Russian Socialism ?????

March 1997

Some so-called socialists claim:

  • That in November 1917, the Bolsheviks set up a “socialist workers’ state”.
  • That the economic form of this state was not capitalism (some call it “socialism”, some call it “state socialism”, some suggest it was some other non-capitalist economic form).
  • That later on, this “socialist workers’ state” was perverted from what the Bolsheviks originally planned and set up.
  • That any oppression was accidental, or directed against counter-revolutionaries.

The World Socialist Movement (WSM) claims:

  • That a “socialist workers’ state” is a contradiction in terms. Workers have no state, except that imposed upon them.
  • The economic form of this supposed “socialist workers’ state” was state capitalism.
  • No perversion of this supposed “socialist workers’ state” took place because it was a perversion to start with.
  • The oppression was planned and was directed against the working class and peasantry.

We have in many articles and at many times given reasons for the WSM’s claims. This article is intended not to rehash those arguments, but to show that the Bolsheviks never expected to set up socialism in 1917, that from the outset their supposed “workers’ state” intentionally directed its oppression against the workers, and was actually state capitalism.

We quote Vladimir Ilich (Nikolai) Lenin, from Selected Works, Volume VII. Original publication dates and titles are shown as well. Page numbers are from Selected Works.

We do not agree with all of the comments Lenin makes in these quotes, especially when he claims that the Soviet Socialist Republic was socialist, and his assertion that “state monopoly capitalism is the fullest material preparation for socialism”. But the quotations do show that the WSM is correct about the points noted above.

  • 28 April 1918, The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government
    • Unquestioning submission to a single will is absolutely necessary for the success of labour processes that are based on large-scale machine industry . . . today the same revolution demands, in the interests of socialism, that the masses unquestioningly obey the single will of the leaders of the labour process.
      (p. 342)
  • 5 May 1918, Left wing childishness and petit-bourgeois mentality
    • economically, state capitalism is immeasurably superior to the present system of economy
      (p. 364)
    • At present, petty-bourgeois capitalism prevails in Russia
      (p. 366)
    • If we introduced state capitalism in approximately 6 months’ time we would achieve a great success and a sure guarantee that within a year socialism will have gained a permanently firm hold and will have become invincible in our country.
      (p. 360)
    • Nor, I think, has any Communist denied that the term Socialist Soviet Republic implies the determination of the Soviet government to achieve the transition to socialism, and not that the new economic order is a socialist order. … the precise nature of the elements that constitute the various social-economic forms which exist in Russia at the present time. … Let us enumerate these elements:
      1) patriarchal, i.e., to a considerable extent natural, self-sufficing peasant economy;
      2) small-commodity production (this includes the majority of those peasants who sell their grain);
      3) private capitalism;
      4) state capitalism, and
      5) socialism.
    • While the revolution in Germany is slow in “coming forth,” our task is to study the state capitalism of the Germans, to spare no effort in copying it and not shrink from adopting dictatorial methods to hasten the copying of it. Our task is to do this even more thoroughly than Peter* hastened the copying of Western culture by barbarian Russia, and he did not hesitate to use barbarian methods in fighting against barbarism.
      (p. 365) [* Peter the Great]
    • In order to convince the reader that this is not the first time I have given this “high” appreciation of state capitalism and that I gave it before the Bolsheviks seized power I take the liberty of quoting the following passage from my pamphlet The Threatening Catastrophe and How to Fight It, written in September 1917. “. . . But try to substitute for the Junker-capitalist state, for the landlord-capitalist state, a revolutionary-democratic state (i.e., such as will destroy all privileges in a revolutionary way without being afraid of introducing in a revolutionary way the fullest possible democracy), and you will see that, in a truly revolutionary-democratic state, state monopoly capitalism inevitably and unavoidably means progress towards socialism!
      “. . . For socialism is nothing but the next step forward after state capitalist monopoly.
      “. . . State monopoly capitalism is the fullest material preparation for socialism, it is its threshold, it is that rung on the historical ladder between which and the rung called socialism there are no intervening rungs.” Please note that this was written when Kerensky was in power, that we are discussing, not the dictatorship of the proletariat, not the socialist state, but the “revolutionary-democratic” state. . . . Is it not clear that from the material, economic and productive point of view, we are not yet “on the threshold” of socialism?
      (p. 367)

A very few, significant events relative to state capitalism and workers’ power from the outset of Bolshevik power.

All are taken from The Bolsheviks & Workers’ Control; Maurice Brinton; Black Rose; 1975.

Dates shown in this section are old-style dates, hence the November revolution occurred on 25 October by the old Russian calendar.

Note: Soviets and factory committees were bodies elected by the workers.

  • 7 Apr 1917 – Lenin’s April Theses published. Thesis 8: ‘Our immediate task shall not be the “introduction of socialism” but to bring social production and distribution of products … under the control of the Soviet of Workers’ Deputies.’
  • 17-22 Oct 1917 – First All Russian Conference of Factory Committees. Bolsheviks had 86 of 137 delegates. Lenin quoted as saying: ‘we must shift the centre of gravity to the Factory Committees. The Factory Committees must become the organs of insurrection. We must change our slogan and instead of saying “All Power to the Soviets”, we must say “All Power to the Factory Committees”.’
  • 25 Oct 1917 – Overthrow of Kerensky’s Provisional Government. Proclamation of Council of Peoples Commissars during opening session of Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets. Publication of ‘Decree on the Land’ transferring lands of nobility, church and crown to the custody of peasants.
  • 3 Nov 1917 – Draft Decree on Workers’ Control subordinates Factory Committees to trade unions, congresses, and the state.
  • 9 Nov 1917 – Decree dissolving the soviet in the People’s Commissariat of Posts and Telegraphs.
  • 28 Nov 1917 – Decree dissolving the soviet in the Admiralty.

Not all of the Bolsheviks agreed with Lenin. But the vanguard approach gave the tiny vanguard at the head of the Bolshevik vanguard enough power to impose its will. This is not surprising, it is a structurally inherent feature of vanguardism.

Socialism can only be established when the material conditions of society, including productive capability and working class understanding, exist in society. In Russia in 1917, those conditions did not exist. The Bolshevik vanguard clearly recognized this.

The vanguard approach of Lenin, Trotsky, and others requires that those who disagree be forced into submission. Lenin’s support for using “barbarian methods” to achieve state capitalism and his demand for “unquestioning submission” clearly shows the Bolshevik policy of anti-democratic, anti-worker actions. If in the 1920s, or even the 1930s, this had ended and something that a rational individual could call a “workers’ state” had come into existence, then the World Socialist Movement might have had to admit to making a mistake on this point. But the oppression of the Russians, and the rest of the Russian empire, continued for another 50 years after that.

The vanguard leader, Lenin, knew that he was not about to establish socialism in 1917. He intended before the 1917 revolution to implement state capitalism, which just like any other form of capitalism, must be forced using “barbarian methods,” on the working class population.

When it was beneficial to the Bolsheviks, they said “all power to the Soviets.” Within a month of taking power they had dissolved one of those soviets, and dissolved another 17 days later. The Bolsheviks had no problem at all with their “worker’s state” suppressing workers’ expressions of power.

When it was beneficial to the Bolsheviks, they said “all power to the Factory Committees,” but 9 days after taking power, they subordinated the factory committees to the trades unions and congresses which were more under the control of the Bolsheviks, and to the state itself under the direct control of the Bolsheviks.

No vanguard can establish socialism, not even one which doesn’t plan to oppress the working class. Socialism will be established by the working class, democratically, because that is the only possible way to establish a cooperative democratic society.

Please email your comments about this article to

Back to the History Index

Back to the World Socialist Movement home page