E.A. Preobrazhensky Excerpt from “Primitive Accumulation and the Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry”

Below is an excerpt from the paper on Preobrazhensky that I have been working on .

E.A. Preobrazhensky, the New Economics, and the Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry.

The text above links to part 1 of the article. This work remains and unpublished early draft but the ideas are developed enough to share with readers. Comments, criticism debate, insight and additional historical information are all encouraged.

Preobrazhensky’s intellectual accomplishment must be considered in the context of the most important decision that he made in his life. Cannon explains, “For the proletarian revolutionist the party is the concentrated expression of his life purpose, …he knows that his socialist ideal cannot be realized without the party. …The proletarian revolutionist is a disciplined man, since the party cannot exist as a combat organization without discipline”[61] For Cannon as so for Preobrazhensky.

Amongst a sea of radical, liberal, reformist and revolutionary political tendencies the young Preobrazhensky chose the relatively small but yet the most rigorous and disciplined element amongst the Russian revolutionary organizations with which to align himself. [62]  He made this choice at the start of his adult life and his political career.

When I moved up into the seventh class, I could no longer remain a vague, wishy-washy revolutionary. I had to choose between the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Social Democrats. I was decisively influenced by two works: The Communist Manifesto, and The Development of Scientific Socialism by Engels. After long meditation over them, I decided that the Populist outlook was untenable and unscientific, and that only Marxism could show me the correct path. This watershed in my beliefs produced certain practical consequences. Previously I had distributed to students not only SD literature which reached us from the Oryol SD Committee through Valeryan Schmidt and Pyotr Semyonovich Bobrovsky (both later Mensheviks,) but also SR literature which was provided by the SR Nikkeleva, although she lived under supervision in Oryol. I recall with what sombre resolution I announced to her that I could no longer help her distribute SR literature because I had become a Social Democrat. [RSDLP][63]

Ulam makes no mention of Preobrazhensky in his study of The Bolsheviks[64] written just before Pearce’ translation of The New Economics. This is a surprising omission given EAP’s prominence as the co-author of the broadly popular pamphlet The ABC of Communism and as a figure in the opposition to the treaty of Brest Litovsk as a Bolshevik leader and organizer of considerable authority from the earliest days of the movement. “And it is characteristic of the man [Lenin] that he seeks to infuse the Marxists with the revolutionary fire and conspiratorial discipline that had belonged to the heroes of [Russian] populism.”[65] Ulam fails to comprehend the attraction to Lenin and Bolshevism of individuals such as Preobrazhensky who possessed not so much a penchant for hero worship but rather a critical intellect and a drive toward effective action, the character of a scientist and an organizer rather than that of a romantic or philosopher. In his characterization of democratic centralism as a machine made up of ‘cogs’ and in desperate need of a leader, Ulam misses the possibility of an organization of leaders functioning in disciplined collaboration. The character and behavior of EAP, is an affront to Ulam’s thesis. Ulam undervalues the degree to which Lenin’s organizational proposals were rational to their historical context and so to which self-reliant, capable and far sighted individuals were drawn to Bolshevism as the most effective political orientation of the time. Ulam discovers Preobrazhensky in his 1973 biography of Stalin and there pays him some due.[66]

When the Russo Japanese war broke out in 1904 Preobrazhensky participated in student and anti-war propaganda work in collaboration with the Oryol party committee. In the spring of 1904 at the age of 18 he was for the first time involved in the education of workers at the Khrushchev engineering works. “I explained the Party program to them at some length, but not very convincingly. In summer… after consultations with the Party, I gave lessons at the Dyadkovo factory in the Maltsev industrial centre, Bryansk district.”[67] In April and May of 1905 he describes participating in a “general strike in educational establishments in Oryol.” Despite having spoken publicly at these events he was allowed to graduate school and suffered no legal consequences.

From this point on Preobrazhensky’ describes an increasing level of authority and responsibility in the activities of the RSDLP and the major events of the day. After participating in workers’ circles in the Bryansk automotive plant he became part of the Oryol Committee which he describes as “conciliationist[68]” and in which his youth and zeal combined to amuse some of his older and less fervent comrades. “We have two Bolsheviks Mikhail Ekaterinoslavsky who is 20 and Evgeny Preobrazhensky who is 19…”[69]

 “I stuck to my guns and defended the positions adopted at the Third Party Congress.”[70] The resolution of the Third Congress called “for the Party to participate practically and most energetically in the armed uprising and to give it leadership[71] Held on the eve of the climactic events of 1905. The Third Party congress was an all Bolshevik affair with the Mensheviks holding a nearly concurrent ‘First All-Russian Conference’ in Geneva. Zinoviev writes, “At these two congresses both sides worked out their respective detailed tactics in relation to the 1905 revolution: for everyone sensed that the decisive days would come…[72] The Third Congress allowed the Bolsheviks to establish a preparatory organizational structure and propaganda apparatus and to reaffirm amongst themselves the strategic orientation put forward in What is to Be Done. Preobrazhensky though still a relatively young cadre of the Party, had absorbed this programmatic orientation and would carry it out with a commitment to the cause and to party discipline. In addition to sharpening the organization question and calling for the Bolshevik cadre to throw themselves into preparations for a general strike and insurrection, the connected theoretical questions of the class character of the regime which would replace the Tzar and the role of the peasantry in the revolution began to sharpen around the lines that would separate Social Democracy (Menshevism), Bolshevism and Trotskyism.[73] [74] Preobrazhensky as a leading, if still junior, party cadre tasked with the education and organization of workers preparing for insurrection would have been aware of, given thought to, and had to answer to his party’s positions on fundamental questions. [75] It is worth noting that at this stage in the development of Russian Social Democracy Trotsky stood apart from Bolshevism whereas Preobrazhensky clearly chose to support Lenin’s tight organizational strategy and to carry out its essential task of organizing the Russian proletariat directly.


 [61] Cannon, James P.  The Struggle for a Proletarian Party Ed John G. Wright First Edition 1942, Pathfinder Press (1972) Part 1 Section 4. ‘The Organization Question’ pp 15.  Cannon was only 4 years Preobrazhensky’s junior.

[62] Ulam, Adam; The Bolsheviks Macmillan 1965 (pp176-193) Ulam’s thesis is that all subsequent formations of Bolshevism, the communist Party and the Soviet state, including the rise of Stalin, the purges and show trials of the prominent leaders of the original Bolshevik movement are a function of the strategy outlined by Lenin in What is to be Done. Pp179 “But the source of it all is in What is to be Done.”

[63] Preobrazhensky, E.A. “Autobiography” in Makers of the Russian Revolution pp192. Preobrazhensky dates himself here at 17 (1903)

[64]Ulam, ibid;

[65] Ulam (1965) pp 177

[66] Ulam, Adam; Stalin: The Man and His Era, Viking (1973)

[67] EAP Autobiography pp 193

[68] The “conciliationists,” which includes Trotsky at this time sought to heal the rift or find the middle in the split between Lenin’s faction and the “Mensheviks”

[69] Ibid 194

[70] Ibid

[71] Third Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (London) 25 April –10 May “Revolution has broken out and its flames are spreading wider and wider …The Proletariat stands at the head of the fighting forces of the revolution…”
“The Third Congress sought to take into consideration the new tasks of the moment in its resolutions on the Party’s preparation for open action…”
Lenin Collected Works (LCW) Foreign Languages Publishing house, (1962) vol 8. Pp 433-439 Marxists Internet Archive (MIA)

[72]Zinoviev, Grigorii; History of the Bolshevik Party—A popular Outline, trans. R. Chappell. New Park (1973) Originally in Russian (1922)

[73] Service, Robert; Trotsky: A Biography, The Belknap Press of Harvard, Cambridge (2009) pp90, 91.

[74] An exposition of Lenin’s thinking during this period can be found in the 1904 book One Step Forward Two Steps Back which precedes the 3rd Congress (London) and in the July 1905 pamphlet Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution see note below.

[75] Stalin at this point was tasked similarly to Preobrazhensky conducting party propaganda work amongst the Georgian populace. A remnant of this work has survived courtesy of the gendarmerie in the form of the Russian Translation of an article originally in Georgian summarizing the positions advocated at the Bolsheviks Third Congress. See Stalin’s “The Provisional Revolutionary Government and Social Democracy August 1905” Stalin Works, Vol 1, November 1901-April 1907

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This entry was posted in Analysis of Mature Capitalism, Autobiography of EA Preobrazhensky serialized excerpts, E.A. Preobrazhensky, Primitive accumulation, Soviet/Bolshevik history, The Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry, The Workers and Farmer, The Workers' and Farmer's Government and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to E.A. Preobrazhensky Excerpt from “Primitive Accumulation and the Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry”

  1. Jara Handala says:

    Hi, Rawlin. I read a well-written comment of yours about the much touted identity politics on Ross Wolfe’s blog, was impressed, so now I’m here.

    I just clicked on the above link hoping to find the complete draft of your work on EAP but unfortunately it doesn’t work. Can you please restore it as I’d like to read it.

    I have an interest in how we can understand the economic, political, & cultural institutions & practices of any immediate post-capitalist society, especially how, at the minimum, they need to satisfy practical imperatives. These imperatives are obdurate, arising from either (1) the needs of human living as such, needs that are independent of the institutions we use (although modifed by them to varying degrees), or (2) are a consequence of current institutions & ways of working – second-order needs, as it were.

    Hence my interest too in your draft paper, & in how Soviet people tried to come to grips with designing living arrangements – an unusual way of putting it, I suppose, but that is the problem they faced, that is what confronted them, having to decide what to do, how to set to work with the tools at their disposal. As practical imperatives never stop working this brings to mind Neurath’s imagery of having to modify (umbauen) the boat whilst at sea, without ever having the opportunity to strip it down in a dry-dock & from the best pieces build it anew. (Interestingly I’m not aware of much foreign writing at the time on how things could be done – although critics like Kautsky & some Austro-Marxists did discuss how political – & so legal – principles could be institutionalised. Do you, or other readers, have any sources on this?)

    Practical imperatives are as unavoidable as the movement of the sun. The worst voluntarist disasters by professed communists were the attempt to abolish money during both War Communism & Kampuchea’s Year Zero, & the attempted transformation of Chinese rural conditions with the Great Leap Forward. As the saying goes, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Analytic inquiry is not a waste of time – moreover it isn’t a luxury. In the present state of class struggle in the richer countries we have more time to think about the future than our comrades a hundred years ago. Whether we take advantage of that opportunity is another matter.

    I’ve been struck by how reticent anti-capitalists (socialists, communists, anarchists, others) have been talking in enough detail about the institutional arrangements ‘the day – and half-century – after’. But if there’s one thing we can learn from so-called analytic Marxists (Adam Przeworski in particular) it’s that we need to devise plausible arguments as to why it’s worth taking the risk of trying to live in a radically different way with largely untested institutions. People aren’t fools. They’re cautious, they usually try to stick with what they’re used to, with what they know. Given that we go against convention, that we argue for change, we need credibility to get a hearing, we need their trust. We need to listen, to learn from them. And just saying how bad the world is isn’t enough: surprise, surprise, most know this already. What’s lacking is a belief in even a slightly better future – let alone a radically transformed world, the world we have called socialism, etc. So after all these years what can we learn from the 1920s debates in the USSR, including how useful in our thinking about the conditions of a post-capitalist society is the concept of primitive accumulation (original accumulation, in Adam Smith’s own words)?

    So, Rawlin, any chance of restoring the link?


  2. rawlinsview says:

    Jara H.
    Thanks for your comments and the heads up as regards the link. I will try to figure out what happened there and give it a fix.

    this is the url https://rawlinsview.com/e-a-preobrazhensky-primitive-accumulation-and-the-democratic-dictatorship-of-the-proletariat-and-peasantry-introduction-and-early-biography-initial-draft/#comment-1136

    Kautsky’s “on Socialism and on the Day After the Socialist Revolution” is quite worth digging into in this regard.

    I think that once the Bolsheviks had acceded to power, and especially during Lenin’s lifetime they were so far ahead of any other revolutionary element contemporary to themselves both in terms of ideas and practical experience that the deepest conversations were within the Soviet Sphere until a variety of historical factors intervened.

    It is only after the Chinese and Cuban revolutions and related waves of radicalization and revolutionary challenges to imperialism and capital that the conversation was able to expand. Stalin’s military/economic adventure against the Russian peasantry and later but similar measures taken by bureaucratic centralist socialist regimes proved in the negative the consequences of left wing idealism in matters of economic organization.

    Today, only two years shy of the centennial of 1917, human society has evolved to a place in which the technological and material foundations for survival are no longer at issue when speaking in terms of productive capacity or utilization of resources. We have today the productive and technical ability to provide food, clothing, housing and medical care to the whole of humanity. The obstacle to this is the class structure, the power relations of imperialism, and the basic evolution of human consciousness.

    We have evolved past the point at which malnutrition, mass disease and even to an extent natural disaster are a function of the human relationship to nature so much as now these are a function of our relations amongst ourselves. Most of human society today– even in relatively poor and undeveloped nations– exist in a sort of permanent crisis of overproduction. Even in the poorest communities, both rural and urban in the United States, big box retailers and dollar stores are crammed with inexpensive food and other products such that poverty is perhaps less defined by material deprivation than it is by more social factors such as access to education, gratifying employment, medical care and physical security. If anyone in the US is starving it is, seen through this lens, specifically because they are being denied access to the massive quantities of foodstuffs that are literally stockpiled everywhere. Obesity poses a greater medical threat than starvation in much of, not only the developed world, but across the semi-developed world.

    At such time as the working class rises to political power here, and I think that this is true even in most of the semi-developed world, the challenge will not be how to feed and clothe ourselves but rather how to employ the talents of the whole of society, and how to moderate expectations away from material excess and toward longer term socially beneficial goals.
    If we can assume a relatively non-destructive– in terms of core capital assets– transition –and this is not a foregone conclusion– then the challenge of primary accumulation is essentially the challenge of retooling the existing productive capacity of society toward socially constructive purposes. How will we utilized assets such as intricate satellite networks, drone fleets, nuclear powered air craft carriers, and junk factories to aid in elevating the social conditions faced by the most oppressed layers of world society? How can all of this be used to heal the environment, and ease suffering? This will be our challenge in my view.

    Please feel encouraged to write or post comments on the Rawlinsview Blog and I will try to check over the links here and see what has happened to them.

  3. Jara Handala says:

    Thanks for all that, Rawlin. Have you seen this announcement of a collection of Preob.’s writings due to come out next month? It’s probably the first of two volumes:

    Also last Friday there was a terrible fire in Moscow, destroying many, many documents from the Soviet period. It was the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences, & its holdings are akin to the Library of Congress. It housed rare materials stolen from Germany at the end of WW2:

    • rawlinsview says:


      I have actually corresponded with Mr Day, one of the editors. I think that the full work is being published by Brill and that Haymarket has the paperback rights. It was supposed to come out last year. I was hoping to have access to it when I started my paper and am basically waiting for it to come out while before I try to take my work much further. I don’t read Russian myself so this promises to provide much insight.
      I read about that fire. I sounds like a tragedy. Gorinov is Based in Moscow.

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