Workers Opposition

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Workers’ Opposition


an antiparty faction in the RCP(B) from 1920 to 1922 that exemplified an anarchosyndi-calist trend in the party at the end of the Civil War of 1918–20 and during the period immediately after, a period of transition to peace and economic dislocation. The faction was headed by A. G. Shliapnikov, S. P. Medvedev, and A. M. Kollontai.

In 1921 the Tenth Congress of the RCP(B) noted that the an-archosyndicalist trend had been caused “partly by the entry into the party of individuals who had not yet completely mastered the communist attitude but primarily by the impact of petit bourgeois elements on the proletariat and on the RCP” [Desiatyi s”ezd RKP(b): Stenografich. otchet, 1963, p. 574].

The platform of the Workers’ Opposition took shape as early as 1919. At the Ninth Congress of the RCP(B), held in March and April, 1920, Shliapnikov read the paper “On the Question of the Interrelationships Between the RCP, the Soviets, and Industrial Unions,” which proposed that the party and Soviet state should concern itself with politics and that trade unions should be concerned with the economy. The congress rejected this proposal as anarchosyndicalist.

The Workers’ Opposition group first appeared under this name in September 1920 at the Ninth All-Russian Conference of the RCP(B), where its position was again rejected. In November 1920 the Workers’ Opposition embarked on a path of factional struggle and organized a conference of its supporters during the Moscow Province Party Conference. On Dec. 30, 1920, at a joint session of Communist delegates to the Eighth All-Russian Congress of Soviets, the All-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions, and the Moscow City Council of Trade Unions, Shliapnikov read the Workers’ Opposition paper “The Organization of the National Economy and the Tasks of the Unions,” which vilified the economic system of management that had emerged in the country and demanded that the management of the national economy be transferred to trade unions.

The Workers’ Opposition became a definite antiparty faction during the trade union controversy of 1921. Its ideological and political program was fully expounded in Kollontai’s pamphlet The Workers’ Opposition, which was issued on the eve of the Tenth Congress of the RCP(B). In this pamphlet the Workers’ Opposition proposed that the management of the national economy be transferred to “all-Russian congresses of industrialists,” which would be organized as trade unions and would elect a central management body. The opposition also demanded that all management bodies of the national economy be elected only by corresponding trade unions and that the union candidacy should not be subject to cancellation by party or Soviet bodies. This would in fact have led to the negation of the leadership role of the party and the dictatorship of the proletariat as the main instruments in the building of socialism. The Workers’ Opposition set the trade unions off from the Soviet state and the Communist Party and regarded the trade unions, and not the party, as the highest form of working-class organization. It slanderously accused the party leadership of “having lost contact with the party masses,” of “having underestimated the creative forces of the proletariat,” and of “having degenerated.”

The members of the Workers’ Opposition continued to advocate their opportunist views at the Tenth Congress of the RCP(B), held in 1921. The congress resolutely condemned the Workers’ Opposition, whose attitude was totally contrary to Marxism. In the resolution On the Syndicalist and Anarchist Trend in Our Party, proposed by V. I. Lenin, the congress stated that the propagandistic ideas of the Workers’ Opposition were incompatible with membership in the RCP(B) and ruled that all groups and factions were to be immediately disbanded. After the congress, most members of the Workers’ Opposition broke with the group. However, the leaders of the opposition maintained an antiparty organization and continued their schismatic activity.

In February 1922 the Workers’ Opposition sent the Declaration of the 22 to the Executive Committee of the Communist International; this document contained slanderous attacks on the party. After considering the declaration, the Executive Committee of the Communist International condemned the group’s actions.

In 1922 the Eleventh Congress of the RCP(B) adopted a resolution in which it branded the antiparty behavior of the Workers’ Opposition, expelled several members of the opposition from the party, and issued a final warning to Shliapnikov, Med-vedev, and Kollontai. The Workers’ Opposition ceased to exist after the congress.


Lenin, V. I. “X s”ezd RKP(b).” Poln. sobr. soch, 5th ed., vol. 43.
Devialyis”ezdRKP(b): Mart-apr. 1920g.: Protokoly. Moscow, 1960.
Desiatyi s”ezd RKP(b): Mart 1921 g.: Stenograficheskii otchet. Moscow, 1963.
KPSS ν rezoliutsiiakh i resheniiakh s”ezdov, konferentsii iplenumov TsK, 8th ed., vols. 2–3. Moscow, 1970.
Petrosian, Ts. S. “Ideinyi i organizatsionnyi razgrom ‘rabochei oppozitsii’ (1920–22).” In Iz istorii bor’by leninskoi partii protiv opportunizma. Moscow, 1966.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Shlyapnikov's increased frustration with the Soviet state's policies towards workers and his conviction that the latter should take an active role in the building of a socialist society resulted in the formation of the Workers' Opposition (1919-1921)--yet another attempt to allow trade unions to implement economic policy and, simultaneously, to confront worker disempowerment.
Weissman, following Serge (Memoirs, p 144), also suggests the Workers' Opposition argued for union and soviet democracy (Serge, p 42) when it did no such thing.
That Trotskii--erstwhile champion of the "mass conscription of labor" and fierce critic of the workers' opposition of 1920-21--came to be associated with worker opposition in Belorussia suggests the profundity of the political realignment unleashed by the crisis.
Aleksandr Shliapnikov, not Aleksandra Kollontai, led the Workers' Opposition. It is a gross understatement to claim that the so-called kulaks "were accused, often unfairly, of owning too much land" (161).
They will condemn every attempt to reform welfare, while forgetting the growth of welfare budgets during their time in office and they will support public sector workers' opposition to the pay freezes that they themselves introduced.
This may have be a reflection of the oil workers' opposition to the 'reformist' program, which included proposals to 'privatize' public enterprises.
There is no mention in the text of either the Workers' Opposition or the Democratic Centralists, nor of Lenin's 1922 crackdown on the remaining non-Bolshevik parties.
She presents Aleksandra Kollontai in this context as the defender of popular initiative and workers' needs, a role consistent with her leadership in the Workers' Opposition. Kollontai and other leaders of The Women's Department (Zhenotdel) of the Party pressed hard in the revolutionary years to use March 8 as an occasion to solicit women's input on their condition and needs.
Increasingly in the nineteenth century (especially in England, where capitalism was most advanced), the opposition to capitalism became a workers' opposition, focusing upon the exploitation of workers.
For all its seemingly radical demeanour, this is precisely the plan Brezhnev, Gorbachev and more recently Yeltsin tried to implement, with little success in the face of workers' opposition. And, as with the previous programs, this one will most likely fail.
Postal workers' opposition "is not new but it's growing" because of private delivery's rapid expansion, she says.
The third comes from a new attempt to form a rank and file workers' opposition based on democratic unions, democratic locals of official unions, and rank and file caucuses fighting for democratic and genuine unions within official unions.