The Tyranny of the Consciousness-Raisers: Leninism, Anarchism and Jesus

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ajjohnstone
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Mar 6 2020 16:43
The Tyranny of the Consciousness-Raisers: Leninism, Anarchism and Jesus

https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/03/06/the-tyranny-of-the-consciousness...

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R Totale
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Mar 7 2020 16:33

What do you think of it? Are you a nihilist communist now? (I had actually thought about mentioning this in the "contemporary critiques" thread, and asking if anyone had found anything useful in either Nihilist Communism or Desert, but never got around to it.)

zugzwang
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Mar 7 2020 20:10
Quote:
Raising consciousness is a process that must separate the subject from all wrongness, or ‘false consciousness’ as Debord would write, and which must be practised in the heart – and only the raisers of consciousness know exactly what the new consciousness is. In the end, of course, a raised consciousness is simply a new loyalty to another ideology and, more importantly, the proponents of that ideology.

Don't see how the idea/consciousness of workers (sell their labour-power for a living) not having identical interests as capitalists (live off other people's labour) is some arbitrary ideology; it's an observable antagonism (workers want more wages vs. capitalists want less wages; workers want slower pace of work vs. capitalists want faster pace; etc.) which capitalists try to conceal with propaganda, like workers and capitalists being part of a "family" etc. It's not dogma either to say capitalist production isn't geared toward satisfying people's needs.

Anarcho
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Mar 7 2020 21:06

That article really does not understand the anarchist position at all...

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Whether socialist consciousness is to be awakened by the work of theorists who encourage education, or theorists who encourage ‘action’… it can be clearly seen that Kautsky, Lenin, and Bakunin agreed: “Socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without.”

The article linked to defend this claim actually argues the opposite -- that workers in struggle learn by that struggle and become socialists. The task of organised anarchists is to work within this struggle and help this process -- rather than Lenin and Kautsky who thought such a process did not and could not exist. I would recommend reading the better translation of Bakunin's The Policy of the International.

Dyjbas
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Mar 7 2020 22:56
Anarcho wrote:
The article linked to defend this claim actually argues the opposite -- that workers in struggle learn by that struggle and become socialists. The task of organised anarchists is to work within this struggle and help this process -- rather than Lenin and Kautsky who thought such a process did not and could not exist. I would recommend reading the better translation of Bakunin's The Policy of the International.

If Lenin really thought that workers don't learn through struggle, then how come he also thought this:

"Every strike brings thoughts of socialism very forcibly to the worker’s mind, thoughts of the struggle of the entire working class for emancipation from the oppression of capital. It has often happened that before a big strike the workers of a certain factory or a certain branch of industry or of a certain town knew hardly anything and scarcely ever thought about socialism; but after the strike, study circles and associations become much more widespread among them and more and wore workers become socialists." On Strikes, 1899

"Very often the economic struggle spontaneously assumes a political character, that is to say, without the intervention of the “revolutionary bacilli — the intelligentsia”, without the intervention of the class-conscious Social-Democrats. The economic struggle of the English workers, for instance, also assumed a political character without any intervention on the part of the socialists. The task of the Social-Democrats, however, is not exhausted by political agitation on an economic basis; their task is to convert trade-unionist politics into Social-Democratic political struggle, to utilise the sparks of political consciousness which the economic struggle generates among the workers, for the purpose of raising the workers to the level of Social-Democratic political consciousness." What Is To Be Done?, 1901

"But socialism cannot be implemented by a minority, by the Party. It can be implemented only by tens of millions when they have learned to do it themselves. We regard it as a point in our favour that we are trying to help the masses themselves set about it immediately, and not to learn to do it from books and lectures." Seventh Congress of the R.C.P.(B.), 1918

Maybe you're just reading WITBD outside of the context in which it was written.

alb
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Mar 8 2020 06:57

The last quote from Lenin in 1918 confirms Harrison’s contention that Leninists hold that it is not possible for a majority to acquire socialist consciousness under capitalism; that only a minority can and that they should organise to seize state power and use it to educate the rest so that the majority socialist consciousness required before socialism can come about emerges. In the meantime the “conscious minority” rules. It didn’t work in Russia and a new ruling class emerged from elements within the “conscious minority”. As was to be expected.

The context of the quote from What Is to be Done? was that “Social Democratic politics” then was (realistically since socialism was not on the agenda given Russia’s economic backwardness) to overthrow the Tsarist regime and establish a Democratic Republic in Russia. Lenin’s point was that the workers’ spontaneous economic struggle over wages and working conditions would not automatically lead to them adopting this political programme (though it might lead to Labourism as in England) He was probably right. But support for this programme was not the same as socialist consciousness.

The first quote seems factually correct for Russia at the time and in other countries then too. Unfortunately it is not the case today. Despite the “intervention” of Leninists and anarchists workers on strike nowadays just want to achieve their strike’s aim.

Dyjbas
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Mar 8 2020 10:29
alb wrote:
The last quote from Lenin in 1918 confirms Harrison’s contention that Leninists hold that it is not possible for a majority to acquire socialist consciousness under capitalism; that only a minority can and that they should organise to seize state power and use it to educate the rest so that the majority socialist consciousness required before socialism can come about emerges. In the meantime the “conscious minority” rules. It didn’t work in Russia and a new ruling class emerged from elements within the “conscious minority”. As was to be expected.

True, Lenin thought it is not possible for a majority to acquire socialist consciousness under capitalism, but so did Marx:

"The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. [...] Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is, necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew." The German Ideology, 1845

Lenin's view on the practical role of this “conscious minority” (or the Party) changed with time. It was different in 1901, 1905, 1914, 1917, 1920, etc. At his best, he upheld that the Party attempts to guide the activities of the class and its organs (councils/soviets) but not to replace them, at his worst he'd claim that the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be exercised through its organs (councils/soviets) embracing the whole of that class but only by the Party. The idea that there was a monolithic Lenin with just one concept of the Party to be found in the pages of WITBD is a creation of Stalinism.

alb wrote:
The first quote seems factually correct for Russia at the time and in other countries then too. Unfortunately it is not the case today. Despite the “intervention” of Leninists and anarchists workers on strike nowadays just want to achieve their strike’s aim.

This is the real question, as the “conscious minorities”, how do we successfully relate to the class at the present situation of low level of class consciousness. The CounterPunch article seems to be saying just don't bother...

alb
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Mar 8 2020 11:35

If Marx really held that "it is not possible for a majority to acquire socialist consciousness under capitalism" then why did the Rules of the International Working Men's Association, which Marx helped draw up, declare:

Quote:
"That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves" ?

In any event, the passage from The German Ideology does not say what you say it does. It is accepting that "communist consciousness" on a "mass scale" is needed before communism can be established but not that this can't emeege while capitalist rule is still in being. What it is saying is that this mass communist conscious will emerge in the course of the revolution to overthrow capitalism -- in other words, before capitalist rule is overthrown, i.e still under capitalism.

This is not the same as that of other 19th century revolutionaries such as Buonarotti and Blanqui who argued that the mass of the people had been so oppressed and degraded under capitalism that only a minority could become communist; this minority should seize power and liberate the majority's minds from capitalist brainwashing and educate them in communist ideas; only when this had been done could communism come about.

In other words, a different position: that mass communist consciousness can only emerge after capitalist rule has been ended, i.e after (not during) the anti-capitalist revolution.

It was, essentially, also the view (and certainly the practice) of Lenin and, explicitly, of Bordiga, Marcuse and Che Guevara. But not of Marx.

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sherbu-kteer
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Mar 8 2020 14:09

Sorry this comment might be a bit long, I'll try and elaborate on what Anarcho said.

I found this article pretty convoluted. In general I think comparing Leninism and anarchism is like comparing apples and oranges, or maybe like comparing apples with all citrus fruit. It's comparing one quite general, broad category (anarchism) with something much more specific, relatively speaking (Leninism). So I can see how some of the stuff he says about consciousness applying to certain anarchist strands, but not others.

The author really should have dealt with revolutionary syndicalism. The obvious implication of Lenin's quote about workers only being able to develop "trade union consciousness" is that this "trade union consciousness" is not enough, that it can only ever amount to moderate reformism; instead you need this separate, higher, class political consciousness that can only come from the outside. In practice, this means that unions in effect must be subordinate to political organisations, which is the organisational philosophy that the Bolsheviks tried to impose on unionists across the world -- at the Profintern, the Bolsheviks hammered home the notion that union apoliticism was the worst thing in the world, responsible for the sacred union, blah blah blah. Accepting certain political theses was a condition of entry for the RILU, alienating potential allies among the syndicalists of the CNT, IWW, etc.

The syndicalist position, which is the position of a large proportion of anarchists, is that yes, workers organised in unions will "only" be able to develop trade union consciousness, but that this trade union consciousness is the socialist consciousness required for the abolition of capitalism and the construction of socialism. It's odd that the author doesn't bring this up since he quotes directly from Rocker's Anarcho-syndicalism: Theory and Practice, which outlines all of this stuff directly.

Even weirder, he uses bits of Rocker's book to say that anarchists presaged Leninists in seeing the limitations of trade union consciousness. citing Hins. A couple paragraphs before the Hins quote he cites, Rocker clearly talks about the uniqueness of the libertarian point of view in attributing a greater importance to union organisation than any of the other socialist tendencies -- Blanquists, Lassalleans, Marxists -- ever did.

He wants to make Hins and the IMWA federalists seem like council communists, almost, when it actual fact they were arguing for something that strongly resembles syndicalism. The "council system" the federalists advocated for was not intended to be a means of transcending the "ideological limitations of the unions", as Harrison says, but as a complement to the proletarian organisation that was going on in the unions themselves. Hins is directly outlining the dual-organisation aspect essential to syndicalism -- organising industrially and geographically in parallel. This is why people claim that the proper legacy of Bakunin and co. is syndicalism.

And anyone who's read up on the First International should know that the notion of Marx expelling the federalists because he found their strategy "risky" is absurd.

If the author was more familiar with the syndicalist point of view he'd be better able to understand Bakunin when he talks about the role of action in the development of worker consciousness, which would let him better understand the differences between anarchism and Leninism more generally. The bits from The Policy of the International are entirely misunderstood. Bakunin is not saying that consciousness must be brought from the outside, but that it can only come about through internal processes, which the federalist IMWA will facilitate. Tutelage from some new socialist church is to be avoided.

I don't think either the dwardmac translation or the Dolgoff one Anarcho cites are great. The more recent one by A.W. Zurbrugg is the best, I think, it's the most complete at least, without Dolgoff's ellipses. It doesn't seem to be online so I will quote the relevant parts in full in the next comment.

Also this is kind of pedantic but he's like a lot of authors in that he repeatedly says things like: anarchists think communism can be implemented "at the moment of revolution", that the "emergence of popular direct democracy" will be "sudden", etc. The implication being that anarchists think they can have their dream society instantly, if all the workers think correctly.

In this presentation, Lenin and Leninists don't appear as negative forces that seek to strangle the revolution, but as pragmatic realists, who really want the revolution to succeed but know that practically, you have to be patient, and take the time to educate people. It's silly. I can't think of many major anarchists or anarchist organisations that had the sort of view that is ascribed to them. Most I've read freely admit that the struggle will take years, out of necessity. Harrison makes them seem like morons -- "confused", "not so sure about this", "they hope the message will spread quickly", etc when in my view they were (and are) generally more practical about realising socialism than the Bolsheviks.

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Mar 8 2020 14:32

From article II in the series The Politics of the International, published in L'Égalité, 14 August 1869. Relevant section begins roughly halfway through:

We speak of the great mass of workers, who are miserable and ignorant -- exhausted by work day-in and day-out. The awareness and conscience of this mass -- whatever attempts are made, and which may even partially succeed in influencing it with religious and political prejudice -- is socialist without knowing it. It is seriously, more really socialist than every bourgeois and scientific socialist lumped together; it is so from the depth of its instincts and through the pressure of its condition. It is so through every circumstance of its material existence, through every impulse of its being, whereas the latter are so only by virtue of the imperatives of their thinking; and in real life, the necessities of life exert an ever greater strength than those of thought, thinking being here, as always and everywhere, the expression of life, the reflection of the successive evolution, but never its principle.

What workers lack is neither reality, nor an awareness of the necessity of socialist aspirations but only socialist thinking. What every worker aspires to, from the depth of his being, is a fully human life: i.e. material well-being and intellectual development, both based on justice -- that is to say on the equality and freedom of each in work -- this instinctive ideal of everyone, who lives only through work, this ideal can evidently not be realised under present social and political conditions, based on the injustice and cynical exploitation of the working masses. Only through the overthrow of the existing social order can workers' emancipation be achieved, and so in every serious worker there is of necessity a revolutionary socialist. Either the organisation of this injustice must perish -- and with it its entire apparatus of iniquitous law and institutional privilege -- or the working masses must remain condemned to eternal slavery. So this is socialist thought -- its germs are to be found in the instinct of each serious worker. The aim then is to make them fully conscious of their desires, to awaken thinking in them that corresponds to their instincts; because, from the moment that workers' thought is raised to the level of their instinct their resolution will be set and their power will become irresistible.

What is it then that prevents a more rapid development of this salutary thinking amongst the working masses? Ignorance, and in large part, religious and political prejudice -- it is through these that interest parties continue to work even today, clouding workers' consciousness and natural intelligence. How then to dissipate this ignorance, how to root out these malicious prejudices? Through education and propaganda?

These means are doubtless substantial and wonderful, but things being as they are, they are insufficient. The isolated worker crushed by work and daily worries lacks sufficient time for education. And then, who would carry out this propaganda? Would it be the few sincere socialists emerging from the bourgeoisie, who are full of generosity no doubt, but who are too few in number to carry out propaganda as fully as it is needed; moreover belonging to another world, they lack sufficient grasp of the world of workers, and may excite some distrust -- to some extent a legitimate distrust -- among those workers?

The preamble of the statues of the International states: 'The emancipation of the workers is the task of the workers themselves' -- it is absolutely right; this is the fundamental basis of our great association. But the world of workers is generally an ignorant place, as yet it is wholly lacking in theory. So only one method remains, liberation through practical action. What then should be this practice?

There is one only. It is workers' struggle and solidarity against their bosses, the organisation and the federation of resistance funds [strike funds],

Spikymike
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Mar 8 2020 16:22

alb's interpretation of the quote from the German ideology resolves nothing in terms of differences between the various communist minorities (other than some Nihilists) that argue on this site, in that we are still left to consider what materially, a practical revolutionary movement might, within capitalism and prior to it's overthrow on a global scale involve, and the value or otherwise of any 'conscious' minority in that process.

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Mar 8 2020 22:18

ALB, leninists aren't the only ones who think it is not possible for a majority to acquire socialist consciousness under capitalism. Bouncing off of that relevant quote from The German Ideology, you have Paul Mattick here :

"Just as the presence of the ruling ideology does not suffice to maintain existing social relations, but must in turn be supported by the material forces of the state apparatus, so a counter-ideology will remain just this unless it can produce material forces stronger than those reflected by the ruling ideology. If this is not the case, the quality of the counter-ideology, whether it is merely intuitive or based on scientific considerations, does not matter and neither the intellectual nor the worker can effect a change in the existing social relations. Revolutionaries may or may not be allowed to express their views, depending on the mentality that dominates the ruling class, but under whatever conditions they will not be able to dislodge the ruling class by ideological means. In this respect the ruling class has all the advantage, since with the means of production and the forces of the state it controls instrumentalities for the perpetuation and dissemination of its own ideology. As this condition persists until the actual overthrow of a given social system, revolutions must take place with insufficient ideological preparation. In short, the counter-ideology can triumph only through a revolution that plays the means of production and political power into the hands of the revolutionaries. Until then, revolutionary class consciousness will always be less effective than the ruling ideology."

ajjohnstone
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Mar 9 2020 00:01

"The aim then is to make them fully conscious of their desires, to awaken thinking in them that corresponds to their instincts; because, from the moment that workers' thought is raised to the level of their instinct their resolution will be set and their power will become irresistible.
...So only one method remains, liberation through practical action. What then should be this practice?"

I'm sure many know that for the SPGB it views its primary role under the current circumstances it faces today as one of education - of making socialists. Our case has always been that understanding is a necessary condition for socialism, not desperation and despair.

Capitalism will always throw up situations where an escalation of class struggle towards socialism is possible, but the more workers there are who are consciously aware of the alternative to capitalism, the greater the likelihood there is of actually getting rid of the system. Upsurges in class struggle and periods of crisis in capitalism provide a potential revolutionary springboard. The contradictions, class relationships and miseries inherent to capitalism inevitably lead the workers to confront capital and when this happens there is, of course the potential for revolutionary consciousness to grow through the realisation of class position and the nature of capitalism. As the current recession within capitalism continues, squeezing and stamping down upon the working class ever more relentlessly, alongside the growing realisation of the failure of all forms of running the system; then there is definitely a growing potential for the escalation of struggle towards the overthrow of the system. However, how many times has the potential been there in past moments of escalated struggle and capitalist crisis only to disappear or to be channelled into reformist, pro-capitalist directions? Discontent over wages or conditions can be a catalyst for socialist understanding but so can many other things such as concern about the environment or war or bad housing or the just the general culture of capitalism

Nor is there any reason in our interactions with capitalism that dictates that fellow-workers must necessarily become revolutionary socialists. Experience could just as easily turn them towards the right as in the case of the rust states becoming Trump-supporters or Brexiteers, here in the UK.

Fluffy Tail, Paul Mattick also said rather pessimistically:
“There is no evidence that the last hundred years of labour strife have led to the revolutionizing of the working class in the sense of a growing willingness to do away with the capitalist system…In times of depression no less in than these of prosperity, the continuing confrontations of labor and capital have led not to an political radicalization of the working class, but to an intensified insistence upon better accommodations within the capitalist system…No matter how much he [the worker] may emancipate himself ideologically, for all practical purposes he must proceed as if he were still under the sway of bourgeois ideology. He may realize that his individual needs can only be assured by collective class actions, but he will still be forced to attend to his immediate needs as an individual. It is this situation, rather than some conditioned inability to transcend capitalism. He may realize that his individual needs can only be assured by collective class actions, but he will still be forced to attend to his immediate needs as an individual. It is this situation, rather than some conditioned inability to transcend capitalist ideology, that makes the workers reluctant to express and to act upon their anti-capitalist attitudes ” - (Marxism, Last Refuge of the Bourgeoisie)

Another apt observation is from Murray Bookchin in his "Anarchism , Marxism and the Future of the Left":

"...human beings cannot be free - except under very rare conditions, such as during revolutions and for limited periods of time; even then, they must still leave the barricades and return to work to satisfy their needs and those of their families. They have to eat , if you please..." Bookchin gave this example: "...In May 1937 in Barcelona, the workers had to conquer the Stalinist counterrevolution then and there. But they delayed, and after four days they had to leave the streets to obtain food..."

alb
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Mar 9 2020 12:03

I think that Mattick was trying to say the same as Marx and Engels in The German Ideology but not being so clear. What he seems to be saying is that any anti-capitalist revolution will start with only a minority being communist but by the end of it a majority will be, will have to be. He is not saying that "communist consciousness on a mass scale" cannot develop until after the end of capitalist rule. (Incidentally, I wonder what he meant by "political power"?).

The views expressed in The German Ideology were still a bit philosophical. A couple of years later, Marx spelled them out in a more historical context, in the final chapter of [i]The Poverty of Philosophy[i/] on "Strikes and Combinations of Workers". Here, he sees the communist movement as developing out of the working class "combination" movement when this latter becomes political, i.e aims at taking political power out of the hands of the capitalist class (inevitably, in his view at the time, inevitably involving a violent insurrection) and using it to dispossess them. This would usher in "an association which will exclude classes and their antagonism, and there will be no more political power properly so-called, since political power is precisely the official expression of antagonism in civil society."

This was the policy he put into practice from 1864 in the IWMA, encouraging the trade union movement to become political. I don't think he would have disagreed with Eugene Hins's resolution (I imagine he voted for it). Where he did disagree was when Hins and others argued against any political action, which would mean that industrial and economic action would be the only way to end capitalism (no wonder Rocker saw Hins as a pioneer anarcho-syndicalist).

That same year (1869) Marx visited Hanover where he was interviewed by a local trade unionist (Hanan). This interview has been contested, especially by the Leninists and Stalinists (for obvious reasons, as will become evident) and, no doubt, as in all interviews, Marx might not have been reported verbatim. But Marx is reported as saying in his reply that it would be the trade unions that would form the basis of a future socialist workers' party. Anyway, here's the interview:

Quote:
Question: Must the trade unions depend mostly upon the political Verein (union), if they want to be able to exist?
Answer: If the trade unions really want to accomplish their task, they must never associate themselves with any political unions or become dependent upon them in any way. If they do, it deals them a death blow. The trade unions are schools of socialism. In the trade unions the workers are trained to become socialists. Because there the daily struggle against capitalism takes place before their eyes. All political parties, no matter which, without exception enthuse the working masses only transiently, for a certain period of time. But the trade unions on the contrary, form permanent contacts with the masses of workers; they can only really be a working-class party and act as a bulwark against the power of capital. The largest sections of the workers, regardless of party affiliation, have already come to the conclusion that the material conditions of the proletariat must be improved. Moreover, if the material conditions of the workers improve, they will be able to their pay more attention to the upbringing of their children; their wives and children will not have to go to the factory ; they will be able to care better for their own mental and physical training and will become socialists without being aware of it. (M. Lozovsky, Marx and the Trade Unions, International Publishers, New York, 1942, p. 153)

So, Marx was against the unions being linked to then existing parties, but not against the unions forming their own party. He proved to be overoptimistic, not to say wrong, in expecting the "working-class party" he anticipated would emerge (and which did emerge, at least in Britain and Belgium) from the trade unions would progress to become explicitly socialist. But so was Hins in assuming that workers were "instinctively" socialist. Hins himself later accepted political action and joined the Parti Ouvrier Belge ("Belgian Workers Party") and was elected a local councillor in Brussels.

Dyjbas
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Mar 9 2020 13:47

I should maybe clarify alb. "Leninists hold that it is not possible for a majority to acquire socialist consciousness under capitalism" is actually your formulation, not Lenin's, so I shouldn't have quoted it verbatim. Marx, Lenin, Mattick, all thought that a majority can acquire socialist consciousness only during a revolutionary process ("an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement"). Hence Lenin in 1917 likewise wanted the majority of the working class on his side, and saw it as a precondition for a successful struggle: "To become a power the class-conscious workers must win the majority to their side. [...] We are not Blancists, we do not stand for the seizure of power by a minority" (of course, many here will argue it's not what happened in October, it's already been discussed ad nauseam in other threads, but, whatever you think of it, for Lenin obtaining a majority in the soviets was the green light: "The majority of the people are on our side. This was proved by the long and painful course of events from May 6 to August 31 and to September 12. The majority gained in the Soviets of the metropolitan cities resulted from the people coming over to our side.").

alb
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Mar 9 2020 15:17

That doesn't prove your point as Lenin is saying there, yes, that the "class-conscious workers" must have a majority on their side before they try to seize power but not that that majority should be itself be class-conscious; they merely needed to be discontented enough to follow the slogans of the class-conscious minority. As we know, the Bolsheviks won the following that they did on the basis of "Peace, Land, Bread", not socialism.

John Reed in his Ten Days That Shook the World famously recorded (he was there with his reporter's notebook) Lenin as saying at the Congress of Peasant Soviets in November 1917:

Quote:
“If Socialism can only be realised when the intellectual development of all the people permits it, then we shall not see Socialism for at least five hundred years… The Socialist political party—this is the vanguard of the working-class; it must not allow itself to be halted by the lack of education of the mass average, but it must lead the masses, using the Soviets as organs of revolutionary initiative…"

Of course Lenin wasn't a pure and simple Blanquist. He was a bit more sophisticated than that. He did get and was able to hold on to power but was unable to use it to establish socialism and, in the circumstances, found that he had no alternative but to develop capitalism in Russia in the form of a state capitalism.

Which would the fate of all conscious minorities that suceeded in seizing power. Socialism can only be established by a majority that wants, understands and takes part in its establishment. What else could "the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself" mean?

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comradeEmma
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Mar 9 2020 18:47
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In practice, this means that unions in effect must be subordinate to political organisations, which is the organisational philosophy that the Bolsheviks tried to impose on unionists across the world -- at the Profintern, the Bolsheviks hammered home the notion that union apoliticism was the worst thing in the world, responsible for the sacred union, blah blah blah. Accepting certain political theses was a condition of entry for the RILU, alienating potential allies among the syndicalists of the CNT, IWW, etc.

I don't think you can say that there was one consistent trade union strategy for the "leninists", especially during the 1920-1930's. During some periods the task of communists of comintern was to act as an influence in the unions to help organize the rank-and-file around common demands, against the bureaucracy of the unions. In this view the smaller radical unions were not really that relevant. During the "third period" they took a major left-turn and abandoned the united front strategy for a strategy of trying to destroy the established labor union and promote wild-cat strikes(this would only isolate the official communist parties). After that they entered into a period of a right-wing turn under the banner of a "popular front", which really just meant using the labor movement to get the government to defend the USSR. Like how CPUSA turned like the existing labor parties and unions from something somewhat radical into subordinates to the Democrats. Worth noting that during both this period and during the third period CPUSA and the trotskyists are at war in the labor movement. The trotskyists promoting rank-and-file democracy and industrial unionism in unions like the Teamsters and to a lesser extent UAW, while the CPUSA first alienates themselves by attacking labor leaders of all stripes, then again by attacking the trotskyists for not supporting Roosevelt.

Lenin himself never prescribed such a strategy that you described. He opposed any notion of creating radical unions, he thought that communists should be able to work within the reformist and "reactionary" unions because that is where the workers are. The militant minority play a role of empowering the rank-and-file, not one of just pushing political lines through the labor bureaucracy or trying to make unions under party control. People like Rosa Luxemburg on the other hand is closer to what you describe, she opposed the creation of a reformist mass union in Poland because she thought it would create a source of reformism in the form of a labor bureaucracy like in Germany. In other words, the unions should only be created under party control. Likewise the Spartakus League voted against joining the "Revolutionary Stewards" movement in the preparation for insurrection against the war.

Quote:
In this presentation, Lenin and Leninists don't appear as negative forces that seek to strangle the revolution, but as pragmatic realists, who really want the revolution to succeed but know that practically, you have to be patient, and take the time to educate people. It's silly. I can't think of many major anarchists or anarchist organisations that had the sort of view that is ascribed to them. Most I've read freely admit that the struggle will take years, out of necessity. Harrison makes them seem like morons -- "confused", "not so sure about this", "they hope the message will spread quickly", etc when in my view they were (and are) generally more practical about realising socialism than the Bolsheviks.

Shouldn't the fact that unions like IWW and CNT are very small be somewhat telling about the fact that consciousness is unevenly developed among the working-class? Even some syndicalists in SAC and FAU are revolting against "traditional" syndicalism, instead wanting to embrace the notion of acting as a militant minority, as seen in this other counterpunch article.

Also, political and organizational education has always played a very large role in the labor movement historically. You can know your situation is shit and understand that the boss has contradicting interests to you but does that mean you understand the struggle for the entire working-class against capitalism, or what the relation between economic- and political struggle is?

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Lenin's view on the practical role of this “conscious minority” (or the Party) changed with time. It was different in 1901, 1905, 1914, 1917, 1920, etc. At his best, he upheld that the Party attempts to guide the activities of the class and its organs (councils/soviets) but not to replace them, at his worst he'd claim that the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be exercised through its organs (councils/soviets) embracing the whole of that class but only by the Party. The idea that there was a monolithic Lenin with just one concept of the Party to be found in the pages of WITBD is a creation of Stalinism.

I think it is worth noting that Lenin differentiated between the proletarian vanguard, or the militant minority, and the communist party. He writes this in Left-wing communism: an infantile disorder

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The proletarian vanguard has been won over ideologically. That is the main thing. Without this, not even the first step towards victory can be made. But that is still quite a long way from victory. Victory cannot be won with a vanguard alone. To throw only the vanguard into the decisive battle, before the entire class, the broad masses, have taken up a position either of direct support for the vanguard, or at least of sympathetic neutrality towards it and of precluded support for the enemy, would be, not merely foolish but criminal. Propaganda and agitation alone are not enough for an entire class, the broad masses of the working people, those oppressed by capital, to take up such a stand. For that, the masses must have their own political experience. Such is the fundamental law of all great revolutions, which has been confirmed with compelling force and vividness, not only in Russia but in Germany as well.

Dyjbas
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Mar 9 2020 17:57
alb wrote:
That doesn't prove your point as Lenin is saying there, yes, that the "class-conscious workers" must have a majority on their side before they try to seize power but not that that majority should be itself be class-conscious; they merely needed to be discontented enough to follow the slogans of the class-conscious minority. As we know, the Bolsheviks won the following that they did on the basis of "Peace, Land, Bread", not socialism.

Why would the Bolsheviks, and before them the RSDLP and the Emancipation groups, spend more than 30 years writing, translating and distributing Marxist texts into Russian for the first time, spreading the new idea of socialism through word of mouth under the threat of prison, exile or death, intervening in all kinds of strikes, demonstrations, and uprisings, growing with the ebb and flow of the movement to sizes that contemporary organisations can only dream of, if they didn't want a majority of the class to be conscious?

alb wrote:
Socialism can only be established by a majority that wants, understands and takes part in its establishment. What else could "the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself" mean?

Agreed. But you might as well be paraphrasing Lenin here: socialism "can be implemented only by tens of millions when they have learned to do it themselves", "living creative socialism is the product of the masses themselves", etc.

The quote from comradeEmma, where Lenin makes the point that propaganda is not enough, the broader masses "must have their own political experience" in order to side with the class-conscious minority, further confirms that he saw the necessity of a majority to undergo "an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement" so that it wants, understands and takes part in the establishment of socialism.

alb
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Mar 9 2020 19:24

You are still missing the point. It is not denied that Lenin held that communism could not be established until a majority consciously wanted it and had acquired the understanding and capacity to run it. The point at issue is whether this was before or after the end of capitalist rule. Thanks

I am prepared to bet that the quotes you give about him saying that socialism "can be implemented only by tens of millions when they have learned to do it themselves", "living creative socialism is the product of the masses themselves", etc. date from after the “conscious minority” that the Bolsheviks considered themselves to be had seized power. That was their perspective: seize power first, then educate the majority into socialism.

The post-seizure of power quote from Emma that you present to back your case draws a clear distinction between the “proletarian vanguard” (who have acquired a communist consciousness) and the rest who only need to follow this vanguard without having to be “won over ideologically.” They just need to follow (or even remain neutral) when the conscious minority takes on the capitalist minority who control the state.

A minority revolution supported by a majority is still a minority revolution. In contrast, as the Communist Manifesto put it, “the proletarian movement is the self-conscious movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority”,

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comradeEmma
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Mar 9 2020 19:51
Quote:
The post-seizure of power quote from Emma that you present to back your case draws a clear distinction between the “proletarian vanguard” (who have acquired a communist consciousness) and the rest who only need to follow this vanguard without having to be “won over ideologically.” They just need to follow (or even remain neutral) when the conscious minority takes on the capitalist minority who control the state.

That part is more addressed to revolutionary organisations in other countries than what was going on in the Soviet union. In this passage I think "proletarian vanguard" is supposed to be read as the most advanced and active section of the working-class, not specifically communists. Even if you look at something like the strike movement in France going on now it is clear that there is an uneven development of consciousness. The organisation rate from my understanding is like 10% i France. Are the people leading these strikes not a form of a proletarian vanguard or militant minority?

Dyjbas
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Mar 9 2020 21:11
alb wrote:
You are still missing the point. It is not denied that Lenin held that communism could not be established until a majority consciously wanted it and had acquired the understanding and capacity to run it. The point at issue is whether this was before or after the end of capitalist rule. Thanks

I am prepared to bet that the quotes you give about him saying that socialism "can be implemented only by tens of millions when they have learned to do it themselves", "living creative socialism is the product of the masses themselves", etc. date from after the “conscious minority” that the Bolsheviks considered themselves to be had seized power. That was their perspective: seize power first, then educate the majority into socialism.

Surely, communism, which requires a majority to consciously want it and acquire the understanding and capacity to run it, can only be established after the end of capitalist rule? Which brings us back to Marx: "Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution."

What was the significance of the 1905 revolution, the "dress rehearsal" which nevertheless did not abolish capitalist rule, to Lenin?

"It is in this awakening of tremendous masses of the people to political consciousness and revolutionary struggle that the historic significance of January 22, 1905 lies. [...] The broad masses of the exploited could not have been drawn into the revolutionary movement had they not been given daily examples of how the wage-workers in the various industries were forcing the capitalists to grant immediate, direct improvements in their conditions. This struggle imbued the masses of the Russian people with a new spirit. [...] The real education of the masses can never be separated from their independent political, and especially revolutionary, struggle. Only struggle educates the exploited class. Only struggle discloses to it the magnitude of its own power, widens its horizon, enhances its abilities, clarifies its mind, forges its will. [...] the struggle for immediate and direct improvement of conditions, is alone capable of rousing the most backward strata of the exploited masses, gives them a real education and transforms them—during a revolutionary period—into an army of political fighters within the space of a few months." Lecture on the 1905 Revolution

"Had not the popular creative spirit of the Russian revolution, which had gone through the great experience of the year 1905, given rise to the Soviets as early as February 1917, they could not under any circumstances have assumed power in October, because success depended entirely upon the existence of available organisational forms of a movement embracing millions. The Soviets were the available form, and that is why in the political sphere the future held out to us those brilliant successes, the continuous triumphal march, that we had [...] The Republic was born at one stroke; it was born so easily because in February 1917 the masses had created the Soviets even before any party had managed to proclaim this slogan. It was the great creative spirit of the people, which had passed through the bitter experience of 1905 and had been made wise by it, that gave rise to this form of proletarian power." Seventh Congress of the R.C.P.(B.)

Internationally capitalist rule was not abolished in 1917 either. There was a period in which it was disrupted in Russia, when the working class was briefly in power - after the October Revolution, which was given the green light by the soviets, which suggested to the Bolsheviks that at least a majority of the organised working class consciously wanted it. Capitalist rule was restored not long after however (as Lenin warned it could be without a revolution in Germany, although of course the Bolshevik party is not blameless in how exactly that happened).

alb
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Mar 9 2020 22:43

Emma, fair point as a militant minority is not necessarily the same as a vanguard party. However, in this particular case, Lenin went on to explain precisely who he meant by “proletarian vanguard”:

Quote:
The immediate task that confronts the class-conscious vanguard of the international labour movement, i.e., the Communist Parties, groups and trends, is to be able to lead the broad masses (now, for the most part, slumbering, apathetic, hidebound, inert, and dormant) to their new position... “

The “new position” wasn’t even to try to lead the inert “broad masses” to socialism (not that the working class can be lead there) but (from memory) “the united front from below” with supporters of the Labour and Social Democratic parties which the month before had been being denounced as renegades, traitors, and goodness knows what else.

I know you would have disagreed with this “new position”. Dyjbas, but can’t understand your loyalty to Lenin who regarded those who opposed this “turn” as childish leftist blockheads.

ajjohnstone
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Mar 9 2020 23:11

The Marxist case is that no force can cut short the natural development of society until it is ready for change.

Quote:
it was born so easily because in February 1917 the masses had created the Soviets even before any party had managed to proclaim this slogan. It was the great creative spirit of the people, which had passed through the bitter experience of 1905 and had been made wise by it, that gave rise to this form of proletarian power."

Dyjbas, hasn't studies of 1905 and 1917 differentiated between the respective creation of the soviets of those periods?

Although the February 1917 strikes were completely spontaneous, the soviets did not arise directly out of them as they had done in 1905. 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.

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. The soviets proved to be the dispensable means to an end for the Bolsheviks. Once Bolshevik power was established the soviets simply became an emasculated rubber stamp for party rule. As early as December 1917, Maxim Gorky was able to write in the newspaper Novaia Zizn (No.195, 7 December 1917) that the revolution was not attributable to the soviets, and that the new republic was not one of councils, but of peoples' commissars.

Lenin’s own view on soviets had changed little from his attitude towards them after 1905:
"...if Social-Democratic activities among the proletarian masses are properly, effectively and widely organised, such institutions may actually become superfluous...that a most determined struggle must be waged against all disruptive and demagogic attempts to weaken the R.S.D.L.P. from within or to utilise it for the purpose of substituting non-party political, proletarian organisations for the Social-Democratic Party...that Social-Democratic Party organisations may, in case of necessity, participate in inter-party Soviets of Workers’ Delegates, Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, and in congresses of representatives of these organisations, and may organise such institutions, provided this is done on strict Party lines for the purpose of developing and strengthening the Social-Democratic Labour Party " - Draft Resolutions for the Fifth Congress of the R.S.D.L.P.
http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1907/5thdraft/6.htm

Trotsky said in History of the Russian Revolution that "The party set the soviets in motion, the soviets set in motion the workers, soldiers, and to some extent the peasantry." In other words, the soviets existed to allow the party to influence the workers. And we subsequently saw what happened if the workers in the soviets rejected the decisions of the Bolsheviks.

The essence of this debate is fairly simple. Did the Bolsheviks desire the working class to control its own destiny or did they use the working class as stepping stones to political power and a totally different agenda from one of workers self-management?

Once having assumed the reins of government, 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. Lenin never really advanced much beyond the idea of self-appointed liberators leading (willing or otherwise) the mass of people to freedom. He remained, in theory as well as practice, essentially a bourgeois revolutionary. NEP was the outcome.

Stalin did twist Marxism into the conservative ideology of a state-capitalist ruling class, but he was merely building upon Lenin's previous contortions of Marxism into the ideology of that same class while it was struggling for power.

I'm not saying that the majority of Petrograd workers and soldiers didn't support the idea of a “soviet government”. They did. But they always viewed it as a coalition of sorts of all the workers' parties. Something Lenin only paid lip-service to.

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sherbu-kteer
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Mar 10 2020 02:18

comradeEmma:

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I don't think you can say that there was one consistent trade union strategy for the "leninists"...

You're completely misunderstanding me. I didn't say that Lenin thought that communists should create pure radical unions, I said that the practical consequence of the view that "trade union consciousness" is not enough and that party political consciousness is required, is that unions should become subordinate to the political party. This is what Bolsheviks tried to do where they could. This doesn't mean creating splits -- the Bolsheviks opposed that at the beginning -- but "boring from within" to get control.

The Red International of Labour Unions (Profintern) is important here. I mentioned it for a reason. Syndicalists were interested in joining at the beginning and attended preperatory meetings as delegates but could not join in the end because of the conditions that would result in the subordination of the unions to Communist parties.

What you say about Luxemburg, CPUSA, etc is not relevant to this.

Quote:
Shouldn't the fact that unions like IWW and CNT are very small be somewhat telling about the fact that consciousness is unevenly developed among the working-class?

I don't know what the relevance of these questions are to the section you are quoting. Who is denying that "consciousness" is unevenly developed?

Quote:
Even some syndicalists in SAC and FAU are revolting against "traditional" syndicalism, instead wanting to embrace the notion of acting as a militant minority, as seen in this other counterpunch article.

The notion of acting as a militant minority is not against syndicalism. If anything, "traditional" syndicalism has a greater emphasis upon this than the more recent tendencies. People like Émile Pouget were very insistent about the importance of militant minorities and you can see it in the associated discourse about democratism.

I don't want to comment on Kuhn and Bewernitz' article because it's very vague, but from what I understand their 'break' isn't about the role of militant minorities, but about the necessity of class-struggle organisations operating outside the unions. In normal syndicalism, there is a militant minority, but it either operates within the unions, or it is the union itself. With Kuhn and Bewernitz, they think the militants must operate as part of a class-struggle organisation from without.

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comradeEmma
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Mar 10 2020 13:16
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You're completely misunderstanding me. I didn't say that Lenin thought that communists should create pure radical unions, I said that the practical consequence of the view that "trade union consciousness" is not enough and that party political consciousness is required, is that unions should become subordinate to the political party. This is what Bolsheviks tried to do where they could. This doesn't mean creating splits -- the Bolsheviks opposed that at the beginning -- but "boring from within" to get control.

The Red International of Labour Unions (Profintern) is important here. I mentioned it for a reason. Syndicalists were interested in joining at the beginning and attended preperatory meetings as delegates but could not join in the end because of the conditions that would result in the subordination of the unions to Communist parties.

What you say about Luxemburg, CPUSA, etc is not relevant to this.

I don't quite follow this line of reasoning, do you think profintern is a direct result of the "merger theory" as laid out in What is to be done?? Do you also think Karl Kautsky proposes the same thing? I don't think you will find such a strategy or "conclusion" any where in the pamphlet, or in the actions of the Bolsheviks for the decade or two to come. The reason I brought up CPUSA and so on is because that was the comintern-mandated strategy, which is tied up in profintern. We have to look at what the "leninists" were actually doing, right?

Quote:
I don't want to comment on Kuhn and Bewernitz' article because it's very vague, but from what I understand their 'break' isn't about the role of militant minorities, but about the necessity of class-struggle organisations operating outside the unions. In normal syndicalism, there is a militant minority, but it either operates within the unions, or it is the union itself. With Kuhn and Bewernitz, they think the militants must operate as part of a class-struggle organisation from without.

Doesn't this get closer to leninism?

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sherbu-kteer
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Mar 10 2020 14:54
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I don't quite follow this line of reasoning, do you think profintern is a direct result of the "merger theory" as laid out in What is to be done?? Do you also think Karl Kautsky proposes the same thing? I don't think you will find such a strategy or "conclusion" any where in the pamphlet, or in the actions of the Bolsheviks for the decade or two to come. The reason I brought up CPUSA and so on is because that was the comintern-mandated strategy, which is tied up in profintern. We have to look at what the "leninists" were actually doing, right?

OK I mustn't be explaining myself well. Leninism -- as with most other varieties of Marxism -- is anti-revolutionary syndicalist, in the sense that emphasis is placed on the necessity of a political organisation (usually a party) separate to the union organisation. "The union alone" is not enough. Workers in unions can only develop "trade union consciousness" which is not enough, they need political organisation. Roughly speaking, syndicalists do think the union alone is enough, and that "trade union consciousness" is revolutionary in itself, though of course there is emphasis on militant minorities acting within the union. The emphasis of Leninists on the necessity of external political organisation is something that goes back to Marx, and it is something shared by virtually all other Marxists, including yes, Kautsky. How many Marxists do you know think that you only need a revolutionary union to make a revolution, that the party-form or any other external grouping is not needed?

You can look at what Leninists were doing with the Profintern, is my point. If you have the time, check out the Moscow chapters of this book by Wayne Thorpe to get a sense of where I'm coming from. Particularly chapter four. If you have less time, you can read the section of Ángel Pestaña's report to the CNT on his experiences at the Comintern that begins with the phrase "Lozovsky read the following document".

Lozovsky, representing the Bolshevik point of view, says a number of things, but most relevant is the insistence that "union apoliticism" led to union support for WWI, and that the working class in its unions has to organise "alongside the political organization of the international communist proletariat, and in close relation with it". Meaning in practice, the unions will be subordinate to the direction provided by the political organisation, the communist party. He says revolutionaries must not separate from mainstream unions, but "act energetically [from within] to eliminate from the leadership of the trade union movement" and to create "in every trade union a communist cell, whose incessant efforts will finally result in imposing our point of view".

The syndicalists in opposition -- Tanner, Souchy and Pestaña -- dispute all this. The relationship with the political party is not required; if we are to have a "dictatorship of the proletariat", it will be organised around unions not parties; union apoliticism is not latently pro-war, etc.

Quote:
Quote:
I don't want to comment on Kuhn and Bewernitz' article because it's very vague, but from what I understand their 'break' isn't about the role of militant minorities, but about the necessity of class-struggle organisations operating outside the unions. In normal syndicalism, there is a militant minority, but it either operates within the unions, or it is the union itself. With Kuhn and Bewernitz, they think the militants must operate as part of a class-struggle organisation from without.

Quote:
Doesn't this get closer to leninism?

I think it gets closer to platformism, but that's a separate discussion.

Dyjbas
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Mar 10 2020 15:21
alb wrote:
I know you would have disagreed with this “new position”. Dyjbas, but can’t understand your loyalty to Lenin who regarded those who opposed this “turn” as childish leftist blockheads.

The experience of Lenin culminates in a period where the working class briefly holds power. This was a unique world event, and we haven't seen anything of such scale since. So it's important to learn from it, absorb what's pertinent and criticise what is not. There are things to take even from his most controversial writings, as long as you understand them in their historical context. E.g. For the 2nd Party Congress of the RSDLP, Lenin wrote WITBD. He would later say: "We all now know that the “economists” have gone to one extreme. To straighten matters out some body had to pull in the other direction—and that is what I have done." For the 3rd Congress of the Communist International, Lenin wrote Left-Wing Communism. And would later say: "At that Congress I was on the extreme Right flank. I am convinced that it was the only correct stand to take, for a very large (and influential) group of delegates, headed by many German, Hungarian and Italian comrades, occupied an inordinately “Left” and incorrectly Left position".

To what degree these interventions helped or hindered the development of revolutionary theory and practice is one thing (if the intervention in 1902 helped to clarify the role of the party at the time, the one in 1920 did so less, as it instantly became a tool in the hands of opportunists for getting rid of the Left, despite this for the most part not being Lenin's intention). Unfortunately, increasingly within the Communist International some Bolsheviks began to, as Luxemburg warned, "make a virtue of necessity [...] to freeze into a complete theoretical system all the tactics forced upon them by these fatal circumstances, and want to recommend them to the international proletariat as a model of socialist tactics." And then under Stalin we arrive at a "Leninism" completely divorced from Lenin's constant reflection on the experiences of the class, turned into simple dogma. But, in rejecting this dogma, we shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

ajjohnstone wrote:
Dyjbas, hasn't studies of 1905 and 1917 differentiated between the respective creation of the soviets of those periods?

True. But I would say what we see in the period between February and October is a process whereby the working class creates new soviets all across the empire, and takes over the ones initially created by politicians with their own delegates.

ajjohnstone wrote:
I'm not saying that the majority of Petrograd workers and soldiers didn't support the idea of a “soviet government”. They did. But they always viewed it as a coalition of sorts of all the workers' parties. Something Lenin only paid lip-service to.

Post-October, there were actually multiple tendencies still active within the soviets: SRs, Left SRs, Mensheviks, Menshevik-Internationalists, Maximalists, anarchists, Left Communists, RSDLP-Internationalists, some parties of the nationalities, and non-party delegates. Undeniably, the Bolsheviks had the support of the majority and so dominated the soviets at all levels. In March 1918, Left SRs withdrew from the Sovnarkom, making it a one party body, but stayed in the soviets. In June 1918 the SRs and the Mensheviks were expelled (since they opposed soviet power to the point of siding with the Whites in an effort to bring back the constituent assembly). In July 1918, some (but not all) Left SRs were expelled from the soviets for staging an uprising. Some of those opposed to the uprising reorganised into the Narodnik Communists and the Party of Revolutionary Communism. 1919 also saw new groupings emerge, like the left splits from the Bund, Fareynikte and Poale Zion. Small parties active at the level of regional soviets would exist into the 1920s, but they could not compete with the Bolsheviks (so many simply merged with them or dissolved). All that's to say, the soviet system was "a coalition of sorts of all the workers' parties", although it gradually ceased to be as consequences of the Civil War and isolation set in (lack of local initiative, disillusion, siege mentality, repressions, manipulation, etc.).

ajjohnstone
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Mar 10 2020 22:46

You offer one interpretation, Dyjbas, which to me appears very generous to the Bolsheviks but there is another,

Worth a read and no doubt you probably have and something I have been relying upon is
'Soviet State myths and realities 1917-21'
http://libcom.org/library/radical-tradition-one

Quote:
"The history of the Russian Revolution as told in Soviet textbooks takes place in two phases: the rising of the masses against tsarist oppression, then against Kerensky's bourgeois democracy, engendered a process of radicalization of which the Bolsheviks were both inspirers and spokesmen, preparing the ground for the second phase of the revolution, October 1917. In other words, the communists perceive an historical and theoretical continuity between the autonomous origins of the councils and the Leninist theory of the State, a view which is held even by the anti-Stalinist Marxist-Leninists. This misrepresentation of the true course of events was essential in order to paper over the divergences between the masses and Bolshevik policy insofar as the Bolsheviks claimed, and still do claim, to incarnate the dictatorship of the proletariat."

Another useful source is

http://libcom.org/library/menshevik-comeback-vladimir-brovkin

Quote:
"The heart of the matter was that the Mensheviks and SRs were winning in the elections to the soviets in addition to regaining control of local trade unions and dumas. The process of the Menshevik-SR electoral victories threatened Bolshevik power. That is why in the course of Spring and Summer of 1918, the soviet assemblies were disbanded in most cities and villages. To stay in power, the Bolsheviks had to destroy the soviets. Local power was handed over to ExComs, the Cheka, the military, and special emissaries with "unlimited dictatorial power". These steps generated a far-reaching transformation in the soviet system, which remained "soviet" in name only..."

Martov put forward a resolution demanding that the Bolsheviks form a coalition government with other left-wing parties. The resolution was about to receive almost total endorsement from the soviet representatives thus showing that the representatives in the soviet did NOT believe in all power to the Bolsheviks but then the majority of SR and Menshevik delegates made a far-reaching tactical error when they unadvisedly left the congress in protest over the Bolshevik coup.

As I said the Bolsheviks made what appeared to be gestures towards cooperation. On October 25th, the presidium was elected on the basis of 14 Bolsheviks, 7 Social-Revolutionaries, 3 Mensheviks and a single 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 and Kollontai, to the bureaucratic, like Lenin, via the landed bourgeois (Smilga), the commercial bourgeois (Yoffe) and the industrial bourgeois (Pyatakov). These were the sort of people who were accustomed to being a ruling class.

The management of production by the workers was one of the goals of the struggle, proclaimed by the Military Revolutionary Committee on 25 October 1917. That same day, the Second Congress of the Soviets solemnly approved the decision to establish workers control while specifying, however, that this meant controlling the capitalists and not confiscating their factories.
The Bolsheviks effectively re-defined "proletarian power" to mean the power of the party whose ideology was believed a priori to represent workers interests. "Who is to seize the power? That is now of no importance. Let the Military Revolutionary Committee take it, or 'some other institution', which will declare that it will surrender the power only to the genuine representatives of the interests of the people.'' Not "the people", not the "representatives of the people", but "the genuine representatives of the interests of the people" and that would be, of course, the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin. [my emphasis] Substitution of the party for the class. A take-over, not a revolution.

The SPGB is often asked the hypothetical question - "What would you have done in 1917?"

Well, broadly speaking, the role of a revolutionary organisation in a pre-revolutionary situation is to ensure the growth of proletarian power and the defence of the class. The Bolsheviks failed to do so, emasculating what workers organisations 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 party functionaries took total control. I think we can understand Leninism more by accepting that they made choices that other Marxists were not prepared to make. The SPGB argue that Lenin despite his claims that he was the first to see the trend of conditions and adapt himself to these conditions, he was far from changing the course of history, it was, in fact, the course of history which changed him. Lenin made a great miscalculation. He believed that the working masses of the western world were so war weary that upon the call from one of the combatants they would rise and force their various governments to negotiate peace. Unfortunately these masses had neither the knowledge nor the organisation necessary for such a movement, and no response was given to the call. A read of contemporary Socialist Standards show that the SPGB also saw the events of 1919 as a false dawn.

There is no doubting the Bolsheviks sincerity, only their judgement. the Bolshevik leaders really did believe at this time that they were turning “Russia into a socialist country” can be gauged from a passage in an article included in this book that Zinoviev later wrote on his “Twelve Days in Germany”: “We are approaching a time when we shall do away with all money. We are paying wages in kind, we are introducing free tramways, we have free schools, a free dinner, perhaps for the time being unsatisfactory free housing, light, etc.”

In 1920, Zinoviev claimed, “the beginning of the proletarian revolution can be clearly seen...I am convinced that in two or three years, it will be said that this was the beginning of a new era. The proletarian revolution has a great chance in England.”

It was Martov argued that the workers in Europe were certainly discontented but that this was not an expression of socialist consciousness but of despair. Martov said that the Bolshevik party had “conquered state power in a country with a proletariat that was numerically insignificant, a country with an insignificant productivity of labour, with a complete lack of the basic economic and cultural preconditions for the organisation of socialist production - and these objective conditions presented the Bolsheviks with an insurmountable obstacle for the realisation of their ideals.” He went on to point out that “the development of the revolution in the West…is not going as quickly as the Bolshevik party had reckoned when it obtained state power through a fortunate confluence of circumstances and then used this power in an attempt to turn Russia into a socialist country by a radically accelerated path.” (a quote from Lars Lih, I think)

The Bolsheviks had basically three options

(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.

The last option 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, denying them the possibility of immediate establishment of socialism.

Quote:
"... 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."

Neil Harding, 'Leninism' quoted at the Anarchism FAQ http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/append41.html#app8

Trotsky said

Quote:
“Could the Communist Party succeed, during the preparatory epoch, in pushing all other parties out of the ranks of the workers by uniting under its banner the overwhelming majority of workers, then there would be no need whatever for soviets..."

This confirms the observation of Martov

Quote:
"The idea that the "Soviet system" is equal to a definitive break with all the former, bourgeois, forms of revolution, therefore, serves as a screen behind which - imposed by exterior factors and the inner conformation of the proletariat - there are again set in motion methods that have featured the bourgeois revolutions. And those revolutions have always been accomplished by transferring the power of a "conscious minority, supporting itself on an unconscious majority," to another minority finding itself in an identical situation."

http://www.marxists.org/archive/martov/1921/xx/decomp.htm

Just to remain on topic, perhaps this quote from

Peter Tkachev, sometimes known as "the First Bolshevik" as his view is something they inherited, said:

Quote:
“Neither now nor in the future is the people left to itself, capable of accomplishing the social revolution. Only we, the revolutionary minority, can and must accomplish the revolution and as soon as possible...The people cannot help itself. The people cannot direct its own fate to suit its own needs. It cannot give body and life to the ideas of the social revolution...This role and mission belong unquestionably to the revolutionary minority.”

alb
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Mar 11 2020 00:33

What is the source and date of that quote from Tkachev right at the end of your screed?

He seems to be the last Blanquist as well as the “first Bolshevik”. A sort of missing link.

ajjohnstone
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Mar 11 2020 05:32

Damn my habit of habitually lifting quotes from articles and not citing the original sources.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/wagner/1939/bolshevism.htm

Rudolf Sprenger's very useful pamphlet 'Bolshevism' as transcribed for Marxist archive by your good self.

But Sprenger also shares my failing by not offering where he took the quote from.

sad And it wasn't a "screed" but a more detailed and respectful response deserving of Dyjbas own extensive knowledge of the period.

alb
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Mar 11 2020 16:29

I think it must be from his Tasks of Revolutionary Propaganda in Russia (1874).

In his 1919 article on The Ideology of "Sovietism" Martov quotes the Swiss Social Democrat, Charles Naine, summarising, in a pamphlet published in 1918, Bolshevik thinking:

Quote:
At the beginning of 1918, we were in a panic. There was no time to delay. Soviets of workers, soldiers and peasants had to be formed in Switzerland immediately and a red guard constituted. The knowing minority had to impose its will on the majority, even by brute force. The great mass, the workers, are in economic slavery. They cannot accomplish their own liberation. Their minds are formed by their masters; they are incapable of understanding their true interests. It is left to the knowing minority to free the mass from the tutelage of its present masters. Only after this is done will the mass understand. Scientific socialism is the truth. The minority possessing the knowledge of the truth of scientific socialism has the right to impose it on the mass. Parliament is only an obstruction. It is an instrument of reaction. The bourgeois press poisons the minds of the people. It should be suppressed. Later, that is, after the social order will have been totally transformed by the socialist dictators, liberty and democracy will be reconstituted. Then the citizens will be in the position to form a real democracy; they will then be free from the economic régime which, oppressing them, keeps them at present from manifesting their true will. (Charles Naine, Dictature du proletariat ou democratie, page 7).

Martov says this is an accurate presentation of Bolshevik ideology. I think he was right. It certainly reflects their practice.

p.s. I thought my membership of the Dead Russians Society had lapsed but they keep sending me stuff.