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Article

Государство-Коммуна: эксперимент рабочей демократии в России 1918 г. и причины его крушения

The utopian Communist ideal of a workers’ state, which was put into action after the Bolshevik
takeover of power in Russia in 1917, provoked new types of social mobilization, adaptation,
and domination and new political institutions. At the core of this experiment was the
new concept of Labor Unions as a form of intermediate democracy which could potentially
be transformed into a communal state based on the collective production and distribution of
property, wealth, and social responsibility between broad nets of workers unions.In the sociological literature and international historiography, this social experiment
was scrutinized as a rare or even unique historical example of how the abstract
syndical concept of a stateless society (based on cooperation and solidarity rather than
on bureaucratic control) could be put into reality. This form of self-government was
interpreted as a substantive historical alternative to the traditional “bourgeois” state with
its key institutions – parliamentarianism, the separation of powers and an independent
judicial system. In some current left-oriented theories, this is considered a “model”
experiment – successful, consecutive and effective in its initial stage (in the period of
the so-called “War Communism” in 1918–20), but revised and finally rejected in the
following period of bureaucratic Communism with its one-party hegemony and Stalinist
dictatorship. In order to understand the scientific value of such statements, the author
provides a detailed analysis of the principles, initial forms and implications of Soviet
labor self-government in the early formation period (1918), using multiple primary
sources – the minutes and protocols of central and local labor unions, the old and the new
ones, which depict the social, professional, and administrative stratification of Russian
revolutionary society during its formation.
The author’s central argument is that the so-called deterioration of labor selfgovernment
in Soviet Russia was rooted mainly in the internal transformation of unions
as formal organizations rather than external pressure or strategic mistakes. From the
very beginning the revolutionary labor unions were different from the typical Western
social democratic unions – they had a different, more traditional, social background,
and sought a different role in social transformation. A combination of internal and
external factors in this transformation created the institutional basis for a new type of
social inequality, the development of oligarchic trends in Soviet labor unions, and the
formation of a new “labor bureaucracy”. The Bolshevist party exploited these trends
but did not generate them. In other words, the whole experiment in workers’ democracy
from its very beginning was profoundly unrealizable and belongs to the museum of
human utopian social projects.