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Workers’ Government

Susan Green

Fourth in a Series of Articles: What Is a Workers’ Government?

How the Soviet Government Worked
Before Stalin Crushed It

(22 March 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 12, 22 March 1943, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Like the Paris Commune, the second workers’ government in all history, the Soviet Government under Lenin and Trotsky – was born out of war, World War I. Unlike the Commune, which encompassed only the city of Paris and remained isolated from the rest of France; this second workers’ government included 180,000,000 people and an entire country three times as large as the United States. Without the lessons of the Commune and without the preparatory 1905 revolution in Russia, the Russian people would not have had, in 1917, their wonderful governmental weapon – THE SOVIETS.

First a word about the background from which the Soviet Government emerged.

The Weakest Link in Capitalist Chain

During World War I Czarist Russia was the most backward nation, the one least able to sustain its part in modern imperialist warfare. The insatiable demands of the war fronts sapped the nation of manpower and supplies. At the fronts, soldiers were exposed to the enemy without adequate clothes, food, arms and equipment. At home the starving and war-weary workers and peasants could no longer stand the strain.

Soldiers deserted, working men went on strike, women stormed government offices demanding food. Rebellion swept the land. The cry arose for peace, bread and land. Spontaneously the workers, peasants and returning soldiers formed Soviets – which had already been tried out in the 1905 revolution. FORCING THE PEOPLE TO FIGHT BEYOND HUMAN ENDURANCE COST THE CZAR HIS HEAD. THAT WAS THE REVOLUTION OF FEBRUARY 1917.

The Kerensky government put up by the Russian capitalists did not fare any better. Ignoring the sufferings of the people and their demand for peace, Kerensky continued the war. Large numbers of soldiers and sailors began to side with the Soviets. Even the notorious Cossacks were sympathetic to the revolutionary masses. The Kerensky regime hung on for a few months and was overthrown by the November revolution led by the Bolshevik Party. THE SOVIET GOVERNMENT OF WORKERS, PEASANTS AND SOLDIERS TOOK POWER – WITH LENIN AND TROTSKY AT ITS HEAD.

Like the Commune, the Soviets had to fight both its domestic and foreign enemies. However, the counter-revolutionary forces of the landlords and capitalists at home would have collapsed immediately had they not been supported with money, arms and armies by nearly every capitalist country on earth, including the great western democracies. On all its borders Soviet Russia was attacked by armies of intervention sent to crush the workers’ government.

This time the count was called with the capitalist forces on the mat. The Soviets were triumphant. War-weary, in a war-robbed country, against superhuman obstacles, the Russian workers, peasants and soldiers rose to superb heights of human endeavor – not to “sacrifice” for the benefit of another class, but to save their own Soviets. Military force could not conquer the Soviets. It took the internal counter-revolutionary treachery of Stalin to take away from the Soviets everything that bad made it a workers’ government, leaving nothing but a meaningless, empty name.

What made the Soviets under Lenin and Trotsky a government of the workers, by the workers and for the workers?

The Soviets – And How They Worked

There was a Soviet in every city, village, district and county of Russia. The delegates to the Soviets were elected right from the shops and unions. The peasants of a district elected their delegates. The soldiers and sailors of a regiment elected theirs.

It was an industrial republic with an occupational ... vote for everyone who worked. It, therefore, included clerks, teachers, engineers, scientific workers. It excluded from voting capitalists, coupon clippers, parasitic politicians, all the exploiters of labor. Still, 95 per cent of the Russian people could vote in the Soviets – which reveals that prior to the November revolution 95 per cent of the people had been under the heel of 5 per cent. In the United States, which enjoys so-called “universal suffrage,” what with one restriction and another – including the poll-tax – approximately only 65 per cent of the people can vote.

How did the workers control their delegates in the Soviets? Very easily. The factory whistle sounded to call a meeting of the workers. They met to instruct their delegates as to their wishes or to criticize their conduct in the Soviet or to replace them by electing new delegates. The All-Russian Assembly of Soviets was made up of representatives from all the local Soviets – representatives coming directly from the factories, farms and regiments – and subject to similar control by the workers, peasants and soldiers.

The highest salary of any official in the Soviet Government was 600 rubles a month – or $60, plus $10 for each non-earning member of the family. Thus, for instance, Trotsky, as Commissar of War and head of the Bed Army, received $90 a month for himself, his wife and his two children. The long imperialist war and the exhausting civil war had reduced the whole country to abject poverty. Under the Soviet Government of Lenin and Trotsky nobody was going to eat cake before everybody had bread. There were no political plums to pick in the Soviets – NOT UNTIL STALIN TOOK AWAY THEIR BASE IN THE FACTORIES AND UNIONS, LEFT ONLY THE MISUSED NAME, AND MADE OF THEM THE HUNTING GROUNDS FOR CAREERISTS.

From barren bedrock, the Soviet Government began to function in the interests of the workers and peasants. It made peace. It made public the secret treaties of the lying, double-faced diplomats of the old regimes. It gave self-determination to the national minorities subjected to the Czar. The land went to the peasants who tilled it – THE IDLE RICH LANDLORDS BEING EXPROPRIATED.

In weeks the Soviet Government effected more social reforms than capitalism – even at its zenith – could accomplish in decades. The thousands of palaces, fine homes and public buildings theretofore reserved for the rich and for their politicians were opened as living quarters for the crowded people. Women were given the same rights as men, plus special care as mothers. People’s courts were set up in place of the former courts of class rule. To spread knowledge into minds darkened by ages of poverty and oppression, the Soviets opened thousands of schools, libraries, workers’ theaters and published Soviet newspapers in the remotest parts of the vast country.

Laid the Groundwork for Socialist Society

Finally the Soviet Government under Lenin and Trotsky took decisive steps to end capitalist economic power and laid the groundwork for a socialist society – which is the conclusive test of a workers’ government. All natural resources, forests, mines, waterways, all means of transportation and communication, were nationalized under the Soviet Government. Foreign trade – out of which capitalists make profit and for which wars are fought – was taken over by the workers’ government to serve the general good. Many basic industries, factories and shops became the property of the Soviets and were placed under workers’ control. Those factories which for good reasons were not immediately taken away from their private owners, were also placed under workers’ control.

In those early days of the Soviet Government, Trotsky explained workers’ control as follows:

“I mean by control that we will see to it that the factory is run not from the point of view of private profit, but from the point of view of the social welfare ... For example, we will not allow the capitalist to shut up his factory in order to starve his workmen into submission, or because it is not yielding him a profit. If it is turning out economically a needed product, it must be kept running. If the capitalist gives it up, he will lose it altogether, for a board of directors chosen by the workmen will be put in charge.

“Again, control implies that the books and correspondence of the concern will be open to the public, so that henceforth there will be no industrial secrets. If this concern hits upon a better process or device, it will be given to other concerns in the same branch of industry. Thus the public will promptly realize the utmost possible benefit from the find.”

These were all measures of a socialist nature. All were giant strides toward the socialist society of peace and plenty for all. Only a workers’ government – from which capitalist exploiters and all their ilk are excluded – can kick profits down the stairs and ascend to the higher social level of human needs. THIS THE SOVIET GOVERNMENT UNDER LENIN AND TROTSKY DID.


The next article will tie up the lessons of the two workers’ governments of the past with our problems today. A later article will contrast the Stalinist government with a real workers’ government.

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Last updated: 21 March 2015