Lenin's "What Is To Be Done?" Analysis

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RedFlagg
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Jul 28 2012 20:40
Lenin's "What Is To Be Done?" Analysis

I'm 1/3 of the way through Lenin's What Is To Be Done? and basically what I've been able to get out of it is that he wanted democratic, yet centralized debate inside the social-democratic(i.e Marxist-socialist parties that existed around the time Lenin wrote this work ) parties, as opposed to reformist, bureaucratic decision making and a stifling of debate akin to several social-democratic parties of his day.(correct?)

He also wanted an organized vanguard party consisting of a compact grouping of revolutionary socialists, and for a break with reformist politics. However, debate was to be utilized to it's maximum effect inside the party, so that the reformists:

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...are free not only to invite us, but to go [them]selves wherever [they] will, even into the marsh.

and that:

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...we too[the revolutionary socialists] are “free” to go where we please, free to fight not only against the marsh, but also against those who are turning towards the marsh![i.e. towards reformist politics]

NOTE: the brackets are my attempts at paraphrasing Lenin's words.

Assuming my interpretation is true, would not the Bolshevik Party be considered a (failed?) attempt at internal party democracy?

I have also read Alexander Rabinowitch's excellent The Bolsheviks In Power, which clearly described to me the first year of Bolshevik rule.

It becomes highly apparent that lower-level democracy(through party committees at the district level) was maintained for at least a year-and-a-half, while top-down democratic centralism perished(by 1919 factionalism inside the party had been banned, and Lenin's "line" was strictly enforced) as a bureaucracy gradually yet slowly arose inside the government as the party's links with the masses came to an abrupt end following the voluntary dissolution of grassroots democracy inside the lower-level party organizations(the Petersburg Committee voluntarily centralized itself in the interest in "saving the revolution")

I'm not a Leninist, but I've been trying to respect many of Lenin's theories nonetheless.

I especially am fascinated by his theory of national self-determination, being as I am from the U.S.

Thoughts? What can be made of Lenin's What Is To Be Done? in relation to Russian and ultimately world history?

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demolition squid
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Jul 29 2012 04:45
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I'm not a Leninist, but I've been trying to respect many of Lenin's theories nonetheless.

Why?

RedFlagg
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Jul 29 2012 11:52

Why not? If we are to simply ignore all of Lenin's theories, or anyone revolutionary's theories for that matter, then aren't we pushing ourselves one step further from realizing a socialist revolution?

I see myself as someone willing to take bits an pieces of theory from multiple revolutionary theorists.

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Railyon
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Jul 29 2012 12:12
RedFlagg wrote:
Why not? If we are to simply ignore all of Lenin's theories, or anyone revolutionary's theories for that matter, then aren't we pushing ourselves one step further from realizing a socialist revolution?

That kinda reeks of idealism - theory as the agent of revolution. In my opinion, Lenin was a pretty mediocre Marxist (I'd even go as far as saying that if the Soviet Union never happened, he wouldn't have acquired a higher status in the Marxist scene than Kautsky or Pannekoek because of the irrelevance of his theories); Dialectical Materialism is pretty bull and his theory of imperialism is a joke. Also speaks for itself that Lenin himself acted contrary to his own theories, for example laid out in State and Revolution, going from "boo reformism" to "socialism is state capitalism made to serve the people yay", opportunism much?

I don't quite like the whole national self-determination thing myself because of the premises it rests on, he touches upon that in his writing "Imperialism" where goes on to say that "the proletariat of the imperialist states becomes bourgeois" which is to me a direct forerunner of Third Worldism... since nations appear under capitalism as nation-states, which are by definition constituted by a class society, saying yes to national self-determination is saying yes to class collaboration, the choosing of the lesser evil "in the fight against imperialism" (which Lenin shortsightedly identifies as monopoly capitalist states "preying" on the underdeveloped nations). And unless you think it possible to establish "socialism in one country", national self-determination will always remain a brain poop, a short-term solution which ironically strengthens the class collaboration and opportunism of the working class and the bourgeoisie he so belittled in his "Imperialism".

To go a little further, some folks like those adhering to communization theory point out that because of the ongoing fragmentation of the working class into atomized cells, the project of a revolutionary mass party becomes itself impossible to realize (the bullshit politics of most contemporary leftist parties makes that a cherry on top of this). I think there's a lot of truth to that.

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Noa Rodman
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Jul 29 2012 15:31

There's nothing different in it from Social-Democracy. For example he refers to Kautsky's book on parliament and direct democracy, which is not translated into English afaik, though it got praise of a wide array of corners, from his opponent Bernstein, to Jean Jaures. To conclude that this book necessarily leads to the banning of factionalism inside the party (in 1921) is quite a non-materialist explanation. The phenomenon of third-worldism was boosted by the victory of the bolsheviks in Russia, indeed, as Kautsky himself explained, but it's again not because of something Lenin wrote (he would have been equally horrified at the distortion of the notion of right of self-determination, which was a classic social-democratic slogan).

andy g
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Jul 29 2012 21:14
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There's nothing different in it from Social-Democracy

Sure, Len situated himself in the tradition of Social Democracy when the book was written. It offers a different view of the development of workers' class consciousness and of the relationship of party to class than that of kautsky et al though. Making this point is hindered by the fact that Len deploys some decidedly dubious Kautsky quotes to provide ballast to his positions - socialism from without and all that bollocks.

TBH i find Len a struggle to read - like being hit repeatedly with a brick! - and i think his writings need to be seen as polemical interventions in specific conjunctures in order to be understood. hence "What is to be done?" is an argument against "economism / tailism" i.e. the abdication from working class political struggle as being premature in Tsarist Russia. this in turn flows into the whole thing about the class dynamics of the struggle against absolutism.

There is a lot to criticize in Lenin's conception of Imperialism - as lots of Leninists have pointed out! Third Worldism was surely more a product of the defeat of Len's project, not its fulfillment.

Len's take on national self determination is often misunderstood - he argued revolutionaries in imperialist countries should support the right of oppressed nations to national independence not because he believed this would bring us closer to socialism but to undermine national chauvinism. he also argued that socialists in colonised countries should ruthlessly expose nationalism as a dead end and fight for the unity of workers across national borders. he could well have been wrong in all this but lets address his actual argument eh?

as for national self-determination being a classic social-democratic demand - IIRC many in the Second International opposed it. wasn't the demand for "cultural autonomy" rather than national independence more widely held??

RedFlagg
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Jul 30 2012 00:58
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socialism from without and all that bollocks.

Lenin had a point however, in asserting that a party, or any organized grouping of revolutionaries, still had a place in educating/propagandizing/agitating etc. about socialism, especially in Tsarist Russia.

In his article The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats written several years before What Is To Be Done? in 1897, He states that in relation to party agitation:

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Our task is to merge our activities with the practical, everyday questions of working-class life, to help the workers understand these questions, to draw the workers’ attention to the most important abuses, to help them formulate their demands to the employers more precisely and practically, to develop among the workers consciousness of their solidarity, consciousness of the common interests and common cause of all the Russian workers as a united working class that is part of the international army of the proletariat...

A party, as a centralized organization, allowed for an effective fight against the centralized, Tsarist autocracy.

It allowed for a channeling of workers' anger towards the "system" in a focused, clear-cut manner.

I also think that what he was arguing in What Is To Be Done? was leagues ahead of his contemporaries-he was arguing for debate and internal democracy inside a centralized party apparatus.

But I think that democratic centralism clearly showcased the time and location Lenin lived in-a centralized, authoritarian Russian police state at the turn of the 19th century, that had eyes and ears everywhere in everyday Russian society.

Did it not make since to organize around a party, and to bring socialism to "backwards" workers while organizing the advanced?

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the defeat of Len's project,

I don't think that what Lenin tried to do-destroy the hated Tsarist monarchy and to implement proletarian rule through the soviets, while basing his party's platform around anti-Russian chauvinism towards minority nationalities, etc. "failed" in the true sense of the word.

The conditions around which Lenin tried to do this did not simply allow for an implementation of his ideas surrounding the state as put forth in State And Revolution, if he even planned to do so at all.

In St. Petersburg of 1918, a cholera outbreak had hit the city hard. Crime was rampant, with criminals openly joining the party for their own selfish gain. Fears of a German invasion of the city were rampant, leading to a budding bureaucracy to flee to Moscow to leave everyone else behind. Chaos was the order of the day. Meanwhile, soviets became more and more centralized and also less effective as participants left to fight a war far off in the Don region of Russia and as there were patriotic calls to "save" the Russian socialist fatherland(not my words, theirs) through centralizing themselves.

Everything had gone to hell. I've heard people say before that "well, Lenin was a traitor for putting in place a rigid dictatorship, etc." In reality the dictatorship formed by itself around Lenin, not because of him. By 1918, quite a handful of revolutionaries were in favor of centralized, iron-rule at the cost of democracy, if that meant saving the soviets.

Lenin himself, in relation to Russian chauvinism was purely against what had occurred following the end of the civil war-the formation of a federal union of socialist states, a soviet union. He was of the opinion that the right of nations to self-determination from within this soviet union was a joke, written on a mere scrap of paper(to paraphrase his own words).

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TBH i find Len a struggle to read

I find him fun to read-it's fascinating following the thoughts of a man whom ushered in the first "socialist state" since the Paris Commune was formed in 1871. He was a real product of his time however, and his ideas for his time were groundbreaking.

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Lenin was a pretty mediocre Marxist

And what have we done in our lives to usher in Proletarian rule? And have we redefined a way of looking at theory, formed a popular movement to overthrow capitalism, etc.

He was a great Marxist for his time. In no way to I agree with everything he wrote, but I do believe that his ideas must be worth something in this brave, new century.

S. Artesian
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Jul 30 2012 04:02

My favorite line ever:

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(I'd even go as far as saying that if the Soviet Union never happened, he wouldn't have acquired a higher status in the Marxist scene than Kautsky or Pannekoek because of the irrelevance of his theories

Priceless. Right, if the Russian Revolution hadn't occurred, Lenin would... would have been hunted down and imprisoned or killed, or he might have escaped again to Switzerland or Sweden.... but mos' def' if the RR had never have happened.... you and I wouldn't be discussing Lenin. Actually, I bet I wouldn't be alive, given the fact that my grandparents were Russian Jews.

Comrade, that's not an analysis based on historical materialism. The point is the RR did occur, and what has to be sorted is Lenin's role in it. WITBD played very little role in it. The overvaluation of WITBD as having some relevancy to the RR is, along with the other mythological baggage, an obstacle to understanding of the importance of the Bolsheviks to the revolution, and importance that includes both strength and weakness.

And Lenin's Imperialism has to be one of the most incomplete, ill-formed, misused, and basically detrimental texts ever to be paraded about as "revolutionary."

RedFlagg
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Jul 30 2012 12:23
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I'd even go as far as saying that if the Soviet Union never happened, he wouldn't have acquired a higher status in the Marxist scene than Kautsky or Pannekoek because of the irrelevance of his theories

He would've been killed or forced into exile-for-life in Europe.

One thing that people seem to overlook is that the entire process of the formation of the Soviet Union and the slogan "All Power To The Soviets!" becoming a reality was the Bolshevik-led insurrection in October in Petersburg.

Not to argue that it was necessary, but it sure as heck jump-started a process quickly that ended in a revolutionary wave striking Europe.

It also radicalized the Petersburg Soviet, and ended in a temporary coalition government between the Left SR Party and the Bolshevik Party.

Keep in mind that the Menshevik and Right SR Parties actively tried to end soviet rule, first through military aims and then through the constituent assembly.

I think it was less of a coup and more of a way of radicalizing Russia's capital at a time when the process of full-radicalization was yet to be in ferment.

S. Artesian
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Jul 30 2012 14:25

The "coup" did not "radicalize" the Petrograd soviet. The coup was the product of the radicalized Petrograd soviet. The Bolshevik led MRC, responsible for planning the insurrection, was a committee of the soviet. The insurrection itself did not lead the ending the alliance between the Left SRs and the Bolsheviks, as the Left SRs supported the insurrection and worked closely with the Bolsheviks in the soviets.

If anything, before, during, and after the coup the Petrograd workers were more radical than the Bolsheviks, if we are utilizing the term "radical" to mean expropriation of the means of production and elimination of capitalism..

And the left SRs? The worst thing to befall the revolution was the Bolsheviks exclusion and elimination of the Left SRs.

So we might want to "evaluate" Lenin's contributions on that.

Dave B
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Jul 30 2012 21:36

The contentious and important part of What Is To Be Done is the following;

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Page 37

We have said that there could not yet be Social-Democratic consciousness among the…. [degraded and corrupted]…….. workers. It could only be brought to them from without………. [or by a vanguard]……... The history of all countries shows that the working class exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc

http://www.marx2mao.com/Lenin/WD02i.html

there was a clear line of continuity between that position in 1902 and what it meant in practice and in power in 1920;

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But the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be exercised through an organisation embracing the whole of that class, because in all capitalist countries (and not only over here, in one of the most backward) the proletariat is still so divided, so degraded, and so corrupted in parts (by imperialism in some countries) that an organisation taking in the whole proletariat cannot directly exercise proletarian dictatorship.

It can be exercised only by a vanguard………

http://marxists.anu.edu.au/archive/lenin/works/1920/dec/30.htm

In 1920 that “Trade Union consciousness” in Bolshevik (state) capitalist Russia was a bit of a problem of a slightly different sort for the new self appointed ruling class.

The Russian revolution was a successful Blanquist coup ‘won’ by the Bolsheviks who introduced a one party dictatorship of state capitalism.

Lenin’s plan in fact from September 1917, before they even seized power.

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When we are reproached with having established a dictatorship of one party and, as you have heard, a united socialist front is proposed, we say, "Yes, it is a dictatorship of one party! This is what we stand for and we shall not shift from that position because it is the party that has won, .......

http://www.marx2mao.net/Lenin/SWSC19.html

State capitalism, run by the vanguard of course, was Lenin’s plan from September 1917, before they even seized power.

The Bolshevik party never comprised more than 1% of the population; the other 99% being too ‘corrupted and degraded’ to control their own lives or even elect their own exploiters.

It depends on how you like your ruling class, political aristocracy and capitalism I suppose.

And you can have a choice between the likes of the ambitious S Artisan in charge and the more ‘liberal’ orthodox sort.

Not much of a choice admittedly.

The Left SR’s were superficially more principled than the Bolsheviks and were thrown out after attempting their own coup against the Bolsheviks. For amongst other things, the Bolsheviks being funded and bankrolled by the German capitalist class.

Not that the German capitalist class had any more ideological interest in Leninism of course than the US did in Bin Laden or the ideas of the ‘Free Syrian Army’.

RedHughs
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Jul 30 2012 22:18
Noah Rodman wrote:
There's nothing different in it from Social-Democracy. For example he refers to Kautsky's book on parliament and direct democracy, which is not translated into English afaik, though it got praise of a wide array of corners, from his opponent Bernstein, to Jean Jaures. To conclude that this book necessarily leads to the banning of factionalism inside the party (in 1921) is quite a non-materialist explanation. The phenomenon of third-worldism was boosted by the victory of the bolsheviks in Russia, indeed, as Kautsky himself explained, but it's again not because of something Lenin wrote (he would have been equally horrified at the distortion of the notion of right of self-determination, which was a classic social-democratic slogan).

Well, there is the argument that Lenin was attempting to apply Social Democracy's characterist to the different conditions of Russia. Only it wasn't necessarily a good thing.

http://www.geocities.com/~johngray/barrotk.htm

RedHughs
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Jul 31 2012 01:39
RedFlagg wrote:
Lenin had a point however, in asserting that a party, or any organized grouping of revolutionaries, still had a place in educating/propagandizing/agitating etc. about socialism, especially in Tsarist Russia.

Uh, except that wasn't his point. Or at least the usual interpretation of WITBD isn't about the party "having a place" but about it injecting consciousness.

You're welcome to shift your argument as you go along - we're all learning. But shifting Lenin's argument as you go along isn't kosher.

S. Artesian
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Jul 31 2012 00:56

More tendentious and dishonest bullshit from Dave B. I'm shocked and appalled.

mciver
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Jul 31 2012 11:17

Pertinent and devastating critiques of Lenin's What Is To Be Done? exist (Blick, Nomad, Colas, etc), and the work was criticised cogently, if incoherently, by his contemporaries. Of course, there's also the apologetic school of left-communists and various breeds of Trotskyism -- the 'mistakes' of good-old Bolshevism school.

S. Artesian comments seem to belong to this school:

Quote:
More tendentious and dishonest bullshit from Dave B. I'm shocked and appalled.

However, Dave B. backs up his arguments with real quotes from the source, the warlord himself. Commendable and exemplary task, as the Lenin myth will take a long time to die. A large number of Lenin citations about the relentless need for terror and duplicity (post 1917) have been translated by serious critics and historians -- they are in the public domain, and have been for years. 'Dishonest bullshit' is a predictable spasm from wannabe racketeers, or egocrats, as Fredy Perlman called them. Remain shocked and appalled, this is probably a chronic condition by now.

Lenin's Bolsheviks became accomplices of the German Army during WW1. As Dave B. states:

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For amongst other things, the Bolsheviks being funded and bankrolled by the German capitalist class.

But above all they served themselves, and this is already implicit in What Is To Be Done?', a cathechism for a Marxist racket aiming for state power (as they were all doing at the time).

Jehu@rethepeople
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Jul 31 2012 12:14

Three questions were originally posed:

1. What can be made of Lenin's What Is To Be Done?

2. in relation to Russian and

3. ultimately world history?

I will address the first briefly, which, I imagine, is a question posed in terms of the book itself and its own argument. The core argument is that the working class is incapable of developing socialist consciousness on its own; and, therefore, must have this consciousness brought to it from outside by a determined group of communist minded intellectuals. Lenin basically expressed this in his argument:

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"Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement."

Lenin is confusing two separate things here in relation to Marx's own argument, which, in his own argument, Lenin never contests: the first is the matter of what Lenin labeled "spontaneous" working class action. Lenin states this spontaneous action is incapable of achieving socialist consciousness on its own. What Lenin does not do, however, is explain why this socialist consciousness is a necessary condition for the social revolution.

In the argument Lenin is making, he will not find support from Marx, on whose argument he bases his own. Marx, in his Theses on Feuerbach, actually bases his approach on the idea that practical critical activity is itself revolutionary. In the German Ideology, Marx develops this further by defining the conditions for a social revolution based entirely on this practical critical activity of society. At no point in this argument, does Marx ever assert a socialist consciousness is necessary for the communist movement of society.

Tell that to a Leninist, and watch his/her head spin.

So, to whatever extent Lenin may be right about his core argument, that a socialist theory is necessary to achieve a socialist consciousness, he is making an argument that is entirely beside the point, since a socialist consciousness is, in Marx's argument, never necessary in the social revolution now underway.

This is Lenin's basic error in that book, and all of his other errors follow from it.

S. Artesian
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Jul 31 2012 14:56
mciver wrote:
Pertinent and devastating critiques of Lenin's What Is To Be Done? exist (Blick, Nomad, Colas, etc), and the work was criticised cogently, if incoherently, by his contemporaries. Of course, there's also the apologetic school of left-communists and various breeds of Trotskyism -- the 'mistakes' of good-old Bolshevism school.

S. Artesian comments seem to belong to this school:

What school is that? The school that doesn't think the successful insurrection organized by the MRC of the Petrograd soviet was a mistake? Was a "capitalist coup."? Yep, I belong to that school.

Or the school that doesn't think the soviets should have ceded power to a constituent assembly that would have either a) fallen apart after suppressing the soviets or b) fallen apart before suppressing the soviets, leaving the monarchists, the military in a stronger position to accomplish that essential task of the "democratic revolution"?

Yep, I belong to that school too.

Or the school that thinks there's something wrong with sending your "socialist" leaders into bourgeois governments to accept ministries?

Yep, I belong to that school.

Or the school that doesn't think that remaining in WW1 was an obligation the soviets should uphold?

Yep, got me on that one too.

Or maybe your school, the one that turns the Bolsheviks into agents of the German High Command, a little pre-Stalin Stalinist kindergarten?

Pay closer attention, "shock and appalled" was a sarcastic comment.

Oh, and here's something in response to your calling me a "wannabe racketeer"-- turn blue and die.

If we were face to face, I'd say go to hell, you rancid piece of rat fat, but you know... etiquette and all that jazz about flaming.

[

RedFlagg
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Jul 31 2012 13:19
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The Bolshevik party never comprised more than 1% of the population

That isn't taking into account the fact that it was a mass party, with broad support from members of the working-class in urban centers.

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the Bolsheviks being funded and bankrolled by the German capitalist class.

I do believe that this was a charge post-revolution as well-i.e. by opponents of the Bolshevik Party.

There are also so many problems with choosing the Bolsheviks as your conspiratorial agents of change in Russia.

For one, Russia was already near collapse by then-a revolution was imminent, if not probable. Why would Germany risk igniting a radical, Bolshevik-led socialist revolution when that puts Germany at risk of revolution too if the war in the west goes badly, which is indeed what occurred?

And wasn't Germany the one forcing territorial demands on Russia's new rulers in a bitter peace lest they roll their troops into Petrograd? So much for being friends of the Bolshevik Party.

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and were thrown out after attempting their own coup against the Bolsheviks.

What the Left SR Party did was not a true 'coup.' It as a coordinated series of terror attacks against Bolshevik and German officials-wherein most of the party was not even properly informed of(leading to unexpected arrests of party rank-and-file in the streets).

They furthermore had little intention of seizing power. Their main aim was to destabilize the government and in the end hopefully reignite conflict with Germany, to bring about a 'revolutionary war.' Instead their actions only made the Bolshevik Party stronger and even more authoritarian.

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the constituent assembly that would have either a) fallen apart after suppressing the soviets or b) fallen apart before suppressing the soviets...

According to The Bolsheviks In Power(I'm quoting from memory here, but feel free to read the whole book yourself lest you accuse me of lying or of not remembering correctly) the constituent assembly openly acknowledged that it would dissolve the soviets if/when the Right SR or Menshevik Parties were to be elected. Furthermore, prior the to the elections to this assembly even occurred, those two same parties tried to use military aims to dissolve the soviets and ultimately try Lenin, Trotsky, and co. for 'treason.'

The constituent assembly was an attempt at finding a legal path to dissolving the soviets, and was seen as so distasteful by Bolshevik and Left SR Party delegates that they left the room. Lenin reportedly said ''let them all go home.' and indeed no force was used to dissolve the assembly-it actually met for one or two days before voluntarily dissolving itself following it's loss of popular support, which evaporated upon the Bolshevik and Left SR Parties abandoning it.

No doubt if it hadn't dissolved the soviets would have been suppressed, allowing for a possible monarchist and/or military seizure of power in absence of any revolutionary organs of power, esp. if we assume that with the soviets were to go the red guard as well...

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Or the school that doesn't think that remaining in WW1 was an obligation the soviets should uphold?

Until the October Revolution, the soviets predominately supported the Provisional Government and it's war aims. The Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets following the Bolshevik "coup" changed all of that.

Even Orlando Figes acknowledges that if Lenin hadn't launched his little "coup", the Provisional Government could have existed for ever as long as it had Right SR and Menshevik support. Which is to say for a long time, if not forever.

Spontaneous movement from the working class and peasantry wouldn't necessarily have brought about it's demise.

So yes, I'd say that the Bolshevik-led October Revolution was a radicalizing experience for the main Petrograd Soviet.

andy g
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Jul 31 2012 14:05

frankly, I am amazed by the cr*p some people (yes, that means you Dave B and mciver) are spouting.

1) WITBD was very clearly conceived as a polemical intervention in a specific conjuncture not a general blueprint for socialist everywhere. Lenin said so repeatedly after 1902 - I can provide chapter and verse if needed although Hal Draper did so years ago

http://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1990/myth/index.htm

2) it is ridiculous to suggest the main argument in WITBD is "socialism from without". Lenin is conducting a sustained argument against the idea that socialists can limit their work to agitation around immediate day-to-day demands and arguing that we have to "fight" for revolutionary ideas within the working class rather than sit about waiting for them to take hold. This demands organisation of a specific form. The "professional revolutionary" thing is outmoded and Lars Lih and Draper argue often misinterpreted.

3) yeah, of course we can move directly from a pamphlet written in 1902 to the activities of the Bolshevik state after 1917 without considering any other factors cos that's sooooooo materialist

4) the Bolshevik as agents of German imperialism - don't be a f*ckwit....

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Jul 31 2012 18:00

I agree wholeheartedly with S Artesian's defence of the October revolution. It was not a capitalist coup. It was organised by the proletarian class, without question one of the highest moments in its self-organisation.

Agree also with andy g's points. Lenin's book can only be understood as a polemic against the dominant form of opportunism in Russia at the time. 'economism'.

I agree that the Kautskyite conception of 'socialism from without' - which is certainly at variance with Marx's theory of class consciousness - is not the essential issue in the book. As Lenin came, in part at least, to understand later on: he had 'bent the stick too far' here. But even in the error there is a grain of truth. The coming to consciousness of the working class is not limited to the factories in themselves, but is social and historical. And recognising that revolutionary consciousness involves a step beyond trade unionism is also somewhat relevant.

Finally, I agree that the attempt to draw a straight deterministic line between Lenin's errors about consciousness or the organisation of revolutionaries, and the eventual fate of the Bolshevik party as an agent of counter-revolution, is a travesty of the historical method.

S. Artesian
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Jul 31 2012 19:24

Appreciate Alf's comments; actually I'd go a bit further... in that the October Revolution was, and remains, the greatest moment in human history. I guess that makes me a racketeer.

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Alf
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Jul 31 2012 20:05

again, agreed.

"Far from being a banal coup d'etat, as the ruling class lies, the October Revolution was the highest point attained by humanity in its history to date. For the first time ever, an exploited class had the courage and the capacity to seize power from the exploiters and inaugurate the world proletarian revolution. Although the revolution was soon to be defeated, in Berlin, Budapest and Turin, although the Russian and world proletariat had to pay a terrible price for its defeat - the horrors of counter-revolution, another world war, and all the barbarism which has followed until this day - the bourgeoisie has still not been able to completely wipe out the memory and the lessons of this exalting event".

http://en.internationalism.org/ir/091/october-1917

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cardy lady
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Jul 31 2012 20:09

does anyone really give a fuck about lenin anymore?

S. Artesian
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Jul 31 2012 20:25

Giving a fuck about Lenin isn't the issue, but to answer your question, yeah as a matter of fact millions do.

Giving a fuck about the Russian Revolution, giving a fuck about uneven and combined development, giving a fuck about the international nature of the struggle against capitalism, those are the issues.

Dave B
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Jul 31 2012 20:33

GERMANY AND THE REVOLUTION IN RUSSIA 1915-1918

Documents from the Archives of the German Foreign Ministry

EDITED BY Z. A. B. ZEMAN

LONDON OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS

The State Secretary to the Foreign Ministry Liaison Officer at General Headquarters

TELEGRAM NO. I925

AS 4486 Berlin, 3 December 1917

Quote:
The disruption of the Entente and the subsequent creation of political combinations agreeable to us constitute the most important war aim of our diplomacy. Russia appeared to be the weakest link in the enemy chain. The task therefore was gradually to loosen it, and, when possible, to remove it. This was the purpose of the subversive activity we caused to be carried out in Russia behind the front—in the first place promotion of separatist tendencies and support of the Bolsheviks.

It was not until the Bolsheviks had received from us a steady flow of funds through various channels and under different labels that they were in a position to be able to build up their main organ, Pravda, to conduct energetic propaganda and appreciably to extend the originally narrow basis of their party. The Bolsheviks have now come to power; how long they will retain power cannot be yet foreseen.

They need peace in order to strengthen their own position; on the other hand it is entirely in our interest that we should exploit the period while they are in power, which may be a short one, in order to attain firstly an armistice and then, if possible, peace. 1 The conclusion of a separate peace would

mean the achievement of the desired war aim, namely a breach between Russia and her Allies. The amount of tension necessarily caused by such a breach would determine the degree of Russia's dependence on Germany and her future relations with us. Once cast out and cast off by her former Allies, abandoned financially, Russia will be forced to seek our support.

We shall be able to provide help for Russia in various ways; firstly in the rehabilitation of the railways; (I have in mind a German Russian Commission, under our control, which would undertake the rational and co-ordinated exploitation of the railway lines so as to ensure speedy resumption of freight movement), then the provision of a substantial loan, which Russia requires to maintain her state machine. This could take the form of an advance on the security of grain, raw materials, &c, &c, to be provided by Russia and shipped under the control of the above-mentioned commission. Aid on such a basis—the scope to be increased as and when necessary—would in my opinion bring-about a growing rapprochement between the two countries.

Austria-Hungary will regard the rapprochement with distrust and not without apprehension. I would interpret the excessive eagerness of Count Czernin to come to terms with the Russians as a desire to forestall us and to prevent Germany and Russia arriving at an intimate relationship inconvenient to the Danube Monarchy. There is no need for us to compete for Russia's good will. We are strong enough to wait with equanimity; we are in a far better position than Austria-Hungary to offer Russia what she needs for the reconstruction of her state. I view future developments in the East with confidence but I think it expedient for the time being to maintain a certain reserve in our attitude to the Austro-Hungarian government in all matters including the Polish question which concern both monarchies so as to preserve a free hand for all eventualities.

jThe above-mentioned considerations lie, I venture to believe, within the framework of the directives given me by His Majesty. I request you to report to His Majesty accordingly and to transmit to me by telegram the All-highest instructions.

KUHLMANN

There is plenty more of that kind of stuff in the ‘book’ of about 150 pages, which is almost entirely German foreign office telegrams.

I have it all in electronic format so I can cut and paste at will if required.

I have only found one article from Leninists ‘challenging’ it which it didn’t really from Alan Woods I think.

I could probably find it again with a bit of effort.

And from Bernstien, he wrote two articles on it in 1921 apparently

Quote:
"From absolutely reliable sources I have now ascertained that the sum was very large, an almost unbelievable amount, certainly more than fifty million goldmarks, a sum about the source of which Lenin and his comrades could be in no doubt. One result of all this was the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. General Hoffmann, who negotiated with Trotsky and other members of the Bolshevik delegation at Brest, held the Bolsheviks in his hand in two senses [that is, military and monetary], and he made sure they felt it."

Joel Carmichael deals with it and that in his1984 addendum of his edited and abridged etc version of “Sukhanov’s The Russian Revolution, 1917” and puts it at $800 million, in 1984 money I presume.

There was quite a bit on it in Sukhanov’s book, a memoir published in 1922, in the chapter on the July days.

Sukhanov himself didn’t believe it at the time, even when it was revealed after a raid of the Pravda offices that they were flush with cash and had been receiving massive amounts of money from some unknown sources.

(Sukhanov’s book was even accepted by the Bolsheviks as a classic history of that period of the revolution.)

Dave B
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Jul 31 2012 20:43

Bolshevism: The Road to Revolution by Alan Woods

Part Five: The War Years

German Intrigues

http://www.marxist.com/bolshevism-old/part5-3.html

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Alf
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Jul 31 2012 21:25

Some thoughts about Jehu's earlier post, according to which "a socialist consciousness is, in Marx's argument, never necessary in the social revolution now underway". As I understand it, he seems to be using this argument as the core of his criticism of Lenin's thesis about 'consciousness from the outside'

Jehu says his argument is based on the Theses on Feuerbach, which certainly do provide ample reasons for rejecting the Kautsky-Lenin thesis: in them, Marx attacks the contemplative materialism of the bourgeoisie which regards the movement of reality as an external object only, and not "subjectively" - ie, it does not see con­sciousness and conscious practice as an integral and active element within the movement. The penetration of this standpoint into the ranks of the proletariat gives rise to the substitutionist error (in the Theses, Marx points to Owen as an expression of this) which involves "dividing society into two parts, one of which is superior to society" and forgets that "the educator him­self needs educating."

However, I don't understand why Jehu counterposes "practical-critical activity", which is mentioned in the Theses, to communist consciousness, thereby concluding that for Marx, communist consciousness is not needed for a communist revolution to take place. If we turn to The German ideology, we can see that this is not at all what Marx thought:

"...from the conception of history we have sketched we obtain these further conclusions: In the development of productive forces there comes a stage when productive forces and means of intercourse are brought into being, which, under the existing relationships only cause mischief, and are no longer productive but destructive forces...and connected with this a class is called forth, which has to bear all the burdens of society without ‘enjoying its advantages, which, ousted from society, is forced into the most decided antagonism to all other classes; a class which forms the majority of all members of society, and from which emanates the consciousness of the necessity of a fundamental revolution, the communist consciousness, which may, of course, arise among the other classes too through the contemplation of the situation of this class."
(my emphasis)

Jehu@rethepeople
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Jul 31 2012 22:00

@alf (Jul 31 2012 17:25)

Excellent point in that regard.

But note in Marx's argument, this "communist consciousness" emerges spontaneously as a consciousness of the need for a fundamental revolution. It is this spontaneously emergent consciousness that Marx labels communist -- not because it is necessarily avowedly communistic in any sense of the term as it used by Leninists, but because it is actually communistic -- a practical consciousness arising from practical critical activity.

I would be very wary of defining what this latter "communist consciousness" looks like. I am even toying with the idea that the simple demand for "fairness", so prominent in the Occupy movement, may, in fact, have a communistic import.

ADD: I should clarify what I think is meant in Marx's use of the term, "communist consciousness": I think Marx's sense of that term, although I could be wrong, is the consciousness of the unitary nature of social production -- a recognition of the results of capitalist development, and of their precarious position within the capitalist mode of production.

S. Artesian
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Jul 31 2012 22:52

Dave B. tendentious, dishonest? You be the judge:

From page 8 of Zeman's book:

Quote:
The terms in which it was discussed during and immediately after the war did much to obscure its outline and detail. Germany was referred to as the 'father of the Russian revolution,' the Bolshevik leaders as 'agents of Germany,' and their actions were described as 'subservient to the Imperial government.' This perhaps was understandable in the heat of the European conflagration. Now, forty years later, they appear out of date--in fact, there is no justification for employing them.

The aims of the Imperial Government and the left wing of the Russian revolutionaries coincided to a high degree. The willingness of this government to grant favours may have, on occasions, exceeded the willingness of the revolutionaries to accept them.

There is no evidence among the documents of the Foreign Ministry that Lenin, a circumspect man, was in direct contact with any of the official German agencies. How much he knew about the activities of the men around him is difficult to tell. .... But it cannot be said even about Radek and Furstenberg, who had more contacts with the Germans than anyone else among the Bolsheviks, that the interests of the Imperial German government lay close to their hearts. A socialist revolution was their aim. To achieve and further it they were prepared to use every means.

I think Zeman has a bit more integrity than Dave B.

RedHughs
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Jul 31 2012 23:49

I think that Jehu makes a crucial point here. I may not agree with "fairness" as being communist consciousness within Occupy but I would agree that our task is to tease out exactly what communist consciousness (and for that matter communist praxis) is, as it unfolds, rather than either inject it or decide a-priori what it is. That doesn't mean we should turn our backs on the last 200+ years of revolutionary experience, of course.

Andy_g wrote:
Len's take on national self determination is often misunderstood - he argued revolutionaries in imperialist countries should support the right of oppressed nations to national independence not because he believed this would bring us closer to socialism but to undermine national chauvinism. he also argued that socialists in colonised countries should ruthlessly expose

That doesn't really make it better though. He was wrong either way since he was supporting bourgeois forces.

It's doubtful to me that supporting third world nationalism actually undermines first world nationalism. Even weak third world bourgeois blocs aspire to dominance and engage in heinous act to achieve this often the nationalisms of "oppressed" groups will indiscriminately massacre "oppressor" nationalities specifically to cement the loyalty of "their" group - Kurdish nationalists in Northern Iraq massacring Arabs for example. . I can't see a propagandist value in supporting the Viet Cong back in the day or supporting the Taleban more recently (just the opposite).

Even more, the only entities that can jib and jive "critically supporting" this and that force and have it matter, are centrally controlled parties (dumb anarchos do this too but their "critical support" merely shows their misguidedness but won't let them cleverly navigate a path to power like a swingin' Nepalese Maoist).

ALF wrote:
Agree also with andy g's points. Lenin's book can only be understood as a polemic against the dominant form of opportunism in Russia at the time. 'economism'.

Really?

I could only agree with the message of Lenin's book if the only question was attacking economism. And economism broadly taken can be found today in various varieties of syndicalism and other strains so the message is relevant ..... But, big but, it is hard to claim that the influence of the book went not further than this or that Lenin disavowed this further influence.

Having re-read pieces of the book just for the thread, I have to say that variety of things come up. The book has an admirable realism in describing milieus combined with an ugly sneering tone, and a relentless use of disease metaphors that "made me feel dirty" for having read it.

All that said, opposition to economism-in-the-broad-sense is a crucial point in that a revolutionary movement needs to struggle against all dimensions of the capitalist order rather than expecting things to start wholly at the factory and only then spread elsewhere.

And I actually would agree that the Russian Revolution was likely the highest moment in the history of human civilization but like the rest of our civilization, it's implication are far from unambiguous. Keep in mind, we can only be communist if we believe even higher moments are yet to come.

andy g
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Aug 1 2012 07:50

as I said, Lenin's position on national self-determination is often misunderstood

Quote:
Why should we Great Russians, who have been oppressing more nations than any other people, deny the right to secession for Poland, Ukraine, or Finland? We are asked to become chauvinists, because by doing so we would make the position of Social-Democrats in Poland less difficult. We do not pretend to seek to liberate Poland, because the Polish people live between two states that are capable of fighting. Instead of telling the Polish workers that only those Social-Democrats are real democrats who maintain that the Polish people ought to be free, since there is no place for chauvinists in a socialist party, the Polish Social-Democrats argue that, just because they find the union with Russian workers advantageous, they are opposed to Poland’s secession. They have a perfect right to do so. But people don’t want to understand that to strengthen internationalism you do not have to repeat the same words. What you have to do is to stress, in Russia, the freedom of secession for oppressed nations and, in Poland, their freedom to unite. Freedom to unite implies freedom to secede. We Russians must emphasise freedom to secede, while the Poles must emphasise freedom to unite.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/7thconf/29d.htm

or maybe

Quote:
By supporting the right to secession, we are told, you are supporting the bourgeois nationalism of the oppressed nations.....

Our reply to this is: No, it is to the bourgeoisie that a “practical” solution of this question is important. To the workers the important thing is to distinguish the principles of the two trends. Insofar as the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation fights the oppressor, we are always, in every case, and more strongly than anyone else, in favour, for we are the staunchest and the most consistent enemies of oppression. But insofar as the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation stands for its own bourgeois nationalism, we stand against. We fight against the privileges and violence of the oppressor nation, and do not in any way condone strivings for privileges on the part of the oppressed nation.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1914/self-det/ch04.htm

or even

Quote:
The interests of the working class and of its struggle against capitalism demand complete solidarity and the closest unity of the workers of all nations; they demand resistance to the nationalist policy of the bourgeoisie of every nationality. Hence, Social-Democrats would be deviating from proletarian policy and subordinating the workers to the policy of the bourgeoisie if they were to repudiate the right of nations to self-determination, i.e., the right of an oppressed nation to secede, or if they were to support all the national demands of the bourgeoisie of oppressed nations. It makes no difference to the hired worker whether he is exploited chiefly by the Great-Russian bourgeoisie rather than the non-Russian bourgeoisie, or by the Polish bourgeoisie rather than the Jewish bourgeoisie, etc. The hired worker who has come to understand his class interests is equally indifferent to the state privileges of the Great-Russian capitalists and to the promises of the Polish or Ukrainian capitalists to set up an earthly paradise when they obtain state privileges. Capitalism is developing and will continue to develop, anyway, both in integral states with a mixed population and in separate national states.

In any case the hired worker will be an object of exploitation. Successful struggle against exploitation requires that the proletariat be free of nationalism, and be absolutely neutral, so to speak, in the fight for supremacy that is going on among the bourgeoisie of the various nations. If the proletariat of any one nation gives the slightest support to the privileges of its “own” national bourgeoisie, that will inevitably rouse distrust among the proletariat of another nation; it will weaken the international class solidarity of the workers and divide them, to the delight of the bourgeoisie. Repudiation of the right to self-determination or to secession inevitably means, in practice, support for the privileges of the dominant nation.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1914/self-det/ch05.htm

could go on (and on.....) but don't want to bore everyone senseless - as I said Len doesn't have the most felicitous turn of phrase.

the idea that Lenin advocated the subordination of workers' movements to bourgeois nationalism is absurd given his political life history is defined by the relentless assertion of the need for proletarian organisational and political independence. I think Lenin needs to be supplemented by Trotsky here - uneven and combined development as the basis for permanent revolution, the impossibility of "socialism in one country" etc