V. I. Lenin

Once Again On The Trade Unions,

The Current Situation and the Mistakes of Trotsky and Buhkarin[1]

Delivered: 25 January, 1921

First Published: January 1921 by the Press Department of the Moscow Soviet of

Workers’, Peasants’ and Red Army Deputies; Published according to the pamphlet

text collated with the manuscript

Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 1st English Edition, Progress Publishers,

Moscow, 1965, Volume 32, page 70-107

The Party discussion and the factional struggle, which is of a type that occurs

before a congress—before and in connection with the impending elections to the

Tenth Congress of the R.C.P.—are waxing hot. The first factional pronouncement,

namely, the one made by Comrade Trotsky on behalf of “a number of responsible

workers” in his “platform pamphlet” (The Role and Tasks of the Trade Unions,

with a preface dated December 25, 1920), was followed by a sharp pronouncement

(the reader will see from what follows that it was deservedly sharp) by the

Petrograd organisation of the R.C.P. (“Appeal to the Party”, published in

Petrogradskaya Pravda [2] on January 6, 1921, and in the Party’s Central Organ,

the Moscow Pravda, on January 13, 1921). The Moscow Committee then came out

against the Petrograd organisation (in the same issue of Pravda ). Then appeared

a verbatim report, published by the bureau of the R.C.P. group of the All-Russia

Central Council of Trade Unions, of the discussion that took place on December

30, 1920, at a very large and important Party meeting, namely, that of the

R.C.P. group at the Eighth Congress of Soviets. It is entitled The Role of the

Trade Unions in Production (with a preface dated January 6, 1921). This, of

course, is by no means all of the discussion material. Party meetings to discuss

these issues are being held almost everywhere. On December 30, 1920, I spoke at

a meeting in conditions in which, as I put it then, I “departed from the rules

of procedure”, i.e., in conditions in which I could not take part in the

discussion or hear the preceding and subsequent speakers. I shall now try to

make amends and express myself in a more “orderly” fashion.

The Danger Of Factional Pronouncements To The Party

Is Comrade Trotsky’s pamphlet The Role and Tasks of the Trade Unions a factional

pronouncement? Irrespective of its content, is there any danger to the Party in

a pronouncement of this kind? Attempts to hush up this question are a

particularly favourite exercise with the members of the Moscow Committee (with

the exception of Comrade Trotsky, of course), who see the factionalism of the

Petrograd comrades, and with Comrade Bukharin, who, however, felt obliged, on

December 30, 1920, to make the following statement on behalf of the “buffer


“. . . when a train seems to be heading for a crash, a buffer is not a bad thing

at all” (report of the December 30,1920 discussion, p. 45).

So there is some danger of a crash. Can we conceive of intelligent members of

the Party being indifferent to the question of how, where and when this danger


Trotsky’s pamphlet opens with the statement that “it is the fruit of collective

work”, that “a number of responsible workers, particularly trade unionists

(members of the Presidium of the All-Russia Central Council of Trade Unions, the

Central Committee of the Metalworkers’ Union, Tsektran and others)” took part in

compiling it, and that it is a “platform pamphlet”. At the end of thesis 4 we

read that “the forthcoming Party Congress will have to choose [Trotsky’s

italics] between the two trends within the trade union movement”.

If this is not the formation of a faction by a member of the Central Committee,

if this does not mean “heading for a crash”, then let Comrade Bukharin, or

anyone of his fellow-thinkers, explain to the Party any other possible meaning

of the words “factionalism “, and the Party “seems to be heading for a crash”.

Who can be more purblind than men wishing to play the “buffer” and closing their

eyes to such a “danger of a crash”?

Just imagine: after the Central Committee had spent two plenary meetings

(November 9 and December 7) in an unprecedentedly long, detailed and heated

discussion of Comrade Trotsky’s original draft theses and of the entire trade

union policy that he advocates for the Party, one member of the Central

Committee, one out of nineteen, forms a group outside the Central Committee and

presents its “collective work” as a “platform”, inviting the Party Congress “to

choose between two trends”! This, incidentally, quite apart from the fact that

Comrade Trotsky’s announcement of two and only two trends on December 25, 1920,

despite Bukharin’s coming out as a “buffer” on November 9, is a glaring exposure

of the Bukharin group’s true role as abettors of the worst and most harmful sort

of factionalism. But I ask any Party member: Don’t you find this attack and

insistence upon’choosing” between two trends in the trade union movement rather

sudden? What is there for us to do but stare in astonishment at the fact that

after three years of the proletarian dictatorship even one Party member can be

found to “attack” the two trends issue in this way ?

Nor is that all. Look at the factional attacks in which this pamphlet abounds.

In the very first thesis we find a threatening “gesture” at “certain workers in

the trade union movement” who are thrown “back to trade-unionism, pure and

simple, which the Party repudiated in principle long ago “ (evidently the Party

is represented by only one member of the Central Committee’s nineteen). Thesis 8

grandiloquently condemns “the craft conservatism prevalent among the top trade

union functionaries” (note the truly bureaucratic concentration of attention on

the “top”!). Thesis 11 opens with the astonishingly tactful, conclusive and

business-like (what is the most polite word for it?) “hint” that the “majority

of the trade unionists . . . give only formal, that is, verbal, recognition” to

the resolutions of the Party’s Ninth Congress.

We find that we have some very authoritative judges before us who say the

majority (!) of the trade unionists give only verbal recognition to the Party’s


Thesis 12 reads:

“. . . many trade unionists take an ever more aggressive and uncompromising

stand against the prospect of’coalescence’. . . . Among them we find Comrades

Tomsky and Lozovsky.

“What is more, many trade unionists, balking at the new tasks, and methods, tend

to cultivate in their midst a spirit of corporative exclusiveness and hostility

for the new men who are being drawn into the given branch of the economy,

thereby actually fostering the survivals of craft-unionism among the organised


Let the reader go over these arguments carefully and ponder them. They simply

abound in “gems”. Firstly, the pronouncement must be assessed from the

standpoint of factionalism! Imagine what Trotsky would have said, and how he

would have said it, if Tomsky had published a platform accusing Trotsky and

“many” military workers of cultivating the spirit of bureaucracy, fostering the

survivals of savagery, etc. What is the “role” of Bukharin, Preobrazhensky,

Serebryakov and the others who fail to see—positively fail to note, utterly fail

to note—the aggressiveness and factionalism of all this, and refuse to see how

much more factional it is than the pronouncement of the Petrograd comrades?

Secondly, take a closer look at the approach to the subject: many trade

unionists “tend to cultivate in their midst a spirit”. . . . This is an

out-and-out bureaucratic approach. The whole point, you see, is not the level of

development and living conditions of the masses in their millions, but the

“spirit” which Tomsky and Lozovsky tend to cultivate “in their midst”.

Thirdly, Comrade Trotsky has unwittingly revealed the essence of the whole

controversy which he and the Bukharin and Co. “buffer” have been evading and

camouflaging with such care.

What is the point at issue? Is it the fact that many trade unionists are balking

at the new tasks and methods and tend to cultivate in their midst a spirit of

hostility for the new officials?

Or is it that the masses of organised workers are legitimately protesting and

inevitably showing readiness to throw out the new officials who refuse to

rectify the useless and harmful excesses of bureaucracy?

Is it that someone has refused to understand the “new tasks and methods”?

Or is it that someone is making a clumsy attempt to cover up his defence of

certain useless and harmful excesses of bureaucracy with a lot of talk about new

tasks and methods?

It is this essence of the dispute that the reader should bear in mind.

Formal Democracy and the Revolutionary Interest

“Workers’ democracy is free from fetishes”, Comrade Trotsky writes in his

theses, which are the “fruit of collective work”. “Its sole consideration is the

revolutionary interest” (thesis 23).

Comrade Trotsky’s theses have landed him in a mess. That part of them which is

correct is not new and, what is more, turns against him. That which is new is

all wrong.

I have written out Comrade Trotsky’s correct propositions. They turn against him

not only on the point in thesis 23 (Glavpolitput) but on the others as well.

Under the rules of formal democracy, Trotsky had a right to come out with a

factional platform even against the whole of the Central Committee. That is

indisputable. What is also indisputable is that the Central Committee had

endorsed this formal right by its decision on freedom of discussion adopted on

December 24, 1920. Bukharin, the buffer, recognises this formal right for

Trotsky, but not for the Petrograd organisation, probably because on December

30, 1920, he talked himself into “the sacred slogan of workers’ democracy”

(verbatim report, p. 45). . . .

Well, and what about the revolutionary interest?

Will any serious-minded person who is not blinded by the factional egotism of

Tsektran” or of the “buffer” faction, will anyone in his right mind say that

such a pronouncement on the trade union issue by such a prominent leader as

Trotsky does promote the revolutionary interest ?

Can it be denied that, even if Trotsky’s “new tasks and methods” were as sound

as they are in fact unsound (of which later), his very approach would be

damaging to himself, the Party, the trade union movement, the training of

millions of trade union members and the Republic?

It looks as if the kind Bukharin and his group call them selves a “buffer”

because they have firmly decided not to think about the obligations this title

imposes upon them.

The Political Danger Of Splits In The Trade Union Movement

Everyone knows that big disagreements sometimes grow out of minute differences,

which may at first appear to be altogether insignificant. A slight cut or

scratch, of the kind everyone has had scores of in the course of his life, may

become very dangerous and even fatal if it festers and if blood poisoning sets

in. This may happen in any kind of conflict, even a purely personal one. This

also happens in politics.

Any difference, even an insignificant one, may become politically dangerous if

it has a chance to grow into a split, and I mean the kind of split that will

shake and destroy the whole political edifice, or lead, to use Comrade

Bukharin’s simile, to a crash.

Clearly, in a country under the dictatorship of the proletariat, a split in the

ranks of the proletariat, or between the proletarian party and the mass of the

proletariat, is not just dangerous; it is extremely dangerous, especially when

the proletariat constitutes a small minority of the population. And splits in

the trade union movement (which, as I tried hard to emphasise in my speech on

December 30, 1920, is a movement of the almost completely organised proletariat)

mean precisely splits in the mass of the proletariat.

That is why, when the whole thing started at the Fifth All-Russia Conference of

Trade Unions on November 2-6, 1920 (and that is exactly where it did start), and

when right after the Conference—no, I am mistaken, during that

Conference—Comrade Tomsky appeared before the Political Bureau in high dudgeon

and, fully supported by Comrade Rudzutak, the most even-tempered of men, began

to relate that at the Conference Comrade Trotsky had talked about “shaking up”

the trade unions and that he, Tomsky, had opposed this—when that happened, I

decided there and then that policy (i.e., the Party’s trade union policy) lay at

the root of the controversy, and that Comrade Trotsky, with his “shake-up”

policy against Comrade Tomsky, was entirely in the wrong. For, even if the

“shake-up ” policy were partly justified by the “new tasks and methods”

(Trotsky’s thesis 12), it cannot be tolerated at the present time, and in the

present situation, because it threatens a split.

It now seems to Comrade Trotsky that it is “an utter travesty “ to ascribe the

“shake-up-from-above “ policy to him (L. Trotsky, “A Reply to the Petrograd

Comrades”, Pravda No. 9, January 15, 1921). But “shake-up” is a real

“catchword”, not only in the sense that after being uttered by Comrade Trotsky

at the Fifth All-Russia Conference of Trade Unions it has, you might say,

“caught on” throughout the Party and the trade unions. Unfortunately, it remains

true even today in the much more profound sense that it alone epitomises the

whole spirit, the whole trend of the platform pamphlet entitled The Role and

Tactics of the Trade Unions. Comrade Trotsky’s platform pamphlet is shot through

with the spirit of the “shake-up-from-above” policy. Just recall the accusation

made against Comrade Tomsky, or “many trade unionists”, that they “tend to

cultivate in their midst a spirit of hostility for the new men”!

But whereas the Fifth All-Russia Conference of Trade Unions (November 2-6, 1920)

only saw the makings of the atmosphere fraught with splits, the split within

Tsektran became a fact in early December 1920.

This event is basic and essential to an understanding of the political essence

of our controversies; and Comrades Trotsky and Bukharin are mistaken if they

think hushing it up will help matters. A hush-up in this case does not produce a

“buffer” effect but rouses passions; for the question has not only been placed

on the agenda by developments, but has been emphasised by Comrade Trotsky in his

platform pamphlet. It is this pamphlet that repeatedly, in the passages I have

quoted, particularly in thesis 12, raises the question of whether the essence of

the matter is that “many trade unionists tend to cultivate in their midst a

spirit of hostility for the new men”, or that the “hostility” of the masses is

legitimate in view of certain useless and harmful excesses of bureaucracy, for

example, in Tsektran.

The issue was bluntly and properly stated by Comrade Zinoviev in his very first

speech on December 30, 1920, when he said that it was “Comrade Trotsky’s

immoderate adherents” who had brought about a split. Perhaps that is why Comrade

Bukharin abusively described Comrade Zinoviev’s speech as “a lot of hot air”?

But every Party member who reads the verbatim report of the December 30, 1920

discussion will see that that is not true. He will find that it is Comrade

Zinoviev who quotes and operates with the facts, and that it is Trotsky and

Bukharin who indulge most in intellectualist verbosity minus the facts.

When Comrade Zinoviev said, “Tsektran stands on feet of clay and has already

split into three parts”, Comrade Sosnovsky interrupted and said:

“That is something you have encouraged “ (verbatim report, p. 15).

Now this is a serious charge. If it were proved, there would, of course, be no

place on the Central Committee, in the R.C.P., or in the trade unions of our

Republic for those who were guilty of encouraging a split even in one of the

trade unions. Happily, this serious charge was advanced in a thoughtless manner

by a comrade who, I regret to say, has now and again been “carried away” by

thoughtless polemics before this. Comrade Sosnovsky has even managed to insert

“a fly in the ointment” of his otherwise excellent articles, say, on production

propaganda, and this has tended to negate all its pluses. Some people (like

Comrade Bukharin) are so happily constituted that they are incapable of

injecting venom into their attacks even when the fight is bitterest; others,

less happily constituted, are liable to do so, and do this all too often.

Comrade Sosnovsky would do well to watch his step in this respect, and perhaps

even ask his friends to help out.

But, some will say, the charge is there, even if it has been made in a

thoughtless, unfortunate and patently “factional” form. In a serious matter, the

badly worded truth is preferable to the hush-up.

That the matter is serious is beyond doubt, for, let me say this again, the crux

of the issue lies in this area to a greater extent than is generally suspected.

Fortunately, we are in possession of sufficiently objective and conclusive facts

to provide an answer in substance to Comrade Sosnovsky’s point.

First of all, there is on the same page of the verbatim report Comrade

Zinoviev’s statement denying Comrade Sosnovsky’s allegation and making precise

references to conclusive facts. Comrade Zinoviev showed that Comrade Trotsky’s

accusation (made obviously, let me add, in an outburst of factional zeal) was

quite a different one from Comrade Sosnovsky’s; Comrade Trotsky’s accusation was

that Comrade Zinoviev’s speech at the September All-Russia Conference of the

R.C.P. had helped to bring about or had brought about the split. (This charge,

let me say in parenthesis, is quite untenable, if only because Zinoviev’s

September speech was approved in substance by the Central Committee and the

Party, and there has been no formal protest against it since.)

Comrade Zinoviev replied that at the Central Committee meeting Comrade Rudzutak

had used the minutes to prove that “long before any of my [Zinoviev’sl speeches

and the All-Russia Conference the question [concerning certain unwarranted and

harmful excesses of bureaucracy in Tsektran] had been examined in Siberia, on

the Volga, in the North and in the South”.

That is an absolutely precise and clear-cut statement of fact. It was made by

Comrade Zinoviev in his first speech before thousands of the most responsible

Party members, and his facts were not refuted either by Comrade Trotsky, who

spoke twice later, or by Comrade Bukharin, who also spoke later.

Secondly, the December 7, 1920 resolution of the Central Committee’s Plenary

Meeting concerning the dispute between the Communists working in water transport

and the Communist group at the Tsektran Conference, given in the same verbatiln

report, was an even more definite and official refutation of Comrade Sosnovsky’s

charges. The part of the resolution dealing with Tsektran says:

“In connection with the dispute between Tsektran and the water transport

workers, the Central Committee resolves: 1) To set up a Water Transport Section

within the amalgamated Tsektran; 2) To convene a congress of railwaymen and

water transport workers in February to hold normal elections to a new Tsektran;

3) To authorise the old Tsektran to function until then; 4) To abolish

Glavpolitvod and Glavpolitput immediately and to transfer all their funds and

resources to the trade union on normal democratic lines.”

This shows that the water transport workers, far from being censured, are deemed

to be right in every essential. Yet none of the C.C. members who had signed the

common platform of January 14, 1921 (except Kamenev) voted for the resolution.

(The platform referred to is the Role and Tasks of the Trade Unions. Draft

Decision of the Tenth Congress of the R.C.P., submitted to the Central Committee

by a group of members of the Central Committee and the trade union commission.

Among those who signed it was Lozovsky, a member of the trade union commission

but not of the Central Committee. The others were Tomsky, Kalinin, Rudzutak,

Zinoviev, Stalin, Lenin, Kamenev, Petrovsky and Artyom Sergeyev.)

This resolution was carried against the C.C. members listed above, that is,

against our group, for we would have voted against allowing the old Tsektran to

continue temporarily. Because we were sure to win, Trotsky was forced to vote

for Bukharin’s resolution, as otherwise our resolution would have been carried.

Comrade Rykov, who had been for Trotsky in November, took part in the trade

union commission’s examination of the dispute between Tsektran and the water

transport workers in December, and saw that the latter were right.

To sum up: the December 7 majority in the Central Committee consisted of

Comrades Trotsky, Bukharin, Preobrazhensky, Serebryakov and other C.C. members

who are above suspicion of being biased against Tsektran. Yet the substance of

their resolution did not censure the water transport workers but Tsektran, which

they just stopped short of dissolving there and then. This proves Sosnovsky’s

charge to be quite groundless.

There is one other point to be dealt with, if we are to leave no room for

ambiguity. What were these “certain unwarranted and harmful excesses of

bureaucracy” to which I have repeatedly referred? Isn’t this last charge

unsupported or exaggerated?

Once again it was Comrade Zinoviev who, in his very first speech on December 30,

1920, provided the answer which was as precise as one could wish. He quoted from

Comrade Zoff’s water transport circular of May 3, 1920: “Committee treadmill

abolished.”[3] Comrade Zinoviev was quite right in saying this was a fundamental

error. It exemplified the unwarranted and harmful excesses of bureaucracy and

the “appointments system”. But he said there and then that some appointees were

“not half as experienced or as tried” as Comrade Zoff. I have heard Comrade Zoff

referred to in the Central Committee as a most valuable worker, and this is

fully borne out by my own observations in the Council of Defence. It has not

entered anyone’s mind either to make scapegoats of such comrades or to undermine

their authority (as Comrade Trotsky suggests, without the least justification,

on page 25 of his report). Their authority is not being undermined by those who

try to correct the “appointees’” mistakes, but by those who would defend them

even when they are wrong.

We see, therefore, that the danger of splits within the trade union movement was

not imaginary but real. And we find that the actual disagreements really boiled

down to a demand that certain unwarranted and harmful exccesses of bureaucracy,

and the appointments system should not be justified or defended, but corrected.

That is all there is to it.

Disagreements On Principle

There being deep and basic disagreements on principle—we may well be asked—do

they not serve as vindication for the sharpest and most factional

pronouncements? Is it possible to vindicate such a thing as a split, provided

there is need to drive home some entirely new idea?

I believe it is, provided of course the disagreements are truly very deep and

there is no other way to rectify a wrong trend in the policy of the Party or of

the working class.

But the whole point is that there are no such disagreements. Comrade Trotsky has

tried to point them out, and failed. A tentative or conciliatory approach had

been possible—and necessary—before the publication of his pamphlet (December 25)

(“such an approach is ruled out even in the case of disagreements and vague new

tasks”); but after its publication we had to say: Comrade Trotsky is essentially

wrong on all his new points.

This is most evident from a comparison of his theses with Rudzutak’s which were

adopted by the Fifth All Russia Conference of Trade Unions (November 2-6). I

quoted the latter in my December 30 speech and in the January 21 issue of

Pravda. They are-fuller and more correct than Trotsky’s, and wherever the latter

differs from Rudzutak, he is wrong.

Take this famous “industrial democracy”, which Comrade Bukharin hastened to

insert in the Central Committee’s resolution of December 7. It would, of course,

be ridiculous to quibble about this ill-conceived brainchild (“tricky

flourishes”), if it merely occurred in an article or speech. But, after all, it

was Trotsky and Bukharin who put themselves into the ridiculous position by

insisting in their theses on this very term, which is the one feature that

distinguishes their “platforms” from Rudzutak’s theses adopted by the trade


The term is theoretically wrong. In the final analysis, every kind of democracy,

as political superstructure in general (which must exist until classes have been

abolished and a classless society established), serves production and is

ultimately determined by the relations of production in a given society. It is,

therefore, meaningless to single out “industrial democracy”, for this leads to

confusion, and the result is a dummy. That is the first point.

The second is that if you look at Bukharin’s own explanation given in the

resolution of the C.C. Plenary Meeting on December 7, which he drafted, you will

find that he says: “Accordingly, the methods of workers’ democracy must be those

of industrial democracy, which means. . . .” Note the “which means”! The fact is

that Bukharin opens his appeal to the masses with such an outlandish term that

he must give a gloss on it. This, I think, is undemocratic from the democratic

standpoint. You must write for the masses without using terms that require a

glossary. This is bad from the “production” standpoint because time is wasted in

explaining unnecessary terms. “Which means,” he says, “that nomination and

seconding of candidates, elections, etc., must proceed with an eye not only to

their political staunchness, but also business efficiency, administrative

experience, leadership, and proved concern for the working people’s material and

spiritual interests.”

The reasoning there is obviously artificial and incorrect. For one thing,

democracy is more than “nomination and seconding of candidates, elections, etc.”

Then, again, not all elections should be held with an eye to political

staunchness and business efficiency. Comrade Trotsky notwithstanding, an

organisation of many millions must have a certain percentage of canvassers and

bureaucrats (we shall not be able to make do without good bureaucrats for many

years to come). But we do not speak of “canvassing” or “bureaucratic” democracy.

The third point is that it is wrong to consider only the elected, the

organisers, the administrators, etc. After all, they constitute a minority of

outstanding men. It is the mass, the rank and file that we must consider.

Rudzutak has it in simpler, more intelligible and theoretically more correct

terms (thesis 6):

“. . . it must be brought home to each participant in production that his

production tasks are appropriate and important; that each must not only take a

hand in fulfilling his assignments, but also play an intelligent part in

correcting any technical and organisational defects in the sphere of production.

The fourth point is that “industrial democracy” is a term that lends itself to

misinterpretation. It may be read as a repudiation of dictatorship and

individual authority. It may be read as a suspension of ordinary democracy or a

pretext for evading it. Both readings are harmful, and cannot be avoided without

long special commentaries.

Rudzutak’s plain statement of the same ideas is more correct and more handy.

This is indirectly confirmed by Trotsky’s parallel of “war democracy” which he

draws with his own term in an article, “Industrial Democracy”, in Pravda of

January 11, and which fails to refute that his term is inaccurate and

inconvenient (for he side-steps the whole issue and fails to compare his theses

with Rudzutak’s). Happily, as far as I can recall, we have never had any

factional controversy over that kind of term.

Trotsky’s “production atmosphere” is even wider of the mark, and Zinoviev had

good reason to laugh at it. This made Trotsky very angry, and he came out with

this argument: “We once had a war atmosphere. . . . We must now have a

production atmosphere and not only on the surface but deep down in the workers’

mass. This must be as intense and practical an interest in production as was

earlier displayed in the fronts. . . .” Well, there you are: the message must be

carried “deep down into the workers’ mass” in the language of Rudzutak’s theses,

because “production atmosphere” will only earn you a smile or a shrug. Comrade

Trotsky’s “production atmosphere” has essentially the same meaning as production

propaganda, but such expressions must be avoided when production propaganda is

addressed to the workers at large. The term is an example of how not to carry it

on among the masses.

Politics And Economics. Dialectics And Eclecticism

It is strange that we should have to return to such elementary questions, but we

are unfortunately forced to do so by Trotsky and Bukharin. They have both

reproached me for “switching “ the issue, or for taking a “political” approach,

while theirs is an “economic” one. Bukharin even put that in his theses and

tried to “rise above” either side, as if to say that he was combining the two.

This is a glaring theoretical error. I said again in my speech that politics is

a concentrated expression of economics, because I had earlier heard my

“political” approach rebuked in a manner which is inconsistent and inadmissible

for a Marxist. Politics must take precedence over economics. To argue otherwise

is to forget the ABC of Marxism.

Am I wrong in my political appraisal? If you think so, say it and prove it. But

you forget the ABC of Marxism when you say (or imply) that the political

approach is equivalent to the “economic”, and that you can take “the one and the


What the political approach means, in other words, is that the wrong attitude to

the trade unions will ruin the Soviet power and topple the dictatorship of the

proletariat. (In a peasant country like Russia, the Soviet power would surely go

down in the event of a split between the trade unions and a Party in the wrong.)

This proposition can (and must) be tested in substance, which means looking into

the rights and wrongs of the approach and taking a decision. To say: I

“appreciate” your political, approach, “but ” it is only a political one and we

“also need an economic one”, is tantamount to saying: I “appreciate” your point

that in taking that particular step you are liable to break your neck, but you

must also take into consideration that it is better to be clothed and well-fed

than to go naked and hungry.

Bukharin’s insistence on combining the political and the economic approach has

landed him in theoretical eclecticism.

Trotsky and Bukharin make as though they are concerned for the growth of

production whereas we have nothing but formal democracy in mind. This picture is

wrong, because the only formulation of the issue (which the Marxist standpoint

allows ) is: without a correct political approach to the matter the given class

will be unable to stay on top, and, consequently, will be incapable of solving

its production problem either.

Let us take a concrete example. Zinoviev says: “By carrying things to a split

within the trade unions, you are making a political mistake. I spoke and wrote

about the growth of production back in January 1920, citing the construction of

the public baths as an example.” Trotsky replies: “What a thing to boast of: a

pamphlet with the public baths as an example (p. 29),’and not a single word’

about the tasks of the trade unions” (p. 22).

This is wrong. The example of the public baths is worth, you will pardon the

pun, a dozen “production atmospheres”, with a handful of “industrial

democracies” thrown in. It tells the masses, the whole bulk of them, what the

trade unions are to do, and does this in plain and intelligible terms, whereas

all these “production atmospheres” and “democracies” are so much murk blurring

the vision of the workers’ masses, and dimming their understanding.

Comrade Trotsky also rebuked me for not “saying a word” (p. 66) about “the role

that has to be played—and is being played—by the levers known as the trade union


I beg to differ, Comrade Trotsky. By reading out Rudzutak’s theses in toto and

endorsing them, I made a statement on the question that was fuller, plainer,

clearer and more correct than all your theses, your report or co-report, and

speech in reply to the debate. I insist that bonuses in kind and disciplinary

comrades’ courts mean a great deal more to economic development, industrial

management, and wider trade union participation in production than the

absolutely abstract (and therefore empty) talk about “industrial democracy”,

“coalescence”, etc.

Behind the effort to present the “production” standpoint (Trotsky) or to

overcome a one-sided political approach and combine it with an economic approach

(Bukharin) we find:

1)Neglect of Marxism, as expressed in the theoretically incorrect, eclectic

definition of the relation between politics and economics;

2 )Defence or camouflage of the political mistake expressed in the shake-up

policy, which runs through the whole of Trotsky’s platform pamphlet, and which,

unless it is admitted and corrected, leads to the collapse of the dictatorship

of the proletariat;

3)A step back in purely economic and production matters, and the question of how

to increase production; it is, in fact, a step back from Rudzutak’s practical

theses, with their concrete, vital and urgent tasks (develop production

propaganda; learn proper distribution of bonuses in kind and correct use of

coercion through disciplinary comrades’ courts), to the highbrow, abstract,

“empty” and theoretically incorrect general theses which ignore all that is most

practical and business-like.

That is where Zinoviev and myself, on the one hand, and Trotsky and Bukharin, on

the other, actually stand on this question of politics and economics.

I could not help smiling, therefore, when I read Comrade Trotsky’s objection in

his speech of December 30: “In his summing-up at the Eighth Congress of Soviets

of the debate on the situation, Comrade Lenin said we ought to have less

politics and more economics, but when he got to the trade union question he laid

emphasis on the political aspect of the matter” (p. 65). Comrade Trotsky thought

these words were “very much to the point”. Actually, however, they reveal a

terrible confusion of ideas, a truly hopeless “ideological confusion”. Of

course, I have always said, and will continue to say, that we need more

economics and less politics, but if we are to have this we must clearly be rid

of political dangers and political mistakes. Comrade Trotsky’s political

mistakes, aggravated by Comrade Bukharin, distract our Party’s attention from

economic tasks and “production” work, and, unfortunately, make us waste time on

correcting them and arguing it out with the syndicalist deviation (which leads

to the collapse of the dictatorship of the proletariat), objecting to the

incorrect approach to the trade union movement (which leads to the collapse of

the Soviet power), and debating general “theses”, instead of having a practical

and business-like “economic” discussion as to whether it was the Saratov

millers, the Donbas miners, the Petrograd metalworkers or some other group that

had the best results in coalescing, distributing bonuses in kind, and organising

comrades’ courts, on the basis of Rudzutak’s theses, adopted by the Fifth

All-Russia-Trade Union Conference on November 2-6.

Let us now consider what good there is in a “broad discussion”. Once again we

find political mistakes distracting attention from economic tasks. I was against

this “broad” discussion, and I believed, and still do, that it was a mistake—a

political mistake—on Comrade Trotsky’s part to disrupt the work of the trade

union commission, which ought to have held a business-like discussion. I believe

Bukharin’s buffer group made the political mistake of misunderstanding the tasks

of the buffer (in which case they had once again substituted eclecticism for

dialectics), for from the “buffer” standpoint they should have vigorously

opposed any broad discussion and demanded that the matter should be taken up by

the trade union commission. Here is what came of this.

On December 30, Bukharin went so far as to say that “we have proclaimed the new

and sacred slogan of workers’ democracy, which means that questions are no

longer to be discussed in the board-room within the corporation or at small

meetings but are to be placed before big meetings. I insist that by taking the

trade union issue before such a large meeting as this one we are not taking a

step backward but forward” (p. 45). And this man has accused Zinoviev of

spouting “hot air” and overdoing the democracy! I say that he himself has given

us a lot of hot air and has shown some unexampled bungling; he has completely

failed to understand that formal democracy must be subordinate to the

revolutionary interest.

Trotsky is in the same boat. His charge is that “Lenin wants at all costs to

disrupt or shelve the discussion of the matter in essence” (p. 65). He declares:

“My reasons for refusing to serve on the commission were clearly stated in the

Central Committee: until such time as I am permitted, on a par with all other

comrades, to air these questions fully in the Party press, I do not expect any

good to come of any cloistered examination of these matters, and, consequently,

of work on the commission” (p. 69).

What is the result? Less than a month has passed since Trotsky started his

“broad discussion” on December 25, and you will be hard put to find one

responsible Party worker in a hundred who is not fed up with the discussion and

has not realised its futility (to say no worse). For Trotsky has made the Party

waste time on a discussion of words and bad theses, and has ridiculed as

“cloistered” the business-like economic discussion in the commission, which was

to have studied and verified practical experience and projected its lessons for

progress in real “production” work, in place of the regress from vibrant

activity to scholastic exercises in all sorts of “production atmospheres”.

Take this famous “coalescence”. My advice on December 30 was that we should keep

mum on this point, because we had not studied our own practical experience, and

without that any discussion was bound to degenerate into “hot air” and draw off

the Party’s forces from economic work. I said it was bureaucratic projecteering

for Trotsky to propose in his theses that from one-third to one-half and from

one-half to two-thirds of the economic councils should consist of trade


For this I was upbraided by Bukharin who, I see from p. 49 of the report, made a

point of proving to me at length and in great detail that “when people meet to

discuss something, they should not act as deaf-mutes” (sic ). Trotsky was also

angry and exclaimed:

“Will every one of you please make a note that on this particular date Comrade

Lenin described this as a bureaucratic evil. I take the liberty to predict that

within a few months we shall have accepted for our guidance and consideration

that the All-Russia Central Council of Trade Unions and the Supreme Economic

Council, the Central Committee of the Metalworkers’ Union and the Metals

Department, etc., are to have from one-third to one-half of their members in

common” (p. 68).

When I read that I asked Comrade Milyutin (Deputy Chairman of the Supreme

Economic Council) to let me have the available printed reports on coalescence. I

said to my self: why not make a small start on the study of our practical

experience; it’s so dull engaging in “general Party talk” (Bukharin’s

expression, p. 47, which has every chance of becoming a catchword like

“shake-up”) to no useful purpose, without the facts, and inventing

disagreements, definitions and “industrial democracies”.

Comrade Milyutin sent me several books, including The Report of the Supreme

Economic Council to the Eighth All-Russia Congress of Soviets (Moscow, 1920;

preface dated December 19, 1920). On its p. 14 is a table showing workers’

participation in administrative bodies. Here is the table (covering only part of

the gubernia economic councils and factories):

Administrative BodyTotal membersWorkers SpecialistsOffice workers and


Number PercentNumberPercentNumber Percent

Presidium of Supreme Economic Council and gubernia economic councils


Collegiums of chief administrations, departments, central boards and head


Corporate and one-man management of factories.1,14372663.539834.8191.7


It will be seen that 61.6 per cent, that is, closer to two-thirds than to

one-half, of the staff of administrative bodies now consists of workers. And

this already proves that what Trotsky wrote on this matter in his theses was an

exercise in bureaucratic projecteering. To talk, argue and write platforms about

“one-third to one-half” and “one-half to two-thirds” is the most useless sort of

“general Party talk”, which diverts time, attention and resources from

production work. It is empty politicking. All this while, a great deal of good

could have been done in the commission, where men of experience would have

refused to write any theses without a study of the facts, say, by polling a

dozen or so “common functionaries” (out of the thousand), by comparing their

impressions and conclusions with objective statistical data, and by making an

attempt to obtain practical guidance for the future: that being our experience,

do we go straight on, or do we make some change in our course, methods and

approach, and how; or do we call a halt, for the good of the cause, and check

things over and over again, make a few changes here and there, and so on and so


Comrades, a real “executive” (let me also have a go at “production propaganda”)

is well aware that even in the most advanced countries, the capitalists and

their executives take years—sometimes ten and more—to study and test their own

(and others’) practical experience, making innumerable starts and corrections to

tailor a system of management, select senior and junior executives, etc., fit

for their particular business. That was the rule under capitalism, which

throughout the civilised world based its business practices on the experience

and habits of centuries. We who are breaking new ground must put in a long,

persistent and patient effort to retrain men and change the old habits which

have come down to us from capitalism, but this can only be done little by

little. Trotsky’s approach is quite wrong. In his December 30 speech he

exclaimed: “Do or do not our workers, Party and trade union functionaries have

any production training? Yes or no? I say: No” (p. 29). This is a ridiculous

approach. It is like asking whether a division has enough felt boots: Yes or no?

It is safe to say that even ten years from now we shall have to admit that all

our Party and trade union functionaries do not have enough production training,

in much the same way as the workers of the Military Department, the trade unions

and the Party will not have had enough military experience. But we have made a

start on production training by having about a thousand workers, and trade union

members and delegates take part in management and run factories, head offices

and other bodies higher up the scale. The basic principle underlying “production

training”—which is the training of our own selves, of the old underground

workers and professional journalists—is that we should start a painstaking and

detailed study of our own practical experience, and teach others to do so,

according to the rule: Look before you leap. The fundamental and absolute rule

behind “production training” is systematic, circumspect, practical and business

like verification of what this one thousand have done, and even more efficient

and careful correction of their work, taking a step forward only when there is

ample proof of the usefulness of a given method, system of management,

proportion, selection of men, etc. And it is this rule that Comrade Trotsky has

broken by his theses and approach. All his theses, his entire platform pamphlet,

are so wrong that they have diverted the Party’s attention and resources from

practical “production” work to a lot of empty talk.

Dialectics and Eclecticism

“School” and “Apparatus”

Among Comrade Bukharin’s many excellent traits are his theoretical ability and

keen interest in getting at the theoretical roots of every question. That is a

very valuable trait because you cannot have a proper understanding of any

mistake, let alone a political one, unless you dig down to its theoretical roots

among the basic premises of the one who makes it.

Responding to this urge, Comrade Bukharin tended to shift the controversy into

the theoretical sphere, beginning from December 30, if not earlier.

In his speech on that day he said: “That neither the political nor the economic

factor can be ignored is, I believe, absolutely incontrovertible—and that is the

theoretical essence of what is here known as the’buffer group’ or its ideology “

(p. 47).

The gist of his theoretical mistake in this case is substitution of eclecticism

for the dialectical interplay of politics and economics (which we find in

Marxism). His theoretical attitude is: “on the one hand, and on the other”, “the

one and the other”. That is eclecticism. Dialectics requires an all-round

consideration of relationships in their concrete development but not a patchwork

of bits and pieces. I have shown this to be so on the example of politics and


That of the “buffer” has gone to reinforce the point. You need a buffer, and it

is useful when the Party train is heading for a crash. No question about that at

all. Bukharin has built up his “buffer” problem eclectically, by collecting odd

pieces from Zinoviev and Trotsky. As a “buffer”, Bukharin should have decided

for himself just where, when and how each individual or group had made their

mistake, whether it was a theoretical mistake, one of political tact, factional

pronouncement, or exaggeration, etc. He should have done that and gone hammer

and tongs at every such mistake. But he has failed to understand his task of

“buffer”, and here is good proof of it.

The Communist group of Tsektran’s Petrograd Bureau (the C.C. of the Railwaymen’s

and Water Transport Workers’ Union), an organisation sympathising with Trotsky,

has stated its opinion that, “on the main issue of the trade unions’ role in

production, Comrades Trotsky and Bukharin hold views which are variations of one

and the same standpoint”. It has issued Comrade Bukharin’s report in Petrograd

on January 3,1921, in pamphlet form (N. Bukharin, The Tasks of the Trade Unions,

Petrograd, 1921). It says:

“Comrade Trotsky’s original formulation was that the trade union leadership

should be removed and suitable comrades found to take their place, etc. He had

earlier advocated a’shake-up’, but he has now abandoned the idea, and it is

therefore quite absurd to use it as an argument against him” (p. 5).

I will let pass the numerous factual inaccuracies in this statement. (Trotsky

used the term “shake-up” at the Fifth All-Russia Conference of Trade Unions,

November 2-6. He mentions “selection of leadership” in Paragraph 5 of his theses

which he submitted to the Central Committee on November 8, and which,

incidentally, some of his supporters have published as a leaflet. The whole of

Trotsky’s pamphlet, The Role and Tasks of the Trade Unions, December 25, reveals

the same kind of mentality, the same spirit as I have pointed out before. When

and how he “abandoned” this attitude remains a mystery.) I am now dealing with a

different matter. When the “buffer” is an eclectic, he passes over some mistakes

and brings up others; he says nothing of them in Moscow on December 30, 1920,

when addressing thousands of R.C.P. functionaries from all over Russia; but he

brings them up in Petrograd on January 3, 1921. When the “buffer” is a

dialectician, he directs the full brunt of his attack at every mistake he sees

on either side, or on all sides. And that is something Bukharin does not do. He

does not even try to examine Trotsky’s pamphlet in the light of the “shake-up”

policy. He simply says nothing about it. No wonder his buffer performance has

made everyone laugh.

To proceed. In that same Petrograd speech he says (p. 7):

“Comrade Trotsky’s mistake is insufficient support for the school-of-communism


During the December 30 discussion, Bukharin reasoned as follows:

“Comrade Zinoviev has said that the trade unions are a school of communism, and

Trotsky has said that they are a technical and administrative apparatus for

industrial management. I see no logical grounds for proof that either

proposition is wrong; both, and a combination of both, are right” (p. 48).

Bukharin and his “group” or “faction” make the same point in their thesis 6: “On

the one hand, they [the trade unions] are a school of communism . . . and on the

other, they are—increasingly—a component part of the economic apparatus and of

state administration in general” (Pravda, January 16).

That is where we find Comrade Bukharin’s fundamental theoretical mistake, which

is substitution of eclecticism (especially popular with the authors of diverse

“fashionable” and reactionary philosophical systems) for Marxist dialectics.

When Comrade Bukharin speaks of “logical” grounds, his whole reasoning shows

that he takes—unconsciously, perhaps—the standpoint of formal or scholastic

logic, and not of dialectical or Marxist logic. Let me explain this by taking

the simple example which Comrade Bukharin himself gives. In the December 30

discussion he said:

“Comrades, many of you may find that the current controversy suggests something

like this: two men come in and invite each other to define the tumbler on the

lectern. One says:‘It is a glass cylinder, and a curse on anyone who says

different.’ The other one says:‘A tumbler is a drinking vessel, and a curse on

anyone who says different’”(p. 46).

The reader will see that Bukharin’s example was meant to give me a popular

explanation of the harm of one-track thinking. I accept it with gratitude, and

in the one-good turn-deserves-another spirit offer a popular explanation of the

difference between dialectics and eclecticism.

A tumbler is assuredly both a glass cylinder and a drinking vessel. But there

are more than these two properties, qualities or facets to it; there are an

infinite number of them, an infinite number of “mediacies” and

inter-relationships with the rest of the world. A tumbler is a heavy object

which can be used as a missile; it can serve as a paper weight, a receptacle for

a captive butterfly, or a valuable object with an artistic engraving or design,

and this has nothing at all to do with whether or not it can be used for

drinking, is made of glass, is cylindrical or not quite, and so on and so forth.

Moreover, if I needed a tumbler just now for drinking, it would not in the least

matter how cylindrical it was, and whether it was actually made of glass; what

would matter though would be whether it had any holes in the bottom, or anything

that would cut my lips when I drank, etc. But if I did not need a tumbler for

drinking but for a purpose that could be served by any glass cylinder, a tumbler

with a cracked bottom or without one at all would do just as well, etc.

Formal logic, which is as far as schools go (and should go, with suitable

abridgements for the lower forms), deals with formal definitions, draws on what

is most common, or glaring, and stops there. When two or more different

definitions are taken and combined at random (a glass cylinder and a drinking

vessel), the result is an eclectic definition which is indicative of different

facets of the object, and nothing more.

Dialectical logic demands that we should go further. Firstly, if we are to have

a true knowledge of an object we must look at and examine all its facets, its

connections and “mediacies”. That is something we cannot ever hope to achieve

completely, but the rule of comprehensiveness is a safeguard against mistakes

and rigidity. Secondly, dialectical logic requires that an object should be

taken in development, in change, in “self-movement” (as Hegel sometimes puts

it). This is not immediately obvious in respect of such an object as a tumbler,

but it, too, is in flux, and this holds especially true for its purpose, use and

connection with the surrounding world. Thirdly, a full “definition” of an object

must include the whole of human experience, both as a criterion of truth and a

practical indicator of its connection with human wants. Fourthly, dialectical

logic holds that “truth is always concrete, never abstract”, as the late

Plekhanov liked to say after Hegel. (Let me add in parenthesis for the benefit

of young Party members that you cannot hope to become a real, intelligent

Communist without making a study—and I mean study—of all of Plekhanov’s

philosophical writings, because nothing better has been written on Marxism

anywhere in the world.[3b])

I have not, of course, run through the whole notion of dialectical logic, but

what I have said will do for the present. I think we can return from the tumbler

to the trade unions and Trotsky’s platform.

“A school, on the one hand, and an apparatus on the other”, says Bukharin, and

writes as much in his theses. Trotsky’s mistake is “insufficient support for the

school-of-communism idea”; Zinoviev errs by being lukewarm on the apparatus


Why is Bukharin’s reasoning no more than inert and empty eclecticism? It is

because he does not even try to make an independent analysis, from his own

standpoint, either of the whole course of the current controversy (as Marxism,

that is, dialectical logic, unconditionally demands) or of the whole approach to

the question, the whole presentation—the whole trend of the presentation, if you

will—of the question at the present time and in these concrete circumstances.

You do not see Bukharin doing that at all! His approach is one of pure

abstraction: he makes no attempt at concrete study, and takes bits and pieces

from Zinoviev and Trotsky. That is eclecticism.

Here is another example to clarify the picture. I know next to nothing about the

insurgents and revolutionaries of South China (apart from the two or three

articles by Sun Yat-sen, and a few books and newspaper articles I read many

years ago). Since there are these uprisings, it is not too far-fetched to assume

a controversy going on between Chinese No. 1, who says that the insurrection is

the product of a most acute nation-wide class struggle, and Chinese No. 2, who

says that insurrection is an art. That is all I need to know in order to write

theses à la Bukharin: “On the one hand, . . . on the other hand”. The one has

failed to reckon with the art “factor”, and the other, with the “acuteness

factor”, etc. Because no concrete study is made of this particular controversy,

question, approach, etc., the result is a dead and empty eclecticism.

On the one hand, the trade unions are a school, and on the other, an apparatus;

but they also happen to be an organisation of working people, an almost

exclusive organisation of industrial workers, an organisation by industry,

etc.[3c] Bukharin does not make any analysis for himself, nor does he produce a

shred of evidence to prove why it is that we should consider the first two

“facets” of the question or object, instead of the third, the fourth, the fifth,

etc. That is why his group’s theses are an eclectic soap bubble. His

presentation of the “school-apparatus” relationship is fundamentally eclectic

and wrong.

The only way to view this question in the right light is to descend from empty

abstractions to the concrete, that is, the present issue. Whether you take it in

the form it assumed at the Fifth All-Russia Conference of Trade Unions, or as it

was presented and slanted by Trotsky himself in his platform pamphlet of

December 25, you will find that his whole approach is quite wrong and that he

has gone off at a tangent. He has failed to understand that the trade unions can

and must be viewed as a school both when raising the question of “Soviet

trade-unionism”, and when speaking of production propaganda in general, and even

when considering “coalescence” and trade union participation in industrial

management, as Trotsky does. On this last point, as it is presented in Trotsky’s

platform pamphlet, the mistake lies in his failure to grasp that the trade

unions are a school of technical and administrative management of production. In

the context of the controversy, you can not say: “a school, on the one hand, and

something else on the other"; given Trotsky’s approach, the trade unions,

whichever way you look at them, are a school. They are a school of unity,

solidarity, management and administration, where you learn how to protect your

interests. Instead of making an effort to comprehend and correct Comrade

Trotsky’s fundamental mistake, Comrade Bukharin has produced a funny little

amendment: “On the one hand, and on the other.”

Let us go deeper into the question. Let us see what the present trade unions

are, as an “apparatus” of industrial management. We have seen from the

incomplete returns that about 900 workers—trade union members and delegates—are

engaged in industrial management. If you multiply this number by 10 or even by

100—if it helps to clarify your fundamental mistake let us assume this

incredible speed of “advance” in the immediate future—you still have an

insignificant proportion of those directly engaged in management, as compared

with the mass of six million trade union members. This makes it even clearer

that it is quite wrong to look to the “leading stratum”, and talk about the

trade unions’ role in production and industrial management, as Trotsky does,

forgetting that 98.5 per cent (6 million minus 90,000 equals 5,910,000 or 98.5

per cent of the total) are learning, and will have to continue to do so for a

long time to come. Don’t say school and management, say schooI of management.

In his December 30 argument against Zinoviev, whom he accused, quite

groundlessly and incorrectly, of denying the “appointments system”, that is, the

Central Committee’s right and duty to make appointments, Comrade Trotsky

inadvertently drew the following telltale comparison:

“Zinoviev tends to overdo the propaganda angle on every practical matter,

forgetting that it is not only a source of material for agitation, but also a

problem requiring an administrative solution” (p. 27).

Before I explain in detail the potential administrative approach to the issue,

let me say that Comrade Trotsky’s fundamental mistake is that he treats (rather,

maltreats) the questions he himself had brought up in his platform pamphlet as

administrative ones, whereas they could be and ought to be viewed only from the

propaganda angle.

In effect, what are Trotsky’s good points? One undoubtedly good and useful point

is his production propaganda, but that is not in his theses, but in his

speeches, specially when he forgets about his unfortunate polemics with the

allegedly “conservative” wing of the trade-unionists. He would undoubtedly have

done (and I believe he will do) a great deal of good in the trade union

commission’s practical business, as speaker and writer, and as a member of the

All-Russia Production Propaganda Bureau. His platform theses were a mistake, for

through them, like a scarlet thread, runs the administrative approach to the

“crisis” and the “two trends” within the trade unions, the interpretation of the

R.C.P. Programme, “Soviet trade-unionism”, “production training” and

“coalescence”. I have listed all the main points of Trotsky’s “platform “ and

they all happen to be topics which, considering the material at Trotsky’s

disposal, can be correctly approached at the present time only from the

propaganda angle.

The state is a sphere of coercion. It would be madness to renounce coercion,

especially in the epoch of the dictatorship of the proletariat, so that the

administrative approach and “steerage” are indispensable. The Party is the

leader, the vanguard of the proletariat, which rules directly. It is not

coercion but expulsion from the Party that is the specific means of influence

and the means of purging and steeling the vanguard. The trade unions are a

reservoir of the state power, a school of communism and a school of management.

The specific and cardinal thing in this sphere is not administration but the

“ties ” “between the central state administration” (and, of course, the local as

well), “the national economy and the broad masses of the working people” (see

Party Programme, economic section, §5, dealing with the trade unions).

The whole of Trotsky’s platform pamphlet betrays an incorrect approach to the

problem and a misunderstanding of this relationship.

Let us assume that Trotsky had taken a different approach to this famous

question of “coalescence” in connection with the other topics of his platform,

and that his pamphlet was entirely devoted to a detailed investigation of, say,

90 of the 900 cases of “coalescence” where trade union officials and members

concurrently held elective trade union posts and Supreme Economic Council posts

in industrial management. Let us say these 90 cases had been analysed together

with the returns of a selective statistical survey, the reports of inspectors

and instructors of Rabkrin and the People’s Commissariats concerned: let us say

they had been analysed in the light of the data supplied by the administrative

bodies, the results of the work, the headway in production, etc. That would have

been a correct administrative approach, and would have fullyy\ indicated the

“shake-up” line, which implies concentrating attention on removals, transfers,

appointments and the immediate demands to be made on the “leading stratum”. When

Bukharin said in his January 3 speech, published by the Tsektran people in

Petrograd, that Trotsky had at first wanted a “shake-up” but had now abandoned

the idea, he made another one of his eclectical mistakes, which is ridiculous

from the practical standpoint and theoretically inadmissible for a Marxist. He

takes the question in the abstract, being unable (or unwilling) to get down to

brass tacks. So long as we, the Party’s Central Committee and the whole Party,

continue to run things, that is, govern, we shall never—we cannot—dispense with

the “shake-up”, that is, removals, transfers, appointments, dismissals, etc. But

Trotsky’s platform pamphlet deals with something else, and does not raise the

“question of practical business” at all. It is not this but the “trends within

the trade union movement” (Trotsky’s thesis 4, end) that was being debated by

Zinoviev and Trotsky, Bukharin and myself, and in fact the whole Party.

This is essentially a political question. Because of the substance of the

case—this concrete, particular “case “—it is impossible to correct Trotsky’s

mistake by means of eclectic little amendments and addenda, as Bukharin has been

trying to do, being moved undoubted]y by the most humane sentiments and


There is only one answer.

First, there must be a correct solution of the political question of the “trends

within the trade union movement”, the relationship between classes, between

politics and economics, the specific role of the state, the Party, the trade

unions, as “school” and apparatus, etc.

Second, once the correct political decision has been adopted, a diversified

nation-wide production propaganda campaign must be carried through, or, rather,

systematically carried forward with persistence and patience over a long term,

under the sponsorship and direction of a state agency. It should be conducted in

such a way as to cover the same ground over and over again.

Third, the “questions of practical business” must not be confused with trend

issues which properly belong to the sphere ofgeneral Party talk” and broad

discussions; they must be dealt with as practical matters in the working

commissions, with a hearing of witnesses and a study of memoranda, reports and

statistics. And any necessary “shake-up” must be carried out only on that basis

and in those circumstances: only under a decision of the competent Soviet or

Party organ, or of both.

Trotsky and Bukharin have produced a hodgepodge of political mistakes in

approach, breaks in the middle of the transmission belts, and unwarranted and

futile attacks on “administrative steerage”. It is now clear where the

“theoretical” source of the mistake lies, since Bukharin has taken up that

aspect of it with his example of the tumbler. His theoretical—in this case,

gnosiological— mistake lies in his substitution of eclecticism for dialectics.

His eclectic approach has confused him and has landed him in syndicalism.

Trotsky’s mistake is one-track thinking, compulsiveness, exaggeration and

obstinacy. His platform says that a tumbler is a drinking vessel, but this

particular tumbler happens to have no bottom.


It remains for me to go over a few more points which must be dealt with to

prevent misunderstanding.

Thesis 6 of Trotsky’s platform quotes Paragraph 5 of the economic section of the

R.C.P. Programme, which deals with the trade unions. Two pages later, his thesis

8 says:

“Having lost the old basis of their existence, the class economic struggle, the

trade unions. . . “ (that is wrong, and is a hasty exaggeration: the trade

unions no longer have to face the class economic struggle but the non-class

“economic struggle”, which means combating bureaucratic distortions of the

Soviet apparatus, safeguarding the working people’s material and spiritual

interests in ways and means inaccessible to this apparatus, etc. This is a

struggle they will unfortunately have to face for many more years to come). “The

trade unions,” says Trotsky, “have, for various reasons, not yet succeeded in

mustering the necessary forces and working out the necessary methods enabling

them to solve the new task, that of organising production ” (Trotsky’s italics,

p. 9, thesis 8), “set before them by the proletarian revolution and formulated

in our Programme.”

That is yet another hasty exaggeration which is pregnant with grave error. The

Programme does not contain any such formulation nor does it set the trade unions

the task of “organising production”. Let us go over the propositions in the

Party’s Programme as they unfold in the text:

(1)"The organisational apparatus” (but not the others) “of socialised industry

should rely chiefly” (but not exclusively) “on the trade unions.” (2)"They must

to an ever increasing degree divest themselves of the narrow craft-union spirit”

(how? under the leadership of the Party and through the proletariat’s

educational and other influence on the non-proletarian mass of working people)

“and become large industrial associations, embracing the majority, and

eventually all of the workers in the given industry.”

That is the first part of the section of the Party Programme dealing with the

trade unions. You will have noted that it starts by laying down very “strict

conditions” demanding a long sustained effort for what is to follow. And what

follows is this:

“The trade unions being, on the strength of the laws of the Soviet Republic and

established practice, participants” (note the cautious statement: participants

only) “in all the local and central organs of industrial management, should

eventually arrive at a de facto concentration in their hands of the whole

administration of the whole national economy, as a single economic entity” (note

this: should arrive at a de facto concentration of management not of branches of

industry and not of industry as a whole, but of the whole national economy, and

moreover, as an economic entity. In economic terms, this condition may be

considered fulfilled only when the petty producers both in industry and

agriculture account for less than one-half of the population and the national

economy). “The trade unions ensuring in this way” (the way which helps to

realise all the conditions listed earlier) “indissoluble ties between the

central state administration, the national economy and the broad masses of

working people, should draw the latter” (that is, the masses, the majority of

the population) “into direct economic management on the widest possible scale.

At the same time, the participation of the trade unions in economic management

and their activity in drawing the broad masses into this work are the principal

means of combating the bureaucratisation of the economic apparatus of the Soviet

power and making possible the establishment of truly popular control over the

results of production.”

There again, in that last sentence, we find a very cautious phrase:

“participation in economic management"; and another reference to the recruitment

of the broad masses as the chief (but not the only) means of combating

bureaucratic practices; finally, we find a highly cautious statement: “making

possible ” the establishment of “popular ”—that is, workers’ and peasants’, and

not just purely proletarian—“control ”.

It is obviously wrong to boil this down to the Party Programme “formulating” the

trade unions’ task as “organisation of production”. And if you insist on this

error, and write it into your platform theses, you will get nothing but an

anti-communist, syndicalist deviation.

Incidentally, Comrade Trotsky says in his theses that “over the last period we

have not made any headway towards the goal set forth in the Programme but have

in fact retreated from it” (p. 7, thesis 6). That statement is unsupported, and,

I think, wrong. It is no proof to say, as Trotsky did in the discussions, that

the trade unions “themselves” admit this. That is not the last resort, as far as

the Party is concerned, and, generally speaking, the proof lies only in a

serious and objective study of a great number of facts. Moreover, even if such

proof were forthcoming, there would remain this question: Why have we retreated?

Is it because “many trade-unionists “ are “balking at the new tasks and

methods”, as Trotsky believes, or because “we have not yet succeeded in

mustering the necessary forces and working out the necessary methods” to cut

short and correct certain unwarranted and harmful excesses of bureaucracy?

Which brings me to Bukharin’s rebuke of December 30 (repeated by Trotsky

yesterday, January 24, during our discussion in the Communist group of the

Second Miners’ Congress) that we have “dropped the line laid down by the Ninth

Party Congress” (p. 46 of the report on the December 30 discussion). He alleged

that at that Congress I had defended the militarisation of labour and had jeered

at references to democracy, all of which I now “repudiate”. In his reply to the

debate on December 30, Comrade Trotsky added this barb: “Lenin takes account of

the fact that . . . there is a grouping of opposition-minded comrades within the

trade unions” (p. 65); that I view it from the “diplomatic angle” (p. 69), and

that there is “manoeuvring inside the Party groups” (p. 70), etc. Putting such a

complexion on the case is, of course, highly flattering for Trotsky, and worse

than unflattering for me. But let us look at the facts.

In that same discussion on December 30, Trotsky and Krestinsky established the

fact that “as long ago as July (1920), Comrade Preobrazhensky had proposed to

the Central Committee that we should switch to a new track in respect of the

internal life of our workers’ organisations” (p. 25). In August, Comrade

Zinoviev drafted a letter, and the Central Committee approved a C.C. Letter on

combating red-tape and extending democracy. In September, the question was

brought up at a Party conference whose decisions were endorsed by the Central

Committee. In December, the question of combating red-tape was laid before the

Eighth Congress of Soviets. Consequently, the whole Central Committee, the whole

Party and the whole workers’ and peasants’ Republic had recognised that the

question of the bureaucracy and ways of combating its evils was high on the

agenda. Does any “repudiation” of the Ninth Congress of the R.C.P. follow from

all this? Of course, not. The decisions on the militarisation of labour, etc.,

are incontestable, and there is no need for me at all to withdraw any of my

jibes at the references to democracy by those who challenged these decisions.

What does follow is that we shall be extending democracy in the workers’

organisations, without turning it into a fetish; that we shall redouble our

attention to the struggle against bureaucratic practices; and that we shall take

special care to rectify any unwarranted and harmful excesses of bureaucracy, no

matter who points them out.

One final remark on the minor question of priority and equalisation. I said

during the December 30 discussion that Trotsky’s formulation of thesis 41 on

this point was theoretically wrong, because it implied priority in production

and equalisation in consumption. I replied that priority implied preference and

that that was nothing unless you also had it in consumption. Comrade Trotsky

reproached me for “extraordinary forgetfulness” and “intimidation” (pp. 67 and

68), and I am surprised to find that he has not accused me also of manoeuvring,

diplomatic moves, etc. He has made “concessions” to my equalitarian line, but I

have attacked him.

Actually, however, anyone who takes an interest in Party affairs, can turn to

indisputable Party documents: the November resolution of the C.C. Plenum, point

4, and Trotsky’s platform pamphlet, thesis 41. However “forgetful” I may be, and

however excellent Comrade Trotsky’s memory, it is still a fact that thesis 41

contains a theoretical error, which the C.C. resolution of November 9 does not.

The resolution says: “While recognising the necessity of keeping to the

principle of priority in carrying out the economic plan, the Central Committee,

in complete solidarity with the decisions of the last All-Russia Conference

(September), deems it necessary to effect a gradual but steady transition to

equality in the status of various groups of workers and their respective trade

unions, all the while building up the organisation on the scale of the union as

a whole.” That is clearly aimed against Tsektran, and it is quite impossible to

put any other construction on the exact meaning of the resolution. Priority is

here to stay. Preference is still to be given to enterprises, trade unions,

trusts and departments on the priority list (in regard to fulfilment of the

economic plan), but at the same time, the “equalitarian line”—which was

supported not by “Comrade Lenin alone”, but was approved by the Party Conference

and the Central Committee, that is, the entire Party—makes this clear-cut

demand: get on with the gradual but steady transition to equalisation. That

Tsektran failed to carry out this C.C. resolution (November) is evident from the

Central Committee’s December resolution (on Trotsky and Bukharin’s motion),

which contains another reminder of the “principles of ordinary democracy”. The

theoretical error in thesis 41 is that it says: equalisation in consumption,

priority in production. That is an economic absurdity because it implies a gap

between production and consumption. I did not say—and could never have

said—anything of the sort. If you don’t need a factory, close it down. Close

down all the factories that are not absolutely essential, and give preference to

those that are. Give preference to, say, transport. Most certainly. But the

preference must not be overdone, as it was in Tsektran’s case, which was why the

Party (and not just Lenin) issued this directive: get on with the gradual but

steady transition to equality. And Trotsky has no one but himself to blame for

having come out—after the November Plenary Meeting, which gave a clear-cut and

theoretically correct solution—with a factional pamphlet on “the two trends” and

proposed a formulation in his thesis 41 which is wrong in economic terms.

* *


Today, January 25, it is exactly one month since Comrade Trotsky’s factional

statement. It is now patent that this pronouncement, inappropriate in form and

wrong in essence, has diverted the Party from its practical economic and

production effort into rectifying political and theoretical mistakes. But, it’s

an ill wind, as the old saying goes.

Rumour has it that some terrible things have been said about the disagreements

on the Central Committee. Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries undoubtedly

shelter (and have sheltered) behind the opposition, and it is they who are

spreading the rumours, incredibly malicious formulations, and inventions of all

sorts to malign the Party, put vile interpretations on its decisions, aggravate

conflicts and ruin its work. That is a political trick used by the bourgeoisie,

including the petty-bourgeois democrats, the Mensheviks and the

Socialist-Revolutionaries, who, for very obvious reasons, hate—and cannot help

hating—the Bolsheviks’ guts. Every intelligent member of the Party is familiar

with this political trick, and knows its worth.

Because of the disagreements on the Central Committee, it had to appeal to the

Party, and the discussions that followed clearly revealed the essence and scope

of these disagreements. That killed the rumours and the slander. The Party

learns its lessons and is tempered in the struggle against factionalism, a new

malaise (it is new in the sense that after the October Revolution we had

forgotten all about it). Actually, it is an old malaise, with relapses

apparently bound to occur over the next few years, but with an easier cure now

well in sight.

The Party is learning not to blow up its disagreements. Let me quote at this

point Comrade Trotsky’s correct remark about Comrade Tomsky: “I have always said

—even when the polemic against Comrade Tomsky was at its bitterest—that it is

quite clear to me that only men with his experience and authority ought to be

our trade union leaders. I told this to the Party group of the Fifth Conference

of the Trade Unions, and repeated it at the Zimin theatre a few days ago.

Ideological struggle within the Party does not mean mutual ostracism but mutual

influence”[4] (p. 34 of the report on the December 30 discussion). The Party

will naturally apply this correct approach to Comrade Trotsky himself.

During the discussion it was Comrade Shlyapnikov and his group, the so-called

Workers’ Opposition, who showed the most pronounced syndicalist trend. This

being an obvious deviation from communism and the Party, we shall have to reckon

with it, talk it over, and make a special propaganda effort to explain the error

of these views and the danger of making such mistakes. Comrade Bukharin, who

actually coined the syndicalist phrase “mandatory nominations” (by trade unions

to management bodies) tries to vindicate himself in today’s issue of Pravda, but

I’m afraid his line of defence is highly ineffective and quite wrong. He wants

us to know, you see, that he deals with the role of the Party in his other

points. I should think so! If it were otherwise it would have been more than

just a mistake, requiring correction and allowing some slight rectification: it

would have been withdrawal from the Party. When you say “mandatory nominations”

but neglect to add, there and then, that they are not mandatory for the Party,

you have a syndicalist deviation, and that is incompatible with communism and

the Party Programme If you add: “mandatory but not for the Party” you are giving

the non-Party workers a false sense of having some increase in their rights,

whereas in fact there will be no change at all. The longer Comrade Bukharin

persists in his deviation from communism—a deviation that is wrong theoretically

and deceptive politically—the more deplorable will be the fruits of his

obstinacy. You cannot maintain an untenable proposition. The Party does not

object to the extension of the rights of the non-Party workers in general, but a

little reflection will show what can and what cannot be done in this respect.

In the discussion by the Communist group of the Second All-Russia Miners’

Congress, Shlyapnikov’s platform was defeated despite the backing it got from

Comrade Kiselyov, who commands special prestige in that union: our platform won

137 votes, Shlyapnikov’s, 62, and Trotsky’s, 8. The syndicalist malaise must and

will be cured.

In this one month, Petrograd, Moscow and a number of provincial towns have shown

that the Party responded to the discussion and has rejected Comrade Trotsky’s

wrong line by an overwhelming majority. While there may have been some

vacillation “at the top” and “in the provinces”, in the committees and in the

offices, the rank-and-file membership—the mass of Party workers—came out solidly

against this wrong line.

Comrade Kamenev informed me of Comrade Trotsky’s announcement, during the

discussion in the Zamoskvorechye District of Moscow on January 23, that he was

withdrawing his platform and joining up with the Bukharin group on a new

platform. Unfortunately, I heard nothing of this from Comrade Trotsky either on

January 23 or 24, when he spoke against me in the Communist group of the Miners’

Congress. I don’t know whether this is due to another change in Comrade

Trotsky’s platform and intentions, or to some other reason. In any case, his

January 23 announcement shows that the Party, without so much as mustering all

its forces, and with only Petrograd, Moscow and a minority of the provincial

towns going on record, has corrected Comrade Trotsky’s mistake promptly and with


The Party’s enemies had rejoiced too soon. They have not been able—and will

never be able—to take advantage of some of the inevitable disagreements within

the Party to inflict harm on it and on the dictatorship of the proletariat in


January 25, 1921


[1] Lenin began writing the pamphlet on January 21 or 22, 1921, in Gorki where

he was taking a rest. Upon his return to Moscow on January 22, he handed the

greater part of the pamphlet to his secretary for typing. He finished the work

on January 25 and had it sent to the printer’s. Late on January 26, C.C. members

who were going to attend local discussions of the trade unions’ role and tasks

were given copies of the printed pamphlet, while the rest of the copies were

ready on January 27.

[2] Petrogradskaya Pravda (Petrograd Truth )—a daily published from April 2,

1918, as the organ of the Bolshevik Central and Petrograd Party Committees.

Since January 1924, it has been appearing as Leningradskaya Pravda.

[3] V. I. Zoff’s circular of May 3, 1920, was published in the Bulleten

Mariinskogo Oblastnogo Upravlenia Vodnogo Transporta (Bulletin of the Mariinsky

Regional Water Transport Administration ) No. 5, 1920. It ran: “A great change

is about to occur in the life of water transport: primitive methods, committee

treadmill, haphazard work and anarchy are on the way out. Water transport is

becoming a state enterprise, headed by political commissars with appropriate

powers. Committees, trade unions and elected delegates will no longer have the

power to interfere in technical and administrative matters.”

[3b] By the way, it would be a good thing, first, if the current edition of

Plekhanov’s works contained a special volume or volumes of all his philosophical

articles, with detailed indexes, etc., to be included in a series of standard

textbooks on communism; secondly I think the workers’ state must demand that

professors of philosophy should have a knowledge of Plekhanov’s exposition of

Marxist philosophy and ability to impart it to their students. But all that is a

digression from “propaganda” to “administration”—Lenin.

[3c]Incidentally, here again Trotsky makes a mistake. He thinks that an

industrial union is designed to control industry. That is wrong. When you say

that a union is an industrial one you mean that it admits to membership workers

in one industry, which is inevitable at the present level of technology and

culture (in Russia and elsewhere).—Lenin.

The order was an example of administration by injunction and bureaucratic

practices, which Tsektran’s leadership was introducing, and was evidence of

their misunderstanding of the trade unions’ role in getting transport back on

its feet. The trade unions were equated with outdated army committees, and

barred by order from taking part in improving water transport operations.

[4] On December 24, 1920, in what used to be the Zimin theatre, Trotsky gave a

report on the trade unions tasks in production at a joint meeting of trade union

activists and delegates to the Eighth All-Russia Congress of Soviets, called by

the Central Committee of the Joint Union of Rail and Water Transport Workers. It

started the open Party discussion on the trade unions.