1919 - Menshevik alternative economic policy

"On the basic tasks for restoring the economy"

Resolution of the RDSRP [Menshevik] faction, prepared for the 7th Congress of Soviets (December 1919)

[Translator's note: This resolution was not passed at the 7th congress of Soviets, where the Menshevik delegates were in a tiny minority, unable to do anything except speak in certain debates. Its interest lies in the fact that it represents a fairly well-defined alternative policy to that of "war communism" then being pursued by the Soviet government. Indeed, its approach in many respects foreshadows the "New Economic Policy"; the changes in economic policy introduced by the Soviet government in the spring of 1921. - FK]

1. The economy in Russia has fallen into the greatest decline. Industrial production is now on an insignificant scale. In transport, the number of locomotives and wagons in working order for every hundred versts of railway has diminished to an enormous extent. This diminution in the rolling stock and the shortage of fuel means that the transport sector can only fulfil a tiny part of its pre-war workload. Along with the decline in industry, the number of workers engaged in it is also falling, and the urban population is contracting to a monstrous extent. But one thing threatens our economy even more - the decline in its fundamental sector, agriculture. The sown area is contracting, livestock rearing is declining, dairy farming is falling off, the amount of grass being sown for hay and the sowing of industrial crops is contracting, and the land is receiving less and less fertiliser and is being worked less well. Consequently the productivity of agriculture is declining both in quality and in quantity.

2. This terrifying collapse of the economy has been brought about firstly by the world war, then by the civil war, but to a large extent it is also a result of the policies of the ruling party. The collapse has been exacerbated by the wholesale nationalisation of industry and trade, with no account taken of the country's level of economic development, and without any plan organising the economy having been prepared or thought through. Along with this unplanned and unprepared nationalisation of industry, there has been a completely unplanned, purely spontaneous development of the bureaucratic machinery. There is no coordination between its individual elements, there is parallelism in the work of a whole series of institutions, with competition and struggle between them. Naturally enough, the constructive achievements of this enormous and totally malformed bureaucratic machine are insignificant alongside its primarily destructive work in the economic sphere. Moreover, while productive forces have been falling to a colossal extent and the proletariat has been melting away, the army of bureaucrats has swelled monstrously.

3. The economic policy of the Soviet government, particularly in the industrial sector, has consisted up to now mainly in the distribution of those old stocks which were bequeathed to us by the old regime. At the present time the last remnants of those stocks are being exhausted, and the working masses of Russia are menaced by the complete paralysis of economic life, owing to the short supply of its most basic elements and the absence of the necessary conditions for productive activity.

4. The complete collapse of urban productivity and the gradual exhaustion of the old resources has reduced the industrial products which the town could offer the countryside in exchange for food and raw materials to an ever more insignificant minimum. The Soviet authorities have tried to overcome these difficulties in obtaining the necessary foodstuffs from the countryside by resorting to violence. They have used armed force to take the surplus product from the countryside, and in many cases, where there has been no surplus to take, they have encroached upon the resources required by the countryside for feeding itself. Overall, greater success in extracting food from the countryside has been achieved at the cost of a reduction in the sown area and a contraction of agricultural production.

5. The Soviet government has recently attempted to base the organisation of industrial labour on the same methods of coercion. In most cases this has only served to reduce the effectiveness of work to restore industry.

6. All the work on the restoration of economic life is being rendered even more ineffectual by the tendency of the developing Soviet bureaucracy to reduce the participation of workers' organisations in the administration and management of production to a minimum. This is being done under the pretext that one-man management needed in the technical and administrative spheres.

7. In addition to the defects of Soviet economic policy itself, the restoration of our economic life, which has been shaken to its roots, has been hampered by the blockade on Russia and the lack of foreign trade. The decree on foreign concessions, which envisages the use of foreign capital to exploit Russia's natural resources, has opened up the possibility of reestablishing trading relations with other countries. This decree appears to show that the Soviet government has recognised that the state nationalised economy alone is incapable of coping with the task of restoring economic life and that the use of private initiative is essential. But the system of wholesale nationalisation, and wholesale suppression of private initiative has prevented it from operating in any sector, even under state regulation. In practice this has meant that only foreign private capital is invited in, and then only in the form of concessions. These conditions are in general the most disadvantageous for the economy and do most to enserf the working masses. With a more sensible economic policy the sphere of operation of foreign capital in the form of concessions could be narrowed significantly.

8. In view of the assessment made in the preceding points of the present economic position and the policies followed by the Soviet government hitherto, the Congress of Soviets deems it essential:

1. To change the policies on foodstuffs in such a way as to leave the peasants some incentive to expand and improve their husbandry. Trading relations with foreign countries should be used to allow a free exchange of goods with the countryside. This should be done by the nationalising, on the one hand, the export of grain and raw materials abroad, and on the other, the most important items of peasant consumption (textiles and agricultural implements).

2. The congress considers it vital that the state desist for the present and the immediate future from the policy of a general nationalisation of industry. The congress believes that for the restoration of industry to be carried through successfully, the state should directly run only the most basic and concentrated branches of the economy, and only in large enterprises. In other branches, cooperative and private capital should be brought in, subject to state regulation and control.

3. Small-scale industry should not be subject to nationalisation. The state should regulate its activities in the most basic sectors of the economy. It should enter into voluntary organisational relations with it by providing petty producers with raw materials and implements, and receiving finished products in exchange. Those small producers who operate without state assistance should be quite free to produce for the free market.

4. In present conditions foreign capital must be brought in on a fairly large scale to process our natural wealth on the basis of concessions. However, there should be complete transparency in the way it is brought in, it should be subordinated to a general plan for the restoration of the economy, and concessions should be used in order to restore industry, transport and agriculture. This should be done by including in the concession agreements the obligation to provide the state with essential elements and tools of production. There must be no question of forced labour in concessionary enterprises; no mobilisation of labour by the state can be permitted. Workers employed by foreign concession-holders as free labour must enjoy full freedom to organise resistance and struggle in order to improve their working conditions.

5. On the question of compulsory labour service, while recognising the right of the state to resort to it in situations of the direst necessity, the congress of soviets believes that it should be restricted to those situations where all other means have been exhausted. This is in view of the low productivity of forced labour and its deleterious effects on the individual workers and their lifestyle. The main methods for attracting labour should consist in guaranteeing workers a minimum quantity of means of subsistence, and in establishing greater food stocks for organising work in whatever sectors of the economy or groups of enterprises are most important at any given time. Having set out the very narrow circumstances in which compulsory labour can be used, the congress decisively rejects the militarisation of labour. It is a system which can only lead to a fruitless waste of human energy, strengthening military and civil bureaucratism, depriving the worker of any opportunity to defend his legal rights, and removing the trade unions from participation in organising the economy and developing labour productivity.

6. The congress considers that a leading role for the state in the economic life of the country is essential. However, it believes that this leading activity on the part of the state can increase the country's productive forces and gradually transform social relations in a socialist direction only if it is based on the active participation of workers' organisations in setting up and restoring economic life. In turn, this is only possible where workers' organisations are self-governing and independent of the state, and where general political conditions ensure that the proletariat can act freely of its own accord. The congress believes that work on restoring the economy must be based on freedom for the working masses to organise themselves and their own activities. Only in this way will it be possible to hold on to the positions which have been won by the workers. Then the path can be laid not to the restoration of capitalism and the political domination of the exploiters, but to real workers' power and the gradual establishment of socialism through the exercise of that power.

RGASPI, f. 275, op. 1, d. 62, ll. 10 - 10 ob.