London Anarchist Federation Meeting on The Russian Revolution

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Battlescarred
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Sep 25 2017 13:20
London Anarchist Federation Meeting on The Russian Revolution

London Anarchist Federation Public Meeting

The Russian Revolution-What went Wrong?

7pm Thursday October 5th at May Day Rooms, 88 Fleet street, London EC4Y 1DH Nearest tube Blackfriars
We look at the Russian Revolution and how it was undermined by the Bolsheviks. Guest speakers TBA. Plenty of time for discussion. Free. Refreshments provided.

https://www.facebook.com/events/515409172124896/?acontext=%7B%22ref%22%3A%2222%22%2C%22feed_story_type%22%3A%2222%22%2C%22action_history%22%3A%22null%22%7D&pnref=story

Battlescarred
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Oct 3 2017 10:30

We will not just be discussing dusty old history but the effects Bolshevism has had on present struggles and what we should do about it.

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rat
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Oct 3 2017 21:29

I hope to make it to this.

Battlescarred
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Oct 4 2017 14:31

Excellent!

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Oct 7 2017 10:12

It was a really good presentation and discussion.
And it was great to catch up with AF comrades.

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Oct 8 2017 19:02

I thought the discussion was fraternal, despite the many disagreements between the AF, other anarchist comrades, and the small left communist contingent, I gave out copies of the flyer for the ICC day of discussion on November 11. I hope that the debate can continue at our meeting. The CWO have agreed to make a presentation. But we also encourage anarchist comrades to come and argue for their views.

I intend to come back on the content of the AF meeting - the significant points of agreement as well as the deep divergences.

https://libcom.org/forums/announcements/icc-day-discussion-russian-revolution-november-11-2017-london-07102017

Battlescarred
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Oct 8 2017 19:19

At first I thought that one character at the meeting was a Trotskyist, as he was extremely equivocal about the Kronstadt uprising. turned out that he was a sympathiser of the ICC. Yeah,but Kronstadt could have led to the Mensheviks or the SRs taking over and starting the counter revolution, that sort of stuff. Considering that the counter revolution was already taking place as implemented by the Bolsheviks, that is a steaming pile of shite.

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Oct 8 2017 20:54

I think the comrade expressed himself badly - it's true that the counter-revolution was already on the march and that the Bolshevik party was becoming one of its principal agents. But I think the point he was raising was that given the adverse international conditions and the dire situation in Russia, there was no real possibility of a revival of the revolution through the Kronstadt uprising and that by that point 'regime change' would probably have meant the replacement of the Bolsheviks by an openly bourgeois government. He prefaced his point by saying that he supported the demands of the uprising and opposed the repression, which is not a Trotskyist position. In any case the comrade can answer for himself.

In my opinion, it would have been better if the Russian revolution had succumbed to forces that were openly bourgeois, because its internal degeneration and demise spawned a monster that could clothe itself in the red flag and do untold damage to the communist cause. I think the Italian left communists were thinking in the same way when they wrote in the review Octobre, in 1938 that "it would have been better to have lost Kronstadt than to have kept it from the geographical point of view, since substantially this victory could only have one result: that of altering the very bases, the substance of the action carried out by the proletariat”.

The Bolsheviks' military victory over Kronstadt was won at the price of undermining the fundamental principle of the revolution, "the principle that socialism cannot be imposed on the proletariat by violence and force".

jaycee
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Oct 9 2017 18:51

Yes. I did express myself badly but it was down in part to annoyance with some of the way things were being put forward in the meeting. I probably seemed to have views I don't really have as a result.

The 'bad Bolshevik' line in the presentation was starting to irritate me and the idea that 'objective conditions' was just an excuse made me want to re-iterate that there actually were a lot of reasons why the Bolsheviks acted the way they did; it wasn't because they were 'authoritarian' (they were in lots of ways- and this didn't help in many cases it is true but the problems are more complex than this analysis allows for).

My point has pretty much been accurately summed up by Alf above but I would just add that I think my point about the likely result of Kronstadt being open counter revolution is not based on a Trotskyist/Leninist idea that it was a 'white plot'; (either during my intervention or afterwards in a discussion I think I referred to it as a last gasp of a dying revolution) but because of the social forces at play at that moment. The working class was weak, dispersed and tired of struggle in Russia while internationally it was also retreating while the international bourgeoisie would have looked used any power vacuum to its advantage.

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Oct 9 2017 20:07

It sounds like you hadn't fully internalised the correct ICC line on Kronstadt.

jaycee
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Oct 9 2017 20:11

its got nothing to do with that; I just find the 'anarchist' tendency to ignore 'objective conditions' when it comes to the Bolsheviks as annoying as the 'Marxist' tendency to overplay/exploit them.

Battlescarred
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Oct 10 2017 14:20

No as Rat says, you hadn't fully internalised the correct ICC line on Kronstadt.
Objective conditions-bunkum- are still being used as an excuse for closing down of freedom of speech, assembly and press, and systemised and murderous terror. The Cheka was set up in December 1917. By February 28th 1918 it had already shot two anarchists, members of the Petrograd Anarchist Communist Federation, for "banditry". All this well before the start of the Civil War. As these were the third and fourth victims of the Cheka (the first two being a male and female pair of hold up artists it does give credence to the view that the Cheka'a activities were at least as much directed against revolutionary groups as against counter-revolutionaries from the beginning..
Bad Bolsheviks? well, yes. Trotsky was implicated in the murder of several Red Army commanders because of his drive to militarise that Army and against partisanschchina. Lenin from very early on issued directives authorising shootings and repression. The intent very early on was to use mass terror, the intent very early on was to destroy, neutralise or assimilate any revolutionary groups to the left of the Bolsheviks When it comes down to it,If I saw many of my comrades executed or imprisoned, would I make any lame excuses about objective conditions?
Oh and why do you put anarchist in quotation marks.?

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Oct 10 2017 14:57

What is the "correct ICC line on Kronstadt", in your view?

Battlescarred
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Oct 10 2017 15:06

Surely you should know that?

zugzwang
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Oct 10 2017 16:52
jaycee wrote:
its got nothing to do with that; I just find the 'anarchist' tendency to ignore 'objective conditions' when it comes to the Bolsheviks as annoying as the 'Marxist' tendency to overplay/exploit them.

I wasn't there on account of living on another continent, but I think any reasonable anarchist recognizes the very real conditions of revolutionary periods and that certain measures like rationing would become necessary. But can you really pin saving the best supplies for those in government or preventing people from going into the countryside in search of food on "objective conditions"? Those seem more like ideological/policy choices, which fueled resentment and uprisings, than decisions forced on Bolshevik leaders. The Kronstadt suppression itself wasn't forced on Bolshevik leaders by "objective conditions." For starters representatives of the Bolsheviks, Kuzmin e.g., could have responded more tactfully to the situation than they did with their speeches on the island and avoided escalating the situation further.

I'm in agreement with Alf about it not really mattering if some bourgeois faction exploited the situation and took power, as the dangers of a "communist" dictatorship "insulated against mass pressure" (and which would later devour its own creators as under Stalin; Trotsky being assassinated, etc.) was an equally worse option.

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Oct 10 2017 19:05

Many years ago I attended my one and only ICC meeting, chaired by Alf. Alf commented that the thoroughness of the left-communist critique of the Russian revolution's decline was proved by the fact that it took them until 1926 to state it (long after Miasnikov and other Bolshevik left-comms were repressed; these left-comms would later regroup their diminished forces in Bolshevik prisons.) This late conclusion supposedly proved its superior analytical depth over earlier anarchist, councilist etc critiques. I responded by saying that, by that logic, even later critiques by, eg, SWP guru Tony Cliff were even more superior! Which got a big laugh, but I think they failed to see the critique in that comment.

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Oct 10 2017 20:28

What do you all think of Loren Goldner's statement:

"I think that one fundamental aspect of the degeneration of the Russian revolution was a split between the high level leadership – the Lenins, the Trotskys and so on who had lived many years in exile – and the internal party apparatus which had developed in the underground for 20 years. These were people like Stalin who had been robbing banks, escaping from prison and generally leading a very interesting but totally underground existence for a long time. I believe these people [[the latter group]] became the core of the Bolshevik apparatus, as it existed for ordinary workers and peasants, from 1917 onward. Unlike Lenin and Trotsky, these were not people who stayed up late at night worrying about the relationship between party and class. During the civil war more and more elements, basically right out of the criminal underground, were recruited into the apparatus of the Cheka and other organs of Bolshevik power. So I would say there was Stalinism before Stalin that was already present as one aspect of the overall Bolshevik party." 1

?

  • 1.

    The statement continues:

    "Victor Serge tells in his Memoirs of a Revolutionary a very revealing story along these lines. In 1920 there were some hundreds of anarchist political prisoners who were condemned to death and Lenin and Trotsky announced an amnesty for them. So the amnesty was going into effect on the following day and Pravda was publishing the names of all amnestied anarchists. And during the night before the amnesty took effect, the Cheka shot all of these anarchists. So Victor Serge went to the prison and asked the officer why he had shot them when the amnesty was taking effect and the Cheka officer replied, “Lenin and Trotsky can be as sentimental as they want, my job is to destroy the counter revolution.” I think this points to this division, already in these years between a very tough apparatus that by 1921 had already in part been recruited from the criminal underground because these people had a lot of experience, and the intellectual Marxist leadership with different theoretical ideas who were in power. But at the same time I think that there was a kind of party patriotism in the official ideology of Lenin and Trotsky that protected that kind of activity. Party patriotism was the ideological cover for these essentially gangster activities. As you probably know, in 1921, Lenin and Dzerzhinsky–Dzerzhinsky was the head of the Cheka–and he and Lenin conducted a private study, a private commission of inquiry about the activities of the Cheka in these kinds of events and they were horrified. But in the situation of 1921, they decided there was nothing they could really do about it. Let’s not forget that from 1918 onward, the Bolsheviks had been imprisoning people from every other left group and in many cases they also were shot. Mensheviks, social revolutionaries, left social revolutionaries, and anarchists. Of course civil wars are not happy occasions, and things happen in civil wars, but I think that overall the crushing of all opposition outside the party also deeply weakened the dictatorship at the end of the civil war. And what that shows again essentially is this ideology of party patriotism and ‘we are the revolution, and if you are against us, you’re a counter revolutionary’."
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Oct 10 2017 21:26

Going back, for the moment, to the "correct ICC line", I posed this to Battlescarred (and Rat) because I think it would be helpful to see whether their perception of our "line" is at odds with our own understanding of it. But in any case: a definite part of the ICC "line" is that you cannot explain or justify the errors of the Bolsheviks solely in relation to "objective conditions" - above all the isolation of the revolution - even if they played an absolutely crucial role in accelerating these errors and ensuring that they became fatal; that it is necessary to examine the subjective, political misconceptions which were carried over from a previous phase in the life of the workers' movement, in particular the idea that the party should take and hold power 'on behalf of' - and even 'against' - the working class as a whole.

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Oct 10 2017 22:54

I think Goldner's statement is OK as far as it goes. But, having read recent mainstream Lenin & Stailin biographies (can't remember authors), I got the impression that the pre-1917 Bolshevik Party had two distinct wings. There was a division of labour; on one hand the intellectual Party brains such as Lenin & co in exile whose main task was writing for and distributing Party propaganda within Russia and keeping tight discipline within the wider Party apparatus.

On the other hand there was the activist underground within Russia distributing Party literature, propagandising etc and some carrying out robberies and extortion to fund the Party and the intellectuals' exile lifestyle - though most leading marxist intellectuals were from upper class backgrounds and often had family wealth for support. Stalin was the leading fund raiser, his gang carrying out daring bank robberies and other jobs. Iirc they did also on occasion give support to strikers. This division of labour between thinkers and doers was also part of a division between separate quite autonomous wings of the Party (unsurprisingly, given the distance imposed by exile) though Lenin was the final authority. Stalin was the financier/enforcer while Lenin was the ultimate brain/decision maker.

The clandestinity demanded by circumstances only encouraged the already hierarchical conceptions of Bolshevism. This had perhaps been true since the days of Bakunin - Tsarist political repression making conspiratorial organisation a necessity and it then becoming embedded in Russian radical practice and theory by default.

The internal Party division of labour between thinkers and doers was reproduced externally in the hierarchical Bolshevik conception of the relation between Party and class, the Party seen as functioning as brain of the class body.

But Stalin was a bit more complex than just a thuggish gangster - in his youth he studied for the priesthood at "the Tiflis seminary, one of the finest educational establishments south of Moscow" and was also a young published poet;

Quote:
When printed, they were widely read and much admired. They became minor Georgian classics, to be published in anthologies and memorised by schoolchildren until the 1970s (and not as part of Stalin's cult; they were usually published as "Anonymous"). ...

Stalin's early verses explain his obsessional, destructive interest in literature, as well as his reverence for - and jealousy of - poets such as Osip Mandelstam and Boris Pasternak. In 1934, Mandelstam wrote a scabrous poem attacking Stalin. The words and influence of this "Kremlin crag-dweller" and "peasant-slayer" on literature were, Mandelstam wrote, "leaden", his "fat fingers ... greasy as maggots". Stalin's rage against Mandelstam for this brave and brilliant attack was probably redoubled because it was in poetry. But ironically, the swaggering brute rightly notorious for his oafish philistinism concealed a classically educated man of letters with surprising knowledge and taste. Mandelstam was right when he said, referring to Stalin's interest in poetry, that "in Russia, poetry is really valued, here they kill for it". https://www.theguardian.com/books/2007/may/19/featuresreviews.guardianreview32

Spikymike
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Oct 11 2017 09:58

Well ''party patriotism'' sounds familiar. Seems to persist in many who only aspire to be ''The Party'' at some time in the future of their imagination!

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Oct 11 2017 11:14

No doubt Red's memory of that ICC meeting is sharper than mine, but I do wonder whether he is right to mention the date 1926 because it's not clear to me what event in the history of the revolution, or of the Italian communist left, it's connected to. As a matter of fact, the Italian left communists still considered the USSR to be a "degenerated proletarian state" up until the second world war, although in contrast to the Trotskyists they rejected any defence of it because that would have meant participating in an imperialist war. But rather than getting into the problem of dates, I think the issue is one of method and of attitude to organisations that once belonged to the working class. The method of the Italian left led to the position that even when it's degenerating, communists have to fight inside a proletarian organisation until it's clear that it has passed into the enemy camp and no further struggle within it is possible. And this was also Miasnikov's approach towards the Bolshevik party which he had helped to construct: the full title of the Workers Group he formed in 1923 was the Workers Group of the Russian Communist Party and his idea was that, even if it meant working illegally, the Group would struggle to turn the party away from the course towards degeneration and betrayal. Of course at that stage it was difficult to grasp the scale of the defeat the working class had suffered, both in Russia and world wide, so the Group no doubt overestimated the possibilities of achieving such an aim. But it still offered a more fruitful basis for understanding the process of degeneration than the approach of part of the German communist left (the "councilists"), which went from the view that the revolution in Russia and the Bolshevik party were expressions of the proletariat to the idea that they had been bourgeois from the beginning.