Friday, March 13, 2020

A look at Russian history

The Socialist Party views its primary role under the current circumstances it faces today as one of education - of making socialists. Our case has always been that understanding is a necessary condition for socialism, not desperation and despair.
Capitalism will always throw up situations where an escalation of class struggle towards socialism is possible, but the more workers there are who are consciously aware of the alternative to capitalism, the greater the likelihood there is of actually getting rid of the system. Upsurges in class struggle and periods of crisis in capitalism provide a potential revolutionary springboard. The contradictions, class relationships and miseries inherent to capitalism inevitably lead the workers to confront capital and when this happens there is, of course the potential for revolutionary consciousness to grow through the realisation of class position and the nature of capitalism. As the current recession within capitalism continues, squeezing and stamping down upon the working class ever more relentlessly, alongside the growing realisation of the failure of all forms of running the system; then there is definitely a growing potential for the escalation of struggle towards the overthrow of the system. However, how many times has the potential been there in past moments of escalated struggle and capitalist crisis only to disappear or to be channelled into reformist, pro-capitalist directions? Discontent over wages or conditions can be a catalyst for socialist understanding but so can many other things such as concern about the environment or war or bad housing or the just the general culture of capitalism
Nor is there any reason in our interactions with capitalism that dictates that fellow-workers must necessarily become revolutionary socialists. Experience could just as easily turn them towards the right as in the case of the rust states becoming Trump-supporters or Brexiteers, here in the UK.
 Paul Mattick said rather pessimistically:
“There is no evidence that the last hundred years of labour strife have led to the revolutionizing of the working class in the sense of a growing willingness to do away with the capitalist system…In times of depression no less in than these of prosperity, the continuing confrontations of labor and capital have led not to an political radicalization of the working class, but to an intensified insistence upon better accommodations within the capitalist system…No matter how much he [the worker] may emancipate himself ideologically, for all practical purposes he must proceed as if he were still under the sway of bourgeois ideology. He may realize that his individual needs can only be assured by collective class actions, but he will still be forced to attend to his immediate needs as an individual. It is this situation, rather than some conditioned inability to transcend capitalism. He may realize that his individual needs can only be assured by collective class actions, but he will still be forced to attend to his immediate needs as an individual. It is this situation, rather than some conditioned inability to transcend capitalist ideology, that makes the workers reluctant to express and to act upon their anti-capitalist attitudes” - "Marxism, Last Refuge of the Bourgeoisie"
Another apt observation is from Murray Bookchin in his "Anarchism , Marxism and the Future of the Left":
"...human beings cannot be free - except under very rare conditions, such as during revolutions and for limited periods of time; even then, they must still leave the barricades and return to work to satisfy their needs and those of their families. They have to eat , if you please..." 
Bookchin gave this example: "...In May 1937 in Barcelona, the workers had to conquer the Stalinist counterrevolution then and there. But they delayed, and after four days they had to leave the streets to obtain food..."
The Marxist case is that no force can cut short the natural development of society until it is ready for change.
Studies of 1905 and 1917 revolutions have differentiated between the creation of the soviets of those respective periods?
Although the February 1917 strikes were completely spontaneous, the soviets did not arise directly out of them as they had done in 1905. This time they resulted from the combined efforts of politicians and workers' leaders, the politicians of the Duma Committee and the members of the Workers' Group sitting on the Central Committee for the War Industries (an employers' and State organisation), attempted to organise elections in Petrograd for a Central Soviet. The impetus for this came from the latter group, which installed itself in the Tauride Palace on 27 February and set up a provisional executive committee of the council of workers' delegates, to which committee several socialist leaders and members of parliament attached themselves. It was this committee which called upon workers and soldiers to elect their representatives. This explains why, when the first Provisional Soviet met that very evening, it still contained no factory delegates.
The political parties saw them as a springboard to power, they manipulated and engaged in all sort of chicanery which explains why the intellectuals acquired decisive influence in the Petrograd Soviet and why this soviet so rapidly lost contact with the masses. They became the scene of factional and party in-fighting. The soviets proved to be the dispensable means to an end for the Bolsheviks.
 Once Bolshevik power was established the soviets simply became an emasculated rubber stamp for party rule. As early as December 1917, Maxim Gorky was able to write in the newspaper Novaia Zizn (No.195, 7 December 1917) that the revolution was not attributable to the soviets, and that the new republic was not one of councils, but of peoples' commissars.
Lenin’s own view on soviets had changed little from his attitude towards them after 1905:
"...if Social-Democratic activities among the proletarian masses are properly, effectively and widely organised, such institutions may actually become superfluous...that a most determined struggle must be waged against all disruptive and demagogic attempts to weaken the R.S.D.L.P. from within or to utilise it for the purpose of substituting non-party political, proletarian organisations for the Social-Democratic Party...that Social-Democratic Party organisations may, in case of necessity, participate in inter-party Soviets of Workers’ Delegates, Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, and in congresses of representatives of these organisations, and may organise such institutions, provided this is done on strict Party lines for the purpose of developing and strengthening the Social-Democratic Labour Party " - Draft Resolutions for the Fifth Congress of the R.S.D.L.P.
Trotsky said in History of the Russian Revolution that "The party set the soviets in motion, the soviets set in motion the workers, soldiers, and to some extent the peasantry." In other words, the soviets existed to allow the party to influence the workers. And we subsequently saw what happened if the workers in the soviets rejected the decisions of the Bolsheviks.
The essence of this debate is fairly simple. Did the Bolsheviks desire the working class to control its own destiny or did they use the working class as stepping stones to political power and a totally different agenda from one of workers self-management?
Once having assumed the reins of government, Lenin found himself in the position of having to preside over -- and, in fact, to organise -- the accumulation of capital. But, as capital is accumulated out of surplus value and surplus value is obtained by exploiting wage-labour, this inevitably brought them into conflict with the workers who, equally inevitably, sought to limit their exploitation.
Lenin justified opposing and suppressing these workers' struggles on the ground that the Bolsheviks represented the longer-term interests of the workers. Lenin never really advanced much beyond the idea of self-appointed liberators leading (willing or otherwise) the mass of people to freedom. He remained, in theory as well as practice, essentially a bourgeois revolutionary. The New Economic Policy was the outcome. Ignored was this on-the-scene appraisal by fellow-socialist Bill Casey:
"Production was in a straight-jacket, lethargy and indifference permeated the whole economy; the people were entirely lacking in a sense of time. Without the normal industrial development of production and some measure of buying and selling (war-communism was the order of the day) drift and indifference would gradually strangle the economy of the Soviet".
These observations were greeted with disgust and dismay by the other delegates. However, before Casey left Moscow, Lenin introduced  NEP which, in essence, provided for the very things which Casey recognised was needed to stabilise the Russian economy. In contrast to their hostile reception of Casey’s prognostications, the "yes-men" cheered and echoed Lenin’s belated pronouncements
Stalin did twist Marxism into the conservative ideology of a state-capitalist ruling class, but he was merely building upon Lenin's previous contortions of Marxism into the ideology of that same class while it was struggling for power.
We are not saying that the majority of Petrograd workers and soldiers didn't support the idea of a “soviet government”. They did. But they always viewed it as a coalition of sorts of all the workers' parties. Something Lenin only paid lip-service to.
Worth reading is
'Soviet State myths and realities 1917-21'
"The history of the Russian Revolution as told in Soviet textbooks takes place in two phases: the rising of the masses against tsarist oppression, then against Kerensky's bourgeois democracy, engendered a process of radicalization of which the Bolsheviks were both inspirers and spokesmen, preparing the ground for the second phase of the revolution, October 1917. In other words, the communists perceive an historical and theoretical continuity between the autonomous origins of the councils and the Leninist theory of the State, a view which is held even by the anti-Stalinist Marxist-Leninists. This misrepresentation of the true course of events was essential in order to paper over the divergences between the masses and Bolshevik policy insofar as the Bolsheviks claimed, and still do claim, to incarnate the dictatorship of the proletariat."
Another useful source is
"The heart of the matter was that the Mensheviks and SRs were winning in the elections to the soviets in addition to regaining control of local trade unions and dumas. The process of the Menshevik-SR electoral victories threatened Bolshevik power. That is why in the course of Spring and Summer of 1918, the soviet assemblies were disbanded in most cities and villages. To stay in power, the Bolsheviks had to destroy the soviets. Local power was handed over to ExComs, the Cheka, the military, and special emissaries with "unlimited dictatorial power". These steps generated a far-reaching transformation in the soviet system, which remained "soviet" in name only..."
Martov put forward a resolution demanding that the Bolsheviks form a coalition government with other left-wing parties. The resolution was about to receive almost total endorsement from the soviet representatives thus showing that the representatives in the soviet did NOT believe in all power to the Bolsheviks but then the majority of SR and Menshevik delegates made a far-reaching tactical error when they unadvisedly left the congress in protest over the Bolshevik coup.
The Bolsheviks did make what appeared to be gestures towards cooperation. On October 25th, the presidium was elected on the basis of 14 Bolsheviks, 7 Social-Revolutionaries, 3 Mensheviks and a single Internationalist. The Bolsheviks then trooped out their worker-candidates Lenin, Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev and so on. When it came to forming a government, Kamenev read out a Bolshevik Central Committee proposal for a Soviet of People's Commissars, whereby "control over the activities of the government is vested in the Congress of Soviets and its Central Executive Committee". Seven Bolsheviks from the party's central committee were nominated, and thus Lenin and Trotsky came to sit at the top. 
The "workers' government" was now composed of professional revolutionaries and members of the intelligensia ranging from the aristocratic, like Chicherin and Kollontai, to the bureaucratic, like Lenin, via the landed bourgeois (Smilga), the commercial bourgeois (Yoffe) and the industrial bourgeois (Pyatakov). These were the sort of people who were accustomed to being a ruling class.
The management of production by the workers was one of the goals of the struggle, proclaimed by the Military Revolutionary Committee on 25 October 1917. That same day, the Second Congress of the Soviets solemnly approved the decision to establish workers control while specifying, however, that this meant controlling the capitalists and not confiscating their factories.

The Bolsheviks effectively re-defined "proletarian power" to mean the power of the party whose ideology was believed a priori to represent workers interests. "Who is to seize the power? That is now of no importance. Let the Military Revolutionary Committee take it, or 'some other institution', which will declare that it will surrender the power only to the genuine representatives of the interests of the people.'' Not "the people", not the "representatives of the people", but "the genuine representatives of the interests of the people" and that would be, of course, the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin. [my emphasis] Substitution of the party for the class. A take-over, not a revolution.
The SPGB is often asked the hypothetical question - "What would you have done in 1917?"
Well, broadly speaking, the role of a revolutionary organisation in a pre-revolutionary situation is to ensure the growth of proletarian power and the defence of the class. The Bolsheviks failed to do so, emasculating what workers organisations existed, sacrificing their independence and strength to the altar of their One Party Rule. From 1917 all vestiges of democratic self-reliance by the working class was removed piece by piece. "Soviet power" became a sham, and Bolshevik party functionaries took total control. I think we can understand Leninism more by accepting that they made choices that other Marxists were not prepared to make. The SPGB argue that Lenin despite his claims that he was the first to see the trend of conditions and adapt himself to these conditions, he was far from changing the course of history, it was, in fact, the course of history which changed him. Lenin made a great miscalculation. He believed that the working masses of the western world were so war weary that upon the call from one of the combatants they would rise and force their various governments to negotiate peace. Unfortunately these masses had neither the knowledge nor the organisation necessary for such a movement, and no response was given to the call. A read of contemporary Socialist Standards show that the SPGB also saw the events of 1919 as a false dawn.
There is no doubting the Bolsheviks sincerity, only their judgement. the Bolshevik leaders really did believe at this time that they were turning “Russia into a socialist country” can be gauged from a passage in an article included in this book that Zinoviev later wrote on his “Twelve Days in Germany”: “We are approaching a time when we shall do away with all money. We are paying wages in kind, we are introducing free tramways, we have free schools, a free dinner, perhaps for the time being unsatisfactory free housing, light, etc.”
In 1920, Zinoviev claimed, “the beginning of the proletarian revolution can be clearly seen...I am convinced that in two or three years, it will be said that this was the beginning of a new era. The proletarian revolution has a great chance in England.”
It was Martov argued that the workers in Europe were certainly discontented but that this was not an expression of socialist consciousness but of despair. Martov said that the Bolshevik party had “conquered state power in a country with a proletariat that was numerically insignificant, a country with an insignificant productivity of labour, with a complete lack of the basic economic and cultural preconditions for the organisation of socialist production - and these objective conditions presented the Bolsheviks with an insurmountable obstacle for the realisation of their ideals.” He went on to point out that “the development of the revolution in the West…is not going as quickly as the Bolshevik party had reckoned when it obtained state power through a fortunate confluence of circumstances and then used this power in an attempt to turn Russia into a socialist country by a radically accelerated path.” ( quoted by Lars Lih, I think)
The Bolsheviks had basically three options
(1) To share power with bourgeois parties.
(2) to entrench themselves in intransigent opposition and decline the responsibilities of power
(3) to try to seize power by force.
The last option was the Bolshevik solution. It failed to produce socialism and necessarily failed to do so because even in power and ruling by dictat, the commissars of the people, still found themselves face-to-face with hard economic reality, denying them the possibility of immediate establishment of socialism.
... just four days after seizing power, the Bolshevik Council of People's Commissars (CPC or Sovnarkom) "unilaterally arrogated to itself legislative power simply by promulgating a decree to this effect. This was, effectively, a Bolshevik coup d'etat that made clear the government's (and party's) pre-eminence over the soviets and their executive organ. Increasingly, the Bolsheviks relied upon the appointment from above of commissars with plenipotentiary powers, and they split up and reconstituted fractious Soviets and intimidated political opponents."
Neil Harding, 'Leninism' quoted at the Anarchism FAQ
Trotsky said:
“Could the Communist Party succeed, during the preparatory epoch, in pushing all other parties out of the ranks of the workers by uniting under its banner the overwhelming majority of workers, then there would be no need whatever for soviets..."
This confirms the observation of Martov:
The idea that the "Soviet system" is equal to a definitive break with all the former, bourgeois, forms of revolution, therefore, serves as a screen behind which - imposed by exterior factors and the inner conformation of the proletariat - there are again set in motion methods that have featured the bourgeois revolutions. And those revolutions have always been accomplished by transferring the power of a "conscious minority, supporting itself on an unconscious majority," to another minority finding itself in an identical situation."
Just to end with this quote from Peter Tkachev, sometimes known as "the First Bolshevik" as his views is something they inherited, said:
“Neither now nor in the future is the people left to itself, capable of accomplishing the social revolution. Only we, the revolutionary minority, can and must accomplish the revolution and as soon as possible...The people cannot help itself. The people cannot direct its own fate to suit its own needs. It cannot give body and life to the ideas of the social revolution...This role and mission belong unquestionably to the revolutionary minority.”
Cited in Rudolf Sprenger's very useful pamphlet 'Bolshevism'

No comments: