic construction, in the electrification of the country. This process will undoubtedly be slow and painful, but it is inevitable, unavoidable, and what is inevitable does not cease to be inevitable because some impatient comrades get nervous and demand quick results and spectacular operations.
From the economic standpoint the present conflicts and military collisions between the capitalist groups, and also the struggle of the proletariat against the capitalist class, are based on the conflict between the present-day productive forces and the national imperialist framework of their development and the capitalist forms of appropriation. The imperialist framework and the capitalist form of appropriation strangle the productive forces, prevent them from developing. The only way out is to organise world economy on the basis of economic co-operation between the advanced (industrial) and backward (fuel and raw material supplying) countries (and not on the basis of the plunder of the latter by the former). It is precisely for this purpose that the international proletarian revolution is needed. Without this revolution it is useless thinking of the organisation and normal development of world economy. But in order to be able to start (at least to start) organising world economy on proper lines, the proletariat must triumph at least in several advanced countries. So long as that is not the case, our Party must seek roundabout ways of co-operation with capitalist groups in the economic field.
That is why the Party, which has overthrown the bourgeoisie in our country and has raised the banner of the proletarian revolution, nevertheless considers it expedient to "untie" small production and small industry in our country, to permit the partial revival of capitalism, although making it dependent upon the state authority, to attract leaseholders and shareholders, etc., etc., until the Party's policy of "doing the utmost possible in one country for the development, support and awakening of the revolution in all countries" produces real results.
Such are the distinctive conditions, favourable and unfavourable, that were created by October 1917, and in which our Party is operating and developing in the third period of its existence.
These conditions determine the colossal might that our Party now possesses inside and outside Russia. They, too, determine the incredible difficulties and dangers that the Party is facing, and which it must overcome at all costs.
The Party's tasks in this period in the sphere of foreign policy are determined by its position as the party of international revolution. These tasks are :
1) To utilise all the contradictions and conflicts among the capitalist groups and governments which surround our country, with the object of disintegrating imperialism.
2) To stint no forces and resources to assist the proletarian revolution in the West.
3) To take all measures to strengthen the national-liberation movement in the East.
4) To strengthen the Red Army.
The Party's tasks in this period in the sphere of home policy are determined by its position within Russia as the party of peaceful construction. These tasks are:
1) To strengthen the alliance between the proletariat and the toiling peasantry by:
a) recruiting for the work of state construction those elements of the peasantry which possess most initiative and business ability;
b) assisting peasant farming by disseminating agricultural knowledge, repairing machines, and so forth;
c) developing proper exchange of products between town and country;
d) gradually electrifying agriculture.
An important circumstance must be borne in mind. In contrast to the revolutions and proletarian parties in the West, a fortunate feature of our revolution, and a tremendous asset for our Party, is the fact that in Russia, the largest and most powerful strata of the petty bourgeoisie, namely the peasantry, were transformed from a potential reserve of the bourgeoisie into an actual reserve of the proletariat. This circumstance determined the weakness of the Russian bourgeoisie and served the interests of the Russian proletariat. It is mainly due to the fact that, in contrast to what occurred in the West, the liberation of the peasants from bondage to the landlords took place in Russia under the leadership of the proletariat. That served as the basis also for the alliance between the proletariat and the toiling peasantry in Russia. It is the duty of the Communists to cherish that alliance and to strengthen it.
2) To develop industry by :
a) concentrating the maximum forces on the task of mastering the basic industries and improving supplies for the workers engaged in them;
b) developing foreign trade with a view to importing machinery and equipment;
c) attracting shareholders and leaseholders;
d) creating at least a minimum food fund for manoeuvring;
e) electrifying transport and large-scale industry. Such, in general, are the Party's tasks in its present period of development.
Pravda, No. 190, August 28, 1921
1. Iskra (The Spark)—the first all-Russian illegal Marxist newspaper, founded by V. I. Lenin in 1900 (for the significance and role of Iskra, see History of the C.P.S.U.(B.), Short Course, Moscow 1952, pp. 55-68).
2. N. Lenin, "Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder, Petrograd 1920 (see V. I. Lenin, Works, 4th Russ. ed., Vol. 31, pp. 1-97).
3. See V. I. Lenin, Works, 4th Russ. ed., Vol. 28, p. 269.