Printable version

Book presentation: Bukharin, Ossinski, Radek, Smirnov - The Revue KOMMUNIST (Moscow 1918)

The left communists against state capitalism

(408 pages, editorial collective Smolny, December 2011, French,
ISBN: 978-2-9528276-3-8)


La revue "Kommunist" 1918


In April 1918 the first issue of the revue Kommunist was published as the organ of a fraction within the bolshevik party that arose in opposition to the separate “peace” treaty of Brest-Litovsk between the soviet government of revolutionary Russia and German imperialism. Originating from the Moscow party bureau, this fraction undertook a struggle to reject the politics advocated by Lenin of ’comprom­ising’ with an enemy in order to win a “breathing space” for the revolution in Russia, in view of the de­velopment of proletarian uprisings in other countries and notably in Germany. It defended that this would give German militarism a free hand on the Western front and amount to jeopardizing the perspective of proletarian uprisings in Europe. Bukharin went as far as accusing Lenin of “high treason against the revolution” because of the envisaged ’treaty’. Regardless of its severe criticism of the orientation defen­ded by the bolshevik parties’ leading circles, the fraction was granted full rights and means to defend its position and its alternative within the party, with the explicit support of Lenin. A congress would decide upon this crucial question after open and comprehensive debate in the parties’ ranks.

The four editions of the revue Kommunist that appeared until the summer of 1918 have now been published integ­rally by the editorial collective Smolny at Toulouse, which makes the depth and clarity of the positions and analysis defended by the ’Moscow’ party fraction for the first time accessible to readers of European languages. These do not only express their opposition to the Brest-Litovsk treaty, but their underlying alternative vision on a series of questions vital to the survival of the revolu­tion in Russia and internationally as well – first and foremost on the crucial question of state capitalism versus the “half-state” that should arise after the seizure of power by the proletariat and on the role of the territorial and worker’s councils as the expression of the self organization of the masses.

The publication of these original texts allows taking up the questions that have been passionately debated within the revolutionary milieu after the October revolution of 1917, but who remained bitterly unresolved in the course of the first proletarian attempt to overthrow bourgeois class rule at a world level. Thereby the book provides important material to evaluate Kommunist’s proximity to the positions and analysis defended by internationalist Marxist lefts within the workers’ movement in Western Europe, notably those developed by Rosa Luxemburg in the Spartacusbriefe , which were published illeg­ally in Germany at the same time. [1]

The preface permits the reader to situate the historical debates within the proletarian movement following a victorious seizure of power in an isolated part of the world, as well as the respect­ive positions defended by their main protagonists, in a larger historical, political and theoretical context, and addresses the fundamental issues related to the subsequent failure of the international revolutionary wave and the internal degeneration of the revolution in Russia into the nightmare of “socialism in one country”.

An open minded and critical appraisal of the contributions made by the successive fractions of the commun­ist left in Russia, even more than 90 years after the appearance of its first expressions, seems to us of eminent importance for the deepening of the debate within the present internationalist milieu on the lessons from this historical experience and their implications.

For theses reasons we warmly welcome the publication by the Smolny collective and recommend it to our readers.

Controversies’ special edition “From October 1917 to the collapse of the USSR” (currently available in French) contains large extracts of the preface to the book. An English translation of these extracts is available here.

Jac. Johanson, 20 January 2012


Update: extracts of the preface. 21 July 2012.

From the back cover:

“ Should the Russian revolution be crushed by the bourgeois counter revolution, it would rise again like the Phoenix. By contrast, should it lose its socialist character, and by this fact deceive the working masses, then the con­sequences of this blow would be ten times more terrible for the future of the Russi­an and international revolution. ”
Karl Radek, in Kommunist no. 1 (April 1918)

Decades of a counter-revolution in the name of socialist principles gone astray irrefutably testify that the Russian revolution has not been this Phoenix. But to what extent does this trajectory proceed from the practice of the revolutionaries itself?

In tragical circumstances the “left communists” who published the revue Kommunist from April to June 1918, armed with a sharpened consciousness of their responsibilities towards the international pro­letariat, were to demonstrate a stupefying prescience of the risks of involution of the revolutionary pro­cess and of consolidation of state capitalism on the ruins of the “soviets” and “workers’ control”. There’s no attempt here to denigrate a posteriori: the bolshevik revolution is subjected to a radical cri­ticism by its most determined artisans at the heart of the revolutionary turmoil itself.

90 years after their appearance these texts hitherto unpublished in French testify of the intensity of the debates on the extension of the revolution outside of the frontiers of sole Russia and on the measures of transition from capitalism to a society without classes that have to accompany this trans­ition. Unfortu­nately, they also testify of the oblivion in which official historiography has steeped these oppositions.


Smolny website on the book with Table of Contents

BOUKHARINE, OSSINSKI, RADEK, SMIRNOV : La Revue Kommunist (Moscou, 1918) – Les communistes de gauche contre le capitalisme d’État

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Kommunist 1918 - CT no.1
Extract of the preface


[1We refer to Luxemburg’s profound and critical appraisal of the October revolution and the role of the Bolshevik party, as expressed in several articles and manuscripts. Spartacus’ reply to the prospect of a “separate peace” for the struggle of the working class as a whole and specifically for the proletarian struggle in Germany can be found in: “The historical responsibility” - Spartacus no. 8, January 1918. Its reply to the dire consequences of the Brest-Litovsk treaty is summarized in: “The Russian tragedy” - Spartacus no. 11, September 1918.