Workers' Opposition

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The Workers' Opposition (Rabochaya oppozitsia) was a group of trade union leaders and industrial administrators within the Russian Communist Party who opposed party leaders' policy on workers and industry from 1919 to 1921. The group formed in the fall of 1919, when its leader, Alexander Shlyapnikov, called for trade unions to assume leadership of the highest party and state organs. Leading members of the Metalworkers' Union supported Shlyapnikov, who criticized the growing bureaucratization of the Communist Party and Soviet government, which he feared would stifle worker initiative. The Workers' Opposition advocated management of the economy by a hierarchy of elected worker assemblies, organized according to branches of the economy (metalworking, textiles, mining, etc.).

Shlyapnikov, the chairman of the All-Russian Metalworkers' Union, was the most prominent leader of the Workers' Opposition. Thirty-eight individuals signed the theses of the Workers' Opposition in December 1920. Most of them had been metalworkers; they represented the Metalworkers' Union, Miners' Union, and the leading organs of heavy industry. Alexandra Kollontai advised the Workers' Opposition and was a spokesperson for it. She wrote a pamphlet about the group (Rabochaya oppozitsia), which circulated among delegates to the Tenth Communist Party Congress in 1921.

Leaders of the Opposition used the resources and organizations of major trade unions (metalworkers, miners, textile workers) to mobilize support. Many meetings were arranged by personal letter or word of mouth. Metalworkers or former metalworkers composed the membership, all of whom were also Communists.

The Workers' Opposition drew attention to a divide between Soviet industrial workers and the Communist Party, which claimed to rule in the name of the working class. Party leaders feared that the Workers' Opposition would inspire opponents of the regime. At the Tenth Party Congress in March 1921, the party banned the Workers' Opposition.

See also: civil war of 19171922; kollontai, alexandra mikhailovna; shlyapnikov, alexander gavrilovich


Holmes, Larry E. (1990). For the Revolution Redeemed: The Workers Opposition in the Bolshevik Party, 19191921 (Carl Beck Papers in Russian and East European Studies, no. 802). Pittsburgh, PA : University of Pittsburgh Center for Russian and East European Studies.

Kollontai, Alexandra. (1971). The Workers Opposition in Russia. London: Solidarity.

Barbara Allen