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The Workers' Opposition (Russian: Рабочая оппозиция) was a faction of the Russian Communist Party that emerged in 1920 as a response to the perceived over-bureaucratisation that was occurring in Soviet Russia.
The Workers' Opposition was led by Alexander Shlyapnikov, who was also chairman of the Russian Metalworkers' Union, and it consisted of trade union leaders and industrial administrators who had formerly been industrial workers. Alexandra Kollontai, the famous socialist feminist, was the group's mentor and advocate. Other prominent members included Sergei Medvedev and Mikhail Vladimirov (leaders of the Metalworkers' Union), Alexander Tolokontsev and Genrikh Bruno (artilleries industry leaders), Mikhail Chelyshev (a member of the Party Control Commission), Ivan Kutuzov (chairman of the Textileworkers' Union), Kirill Orlov (member of the Council of Military Industry and a participant in the 1905 mutiny on the Russian battleship Potemkin), and Aleksei Kiselyov (chairman of the Miners' Union). Yuri Lutovinov, a leader of the Metalworkers' Union and of the All-Russian Council of Trade Unions, sometimes spoke for the group, but sometimes held his own opinion.
The Workers' Opposition advocated the role of unionized workers in directing the economy at a time when Soviet government organs were running industry by dictat and trying to exclude trade unions from a participatory role. Specifically, the Workers' Opposition demanded that unionized workers (blue and white collar) should elect representatives to a vertical hierarchy of councils that would oversee the economy. At all levels, elected leaders would be responsible to those who had elected them and could be removed from below. The Workers' Opposition demanded that Russian Communist Party secretaries at all levels cease petty interference in the operations of trade unions and that trade unions should be reinforced with staff and supplies to allow them to carry out their work effectively. Leaders of the Workers' Opposition were not opposed to the employment of "bourgeois specialists" in the economy, but did oppose giving such individuals strong administrative powers, unchecked from below.
The Tenth Congress of the Russian Communist Party, in 1921, condemned the Workers' Opposition for factionalism, but adopted some of its proposals, including conducting a purge of the Party and organizing better supply of workers, to improve workers' living conditions. Several leaders of the Workers' Opposition, including Shlyapnikov, were elected to the Party Central Committee. Nevertheless, Party leaders subsequently undertook a campaign to subordinate trade unions to the Party and to harass and intimidate those who opposed this campaign.
End of the movement
Members of the former Workers' Opposition continued to advocate their views during the period of the New Economic Policy but increasingly became politically marginalized. Shlyapnikov and his supporters conducted discussions with Gavril Myasnikov's Workers Group, but unlike Myasnikov, were determined not to leave the ranks of the Communist Party. Some members of the Workers' Opposition, including Shlyapnikov and Kollontai, signed the "Letter of the Twenty-Two" to the Comintern in 1922, protesting Russian Communist Party leaders' suppression of dissent within the Party. Shlyapnikov, Kollontai, and Sergei Medvedev narrowly escaped expulsion from the Russian Communist Party at the Party's Eleventh Congress in 1922. Kollontai subsequently became an important diplomat and Shlyapnikov turned to writing his memoirs.
- Allen, Barbara (January 2015). Alexander Shlyapnikov, 1885–1937: Life of an Old Bolshevik. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill (Historical Materialism Series). Paperback published by Haymarket Books in 2016.
- Daniels, Robert. The Conscience of the Revolution: Communist Opposition in Soviet Russia. Cambridge, Mass., 1960; revised edition, Boulder, Col., 1988.
- Holmes, Larry E. 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).
- Kollontai, Alexandra. Rabochaya oppozitsiya. Moscow, 1921. Translated into English by Solidarity in London and the IWW in the United States.
- Sorenson, Jay. The Life and Death of Soviet Trade Unionism: 1917-1928. New York, 1969.
- Shliapnikov. "Shliapnikov: Appeal of the 22. 1922". www.marxists.org.