Revolution or War n°13

(Semestrial - October 2019)

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The "Bukharin Fraction" of 1918 Contrary to the Communist Left

Since the publication in French of the complete writings of the journal Kommunist by the publisher Smolny, it seems fashionable in the revolutionary milieu to claim the tradition of the struggle of this ephemeral fraction within the Bolshevik party. Even the Communist Workers Organisation publishes some articles in an English translation in its journal Revolutionary Perspectives [1] . But to claim the tradition of this fraction and its struggle is inevitably to its correctness against Lenin and Trotsky on domestic and foreign policy issues during the early years of the October revolution. Just as giving this fraction the Communist Left [2] label inevitably leads to a claim of political continuity between the journal Kommunist and the groups of the current Communist Left.

However, the Communist Left, particularly in its ’Italian’ tradition, has always stood by the Bolsheviks on all the main issues raised by the comrades of the Kommunist fraction. The current popularity of this journal is in fact only a new way for the more or less councilist currents within the contemporary revolutionary political milieu to serve us with their eternal and invariable anti-Leninist lament: since the day 1 of the revolution, the Bolsheviks have only paved the way for counter-revolution and Stalinism.

The purpose of this article will thus be to demonstrate that the positions defended by the militants around the Kommunist journal, despite the fact that they were illustrious militants of the Bolshevik party in many cases, cannot be associated with the Communist Left. In fact, these comrades put forward rather anarchist positions and conceptions. We will divide our discussion according to the main themes that are discussed through Kommunist, i.e. first the question of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the tactics of revolutionary war, then the construction of socialism and state capitalism.

Brest-Litovsk and Revolutionary War

« Of the two tendencies of the Bolshevik party that clashed in the time of Brest-Litovsk, that of Lenin and the other of Bukharin, we believe that it was indeed the first one that was oriented towards the objectives of struggle for world revolution. The positions of the faction led by Bukharin, according to which the function of the proletarian state was to deliver the proletariat of other countries through the "revolutionary war", is brutally opposed to the very nature of proletarian revolution and the historical function of the proletariat »

(Bilan 18, organe de la Fraction italienne de la Gauche communiste,1935).

To fully understand the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk by the Bolshevik power in 1918, it is first necessary to put the historical context into perspective. After incessant defeatist propaganda within the old tsarist army by the revolutionaries but also after this army suffered major defeats in the face of the enemy, the military front in the East was in complete collapse. The October revolution was the final nail in the coffin of the imperialist war in Russia. The former territory of the Russian Empire was therefore de facto no longer at war with anyone. It is clear, however, that the other imperialists wanted to take advantage of this situation by attempting an attack on Russia. And that is exactly what Germany did.

The signing of the treaty by the Bolsheviks was therefore in no way a compromise or betrayal of principles. It was only a question of using the diplomatic channel to avoid an invasion of the revolutionary territory which, in any case, would not even have had the capacity to defend itself seriously against its attackers, since it was still without an army!

The false alternative, in fact quite childish, to die or to betray, was perfectly expressed by Radek: "If the Russian revolution is crushed by the bourgeois counter-revolution, it will be reborn from its ashes like the Phoenix; but if it loses its socialist character, and by this disappoints the working masses, this blow will have ten times more terrible consequences for the future of the Russian and international revolution" [3]. The current revolutionaries may well see in these beautiful words, beautiful only from a literary point of view, a prophecy predicting what would become Stalinism [4]. But this would only be a rewriting of history by modifying it under the effect of the very real trauma that Stalinism has caused for the revolutionary movement. The use, out of context, of this quote by rather councilist currents today only serves to support their theory that the Stalinist worm was hidden from the very beginning in the Bolshevik apple. However, from a political point of view, what is the alternative that Radek proposed in April 1918? To perish in the hands of counterrevolution or to betray pure and eternal principles. This perspective was completely defeatist in 1918 when, let us remember, the international revolution was just gaining momentum. If we go to the end of Radek’s reasoning, should the Bolsheviks have ceded power out of fear of betraying the principles? To consider as a possibility the fact that revolutionary militants relinquish power from the very beginning of the revolutionary process because it is impossible to achieve revolutionary principles in the immediate future is not to show revolutionary intransigence. On the contrary, it is one of the many masks that opportunism can wear, in this case: anarchist immediateism and the abandonment in practice of the internationalist principle of the dictatorship of the proletariat and its exercise.

What was the alternative perspective proposed by the comrades of the Kommunist fraction? The famous revolutionary war. "Before the triumph of workers and peasant revolution, it will be necessary to declare revolutionary war, that is, to grant armed support to the proletarians who have not yet won. This war can take different aspects. If we can recover our economy, we will take the offensive. But if it is impossible for us to gather the necessary forces, we will wage a defensive war (...), a holy war in the name of the interests of the proletariat; our struggle will resound like a fraternal call to arms. This conflict will ignite the inferno of world socialist revolution" [5]. They therefore wanted to propose an immediatist offensive tactic in the French style, that is, in the image of the revolutionary wars that took place during the French Revolution.

Lenin responded vigorously to the revolutionary war tactics in his polemical article On the revolutionary phrase. Indeed, the latter retorted to the comrades of the Kommunist fraction that calling for revolutionary war when the army is demobilized, that is, without having an army at its disposal, is at best fine words in the air, at worst pure adventurism. "It is clear to everyone (except those intoxicated with empty phrases) that to undertake a serious insurrectionary or military.clash knowing that we have no forces, knowing that we have no army, is a gamble that will not help the German workers but will make their struggle more difficult and make matters easier for their enemy and for our enemy" [6]. The only possibility of using the tactics of revolutionary war for Lenin would be in a situation where the revolution would be isolated, that is, a situation where the revolution would have won in one country but would not spread to others after a certain period of time. This tactic is therefore a last resort for Lenin: "Our press has always spoken of the need to prepare fora revolutionary war in the event of the victory of socialism in one country with capitalism still in existence in the neighbouring countries. That is indisputable" [7]. In 1918, at the very beginning of the process of international revolution that began in October 1917, it is not yet possible to say that the revolution in Russia was isolated.

The Bolsheviks’ tactic is therefore clear and, above all, revolutionary. Peace must be signed at all costs to save time while waiting for the revolution to be extended, at least first in Western Europe. Moreover, this short respite will allow them to build a red army, which Trotsky actually did.

The most effective weapon for working to extend the international revolution could never be revolutionary war. The left-wing current of the Italian Socialist Party, the same current that would later assume leadership in the formation of the Communist Party of Italy, was already developing arguments parallel to those of the Bolsheviks in 1918 with regard to Brest-Litovsk and the revolutionary war: "The argument of the partisans of the resistance, namely that the ’holy war’ - apart from its chances of success - would have constituted a real and authentic class struggle of the Russian proletariat against capitalist imperialism, does not stand up to the observation that the armies of imperialism are unfortunately made up of proletarians, and is equivalent to embracing the interventionist position that puts the German people on the bench of the International and Socialism. (...) On the contrary, the tactics of the ’holy war’ would have deepened the abyss between the two peoples and bound the German people to the chariot of its leaders, posing insurmountable difficulties for the future historical development of the Russian revolution; and it would have disrupted the entire social process of eliminating capitalist institutions, paving the way for a Russian neo-nationalism that would have suffocated socialism" [8]. In short, this whole detour on the revolutionary war must not make us forget that the real weapon of the international proletariat to work for the global extension of the revolution was founded in 1919 under the impetus of the Bolshevik party: the Communist International. The foundation of this organization, a true world communist party, made it possible to set up in most countries a section of the party whose task it was to prepare for, be part of and lead the revolutionary struggle.

And finally, is the validity of the Bolshevik tactic, i. e. the signing of a peace treaty at all costs while awaiting revolutionary back-up from Western Europe, not completely justified when, not even a year after Brest-Litovsk, in November 1918, the revolution did indeed arise in Germany?

Construction of Socialism and State Capitalism

The controversy over Brest-Litovsk will quickly become obsolete as the Bolsheviks, never a monolithic party but more a party with the same debates and differences that also cross the proletariat as a class in the process of unification, have finally agreed to sign the peace treaty with Germany. The focus of the Kommunist faction thus shifted to the issues of economic management and state capitalism. Indeed, in their controversy in the pages of the journal Kommunist, some comrades criticize the « right-wing communists » and Lenin in particular for building socialism with the help of the capitalists, which could only lead to state capitalism, the antithesis of socialism. Under this revolutionary verbiage, there is so much confusion and freedom taken in relation to Marx’s communist theory that we need to re-examine this debate in a global way, namely to link the debate on economic management from the beginning of the October Revolution to the ultimate goal of the revolution: communist society.

As a general premise for establishing a communist conception of economic management in Russian society in 1918, it must be reaffirmed that communism is the product of the capitalist great industry. This basic principle is present on all pages in the Communist Party Manifesto of Marx and Engels. However, in Russia in 1918, it must be noted that the economy is still far from the phase of great industry. With the exception of the few ultra-capitalist and modern islets in large cities, Russia is at a stage, very backward compared to the rest of Europe, of small property mixed with feudal vestiges.

This does not mean that revolution was not on the agenda in Russia. This would support the Menshevik [9] position that in Russia only bourgeois revolution was on the agenda. According to this position, the Russian social democracy was to constitute the left wing of the bourgeoisie during its revolution and leave it at that. It is not surprising that this fundamentally opportunistic position was strongly criticised by the social democratic left at the time. On the contrary, this international left, with Lenin in the lead, showed the international character of the next revolution and thus its fundamentally proletarian political character.

Proletarian revolution in Russia thus became possible despite the economic backwardness to the extent that it was linked to the rising international revolution. The balance of power between the classes of the time but also the political capacity of the Russian proletarians ensured that it was from Russia that the spark of the world revolution started. "At the same time socialism is inconceivable unless the proletariat is the ruler of the state. This also is ABC. And history (which nobody, except Menshevik blockheads of the first order, ever expected to bring about ’complete’ socialism smoothly, gently, easily and simply) has taken such a peculiar course that it has given birth in 1918 to two unconnected halves of socialism existing side by side like two future chickens in the single shell of international imperialism. In 1918 Germany and Russia have become the most striking embodiment of the material realisation of the economic, the productive and the socio-economic conditions for socialism, on the one hand, and the political conditions, on the other" [10]. Thus, one of the most advanced political leaderships in Europe found itself leading an isolated revolutionary territory surrounded by enemies leading direct and indirect military interventions (by the support of the white armies), where the economy was among the most backward in Europe and had been ravaged by the imperialist war and then by the civil war. This is essential to keep in mind when judging Bolshevik politics in the early years of the revolution.

Russia having barely emerged from the precapitalist stage, the task of the Bolsheviks, while working to extend the revolution but at the same time awaiting its advent, could only be first to maintain the class dictatorship and, second, to establish the foundations of large industry in Russia. It is certain that a revolution in a major capitalist centre would have drastically changed the situation, allowing Russia to somehow skip the stages of capitalist development. Bolshevik politics were therefore based on the unity of domestic and foreign politics: internally, the development of large industry as a basis for socialization allowing communist society, externally, working to strengthen the world revolution through the foundation of the Communist International.

There was no ambiguity in Lenin’s position. He was well aware that the Russian economy was not yet socialist and that by developing state capitalism the new ’proletarian state’ was only laying the foundations for a further communist transformation of the economy. "Nor, I think, has any Communist denied that the term Socialist Soviet Republic implies the determination of Soviet power to achieve the transition to socialism, and not that the new economic system is recognised as a socialist order" [11]. On the contrary, the comrades of the Kommunist journal were far from shedding any light on the revolutionary process, especially from an economic point of view. By opposing state capitalism in a principled way, these comrades were not able to see that large industry was necessary for the establishment of communist society.

These confusions are well expressed by Bukharin: "The socialization of production is the antithesis of state capitalism. It is the stage of transition from socialism to communism when the dictatorship of the proletariat disappears as useless and when the classes dissolve into the united and harmonious communist society without a State. Our slogan like that of the Communist Party is not state capitalism. It is: ’towards the socialization of production - towards socialism!’ " [12] State capitalism, on the contrary, was the last stage of the capitalist socialization of the economy and that is why the Bolsheviks advocate it until revolution extends in more developed countries. His slogan ’towards the socialization of production’ also betrays a desire to socialize production in Russia as it was in 1918, that is, to socialize small pre-capitalist production! In addition to being a more libertarian or left-wing S-R position than a Marxist one, this utopian slogan will allow the Kommunist journal to put forward formal economic management measures that will tend to lose sight of the ultimate objective of establishing a communist society.

Among other measures focused on economic management, the aim was to eliminate the capitalists from the management of factories so that management could be carried out by the workers themselves. This is well expressed by Ossinski: « For nationalisation to have such a meaning and to become socialisation, it requires above all, the organisation of the economy of nationalised enterprises on the basis of socialism, that is, that capitalist control is eliminated and that, in the organisation of the enterprise there is no opportunity for it to regain control(...)" [13]. "We do not stand for the point of view of ’construction of socialism under the direction of the organizers of the trusts’. We stand for the point of view of the construction of proletarian society by the class creativity of the workers themselves, not by following the directives of the ’captains of industry" [14]. However, this position has the defect of making important concessions to trade-unionist and anarcho-syndicalist theories. Communism is not the handing over of factories to the workers who work there [15]. Communism, on the contrary, destroys the factory as the basic unit of capitalist society. It is thus the whole of the now unified society that consciously coordinates production according to its needs. It is completely illusory and dangerous to think that giving power within the restricted walls of the capitalist factory to the workers is a socialist measure. Talk to disillusioned workers who have experimented with the modern co-management and self-management techniques put forward by the new management!

« Our task, since we are alone, is to maintain the revolution, to preserve for it at least a certain bastion of socialism, however weak and moderately sized, until the revolution matures in other countries (…).
If in a small space of time we could achieve state capitalism in Russia, that would be a victory. How is it that they [the Bukharin Fraction] cannot see that it is the petty proprietor, small capital, that is our enemy? How can they regard state capitalism as the chief enemy? They ought not to for get that in the transition from capitalism to socialism our chief enemy is the petty bourgeoisie (…) state capitalism is something centralised, calculated, controlled and socialised, and that is exactly what we lack »

(Lenin, Report On The Immediate Tasks Of The Soviet Government , April 29 1918).

The Bolsheviks were right to use in a controlled way the knowledge and skills of some capitalists to bring Russia out of the precapitalist stage quickly. Obviously, they had to be used with caution, that is, without ever losing sight of the final goal of the revolution and by assigning them strictly to that goal. On the contrary, the comrades of the Kommunist journal only put forward various immediate panaceas that sound radical, but which are still foreign to Marxism: corporate socialism, anarcho-syndicalism, self-management, workerism, etc., and which instead of pushing forward economic evolution, drew it towards the precapitalist past. "It is because Russia cannot advance from the economic situation now existing here without traversing the ground which is common to state capitalism and to socialism (national accounting and control) that the attempt to frighten others as well as themselves with “evolution towards state capitalism” (Kommunist No. 1, p. 8, col. 1) is utter theoretical nonsense. This is letting one’s thoughts wander away from the true road of ’evolution’, and failing to understand what this road is. In practice, it is equivalent to pulling us back to small proprietary capitalism" [16]. In addition, these panaceas have founded a myth of the construction of socialism that prefigures in some aspects the stalinist myth of the construction of socialism in one country. However, as Marx explained about the Paris Commune, socialism cannot be built. It is revolutionarily liberated from the entrails of capitalism by the proletariat. "They (the working class, NTD) have no ready-made utopias to introduce par décret du peuple. They know that in order to work out their own emancipation, and along with it that higher form to which present society is irresistably tending by its own economical agencies, they will have to pass through long struggles, through a series of historic processes, transforming circumstances and men. They have no ideals to realize, but to set free the elements of the new society with which old collapsing bourgeois society itself is pregnant" [17].

All these clarifications on state capitalism do not mean that for Marxism state capitalism is the universal regime during the transition period. On the contrary, it is to be recommended under certain conditions which are now almost completely exhausted. For Marx, in Germany in 1848 as for Lenin in Russia in 1917, state capitalism remained a tool that the working class had to use in the case of a revolution in a rather backward country, to push forward the backward economy and overcome small production, while waiting for the revolution to spread to other countries, especially the more developed ones.

In short, although some of the measures taken by the Bolsheviks may have seemed antagonistic to the principles of communism in the immediate, these measures were always taken according to the needs of the time and to shorten as much as possible the road to communism. The correctness of these measures came from their fidelity to the communist program and the fact that all their actions were directly dictated by the historical process of establishing communist society. It is the final goal that dictates our actions, not the day-to-day contingent politics. Where counter-revolution had shown its face, it was first when the perspective of world revolution was abandoned and replaced by the construction of socialism in one country [18]. Second, Stalinism claimed that state capitalism was already in fact socialism, hence the confusion still well maintained by the dominant ideology between state capitalist regimes, such as the USSR or China, and communism, a classless and stateless society. But all this was done not thanks to the legacy of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, but against that legacy.

It is precisely this important nuance that pro-Kommunist neo-councilists are currently rejecting. As a result, they tend to abandon the fundamental principle of the dictatorship of the proletariat (the abandonment of power); and, under the guise of criticism of state capitalism, they sow confusion about the possibility of socialist measures in an isolated country that opens the way to the theory of socialism in a single country. Thus, ultimately, today’s councilism reaches the theoretical background of Stalin and justifies it while trying to pass off this sauce as the Communist Left. It is a pity that groups of the Communist Left such as the Internationalist Communist Tendency, at least its English pages, lend themselves to this anti-Bolshevik and anti-Marxist offensive...

Robin, July 2019



[2. In fact, the term « proletarian communists » is more used by the writers of that journal.

[4. See the very councilist, if not anarchist, content of Smolny’s preface and postface. See also FICL’s critique of Smolny : Struggle against opportunism : The Defence of the Proletarian Character of the October Revolution is still a class frontier !,

[5Translated in english by us from Boukharine, Nicolas, cité dans Cohen, Stéphen, Nicolas Boukharine, la vie d’un bolchévik, Éditions Maspero, Paris, 1979, p. 77

[6. Lenin, The Revolutionnary Phrase,


[8Translated in english by us from Amadeo Bordiga, Histoire de la gauche communiste. Tome I, 1912 – 1919 p. 372-373

[9. It is worth noting that from the 1930s onwards, the councilist current partly adopted the Menshevik theory that Russia was only ripe for a bourgeois revolution. See among other things The Theses on Bolchevism :

[10Lenin, « Left-wing » Childiness and the Petty-Bourgeois Mentality,


[12. Translated in english by us from Boukharine, Nicolas, « Certaines notions essentielles de l’économie moderne », Kommunist, #3, Éditions Smolny, Toulouse, 2011, p. 225-226

[14. N. Ossinsky, The construction of socialism, part 2,

[15. See Amadeo Bordiga, Seize the power or seize the factory?, published in Il Soviet in 1920,

[16. Lenin, « Left-wing » Childiness and the Petty-Bourgeois Mentality,

[18. This did not happen overnight and without a struggle. The opposition, led by Trotsky, fought in the Bolshevik party to keep its programme of world revolution, but were defeated.