How did the bolsheviks take state power?

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Ugg
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Jan 2 2019 22:09
How did the bolsheviks take state power?

I've been trying to read about the Russian Revolution but I'm still a bit confused and so I just want to see if I'm understanding what happened properly.

Were the bolsheviks able to take state power because the soviets were somewhat undemocratic institutions that elected an even more undemocratic party into power, who then used the somewhat undemocratic nature of the soviets to turn them into much more authoritarian structures?

Did the soviets ever function at all like most libertarian-communists imagine councils should work with mandated, recallable delegates? From what I've read it doesn't seem like they did. But if they did function something like that how were the bolsheviks able to get control of them without either being taken out of power by the masses or having their decisions rejected by the masses?

Mike Harman
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Jan 3 2019 00:02

Have you read this? https://libcom.org/library/the-bolsheviks-and-workers-control-solidarity-group

Ugg wrote:
Were the bolsheviks able to take state power because the soviets were somewhat undemocratic institutions that elected an even more undemocratic party into power, who then used the somewhat undemocratic nature of the soviets to turn them into much more authoritarian structures?

So partly this but there's a few different things going on:

There were multiple 'council' structures in 1917 - the soviets, but also the factory committees, peasant committees, various other committees. There were also the trade unions. Brinton shows how the factory committees were sidelined in favour of both the soviets and the unions.

The Red Army was formed in January 1918. By March, Trotsky had already come out against elected officers and putting ex-Tsarist officers in charge instead https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1918/03/work.htm. You can compare this to Lenin specifically opposing a standing army and talking about 'displaceability' of public officials in April 1917 https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/apr/20b.htm

So I think it's easier to answer the question by looking at why was there a state at all counterposed to the organised working class, and from there why it ended up the Bolsheviks that ended up with sole control of it.

Dyjbas
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Jan 3 2019 13:02

It's too convenient to think that since anarchists did not gain a majority on the soviets there must have been something wrong with the soviets. Of course the soviets were not perfect, but they were the best organ for self-organisation that the working class had created by that point.

Now it is true that as early as mid-1918 Bolsheviks were resorting to gerrymandering to ensure their majority against the Left SRs. This helps to explain how they managed to stay in power but not why they managed to take power in the first place.

Whatever you think of them, the Bolsheviks were the best organised and most politically clear and resolute tendency within the working class movement in Russia. They had a base within all the major working class centers. By autumn 1917 they had majorities on the soviets, factory committees, trade unions etc. At the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets, which confirmed the October Revolution and elected the VTsIK and the Sovnarkom, it was the Bolsheviks who constituted 60% of the delegates (Left SRs came second, with only 15%) and as such it was the Bolsheviks (plus some Left SRs) that were put into power. In other words, at least at that point, the masses were with the Bolsheviks - the revolutionary programme behind which the working class rallied in 1917 was undeniably that of the Bolsheviks. With the isolation of the revolution, Civil War and famine, that programme was gradually abandoned by the party (the minorities of the Bolshevik Left which tried to keep it alive - Left Communists, Decists, the Workers' Group, etc. - were unsuccessful and repressed).

ajjohnstone
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Jan 3 2019 16:09
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Of course the soviets were not perfect, but they were the best organ for self-organisation that the working class had created by that point.

This, of course, is where Martov disagrees.

The alternative narrative would have been "Of course, the Constituent Assembly was not perfect, but they were the best representative organ the working class had"

https://archive.org/stream/TheStateAndTheSocialistRevolution/Martov_djvu.txt

And we should not conflate the organically created 1905 soviets with the organs built in 1917

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petrograd_Soviet

The rest of what Dyjbas wrote is accurate. The Bolsheviks were the better organized and far able to achieve their objectives than all the others. Credit where credit is due. But why praise a very effective pathogen?

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Jan 4 2019 08:53

Crucially though, I was talking about working class self-organisation, and not representation. And as we all know, "the representation of the working class radically opposes itself to the working class." wink So even if the Constituent Assembly was the best organ for representation, it was not fit for self-organisation.

In 1917-1918 there were hundreds if not thousands of organically created (or organically functioning) soviets, if we look at Petrograd itself, a "significant aspect of the First City District Soviet's development in the first months of Bolshevik rule is the degree to which early changes in its role and position appear to have been gradual, unplanned, and unsystematic, with surprisingly little in the way of direction or attempts at control by higher governmental or party authorities. Indeed, the evidence shows that many of the new responsibilities that the district soviet assumed during the first half of 1918 were undertaken on the soviet's own initiative, in response to this or that new problem or crisis. Similarly, the breakdown in the relatively democratic internal operation of the First City District Soviet and the disruption of links with workers that occurred in this period appear to have been less the result of a preconceived plan for the imposition of centralized, arbitrary rule locally than the outcome of drastic personnel shortages and continuing emergencies that served to foster a civil war mentality well before the deepening of the civil war in the summer of 1918." (A. Rabinowich, 1987)

ajjohnstone
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Jan 4 2019 23:27

Another question to ask is whether the Bolsheviks genuinely supported this movement as supposed by many rather than the Soviets were corrupted and perverted by Lenin because of outside factors.

The soviets proved to be the dispensable means to an end for the Bolsheviks. They were a tactic not a principle.

Trotsky said “Could the Communist Party succeed, during the preparatory epoch, in pushing all other parties out of the ranks of the workers by uniting under its banner the overwhelming majority of workers, then there would be no need whatever for soviets..."
Trotsky also said in History of the Russian Revolution that "The party set the soviets in motion, the soviets set in motion the workers, soldiers, and to some extent the peasantry ."

In other words, the soviets existed to allow the party to influence the workers.

Many do not like Wiki but the link explains I think that the Petrograd Soviet's self-organization was undermined by committees imposed upon it under false pretences. The legitimacy for instigating the November Revolution was from the MRC. Again, Trotsky describes how this Committee took its orders directly from the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. 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,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.

Once more Trotsky, "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” - Lessons of October.

I am not saying that Petrograd workers and soldiers didn't support the idea of a soviet government. They did. But that doesn't mean that they were consciously involved in the decision to go through with the October events in order to arrive at such a government. The lack of opposition to the Bolsheviks and the absence of support for the Provisional Government reflected the sympathies of the workers and the Bolshevik's reactionary aspect had not yet been revealed.This is the point, the most important political act was not by the self-organization of the soviet. The soviets were a cover to secure Bolshevik power.

Libcom's " The Soviet State myths and realities 1917-21' explains, "On his arrival in Petrograd, Lenin astonished everyone with his slogan: 'All power to the soviets'. But, from the outset, he had identified the revolution with the seizing of power by his Party. The slogan he was now propagating with such vehemence was of a purely tactical nature. As if additional proof were needed, see the Bolsheviks' sudden volte-face after the events of 3-5 July 1917, organized under their auspices and designed to force the Petrograd Soviet's hand into seizing power. When the latter refused, the Bolsheviks resumed their old hostility to the institution of the soviets, calling them 'puppets, devoid of real power'...When the capital's council regained popularity after repulsing Kornilov's attacks, the Bolsheviks returned to their old slogan of 'All power to the soviets', at the end of September...This time, it was for good, especially now that Lenin's partisans had won a majority inside the councils. Power was seized in the name of the latter: the Party gave power to the soviets and thus established its superiority over them. They now served merely to confer legal form on the Party's power..."

At the Soviet Congress, 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 inadvisedly left the congress in protest over the Bolshevik coup giving the Bolsheviks a majority of those who remained.

Your point on representation is taken but i'd direct you to this quote by Trotsky, "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.

Martov observed, ""The 'soviet regime' becomes the means of bringing into power and maintaining in power a revolutionary minority which claims to defend the interests of a majority, though the latter has not recognised these interests as its own, though this majority has not attached itself sufficiently to these interests to defend them with all its energy and determination."

Soviets or something akin to them, as workplace organisations of the workers, are bound to arise in the course of the socialist revolution. But to claim that they are the only possible form of working class self-organization is to fetish them. Brinton's excellent book which Mike H directed us to showed how the parallel factory committees arose and of course there were the trade unions. Both more of a handful for the Bolsheviks to cope with and their first acts of supremacy was to ensure their ineffectiveness as centres of workers' resistance and opposition to Bolshvik rule.

To sum up I think we can say that the Bolshevik attitude under Lenin towards soviets had not changed since his lesson of 1905 when he wrote in 1907
"...if Social-Democratic activities among the proletarian masses are properly, effectively and widely organised, such institutions may actually become superfluous...that a most determined struggle must be waged against all disruptive and demagogic attempts to weaken the R.S.D.L.p. from within or to utilise it for the purpose of substituting non-party political, proletarian organisations for the Social-Democratic Party...that Social-Democratic Party organisations may, in case of necessity, participate in inter-party Soviets of Workers’ Delegates, Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, and in congresses of representatives of these organisations, and may organise such institutions, provided this is done on strict Party lines for the purpose of developing and strengthening the Social-Democratic Labour Party "

Soviets were always to be mere appendages to the Party in Lenin's view and I don't believe, Dyjbas, that it was the material conditions of the time that caused the Bolsheviks to sabotage the soviets self-organization. I called the Bolsheviks a pathogen because the Revolution was "diseased and infected at infancy" as one Trotskyist reflecting on the failure of The Russian Revolution described it.

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AnythingForProximity
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Jan 5 2019 03:44

I'm not as well-read on the history of the Russian revolution as I'd like to be, but I've always found Peter Sedgwick's introduction to Victor Serge's Year One of the Russian Revolution (available here) to be insightful when it comes to many of the questions raised here.

ajjohnstone
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Jan 5 2019 07:13

AFP, I think my favourite quote from Victor Serge is, still sticking to the theme of my earlier pathogen analogy

Quote:
It is often said that ‘the germ of all Stalinism was in Bolshevism at its beginning’. Well, I have no objection. Only, Bolshevism also contained many other germs, a mass of other germs, and those who lived through the enthusiasm of the first years of the first victorious socialist revolution ought not to forget it. To judge the living man by the death germs which the autopsy reveals in the corpse – and which he may have carried in him since his birth – is that very sensible?

There were multitude of choices to be made during the Russian Revolution and no doubt when cross-roads were reached, some wrong turnings were taken but we should not forget the fundamental Marxist position:
"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past."

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Jan 5 2019 10:22

ajjohnstone #8

‘There were multitude of choices to be made during the Russian Revolution and no doubt when cross-roads were reached, some wrong turnings were taken but we should not forget the fundamental Marxist position:
"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past."’

The problem with this is that apologists for Lenin turning ‘Marxism’ on its head, smacks of economic determinism. Looking back everything looks inevitable, forgetting that ideas play a role in the real world and too often we select those ideas which suit our ‘needs’. More, Niccolo Machiavelli than Charlie Marx.

A pal once said to me, “The Bolsheviks were just a bunch of revolutionary chancers”. True then - true now.

ajjohnstone
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Jan 5 2019 12:25

Auld-Bod, i was trying to express the SPGB view of Lenin that he was the product of the conditions and circumstances of the time. Far from changing the course of history it was the course of history which changed him, hence his constant changes of policies (not to mention his changing of actual language) to match the realities that faced him.

One of my favourite observations that I have used before and will again now is from a Left S R who said "The Bible tells us that God created the heavens and the earth from nothing. The Bolsheviks are capable of no lesser miracles, out of nothing, they create legitimate credentials."

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Jan 5 2019 14:45

ajjohnstone #10

I don’t feel we are too far apart regarding Lenin, the Bolsheviks, and the course of history.
Lenin may have thought he was a materialist though his actions showed he was in practice a messiah blinded by faith in his brand of ‘scientific socialism’, and prepared to pull the working class up by the hair on their heads.

Mike Harman
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Jan 5 2019 21:38
ajjohnstone wrote:
Far from changing the course of history it was the course of history which changed him, hence his constant changes of policies (not to mention his changing of actual language) to match the realities that faced him.

Isn't this just called 'opportunism' though? Lenin adapted extremely flexible positions:

Elected officers in the army in 1917, 'one man management' and tsarist officers in 1918,

Workers legitimately protesting against the bureaucracy in 1921, the party is the proletariat and factory workers aren't proletarians in 1922.

Renegade Kautsky the liberal in 1918, 'Left Wing Communism an Infantile Disorder' in 1920.

Even when he's talking about reforms to the Bolshevik state and how it hadn't changed much from the Tsarist one in the later writings of 1921-1923 it's from the point of view of a capitalist reformer acceding to demands and realities, not an actual communist critique of the state. Left Wing Communism is primarily about securing the Russian state's relative safety among global geopolitics.

Maybe that's saying the same thing, but one of the more frustrating things about CLR James is when he identifies this trait of Lenin's positively.

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Jan 6 2019 05:08

Thanks for everyone's responses smile

Mike Harman wrote:
Have you read this? https://libcom.org/library/the-bolsheviks-and-workers-control-solidarity-group

There were multiple 'council' structures in 1917 - the soviets, but also the factory committees, peasant committees, various other committees. There were also the trade unions. Brinton shows how the factory committees were sidelined in favour of both the soviets and the unions.

Yeah I remember reading that book a while ago but maybe it'll help to read it again. I've read about the other types of councils and soviets that you mention and how they were more democratic but ultimately were taken over or shut down by the bolsheviks.

Dyjbas wrote:
It's too convenient to think that since anarchists did not gain a majority on the soviets there must have been something wrong with the soviets. Of course the soviets were not perfect, but they were the best organ for self-organisation that the working class had created by that point.

I didn't mean to say that the bolsheviks weren't popular, it's just that I think it's kind of a problem if the soviets had things like recallable delegates but still got taken over somehow.

ajjohnstone wrote:
Many do not like Wiki but the link explains I think that the Petrograd Soviet's self-organization was undermined by committees imposed upon it under false pretences. The legitimacy for instigating the November Revolution was from the MRC. Again, Trotsky describes how this Committee took its orders directly from the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. 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,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.

This is helpful, thanks

Mike Harman wrote:
Maybe that's saying the same thing, but one of the more frustrating things about CLR James is when he identifies this trait of Lenin's positively.

Have you read this essay Mike?
http://readingfanon.blogspot.com/2012/10/silences-on-suppression-of-workers-self.html#more

Dave B
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Jan 6 2019 08:19

There is some additional material here;

One of the additional justifications [impending] coup was that the bourgeoisie in cahoots with current PRG etc was planning to ‘postpone’ the constituent assembly elections

eg Trotsky’s "lomg live the constituent assembly".

Whilst the audience understood that the Bolsheviks had been bought by the Germans; which they were, receiving funding.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1925/lenin/05.htm

That allowed the Bolshevik to fund there own private army of thugs and chekka etc or Lettish regiments.
[ that ultimately openend fire on mass demonstrations in support of the constituent assembly in January 1918.]

Which was planned much earlier eg;

…….Old Natanson comforted us very much. He came to us “to talk it over,” and after the first words said, “Well, as far as I am concerned, if it comes to that point, break up the Constituent Assembly with force.”….

………Lenin occupied himself intensively with the question of the constituents.
“It is an open mistake,” he said. “We have already gained the power and now we have put ourselves in a situation that forces military measures upon us to gain the power anew.”

He carried on the preparatory work with the greatest care, weighed all the details, and subjected Urizky, who to his great sorrow had been appointed commissar of the Constituent Assembly, to a painful examination. Among other things Lenin ordered the transfer to Petrograd of one of the Lettish regiments consisting ………..

https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1925/lenin/05.htm

ajjohnstone
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Jan 6 2019 10:15

Ugg, thanks for the link. I for one had not read the essay.

Certainly, author knows the emperor is naked

Dyjbas
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Jan 6 2019 11:02

The question for Lenin, as for other revolutionaries, was how does the working class take power. Rather than fetishise one way of getting there, the Bolsheviks were at different points considering different routes - at one point it may have been the party winning over a Constituent Assembly, at another the soviets taking power, and at yet another, the factory committees taking power. In the course of 1917, the party settled on the soviets being the answer - "it became clear that these soviets, which had originated as instruments for use in the struggle for power, must inevitably be transformed into the instruments for the wielding of power."

After 1918 Lenin was not one to shy away from opportunism, but the process in which the Bolsheviks settled the question of workers' power was rather that of learning from the self-activity of the class conscious masses, who became increasingly disillusioned with parliamentary politics.

And since we're playing the game of who said what, here's some quotes that challenge the "Lenin was just a power hungry putschist who did not want the working class in power" narrative.

Lenin suggests the SRs and Mensheviks create a government based purely on the soviets, so that the revolution can advance peacefully:

"The compromise would amount to the following: the Bolsheviks, without making any claim to participate in the government (which is impossible for the internationalists unless a dictatorship of the proletariat and the poor peasants has been realised), would refrain from demanding the immediate transfer of power to the proletariat and the poor peasants and from employing revolutionary methods of fighting for this demand. A condition that is self-evident and not new to the S.R.s and Mensheviks would be complete freedom of propaganda and the convocation of the Constituent Assembly without further delays or even at an earlier date. The Mensheviks and S.R.s, being the government bloc, would then agree (assuming that the compromise had been reached) to form a government wholly and exclusively responsible to the Soviets, the latter taking over all power locally as well. This would constitute the “new” condition. I think the Bolsheviks would advance no other conditions, trusting that the revolution would proceed peacefully and party strife in the Soviets would be peacefully overcome thanks to really complete freedom of propaganda and to the immediate establishment of a new democracy in the composition of the Soviets (new elections) and in their functioning." (Lenin, September 1917)

Lenin argues for the right of recall:

"The people were told that the Soviet is a plenipotentiary organ: they believed it and acted upon that belief. The process of democratisation must be carried forward and the right of recall introduced. The right of recall should be given to the Soviets, as the best embodiment of the idea of state power, of coercion. The transfer of power from one party to another may then take place peacefully, by mere re-election." (Lenin, November 1917)

Ugg wrote:
I didn't mean to say that the bolsheviks weren't popular, it's just that I think it's kind of a problem if the soviets had things like recallable delegates but still got taken over somehow.

Would it be a problem if it was the anarchists who had a majority on the soviets instead of the Bolsheviks? Would anarchists gaining a majority on the soviets also mean the soviets had been "taken over"?

ajjohnstone
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Jan 6 2019 14:15

Dyjbas, wasn't the question always for Lenin, " How does the Bolsheviks take power." and not so much how the working class take power.

Lenin may have equated his Party interests with those of the Russian working class but that would be disputed by many.

Later this would become a global problem with the imposition of Moscow rules of the Comintern's 21 Conditions which became an issue for the KAPD, for instance

radicalgraffiti
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Jan 6 2019 16:24
Dyjbas wrote:
Ugg wrote:
I didn't mean to say that the bolsheviks weren't popular, it's just that I think it's kind of a problem if the soviets had things like recallable delegates but still got taken over somehow.

Would it be a problem if it was the anarchists who had a majority on the soviets instead of the Bolsheviks? Would anarchists gaining a majority on the soviets also mean the soviets had been "taken over"?

the soviets where not directly democratic, they elected representatives, so would it be a problem if those representatives where anarchists? what do you think? what is the general opinion of anarchists about elected representatives?

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Jan 6 2019 16:40
Dyjbas wrote:
Would it be a problem if it was the anarchists who had a majority on the soviets instead of the Bolsheviks? Would anarchists gaining a majority on the soviets also mean the soviets had been "taken over"?

If the soviets were organised in a dodgy way, by accident or design (or any other reason), such that they werent an effective way for the working class to express itself politically, then it would be a problem if the anarchists had a majority in them, yes. Same goes for any other tendency. Its a problem not because of whose controlling these organisations but because of what these organisation would be, a body of power outside the control of the working class with the potential to be used against it.

A tendency getting a majority in something, eg the soviets, isn't intrinsically a problem in itself, however if that tendency aims to subordinate eg the soviets to its own political organisation, or alter or dissolve them without creating a more effective way for the working class to run society, thats a problem.

Dyjbas
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Jan 6 2019 18:29

I thought it was widely known that the soviets were based on delegation rather than simply representation. Even if we take the Petrograd Soviet, which according to ajjohnstone was not "organic", we'll see that in fact

"In the early weeks of its existence the Petrograd soviet resembled a huge permanent assembly of workers and soldiers. The number of delegates grew from day to day; in the first week of March it reached 1,200; by the second half of March it rose to almost 3,000."

"In the weeks following the February Revolution the Petrograd soviet was revolutionary Russia and had significance for the whole country, far beyond the capital. Workers and soldiers councils in other cities sent delegates to Petrograd or maintained permanent observers. Neighboring soviets also began very early to establish closer ties with each other. In March the first provincial and regional conferences took place, and later these were changed into periodic congresses of workers and soldiers soviets, with the necessary executive committees and bureaus."

"402 workers and soldiers soviets and other soldiers committees were represented [at the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets]. Among the roughly 650 delegates, the Bolsheviks controlled a bare majority when the congress ended. The next strongest group was the Left Social Revolutionaries. [...] Of the 366 soviet organizations on which records are available, 255 (69.6 percent) favored the slogan "AIl power to the soviets" ; 81 (22.1 percent) were for "AIl power to democracy" or "Coalition without Kadets"; 30 (8.3 percent) were undecided."

"The Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets had in general terms transferred authority to the soviets throughout the country. On November 18 Lenin appealed to the workers to take over all government affairs. [...] The soviet principle was extended to other areas of public life in the months after the October insurrection. A decree of December 14, 1917, established a Supreme Economic Council to manage the entire Russian economy; it was to lead and unify the economic departments of aIl local soviets, and later formed territorial councils. Other decrees of December 1917 and February 1918 abolished the old courts, replacing them with people's courts; at first judges were elected, but later they, too, were appointed by the local soviets. Thus emerged a widely differentiated system of soviets, whose backbone was the political workers, soldiers, and peasants soviets, to which were added the various economic and military soviets."

(All quotes from O. Anweiler, 1974 - who nevertheless has a fairly low opinion of the Bolsheviks!)

So my question then, for those who think the soviets were "dodgy" or not "directly democratic", is how exactly were they "dodgy" and "not democratic"? And, if the soviets were not the best organ for self-organisation that the working class had created by that point, then - what was? Where should the anarchists have been active?

Ajjohnstone, I might come back to the question about Lenin later.

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Jan 7 2019 02:26

just because they are referred to as delegates doesn't mean they performed the function of delegates within a directly democratic institution, and often the word delegates is used for representatives

you also quote selectively

from that same book wrote:
The first issue of lzvestija Petrogradskogo soveta raboCich i soldatskich deputatov on the morning of February 28 carried the soviet's programmatic appeal to the population of Petrograd and aIl Russia: "In order to successfully conclude the struggle for democ­racy, the people must organize their power. Yesterday, on February 27, the Soviet of Workers Deputies was founded in the capital, consisting of elected representatives from factories, rebelling troop units, and democratic and socialist parties and groups.
Quote:
On February 28 most enterprises held elections for deputies. The plenary session at 1 :00 P.M. was already attended by about 120 industrial delegates,35 but there was still no check on credentials, and the meeting came to order without any agenda.36 As before, decisions were made within the confines of the Executive Committee.
Quote:
. The initiative for its establishment came, in contrast ta 1905, chiefly from a few political leaders (among the workers groups and the duma delegates) who attempted ta form a sort of "reserve and subgovernment" wh en the old regime collapsed.41 Thus from the beginning the socialist intelligents ia decisively in­fluenced the workers and soldiers deputies; of 42 members on the Ex­ecutive Committee at the end of March only 7 were workers.42

here the word delegates is used to refer to members of the duma, does that make parliament directly democratic?

Quote:
The number of delegates grew fro;n day ta day; in the first week of March it reached The Soviets and the Russian Revolution of 1917 107 1,200; by the second half of March it rose to almost 3,000. 46 Of this number, about 2,000 were soldiers and only 800 were workers, al­though at this time the total number of workers in Petrograd was two or thrce times that of the soldiers stationed in the garrison.47
Quote:
Under such circumstances, even though aIl delegates were never present at any one time, the soviet's plenary sessions were poorly organized; they resembled demonstrations and rallies more than they did a working parliamentary institution.
Quote:
In the course of about two months the Petrograd soviet thus changed from a provision al revolutionary organ into a well-organized administrative machine. The execution of its business required several hundred employees, most of them clerks in the various departments. The soviet's administrative expenditures from March to June ran to 800,000 rubles; during the same period it commanded an in come of 3,512,000 rubles.56 However, as the soviet worked more efficiently, it lost proportionately its direct contact with the masses. The plenary sessions, almost daily du ring the early weeks, were less frequent and only sparsely attended by the deputies.57 The soviet Executive be­came increasingly independent, even though it remained subject to certain con troIs by the deputies, who had the right to discharge it. The thrust of this development and certain party traditions may have '/ led to the concentration of power in small committees during the later Bolshevik soviet system. By that time, however-and here lies the definitive difference from the original soviet constitution-they were independent of genuine democratic control from below.
Quote:
The official ratio of representation for the workers section in the The Soviets and the Russian Revolution of 1917 109 soviet was one deputy for 1,000 workers; however, concerns employ­ing fewer than 1,000 workers were also aIlowed to send one delcgatc. Thus large plants (with over 400 employees), accounting for 87 per­cent of all Petrograd workers, furnished 424 delegates, while con­cerns with fewer than 400 employees, accounting for 13 percent of aIl workers, had 422 delegates.58 One could not, therefore, speak of equal suffrage; this failing was occasionaIly discussed in the sovict."n

so these quotes give us a few examples of some of the flaws in the soviets

ajjohnstone
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Jan 7 2019 03:15

"I thought it was widely known that the soviets were based on delegation rather than simply representation. Even if we take the Petrograd Soviet, which according to ajjohnstone was not "organic", we'll see that in fact"

In addition to what RG has posted, we have this article reviewing the research of Rabinowich

http://anarchism.pageabode.com/anarcho/review-the-bolsheviks-in-power

Quote:
Rabinowitch shows, this pattern of supporting institutions until such time as they could not be utilised to secure Bolshevik power repeated itself in 1918. This can be seen from the postponing of elections to the Petrograd soviet until such time as it was gerrymandered to ensure their majority. Before the election, the Bolshevik Soviet confirmed new regulations “to help offset possible weaknesses” in their “electoral strength in factories.” The “most significant change in the makeup of the new soviet was that numerically decisive representation was given to agencies in which the Bolsheviks had overwhelming strength, among them the Petrograd Trade Union Council, individual trade unions, factory committees in closed enterprises, district soviets, and district nonparty workers’ conferences.” This ensured that “only 260 of roughly 700 deputies in the new soviet were to be elected in factories, which guaranteed a large Bolshevik majority in advance.” The Bolsheviks “contrived a majority” in the new Soviet long before gaining 127 of the 260 factory delegates and even here, the result “was highly suspect, even on the shop floor.” (pp. 248-2)
Quote:
at the fifth All-Russian Soviet Congress in July 1918 when the Bolshevik gerrymandered it to maintain their majority. They ensured their majority in the congress and, so a Bolshevik government, by gerrymandering it has they had the Petrograd soviet. Thus “electoral fraud gave the Bolsheviks a huge majority of congress delegates.” In reality, “the number of legitimately elected Left SR delegates was roughly equal to that of the Bolsheviks.” The Left-SRs expected a majority but did not include “roughly 399 Bolsheviks delegates whose right to be seated was challenged by the Left SR minority in the congress's credentials commission.” Without these dubious delegates, the Left SRs and SR Maximalists would have outnumbered the Bolsheviks by around 30 delegates. This ensured “the Bolshevik's successful fabrication of a large majority in the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets.” (p. 396, p. 288, p. 442 and p. 308)
Quote:
He discusses the Menshevik inspired, but independent, Extraordinary Assembly of Delegates (EAD). [something I am ignorant about and will now do some further research -ajj]“The emergence of the EAD”, he notes, “was also stimulated by the widespread view that trade unions, factory committees, and soviets . . . were no longer representative, democratically run working-class institutions; instead they had been transformed into arbitrary, bureaucratic government agencies. There was ample reason for this concern.” (p. 224) To counter the EAD, the Bolsheviks and Left-SRs organised non-party conferences which, in itself, provides evidence that the soviets had become as distant from the masses as the opposition argued. District soviets “were deeply concerned about their increasing isolation . . . At the end of March . . . they resolved to convene successive nonparty workers' conferences . . . in part to undercut the EAD by strengthening ties between district soviets and workers . . . Amid unmistakable signs of the widening rift between Bolshevik-dominated political institutions and ordinary factory workers.” (p. 232)

I suppose we can argue that those were developments of the future degeneration of the soviets and get into a discussion of time-lines but I think we can also assume that it reflected the Bolsheviks very elastic and flexible support for the slogan "all power to the soviets"...more a pragmatic principle than a principled practice.

Dyjbas
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Jan 7 2019 10:48

Radicalgraffiti, I agree that there were flaws in the soviets. It could not be otherwise. For millions of workers and peasants this was their first experience of self-organisation. So, it's only natural that ratios were not quite right or that sessions "resembled demonstrations and rallies more than they did a working parliamentary institution" - by en large, these were not professional politicians! The fact that executive organs were becoming increasingly independent, and the plenary sessions less common were however real issues - seriously exacerbated during the Civil War and famine. But despite these flaws, I stand by my point, the soviets were the best organ for self-organisation that the working class had created by that point. And soviet delegates were delegates - they were not elected through voting for representatives once every four or so years in an election cycle.

Ajjohnstone, I've already mentioned above that as early as mid-1918 Bolsheviks were resorting to gerrymandering to ensure their majority against the Left SRs. This does not change the fact that prior to the October Revolution the slogan All Power to the Soviets became synonymous with the Bolsheviks in the eyes of the masses, and that, in the first few months after the establishment of the Soviet Republic, the Bolsheviks did their best to extend the soviet principle and to promote participation in soviet organs. When Lenin and the Bolsheviks went around calling for workers to take over all government affairs - they meant it. Even in 1918 Lenin was still arguing that "socialism cannot be implemented by a minority, by the Party. It can be implemented only by tens of millions when they have learned to do it themselves" - but between 1918 and the early 1920s something had changed. And here I agree that equating "Party interests with those of the Russian working class" certainly contributed to the undermining of soviet democracy, but this was not the primary or only cause as some anarchists would like to see it.

Mike Harman
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Jan 7 2019 12:03

Yes I really like that one (and the book Matthew Quest did on strikes and plantation occupations in early 1970s Guyana).

Mike Harman
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Jan 7 2019 12:19
Dyjbas wrote:
But despite these flaws, I stand by my point, the soviets were the best organ for self-organisation that the working class had created by that point. And soviet delegates were delegates - they were not elected through voting for representatives once every four or so years in an election cycle.

Have you actually done a comparison between them and the factory committees and various other forms the revolution threw up though?

I think the representatives stuff is getting a bit semantic:

1. Both representative and delegate can be used interchangeably.
2. Both representatives and delegates can (at least in theory) be recalled sometimes, you're supposed to be able to do that with British MPs ffs.
3. Fixed terms and mechanisms for recall within terms are good, but this is not the same as 'mandated and recallable delegates' which is the thing that prevents decisions being made in private etc.

Dyjbas
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Jan 7 2019 13:01
Mike Harman wrote:
Have you actually done a comparison between them and the factory committees and various other forms the revolution threw up though?

For every flaw in the soviets, you can find a flaw in the factory committees. E.g. from S.A. Smith (1983):

"Although the trade unions led the drive to increase labour-discipline and productivity, the factory committees also played a part in the battle to increase output. This had always been a concern of the committees, but it now took precedence over their other concerns. During 1918 the desire to transform relations of authority within the
enterprise gave way to the drive for greater productivity. Workers' control was no longer seen in terms of the transformation of the relations of workers to production, but in terms of the passive supervision of production and, above all, in terms of upholding labour-discipline. Yet one cannot see in this a triumph of the Bolshevik party over the factory committees. From the first, the committees had been committed both to maintaining production and
to democratising factory life, but the condition of industry was such that these two objectives now conflicted with one another. The factory committees, in general, consented to the prioritisation of productivity: they acquiesced in, and even initiated, impulses towards stricter labour-discipline. Nevertheless, they and the organised rank-and-file resisted impulses towards authoritarianism which they disliked. In spite of the great respect and affection in which Lenin was held, for example, his views on one-man management were quietly ignored. Similarly, while most organised workers agreed to the priority of restoring productivity, they were not prepared to countenance the unconditional reintroduction of piece-rates. Party leaders and trade-union officials were thus not able to 'impose' their policies on the factory committees. In any case, there was no need to do so, for they could count on the support of the factory committees, who could see no alternative to the unpleasant policies being advocated."

But again, this was not primarily the fault of Bolsheviks in the abstract. There were all kinds of tendencies within the Bolsheviks and they differed on how workers' power can be best exercised: some thought it was through the soviets, some through factory committees, some through the trade unions and some through the party. The last option won in the end, but not until the mid-1920s.

Mike Harman
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Jan 7 2019 13:58
Dyjbas wrote:
Mike Harman wrote:
Have you actually done a comparison between them and the factory committees and various other forms the revolution threw up though?

For every flaw in the soviets, you can find a flaw in the factory committees. E.g. from S.A. Smith (1983):

That's a good example, but at least in that case looks like a flaw in content rather than form. A mass meeting during a strike could vote to go back to work via a productivity deal in order to keep the factory open, this is not an indictment of the mass meeting as such but the decision it made. And if the workforce continues to organise by mass meetings they could collectively decide to go out on strike again or picket other workplaces later on.

ajjohnstone
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Jan 7 2019 16:11

"...the Bolsheviks did their best to extend the soviet principle and to promote participation in soviet organs. When Lenin and the Bolsheviks went around calling for workers to take over all government affairs - they meant it..."

Dyjbas, I won't dispute that Lenin and the Bolsheviks talked the talk. This offers supportive texts to your proposition.

http://links.org.au/node/2283

It would be a challenge to try and question his and his comrades intentions.

But the sincerity of Lenin has never been the real issue for Marxists. It's back to what some here call deterministic theory - the materialist conception of history. What conditions and circumstances permit to rather than just trusting in will to achieve it. You probably know the emphasis the SPGB places on workers possessing understanding and education. And that was what lacked and what Lenin came to realise, causing him to change his policies and impose Party power.

We can credit the Bolshevik takeover with a large degree of passive support but subsequent support was increasingly coerced from the masses. When Lenin issued his proclamation taking power in the name of the Soviets. But he was also far-sighted enough to remove from the draft of the text any mention of the constitution of power based on the Soviets. Indeed, the government’ (Soviet of Commissars of the People) was appointed prior to the Congress of Soviets. It emerged in the absence of any consultation with the Soviets themselves and resulted from a list drawn up by a small group within the Central Committee of the Communist Party; henceforth the source of all power in Russia.

Lenin should have remained a stagiest as he once was

“….. If Social-Democracy [ ie the Bolsheviks] sought to make the socialist revolution its immediate aim, it would assuredly discredit itself. It is precisely such vague and hazy ideas of our “Socialists—Revolutionaries” that Social-Democracy has always combated.
For this reason Social-Democracy [Bolshevism] has constantly stressed the bourgeois nature of the impending revolution in Russia and insisted on a clear line of demarcation between the democratic minimum programme and the socialist maximum programme.
Some Social-Democrats, [ egTrotsky] who are inclined to yield to spontaneity, might forget all this in time of revolution, but not the Party as a whole. The adherents of this erroneous view make an idol of spontaneity in their belief that the march of events will compel the Social-Democratic Party in such a position to set about achieving the socialist revolution, despite itself. …….”
http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1905/apr/12b.htm

Often I come back to this Engels quote

Quote:
The worst thing that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be compelled to take over a government in an epoch when the movement is not yet ripe for the domination of the class which he represents and for the realisation of the measures which that domination would imply. What he can do depends not upon his will but upon the sharpness of the clash of interests between the various classes, and upon the degree of development of the material means of existence, the relations of production and means of communication upon which the clash of interests of the classes is based every time. What he ought to do, what his party demands of him, again depends not upon him, or upon the degree of development of the class struggle and its conditions. He is bound to his doctrines and the demands hitherto propounded which do not emanate from the interrelations of the social classes at a given moment, or from the more or less accidental level of relations of production and means of communication, but from his more or less penetrating insight into the general result of the social and political movement. Thus he necessarily finds himself in a dilemma. What he can do is in contrast to all his actions as hitherto practised, to all his principles and to the present interests of his party; what he ought to do cannot be achieved. In a word, he is compelled to represent not his party or his class, but the class for whom conditions are ripe for domination. In the interests of the movement itself, he is compelled to defend the interests of an alien class, and to feed his own class with phrases and promises, with the assertion that the interests of that alien class are their own interests. Whoever puts himself in this awkward position is irrevocably lost.
[/quote

Wasn't this Lenin's predicament?

Dyjbas
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Jan 7 2019 17:42
Mike Harman wrote:
That's a good example, but at least in that case looks like a flaw in content rather than form. A mass meeting during a strike could vote to go back to work via a productivity deal in order to keep the factory open, this is not an indictment of the mass meeting as such but the decision it made. And if the workforce continues to organise by mass meetings they could collectively decide to go out on strike again or picket other workplaces later on.

Both organs, soviets and factory committees, were flawed. But most importantly they were both forms of self-organisation. It was up to conscious workers, communists and anarchists, to make them better, rather than abandon them (as some in this thread seem to be suggesting) because they were flawed or made some wrong decision. What the soviets had going for them that the factory committees did not however, is that they were territorial rather than purely factory based - which made them more suitable to express workers' power (not all workers are in factories after all!).

ajjohnstone wrote:
But the sincerity of Lenin has never been the real issue for Marxists. It's back to what some here call deterministic theory - the materialist conception of history. What conditions and circumstances permit to rather than just trusting in will to achieve it.

Lenin was of course at times overly deterministic, but 1917-18 was not that. I agree with Luxemburg here:

"It is not a matter of this or that secondary question of tactics, but of the capacity for action of the proletariat, the strength to act, the will to power of socialism as such. In this, Lenin and Trotsky and their friends were the first, those who went ahead as an example to the proletariat of the world; they are still the only ones up to now who can cry with Hutten: “I have dared!” This is the essential and enduring in Bolshevik policy."

If I got you right, it seems what you're saying is that they were wrong to dare!

ajjohnstone wrote:
We can credit the Bolshevik takeover with a large degree of passive support but subsequent support was increasingly coerced from the masses. When Lenin issued his proclamation taking power in the name of the Soviets. But he was also far-sighted enough to remove from the draft of the text any mention of the constitution of power based on the Soviets. Indeed, the government’ (Soviet of Commissars of the People) was appointed prior to the Congress of Soviets. It emerged in the absence of any consultation with the Soviets themselves and resulted from a list drawn up by a small group within the Central Committee of the Communist Party; henceforth the source of all power in Russia.

I believe the appointment of the Sovnarkom was agreed upon by the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets. It was at first provisional (composed only of Bolsheviks) but was soon after reorganised to include Left SRs as well. These two parties made up around 75% of delegates at the Second Congress, and the Left SRs were part of the government until they walked out over the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

The 1918 Constitution of the RSFSR outright states that "Russia is declared to be a republic of the Soviets of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies. All the central and local power belongs to these soviets."

Anarcho
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Jan 7 2019 20:48
Dyjbas wrote:
Whatever you think of them, the Bolsheviks were the best organised and most politically clear and resolute tendency within the working class movement in Russia. They had a base within all the major working class centers.

The same was said about all social-democratic parties and their counter-revolutionary role, whether in Russia (the Bolsheviks) or in Germany, Italy, etc. All had such "a base" and all pretended to be "politically clear and resolute"...

Dyjbas wrote:
By autumn 1917 they had majorities on the soviets, factory committees, trade unions etc. At the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets, which confirmed the October Revolution and elected the VTsIK and the Sovnarkom, it was the Bolsheviks who constituted 60% of the delegates (Left SRs came second, with only 15%) and as such it was the Bolsheviks (plus some Left SRs) that were put into power.

So the soviets -- the Bolsheviks -- instantly gave their power to... the Bolshevik party leadership. But then the Bolsheviks were always clear that they aimed for party power. When it came to soviet power or party power, the Bolsheviks went for the latter....

Dyjbas wrote:
In other words, at least at that point, the masses were with the Bolsheviks - the revolutionary programme behind which the working class rallied in 1917 was undeniably that of the Bolsheviks.

It is doubtful that "the masses" were that aware of many Bolshevik positions -- such as central planning -- and what certain slogans ("all power to the Bolsheviks" or "workers control") meant in practice. Once the reality of the regime came to be seen, the support (often passive) went to other parties (Mensheviks and Left-SRs) and then the Bolsheviks simply imposed their dictatorship.

Dyjbas wrote:
With the isolation of the revolution, Civil War and famine, that programme was gradually abandoned by the party (the minorities of the Bolshevik Left which tried to keep it alive - Left Communists, Decists, the Workers' Group, etc. - were unsuccessful and repressed).

This is wrong, for the regime became authoritarian quite soon after the seizure of power, and many months before the civil war broke out. Also, much of the state-capitalism imposed was actually part and parcel of the Bolshevik programme -- so in that sense, there was not much abandoned. As I discussed here:

The State and Revolution: Theory and Practice

As for the Left Communists, etc. -- they were not a real alternative. They did not question the Bolshevik ideology at all, not least the dominant role of the party and the centralised vision of "socialism"

Mike Harman
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Jan 7 2019 21:01
Dyjbas wrote:
What the soviets had going for them that the factory committees did not however, is that they were territorial rather than purely factory based - which made them more suitable to express workers' power (not all workers are in factories after all!).

While that's true you also see lots of criticism of geographically-based organs of direct democracy because they have no way to exclude petit-bourgeois or capitalists.

There were peasant soviets as well - Lenin writes about them in April 1917. https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/apr/16.htm

By mid-1918 the Bolsheviks had established 'commitees of poor peasants' primarily for grain requisitioning as a counter-institution to the soviets, but it failed and they were eventually merged back into the soviets - however it's clear they saw the geographical nature of the peasant soviets as an obstacle. The preponderance of soldiers in leadership positions in the soviets points to similar problems in the urban ones too.