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Lenin and the Myth of 1917

A myth pervades that 1917 was a 'socialist' revolution rather it was the continuation of the capitalist one. What justification is there, then, for terming the upheaval in Russia a Socialist Revolution? None whatever beyond the fact that the leaders in the November movement claim to be Marxian Socialists. M. Litvinoff practically admits this when he says:
In seizing the reigns of power the Bolsheviks were obviously playing a game with high stake. Petrograd had shown itself entirely on their side. To what extent would the masses of the proletariat and the peasant army in the rest of the country support them?”
This is a clear confession that the Bolsheviks themselves did not know the views of the mass when they took control. At a subsequent congress of the soviets the Bolsheviks had 390 out of a total of 676. It is worthy of note that none of the capitalist papers gave any description of the method of electing either the Soviets or the delegates to the Congress. And still more curious is it that though M. Litvinoff says these delegates “were elected on a most democratic basis”, he does not give the slightest information about this election. This is more significant as he claims the Constituent Assembly “had not faithfully represented the real mind of the people”.

 Karl Radek, the Bolshevik leader (“Class Struggle,” Aug. 1919) justifies the dictatorship of the Bolsheviks in Russia on the ground that Russia “possesses a proletarian minority.” He says that in countries with a capitalist minority a dictatorship would be unnecessary owing to weak resistance.

Originally the Bolsheviks demanded complete power for the Soviet executive “until the meeting of the Constituent Assembly." After the Bolsheviks had assumed power for three months, they announced the elections for the Assembly (Nov. 25, 1917), and dispersed it when it showed the Bolsheviks in a minority. The so-called reasons for abolishing the Assembly still lack evidence in their support for the Bolsheviks permitted the elections to be held.

 The Bolsheviki have often defended their dictatorship by quoting Marx’s criticism of the. Gotha Program (1875) where he refers to the transition from Capitalism to Socialism as the Dictatorship of the Proletariat pending the abolition of classes altogether. Marx, however, refers to a dictatorship asserted by a working-class majority over the capitalist few, and not to the dictatorship of a minority attacked by Engels in his Criticism of the Blanquist Program.

 Lenin has admitted the Blanquist character of the November 1917 seizure of power—
"Just as 150,000 lordly landowners under Czarism dominated the 130,000,000 Russian peasants, so 200,000 members of the Bolshevik party are imposing their proletarian will on the mass, but this time in the interest of the latter.” — “The New International,” New York, April, 1918, a Bolshevik paper.

Lenin’s defence of this as due to the lack of knowledge among the masses is in these words:
“If Socialism can only be realised when the intellectual development of all the people permits it, then we shall not see Socialism for at least 500 years. The Socialist political party, this is the vanguard of the working class, must not allow itself to be baited by the lack of education of the mass average, but must lead the masses, using the Soviets as organs of revolutionary initiative.’’—Lenin at Peasants’ Congress quoted in "Ten days that Shook the World.” 

In Russia the Soviets arose spontaneously in opposition to the Tsarist (and later the Bourgeois) dictatorship. Parliament has never been the supreme power in the State because the bulk of the population had never been industrially concentrated and politically organised. Local councils acting independently to a large extent, and at most never realising the need for more than federal unity, were, therefore, the natural expression of popular opinion.
In adopting the Soviet constitution, therefore, the Bolsheviks did not invent a system: they accepted a fact! Their attempt to convoke a central assembly representative of the mass of the people had failed, as it was bound to fail, in a welter of illiteracy and disorganisation. The point is often missed that is it was not only the Bolshevik Party which was in a minority. The whole of the political parties in the Assembly put together were!
Marx, of course, is freely quoted by both writers. On p. 140 Kautsky, while stating that the Bolsheviks are Marxists, asks how they find a Marxist foundation for their proceedings.
"They remembered opportunely the expression ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’, which Marx used in a letter written in 1875."
Kautsky states that this is the only place in the whole of Marx’s writings where this phrase occurs, though Engels used it in his preface to the 3rd edition of Marx’s Civil War in France.
Lenin’s reply to this is to call the passage a "celebrated" one, and to call Kautsky several names. He then makes the following statement:
"Kautsky cannot but know that both Marx and Engels, both in their letters and public writings, spoke repeatedly about the dictatorship of the proletariat, both before and after the Commune" (p. 12.).

Here was a grand opportunity for Lenin to get in a powerful blow by giving some of these "letters and public writings", but, to the chagrin, no doubt, of his followers, he does not give a single case outside those mentioned above. There are endeavours to twist some of Marx’s statements on the Commune of Paris (1871) into a support of this claim, but they are all dismal failures. Only in the Communist Manifesto is found a phrase - "the proletariat organised as a ruling class" - that bears any resemblance.

But a more important point remains. Every student of Marx knows how he laid bare the laws of social evolution and claimed that, in broad outline, all nations must follow these laws in their development.

Kautsky uses this fact with great effect, and it forms the strongest argument in the whole of his pamphlet. On page 98 he gives the well-known phrase from the preface to the 1st Volume of Capital:
"One nation can and should learn from others. And even when a society has got upon the right track for the discovery of the natural laws of its movement - it can neither clear by bold leaps, nor remove by legal enactments the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development. But it can shorten and lessen the birth pangs."

How does Lenin deal with this famous phrase of Marx’s? By entirely ignoring it. There is not a single reference to it in the whole of his reply. More than this, the quotation given above from page 140 of Kautsky’s pamphlet is printed by Lenin on page 11-12 of his reply. Immediately preceding the sentence quoted Kautsky says:
"The Bolshevists are Marxists, and have inspired the proletarian sections coming under their influence with great enthusiasm for Marxism. Their dictatorship, however, is in contradiction to the Marxist teaching that no people can overcome the obstacles offered by the successive phases of their development by a jump or by legal enactment."

Thus ignoring of one part of a paragraph while quoting the other part is full proof Lenin deliberately avoided this important question.

Lenin was no Hitler but what Lenin wrote or said, he trimmed and tailed to suit  circumstances, or whoever his audience was. He was a perfidious liar. One of the most amazing legacies of the Russian revolution and its aftermath is Lenin's image as a humane, even saintly figure, despite the wealth of evidence to the contrary. To this day thousands of people all over the world will revile Stalin but revere Lenin, yet the truth is that it was the latter who commenced the reign of terror after November l9l7 and who deserves his own place in history as a brutal, lying, ruthless dictator. Right up till the Bolshevik seizure of power Lenin had been agitating for the abolition of the state apparatus including the army, police and bureaucracy. Every official, he said, should be elected and subject to recall at any time. He was all for freedom of the press and the right to demonstrate for "any party, any group"' 

Immediately on gaining power he even promised to uphold the verdict of the coming elections for the Constituent Assembly
As a democratic government 'we cannot ignore the decision of the rank and file of the people, even though we may disagree with it ...and even if the peasants continue to follow the Social-Revolutionaries, even if they give this party a majority in the Constituent Assembly, we shall still say, be it so'
(Report on the Land Question,8 November 1917')

All of this was, of course, mere window dressing, for Lenin knew that the Russian people would never have supported what he really had in mind for them.  Far from abolishing the state apparatus he set about strengthening it, especially the secret police (Cheka), in order to impose the Bolshevik dictatorship. And instead of officials being elected and recallable the Bolsheviks simply appointed their own men who were answerable to them alone'

Gradually all opposition press was outlawed and their demonstrations forbidden' When the long-called-for elections for the Constituent Assembly resulted in a humiliating defeat for the Bolsheviks. Lenin dissolved the Assembly by force.Later on he explained away those earlier promises on the grounds that:
'This was an essential period in the beginning of the revolution; without it we would not have risen on the crest of the revolutionary wave, we should have dragged in its wake' (Report of the Central Committee to the 11th Congress of the Russian Communist Party 27 March 1922.)

In the run-up to the November coup Lenin and the Bolsheviks had won widespread support with their slogan "peace, bread and land". Of course, the
promises of politicians are always easier to make than to fulfill, as the Russian workers and peasants very soon discovered. The peasants, having got rid of the landlord, now had their grain and cattle forcibly taken from them in return for worthless paper money. Those who resisted were shot and many villages were burnt. Lenin claimed that his policy of robbing the peasants was necessary to avoid famine but inevitably, the peasants retaliated by burning their crops and killing their cattle and so Lenin's policy produced famine anyway. In the cities and towns unemployment was rife and the workers, in or out of a job, were starving.

Lenin's response to the plight of the Petrograd workers was to tell them to ...set out in their tens of thousands for the Urals, the Volga and the south,
where there is an abundance of grain, where they can feed themselves and their families . .
 ( To The Workers of Petrograd, 12 July 1918.)

How the workers and their families were to get to these areas in view of the fact that the civil war had broken out in each of them, Lenin didn't say.

Early in 1919 many strikes and protest demonstrations were crushed with great loss of life. Starvation continued to be the workers' lot for several more years but anyone who argued that the chronic food scarcity could be eased by allowing the peasants to trade their produce instead of having it stolen by the state should, said Lenin, be shot. This argument was "counter-revolutionary" - until Lenin himself made it official policy early in l92l.

Another myth surrounding the period of Lenin's dictatorship is that at least there was democracy within the Communist Party. This is the so-called "democratic centralism", but Lenin no more welcomed opposition from his own comrades than he did from anyone else' Communists who criticised him or his policies were denounced as "unsound elements", "deviationists" or worse' and their arguments “mere chatter", "phrase mongering" and “dangerous rubbish".

Lenin's anger boiled over at those communists who wanted free trade unions independent of party control' He raged at the “loudmouths" and demanded complete loyalty or else they would throw away the revolution because “Undoubtedly, the capitalists of the Entente will take advantage of our party’s
sickness to organise a new invasion, and the Social Revolutionaries will take advantage of it for the purpose of organising conspiracies and rebellions.”
(The Party Crisis, 19 January 1921 )

He also complained that the debate on the trade unions had been . . an excessive luxury. Speaking for myself I cannot but add that in my
opinion this luxury was really absolutely impermissible' 
(Report on the political activities of the Central-Committee to the l1th Congress of the Russian
Communist Party, 8 March 1921.)

In short, shut-up and don't rock the boat. Faced with this attitude the dissidents had no chance. Their various groups, such as "Workers' Opposition", were expelled (even when they agreed to abide by majority decisions against them) and many of their leaders and members were jailed or exiled.

All Lenin's actions were the result of his single-minded determination to seize power and hold onto it, even if it meant that millions of Russian workers and peasants died in famine and repression. The seizure of power was' given the chaotic condition of Russia at the time, comparatively simple: to hold on to power he had to create a state apparatus which, under his personal direction, was used to terrorise all opposition into submission.

The Leninists of today will argue that all of this was a case of the end justifying the means, that it was done in order to bring about socialism. But undemocratic means can never bring about democratic ends; any minority which seizes power can only retain it by violent, undemocratic methods. In any case, even before 1917 the Mensheviks and many European social democrats had used Karl Marx's theory of social development to demolish the idea that socialism could be established in a backward country like Russia.

The absence of large-scale industry and the consequent smallness of the working class, both of which are essential ingredients for socialism, plus the presence of a vast, reactionary peasantry made socialism impossible. This earned them Lenin's undying hatred, a hatred which only increased as he saw their view justified by events. All that was left to Lenin in the circumstances was to commence building up state-capitalism.

Matt Culbet


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