Russian revolution October 1917

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nekken003
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Sep 19 2007 15:45
Russian revolution October 1917

hey. i got some homework for my AS history and one of the questions is: "do you think you can have a revolution without leaders?" can someone please help me with the answer??

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Demogorgon303
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Sep 19 2007 15:48

It very much depends on what you mean by leaders ....

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Joseph Kay
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Sep 19 2007 15:54

if you mean leaders as in people at the top who give orders for others to follow, i think as soon as you have that you have counter-revolution since revolution is something from below.

if you mean leaders as in 'popular influential people' than i think they will emerge in any situation.

if your coursework is on russia 1917, the contrast between the 'leaderless' power of the working class in the soviets and the 'leadership' of the bolshevik party is probably the best angle - the former being the revolution and the latter ultimately counter-revolutionary as the bolsheviks massacred revolutionary workers in the name of the revolution (particularly at Kronstadt). there's loads of books on this from various angles/ideological backgrounds, one of the best on this theme is probably Maurice Brinton's The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control - he's a libertarian socialist.

good luck with it and welcome to the boards smile

nekken003
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Sep 19 2007 15:55

thanks for replying smile yea i think i see what you mean now. I've only just started this work so its pretty hard finding out what exactly happend. Thank you both for the help, i understand it a bit more now.

yea i was just on google and i found this forum website so i thought i'd join and ask for help. thank you! red star grin

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Sep 19 2007 16:06

yes, welcome, mekken. But Joseph, consider for a moment what you're saying about the Bolsheviks: the first thing you just have to get across is their counter-revolutionary role in crushing the workers at Kronstadt, etc. Even you admit that this was 'ultimately' counter-revolutionary, which means that they might have played a different role before that. But basically you skate over the key question: what role did they play in the soviets leading up to the October revolution? Does their activity in the period February to October give us an insight into how a proletarian 'leadership' might act, ie not by giving orders from above, but by fighting politically inside the soviets, 'patiently explaining' the necessity for the proletarian revolution?

Mike Harman
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Sep 19 2007 16:32
Alf wrote:
Does their activity in the period February to October give us an insight into how a proletarian 'leadership' might act, ie not by giving orders from above, but by fighting politically inside the soviets, 'patiently explaining' the necessity for the proletarian revolution?

It was very very patient though wasn't it.

I'm reading S.A. Smith's book on Petrograd at the moment, and there's a load of quotes from Shlyapnikov (head of the metal workers union, later Workers' Opposition) condemning strikes, trying to ensure social peace for collective bargaining agreements - something which seems to have been pretty standard and which overflowed into wildcats against union negotiated deals at various points (some (usually Bolshevik dominated) works committees were doing the same thing as well, not just the unions - with mass meetings overturning decisions, deselecting representatives etc.). Smith sees this as the Bolsheviks trying to channel discontent towards "political activity" and the seizure of power - with Lenin ignoring that the moves towards control of production and distribution were themselves political and went far beyond wage demands. He also suggests that Lenin was pushed towards October since there was a high potential of workers struggles going firmly outside party and union control after the July Days - the seizure in political power in October ending a lot of strikes even though conditions hadn't changed of course.

If necessary I'll dig some of those quotes out.

Obviously there were contradictory tendencies within the Bolsheviks, the other socialist parties and the workers organisations as well, but the idea they were "not giving orders from above" doesn't sit well with the facts.

I'm trying to catch up on some of this stuff: Smith, Rabinowich, Lewin, Brovkin etc. at the moment - if anyone has specific recommendations that'd be handy.

Mike Harman
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Sep 19 2007 16:38
nekken003 wrote:
thanks for replying smile yea i think i see what you mean now. I've only just started this work so its pretty hard finding out what exactly happend. Thank you both for the help, i understand it a bit more now.

yea i was just on google and i found this forum website so i thought i'd join and ask for help. thank you! red star grin

Mekken - we've just about got ready a feature on the revolution: http://libcom.org/history/russian-revolution - this has an overview of some of the different aspects of it, and links to a lot of articles about it from different perspectives (mainly anarchist, and "ultra-left").

I think the most important thing to note is that things really started in February with the fall of Tsarism and a massive strike, factory committee and union movement in the factories. October was essentially a political consolidation of what was already going on (and was also the beginning of the end as the workers organisations were increasingly incorporated into the state and Party).

You might also want to look at some of the other revolutionary attempts in history - the Paris Commune, (1871) German Revolution (1918-1919), the Ukraine (1918-1920-ish), Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), Hungary 1956, France 1968. In these the leaders (either leadership figures, or formal leaders of organisations, or a bit of both) were variously part of the counter-revolution, or killed/heavily injured - given there's not been a successful revolution in history (yet) it usually goes one of those two ways.

The Ukraine is a good example of where a charismatic figure (Makhno), although he was a military leader never had the centralising power of Lenin or Trotsky - and he was almost killed by the Red Army, led by Trotsky trying to defend the gains made against both the Whites and the Bolsheviks.

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Sep 19 2007 16:46

"Obviously there were contradictory tendencies within the Bolsheviks"

It's not obvious really, given the 'normal' reaction to the Bolsheviks on these boards. What would you say was contradictory about them?

nekken003
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Sep 19 2007 17:01

oh my god thats brilliant!! thank you so much for all your help. i can now refer to that website and this page anytime i need help.

thanks to you all.

Mike Harman
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Sep 19 2007 17:12

Well I think it's pretty obvious that a lot of rank and file workers were voting for the Bolsheviks - I don't think this widespread support means that they unanimously agreed with the central committee or universally accepted the moves against workers control/self-management. We can see this with the massive loss in support for them in the soviets during 1918 and number of workers acting outside the control of the unions and even the factory committees before October in pushing forward demands, taking over control, attacking management etc. on their own initiative (carting out, that kind of thing). People are quite capable of voting for all kinds of different parties, whilst acting on a completely different basis in their day-to-day lives.

I don't know membership figures from February-October (I'm sure someone will save me the googling) but I'd imagine a lot of the base membership was also acting independently within mass meetings and committees. Certainly afterwards there was massive dissillusionment with the party from within the membership - as they realised their view of revolution didn't match what was actually happening. I keep mentioning it, but the Vichuga uprising (and the generalised strike movement in the IIR from 1928-1932) was led by mainly ex-Bolsheviks who'd been active from 1917 but left the party between 1918 and 1927 (some earlier than others).

There's also the fact that the anarchists were very small numerically and not well organised. There's conflicting views on how much influence they exerted within the committees - some (Volin) saying they had almost zero influence and the "anarchist" tendencies were spontaneous and disconnected from anarchism as movement and ideology. Others (Avrich, Maximov) suggesting they were punching well above their weight and had massive influence in the day-to-day operation and overall direction, if not in the elections themselves. Either way it's clear they weren't able to offer an effective opposition to the Bolsheviks during 1917 or after, which left people the choice of the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and SRs. Now the Mensheviks everyone hates; the SRs had their own myriad contradictions, and I've not quite got my head around all of them yet.

Lenin was quite astute in mirroring the demands of workers (All Power to the Soviets etc.) whilst ignoring the fact that it wasn't hisplace to decree these measures, and in practice acting against the initiative of workers pretty consistently both before and after October. That in itself is a contradiction - between what he said and did. I may think Lenin and Trotsky were bastards, but I don't think this is necessary (or useful) in explaining their counter-revolutionary role in the revolution - that gives in to the "great man of history" as much as the crudest contemporary trots do.

Lurch
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Sep 19 2007 19:35

Catch wrote:

Quote:
Lenin was quite astute in mirroring the demands of workers

"Turn the imperialist war into a civil war', 'turn your guns against your officers': Lenin, practically alone, in 1914, when proletarian heads were filled with the ruling class's warmongering, when millions of workers were slaughtering each other at the bourgeoisie's behest.

Mike Harman
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Sep 19 2007 21:24
Lurch wrote:
Catch wrote:
Quote:
Lenin was quite astute in mirroring the demands of workers

"Turn the imperialist war into a civil war', 'turn your guns against your officers': Lenin, practically alone, in 1914, when proletarian heads were filled with the ruling class's warmongering, when millions of workers were slaughtering each other at the bourgeoisie's behest.

I'm more interested in his actions when he had a chance to carry them out, and the fact he spent the majority of the war in Switzerland, where no such slaughter was occurring.

That notwithstanding:

Lenin, 1914 wrote:
Therefore, Rosa Luxemburg notwithstanding, the example of the whole of progressive and civilised mankind, the example of the Balkans and that of Asia prove that Kautsky’s proposition is absolutely correct: the national state is the rule and the “norm” of capitalism; the multi-national state represents backwardness, or is an exception. From the standpoint of national relations, the best conditions for the development of capitalism are undoubtedly provided by the national state. This does not mean, of course, that such a state, which is based on bourgeois relations, can eliminate the exploitation and oppression of nations. It only means that Marxists cannot lose sight of the powerful economic factors that give rise to the urge to create national states. It means that “self-determination of nations” in the Marxists’ Programme cannot, from a historico-economic point of view, have any other meaning than political self-determination, state independence, and the formation of a national state.
later in that document wrote:
In Russia, the creation of an independent national state remains, for the time being, the privilege of the Great-Russian nation alone. We, the Great-Russian proletarians, who defend no privileges whatever, do not defend this privilege either. We are fighting on the ground of a definite state; we unite the workers of all nations living in this state; we cannot vouch for any particular path of national development, for we are marching to our class goal along all possible paths.

However, we cannot move towards that goal unless we combat all nationalism, and uphold the equality of the various nations. Whether the Ukraine, for example, is destined to form an independent state is a matter that will be determined by a thousand unpredictable factors. Without attempting idle “guesses”, we firmly uphold something that is beyond doubt: the right of the Ukraine to form such a state. We respect this right; we do not uphold the privileges of Great Russians with regard to Ukrainians; we educate the masses in the spirit of recognition of that right, in the spirit of rejecting state privileges for any nation.


Trotsky, greeted by German officers, at Brest Litovsk

Trotsky, 1925 wrote:
s is well known, even in Germany among the Social Democratic Opposition, there were stubborn rumors current that the Bolsheviki were bought by the German government and that what was going on in Brest-Litovsk was merely a comedy with the r6les allotted in advance. This version must be more credited in France and England. It was my opinion that, cost what it might, before the signing of peace we must give the workmen of Europe a clear proof of the deadly enmity between us and governmental Germany. It was these very considerations that on my arrival in Brest-Litovsk suggested the idea of that “pedagogical” demonstration, that was expressed in the form: We shall stop the war but without signing the peace treaty. I conferred with the other members of the delegation, found them in sympathy with the suggestion, and wrote about it to Vladimir Ilyich. His answer was: “If you come here we will talk it over.” Possibly this answer already showed that he did not agree with my proposition; at the moment I do not remember clearly and have not the letter at hand; indeed, I am not sure that I kept it. When I reached Smolny long discussions took place between us.

“That is all very attractive, and could not be better if General Hoffmann were unable to march his troops against us. But there is little hope of that. He will send specially chosen regiments of Bavarian peasants, and what then? You have said yourself that the trenches are empty. And suppose he begins the war again in spite of everything?”

Lenin quoted by Trotsky wrote:
“With this understanding the experiment is probably not so dangerous. We risk the loss of Esthonia and Letvia. Some Esthonian comrades came to see me recently and told me how splendidly the peasants had begun the socialist structure. It is a great pity if we must sacrifice socialist Esthonia,” Lenin said jokingly, “but for the sake of a good peace it is worth while agreeing to a compromise.”

Real, stand up internationalism there then.

Lurch
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Sep 19 2007 22:46

It might not have a direct bearing on your essay, Nekken0003, but I for one can't help feeling that the hatred and disdain displayed by some folk towards individuals (such as Lenin and Trotsky, for example) or even entire organisations (The Bolshevik Party) is just the mirror image of those who hero-worship them, think they can (or could) do no wrong, and refuse to draw the lessons of their mistakes. In fact, I believe Catch has said pretty much the same thing, although he still manages to fall into the trap, IMO.

Both views share, IMO, a mistaken notion of the function of revolutionary leadership.

The Communist Manifesto famously said that revolutionaries have no interest that is separate from the class as a whole. The role of such revolutionaries, organised into fractions or parties, is to try and show 'the general line of march', to 'give a perspective' for the movement, to try and show why it has arisen, what it means, and where it is heading.

This was the meaning of Lenin's 'Turn the Imperialist War into a Civil War' slogan - an attempt to show the historic perspective facing the working class at that moment. It was the same, in the different and more realisable circumstances of 1917, with the slogan 'All Power to the Soviets' - a crystalisation of the fact that the working class could, should, had to take power into its own hands.

I think the political orientation in both these cases was absolutely necessary and correct. Both were excellent illustrations of the function of revolutionaries - to try and give a political lead to the struggles of which they were part and parcel.

Of course, the revolutionaries can be wrong in their assessment of 'what is to be done' at any given juncture. And, of course, their arguments may fail to convince their fellow workers at this or that moment.

Does that mean they shouldn't try? In which case, why has the working class, from its very beginnings, constantly produced political minorities, organised fractions who, with greater or lesser clarity, try to understand the movement which has given rise to them and where it is heading?

Quite recently, a small number of participants on Libcom got together to produce a bulletin called Dispatch. It was aimed at postal workers and public sector workers, amongst others. It pointed out that these sectors were all under similar attacks and that workers needed to control their own struggles through holding mass meetings, and to attempt to extend and unify their struggles. Again, IMO, this was a fundamentally correct and vital practical and political orientation.

Were these Libcom members trying to 'give orders' to the working class? Nope. Were they trying to 'substitute' their understanding of the situation for that of the working class as a whole? Nope. Should they have just kept quiet about what they saw as a crying necessity of the moment? Nope.

Without wanting to be 'leaders' the authors of Dispatch nonetheless were attempting to give 'a lead', a direction to the struggle, to point out what was common to all the workers in or potentially in struggle, to contribute to the development of an understanding, a consciousness, within the class as a whole.

That is precisely the function of revolutionaries, of communists, and without it I don't think there can be a successful revolution, just as there can be no revolution if the vast majority of the working class believes that it can leave a small minority to think and act 'for it'.

Whether this helps you answer the essay question you've been set is another matter. Sometimes, the problem lies in the way questions are posed. Good luck.

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Sep 19 2007 22:48

Catch, libcom is carrying more and stuff by Rosa Luxemburg in its library, which is excellent, but this attitude towards the Russian marxists who were part of the same current is just sterile and is inconsistent with any real understanding of how the clarity we can have today emerged through the experience of the workers' movement. The development of consciousness among the 'vanguard' is itself extremely uneven. Look at the polemic between Lenin and Luxemburg during the war. Both were profoundly internationalist. Much of Rosa's writings on the national question at that time (in the Junius pamphlet) are a still model of clarity. But on the question of national defence during the war, Lenin's position on the war (despite his confusions on the question of national self-determination) was well to the left of Rosa, who put forward some very confused formulations (in the Junius Pamphlet) about the possibility of real national defence. Similarly Rosa's writings on the 1905 mass strike are an absolutely crucial contribution to understanding the changing conditions of the class struggle. But she hardly noticed the soviets: Trotsky on the other hand (in his book on 1905) was able to grasp their historic importance.

Incidentally, Rosa never described her polemic with Lenin in 1904 on organisational questions as 'Leninism or Marxism'. This title was added later by left social democrats. And in 1918, for all her criticisms of what she regarded as their errors, she was in complete solidarity with the Bolsheviks against the world bourgeoisie.

Mike Harman
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Sep 19 2007 23:27

nekken03 - sorry we've derailed your thread embarrassed as you can tell there are strong opinions on this site, even within what is a relatively small range of historical and political opinion compared to the wider debates about the Russian Revolution and others.

Alf, I didn't post that exchange because it had anything to do with Rosa Luxemburg, I posted it because it quite clearly shows Lenin's "internationalism" when put to the test. These were not just confusions on national self-determination - he sacrified Poland, the Ukraine, Finland, vast areas to the whites based on national self-determination - not to mention the terrible role the Bolsheviks played in Germany, the revolution they were supposed to be banking on. 'Confusion' doesn't come close to being an adequate term for this.

I'm not going to defend Luxemburg against Lenin - she made plenty of errors as well, and eventually paid the ultimate price for some of them. If you want to pick and choose a few salient quotes from Lenin, then you'll need to justify his very contradictory comments, in the same year, not to mention his rampant enthusiasm for the development of capitalism which is clearly in evidence, not start a "Lenin vs. Luxemburg" celebrity death match.

I don't think this can be described as confusion, it's a fairly straightforward conclusion which led from a misunderstanding of Marx, and basing a lot of his ideas on Kautsky. Lenin wanted to see capitalism expand via strong nation states, and thought state capitalism was going to lead to socialism, then enthusiastically carried this out as soon as he had the chance. The inconsistency is when he came out with slogans to the left of much of the competition, the underlying social democratic ideology and its practical conclusions are quite plain. Whether we see this as machiavellian or naiive isn't the point - it's plainly observable based on the man's own writings and action.

Mark.
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Sep 19 2007 23:48
Malatesta in replying to Makhno about the Platform wrote:
But when I see that in the Union that you support there is an Executive Committee to give ideological and organisational direction to the association I am assailed by the doubt that you would also like to see, within the general movement, a central body that would, in an authoritarian manner, dictate the theoretical and practical programme of the revolution.

If this is so we are poles apart.

Your organisation, or your managerial organs, may be composed of anarchists but they would only become nothing other than a government. Believing, in completely good faith, that they are necessary to the triumph of the revolution, they would, as a priority, make sure that they were well placed enough and strong enough to impose their will. They would therefore create armed corps for material defence and a bureaucracy for carrying out their commands and in the process they would paralyse the popular movement and kill the revolution.

That is what, I believe, has happened to the Bolsheviks.

Any opinions on this? Either as an analysis of the Platform or an analysis of the Bolsheviks.

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Sep 20 2007 08:02
Lurch wrote:
Quite recently, a small number of participants on Libcom got together to produce a bulletin called Dispatch. It was aimed at postal workers and public sector workers, amongst others. It pointed out that these sectors were all under similar attacks and that workers needed to control their own struggles through holding mass meetings, and to attempt to extend and unify their struggles. Again, IMO, this was a fundamentally correct and vital practical and political orientation.

are you really equating a strike/dispute bulletin, created by striking workers/others in the wider sector, with the slogans of an exiled petit-bourgeois intellectual or bolshevism in general?

Mike Harman wrote:
I don't think this can be described as confusion, it's a fairly straightforward conclusion which led from a misunderstanding of Marx, and basing a lot of his ideas on Kautsky. Lenin wanted to see capitalism expand via strong nation states, and thought state capitalism was going to lead to socialism, then enthusiastically carried this out as soon as he had the chance. The inconsistency is when he came out with slogans to the left of much of the competition, the underlying social democratic ideology and its practical conclusions are quite plain. Whether we see this as machiavellian or naiive isn't the point - it's plainly observable based on the man's own writings and action.

indeed

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Sep 20 2007 09:14

I think it's easy to forget how radical Lenin's views where at the time they were being espoused. Firstly, I think it's necessary to pick apart Lenin's confused language (as it appears to modern revolutionaries at least) and see what he was actually saying.

Quote 1 is simply stating facts - that the nation state is the crucible of capitalism, the best environment for it to develop in. Until capitalism is destroyed worldwide, nation states will continue to exist in some form or other.

Quote 2 is saying that when it seizes power, the Russian proletariat will release all the subordinate nations of the old Tsarist empire. They want the proletariat of all of these ethnic groups to join with the Russian and will agitate on that basis, but if these groups want to go their own way, the Russians won't stop them. He explicitly denounces all notion of Russian superiority, that other ethnicities will be treated as equals, etc. In the conclusion to The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, from which all these quotes come, Lenin says: "Complete equality of rights for all nations; the right of nations to self-determination; the unity of the workers of all nations—such is the national programme that Marxism, the experience of the whole world, and the experience of Russia, teach the workers." That is, an end to imperialism and the dominance of one nation over another.

Now, there's no question that there are limits to Lenin's view here in that he can't state explicitly the abolition of all states. On the other hand, I think you'd be hard pressed to find any writings of the time that pose the problem in quite those terms. Luxemburg offers the most incisive contemporary critique of the Bolsheviks has much to say on the question of nationalities but she does not claim that the Bolsheviks abandoned internationalism! While denouncing the policy as a concession to "hollow, petty-bourgeois phraseology and humbug", she states that the intent was "turn Finland, the Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, the Baltic countries, the Caucasus, etc., into so many faithful allies of the Russian Revolution". Unforutnately, "we have instead witnessed the opposite spectacle". We can say today, largely because of the experience of the Russian revolution and not just in spite of it, that such a policy makes unacceptable concessions to bourgeois ideology and that the results will always be counter-revolutionary.

As for the question about Brest-Litovsk, all Lenin is saying is that if they try and fight the Germans they're screwed. The Bolsheviks were screwed whatever they did: if they fought on, it would hardly be spreading internationalism by skewering German soldiers on Russian bayonettes and they'd be beaten anyway. If they didn't fight, they'd lose massive tracts of land but at least it would give the Russian proletariat a chance to consolidate and work for the next stage of the world revolution in Germany.

Mike Harman
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Sep 20 2007 09:58
Demogorgon303 wrote:
I think it's easy to forget how radical Lenin's views where at the time they were being espoused. Firstly, I think it's necessary to pick apart Lenin's confused language (as it appears to modern revolutionaries at least) and see what he was actually saying.

Quote 1 is simply stating facts - that the nation state is the crucible of capitalism, the best environment for it to develop in. Until capitalism is destroyed worldwide, nation states will continue to exist in some form or other.

On it's own it's simply stating fact, when we look at it in the context of how enthusiastic Lenin was about the project of state capitalism in Russia it takes on additional meaning.

Quote:
Lenin says: "Complete equality of rights for all nations; the right of nations to self-determination; the unity of the workers of all nations—such is the national programme that Marxism, the experience of the whole world, and the experience of Russia, teach the workers." That is, an end to imperialism and the dominance of one nation over another.

That's worse than the excerpt I quoted. It's this crap that's led to all the leftist cheerleading of national liberation movements for 80 years since. Again I don't want to allow this to get into "Luxemburg vs. Lenin" but "no self-determination under capitalism" is a pretty clear way of seeing things - and to me it applies to notions of 'autonomy' within capitalism which were around then and continue later on as well.

Quote:
Now, there's no question that there are limits to Lenin's view here in that he can't state explicitly the abolition of all states. On the other hand, I think you'd be hard pressed to find any writings of the time that pose the problem in quite those terms.

Well except anarchist ones of course.

Quote:
but she does not claim that the Bolsheviks abandoned internationalism!

No she implies that they're naiive, opportunist and questions their real motives, whilst apparently giving them the benefit of the doubt:

Quote:
if it was seriously meant by Lenin and Trotsky-represented an incomprehensible degree of optimism. And if it was only meant as a tactical flourish in the duel with the German politics of force, then it represented dangerous playing with fire.
Quote:
As for the question about Brest-Litovsk, all Lenin is saying is that if they try and fight the Germans they're screwed. The Bolsheviks were screwed whatever they did: if they fought on, it would hardly be spreading internationalism by skewering German soldiers on Russian bayonettes and they'd be beaten anyway. If they didn't fight, they'd lose massive tracts of land but at least it would give the Russian proletariat a chance to consolidate and work for the next stage of the world revolution in Germany.

So the only choice was signing a treaty with German imperialism handing over 1/3 of the population and strengthening their respective national ruling classes, or an all out war? Given your high standards for revolutionaries during WWII I find it hard to believe that you think there was no alternative. Also the Bolsheviks' role in the German revolution was not a positive one.

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Sep 20 2007 11:45

Catch

I think you're missing the point somewhat. We both agree the Bolsheviks were wrong about this. But there's a difference between a mistake and a betrayal. If we conflate the two then there are, quite simply, no political reference points in the past whatsoever.

I don't dispute that the Bolsheviks' errors have become the fuel for all the leftist campaigns ever since. Lenin himself made this point about what happens to revolutionaries after they die: "During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their theories with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them, so to say, and to hallow their names to a certain extent for the “consolation” of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it." This process seizes on their errors (and every revolutionary has made some) and magnifies them to such an extent that it obscures the rest of what they stood for.

And where exactly is Lenin's "enthusiasm" for state capitalism? He put forward a number of proposals on the basis of necessity to tackle certain immediate questions that faced the Russian revolution. These were largely recognised to be retreats from an ideal and as things got worse virtue began to be made of neccesity. In The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution, Lenin says:

"Under no circumstances can the party of the proletariat set itself the aim of “introducing” socialism in a country of small peasants so long as the overwhelming majority of the population has not come to realise the need for a socialist revolution.

But only bourgeois sophists, hiding behind “near-Marxist” catchwords, can deduce from this truth a justification of the policy of postponing immediate revolutionary measures, the time for which is fully ripe; measures which have been frequently resorted to during the war by a number of bourgeois states, and which are absolutely indispensable in order to combat impending total economic disorganisation and famine"

Here Lenin fully acknowledges the fact that these policies are not "socialist" - they are measures to prevent immediate economic disintegration which was a real threat.

In March 1918, Lenin writes: "These people [workers exhausted by war] insistently demand—and cannot but demand—a respite. The task of the day is to restore the productive forces destroyed by the war and by bourgeois rule; to heal the wounds inflicted by the war, by the defeat in the war, by profiteering and the attempts of the bourgeoisie to restore the overthrown rule of the exploiters; to achieve economic revival; to provide reliable protection of elementary order."

By this stage, the Factory Committees and the Soviets had proven (so far) to be completely ineffective in combatting the aforementioned economic disintegration. It was the committees and soviets themselves that were calling for state intervention. And remember that the "state" in this period consisted of the beauracratic appendages delegated from the Soviets themselves, even if they were already beginning to detach themselves from the latter.

As for anarchists, yes, of course they talked (in a completely idealist form, in my opinion) about abolishing the state (their practice was somewhat different). I'm not aware they talked about abolishing nationalities which is what we're talking about here (my mistake to use the word "state"). The real communist vision is the abolition of commodity production on a world scale. This means eliminating all separate communities and planning production globally - not trading between different communes be they the size of a factory or a continent.

As for Brest-Litovsk, if you reject both war and a peace treaty, what would your third choice be? Trotsky's "No War, No Peace"? Which was all very well until the Germans launched a new offensive and massive territories were lost. And after Brest-Litovsk, the Bolsheviks didn't sit on their hands. In fact, the Germans formally discarded the treaty precisely because of Bolshevik revolutionary propaganda in Germany. Now, Brest-Litovsk actually increased the difficulties of the new proletarian power because it made them lose half their industry, and nearly all their coal. Economic recovery on that basis was practically impossible. But you seem to be rejecting the Treaty on principle, not simply because of the details.

This is the problem with much of the criticism of the Bolsheviks on these boards. There is, in fact, much commonality between your critique of the Bolsheviks and that of Left Communism. The difference is that Left Communists don't automatically dismiss Bolsheviks because of their (many) errors. They were part of the contemporary working class, for all their failures and limitations. You talk as if they planned the Stalinist monstrosity that emerged right from the beginning, which is simply not the case.

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Sep 20 2007 12:17
Demogorgon303 wrote:
As for Brest-Litovsk, if you reject both war and a peace treaty, what would your third choice be? Trotsky's "No War, No Peace"? Which was all very well until the Germans launched a new offensive and massive territories were lost. And after Brest-Litovsk, the Bolsheviks didn't sit on their hands. In fact, the Germans formally discarded the treaty precisely because of Bolshevik revolutionary propaganda in Germany. Now, Brest-Litovsk actually increased the difficulties of the new proletarian power because it made them lose half their industry, and nearly all their coal. Economic recovery on that basis was practically impossible. But you seem to be rejecting the Treaty on principle, not simply because of the details.

This is the problem with much of the criticism of the Bolsheviks on these boards. There is, in fact, much commonality between your critique of the Bolsheviks and that of Left Communism. The difference is that Left Communists don't automatically dismiss Bolsheviks because of their (many) errors. They were part of the contemporary working class, for all their failures and limitations. You talk as if they planned the Stalinist monstrosity that emerged right from the beginning, which is simply not the case.

Actually many of the left communists in Russia who were members of the party rejected the treaty on principle.

Devrim

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Sep 20 2007 12:23

Yes, they did, but they had the alternative slogan of revolutionary war which was even more mistaken.

The Italian Left around Bilan in the 30s retrospectively supported Lenin on this question. They discerned a difference between inevitable concessions and betrayal of principles. They condemned the Treaty of Rapello for example and strongly criticised Lenin for his ideas about making temporary "alliances" with imperialist powers.

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Sep 20 2007 15:00

Joseph K wrote:

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are you really equating a strike/dispute bulletin, created by striking workers/others in the wider sector, with the slogans of an exiled petit-bourgeois intellectual or bolshevism in general?

Leaving the denigration aside: Equating? No. Pointing out the common and correct concern: Yes.

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Sep 20 2007 15:14

was lenin's concern for discussing with other workers in struggle, and encouraging them to do the same, or was it about bringing concsiousness from the outside, since the masses are limited in the concsiousness they can achieve without the scientific method of the bourgeois intelligensia?

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Sep 20 2007 16:43

Joseph K wrote:

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was lenin's concern for discussing with other workers in struggle, and encouraging them to do the same...

Well, not exactly. I think his 'concern' was not merely to encourage workers to enter into struggle (something which he recognised would happen independent of his 'wishes'), but to do so equipped with some degree of knowledge, of consciousness, of the conditions under which they were embarking on this struggle. Nought wrong in that, IMO.

Quote:
or was it about bringing concsiousness from the outside, since the masses are limited in the concsiousness they can achieve without the scientific method of the bourgeois intelligensia?

I think this was a conception theorised at one stage by Lenin. I also believe, prompted by the action of the working class itself, he 'got over it'. It's an important mark of revolutionaries that they can learn from the class struggle. I think Lenin passed this 'test', even if he failed others. He wasn't alone in doing either, no?

En passant, can we get over this 'petty-bourgeois intellectual' bit? By these criteria, Luxemburg, Pannekoek, and many others can be wiped off the slate. As for that Marx, shutting himself away in the British library all those years... Taken to its logical conclusion, it means that no-one not involved in the immediate sector in the immediate struggle can have anything to say about anything. It robs us both of the hsitoric dimension of our struggle, and of its perspective. The French have a word for it.... Ouverism

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Sep 20 2007 17:52
Demogorgon303 wrote:
But there's a difference between a mistake and a betrayal. If we conflate the two then there are, quite simply, no political reference points in the past whatsoever.

Well there's different kinds of mistakes, and different kinds of betrayal. Ultimately they have to be judged by their practical effects, or we're left with a choice of letting everyone with "good intentions" off the hook or condemning them as dishonest. Now I think the behaviour of both Lenin and Trotsky were dishonest in their dealings at several points during the revolution - Trotsky's straight up lies and machinations about Kronstadt being a clear example. However I've been careful on this thread not to ascribe motives to Lenin, since I think that's unnecessary to show how he acted to reinforce Capital rather than destroy it. Saying "but he was a revolutionary, just a bit confused" takes us back to the terrain of evil/not evil again.

Quote:
And where exactly is Lenin's "enthusiasm" for state capitalism?

Right here: http://www2.cddc.vt.edu/marxists/archive/lenin/works/1917/ichtci/11.htm

Quote:
And what is the state? It is an organisation of the ruling class — in Germany, for instance, of the Junkers and capitalists. And therefore what the German Plekhanovs (Scheidemann, Lensch, and others) call "war-time socialism" is in fact war-time state-monopoly capitalism, or, to put it more simply and clearly, war-time penal servitude for the workers and war-time protection for capitalist profits.

Now try to substitute for the Junker-capitalist state, for the landowner-capitalist state, a revolutionary-democratic state, i.e., a state which in a revolutionary way abolishes all privileges and does not fear to introduce the fullest democracy in a revolutionary way. You will find that, given a really revolutionary-democratic state, state- monopoly capitalism inevitably and unavoidably implies a step, and more than one step, towards socialism!

For if a huge capitalist undertaking becomes a monopoly, it means that it serves the whole nation. If it has become a state monopoly, it means that the state (i.e., the armed organisation of the population, the workers and peasants above all, provided there is revolutionary democracy) directs the whole undertaking. In whose interest?

Either in the interest of the landowners and capitalists, in which case we have not a revolutionary-democratic, but a reactionary-bureaucratic state, an imperialist republic.

Or in the interest of revolutionary democracy—and then it is a step towards socialism.

For socialism is merely the next step forward from state-capitalist monopoly. Or, in other words, socialism is merely state-capitalist monopoly which is made to serve the interests of the whole people and has to that extent ceased to be capitalist monopoly.

There is no middle course here. The objective process of development is such that it is impossible to advance from monopolies (and the war has magnified their number, role and importance tenfold) without advancing towards socialism.

Looks pretty enthusiastic to me.

Quote:
By this stage, the Factory Committees and the Soviets had proven (so far) to be completely ineffective in combatting the aforementioned economic disintegration. It was the committees and soviets themselves that were calling for state intervention. And remember that the "state" in this period consisted of the beauracratic appendages delegated from the Soviets themselves, even if they were already beginning to detach themselves from the latter.

I don't dispute that the factory committees and soviets were flawed - they were unable to assert themselves in the face of the counter-revolution and many workers went along with this or called for any measure which would deal with immediate practical concerns. This is understandable given the circumstances, but it doesn't change the fact that Lenin and Trotsky were always set on state control (albeit a "workers state") before and after 1917.

Quote:
As for anarchists, yes, of course they talked (in a completely idealist form, in my opinion) about abolishing the state (their practice was somewhat different). I'm not aware they talked about abolishing nationalities which is what we're talking about here (my mistake to use the word "state").

How are nation states not states? Lenin is not only not talking about abolishing nationalities - he's actively reinforcing them.

Quote:
The real communist vision is the abolition of commodity production on a world scale. This means eliminating all separate communities and planning production globally - not trading between different communes be they the size of a factory or a continent.

I don't think production needs to be planned globally - some things perhaps, but if it makes sense to co-ordinate say food production on a local level then that's the level to do it at.

Quote:
As for Brest-Litovsk, if you reject both war and a peace treaty, what would your third choice be?

I have to say this brings a smile to my face given the treatment individual militants who got swept up into the resistance in WWII get from your lot. I don't think Lenin and Trotsky should have been negotiating with the German ruling class and make deals which fucked over millions of working class people in the first place. This isn't a simple "what if you were in charge?" question. It shows a complete lack of faith in the German working class to stop the war themselves.

Quote:
Trotsky's "No War, No Peace"? Which was all very well until the Germans launched a new offensive and massive territories were lost. And after Brest-Litovsk, the Bolsheviks didn't sit on their hands. In fact, the Germans formally discarded the treaty precisely because of Bolshevik revolutionary propaganda in Germany. Now, Brest-Litovsk actually increased the difficulties of the new proletarian power because it made them lose half their industry, and nearly all their coal. Economic recovery on that basis was practically impossible. But you seem to be rejecting the Treaty on principle, not simply because of the details.

Yep, and it's not just me.

Quote:
The difference is that Left Communists don't automatically dismiss Bolsheviks because of their (many) errors. They were part of the contemporary working class, for all their failures and limitations. You talk as if they planned the Stalinist monstrosity that emerged right from the beginning, which is simply not the case.

Some members of the working class were members of (or passively supported) the Bolsheviks - this isn't the same as them being of the working class themselves (and certainly not the "vanguard" or indeed synonymous with it as Lenin claimed). The germs of Stalinism were present from the beginning - do I think they planned the purges and the gulags whilst in exile? No of course not, but that's never been my point and it's a straw man to bring it up.

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Sep 20 2007 21:29
Mike Harman wrote:
Quote:
Trotsky's "No War, No Peace"? Which was all very well until the Germans launched a new offensive and massive territories were lost. And after Brest-Litovsk, the Bolsheviks didn't sit on their hands. In fact, the Germans formally discarded the treaty precisely because of Bolshevik revolutionary propaganda in Germany. Now, Brest-Litovsk actually increased the difficulties of the new proletarian power because it made them lose half their industry, and nearly all their coal. Economic recovery on that basis was practically impossible. But you seem to be rejecting the Treaty on principle, not simply because of the details.

Yep, and it's not just me.

There are some people in our organisation who have the same position. While our organisation says that by 1921 the RCP(B) had crossed the class line. I have heard people argue that the point is actually Brest-Litovsk.

Demogorgon303 wrote:
This is the problem with much of the criticism of the Bolsheviks on these boards. There is, in fact, much commonality between your critique of the Bolsheviks and that of Left Communism. The difference is that Left Communists don't automatically dismiss Bolsheviks because of their (many) errors. They were part of the contemporary working class, for all their failures and limitations. You talk as if they planned the Stalinist monstrosity that emerged right from the beginning, which is simply not the case.

...and the people saying this are not anarchists. They are militants who are members of a left communist organisation.

Devrim

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Sep 21 2007 07:19
Devrim wrote:
There are some people in our organisation who have the same position.

Are you one of them?

Devrim wrote:
...and the people saying this are not anarchists. They are militants who are members of a left communist organisation.
Devrim

I'm not an anarchist sad

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Sep 21 2007 07:49

Can't possible respond to everything on here, so I'm going limit myself to a couple of points.

Devrim wrote:
...and the people saying this are not anarchists. They are militants who are members of a left communist organisation.

I never said it was just anarchists that criticise the Bolsheviks. The German Left ended up rejecting the Bolsheviks as "bourgeois" and thus moved into the terrain of "councillism". My point was just because left communists say things doesn't make it true. The LCs around Bukharin were completely, utterly wrong about continuing the war - which incidentally, is precisely what the Entente would have wanted.

Mike Harman wrote:
I have to say this brings a smile to my face given the treatment individual militants who got swept up into the resistance in WWII get from your lot. I don't think Lenin and Trotsky should have been negotiating with the German ruling class and make deals which fucked over millions of working class people in the first place. This isn't a simple "what if you were in charge?" question. It shows a complete lack of faith in the German working class to stop the war themselves.

So you think fighting a hopeless war against the most efficient war machine in the world, capable of rolling right into Petrograd (the heart of the revolution) would have been a better option? And are you advocating Russian workers to continue killing German workers simply because the latter had not (yet) begun their own revolution? There was no lack of faith on the part of the Bolsheviks on the part of the German proletariat, they were counting on a German revolution to come to their own rescue! They recognised however, that this process needed time.

It's also important to remember that both Lenin and the LCs were both in a minority at the start of the revolution. If memory serves (I'll have to check), Trotsky's position won by default and he was put in charge of negotiations on the basis of stalling as long as possible. It was when this strategy collapsed and the German war machine began to slice off huge parts of the Ukraine and Russia, that they fell back on Lenin's strategy. The delay ended up costing much more than if a peace had been negotiated immediately.

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Devrim
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Sep 21 2007 08:09
Mike Harman wrote:
Devrim wrote:
There are some people in our organisation who have the same position.

Are you one of them?

No

Devrim wrote:
...and the people saying this are not anarchists. They are militants who are members of a left communist organisation.
Devrim

I'm not an anarchist sad

No, I know. I think that it was being implied that this is an anarchist position though.

Devrim

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Sep 21 2007 13:39

Another quick response concerning the quote from Lenin.

Firstly, Lenin certainly is saying that "state capitalism" (by which he means the model adopted by the capitalist states in WW1) is progressive in the fact that it increases the socialisation of labour. In general, Marxism holds that socialisation of labour brought about by capitalism is historically progressive, because it creates the groundwork for communism.

And he does describe the state operating these centralised monopolies being operated by the state as being a step towards socialism (but not socialism in itself). But he makes a careful distinction between a bourgeois state (reactionary-bureacratic) and a workers' state "the armed organisation of the population, the workers and peasants above all, provided there is revolutionary democracy".

It's quite clear that in this period (and this was written in 1917, just after the Revolution I believe) that Lenin perceived the Soviets to be "the armed organisation of the population, the workers and peasants". He's talking about Soviets (and their delegated organs) seizing control of the economic apparatus and operating it according to a centrally agreed plan.

The problem was, that as the revolution progressed (or rather retreated), the delegated organs of the Soviets (such as Sovnarkom) began to impose themselves on the Soviet rather than the other way round. The driver for this was the failure of these "state" organs to solve the crisis, leading the workers to turn more and more against the Bolsheviks. The real mistake the Bolsheviks made wasn't simply the idea that the "state" should control production, etc. It was taking on the role of managing that "state" themselves, firstly with the blessing of the Soviets and then against the Soviets when the latter began to retreat. Instead of recognising the danger of the party becoming enmeshed within the state, Lenin reinforced the party as an organ of administrative control which finally severed what began as soviet organs completely from the masses and turning them into state organs par excellence. Lenin's quote is thus rather prophetic when he makes the caveat "provided there is revolutionary democracy" - but it seems unlikely that he realised at that moment that the Bolsheviks would be the main vector for destroying that democracy.

Edit: There are real problems with how to manage society in the period immediately after the revolution and it can be boiled down to this. Whatever organ is used to implement control inevitably ends up trying to manage a fundamentally capitalist organism (wage labour, commodity production, etc.) in the interests of all the strata (workers, peasants, petit-bourgeoisie, etc.). It has to make compromises to keep society functioning. Its capacity to act as purely workers' organs is thus diluted. There must be a distinction between the organs that workers use to manage society and those through which the working class expresses its political life.