Tenth Party Congress

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Subject essay: Lewis Siegelbaum

The Tenth Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) convened in Moscow on March 8, 1921 one week after the outbreak of the rebellion of soldiers and sailors at the naval base at Kronstadt. The rebellion and the strikes of workers in Petrograd that touched it off represented a major challenge to the legitimacy if not survival of Communist party rule, driving home to the eleven hundred assembled delegates the urgency of revising the party’s policies. Before the Congress concluded on March 16, some three hundred of them had joined the effort to suppress the rebellion, ten of whom lost their lives in the process.

The resolutions adopted by the Congress were to have far-reaching consequences for both the Party and Soviet society. In preparation for the Congress, Lenin had written: “The lesson of Kronstadt: in politics — the closing of the ranks (+ discipline) within the party … in economics — to satisfy as far as possible the middle peasantry.” As far as “economics” was concerned, Lenin’s report on “The Substitution of a Tax in Kind for the Surplus Grain Appropriation System” formed the basis for a resolution that essentially recognized peasants’ right to engage in unrestricted trade and thereby paved the way of the New Economic Policy. As for discipline within the party, a resolution “On Party Unity” banning factions and another “On the Anarchist and Syndicalist Deviation in the Party,” directed explicitly against the Workers’ Opposition (the most trenchant of factional groups) were approved on the last day of the Congress. Later in the 1920s, the ban of factions would become a weapon in the hands of Stalin against his rivals for party leadership.

The Congress also debated three competing resolutions on the role of the trade unions in the Soviet state. While the overwhelming majority of delegates rejected Trotsky’s scheme for transforming the unions into state organs, the resolution sponsored by the Workers’ Opposition and calling for the placing of unions in charge of “the entire economic administration” also received scant support. Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the majority of delegates found Lenin’s resolution characterizing the trade unions as a “school of communism” “just right.”

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