Alexander Gavrilovich Shliapnikov (Russian: Алекса́ндр Гаври́лович Шля́пников) (August 30, 1885 – September 2, 1937) was a Russian communist revolutionary, metalworker, and trade union leader. He is best remembered as a memoirist of the October Revolution of 1917 and as the leader of one of the primary opposition movements inside the Russian Communist Party during the 1920s.
Alexander Shliapnikov was born August 30, 1885, in Murom, Russia to a poor family of the Old Believer religion. His father died when he was a small child. Shliapnikov began factory work at age thirteen and became a revolutionary at age sixteen.
He joined the Bolsheviks in 1903. He was arrested and imprisoned at various times for his radical political activities, including his involvement in the 1905 revolution. Shliapnikov left Russia in 1908 and continued his revolutionary activities in Western Europe, where he also worked in factories and was a devoted trade unionist.
Shliapnikov returned to Russia in 1916. He, Vyacheslav Molotov, and Petr Zalutskii were the senior Bolsheviks in Petrograd at the time of the February Revolution in 1917. More prominent figures such as Vladimir Lenin, Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev and Joseph Stalin were abroad or in Siberian exile when the February Revolution began. In 1917, Shliapnikov became a member of the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies. He also was elected to chairmanship of the Petrograd Metalworkers' Union and later of the All-Russian Metalworkers' Union. He led negotiations of a wage agreement between Petrograd metalworkers and factory owners in 1917.
After the revolution
Following the October Revolution and the Bolshevik seizure of power, Shliapnikov was appointed Commissar of Labor. Lenin called for a Bolshevik dictatorship, which some Bolsheviks opposed. Shliapnikov supported a coalition government composed of left socialist parties, but he did not resign his post in the government, as some other Bolsheviks did. He played an important role in evacuating industry from Petrograd, as the Germans approached in 1918. As Commissar of Labor, he helped draft important directives on workers' control of industry and nationalization of industry and he staffed government bureaucracies with staff from trade unions. In the summer of 1918, he went to the south of Russia on a mission to gather food for the population of the Bolshevik-controlled cities of central Russia.
In December 1918 Shlyapnikov was replaced as Commissar of Labor by Vasili Schmidt and then served as Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Caspian-Caucasian Front in the Russian Civil War. He also served in the Revolutionary Military Council of the Western Front during the Civil War. During the Civil War, Shliapnikov began to criticize the increasing tendency of the Russian Communist Party and Soviet government to rely on authoritarian measures to enforce policies towards industry and industrial workers. To Shliapnikov, denial of workers' right to participate in economic decision-making was a step away from the goals of the 1917 revolution.
Shliapnikov became leader of the Workers' Opposition movement inside the Russian Communist Party. Alexandra Kollontai was a mentor and advocate of the group, which was composed of leaders of trade unions and industry who were all former industrial workers, usually metalworkers. This movement advocated the role of workers, organized in trade unions, in managing the economy and the political party. The Russian Communist Party leaders succeeded in suppressing the Workers' Opposition and in 1921–22 finally subordinated trade union leadership to the Party. In 1921, Shliapnikov was forced out of his elected post as chairman of the Metalworkers' Union.
In 1922, Shliapnikov and some others from within and outside the Workers' Opposition, including Alexandra Kollontai, presented an appeal, called the Letter of the Twenty-Two, to the Communist International Executive, requesting that the Comintern help heal a "rift" within the Russian Communist Party between Party leaders and workers. Party leaders and Party-controlled media condemned the appeal. Two of the signatories of the appeal were expelled from the Party, but Shliapnikov, Kollontai, and Sergei Medvedev narrowly escaped expulsion.
Shliapnikov turned to writing his memoirs and held jobs in metals import and economic planning institutions. The Party Central Control Commission investigated him and Sergei Medvedev in 1926 and in 1930 for alleged factionalism in connection with the formation of oppositionist groups among workers in Baku and Omsk. In 1930, the Party Politburo forced Shliapnikov to publish a public confession of "political errors" in writing his memoirs of the revolution. This was not the same as a confession of political errors committed by him since the revolution.
Death and legacy
Shliapnikov was expelled from the Communist Party in 1933 and imprisoned in 1935 for alleged political crimes. Charged under Article 58 of the Soviet Criminal Code, he did not confess guilt or implicate others. Nevertheless, he was found guilty, based on others' testimony, and he was executed on September 2, 1937.
Shliapnikov was posthumously rehabilitated and restored to membership in the Communist Party in 1988.
- Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr (2002-08-14) [June 30, 1975, Washington, DC: AFL‐CIO], Words of Warning to the Western World, RU: Lib, retrieved 2014-02-04,
Among the leadership, the Central Committee of the Communist Party, at the beginning of the Revolution, all were émigré intellectuals who had returned, after the uprisings had already broken out in Russia, in order to carry through the Communist Revolution. One of them was a genuine worker, a highly skilled lathe operator until the last day of his life. This was Alexander Shliapnikov. Who knows that name today? Precisely because he expressed the true interests of the workers within the Communist leadership. In the years before the Revolution it was Shliapnikov who ran the whole Communist Party in Russia – not Lenin, who was an émigré. In 1921, he headed the Workers' Opposition which was charging the Communist leadership with betraying the workers' interests, with crushing and oppressing the proletariat and transforming itself into a bureaucracy. Shliapnikov disappeared from sight. He was arrested somewhat later and since he firmly stood his ground he was shot in prison and his name is perhaps unknown to most people here today. But I remind you: before the Revolution the head of the Communist Party of Russia was Shliapnikov – not Lenin.
- Shliapnikov, AG (1989) [1927–29], "Avtobiografiia", in Gambarov, Iu S, Деятели СССР и октябрьской революции: автобиографии и биографии (Deiateli SSSR i oktiabr'skoi revoliutsii: avtobiografii i biografii) [Figures of the USSR and the October Revolution: autobiography and biography] (in Russian), 3, et al. (eds.), Moscow, pp. 244–51.
- ——— (1982), On the Eve of 1917, Richard Chappell, trans., New York.
- Barbara Allen, Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885–1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015. Paperback published by Haymarket Books in 2016. http://www.haymarketbooks.org/pb/Alexander-Shlyapnikov-1885-1937
- Barbara C. Allen, "Aleksandr Shliapnikov's Purge from the Soviet Communist Party in 1933," Cahiers du Monde russe, vol. 49, no. 4 (Oct.-Dec. 2008), pp. 559-580. In JSTOR
- Barbara Allen, Alexander G Sljapnikov in der Verbannung und in Havt 1934 bis 1937, in: Jahrbuch für Forschungen zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, Heft III/2015.
- Robert V. Daniels, The Conscience of the Revolution: Communist Opposition in Soviet Russia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960.
- Michael Futrell, Northern Underground: Episodes of Russian Revolutionary Transport and Communications through Scandinavia and Finland, 1863–1917. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1963.
- Larry E. Holmes, For the Revolution Redeemed: The Workers Opposition in the Bolshevik Party, 1919–1921. The Carl Beck Papers in Russian and East European Studies, no. 802 (1990).
- Larry E. Holmes, "Soviet Rewriting of 1917: The Case of A. G. Shliapnikov." Slavic Review vol. 38, no. 2 (June 1979), pp. 224–242.
- Jay B. Sorenson,The Life and Death of Soviet Trade Unionism: 1917–1928. New York: Atherton Press, 1969.