Can we ever escape Leninism?

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Tom Henry
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Jul 15 2017 09:17
Can we ever escape Leninism?

On “The law of value in it’s simplest terms” thread I tried to explore the usefulness of Marx’s categories of absolute and relative surplus value and formal and real subsumption of labor because, as I see it, they are critical aspects of the law of value as defined by Marx.

I did not have my own answer to the problems I set, only a doubt as to what real effects in the real world – in terms of political perspectives in particular – these categories (all 5) might have.

The discussion on that thread, and the subsequent one on “That’s not how that [communization] shit works…” thread, have been really useful for me because they have confirmed to me that my doubts about these categories do have validity.

My perspectives have been formed, as much as I know, through the traditions of anarchism, left communism/ultra-leftism, particularly in both of their analyses of the Russian Revolution, and the amazingly rich writing of Marx himself (and Engels, everyone forgets Engels…). Also through my involvement in workplace struggles; strikes; union committees; rank and filism 'led' by members of the Direct Action Movement; I have even for a short time, and kind of against my principles, reluctantly served as a union rep; community struggles; political groups; and Indigenous activism.

But what I have had confirmed for me in recent discussion here is the suspicion that Marx’s categories of the materialist conception of history (historical materialism) and the law of value feed into the phenomenon of leftism in its various shades, and will probably continue to do so because his categories (like any scientific undertaking) are a product of their time and they are trapped within the discourse of productivity and capitalism itself. Just as we are.

The only categories identified by Marx that do seem to be useful in thinking about society, particularly as they have been taken up by figures such as Camatte, are the categories of the formal and real subsumption of labor. But these categories do not, tellingly serve much use within leftist and reformist discourse.

I think that the relationship Marx describes between humans, labor, alienation (alienation from labor), and productivity – relationships that underpin the method of historical materialism, modes of production, etc – are possibly ill-conceived.

They are built upon the Hegelian dialectic in relation to history; that is itself built upon the materialist formulations of the radical and democratic wing of the Enlightenment (beginning with the remarkable Spinoza); that were, again, derived from the radical social and material transformations evident from the 15th century in Europe.

This in itself, of course, does not invalidate Marx’s categories, but they are brought into question if one takes seriously another of Marx’s formulations: that the times people live in are not of their making, and the chances they have of changing things are not for them to choose. Why is that 'revolutionaries' can know the truth before, in advance, of everyone else. There is something wrong with the idea that we can think outside the box of the world.

But what the recent ‘discussions’ I have been involved in here have confirmed to me, on top of this, is that Marxist categories can only function as the basis of leftism that ultimately always returns to Leninism.

Therefore, with an eye on history, it would seem advisable to attempt to abandon his categories and his method.

Why might it be advisable to abandon Marxism and Leftism?

Perhaps because of the lessons and experience of the Russian Revolution.

One of the most concise and beautiful books on these lessons is the History of the Makhnovist Movement 1918-1921, by a participant, Peter Arshinov.

In the preface Volin describes one of the key messages of the book and backs it up with an anecdote of his own:

Quote:
The attitude of Bolshevism and the Soviet Government toward the Makhnovshchina are firmly and precisely established. A shattering blow is dealt to all the inventions and justifications of the Bolsheviks. All their criminal machinations, all their lies, their entire counter-revolutionary essence, are thoroughly exposed. An appropriate inscription to this part of the book would be the words which once escaped from the director of the secret-operations section of the V. Ch. K. [Supreme Cheka], Samsonov (in prison, when I was called for questioning by this "investigator"). When I remarked to him that I considered the behaviour of the Bolsheviks toward Makhno, at the time of their treaty with him, treacherous, Samsonov promptly responded: "You consider this treacherous? This simply proves that we are skilful statesmen: when we needed Makhno, we knew how to use him; now that we no longer need him, we know how to liquidate him."

We should note that the Red Army was set up by Trotsky in 1917, (following his successful involvement in the Military Revolutionary Committee in the Petrograd Soviet) ostensibly to fight ‘the counter-revolution’. And the above anecdote comes from early 1919. It was clearly not a long period of time, if any at all, before the Makhnoschina were classed by the Bolsheviks as counter-revolutionary. They were even, in a foreshadowing of the dekulakization of Stalin’s time, smeared with the label kulak.

In chapter one Peter Arshinov writes:

Quote:
Our Russian revolution is, without a doubt, a political revolution which uses the forces of the people to serve interests foreign to the people. The fundamental fact of this revolution, with a background of enormous sacrifices, sufferings and revolutionary efforts of workers and peasants, is the seizure of political power by an intermediary group, the so-called socialist revolutionary intelligentsia, the Social Democrats.

Chapter five:

Quote:
Makhno and the staff of the insurrectionary army were perfectly aware that the arrival of Communist authority was a new threat to the liberty of the region; they saw it as an omen of a civil war of a new kind. But neither Makhno nor the staff of the army nor the Regional Council wanted this war, which might well have a fatal effect on the whole Ukrainian revolution. They did not lose sight of the open and well organized counter-revolution which was approaching from the Don and the Kuban, and with which there was only one possible relationship: that of armed conflict. This danger increased from day to day. The insurgents retained some hope that the struggle with the Bolsheviks could be confined to the realm of ideas, in which case they could feel perfectly secure about their region, for the vigour of the revolutionary ideas together with the revolutionary common sense of the peasants and their defiance of elements foreign to their free movement were the best guarantee of the region's freedom. According to the general opinion of the leaders of the insurrection, it was necessary for the movement to concentrate all forces against the monarchist counter-revolution, and not to be concerned with ideological disagreements with the Bolsheviks until that was liquidated. It was in this context that the union between the Makhnovists and the Red Army took place. We will see later that the leaders of the Makhnovshchina were mistaken in their hope to find in the Bolsheviks only ideological adversaries. They failed to take into account the fact that they were dealing with accomplished and violent statists.

And

Quote:
At first the Bolsheviks hoped to absorb the Makhnovists into the ranks of Bolshevism. This was a vain hope. The insurgent masses obstinately followed their own path. They wanted nothing to do with the governmental organs of the Bolsheviks. In certain places armed peasants drove the "Extraordinary Commissions" (Chekas) out of their villages, and at Gulyai-Pole the Communists did not even dare to establish such an institution. Elsewhere the attempts to implant Communist institutions resulted in bloody collisions between the population and the authorities, whose situation became very difficult.
It was then that the Bolsheviks began an organized struggle against the Makhnovshchina, both as an idea and as a social movement.
They began the campaign in the press. The Communist press began to treat the Makhnovist movement as a kulak (wealthy peasant) movement, its slogans as counter-revolutionary, and its activity as harmful to the revolution.
Direct threats to the guides of the movement were made by the newspapers and by the central authorities. The region was definitively blockaded. All the revolutionary militants leaving Gulyai-Pole or returning to it were arrested. Supplies of ammunition and cartridges were reduced considerably. All this was a bad omen.

Why is a transitional state needed?

Firstly, in Marx’s time particularly, to ramp up production (to provide global abundance). But today we would need it to ramp up infrastructure and distribution.

Secondly, to ensure that the people become sufficiently communist. This then is a question of consciousness. See here, second reply to ‘Kivie’:

https://libcom.org/blog/thoughts-david-graeber%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%98debt-first-5000-years%E2%80%99-03012012?page=2

And here, my second post:
https://libcom.org/blog/universal-basic-income-freedom-workers-13122016

and particularly here:
https://libcom.org/forums/theory/that%E2%80%99s-not-how-communization-shit-works%E2%80%A6-06072017?page=1#comment-595649

The problem is that, for the communizers, because the question always comes down to class consciousness and communist consciousness, the transitional state cannot be discarded in reality.

That is, it has always been needed in history, and the intelligent Marx also decided that this would be the case.

The problem for the anarchists is that they are in the same position as the communizers who have at last caught up with them. Both not only have not extinguished the need for a transitional state, they will also end up, as usual, being shot by the more practical Leninists.

It is about consciousness, it is about the establishment by capitalism of the real subsumption of labor.

How do we change our consciousness before our circumstances have changed?

Lenin did not intend the tragedy that he helped cause. But he had no choice but to help make it happen. Lenin was right. He was always right.

The Makhnovschina were wrong, they were always doomed. The tragedy of the Ukraine was unavoidable, but Kronstadt could have been avoided with more diplomacy from Trotsky and the later executions of key participants who may not have shut up.

How do we escape the Leninist loop? How do we escape the ineluctable return to Lenin inherent in all our politics?

Tom Henry
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Jul 15 2017 10:32

Edit:

The line:
How do we change our consciousness before we change our circumstances?

Should read:
How do we change our consciousness before our circumstances have changed?

Noa Rodman
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Jul 15 2017 13:38
Quote:
Why is a transitional state needed?

Firstly, in Marx’s time particularly, to ramp up production (to provide global abundance). But today we would need it to ramp up infrastructure and distribution.

Secondly, to ensure that the people become sufficiently communist. This then is a question of consciousness.

Besides civil war, it's needed also to bring the communization process to fruition in some coherent manner. And yes people's practical involvement in the state (ie councils) will help educate them in communism.

The monstrous state in Russia was the result of particular circumstances eg that business had been mostly managed by foreign capitalists, and couldn't run on their own, so the state filled the vacuum. And of course that the majority of the population was peasants which came into conflict with the working class, and the state balanced these classes.

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Pennoid
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Jul 15 2017 15:18

There are somethings I think you need to uncouple, comrade.

1. What you perceive to be 'Leninism' e.g. the policy of the Bolsheviks, does *not* collapse into the policies of Stalin. The policies of the Bolsheviks up through the Civil War and into NEP were based around the idea that the working class must lead the poor peasantry to effect the 'bourgeois democratic' revolution but then press forward to make a *socialist* revolution by setting off a chain reaction through Europe. Stalin reversed this and instead pursued 'socialism in one country' and collectivized the peasantry, human catastrophe be damned.

2. 'Leninism' means like 57 different things depending on which trotskyist, stalinist, maoist you ask. Understanding the myriad idiotic traditions of the 20th century that fractured beginning in the 20's can be a valuable exercise, but it requires you understand that "Leninism" is not, in the first place, a discrete category.

3. You, frankly, have to let go of sympathy for terrorists in the countryside mad that they had to supply the cities with food. Consider an analogy; consider that poor farmers in the U.S. south say they don't support slavery. Consider that Sherman is moving his troops through Georgia laying the objective foundations for the abolition of slavery (arming slaves, killing and destroying slaveowners) and needs food supplies from those poor whites. Consider that they refuse and call this tyranny and start carrying out terrorist attacks against Lincoln etc.

What do you do in this situation? This was the essential situation with which the Bolsheviks were subjected with respect to the classes in Russia; their original base was in the working class (the revolutionary class) but they knew some form of alliance with the peasantry was necessary. They soon discovered that the contradictory class interests of these two groups were near impossible to balance.

The Bolshevik policy was; take the necessary measures to win the civil war, keep the Whites at bay, and keep the proletarian party in power. Upon cessation of the war the Bolsheviks did NOT pursue a punitive campaign against the peasantry and they did not pursue collectivization. They relaxed aspects of war communism and allowed trade in grain in the countryside to some extent, while trying to work out ways of developing the forces of production.

It's not "becuz le state" or any other reflexive ideologically neat thing (let alone 'categories' with rough lineages) that these things happen. *THAT* is the materialist conception of history; the categories are the reflections of the real relations between people; the class balance in Russia saw a big chunk of anarchists come down on the side of the proto-bourgeois peasantry. To this day, liberal historians and dogmatic anarchists have used these lines to ponder the "horrors" of the Russian Revolution.

Really, it belongs to the tradition that wept over the rolling heads of Monarchs in the French revolution. They can't understand the class forces at play at the base, and the mistakes, the tough decisions, the errors, manifest themselves as the personal errors or purposeful evil acts by individuals, and not as the complex social and political problems they were. Ask yourself; if Lenin wasn't "evil" then why did revolutionary terror seem necessary to him? Why did it seem necessary to Sherman? To Robespierre? To Washington?

ajjohnstone
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Jul 15 2017 15:39

As a socialist organisation that has been critical of the Bolshevik revolution and all the Leninist parties that it gave birth to, I think members of the SPGB would answer the question "Can we ever escape Leninism?" as no.

Even with our anti-Leninist pedigree, it has not helped the SPGB to avoid the association of our socialist ideas with what transpired in Russia.

Much print and words has been expended in disabusing fellow-workers of the belief that the Soviet Union was some sort of socialism or a path towards it, yet the most common accusation is that we are proposing similar to Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

Our task is now to reveal and expose Leninism that is now appearing under new clothes, disavowing "stalinism" but still remaining committed to a form of state capitalist economic structure and use of a vanguard party to achieve political supremacy.

radicalgraffiti
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Jul 15 2017 16:30
Pennoid wrote:
There are somethings I think you need to uncouple, comrade.

1. What you perceive to be 'Leninism' e.g. the policy of the Bolsheviks, does *not* collapse into the policies of Stalin. The policies of the Bolsheviks up through the Civil War and into NEP were based around the idea that the working class must lead the poor peasantry to effect the 'bourgeois democratic' revolution but then press forward to make a *socialist* revolution by setting off a chain reaction through Europe. Stalin reversed this and instead pursued 'socialism in one country' and collectivized the peasantry, human catastrophe be damned.

this is blatantly untrue the Bolsheviks acted against the self organisation of the working class from the start.

Pennoid wrote:

3. You, frankly, have to let go of sympathy for terrorists in the countryside mad that they had to supply the cities with food. Consider an analogy; consider that poor farmers in the U.S. south say they don't support slavery. Consider that Sherman is moving his troops through Georgia laying the objective foundations for the abolition of slavery (arming slaves, killing and destroying slaveowners) and needs food supplies from those poor whites. Consider that they refuse and call this tyranny and start carrying out terrorist attacks against Lincoln etc.

What do you do in this situation? This was the essential situation with which the Bolsheviks were subjected with respect to the classes in Russia; their original base was in the working class (the revolutionary class) but they knew some form of alliance with the peasantry was necessary. They soon discovered that the contradictory class interests of these two groups were near impossible to balance.

how is it the busyness of revolutionaries how to manage an empire? i really dont see how this is different to Stalin appologism

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Jul 15 2017 16:54

To be clear,

The revolutionary class dictatorship of the proletariat is the only thing that can lead to communism. Any vacillating on this point or any subversion of it just leads back to apologetics for the class dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. You can call this the emancipation of the working class or anarcho-communism or syndicalism, but it *does* mean the destruction of the rights and privileges of the bourgeoisie.

Whatever continuity there is between Marx and Lenin rests on this primary point; a political commitment to the realization of this class rule.

Now, there may be errors in theorization - by marx, by lenin, by kautsky, etc. I don't mean to suggest that there aren't (nevermind their political blunders). I do mean to stress however that those must be contradicted by some fact at hand - that there analysis of the question 'on the ground' was false in someway, and not just by association. Either there is a logical fallacy, or there is empirical blindness.

A note; people don't have to become 'communist'. Relations between people must become communist. This is a sort of liberal illusion; the liberal analogue is the oft repeated claim by weak bourgeois and reactionaries in countries where they don't overthrow the monarchy (see Thailand today where the Right constantly makes this claim; or Russia 100 years ago): The 'people' aren't prepared to govern themselves; their ideas are all wrong! You can see even Stalinists make this argument as well (their politics being in concrete little more than nationalist-economic-development with red flags). The function this serves is to say "hey our good ideas would be working if people weren't mired in 'capitalist sensibilities' thus offsetting any responsibility for failed policies and theory onto the atomised individual.

In another sense you could say that people must become communist; not that they are 'new communist man' or whatever hogwash, but that they want communism; they understand the program meant to be effected by the proletarian party and how it reflects their own personal interests. Not as some personal spiritual transformation, but as a matter of practical course. This is, however, a vindication of the (by now) much derided "old workers movement" which had as it's core slogans "Agitate, Educate, Organize" in many english speaking countries. The problematic was somewhat straightforward; workers and non workers with the relevant information pertaining to the nature of society at hand and the problems confronting humanity with respect to classes must work to bring this information to more workers, organize them as a class, and realize their social dictatorship as a means to overthrowing capitalism. Here to put it briefly, the problem is that the people can't govern themselves unless there is a proletarian class dictatorship; and the task of revolutionaries is to bang this point home. To reiterate, becoming communist in this sense is recognizing a class interest; not reaching some high-falutin stage of 'class consciousness' and altered morality, blah blah ethical consumption etc.

Connected to this then is the problem of the FORM of the dotp; and outlining a program that takes as it's aim the tasks incumbent upon those wishing to effect that form in practice.

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Jul 15 2017 17:08

radicalgraffiti,

I'm not sure I understand - how were the Bolsheviks against working class organization? From which start? They formed committees of soldiers in the military (most soldiers were working class or even more so conscripted peasants iirc) which sought to undermine officer authority in the military and agitated around demands to democratize the military (not to mention END THE WAR), taking it from the hands of the officers and putting under the authority of the soviets. They also agitated for 'all power to the soviets"

They organized factory committees, much like Mensheviks, anarchists, etc. Where is the evidence that they had no base in the working class and that they were opposed to "working class activity?"

Coincidentally, as much as many like to paint them this way, the soviets were not some pure formal expression of pure working class self-activity (whatever this chimera is); they were initially dominated by the pro-war socialists; Kerensky - a socialist 'defencist' was the deputy from the Petrograd Soviet to the provisional government, no? (Beginning in April iirc?)
The soviets were always as open to regular party politics as any legislative body of government, if perhaps more open to working class and peasant parties.

On managing empire; it is not in the business of revolutionaries to manage empire; I don't think I ever said that. What I did was make an analogy to the social revolution that was the foundation for the U.S. Civil War, and the stunted social revolution in Russia. The purpose was to draw out the difficulties involved in determining how to secure the *material basis* of the freedom of particular social classes in practice, when that requires a particular social and technical division of labor. Contrary to the implications of anarchist thought, the peasants and the workers could not have simply 'sorted things out' if only the mean old bolsheviks weren't in the way; the contradictions between them were real and fundamental.

High grain prices mean high food prices. What's good for the peasant proto-capitalist is bad for the worker. No amount of federalism, or non-aggression principle, market socialism, or perfect horizontal structure of decision making will change that fact.

ajjohnstone
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Jul 15 2017 18:23
Quote:
They also agitated for 'all power to the soviets"...The soviets were always as open to regular party politics as any legislative body of government, if perhaps more open to working class and peasant parties.

I think these assumptions can be contested. The proof of the pudding is always in the eating and not in all the campaign promises. What the Bolsheviks said is very different from what they did.

The Bolsheviks said "All power to the Soviets". Just four days after seizing power the Central Executive Committee which was meant to be the highest organ of soviet power was sidelined when the Bolshevik Council of People's Commissars ( or Sovnarkom) unilaterally arrogated to itself legislative power simply by promulgating a decree to this effect that made clear the government's pre-eminence over the soviets and their executive organ.Within a month of taking power, they had dissolved one of those soviets, and dissolved another 17 days later. The Bolsheviks had no problem at all with their "worker's state" suppressing workers' expressions of power.When it was beneficial to the Bolsheviks, they said "All power to the Factory Committees" but 9 days after taking power, they subordinated the factory committees to the trades unions and congresses which were more under the control of the Bolsheviks, and to the state itself under the direct control of the Bolsheviks.When the Mensheviks and SRs won majorities in soviets the offending soviets were disbanded, that their papers were closed down, their members harassed, exiled and shot.The Constituent Assembly to which all parties of the Russian revolutionary left worked toward even the Bolsheviks, and elected on the basis of the first free vote in that country, was abolished after only one day in session because the Bolsheviks were in the minority. Lenin helped not only impose such conditions but deliberately smeared left critics as counter-revolutionaries to tie them in with those who were in arms against the Bolshevik government. The Cheka, which was set up within a few weeks of October and the Commissar of Justice was Steinberg, a member of the Left SRs. but he could never get control of the Cheka because the Cheka only answered to the Bolshevik party central committee, in violation of the soviet principle.

Socialism can only be achieved by a politically conscious working class. It is the experience of workers under capitalism which drives them to understand the need for socialism and this process is enhanced by the degree of democracy which they have won for themselves. The dictatorial power wielded by a vanguard minority, no matter how sincere its intentions, can never act as a substitute. Lenin condemned what he termed "bourgeois moralism" such as "democracy". His was a new moralism that meant anything could be done to preserve Bolshevik power and it found its final expression in the gulags of Stalin.

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Pennoid
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Jul 15 2017 19:03

Which Mensheviks and SRs were suppressed?

zugzwang
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Jul 15 2017 19:49
Pennoid wrote:
There are somethings I think you need to uncouple, comrade.

1. What you perceive to be 'Leninism' e.g. the policy of the Bolsheviks, does *not* collapse into the policies of Stalin.

Pennoid, I think you need to update your profile to reflect whatever you are, because you most certainly are not an anarchist as it suggests. And what is meant by this? I thought we already established in the other thread that Stalin and Lenin were indistinguishable except that Stalin's repressive activities were maybe more severe than Lenin's (imprisoning dissident voices, shutting down newspapers critical of the Bolshevik regime -- in which they called it "state capitalism", attacking fellow proletarians during the Kronstadt revolt when they demanded political freedoms and even had a list of demands, praising and allying with the Makhnovists, when needed, but then smearing them when the threat of counterrevolution was no longer present, etc.), though nevertheless they both were fundamentally repressive regimes disempowering the masses .

http://libcom.org/history/how-lenin-led-stalin-workers-solidarity-movement

What I don't get is why more well-read anarchists than me are not responding to you ('cause I'm fairly mediocre at this). Surely yours can't be the accepted understanding of the Russian Revolution and Civil War around here, can it? Is it because others have been down this path and know it's not worth the time debating you? You don't seem to think means are important and so everything the Bolsheviks did (who you view as some legitimate revolutionary force) were justified because of the external circumstances. There were other non-governmental workers' organizations present in Russia and Ukraine. (Were those attempts at emancipating the workers less legitimate than the Bolshevik government?) The Bolsheviks worked hard to crush all of that in the Civil War, because a workers' democracy was opposed to their ideas of party rule and centralization.

Noa Rodman
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Jul 15 2017 20:22

fwiw, André Liebich on page 75 in From the Other Shore: Russian Social Democracy After 1921 mentions that:

Quote:
The Mensheviks continued to participate in soviet elections until the autumn of 1922 [...]

--

ajjohnstone wrote:
The Constituent Assembly to which all parties of the Russian revolutionary left worked toward even the Bolsheviks, and elected on the basis of the first free vote in that country, was abolished after only one day in session because the Bolsheviks were in the minority.

The CA didn't want to ratify eg the decree on land, which is what the vast majority of the population wanted. I think officially the soviets (incl. left SR) disbanded it. A point Lars Lih makes (incidentally) about the October revolution is that the soviets since February always had the right to recall the Provisional Government, hence October was an entirely legal move.

Pardon repeating myself from elsewhere:

Lukács on the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly (countering Luxemburg's criticism):

Quote:
She reproaches Lenin and Trotsky with having a “rigid, schematic view” because they concluded from the composition of the Assembly that it was unsuited to be the organ of the proletarian revolution. She exclaims: “Yet how all historical experience contradicts this! Experience demonstrates quite the contrary: namely that the living fluid of the popular mood continuously flows around the representative bodies, penetrates them, guides them.” And in fact, in an earlier passage, she appeals to the experience of the English and French Revolutions and points to the transformations undergone by their parliamentary bodies. This fact is perfectly correct. But Rosa Luxemburg does not sufficiently emphasise that the ‘transformations’ were devilishly close to the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly. The revolutionary organisations of those elements of the revolution that constituted the most powerful driving force at the time (the “soldiers’ council?’ of the English army, the Paris Sections, etc.) always used force to evict recalcitrant elements from the parliamentary bodies and it was in this way that they brought such bodies into line with the state of the revolution. Such transformations in a bourgeois revolution could for the most part amount only to shifts within the parliament, the fighting organ of the bourgeois class. Moreover, it is very noteworthy how much greater was the impact of extra-parliamentary (semi-proletarian) elements in the Great French Revolution in comparison to the English Revolution. Via 1871 and 1905 the Russian Revolution of 1917 brings the transformation of these intensifications of quantity into changes of quality. The soviets, the organisations of the most progressive elements of the Revolution were not content this time with ‘purging’ the Assembly of all parties other than the Bolsheviks and the left-wing Socialist Revolutionaries (and on the basis of her own analysis Rosa Luxemburg would presumably have no objection to this). But they went even further and put themselves in their place. Out of the proletarian (and semi-proletarian) organs for the control and the promotion of the bourgeois revolution developed the governing battle organisations of the victorious proletariat.

The right to recall delegates (a basic demand in the program of all socialists) should also apply to the members of the Constituent Assembly. And so:

Lenin wrote:
By decree of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee on January 6 (19), 1918, the Constituent Assembly was dissolved because, through the reactionary majority, it had rejected the Declaration of Rights of the Working and Exploited People submitted by the All-Russia Central Executive Committee and had refused to approve the decrees of the Second Congress of Soviets on peace, land and the transfer of power to the Soviets.

Perhaps it will be objected that recall of delegates should happen by individual districts, and not by the total councils' highest representative body, but please find information about what the mandate/rules of the Constituent Assembly were (eg also, would its drafted Constitution still be presented in a referendum to the population? - what if the no-vote won, hold new CA elections?, etc.).

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Pennoid
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Jul 15 2017 20:27

Happy to not fit into people's boxes, comrade!

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Pennoid
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Jul 15 2017 20:29

I should say, wasn't the Sovnarkom elected by the Soviets?

Fluffy
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Jul 15 2017 20:33

Which Mensheviks and SRs were suppressed?

I don't know if there are records of any suppression but in his pamphlet 'Bolshivism; promises and reality' Maximov quotes from a document titled 'The Soviet Government Problems of the Day' where Lenin states;

Quote:
"WE must by all means erase from the face of the earth all political traces of the Mensheviks and the SR's (Socialist-Revolutionists) who speak of personal freedom, etc"

(vol. 17 p.49)

https://libcom.org/history/bolshevism-promises-reality

Noa Rodman
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Jul 15 2017 20:42
Pennoid wrote:
I should say, wasn't the Sovnarkom elected by the Soviets?

yes, but the objection is that Sovnarkom de facto took over legislative power from CEC of soviets, although not de jure. It's an interesting topic. In the bourgeois system de facto it is also the government which always passes legislation, so if SPGB were to become the government, it would also in fact have legislative control.

radicalgraffiti
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Jul 15 2017 21:13
Pennoid wrote:
radicalgraffiti,

I'm not sure I understand - how were the Bolsheviks against working class organization? From which start? They formed committees of soldiers in the military (most soldiers were working class or even more so conscripted peasants iirc) which sought to undermine officer authority in the military and agitated around demands to democratize the military (not to mention END THE WAR), taking it from the hands of the officers and putting under the authority of the soviets. They also agitated for 'all power to the soviets"

https://libcom.org/library/the-bolsheviks-and-workers-control-solidarity-group

Pennoid wrote:

On managing empire; it is not in the business of revolutionaries to manage empire; I don't think I ever said that. What I did was make an analogy to the social revolution that was the foundation for the U.S. Civil War, and the stunted social revolution in Russia. The purpose was to draw out the difficulties involved in determining how to secure the *material basis* of the freedom of particular social classes in practice, when that requires a particular social and technical division of labor. Contrary to the implications of anarchist thought, the peasants and the workers could not have simply 'sorted things out' if only the mean old bolsheviks weren't in the way; the contradictions between them were real and fundamental.

High grain prices mean high food prices. What's good for the peasant proto-capitalist is bad for the worker. No amount of federalism, or non-aggression principle, market socialism, or perfect horizontal structure of decision making will change that fact.

Russia was an imperial power when the revolution happened, its relations where those of an empire, this didn't magically change because the government called themselves communists, there relationships remained that of empire, you say that the working class and the peasants had different class interests, but ignore the bigger difference in class interests between the government and the both the working class and the peasant.

ajjohnstone
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Jul 15 2017 21:23

The Bolsheviks were very happy to support the establishment of the Constituent Assembly

"The demand for the convocation of a Constituent Assembly had been one of the main plans of the programme of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party since its foundation. Since 1905 Lenin had repeatedly referred to this demand as ‘one of the three pillars of Bolshevism’. (The other two were the nationalization of land and the 8-hour day.) This slogan was put forward even more immediately and urgently between the February and October revolutions. The Bolsheviks pressed constantly for a Constituent Assembly to be called and the delay in doing so was one of the many charges they laid at the door of the provisional government. Again and again between April and October Lenin reiterated that the Bolsheviks, and only the Bolsheviks, would ensure its convocation without delay. They were fighting at the time simultaneously for power for the Soviets and the convening of the Constituent Assembly. They asserted that unless the Soviets took power the Constituent Assembly would not be convened. In early April 1917 Lenin set out the Bolshevik attitude to the question of whether the Constituent Assembly should be convened. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘as soon as possible'....For many months the Bolsheviks had posed the question not of Soviets or Constituent Assembly, but of Soviets and Constituent Assembly. In a fiery speech at the Kerensky-convened State Council on 7 October Trotsky, leading the Bolshevik fraction out of the meeting, said in conclusion: ‘Long live an immediate, honest, democratic peace. All power to the Soviets. All land to the people. Long live the Constituent Assembly.’ "
[From Cliff's Lenin]

This attitude swiftly changed when they realised they would not be able to direct it as they wished.

Although the February strikes were completely spontaneous the soviets did not arise directly out of them as they had done twelve years earlier in the failed 1905 revolution. This time they resulted from the combined efforts of politicians and workers' leaders, the politicians of the Duma Committee and the members of the Workers' Group sitting on the Central Committee for the War Industries (an employers' and State organisation), attempted to organise elections in Petrograd for a Central Soviet. The impetus for this came from the latter group, which installed itself in the Tauride Palace on 27 February and set up a provisional executive committee of the council of workers' delegates, to which committee several socialist leaders and members of parliament attached themselves. It was this committee which called upon workers and soldiers to elect their representatives. This explains why, when the first Provisional Soviet met that very evening, it still contained no factory delegates! All the political parties saw them as a springboard to power, they manipulated and engaged in all sort of chicanery which explains why the intellectuals acquired decisive influence in the Petrograd Soviet and why this Soviet so rapidly lost contact with the masses. They became the scene of factional and party in-fighting.

In contrast, the factory committees (fabzavkomii) emerged in the wake of the February strikes. They mushroomed throughout Russia, taking on the role of workers' representation inside the factory. The role of the committees expanded throughout 1917 as the soviets increasingly lost contact with the mass of workers and stuck to political programmes proclaimed in advance. Lenin introduced workers' control into all enterprises employing more than five workers. While legalizing a de facto situation he provided for the annulment of decisions taken by the fabzavkomy, the 'congresses and the trade unions' and made the workers' delegates answerable to the State for the maintenance of order and discipline within the enterprise. This plan, which already marked a step backwards by comparison with the existing situation in certain factories, was still further watered down before being published in its final form on 14 November 1917. In its definitive version, the decree laid down that factory committees should be subordinate to a local committee on which would sit representatives of the trade unions; the local committees themselves would depend upon a hierarchy crowned by an All-Russian Workers' Control Council. Moreover, this did not imply workers' management but the supervision and control of production and prices. Lenin had never made much of a secret of the fact that he saw workers' control as a prelude to nationalisations or that an accountable administration should exist alongside the factory committees.

I don't think anyone is suggesting that the power struggle after the October Revolution was a simple straight-forward one. It was a drawn out and complicated process for the Bolsheviks to impose their full control and even within the Bolshevik Party there were numerous disputes. I think we can agree that the majority were in favour of the overthrow of the Kerensky government, but this did not mean they were in favour of a Bolshevik government. What they were in favour of was a coalition government formed by all the "workers" parties, ie the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, SRs and others. This was in fact favoured by many within the Bolshevik Party itself, but they were over-ruled by Lenin's determination to seize power for the Bolshevik party alone. Once they got governmental power the Bolsheviks sidelined the soviets almost straight away.

On October 25th, the presidium was elected on the basis of 14 Bolsheviks, 7 Social-Revolutionaries, three Mensheviks and one Internationalist. The Bolsheviks then trooped out their 'worker-candidates' Lenin, Trotsky, Kamenev, Zinoviev and so on. When it came to forming a government, Kamenev read out a Bolshevik Central Committee proposal for a Soviet of People's Commissars, whereby "control over the activities of the government is vested in the Congress of Soviets and its Central Executive Committee". Seven Bolsheviks from the party's central committee were nominated, and thus Lenin and Trotsky came to sit at the top. The "workers' government" was now composed of professional revolutionaries and members of the intelligensia ranging from the aristocratic, like Chicherin, to the bureaucratic, like Lenin, via the landed bourgeois (Smilga), the commercial bourgeois (Yoffe) and the higher industrial bourgeois (Pyatakov). These were the sort of people who were used to being a ruling class.

Neil Harding in Leninism, quoted at the Anarchism FAQ writes, "... just four days after seizing power, the Bolshevik Council of People's Commissars (CPC or Sovnarkom) "unilaterally arrogated to itself legislative power simply by promulgating a decree to this effect. This was, effectively, a Bolshevik coup d'etat that made clear the government's (and party's) pre-eminence over the soviets and their executive organ. Increasingly, the Bolsheviks relied upon the appointment from above of commissars with plenipotentiary powers, and they split up and reconstituted fractious Soviets and intimidated political opponents."

The Bolsheviks had the option of three choices:
(1) To share power with bourgeois parties
(2) to entrench themselves in intransigent opposition and decline the responsibilities of power
(3) to try to seize power by force.

Number 3 was the Bolshevik solution.

It failed to produce socialism and necessarily failed to do so because even in power and ruling by dictat, the Commissars of the people, still found themselves face-to-face with hard economic reality.

The SPGB view, expressed repeatedly, is socialism could not be established in backward isolated Russian conditions where the majority neither understood nor desired socialism. The takeover of political power by the Bolsheviks obliged them to adapt their programme to those undeveloped conditions and make continual concessions. There was only one road forward for semi-feudal Russia, the capitalist road, and it was the role of the Bolsheviks to develop industry through state ownership and the forced accumulation of capital. The SPGB would classify the Russian Revolution as a bourgeoise revolution without the bourgeoisie. The Bolsheviks, finding Russia in a very backward condition, were obliged to do what had not been fully done previously, i.e. develop capitalism. But to sound very Marxian “…new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society".

Tom Henry
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Jul 16 2017 04:28

ajjohnstone.

Your post above (#18) is very informative, interesting, and insightful.

Could you clarify your last paragraph though? (For me and others.)

ajjohnstone writes:

Quote:
The SPGB view, expressed repeatedly, is socialism could not be established in backward isolated Russian conditions where the majority neither understood nor desired socialism. The takeover of political power by the Bolsheviks obliged them to adapt their programme to those undeveloped conditions and make continual concessions. There was only one road forward for semi-feudal Russia, the capitalist road, and it was the role of the Bolsheviks to develop industry through state ownership and the forced accumulation of capital. The SPGB would classify the Russian Revolution as a bourgeoise revolution without the bourgeoisie. The Bolsheviks, finding Russia in a very backward condition, were obliged to do what had not been fully done previously, i.e. develop capitalism. But to sound very Marxian “…new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society".

Does this mean (hypothetically) that if the SPGB were in Russia at the time they would have been against the Bolsheviks because they were conducting a bourgeois revolution without the bourgeoisie (which I agree with, as I have noted in a couple of places here recently)?

OR does it mean that the SPGB would support the rise of the Bolsheviks because they were putting (or planned to put) Russia firmly and quickly onto 'the capitalist road' (that will eventually lead to communism/socialism)? That is, doing the bourgeois revolution 'on behalf of' the bourgeoisie?

OR would they have pursued another course? (Hypothetically speaking, of course.)

(Also, just as a point of interest, what did the SPGB write and think at the time? But this is perhaps a question for another time, so as not to derail this thread.)

ajjohnstone
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Jul 16 2017 06:57

What a difficult question to answer, Tom.

When it comes to hypothetical "what would you do", there are countless other situations it can be asked about (What would the SPGB member do in Spain 1936, for instance?)

There appear to be differing opinions within the SPGB. Some think Lenin and his party were genuine socialists who were inevitably bound to fail to introduce socialism because the conditions weren't there for this and that their method of minority dictatorship was wrong. While other members believe they were elitists (Jacobinists or Blanquists) from the start who were always going to establish the rule of a new elite even though they labelled themselves socialists. Rather than Bolshevik elitism was an inevitable product of the decision to build state capitalism in Russia in the aftermath of the October revolution, it was the other way round, the decision to build state capitalism was an inevitable product of the Bolsheviks' elitism. Take your pick. Both analyses are an advance on the degenerate party and deformed workers’ state thesis.

What we said (roughly contemporary) was that the Bolsheviks and Lenin were to be fully commended for taking Russia out of the bloodbath of war and perhaps some members would have offered support for the Bolsheviks on this issue.

However, generally, i think the opposition to the Bolsheviks would have remained and also a healthy scepticism of any liberatory role of the soviets - workers councils - rather than them being an administrative tool for running production as the factory committees were more about. This is in line with the SPGB caveats about the merits of industrial unionism and syndicalism - the political versus the economic Some members perhaps would be more sympathetic to the Martov/Internationalist faction of the Mensheviks (albeit without its reformism) as they did recognise the dangers of a developing party dictatorship under the guise of "sovietism".

I think that our criticism would be that socialism was not on the agenda and that any attempt to establish it would be premature and doomed to fail. Socialism is not something that can be established simply political will and what subsequently transpired in Russia reflects this - culminating in One-Man Management, the Taylor System, the NEP and if Trotsky had had his way, the militarisation of labour (perhaps his aspiration did prevail via Stalinism)

In the real politik of 1917/18 Russia, a Bolshevik Party genuinely committed to power-sharing with the other workers' party, something many in the Bolshevik Party agreed with and actually practiced prior to Lenin's arrival would have had a much broader based support than a purely Bolshevik one, would have been able to confront the White Armies more successfully, and thus shortened the Civil War, and reduced the destruction of the economy.

The SPGB approach of a revolutionary movement in a pre-revolutionary situation is to ensure the growth of proletarian power and the defence of the class. Push for democracy, both political and economic. The Bolsheviks failed to do so, emasculating what workers organisations which existed, sacrificing their independence and strength to the altar of their One-Party-Rule. From 1917 all vestiges of democratic self-reliance by the working class was removed piece by piece. "Soviet power" became a sham, and Bolshevik functionaries took total control.

From the SPGB view, Lenin had got into an impossible position. Having seized power as a minority in a country where socialism was not possible for all sorts of reasons (economic backwardness, isolation from the rest of the world, lack of a majority understanding for socialism), they had no alternative but to do the only thing that was possible: to continue to develop capitalism. Lenin found himself in the position of having to preside over -- and, in fact, to organise -- the accumulation of capital. But, as capital is accumulated out of surplus value and surplus value is obtained by exploiting wage-labour, this inevitably brought them into conflict with the workers who, equally inevitably, sought to limit their exploitation. Lenin justified opposing and suppressing these workers' struggles on the ground that the Bolsheviks represented the longer-term interests of the workers. The course of history has answered and it is a negative.

No force can cut short the natural development of society until it is ready for a change. Will-power alone does not suffice.

I'm sure you realise that whole books can be written about the questions you ask, Tom, but i hope this reply provides an answer that what the Bolsheviks did under the pressure from Lenin was not inevitable. There could have been other outcomes if other choices had been made. In the end, (with the enormous caveat that there are limits), men and women make their own history. Lenin miscalculated and to avoid the consequences he distorted and re-defined socialism, deliberately smeared left critics as counter-revolutionaries to tie them in with those who were in arms against the Bolshevik government and that infected the workers movements around the world. Leninism has proved to be a political tendency that set the clock back for socialism, to once more address the title of this topic.

Noa Rodman
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Jul 16 2017 08:08

It turns out in post #18 ajjohnstone is also directly quoting Richard Gombin and Rod Jones, so unless is he is either of these persons, he should attribute the quotes to their rightful author.

ajjohnstone
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Jul 16 2017 14:02

Sorry, i did not think the idea of intellectual ownership was something many on this website subscribe too. But it seems to Noa that it is something of importance. Intellectual "integrity" is not my forte, having never had the luxury of being formally trained and instructed in the niceties of academia.

I, of course, read a lot and i steal a lot, using others' research to offer shortcuts in the process of relaying basic facts and time-lines. Sometimes they even express things concisely in a way i cannot and it is worth poaching. I am indeed a shameless cut-and-copy artist and holding my hands up, i plead guilty. If Noa will now give the sources which I am now not able to recollect as I used old blog posts of mine from some years back to reply, I am sure both Gombin and Jones will now appreciate being appropriately credited.

What, however, would indeed be very wrong, is ascribing to all those i have read and use for evidence, the conclusions i have drawn to support the SPGB analysis of the Bolshevik Coup.

Tom Henry
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Jul 16 2017 14:10

ajjohnstone,

I will get back to you in due course, hopefully before you have been taken out and shot!

(This is a joke! Don't ban me - Noa gets it! (?) )

S. Artesian
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Jul 16 2017 14:12

ajj

In the immortal words of.... some guy, I forget whom, think he was a tennis player......you cannot be serious.

I haven't heard a more mealy-mouthed justification for plagiarism since.......Melania Trump plagiarized Michelle Obama.

ajjohnstone
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Jul 16 2017 14:18

In my endeavours to trace where i found the information i copied and paste, i note i myself tried to determine the sources way back in 2009.

https://libcom.org/forums/history-culture/early-soviet-system-1917-18112009#comment-352465

Quote:
Perhaps someone can tell me the author of this article on Libcom the Soviet State myths and realities 1917-21

But it shows that the same debates and discussions can re-cycle and provide new visitors to Libcom with fresh insights, if for those veterans here it is "old arguments"

ajjohnstone
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Jul 16 2017 14:33

SArtesian, now that i know that the messenger is more important than the message, i will self-chastise and flagellate myself and, of course, we all know that Marx never ever used slogans originated by others.

https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/From_each_according_to_his_ability,_to_each_according_to_his_need

I'm pretty sure your own comments on the forum, SArtesian, too have been used by myself without citing your good self...Over the years many contributors to Libcom have featured on my blog because i valued what is being said more than who said it.

http://mailstrom.blogspot.co.uk/

You are all welcome to visit and claim ownership of the stolen paragraphs and sentences.

Tom Henry
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Jul 16 2017 14:33

Hey, don't nobody complain to the admins that Artesian is accusing others of plagiarism, he is just trying to beat me to being banned, since he can't drag himself away as he promised!

(This Is a joke, of course, as everyone knows (?) )

Noa Rodman
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Jul 16 2017 15:51

ajj, just Google a phrase (put it in "quotes") to easily find any source, yours were (as already Jason Cortes pointed out on the thread you linked) Richard Gombin, p. 14 in The Radical Tradition: A Study in Modern Revolutionary Thought and Rod Jones.

As to the Bolshevik "coup", your quotes don't address the points I raised, namely that the CA refused to ratify eg the decree on land, that the soviets have a right to recall the Provisional Government, also a right to recall elected delegates to the CA (and thus the CA as a whole), and that the rules of the CA (and conditions for recalling it) were not written in stone.

The quote from Harding's Leninism leaves out that the CEC maintained legislative power (initially even had also executive power), and that it could reject any Sovnarkom decree. It would be interesting to explore this topic in more depth. Also, how would the SPGB avoid that if it works in the bourgeois system.

The point about soviets being tailored to the needs of the party, or the soviets quickly becoming detached from the masses, are issues that concern the council system itself (ie not Leninist party).

I like to quote an excellent comment from that old thread:

Cleishbotham wrote:
I have yet to read a detailed study of the mechanics of voting, recall and delegation etc which would offer us a deeper insight into the problems of building a real workers society. Now we have access to the archives perhaps some Russian-reading scholar will come up with such a study but it likely won't be from a normal academic as it is not a great career move just now. I sincerely hope someone contradicts me...

Someone recently uploaded this book about the soviets: The Soviets of Worker's and Soldiers' Deputies on the Eve of the October Revolution. (March-October 1917), which notes that

Quote:
The surviving records contain very little information about the way the deputies to the Petrograd Soviet were elected, either at the factories or among the troops.

On the operation of the soviets I'd also point to this translation of Sverdlov (the chairman of the CEC) and Rabinowitch's article on a local soviet in Petrograd, and in Russian these 2 volumes: Soviets in the epoch of war communism, documentary materials (volume 1: June 1918 through 1919, volume 2: 1920 to April 1921) linked in the comments here.

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Pennoid
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Jul 16 2017 17:32

Bruh, the Right SRs and Mensheviks walked out of the soviet congress declaring support for Kerenksy and the provisional government. Wtf does that have to do with libcom? They were trash.

Bolsheviks made errors; but they were errors of genuine socialists trying to figure out how to make a revolution; not the fumblings of some poor beast born in the 'original sin' of marxism. Read something other than primary source partisan reports of anarchists on the scene.

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Jul 16 2017 19:53

On 'substitutionism':

Parties will always dominate a government; whether it is soviet or constitutional. Perhaps several proletarian parties could theoretically unite around a communist program - e.g. enunciating the aims necessary to bring the dotp to bear, but it will appear dictatorial to parties who want to reconcile with the bourgeoisie; the same way Lincoln was 'dictatorial' toward slave holders and those defenders of the Confederacy.

Note I'm not even denying the bureaucratization of the Bolsheviks or the increasing alienation of the party from the peasantry and the workers as a result of having to balance those antagonistic classes and prosecute a civil war. I just don't buy this swill that they were this evil conspiratorial group (considering the MRC WAS a coalition of anarchists, srs and bolsheviks) promulgated by people who wanted to 'Defend the Fatherland' and continue to prosecute the war against Germany.

el psy congroo
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Jul 16 2017 22:06

Many of us are aware of the anarcho-vanguardism you reference repeatedly, which is just as bad -- if not worse -- than Leninism and the communisatuers.

I see little else in the anarchism of Pennoid's post history besides a basic awareness that some of the more Kautskyist or Bordigist elements of his political associations might likely serve him up a 'Lubyanska breakfast' if they ever seized power. Or perhaps, like Woland, Pennoid has his eye on a commissar position as well? I have to ask...'how much does Russia weigh?'

The answer to the thread topic is a resounding no. The question is how those of us who are liable to get placed in front of a firing squad should respond to this likely eventuality.