John Reed

The Structure of the Soviet State

Bolshevism in America

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 Excerpts from

The Structure of the Soviet State

The Liberator,
 November 1918 

 Through all the chorus of abuse and misrepresentation directed against the Russian Soviets by the capitalist press there runs a voice shrill with a sort of panic, which cries: 'There is no government in Russia! There is no organisation among the Russian workers! It will not work! It will not work!'...  As all real socialists know, and as we who have seen the Russian Revolution can testify, there is today in Moscow and throughout all the cities and towns of the Russian land a highly complex political structure, which is upheld by the vast majority of the people and which is functioning as well as any newborn popular government ever functioned. Also the workers of Russia have fashioned from their necessities and the demands of life an economic organisation which is evolving into a true industrial democracy.

The Soviet state is based upon the Soviets — or Councils — of Workers, and Peasants' Soviets. These Councils — institutions so characteristic of the Russian Revolution — originated in 1905, ... In March 1917, when, in the face of all Russia rearing like a sea, the Tsar abdicated and Grand Duke Michael declined the throne, and the reluctant Duma was forced to assume the reins of government, the Council of Workers' Deputies sprang fully—fledged into being. In a few days it was enlarged to include delegates of the Army, and called the Council of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies. ... There were, ... Soviets of both Workers' and of Soldiers' Deputies. Somewhat later there came into being Soviets of Peasants' Deputies. In most cities the Workers' and Soldiers' Soviets met together; they also held their All-Russian Congress jointly. The Peasants' Soviets, however, were held aloof by the reactionary elements in control, and did not join with the workers and soldiers until the November revolution and the establishment of the Soviet Government.

At first the delegates of Workers', Soldiers' and Peasants' Soviets were elected according to rules which varied with the needs and population of various localities. In some villages the peasants chose one delegate for each fifty voters. Soldiers in garrison were given a certain number of delegates for each regiment, regardless of its strength; the army in the field, however, had a different method of electing their Soviets. As for the workers in the great cities, they soon found out that their Soviets became unwieldy unless the delegates were limited to one for each five hundred. In the same way, the first two All-Russian Congresses of Soviets were roughly based upon one delegate for each twenty five thousand voters, but in fact the delegates represented constituencies of various sizes.

 ...the constitution of the Soviets was worked out in detail and applied universally.
It restricted the franchise to— "Citizens of the Russian Socialist Republic of both sexes who shall have completed their eighteenth year by the day of election...." "All who have acquired the means of living through labour that is productive and useful to society and who are members of labour unions....." Excluded from the right to vote were: employers of labour for profit; persons who lived on unearned increment; merchants and agents of private business; employers of religious communities; former members of the police and gendarmerie; the former ruling dynasty; the mentally deficient; the deaf and dumb; and those who had been punished for selfish and dishonourable misdemeanours.

The Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, which was in operation when I was in Russia, may serve as an example of how the urban units of government function under the socialist state. It consisted of about 1200 deputies, and in normal circumstances held a plenary session every two weeks. In the meantime, it elected a Central Executive Committee of 110 members, based upon party proportionality, and this Central Executive Committee added to itself by invitation delegates from the central committees of all the political parties, from the central committees of the professional unions, the factory shop committees, and other democratic organisations. Elections of delegates are based on proportional representation, which means that the political parties are represented in exact proportion to the number of voters in the whole city. And it is political parties and programmes which are voted for — not candidates. The candidates are designated by the central committees of the political parties, which can replace them by other party members. Also the delegates are not elected for any particular term, but are subject to recall at any time.

At least twice a year delegates are elected from all over Russia to the All-Russian Congress of Soviets. Theoretically these delegates are chosen by direct popular election: from the provinces, one for each hundred and twenty five thousand voters — from the cities, one for each twenty five thousand; in practice, however, they are usually chosen by the provincial and the urban Soviets.  This body, consisting of about two thousand delegates, meets in the capital in the form of a great Soviet, and settles upon the essentials of national policy. It elects a Central Executive Committee, ...which invites delegates from the central committees of all democratic organisations. This augmented Central Executive Committee of the Russian Soviets is the parliament of the Russian Republic. It consists of about three hundred and fifty persons.

The Central Executive Committee elects from its midst eleven Commissars, to be chairmen of committees in charge of the different branches of government, in place of ministers. These Commissars can be recalled at any time. They are strictly responsible to the Central Executive Committee. The Commissars elect a chairman. Ever since the Soviet Government has been formed, this chairman — or Premier — has been Nicolai Lenin. If his leadership were unsatisfactory, Lenin could be recalled at any moment by the delegation of the masses of the Russian people, or in a few weeks' time directly by the Russian people themselves.
...The Soviets are the most perfect organs of working class representation, it is true, but they are also the weapons of proletarian dictatorship, to which all anti—Bolshevik parties are bitterly opposed.

Private ownership of industry in Russia is not yet abolished. In many factories the owner still holds title, and is allowed a certain limited profit on his investment, on condition that he works for the success and increase of scope of the enterprise; but control is taken away from him. Those industries whose owners attempt to lock out their workers, or who, by fraud or force, try to hinder the operations of the plant, are immediately confiscated by the workers. Conditions, hours and wages in all industries, private or government-owned, are uniform.
The reason for this survival of semi-capitalism, in a proletarian state, lies in the backwardness of Russia's economic life, the surrounding highly-organised capitalist states, and the necessity for industrial production in Russia immediately, to combat the pressure of foreign industry.
The agency by which the state controls industry, both labour and production, is called the Council of Workers' Control. This central body, sitting in the capital, is composed of delegates elected from local Councils of Workers' Control, which are made up of members of Factory Shop Committees, Professional Union officials, and technical engineers and experts.
Attached to the Council of Workers' Control is the so-called Chamber of Insurance. Workers are insured against lack of work, sickness, old age and death. All premiums are paid by the employer—whether private person or the State. The compensation paid to the worker is always the full amount of his wages. Under the Soviet Government the wage system is retained as a necessary accommodation to the capitalist world, the machinery to abolish it being already in place, and the whole system being under the control of the workers themselves. Lenin has clear-sightedly stated that he considers the retention of capitalist forms a step backward, a temporary defeat for the Revolution, but which must be endured until the workers are self-organized and self-disciplined enough to compete with capitalist industry.

The tendency of the Russian Soviet Republic, as Lenin has himself pointed out, is away from political Government of any kind, and toward true industrial democracy. Lenin has even gone so far as to foresee the eventual disappearance of the Soviets in favor of an economic, purely administrative, body. The prototype of this future economic parliament already exists in Russia. It is called the Supreme Council of Public Economy,....This Council has the power to regulate the economic life of the country, to control the flow of production and direct it,  ... The acting committee of the Council is composed of fifteen men, each one in charge of one of the fifteen branches of the country's economic life, such as railroads, agriculture, etc. ... The fifteen committeemen sit in fifteen offices, surrounded by technical commissions applying to their various fields. In the same building are also representatives of the Soviets, representatives of the Commissariat of Labor, the Commissariat of Commerce and Industry, the Commissariat of Finance;....

Projects are brought in. For example, let us imagine the project of a railroad between Moscow and Novgorod (there is one already, but let us imagine it). The plan is laid before the committeemen in charge of railroads. If he rejects it the project goes to an appeal board. If he accepts, he calls in his technical commissions and tells them to work out the engineering problems. Other commissions, ... work out the cost. Then the delegates of the local workers' and peasants' organizations are brought in. Do they want the railroad? Do they need it? What amount of travel will there be? What amount of traffic in fuel and raw materials and manufactured products of industry? In farm-supplies and crop-transportation? In other words, nothing is done in the way of economic development that is not needed by the people, and those things most needed by the people are done first.



Excerpts from

Bolshevism in America

The Revolutionary Age, December 18, 1918

1. The American working class is politically and economically the most uneducated working class in the world. It believes what it reads in the capitalist press. It believes that the wage-system is ordained by God. It believer that Charles Schwab is a great man, because he can make money....It believes that Labor laws mean what they say. It is prejudiced against Socialism.

2. American Labor disapproves of the Russian Soviets, the German Revolution, and other manifestations of "anarchy." To the American working class the British Labor Party is "going a little too far"; it seems to be dominated by "nuts." As for the French and Italian movements, who cares what the "wops" do?

3. With the exception of the Jewish workers, other foreigners, and a devoted sprinkling of Americans, the Socialist party is made up largely of petty bourgeois, ...The composition of the English-speaking branches is: little shop-keepers, clerks, doctors, lawyers, farmers (in the Middle West), a few teachers, some skilled workers, and a handful of intellectuals.






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