Showing posts with label Lenin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lenin. Show all posts

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Lenin and the Russian Revolution (Part 4)

Revolution or Putsch?

The insurrection that gave power to the Bolsheviks was strictly speaking the work of the Military-Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet. The Bolsheviks used this more subtle approach of disguising its seizure of power as an assumption of power by the Congress of Soviets and it was through the organ of the Military Revolutionary Council, NOT the Soviet. The storming of the Winter Palace, was not done by a mass of politically aware workers, but by a few hundred pro-Bolshevik soldiers. Trotsky admitted that the insurrection was planned by the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, of which he was the chair and which had a Bolshevik majority. Trotsky describes how this Committee took its orders directly from the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. So, although the soviets had played a part in overthrowing Tsarism and opposing the Kerensky government, the events of 7 November were a Bolshevik take-over. Were the mass of the Petrograd workers conciously involved in deciding on the revolution? No. On the morning of 7 November the workers of Petrograd woke up to find that in the night the Bolshevik Party had assumed power, the Bolsheviks had carried out a revolution while they were asleep.

The MRC was set up by the Soviet on the basis of defending Petrograd because it was rumoured of another potential Kornilov plot or an imminent invading German army . It was not set up on the basis that it would overthrow the provisional government.But then, under the pretext of organising the military defence of Petrograd from this phantom invading German army, Trotsky at the head of the Petrograd Soviet's Military Revolutionary Committee, took over the garrison unit by unit, through a system of commissars, first securing vital points like the train stations and telegraph office, then finally taking the Winter Palace.

"...even when the compromisers were in power, in the Petrograd Soviet, that the Soviet examined or amended decisions of the government. This was, as it were, part of the constitution under the regime named after Kerensky. When we Bolshevists got the upper hand in the Petrograd Soviet we only went on with the system of double power and widened its application. We took it on ourselves to revise the order sending the troops to the front, and so we disguised the actual fact of the insurrection of the Petrograd garrison under the tradition and precedents and technique of the constitutional duplication of authority” - Trotsky - Lessons of October

The explicit purpose was to present the 3rd Congress of Soviets opening the next morning with a fait accompli . Lenin was sure that only this way would the support of the Congress for immediate soviet power be assured.Once it had happened, workers and soldiers were enthusiastic. And they were part of making it happen, insofar as they obeyed the orders of the MRC. But it would be misleading to say that it was carried out by the proletariat organised in soviets as such. Were non-Bolshevik proletarians in District soviets aware this was coming? No. Were the Left-SR participants in the MRC ? No. Were even the moderate wing of leading Bolshviks supportive? No.This is not to say that Petrograd workers and soldiers didn't support the idea of a soviet government. They did. But that doesn't mean that they were conciously involved in the decision to go through with the October events in order to arrive at such a government.

The total lack of opposition to the Bolsheviks and the absence of support for the Provisional Government reflected the sympathies of the workers. The Provisional Government was utterly discredited, and Bolshevism's reactionary aspect had not been revealed. Support for the action came rushing in after the event from the Soviet of Petrograd Trade Unions and the All-Russian Soviet of Factory Committees amongst others. The factory committees rallied to the Bolsheviks because the latter appeared to support the workers' aspirations. The majority of the members of the Petrograd Soviet were in favour of the overthrow of the Kerensky government, but did this mean they were in favour of the installation of a Bolshevik government. What they were in favour of was a coalition government formed by all the "workers" parties, ie the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, SRs and others. This was in fact favoured by many within the Bolshevik Party itself, but they were over-ruled by Lenin's determination to seize power for the Bolshevik party alone. In other words, it wasn't the overthrow as such of the Kerensky government but its replacement by a Bolshevik government under Lenin. There was no mandate from the soviets for this, which was why Lenin went to great pains to disguise his party's coup as the formation of a soviet government, which it wasn't. Once they got governmental power the Bolsheviks sidelined the soviets almost straightaway. The soviets were always considered as a cover to secure Bolshevik power.

While they claimed that this was a spontaneous seizure of power by the workers, what can be seen is that it was timed to occur before the Soviet Congress could convene, and so guaranteeing Bolshevik supremacy in the soviets and little chance for a free democratic vote on the form any new government should take. It can be plausibly assumed that if the Soviet Congress had had a free vote, the Bolsheviks would have had to share power with their arch-rivals the Mensheviks. Martov called forward a resolution demanding that the Bolsheviks form a coalition government with other left-wing parties. The resolution was about to receive almost complete 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 unadvisedly left the congress in protest over the Bolshevik coup giving the Bolsheviks a majority of those who remained. (We can also speculate it was possible that Lenin himself could have been kept out of office due to the mistrust that many of the Mensheviks and other anti-Tsarist revolutionaries justly held him in.)

On October 25th, the presidium was elected on the basis of 14 Bolsheviks, 7 Social-Revolutionaries, three Mensheviks and one 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, to the bureaucratic, like Lenin and Kollontai, via the landed bourgeois (Smilga), the commercial bourgeois (Yoffe) and the higher industrial bourgeois (Pyatakov). These were the sort of people who were used 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.

Substitution of the party for the class. A take-over, not a revolution.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Lenin and the Russian Revolution (Part 3)

What should be be considered when discussing the October Revolution is how the rapid time-table of the Bolsheviks revealed they had no intention of having workers' rule but only party rule and exposes the misrepresentations of the Leninists and Trotskyists.

"... 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, p. 253] ...the Bolsheviks immediately created a power above the soviets in the form of the CPC. Lenin's argument in The State and Revolution that, like the Paris Commune, the workers' state would be based on a fusion of executive and administrative functions in the hands of the workers' delegates did not last one night. In reality, the Bolshevik party was the real power in "soviet" Russia. ...." From Anarchism FAQ

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Lenin and the Russian Revolution (Part 2)

An article on the  Libcom website called “The Soviet State myths and realities 1917-21“ is well worth quoting at length

"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. It was vital to create harmony between Party and masses. But this version of the history of the Russian Revolution contains a double mystification. On the one hand, there was not one type of soviet, but two quite distinct types. The first made its appearance in Russia in 1905, and we find traces of it up to May 1907. These were councils that had arisen spontaneously out of the January-February 1905 strike. We may say that these soviets largely expressed the self-action of the Russian proletariat. Then there were the Russian soviets of 1917, followed by their central European counterparts. In Russia, at least, their emergence was supervised, provoked even, by all those bustling around the revolution in one capacity or another: politicians, trade unionists, journalists, adventurers and demagogues...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Lenin and the Russian Revolution (Part 1)

The SPGB view expressed repeatedly is socialism could not be established in backward isolated Russian conditions where the majority neither understood nor desired socialism. The takeover of political power by the Bolsheviks obliged them to adapt their programme to those undeveloped conditions and make continual concessions to the capitalist world around them. In the absence of world socialist revolution there was only one road forward for semi-feudal Russia, the capitalist road , and it was the role of the Bolsheviks to develop industry through state ownership and the forced accumulation of capital . The SPGB would classify the Russian Revolution as a bourgeoise revolution without the bourgeoisie. The Bolsheviks, finding Russia in a very backward condition, were obliged to do what had not been fully done previously, i.e. develop capitalism. The Bolsheviks performed the task of setting Russian capitalism on its feet .

"No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room within it have been developed; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society" - Marx

The Bolsheviks, however, thought it possible for an active minority, representing the aspirations of the workers, to gain political power before the capitalist revolution itself had been completed. But what would happen if such a minority gained a political victory over the capitalist classes? In those circumstances, the minority become merely the tools of the capitalist class, which has not been virile enough to gain or hold power. Such a minority finds itself in the position of having to develop and run capitalism for a class unable, at the time, to do it successfully itself. In running capitalism, the minority will be compelled to use its power to keep the working class in its wage-slave position. The SPGB argument is that the material conditions in Russia meant the development of capitialism, which the Bolsheviks were unable to avoid. In fact, they became its agents .

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Imperialism: Plague on both houses

The Left-wing have just not been interested in any criticism of what has become a dogma in their circles: that socialists are duty-bound to support struggles for "national liberation". The "revolutionary" Left simply "trot" out the old anti-imperialism position of supporting the weaker country against imperialist aggression which refuses any real class analysis of war.

Lenin wrote a pamphlet which he entitled Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. In it he argued that, through a process which had been completed by the turn of the century, capitalism had changed its character. Industrial capital and bank capital had merged into finance capital, and competitive capitalism had given way to monopoly capitalism in which trusts, cartels and other monopolistic arrangements had come to dominate production. Faced with falling profits from investments at home, these monopolies were under economic pressure to export capital and invest it in the economically backward parts of the world where higher than normal profits could be made. Hence, Lenin went on, the struggle by the most advanced industrial countries to secure colonies where such "super-profits" could be made. When, after 1917, Lenin became the head of the Bolshevik regime in Russia the theory was expanded to argue that the imperialist countries were exploiting the whole population of the backward areas they controlled and that even a section of the working class in the imperialist countries benefited from the super—profits made from the imperialist exploitation of these countries in the form of social reforms and higher wages, Lenin argued that imperialism was in part a conscious strategy to buy off the working classes in the imperialist countries. His evidence consists of one quote from arch-imperialist Cecil Rhodes , and one from Engels to the effect that the workers of England "merrily share the feast" of its colonies.

Firstly his analysis is out of date when applied to the current situation. Perhaps more importantly Lenin's theory of imperialism Lenin's theory of imperialism pitted the working class of undeveloped countries against that of the developed ones. It led to upholding national interest against class interest. Lenin's position was not a mistake. The “labour aristocracy” theory had the political purpose of enabling the Bolsheviks to argue for the workers in the colonies to form united fronts with their local ruling classes against Imperialism. This in turn had the aim of dividing the working class internationally, and turning it into cannon fodder for capitalist war. Lenin's expanded theory made the struggle in the world not one between an international working class and an international capitalist class, but between imperialist and anti—imperialist states. The international class struggle which socialism preached was replaced by a doctrine which preached an international struggle between states.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Democratic Centralism - Generals looking for privates.

Socialist Courier previously discussed the concept of democracy. Those familiar with the Left will no doubt come across claims that the Trotskyist and Leninist political groups exercise a form of democracy called “democratic centralism”

Socialism’s crisis is a crisis in the meaning of socialism. Many label themselves “socialist” in one sense or another; but there has never been a time as now when the label was less informative. The range of conflicting and incompatible ideas that call themselves socialist is wider than ever.The nearest thing to a common content of the various “socialisms” is a negative: anti-capitalism. But even anti-capitalism holds less and less of a meaning in most cases.

Nowhere else than on the Left is the term “-ism” more extensively and frequently used. We are asked to adhere not only to anarchism, or syndicalism, or socialism, or communism, but also to Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, Maoism, Luxemburgism, and a host of much lesser theorists’ “isms”.
Throughout the history of socialist movements and ideas, the fundamental divide is between Socialism-from-Above to be handed down to the grateful masses in one form or another, and Socialism-from-Below holding the view view that socialism can be realized only through the self-emancipation of view that socialism can be realized only through the self-emancipation of the working class, reaching out for freedom with their own hands. The vanguard party and democratic centralism - are nowhere to be found in Marx, while the third, dictatorship of the proletariat, had an entirely different meaning to Marx than the Leninist interpretation.
The name “bolshevik” originated in a controversy between various factions within the Russian Social-Democratic Party meeting in convention in 1903. The word “bolshevik” (from “Bolshe”, meaning more) meant one of the majority, as distinct from the word “Menshevik” (from “menshe”, meaning less), meaning one of the minority. At the convention, however, the majority of the delegates, were later called “mensheviks”, while the minority styled themselves “bolsheviks.” This incongruous situation came about accidentally when, for a short time, the Jewish Socialist Bund boycotted the convention leaving the rump convention, for the moment with the minority in control. This moment was enough for the minority under Lenin, to seize the name “majority men” or "bolsheviks” and brand the real majority as “mensheviks” or “minority men.”

Thus the name “bolshevik” was a trick, a trick of propaganda and political maneuvering, having little to do with the truth of the situation. “Bolshevik” was simply term used by Lenin to give the impression that the majority of the members were with him for all time. He had “won” the Party. This was, of course, a lie. And how strange it seems that Lenin, the man of “principle” should deal with numbers not principles.

The leaders of the Russian Social Democrats (such as Pleckanov, Lenin, Martov, Axelrod, and Trotsky,) were practically all intellectuals who had to leave Russia to live in other countries of Europe. The discussions among the leaders were held abroad, and there was great difficulty for others living in Russia to find their way to the gatherings or conventions. Among the leaders in exile, democratic discussion was taken for granted, but in the Bolshevik faction, once the leaders had decided, the rest back in Russia had to carry out the decisions. The statements issued by the emigre center was the law! If you didn’t like it you could leave the Party!

It was Lenin’s contention that the working class, through its independent development, could achieve a trade union consciousness, but only a vanguard party, composed of professional revolutionists completely identified and fused with the working class, could imbue it with a socialist consciousness and make it aware of its great historic mission. In his pamphlets Lenin outlined the organizational steps necessary to be taken in order to achieve this kind of organization. He wanted a vanguard party closely connected with the masses, but hierarchically organized, with definite bodies, committees, and a program to which all members adhered, and which they actively carried out. The party was to be headed by a central committee which was responsible to the party congress, with the political leadership in the hands of the editorial board of the central party organ, which board could organize and reorganize the units of the party, admit or reject members, and make all political decisions.

The premise of Lenin’s democratic centralism was based on the following reasoning: revolutionaries needed not a mere parliamentary organization but a party of action which direct a vanguard of activists tied to the revolutionary masses. The party should be an elite body of professional revolutionists dedicating their lives to the cause and carrying out their decisions with iron discipline. No task too small; no sacrifice too great. Such a party cannot be built from the bottom up but only from the top down. First, the leadership would show the way, formulating the program and policies, educating the people, and working out the strategy and tactics. The more advanced dedicated workers would join such a party and carry out the decisions. A degree of discussion might be permitted but, once a decision was made, unity in action and stern discipline was insisted on. In the Russia of Lenin’s time, under the despotism of the Czar’s police, political activity had to be carried out secretly so full democracy by the rank and file membership was practically impossible to attain.

Within Russia where the class struggles became more intense, and real battles were raging in the strikes and demonstrations these exiles had very little experience in strategy and tactics to be the actual leaders in these events. They could analyse the over-all political significance of the events and bring their views to the international socialist conventions, but the militants in the field had to develop their own initiative, ingenuity, and judgment to carry on the best they could. Once the Russian Revolution, was underway the democratic tendencies expressed itself and everywhere there were meetings, discussions, voting. In the Soviets there was voting on all the vital issues of the day, on programmes set up by leaders of rival parties fighting for power. In this type of situation the advantage rested with the Bolsheviks who, under Lenin, had long advocated a centralist party.

In 1902 “democratic” centralism had been advocated because of Czarist terror and the secret police, but in 1917 it was advocated because of the needs of the civil war. In the civil war the power of the leadership was strengthened. The “ideal of ‘democratic centralism’ suffered further reverses, for in effect the power within both the government and the Party became concentrated in the hands of Lenin and the immediate retinue of Bolshevik leaders who did not openly disagree with him and carried out his wishes. The dictatorship (or rule) of the proletariat (or rule of the workers) gave way to the dictatorship of the party, the dictatorship of the party to the dictatorship of the executive committee, the dictatorship of the committee to the dictatorship of “the leader.” Supposed “democratic” centralism had turned to into simple “centralism”. Many of todays’s vanguard parties go at great lengths about centralism, but are unsurprisingly rather silent about democracy.

“Democratic” centralism, as developed by the Bolsheviks was a Russian product, adapted for Russian conditions, as the Bolsheviks themselves. Rosa Luxemburg described Lenin’s conception of organisation thus: ‘the Central Committee is everything whereas the real party is only its appendage, a mindless mass which moves mechanically on the orders of the leader like the army exercising on the parade ground” It can be added that although everyone marches in step, the orders are usually wrong.

Democratic centralism poses as a form of inner party democracy, but it is really just a hierarchy by which each member of a party (ultimately of a society) is subordinate to a higher member until one reaches the all-powerful party central committee and its Chairman/General Secretary. This is a totally undemocratic procedure, which puts the leadership above criticism, even if it is not above reproach. It is a bankrupt, corrupt method of internal operations for a political organisation. You have no voice in such a party. The practice of Trotskyist-Leninist parties is that the Central Committee unilaterally sets policy for the entire organization, and their authority reigns.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is a party of no leaders or, if you will, every member is a leader. Our directly elected Executive Committee is only a “house-keeping” committee for the day-to-day running of the Party (our General Secretary is little better than general dogs-body!). The EC has no power to decide policy. It doesn't even have the authority to submit resolutions to conference. Only branches can do that. Nor does conference decide - only a postal referendum poll of our individual members provides the mandate for Party decisions.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

The Bolshevik Coup

Although commonly called the October Revolution because of a change in calendars, it took place 95 years ago on this day.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has advanced a number of reasons why the Bolshevik Revolution couldn't be socialist.

1. The minority position of the working class, greatly outnumbered by the peasantry. 18 million wage workers of which only 3 million worked in factories or mines. The population at the time was 160 milion
2. Socialist consciousness was lacking amongst those workers. Socialism could not be established in backward isolated Russian conditions where the majority neither understood nor desired socialism.
3. Socialism could not be the outcome of the revolution in Russia because the low level of productive forces ruled out any chance of socialism being established there. The economic elements are lacking or insufficiently developed
4. Russia was surrounded by a capitalist world, to which it needed to adapt and conform to.

Certainly many workers believed that the Bolshevik Revolution would end in socialism, however, the illusions of the workers cannot replace the reality. Material conditions in Russia meant the development of capitialism, which the Bolsheviks were unable to avoid. In fact, they became its agents. It was the role of the Bolsheviks to develop industry through state ownership and the forced accumulation of capital.

The Bolsheviks disguised their seizure of power as an act of the soviets but, of course, Trotsky openly admits that the insurrection was planned by the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, of which he was the chair and which had a Bolshevik majority. Trotsky describes how this Committee took its orders directly from the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. So, although the soviets had played a part in overthrowing Tsarism and opposing the Kerensky government, the events of 7 November were a Bolshevik coup d'etat. At one point Trotsky actually writes that on the morning of 7 November the workers of Petrograd woke up to find the Bolshevik Party carried out a revolution while they were asleep. There is little doubt that Petrograd supported the overthrow of Kerenky's increasingly impotent and unpopular government, but they were in favour of a coalition government formed by all the "workers" parties, ie the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Social Revolutionaries and others, that would be answerable to the soviet. Many within the Bolshevik Party itself accepted such a position but they were over-ruled by Lenin's determination to seize power for the Bolshevik party alone. What Russia got was a Bolshevik government which soon usurped power from the soviets and turned into a one-party dictatorship.

From 1917 all vestiges of democratic self-reliance by the working class was removed piece by piece. "Power to the Soviets" became a sham as Bolshevik party functionaries took total control.

"What have i done...?"

Sunday, May 13, 2012

What Kind of Revolution?

During the 1970s there existed a short-lived SPGB group centred around Aberdeen university made up of a member or two and some sympathisers. It produced several leaflets amongst which was the following.

Marx v Lenin

Reformist political parties, such as the Labour Party, have failed abysmally to remove inequality or solve social problems such as slum housing, pollution, unemployment, war, etc, etc. This fact along with the increasing class conflict on the industrial field is bringing an increasing number of people round to the view that there is a need for a fundamental revolutionary change in present day society. But what is this revolutionary change to involve?

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has a basically Marxist view on the nature of revolution. This is not because we look on Marx as some sort of god but because we consider his analysis to be generally correct.


The central feature of the Marxist concept of socialist revolution is that it is seen in the context of the whole historical development of mankind. We contend that the basis of all societies is the means of producing wealth and the relations into which people enter in order to produce this wealth. Society is revolutionised by means of class struggles when the means of production come into conflict with the relations of production. Socialism is not just a ‘good idea’ which could be put into practice at any time in history. Marx attacked the views of revolutionaries such as Bakunin and the 19th century Russian insurrectionists who thought that socialist revolution was most likely in industrially backward countries.

Marxists insist that socialism is only possible after a capitalist society has been established and developed modern industry and technology. This, of course, has long since taken place and now an abundance for all is possible; but the capitalist relations of production hold back the productive forces and prevent potential abundance becoming a reality. Private property and production for profit have to be abolished for man to progress.

The only force capable of carrying out this task are the working class – all those who, owning no substantial amount of property, have to sell their mental and physical energies to an employer in order to live. Developments within capitalism lead to an increasing working class revolutionary consciousness. The class structure becomes more and more simplified and polarised into the two great opposing classes of capitalists and workers; peasants are driven off the land and into the towns to become wage labourers, small businessmen go bankrupt and are hurled into the ranks of the working class, the ‘professional classes’ are turned into white collar workers and increasingly realise this. Working conditions become more oppressive as work is intensified and, with increasing mechanisation and division of labour, made monotonous and devoid of any creative interest. Capital becomes concentrated in the hands of a small minority of the population, and even though workers’ absolute standards of living may rise, relative to the capitalists' wealth their social position declines.

In addition to these factors, workers’ class consciousness is also increased by their experiences and struggles in capitalism. First, trade unions are formed to defend and improve living standards, and then workers increasingly realise that this is not enough, and that a complete change in society is needed to solve the problems they face. Accordingly a workers political party is formed with the aim of capturing political power to establish socialism. Marx always stressed, as do we in the SPGB, that the working class have to free themselves by their own self-conscious action – they cannot be freed from above by some ‘revolutionary elite.’ Thus the workers’ political party must be democratically organised and controlled by the membership as a whole – as is the SPGB. Marx put his principles into practice in his revolutionary activity in the Communist League and the First International, insisting on their open democratic organisation.


In his early days as a revolutionary Marx thought that the only road to socialism was a violent armed insurrection. However later, when workers won the right to vote, he advocated that where it was possible the working class revolutionary party should contest elections and try and win political power by that means. If this was done there was a possibility that the revolution could be largely peaceful. Like Marx, the SPGB believes that where that means is available the revolutionary party should contest elections and, when resources allow, we do so – on a revolutionary platform of course, not on a reformist programme like the Labour Party.

Having captured political power the working class must use the state machine to dispossess the capitalists and establish a system based on the common ownership of wealth. However the bureaucratic capitalist state is not at all a suitable instrument for this task – first, therefore, the working class have to make the state organisation thoroughly democratic, with all officials being directly elected and re-callable, and being in no way privileged as compared to other workers.

Socialism will be a world-wide classless society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means for producing and distributing wealth. Thus once it has been established there will be no need for the state – the armed forces, police, judiciary, etc. – since it exists only to protect the private property of the rich minority. The government over people will be replaced by a democratic ‘administration of things’.

Socialist production will be consciously planned, aiming purely at meeting peoples’ needs. Thus there will be no buying and selling, exchange, prices, money, wages, or profits. In the first phase of communism Marx thought there would have to be some restrictions on the consumption of consumer goods – perhaps by labour-time vouchers – before industry could be developed to the extent where it would be possible to distribute goods and provide services free. With the tremendous growth in man’s productive ability since Marx’s time we consider this first phase of communism could be gone through very quickly, and free access operated soon after the establishment of socialism.

For Marxists a central feature of socialism is that work would no longer be monotonous drudgery, in which the producers control neither the labour process nor the products of their work. Instead with the ending of capitalism's extreme division of labour and the automation of unpleasant jobs, work would be a creative activity in which people would find a means of self-expression. Thus Marx advocated, as does the SPGB, a world revolution aiming at the establishment of a system based on common ownership and production for use, to be consciously carried out by the working class as a whole, democratically organised in a revolutionary socialist party.

Many people, both opponents of socialism and those who consider themselves to be socialists, think so. Modern Russia, China, Cuba, E. Germany, etc were all founded and are at present ruled by, parties calling themselves ‘Marxist-Leninist’. Many political groups operating in the West proclaim themselves to be both Marxist and Leninist – in Britain for example, the ‘Communist Party’, ‘International Socialists’, and the ‘Workers Revolutionary Party’. The SPGB contends that Lenin's views on revolution were fundamentally different from Marx’s, and that when Leninist revolutionary theory is put into practice the result is not socialism but state capitalism – as now exists in Russia, China, and all the other states that claim to be communist. An examination of Lenin’s theory of revolution will prove our point.

Very early in his political activity Lenin formulated two theories that were always to remain central to his views. Firstly, he argued that the working class by its own efforts was incapable of wanting and understanding socialism. Secondly, following on from this, Lenin held that socialist consciousness would have to be brought to the working class from outside, from a tightly organised revolutionary organisation under a strong centralised leadership. This party was to be composed of full time professional revolutionaries, drawn mainly from the bourgeois intelligentsia.

Lenin’s view that workers by their own efforts could only reach a ‘trade union consciousness’, and that socialist consciousness could only come from outside the capitalist-worker class struggle, is in complete contradiction to Marxism. Marx, as we’ve seen, always stressed that the working class had to free itself, and that socialist understanding developed in the working class as a result of workers’ experiences and struggles in capitalism. Similarly, Lenin’s idea of an exclusive, hierarchically organised revolutionary party, in which the leadership would have great power, goes completely against Marx’s belief in open democratic organisation.

The SPGB believes that the means used, and the end aimed at, are inextricably linked. If elitist authoritarian means are used then an elitist authoritarian society will be the result. If an egalitarian democratic society is aimed at, it can only be achieved by a self-conscious majority, democratically organised without any leadership which could, become a future ruling class.


It is not too well known that in all his revolutionary activity up to April 1917 Lenin was advocating, not a socialist revolution for Russia, but a bourgeois revolution which would establish a capitalist republic. Correctly applying Marx’s materialist conception of history to the Russian situation, Lenin rejected the possibility of an immediate transition to socialism because of the lack of economic development and. the insufficient degree of socialist consciousness among the workers. Since he considered that the Russian capitalists were too weak to smash Tsarism and establish capitalism themselves, Lenin advocated that the Bolsheviks should take power, establish a bourgeois republic with political democracy, and then become a revolutionary opposition within that republic, building up support for socialism.


However in April 1917 Lenin declared himself to be in favour of the viewpoint which he had previously scornfully rejected – adopting Trotsky's ‘permanent revolution’ theory he urged that the Bolsheviks prepare to seize power with the aim of immediately taking socialist measures. Again, Lenin was rejecting the Marxist position. As he had himself argued earlier, the degree of economic development and socialist consciousness needed for socialist revolution did not exist. In advocating socialist revolution for backward Russia Lenin was adopting the policy of the 19th century insurrectionists whom Marx and Engels had strongly criticised.

At the same time as he took up the permanent revolution theory Lenin introduced a distinction between Socialism and Communism. He stated that the coming revolution would establish not communism, but socialist society, a system which would persist into the foreseeable future, and in which there would still be the state, the wages system, and. production for sale . This was of course a further distortion of Marx who had always used the terms socialism and communism interchangeably. It does though perhaps show that Lenin really still recognised the validity of the Marxist argument that backward countries could not be the starting point for socialist revolution. For, while he advocated the immediate establishment of socialism, Lenin had now re-defined socialism so as to make it mean in effect a form of state capitalism – which was all that could be established in Russia at that time.

It was obvious that the Bolsheviks could only seize power by an armed insurrection and Lenin attempted to give this policy Marxist theoretical justification by claiming that Marx considered it impossible for the proletariat to come to power without smashing the state machine. In fact as we’ve seen Marx recognised that in some circumstances the proletariat would be able to peacefully capture the state machine and then smash/dismantle its oppressive and undemocratic features.

Marx sometimes referred to the political transition period between capitalism and communism, in which the democratically organised working class used political power to dispossess the capitalists, as the dictatorship of the proletariat. Lenin in addition to differing from Marx on the length of time that he envisaged the state existing after the revolution, developed a completely different concept of the nature of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Instead of the extremely democratic set-up Marx advocated, he re-defined the dictatorship of the proletariat to the dictatorship of the Bolshevik Party which actually meant the dictatorship of the Bolshevik Party leadership. Not long after their seizure of power the Bolsheviks started to oppress all opposition, left-wing as well as right-wing, and verbal and written opposition as well as anti-Bolshevik actions.

The SPGB in contrast, while recognising that violence would have to be used against a minority who first used violence against the socialist majority, is in favour of the freest and fullest possible expression of ideas both before and after socialist revolution. We totally oppose all censorship. Thus Lenin’s views on the revolution are basically contradictory to Marx’s theory of revolution in many respects – even though Lenin claimed to be a Marxist. How is this to be explained?


Lenin’s theory of revolution was developed in an industrially backward s basically feudal society that was ripe not for a socialist, but for a bourgeois revolution. Lenin up to 1917 had advocated that the Bolshevik Party should take power to carry through this capitalist revolution.

In 1917 the Bolsheviks did take power, and though they did so proclaiming that they were establishing socialism, they were prisoners of Russia’s backwardness and could do no more than develop capitalism, as Lenin had earlier advocated. However the Bolsheviks did not relinquish power to a traditional capitalist government. Justifying their rule on the grounds that it was the dictatorship of the proletariat the Bolsheviks have retained power ever since, and over the years their leaders have become a new ruling class, collectively controlling and thus in effect owning the means of production, and performing the same role as the private capitalists in the West. Thus historically Leninism has been an ideology used in the building up of state capitalism in backward areas of the world. Its insistence on the need for hierarchical organisation and a revolutionary elite, and its denial of the possibility of the working class itself developing mass revolutionary consciousness, stamp it as belonging to the era of bourgeois revolutions.

Lenin’s concept of revolution has no relevance for socialist revolution in modern industrially advanced capitalism – and if a Leninist party seized power the only result could be the establishment of some type of state capitalism.


It is vital that when abolishing present day exploitation we do not substitute a new form of exploitation. The only sure guarantee against this is a revolution made and controlled by the self conscious majority of the working class.

As Marx put it "The emancipation of the working class must be the act of the workers themselves."

Written in 1974 by comrades of the Aberdeen SPGB group

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Stalin bad, Lenin good???

A terrific article by Richard Montague in this month's Socialist Standard states:
"Josef Stalin, who by an ironic inversion of the ‘Great Man’ theory of history subsequently became the Lucifer of the Left and the architect of evil in the Russian empire, wrote a pamphlet called Socialism or Anarchism in 1905 in which he correctly summed up the Marxian view of socialism:".....and further."Many contemporary exponents of Leninism ascribe the awful saga of totalitarian rule that emerged from this sort of thinking to Stalin. Yes, Stalin did head the list of political gangsters that terrorised Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution, but it was the elitist nonsense promoted by Lenin, as evidenced above, and the undemocratic political structures established by the Bolshevik Party that created the pathway to the massive evils of Stalinism."

You can read it for yourselves on the new website being developed.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

An Anti-Bolshevik Approach to Revolution

The final talk in the Socialist Thinkers series by Stephen Coleman and a belated contribution to the 90th anniversary of the Russian Revolution . It is a discussion of Leninism and the Julius Martov critique of the Bolsheviks .

The download can be found via the link at Darren's blog

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