SPGB and how they want to achieve socialism

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Agent of the International's picture
Agent of the In...
Joined: 17-08-12
Sep 8 2013 17:11
SPGB and how they want to achieve socialism
SPGB wrote:
How will socialism be established?
Socialism can only be established by a vast majority of people deciding it wants to establish socialism. Therefore, the World Socialist Movement puts forward the socialist case so that people can decide for themselves.

Once the vast majority makes the decision in favour of socialism, then it will elect socialist representatives or delegates to prove its majority, and to serve as a temporary focal point to administer the elimination of capitalism and the creation of socialism. But it won't be, and could not be, the elected representatives or delegates who create socialism, it will be the people of the world as a whole.

The vast majority of the people of the world are working class, so socialism will be established by the working class. It also means that ordinary people will have to do all of the work required. The capitalist class isn't going to do it, and professional socialists (whatever they might be) aren't going to do it. The only way to establish socialism is for people to work for it.

I may be late, but why do they support the use of parliament? And what's the point?

Joined: 6-01-07
Sep 8 2013 17:46

Late indeed so try these previous items:

and perhaps this (even if some of their members, and the critiques publishers, might have moved on since it was written):

and probably a number of other threads if you search.

Red Marriott's picture
Red Marriott
Joined: 7-05-06
Sep 8 2013 23:33
... They are "impossibilists" who have been stuck in an historic timewarp since 1904. They are not a bunch like the SWP who obviously stand for state capitalist policies and democratic-centralist machiavellianism, and act in practise as aggressive guard dogs for various existing institutional factional powerbases in parts of academia, the labour left, and the official trade union bureaucracy. They predate the 1917 Russian Bolshevik revolution, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao and all that. They are more of an antiquated puritan mix of Marx and William Morris.

In "Non-market socialism in the 19th and 20th Centuries." (Edited by M. Rubel and J. Crump) Stephen Coleman writes the following about them:

"The most typically impossibilist and historically enduring product of the split in the Social Democratic Federation emerged in 1904 when the majority of the London "impossibilists" (as opposed to "possibilists" reformists).... formed a new party: The Socialist Party of Great Britain." They "adopted an Object and Declaration of Principles which has not since changed." and, "If one turns to the Socialist Standard of 1904 one can read basically the same analysis of capitalism and statements about socialism as would be found in 1934 or 1984."
Impossibilism and utopianism contribute virtually nothing on the subjects of specific tactics and strategy at particular moments with particular workers. They become a tiresome and useless repeating of simplistic socialist platitudes. The question; "Should we smash the ice?" is a very important tactical question in your life if you're a rebel sailor or worker on Kronsdadt naval base 1921 and trotsky is about to send in the red army to kill you. The impossibilist maximalist would simply say: "This awkward dilemma of whether to smash the ice or not just shows how terrible capitalism is, so whether the ice gets smashed or not the problem is capitalism, and we need to replace it with democratic socialism". Or they might argue that a democratic vote of all the workers should be taken as to whether the ice should be broken, but by the the time all the ballot papers were in the ice had already been crossed. If there is a wave of industrial unrest should office workers picket their own individual workplaces or join mass flying pickets to blockade strategic industrial centres like oil depots? This too could become an important and necessary question. Nobody has the perfect answer to such questions but you have to get your hands dirty and attempt to deal with them in practise, you can't remain aloof. ...
- Socialist Substandard: 100 years of the socialist party of 1904 - Paul Petard

Agent of the International's picture
Agent of the In...
Joined: 17-08-12
Sep 9 2013 13:29

Thanks guys.

That critique looks interesting.

Entdinglichung's picture
Joined: 2-07-08
Sep 10 2013 10:48

The party’s formula for achieving socialism is beautifully simple: the workers are to become individually convinced of the socialist case, and when that has been done they will vote in a government which will decree socialism at a stroke. No attention is given to boring questions of tactics or strategy. The SPGB thus achieves the unique distinction of being both constitutional and revolutionary. Through this formula the SPGB avoids the strains which drive other socialists to drink or revisionism. The very simplicity of the formula might seem to rule out the possibility of discussion. However, the D of P, inflexible as it is in the area which it covers, does not specify what the society of the future will be like; consequently, SPGB meetings, whatever the ostensible topic, quickly tend to gravitate towards discussion on precisely this theme. Under socialism will we be vegetarian, monogamous or not? Will we still live in cities? Will we use more or less water, and will goods still be mass produced? Visitors to SPGB meetings, expecting to hear solemn Marxists discussing how to overthrow the bourgeoisie, are usually surprised and charmed. No speculation is forbidden by the D of P, so imaginations can soar, unfettered by the tedious discussions on tactics and strategy which form the content of most socialist theory. Even the least imaginative of the speculations are more appealing than descriptions of the Christians’ dreary, male chauvinist heaven.

Joined: 13-11-13
Nov 13 2013 19:52

The main idea is to gain support by receiving enough votes for SPGB members to be returned to parliament in a majority. Using the law of the day it shows that a majority of the UK voters voted for socialism rather than a continuation of the current system through the voting in of MPs of the standard parties.

Once this is done, the SPGB's MPs, who would have been voted in on the specific party line of overthrowing the system from within, would then work to undertake to disband the government and state's coercive controls and develop the country towards total socialism and the redistribution of the means of production. This revolutionary effect would have been achieved through the ballot box, in a non violent way.

Ultimately, the SPGB-rightly-argues that a socialist revolution can only exist and last once the majority understand it and want it. When a majority want it there will be little need for a violent overthrow as a primary means of enacting the revolutionary change. The mere action of a parliament consisting mainly of revolutionary socialist MPs would be the lawful mandate to bring this change about. If violence has to be used it is because only a minority understand and want the change, hence the historical coups changing one set of political elites for another. A violent coup would only result in an unstable regime that relies upon force to perpetuate itself. A true revolutionary socialist system would not need this, as the majority want it and accept it democratically.

Of course, a socialist revolution cannot exist in one country alone because of the external pressures that are placed upon it by the rest of the world's capitalist system and the need to build capital in the form of profit to trade. So, the SPGB's internationalist personality shares the desire with the rest of the World Socialist Movement in its outlook. In order for one local revolution to continue, others must take place to be mutually supportive.

The SPGB and other WSM parties currently exist as mainly educational organisations with the aim to explain and demonstrate how capitalism needs to be followed by revolutionary socialism in order for our collective progress to continue away from discrimination, subjugation, financial slavery and prejudice that are a result of the economic systems to date. For there to be a global and permanent revolution, the majority of each country and therefore the world needs to understand and actively choose the socialist revolution. Otherwise, the best we can hope for is sporadic bursts of violent coups, lead by a minority with a minimal amount of understanding, knowledge and a privileged group of people who are the "guardians" of a revolution that never was.

Also see... and the other pages.

Chilli Sauce's picture
Chilli Sauce
Joined: 5-10-07
Nov 13 2013 22:09

the SPGB-rightly-argues that a socialist revolution can only exist and last once the majority understand it and want it. When a majority want it there will be little need for a violent overthrow as a primary means of enacting the revolutionary change.

Or voting for it for that matter.

And, if you think that - despite whatever fig leaf of respectability/legality offered by any parliament - that capital will give up it's wealth and power without a fight, that's madness. Not to mention, we're talking about the UK here. Even if you could pull this off in the UK, you don't think other capitalist states, least of all the US, are going to allow this to happen peacefully?

And - all of that said - I personally don't think a revolution is likely to happen because of some mass change of political consciousness. I think in most class activity, up to an including revolutions, action precedes consciousness. I have no idea what spark will kick off the kind of workplace takeovers needed for a revolutionary situation, but I sincerely doubt it will be some conscious political decision taken by a majority of the class.

Y's picture
Joined: 16-11-07
Nov 14 2013 00:49

As the history of the 20th century has amply demonstrated, the only way social ownership of the collective product of labour can be established is through the class conscious organisation and action of the majority of the workers themselves. The bourgeois are cowards. Only the mad amongst them would dare oppose a working class majority committed to abolishing the wage system. In order for that majority to be effectively reached, free speech should be maintained and that is best done when the communists declare themselves for peaceful social revolution within a bourgeois democracy. To keep telling the workers that violence is inevitable is to practice defeat and invite reaction before a majority of the working class can be reached while individual rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrevolutionaries put on the ever so brave face of 'realism'.

Brian Gardner
Joined: 14-11-13
Nov 14 2013 01:07

I would give a different emphasis to that in the first two paragraphs of GTW's contribution. The SPGB's view is that the revolutionary process - however it works out - should be democratic and transparent. Where there is sufficient democratic culture and institutions then the clear intent should be there to try and use these to assist in getting our arguments over, and assessing the level of support for these ideas. It would also make it that little bit harder (though by no means impossible of course) for the authorities to ban or otherwise restrict our activities.

This approach should definitely not however, be viewed as being to the exclusion of other consistent* activities that a growing, participative, class-conscious revolutionary movement should be engaging in in order to make a revolution, but the SPGB emphasises the importance of including a democratic political element. This is not because we have a fetish for parliamentary democracy (far from it), but because of the dangers to the revolutionary movement of adopting alternative forms, most obviously, the model of the leninists, of a secretive, vanguard leading disaffected masses. There is also a downside to a politics based on spontaneous acts of resistance alone without sufficient reference to lessons of history, or which emphasises activity over internal democracy (The SPGB also has some ambivalence to the supposed consciousness-raising powers of activity alone, whether that is the transitional demands or "interventions" of the trotskyites,, or the spontaneous acts of resistance favoured by most anarchists).

Indeed if anyone has a fetish over parliament, in my view it is those leninists or anarchists who automatically rule it out in all instances, and almost define themselves in relation to opposition to use of "bourgeouis" democracy as having any part of their revolution.

Personally if we ever get a revolution, this SPGB member doubts that electing MPs to parliament will have played any part in it whatsoever - we will be overtaken by events in all probability. Nonetheless, for what its worth, setting out with a clear intent to use parliament, would be a statement of the democratic credentials of the revolutionary movement. This would not be in isolation, but would have to be coupled with many other clear indications of the movement's democratic and participative culture (openness, transparency, internal democratic procedures, no leaders etc).

I would also for my part want to give a different emphasis to GTW where he suggests that the socialist MPs would undertake to disband the government and state. The socialist MPs would not be taking any lead, at most they would be enabling a rubber stamp if the majority felt it necessary. (Someone says elsewehere in this thread "why bother?", an argument which has some merit, but I think the key factor is in setting out with the stated intent to use existing democracy of capitalism where this is sufficient, as one means of expressing the will of the majority). The "real" revolution would of course be elsewhere, where the class conscious majority (or large minority more likely) are implementing the plans - developed locally in workplaces and communities over a long period prior to any formal "enactment" of a revolution. (Indeed this preliminary preparation - and the rise in class-consciousness that would be its precursor - should really be viewed as the real revolution)

*not necessarily a simple circle to square, though

Joined: 31-12-10
Nov 14 2013 01:48
Y wrote:
The bourgeois are cowards. Only the mad amongst them would dare oppose a working class majority committed to abolishing the wage system.

I'm sorry, but this is an absurd idea. If the 20th century has shown anything, it's that capital will do whatever it can to further it's interests, including violently opposing mass movements against it long before they have the chance to even come close to a majority.

I'm curious what the SPGB thinks about those sectors of the working class who decide to act revolutionary before they have a majority? If, say, 40% of the working class revolts, are they counter-revolutionary substitutionists? The whole thing is so ridiculously mechanical I have a really hard time understanding how anyone can take it seriously.

Tyrion's picture
Joined: 12-04-13
Nov 14 2013 05:29

Despite the sincere and much appreciated efforts in this thread to explain it, I remain at a loss as to why this supposed parliamentary aspect of socialist revolution is at all significant. What does it matter whether socialism receives a parliamentary stamp of approval? Brian writes of it being useful to "express the will of the majority," but surely the will of the majority (or at least a critical mass) is expressed much more meaningfully through the refusal to engage in wage-labor, the expropriation of resources as needed, and so on. If the SPGB views the election of MPs as basically irrelevant to the actual construction of socialism, and if one views parliaments as institutions with no place in communist society, then what is the importance of this in the revolutionary process?

I see very little value to making a "statement of the democratic credentials of the revolutionary movement"--though the success of social revolution is implicitly dependent on most of the working class engaging in it, I dislike the purchase and sale of labor-power and the production and distribution of goods via price rather than need and ability regardless of whether or not some democratic majority agrees. The appeal of communism, I hope, is that it's communism--not that it just happens to be the society that most other people favor (though again, this is an implicit aspect of successful revolution).

Most importantly, this parliamentary aspect of the SPGB's positions seem to have very little in common with any social revolution as it's ever occurred. In Russia in 1917, in Spain in 1936, incomplete but considerable movements toward communism were carried out without any engagement in the parliamentary process. Though both these revolutions were repressed, I don't think that there's any basis to argue that their failure was a result of not electing MPs. Even in those more limited but significant social ruptures---Germany in 1918-19, for example--the election of MPs played no role in spurring on revolution.

Y wrote:
The bourgeois are cowards. Only the mad amongst them would dare oppose a working class majority committed to abolishing the wage system.

As redsdisease wrote, this is a very dubious statement. During the post-WWII revolutionary wave alone, the bourgeoisie slaughtered millions in their efforts to maintain the rule of capital. If the bourgeoisie goes quietly into the night, it will be because they've been expropriated and have little ability to challenge the construction of communism, not because they're "cowards" or whatever other subjective personal characteristic.

fnbrill's picture
Joined: 13-01-07
Nov 14 2013 06:36

The concept is to break the legitimacy of the bourgeois parliament so they can no longer use it to legitimize their rule.

There was a faction within the WSM who take electoralist revolution literally (most left in various splits since 1990) - Socailist Studies in the UK, a the Midwest regional group who recently left the WSPUS, etc. But both views are compatable within.

Joined: 30-04-13
Nov 14 2013 12:27

Never be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth. - Lucy Parsons

Where comrades from the SPGB get it seriously wrong is in imagining that people change their minds and become socialists mostly from engaging in rational debate with socialists. In fact, it mostly happens from people engaging in struggle, reflecting on it and engaging in further struggle on the basis of those new reflections.

The implication of this is that, in periods of heightened struggle, more people shift politically and shift further. Struggle opens up possibilities because people who have hitherto dismissed radical talk as irrelevant dreaming suddenly see the relevance and start acting in ways they would previously never have considered. A strike that defeats an authoritarian, Right wing government can puncture both its legitimacy and its aura of invincibility and pave the way for many other groups to stand and fight as well.

Of course, things can work just as quickly the other way, too. Defeats can lead to a retrogression of consciousness, as can struggles launched against the decided will of the bulk of the working class, or struggles that pit different parts of the working class against each other.

The upshot of this is that working class consciousness advances and retreats in rhythms far too rapid for Parliamentary processes. If we wait for an election to roll around, the moment for a revolution will have been lost and we will be facing hard reaction. We have to act as the revolutionary wave passes through the working class and establish organs of mass workers' democracy in the process.

Finally, a word on violence. At #6, GTW makes a contrast between a peaceful election and a violent coup. I agree that a revolution made by the vast majority of the working class needs no violence to establish itself, but I am pretty confident that the capitalists will have no compunction in using as much violence as they can muster to put us down. The solution to this is, therefore, to uphold the right to use reasonable force in self defence. We make our revolution peacefully, since it is done by the manifestly non-violent method of sending appropriately mandated delegates to the Soviets, but we have to be prepared to defend our revolution when the capitalists attempt to use force to put it down. And that will be a far more powerful demonstration of our democratic credentials than any Parliamentary election could ever be.

jondwhite's picture
Joined: 23-10-12
Nov 14 2013 20:37

The American companion party WSPUS "In the 1951 W.S.P. Conference held in Detroit, the following motion, that stirred up a hornet's nest, was carried:
" Under capitalism, where the State machinery is in the hands of the capitalist class, the ballot can be used for the purpose of measuring the developing socialist consciousness of the working class. When this consciousness reaches a majority stage the ballot can become the revolutionary weapon for the introduction of socialism. If, at the time the socialist majority is obtained, material conditions preclude the use of the ballot, then this majority will use whatever other means are at hand to introduce socialism." " As reported in Forum July 1953.

Joined: 20-04-08
Nov 16 2013 06:09

Despite those who are claiming authority from history that voting in elections and achieving political power has been a failure, the SPGB could equally direct attention to the failures of "direct action", insurrection and general strikes. Tyrion may well provide examples but didn't the Kiel Workers Council elect Noske as its chairman who channeled it safely into parliamentarianism, so not even workers councils guarantee success of revolution. And of course the first thing Lenin did in his counter-revolution was to disperse an elected parliament - the Constituent Assembly rather than lose party power. So we can all use history to present our differing views.

What we do have, i believe, though is a consensus that what we do require is a majority, not a numerical but an effective majority, who understand what they want and agree on how to get it. And capitalism prevails because it has the consent of the majority even if passive. We saw the Eastern European revolution take place, a ruling class reluctantly ceding control when that consent faded, and yes, there was no waiting for rigged elections - the people acted, the army followed and the momentum was maintained. But what did they want in place of authoritarian totalitarian state-capitalism?

These are the missing ingredients - the revolution has never had a majority and those participating have never fully agreed on strategy and tactics.

IMHO, it comes by a mixture of education and propaganda and from the actual living experience class struggle, which is not restricted to the factory or office, although that is the crucial battle-field since it is where production and the material needs of everybody is centred and need to be satisfied from.

The industrial battle and the battle for ideas cannot be separated and are of equal importance, if not, why bother with Libcom, ICC, AF or the SPGB, lets leave it all to the "instincts" of the worker. We try to bring our own interpretation of what is happening to those who have perhaps freed themselves from the prevailing attitudes but are left with a vacuum and a void of revolutionary alternatives to choose from , or worse still, having Leninist and Fascist populism offered as the only panacea. Or in the actual case of Eastern Europe, CNN's and MTV's satellite TV version of freedom.

i said it on another thread, the SPGB is not the idealist party so many wish to deem it. Its politics begin from where we are now, and to dismiss parliament because of speculation of what might or might not take place in the future because of debateable analyses of historic events that bear little resemblance to today, is the abstract position.

If the situation changes then the politics of the SPGB changes. We will make our party fit for purpose. But surely our activity should be based on what exists now and what is possible now. The ballot can achieve in a much easier manner than anything the bullet can so why disregard it?

It is the inclusive approach, that does not banish the elderly and the sick and carers to the side-lines leaving all the decision making to those young fit (mostly male) able-bodied fighters on the barricades. Our revolution is a social revolution, not a sectional one, it must involve as many as possible and the importance of one person's vote should equal another's ability to attend mass meetings.

Our object is to make the transition from capitalism to socialism and the ensuing transformation of society is as pain-less as possible. If the class enemy has other ideas about that then we will respond accordingly.

Joined: 28-08-08
Nov 16 2013 10:49

As long as capitalism exists the entire history of the working class can be written off as "a failure" but there is a world of difference from past methods which are now discredited as no longer part of the solution such as parliamentarism, social democracy and party rule. Flying in the face of that experience is idealism. And false oppositions of "ballot v bullet" are the stock in trade of SPGB rhetoriticans down the decades.

Ajj also should learn some more history. It was not Noske's acclamation by Kiel workers that gave him his power base but his previous role in Social Democracy (there was no organised independent communist presence in 1918) and the "first thing" Lenin did was to issue the "Decree on Peace" (which shook the perpetrators of imperialist war into discussing peace terms - Wilson's 14 points was a direct reply). The Constituent Assembly was not a parliament but what it says in the title, a body to prepare a constitution for the new post autocratic system. But it refused to have a vote on soviet power (the Bolsheviks then walked out) and wasted its time debating an agrarian reform law (Chernov spoke for several hours on this on the day) which the SR majority had refused to implement for the whole of 1917 in favour of supporting the war effort. workers councils are not the be all - they are arenas for debating the future of the working class revolution but they are the historically discovered means by which we can have a really participatory system even in a mass society. Or at least until the working class finds something better ...

Joined: 20-04-08
Nov 16 2013 12:06

I'll accept your correction about Noske, but of course, it still raises the question of the political maturity of those in the Workers Councils and the necessity of political education alongside militancy. Which i tried to say was our position.

The German revolutionary movement remained a minority one and Luxemburg realised that and IIRC, unlike Liebnecht, was drawn reluctantly into the uprising which wasn't exactly an insurrection being more a defensive action from right wing attacks.

Tsk, nice try at diverting the argument. Perhaps i should have said one of Lenin's earlier things he did, so again i stand chastised.

Are you denying that they the CA was popularly elected? And that until they proved a minority it was supported by the Bolsheviks? I should have qualified it as a democratic parliament to draw up a democratic constitution. Another point to yourself since point scoring appears to be more important than the essence.

IIRC, the reasons offered for its dismissal by Lenin was not as you say, but that its electoral lists was no longer accurate and it was being used as a cover for the counter-revolutionaries. IIRC the real reason was exactly as you say - the Bolsheviks waited until the CA declined to endorse the Bolshevik's government programme then they walked out. i hope you are not overlooking the men with the bullets outside the CA to ensure it remained ineffective in the Bolsheviks absence . Workers protesting CA closure were shot at so I am sure the CA members were fully aware of their future fate.

Perhaps some will think by raising the comparison i shot myself in the foot...that the Parliaments will always be put down by force but the point is that they are thought of sufficient importance and potential that can be a spur to revolution (which was the point i was addressing)

If we wish to get pedantic, the Soviets of 1917 certainly weren't workers councils but organs which were set up and dominated by political parties but even they had too much political independence and like the factory committees had to be emasculated of political power.

You know enough of the SPGB to understand our position is that it is the quality of the vote that is vital.

Picket's picture
Joined: 20-12-10
Nov 16 2013 12:33

ajjohnstone, is it too simplistic of me just to say "prefiguration"? This is something that only clicked properly for me a month or so back, but it seems to me to be the answer to how we get from here to there, by actually building the new social relations. Or better said, developing on what's already there.

Agent of the International's picture
Agent of the In...
Joined: 17-08-12
Nov 16 2013 13:45
ajjohnstone wrote:
It is the inclusive approach, that does not banish the elderly and the sick and carers to the side-lines leaving all the decision making to those young fit (mostly male) able-bodied fighters on the barricades.

Um, do you think anarchists are trying to organise Fight Clubs or something?

Just to get this straight;

I know the SPGB doesn't exclude other revolutionary activities, and that parliamentarism is just one most highly emphasized aspect of their program. But I find it misguided, not only for reasons already pointed out (achieving a congressional or parliamentary majority is highly unlikely, getting "our" guys elected shouldn't be central to building a revolutionary mass movement of the working class, etc.), but for the idea that it will somehow make the revolution safe and non-violent. Assuming "our" guys do achieve a congressional or parliamentary majority, how is that going to transform the state into some kind of pacifist entity? What is it that "our" guys going to do in their place? And whats the deal with them "mandating" the revolution?

Joined: 30-04-13
Nov 17 2013 04:55
ajjohnstone wrote:

The ballot can achieve in a much easier manner than anything the bullet can so why disregard it?

As Cleishbotham said, this is setting up a false dichotomy. Class struggle anarchists reject both the ballot and the bullet as revolutionary vehicles. Bullets are likely to be a necessary part of our defence against capitalist reaction, but have no positive role to play in creating the Revolution. And ballots can be, at best, only a distraction.

ajjohnstone wrote:
Are you denying that they the CA was popularly elected? And that until they proved a minority it was supported by the Bolsheviks? I should have qualified it as a democratic parliament to draw up a democratic constitution.

If we wish to get pedantic, the Soviets of 1917 certainly weren't workers councils but organs which were set up and dominated by political parties but even they had too much political independence and like the factory committees had to be emasculated of political power.

Yes, the Constituent Assembly was popularly elected, but it operated and was based on a vastly inferior, capitalist, version of democracy. Parliaments (and Constituent Assemblies) are elected on the basis of representative democracy. You choose who is going to represent you and then they are a free agent. Your only method of discipline is the threat to elect somebody else next time. We've seen in recent decades just how ineffective that discipline is. Electorates are faced with two major parties which agree on all significant issues and debate furiously on secondary ones, while governments dump their promises as soon as they are elected, reasoning that the further out from the next election they do unpopular things, the greater the chance of the electorate forgiving them.

The Soviets were fundamentally more democratic than the Constituent Assembly and more democratic than any capitalist Parliament can be. They were based on mandated delegates, not free representatives, and the delegates could be recalled at any time. This gave the workers of Petrograd and Moscow (and, as time went on, other places in Russia as well) far greater control of the Soviets than they could ever have over a capitalist Parliament. While it is quite clear that the Bolsheviks dispersed the Constituent Assembly for opportunist reasons (and, before that, supported it for opportunist reasons), my understanding is that the Anarchists had opposed the Constituent Assembly on a principled basis all along - and participated in its dispersal*.

Finally, I think Comrade Johnstone is wide of the mark when saying that the Soviets were set up and dominated by the political parties. My reading of history leads me to understand that they were set up originally in the 1905 revolution, when the political parties were quite small and under-developed. When set up again in 1917, they had the same operating principles and obeyed the same dynamics. It is quite obvious that political parties, which were the main mechanism by which workers organised to advocate for their various points of view and caucus around them, would be strongly represented in the Soviets. The key issue is not whether there were political parties present in the Soviets (and I assume that, in the event of soviets springing up in Britain, the SPGB would be active within them), but whether the workers had effective means of discipline and control over their delegates to them. In 1917, I believe that to be the case. By 1921, however, the Bolsheviks had eliminated that control by (amongst other things) banning all competing political parties.

We are agreed about the undemocratic nature of the Bolsheviks, but I think we disagree about the nature of Parliaments.

* This raises again the question of the circumstances in which the use of force is legitimate. I'm inclined to think that the dispersal of the CA was an unjustified use of force, but I haven't read sufficiently to know the full context and thus reach a firm conclusion. That doesn't, however, change my judgement about the reactionary character of the CA and the necessity to prevent it building a State around itself.

Joined: 1-08-06
Nov 17 2013 13:22

'The Bolsheviks' didn't 'disperse' the Constituent Assembly, the guards who were led by an Anarchist sailor suggested at 4am that proceedings be stopped. The Assembly - dominated by the Right SRs - then tried to rush through in 40 minutes 'socialist' legislation that the SRs had failed to enact in the previous 6 months when they were actually in the 'Provisional' government. The government, composed of Bolsheviks and Left SRs, ordered that the members not be let in the next day.

There's certainly an argument to be made against the Bolsheviks and how they saw the relationship between the proletarian party and the state, but that's an argument about the 'Council of People's Commissars' not the Constituent Assembly. The Constituent Assembly was a bourgeois parliamentary body.

And as the Left SRs were also involved in these decisions, and as they were carried out by coalitions of Bolsheviks, Anarchists and Left SRs, it's difficult to see this as being down solely to the Bolsheviks, unless you think that all the Anarchists were idiot pawns.

As to the party influence on the soviets, the initial impetus in 1905 was from the Mensheviks, but even then party representatives were allowed to speak in meetings of the soviet, but did not have votes; in 1917, when the previous Menshevik chairman of the Petrograd soviet went to take the position he expected as chair of the meeting he was howled down; and also in 1917 the original slogan of 'all power to the soviets' was raised by the representatives of the co-operative movement. Certainly some soviets were dominated by the Mensheviks, and some were set up on the initiative of socialists either Bolshevik or Menshevik or presumably SR or Anarchist too. But whoever took the initiative in any particular place, the workers' council is inherently more democratic than any bourgeois representative parliament (or in the case of the CA, pre-parliament).

Joined: 20-04-08
Nov 18 2013 03:28

Rather than go over the differences between 1905 and 1917 soviets can i simply refer you to an earlier exchange

My comment at 23 where i quote from [url=]a Libcom library article[/url]

"...According to a variety of matching accounts, the 1905 soviets arose absolutely spontaneously and were independent of any external 'initiatives'. The popularity of these soviets among the masses derived largely from the absence of political agitators and party representatives in their midst. They expressed the workers' political and economic demands in a situation where trade unions were non-existent and where the parties had little real influence over the masses...The situation was quite different in 1917. Although the February strikes were completely spontaneous (both the Putilov strikes on the 18th and the general strike on the 25th), the councils did not arise directly out of them as they had done twelve years earlier. 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 organization), attempted to organize 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! ...”

Again i have no desire to go over past ground about the Bolsheviks within the 1917 Soviets and arguing what date they ceased to be workers organs and became appendages of the Bolsheviks as i find i am much in agreement with the timeline of the Anarchist FAQ

Worth a read on Germany November 1918 is this article that discusses the worth of workers councils and the divisions and confusions within the SPD and left-wing later on.

“Approximately 10,000 councils were established, electing leaders who were in their great majority members of the SPD. Both the leaders of the SPD as well as the Army encouraged this process and helped to form councils: “All power to the Councils”. The council was the form chosen to liquidate the subversive movement, from the very moment of its appearance. The “council-form” is no less a failure than the “party-form”. Yet, even today, in imitation of the Leninists, councilists speak of the council as if it must always be a revolutionary council, while the latter constituted an exception within the German Revolution. The Leninists speak the same way about the “revolutionary party”, as if it were a magical talisman, despite the fact that it has never existed. These disputes concerning party or council are of no account because they have always lacked and will continue to lack any real historical substance.”

Joined: 20-04-08
Nov 18 2013 04:25

Pikel, i am a simple soul but one word solutions are not too simplistic but are too complex for me cry

Picket's picture
Joined: 20-12-10
Dec 11 2013 06:38

ajj, i know "one word" it isn't a comprehensive analysis. smile I mention it because it seems relevant, and I think it's a crucial principle.

sorry for being excessively concise, i don't know where your thoughts are on this matter. I just thouht it might be good to mention this principle as it is a dann fine one. <3