The story of the workers' opposition is very simple.
On the one hand, the majority of Russian workers, after the revolutions of 1917, were not ready for self-government, self-organization. This was conditioned by the low level of culture of Russia at that time. On the other hand, there were some workers and intellectuals ready for self-organization. They have made attempts in this direction, but every time they were suppressed by the bureaucratic machine that gradually came into existence due to the general inability of workers for self-management.
Hence, the workers' opposition, as a current inside the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik), was suppressed.
Marxists Internet Archive writes :
"The Workers Opposition began to form in 1919, as a result of the policies of War Communism, which had set a precedence for the domination of the Communist Party over local party affiliates and trade unions. Near the end of the Civil War, the Workers Opposition began agitating against the control of the party, seeking to restore more power to local party affiliates and trade unions.
A sharp controversy, of which accusations of factionalism abound, began over this issue beginning at the Ninth All-Russia Conference of the Communist Party in September, 1920. While all sides recognized the growing Soviet bureaucracy, all sides claimed to offer the only path that would defeat this bureaucracy.
Trotsky with the support of Bukharin, supported transforming trade unions into government organs, and in this way giving unions some control over industrial administration. Lenin and the right wing of the party, including Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov, and Stalin, stated that unions should not be a part of industrial administration, but that it was the role of the party to teach unionized workers how to administer the whole national economy. They explained that with workers control, the needs of the community and the rest of society could not be controlled; that factories were the property of the community as a whole, and not only the workers who worked in them. Lenin explained: "Why have a Party, if industrial management is to be appointed by the trade unions, 9/10 of whose members are nonparty workers?" (Collected Works, V. 32, Page 50)
The Workers' Opposition represented the left wing of the party, composed almost exclusively of unionized workers, and was led by A.G. Shlyapnikov, S.P. Medvedev, and later Alexandre Kollontai. The group demanded that industrial administration be made the responsibility of unions, which would not only mean that workers of a particular factory would have control over that factory, but also that unions would control the national economy as a whole. Kollontai explained that only workers could decide what was best for workers – that it was not for party bureaucrats to decide what was needed for the whole society, but it was for workers themselves, the producers of the wealth of society. The Workers Opposition had substantial support among the members of the Communist Party, however the major leaders of the party refused its platform.
The basis of the controversy is namely this: whether we shall realize communism through workers or over their heads by the hands of soviet officials..... The solution of this problem as it is proposed by the industrial unions, consists in giving complete freedom to the workers as regards experimenting, class training, adjusting and feeling out the new forms of production, as well as expression and development of their creative abilities, that is, to that class which alone can be the creator of communism.
There can be no self-activity without freedom of thought and opinion, for self-activity manifests itself not only in initiative, action, and work, but in independent thought as well. We are afraid of mass-activity. We are afraid to give freedom to the class activity, we are afraid of criticism, we have ceased to rely on the masses, hence, we have bureaucracy with us. That is why the Workers' Opposition considers that bureaucracy is our enemy, our scourge, and the greatest danger for the future existence of the Communist Party itself.
In order to do away with the bureaucracy that is finding its shelter in the soviet institutions, we must first of all get rid of all bureaucracy in the party itself....
Wide publicity, freedom of opinion and discussion, right to criticize within the party and among the members of the trade unions -- such is the decisive step that can put an end to the prevailing system of bureaucracy. Freedom of criticism, right of different factions to freely present their views at party meetings, freedom of discussion -- are no longer the demands of the Workers' Opposition alone.
Alexandra Kollantai, Worker's Opposition
In addition to the dispute on union control over industrial administration, the Workers Opposition strongly opposed the separation of the Soviet state from the workers it claimed to represent, i.e. the growth of the Soviet bureaucracy. The Workers Opposition put forward four points to free the Soviet state from the death grip of bureaucratization:
1. Democracy at all times, even in an internal and external tension. 2. Expelling all nonproletarians from the Communist Party. 3. Expelling all nonproletarians from administrative positions in government. 4. Appointments only as exceptions, otherwise people should be elected(appointments, Kollontai explained, "disrupt the relationship of equality among the members by rewarding friends and punishing enemies")
At the 10th Party Congress (March 1921) the positions of the Workers Opposition were rejected, its ideas condemned, and it was ordered to disburse. Its members refuse to be deterred, and continued to agitate for their beliefs, focusing more and more on the growing bureaucracy and the lack of democracy in the Soviet state, the separation of Soviet bureaucrats (including the central leadership) from workers and local autonomy, and the growing Soviet suppression of dissident ideas.
At the 11th Party Congress (March-April 1922), the Workers Opposition would essentially be crushed. The Communist Party, recognizing that their former order to disburse was not adhered to, made a motion to expel the leaders of the Workers Opposition from the party – however the Workers Opposition still had too much support from the rank-and-file membership of the party, and the motion failed. To silence their dissent, the Congress was able to censure the group and forced them to curtail their activities.
In 1926, the remaining members of the Workers' Opposition briefly joined the Left Opposition led by Trotsky, who had by now began to struggle against the growing Soviet bureaucracy and the lack of Soviet democracy. Only Kollontai would survive, in virtual exile, from Stalin's mass trials and executions of dissidents.